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Reform Judaism’s Embrace of Reparations Won’t Advance Justice

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Absolution was given to veteran race-baiter Al Sharpton for his history of anti-Semitism and incitement against Jews. Photo Credit: JNS

Virtual signaling may feel good, but a vague scheme that won’t right historic wrongs brings us closer to a more race-obsessed society that will hurt both blacks and Jews

By: Jonathan S. Tobin

At the Reform Biennial conference held earlier this month, the movement to grant reparations to African-Americans scored a signal victory when the largest Jewish denomination endorsed the idea. Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, set the tone for the effort with a Chicago Tribune op-ed that didn’t merely embrace this cause as a matter of historic justice. He also declared that it was time for Jews to “reckon with our nation’s bigoted history,” as well as to confront “racism in our country, our synagogues and our hearts.”

In doing so, he didn’t merely implicate American Jewry—the vast majority of whom are descendants of immigrants who arrived long after slavery ended, and who suffered discrimination as Jews and economic hardship as new immigrants—as having benefited from “white privilege, and therefore also responsible for the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow racism. He also put forward the notion that compensation for slavery was comparable for the reparations both individual Jews and the State of Israel received from Germany as part of that nation’s effort to atone for the crimes committed by the Nazis.

Pesner is right to consider slavery and racism as the original sins of American history. But he is wrong about both the justification for and the utility of reparations in this context. He’s even more wrong to attempt to shame Jews to support such a scheme not least because the enactment of such a law—and the creation of a new federal bureaucracy that would cause American society to become even more race-conscious than before—would not undo past wrongs while likely making the country a more dangerous place for all minorities.

When last seen opining on the national stage about relations between African-Americans and Jews, Pesner and the RAC was granting absolution to veteran race-baiter Al Sharpton for his history of anti-Semitism and incitement against Jews. This came at a time of an upsurge of violence directed at Chassidic Jews from a minority of the African-American community about which Sharpton has been far from vocal. The Reform leader was clearly more interested in prioritizing alliances aimed at bolstering the “resistance” to President Donald Trump than in addressing anti-Semitism that emanates from groups that could not be credibly tied to political opponents.

Pesner is right to argue that slavery and a century of Jim Crow persecution is a stain on America’s conscience. The legacy of these outrages still impacts the rates of poverty in the African-American community. Yet that doesn’t mean that reparations would alleviate that problem; nor is it possible to justify reparations as a legal or moral principle in this case.

Reparations work as a legal solution when compensation is granted to those who suffered or their immediate heirs. That’s why Pesner’s comparison of his proposal to Holocaust reparations doesn’t fly.

The Germany that began paying reparations to Jews in the 1950s was the same country that had murdered 6 million Jews and stolen the property of countless others only a few years earlier. While some, notably future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, were bitterly opposed to reparations because they considered it blood money that gave an unearned absolution to the murderers, the effort did require Germans to disgorge the profits of genocide to the actual victims and entities like Israel that had provided refuge for the survivors.

But righting the wrongs of the distant past is a lot more complicated and bringing the Holocaust—a different sort of tragedy than the atrocity of American slavery—into the conversation, confuses the debate more than it enlightens it.

Part of the reason for that has to do with economics. Though the wealth of the antebellum South was largely the product of the capital accrued from slave labor, those profits were largely consumed by the slave owners with little passed down to their heirs; what remained was destroyed by the devastation of the Civil War. Almost none of it survived to the 20th century, let alone to our own day. What reparations advocates also forget or never learned is that Jim Crow laws hurt the economy of the pre-civil rights-era South rather than helping it.

Reparations advocates claim that America’s status as an economic superpower was built by slavery. But it is actually the result of the inventions, innovations and creative energy of entrepreneurs (both white and black), as well as the hard work of immigrants and other Americans—not an obsolete and largely unproductive economic model that was thankfully discarded more than 150 years ago.

The question of reparations also obscures the role that Americans of all races played in the movement to abolish slavery. Hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives in the Civil War to accomplish liberation. And a century later, people of goodwill (including many Jews) worked to complete the work of that conflict by fighting for civil rights for all citizens.

Just as important is that writing checks to those who can be certified as descendants of slaves will have a minimal impact on black poverty. That requires expanding opportunity, especially for those whose children are stuck in failing public=school systems. Yet the RAC and other liberals are fighting against charter schools and school-choice proposals favored by many blacks because of politics. Creating the sort of vast bureaucracy whose primary responsibility would be to divide Americans into victims and victimizers that it would take to administer reparations will not erase racism. To the contrary, it will create resentments that will further divide the nation.

Pesner’s claim that Jews are as tainted by racism as other Americans is particularly problematic. It’s true that that a small number of Jews owned slaves and supported slavery. And contemporary Jews are no more immune to bigotry than other humans, be they black or white.

However, for the RAC to engage in the rhetoric of “white privilege” when speaking of Jews implicitly validates intersectional myths that fuel anti-Semitic libels of Israel and the Jewish people, as well as the propaganda spread by Jew-haters like Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Pesner may think that Jews are somehow obligated to atone for the sins of long dead slave owners and racists. But the RAC leader ignores the possibility that such talk could encourage those who target Jews for violence today.

Race is an issue that can never be ignored. But when groups embrace solutions that will do more to exacerbate divisions while downplaying the reality of a rising tide of anti-Semitism in the ranks of their allies on the left, it only winds up hurting all Americans, including blacks and Jews.

(JNS.org)

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

Israel-Diaspora Relations Then and Now: NYC Exhibit Highlights Work of Late Photographer Leonard Freed

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Leonard Freed: Israel Magazine 1967–1968 includes 50 black and white photographs from Freed’s estate, many of which were reproduced in Israel Magazine, where Freed was the staff photographer. This is the first exhibition to examine this period of Freed’s work and the context in which these images were published. Photo Credit: Leonard Freed, Jerusalem, Israel, 1967, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the Estate of Leonard Freed.

A collection of 50 black-and-white photographs in the year following the 1967 Six-Day War portrays effects on the Israeli and American mindset

By: Eliana Rudee

As Diaspora-Israel relations remain at the forefront of dialogue about global Jewish life today, a photography exhibition at the Derfner Judaica Museum in the Bronx, N.Y., aims to bring a message of hope that was just as relevant five decades ago as it is today.

Freed’s photographs continued to be reproduced in later issues, which came out irregularly in the magazine’s early years, including the first issue of volume two in 1969. The latter was a special picture issue featuring 150 photographs, mostly by Freed and Bar Am. The magazine ceased publication in 1976. Photo Credit: Leonard Freed, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1968, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the Estate of Leonard Freed.

In conjunction with The Art Collection: Art at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, the Derfner Judaica Museum is featuring photographs through Jan. 5 by the late Jewish photographer Leonard Freed that appeared in Israel Magazine in the immediate aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War. The exhibition includes 50 black-and-white photographs from Freed’s estate, and represents the first exhibition to examine this period of Freed’s work and the context in which these images were published.

Freed was born in 1929 in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrant parents from Minsk, now in Belarus. While traveling throughout Europe and North Africa, where he photographed Jewish communities, Freed published his photos in Israel Magazine, a publication marketed to the Jewish Diaspora to garner support for the young state at a critical moment in its history.

In June 1967, war broke out between Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. In response to this news, he made his way to Israel from Amsterdam, where he had been living for a decade.

Responding to an increased interest in Israel in the wake of the war, the magazine sought “to serve as an enduring bridge between Israel and [the] Diaspora” while being independent, eschewing propaganda and bringing to Jews and non-Jews “as vivid, as truthful an image of Israel as possible.” Photo Credit: Leonard Freed, Jerusalem, Israel, 1967, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the Estate of Leonard Freed.
Over the next two years, Freed spent 15 months living in Israel and covering the aftermath of what came to be known as the Six-Day War. In 1968, his wife Brigitte and young daughter, Elke Susannah, joined Freed, and they settled in Tel Aviv, where Brigitte at first borrowed famous Israeli photographer Micha Bar-Am’s darkroom to print Freed’s negatives, as she often did throughout her husband’s career.

 

Warmth, wit and feeling spring from the images.

Susan Chevlowe, chief curator and director of the Derfner Judaica Museum, worked directly with Brigitte Freed for the exhibition that explores the context in which many of the images first appeared in print.

Leonard Freed became a member of the international photographers’ cooperative agency Magnum Photos in 1972. During the next several decades, until his death in 2006, his assignments brought him to countries in Europe and Africa, as well as to Israel, India, Iraq and Brazil. His work appeared in such publications as Fortune, Life, Look, The New York Times Magazine, Der Spiegel, Die Zeit, and Paris Match, among others. He also published 10 books of his photographs. Photo Credit: Leonard Freed, Jerusalem, Israel, 1967, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the Estate of Leonard Freed.

“The exhibition is, at heart, about a Jewish documentary humanist photographer drawn to Israel both because of the conflict and suffering he sees there and wants to bring to the attention of potential viewers, and the hope he sees there for the continuity of Jewish life in the wake of the Holocaust,” Chevlowe told JNS. “For viewers today, looking back at this critical moment in Israel’s history through Freed’s lens will, I hope, allow visitors to reach their own conclusions about its lessons for the future.”

Conceived of in Amsterdam as a joint Israeli-American venture between the Philadelphia-based Israel Publishing Company and Spotlight Publications in Tel Aviv, Israel Magazine, she said, sought “to serve as an enduring bridge between Israel and [the] Diaspora” while being independent, eschewing propaganda, and bringing to Jews and non-Jews “as vivid as truthful an image of Israel as possible.”

