Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Weekly roundup of world briefs


Italian synagogues and churches reopen, but with fewer worshippers allowed

By Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Synagogues and churches have reopened in northern Italy, where they had been shut down since that area went into lockdown following the first major outbreak of COVID-19 in Europe.

The main synagogue of Milan reopened Monday per guidelines agreed-upon last week with government officials, Moked, the Italian-Jewish news site, reported. Synagogues also have reopened in Rome and Florence at least.

Italian shops, hairdressers and restaurants also opened Monday, ending a 10-week lockdown. About 32,000 people in Italy have died from COVID-19.

In Milan, congregants must register in advance with the rabbi’s office to ensure their number does not exceed the new capacity of each synagogue under social distancing protocols, said the community’s president, Milo Hasbani.

At Hasbani’s Beit Menachem synagogue, the capacity was more than halved to a limit of 28 worshippers in the men’s section and 12 in the women’s.

Worshippers at Milan synagogues are not allowed to bring their own kippot, prayer shawls or other religious items. Instead they receive a sanitized kit at the entrance, which they leave for disinfection when they go. They must wear facemasks and sanitize their hands before entering.

Children under 13 may not enter the Beit Menachem synagogue for the time being. Its doors remain open during services.

To reserve a seat for Shabbat prayers, worshippers must register by noon Tuesday, according to instructions sent to community members.

Police shut down a Brooklyn yeshiva with approximately 60 students

By Shira Hanau

(JTA) — Police shut down an Orthodox yeshiva in Brooklyn on Monday for violations of social distancing.

Approximately 60 students were present at the Nitra Yeshiva in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood when the police arrived, according to a New York Police Department spokesperson. Many of the teenage students were not wearing masks or adhering to social distancing, WNBC-TV reported, though a message accompanying a photo circulating on the messaging platform WhatsApp claimed the students were wearing masks and adhering to social distancing.

Officers instructed school leaders to close the yeshiva and the students dispersed.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted about the incident Monday evening. “Earlier today the NYPD shut down a Yeshiva conducting classes with as many as 70 children. I can’t stress how dangerous this is for our young people,” he wrote.

The closure comes weeks after a large Hasidic funeral in Williamsburg, also in Brooklyn, drew thousands into the street, drawing the mayor’s ire.

Days after New York Gov. Cuomo issued an executive order in mid-March closing schools across the state, he clarified that the order also applied to private schools such as yeshivas. Last month, Cuomo extended the order to include the rest of the school year.

Billy Crystal to join Jewish organizations in raising a glass to first responders

By Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — If you turn up for this Zoom cocktail event, you better look mahvelous.

Billy Crystal will be hosting as the Secure Community Network, the security advisory body to U.S. Jewish community, raises a glass on Wednesday evening to the first responders who have been on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic.

Crystal, the comic who starred in movies such as “When Harry Met Sally,” in the 1980s coined the phrase “You look mahvelous” as Fernando, an oleaginous nightlife host on “Saturday Night Live.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray and the chiefs of the Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles police departments will be among the top law enforcement officers joining Crystal in an event dubbed “Virtual L’Chaim.”

“Medical professionals, law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs and so many others are devoting their lives to ensure our communities are as safe as possible,” Michael Masters, the director of SCN, said in a statement announcing the 20-minute Zoom event, which is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. and will also be seen on Facebook.

SCN is formally affiliated with the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Biden would keep any disputes with Israel out of public view

By Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Joe Biden as president would keep disputes with Israel out of public view, a top adviser said.

It’s a striking contrast with President Barack Obama, who Biden served as vice president and believed that working through some differences in public helped move Israel.

“Joe Biden believes strongly in keeping your differences as far as possible between friends, behind doors, maintaining as little distance in public as possible,” Tony Blinken, a top adviser to Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said Monday in a webinar organized by a pro-Israel Democratic group, Democratic Majority for Israel.

