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Updated: 4 hours 41 min ago

Notes removed from Western Wall ahead of Rosh Hashanah

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 09:54

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Workers at the Western Wall emptied the holy site of layers of notes from its cracks and crevices for the New Year.

The notes were removed Wednesday morning under the supervision of the rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich. The notes will be buried in the Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem.

Visitors to the wall traditionally write their prayers and hopes on pieces of paper and insert them into its cracks.

In addition to the notes that visitors place in the wall, the Western Wall Institute receives tens of thousands of notes through its website and by fax to be placed there, the office of the Rabbi of the Western Wall said in a statement.

The notes are removed from the wall twice a year, before Rosh Hashanah and Passover, using wooden sticks dipped in the mikvah.



Hamas arrests cell that fired mortar at Israel despite cease-fire

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 09:52

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Hamas in Gaza reportedly arrested those responsible for launching a mortar at Israel in defiance of the cease-fire.

Following the launching of the mortar on Tuesday evening, Hamas contacted Israel through intermediaries to say it was honoring the truce and was attempting to discover the identities of the launchers in order to arrest them, Ynet reported late that day, citing unnamed security sources. Hamas later announced the arrest.

The rocket landed in the Eshkol Regional Council near the border fence with Gaza. No injuries or damage were reported. The Code Red alert siren did not sound.

Hamas denied any knowledge of the rocket launch. No other Gaza faction claimed responsibility.

The attack came three weeks after the announcement of a cease-fire ending the 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

In Jerusalem, Syrian rebel calls for new gov’t to make peace with Israel

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 09:22

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Syrian rebels should make peace with Israel in return for support in overthrowing the current Syrian government, a prominent Syrian rebel said.

Kamal al-Labwani spoke with Israeli reporters on Tuesday in Jerusalem. He visited Israel for more than a week while taking part in the annual International Conference on Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya.

Labwani said that a new Syrian government would be able to reach a negotiated settlement over the Israel-annexed Golan Heights to turn the territory into “a garden of peace rather than conflict,” he told the i24 Israeli news channel. Israel captured the southern Golan in the 1967 war.

“It is up to the government of Israel. I think we can open the road, we can cooperate, we can create a new process for peace in Syria and the whole region. But both sides need to understand each other and listen to each other,” he told i24 news.

Labwani was released from a Syrian prison in 2011 during a general amnesty after being held for nearly a decade on charges of “communicating with a foreign country and inciting it to initiate aggression against Syria.” He was given political asylum in Sweden.

He called on the new U.S.-led coalition against ISIS to also help to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad, and to provide more support to the rebels and the Syrian people, including establishing a no-fly zone for Syrian rebels and refugees in the north and south of the country.

European Jewish groups call for greater security, fight against anti-Semitism

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 07:43

(JTA) — European authorities must provide greater security for Jewish institutions, a major Jewish organization said in the wake of a suspected arson attack on a Brussels synagogue.

“While it is unclear who was behind the attack, what is clear is that synagogues and other Jewish institutions have been placed on the front lines,” Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said in a statement issued hours after the attack on Tuesday,

Police said fire was deliberately set in four places in the synagogue on de la Clinique Street in Anderlecht, one of the municipalities that make up the Brussels region.

The wife and two children of the synagogue’s caretaker, who live in the building, were treated for smoke inhalation. The caretaker was not there at the time of the attack.

Tuesday’s attack, part of an increase across Europe in anti-Semitic attacks, was “born on May 24,” when a French gunman killed four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, said Joel Rubinfeld, president of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, or LBCA. The museum shooting, he added, is similar to a March 2012 attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, which left three children and a rabbi dead.

“Whatever the motivation for this particular attack, incidents of this nature only serve to cause further distress to the Jewish Community both in Brussels and across Europe,” said Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis.

“Coming within months of the terrorist attack at a Brussels Museum and in the context of a spike in anti-Semitic attacks across Europe, this highlights the need for political leaders to take the strongest possible stance on anti-Semitism, following the example Chancellor [Angela] Merkel set in Berlin earlier this week,” he added, referring to her speech at a rally in Berlin against anti-Semitism in which she said it was the German state’s duty to fight anti-Semitism.

