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Ayelet Tsabari wins 2015 Sami Rohr Prize

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 08:40

(JTA) — Ayelet Tsabari, author of “The Best Place On Earth: Stories,” is the winner of the 2015 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.

Tsabari takes home $100,000 for winning the prize, which was announced Monday.

Tsabari explores Israeli history through Jewish characters of Middle Eastern and North African descent.

“I grew up not seeing myself and my family in literature, so writing “The Best Place on Earth” was a way to create the characters that were missing from my childhood stories,” Tsabari said in a statement issued by the Rohr Prize. “By portraying characters of Mizrahi background I was hoping to complicate readers’ perceptions of Israel and Jewishness, and to expand and broaden their ideas of what a Jewish story and Jewish experience can be.”

The runner-up was Kenneth Bonert, author of “The Lion Seeker: A Novel. He receives a   prize of $25,000.

The Rohr Prize, which has been given annually since 2007, considers works of fiction and nonfiction in alternating years.

It was created by the late businessman and philanthropist Sami Rohr to recognize emerging writers who articulate the Jewish experience as determined by a specific work, as well as the author’s potential to make significant ongoing contributions to Jewish literature.

Matti Friedman, author of “The Aleppo Codex,” won the prize last year.

This year, for the first time, the winners and finalists will be celebrated at a public program, sponsored by the Jewish Book Council together with the Museum of Jewish Heritage, on May 6.

Shin Bet arrests Hamas cell in Hebron planning attacks on Israel

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 08:26

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Shin Bet Israel Security Agency arrested 11 members of a Hamas cell in Hebron that planned terrorist attacks on Israel including suicide bombings.

The arrests, in a joint operation with the Israel Defense Forces, took place last month, the Shin Bet announced on Monday.

The suspects during questioning admitted that they had planned attacks against Israeli civilians in both Jerusalem and Hebron, including carrying out suicide bomb attacks.  A terror attack on the Tel Rumeida settlement near Hebron was attempted in early December, which could have led to the death of many Israeli soldiers.

The suspects also turned over explosives and two weapons they planned to use in the attacks, according to the Shin Bet.

“The cell’s activities show the real threat of Hamas in Hebron, in particular from military operatives who had been detained in the past and who had returned to the cycle of terror,” the Shin Bet said in a statement released on Monday.

The Shin Bet has requested that the men be held until their trials in military court.

Shas Party spiritual head calls “Hatikvah” a “stupid song”

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 06:59

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The spiritual leader of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party said at a party convention that “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, “is a stupid song.”

Rabbi Shlomo Cohen, head of the Council of Torah Sages of the Shas Party, made the comments Sunday at a party convention, the Israeli news website Walla reported. Walla also put a recording of the statement on its website.

Cohen told the convention that in 1955, at the ceremony appointing Yitzhak Nissim as Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, those gathered stood up and began singing Hatikvah. Cohen said he did not stand for the anthem, but that his popular predecessor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef did. Cohen said he asked Yosef why he stood and that Yosef replied that he said the Aleinu, a Jewish prayer recited while standing.

“A real man. Why did he say Aleinu? He didn’t want this stupid song to influence him,” Cohen said.

Cohen has served on the Council of Torah Sages since the founding of the Shas Party in 1984.

In response to the airing of the video clip, the Shas Party said: “No one will teach the wise man Shalom Cohen, who grew up all his days in Jerusalem, what Zionism is and what his relationship is to the Land of Israel. It is his right and duty to think that the sources of the Torah in Israel are 10 times more important than a poem composed only in the last decades.”

Shmira Imber, daughter of Naftali Herz Imber, the composer of “Hatikvah,” also responded to Cohen’s remarks in an interview with Walla.

“It is stupid to say that,” she said. “I am sorry that the spiritual leader of Shas does not walk in the way of Rav Ovadia, his teacher and rabbi.

Oscar nods go to Jewish talent, but Israel loses again

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 02:51

Filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski accepting the Best Foreign Language Film Award for ‘Ida’ during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles, Feb. 22, 2015. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Jewish artists and themes featured among the winners at the 87th Academy Awards in Hollywood Sunday night, but an Israeli nominee once again failed to bring home the treasured trophy.

The Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film went to “Ida,” a Polish film about a Catholic novitiate who learns she is the daughter of Jewish parents killed by the Nazis.

But Israel’s losing streak at the Oscars continued, as the short film “Aya,” co-written and co-directed by Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnun and starring Sarah Adler, failed to win for Best Short Film.

