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Prominent Brazilian Holocaust survivor Aleksander Laks dies

Wed, 07/22/2015 - 06:11

(JTA) — Prominent Brazilian Holocaust survivor and longtime Jewish activist Aleksander Laks died at age 88.

Laks died Tuesday of a lung infection. Born in Poland in 1926, Laks was held in the Lodz ghetto, as well as Auschwitz and other concentration camps, between 1940 and 1945. In 1945, he fled to Rio de Janeiro.

President of the Brazilian Association of Holocaust Survivors, Laks wrote two books, including 2000’s “The Survivor: Memoirs of a Brazilian who escaped from Auschwitz.” Laks was passionate about sharing his life story with Jews and non-Jews, including children and youth, who would often call him “Grandpa.”

 

Prominent Brazilian Holocaust survivor Aleksander Laks dies

Wed, 07/22/2015 - 06:11

(JTA) — Prominent Brazilian Holocaust survivor and longtime Jewish activist Aleksander Laks died at age 88.

Laks died Tuesday of a lung infection, according to Brazilian news site Surgiu. Born in Poland in 1926, Laks was held in the Lodz ghetto, as well as Auschwitz and other concentration camps, between 1940 and 1945. In 1945, he fled to Rio de Janeiro.

President of the Brazilian Association of Holocaust Survivors, Laks wrote two books, including 2000’s “The Survivor: Memoirs of a Brazilian who escaped from Auschwitz.” Laks was passionate about sharing his life story with Jews and non-Jews, including children and youth, who would often call him “Grandpa.”

 

Nearly half of Americans disapprove of Iran deal

Wed, 07/22/2015 - 05:51

(JTA) — A poll by the Pew Research Center has found that nearly half of Americans disapprove of the recent accord over Iran’s nuclear program.

The poll, conducted during the past week and released Tuesday, found that 48 percent of Americans who had heard of the agreement disapproved of it, versus 38 percent who approved. The deal, finalized last week by the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Iran, limits Iranian uranium enrichment in exchange for a lifting of economic sanctions.

The poll also found that more than 70 percent of Americans had little to no confidence that Iran would uphold its side of the agreement. Thirty-five percent had “not too much” confidence, while 38 percent had none at all. Twenty-six percent were confident that Iran would abide by the agreement.

In addition, 54 percent of those polled had “not too much” or no confidence in America’s and international agencies’ ability to monitor Iran’s compliance, while 45 percent expressed fair or great confidence in the monitoring regimen.

Only a quarter of respondents believe the agreement will improve U.S.-Iranian relations. But 58 percent of those polled said diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace, while 30 percent prefer military strength.

Three-quarters of Republicans and 49 percent of independents polled disapproved of the deal, while 59 percent of Democrats approved.

Nearly half of Americans disapprove of Iran deal

Wed, 07/22/2015 - 05:51

(JTA) — A poll by the Pew Research Center has found that nearly half of Americans disapprove of the recent accord over Iran’s nuclear program.

The poll, conducted during the past week and released Tuesday, found that 48 percent of Americans who had heard of the agreement disapproved of it, versus 38 percent who approved. The deal, finalized last week by the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Iran, limits Iranian uranium enrichment in exchange for a lifting of economic sanctions.

The poll also found that more than 70 percent of Americans had little to no confidence that Iran would uphold its side of the agreement. Thirty-five percent had “not too much” confidence, while 38 percent had none at all. Twenty-six percent were confident that Iran would abide by the agreement.

In addition, 54 percent of those polled had “not too much” or no confidence in America’s and international agencies’ ability to monitor Iran’s compliance, while 45 percent expressed fair or great confidence in the monitoring regimen.

Only a quarter of respondents believe the agreement will improve U.S.-Iranian relations. But 58 percent of those polled said diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace, while 30 percent prefer military strength.

Three-quarters of Republicans and 49 percent of independents polled disapproved of the deal, while 59 percent of Democrats approved.