 

‘A plurality of voices and opinions’

Leonard Freed spent 15 months living in Israel and covering the aftermath of what came to be known as the Six-Day War. Photo Credit: Magnum Photos

The exhibition includes five issues of the magazine displayed in cases near photographs that appeared in those particular issues. In addition to the magazines themselves, exhibition labels provide information about the articles that the photos accompanied and the editorial themes of each issue.

For example, one image on exhibition was taken at an International Business Conference in Jerusalem in April 1968. According to an article about the conference, there were 500 foreign attendees—most of them wealthy Jewish businessmen—and 100 Israelis. The conference sought to promote partnerships and investment in Israeli industries at a time when outside attention and support from Diaspora Jews had been given a boost by the war and the threat to Israel’s existence.

In the contemporary context of a supposed rift between the Jewish Diaspora and Israel, Chevlowe voiced her intention that the exhibition could bring hope to both parties. “The exhibition focuses on a turning point in Israel’s history where the editors and founders of Israel Magazine were optimistic about the future. They were hopeful, as was the photographer. I think taking a look back and seeing the vitality of the people as they emerged from a brutal and devastating war with hope is important today,” she said.

“One of the most interesting things I found in my research for this project was that while under Jewish editorial control, the magazine provided a platform for a plurality of voices and opinions,” she added.

Leonard Freed was born in 1929 in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrant parents from Minsk, now in Belarus. While traveling throughout Europe and North Africa, where he photographed Jewish communities, Freed published his photos in Israel Magazine, a publication marketed to the Jewish Diaspora to garner support for the young state at a critical moment in its history. Photo Credit: icp.org – International Center for Photography

For example, she explained, Vol. 1, No. 5 in 1968 focused on conflicts between secular and religious Israelis and featured the question “What is a Jew?” on its cover with two different-looking Jewish men—one religious in a black hat, and one modern and secular facing opposite directions in front of typical Jerusalem stone wall. “The importance is to understand that there have always been diverse voices and opinions about almost everything in Israel,” she posed, “and perhaps one might think about where and how [we] make space for them today.”

Visitors to the exhibition have included Jewish day-school and synagogue Hebrew-school classes, older adults of all backgrounds and from senior centers throughout New York City, as well as tourists and visitors of all ages from around the world.

   (JNS.org)

Can the Safdie Brothers Deliver an Oscar to Adam Sandler?

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By: Romy Ronen

Released Christmas Day at select area theaters, Uncut Gems shows 134 minutes of Adam Sandler in an impeccable performance of a selfish, reckless, overly-optimistic man who says ‘yes’ to horribly terrible choices, more times than you could possibly count. A dreamer, a motivated, goal-oriented, American striver in a so called American dream, the protagonist, Howard, is not your classic Western hero but, possibly, a tragic one. Sandler just might win an Oscar for his very serious, iconic portrayal in a film with such a complex, thick plot: the audience won’t be able to keep track of its intricate twists and turns.

Released Christmas Day at select area theaters, Uncut Gems shows 134 minutes of Adam Sandler in an impeccable performance of a selfish, reckless, overly-optimistic man who says ‘yes’ to horribly terrible choices, more times than you could possibly count. A dreamer, a motivated, goal-oriented, American striver in a so called American dream, the protagonist, Howard, is not your classic Western hero but, possibly, a tragic one. (Photo Credit: You Tube)

This crime comedy, written and directed by Joshua and Benny Safdie, score by Daniel Lopatin, tells the story of a sleazy New York diamond dealer named Howard, taking place over the course of only a couple of days. Mindless of ethics or morals, guilt or remorse, Howard sells diamonds at ridiculously high prices at his Midtown shop to a multitude of celebrities, such as retired basketball star Kevin Garnett. And on one day, Howard gets a shipment from Ethiopia, holding an extremely rare, rainbow-colored opal which is presumably worth millions of dollars. When Howard glares at the stone, his instincts suddenly shift.

He trades the stone for Garnett’s championship ring, only until the basketball player can win the stone when it’s on the auction block. He tells Garnett about how he feels connected to the Ethiopian Jews who dig up the opals. But because Howard owes basically everyone he’s ever worked with loads and loads of money, and as a means of paying his debts in order to not get killed, he pawns off Garnett’s ring and bets with the money in hopes of getting everything back with more cash leftover. It’s obvious to the audience that this hope is nothing but a fantasy. The shine of the opal is too hard to see past, in a dream deluded by the stark and harsh reality that you can’t always get what you want.

The film’s climax takes place inside Howard’s tiny shop in the Diamond District. The shop has poorly-constructed glass security doors that have to be buzzed open. On the inside of the locked glass is Howard, and on the outside are people who want to kill him. The score suddenly heightens the suspense with loud, intense synthesizer music that sounds like it was taken from a video game or a music video from the mid 80’s. It’s Howard facing the consequences of his actions.

Idina Menzel plays Howard’s wife, Dinah, who takes care of the family in their Long Island home. Howard is far from the perfect husband, a man who is off having an affair with his young assistant, Julia Fox, in his New York apartment. In one latter scene, Julia almost hooks up with the Weeknd in a nightclub, which then causes a very drunken fight.

Dinah, throughout the film, bears a deep hatred for Howard. Even Howard’s own daughter does not like him. His work overrides any remnant of a personal life, a family. He seems to lose all remnants of his humanity, one mistake at a time.

Joshua and Benny Safdie use the setting of New York City in glorified, edgy ways, techniques that haven’t been implemented since films from the ’70s. It’s easy to forget that a city that never sleeps is not always so beautiful, clean, or gentrified. With scenes flowing fast like a virtual video game, the film reveals the horror of chaos, dirt, poverty in a city that can’t always be so perfectly imperfect.

In a recent interview featuring Adam Sandler and Brad Pitt for Variety’s Actors on Actors series, Pitt said that even though the character of Howard makes dreadful choices in Uncut Gems, you worry about the guy. Pitt says it’s because of Sandler’s “warm-heartedness,” something the audience can always sense, no matter how bad the character is.

“Everything I do is not going right.” Howard may be right about that. But Sandler’s performance is certainly ‘going right,’ as this role might land him a much-deserved Oscar.

What Everyone Needs to Know About the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

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In The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process, historian and Islam expert Robert Spencer shows how from the instant it came into being, and even before that, the State of Israel, far from being the aggressive violator of human rights of UN myth, has been the target of gratuitous and unprovoked violence by Arab Muslims – the “Palestinians,” who, as Spencer demonstrates in this book, have no actual existence as a people with a distinct ethnicity, language or culture. Photo Credit: Amazon

By: Brian Grodman

A shocking new book reveals facts that every American – and every citizen of the free world – should know, but few do. In The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process, historian and Islam expert Robert Spencer shows how from the instant it came into being, and even before that, the State of Israel, far from being the aggressive violator of human rights of UN myth, has been the target of gratuitous and unprovoked violence by Arab Muslims – the “Palestinians,” who, as Spencer demonstrates in this book, have no actual existence as a people with a distinct ethnicity, language or culture.

These and other facts Spencer marshals in The Palestinian Delusion will surprise many, especially the young Americans who are involved in the BDS movement, in the mistaken belief that it is a justified and righteous response to Israeli wrongdoing. Spencer explains that the “Palestinians” were invented in the 1960s to distract from the fact that the Jewish State was a tiny sliver of land surrounded by huge and hostile Arab states. Before that, it was the name of a region, not of a people, like Staten Island or Compton. The name “Palestine” is ancient, but had never been attached to anything but a region: it was given to the land of Judea (i.e., land of the Jews) by the Romans in 134 AD, when they expelled the Jews from their ancient homeland. To rub salt in the wound, they renamed the land after the Jews’ Biblical enemies, the Philistines.

Spencer points out that just one hundred years ago, “the word ‘Palestinians’ was more often applied to Jews than to Muslim Arabs.” Not only that, but “some Arabs rejected the term, explaining: ‘We are not Palestinians, we are Arabs. The Palestinians are the Jews.’” The Palestinian Delusion shows that the claim – also false – that Jews stole Palestinian land actually predates the creation of the Palestinian people itself. The Arab Higher Committee called for the Arab Muslims of Palestine to leave the area in 1948, so that the Arab states could crush the Jewish state without hurting Arab civilians. The plan was that they would be able to return home in a matter of weeks. Instead, the Arab states lost the war, and began claiming that Israel existed on stolen land

It wasn’t until a couple of decades later that the Arab Muslims of the region began to refer to themselves as the Palestinian people. As Spencer demonstrates, even some of their central figures – Yasser Arafat, Edward Said – were really from somewhere else. In 1977, a leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) actually admitted it: “The Palestinian people does not exist.” The creation of the Palestinian people is one of the biggest propaganda victories in history, as their existence is now taken for granted.

That is not the only explosive revelation in this book. Spencer provides a brisk recounting of how the vaunted peace process began, with startling accounts of what really happened during the negotiations for the Camp David and Oslo Accords. He shows the bad faith on the Arab Muslim side that characterized these negotiations from the beginning, especially Camp David, where Egyptian President Anwar Sadat took cruel advantage of a naïve and credulous Jimmy Carter, with both men browbeating and manipulating Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin into giving Egypt everything it demanded, in exchange for almost nothing but promises.

Spencer shows that Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama followed in Carter’s footsteps, with no less naivete and credulity toward the Palestinians – and no less thinly veiled animosity toward Israel.