Rabbi Menachem Margolin of the Chabad-affiliated Rabbinical Center of Europe in a statement called on Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo to increase security around the country’s Jewish institutions and to establish a national authority for combating anti-Semitism.

“Don’t wait for another murder,” he cautioned Di Rupo.

Meanwhile, Brussels lawmaker Alain Destexhe on Tuesday called on the government to develop a plan to fight anti-Semitism following recent anti-Semtitic incidents.

“Anti-Semitism reached an intolerable level in our capital. Within three days, we have witnessed the burning of a synagogue, throwing missiles at the Jewish memorial visitors to Anderlecht, and anti-Semitic insults in a train in Jette,” he wrote on his Facebook page. He said the plan to fight anti-Semitism should be separate from other plans against racism.

On Sunday at the National Memorial Site for Jewish Victims of the Holocaust, also in Anderlecht, several people hurled large stones and a bottle at the monument where several dozen people were attending a ceremony.

Hours earlier, Di Rupo in an address at the reopening of the Jewish Museum of Belgium in central Brussels vowed to punish perpetrators of anti-Semitic crimes.

“More than ever before, fighting anti-Semitism must truly become a national cause. At stake is our country’s honor and probably its future,” he said.

Tuesday’s attack in Brussels follows a recent attempted arson attack on a synagogue in Wuppertal, Germany, and the arrest of two Muslim girls who planned to blow up the Great Synagogue in Lyon, France.


Agudah, Reform laud feds’ Sabbath suit against Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 05:34

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A federal lawsuit against a Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee for refusing to hire a Sabbath-observant worker drew praise from Agudath Israel of America and the Reform movement.

“Employers need to know that it is illegal to refuse to hire an employee because of his or her religion, and that they are required by federal law to attempt to accommodate Sabbath observers in the workplace,” Mordechai Biser, Agudah’s general counsel, said in a statement Monday.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought the suit against Citi Brands LLC for refusing to hire Darrell Littrell, a Seventh-day Adventist, who was offered and then denied a job at a manufacturing facility in Arden, N.C.

“Employers should be mindful that it is against the law to discriminate against an applicant or an employee based on his religion, including the observance of the Sabbath,” Lynette Barnes, the regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District, said in a statement.

Barbara Weinstein, the director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, said it was the EEOC’s role to investigate any failure to accommodate religion.

“No one should be denied a job opportunity based on religious belief, unless it poses an undue hardship to the employer,” she told JTA. “Here Citi Brands appears to have failed to provide the desired accommodation based on Littrell’s religious belief. We hope that this case will send a signal to other employers regarding the importance of providing accommodations for employees.”

Seventh-day Adventists, like observant Jews, observe the Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.

Italian Jewish groups open anti-Semitism hotline

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 05:29

ROME (JTA) – A hotline to report anti-Semitic incidents was launched in Italy.

Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, announced the creation of the Anti-Semitism Antenna in a statement published Tuesday on his umbrella group’s information website.

The hotline is an experimental project by the group and the Milan-based Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation Foundation, or CDEC, Italy’s main anti-Semitism monitoring institution.

Victims of and witnesses to anti-Semitic acts can report the incidents to CDEC’s anti-Semitism monitor section by calling a Milan phone number – 0233103840 – or filling out a form on the CDEC website.

The announcement said the reports received will be verified, saved and “used to deepen knowledge of anti-Jewish prejudice and hostility.” Callers’ identities will not be divulged to third parties, it said.

NYC police looking into swastika fliers in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 05:25

(JTA) — New York City police are investigating the distribution of fliers marked with swastikas in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

A member of the Shomrim, a watchdog group affiliated with New York’s haredi Orthodox community, spotted the fliers on Bedford Avenue, a Jewish area of Williamsburg, on Monday evening, according to the JPUpdates news site. The group alerted the police.

Police are reviewing surveillance video to see if they can track the fliers’ distributor, JPUpdates said.

The fliers are marked with a swastika and the word “uber,” which roughly translates as “superior” in German.