Author E.L Doctorow dies at 84

Wed, 07/22/2015 - 05:11

(JTA) — American Jewish author E.L. Doctorow, who wrote the novel “Ragtime,” died at age 84.

Doctorow died of complications from lung cancer Tuesday in Manhattan, according to the New York Times. Author of a dozen novels as well as assorted other works, Doctorow primarily wrote historical fiction. “Ragtime,” published in 1975, is set in New York in the lead-up to World War I and includes characters like Sigmund Freud and the anarchist Emma Goldman. His works spanned periods from the Civil War to the present day.

Doctorow won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. He was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Among his other prominent works are “Billy Bathgate,” “The Book of Daniel” and “The March.” Several of his books have been adapted into films.

Doctorow was born in 1931 in the Bronx to Jewish immigrants from Russia. He told the Kenyon Review that he grew up surrounded by talented Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi Germany. He attended Kenyon College and published his first novel, “Welcome to Hard Times,” in 1960. He lived in New York City.

Doctorow is survived by his wife, three children and four grandchildren.

Author E.L Doctorow dies at 84

Wed, 07/22/2015 - 05:11

(JTA) — American Jewish author E.L. Doctorow, who wrote the novel “Ragtime,” died at age 84.

Doctorow died of complications from lung cancer Tuesday in Manhattan, according to the New York Times. Author of a dozen novels as well as assorted other works, Doctorow primarily wrote historical fiction. “Ragtime,” published in 1975, is set in New York in the lead-up to World War I and includes characters like Sigmund Freud and the anarchist Emma Goldman. His works spanned periods from the Civil War to the present day.

Doctorow won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. He was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Among his other prominent works are “Billy Bathgate,” “The Book of Daniel” and “The March.” Several of his books have been adapted into films.

Doctorow was born in 1931 in the Bronx to Jewish immigrants from Russia. He told the Kenyon Review that he grew up surrounded by talented Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi Germany. He attended Kenyon College and published his first novel, “Welcome to Hard Times,” in 1960. He lived in New York City.

Doctorow is survived by his wife, three children and four grandchildren.

Theodore Bikel, Tevye in ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ dies at 91

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 15:02

Theodore Bikel attending a film festival in Hollywood, California, April 25, 2013. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Theodore Bikel, an actor and folk singer who was recognized in 1997 with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, has died at 91.

Bikel, who won fame playing Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” doing more performances of the role than any other actor, died Tuesday morning of natural causes at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Born in Vienna, Bikel fled Austria at age 13 with his family after the 1938 Nazi Anschluss. The family settled in prestate Palestine, and in 1946 Bikel went to London to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatics Arts.

In his autobiography, according to Variety, he expressed regret about not returning to Israel to fight in the 1948 War of Independence: “A few of my contemporaries regarded what I did as a character flaw, if not a downright act of desertion. In me, there remains a small, still voice, that asks whether I can ever fully acquit myself in my own mind.”

Bikel moved to the United States in 1954 to appear on Broadway in “Tonight in Samarkand,” becoming a U.S. citizen in 1961. Also on Broadway, he played Captain Georg Von Trapp in the first Broadway production of “The Sound of Music.” During his career, Bikel appeared on stage, film and television in musicals, dramas and comedies.

In 1958 he was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in “The Defiant Ones,” and in 1959 he co-founded the Newport Folk Festival with Pete Seeger and George Wein.

READ: Bikel folk sings to calm fellow passengers on hijacked airliner

Along with his arts work, Bikel was active in many left-wing causes, from the civil rights movement to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa to the Soviet Jewry movement to progressive Zionism and the Democratic Party. He was a longtime board member of the American Jewish Congress. In 2010, he was one of more than 150 American artists to sign a letter in support of Israeli actors boycotting performances in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Bikel also was a labor activist, serving as president of Actors Equity Association for 11 years and as the longtime president of the AFL-CIO-affiliated Actors & Artistes of America, according to Deadline Hollywood.

