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January 23, 2017 / 25 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

Friends Of Refugees Of Eastern Europe In Chicago (Part II)

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Last week we focused on how F.R.E.E. began the process of educating the refugees it came into contact with. However, the people at F.R.E.E. set about making life more fulfilling for the refugees, in many other ways as well.

 

Part II

Many of the Russian immigrant men and boys were anxious to undergo circumcision. It was amazing to witness this after so many years of the religious suppression that existed under Communist rule. At first, F.R.E.E. undertook the responsibility to arrange circumcisions. Over a period of forty years, hundreds of men and boys underwent kosher circumcisions. At first, Rabbi Avrohom Chesney of F.R.E.E. arranged and supervised them. Later, Rabbi Naftali Hershcowitz, under the supervision of Rabbi Shmuel Notik, took over. The doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago (a Jewish Federation institution), together with the noted mohel, Rev. Noah Wolff, performed the circumcisions. Chicago was unique in that its federation funded the Brit Milah program, while in other cities F.R.E.E. had to pay for it on its own. As more immigrants arrived, other mohelim and religious doctors joined the team, among them Rabbi Mordechai Turkeltaub and Rabbi Moshe Kushner. The observant doctors and mohelim worked efficiently, on a few patients each time. Dr. Philip Zeret, head of surgery at Mt. Sinai, and Dr. Chaim Hecht arranged the logistics.

Dr. and Mrs. Hecht were very involved with welcoming the Russian teenagers in general and introducing them to the warmth of their Shabbat table. They also opened their home to Rabbi Betzalel Shiff, his wife Mira, and their son Yossi, who came from Israel to work for the organization. Dr. Hecht was instrumental in bringing Rabbi Shmuel and Shterna Notik to Chicago to take over the directorship when the organization began expanding.

At one point, we notified the Lubavitcher Rebbe that many Russian refugees had to wait for their circumcisions to take place. On Erev Yom Kippur before Mincha, Rabbi Hadokov called us with an answer. He said that he had received instructions from the Rebbe to tell us not to let the immigrants wait. Thus, several times we arranged to use the hospital for an entire day, enabling as many as twenty or more circumcisions to be performed.

Mottel Kanelsky, himself an immigrant from a Lubavitcher family, was instructed by the Rebbe to arrange circumcisions as quickly as possible. Who would have thought that after just a few years F.R.E.E. would be given the responsibility for carrying out thousands of circumcisions of men and boys of every age?

When Russia began allowing Jews to leave, the American Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund made an agreement with the U.S. government that the latter would grant financial help for resettlement. In each city the Jewish Federation provided Russian-speaking social workers to aid the incoming immigrants. They also provided money and direction.

At first, the Jewish Federation of Chicago suggested that F.R.E.E. was duplicating its work and that we should close shop. Martha Binn, our representative to the Federation, succeeded in convincing it that we were not competing with their services, but rather complimenting them. Her confident demeanor and professional approach gave weight to her request that the Federation recognize and acknowledge the work of the religious organizations and give them their support.

Martha also did fundraising for our cause. She made call after call, not getting discouraged by nasty comments like: “What? It’s you again?” I would often consult with Martha; I would call her “my lawyer.” She would point out issues and analyze possibilities from a different vantage point. She was dedicated to our cause, passing up lucrative job offers to stay with the organization.

Once we asked Rabbi Oscar Fasman, president of the Hebrew Theological College of Chicago (aka Skokie Yeshiva), to accompany us to a meeting with the Federation to lend prestige to our organization. He told the members of the Federation committee that our work deserves its support. The impact of his words bore fruit and funding was increased. When F.R.E.E. opened a school on the premises of the Machziki Hadas Synagogue, it prompted the Federation to open a proper school as well.

Rabbi Shmuel Notik

Rabbi Shmuel Notik

Eventually, the Federation began receiving good reports from the immigrants themselves, after which they started working together with F.R.E.E. to the benefit of all. This was the beginning of a warmer rapport between the Federation and the Orthodox community, and a new era of cooperation between the general Jewish community and the religious community which continues to this day.

