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Gabrielle Birkner tapped as managing editor of JTA

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 06:22

NEW YORK (JTA) — Gabrielle Birkner is the new managing editor of JTA.

Birkner is heading JTA’s editorial team and leading efforts to expand and improve the 97-year-old Jewish news agency’s digital offerings.

“We are so proud and excited to have Gabi assuming this role,” said Ami Eden, JTA’s CEO and editor in chief. “She is a top-rate journalist, a great digital strategist and a superb mentor and manager. She is the perfect person to uphold our century-long tradition of  journalistic excellence while helping us continue to implement a digital strategy for the future.”

Birkner is the former director of digital media at the Forward, where she founded and edited the women’s issues blog, The Sisterhood. She also served as a religion reporter and features editor at The New York Sun, and as a staff writer at The New York Jewish Week. She co-founded and serves as executive editor of Modern Loss, an online magazine about grief and loss, geared toward 20- and 30-somethings.

“I’m thrilled to join JTA’s talented team at this pivotal moment for the news organization,” Birkner said. “I look forward to working with our staff writers and correspondents around the world to deliver exceptional journalism to our online readers and client newspapers.”

Founded in 1917 and known for decades as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, JTA reports on developments impacting Jews and Jewish communities in the United States, Israel and around the world. JTA serves 3 million users per year via its website and e-newsletters, and distributes content to 75 syndication clients around the world.

JTA is in the process of merging with MyJewishLearning. Eden and board leaders of both organizations have said that even after the merger, JTA will continue to operate as a standalone news brand.


Polish prosecutor acquitted for not trying swastika case

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 05:19

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — A Polish prosecutor who opted not to launch legal proceedings against a vandal who painted a swastika was acquitted by a disciplinary court.

The Bialystok prosecutor, who said he refused to take action in the June 2013 vandalism because the swastika is “a symbol of Asian happiness and prosperity,” was acquitted last week following secret proceedings.

The graffiti found in Bialystok was reported to the prosecutor’s office by the local theater Trzyrzecze. Promotion of fascism in Poland is illegal and punishable by up to two years in prison.

“There are places in the world where this symbol can be associated with happiness,” Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, told JTA. “For people born in Poland, where in each family there is a memory of the tortured, executed or starved by the people under this sign, the prosecutor’s amnesia must be a shock.”




Wife of chief Chabad rabbi in Sydney regrets nasty email to child sex abuse victim

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 05:05

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – The wife of the chief Chabad rabbi in Sydney apologized for offending a child sex abuse victim on the eve of Yom Kippur.

On Monday, Pnina Feldman said she regretted the email she had sent three days earlier to Manny Waks, who went public with his story of child sex abuse in the Jewish community, stressing she had written a “private” email to Waks.

Waks, an advocate for child sex abuse victims, released Feldman’s email to the media.

Feldman sent the email after receiving a request to support a petition calling on two senior Chabad leaders in Melbourne to resign from their positions over the child sex abuse scandal that embroiled Chabad’s Yeshivah College in the 1980s and 1990s.

“In my robust and emotional email I employed offensive language which I remorsefully regret and unreservedly apologize for,” she wrote. “I agree with all efforts to prosecute pedophiles but take issue with some aspects of Manny’s crusade against Melbourne Yeshivah.”

Feldman added, “I also want to apologize for any perceived trivialization of the impact of child abuse on victims.”

In her email, Feldman wrote of Waks, “I haven’t met a person yet with one nice word to say about you. Most people consider you a lowlife.”

Feldman, whose Brooklyn-born husband, Pinchus, was sent as an emissary to Sydney by the Lubavitcher rebbe in the 1960s, also accused Waks in the email of waging a “malicious blame game” against Yeshivah that is “unjust, unwarranted, undeserved and wicked.”

Last year, former Yeshivah College security guard David Cyprys was convicted and jailed for molesting Waks and eight other boys. David Kramer, an American and a former teacher at the college, also was jailed for molesting four boys.

In response to Feldman’s email, Waks wrote, “I’m truly shocked and horrified that Rebbetzin Feldman has deliberately chosen the eve of Yom Kippur … to launch an unprovoked, vile and offensive tirade against me.”.

In 2012, Yeshivah in Melbourne apologized “unreservedly” to victims of child sexual abuse, but the scandal continues to smolder within the Jewish community.

Senior rabbis will be called to testify before the ongoing Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, the Melbourne Age newspaper recently revealed.