In a 2007 interview with Hadassah Magazine, Bikel linked his activism to his experience living through the Anschluss, the Nazi invasion of Austria in 1938.

“It became clear that I would never ever put myself in the place of the nice people next door who said ‘It’s not my fight,'” he said. “It’s always my fight. Whenever I see an individual or group singled out for persecution, there’s a switch thrown in my mind — and they become Jews.”

READ: Bikel urges Jane Fonda to bypass Palestinian film festival in Iraq

Tevye was not Bikel’s only Jewish role. In 2007 he was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for outstanding solo performance in “Sholom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears.” And in 2014, Bikel produced and starred in the documentary “Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem.”

In 2013, at an event marking the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Austrian government honored Bikel with its highest honor in the arts. As a finale, Bikel asked the distinguished audience to rise as he sang the “Song of the Partisans” in Yiddish.

Many of Bikel’s 27 albums featured Hebrew and Yiddish folk music — two languages that he spoke fluently, along with German, French and English. In a 2013 interview, he said that of all his accomplishments he was proudest of “presenting the songs of my people, songs of pain and songs of hope.”

In the same interview, Bikel said he had planned the inscription for his tombstone – “He Was the Singer of His People” – in Yiddish.

(JTA correspondent Tom Tugend contributed to this article.)

Microsoft to acquire Israeli cybersecurity firm

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 14:24

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Microsoft Corp. will purchase an Israeli cybersecurity company for a reported $320 million.

The planned acquisition of Adallom was first reported on Tuesday by the Israeli business publication Calcalist. Microsoft has signed a letter of intent for the purchase.

Founded in 2012, Adallom has 80 employees in Israel, in Tel Aviv, and the United States, in Palo Alto, California. It secures information stored on cloud services, protecting it from cyber attacks.

It will be Microsoft’s fourth acquisition of an Israeli company.

 

French prosecutor dismisses Arafat poisoning case

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 14:12

(JTA) — A French prosecutor dismissed a case accusing Israel of poisoning former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The prosecutor in Nanterre announced the decision on Tuesday, three months after three French judges recommended the case be dropped, the Times of Israel reported.

Lawyers for Arafat’s widow, Suha, who filed the case in France in 2012 alleging he had been murdered, said the judges closed the investigation too quickly.

Arafat died in a hospital near Paris in 2004 soon after falling ill in the West Bank. Traces of radioactive polonium were found on his belongings.

The medical report published after Arafat’s death listed the immediate cause as a massive brain hemorrhage resulting from an infection. Doctors ruled out foul play; some contended that Arafat died of AIDS.

After the opening of the inquiry, Arafat’s tomb in Ramallah was opened to allow teams of French, Swiss and Russian investigators to collect samples.

Suha Arafat based her lawsuit on a 108-page report released to her by the University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, Switzerland, which said the theory that Arafat was poisoned is most consistent with its results. Russian experts have maintained that Arafat was not poisoned.

The French experts “maintain that the polonium 210 and lead 210 found in Arafat’s grave and in the samples are of an environmental nature,” Nanterre prosecutor Catherine Denis said last month.

Many Palestinians continue to believe that Arafat was poisoned by Israel because he was an obstacle to peace. Israel has denied any involvement. Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 along with Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.

Kentucky JCC evacuated after receiving threat

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 14:07

(JTA) — The Jewish Community Center of Louisville, Kentucky, was evacuated in response to a threatening note left on an employee’s desk.

Citing an “unconfirmed threat,” JCC officials moved approximately 200 people, many of them children, from the building on Tuesday afternoon, Louisville’s WDRB reported. The police swept the building with bomb dogs and are investigating further, according to the city’s WHAS 11.

No details about the threat have been disclosed, but there were no reports of any injuries, according to WDRB.

Approximately 8,500 Jews live in Louisville.

