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Weekly roundup of world briefs


September 25, 2020

Polish auction house selling possessions of Holocaust survivor behind ‘The Pianist’ story

By Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — A Polish auction house has announced the sale of 51 objects that belonged to the Holocaust survivor whose life story served as the basis for the 2002 film “The Pianist.”

Desa Unicum will start selling Władysław Szpilman’s objects, including bowties, an antique metronome and a death mask of the Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin, on Sept. 22, the Warsaw-based firm said on its website. Szpilman was one of Poland’s foremost composers and concert pianists.

The priciest item is a Steinway piano, which is estimated to fetch as much as $70,000. Next is a score from the “Life of Machines” suite that Szpilman composed in 1933, which is expected to bring $3,000 to $5,000.

The items went on a presale display at the auction house on Thursday.

Roman Polanski’s 2002 film about Szpilman, who was Jewish and whose music helped him survive the Holocaust, won three Academy Awards. Szpilman died in 2000.

He had lived through the carpet bombing of the Polish capital, the Jewish ghetto, forced labor and random executions while witnessing the ghetto uprising of 1943 and the Polish uprising one year later.

Austria to triple its spending on Jewish community security

By Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Austria’s government has agreed to cover all the security costs of its Jewish community.

The federal funding for security measures will be $4.7 million annually — more than the $4.3 million that the Jewish Community in Vienna, the organization representing local Jews, spends each year on security, the Judische Allgemeine paper in Germany reported Friday.

The funding triples what the government had given previously, according to the report.

“The law enables a consolidation of the religious community, it secures the existence and thus the diverse services of the Jewish Community in Vienna as we currently know it,” that organization’s president, Oskar Deutsch, wrote in a statement.

Last month Elie Rosen, the leader of the Jewish community of the Austrian city of Graz, was assaulted in what he and officials said was an anti-Semitic attack by a perpetrator who hates Israel. The incident was widely covered in the media in Austria and beyond.

Soccer star Lionel Messi becomes brand ambassador for Israeli company OrCam

By JTA staff

(JTA) — Soccer star Lionel Messi is the new face of the Israeli company OrCam, which makes devices that help the visually impaired identify their surroundings.

“It’s a tremendous satisfaction to help improve the lives of blind and visually impaired people,” Messi said Wednesday in a promotional video. “OrCam My Eye is amazing! It’s magical.”

Messi, considered one of the best soccer players of all time, will be a brand ambassador for the Jerusalem-based company for three years.

This is not Messi’s first stint promoting an Israeli company. In December 2017, the Tel Aviv-based Sirin Labs hired him as its global ambassador. That company developed what it says is an ultra-secure mobile phone using blockchain technology.

OrCam was co-founded in 2010 by Amnon Shashua and Zvi Aviram, who also co-founded the self-driving car technology company Mobileye. OrCam devices attach to a user’s glasses frames and convert visual information into audio that is relayed to the user’s ear.

Messi has been to Israel at least twice — as part of his Barcelona squad’s “peace tour” in 2013, and for a match between his Argentina national team and Uruguay last year.

Israel allocates $51 million to bring over 2,000 immigrants from Ethiopia by 2021

By Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Israel’s government has allocated $51 million to bring over 2,000 Ethiopian citizens this year, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

The allocation was finalized Wednesday in budget talks, according to the The Marker’s report about the statement.

Immigration Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata told Ynet that the 2,000 people awaiting aliyah, or immigration by Jews and their relatives to Israel, will have landed at Ben Gurion Airport by 2021.

The funding is part of a plan presented last year by Tamano-Shata for bringing a total of about 10,000 Ethiopians to Israel in the coming three years. Those prospective olim are living in temporary camps in in Gondar and Addis Ababa.

Israel completed the airlifting of a group of Ethiopian Jews known as Beta Israel in the 1990s. However, this did not include a second group, often known as Falash Mura, people with Jewish ancestry who are widely believed to have converted to Christianity under duress while adhering to some Jewish traditions.

About 30,000 Falash Mura have been brought over to Israel over the past 30 years.

Rabbinical authorities have been split on the status of the so-called Falash Mura, a local pejorative term for people who call themselves the “remnants of Ethiopian Jewry.”

Tamano-Shata told Ynet that when the 10,000 Ethiopians awaiting aliyah are in Israel, the camps will be closed and no further immigration from Ethiopia to Israel would occur.

Danish PM opposes bill banning circumcision, citing ‘promise made’ to country’s Jews

By Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Denmark’s prime minister opposes a bill seeking to ban the nonmedical circumcision of boys, saying “Danish Jews must continue to be part of Denmark.”