Israel’s health ministry warns against gay conversion therapy

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 04:47

(JTA) — Israel’s health ministry issued a warning declaring that therapies aimed at changing patients from gay to straight are not supported by medical evidence and could be harmful.

Signed by Health Minister Yael German, Sunday’s decision adopts the position of the Council of Psychologists and the Israel Psychological Association. The health ministry statement warns that gay conversion therapies are neither professionally nor ethically acceptable, citing numerous medical studies which show that such therapies do not work, the Israeli daily  Haaretz reported.

“Sexual inclination is part of a person’s identity and requires no treatment or conversion,”  German said, according to Ynet.

Israeli gay rights groups hailed the health ministry’s position.

“The Health Ministry warning comes after numerous studies and testimonies regarding the serious emotional harm suffered by LGBTs who underwent conversion attempts, including attempted suicides,” said Shai Deutsch, chairman of the National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transsexual Task Force, according to Haaretz.

However, those who advocate for gay conversion therapies remain undaunted.

“I know many, many people who have been treated,” Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, founder of Atzat Nefesh, an Orthodox organization that encourages gay conversion therapy, told Haaretz. “What, they don’t exist?”

Sinai militants execute four accused informants

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 04:25

(JTA) — A violent Egyptian Islamist group released a video of four Egyptians accused of being  informants for Israeli intelligence being executed, three via beheading.

The Sinai-based terrorist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, posted a video on YouTube of the executions, Reuters reported. Ansar, which has carried on a violent military campaign in the Sinai against the Egyptian army, reportedly accused Egypt of collaborating with Israel and vowed to hunt down and kill informants who provide intelligence to the army, promising to continue to “harvest the spies of the Jews.”

In the video, three men reportedly confess to being informants and are then decapitated by masked men, who then place the severed heads upon the corpses’ backs. A fourth man likewise confesses and is then riddled with bullets.

The video is reminiscent of recent gruesome beheading videos issued by the militant group Islamic State, which has operated in Iraq and Syria. Reuters had previously reported that the Islamic State has been advising Ansar via the internet.

In heavily Muslim Dutch neighborhood, a sukkah stirs controversy

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 18:49

Fabrice Schomberg outside his home in The Hague. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — For the tour guides that lead visitors through the Van Ostade Housing Project, Fabrice Schomberg’s sukkah is one of the few signs of the neighborhood’s Jewish roots.

Built in the 19th century for impoverished Jews, the enclave today is surrounded by the largely Muslim neighborhood of Schilderswijk, an area that the Dutch media have taken to calling the “Sharia Triangle,” referring to Islamic religious law. Fewer than 10 Jewish residents remain and, aside from Schomberg’s sukkah, there are virtually no markers of the area’s Jewish past.

Now even the sukkah’s fate is in doubt.

After weeks of negotiation with the city, Schomberg was informed that he could build his sukkah only on condition that he dismantle it by 9 o’clock each night. According to Schomberg, the police had advised the city against allowing a sukkah at all, since it might invite Muslim vandalism.

To Schomberg and his supporters, the city’s reluctance to allow a sukkah in Van Ostade is emblematic of the Dutch approach to the rise of Muslim fundamentalism — urging targeted communities to keep a low profile rather than standing up for individual freedoms. But others fault Schomberg, alleging that he has used religion to stir conflict at the community’s expense.

“Resistance to my sukkah is not just about building permits,” said Schomberg, a British-born artist who has erected a sukkah outside his door for the past three years. “There’s a wider context.”

That context includes three demonstrations this summer, all featuring flags of the ISIS jihadist group; two included calls to murder Jews. A few dozen people attended each of the rallies. The city has since banned all demonstrations in Schilderswijk.

Schomberg was himself verbally assaulted in Schilderswijk while in the presence of a film crew that he had invited to see what happens when he wears his yarmulke in public.

“Advertising one’s Judaism is dangerous here,” said one Jewish resident who asked to remain anonymous to protect her safety. “I don’t wear any Jewish symbol on the street and I installed my mezuzah on the inside.”

Despite these concerns, she supports Schomberg’s fight to build a sukkah and said she plans to visit the sukkah over the Sukkot holiday, which begins Wednesday at sundown.

“Banning sukkot is like banning Judaism,” she said.