One Shabbat, as I was reading an article in the weekly Jewish journal, the Sentinel, written by Boris Smolar, the head of the JTA, I found myself reading my own words! Smolar was commending the Federation for all it was were doing for the Russian immigrants, such as arranging circumcisions, funding day camp and English lessons, providing vocational guidance services, etc. Half the article was copied from a grant proposal I had written to the Federation requesting funding for these programs. Mr. Smolar didn’t realize that a nursing mother was running these activities!

Many of the refugees were broken and nervous, since they had to leave everything behind and begin life anew. Many of them were highly educated in their fields, but found it hard to get jobs in America. Many who wanted to learn English turned to us. The local city colleges provided us with a program to teach English as a second language (ESL). Not only were the classes free of charge – students even received a stipend. Our offices were filled with people eager to learn. In addition to learning English, the students would hear short talks on Jewish topics, upcoming Jewish holidays and the like.

With the help of another government incentive, we organized a summer school for older teenagers who were interested in learning the Hebrew language. Chava Cooperman, daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak Zilber and daughter-in-law of Rav Yehuda Cooperman (the founder of Michlala Jewish College for Women), taught these young people to read and write Hebrew. These programs and government grants always became available just at the right times. I really felt that Divine Guidance was helping us every step of the way.

As the refugee population grew, we realized that we could reach more people through a Russian-language newspaper. Chuck Novak helped put together the first few issues of “Gazzette Sholom” which is still being published forty years later. Each issue is eagerly awaited by Russian-speaking Jews around the U.S. The newspaper benefited greatly when the Russian-born Lubavitch couple, Rabbi Betzalel and Mira Schiff, joined our organization. Betzalel became editor of the newspaper, organized concerts and Yom Tov celebrations, started a Russian-language radio program, and helped fundraise. He was like a father to the Russian Jews, and he and his wife dedicated themselves day and night to bring awareness of what it means to be Jewish to people who had grown up under the influence of communist propaganda. Although Betzalel was young, he was well-respected. After a few years, he and his wife returned to Israel, where he continued to work with Russian Jews.

We organized and ran a day camp for the immigrant children, in collaboration with Chabad Gan Yisroel. Most campers paid very little or went for free. Nowadays, when my son meets up with Russian Jews who grew up in Chicago, my son will say, “I bet you went to my mother’s camp.” They often did. One year, I managed to raise a substantial amount of money (I used to sit in my backyard with my baby and fundraise by phone), so I decided to send some Russian kids to overnight camp in Parksville, New York.  We sent them by car, a fifteen-hour drive. It didn’t quite work out. The boys complained to their parents that they were homesick, so I had to fly them all back to Chicago early. That was the end of that experiment.

To be continued…

Reitza Kosofsky

Friends of Refugees Of Eastern Europe In Chicago (Part I)

Monday, December 19th, 2016

Presented here is a short history of the beginning of the F.R.E.E. organization in Chicago. F.R.E.E. is affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch network, and deals with the resettlement of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

This account was written by Reitza Kosofsky, the initiator and main activist of F.R.E.E. in Chicago, who found herself becoming deeply involved in the historic challenge facing the Jews of the free world at that time: reclaiming the Jewishness of those Jews exiting Russia. Covered is the period from 1973 until 1981, at which time Rabbi Shmuel Notik arrived and took over the directorship.

 

Mrs. Reitza Kosofsky

Mrs. Reitza Kosofsky

For much of the past century, freedom was a distant dream for Jews living in the Soviet Union and its satellites. In the early ‘70s, the Iron Curtain lifted, and a significant number of families were given permission to leave.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, spoke publicly about the influx of Soviet Jewish refugees, and the importance of helping them with their spiritual and material needs. The Rebbe’s words were heard in Chicago, and the women of N’shei Chabad under the leadership of Rebbitzen Chaya Sarah Hecht, the head shlucha, made a welcoming gathering for five families who had just arrived from Minsk. The American women presented the Russian women with silver candlesticks and encouraged them to light them for Shabbat. Rabbi Tzvi Shusterman delivered a talk in Yiddish, as that was the only common language shared by most of the participants.

