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Conversion reform passes Cabinet vote

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Cabinet approved a government regulation that will reform the conversion process.

The regulation, which echoes the controversial conversion bill that for the second time passed the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, was approved on Sunday at the weekly Cabinet meeting. It will have the force of law but can be rescinded by the Cabinet.

Only the Jewish Home party’s Uri Ariel, who serves as housing minister, voted against the regulation, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The regulation that passed the Knesset committee last week was headed for the Knesset plenum as early as this week.

Under the measure, as many as 30 courts made up of municipal rabbis would be allowed for the purpose of conversion. Currently there are 33 rabbis and four conversion courts that can perform conversions throughout Israel.

After approving the bill in March, the committee was required to vote a second time due to the addition of 38 amendments proposed by the opposition; they were all voted down by the committee.

Sponsored by Elazar Stern of the Hatnua party, the bill already passed one reading in the Knesset this summer.

Israeli media reported last month that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had withdrawn his support for the bill in order to shore up his coalition base and not upset the haredi Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, which he might need to form an alliance in future governments.

Israel’s chief rabbis last week said they would not recognize conversions performed by municipal chief rabbis.

Israel closes border crossings with Gaza following rocket launch

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel closed its two border crossings with Gaza in the wake of a rocket fired into Israel from the coastal strip.

In Gaza, Hamas called the decision to seal the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings indefinitely beginning Saturday “collective punishment.” The Israeli government in a statement cited humanitarian issues as an exception.

“The justifications given by the [Israeli] occupation to shut down crossings are unacceptable,” senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouq said in a statement released Sunday, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.

Marzouq charged that the closure violates the Aug. 26 cease-fire ending Israel’s 50-day military operation in Gaza as well as international agreements.

The rocket that landed Friday evening in southern Israel caused no damage or injuries, the Israel Defense Forces reported. It was the second time since the cease-fire took effect that a rocket fired from Gaza landed in Israel. Israel did not return fire.

“Today’s restrictions on movement raise the specter of a return to Israel openly closing crossings in response to rocket fire, punishing civilians in Gaza in pursuit of so-called political or security goals,” Eitan Diamond, director of the Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, said in a statement. “This is a dangerous regression to a policy that is not only illegal under international law but also has been discredited by senior Israeli security officials as counter to Israeli interests.”

The Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza also has been closed for the last week following attacks on Egyptian security forces patrolling the Sinai. A meeting in Cairo to continue indirect cease-fire negotiations was postponed last week by Egypt due to the Sinai unrest.

Netanyahu calls for lawmakers’ calm on Temple Mount

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for “responsibility and restraint” by lawmakers and said he would not change the Temple Mount status quo.

“Let us not play into the hands of our extremist enemies,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the beginning of the weekly Cabinet meeting. “I think that what is necessary now is to show restraint and to work together to calm the situation.”

He asked that private initiatives and “unbridled statements” be avoided.

“At this time we must show responsibility and restraint,”  the Israeli leader said.

Netanyahu said the government is “committed to the status quo for Jews, Muslims and Christians” on the Temple Mount, adding that “it is easy to start a religious fire, but much more difficult to extinguish it.”

He said the messages of restraint and the continuation of the status quo have been passed along to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as “to all elements in the area.”

Jews  are not permitted by the Muslim Wakf, the religious administration that manages the site, to pray or bring any ritual objects to the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu made his remarks as unrest continued over the weekend at the Temple Mount and in eastern Jerusalem following the reopening of the holy site early Friday morning. Israel had ordered the site closed on Oct. 30 in the wake of the assassination attempt the day before on Temple Mount activist Rabbi Yehuda Glick.

Glick remains in serious condition and on a respirator at Shaarey Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Over the weekend,  Israel Police said they arrested 17 suspects involved in disturbances in Jerusalem. Some 111 suspects have been arrested since a Palestinian man drove his car into a Jerusalem light rail station in northern Jerusalem 10 days ago, killing two, including a 3-month-old girl, the police said.

Israeli lawmaker Moshe Feiglin visited the Temple Mount on Sunday morning.