The director of “Ida,” Pawel Pawlikowski, whose paternal grandmother was Jewish and died in Auschwitz, was asked during a backstage interview whether he considers the Holocaust and the fate of the Jewish people one aspect of post-World War II Poland. Pawlikowski, in his response, tried to shift the emphasis.

“Of course, Polish-Jewish relations are difficult,” he said. “And the two lead characters, Ida and [her aunt] Wanda, who are Jewish, but for me they are Polish. I don’t like people who attack the film from various sides and say ‘Oh, it’s about Jews and Poles and stuff.'”

“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which tied with “Birdman” for the most Oscars at four apiece, has an oblique Jewish connection, as it was, according to director Wes Anderson, inspired by the writings of the Austrian-Jewish novelist Stefan Zweig.

In the individual categories, Mexican-Jewish cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki accepted the Academy Award for “Birdman,” repeating his victory last year for “Gravity.”

Graham Moore won Best Adapted Screenplay for the script for “The Imitation Game,” and he used his acceptance speech to make a plea for gay rights. His mother, Susan Sher, served as President Obama’s liaison to the Jewish community and as chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama.

Patricia Arquette, whose mother is Jewish, won for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Boyhood.”

The evening’s “In Memoriam” segment, devoted to film industry notables who have passed away over the past year, included, among others, Israeli filmmaker Menachem Golan, director Mike Nichols, and legendary film actress Lauren Bacall. A number of writers and people on Twitter were outraged that longtime red carpet grandee Joan Rivers was not mentioned.

Holocaust film ‘Ida’ wins Oscar

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 22:32

Filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski accepting the Best Foreign Language Film Award for ‘Ida’ during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles, Feb. 22, 2015. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — “Ida,” a Polish film about a Catholic woman who discovers she is the Jewish child of Holocaust victims, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski collected the Oscar at the 87th annual Academy Awards Ceremony Sunday night in Los Angeles.

The  spare black-and-white drama, set in Poland in 1962, won international plaudits but also drew criticism in Poland for its portrayal of Polish complicity in the sins of the Holocaust.

The film was also personally significant for Pawlikowski, whose own paternal grandmother was killed at Auschwitz.

Stoudemire to debut with NBA’s Mavs

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 17:23

(JTA) — Amar’e Stoudemire, who received a buyout from the New York Knicks, was expected to debut with the Dallas Mavericks.

Stoudemire, 32, a six-time NBA All-Star, was to play Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets in Dallas, the team announced on the day of the game.

Since signing with the Mavs on Feb. 18, the forward-center has been learning the team’s playbook and conditioning, according to ESPN. The Mavs, with a record of 37-20, are third in the Southwest Division and sixth in the Western Conference; the top eight make the playoffs.

Stoudemire, who claims “Hebrew roots,” is a minority owner of the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team and has visited Israel.

He received a buyout on the final season of his five-year contract with the Knicks, who have the league’s worst record this season at 10-45.

Richard Dreyfuss to play Bernie Madoff in ABC drama

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 16:24

(JTA) — Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss will play Bernie Madoff in a multiple-episode drama on the ABC network.

The drama will be based on the book “The Madoff Chronicles: Inside the Secret World of Bernie and Ruth,” the Hollywood Reporter wrote last week. ABC’s chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, wrote the book.

Several high-profile actresses are in the running to play Ruth, Madoff’s wife, who was the director of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

A premiere date and the number of episodes to be screened has yet to be determined.

In 2009, Madoff, 70, pleaded guilty to 11 felonies for fabricating nearly $65 billion in profits to attract investors. He is serving a 150-year sentence at a federal prison in North Carolina.

His Ponzi scheme hit numerous Jewish philanthropies and investors particularly hard. Among those that suffered were Hadassah, the Elie Wiesel Foundation and the American Jewish Congress.

Ukraine grave of Breslover founder’s daughter torched, vandalized

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 16:15

(JTA) — The grave of a daughter of the Breslover movement’s founder, Rabbi Nachman, was set on fire and daubed with a swastika.

The 1831 grave in the central-Ukraine city of Kremenchuk was set ablaze sometime after the completion last month of its renovation by the Oholei Tzadikim association, which works to restore Jewish burial sites throughout the region. It was discovered on Feb. 16, the association wrote in a statement.

