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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


Temporary Western Wall prayer site comes with mixed gov’t messages

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A temporary platform for non-Orthodox prayer was built at Robinson’s Arch adjacent to the Western Wall plaza, Israeli government minister Naftali Bennett said.

According to a statement Sunday from Bennett’s office, the platform is meant “as an interim but primary place of worship for Jewish egalitarian and pluralistic prayer services.”

The announcement from Bennett, the minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs, came amid mixed messages from government officials.

His statement said the platform was built “in conjunction with the Prime Minister’s Office and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky,” who was tasked late last year by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to formulate a compromise solution about egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.

But while Sharansky endorsed the temporary platform as “a gesture of goodwill,” the Prime Minister’s Office sent a statement saying “there is no new government decision regarding prayer arrangements at the Western Wall.”

The platform, which at 4,800 square feet wide can hold 450 people, does not reach the Western Wall itself, though a ramp leads to a smaller area adjacent to the wall. It will include Torah scrolls, prayer books and prayer shawls, and be open free at all hours.

Bennett in his statement said he hopes to define the existing Western Wall Plaza as a space restricted to Orthodox prayer. A legal statute to that effect would require the approval of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who has been at odds with Bennett on the issue.

Protests over the high-profile arrests of female worshipers participating in the monthly Rosh Chodesh service of the Women of the Wall prayer group at the holy site led Netanyahu to tap Sharansky to come up with a compromise. Sharansky intends to release the plan in the coming days.

Women of the Wall said the platform plan “is the very definition of separate, and not nearly close to equal.”

“The stage is in no way equal topographically or geographically to the original plaza, nor does it come close to the Wall itself, as it stands to the back of the Robinson’s Arch area,” said Shira Pruce of Women of the Wall in a statement.”

Pruce said the platform “provides an out of sight, out of mind solution silencing women at the Western Wall” and the group “demand(s) equal rights for women to pray at the women’s section of the Western Wall.”

Reports circulated that Israeli Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit would release a compromise plan for the Western Wall on Sunday, but no plan was released.

Under Sharansky’s plan, first reported in April, the existing egalitarian section of the wall at Robinson’s Arch would be expanded and a unified entrance would be built leading to the wall’s traditional and egalitarian sections.

The months since Sharansky introduced the plan have seen increased haredi Orthodox protests of Women of the Wall. In addition, a judge determined in April that the group’s activities do not contravene the law. Since then, none of the women has been arrested during the Rosh Chodesh service.

Israeli requests for gas mask kits soar over Syria fears

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Requests by Israeli citizens for gas mask kits have risen fourfold in recent days as concern over events in Syria has increased.

Citizens have been visiting post offices throughout the country to pick up their Atomic Biological Chemical protective kits, or ABC kits, over fears of the threat of a chemical weapon attack from Syria or Iran, according to reports in the Israeli media.

Some 60 percent of Israelis currently possess gas masks. In order to equip the remaining citizens, a budget allocation of $362 million is necessary for 2014, according to reports.

Hundreds of Syrians were killed last week in eastern Damascus suburbs by an alleged chemical weapons attack by the government army. The Syrian government denies the claims.

Abbas says a Netanyahu meeting is doable

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he is prepared to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in order to achieve peace.

“There is nothing at all that prevents a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the right time for us to meet or at a time we need to meet,” Abbas said Saturday in Ramallah at a news conference with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius following a meeting between the two leaders.

Abbas said he agreed to renew negotiations with Israel after a three-year hiatus despite the turmoil in the rest of the Middle East, notably Egypt and Syria.

“When the negotiations opportunity opened, we took it without looking at what was going on in the region around us,” he said.

Abbas’ comments come about a month after the relaunching of peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. The teams met in Washington last month and twice in Jerusalem in the past two weeks.

Another meeting is expected to be held sometime this week in Jericho, the French news agency AFP reported. The meetings have been held under a near-complete media blackout at the request of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who brought the sides back together after several visits to the region.

Abbas called on Israel to halt construction in the settlements and called for progress in the talks.

“Palestine has now become a state under occupation,” he said. “This occupation must end on the basis of a two-state solution on the 1967 borders with a minor swap of lands equal in size and value.”

On Sunday, Israeli security personnel found a weapon and ammunition hidden under the seats of a Palestinian car at an Israeli checkpoint in central Israel.

The car containing two Palestinians was stopped and searched at the Hotze Shomron crossing on Route 5, the Trans-Samarian highway, after the guards became suspicious.

A submachine gun and ammunition were discovered hidden under the car’s upholstery.