Police and city officials would neither confirm nor deny Schomberg’s claim that police had advised the city to deny the sukkah permit, nor would they answer questions about the level of risk facing Jews in Schilderswijk. The city also would not say why Schomberg must dismantle the temporary holiday dwelling at night.

Schomberg, who has appeared several times in Dutch media this summer because of the “kippah walks” against anti-Semitism that he organized in Schilderswijk, says his sukkah helps build bridges to non-Jews whom he invites as guests.

But some Jews who know Schomberg describe him as a troublemaker who is endangering the community, citing the invitation he extended to the stridently anti-Muslim Dutch politician Geert Wilders to visit his sukkah.

In September, the board of the Jewish Community of The Hague informed Schomberg that he was banned from entering any of the city’s Orthodox synagogues until 2016 because “his behavior has endangered the community.” Schomberg said he was told by the Reform community that he was not welcome there either.

In an attempt to reverse the ban, Schomberg launched an online petition that has collected 31 signatures, but it also drew criticism from some of his detractors.

“Mr. Schomberg’s actions, past and present, as well as his constant media-seeking behavior do not reflect any concern for the safety of any [Jewish] groups,” a member of the Orthodox community, Stephanie Baumgarten-Kustner, wrote on his petition last week. “In fact his behavior puts the entire Jewish community in the Hague (and the Netherlands) at risk.”

Other critics say they fear Schomberg will use the sukkah to advance a political agenda, though Schomberg denies having one. He insists that his pariah status is born of the fact that he suffers from bipolar disorder and is intent on countering the community’s desire to keep a low profile.

U.S. officials score Netanyahu on ‘American values’ comment

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 17:49

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s questioning of “American values” in pushing back against Obama administration criticism of Jerusalem building was “odd,” U.S. officials said.

“American policy has been clear and unchanged under several administrations, both Democratic and Republican: We oppose any unilateral actions that attempt to prejudge final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said Monday in her daily briefing for reporters.

“So I have to say it was a bit odd to use ‘American values’ when clearly we’ve had a consistent view and a consistent position on this particular issue,” she said.

On Sunday, Netanyahu had told CBS in an interview that the criticism of expanding Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem was “against American values.”

Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, also called the locution “odd” in the White House briefing with reporters, but he went further, noting U.S. assistance to Israel.

“The fact is, when it comes to American values, it’s American values that lend this country’s unwavering support to Israel,” he said. “It’s American values that have led us to fight for and secure funding to strengthen Israel’s security in tangible ways.”

Bureau of prisons changes Pollard status to ‘life’

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 16:49

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. Bureau of Prisons changed Jonathan Pollard’s release date on its website from “Nov. 15 2015” to “Life.”

A spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons was unable Monday to explain the change on the bureau’s “inmate locator,” which he confirmed occurred recently.

Under sentencing guidelines in place in 1987 when Pollard, a former U.S. Navy analyst, got his life sentence for spying for Israel, he is eligible for automatic parole consideration on Nov. 21 of next year, but that does not guarantee a release, said Ed Ross, the spokesman.

“There has been no status change,” Ross said, describing the change as “administrative.”

Pollard’s wife, Esther, told the Jerusalem Post she was gratified at the change, saying the earlier status lent credence to the erroneous argument that he was likely to be released next year, and undercut efforts to get President Obama to commute Pollard’s sentence.

Brazil’s Rousseff in runoff to keep presidency

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 14:34

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) — Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who called Israel’s conflict this summer with Hamas “a massacre,” will face a runoff to stay in office.

Rousseff of the left-wing Workers’ Party will face Aecio Neves of the center-right Social Democracy Party in the Oct. 26 runoff after failing to win an outright victory Sunday in her bid to gain a second four-year term.

The incumbent was the top vote-getter with 41.6 percent to 33.6 percent for Aecio, a senator. Marina Silva, a prominent environmentalist, finished third with 21.3 percent of the vote.

In late July, speaking about the Israel-Hamas conflict, Rousseff said, “I think what’s happening in the Gaza Strip is dangerous. I don’t think it’s genocide, but I think it’s a massacre.”

Brazil, a country of some 110,000 Jews, pulled its ambassador from Israel amid the conflict.

In Israel, Neves was the winner among the Brazilian Jews with 145 votes, followed by Silva with 35 and Rousseff with 9.

Explosion viewed in vicinity of Tehran site linked to nukes

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 14:09

(JTA) — An explosion at or near an Iranian military complex believed to be a site for nuclear testing created a large orange flash over Tehran.