“The damage is very extensive,” Rabbi Shimon Buskila of the World Breslov Center told JTA on Sunday. “They destroyed the structure that was only recently erected.”

Pictures of the site supplied by Oholei Tzadikim showed the charred interior of a small structure constructed around the headstone. A swastika was drawn in black ink on the exterior of the structure along with a face and the words “Office Man Serega” in Latin.

According to Oholei Tzadikim, the area was designated to become a construction site, but the association cited its sanctity in preventing the project.

Police have been informed of the incident and are working to prevent its recurrence, Rabbi Israel Meir Gabai, the association’s director general, said in the statement. He added that the group will repair the damages.

Rabbi Nachman’s teachings have inspired hundreds of thousands of followers worldwide. His grave in the city of Uman in Ukraine is among the Hasidic world’s most visited burial sites.

Marginalizing extremists is priority as religions envoy, David Saperstein says

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 16:03

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Rabbi David Saperstein, the new U.S. envoy for religious freedoms, said one priority will be to identify moderates in religious communities who could marginalize extremists.

Speaking Friday at his swearing-in at the State Department, Saperstein said he would work with U.S. civil society groups “in shaping policies that contribute to isolating and delegitimizing extremist religious voices.”

Saperstein, who headed the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center for 40 years, said he would seek to protect the right not to believe as well as the right to practice religion. He listed as another of his priorities the repeal of anti-blasphemy and apostasy laws.

That’s a signal that the Obama administration will intensify its pushback against attempts in international forums by some Muslim nations in recent years to equate blasphemy with religious discrimination.

Another priority, Saperstein said, will be to coordinate with his counterparts around the world to counteract religious discrimination.

“With my gifted Canadian counterpart, Ambassador Andrew Bennett, we are committed to mobilizing a contact group of ministers and ambassadors for religious freedom in countries all across the globe,” he said. “Not just in the Western countries but in the Southern Hemisphere as well – to stand for religious freedom, to coordinate and reinforce our common efforts.”

Secretary of State John Kerry noted recent anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic violence in Europe in describing the need for the post.

“Major European cities are struggling to cope with the aftermath of terror attacks amid evidence of anti-Semitism, radicalization, Islamophobia,” Kerry said.

Israel to buy 14 more stealth fighter jets from U.S.

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 14:00

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel signed a contract to purchase 14 more F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States.

The agreement was signed over the weekend for the purchase of the jets manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp. The planes will cost about $3 billion, Israel’s Defense Ministry said.

Israel’s Cabinet approved the purchase in November. Israel has an option to purchase up to 17 more of the planes; it purchased 19 of the F-35s in 2010.

Israel is scheduled to take delivery of the first two F-35s at the end of 2016. All of the planes should be delivered by 2021.

Jerusalem mayor, bodyguard subdue Palestinian attacker

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 13:30

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and his security guard apprehended a Palestinian teen who stabbed a haredi Orthodox man near City Hall.

Barkat was on his way to City Hall for a meeting on Sunday evening when he saw the attack taking place near Safra Square in central Jerusalem, according to reports.

The victim, reportedly in his 20s, was stabbed in the stomach and taken to a Jerusalem hospital for treatment. He is in moderate condition.

The alleged attacker, 18, a resident of Ramallah who was residing illegally in Jerusalem, was taken in for questioning by police.

Netanyahu, citing IAEA report, incredulous that Iran nuke talks are advancing

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 10:51

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “astonishing” that nuclear talks with Iran are proceeding despite a report saying that Iran is hiding military components of its nuclear program.

On Sunday, Netanyahu at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting also reiterated his intention to travel to the United States next week to deliver an address on the Iran talks to Congress that has stirred controversy.

The U.N. atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in a report released Thursday said that Iran is limiting its testing of its uranium refinement capacities, yet failing to cooperate with international nuclear inspectors, by hiding “nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

Talks between Iran and the world powers resumed Sunday in Geneva.

“It is astonishing that even after the recent IAEA report determined that Iran is continuing to hide the military components of its nuclear program, the nuclear talks with it are proceeding,” Netanyahu said. “Not only are they continuing, there is an increased effort to reach a nuclear agreement in the coming days and weeks.”

The target date for the outline of an agreement, which Netanyahu said will “threaten [Israel’s] existence,” is March 24, with a signed agreement by June 30.

“The agreement that is being formulated between Iran and the major powers is dangerous for Israel, and therefore I will go to the U.S. next week in order to explain to the American Congress, which could influence the fate of the agreement, why this agreement is dangerous for Israel, the region and the entire world,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet.