Mette Frederiksen of the ruling Social Democrat party made the statement during an interview Thursday on TV2 about a bill submitted last month in parliament by a leader of the left-wing Forward party, which seeks to outlaw the circumcision of minors without medical reason as done by Muslims and Jews.

Frederiksen appeared to reference the fate of Danish Jews during the Holocaust, when hundreds of boat owners smuggled thousands of Jews to safety in Sweden and beyond the reach of the Nazi occupation.

“Many Jews do not find it compatible to live in a country where circumcision is banned,” she said. “I simply do not believe that we can make a decision in which we do not live up to the promise we made, namely that the Danish Jews must continue to be part of Denmark.”

Several major political parties have said they support a ban, which has widespread popular support in Denmark by those who believe it’s child abuse and opponents of Muslim immigration.

Rabbi Yitzi Loewenthal, the emissary of the Chabad Hasidic movement in Denmark, wrote in a statement that Danish Jews “are grateful to the prime minister and others who have come out clearly against” the bill.

“Denmark was a beacon of light,” Loewenthal wrote, and “we hope that light burns strong and long.”

Iranian Islamic scholar: ‘Child martyrs are God’s beloved’

(MEMRI via JNS) — Iranian religious scholar Mohammad-Bagher Heydari Kashani said last week that Iranian children should aspire to be martyrs, and that each and every one of Iran’s offspring can become like former Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

In an interview with Iran’s Channel 2 that aired on Sept. 8, Kashani said that 36,000 Iranian primary school students were killed in the Iran-Iraq War, and that these students, 7,070 of whom were under the age of 14, are a source of Iran’s pride and are God’s favorites.

“All the theoreticians in the world mistakenly believe that population size and growth are a symbol of power. … We’re talking about Islamic Iran, which needs to build a cadre and manpower for the movement that is expecting [the Hidden Imam]. We’re talking about Islamic Iran, where each and every one of its offspring can become [like] Hajj Qassem Soleimani,” said Kashani.

Many Iranians, said Kashani, were “ungrateful” for the “student martyrs” of the Iran-Iraq War.

“We must thank God for them,” he said. “They achieve a status in which they become God’s beloved, his favorites. Sometimes, we are the ones who love God, but other times, He is the one Who, in His divinity, falls in love with us. This is the horizon that our children should aim for.”

Second lockdown to cost Israel upward of $4 billion, says Israeli Finance Ministry

By Gilad Zwick

(Israel Hayom via JNS) — A month-long coronavirus lockdown will cost the Israeli economy between NIS 15 and 20 billion ($4.3 to $5.7 billion), the country’s Finance Ministry said over the weekend.

A senior ministry official stressed that the estimate did not include compensation for businesses that are likely to go under, or unemployment benefits the state will have to pay tens if not hundreds of thousands of Israelis who will again be let go or placed on unpaid leave.

The government is slated to vote on a lockdown on Sunday. Finance Minister Israel Katz has said he will vote against the measure.

The overall economic impact of a lockdown during the High Holidays is expected to be particularly serious as this year many of the holidays fall on weekends, meaning they would have had minimal impact on economic activity.

If the lockdown is extended beyond the holidays, it could cost the state another NIS 6 billion ($1.7 billion) a week.

The Treasury prefers instating a policy of increased enforcement in accordance with National Coronavirus Project coordinator Ronni Gamzu’s “traffic light system,” whereby only areas classified as “red” due to high morbidity would have to shutter businesses.

The ministry also supports keeping daycares and elementary schools open for first through fourth grades, to allow parents to continue working.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

Steve Cohen reaches agreement to buy the New York Mets

By Gabe Friedman

(JTA) — Jewish billionaire Steve Cohen is set to become the next owner of the New York Mets baseball team.

“I am excited to have reached an agreement with the Wilpon and Katz families to purchase the New York Mets,” Cohen said in a statement Monday.

The deal, rumored to be around a record $2.4 billion, needs to be approved by Major League Baseball.

Cohen, a hedge fund manager who grew up one of eight children in a Jewish family and whose father worked in New York’s garment district, had widely been expected to be the Mets’ next owner, as the Wilpons and Saul Katz — both Jewish — have looked for potential buyers over the past year.

But in February talks about the sale seemed to have stalled. Cohen said he had given the deal his “best shot.” At one point, former star player Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez, who are a couple, were among the interested buyers.

Cohen, who the Wall Street Journal has characterized as one of the industry’s most talented money managers, is valued around $14 billion, more than most sports franchise owners. His famed art collection is worth around $1 billion alone.