The Palestinian Delusion contains much more as well. He delves into the truly nauseating depth of Palestinian hatred for Jews and Israel, showing how even Palestinian children of the youngest ages are inculcated with venomous and even genocidal Jew-hatred. The book also reveals the duplicity of the Palestinian grievance factory, which fabricates wrongdoing supposedly committed by the Israeli Defense Forces, and has been dismayingly successful in swaying world opinion (and in particular the United Nations) in doing so. And there is much more: the Palestinian Authority’s “Pay for Slay” program giving money to jihad terrorists and their relatives, the pocketing of a great deal of aid money by Palestinian leaders, and how Donald Trump changed the entire game when he moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Even if you are familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have been following the “peace process” for years, there is a great deal in Robert Spencer’s The Palestinian Delusion that you’ll see in this book for the first time, and will enhance your admiration for Israel in being able to survive against such prohibitive odds. The Palestinian Delusion is a much-needed antidote to the disinformation about the Jewish State that prevails almost everywhere today.

Brian Grodman has written for the Jewish Advocate and the Zionist Organization of America.

The (Almost) Forgotten Jews of the Wild West

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Robert Lazar Miller on horseback and his grandson at the Denver Stockyards, 1932 Photo Credit: Beck Archives, Special Collections, University of Denver Libraries

New documentary covers the almost forgotten history of Jews in the American Wild West

By: Adi Eshman

A new documentary about the Wild West covers everything you would expect – gunslingers, cattle barons, lawmen and wide-open spaces. And one thing you wouldn’t: Jews.

“Jews of the Wild West,” from director Amanda Kinsey, shows how Jews were as much a part of the American Western expansion as covered wagons and riveted blue jeans — the latter, of course, invented by a Jew.

Kinsey says their stories resonate not just because of the almost comical idea of a Jewish cowboy, but because at a time when immigrants are increasingly demonized, stories of the Jews who helped settle the West shows how integral they were in building the America that we know today.

“Their stories were sidelined for social, political and economic reasons,” Kinsey said Monday night at a panel discussion at the Center for Jewish History in New York. “But they were visionaries who saw opportunity, who were rooted in family and tradition.”

So how did Jews from the shtetls of Europe end up becoming pioneers on the frontier? If there’s one man to thank for that, it was Jacob Schiff.

After the Civil War, a huge influx of Jews arrived at Ellis Island. They settled on the Lower East Side, started businesses and formed families. But Schiff was worried. If Jews spoke Yiddish all day and never encountered Americans, how could they integrate?

So Schiff started an organization, the Jewish Industrial Removal Office. If you were a Jewish immigrant, and you were sick of living in crowded, filthy tenements, the office would resettle you with a Jewish family out west. Over 75,000 Jews would eventually take up the offer.

Not being satisfied with relocating Jews from the East Coast, Schiff also established a port of entry into the United States through Galveston, Texas. Schiff believed Jewish immigrants could take on the challenge of assimilating.

“Being American is what you feel on the inside,” he said.

Jews spread throughout the United States, taking risks to seek opportunity as the nation pushed westward. In many ways, their stories are interwoven into the fabric of how the West is understood and romanticized.

Take Josephine Marcus. The daughter of Bavarian immigrants, Marcus was born in San Francisco and ran away from home at 18 to become an actress. She then met the legendary Arizona lawman Wyatt Earp and was captivated by his broad shoulders, blonde hair and blue eyes. It was love at first sight.

Marcus became his common-law wife for over 40 years. After Earp died, she buried him alongside her parents in a Jewish cemetery outside Colma, California.

“We don’t know if Wyatt Earp went to temple,” Ann Kirschner, the executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society and author of “The Lady at the OK Corral,” said at the panel discussion. “But we know he went at least once.”

Or take the Miller brothers, whose entrepreneurial spirit was emblematic of the ethos many Jews brought with them to the Old West. After migrating from modern-day Lithuania, the brothers started a butcher shop in Denver.

After being robbed, they sought work in the stockyards, which were similar to the Wall Street stock exchange except traders speculated on heads of cattle rather than corporate shares.

“Also,” Kinsey said, “they conducted their business on horseback.”

The Millers would come to accumulate over 100,000 heads of cattle. After a handshake agreement, cowboys would accompany their herds to the vast tracks of land the brothers had purchased in Wyoming and Colorado, keeping the cattle safe from coyotes, rustlers and bandits along the way.

But the most prominent story of Jewish success in the West was that of Levi Strauss. The Bavaria native became a leader of San Francisco’s Jewish community in the 1800s. Tailor Jacob Davis approached Strauss with the innovative idea of putting rivets in pants, resulting in less wear-and-tear. And so Levi’s, one of the most iconic American brands, was born.

Less well-known is the story of Ray Frank, a Hebrew teacher and journalist born in San Francisco in 1860. During Rosh Hashanah one year, Frank was invited to speak in Spokane, Washington.

When she arrived, she discovered that a rift between the city’s Orthodox and Reform Jews meant that there weren’t enough Jews to form a prayer quorum, or minyan. Frank wound up brokering an agreement and then gave a fiery sermon to the community, admonishing them for ignoring their tradition.

Frank became a traveling speaker who was covered widely by the press.

“They called her the Deborah of the American West,” Kinsey said, harking back to the biblical prophet. “My favorite headline was one that called her ‘The Heart Throb of Israel.’”

Frank was the first woman to speak on the pulpit in America — and perhaps the first in the world.

The myths and legends of the Wild West remain in wide circulation in America. Just last year, the Coen Brothers released “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” an anthology of short films set on the Western frontier. Around the same time, Rockstar Games released “Red Dead Redemption 2,” which lets players experience the world through the eyes of a grizzled outlaw. The video game had the largest opening weekend in entertainment history, grossing over $725 million in just three days.

But as Kinsey notes, the stories of Jews in the Wild West have often been marginalized or erased. She believes it’s important to publicize these narratives because they shape how we see our past.

“These are also positive immigration stories,” she said. “They put a face to immigration. They help humanize it and show what happened through dedication, hard work and survival.”

“Jews of the Wild West” is slated for release in 2020.

             (JTA)

Controversy Rises Over New Netflix Thriller Series “Messiah”

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In Netflix’s new show Messiah, we see a prophet who defies a resurgent Islamic State in Syria. A shooting on Jerusalem's sacred Temple Mount. And, of course, the coming of you know who.

By: Franklin DeMosky

Put a show about the messiah on around the holidays season —- and say a bunch of controversial things about him —- and sure enough, you’ve got controversy.

In Netflix’s new show Messiah, we see a prophet who defies a resurgent Islamic State in Syria. A shooting on Jerusalem’s sacred Temple Mount. And, of course, the coming of you know who.

Launching on January 1, Messiah “imagines how modern society would react if such a figure appeared, spreading his message rapidly via social media in a world grappling with “fake news” and breathless 24-hour bulletins,” according to yahoo.com. “The question of whether the character — played by Belgian actor Mehdi Dehbi — is the genuine Messiah, a nefarious political agent or simply a trickster is at the heart of the show’s premise.”

“Yes it’s provocative — the show is provocative,” said its creator, Michael Petroni, to AFP. “But provocative isn’t offensive. It was such an audacious concept, you know?” he said. “You read the pilot, this guy is going to march 2,000 Palestinian Syrians across the border of Israel.”

Here’s how Netflix describes the show on its web site: “When CIA officer Eva Geller (Michelle Monaghan) uncovers information about a man (Mehdi Dehbi) gaining international attention through acts of public disruption, she begins an investigation into his origins. As he continues to cultivate followers who allege he’s performing miracles, the global media become increasingly beguiled by this charismatic figure.

Geller must race to unravel the mystery of whether he really is a divine entity or a deceptive con artist capable of dismantling the world’s geopolitical order. As the story unfolds, multiple perspectives are interwoven including that of an Israeli intelligence officer (Tomer Sisley), a Texas preacher (John Ortiz) and his daughter (Stefania LaVie Owen), a Palestinian refugee (Sayyid El Alami) and the journalist (Jane Adams) who covers the story. The series also stars Melinda Page Hamilton, Wil Traval, Fares Landoulsi, Dermot Mulroney and Beau Bridges.

“Created by Michael Petroni (The Book Thief), directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) and Kate Woods (Rectify), and executive produced by Petroni, McTeigue, Andrew Deane (The Double), Mark Burnett and Roma Downey (The Bible Series, Ben Hur), the Netflix original series MESSIAH is a provocative and suspenseful thriller that explores the power of influence and belief in the social media age.

The cast includes Michelle Monaghan as Eva Geller, Mehdi Dehbi as al-Masih, Tomer Sisley as Aviram, John Ortiz as Felix Iguero and Melinda Page Hamilton as Anna Iguero.

Banned Israeli Novel to Be Adapted to Film by Actress Gal Gadot

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Gal Gadot and her husband Jaron Varsano will be co-producing a film adaptation of a novel banned by Israel’s education ministry in high school classrooms, reports Variety. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

The book was banned in Israeli classrooms on the grounds that it could undermine the distinct identity of Israeli Jews.

By: WIN Staff

Gal Gadot and her husband Jaron Varsano will be co-producing a film adaptation of a novel banned by Israel’s education ministry in high school classrooms, reports Variety.

The 2014 Hebrew novel “Borderlife” by Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan, is a story about Liat, a Jewish Israeli translator, and Khilmi, a Palestinian painter who meet in New York and fall in love. The couple tries to find a peaceful balance whilst dealing with the stress of hiding their relationship from friends and family.

In 2015, former Education Minister Naftali Bennett banned the book in high school classrooms on the grounds that it could undermine the distinct identity of Israeli Jews.

