Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dutch crown prince dedicates Amsterdam Jewish cultural quarter

The intended king of the Netherlands, Prince Willem-Alexander, officiated at the dedication of the new Jewish cultural quarter in Amsterdam.

Several hundred people attended the dedication ceremony on Tuesday, the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Dutch Jewish Historical Museum. The museum is one of seven Jewish institutions situated within the square kilometer that constitutes the new Jewish quarter.

“Combining forces and presenting themselves as one Jewish Cultural Quarter has allowed for new possibilities with regard to the collections and monuments,” the Dutch Royal House said in statement. These possibilities include “exhibitions, digitalization, research, education and the holding of public events.”

Besides the museum, the quarter includes the Portuguese Synagogue and its library, Ets Haim; the children’s museum belonging to the Jewish Historical Museum; and the Hollandsche Schouwburg, once a theater house and a dispatch center for Jews during the Holocaust that is now a monument for the tens of thousands of Jews who were deported by the Nazis to their deaths.

Wearing a blue kipah at the event, the prince unveiled a piece of artwork titled “The Fragmented Talit” by Joseph Semah, an Israeli-Dutch artist who was born in Iraq in 1948 and whose grandfather was the last known rabbi to serve the Jewish community of Baghdad.  -- JTA

Friday, October 26, 2012

Film About Egyptian Jews Stirs 'Normalization' Uproar in Cairo

Egyptian security officers
Flash 90

An Egyptian film documenting Jewish life in Egypt prior to the 1950s has stirred controversy after it was screened at film festival in Cairo -- By Rachel Hirshfeld, Arutz Sheva/Israel National News

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Israeli kids with cancer take in D.C. sites

A dozen Israeli children who suffer from cancer were treated to dinner at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and visits to many of the area’s top tourist sites.

The children, as well as a few of their mothers, medical personnel and trip organizers, spent the past few days touring the U.S. Capitol, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the National Mall and several museums.

A visit to FBI headquarters came with a ride in four-wheel drive vehicles along an extreme driving course and a look inside a helicopter, according to Lindsey Singer, director of U.S. media and strategic outreach at the embassy.

The trip was organized by Hakav HaMeached (For the Sake of the Children).

“They need to build up their strength to return to the struggle against their disease with renewed spirit,” said trip organizers Benny Cohen and Yisrael Sheinfeld in a statement. “It is our hope that the trip will instill in them new strength to wrestle with and defeat the horrors of cancer. It’s also a way to let them live and enjoy life like any other normal child."

In addition to Washington, the children visited Niagara Falls and New York City.  -- JTA

Study: No anti-Semitism, anti-Israel push at most college campuses

Ninety-seven percent of U.S. and Canadian college campuses report no anti-Israel or anti-Semitic events, and the campus-based anti-Israel divestment effort has failed, according to a new study.

The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise released the findings of its new study, “Israel and the Campus: The Real Story,” on Tuesday. Mitchell Bard, the AICE’s executive director, and Jeff Dawson, the private organization’s campus liaison, authored the report.

Student Jewish groups are beating back such efforts, according to the authors, because of professional guidance provided by campus Hillels and numerous other Jewish organizations, while the anti-Israel efforts are largely student-led.

Bard and Dawson tracked 674 anti-Israel events at 108 U.S. and Canadian universities during the 2011-12 academic year. One-third of the incidents took place on 10 campuses; four were in the University of California system. Several of the campuses, the report said, have strong pro-Israel groups and cannot be characterized as "hostile toward Israel.” 

Two anti-Israel groups -- the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine -- were responsible for most of the episodes.

While two American universities did adopt divestment resolutions as part of the anti-Israel boycott, sanctions and divestment campaign, several others were defeated. No American university has divested from Israel and prominent campus presidents have said they would oppose such efforts.

“Rather than weaken the relationship between U.S. colleges and Israel, the BDS movement has largely backfired and ties are stronger than ever and continue to grow,” the authors wrote.

The report also said that while a 2011 AICE survey with The Israel Project found that “a shocking 78 percent of Jewish students reported witnessing or personally being subjected to anti-Semitism,” the new report found the figure “inconsistent” with their findings. They noted that a recent survey by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research found that 43 percent of Jewish students saw anti-Semitism as a problem -- “a significantly lower, but still a disturbing figure.”

Recommendations in the new report include teaching about Israel “warts and all,” so that students can confidently discuss its complex environment; creating Taglit-Birthright Israel trips for high school students modeled on the popular free 10-day trip for those aged 18-26; and building more long-distance learning programs between Israeli and American Jewish students. -- JTA

At its centennial, Hadassah looking for Israeli donors and new members

Left to right, Hadassah National President Marcie Natan, Assaf Galay and his wife, Hannah Pollin-Galay,
and past Hadassah National President Nancy Falchuk, at Hadassah's 100th anniversary convention
in Jerusalem, Oct. 17, 2012. (Courtesy of Hadassah)
Five years before the Balfour Declaration gave Jews their first realistic hope for a modern state in the Land of Israel, Henrietta Szold founded the women’s Zionist organization Hadassah and sent two nurses here to fight disease and provide milk to infants and their mothers.