After that gathering, Rebbitzen Hecht contacted the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Chaim Mordecai Aizik Hadokov, and asked how to proceed. Should N’shei Chabad or another already existing organization work with the Russian Jews? The Rebbe’s answer was clear: a new organization should be created to service the needs of the new immigrants.

At the time, I was a stay-at-home mother of a growing family. I had a nursing infant, and had just married off our eldest daughter to a Russian-born Lubavitcher. I was inspired by the Rebbe’s call to action. Because I spoke Yiddish, it was only natural for me to become involved with the Russian Jews who were settling in Chicago.

On our next trip to Crown Heights, I went to see the newly opened synagogue and center for Russian immigrants. The name F.R.E.E., which stands for “Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe,” was chosen by the Rebbe. I met with the founders of the center, brothers Meir and Hershel Okunov, who gave me permission to use the same name for our work in Chicago. Meir, who would be celebrating his wedding two weeks later, joined my family for the 15-hour drive from New York to Chicago in order to help us get started. He told me how to introduce the basics of Jewish life to Jews who had grown up in an atheistic environment.

We started out small, but as the trickle of immigrants grew to become a tidal wave, F.R.E.E. also grew and expanded. That first year we made a Chanukah party in the home of Victor and Rita Katz. By the following Chanukah, we had to rent a hall! We organized communal Pesach sedarim led by Chabad yeshiva students. Most of these young men had grown up religious in the Soviet Union, learning Torah and keeping mitzvot despite the danger of being arrested. Now, they turned their selfless devotion for Yiddishkeit towards running sedarim for others, giving up their opportunity to spend the Passover holidays in New York with the Rebbe.free-121616-hebrew-school-class

It was the second year of my involvement with the Russian Jews, in 5734 (1974), a few weeks before Pesach. I was sitting in my car on Devon Avenue, and my kids had gone into the kosher candy store. I was contemplating and worrying about the communal Pesach seder. The year before, about 175 immigrants had participated and now I had 300 newly arrived Russian Jews eager to experience their first seder in freedom. How would I manage it? At that point, a former neighbor passed by, stopped and asked me how I was.

I could have sufficed with the usual “Fine, Baruch Hashem” but instead I blurted out, “I’m running a seder for 300 Russian Jews, and I have no funds for it. How can we make a seder without food?!”

The man hesitated for a minute, and then exclaimed, “I will help you!” It turned out that he, Tzvi Kurs, was the president of the Chicago Maos Chitim Committee. Every year the committee would distribute 1,500 boxes of matzah, wine, chicken, gefilte fish, and other seder items and necessities for Pesach to families in need. From that year on, the Maos Chitim Committee provided for the communal sedarim. Working together with the committee, we set up a system by which families would be interviewed by volunteers from their own community to determine the extent of their Pesach needs.

There was a flood of immigration when the U.S.S.R. began letting Jews out, and the friendship and help for the Russian Jews who came to our city began to fall on my shoulders. When I had originally taken on this project, I thought that only a few families would be arriving in Chicago; however, they came in droves!

In the beginning, I handled all the F.R.E.E. work from my kitchen. I would hold my baby in one hand and the frying pan in the other, balancing a telephone on my shoulder, helping people from my kitchen “office.” One day, I got a call from Joseph Zaretsky, an officer of Congregation Bais Medresh HaGadol Keser Mariv. He offered us the use of the vacant classrooms in the Hebrew school at the back of the synagogue free of charge. With the new place, we were able to begin the formation of a working organization.

We continuously saw how the Almighty blessed our efforts. Someone taught me how to apply for the first $5000 grant that I got. In addition, CETA, a government program that was created to train the unemployed really helped. Through it, we were able to take on eighteen trainee office workers. Through this program, we were able to employ people who otherwise may have had difficulty in finding suitable work.

