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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘JNS’

Sandy’s Wrath Spurs Comprehensive Jewish Community Response

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

NEW YORK—Hurricane Sandy stormed into New York and New Jersey with unmitigated force, carrying death and destruction, disrupting lives, and devastating neighborhoods in America’s most densely populated regions – which happen to be home to some of the country’s largest Jewish populations.

In response, the Jewish community banded together to meet immediate needs and plan for a long-term revival.

Cheryl Fishbein, chair of the Emergency Committee of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), told JNS.org Sunday that the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY) is working on insurance – or lack thereof – issues.

“We’re pulling together, recognizing that people have really been demolished,” Fishbein said.

“The entire community – religious, not religious, left to right, Chabad and secular, synagogues, organizations – everybody is under the tent, a tent that stretches as big as it can possibly be,” she said. “People need to know we’re out there, checking on one another, making sure everyone is safe.”

Carol Goldstein, president of the Marks Jewish Community House in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, detailed the work being done by volunteers and staff. “I’m so proud to be part of an agency that exemplifies the Jewish belief we are responsible one to another,” she said.

Marks Jewish Community House Executive Director Alex Budnitsky, together with staff and volunteers, climbed innumerable flights of stairs, carrying meals and water to those trapped in high-rise apartments without electricity. Brooklyn’s Neptune Avenue, he said, “truly looked like a war zone.”

“I applaud the efforts of the volunteers of the community,” he said. “The response is unprecedented. People of all ages from all over Brooklyn have given their time, energy, knowledge, language skills and more to make sure care is taken of everybody from seniors to kids.”

Several Jewish communal organizations joined together to create the The Emergency Sandy Chesed. The fund will be managed by Chevra Hatzalah with the support of local Hatzolah groups, Shomrim, Misaskim, Chaveirim, Met Council on Jewish Poverty, Yad Ephraim and neighborhood Jewish community councils.

Volunteers from synagogues and Entwine, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) young leadership program that usually works in eastern European Jewish communities, were on the ground in Brooklyn, according to Goldstein. The director of a clinic in Kharkov, Ukraine, asked how he could help Russian-speaking Jews in Brooklyn. Teens whose classes were canceled visited the elderly and calls were made to Holocaust survivors, she said.

Sigal Greenfeld Middelman arrived in New York just days before the storm. She is chaperon of the Israeli contingent of the America Israel Friendship League’s YASE (Young Ambassadors Student Exchange) program. Sandy, she said, created “a really awful situation.”

“I had to keep the kids calm and assure their safety – especially without electricity,” she told JNS.org. “Parents were worried – there was no phone service for days.” E-mail and Skype helped Middelman keep parents 6,000 miles away as calm as possible.

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who represents several of the devastated Brooklyn neighborhoods, said Sandy should lead to a “massive reordering of priorities.” His district includes Sea Gate, a historic “gated community” that suffered massive wind and water damage. Many homes were entirely washed away. Rabbi Chaim Brikman of Chabad by the Ocean, which serves Sea Gate and Coney Island, said that Sandy “hit with about 10 feet of water.”

“Everything was destroyed – offices, classrooms, the library,” Rabbi Brikman said. “Somehow I had the intuition to bring all the Torahs to the upper floor – some are over 100 years old.”

Rivkah Brikman, the rabbi’s wife, stressed that the storm did not stop Shabbat. “Homemade food came from Crown Heights,” she said. “We gathered in one of only three undamaged homes. Even without heat, the warm feelings made it the most beautiful Shabbat ever.”

“This is a very loving community,” she added. “Everyone is helping one another – Jews and non-Jews: reaching out to one another. No hurricane will stop us.”

In Manhattan Beach, Congregation Shaarey Torah had 25 people in the shul, usually known as the Shtieble, on Shabbat morning braving the lack of lights and heat. In fact, Manhattan Beach, of all places, actually hosted refugees, as those without electricity were hosted in homes that were not affected by the storm.

After Obama’s Victory, Jews Focus On U.S.-Israel Relations

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Capping a race that on a national level was largely defined by the economy but in the Jewish community turned into an extended debate over which candidate would steer the best course for U.S.-Israel relations, President Barack Obama defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Tuesday to earn a second term.

Obama, who as of Wednesday morning had garnered 303 electoral votes to Romney’s 206 and was ahead in the popular vote 50-48 percent, took 69 percent of the Jewish vote, according to a CNN exit poll, representing a nine-point drop from the 78 percent he won in 2008.

National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) President and CEO David A. Harris, speaking exclusively with JNS after major television networks called the race for Obama on Tuesday night, said he “and the clear majority of American Jews” are “reassured by having President Obama in office for another four years.”

“The president has a stellar pro-Israel record,” Harris said. “The facts speak for themselves. Whether it’s missile defense or some of the closest [U.S.-Israel] security cooperation ever, or heralding an era of isolating Iran like never before, I see…the close cooperation between the United States and Israel continuing into and through the next four years during what’s a crucial period for Israel’s security.”

