Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA
June 16, 2017
‘Oslo,’ Bette Midler and Ben Platt take Tony Awards
(JTA)—“Oslo,” a play about the 1993 Oslo Accords, won the Tony Award for best new play and its Jewish lead actor, Michael Aronov, was recognized as best featured actor in a play.
Bette Midler, the veteran Jewish actress and singer, won for best actress in a musical for “Hello Dolly” as Broadway handed out its highest honors on Sunday night in New York. The play also won for best musical revival.
“Oslo,” a J.T. Rogers play in which Israeli and Palestinian negotiators struggle to hammer out a peace deal, received rave reviews for turning a complicated history into a fast, entertaining three hours. Aronov played Uri Savir, an Israeli negotiator in the 1990s talks.
The musical “Dear Evan Hansen,” about a boy who gets caught up in a lie after the death of a classmate, was named best new musical and led the way with six Tonys, including for its star, the Jewish actor Ben Platt, as best actor in a musical, and Rachel Bay Jones for best featured actress. Benji Pasek, who is Jewish, and Justin Paul also won for best book, best orchestrations and best original score. Paul won the Oscar this year for “La La Land.”
Rebecca Teichman won best director for “Indecent,” which recounts the bumpy journey to Broadway of Sholem Asch’s controversial Yiddish play “God of Vengeance.”
80 percent of Reform rabbis are Democrats—far higher than any other clergy.
NEW YORK (JTA)—The vast majority of Reform and Conservative rabbis affiliate as Democrats, according to a new study.
The study, published Sunday by Yale University, found that more than 80 percent of Reform rabbis, and about 70 percent of Conservative rabbis, affiliate as Democrats. Both were among the top five most Democratic clergy of the Jewish and Christian denominations in the United States, with Reform rabbis topping the list.
Among Orthodox rabbis, nearly 40 percent identify as Democrats and a quarter as Republicans.
By contrast, Evangelical pastors are almost all Republicans, as are most Baptists. The Black Protestant African Methodist Episcopal clergy, as well as Unitarians, are heavily Democratic. Catholic priests are evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
The study’s findings reflect existing data on the politics of American Jews. Solid majorities of American Jews consistently vote for Democrats—70 percent voted for Hillary Clinton in the November presidential race—with polls showing that Orthodox Jews are more likely to vote Republican. Reform Jews have been on the front lines of protests against President Donald Trump.
Orthodox Jews make up about 10 percent of the American Jewish population, various studies show. One-third, or 35 percent, of all U.S. Jews identify with the Reform movement, 18 percent identify with Conservative Judaism, 6 percent with other movements and 30 percent with no denomination, according to the Pew Research Center.
The Yale study also shows that rabbis’ political views track with congregants’ views on policy. For example, 40 percent of Orthodox rabbis are Democrats, and some 40 percent of Orthodox congregants are pro-choice, while about 30 percent of congregants believe gays and lesbians should be legally allowed to marry. Likewise, large majorities of Conservative and Reform rabbis are Democrats, and large majorities of their congregants are pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told JTA earlier this year that Reform rabbis’ generally liberal politics are a reflection of their Jewish values.
“The idea of Jewish spiritual community being about feeding the hungry, clothing the homeless, caring for the stranger—these are fundamental core pieces,” Jacobs said in January. “If we don’t talk about those things in our religious communities, we’re irrelevant.”
Orthodox Jews also cite Jewish values in explaining their support for Republicans, noting a preference for the GOP on Israel and conservative support for school choice programs and religious exemptions for various government mandates.
In total, the data cover 186,000 clergy, including approximately 2,700 rabbis. The data were collected via denominational websites cross-referenced with voter registration records. Some denominations and religions—including Mormons and Muslims—are not included due to lack of reliable clergy lists.
The data also show that the Reform rabbinate is the second-most female of any denominational clergy. Forty-five percent of Reform rabbis are women, as opposed to an average of 16 percent across the denominations surveyed. About a quarter of Conservative rabbis are women; nearly all the Orthodox clergy are men.
An analysis of the data by The New York Times found that rabbis on average lived in the most affluent neighborhoods of any clergy. The median household income of Conservative rabbis’ neighborhoods is nearly $100,000 on average, compared to a national median household income of $53,000. The Times article noted that average neighborhood income does not necessarily reflect pastors’ salaries.
Thousands of anti-Zionist haredi Orthodox Jews protest in Brooklyn against Israeli army draft
(JTA)—An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 anti-Zionist haredi Orthodox Jews protested in New York against the conscription of haredi yeshiva students in the Israeli army and the arrest of draft dodgers.