N.Y. woman identified as ex-Hasid jumps 20 stories to her death

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 13:18

(JTA) — A New York woman who has been identified as an ex-Hasid jumped 20 floors to her death from a rooftop bar in Manhattan.

Faigy Mayer, 30, grew up as a Belz Hasid in the Williamsburg community of Brooklyn, New York media outlets reported.

According to reports, she climbed a ledge and jumped Monday evening during a party on the roof of the 230 Fifth restaurant and lounge in the Flatiron District, just south of midtown. Some bar patrons continued to drink after the woman jumped and police cordoned off the area.

Mayer, who worked as an iOS developer at Appton, identified herself on her Twitter feed as “Former #hasid who codes in #iOS. Love#coding, #beacons, #bacon, the#appleWatch and life!”

Among the organizations with likes on Mayer’s Facebook page, renamed “Remembering Faigy Mayer,” is Openly Off the Derech, a support group for formerly religious people.

The Gothamist also reported that photos on her Facebook page showed her with members of the group Footsteps, which helps former haredi Orthodox Jews make the transition to the secular world.

Mayer was featured in a 2012 National Geographic documentary titled “Only For God: Inside Hasidism,” which profiles several people discussing how they left the tight-knit community to live a secular lifestyle.

Jewish-run children’s charity in N.Y. accused of fraud

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 12:21

(JTA) — New York state is suing to shut down a charity for children with leukemia run by a Brooklyn Jewish man accused of raising money fraudulently.

A petition filed in state Supreme Court in Brooklyn on Monday requested the closing of The National Children’s Leukemia Foundation, which was founded by Zvi Shor and run from his basement.

The foundation collected $9.7 million from 2009 to 2013, The New York Times reported, citing court documents. Some 80 percent of the money went to telemarketing and direct-mail fundraising campaigns, and only $57,451 was paid out in “direct cash assistance to leukemia patients,” the Times report said. The state’s attorney general is asking for the recovery of the money.

The foundation’s website has been taken down and its phone number disconnected, according to the Times.

Shor was president of the foundation until his resignation in 2010 following revelations that he had been convicted of bank fraud in 1999. The foundation’s accountant, Yehuda Gutwein, took over as president, though Shor continued to run things, according to the court filings.

Shor established the foundation in 1991 after losing a son to leukemia, the court filing said, according to the Times. He paid himself $595,000 in salary and $600,000 in deferred compensation from 2009 to 2013, and a lifetime pension of more than $100,000 a year.

The foundation fraudulently claimed to have a bone marrow registry and cancer research building in Israel. It also promoted a Make a Dream Come True program, arranging trips to places like Disney World for children with cancer, which apparently did not take place, investigators said in court filings.

According to the petition, the foundation also transferred $655,000 to an Israeli research organization.

Rivlin to host rabbis in unity-building study session

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 10:17

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will host a study session with rabbis from various streams of Judaism in a unity-building effort.

Thursday’s event in Jerusalem will mark the upcoming fast of the Ninth of Av.

The Orthodox representative who originally had agreed to participate backed out, Haaretz reported. Rabbi Uri Sherki told Haaretz he would not attend for “technical reasons.” A day earlier, however, Sherki told the same newspaper that he was under pressure from some in the Orthodox community to cancel his appearance. He also was quoted on an Orthodox website as calling Reform Jews “heretics,” Haaretz reported.

Rabbi Benny Lau, the cousin of Rabbi David Lau, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, agreed to appear in Sherki’s place.

Several incidents in recent weeks have caused tension among the Jewish streams and the government.

“At this important time, the Office of the President, together with the Jewish People Policy Institute, has initiated an event to bring together the communities of the Jewish people in an atmosphere of mutual respect, and of learning and studying, to discuss the importance of Jewish unity and the need to work together to build understanding and respect,” said a statement from the President’s Office announcing the event.