A century later, Hadassah runs one of Israel’s premier hospitals -- a medical center with two campuses in Jerusalem and a budget of $500 million. The organization also has created and supported Israeli educational, youth and medical programs, built a membership base of 330,000 Jewish women and male associates in the United States, and developed a budget of more than $100 million....

But as it enters its second century, Hadassah is struggling to attract Israeli donors, government funding for its hospitals and young women to its American membership. -  Ben Sales, JTA

To read more, click here.

EU Parliament certifies Israeli pharmaceuticals

The European Parliament voted in favor of simplifying the sale of Israeli pharmaceuticals within the European Union.

With Tuesday's vote in Strasbourg, France, the parliament approved “a very important technical-commercial agreement,” Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told JTA in an email.

“The agreement recognizes that the standards of the Israeli pharmaceuticals industry is equal to that of European standards,” he said.

The vote -- 379 in favor to 240 against and 40 abstentions -- means that Israeli medicines can be marketed in Europe without delay and without further control, which is how European pharmaceuticals are marketed in Israel. -- JTA

 To read more, click here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why I Was Arrested for Praying at the Western Wall

The Western Wall in Jerusalem, in the words and Yiddish accent of Issac Bashevis Singer, is "like any other Veilin Vall (wailing wall)". It is the only distinct and concrete holy place for the Jewish people.

The site of the Western Wall is run by an ultra-Orthodox group of bureaucrats and rabbis who are dictating the life choices of all who enter. Pope Benedict XVI was lucky in 2009, to be allowed to visit the wall with his crucifix. The Rabbi in charge of the holy places and the wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, claimed that just as the pope would take off his shoes when entering a mosque, he should take off his crucifix when visiting the holy Western Wall. It took some argument to explain to Rabinovitch the difference between the pope's shoes (orange Pradas by the way) and his crucifix. One is a clothing item, while the other is the essence of his identity. The Rabbis did not mess with the Pope because the man has 1.5 billion troops. But they do pick on us, the Women of the Wall.  -- Anat Hoffman, Huffington Post

To read more, click here.

Thousands sign on for Shema flash mob

More than 2,500 people signed up to participate in a global Shema flash mob as part of a campaign to promote religious pluralism in Israel.

The gatherings early Monday afternoon came two days after Conservative Jewish congregations were asked to dedicate a recitation of the Shema to the topic as well.

The actions were a response to last week’s arrest and alleged roughing-up by police at the Western Wall of Anat Hoffman, leader of the Israel Reform Action Center and Woman of the Wall. Hoffman was wearing a tallit and leading the Shema prayer at a Rosh Chodesh service for about 200 women.

By the time of Monday's flash mob, 2,537 people had joined a Facebook page created for the event. Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president and CEO of the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism, had asked people to post video of their Shema gatherings. Responses came in from across the United States, Israel and England.

The Reform movement has called for an Israeli police investigation into the incident in which Hoffman said she was put in shackles, dragged across a jail floor and put into a cell overnight without a blanket, being forced to use her tallit to cover herself.

In 2003, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that women cannot wear a tallit or tefillin or chant from a Torah at the Western Wall.

“The question of religious pluralism is an existential threat to Israel’s soul,” Wernick told JTA last week. “I find it unconscionable that in the Jewish homeland any Jew would be arrested anywhere for the public expression of their religious identity.”

Wernick said that among the steps he is taking is pressing to have the issue placed on the agenda for the Oct. 28-30 Jewish Agency for Israel Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem, and setting up a meeting about the issue with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Monday, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador in Washington, released a statement saying that he regards “with utmost seriousness” the concerns raised with him by American Reform and Conservative leaders about Hoffman’s arrest. Oren said he is working with Israeli authorities to determine exactly what happened.

He added that while Israel respects “the rights and sensitivities of all worshipers,” those rights “cannot always be reconciled entirely.”

or example, he wrote, Israel’s Supreme Court has agreed that the Western Wall should be administered by the rabbi of the Kotel, who is Orthodox. A nearby area known as Robinson’s Arch is reserved for egalitarian prayer groups. -- JTA

Hebrew media is imploding, but Israeli English press booming

Israel's English-language news market
appears to be booming but are facing an uncertain future.
(Graphics by Uri Fintzy)
On Oct. 17, seven Israeli English news websites led with seven different stories.

The Jerusalem Post had a piece on Egypt’s commitment to its treaty with Israel. Haaretz's English site ran with a recently released Israeli document on Gaza. Ynet News, Yediot Achronot’s English site, led with threats to a retired Israeli security chief. Then there were the stories on the websites of the Times of Israel, Israel Hayom’s English edition, the right-wing Israel National News, and +972, a leftist news and commentary blog.

Twenty years ago, of these seven publications, only The Jerusalem Post existed. Two of the news outlets, Israel Hayom English and the Times of Israel, are less than three years old.