 

 

Israeli envoy to Germany: Jews should come to Israel

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 09:46

BERLIN (JTA) — Israel’s ambassador to Germany reiterated that Jews who feel unsafe in Europe due to recent anti-Semitic attacks should “come to [Israel] at any time” — an approach rejected by the head of German Jewry.

In an interview published Sunday in the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman echoed last week’s invitation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Jews in Europe “consider Israel your home” following deadly attacks on Jews in Denmark and France the past two months.

Hadas-Handelsman said he “really does not envy any Jew living in Europe today.”

Last week, Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, had responded to Netanyahu’s invitation by noting that threats against Jews and Jewish institutions were a “worldwide phenomenon” and that “life in Israel as a Jew is not any more secure.” While Schuster said he recognized that it is only natural for Israel to encourage aliyah, he personally saw no special reason for Jews to consider emigrating now, even with the increased risk of attacks by home-grown jihadists.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week that her government would do everything possible to ensure the safety of Jews and their institutions in the country.

“We want to continue living together well with the Jews who are in Germany today,” she said.

In Sunday’s interview, Hadas-Handelsman commended Merkel for making it clear that “it is not normal for synagogues and Jewish schools to need police protection.”

In related news, at least two independent experiments were conducted last week in which kipah-wearing Jews were filmed walking through Berlin neighborhoods. In both cases there were no unpleasant encounters reported. But one of the testers, Israeli-German actor Amit Jacobi, said the results by no means meant there was no anti-Semitism in Germany.

Germany’s Jewish population is estimated at more than 240,000, consisting mostly of former Soviet Jews who came to Germany since 1990. Fewer than half are members of Jewish communities, in part because they do not qualify under Jewish law, which requires having a Jewish mother or an Orthodox conversion.

Oslo synagogue ‘peace ring’ marred by organizer’s anti-Israel remarks, some Jews say

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 07:52

(JTA) — More than 1,000 people, including many Muslims, formed a human chain around an Oslo synagogue in a show of support for Jews.

However, some Norwegian Jews said the so-called “peace ring” on Saturday night was tainted because one of its organizers said over the weekend that he dislikes people who support Israel. The organizer, Ali Chishti, had also made anti-Jewish and anti-Israel statements in 2009 that he disavowed.

The seven organizers, many of them Muslims, had planned the initiative with the endorsement of the Jewish community to protest the slaying on Feb. 15 by an Islamist of a Jewish volunteer guard at the main synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Ervin Kohn, head of the Jewish community of Oslo, told JTA that he thought the initiative was “extremely positive” and could change the dynamics of minority relations in Scandinavia.

But Chishti confirmed on Saturday in an interview with Verdens Gang, a Norwegian tabloid, that he delivered a speech in Oslo on March 22, 2009 on the alleged involvement of Jews in planning the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings in New York. The speech’s title was “Therefore I Hate Jews and Gays,” the newspaper reported, though Chishti said he was not the one who came up with the title.

“There were several thousand Jews away from work in the World Trade Center, and why there were more Jews in Mumbai when Pakistani terrorists attacked than usual?” he said then, repeating the conspiracy theory that Jews knew in advance of the 2001 Twin Towers attack that killed thousands. “Jews are a small group, but everyone knows that they have a lot of power.”

In Saturday interviews, he retracted his statements. In an interview with the daily Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, he said they were “anti-Semitic” and “unacceptable.”

“I was angry,” he told Verdens Gang. “I have since changed my views.” But he also said he “dislikes” people who support “an occupying force that has been condemned in several United Nations resolutions.”

“I think it is important to distinguish between being critical of Israel and anti-Semitism,” he also told Verdens Gang.

Eric Argaman, a pro-Israel activist and member of Norway’s Jewish community, said Chishti’s involvement “stained the event, which now feels more like a spin on our backs than a gesture of good will.”

Polish culture ministry rejects request to renovate historic synagogue

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 07:38

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage turned down a request to help fund the renovation of a historic synagogue in Przysucha.

The total estimated cost to renovate the synagogue in southern Poland, about 60 miles from Warsaw, is $52,000. The foundation had requested $43,000 from the culture ministry.

The synagogue’s titleholder, the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, said it was trying to convince federal officials to change their minds on the decision they made last week.