The timing of the event, according to the statement, comes during “the Three Weeks, and indeed the Nine Days, and nearing the Ninth of Av, during which time we commemorate the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, among other terrible calamities which have befallen the Jewish people. Tragedies linked throughout Jewish tradition with the erosion of Jewish unity and respect for our fellow man.”

British Jewish leader slams criticism of queen over Nazi salute at 7

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 08:50

(JTA) — A major British organization condemned criticism of Queen Elizabeth II in the wake of the release of a video showing her giving a Nazi salute at the age of 7.

The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, on Sunday praised the royal family for its close relationship with the Jewish community.

“I don’t think any criticism of a 7-year-old child would be remotely appropriate and I don’t intend to make any,” Arkush said at a meeting of the board, the Jewish Chronicle reported over the weekend, following the publication of the video on the website of The Sun and on the tabloid’s front page.

“It’s really important for us not to judge this event with hindsight. Obviously the Nazi salute now carries horrible memories and bitterness for us, but I do not think for one moment that it would be appropriate for me to suggest that the full horror of Nazi Germany was known at that point.”

Buckingham Palace reportedly has ordered an investigation into the publication of the images, including how The Sun obtained the footage.

In the video, the young princess and her sister Margaret, 3, are shown dancing and smiling as the future British king, Edward VIII, instructs his nieces how to perform the Nazi Heil Hitler salute. Some historians have accused Edward of being sympathetic to Adolf Hitler’s regime; Edward abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson.

Queen Elizabeth, 89, is widely popular in Britain and it is not believed that the images will damage her reputation, according to reports.

Last month, the queen met with survivors and liberators in a visit to Bergen-Belsen, her first to a Nazi concentration camp.

EU foreign ministers call on Israel to halt settlements, ‘transfers’

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 08:10

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The foreign ministers of the European Union called on Israel to halt settlements and policies including “forced transfer.”

Their statement on the Middle East peace process was released Monday at the end of a monthly European Union Council meeting in Brussels.

It reiterates “strong opposition to Israel’s settlement policy and actions taken in this context, such as building the separation barrier beyond the 1967 line, demolitions and confiscation — including of EU funded projects — evictions, forced transfers including of Bedouins, illegal outposts, settler violence and restrictions of movement and access.”

More specifically, the statement “calls on Israeli authorities to halt plans for forced transfer of population and demolition of Palestinian housing and infrastructure in the Sussiya and Abu Nwar communities.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry took umbrage at the use of the term “transfer,” but said it would raise the issue directly with the European Union, Haaretz reported.

Sussiya is located near Hebron, and is next to an Israeli settlement by the same name. It is in Area C of the West Bank, which is solely under Israeli control. Israel plans by the end of the month to demolish the homes in Sussiya — home to about 340 Palestinians — that were built without permission, and relocate the residents to an area controlled by the Palestinian Authority. EU representatives visited the village last month.

Abu Nwar is an illegally built Bedouin community. Israel plans to move its residents to a planned community in the country’s south.

The 28 EU ministers called for “an increased common international effort” in order to secure “a just and lasting peace.” The statement asks for the creation of an international support group to help move along the peace process, for which the ministers state that there is “no alternative to a negotiated two-state solution.”

The statement also calls for an easing of restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and for a full opening of Gaza border crossings with Israel. It also “urges all Palestinian factions to find common ground, based on non-violence and reconciliation, and to work together to address the needs of the Palestinian population.”

Israeli lawmakers approve tougher law against rock throwers

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 06:55

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli lawmakers voted to impose longer jail terms on people caught throwing rocks at civilian cars and roads.

The Knesset passed the bill on its second and third readings on Monday night by a vote of 69 to 17.

Under the new law, rock throwers can be sentenced to up to 20 years in jail if it is proven that they intended to cause injury, and 10 years if harmful intent is not proven. Also, a prison sentence of five years can be levied for throwing a rock at a police officer or police car.