Michael Broyde, rabbi in pseudonym scandal, launching synagogue

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 05:20

(JTA) — Michael Broyde, the rabbi at the center of a scandal involving his use of pseudonyms in talkbacks to tout his reputation, is launching a synagogue in Atlanta.

The Jewish Channel, the news website that last year exposed Broyde’s use of an online persona to praise his own work, reported Tuesday that Broyde is one of three rabbis planning a new congregation in the Toco Hills neighborhood, where he helped found another Orthodox congregation in 1994.

Broyde in February resigned from the Rabbinical Council of America, a leading Orthodox organization, because of the revelations of his use of a pseudonym.

Winehouse statue features Star of David

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 17:13

Mitch and Janis Winehouse viewing the statue of the late singer Amy Winehouse, their daughter, at its unveiling in London, Sept. 14, 2014. (Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

(JTA) — A statue of Amy Winehouse in London has the iconic blues singer wearing a Star of David.

The unveiling Sunday in the Camden Town neighborhood, where Winehouse lived, marked what would have been Winehouse’s 31st birthday and was attended by her parents.

The statue, by Scott Eaton, casts the singer, who was Jewish, mostly in gray striking a typical pose – one hand on hip, the other clutching a miniskirt – topped by a bouffant hairdo stuck with the statue’s only burst of color, a red rose.

Around her neck is a Star of David set in a circle.

“It is incredibly emotional to see Amy immortalised like this, but Scott has done an amazing job in capturing her,” her father, Mitch Winehouse, was quoted as saying by New Musical Express. “It is like stopping her in a beautiful moment in time.”

Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning in 2011 at 27.

IDF disciplines reservist for passing info to Bennett during Gaza op

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 16:08

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israel Defense Forces disciplined a senior reserves officer who reportedly passed classified information to a government minister during Operation Protective Edge.

On Tuesday, the Israeli media identified the two: former IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Ronsky and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. Ronsky was barred from the headquarters of IDF units.

He denied that he was the reserve officer. Bennett has denied he illegally received information during the Gaza operation.

Ronsky, who was not called up for reserve duty during the Gaza operation this summer, joined some of the patrols.

The head of the hesder yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, Ronsky is known to be close to Bennett. The rabbi said in an interview on Israel Channel 2 that he did not talk to Bennett during the operation.

Bennett, who served as an officer in the IDF Special Forces, has taken credit for initiating the plan to destroy the Hamas tunnels from Gaza to Israel. The economics chief said he visited soldiers on numerous occasions during the Gaza conflict and met with many commanders.

“My insistence on pushing for the destruction of the terror tunnels was not because I read my horoscope. It was because I went down south daily to the field,” Bennett wrote on his Facebook page. “It was because of my repeated meetings with several security and intelligence officials and various experts.”

“As a member of the Security Cabinet during Operation Protective Edge I spent a great deal of time down south. I was there for the sirens, the rockets and other difficult moments. I slept many nights by residents’ homes. It is called doing my job. Should I apologize for that,” he wrote.

Group Jewish wedding held in eastern Ukraine

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 15:27

Liliya Menasheva Sadovski and Kim Boruchovitch were among 19 couples wed in Jewish ceremonies in Dnepropetrovsk’s Menora Center, Sept. 14, 2014. (Courtesy of the Jewish Community of Dnepropetrovsk)

(JTA) — The Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine held a group wedding for 19 Jewish couples.

Most of the couples that wed Sunday were already married under Ukrainian law but had not had a Jewish wedding ceremony, or huppah, the director of the Dnepropetrovsk Jewish community, Zelig Brez, told JTA.

“It is a huge event in the spiritual sense, and, I’m not afraid to say it – historic,” he said, adding that the ceremonies were the largest group wedding performed in his city – where 50,000 Jews live – since before the communist era.

Ten rabbis conducted the marriages on a terrace at the Menora Center, Dnepropetrovsk’s $100 million Jewish community center, which opened in 2012. The couples received special preparation by Shmuel Kaminezki, the city’s chief rabbi and Chabad’s influential envoy to Ukraine, and his wife, Chana.

