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Weekly roundup of world briefs


February 7, 2020

Top Jewish children’s books include stories about a Yiddish culture rescuer and the Holocaust

By Penny Schwartz

(JTA)—A picture book about the founder of the National Yiddish Book Center and a debut graphic novel of a gripping Holocaust story are among the gold medal winners of this year’s Sydney Taylor Book Awards for Jewish children’s books.

Leslea Newman, the author of 70 books, including many Jewish titles, was recognized with the body of work award.

The top awards handed out by the Association of Jewish Libraries were announced Monday at the American Library Association’s midwinter meeting in Philadelphia as part of the latter association’s Youth Media Awards.

The Sydney Taylor awards recognize books with “high literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience.”

“The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come,” by Sue Macy and illustrated by Stacy Innerst, won in the picture book category. The biography traces Aaron Lansky’s unlikely path to rescuing Yiddish language books and helping to keep alive Yiddish culture.

J. Palacio’s debut graphic novel, “White Bird: A Wonder Story,” took the top honor for middle grade readers. It is based on characters from Palacio’s bestselling “Wonder” series of books that have been made into a film.

Newman, whose new picture book, “Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story,” illustrated by Amy June Bates, won this year’s Sydney Taylor silver medal and also garnered the recently announced 2019 National Jewish Book Award in children’s literature. Her trailblazing book “Heather Has Two Mommies” remains in print after 30 years.

Fourteen honor and notable book winners were named as well on Monday.

The winners will receive their awards, which are named for the author of the “All-of-a-Kind Family” series, at the American Library Association’s annual conference in June in Evanston, Illinois.

Islamic State threatens to hit Israel with new attacks

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The Islamic State said it will focus its new attacks on Israel.

The terror group, also known as ISIS, issued a 37-minute audio message on Monday by its spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Quraishi, the AFP news agency reported.

Speaking on behalf of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi, al-Quraishi called on Islamic State fighters to launch a “new phase, which is to fight the Jews and restore all that they have usurped from Muslims,” the London-based Asharq-Al-Awsat reported.

“The eyes of the soldiers of the caliphate, wherever they are, are still on Jerusalem,” al-Quraishi said. “And in the coming days, God willing, you will see what harms you and what will make you forget the horrors you have seen.”

The message was published on the terror organization’s usual social media channels, according to AFP, which said it had not authenticated the message. ISIS rarely targets Israel, the news service reported.

Psychiatrist says Monsey stabber is incompetent to stand trial

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—A psychiatrist has found Monsey stabber Grafton Thomas to be incompetent to stand trial on attempted murder and federal hate-crimes charges.

Defense attorney Michael Sussman has asked a federal judge to hold a competency evaluation for his client.

Thomas, 37, was arrested following the Dec. 28 attack at the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, in which he stabbed five people with a machete. One of the victims, Josef Neumann, 72, is fighting for his life as a result of injuries to his head and brain; he remains in a coma. If Neumann dies, Thomas could face the death penalty.

Thomas denies stabbing anyone, and his family says he suffers from mental illness.

Thomas’ phone revealed he had recently searched online for phrases like “Why did Hitler hate the Jews,” “German Jewish Temples near me” and “Zionist Temples” in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and on Staten Island, New York.

Thomas pleaded not guilty to 10 hate-crime charges on Jan. 13 in federal court. He also pleaded not guilty after a grand jury in Rockland County charged him with six counts of attempted murder and several assault and burglary counts.

Thomas is being held without bail in federal custody.

House overwhelmingly approves $10 million for Holocaust education funding

By Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved $10 million over five years to fund Holocaust education in American schools.

The vote Monday was timed for International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Nazi camp.

The money will be administered by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which will disseminate curriculum materials, in part through a centralized website.

“If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who initiated the bipartisan bill with Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y. “I urge the Senate to act quickly on this bill.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the House speaker, spoke in support of the bill and noted her visit last week to Auschwitz.

“At Auschwitz, we walked on ground scarred by almost unspeakable evil where more than one million innocents were murdered,” she said.

Hadassah and the Jewish Federations of North America led the lobbying for the measure.

“It is imperative that we make every effort to push back against the hatred, bigotry, anti-Semitism and extremism fueling violent attacks,” Hadassah said in a statement.