While Hebrew newspapers and TV channels are struggling, the Israeli English-language news market appears to be booming. But with the business of journalism under threat worldwide due to declining revenues, Israel's English-language media face an uncertain future.  -- Ben Sales, JTA

To read more, click here.

Filmmakers Who Are Ultra-Orthodox and Ultracommitted

Marlyn Vinig, rear, leads a Haredi girls-only drama class in Jerusalem.
At the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot this month, dozens of Israeli women in the insular world of the ultra-Orthodox Haredim had an extra bounty to celebrate: an opportunity to go to the movies.

Films for and by Haredi women were relatively unknown outside this tightknit faction until the director Rama Burshtein unveiled her feature “Fill the Void” at the Venice Film Festival last month. The film, which earned the ingénue Hadas Yaron a best-actress honor there and later played the New York Film Festival, was praised by critics, who noted that Ms. Burshtein’s technical expertise belied her sparse résumé. -- Debra Kamin, NY Times

To read more, click here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Report: Cyprus thwarts terror attack against Israelis

Cypriot newspaper Althia reports 100 grams of explosives found in Limassol Airport. Target: Israeli cruise passengers -- YNetnews

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Opinion: Women’s Participation in Ritual: Time for a Paradigm Shift

Today, the baseline in any Orthodox community is that women do not participate in public ritual at all. In the average Orthodox synagogue, there is not one thing that women do which is part of synagogue performance. Their presence is not felt and their voices are not heard. The paradigm for women’s ritual participation in the Modern Orthodox world must change.

Although what I described above is standard, in some Orthodox shuls women have complained that they feel excluded and marginalized. In the best of shuls there has been an attempt to accommodate their feelings and various solutions have been offered. Some synagogues are unwilling to accommodate the women in the actual prayer space, but allow them to have a separate women’s prayer group, often based around a Torah reading ceremony of some kind. Others have passively recognized women in the synagogue, e.g., meḥitza down the middle, carrying the Sefer Torah into the women’s section, etc. or allowed some active participation, e.g., opening the ark, saying a mi-she-beirakh, reciting qaddish, etc.

Instead of focusing on specific solutions, I wish to describe what I see as the overall problem with the process of coming to solutions. -- Rabbi Zev Farber, Jewish Journal

To read more, click here.

Largest-ever U.S.-Israel military exercise begins

Israeli and U.S. troops began their largest-ever joint aerial defense exercise.

Austere Challenge 12, which began Sunday, is part of a training exercise designed to increase military cooperation between the United States and Israel. Its planning began more than two years ago and is not a response to specific events in the Middle East, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

Last month, Time magazine reported that the exercise had been downsized and indicated that part of the reason was American distrust of Israel.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin said Austere Challenge 2012 is the largest U.S.-Israel military exercise to date, according to the American Forces Press Service.

The exercise will last three weeks and involve more than 3,500 American service personnel and 1,000 Israeli soldiers. Part of the exercise reportedly will involve live fire.

Of the exercise's $38 million price tag, the United States will pay $30 million and Israel $8 million. --JTA

Narrow house opening as art work in Warsaw with Israeli artist first occupant

The new house is only four feet wide (1.2 meters), but it comes with a bathroom, a kitchen and a bedroom, and its first tenant, an Israeli writer, will move in this weekend.

Architect Jakub Szczesny said Friday he designed the two-story aluminum and plastic house three years ago to fill a narrow space between a pre-war house and a modern apartment block in downtown Warsaw.

The Foundation of Polish Modern Art and Warsaw Town Hall helped fund the project, which they consider an art work.

But it may not be easy for the tenants.

The triangular building runs 33 feet (10 meters) deep at the base and stands 30 feet (9 meters) tall.

Metal and aluminum pipes hold the structure nearly 10 feet (3 meters) above the ground, and visitors will climb a metal staircase and squeeze through a hole to enter the building.

The ground floor contains a toilet and shower, a kitchen with a sink and cupboards, a table for two, and a bean bag sofa. Another metal ladder goes to the second floor, which has a nearly double-size bed, a table and a chair.

Szczesny told Friday's news conference that the building achieves two goals: filing an empty city space and linking Warsaw's World War II tragedy, when more than half the city was destroyed, with modern buildings that went up afterward.

The first tenant will move in Saturday (October 20): Etgar Keret, an Israeli writer whose ancestors died in Poland during the Holocaust.

"It is a kind of a memorial to my family," said Keret, explaining that his mother's and father's families died in the Holocaust under Nazi Germany's occupation of Poland, and his paternal grandfather died in Warsaw's 1944 uprising against the Nazis.

The structure has been named Keret House after the Israeli writer.

He said he only visits Warsaw twice a year, so other tenants will be able to try out the tight quarters of the non-profit building for free, too. -- Monika Scislowska, Associated Press via Yahoo News

Israeli women to get their own museum

The Haifa building that will house the Museum of Israeli Women
A former sheikh’s palace in Haifa will be remodeled as the Museum of Israeli Women. -- Avigayil Kadesh, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

To read more, click here.