“The story is based on a romantic motif of a forbidden/secret and impossible love,” the Education Ministry said in a statement at the time. “Adolescent youth tend to romanticize and don’t have, in many cases, the systematic point of view that includes considerations about preserving the identity of the nation and the significance of assimilation.”

Shortly afterward, the controversial book was permitted by the ministry to be read in advanced literature classes

Gadot and Varsano are also working on four other projects together.

One of them is an American version of the Israeli crime drama “Queens.” In season one of the Israeli version, the men in the Malka family crime syndicate are murdered by a rival gang, leaving the women to take over the family’s criminal enterprise.

Another Gadot-Varsano pilot in the works is a biographical TV series about Hedy Lamarr, the acclaimed actress who helped invent wifi.

The third is a film about the life story of Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker and nurse who saved Jewish children in Nazi-occupied Poland.

The last project the couple is working on is a film called “My Dearest Fidel,” a story about Lisa Howard, the first female correspondent for ABC News, who developed an intimate relationship with Fidel Castro.

Gadot will be reprising her role as Wonder Woman in the highly anticipated movie sequel “Wonder Woman 1984,” which is slated for release in the U.S. on July 4, 2020.

(World Israel News)

Read more at: worldisraelnews.com

“The Song of Names” Impactfully Confronts Contemporary Anti-Semitism

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The Song of Names, released in theaters December 25, is a touching, beautiful, impactful, and important film you won’t want to miss this year. It proves that one story about one life can affect generations; although, at times, hard to watch, the film’s rich history transcends. Photo Credit: imbd.com

By: Romy Ronen

The Song of Names, released in theaters December 25, is a touching, beautiful, impactful, and important film you won’t want to miss this year. It proves that one story about one life can affect generations; although, at times, hard to watch, the film’s rich history transcends.

Rapoport, a Jewish violinist from Warsaw, is taken in by the Simmonds family in London, just before the start of the Holocaust. Photo Credit: Twitter

Directed by Francois Girard, produced by Robert Lantos, written by Jeffrey Caine (adapted from a novel by Norman Lebrecht), and original, daunting score by Oscar-winning Howard Shore, the film jumps between 1938, 1951, and 1985. The Song of Names makes efforts to combat antisemitism through its haunting mise-en-scene, intense camera angles, and, sympathetic, strong protagonists.

The main characters, played by Tim Roth and Clive Owen, share the stories of Dovidl Rapoport and Martin Simmonds. Rapoport, a Jewish violinist from Warsaw, is taken in by the Simmonds family in London, just before the start of the Holocaust. The film revolves around the lives of Rapoport and Simmonds, two boys who form a tight bond, although stubborn about it at first. They survive the London blitz as new brothers.

The film revolves around the lives of Rapoport and Simmonds, two boys who form a tight bond, although stubborn about it at first. They survive the London blitz as new brothers. Photo Credit: imdb.com

The climax of the film erupts on the day when Rapoport disappears off the face of the earth, the same day he is meant to make his musical debut at a concert hall in London. Decades of years later, Simmonds is still looking for Rapoport: a tragic tale of brotherly love.

When Lantos, the film’s producer, first read the novel by Norman Lebrecht, he knew, at that moment, that he had to bring the story to life, that he had to share it with the world, through film. The content of the story, he said, is a unique way of showing a Holocaust anecdote “in an original manner and an emotionally compelling manner.” The motif of music in the novel brings “the horrors of the Holocaust back to a contemporary audience without forcing people to come face to face with living skeletons and images of horror.”

The Song of Names is the first feature film ever to be allowed on the grounds of Treblinka. “We asked for a permit and the authorities read the script and surprisingly they said yes,” Lantos told sources. Photo Credit: Sony Classic Movies

Lantos said that his parents, both Hungarian Holocaust survivors, decided to mask their Jewish identity when he was a child, praying that “the solution to sparing their son of the horrors and persecutions that they had lived through was to forget all about being Jewish.” He has made it clear, though, that this film’s motivations is directly linked to the immense concern of today’s increasing rise in antisemitism all around the world.

Although it’s true that work on The Song of Names began many years ago, Lantos has felt its significance only grow as a rash of antisemitic incidents continue to spread worldwide. He remarks: “Because in the world in which we now live in, where Jew hatred has found brand new ammunition, and it is firing on all cylinders, and it’s sweeping across Europe and on our campuses in North America, anything that we can do, to not forget… the consequences of that hate and human suffering — anything that I can do to remember, has to be done. If we don’t remember the past, we’re guaranteed to repeat them, to repeat all of its tragedies.”

The Song of Names was directed by Francois Girard

Lantos is a very strong and well-known filmmaker in Canada. His works include the critically acclaimed 2004 film “Being Julia,” starring Annette Benning, 2007’s “Eastern Promises” with Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts, and 2010’s “Barney’s Version,” starring Paul Giamatti. Many of his films, however, have rehashed on the stories of Jews during the Holocaust. He never really wanted to or felt a need to make films that are connected to his Jewish identity, but that all changed with 1999’s “Sunshine,” which is a strong film that tells the story of five generations of a Hungarian Jewish family and, in a sense, parallels his own life story.

Lantos says that: “Up until that point, I didn’t feel that compelling need” to tell stories of Jewish persecution. But now he says that he “can’t think of anything that is more important to deal with than that in my life.” He continues: “I happen to be a filmmaker. That gives me a way of dealing with it that could possibly make a difference.” After 1999’s “Sunshine,” starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, he stayed with the theme, releasing 2003’s “The Statement” with Michael Caine and 2015’s “Remember,” featuring Christopher Plummer.

When Robert Lantos, the film’s producer, first read the novel by Norman Lebrecht, he knew, at that moment, that he had to bring the story to life, that he had to share it with the world, through film. The content of the story, he said, is a unique way of showing a Holocaust anecdote “in an original manner and an emotionally compelling manner.” The motif of music in the novel brings “the horrors of the Holocaust back to a contemporary audience without forcing people to come face to face with living skeletons and images of horror.” Photo Credit: imbd.com

The Song of Names is the first feature film ever to be allowed on the grounds of Treblinka. “We asked for a permit and the authorities read the script and surprisingly they said yes,” Lantos told sources. But that day of filming happened to be a terrible nightmare. The cast and crew spent an entire day filming at the site of the Treblinka extermination camp, where almost one million people were murdered in its one year of existence. The site is marked with a memorial to the dead. “It was like being in a state of altered reality. We only shot there for one day. And frankly, I can’t imagine spending more than one day there. The weight of the place is unbearable.” Lantos reported.

Caine’s original screenplay actually contained dialogue for the scenes in Treblinka. However, being on that set deemed too difficult. Lantos explained: “Once we were there, we all felt that the dialogue had to go, because there’s nothing to say there. There’s nothing that can be said that wouldn’t be trivial in the context of what we were seeing with our eyes.”

This is not the only change made to the original story. The novel tells the story of two young Jewish boys living through World War II. The film’s team chose to make the characters of Martin Simmonds not Jewish. Lantos expresses that: “The character of Martin provides an access point. I thought it’d be important to bring to it the point of view of someone who wasn’t steeped from birth in Jewish rituals and tradition.”

After 1999’s “Sunshine,” starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, he stayed with the theme, releasing 2003’s “The Statement” with Michael Caine and 2015’s “Remember,” featuring Christopher Plummer. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Similarly, Rapoport’s connection to his own Judaism is a pivotal theme repeated throughout the film. In one heart-wrenching scene, Rapoport grappled with the ideas of Judaism as a faith and as an ethnicity, ideas that still resonate with us to this day. “Ethnicity isn’t soluble in water, Motl,” Rapoport tells Simmonds, using his nickname. “It’s a skin you’re born in and wear until the day you die. Now religion — that’s a coat. When it gets too hot — you can take it off.” The film’s team made sure to discuss these ideas with rabbis from Reform to Orthodox in order to “try and get every detail that had to do with religion and the period this film was set in” as real and true as possible.

Telling this story, filled with a variety of life lessons about the detriments of different forms of hatred and blatant antisemitism, will send messages far and wide. Lantos states: “This is a story that — in the climate in which we live today — absolutely has to be told. It’s a way to remember, it’s a way to honor the two key words in my entire vocabulary, which are ‘never again.’”

The Biggest Political Scandal in American History Exposed

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The Plot Against the President: The True Story of How Congressman Devin Nunes Uncovered the Biggest Political Scandal in U.S. History is ultimately a study of a war fought with paper, in which both sides warred with investigations, one to seize power under the guise of a lie and the other to protect the power of the people with the truth. Photo Credit: Amazon

By: Daniel Greenfield

The Five W’s are the essential infrastructure of good journalism. It’s important to be able to tell a good story. But if the story doesn’t contain answers to who, what, where, when, and why, it’s meaningless.

Fortunately, Lee Smith’s The Plot Against the President digs into the origin of the coup against President Trump in the old-fashioned Five W’s sense. While the book still leaves plenty of questions buried in reams of classified documents, it’s an excellent resource for organizing and making sense of the mess.

Rarely has a government investigation been clouded in this much secrecy or required so many investigations of the investigation. The points of the spiderweb between private contractors, the media, and government figures still vanish into darkness. But Smith follows the work of Rep. Devin Nunes and his team (the subtitle for the tome is The True Story of How Congressman Devin Nunes Uncovered the Biggest Political Scandal in U.S. History) and that comes with its own infrastructure of the Five W’s.

The ‘why’ isn’t hard to grasp, but the ‘when’ remains elusive. Smith makes a good case for the smear campaign associated with the Steele Dossier predating the former British operative whose continental credentials and FBI connections were used to sell a political assault ordered by the Clinton campaign.