Under communism, Jewish life in the former Soviet Union was conducted underground, a reality that meant many Jews did not have a Jewish wedding. In many areas, a majority of Jews were not circumcised.

“The challenge was both logistical and halachic,” the community wrote in a report about the weddings. Special attention went to helping couples feel the moment in their own private context as opposed to a group activity, Brez explained.

For this reason, the weddings were conducted in two groups and not all at once – first for 10 couples and then for the remaining nine.

“It was something special, and I’m happy that I saw my daughter, in the presence of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, finally get a huppah,” community activist Mina Dreitser said of the wedding of her daughter, Miriam Minutova, to Shlomo Skorokhod.

Mortar from Gaza hits Israel for first time since cease-fire

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 15:18

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A mortar shell fired from Gaza hit Israel — the first since a cease-fire ending the most recent Hamas-Israel conflict — Israel’s military confirmed.

The rocket landed Tuesday evening in the Eshkol Regional Council near the border fence with Gaza, according to reports. No injuries or damage were reported. The Code Red alert siren did not sound.

Hamas denied any knowledge of the rocket launch. No other Gaza faction claimed responsibility.

“There is no sign a mortar bomb was fired from Gaza and Palestinian factions are committed to keep the agreement for calm, and eager to maintain it,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

The launch came a day after the Code Red alert siren was sounded in the Gaza border area in what was determined to be a false alarm.

Also Tuesday, Israel agreed to a deal brokered by the United Nations to rebuild Gaza.

Renaming of Fla. bridge for Henry Ford nixed over ‘dark history’ with Jews

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 13:36

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Officials in Fort Myers City, Fla., withdrew a proposal to rename a bridge for Henry Ford after residents raised concerns about his anti-Semitic publications.

A vote on the proposal had been scheduled for Monday evening but was withdrawn, according to WZVN, the local ABC affiliate.

“He really has a very dark history as far as the Jewish community and Jews are concerned,” said Alan Isaacs, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties, told the news station.

Ford in the 1920s published Jewish conspiracy theories in the newspaper he owned, the Dearborn Independent. He later apologized.

He summered in Fort Myers and a museum occupies his one-time house.

Florida’s state Legislature had approved the name change for the Caloosahatchee Bridge, but local authorities must give their permission before it goes ahead.

State Rep. Matt Caldwell, who had proposed the name change, told WZVN that he still thinks it should be considered, but he is also sensitive to the Jewish community’s objections.

Golden Dawn member convicted for threatening to put migrants in ovens

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 10:45

ATHENS, Greece  (JTA) — A member of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party was found guilty of inciting racist violence after threatening to turn immigrants into soap and to put them in ovens.

Alexandros Plomeratis, a losing candidate for the party in recent elections, was given a one-year suspended jail sentence by an Athens court.

Plomeratis had been filmed as part of a documentary by Britain’s Channel 4 News in which he made Holocaust references in threatening the many immigrants who live in Athens.

“We are ready to turn on the ovens,” he said. “We will turn them into soap but we may get a rash.” Plomeratis also threatened to “make lamps from their skins.”

He told the court that his comments were filmed during a private conversation with friends and he was “only joking,” according to the Kathimerini newspaper.

The sentence comes a week after Greece’s Parliament adopted a law that bans Holocaust denial and imposes harsher penalties of up to three years in prison for inciting racist violence. The new law cannot be imposed retroactively.

Greece has been trying to crack down on Golden Dawn. Many of its leaders are awaiting trial on charges of running a criminal organization.

The party, which has 18 seats in Parliament, frequently uses Nazi imagery. Its leaders have denied the existence of Nazi death camps and gas chambers.


Komen organization apologizes for Houston race’s Yom Kippur date

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 10:38

(JTA) — The Susan G. Komen organization apologized for holding its Race for the Cure in Houston on Yom Kippur.

Komen’s executive director, Ariana Higgins, told the Houston Chronicle that the foundation has learned its lesson following an outcry from the Jewish community. The foundation received “considerable community feedback,” according to the newspaper.

