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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


N.J.’s Christie apologizes to Adelson over ‘occupied territories’ reference

(JTA)—New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie apologized to casino magnate Sheldon Adelson for referring to the “occupied territories” in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Christie met with Adelson, a major GOP donor, privately on Saturday afternoon in Adelson’s Las Vegas office in the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, which hosted the RJC meeting, Politico reported, citing an unnamed source.

During his speech on Saturday, Christie spoke of his family’s trip to Israel in 2012.

“I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day,” he reportedly said.

Several news outlets reported that the crowd of Jewish Republicans at Christie’s speech noticeably gasped at Christie’s use of the loaded term.

Christie was one of several prominent Republicans to address the conference. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush spoke to a private dinner on March 27 at Adelson’s personal aircraft hangar, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich both addressed the conference on Saturday, along with Christie.

Politico reported that the unnamed source, which it called “familiar with the conversation,” said that Christie made clear “that he misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’ And he conveyed that he is an unwavering friend and committed supporter of Israel, and was sorry for any confusion that came across as a result of the misstatement.”

The source told Politico that Adelson accepted Christie’s explanation.

Christie said that during his trip to Israel, everyone he met wanted “America to be their unblinking, unwavering, unquestioning friend. The sense I got from my trip was that many of those folks, not all, but many of them were worried that we were no longer being that,” The Star-Ledger newspaper reported.

Holocaust survivors in Canada target of scam

TORONTO (JTA)—A scam targeting Jewish Holocaust survivors in Canada claims they are entitled to a share of a $75 million pot and asks for a large fee in return.

Letters delivered to survivors in Alberta and Ontario claim they are entitled to funds from the “Holocaust Claims Processing Office” and request personal banking information.

The letters promise the funds will be transferred to a “secure numbered account” and ask for 60 percent of the sum as a fee, the National Post newspaper reported.

“I have all secret details and necessary contacts for claim of the funds without any hitch,” reads the letter signed by a Larry Dubali, identified as a senior partner of Tenure Consulting in New York.

Reached by the Post last week, Dubali, who seemed to speak with an African accent, hung up without answering questions. The phone number and address on his letters are associated with complaints about telephone frauds, the Post noted.

“It’s so clear that this is a scam,” said Sara Saber-Freedman, executive vice president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which has notified the police, phone company and Internet provider about the scheme. “It’s just vile. This is just odious.”

She also called Dubali and noted he seemed to speak with a West African accent.

The Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants organization sent letters to rabbis and community leaders warning about the scam.

“This is an obvious attempt to defraud members of the Jewish community and should be ignored,” the letter said.

“It’s obscene as far as I’m concerned,” said the organization’s president, Sidney Zoltak.

Houston man indicted for synagogue bomb threats

(JTA)—A federal grand jury indicted a Houston man for calling in bomb threats to two city synagogues, a municipal courthouse and a private business.

Dante Phearse, 33, was charged with two civil rights violations for “threat of force with an explosive device which allegedly obstructed members of the synagogues from enjoying the free exercise of their religious beliefs,” according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice issued March 27.

According to the indictment, Phearse called Congregation Beth Israel and Congregation Or Ami and threatened to bomb the synagogue buildings and harm its members, the Department of Justice said. He also called bomb threats to the City of Houston Municipal Courts building and a private business.

Phearse is facing a maximum of 20 years in prison for each civil rights violation and a maximum of 10 years in prison for each bomb threat. He has remained in police custody since his arrest.

Jewish woman, partner among first same-sex marriages in Britain

(JTA)—A Jewish woman and her non-Jewish partner were among the first same-sex couples to be married in Britain hours after a law permitting such marriages went into effect.

Nicola Pettit, 29, who is Jewish, married Tania Ward, 28, on Saturday morning at Brighton Town Hall, according to the London Jewish Chronicle. The couple had a religious ceremony on Saturday evening led by Rabbi Janet Darley of the South London Liberal Synagogue, according to the newspaper.

“It was really important for me to have a rabbi and other Jewish elements present,” Pettit told the newspaper. “It also means a lot for my mum and the rest of my family, who all attend the Liberal Jewish Synagogue together.”

The law went into effect early Saturday morning.