“Today justice has been done,” said Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party after the vote. “For years terrorists have been evading punishment and responsibility. The tolerance shown to terrorists ends today. A stone thrower is a terrorist, and only a proper punishment can be a deterrent.”

The law does not cover the West Bank, which is under Israeli military law, and where Palestinians frequently throw rocks at Israeli civilian cars.

The Arab Joint List party in a statement called the new law a form of “collective punishment” and said it was meant to “oppress the Palestinians’ civilian and popular struggle.”

At least three Israelis, including a baby, have been killed in the West Bank after rocks were thrown at the cars they were riding in, and others have been seriously injured.

Earlier this month, a Palestinian teen was shot in the back and killed after throwing a rock at an army vehicle. Col. Yisrael Shomer said he felt threatened by the teen in the July 3 incident near the West Bank city of Ramallah, but a surveillance camera showed that the teen was shot as he ran away. The vehicle’s windshield was shattered in the attack.

Pilot Louis Lenart, ‘The Man Who Saved Tel Aviv,’ dies at 94

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 05:56

(JTA) — Louis (Lou) Lenart, an American fighter pilot hailed as “The Man Who Saved Tel Aviv” during the opening days of Israel’s War of Independence, has died.

Lenart died Monday at his home in Raanana, Israel, of heart and kidney failure. He was 94.

His funeral will be held Wednesday at the Kefar Nachman Cemetery in Raanana. High-ranking officers of the U.S. Marine Corps and Israeli Air Force are expected to attend, according to Lenart’s wife, Rachel Nir.

Lenart was born Layos Lenovitz, the son of Jewish farmers, in a small Hungarian village near the Czech border.

To escape the prevalent anti-Semitism, the family moved to the United States when Lenart was 10. His parents settled in the Pennsylvania coal-mining town of Wilkes-Barre, where he was the target of anti-Jewish taunts.

At 17, Lenart enlisted in the U.S. Marines and after 18 months of infantry training talked his way into a flight school, where he was almost given up for dead after a midair collision during training.

Lenart saw action in the Battle for Okinawa and other Pacific engagements. Discharged at war’s end with the rank of captain, he learned that 14 relatives in Hungary had been killed in Auschwitz.

It took little additional incentive for the ex-Marine to join the clandestine effort to smuggle war surplus planes into the nascent State of Israel in early 1948.

When Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, the Israeli Air Force consisted of four bastardized Czech versions of the German Messerschmitt. On May 29 of that year, large Egyptian forces had advanced to within 16 miles of Tel Aviv and Israel decided to gamble its entire air force in an attack on the Egyptian advance columns.

As the most experienced pilot, Lenart led the attack, backed by Ezer Weizman, later president of Israel, as one of the other three pilots.

The stunned Egyptian troops, who had been assured that the Israelis had no aircraft, stopped their advance and retreated. Subsequent news reports hailed Lenart as “The Man Who Saved Tel Aviv.”

After the war, Lenart participated in the airlift of Iraqi Jews to Israel, was a pilot for El Al Airlines and produced six feature films, including “Iron Eagle” and “Iron Eagle II.”

One of his collaborators was Hollywood screenwriter Dan Gordon, who emphasized that the headline was no exaggeration.

“In many ways, Lou was what Lafayette and Nathan Hale were to the American Revolution,” Gordon said. “If it hadn’t been for Lou and his three comrades, Tel Avivians would be speaking Arabic today.”

Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador the United States and now a Knesset member, described his friend some years ago as “a loving father, loyal friend, champion of Israel. Lou Lenart is an inspiration not only for Jews, but for all people who have suffered oppression and have had to struggle for their liberty and defense.”

Along with his wife, Lenart is survived by a daughter, Michal, and a grandson.

 

 

Biden defends Iran deal in call with Jewish leaders

Mon, 07/20/2015 - 18:07

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Vice President Joseph Biden defended the Iran nuclear deal in a call with the organized Jewish community that drew a thousand listeners.