“We do not understand why it is not in the interest of the Polish state to assist in caring for Jewish monuments,” Monika Krawczyk, the foundation’s director general, told JTA.

Between 2012 and 2014, the culture ministry had provided financial assistance that had allowed the foundation to perform necessary rescue work on the Przysucha synagogue, including securing the foundation and restoring the roof. The poor condition of the synagogue, which was returned to the Jewish community at the beginning of the 21st century, is the result of decades of neglect following World War II.

The foundation began revitalizing the synagogue with support from the World Monuments Fund, the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture and the Cahnman Foundation.

The synagogue is a monument to late Baroque architecture, the only such facility in the Mazovia region and one of the most important in Poland. At the end of the 18th century, Przysucha was a vital center of Hasidism in Poland. After World War II, the building was used as stables and to store fertilizer.

Ukrainian Jewish soldier killed in fighting separatists buried in Kiev

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 06:53

(JTA) — A Ukrainian Jewish soldier who was killed last month amid Russian-backed separatist fighting was buried in Kiev.

Yevgeni Yatsina, who was nearly 26, was brought to burial in the Ukrainian capital on Friday following the discovery of his body, which was covered by debris since he died in an explosion last month in the country’s east, the news website newsru.co.il reported. Prior to burial at the Berkovetskaya Cemetery, a ceremony was held at a Kiev synagogue.

Yatsina was Jewish according to religious Jewish law, the Jewish Community of Dnepropetrovsk wrote Friday in a eulogy that it posted on its website, which refers to Yatsina as a hero. He died at Donetsk’s airport on Jan. 19, the report said.

Former classmates at the economics faculty of Kyiv National Linguistic University described Yatsina as cheerful, witty and upbeat, a Ukrainian Jewish news website reported.

Ukrainian troops have been fighting since March with separatists in and around Donetsk, Lugansk and a number of other cities, where their fight is supported by Russia. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in the fighting, which diminished earlier this month following the signing of a cease-fire agreement in Minsk, Belarus.

While many Ukrainian Jews support the government’s fight, many others — especially in the areas directly affected by the fighting — oppose it and support the secessionists.

Lithuania chief rabbi may be dismissed for criticizing community leader

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 06:07

VILNIUS, Lithuania (JTA) — The chief rabbi of Lithuania may lose his title after he criticized a community leader on Facebook, the leader said.

Faina Kukliansky, chair of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, told JTA that her community was considering dismissing Rabbi Chaim Burshtein in connection with two statements he made on the social network about what he said was her lacking transparency and centralism in running the community.

“Chaim Burshtein is not worthy of being called a rabbi, as his actions and inaction clearly demonstrated,” she told JTA last week.

Kukliansky said she supported the rabbi’s freedom of expression, but following the confrontational statements, “we are nearing a situation where he will no longer serve this community.”

On Dec. 24, Burshtein ripped Kukliansky in a post titled “official statement” in connection with what he called “the excessive concentration of power in her hands.” The community, he wrote, “already looks like the Soviet police department in which Ms. Kukliansky used to work as an investigator.”

Reminding members that he was formerly “a refusenik, who fought leave the USSR and sat in a Soviet prison,” he called on Lithuanian Jews to support him against Kukliansky. The following month he wrote that he had tried and failed to explain the importance of “transparency when using the resources of the destroyed Jewish communities’ restitution” to Kukliansky.

Burshtein declined to speak to JTA about the fight, saying it was “an internal matter.”

Other members of Lithuania’s fractious community of approximately 3,000 Jews connect the conflict also to Kukliansky’s recent appointment of non-Jews to salaried community positions. In addition, some Lithuanian Jews believe the community should not have settled for a restitution deal supported by Kukliansky for several million dollars, deeming it insufficient.

Some local Jews also believe that Kukliansky’s law practice representing foreigners seeking citizenship from the government constitutes a conflict of interest that they say rendered Kukliansky cooperative with the Baltic state’s controversial and unique claim that the Soviets perpetrated a genocide there. Kukliansky is on record as opposing this policy, which she says banalizes the Holocaust.

“My excellence as an investigator and later as prosecutor prepared me to lead tough negotiations over restitution,” she said.

Nominating non-Jews to key community positions “helps build bridges” to the general population.

Kuliansky denied claims of any conflict of interest, noting her position is unsalaried.

“The claim that lawyers can’t lead communities is laughable,” she said.

