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Weekly roundup of world briefs


April 23, 2021

Julian Edelman announces retirement

By Marc Brodsky

(JTA) — Julian Edelman, the New England Patriots wide receiver who has shown his Jewish pride on a number of occasions, will retire following a stellar 11-year career in which he won Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl LIII.

Edelman, who played in only six games last year due to a chronic knee injury, had his contract terminated Monday by the Patriots in a procedural move, ESPN reported. He announced his retirement in a video posted Monday to social media.

Edelman was at his best in the big games, finishing second all-time with 118 postseason receptions, trailing only Hall of Famer Jerry Rice’s 151. He was a member of three Super Bowl champions. Edelman will also finish second all-time among Patriots receivers with 620 catches, behind Wes Welker’s 672.

Edelman, now 34, has a Jewish father but was not raised in the religion. It was during his breakout campaign in 2013 that he identified as Jewish in an interview with the NFL Network.

Edelman went on a Birthright-style trip to Israel, and in 2019 visited the country with the Patriots’ Jewish owner, Robert Kraft. He wrote a children’s book that references modern-day Zionism founder Theodor Herzl.

After the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in the fall of 2018 that killed 11, he wore special cleats with Hebrew on them to honor the victims.

Last month, he reached out on social media to NBA center Meyers Leonard, who used an anti-Semitic slur while playing a video game on the public Twitch channel.

“Let’s do a Shabbat dinner with some friends,” Edelman wrote Leonard. “I’ll show you a fun time.”

NY judge killed in hit and run while vacationing in Florida

By Andrew Silow-Carroll

(JTA) — Sandra Feuerstein, a federal judge from Long Island, New York, was killed Friday by a hit-and-run driver while vacationing in Boca Raton, Florida.

Feuerstein, 75, was struck while walking on a sidewalk near the beach. The driver, a 23-year-old woman, remained jailed Sunday on $60,000 bond, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Feuerstein was appointed to the Eastern District of New York by President George W. Bush in 2003 after serving as a New York state judge for 16 years.

The New York native worked as a schoolteacher before earning a law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in 1979.

Feuerstein and her late mother, Judge Annette Elstein of the Immigration Court in New York, made history as the first mother and daughter in the United States to serve as judges at the same time.

Earliest evidence of kosher diet in UK found in 800-year-old animal bones from Oxford

By Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Archaeologists in the United Kingdom discovered findings from a medieval Jewish community of Oxford that they said were the earliest evidence of a religious diet.

The findings, locked inside pottery fragments excavated in Oxford, go back to the 12th and 13th centuries following William the Conqueror’s invitation to Jews in Northern France to settle in England.

The fragments came from two former homes in Oxford’s center that belonged to Jews: Jacob f. mag. Moses and Elekin f. Bassina, according to a report in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences last week on the findings by the researchers from the University of Bristol.

“A remarkable animal bone assemblage was unearthed in this latrine, dominated by domestic fowl (mainly goose), and with a complete absence of pig bones, hinting at a kosher diet,” the researchers wrote.

Fish bones comprised only species such as herring, which are kosher, they added.

The lead author of the research, Julie Dunne from the University of Bristol’s School of Chemistry, said in a statement about the study: “This is a remarkable example of how biomolecular information extracted from medieval pottery and combined with ancient documents and animal bones, has provided a unique insight into 800-year-old Jewish dietary practices.”

US defense secretary lands in Israel, marking first Cabinet visit by Biden administration

By Shira Hanau

(JTA) — United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed in Israel Sunday morning and met with Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz, marking the first visit to the country by a Biden administration cabinet member.

Austin touched down in Israel just hours after a power outage at an Iranian nuclear facility, in which a U.S. official said Israel played a role, according to the New York Times. The visit also comes as talks are underway for the United States to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

In a joint press conference, Gantz pledged to work with the United States on Iran.

“We will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the State of Israel,” Gantz said, according to Haaretz.

Austin did not comment directly on Iran in his remarks but said the Biden administration would continue to back Israel’s “qualitative military edge.”

“During our meeting I reaffirmed to Minister Gantz our commitment to Israel is enduring and it is ironclad,” Austin said.

Austin is also set to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Israel Defense Forces chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. Austin will also tour Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, a custom for all visiting foreign dignitaries to Israel.