“My visit to the Temple Mount was ‘accompanied’ by tens of Arabs shouting threats and curses,” he said in a Facebook post after visiting the site. “They feel that they have nothing to fear. Despite the attempted murder [of Glick], Arabs were allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, while Jews were barred until today.”

Feiglin has been assigned a bodyguard due to death threats.

Peres at Rabin memorial: Ruling over others against Jewish values

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel cannot protect its Jewish and democratic character without peace, former President Shimon Peres said at a memorial for Yitzhak Rabin.

“Peace has become a derogatory term. There are those who say that those who believe in peace are naive, not patriots, delusional,” Peres said Sunday night to thousands of people gathered in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv for the event. “But I say to all those in a clear voice, those who give up on peace are the ones who are delusional.”

Rabin was assassinated 19 years ago by Yigal Amir, who remains in jail. Wednesday marks the anniversary on the Hebrew calendar of the assassination.

“Ruling over another people is against our values as Jews. To pursue peace is a mitzvah. It’s also very practical, very Jewish,” Peres said.

The Israeli Peace Initiative and November 4th groups were among the organizers of the memorial, which featured a more political overtone.

A second memorial, sponsored by a coalition of groups from the left and right, including youth movements, is set for Saturday in Rabin Square. President Reuven Rivlin will serve as keynote speaker at the rally, which will remember Rabin’s life and legacy, the Dror Israeli Movement announced Sunday.

Rock throwers in Israel can now be sentenced to 20 years

JERUSALEM (JTA)—An amendment to Israel’s penal code will allow for sentences of up to 20 years for throwing stones or other objects at vehicles.

Israel’s Cabinet passed the amendment at its weekly meeting on Sunday.

“Israel is taking vigorous action against terrorists and those who throw stones, firebombs and fireworks,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting.

“All of this is in order to restore quiet and security throughout Jerusalem. I have ordered that massive reinforcements be brought in and that additional means be used in order to ensure law and order in Israel’s capital.”

In recent months, rocks thrown by Palestinians have damaged the Jerusalem light rail. The rock throwers also have targeted buses and private cars.

Rock throwing now carries an average penalty of two years in jail.

The legislation does not cover the West Bank, where offenders are tried in military court.

Eight Palestinians reported injured in Jerusalem-area clashes

(JTA)—At least eight Palestinians were reportedly wounded in clashes with Israeli police that occurred shortly after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged all parties to practice restraint in Jerusalem.

The clashes included the firing of flare guns by Palestinian men at police guarding the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem last Friday, the news site news.walla.co.il reported. Police responded by firing crown dispersal means at the Palestinians, who fled the scene.

In another incident, eight Palestinians were injured during clashes following prayers last Friday near the Qalandia checkpoint north of Jerusalem, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported. One of the wounded sustained serious injuries, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The violence unfolded one day after Israel briefly closed the Temple Mount compound for access. It was the first blanket closure in a decade, according to Army Radio.

On Oct. 30, Kerry released a statement in which he wrote that he was “extremely concerned by escalating tensions across Jerusalem and particularly surrounding the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount,” adding, “It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount—in word and in practice.”

That day, a 70-year-old Jewish woman was lightly wounded and several cars were damaged in rioting by Palestinians who targeted Israeli vehicles with stones, Israel Radio reported.

Israel more than doubled the presence of police in Jerusalem’s Old City ahead of the weekend, deploying a total of 3,000 officers, Israel Radio reported. The special deployment followed the shooting of a right-wing activist, Yehuda Glick, on Oct. 29. He is seriously wounded but appears to be recovering, doctors said the day after the shooting.

Israel’s internal security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, told reporters last Friday that the shooter was Muataz Hijazi, an operative for the Islamic Jihad terror group, though his family members deny it, Army Radio reported.

Kerry calls Netanyahu, apologizes for anonymous ‘chickenshit’ remark

JERUSALEM (JTA)—U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone call to Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for a U.S. official’s anonymous attack describing the Israeli prime minister as “chickenshit.”

The conversation took place on Friday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters the following day. Kerry on Thursday had called the slur “disgraceful, unacceptable, damaging,” saying, “That does not reflect the president, it does not reflect me.”