The New York Times reported that the explosion on Sunday night came from the direction of the Parchin complex, where Iran has been accused of testing nuclear weapons.

Iranian officials denied the explosion originated there.

Iran’s Defense Industries Organization said that two people were missing after “an ordinary fire” caused by “chemical reactions of flammable material” at an unspecified location, the Times reported.

Witnesses near the site said that windows had been shattered in the vicinity and that all trees in a hundred-yard radius of two villages on the outskirt of the military facility were burned.

The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors visited Parchin in 2005, but since then have not been allowed to return, despite repeated requests.

Philadelphia cantor’s former house guest charged in his murder

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 13:58

NEW YORK (JTA) — A former house guest was charged in the fatal stabbing of Ronald Fischman, an ordained cantor, in Fischman’s Philadelphia home.

Jonathan Williams, 33, was arrested Thursday — two days after the stabbing — and charged with murder, burglary and other offenses, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Williams had been a house guest at Fischman’s northwest Philadelphia home but had been asked to leave, according to police reports obtained by the Inquirer. He broke into the house after 11 p.m. on Sept. 30, according to police, and was confronted inside by Fischman, then stabbed him multiple times in the neck, shoulder and knee.

Fischman, 54, a Pittsburgh native, was an author and editor at GGIS Publishing & Media in Philadelphia. He had published two original books and ghostwritten eight biographies and memoirs, according to his website.

A graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s H. L. Miller Cantorial School in New York, Fischman had served as the cantor at Temple Beth Sholom, a Conservative synagogue on Long Island.

He was a member of the Mishkan Shalom synagogue in northwest Philadelphia, where he had blown the shofar and read from the Torah at Rosh Hashanah services this year, Rabbi Shawn Zevit told the Inquirer.

“It is a terrible loss,” Zevit told NewsWorks Philadelphia. “There is a lot of shock and grief. He was a very beloved member of our community.”

Woolworths of South Africa threatens to sue BDS over protests

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 10:16

(JTA) — Woolworths of South Africa said it may take the BDS lobby to court for threatening its staff and customers.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has held more than 40 protests at Woolworths stores throughout the country in recent weeks.

“Our employees, of all faiths and cultures, are telling us that they are feeling increasingly threatened by the protests,” spokesman Babs Dlamini told the South African daily The Times on Sunday. “What’s more, the families of our employees have reported being abused and sworn at by BDS.

“If this continues we will consider taking further precautions, including legal action against the individuals involved.”

It is not known if the protests have hurt Woolworths sales.

BDS reportedly plans to continue to pressure the company, Woolworths Holdings Limited, until its annual general meeting on Nov. 26.

Dlamini told the Times that Woolworths was not sure why it was being targeted because “more than 95 percent of our food is sourced locally [and] the government continues to authorize trade with Israel.”

BDS activist Mohammed Desai told the Times that the movement knows there are other companies in South Africa with ties to Israel, but said: “For now, Woolworths is our target. They are making a grave mistake by ignoring us and if we go to all those retailers our campaign will be diluted.”

In South Africa, BDS has received support from the African National Congress’ Youth League, and the Times reported that the movement has lobbied influential ANC supporters to put pressure on one of Woolworths’ largest shareholders, the Government Employees Pension Fund, which holds 17.2 percent of the shares.

Woolworths, one of the largest companies in South Africa, is not related to the U.S. chain F. W. Woolworth Company.


Jews jeer Toronto candidate Doug Ford’s defense of mayor brother

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 10:10

TORONTO (JTA) — Toronto mayoral candidate Doug Ford drew boos and jeers from a Jewish audience while trying to defend his brother, the current mayor, Rob Ford.

Doug Ford during a candidates’ debate on Sunday sponsored by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto was trying to distance himself from racist remarks made several months earlier by his brother.

The exchange began when a Jewish candidate, Ari Goldkind, said he could not stay silent about the comments made by Rob Ford in March that included cursing and pejoratives for Jews, blacks and Italians.

Asked about containing anti-Semitism, Goldkind said, “I would start by not having a mayor who refers to us, the people in this room, the Jewish people in this room, with a derogatory name that starts with k. The fact that he insulted my religion, whether it was under the influence or not, we cannot have a mayor like that. Because that is where it starts.”

Doug Ford said his brother, whose term in office has been plagued by allegations of drug and alcohol abuse, had apologized for the slurs.