The recent course of the U.S.-Israel relationship, however, has also included disagreements between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on how to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat, with Obama refusing to set the “red lines” for U.S. military action that Netanyahu has requested; in one television interview he called those demands “noise.”

Just a day before the election, the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reported that senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett has been leading secret talks with Iran for several months. That story followed a New York Times story last month that said the U.S. had agreed to direct negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program for the time – a report denied first by the White House, then by Obama himself in the third presidential debate.

Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor of Commentary magazine, told JNS that Obama’s win will mean “probably four years of ongoing tension with the government of Israel, which is likely to be led by the same person [Netanyahu] with whom Obama is engaged in a long-term feud” – including tension on Iran, especially if Obama approves an Iranian deal brokered by Jarrett.

However, Tobin acknowledged that the “infrastructure of the [U.S.-Israel] alliance isn’t going anywhere.”

Netanyahu congratulated Obama on his victory by saying in a statement, “The strategic alliance between Israel and the U.S. is stronger than ever. I will continue to work with President Obama in order to assure the interests that are vital to the security of the citizens of Israel.”

While Israel was a widely debated election issue in the Jewish community, “American Jews are first and foremost Americans, and like other Americans they are concerned very much about the economy and jobs,” Harris said, calling that “the president’s number one priority today and immediately.”

The battle for the Jewish vote was hotly contested in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, Nevada and Pennsylvania, with the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) running a $5 million “Buyer’s Remorse” television advertising campaign in those states that featured Jews who supported Obama in 2008 but regretted that decision. RJC’s advertising in swing states – which also included “Obama…Oy Vey!!” billboards in South Florida – totaled $6.5 million.

Rabbi David Steinhardt of B’nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton, Fla., said election season was “a very, very challenging period of time and a very difficult campaign.” In his congregation, however, Steinhardt said “people were really respectful of each other in the conversation, surprisingly so, looking at how things began.” Steinhardt said much of the pro-Obama sentiment in his community was “quiet support,” as opposed to the more aggressive approach of Romney supporters during the race.

As far as the U.S.-Israel relationship is concerned, Steinhardt believes “the policies will remain pretty consistent as to what they have been.” He said Israel “can depend on the United States as an ally in what takes place moving forward.”

Rabbi Misha Zinkow of Temple Israel in Columbus, Ohio, recalled the intense campaign in his state.

Three US Jews Still Held Hostage Overseas

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

“There are, I think, almost 3,000 Americans in foreign jails. Almost all of them are in there for doing something.”

That is the assessment given to JNS.org by U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-NY), a leading advocate for the freedom of 53-year-old Brooklyn flooring contractor Jacob Ostreicher – who, according to his supporters, is wrongly imprisoned in Bolivia and therefore falls outside the “almost 3,000 Americans” cited by Turner.

Ostreicher’s situation is one of three high-profile cases of American Jews overseas who remain either controversially imprisoned or held hostage.

In early October, lawyers for 63-year-old Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009 for trying to bring that country’s Jewish community Internet access, announced that a doctor who reviewed Gross’s medical records found a tumor in his right shoulder that may be cancerous. The tumor is a “potentially life-threatening medical problem that has not been adequately evaluated to modern medical standards” by Cuban doctors, according to Dr. Alan A. Cohen.

Alan Gross in Jerusalem with wife Judy.

Since that revelation, Cuba has been “surprisingly quiet in response, and I say surprisingly because typically they tend to be very aggressive at responding to claims about Alan’s situation, and I think the detailed nature of Dr. Cohen’s assessment has flummoxed them and they’re not quite sure how they can respond,” said Gross lawyer Jared Genser.

Gross, who lived in Potomac, Md., received a 15-year prison sentence even though he was working with “peaceful, non-dissident, Jewish groups” in Cuba, according to the U.S. Cuba convicted him of “crimes against the state.”

In August, Gross’s lawyers filed a petition asking the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to conclude that Cuba had violated Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – a treaty that guarantees freedom of expression and the rights to receive and disseminate information freely through any media of choice – by imprisoning Gross.

Cuba “didn’t point to anything [Gross] did beyond provide publicly available computer equipment to Jewish communities down in Cuba, and that falls squarely within the protections for article 19 of the ICCPR,” Genser said, making his ongoing detention “a flagrant violation of Cuba’s obligations of international law.”

Cuba has 60 days to respond to the UN petition. Gross’s team is expecting the UN arbitrary detention working group to hear the case in mid-November and to issue an opinion in mid-December. The group’s opinions are not binding under international law and there is no enforcement provision that could compel Cuba to comply, but Genser said a ruling in Gross’s favor could still be a significant step.

On Capitol Hill, the push for Gross’s freedom received broad bipartisan support in September, with 44 U.S. senators signing a letter to Cuban President Raul Castro asking for Gross’s release.