Supreme Court lifts California restrictions on at-home religious gatherings

By Shira Hanau

(JTA) — The Supreme Court extended a string of decisions overturning pandemic restrictions on religious gatherings, ruling Friday night that California’s restrictions on at-home gatherings unfairly limited religious freedom.

The 5-4 ruling, in which Chief Justice John Roberts again joined the liberal justices in the minority, lifted rules limiting at-home gatherings in much of the state to three households. Those rules, imposed during a recent surge of COVID-19 cases in California, were set to expire April 15.

A Christian pastor and a group of others had asked the court to lift California’s restriction on at-home gatherings so they could host Bible study classes and prayer groups. They argued that the state was restricting their religious liberties by forbidding such gatherings in houses of worship and limiting the size of at-home gatherings.

The conservative majority argued that the restrictions privileged secular activities like restaurants, salons and sporting events over religious gatherings. In the dissent, Justice Elena Kagan disagreed, noting that all at-home gatherings were restricted, including those for secular purposes.

The decision follows a trend in which the 5-4 conservative majority, solidified by Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment in October, has overturned COVID restrictions on religious gatherings. In November, the court blocked New York’s restrictions on houses of worship after the Orthodox Jewish advocacy group Agudath Israel, along with the Brooklyn Catholic Diocese, sued the state. In December, the court issued a similar ruling in response to an appeal by a New Jersey rabbi and priest.

Israeli police beat up and kneel on the face of left-wing Jewish lawmaker

By Ben Sales

(JTA) — Israeli police beat up a left-wing member of parliament and one officer knelt on his face, drawing outcry from across the political spectrum.

Ofer Cassif, the only Jewish member of the Arab-Israeli Joint List party in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, was at a protest against evictions in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah Friday when he became involved in an altercation with police. The police shoved him to the ground and video from the protest shared on social media shows an officer placing his knee on Cassif’s face.

“The police are going crazy here, they’re not letting people demonstrate,” said Cassif, according to the Times of Israel. “They were told I was a Knesset member, it did not interest them.”

Police are investigating the incident.Before caption

Members of Knesset, including those on the right, condemned the officers’ treatment of Cassif.

“Brutal behavior like this toward any citizen is improper, let alone a Knesset member who is entitled by law to freedom of movement so he can fulfill his role,” said Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, according to the Times of Israel. Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right lawmaker, called it “grave and unacceptable.”

Israel to allow vaccinated tour groups starting in May

By Ben Sales

(JTA) — Israel will be reopening its gates to fully vaccinated tour groups on May 23.

The Jewish state hopes to allow individual vaccinated tourists by early July, a source in its Tourism Ministry told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Israel has vaccinated most of its own population, and largely reopened public and recreational spaces, while seeing the number of COVID cases plummet.

“It is time that Israel’s unique advantage as a safe and healthy country start to assist it in recovering from the economic crisis, and not only serve other countries’ economies,” Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen said in a statement. “Only opening the skies for international tourism will truly revive the tourism industry, including restaurants, hotels, sites, tour guides, buses and others looking to work and provide for their families.”

The reopening to tourists will happen in three stages: Beginning on May 23, the country will let in a small number of tour groups, about 10 to 20 a day, led by licensed tour providers. Tourists will still need to test for COVID before the flight, and test for antibodies upon arrival.

A few weeks after May 23, if case numbers remain low, the number of tour groups allowed in per day will rise. Israel then hopes to reopen to individuals and families who are vaccinated.

In 2019, some 4.55 million tourists visited Israel, and the country’s tourism industry employed some 200,000 people, according to the ministry. But Israel closed nearly all entry to foreigners with the onset of the pandemic, and shut down its main airport completely earlier this year due to rising case numbers.

Guinness World Records declares Walter Bingham oldest living journalist

(JNS) — A British-Israeli journalist was inducted into the Guinness World Records last week for being the oldest living journalist.

Walter Bingham, 97, is also the current record holder of “oldest radio talk-show host (living).”

A decorated World War II veteran, “Harry Potter” actor and Nazi-era survivor, Bingham hosts the weekly “Walter’s World” on Israel National Radio and “The Walter Bingham File” on Israel Newstalk Radio, both in English.

Born Wolfgang Billig in 1924, he escaped Germany after Kristallnacht in 1939 by way of the “Kindertransport,” which took unaccompanied children to Great Britain.