Britain’s Tate Gallery to return Nazi-looted painting

(JTA)—Britain’s Tate Gallery said it would return a Nazi-looted painting to the heirs of an art collector from Hungary.

The gallery announced on March 27 that it would return the 1824 painting “Beaching a Boat, Brighton” by John Constable. The artwork had been loaned to museums in the United States as late as 2006, The New York Times reported.

In a report, the British government panel settling claims on alleged Nazi-looted artworks said the painting should be returned to the anonymous heirs of Budapest art collector Baron Ferenc Hatvany. The Spoliation Advisory Panel criticized the museum for not attempting to establish the painting’s provenance.

The museum said it would recommend to its trustees at its next meeting in May that the painting be returned, according to The New York Times.

Hatvany, a Christian convert from Judaism, had his art stolen while he was in hiding during World War II.

A donor gave the painting to the museum in 1986.

U.S. court: Iranian relics cannot be seized as restitution to terror victims

(JTA)—Victims of a 1997 suicide bombing in Jerusalem cannot seize Persian antiquities on display in the United States as restitution, a federal judge ruled.

In his decision Friday, Judge Robert Gettleman of the U.S. District Court in Chicago said the items could not be seized for the victims’ families since it was unclear whether the Iranian government owned the items on loan to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and that the artifacts at the Oriental Institute were loaned for scholarship, not commercial intentions, according to The Associated Press.

Iran was ordered to pay $412 million in restitution, AP reported. The Iranian-backed and funded Hamas terror organization claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed five and injured 200.

Other U.S. museums watched the ruling closely, fearing that a ruling for the victims would endanger museum collections throughout the country.

The victims likely will appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, AP reported.

Thousands attend Paris aliyah fair amid spate of anti-Semitic incidents

(JTA)—Thousands of French Jews attended an information fair in Paris about moving to Israel.

Sunday’s fair, organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel in cooperation with the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption and the World Zionist Organization, offered information from representatives of many Israeli organizations and institutions, including government ministries.

The Drancy-based Bureau for National Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, a watchdog group known as BNVCA, has recorded a spate of anti-Semitic incidents in France in recent weeks, including a violent attack on a Jewish teacher and a knife attack on a Paris rabbi and his son.

Immigration to Israel, or aliyah, from France has risen sharply since the beginning of 2014, with 854 new immigrants arriving in January and February compared to 274 during the previous year, according to the Jewish Agency.

Some 3,280 immigrants from France arrived in Israel in 2013, compared to 1,917 in the previous year.

Earlier this month, the French Jewish community’s watchdog organization, SPCJ, released a report that counted 423 anti-Semitic incidents in France in 2013—a 31 percent decrease from the previous year, but still higher by 8 percent than the number of incidents recorded in 2011.

Czech justice minister: Nothing much happened during Nazi occupation

(JTA)—Czech Justice Minister Helena Valkova was under fire for saying nothing much happened during the Nazi occupation of her country.

Valkova, whose father is an ethnic German and who grew up in a bilingual home, made the statement in an interview that was published on the news website echo24.cz

Asked about her views on the expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II, Valkova, of the center-right ANO 2011 party, said, “The worst. I understand that it was a reaction to what happened before, but in the protectorate not that much happened,” she said in reference to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia set up by the Nazi occupation forces following their invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Between 1941 and 1945, 46,000 Jews were deported from Prague, mostly to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and from there to Auschwitz. Only 5,000 survived.

Valkova claimed the statement was taken out of context, and that she only meant to compare the relative calm within the protectorate to war-torn Poland and Russia.

Miroslava Nemcova, a lawmaker for the conservative opposition ODS party, was one of several Czech politicians and intellectuals who criticized Valkova for her statement.

“Go to the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague and read the names of Jews murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War,” Nemcova said in parliament on Tuesday, according to the news site blesk.cz.

ODS deputy chairman Martin Kupka said Valkova’s statement “denies or at least overlooks the suffering of thousands of Jews who were transferred from the Czech soil and subsequently murdered, this denies the obliteration of entire Czech villages, this denies the suffering of thousands of brave people who were killed.”