Instead, Smith describes a series of ‘protodossiers’ which were used to eventually shape the Steele Dossier. These protodossiers were works in progress, bits of opposition research focusing on Trump’s international business connections, put together and fed to the media in a conventional fashion. There’s nothing especially controversial (or palatable) about this type of opposition research. But, even from the very beginning, these work products were not merely opposition research intended for the public.

Their real audience can be assessed from the linkages to Nellie Ohr, the wife of senior Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr, and a friend of Steele’s, who would act as a conduit for the Steele dossier, and the warnings that Trump was a national security threat. Accusing Trump of Russian ties was not a strategy meant to win an election. It was a justification for an unlimited investigation of Trump and his associates using methods and degrees of secrecy that would otherwise be off limits against Americans.

This is what Smith describes as a “paper coup” or “a bureaucratic insurgency waged almost entirely through the printed word”. Trump’s international business affairs wouldn’t have interested voters. Opposition research focusing on those ties had only one true vector and purpose. The protodossiers were also a protocoup. The Steele dossier, sloppy and incompetent as it might have been, was the final product. A piece of work that could be used to bring the full weight of FISA warrants, informants, and unmaskings down on the political opposition, even while the media manufactured a parallel reality.

Smith also traces how the protodossiers evolved into Russiagate. As he notes, “a key difference between the protodossiers and Steele’s seventeen memos is that the former discuss Trump’s supposed connections to Russian and Eastern Bloc figures alleged to have ties to organized crime and also possibly to Russian state interests. Steele’s documents by contrast deal almost exclusively with alleged ties connecting Trump and his associates to Russian government officials and figures publicly known to be close to Kremlin leadership.” The narrowing of the focus on Russia from the protodossiers into the dossier, winnowed down and focused the regional opposition research into the most useful narrative.

The usefulness of a narrative that moved past organized crime figures to the Kremlin lay not in its public appeal, where allegations of organized crime might have been more damaging, but its surveillance uses. The Steele dossier had emerged as the product of a political campaign, but had never been intended for public use. Instead it was a piece of opposition research that had been aimed directly at the FBI.

The uniqueness of such a thing also testifies to the uniqueness of the conspiracy against Trump.

The media echo chamber fed by the dossier and the protodossiers had not come into being to merely pursue a negative, smear Trump, but to uphold a positive, the investigation of Trump. Their stories were used internally, as in the FISA warrant, to support the tactics and the purpose of targeting Trump.

The evolution of the ‘Paper Coup’, its stages, and the roles of a variety of familiar figures from James Comey to Glenn Simpson, from Peter Strzok to Rod Rosenstein, are at the center of Smith’s Five W’s book. Even as it remains mired in paper, the reams of documents have real consequences, leading to arrests, interrogations, legal bills, surveillance and, eventually a pushback by, among others, Rep. Devin Nunes.

Smith pays careful attention to the interplay of personalities, the timing of bureaucratic maneuvers, and the evolution of narratives to produce a carefully studied and documented reading of his original research and the work of the Nunes investigation. The plot that is the book’s subject takes place in a world governed by these rules, by motives telegraphed through maneuvers, by an intimate knowledge of procedures, and by a formidable array of contacts, and that is world that Smith and Nunes know.

As the book progresses, Smith and Nunes and his team dig into not just the lines of the documents, but the story between the lines, explaining not just why the players did what they did, but why they did it when they did it, and what the various moments that drove the disparate news cycles underlying this story really meant.

As the political dominoes keep falling, the lies that brought us from the murky origins of the Russia smear to the Ukraine impeachment are being exposed. And Smith’s book is an important resource for understanding where those lies came from, how they were employed, and what they were meant to accomplish. We already know, as its title testifies, the plot against President Trump was the biggest political scandal in American history. But The Plot Against the President explains how it was exposed.

The Plot Against the President: The True Story of How Congressman Devin Nunes Uncovered the Biggest Political Scandal in U.S. History is ultimately a study of a war fought with paper, in which both sides warred with investigations, one to seize power under the guise of a lie and the other to protect the power of the people with the truth.

(Front Page Mag)

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.

The Israeli Role in NYC’s Rise as World’s Fintech Center

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New York City’s Wall Street financial district cityscape at dusk. Image via Shutterstock.com

Israeli financial technology startups help power the New York financial center’s shift to fintech ecosystem leader

By: Jonathan Frenkel

If there is one industry New York City is known for, it’s finance. Wall Street is the ultimate symbol of wealth and the American dream.

Over the past decade, the finance industry has gone through significant changes due to the recession that nearly collapsed the global financial system as well as the massive growth of technology.

Today, some of the most sought-after jobs in New York are at financial technology (fintech) startups, including Israeli-founded ones. New York ranks #3 on the Global Fintech Index City Rankings 2020 Report (Tel Aviv is #18).

Israeli innovation has played a part in building New York’s post-recession technology ecosystem. One of its pillars was the 2012 Cornell Tech partnership with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.This partnership helped transform New York from the world’s financial center into the world’s fintech center.


Fintech from freelancers to Wall Street

Fintech is a broad vertical. Israeli-led startups in this space solve problems not just for banks, but also for everyday consumers.

An example is Lance, an American-Israeli startup working to solve the business accounting and guidance challenges of a growing number of freelancers. This startup, which spent time in the Tel Aviv-based Junction, is currently a part of the Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars NYC (which has a program in Israel as well).

Lance is creating a standard business structure for freelancers and remote workers to succeed financially in the global workforce. From setting up LLCs and business banking accounts to suggesting real-time tax savings and insurance policies, Lance provides new and transitioning freelancers with a single platform for clear financial backend management.

Lance cofounder Oona Rokyta states, “We’ve moved the company’s headquarters to New York given the city’s rich business history and collaborative fintech ecosystem. As an American-Israeli company, we benefit tremendously from the strong connection between the two countries and the vibrant Israeli and Jewish communities in New York.”

Israeli startups also benefit from mentorship from seasoned Israeli entrepreneurs who make their way to New York.

Or Benoz, founder of Rewire and now a mentor at Barclay’s Techstars NYC Rise, says Israeli fintech companies seeking to start operations in New York City“ can find a rich ecosystem compiled of hundreds of financial institutions that can potentially become partners or clients of new tech and services, accompanied by dozens of venture firms focusing on funding fintech companies. It can make sense to have some representation in the city to plug into the ecosystem. Vast developer talent, though, might be richer in Tel Aviv or Silicon Valley.”

Financial services area target market for many Israeli startups in New York. An example is Pagaya, a fintech company that uses machine learning and big data to manage institutional money — much of which is centered in New York. Pagaya is dually headquartered in Tel Aviv and New York City.

Pagaya CEO and cofounder Gal Krubiner shares: “My fellow cofounders [CRO Yahav Yulzari and CTO Avital Pardo] and I started Pagaya in Israel because of the high caliber and growing technical talent pool there. Also, it is important to us that we provide job opportunities in tech for younger generations in Israel and contribute to the local innovation ecosystem.

“At the same time, we knew we wanted to bring Pagaya to the US and expand our team in New York specifically because that’s where some of the best financial minds in the world are. Bringing finance and technology together is essential to the success of our business, and having dual headquarters enables us to effectively build a global team with diverse skillsets and expertise.”


Blockchain center of the world

Israel has already proven itself to be a center for blockchain technologies, which have become a central focus for many major financial institutions. Facebook’s blockchain team in Israel took a leading role in developing its global digital currency, Libra.

Last fall, ConsenSys hosted the first international Ethereal conference in Tel Aviv, a major endorsement of Israel as a leader in blockchain.

Considering Israeli companies’ disproportionate influence in the blockchain space, it makes sense that it would all come together in New York.

“Everyone’s first thought is, ‘Of course it makes sense for a budding financial company to be in the financial capital of the world.’ But for us, New York City represents so much more than just Wall Street,” says S. Daniel Leon, cofounder, president and COO of Celsius Network, a company whose mission is “to harness blockchain technology to provide unprecedented financial freedom, economic opportunity, and income equality for the 99%”

Celsius is bringing its team as well as its product to New York.

The Big Apple, says Leon, “is a diverse hub filled with the world’s top experts in technology, innovation, creativity and, of course, finance. You can’t find this kind of unique combination of talent anywhere else, and the people and ideas found within this city made it the ideal space to build the new era of financial institutions.”

Lior Glass, formerly Global Blockchain Lead at BNY Mellon and now working on a stealth blockchain startup, commented that “the growing number of enterprise blockchain solutions brings with it a new set of challenges. For example: connectivity with the existing infrastructure, security, and reporting. We are working on developing solutions. … From the business perspective, New York is a major hub for the financial industry. This makes it ideal for startups such as mine.”


If you can make it in Israel, you can make it in New York

As the fintech space offers a canvas on which to solve many global problems, Israeli entrepreneurs who previously succeeded in other areas are building their next endeavor in this space.

Most of us use Waze. After the company’s spectacular exit and acquisition by Google, Waze founder Uri Levine decided to focus on another problem with a huge market.

FeeX, a startup Levine cofounded, provides a variety of platforms for financial professionals and end clients including an app that exposes hidden fees in many retirement investment accounts. FeeX is headquartered on 42nd Street.

Finally, one cannot write about successful Israeli fintech startups in New York without mentioning Lemonade and its success as a “mixed DNA” Israeli-American company.

Lemonade has been disrupting the insurance industry by replacing brokers and bureaucracy with bots and machine learning. It’s a case study in how Israeli companies can succeed in New York.