Netanyahu: On Syria, Israel’s finger on pulse and trigger

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the situation in Syria must be stopped and Israel will take steps to protect itself.

“Our finger must always be on the pulse. Ours is a responsible finger and if necessary, it will also be on the trigger,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting. “We will always know to defend our people and our state against whoever attacks us, tries to attack us or has attacked us.”

Netanyahu said the deaths of hundreds of Syrian civilians allegedly by chemical weapons—what he called “weapons of mass destruction”—were “a terrible tragedy and an awful crime.”

“This situation must not be allowed to continue,” he said, cautioning that “the most dangerous regimes in the world must not be allowed to possess the most dangerous weapons in the world.”

Netanyahu was making his first comments since the reports that hundreds of Syrians were killed last week in eastern Damascus suburbs by an alleged chemical weapons attack by the government army. The Syrian government denies the claims.

The deaths were discovered as United Nations chemical weapons investigators were in the country’s capital investigating other alleged incidents of chemical weapons attacks on civilians.

Netanyahu address at U.N. General Assembly to target Iran

(JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the U.N. General Assembly next month in New York.

According to The Jerusalem Post, the Prime Minister’s Office said the Sept. 30 speech would focus on Iran. It will be the third year in a row that Netanyahu will address the United Nations.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani also is expected to address the world body.

Netanyahu is expected to meet with a number of world leaders on the sidelines of the General Assembly. While a meeting with President Obama is possible, nothing has been finalized, according to the Post.

In last year’s U.N. speech, Netanyahu presented a cartoonish-looking picture of a bomb with a thick red line that he said delineated the point in Iran’s nuclear development process beyond which it must not be allowed to proceed.

In his 2011 address, Netanyahu focused on peace talks with the Palestinians, urging U.N. member states not to support the Palestinian Authority’s bid to be recognized as a non-member observer state. The Palestinian motion for a status upgrade passed anyway.

Israeli airstrikes near Beirut retaliate for rocket fire from Lebanon

(JTA)—Israeli airstrikes hit a “ terrorist target” near Beirut in response to rocket fire, the Israeli military said.

Planes bombed the target between the Lebanese capital and Sidon on Aug. 22, the Israel Defense Forces said.

According to Lebanon’s Daily Star, the target was a base belonging to the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. The paper said an Israeli missile hit a valley in Naameh, an area some eight miles south of Beirut.

The IDF said it was retaliation for the firing of two rockets earlier that day from Lebanon into Israel. The rockets caused damage to property in two Israeli towns but no one was hurt, according to Army Radio.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television quoted a spokesman for the Palestinian group as saying there were no casualties or material damage from Israel’s strikes. He said retaliation would come “at the right time.”

Both Hezbollah and the Palestinian group are avowed supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad in his protracted and bloody war against rebels.

The IDF statement said ultimate responsibility for the incident lay with the Lebanese government for failing to prevent rocket fire into Israel.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman said the launching of rockets into Israel was a violation of U.N. Security Council resolution 1701, which brought an end to the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and to Lebanon’s sovereignty.

The Lebanese president also asked relevant agencies to apprehend the perpetrators behind the attack and refer them to the judiciary, according to the Daily Star.

Filner, dogged by sexual misconduct allegations, quits as San Diego mayor

(JTA)—San Diego Mayor Bob Filner resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

Filner, 70, who is Jewish, resigned on Friday after the San Diego City Council unanimously approved a deal under which Filner agreed to leave office by Aug. 30 in exchange for the city agreeing to pay his legal expenses in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by his former aide.

Thus far, 17 women have publicly accused Filner of acting inappropriately and sexually harassing them.

Filner was San Diego’s first Democratic mayor in two decades; he was formerly a 10-term congressman.

“In a lynch mob mentality, rumors become allegations, allegations become facts, facts become evidence of sexual harassment, which have led to demands for my resignation and recall,” he said Friday in announcing his resignation.

He apologized to the city and the women who accused him of misconduct.

Prior to his resignation, Filner had entered a treatment facility on Aug. 5 for two weeks of intensive therapy.

An election will be held within 90 days to elect a new mayor.

Torah scroll hidden since WWII in Polish monastery is returned

WARSAW, Poland (JTA)—A Torah scroll that since 1942 has been hidden in a Tuchow monastery was returned to the synagogue in Dabrowa Tarnowska in southern Poland.

The Torah was returned earlier this month but reported for the first time on Saturday.

It had been brought to the monastery in Tuchow, approximately 60 miles from Krakow, by an anonymous person who asked the Redemptorist priests to hold the scrolls until the synagogue in Dabrowa again became a place of prayer, according to Father Kazimierz Piotrowski of the Redemptorist monastery in Warsaw.