It’s one of a number of distinctions the former vice president is drawing on Israel policy with the president he otherwise lauds and holds up as an example of what Americans should yearn for now, during the Trump presidency. Biden has also said he would reenter the Iran nuclear deal that President Donald Trump has abandoned but would seek to make it tougher.

Obama in a 2009 meeting with Jewish community leaders questioned the policy of “no daylight” in public between Israel and the United States, saying it had done little to advance peace. He openly criticized a number of Israeli government policies during his presidency, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often responded in kind.

Blinken reiterated Biden’s commitment to resuming assistance to the Palestinians, which Trump has all but suspended, but added that he would abide by congressional restrictions conditioning much of the aid on the Palestinian Authority ending payments to Palestinians who have killed or wounded Americans and Israelis.

Blinken reiterated Biden’s position that he would not condition aid to Israel on its behavior — a demand that has been heard in the past year from the party’s left, particularly Biden’s most formidable rival in the primaries, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“He is resolutely opposed to it, he would not tie military assistance to Israel to any political decisions it makes, full stop,” Blinken said.

US religious freedom body funding research project on anti-Semitism in Europe

By Marcy Oster

(JTA) — A government-funded body on religious freedom is looking to launch a research project that examines anti-Semitism in Europe.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent body that tracks religious freedoms overseas and has members appointed by leadership from both houses of Congress and the president, has issued a tender for the project.

“This research project would seek to enhance the understanding of the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in European countries and government responses to it, in order to make specific and effective recommendations for United States policy,” according to the announcement.

The final report is expected to be generated within six months.

European Parliament condemns Palestinian Authority textbooks that promote hate and violence

By Marcy Oster

(JTA) — The European Parliament passed three resolutions that condemn the Palestinian Authority for using school textbooks that promote hate and violence.

The resolutions were passed Thursday as amendments by the Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control in a budgetary report, according to the EU Reporter, and passed by a vote of 402-263, with 13 members abstaining.

Among the issues covered by the budgetary report, which was dated March 3, is the use of EU funds transferred as foreign development assistance.

One of the resolutions calls on the European Commission to make sure that “no Union funds are used to finance textbooks and educational material which incite religious radicalization, intolerance, ethnic violence and martyrdom among children.” The resolution adds that the European representatives are “concerned that problematic material in Palestinian school textbooks has still not been removed and is concerned about the continued failure to act effectively against hate speech and violence in school textbooks.”

Money allocated for textbooks should “be used for drafting and teaching curricula which reflects UNESCO standards of peace, tolerance, coexistence, and non-violence,” the resolution said.

The NGO Impact-se worked with legislators in the parliament to draft the resolutions. “This parliament, which oversees the spending of the European Commission, is clearly exasperated by the continued payment of massive grants to the Palestinian educational sector, which is then promptly turned into one of the most hate-filled, violent and extreme curricula worldwide,” Impact-se CEO Marcus Sheff said.

Taking the Israeli Cabinet photo becomes a puzzle with social distancing rules

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — It turns out that taking the traditional photograph of the incoming Cabinet while following coronavirus social distancing regulations is very complicated.

So much so that the director-general of Beit HaNasi, the official residence of the president of Israel, had to consult with the director-general of the Health Ministry.

The traditional photo, to be taken Monday, generally has the new Cabinet sitting and standing around the president and the prime minister in close quarters.

The new government, Israel’s largest ever, includes 36 Cabinet ministers and 16 deputy ministers who were sworn in on Sunday.

“This is an important ceremonial event that comes after the formation of every Israeli government and we hope to hold it in exactly the same way,” Harel Tubi of the president’s residence wrote in a message to the Health Ministry’s outgoing director-general, Moshe Bar-Siman-Tov.

“The event includes 36 ministers, the president and two prime ministers in rotation, all together for the photograph in the hall of Beit HaNasi, with a large number of media.”

Tubi requested the Health Ministry’s guidance regarding the timing and the format of taking the photograph due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Jewish woman gives birth to sextuplets in France

By Marcy Oster

(JTA) — A Jewish woman in Strasbourg, France, gave birth to sextuplets.

