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Looking back at 5775

 

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama meeting at the White House, May 20, 2011.

NEW YORK (JTA)-As 5775 winds to a close, here's a look back on the highs and lows (and everything in between) of the year that was.

September 2014

At the annual U.N. General Assembly, President Barack Obama focuses his speech on the ISIS, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likens Iran to ISIS and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blames the West's blunders for fomenting the terrorists of ISIS. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issues a scathing attack against Israel for its conduct in the summer's war with Hamas in Gaza.

October 2014

Rabbi Avi Weiss, an ardent political activist who espouses a liberal brand of Orthodoxy, announces his planned retirement from the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York. Weiss is the founder of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah rabbinical school for men and Yeshivat Maharat school for female Orthodox clergy.

"The Death of Klinghoffer"-an opera based on the true story of an elderly American Jewish man in a wheelchair killed by terrorists aboard an Italian cruise ship-opens at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York amid protests that the production is anti-Semitic and sympathetic to terrorists. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and two former New York governors, David Paterson and George Pataki, are among those who protest the New York opening of an opera that had its worldwide debut in 1991.

Chaya Zissel Braun, a 3-month-old American citizen, is killed when a Hamas terrorist crashes a car into a Jerusalem rail station. A second victim, a 22-year-old tourist from Ecuador, dies several days later from injuries sustained in the attack.

Relations between the Obama White House and Prime Minister Netanyahu reach a new low after an anonymous American official calls the Israeli leader a "chickenshit" in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic. U.S. officials condemn the remark and Secretary of State John Kerry calls Netanyahu to apologize.

Open Hillel, the movement launched to counter the campus organization's regulations on Israel programming, holds its first national conference, at Harvard University. The two-day gathering, titled "If Not Now, When?," draws some 350 participants for a conference aimed at pushing back against Hillel International rules prohibiting programs that feature groups or individuals who "delegitimize" Israel or support the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the Jewish state.

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, the senior rabbi at a large Conservative congregation in Washington, D.C., announces he is gay. The announcement is received positively by the leadership of his synagogue, Adas Israel.

SodaStream, the Israeli at-home seltzer machine company, announces that it will close its West Bank factory and move the facility's operations to southern Israel in 2015. The company says the move out of the Jewish settlement of Mishor Adumim is unrelated to boycott threats.

November 2014

As Republicans retake the Senate in midterm elections, a state senator from New York's Long Island, Lee Zeldin, is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming the sole Jewish Republican in Congress.

Four Jewish immigrants and a Druze policeman are killed during morning prayer services in a terrorist attack at a Jerusalem synagogue, Bnei Torah Kehillat Yaakov in the Har Nof neighborhood. The victims include Rabbi Mosheh Twersky, the dean of the Torat Moshe Yeshiva and the grandson of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the founder of modern Orthodoxy.

As the Ebola epidemic spreads in three countries in Africa, IsraAid becomes the sole Israeli or Jewish organization on the ground in the hot zone.

Jonathan Greenblatt, a former special assistant to President Obama, is named the next national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Greenblatt is slated to replace Abraham Foxman, the ADL's leader since 1987.

World powers, led by the United States, extend the deadline in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program to June 30, 2015, prompting a call by AIPAC for new sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Ultimately, additional sanctions are not levied during the negotiations, which last until a deal is struck in early July 2015.

December 2014

France's parliament, the National Assembly, votes 339-151 to urge the French government to recognize the state of Palestine. The vote follows similar motions passed the previous month by parliaments in Britain and Ireland.

The United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents more than 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors and other student workers in the University of California system, approves a resolution to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, becoming the first major U.S. labor union to hold a membership vote on Israel and BDS.

Alan Gross, a Jewish-American contractor for the U.S. government who had spent five years in a Cuban prison for helping connect Cuban Jews to the Internet, is released and returned to the United States as part of a sweeping deal to restore diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana. Gross subsequently thanks the American Jewish community for helping secure his freedom.

Jewish immigration from France to Israel reaches an all-time record of nearly 7,000 in 2014, more than doubling the French aliyah rate in 2013 and far outstripping immigration to Israel from the United States. Overall, immigration to Israel hits a 10-year high in 2014 with approximately 26,500 new immigrants.

The Conservative movement youth group USY votes to relax rules barring teenage board members from dating non-Jews. The change, adopted at the group's annual convention in Atlanta, affects the 100 or so teen officers who serve on USY's national board.

President Obama signs the 2014 United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act. The law, which unanimously passed the House and Senate, declares Israel a "major strategic partner," upgrades the value of American weapons stockpiles in Israel and grants the Jewish state improved trade status.

January 2015

Streit's announces it is closing its historic, six-story matzah factory on New York's Lower East Side, where the company produced the Passover staple for 90 years. It will relocate operations to New Jersey.

Bess Myerson, the only Jewish woman to win the Miss America pageant, dies at 90. Myerson won the competition in 1945.

Four Jewish men are killed by an Islamic gunman during a hostage siege at a kosher supermarket in Paris two days after a pair of Islamic gunmen storm the Paris offices of a satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, killing 11. The supermarket gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, is killed when police storm the Hyper Cacher market. Almost simultaneously, police kill the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attack-brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, who were friends with Coulibaly-at a printing plant just outside Paris. The events, which prompt a massive anti-terrorism demonstration in Paris, stoke fears of French Jews about their future in the country.

Alberto Nisman-the indefatigable Argentine prosecutor collecting evidence of culpability in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires-is found shot to death in his apartment, just hours before he is to present evidence to Argentina's congress that he said implicated his country's president and Jewish foreign minister in a scheme to cover up Iran's role in the bombing. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner first calls the death a suicide, then a murder, while protesters hold rallies in Buenos Aires demanding justice in the Nisman case. Months on, the mysterious circumstances surrounding Nisman's death remain unresolved.