In later years, he took part in the D-Day landings at Normandy in 1944, reported Jewish News. He moved to Israel in 2004, and when he turned 95, he skydived over northern Israel. He said he will “God willing” do it again for his 100th birthday.

Bingham received France’s most prestigious award, the Legion of Honor, in 2018.

Evan Cohen, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign media advisor, said in 2020: “I think Walter is inspiring the new generations of journalists. Anyone who sees someone who’s been on the job for decades, and has spanned from the time when we were sending things by telegram to the time when we are tweeting one another, understands that the true nature of journalism is the people behind all of this tech and all of the communications. I think Walter is doing a fantastic job.”

NASA names two asteroids after Israeli student who discovered them

(JNS) — NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is naming two recently discovered asteroids after an Israeli student who found them during an asteroid-hunting project, it was announced on Friday.

Aseel Nama, a biomedical engineering student at the Technion–-Israel Institute Nof Technology, grew up in the Arab town of Deir al-Asad in the Galilee and is now based in Haifa. She participated last month in the International Astronomical Search Collaboration, a project co-sponsored by NASA that invites the public to search for asteroids using data provided to them.

“I really wanted to take part in this campaign, which is a kind of competition, but NASA insisted that I recruit a team of three people,” she said in a statement. “I explained that I wasn’t able to recruit anyone else, but that this is my dream. Finally, I convinced them to let me compete. It turns out I was the only one-person team and the only Israeli among 116 teams worldwide.”

Her studies involve mastering segmentation—the division of images into sections—a skill that she credits for the asteroid discoveries.

“I got a set of photos and videos from NASA to search for new asteroids,” said Nama. “I called my ‘team’ ANI (Aseel Nama Israel) and the asteroids I discovered will be called ANI1801 and ANI2001.”

University of Illinois establishes the nation’s first Jewish student housing

(JNS) — The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will open the country’s first university-affiliated housing option for Jewish students in the fall, reported The News-Gazette on Friday.

The Illini Chabad property, a former fraternity house, will be available to both Jewish freshmen and upperclassmen, though non-Jewish students can live there as well. It is made up of 32 two-bedroom suites, study rooms and more. Illini Chabad executive director Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel said plans are being finalized to build a Jewish synagogue in the building.

Residents will have kosher-meal options, housekeeping services, and a complimentary snack and beverage bar. The cost to lease a bedroom is $12,200 for August through May. Six of the rooms have already been leased, said the site’s manager.

The $7.7 million funding campaign for the building included $4.8 million in donations, Tiechtel told The News-Gazette. He added that “we are excited about the whole new level we are going to create with the housing.”

The news comes after two anti-Semitic incidents took place at the school in February and last month’s announcement that the school has created an advisory council to combat anti-Semitism on campus.

Association of Jewish Studies president resigns over meeting with Steven Cohen

By Shira Hanau

(JTA) — The president of the Association of Jewish Studies has resigned after revealing that he met with Steven M. Cohen, the Jewish sociologist who was accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct in 2018.

Cohen resigned from his formal positions at multiple Jewish institutions amid those allegations but had recently been meeting with Jewish studies scholars and communal leaders, including Noam Pianko, a professor of Jewish studies at the University of Washington and the president of the academic association.

The meetings drew widespread condemnation, with over 500 rabbis and 100 rabbinical students signing letters criticizing attempts to “rehabilitate” Cohen before he had fully repented for his actions. The Association of Jewish Studies’ women’s caucus also condemned the meetings.

“Accepting this meeting invitation was a mistake,” Pianko wrote in a letter to the association’s executive committee, which the committee shared when it announced his departure in an email to members Tuesday morning.

“As a scholar and an individual member of AJS, I believe strongly in upholding our mission-centric value of academic and intellectual freedom including our commitment not to regulate the intellectual association of its members,” Pianko wrote. “However, I have now come to understand that although I violated no AJS policy, my role as president of AJS necessitated a different set of obligations and standards than other members of the organization.”

Pianko’s resignation marks the first in connection with the Cohen meetings, which the once-celebrated scholar held with three colleagues. In his letter of resignation, he acknowledged the women’s caucus’ statement.

“Over the last two weeks, I have listened carefully to colleagues who have made public statements and with those who have shared their perspectives with me privately,” Pianko wrote. “I am grateful to the Women’s Caucus for their clear articulation of the implications of such a series of meetings.”


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