The five girls and one boy were born very prematurely on Thursday at the Hautepierre Hospital in Strasbourg, requiring the assistance of 30 medical staff members, the daily LeParisien reported, citing the newspaper Les Actualités Nouvelles d’Alsace.

It took four minutes to deliver the babies, who were born at 24 weeks, after which they were taken to the neonatal intensive care unit. They weighed in at between 1.4 pounds and 1.6 pounds and likely will require a stay of many months in the hospital.

The couple have two other children. The Hebrew-language news website B’haredey Haredim identified the father as Rabbi Ovadia Ben-Simon.

The last sextuplets in France were born nearly 30 years ago, in 1989 in Normandy. Sextuplets occur once in 4.7 million deliveries worldwide.

Limited religious services may be allowed by Shavuot, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo says

By Philissa Cramer

Jews in New York State may be able to gather legally for small-scale religious services during the next holiday, Shavuot.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in his daily coronavirus briefing Sunday that his office planned to release guidance early this week about what New Yorkers can do over Memorial Day weekend and beyond. Shavuot, which is traditionally celebrated with all-night study, begins three days later on May 28.

“Can we find a way to do a ceremony — a religious ceremony, or a ceremony that honors Memorial Day? I think we can,” Cuomo said, responding to a question specifically about observance outside of New York City. He said services would be limited in size and would require social distancing to be practiced.

Religious services have been barred since mid-March, when Cuomo issued an executive order prohibiting gatherings of any size in a bid to slow the coronavirus’ spread. Recently, as the number of new cases have slowed, rabbis on Long Island have been openly sparring over whether to permit in-person prayer services.

Los Angeles Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf stores are giving up their kosher certification

By Marcy Oster

(JTA) — The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf company announced that the products in its Los Angeles stores will no longer all be certified kosher.

A statement on the California-based international company noted that though its LA-area stores have been kosher for the last 57 years, “extensive consumer research had made it clear that customers are looking for a broader array of food options.”

“While this was initially scheduled to be a phased rollout, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased business pressures,” the statement said.

The company’s packaged coffees, teas and powders will remain certified kosher through the Los Angeles-based Kosher Supervision of America. Some packaged foods found in the stores may also be kosher, but the wide array of baked goods, sandwiches and salads are no longer guaranteed to be kosher.

Several petitions to keep the stores kosher appeared on Change.org, including one with over 5,000 signatures.

Israeli inventors create facemask with slot for eating in public

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli restaurants will reopen next week and require about 5 feet between patrons, but what about people who aren’t ready to take off their masks when they eat in public?

Some Israeli inventors have created a facemask for the coronavirus age that will allow wearers to eat food without removing it.

The mask has a slot that opens with a hand remote lever to allow food to go through, Reuters first reported. Drippy dishes might not fare very well, the story said, but solid foods “can be gobbled up in a flash a la Pac-Man.”

The developer, Tel Aviv-area based Avtipus Patents and Inventions, told Reuters that it has already submitted a patent for the mask and plans to start manufacturing in the next few months.

Delta to resume flights between Israel and New York with masks mandatory

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Delta Airlines will resume flights between New York and Israel next month, with facemasks mandatory for staff and travelers.

The flights will be “less than daily,” Delta announced on its website.

The airline’s first flight to Israel since mid-March will depart from New York’s JFK international Airport on June 3, with a return scheduled for June 6. The flights will operate on Saturday nights, Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays.

Along with the masks requirement, the announcement said that only 50 percent to 60 percent of the seats will be filled to ensure proper spacing during flights.

United Airlines has been flying to Israel from Newark Liberty, Washington Dulles and San Francisco airports throughout the coronavirus crisis.

Israel still has a ban on non-citizens entering Israel and requires a 14-day self-isolation for Israelis arriving from abroad. Those restrictions could be lifted at the end of the month.


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