Former students of the Hebrew School

Former students of the Hebrew School

Marvin Schreiber was an expert in preparing grant proposals. His hard work paid off, and we received grants. We then were able to have a secretary, run a domestic job service, and hire a driver to transport Russian immigrant children to the Jewish day schools. We arranged for people who spoke Russian to tutor the children, especially in the Hebrew language and Jewish/religious subjects.

A friend who was a public school teacher, Abe Wolburg, told us that the Jewish Federation social workers were enrolling the Jewish immigrant children in the neighboring public schools. We asked Rabbi Hodakov how necessary it was to enroll the children in Jewish schools. The answer: as important as saving lives.

We immediately let the Russian Jewish community know that we would provide a day school education for their children. It was really hard to get the Russian kids into the existing Jewish schools because they would accept only a few new kids at a time. So we opened our own school in our office with thirty children! We had two talented teachers, one for Jewish studies and one for secular, both with the same name, Miriam Rabinowitz. The school lasted for twenty years. Those children who didn’t come to this school were persuaded to enroll in the Jewish Community Center Sunday School, so at least they would receive some level of Jewish education.

Reitza Kosofsky

Massacre in Aleppo As Syrian War Escalates After Collapse of Ceasefire

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

An existential battle raged Saturday night between government troops and opposition forces for control over the Handarat Arab refugee camp on the northern outskirts of the Syian city of Aleppo.

Regime loyalist troops and its allies seized control over the camp on Saturday, according to Reuters journalist Tom Perry, but opposition forces counter attacked at nightfall.

More than 250,000 residents are still trapped in besieged east Aleppo, a rebel stronghold. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the battle that began Thursday was still ongoing late Saturday night.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died since the start of the war in March 2011, and approximately 11 million others have been driven from their homes. A fragile ceasefire worked out two weeks ago between the United States and Russia lasted barely a week. Syria’s regime forces announced an end to the truce nearly simultaneously with a ferocious attack on a United Nations humanitarian aid convoy that was to be allowed to deliver desperately needed food and medical supplies to east Aleppo last week. At least 20 civilians, including a Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) medical staff worker, were killed in the assault for which neither side has been willing to take responsibility.

But that attack unleashed a storm of fury at the United Nations and among humanitarian agencies, not least of which included those that were attacked. In a statement released last week following the massacre, the SARC and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said they were “outraged by [the] horrific attack on a SARC warehouse and an aid convoy in Orem Al Kubra in rural Aleppo…. The attack deprives thousands of civilians of much-needed food and medical assistance. We’re totally devastated by the deaths of so many people, including one of our colleagues, the director of our sub-branch, Omar Barakat.

“Syria is one of the most dangerous conflicts for humanitarian workers in the world. During the past six years, 54 staff and volunteers of SARC have lost their lives whilst carrying out their duties.”

According to a UN official quoted by the Associated Press, nearly two million people in the northern part of Aleppo are currently without running water; the pumps were destroyed in one of the air strikes.

A report by the AFP news agency described scenes in eastern Aleppo of “pools of blood and shredded bodies on the streets” and said the city has been “reduced to an apocalyptic battlefront.”

At least 100, possibly more civilians, including women and children, were killed and hundreds more injured in intensive air strikes that are being described by international reporters across the board as a massacre. Photographic tweets showing the result of the air strikes have been deemed too graphic for our readership and so are not included here.

Some 200 air strikes have pounded the city since Friday, according to the Syria Civil Defense volunteer emergency medical group. At least five members of the group, also called the White Helmets, were injured in one of the air strikes, according to CNN. One is in critical condition.

A spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Saturday that the use of bunker-buster bombs, incendiary weapons and the intensive air strikes that had taken place in densely populated areas such as Aleppo may amount to war crimes.