Limmud FSU, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews form partnership

(JTA)—Limmud FSU and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews will partner to expand Limmud FSU activities.

The announcement of the partnership came Saturday night during the Limmud FSU conference in Parsippany, N.J.

Limmud FSU (for former Soviet Union) helps Russian-speaking Jews engage with the Jewish community.

Under the three-year agreement, Limmud FSU will hold eight conferences this year, up from six in 2013. The group also will expand to Australia, the West Coast of the United States and Toronto. The fellowship will fund the new activities.

Also under the agreement, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the fellowship, will join Limmud FSU’s as dean and member of the executive committee.

Aron Kestecher, Melbourne molestation suspect, dies in apparent suicide

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA)—Aron “Ezzy” Kestecher, a former Chabad-Lubavitch youth leader in Melbourne who was accused of child sex crimes, died in a suspected suicide.

Kestecher, 28, was found dead in his apartment on Thursday. He was accused of multiple allegations of child sex abuse against minors and was due in court in June, police confirmed Friday.

Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, said he visited the family on March 27.

“I provided a measure of support and comfort to his family members and his close friends, as well as the first responders to this most tragic of events,” he said. “The deceased was a very special young man, but he was also deeply troubled.”

The Lubavitch websites Crownheights.info and shmais.com both posted death notices expressing their “profound sadness, deep pain and shock.”

David Werdiger, a grandson of one of the founders of Chabad in Melbourne, published a post about the “terrible tragedy” on Facebook, taking aim at those he claimed may have encouraged his death.

“Those who helped publicize said alleged sins, who facilitated or conducted trial by media, who acted in a heavy-handed way without thinking about the many possible consequences (or who ignored the obvious consequences following their actions) need to consider to what extent their ‘actions’ contributed to this terrible outcome,” he wrote.

Four charges of indecent acts by Kestecher against minors were withdrawn in 2012, but additional alleged victims came forward last year with one claim of sexual penetration against a child under 16 and of indecent acts with a child, resulting in the beginning of legal proceedings.

Kestecher taught at Yeshivah College, which has been at the center of the child sex abuse scandal inside Melbourne’s Jewish community. Two of its former employees—David Kramer and David Cyprys—were jailed last year for multiple sex crimes against more than a dozen children.

Rabbi: Danish zoo killings show shechitah ban isn’t about animal welfare

(JTA)—A Danish zoo’s slaying of healthy animals proves that animal welfare concerns are a false justification for Denmark’s recent ban on ritual slaughter, a prominent European rabbi charged.

Citing the need to make room for new animals and prevent inbreeding, the Copenhagen Zoo killed four healthy lions last week and a healthy giraffe last month.

The killings, which prompted an international outcry, make it “more apparent that this [shechitah ban] is less about animal welfare, and much more about the politics of immigration and integration,” Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said in a statement on March 27.

Denmark’s agriculture minister, Dan Jorgensen, issued a new regulation last month making it illegal to slaughter animals without stunning, posing a problem for Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter. He said the ban owed to animal welfare considerations.

Goldschmidt suggested that’s false.

“Since there is little or no religious slaughter in Denmark today, we can only assume that the ban represents a fig leaf intended to cover the country’s woeful record on animal welfare,” he said.

Last month the Copenhagen Zoo made headlines around the world when it killed an 18-month-old healthy giraffe and then publicly fed his flesh to the lion pack. The affair has refocused attention on the traditional whale hunt performed in Denmark’s Faroe Islands, where each year hunters maneuver hundreds of pilot whales to beach themselves, then butcher them in shallow lagoons.

“It seems so clear that this is a country with a great deal of work to do in this area” of animal welfare, Goldschmidt said, “yet all they have succeeded in doing thus far is offending faith communities.”

Ark cover returned to Prague Jewish Museum

(JTA)—A 19th century parochet, or ark cover, originally from a Czech synagogue was returned to the Prague Jewish Museum.

The piece of cloth was discovered last year in a box of artifacts delivered to Sotheby’s auction house in New York to be sold, according to the Czech News Agency. It had been missing from the museum for nearly 60 years, along with a number of other pieces.

The ritual object is from from Mlada Vozice in south Bohemia, according to the news agency.

It will go on display in the museum next month.

 

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