Lemonade combined the best of the Startup Nation — grit, chutzpah and problem-solving — with the culture-building ethos of a Silicon Valley unicorn.

One of the most important verticals in the world, fintech is changing how we do business. Israeli fintech companies are becoming central in bringing about that change, helping to power New York’s growth as the top fintech ecosystem.

(Israel 21c)

Spending the Holidays in NYC?? Check Out These Hotels

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The Conrad Hotel is a midtown Manhattan luxury hotel is on 54th Street, walking distance to Times Square, Fifth Avenue and scores of museums and attractions. Photo Credit: Conradnewyork.com

By: Jodi Rosenwasser

JFK Airport’s throwback hotel promises a blast from the past. Special features include the world’s biggest hotel gym spanning 10,000-square-feet, a rooftop infinity pool and observation deck with runway views, a Twister game room, ultra-quiet guestrooms to keep out the sound of airplanes, and museum exhibits. Photo Credit: twahotel.com

The holidays are the perfect opportunity for a short much-needed getaway to recharge, refresh and reconnect with family. NYC is rich with beautiful hotels and experiences for every budget. Plus, staying in NYC helps circumvent airport mishaps and dreadful long road trips.

The NY Post recently compiled a list of the most festive family holiday hotels in NYC. Here is the lineup:

TWA Hotel The airport can be fun if you don’t actually need to pass security and board a plane. JFK Airport’s throwback hotel promises a blast from the past. Special features include the world’s biggest hotel gym spanning 10,000-square-feet, a rooftop infinity pool and observation deck with runway views, a Twister game room, ultra-quiet guestrooms to keep out the sound of airplanes, and museum exhibits. It also has the hotel’s famed cocktail lounge inside the vintage 1958 “Connie” plane, and a new ice-skating rink. Rooms start at $159 per night.

Hotel Indigo Lower East side is a 26-floor hotel offers a rooftop pool with NYC views, a fitness center, and self-parking. Located 2 miles from the Brooklyn Bridge and 2.2 miles from the Empire State Building, it may be the perfect location. A member of the IHG reward club, hotel prices start at $208 a night. Photo Credit: ihg.com

The Box Hotel Group properties in Greenpoint just off the East River. The Brooklyn haven includes the Box House Hotel, Franklin Guesthouse and Henry Norman Hotel. It offers holiday packages with a pre-lit mini Christmas tree in your room for an extra $100. The Henry Norman Hotel has been voted as the best overall hotel in Brooklyn for 2019 by TripSavvy. Rooms start at $249 a night.

Hotel Indigo Lower East Side The 26-floor hotel offers a rooftop pool with NYC views, a fitness center, and self-parking. Located 2 miles from the Brooklyn Bridge and 2.2 miles from the Empire State Building, it may be the perfect location. A member of the IHG reward club, hotel prices start at $208 a night.

Midtown’s Conrad Hotel This Midtown Manhattan luxury hotel is on 54th Street, walking distance to Times Square, Fifth Avenue and scores of museums and attractions. It also offers iconic Central Park and NYC views. For the holidays, FAO Schwarz suites are available filled with roughly $6,000 worth of magical toys, including the famous floor piano from “Big”. The suites start at $3,000 per night.

The Marriott Marquis is a central Times Square hotel on 46th street and is a behemoth of its own, notwithstanding all the attractions right outside the 49-floor hotel. It is known for providing a luxury experience and its 124,755 square feet of space enhanced by cutting-edge technology. Rooms start at $323 per night. Photo Credit: marriott.com

Marriot Marquis This Central Times Square hotel on 46th street is a behemoth of its own, notwithstanding all the attractions right outside the 49-floor hotel. It is known for providing a luxury experience and its 124,755 square feet of space enhanced by cutting-edge technology. Rooms start at $323 per night.

Hilton Brooklyn New York hotel This hotel, only six blocks west of the Barclays Center, is walking distance to attractions such as the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens , Brooklyn Academy Music (BAM) and the Brooklyn Bridge. The 196-key hotel includes a fitness room but no pool. Breakfast is included. Regular rooms start at $116 per night.

Spending the Holidays in NYC?? Check Out These Hotels

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The 12th Siyum HaShas on August 1, 2012 took place in MetLife Stadium in New Jersey was the most monumental event in recent Jewish history. It impacted, inspired and uplifted over 120,000 participants across 80 cities and 18 countries. The special moments and experiences of the last Siyum HaShas left a lifelong imprint on the collective memory of generations of Klal Yisroel. Photo Credit: YouTube

By: Jodi Rosenwasser

Rabbi Meir Shapiro, zt’l, is noted for his promotion of the Daf Yomi study program in 1923, and establishing the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva in 1930. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.com

The holidays are the perfect opportunity for a short much-needed getaway to recharge, refresh and reconnect with family. NYC is rich with beautiful hotels and experiences for every budget. Plus, staying in NYC helps circumvent airport mishaps and dreadful long road trips.

The NY Post recently compiled a list of the most festive family holiday hotels in NYC. Here is the lineup:

In November of 2019, Shlomo Gertzulin, Executive VP of The Siyum exhorted those interested in attending the Siyum HaShas to order their tickets as soon as possible. “Once the Siyum seats are gone, they are gone,” said Rabbi Gertzulin. “There are only limited seats available, and many sections are already completely reserved. Once the remaining seats sell out, it will just be too late. Please, don’t wait any longer to get your seats, so you will not be disappointed.” Photo Credit: Vimeo.com

TWA Hotel The airport can be fun if you don’t actually need to pass security and board a plane. JFK Airport’s throwback hotel promises a blast from the past. Special features include the world’s biggest hotel gym spanning 10,000-square-feet, a rooftop infinity pool and observation deck with runway views, a Twister game room, ultra-quiet guestrooms to keep out the sound of airplanes, and museum exhibits. It also has the hotel’s famed cocktail lounge inside the vintage 1958 “Connie” plane, and a new ice-skating rink. Rooms start at $159 per night.

The pre-Siyum events include a Yikra D’Oraisa Yarchei Kallah which will be held at the Hilton Parsippany Hotel in New Jersey from December 30 – January 1 as well as a pre-siyum inspirational program at the same hotel from December 31 – January 2. Photo Credit: hotels.com

The Box Hotel Group properties in Greenpoint just off the East River. The Brooklyn haven includes the Box House Hotel, Franklin Guesthouse and Henry Norman Hotel. It offers holiday packages with a pre-lit mini Christmas tree in your room for an extra $100. The Henry Norman Hotel has been voted as the best overall hotel in Brooklyn for 2019 by TripSavvy. Rooms start at $249 a night.

Siyum HaShas is the celebration of the completion of the Daf Yomi (daily Talmud folio) program, a seven-and-a-half-year cycle of learning the Oral Torah and its commentaries, in which each of the 2,711 pages of the Babylonian Talmud are covered in sequence.

Hotel Indigo Lower East Side The 26-floor hotel offers a rooftop pool with NYC views, a fitness center, and self-parking. Located 2 miles from the Brooklyn Bridge and 2.2 miles from the Empire State Building, it may be the perfect location. A member of the IHG reward club, hotel prices start at $208 a night.

Daf yomi shiur in session on the LIRR. Photo Credit: TheJewishStar.com

Midtown’s Conrad Hotel This Midtown Manhattan luxury hotel is on 54th Street, walking distance to Times Square, Fifth Avenue and scores of museums and attractions. It also offers iconic Central Park and NYC views. For the holidays, FAO Schwarz suites are available filled with roughly $6,000 worth of magical toys, including the famous floor piano from “Big”. The suites start at $3,000 per night.

The pre-Siyum events include a Yikra D’Oraisa Yarchei Kallah which will be held at the Hilton Parsippany Hotel in New Jersey from December 30 – January 1 as well as a pre-siyum inspirational program at the same hotel from December 31 – January 2. Photo Credit: hotels.com

Marriot Marquis This Central Times Square hotel on 46th street is a behemoth of its own, notwithstanding all the attractions right outside the 49-floor hotel. It is known for providing a luxury experience and its 124,755 square feet of space enhanced by cutting-edge technology. Rooms start at $323 per night.

Hilton Brooklyn New York hotel This hotel, only six blocks west of the Barclays Center, is walking distance to attractions such as the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens , Brooklyn Academy Music (BAM) and the Brooklyn Bridge. The 196-key hotel includes a fitness room but no pool. Breakfast is included. Regular rooms start at $116 per night.

Student Who Sued NYU for Anti-Semitism: “Trump Has Empowered Jews on Campus”

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Adela Cojab Moadeb. Photo Credit: Photo credit: J.C. Rice

When I sued NYU for campus anti-Semitism, college leaders shrugged. It took the US president to do something about it

By: Adela Cojab Moadeb

On December 7th, I had the honor of standing on stage at the Israeli-American Council’s (IAC) 2019 National Summit while President Trump affirmed the rights of Jewish students to a harassment-free environment on college campuses. Three days later, he signed an executive order to include Jewish students under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

It was at the Israeli-American Council’s (IAC) 2019 National Summit in Florida that President Trump affirmed the rights of Jewish students to a harassment-free environment on college campuses. Three days later, he signed an executive order to include Jewish students under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. (Photo Credit: YouTube)

When I first started at NYU, I was excited to go to a school that championed diversity and inclusion – until that diversity and inclusion applied to everyone except my community. After years of overt protests, boycotts, and direct aggression toward Jewish students from NYU’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the university honored the organization with the President’s Service Award for “outstanding contribution to NYU life.”