“The secretary-general is appalled by the chilling military escalation in the city of Aleppo, which is facing the most sustained and intense bombardment since the start of the Syrian conflict,” the statement said. “The secretary-general considers this a dark day for the global commitment to protect civilians,” Ban’s spokesperson said.

Hana Levi Julian

Jordan’s King Asking UN Help on Syrian Refugees, Offering Lip Service on PA

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

The two main concerns Jordan’s King Abdullah II Ibn Al Hussein brought up in his speech before the UN assembly this week were the need to halt the spread of terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere, and his country’s dire need for help in caring for millions of Syrian refugees that have crossed over from the civil war next door. The king ended his eloquent speech with a scant reference to the Israeli-PA conflict, cautioning that “no injustice has spread more bitter fruit than the denial of a Palestinian State,” and stressing that “Israel has to embrace peace or eventually be engulfed in a sea of hatred.”

Meanwhile, it’s been Jordan being engulfed, as the ISIS hordes have been hammering at its borders from several directions, leaving only one safe border, the one with those bitter fruits of the Israeli-PA conflict. Or, as His Majesty described it, the outlaws of Islam — the “khawarej” — have murdered, plundered, exploited children and rejected the equality of women before God. But he insisted that it was crucial to recognize the difference between that image of Islam and what the religion really teaches.

“False perceptions of Islam and of Muslims will fuel the terrorists’ agenda of a global struggle by polarizing and factionalizing societies, East and West,” the king warned. Islam teaches that all humanity is equal in dignity and that there is no distinction between different nations, regions or races, he said, but the khawarej deliberately hide such truths in order to drive Muslims and non-Muslims apart. “We cannot allow this to happen,” he warned. He explained that those radical outlaws do not exist on the fringes of Islam, but outside it altogether. A new mind-set, new partnerships and reformed methodologies would be needed to confront such a non-traditional enemy. For Muslims it is, first and foremost, a fight for their future.

Admirably truthful and useful ideas, which is why one must wonder how come the king is recommending that, while the rest of the world should be combating these radicals, Israel, his only safe neighbor, should embrace peace with them. It may have to do with the fact that Jordan’s population is 80% “Palestinian,” meaning it is made up of the indefinable hordes who flooded the area from all over the Middle East starting in the 1920s, seeking jobs and safety alongside the Zionist enterprise and under the rule of the British Mandate. Jordan has become a home to many of them who fled Israel during the 1948-49 war, just as it became a home to an estimated 400,000 of them who were deported by Kuwait after the Gulf War of 1991. Indeed, the close to two million refugees who have been invading Jordan in the past five years are no more “Syrian” than the others are “Palestinian.” Those national definitions are synthetic, Western inventions imposed on a region that lives by tribalism.

That was the real message the Jordanian king was sharing with the world in NY City this week, as he put it bluntly in his speech before the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, co-hosted by the US, Jordan, Mexico, Canada, Sweden, Germany and Ethiopia.

“For many years, our country’s security and stability and our citizens’ generous compassion have led desperate refugees to our doors,” King Abdullah II told the summit. “In the past five years the Syrian crisis has sent Jordan’s burden skyrocketing. Some 2.5 million Syrians have crossed into Jordan since 2011. Today we are hosting 1.5 million Syrians, one for every five of our own citizens. Across my country, Jordanians are suffering. No one is justified in questioning our commitment and sacrifices. The economic and social impact has shocked every sector, every community; and it has set back the strides of our economy and has created tremendous problems in our development, job growth and debt reduction. We are spending a quarter of our national budget on refugee-related costs.”

Noting that “all countries agree that the Syrian refugee crisis will be with us all for years to come,” the king warned that “if regional refugee hosts are abandoned and left to fail, the need won’t disappear. The crisis will simply spread further, prolonging the time it takes to end this ordeal. The cost in human suffering will be unspeakable.”

Which is why the takeaway from King Abdullah II’s speech is not about his faint call on Israel to be more peaceful with its terrorist neighbors, but a cry for help in managing the Arab hordes on either side of his gates.