Cohen’s former wife once sued him in a case that involved insider trading allegations. The case was dropped in 2011.

Mets fans, many of them New York-area Jews, have long complained that Fred Wilpon and his son Jeff have refused to spend enough money to attract star players in their prime, keeping the team locked in a cycle of near-success and a lot of losing. Cohen is a life-long Mets fan who has said he will spend more than his predecessors to construct a winning team.

Many fans rejoiced on social media.

Brazil’s first Jewish Supreme Court president closes inauguration speech with ‘baruch Hashem’

By Marcus M. Gilban

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Luiz Fux, the first Jewish justice on Brazil’s highest court, used a Hebrew expression meaning “blessed is the Name” to close his swearing-in ceremony as the court’s first Jewish president.

“May humility, courage, independence, prudence and discipline guide the journey that I now begin,” Fux said Thursday at the close of his speech in Brasilia. “May God protect me. Baruch Hashem.”

The Rio native is the grandson of Romanian refugees who fled to Brazil during World War II. His grandmother is a former president of the Israelite Children’s Home in Rio. In 2014, Fux was the keynote speaker at the annual convention of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, the country’s umbrella Jewish organization.

“Fux is a proud observer of Judaism. His serenity, competence and honesty will be important in choosing the court’s guidelines and conducting the sessions,” Arnon Velmovitsky, president of the Rio Jewish federation, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Brazil rotates the presidency among the 11 justices on the Federal Supreme Court every two years.

“This is a very special and significant moment for the Brazilian Jewish community, which comprises some 0.2 percent of the national population,” said Judge Denise Levy Tredler, of the Rio State Court of Justice.

Fux was nominated to the court in 2011 by former president Dilma Rousseff. The court decides constitutional and other matters, as well as final appeals.

Fux is a former judge of the Superior Court of Justice and presided over a commission that forged Brazil’s new Civil Process Code. He is also a writer and professor.

Gal Gadot’s ‘Wonder Woman’ sequel debut delayed again until Christmas

By Marcy Oster

(JTA) — The world is going to have to wait a little longer to see Gal Gadot in the sequel to the superhero blockbuster “Wonder Woman.”

Originally scheduled to open in June, and delayed several times, the film is now set for a Dec. 25 opening.

The first “Wonder Woman” film was the highest-grossing movie in the summer of 2017, making $412.5 million in the U.S. and $821.8 million worldwide. The sequel, in which the Israeli Gadot reprises her role as Diana Prince, the Amazonian Princess Diana of Themyscira, was expected to be one of the highest-grossing movies of the year.

About 70 percent of movie theaters in the U.S. have reopened, but theaters in large cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco remain closed, Variety reported.

Meanwhile, Gadot will star alongside Ryan Reynolds and Duane Johnson in the thriller “Red Notice,” which is set for release in late 2020.

She will also star in “Death on the Nile,” an adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel that is still scheduled for a theatrical release next month.

President of Malawi says his country will open embassy in Jerusalem

By Marcy Oster

(JTA) — The president of Malawi said that his country would open an embassy in Jerusalem.

Lazarus Chakwera made the announcement Saturday as part of a larger expansion of the country’s diplomatic representation abroad. Malawi currently does not have a diplomatic mission in Israel.

The announcement came a day after Serbia and Kosovo announced that they too would open Jerusalem embassies.

Most countries with diplomatic missions in Israel locate them in Tel Aviv. The Trump administration moved the American embassy to Jerusalem in 2018, more than two decades after Congress first mandated such a move.

On Sunday, chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat announced that the Palestinian Authority would sever relations with any country that opens an embassy in Jerusalem.

EU court consultant says countries should not be allowed to ban kosher and halal meat

By Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — The advocate general of the Court of Justice of the European Union advised the court to prohibit governments from banning kosher and halal slaughter.

The advice on Thursday by Gerard Hogan is “an important development that could spell the end of attempts to ban shechitah in the entire European Union,” Hans Knoop, a spokesperson for the Forum of Jewish Organizations in Belgium, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, using the Hebrew word for ritual slaughter.

Shechitah involves slashing the animal’s throat with a very sharp knife, and the Muslim variant, Dbiha, preclude stunning the animal before the slaughter. Animal welfare activists find this cruel. Opponents of Muslim immigration and of Jewish presence in Europe also protest ritual slaughter, sometimes citing animal welfare arguments.

A similar debate is taking place in Europe and beyond about the nonmedical circumcision of boys.

Knoop said the position of the EU court’s judges often aligns with that of its advocate general, who acts as the court’s consultant.

The court is expected to rule on the petition sometime this year.


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