Most of the demonstrators Sunday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn were from the Satmar Hasidic sect, whose Central Rabbinical Congress of the USA and Canada organized the rally. The Satmars had hoped that other Hasidic sects would come out in support of the rally, but they did not due to infighting, Ynet reported.
The protest was held under the banner of “Let My People Go,” a larger campaign against the conscription and the “persecution of the Torah in the Holy Land.”
A video showing haredi Orthodox protesters in Israel during rallies against the draft being handled roughly by police was screened.
The Brooklyn rally, for men and boys only, was held almost entirely in Yiddish.
The Hasidic sect believes a state of Israel should not exist until the Messiah comes.
“It is commonly believed that the State of Israel commits violations of human rights only against its non-Jewish neighbors under the pretense of bringing greater security for Jews,” said Rabbi Aron Jacobowitz, a rally spokesman, said in a statement. “The truth, however, is that they oppose authentic religious Jews who refuse to follow their ideology just as much as they oppose others. To achieve their goal of making us into Zionists, they are oppressing us, expecting us to break down, give up and join them.
“These operations are yet another proof that the state, its spokesmen and actions do not represent the Jewish people. The State of Israel is not a Jewish state, it is a Zionist state,” he said. “We American Jews cannot stand silently by while our brethren in the State of Israel suffer persecution. That’s why we are here today. We need to make our voices heard and say to the world: enough is enough! The Israeli government must be held accountable by the world community for its attacks on our brethren, and they must grant Orthodox Jews their legitimate right to follow their principles and not serve in the army.”
9 settler teens from extremist youth group arrested in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel Police arrested nine settler teens from the extremist Hilltop Youth group at a Jerusalem apartment
The teens were staying at the apartment, which was set up for the group. Its members are barred from entering the West Bank and may not have contact with each other.
A gag order has been placed on Monday’s arrests and the investigation against the teens.
The apartment was established by Elkana Pikar, a resident of the Yitzhar settlement in the West Bank and a father of six who also is barred from the West Bank. The Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, alleges that he poses a danger to security for hosting the extremist teens at his home.
Pikar, a building contractor, claims the teens work for him and he is providing them with food and a place to eat. He is accused of violence against Palestinians and Israeli security services.
Pikar told Ynet that the teens work in temporary jobs during the day and gather at the Jerusalem apartment in the evening to study Torah.
Connecticut yeshiva embroiled in founding rabbi’s sexual abuse controversy is not certified, state says
(JTA)—A Connecticut yeshiva whose founding rabbi was ordered to pay $20 million to a former student who claimed he was raped by the rabbi is operating without proper certification, the state said.
The school came under additional scrutiny from state regulatory agencies last month after a federal jury ordered Rabbi Daniel Greer and the Yeshiva of New Haven to pay Eliyahu Mirlis $15 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages in a civil lawsuit filed last year.
The yeshiva has not filed any paperwork with the state since 2011 and never received permission to operate as a boarding school, the New Haven Independent reported.
The newspaper reported that the school lost most of its students in 2016 when news of Greer’s alleged molestation became public. Today the students come from outside the state and the school is under new management transplanted from New Jersey. Greer, the Orthodox Jewish school’s former principal, reportedly does not play a large role in the yeshiva, but does participate in daily prayers with the students.
Mirlis claimed the sexual abuse occurred for three years when he was a student at the yeshiva from 2001 to 2005. He said it took place on school grounds and in Greer’s home.
According to the complaint, the abuse began when Mirlis was 15 and Greer was in his 60s. Mirlis is now 29.
Greer has denied the accusation and is appealing the judgment. He has not been criminally charged, though Mirlis has also filed a criminal complaint, according to The Associated Press.
The case can be criminally prosecuted through 2020 under the state’s statute of limitations.
US Holocaust museum launches campaign on Anne Frank’s birthday to translate, digitize diaries
WASHINGTON (JTA)—The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has launched a $250,000 Kickstarter campaign to translate and digitize the diaries of Nazi victims and survivors.
Funds from the 31-day campaign, which started on Anne Frank’s birthday, Monday, June 12, to commemorate the renowned teen diarist, would allow the museum to translate its collection of over 200 diaries into English and catalogue them. The museum only gets the funds it if meets its goal.
The campaign is being promoted on social media under the hashtag #SaveTheirStories.
The diary collection will expose an array of experiences to the public, including the struggle of life in the ghettos, emotional accounts of survival in concentration camps and “the search for refuge in America,” according to the museum.
“Making the evidence of the Holocaust widely available is critical to promoting its understanding and countering those who would deny it,” a museum official, Dana Weinstein, said in a statement. “With the support of people from around the world united behind this project, we will help make more voices of those persecuted by Nazism heard.”