In its unsigned letter of apology, the organization said it noticed five years ago that there would be a conflict and tried to change the event, but that the alternate dates offered on the crowded city calendar did not suit its needs.

“Although we are aware of the message that scheduling the Race for the Cure over this important holiday may send, we must express that we did not intend any disrespect or to undervalue the significance of this holy day,” the apology said.

But Rabbi David Lyon of Houston’s Congregation Beth Israel wrote in a blog post, “Over the course of five years, any truly concerned organization would have found a better solution.”

The rabbi said that he and his wife would no longer support the organization, and would find “other organizations that accept greater personal responsibility to honor the health of all women and their respective faith traditions.”

Susan G. Komen, for whom the race is named, reportedly was an observant Jew.

The race is traditionally held the first Saturday in October, the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Some cities hold their race on the first Sunday of the month. This year, eight of the 138 races across the United States will be held on Yom Kippur, the Chronicle reported.

“We’re already looking at future calendar dates and making sure we won’t encounter this in the future,” Higgins said.

Participation in this year’s race is expected to be about 23,000, down from a high of 30,000 in 2011, Higgins told the Chronicle.

Brussels synagogue fire was arson, watchdog says

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 09:46

(JTA) — A fire that broke out at a synagogue near Brussels was the result of arson, a Belgian watchdog said.

Three people had to be treated for inhaling smoke on Tuesday at the synagogue on de la Clinique Street in Anderlecht, one of the municipalities that make up the Brussels region, the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, or LBCA, wrote in a statement. Unknown individuals deliberately set fire to four places so it would catch, according to the report.

LBCA President Joel Rubinfeld wrote that Belgian police confirmed they believed the fire was the result of criminal activity.

The synagogue fire followed an anti-Semitic incident on Sunday at the National Memorial Site for Jewish Victims of the Holocaust in Belgium, also in Anderlecht.

Several people hurled large stones and a bottle at the monument. Several dozen people were standing near the monument, which they visited as part of the events of European Day of Jewish Culture, LBCA reported.

Hours earlier, Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo in an address at the reopening of the Jewish Museum of Belgium in central Brussels had vowed to punish perpetrators of anti-Semitic crimes. The museum had been closed since a May 24 shooting there killed four people.

“The increase of anti-Semitic acts in Belgium in recent months underlines the urgency connected to integrating the fight against anti-Semitism into the government’s plan of action for the future,” Rubinfeld said. “More than ever before, fighting anti-Semitism must truly become a national cause. At stake is our country’s honor and probably its future.”

Hate crime charge upheld in N.H. against Nazi sympathizer

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 09:37

(JTA) — A New Hampshire man was properly charged with a hate crime for threatening two Walmart employees with anti-Semitic statements, the state’s Supreme Court ruled.

On Friday, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Paul Costella on two counts of criminal threatening in the 2010 incident. He was sentenced last year to 12 months in jail.

Costella had threatened the Walmart employees in the automotive department after one said she could not serve him because she was offended by a photo in Costella’s car of the man and his daughter making a Heil Hitler salute in front of a large swastika, the Concord Monitor reported.

The employee told Costella that her uncle was a member of the French resistance during World War II and had been caught and burned alive by the Nazis.

“I hope that Jew bastard suffered,” Costella told the employee. Another employee serviced the car.

Costella also called the employee who refused him service a “gypsy Jew” and said he had a “Jew-killing gun” in the car. On the way out of the store, Costella said that he was “getting his gun to kill the Jew bitch behind the counter.”

In his appeal, Costella argued that the New Hampshire hate crime law would only be relevant if he had made the statements because he was aware the employees were Jewish, and it was not clear that either employee was Jewish.

The Supreme Court did not agree.

“The significant community harm resulting from a hate crime flows from the defendant’s bias-motivated actions rather than the victim’s actual status as a member of a protected class,” Justice Jim Bassett wrote in his decision.

Kerry open to conversation with Iran on ISIS

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 08:14

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration is ready to communicate with Iran in the bid to stop ISIS, Secretary of State John Kerry said.