“After the war for many years the synagogue was systematically devastated. The Torah was thus kept in a monastery in Tuchow,” Piotrowski told the Catholic News Agency.

The synagogue in Dabrowa Tarnowska was built in the second half of the 19th century; during World War II the Germans turned it into a workshop. Over the past few years the building was renovated and it is now the House of Cultures in Poland.

Following the building’s dedication, the Redemptorists decided to donate the Torah scroll there. In 2010, the mayor of Dabrowa Tarnowska gave the scroll to conservationists, and today it can be seen in the prayer hall of the former synagogue.

Ancient cemetery of Sephardic refugees restored in France

(JTA)—A municipality in southern France has begun renovating an ancient Sephardic cemetery.

The first stage of the restoration of the 17th century cemetery in Bidache, 130 miles south of Bordeaux, began last week and will focus on a large arch built on the premises, the local daily Sud Ouest reported last week.

The cemetery was built by Sephardic Jews who fled to the area from Portugal and Spain during the Inquisition, which began in 1492. The Jewish settlers received permission to stay in Bidache from the princes who ruled Gramont.

The restoration is being led by the Jewish Liturgical Organization in cooperation with architect Soizic Le Goff, who received the go-ahead from local authorities in June.

The regional cultural affairs directorate of the Pyrenees-Atlantiques region is financing the first stage of the project to the tune of $8,000, Sud Ouest reports.

“The instability of the very steep terrain and the possibility of encountering tombstones buried very deep, and this makes it a difficult project,” researcher Jean Brisset is quoted as telling the daily. He said at least 40 Jewish families have buried their relatives in this cemetery.

Unlike Spain and Portugal, restorations of Jewish cemeteries are relatively rare in southern France, according to Sud Ouest.

Spanish towns plan mock wedding at Sukkot Judaica festival

(JTA)—Two Spanish towns are preparing a two-day Judaica festival featuring a mock wedding to celebrate their lost Jewish heritage.

The Sept. 28-29 event, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, is being co-organized by non-Jews from San Juan and Rio Jerte in the province Extremadura in northwestern Spain. It also will include a Judaica market and songs, according to festival coordinator Antonio Gil.

“This is a local event for the local population so that people who live here know that part of our history,” Gil told JTA.

Gil added that the idea for the festival came last year from Maria Dolores Marin of San Juan and is not geared toward attracting tourists.

In planning the event, Gil and Marin consulted Avigail Cohen Komer, an Israeli Jew who owns a shop in the nearby village of Hervas, where a Jewish festival is held every year.

Northern Spain had a Jewish population of hundreds of thousands  before the Spanish Inquisition, which began in the late 15th century and drove countless Jews into exile. Others were forcefully converted to Christianity, though for decades many of the converted secretly practiced Judaism.

In recent years, municipalities across Portugal and Spain have been spending millions of dollars renovating Jewish heritage sites. Gil said the festival’s organizers will decorate some homes that used to belong to Jews.

The municipality of Zamora, some 130 miles north of the two towns, also announced its own Jewish project earlier this month in which it will post plaques near its places of Jewish historical interest, according to the daily La Opinion-El Correo de Zamora.

Zamora’s head of economic development, trade and tourism, Francisco Javier Gonzalez, told El Correo that the city has “a historic debt” to its Sephardic ancestors, who were forced to leave the Zamora and Castile and Leon.

Dutch museum to move, reopen as synagogue

(JTA)—A city in eastern Holland has pledged nearly $750,000 for restoring a museum to its previous function as a synagogue.

The switch will become possible in 2015, when the natural science museum in Nijmegen leaves its current building, the Dutch regional daily De Gelderlander reported Aug. 22.

Jem van den Burg, the head of a nonprofit called Big Synagogue, a Jewish Future, told the daily that the municipality has agreed to provide the $734,000 in financing for his plan.

Den Burg has until 2014 to present a business plan for the construction of a Jewish cultural center and synagogue in the building.

The City Council will vote on the plan this year. Alderwoman Hannie Art told De Gelderland she was confident it would pass.

The building served Nijmegen’s some 500 Jews from 1913 to 1943, when the Nazis killed nearly all of them along with 75 percent of Holland’s pre-Holocaust Jewish population of 140,000. Nijmegen’s few Holocaust survivors could not shoulder the costs of keeping the synagogue operational and the building was sold.

Van den Burg oversees the Jewish cemetery as well as archival research about the Jewish municipality.

Since 2012, the Dutch municipalities of Werkendam, Amsterdam and Vlissingen have transferred five large properties to Dutch Jewish communities.

 

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