What did SJP do to “earn” this prize? They organized a 53-group boycott against Realize Israel, a non-political student organization, depicting assault rifles on flyers calling for a revolt. Further, at the 2018 Rave in the Park in which NYU students celebrated Israel Independence Day, one SJP member burned an Israeli flag and another physically assaulted a Jewish student; both students were arrested.

Throughout the year, I spoke with eight administrators from multiple NYU departments – the Office of Student Affairs; Center for Student Life; Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards; and even the Office of Public Safety – about rising hostility against the Jewish community on campus. My concerns were brushed off, and after the arrests, I was asked not to draw attention to the issue.

The presidential award solidified the university’s stance: violent acts against students on the basis of their views are not only tolerated, but celebrated, and the concerns of Jewish students are not to be taken seriously.

When I sued NYU for campus anti-Semitism, college leaders shrugged. It took the US president to do something about it.

NYU’s position stands in direct defiance of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which states, “If an institution knows or has reason to know about student-on-student harassment, Title VI requires that the school take immediate and effective action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and, where appropriate, address its effects on the harassed student and the school community.”

Although my legal complaint argued that NYU’s reaction – or lack thereof – to its Jewish community’s plight already violated Title VI, religion was not a protected class under civil rights law – at least until this week. President Trump’s new executive order not only changes that reality, but corrects a longtime gross injustice against Jewish students. The order expands Title VI’s existing protections to explicitly include discrimination against Jews.

Standing with President Trump on stage allowed me the opportunity to elevate the voices of Jewish students nationwide, voices that up until now were not sufficiently protected under anti-discrimination laws. If a single student watching the speech was inspired to stand up for their rights on a college campus, then my experiences at NYU, however unpleasant, were well worth it.

After years of overt protests, boycotts, and direct aggression toward Jewish students from NYU’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the university honored the organization with the President’s Service Award for “outstanding contribution to NYU life.” Photo Credit: SJP Uncovered

But for the pro-Israel community, our mission is far from complete. My biggest fear is that despite the new legal protection, countless Jewish students will continue to believe they are not welcome in university environments.

Calls to withdraw support from NYU are a distraction from the issue. If anything, the president’s executive order should serve as a source of empowerment to ensure that Jewish students can proudly live on campuses without checking any part of their identities at the door.

The more Jewish students are excluded from arenas like campus life, the more their position is jeopardized as integral components of the fabric of the academic world. Anti-Semites have won when they are allowed to define where a Jew can and cannot feel comfortable. To that I say, never again.

We fought to have our voices heard, and from here, we cannot flee or hide; we must show up and stand up. Jewish students should go to NYU. I might even say it is our responsibility.

(Aish.com)

This article originally appeared in the NY Post. Photo credit: J.C. Rice

Parshas Vayigash–“Reconciliation”

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The biblical Joseph finally meets his brothers after being apart for 22 years. Accepting responsibility for their grievous action of selling Joseph into slavery and deceiving their father Jacob, the brothers did repentance by saying, ”Alas, we are at fault...because we looked on at his anguish, yet paid no heed as he pleaded with us." (Genesis 42:21)

By: Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb

I have known more than my share of families that are torn by discord. I think most of us, perhaps even all of us, are familiar with families in which brothers and sisters have not spoken to each other in years, sometimes even having forgotten the original reason for the destruction of their relationship. My background and experience in the field of family therapy has given me even broader exposure than most to this unfortunate phenomenon.

Colleagues of mine in the practice of psychotherapy will concur that overcoming feelings of hatred and urges toward revenge is one of the most difficult challenges that they face in their practice. Reconciling parents and children, husbands and wives, is a frustrating process for those of us who counsel families. The successful reconciliation of ruined relationships is a rare achievement, especially after the misunderstandings have festered for years.

The great 18th century moralist, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, contends that these difficulties are intrinsic to our human nature. Thus he writes:

“Hatred and revenge. These, the human heart, in its perversity, finds it hard to escape. A man is very sensitive to disgrace, and suffers keenly when subjected to it. Revenge is sweeter to him than honey; he can not rest until he has taken his revenge. If, therefore, he has the power to relinquish that to which his nature impels him; if he can forgive; if he will forbear hating anyone who provokes him to hatred; if he will neither exact vengeance when he has the opportunity to do so, nor bear a grudge against anyone; if he can forget and obliterate from his mind a wrong done to him as though it had never been committed; then he is, indeed, strong and mighty. So to act may be a small matter to angels, who have no evil traits, but not to ‘those that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust.'” (Job 4:19) (Mesilat Yesharim [The Path of the Upright], Chapter 11)

Granted that one must approximate the angels in heaven in order to overcome the natural human inclinations to hate and take revenge. How, then, do we explain the astounding reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers, which occurs in this week’s Torah portion? (Genesis 44:18-47:27)

Joseph’s brothers came to hate him because of what they saw as his malicious arrogance. Joseph certainly had reason to hate his brothers, who cast him into a pit full of snakes and scorpions. We can easily understand that he would attribute his years of imprisonment to their betrayal of him. And yet, in last week’s Torah portion, we learned that they came to regret their actions and to feel guilty for what they did to him. “Alas, we are at fault…because we looked on at his anguish, yet paid no heed as he pleaded with us.” (Genesis 42:21)

It is in this week’s parsha that we learn of the forgiveness that Joseph demonstrated toward his brothers. We read of a dramatic, reconciliation—a total triumph over hatred and revenge. What inner strengths enabled Joseph and his brothers to attain this rare achievement?

I maintain that quite a few such strengths help Joseph’s brothers to rejoin him harmoniously. One was their ability to accept responsibility for their actions. Over time, they reflected introspectively and concluded that they were indeed wrong for what they did. Self-confrontation, and a commitment to accepting the truth when it surfaces allowed them to forget whatever originally prompted them to hate Joseph.

I further maintain that the underlying dynamics of Joseph’s ability to forgive were very different. He came to forgive his brothers because of two fundamental aspects of his personality: his emotional sensitivity and his religious ideology.

Joseph’s sensitivity becomes apparent to the careful reader of this and last week’s Torah portions. The most reliable indication of a person’s sensitivity is his ability to shed tears of emotion, his capacity to weep. Joseph demonstrates this capacity no less than four times in the course of the biblical narrative:

Subsequent to his initial encounter with his brothers, we read that “he turned away from them and wept…” (Genesis 42:24); when he first sees his younger brother Benjamin, “he was overcome with feeling…He went into a room and wept there…” (ibid. 43:30); unable to contain himself after Judah’s confrontational address, “his sobs were so loud that…the news reached Pharaoh’s palace…” And finally, as we will read in next week’s Torah portion, this is Joseph’s response to his brothers’ plea for explicit forgiveness: “and Joseph was in tears as they spoke to him.” (ibid. 50:17).

No doubt about it. The biblical text gives us conclusive evidence of Joseph’s emotional sensitivity. But there is another secret to Joseph’s noble treatment of his brothers. It relates to his philosophy, not to his emotional reactivity.

If there is one lesson that Joseph learned from his father Jacob during his disrupted adolescence, it was the belief in a divine being who ultimately controls man’s circumstances and man’s destiny. When a person wholly has that belief, he is able to dismiss even the most painful insults against him. He is able to attribute them to God’s plan and not to blame the perpetrators of that insult. Thus was Joseph able to say, “So, it was not you who sent me here, but God…” (ibid. 45:8)

The power of genuine faith to instill the awareness that even hurtful circumstances are part of the divine plan is, in my opinion, best described in this passage from the anonymous 13th century author of Sefer HaChinuch, in his comments on the commandment to desist from revenge:

“At the root of this commandment is the lesson that one must be aware and take to heart the fact that everything that happens in one’s life, whether it seems beneficial or harmful, comes about because of God’s intervention…Therefore, when a person is pained or hurt by another, he must know in his soul…that God has decreed this for him. He should not be prompted to take revenge against the perpetrator, who is only indirectly the cause of his pain or hurt. We learn this from King David who would not respond to the traitorous curses of his former ally, Shimi ben Gera.”

The author of Sefer HaChinuch sees King David as the exemplar of this profound religious faith. In these final Torah portions of the Book of Genesis, we learn that Joseph was King David’s mentor in regard to the capacity to rise above the misdeeds of others and to see them as but part of God’s design.

It is not easy for us lesser believers to emulate Joseph and David, but we would be spared much interpersonal strife if we would at least strive to do so.

Parshas Vayigash – Yosef’s Faith, Yaakov’s Reward

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Yosef HaTzaddik meets his father Yaakov after being apart for 22 years.

By: Shlomo Katz

The Midrash Rabbah comments on the verse (45:28), “Yisrael said, ‘How great! My son Yosef still lives!’”– Yaakov said, “How great is the strength of my son Yosef! How many troubles caught-up with him, yet he remained righteous, unlike me [Yaakov] who sinned by saying (in the words of Yeshayah 40:27), ‘My way is hidden from G-d’ [i.e., G-d has hidden Himself and is not watching over me directly]. I am certain I will share in the reward about which it says (Tehilim 31:20), ‘How abundant is Your goodness that You have hidden away for those who fear You!’”

How did Yaakov know that Yosef had remained strong in his faith during all of his years in Egypt?

Also, why did Yaakov expect to be rewarded for Yosef’s faith? R’ Yitzchak Ze’ev Yadler z”l (Yerushalayim; 1843-1917) explains:

Commentaries ask: Why didn’t Yosef write to his father during the 22 years that Yosef was in Egypt to let Yaakov know that he was alive? The answer is that Yosef did not write because he understood that what was happening to him was part of a bigger plan. He may not have understood the exact meaning of events, but he recognized that he would be interfering with history by contacting Yaakov. Yaakov now understood Yosef’s thinking and recognized that Yosef’s decision required tremendous faith and a strong belief that Hashem is directing history. According to the Midrash, Yaakov’s own faith had not remained as strong.