Ultimately, said Genser, it needs to be “the president and the secretary of state who are going to resolve this case, and my hope is that regardless of who wins the election on Nov. 6, that either President Obama or a president-elect Romney will be in position to make a new set of moves toward the government of Cuba after the election is over.”

* * *

Jacob Ostreicher traveled to Bolivia in December 2010 to oversee rice production and was arrested in June 2011 on suspicion of money laundering and criminal organization. No formal charges have ever been brought against him.

On Aug. 31 this year, Ostreicher was denied bail. Congressman Turner, who represents the section of Brooklyn where Ostreicher lived, explained in a phone interview that according to Bolivian law, “you have to be charged within an 18-month period.”

Turner and U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) are among the consistent advocates for Ostreicher’s cause. The problem, according to Turner, lies within the U.S. State Department, whose involvement, he said, was limited by virtue of being “bound by their own rules.”

Despite the “preponderance of evidence” showing Ostreicher’s innocence, Turner said that State Department officials have “their own bureaucratic procedures” and “don’t want to get out of their comfort zone.”

“They respect Bolivian law even when the Bolivians are not following it,” Turner said. “I think this is a time for outrage and not following bureaucratic procedures. It’s as simple as that.”

Netanyahu Announces Early Elections In Israel

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

JERUSALEM – Now it’s official: Israel is going to the polls. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that the elections for the 19th Knesset will be held early next year.

“At this time, in the face of economic and security threats, it is my duty to put the nation’s best interest above all, and that means holding elections now, as soon as possible,” the prime minister said.

The elections were originally scheduled for late 2013, about eight months after the projected date of the early elections.

The prime minister’s announcement launched coalition negotiations regarding the date of the early elections. The elections will likely be held sometime between Jan. 15 and Feb. 5, 2013. Netanyahu prefers the earliest possible date.

In remarks delivered from his Jerusalem office, Netanyahu stressed his desire for a “short three-month election process, rather than a prolonged election cycle that could weigh down the economy.”

Netanyahu explained that since he has been unable to secure majority approval for the proposed 2013 budget, which currently includes austerity measures and deep budget cuts, elections were the only responsible thing to do.

Without a responsible budget, he said, Israel could be hit with a devastating financial crisis like the ones several European countries are experiencing.

“I consulted with the coalition leaders and decided that it would be impossible to approve a responsible budget,” Netanyahu said, explaining the impetus for the early elections.

“I decided that it was in Israel’s best interest to hold elections now, as quickly as possible.”

Netanyahu decided to move up the elections after having completed a month-long series of consultations and meetings with the leaders of all the coalition parties, as well as President Shimon Peres, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and the heads of the opposition parties.

The prime minister said, “in the coming months we will complete the fourth year of the most stable administration in decades. We boosted our security during a time when the Middle East is undergoing a dangerous and deep shift, and we boosted our economy in the midst of another crisis – the ongoing global economic crisis that has toppled European economies.”

While formulating the announcement he later delivered from his office, Netanyahu and his staff also considered possible dates for the upcoming election. By law, elections can only be held 90 days after the Knesset is dispersed. The Knesset itself must convene to legislate the dispersal.

Aside from Netanyahu’s official reason for pushing up the elections, experts believe the prime minister is eager to hold elections to prevent new parties, namely headed by former Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni, former prime minister Ehud Olmert or former interior minister Aryeh Deri, from gaining traction.

Netanyahu said Tuesday during closed meetings with fellow Likud members that his guiding principle as Likud chairman was that he has “the most experience. At this time, anyone who takes the country’s reins needs to have experience. I have served as prime minister twice, and have held a long list of senior posts in political and economic settings. Neither Shelly Yachimovich nor Yair Lapid can say that.”

Netanyahu was referring to Labor chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich and journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid, who are seen as two of Netanyahu’s main rivals for the prime minister’s seat, though forecasts predict a landslide victory for Netanyahu.

As he cemented the decision for early elections, Netanyahu also signaled he would announce early Likud primaries, to be held at some point next month. Netanyahu vowed he would not secure any seats on the Knesset list in advance.

Meanwhile, an aide to former prime minister Olmert said Olmert was considering running for office to challenge Netanyahu.

Though recently cleared of the most serious of the bribery allegations that forced him out of office in 2009, Olmert is still bogged down in a separate bribery trial that leaves his political future in doubt. Yet many consider him the candidate with the best chance of replacing Netanyahu.

His former cabinet secretary and confidant, Yisrael Maimon, told Army Radio that “he is pondering it and the political system is putting a lot of pressure on him.” Olmert was deeply unpopular while in office, but he has recently enjoyed renewed popularity and support.

(Israel Hayom, distributed exclusively in the U.S. by JNS.org.)

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/special-features/israel-elections-5773/netanyahu-announces-early-elections-in-israel/2012/10/11/

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