House Speaker John Boehner invites Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on Iran's nuclear program. The move sparks a showdown with the Obama administration, which says the invite breaks protocol by circumventing the White House and is inappropriate, given that the Israeli leader is in the midst of an election campaign. American Jews are deeply divided over whether Netanyahu should speak to Congress over Obama's objections, and a partisan row over the issue ensues.

February 2015

Brandeis University President Frederick Lawrence announces he will step down at the end of the academic year. Lawrence led the historically nonsectarian, Jewish-sponsored university for five years and was the institution's eighth president.

Comedian Jon Stewart announces he is leaving "The Daily Show," the mock news program he anchored for 16 years and built into a political and cultural touchstone.

CBS News reporter Bob Simon, an Emmy Award-winning correspondent who was held captive in Iraq for 40 days while covering the Gulf War in 1991, is killed in a car crash in New York. He was 73.

A gunman attacks the main synagogue in Copenhagen, killing a security guard. The attack comes just hours after a gunman kills one person at a cafe in the city, where a caricaturist who had lampooned Islam was speaking. The attacks are seen as a wake-up call for Danish Jews to the threat of Islamic terrorism. As a gesture of solidarity, Muslims in neighboring Norway form a "peace ring" around an Oslo synagogue.

The Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film goes to "Ida," a Polish movie about a Catholic novitiate who learns she is the daughter of Jewish parents killed by the Nazis. But Israel's losing streak at the Oscars continues as "Aya" fails to win for Best Short Film.

More than half of U.S. Jewish college students witnessed or experienced anti-Semitism, an online survey conducted by two professors at Trinity College finds.

In a landmark case, a New York jury orders the PLO and the Palestinian Authority to pay more than $218 million in damages to American victims of six terrorist attacks that took place in Israel between 2002 and 2004 and were attributed to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Hamas. The Palestinian Authority pledges to appeal.

Leonard Nimoy, the actor who portrayed the iconic character Spock on "Star Trek" for over four decades on television and in film, dies at 83. Born in Boston to Yiddish-speaking Orthodox parents, Nimoy had said he derived Spock's trademark split-finger salute from the priestly blessing that involves a physical approximation of the Hebrew letter "shin."

March 2015

Amid lingering controversy, Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses a joint session of Congress to warn of the emerging Iran nuclear deal. Several Jewish lawmakers skip the address. Obama says the speech offers "nothing new," and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., calls it an "insult to the intelligence of the United States."

The Swarthmore Hillel votes to disaffiliate from Hillel International to protest the Jewish campus group's rules on Israel programming. In 2013, the Pennsylvania college's Hillel ignited a national debate on Hillel International's Israel policies, which restrict programs with speakers who support boycotting the Jewish state.

Netanyahu wins a fourth term, his third in a row, as Israel's prime minister, roundly defeating his main challenger, Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union.

April 2015

Negotiators for the United States, five other world powers and Iran reach a framework accord for a deal to limit Iran's nuclear program and set June 30 as the deadline for a final, comprehensive deal.

Women of the Wall, a group that promotes women's religious rights at the Western Wall, for the first time reads from a full-size Torah scroll during its monthly prayer service at the Kotel, contravening regulations there. The Torah was passed across the barrier between the men's and women's sections by male supporters. The following month, police block and arrest a man who attempts to repeat the effort.

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a leader of the national religious movement in Israel, a head of the Har Etzion Yeshiva in the West Bank and a prominent modern Orthodox scholar, dies at 81.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, announces that he intends to run for the U.S. presidency. A self-described "Democratic socialist," Sanders, who is running as a Democrat, is considered a long shot to defeat the party's front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

May 2015

Ed Miliband, the first Jewish leader of Britain's Labor Party, fails to become his country's first Jewish prime minister as the incumbent, David Cameron of the Conservative Party, handily wins reelection and secures 331 of the 650 seats in the Parliament. Miliband resigns immediately after the defeat.

The U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passes a bill providing for its approval of any Iran nuclear deal.

June 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a 2002 law allowing U.S. citizens to list Jerusalem as their place of birth. The case was brought by the parents of 12-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky, whose parents sought the passport listing not long after his birth.

David Blatt, the first Israeli to serve as head coach of an NBA team, guides the Cleveland Cavaliers to the league finals. Blatt's club loses to the Golden State Warriors in six games after taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict finds that Israel's military and Palestinian armed groups committed "serious violations" of international human rights law during their 2014 summer war. 

Days before the U.S. Supreme Court endorses the right to same-sex marriage, the Public Religion Research Institute finds that American Jews are among the country's most supportive religious groups of same-sex marriage.

Pixabay

Leonard Nimoy, left, as Spock on "Star Trek," alongside co-star William Shatner, died in March at 83.

Israeli parliamentarian Michael Oren, Israel's former ambassador to the United States and before that a respected American-Israeli historian, causes a stir with a new book, "Ally," suggesting that President Obama purposely damaged U.S.-Israeli relations.

July 2015

Iran and six world powers led by the United States reach a historic agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the easing of sanctions. President Obama says the deal cuts off all of Iran's pathways to a nuclear bomb. Prime Minister Netanyahu calls the deal a "stunning historic mistake." AIPAC quickly launches an all-out effort to have Congress scuttle the deal.

A 94-year-old former Auschwitz guard, Oskar Groening, is sentenced by a German court to four years in prison for his role in the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews in the concentration camp.

Theodore Bikel, the actor and folk singer who won fame playing Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," dies at 91.

 

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