Sydney rabbi removed as Chabad emissary over child sex abuse scandal

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 06:03

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – A senior Chabad rabbi was delisted as an emissary from the New York-based organization as the fallout continues from Australia’s Royal Commission into a child sex abuse scandal.

Rabbi Yosef Feldman, a former director of Sydney’s Yeshivah Center, which houses Chabad headquarters there, was delisted last week after making controversial comments to the commission, including his suggestion that pedophiles who had not committed sex crimes for two decades should be treated with leniency.

Feldman, a son of Chabad’s chief rabbi in Sydney, sparked a storm of protest by Orthodox rabbis and mainstream Jewish leaders.

His delisting came as Rabbi Avrohom Glick, who had resigned from all his posts at Yeshivah College in Melbourne, where he was principal during the time of the abuse in the 1980s and ’90s, also tendered his resignation from the spiritual committee of the Yeshivah Center. Victims were outraged that he had kept the post, which Glick had described as “his calling” during the commission hearings.

The resignations come in the wake of the two-week hearing into the child sex abuse scandals at Chabad headquarters in Sydney and Melbourne.

A third rabbi, Shlomo Kluwgant, resigned as president of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia after it was revealed at the hearing that he had sent a text message describing Zephaniah Waks, one of the whistleblowers, as a “lunatic” who was “killing us.” His son, Manny Waks, the only Jewish victim in Australia to go public, is still demanding more resignations.

“Every rabbi and every leader of peak Jewish bodies should publicly acknowledge what happened and apologize for their silence about intimidation shown towards myself, my family and other victims,” Manny Waks told Fairfax Media. “And the Yeshivah Center boards in Melbourne and Sydney need to apologize and resign, along with other leaders who’ve been implicated.”

IAEA: Iran limiting but also hiding nuclear activities

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 10:32

(JTA) — Iran is limiting its testing of its uranium refinement capacities yet failing to cooperate with international nuclear inspectors, the U.N. atomic watchdog said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency made the assertions in a report released Thursday, the Deutche Welle newspaper reported.

“The agency remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile,” the IAEA report said.

While failing to cooperate with inspectors, Iran has refrained from expanding tests of more efficient models of a machine used to refine uranium, complying with a nuclear agreement with six world powers, Reuters reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the IAEA’s report proved Tehran is hiding its nuclear weapons ambitions.

The IAEA “once again notes that Iran is refusing to reveal to the world its preparations for the production of  nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Iran insists on hiding this from the international community at a time when the major powers are continuing to try and allow Iran to produce the core of such weapons, enriched uranium. These go do not go together.”

The IAEA document nonetheless is allaying concerns that Iran might be violating the accord reached in 2013 by Iran and representatives of the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia. That agreement stipulated that Tehran could continue but not ramp up its research and development of nuclear capabilities, according Reuters.

Israel has accused Iran of using the talks to stall for time while furthering its plans to build nuclear weapons; Tehran has denied this.

The talks between the powers are design to find an agreed-upon formula that would prevent Iran from reaching nuclear weapons capabilities while allowing it to retain some of its nuclear program. Netanyahu has warned against a bad deal that would allow Iran to become a threshold nuclear state.

Talks were scheduled to resume Friday in Geneva between Iran and the world powers.

Netyanyahu is scheduled to deliver a speech about Iran before Congress next month at the invitation of House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) despite opposition by some Democratic party leaders and the White House to the delivery of the speech.

Police arrest suspect in murder of historian of Czech Jewry

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 10:24

PRAGUE (JTA) — Prague police arrested a man suspected of murdering a respected historian of Czech Jewish heritage, Jiří Fiedler, and his wife.

The renowned researcher, 78, and his wife, Dagmar, 74, were found dead in their Prague apartment in February 2014. The police said the murders had occurred at the end of the previous month.

After a yearlong investigation, the man suspected of the brutal crime was arrested in western Czech Republic on Wednesday, police investigators told reporters. The man belonged to the couple’s wider circle of acquaintances, the police said, and robbery was ascribed as the motive. The suspect has confessed to the crime, investigators said.

Jiří Fiedler, who was not Jewish, spent over 30 years documenting Jewish heritage sites in then-Czechoslovakia, often cycling to remote towns and villages to research derelict Jewish cemeteries, synagogues, rabbis’ homes and other monuments.

His work caught the attention of the Communist secret police and his major work, “Jewish Sites of Bohemia and Moravia,” was published only in 1992, three years after the fall of communism in his country.