Michigan foundation gives $6 million to improve science education in Israel
(JTA)—The William Davidson Foundation will give $6 million over three years to improve science education in Israel through the use of technology.
The iScience initiative will include online professional development for educators; video conferences with Weizmann Institute scientists, graduate students and alumni; and extracurricular apps, games and puzzles promoting science and math.
It will operate under the William Davidson Institute of Science Education, the educational arm of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.
The initiative from the Michigan-based foundation also will make high-quality science learning more accessible to students in Israel’s geographically removed and disadvantaged communities, such as the Arab and haredi Orthodox sectors, according to a news release.
Angela Merkel at Argentine synagogue urges fight against anti-Semitism
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA)—German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at a synagogue in Argentina, said anti-Semitism must be fought “wherever it appears.”
She also praised Argentina for receiving Germans who escaped from the Nazis during World War II.
In the first hours of her one-day official visit to the South American country, Merkel on June 8 visited the oldest congregation in Argentina, the synagogue of the Israeli Congregation of the Argentine Republic, better known as Libertad Temple, in Buenos Aires.
“This synagogue is a symbol of the great Jewish community of Argentina, where many Germans came escaping from the Nazis,” she said. “There was a bridge between Argentina and Germany, and I want to thank you for having welcomed many Germans here in your country.”
Merkel recalled the 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which left 29 people dead, and the 1994 AMIA Jewish center bombing that killed 85, as “living and painful” examples of anti-Semitism.
“We must fight anti-Semitism where it is present, and fight for democracy and the rule of law throughout the world,” said Merkel, who also noted that Germany’s past is a reminder of the need to fight against anti-Semitism and for freedom and democracy.
Merkel re-inaugurated the recently restored Walcker pipe organ, built in Germany in 1931 specifically for the synagogue. Germany contributed some $33,000 to the restoration.
The executive director of the DAIA Jewish political umbrella in Argentina, Victor Garelik, played a liturgical piece on the organ for the Argentine and German delegations.
Merkel entered the synagogue with Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta and the synagogue’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Simon Moguilevsky, as well as German officials and businessmen who participated in the visit to Argentina. Representatives of the country’s main Jewish institutions and the Israeli ambassador, Ilan Sztulman, also participated in the ceremony.
The temple, home to the Byzantine-style Jewish History Museum, was declared a National Historical Monument by the Argentina government in 2000.
Montana congressman-elect sentenced to community service, anger management for attack on reporter
(JTA)—Republican congressman-elect Greg Gianforte of Montana was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management for body slamming a reporter for The Guardian, a London-based newspaper, on the eve of a special election.
Gianforte also was assessed a $385 fine and a six-month suspended jail sentence by the Gallatin County justice court on Monday after pleading guilty to the misdemeanor assault charge. He could have faced a maximum $500 fine or six months in jail. He must complete his community service by Nov. 28, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.
Last week, Gianforte apologized to reporter Ben Jacobs as part of an agreement that settles any potential civil claims. The deal included a 50,000 donation to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The incident involving Gianforte, a tech millionaire who was endorsed by President Donald Trump, and Jacobs, occurred March 24, hours before the opening of the polls for a special election to fill the seat held by Ryan Zinke, who was named secretary of the interior by Trump.
Jacobs, who is Jewish, had his glasses broken in the attack. A crowdfunding campaign to replace the glasses raised more than $7,500, which Jacobs had requested be donated to the Committee to Protect Journalists. His glasses were donated to the Newseum, a museum in Washington, D.C., dedicated to journalism, at the request of the museum.
Gianforte apologized on the night of his election victory as well.
In his apology letter last week he wrote: “My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful. As both a candidate for office and a public official, I should be held to a high standard in my interactions with the press and the public. My treatment of you did not meet that standard.”
The letter also said: “Notwithstanding anyone’s statements to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you. I am sorry for what I did and the unwanted notoriety this has created for you. I take full responsibility.”
Jacobs testified in court on Monday.
“I fully expect his thoughtful words to be followed by concrete actions once he takes his seat in Congress,” he said of Gianforte’s apology.
Israel cracked details of ISIS laptop bomb plans leaked by Trump
WASHINGTON (JTA)—Israeli cyberintelligence reportedly uncovered detailed Islamic State plans for bomb attacks aboard aircraft that led to the U.S. ban on laptops on flights from eight Muslim-majority nations.
The revelation appeared Monday in a New York Times article about the difficulties facing the United States in using cyber warfare to contain the influence of the terrorist group, which quickly regroups once Western intelligence agencies are able to disable its networks.