In Olam Ha’ba, continues R’ Yadler, one can receive reward in two ways: (1) for his own meritorious actions and (2) for those of his children and students. The latter is what the verse refers to when it says, “How abundant is Your goodness that You have hidden away for those who fear You!” Unlike the reward for a person’s own deeds, which is finite (because he stops earning reward when he dies), the reward that a person earns for being a positive influence on others is infinite (and therefore “hidden”), for he continues to earn it as long as his positive influence continues to bear fruit. The latter is the reward Yaakov was anticipating. (Tiferet Zion)

“Yisrael said, ‘How great! My son Yosef still lives! I shall go and see him before I die’.” (45:28)

“Elokim spoke to Yisrael . . . He said, ‘I am the Kel — the Kel of your father. Have no fear of descending to Egypt, for I shall establish you as a great nation there. I shall descend with you to Egypt, and I shall also surely bring you up . . .’” (46:2-4)

The first verse quoted above relates how excited Yaakov about the prospect of being reunited with Yosef after a 22-year separation. Yet, in the Pesach Haggadah we say about Yaakov, “He descended to Egypt–compelled by the Divine word,” implying that Yaakov did not go to Egypt of his own free will!

R’ Ben Zion Nesher shlita (one of the senior rabbis in Tel Aviv, Israel) explains that the Haggadah is relating how perfect Yaakov’s service of Hashem was. Yaakov suffered tremendously during the 22 years when Yosef was missing. Then, Yaakov heard that Yosef was alive, and 22 years of emotions erupted like a volcano. “How great! My son Yosef still lives! I shall go and see him before I die.”

Those were the feelings with which Yaakov began his journey. But, then, Hashem appeared to Yaakov in a vision and effectively commanded him to travel to Egypt. Immediately, Yaakov put aside his personal reasons for descending to Egypt; instead, every step he took from then on was only because he was “compelled by the Divine word.”

R’ Nesher continues: Similarly, Hashem told Avraham (12:1), “Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house . . .” Rashi z”l comments: “‘For yourself’–For your own benefit.” Nevertheless, the Torah relates (12:4), “Avram went as Hashem had spoken to him.” He went solely because it was a Mitzvah, not for any benefit that he might receive. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Shir Tziyon p.65)

“Yosef harnessed his chariot and went up to meet Yisrael, his father, in Goshen. He appeared before him, fell on his neck, and he wept on his neck excessively.” (46:29)

Rashi z”l writes: Yaakov did not fall upon Yosef’s neck, nor did he kiss him. Our Sages say that the reason was that he (Yaakov) was reciting the Shema.

R’ Yerucham Halevi Levovitz z”l (Mashgiach Ruchani in the Mir Yeshiva in Poland; died 1936) observes: One must be amazed at Yaakov’s concentration! At this moment, he was being reunited with his long-lost son, who was now crying on his shoulder, and Yaakov was still able to focus on the words of Kri’at Shema!

R’ Levovitz continues: Commentaries ask why Yosef was not reciting Kri’at Shema at this moment as well, and they give various answers. The underlying assumption of their question is that, had Yosef wanted to say Kri’at Shema now, he, too, could have put all other thoughts out of his mind and concentrated on his prayers. (Da’at Torah)

“Pharaoh said to Yaakov, ‘How many are the days of the years of your life?’” (47:8)

R’ Shlomo Pappenheim z”l (1740-1814; Dayan / rabbinical court judge in Breslau, Germany) asks: Would it not have been sufficient for Pharaoh to ask, “How many are the years of your life?” What is meant by “the days of the years”?

R’ Pappenheim answers: The Hebrew word “Yom” [like its English counterpart “day”] can refer, on the one hand, to a 24-hour period of light and dark and, on the other hand, to only the daylight portion of a 24-hour period. The reason we use the same word for both periods is that it is the daylight hours, when man engages in activity and accomplishes, that make a 24-hour period meaningful. This is why, writes R’ Pappenheim, the Prophets refer to history books as “Divrei Ha’yamim” (see, for example, Esther 2:23). In contrast, night is a time of inactivity and passivity.

[Ed. Note: According to R’ Pappenheim, Pharaoh was asking, “What have you accomplished in your lifetime?” In this light, we can better understand Yaakov’s answer (verse 9): “Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the days of the years of my forefathers.” Perhaps Yaakov was not complaining, as some commentaries understand. Rather, he was humbly expressing his opinion that he was not as accomplished as his grandfather, Avraham, and his father, Yitzchak.] (Cheishek Shlomo p.257)

                                                (Torah.org)

The Plague of Anti-Semitism: What We Can Do About It

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Rabbi Avi Shafran writes: “All of us “visibly Jewish” Jews are aware that eyes are always on us; hopefully, we take pains to not act in any way that might be seen as uncaring or rude. We avoid cutting others off in traffic or raising our voices in public. We try to project the true image of a Torah-faithful Jew: modest, courteous and civil.”

By: Rabbi Avi Shafran

The well-known British doctor and pundit Jonathan Miller, who died last month, felt he had the solution to anti-Semitism.

He was quoted in a 1985 book as asserting that, to end Jew-hatred, “the Jew must constantly re-adventure and re-venture himself into assimilation.”

“I just think,” he continued, “it’s the nobler thing to do, unless in fact you happen to be a believer in Orthodoxy, in which case there are self-evident reasons to keep [living Jewish lives]. But, if it’s done for the sole purpose of making sure that in the future you’ll be able to say the prayers for the dead when the Holocaust is finally inflicted again, then I think it is a [cursed] device.”

The good doctor really should have realized that among the most assimilated Jews in modern times were much of German Jewry in the 1800s and the early part of last century, Jews who, in headstrong manner, adopted many of the practices and attitudes of their non-Jewish neighbors. And we all know how, despite those efforts to become “just Germans,” they were cruelly reminded of who in fact they were.

We “believers in Orthodoxy” could have explained to Dr. Miller that, au contraire, assimilation doesn’t prevent Jew hatred; it breeds it. We Jews are meant to be a people apart, and when we try to forget who we are, Hashem allows others to help us remember.

There is much talk these days, for good reason, about what practical steps can be taken to deal with anti-Semitism. In the wake of countless vandalisms of Jewish sites and cemeteries, physical attacks on Jews in Europe and here in America, and vicious verbal ones on the internet, various means of addressing the idiocy of Jew hatred are being put forward.

They are not without merit. Even though Chazal have revealed the law of nature that “Esav hates Yaakov,” there are efforts that can be made to counter both anti-Semitic acts and anti-Semitism itself.

Advocacy for security funding and increased police patrols are examples of the former. And educational efforts in public schools, of the latter.

There are, of course, chassidei umos ha’olam, people with an appreciation of Klal Yisrael; and then there are the aforementioned heirs of Esav. But there are also many people in our current (we hope final) outpost of galus who have as yet unformed attitudes about Jews. And so, educational efforts can be worthy means of fostering sanity and knowledge in young minds.

Another area in which our hishtadlus can help influence open-minded people to reject haters’ libels and imaginings is “upping our game” in our interactions with others.

All of us “visibly Jewish” Jews are aware that eyes are always on us; hopefully, we take pains to not act in any way that might be seen as uncaring or rude. We avoid cutting others off in traffic or raising our voices in public. We try to project the true image of a Torah-faithful Jew: modest, courteous and civil.

Sometimes, though – through no fault of our own – even our entirely proper restraint and reticence are misconstrued. Not only by people looking for anything they can “interpret” negatively, but even by “pareve” citizens who lack any pre-existing animus for us. Being reserved can be misunderstood as being “stand-offish”; avoiding eye contact can be misinterpreted as condescension.

Many of us who move among non-Jews during our commutes, or who work in non-Jewish environments, have found that being “proactive” in interactions with others can yield much good will.

An obviously observant Jew who enters a building and holds the door open for anyone behind him has likely, with that almost effortless act, left an impression.

An unsolicited “Good morning” to a fellow elevator passenger does the same. We have here nothing less than the testimony of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, that no one ever beat him to a greeting, as he was always first to offer one, “even [to] a non-Jew in the marketplace” (Brachos 17a).

Eye contact, when appropriate, is a statement of respect. And its lack, fairly or not, may be taken as the opposite. And a smile should be part of our faces too. Shammai tells us as much: “Receive every person with a pleasant countenance” (Avos 1:15).

Not long ago, a middle-aged African-American woman was waiting, as was I, for a bus that didn’t come. I phoned my wife to ask if she was free to pick me up at the bus stop, and she was. When she arrived, I offered the other would-be bus passenger a ride to her destination, a public housing project. Surprised but overjoyed, she accepted, and we took her home.

A few weeks later, waiting (I do a lot of waiting) for a ferry, I heard a loud, happy “Hi, Rabbi!” from behind me. It was she. And with her were her adult son and several grandchildren in tow. I returned her greeting (with a smile) and said hello to her family members.

End of unremarkable story. But it made me think about how the lady must have described my wife and me to her progeny. And how it might have influenced their picture of “Jews.”

Just as important – perhaps more so – than increasing security measures, police presence and educational programs is strengthening our efforts to show others who we really are.

(This article originally appeared in HaModia)

Rabbi Avi Shafran serves as Agudath Israel of America’s director of public affairs.

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