Brazilian governor at remembrance ceremony calls Holocaust ‘humankind’s day of shame’

By Marcus M. Gilban

SAO PAULO, Brazil (JTA)—The governor of Brazil’s largest state called the Holocaust “humankind’s day of shame” at the official ceremony to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Latin America’s largest nation.

“It’s not only about remembering the 6 million Jews who were murdered, but also all others murdered elsewhere in all times, but nothing is as serious as the Holocaust,” Sao Paulo Gov. Joao Doria said. “Today is humankind’s day of shame.”

Some 1,100 Jewish and non-Jewish political leaders, government authorities and officials, as well as an unprecedented number of foreign diplomats and clergymen, attended the event Sunday at Brazil’s largest synagogue, the 2,000-family Congregacao Israelita Paulista-CIP.

“We see a proliferation of discriminatory messages on social networks in Brazil and the world,” said Fernando Lottenberg, president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation. “Attacks on Jewish communities grew exponentially in the 21st century. This day serves to honor the victims and to guide our actions when threats return.”

Holocaust survivors were honored and a group of survivors lit one of six candles, which represented the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust. The event also featured a painting exhibit by non-Jewish teens from a juvenile correctional institution, who reinterpreted poems and paintings from the Holocaust era.

“In times when anti-Semitism resurfaces in places never imagined, this whole story needs to be remembered,” aid Rabbi Michel Schlesinger of the Congregación Israelita Paulista-CIP. “The biggest protective barrier to ensure that the Holocaust will never be repeated and for the memory of its victims to be honored is the independent, sovereign and strong existence of Israel.”

Brazil is home to some 120,000 Jews, half of them living in Sao Paulo.

Stolen Marc Chagall painting sells for $130,000 at auction in Israel

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A painting by Jewish modernist Marc Chagall sold at auction for $130,000, the lowest estimated bid suggested by the auction house.

The buyer, from Tel Aviv, wishes to remain anonymous, a spokesman for the Tiroche Auction House in Herzliya told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The artwork, the size of a standard sheet of office paper, was sold on Saturday.

Titled “Jacob’s Ladder,” the oil painting by the famed Jewish modernist was scheduled for a 1996 sale but was stolen days before that auction. It was found in 2015 in the estate of an elderly woman in Jerusalem after her death.

Migdal Insurance, which paid the 1996 claim on the stolen Chagall, demanded custody of the painting and a Tel Aviv court ruled in 2015 that the painting be transferred to the insurance company. Migdal offered the work for sale through Tiroche to recoup the money it paid to the painting’s previous owner.

A Chagall painting, “Les Amoureux,” sold at Sotheby’s in New York in 2017 for a record $28.45 million.

Benjamin Netanyahu officially indicted hours after he withdraws immunity request

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s attorney general filed the indictment on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery against Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday hours after the prime minister withdrew his request for parliamentary immunity.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit filed the charges in three corruption cases against Netanyahu in Jerusalem District Court in the early afternoon, the Israeli public broadcaster Kan reported. Netanyahu denies the charges. It marks the first time that a sitting Israeli prime minister has been indicted.

Netanyahu, who is in Washington, D.C., for meetings with President Donald Trump on his administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, withdrew his request for immunity hours before the Knesset was scheduled to vote on, and pass, a decision to form a committee to debate his immunity request, which was nearly assured of being rejected.

Filing of the indictment comes five weeks before national elections in Israel.

Netanyahu said in a Facebook post that the charges are “personal persecution” against him and “cheap politics that harms a decisive moment in the history of the country.”

“During this fateful time for the people of Israel, while I am in the United States on a historic mission to shape Israel’s permanent borders and ensure our security for future generations, another Knesset show is expected to begin in the immunity circus,” he wrote.

“Since I was not given due process, because all the rules of the Knesset were trampled on, and since the results of the procedure were pre-dictated without proper discussion, I decided not to allow this dirty game to continue.”

Netanyahu’s main rival in the March 2 elections, Blue and White head Benny Gantz, said in a statement that “Netanyahu is going to trial—we must move forward. Israel’s citizens have a clear choice: A prime minister who will work for them or a prime minister working for himself.”

Netanyahu can continue to run for office while under indictment.

Mike Bloomberg launches Jewish outreach

By Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Mike Bloomberg, the former New York mayor running for president, is launching his Jewish outreach in Miami.

Bloomberg is rolling out “United for Mike,” the name for his Jewish campaign, at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center in Miami on Sunday afternoon.