JNi.Media

Lebanese Insist Syrian Refugees Go Home, Now

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam on Monday warned that his country was in “serious danger” to the point of facing collapse under the ongoing rush of Syrian refugees, the Daily Star reported Tuesday. Salam said the burden is straining Lebanon’s already struggling economy and infrastructure, to the point where it is threatening their very stability.

Speaking in NY on the occasion of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on the global refugee crisis, Salam said: “My country is in serious danger. What the Lebanese have done by harboring one million and a half Syrians for a population of four million is unprecedented. What the Lebanese have done by spending close to 15 billion dollars they do not have in three years to serve the displaced Syrian population is unprecedented.”

Salam insisted that the UN “draft within three months a detailed logistical mapping of the return in safety and dignity of the Syrians now in Lebanon to Syria, specifying transportation needs, departure locations, and all associated costs.” Salam suggested that “raising the financing required for this plan should be started immediately. This will allow, when circumstances permit, a swift implementation.”

As of March 31, 2016, Lebanon is hosting 1,048,275 registered refugees from Syria, 53% of whom are children, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  The Lebanese government chose not to establish camps for Syrian citizens fleeing the civil war into Lebanon, and they have settled instead throughout country. Most of the newcomers rent lodging in about 1,700 towns and villages, but an estimated 18% live in squatter communities near the border.

According to the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, the Lebanese government is making it difficult for Syrian refugees to renew their residency permits, and as a result, according to Shelter Working Group-Lebanon, the number of households in which all members are legally in the country has dropped from 58% in 2014 to 29% in 2015. The same NGO has reported that refugee households living below the poverty line increased from 49% in 2014 to 70% in 2015. The percentage of refugee households with debt jumped from 70% in 2013 to 89% in 2015.

JNi.Media

Another US-Russian Ceasefire Deal for Syria, Again

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

U.S. Secretary of State and Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov shook hands Friday on a deal to impose a new cease-fire in Syria after marathon talks in Geneva. More than half a million Syrians have died since the start of the savage civil war that has raged in the country since March 2011.

The truce is scheduled to begin Monday together with the start of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

But few have faith the deal will hold up for more than a few minutes.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA), itself little more than a name on paper for a collection of secular opposition groups backed by the West, quickly dismissed the possibility that this time the deal would bring peace.

Fares al-Bayoush, head of the FSA’s Northern Division group, pointed out that Russia and Syrian government troops had not complied with the previous cease-fire. Likewise, Captain Abdul Salam Abdul Razak, military spokesperson for the Nour al-Din al-Zinki Brigades opposition group said the agreement would only give government troops the opportunity to gather forces and reinforce troops in Aleppo with more Iranian-backed military forces.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also welcomed the agreement but reminded that “broken promises” had been heard before, The Guardian reported. “I call on all parties to the Syria conflict and all countries with influence upon them to do what is needed to end violence and lift sieges,” he said. “In particular, it’s vital that the regime in Damascus now delivers on its obligations, and I call on Russia to use all its influence to ensure this happens.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Kerry by phone on Saturday that Ankara welcomes the cease-fire. Two and a half weeks ago, Turkey launched its own invasion of Syria after dealing with an endless flood of Syrian refugees through its southeastern border, and numerous “overflow” attacks from the war. Now Ankara has said it will provide humanitarian aid to Aleppo, in northern Syria, in cooperation with the United Nations, following the cease-fire.

It’s not the first time such a cease-fire has been proposed the same two parties; just six months ago, a similar truce was made, and violated repeatedly by both sides almost immediately. Before that, the two sides worked out a cease-fire deal in 2013. That one didn’t happen, either.

Kerry told reporters at a joint news conference with Lavrov, “The United States is going the extra mile here because we believe Russia and my colleague have the capability to press the Assad regime to stop this conflict and come to the table and make peace.

“Out of complexity in Syria, there is emerging a simple choice between war and peace,” he said.

The plan is for the U.S. and Russia to establish a joint operation center to coordinate military efforts against the Da’esh (ISIS) and Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist organizations.