Biden, considered the closest Obama administration official to the Jewish community, said Monday that he has fielded much skepticism among Jews since the major powers and Iran reached a sanctions relief-for nuclear restrictions deal last week.

“What’s the deal here, Joe?” has been a repeated question, Biden said.

Biden noted his long history of closeness to Israel and the Jewish community.

“Please do not doubt my commitment to Israel,” he said.

Congress has two months to consider whether it should disapprove of the deal, which would kill it. Opponents and backers of the deal have launched major campaigns for Jewish public opinion, cognizant of its influence on how lawmakers may vote in a case that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cast as an existential one for Israel.

Biden launched into a detailed, hourlong rebuttal to some of the objections he’s encountered, saying, for instance, that the mechanism that would snap back sanctions should Iran violate the agreement would be immediate for the first 10 years and would not require months of work.

He also downplayed concerns about delays of up to 24 days in inspectors’ access to suspect sites, noting that the detectable half-life following nuclear activity lasts for centuries.

“The idea that they can evade verification is not possible,” the vice president said.

The White House endeavored to get as many community lay leaders and professionals to call in, urging Jewish organizations to spread word of the call.

Because of the length of Biden’s talk, he did not take questions. Colin Kahl, Biden’s national security adviser, who is in Israel accompanying Defense Secretary Ash Carter, did field some questions after Biden left the call.

Micro-CT scanner facilitates groundbreaking discovery of ancient Torah scrap

Mon, 07/20/2015 - 16:05

(JTA) — A previously unreadable fire-damaged ancient scroll discovered in 1970 has been found to contain the first eight verses of Leviticus, one of the five books of the Torah.

Using a micro-CT scanner, researchers at the Israel Antiquities Authority were able to determine the contents of the sixth-century scrap of parchment found in the ark of an ancient synagogue at Ein Gedi, near the Dead Sea. The new finding was announced Monday at a conference in Jerusalem under the auspices of the authority and Israel’s Ministry of Sports and Culture.

“After the Dead Sea Scrolls, this is the most significant find of a written Bible,” Pnina Shor, head of the authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls Project, told journalists Monday, according to the French news agency AFP.

Until the Israeli company Merkel Technologies offered its micro-CT scanner, which created high-resolution 3-D scans, the piece of parchment, which is 2 3/4 inches long and resembles a piece of charcoal, had been impossible to read. Researchers from the computer science department at the University of Kentucky helped decipher the scans.

“The deciphering of the scroll, which was a puzzle for us for 45 years, is very exciting,” Sefi Porath, who led the Ein Gedi excavations in which the scroll was found, said at the Monday conference, according to The Jerusalem Post. The parchment was discovered inside the ruins of a synagogue that had been burnt down 1,500 years earlier.

Shor said the discovery of the parchment’s contents, which she said “astonished us,” offers a missing link of sorts between the more than 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls and the 10th-century Aleppo Codex.

“Now, not only can we bequeath the Dead Sea Scrolls to future generations, but also a part of the Bible from a Holy Ark of a 1,500-year old synagogue,” she added.

Ramah to open camp in northern California

Mon, 07/20/2015 - 15:59

(JTA) — The Conservative movement’s Ramah camp network is opening a new overnight camp in northern California.

Camp Ramah in Northern California will open in summer 2016, the National Ramah Commission announced in a news release. In addition to offering standard Jewish camp activities, the new camp will offer specialties in performing arts, outdoor adventure and marine biology.

READ: JDate partnership to help Ramah alumni kindle campfires of romance 

The camp will be the ninth Ramah overnight camp in North America and the second in California. Ramah says its programs serve more than 10,000 children, teens and young adults annually.

Approximately 70,000 young people participated in nonprofit Jewish summer camps in North America last year, according to JData, a Brandeis University program that tracks data from Jewish educational institutions.

READ: Jewish camps: From affordability to romance to special-needs job training