Bloomberg, who is Jewish, in November named Abigail Pogrebin, an author who has written on Jewish issues, as his Jewish outreach director.

New nature reserves to open in Judea and Samaria for first time since Oslo Accords

(JNS)—Israel’s Defense Minister Naftali Bennett approved on Wednesday the creation of seven new nature reserves in Judea and Samaria.

This is the first time that new nature reserves have been declared in the disputed territories since Israel signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestinian Authority in 1993. Bennett’s office said in a statement that the plan was put off for years because the government previously refused to authorize it.

The locations for the seven new nature reserves—all located in Area C, areas of Judea and Samaria fully controlled by Israel—are the Ariel Cave, Wadi Og, Wadi Malha, the Southern Jordan River, Bitronot Creek, Nahal Tirza and Rotem-Maskiot in the Arvot Hayarden area.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority will oversee the opening of the new sites, and 12 existing reserves will also be expanded. Bennett’s office said the Palestinian Authority will be notified about the changes.

It is unclear whether the nature reserves would be open to Palestinian residents as well.

“Today, we’re giving a great boost to the Land of Israel and continuing to develop Jewish settlement in Area C through actions, not words,” said Bennett.

“There are nature sites with stunning landscapes in Judea and Samaria,” he added. “We’ll expand the existing ones and also develop new sites. I invite all Israelis to get up and roam through the land, come to Judea and Samaria, hike, discover and continue the Zionist enterprise.”

Trump hears from bullied student, issues guidelines on school prayer, federal funds for religious entities

(JNS)—During a ceremony in the Oval Office on Thursday in which U.S. President Donald Trump issued a new guidance to better protect prayer in public schools and federal funds for religious organizations, he heard from a Jewish public-school student from Florida who recalled being bullied in middle school because of her religion.

“In my middle school, I was the only Jewish person and I was very open with my religion,” said Ariana Hoblin. “I would announce when I would have Shabbat plans, which is a day of prayer and rest.”

“When we started our Holocaust unit, it ended with everybody being nice to me because I spoke out about it,” she continued. “And I wanted to inform people, and I wanted to help people learn.”

Hoblin then went to say that “the students started to write swastikas on my belongings, on my arms. I was pushed and shoved in the hallway.”

“They even went so far as to take my face and put it on Anne Frank’s body. And it was sent around to three different schools. I was terrified to say I was Jewish,” she said. “And that should never be in anyone’s mind. Anyone in school should be able to say, ‘I am whatever religion I am. And I practice this and I believe this.’ ”

Hoblin, who identified herself as a junior at Wellington High School in Wellington, Fla., remarked that she has “continuously fought for anyone to have the right to exercise their constitutional rights in school.”

She then expressed her appreciation for the president being supportive of the State of Israel and the Jewish community.

When asked by Trump how she’s been treated now at school, Hoblin responded, “My high school is extremely supportive of me. They’ve helped me be a leader in the Jewish community.”

Referring to the executive order, the president said, “Well, this is going to help, too.”

Federal hate crime charges for Brooklyn woman arrested for slapping Jewish women

By Philissa Cramer

NEW YORK (JTA)—A Brooklyn woman who made headlines for slapping three Jewish women in December—and then quickly being released from jail—has been charged with federal hate crimes.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced the Justice Department’s decision to charge Tiffany Harris in a meeting Tuesday morning with Jewish leaders in Brooklyn at which he pledged “zero tolerance” for anti-Semitism.

“These are the kinds of cases that maybe in the past would have been treated locally, but I think it’s important for the federal government to plant its flag,” Barr said at the meeting. “We will move aggressively when we see this kind of activity.”

Harris has emerged as a flashpoint in the debate over a bail reform law that went into effect Jan. 1 in New York State. The law, which prohibits bail requirements for most nonviolent and minor offenses, was intended to ensure that defendants are not treated differently based on their financial means.

Harris’ arrests—after her release, she was arrested again for assault—took place before the law went into effect. Still, politicians who oppose the law have cited the 30-year-old woman in making the case that judges should have discretion to impose bail requirements.

That appears to be happening with the federal charges, which come amid Barr’s “zero tolerance” pledge and as the New York Police Department seeks ways to circumvent the bail law.

“I am appalled that Tiffany Harris is being used as a scapegoat for the fear-mongering surrounding bail reform,” Lisa Schreibersdorf, Harris’ lawyer, told the New York Daily News on Tuesday.


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