Russia informed President Bashar al-Assad about the agreement and, according to Lavrov, the regime agreed to comply. Although the terms were documented and agreed to by both sides, they would not be made public, he told reporters, according to the UK-based newspaper, The Telegraph.

The deal rides on Russia’s ability and willingness to stop attacks by the Assad regime and its allies, and the same cooperation by the United States to halt attacks by “moderate” opposition forces who unite with Al Nusra and other radical Islamists when it suits their needs.

Other forces that have become involved in the Syrian conflict include Iran and Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and the Kurds.

It’s a coin toss whether anyone will actually pay more than five minutes’ attention to the terms of the deal in Damascus this time — and some bookie is probably making good money on the estimates of how long the quiet will last, or if it will even be quiet at all by Monday night.

Hana Levi Julian

Senior German Lawmaker Says Law of Integration is Solution to Jewish Community Fears

Sunday, September 4th, 2016

A senior German politician suggested to a Jewish gathering last week that the Jewish community’s fears over growing extremism in the country can be solved by passing a proposed Law of Integration.

Johannes Kahrs, one of the leaders of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the second-largest political party in Germany, visited the Berlin Jewish Community Center last week to address community issues and answer questions from the public. The conference was hosted by Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, spiritual leader of the Jewish community in Berlin and arranged by Mr. Stefan Hensel, Chairman of the German-Israeli Association in Hamburg in cooperation with Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, Rabbi of the Jewish community in Hamburg, which Kahrs represents in the Budenstag. The conference took place in the main reception hall of the Jewish Community Center Synagogue and was attended by some fifty guests, including members of the Jewish community and a delegation of youth leaders and activists from Hamburg.

Kahrs referenced the proposed Law of Integration in response to a questions about ways the German government might resolve the Jewish community’s fears of the growing wave of extremism in the country from the surge of foreign immigrants and war in ISIS. “Instead of requiring potential immigrants to approach German Embassies in their native countries to fill out forms and undergo a preliminary interview—they simply haven’t done it. Presently, everyone just comes straight to Germany, and we can’t know who’s coming. Practically, this will take time, but we need to instill democratic foundations in these people until we succeed.”

Kahrs attacked the extreme right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which will contend in two weeks’ time in municipal elections in Berlin and, according to recent surveys taken, is slated to enter the city’s government. “Integration can only succeed if there are people working actively to promote it, and there is sufficient funding,” Kahrs said. “The fundamental problem here is that there are between eight and ten percent of people who aren’t interested in integration.

“Most people want to live together in harmony, but there are others who fear change and are busy negating others. But, slowly, we can make a change. Practically, there is no immediate response or magic solution, but each and every person can work on this. AfD exploits people’s fears to advance their political agendas.”

Kahrs added that surveys indicate 20 percent to 25 percent of the public in certain areas will vote AfD “because the latter appeals to them and convinces them that all our country’s problems are rooted in the immigrants. It doesn’t reflect the truth at all, but it’s easy and convenient to believe.”

The lawmaker has previously served as one of the leading spokesmen for the German-Turkish Parliamentary Friendship Group advocating the admission of Turkey into the European Union. At the conference, he was asked about his current stance following motions to cease negotiations in response to Erdogan’s harsh retaliation against the revolution attempt.

“I know that I’m in the minority, but I believe that we must communicate openly with Turkey, because that’s the only way we can influence them to honor various religions, minorities, and to act against capital punishment,” Kahrs replied. “Only if we talk to them, and continue doing so for a long time, will we perhaps succeed in fifteen years to change them and influence society there.”

Rabbi Teichtal thanked Kahrs for the visit, noting that “The Jewish community in Berlin opposes extremism – both religious and right-wing political. In this tense period, the paramount goal for us as community leaders is to promote tolerance, patience, and to give a personal example of this in all our activities.”

Hana Levi Julian

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/senior-german-lawmaker-says-law-of-integration-is-solution-to-jewish-community-fears/2016/09/04/

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