In the phone call, Kerry and Netanyahu also discussed the situation in Jerusalem and the importance of de-escalating tensions.

Psaki said Saturday that Kerry “emphasized the importance of refraining from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserving the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.”

She added that Kerry spoke Saturday morning with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who also “expressed his serious concern about the escalating tensions in Jerusalem.”

Psaki told reporters that the State Department was working with “many counterparts” in the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to calm the situation.

Unrest continued over the weekend at the Temple Mount and in eastern Jerusalem following the reopening of the holy site early Friday morning. Israel had ordered the site closed on Oct. 30 in the wake of the assassination attempt the day before on Temple Mount activist Rabbi Yehuda Glick.

Kerry is scheduled to meet Monday with a high-level Palestinian delegation led by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat to discuss going forward with peace talks, the situation in Gaza and lowering tensions in Jerusalem.

A Palestinian newspaper reported over the weekend that the Obama administration would offer a proposal to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians after Tuesday’s congressional midterm elections, The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday.

Jewels held for safekeeping returned to heir of deported Jews

(JTA)—Jewels were returned to the descendant of a Jewish couple who had given them to neighbors for safekeeping before being deported by the Nazis.

A Dutch historical society returned the jewels to Els Kok, a descendant of Benjamin Slager and Lena Slager-de Vries, at a ceremony in Winschoten, in the north of the Netherlands, on Oct. 28.

The ceremony was held 72 years to the day that the Slagers were among 500 of the town’s Jews sent to the Westerbork concentration camp, the Dagblad van het Noorden daily reported. Only 46 of the town’s Jews survived the Holocaust.

Before they were marched to the local train station, the Slagers gave a box with the jewels to their next-door neighbors, the Schoenmakers. Women in the Schoenmaker family passed on the box from daughter to daughter with instructions to keep them for the Slagers.

In 2013, the last keeper, Astrid Klappe, gave the box to the Old Winschoten Society, which tracked down Kok with the assistance of a local resident, Willem Hagenbeek.

Kok received the box containing a few items including rings, a wrist watch and a locket. She was quoted as saying that she was deeply moved and “happy to have something tangible” by which to remember her relatives.

Klappe said that when she was a child, her grandmother showed her the jewels and where they were stored but forbade her to touch them.

The town hall ceremony took place following a silent walk through Winschoten in memory of the town’s Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, the RTV Noord broadcaster reported.

Volunteers clean Vienna Jewish cemetery on Christian holiday

VIENNA (JTA)—Several dozen volunteers participated in the annual cleanup of a neglected Jewish cemetery in Austria.

Some 60 volunteers came to the Waehringer Cemetery in Vienna, one of the city’s largest ancient Jewish burial sites, on Sunday morning as part of a grassroots initiative that began 10 years ago, bringing predominantly non-Jewish crowds to the cemetery every Nov. 2, or All Souls Day – a day on which many Christians tend to their relatives’ graves.

“My parents are buried very far away, so I couldn’t go there this year,” said one volunteer who last year visited the Waehringer Cemetery for the first time on a guided tour. “So I figured that instead of watching television, I’d tend to a grave that usually does not get attention.”

Located north of the city’s center, the cemetery is closed to the public because of the thick vegetation that covers its corroded headstones, some of which have collapsed to form deep pits that make the area unsafe. Thousands of Jews were buried there between 1784 and 1880, when the cemetery became inactive.

After the rise of Nazism in Germany and Austria, hundreds of graves were opened and their contents emptied by researchers studying race theories. The excavations caused major damage, according to the historian Tina Walzer, who has cataloged many of the gravestones.

The Jewish community of Vienna, which owns the cemetery, “cannot be expected to use its limited resources for the dead at the expense of the living,” said Marco Schreuder, who began recruiting volunteers for the cleanup operations a decade ago when he was a city counselor for the Green Party. The community has only 7,500 members; it once was 200,000 strong.

Despite its condition, “this cemetery is the final resting place of some of the founders of Vienna as we know it, people this city owes a lot to,” he added.

Among the people buried there are members of the Epstein family of entrepreneurs, who helped build Vienna’s famed Ringerstrasse, and Heinrich Sichrowsky, who developed Austria’s railway system.

 

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