“I have told him very clearly that it was unacceptable and inexcusable,” he said.

Doug Ford added: “You know something, my doctor, my Jewish doctor, my Jewish dentist, my Jewish lawyer, my Jewish … accountant,” he began, as booing nearly drowned him out.

“We’ve known, our family, can you please, please let me finish. Our family has the utmost respect. Let me finish. Please. My family has the utmost respect for the Jewish community, and we look forward to working with the Jewish community, as we have for the last four years.”

The Toronto UJA Federation’s campaign director, Steve Shulman, told the Globe and Mail that Doug Ford’s response was phrased “maybe in an inelegant way,” but he commended the four candidates for agreeing that there was no place in the city for such bigotry.

Last month, Rob Ford announced that he would not seek re-election because of a cancer diagnosis. At the last minute his brother, a city councilman, said he would run for mayor.

Sydney woman jailed in Israel over Yom Kippur for evading army service

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 07:49

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – A 27-year-old Sydney woman spent Yom Kippur in jail in Israel for allegedly evading army service a decade ago.

Natalie Gershoig was detained at Ben Gurion Airport on Oct. 2 upon arriving in the country to visit her Israeli mother. She was sent to the Israel Defense Forces’ recruitment office and later appeared at a hearing into her alleged draft evasion, according to Israeli media reports.

Gershoig has spent five days, including Yom Kippur, in military jail while she awaits her court hearing Monday, according to her father, Alex.

While he said the family had been traumatized by the affair, Alex Gershoig added, “One thing I’m glad about is that it’s a Jewish jail, so I’m sure she’ll be taken care of.”

He also said, “I don’t want to aggravate any situation by putting any undue pressure on the court.”

Alex Gershoig said his daughter, a former student at Yeshiva College in Sydney, left Israel about 10 or 11 years ago to return to Australia.

“She was there for a couple of years attending school,” he said. “I was very ill at the time, so she flew back to Australia.”

Alex Gershoig said he was not aware of his daughter receiving any notification about military service from the army. But a warrant for her arrest apparently was issued after she failed to appear for mandatory military service a decade ago.


Swastika painted on Spokane synagogue during Yom Kippur services

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 06:17

(JTA) — A swastika was painted on the wall of a synagogue in Spokane, Wash., as Yom Kippur services were taking place.

On Saturday, the swastika was painted on the concrete wall of Temple Beth Shalom’s enclosed courtyard, according to local reports.

Spokane Police are reviewing the synagogue’s security camera footage, according to reports.

The swastika will be removed “immediately,” Rabbi Tamar Malino said in a statement.


IFCJ announces project to bring olim from FSU, countries in crisis

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 05:23

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has established a project to bring more new immigrants to Israel from former Soviet Union and other countries in crisis.

The project will be led by former director general of Aliyah and Absorption at the Jewish Agency, Eli Cohen, the Fellowship announced on Monday. Cohen has been named the Fellowship’s Vice President for Immigration and Absorption.

“The Fellowship has made a strategic decision to enhance its work both in assisting aliyah to Israel and in the absorption of new immigrants through cooperation with the government and organizations active in the field,” the organization said in a statement.

Over the past year the organization has assisted Jews from the Ukraine, including combat zones in eastern Ukraine, to make aliyah in conjunction with the Jewish Agency; paid for flights for thousands of new immigrants; and funded half of the project to bring tens of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, it said.

In previous years, the Fellowship has contributed over $150 million for immigration and absorption in Israel through partner organizations such as The Jewish Agency. Fellowship founder and president Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein previously served as the chairperson of the Aliyah Committee and a member of the Executive Board of The Jewish Agency.

“I have dedicated most of my professional life to bringing Jews to Israel, strengthening Jewish identity and the connection between Israel and Jewish communities,” Cohen said in the statement. “There is significant potential for aliyah to Israel at the moment and many Jews understand that Israel is their national home and the place where they can maintain their heritage and fulfill their sense of Jewish identity.”

Cohen said he would “work in cooperation with all the organizations who are operating in this field.”

Fugitive rabbi’s followers ‘overrun’ Dutch campsite

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 05:16

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — A Dutch municipality ordered the eviction of 270 Jews from a camping site that is overcrowded with followers of the fugitive rabbi Eliezer Berland.