One of the few recent successes, the Times said, was Israel’s cyber infiltration of a small cell of terrorists in Syria working on disguising explosive devices as batteries for laptops. That was part of the information President Donald Trump leaked last month to top Russian officials, much to Israel’s consternation, the report said.
The Trump administration is considering extending the laptop ban to flights from European airports.
Warren Buffett is trying to raise $200 million in Israel Bonds
NEW YORK (JTA)—Business magnate Warren Buffett is encouraging the purchase of Israel Bonds at private events in New York.
Guests attending the events with Buffett on Thursday have pledged to buy $1 million to $5 million in Israel Bonds in order to meet the American billionaire, whose net worth of $75.6 billion makes him the second richest person in the world, according to Forbes magazine.
Buffett, CEO of the American conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, hosted an event last November in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, that led to investments of $60 million in the Jewish state. Buffett also bought $5 million worth of Israel Bonds at the event.
Israel Bonds said that following Thursday’s events, Buffett was expected to have helped bring in about $200 million in bonds investments.
“Israel Bonds is proud to call Warren Buffett a friend,” Israel Maimon, president and CEO of Israel Bonds, said Monday in a statement.
“By supporting the Israel Bonds organization through these events and investing directly in Israel Bonds himself, Mr. Buffett is helping to ensure that the State of Israel will continue to prosper, and will continue to be a model of innovation and economic growth for decades to come,” Maimon added.
Buffett spoke highly of the Jewish state at the November event.
“If you are looking for brains, energy and dynamism in the Middle East, Israel is the only place you need to go,” the billionaire said.
In 2013, Buffett made the Israeli firm Iscar his first foreign acquisition, buying the remaining 20 percent of the metalworking company after having acquired 80 percent in 2006.
Later in the same year, it was announced that Buffett would donate $10 million to the Rambam Hospital in Haifa.
San Antonio elects progressive mayor who celebrates Jewish heritage
WASHINGTON (JTA)—San Antonio elected Ron Nirenberg, an insurgent progressive and the son of a Jewish father, as mayor.
Nirenberg, a councilman, defeated Ivy Taylor, the incumbent mayor, 55-45 percent in voting in the south-central Texas city on Saturday. Taylor had establishment backing and outspent Nirenberg in the race.
Nirenberg, 40, celebrated his diverse background while campaigning; his father met his mother while serving in the Peace Corps in Malaysia.
The election was not run along partisan lines, but Nirenberg was seen as a progressive and Taylor as more conservative. Her campaign dubbed Nirenberg “Liberal Ron.”
Campaign issues included law and order and transportation, but national issues such as immigration and LGBT rights also played a role.
Nirenberg emphatically endorsed a 2013 city ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity that Taylor had opposed as a council member when it was passed.
Taylor also would not support a lawsuit against a new Texas law that makes it a misdemeanor for municipal authorities to refuse to cooperate with federal authorities cracking down on illegal immigration. The law is aimed at crippling the sanctuary city movement. Nirenberg backs the lawsuit.
Historians defend professor who wrote of Poles’ complicity in Holocaust
WARSAW, Poland (JTA)—Polish historians defended an academic in Canada against charges that his Holocaust research falsifies the history of Poland.
Historians from the Polish Center for Holocaust Research have criticized the Polish League Against Defamation for publishing a letter signed by 134 scientists and others condemning Jan Grabowski’s works describing the participation of Poles in the crimes committed by the Germans during World War II.
Grabowski, the son of a Holocaust survivor, is a professor of history of the Holocaust at the University of Ottawa and the co-founder of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research.
Polish nationalists have been increasingly assertive in recent years in condemning suggestions that Poland was a perpetrator nation instead of a victim of Nazi occupation.
In a statement, the Polish League Against Defamation called it “disturbing” that Grabowski’s book “Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland” was honored in 2014 with an award from Yad Vashem, “with which the author remains in close contact.”
The book, published by the Indiana University Press, documents the involvement of Poles in finding and killing Jews during the Holocaust. It draws on materials from Polish, Jewish and German sources, and focuses on accounts of the fates of individual Jews.
The Polish League’s letter was sent to the University of Ottawa, all the colleges with which Grabowski has been affiliated and all the publishers that issued his books.
The Polish Center’s letter was signed by seven historians who said they are ready “to engage in a scholarly debate with competent historians.”
“None of the 134 signatories is a Holocaust historian,” the center said in a statement defending Grabowski. “All these economists, linguists, oncologists, chemists, nuclear physicists, engineers, constructors of electromechanical appliances, environmental geologists, ethnomusicologists, theatrologists and priest professors present themselves as Holocaust experts, but cannot even quote the sources they refer to.”