“We’re not coordinating with Iran, but as I said, we’re open to have a conversation at some point in time if there’s a way to find something constructive,” Kerry told reporters on Monday in Paris, where the United States convened a meeting of 26 countries ready to coalesce in the effort to destroy the jihadist group, also known as Islamic State or ISIL.

Iranian leaders in recent days have furiously rebuffed such overtures, in part because Kerry, deferring to Saudi Arabia, would not allow Iran to attend the Paris meeting. Iran is assisting the Iraqi and Syrian governments in their efforts to stop ISIS.

Israel’s government is opposed to any U.S. coordination with Iran, in part to keep Iran’s influence in check and also to keep Iran from using such coordination to influence the Iran nuclear talks.

Kerry reiterated the pledge made by President Obama last week, when he announced plans to destroy ISIS, that there would be no coordination with the Bashar Assad regime in Syria, although Kerry said the United States would seek to avoid “bad things” in undertaking any action in Syria.

“We’re not going to coordinate with the Syrians,” Kerry said. “We’ve made that very, very clear. But there are all kinds of ways of communicating to avoid mistakes or disasters and not — strike the word ‘disasters’ — there are all kinds of ways of avoiding bad things. And I’m not going to go into them, but we’re not going to coordinate.”

Syria also counts ISIS as an enemy, but the Obama administration is backing some of the rebels who are seeking to topple Assad.

Plans for Rome Holocaust museum in jeopardy

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 06:31

ROME (JTA) – City authorities in Rome may drop the idea of building a $30 million Holocaust museum in the city — with the apparent backing of the Rome Jewish community.

After years of delays on the project, the community’s board issued a statement last week that seems to back plans for a smaller exhibit in a former shopping center in a Rome suburb.

Plans were announced a decade ago to build a state-of-the-art Shoah museum on the grounds of Villa Torlonia, wartime dictator Benito Mussolini’s residence, where ancient Jewish catacombs also are located. Financial and bureaucratic problems have stalled the project in the central part of Rome for years.

Funds were finally freed up and architectural plans approved in 2012, but since then there has been no movement.

As a result, Holocaust survivors and their families this summer launched appeals and petitioned the Rome Jewish community and City Hall to speed up plans in order to inaugurate a Shoah museum before they passed away.

Proposals were floated to drop the Villa Torlonia plan and install a permanent Holocaust exhibit in a building already standing – a former shopping center in EUR, a southern suburb of the city. The exhibit would be inaugurated on next year’s International Holocaust Memorial Day, Jan. 27 — the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Responding to the petition, the board of the Rome Jewish community issued its statement that appeared to support the idea.

The board said that a Holocaust museum should be completed within a rapid time frame, take into consideration the “economic difficulties” of the country, and have a “decorous and dignified” structure. It urged the museum founders to “consider any concrete and immediate proposal” that respects those “mandatory requirements.”

A mayoral spokesman offered no explanation for the delays in building the museum, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported, and added that it was understandable the Jewish community would be leery of whether it would be built anytime soon.



German on trial for ISIS ties played for Jewish soccer team

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 05:53

(JTA) — A German man on trial for being a member of the jihadist group ISIS once played for a Jewish soccer club.

Kreshnik Berisha, 20, went on trial in Frankfurt on Monday, The Associated Press reported. Berisha is alleged to have traveled to Syria, where he fought with ISIS for five months before returning to Germany.

It is Germany’s first such case, according to AP.

Berisha played on the under-17 youth team of Makkabi Frankfurt, a prominent Jewish soccer club, as recently as 2011, according to AP. Membership in the team is not restricted to Jews and is described as diverse.

Berisha, who reportedly comes from a Muslim family from Kosovo, was arrested in Germany in December on charges of membership in a foreign terrorist organization. He is believed to be one of about 400 German citizens who have joined jihadist groups fighting in Syria since the beginning of the more than three-year civil war.

He has since “turned his back” on ISIS, defense lawyer Mutlu Gunal told the British newspaper The Guardian. The judge reportedly is working with prosecutors on a plea deal in exchange for information about the extremist group.