The order was issued Friday by the island municipality of Texel in the country’s north in connection with the arrival of 300 Orthodox Jews from the Breslov Hasidic sect ahead of Yom Kippur to a Jewish-owned camping site with a capacity of 30 people, the Noordhollands Dagblad daily newspaper reported Friday.

The visitors came from various countries to spend the holiday with Berland, who was arrested in the Netherlands last month.

Berland, the founder of the Shuvu Bonim religious seminary, fled Israel to Morocco and from there to South Africa last year amid allegations that he molested two female followers, including a minor. Israel requested his extradition; he is staying in Holland while justice authorities review the request.

Berland and his followers arrived ahead of the weekend at Camping Dennenlust, which belongs to a Jewish couple, Avraham and Rivka Pranger.

Out of consideration for the religious sentiment of the campers, Mayor Francine Giskes gave the Prangers until Sunday for their site to adhere to its legal capacity, Noordhollands Dagblad reported. She consulted several mayors in the region on how to approach the matter.

Avraham Pranger told the daily that he and his wife did not know 300 people would descend on their small business and that the guests kept multiplying despite the couple’s request that they find an alternative arrangements.

“It all began with a reservation by a rabbi from Amsterdam and 30 of his followers,” he told the daily before Yom Kippur. “We are totally overrun, but these are fellow Jews and I can’t just chase them away. I think it’s through social media the message spread.”

Parents of 3 slain Israeli teens join Netanyahu for Bible study

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 04:20

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a Bible study session attended by the parents of three Israeli teens killed in June.

Iris and Uri Yifrach, Rachel and Avi Fraenkel, and Ophir and Bat-Galim Shaar joined the Tanach Study Circle at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem on Sunday evening.

Netanyahu renewed the circle two years ago. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, had started the tradition.

Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron also joined the study group, which focused on the upcoming weekly Torah portion of Bereishit, the opening chapters of the Bible.

Netanyahu said at the beginning of the meeting, “We are preparing to celebrate Simchat Torah, when we will conclude reading the Torah and begin it again. The cyclical nature of reading the Torah and starting it again from Genesis also symbolizes the renewal of our people in our land. Despite all attempts to destroy us, each time we build ourselves up again, deeply linked to also growing the tree called the Jewish People, with our deep roots and branches that reach ever higher.”

The teens were kidnapped in mid-June and their bodies were found near Hebron 18 days later following a massive search.

Author Nicholas Sparks sued for racism and anti-Semitism

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 04:06

(JTA) — Novelist Nicholas Sparks is being sued for racial and religious discrimination by the former headmaster of a private school he founded.

Saul Hillel Benjamin, a practicing Quaker who is Jewish by background, filed a federal lawsuit against Sparks charging the best-selling author with making racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic remarks while Benjamin headed The Epiphany School, a K-12 school Sparks founded in New Bern, N.C.

The lawsuit, which was filed Oct. 2 in a U.S. District Court in North Carolina, also names the school and the Nicholas Sparks Foundation.

Benjamin was hired before the 2013-14 school year with a four-year contract.

According to the lawsuit, “Sparks unlawfully engaged in relentless and discriminatory campaign to humiliate, degrade and defame Saul Hillel Benjamin — Epiphany’s most visible employee of Jewish heritage and ethnicity.”

The lawsuit also states that Sparks and other members of the board on numerous occasions “displayed contempt for Mr. Benjamin’s Jewish heritage and Quaker faith.”

Sparks’ lawyer Scott Schwimer defended the author in a statement.

“As a gay Jewish man who has represented Nick for almost 20 years, I find these allegations completely ludicrous and offensive,” Schwimer said.

NBC photographer with Ebola has Jewish ties

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 03:34

(JTA) — An NBC photographer diagnosed with Ebola has a biological Jewish father.

Ashoka Mukpo was expected to arrive at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha from Liberia on Monday.

Mukpo was raised in Colorado by the late Tibetan Buddhist leader Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche; his mother was one of his several wives. His biological father, Mitchell Levy, one of Trungpa’s followers, is Jewish, The Associated Press reported. Mukpo’s mother and Levy married after Trungpa’s death.

Levy told the AP that his son was filming inside and around clinics and high-risk areas in Liberia but didn’t know how he became infected. Mukpo returned to the west African nation in August to cover the epidemic.

As an infant, Mukpo was identified as a reincarnated Tibetan lama, a role he did not embrace though he is still a practicing Buddhist.