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92NY implodes over cancellation of Israel-critical author event

(JTA) — It took less than four days for 92NY to go from having a packed calendar of literary events and a full team to a depleted schedule and staff resignations.

The dramatic shakeup at the venerable New York Jewish cultural center came after the institution scrapped a planned talk Friday by Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen, after Nguyen signed an open letter in the London Review of Books that pushed for “an end to the violence and destruction in Palestine,” accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and condemned “the deliberate killing of civilians” — without denouncing Hamas specifically.

Staff at the 92NY told the press it had made the decision out of concern for its Jewish audience.

Following the decision, which 92NY’s leaders made only hours before Nguyen’s planned talk, a slew of other authors pulled out of its upcoming programming slate. On Tuesday, staff at the center began resigning over the controversy, including poetry center director Sarah Chihaya and senior program coordinator Sophie Herron.

The blowback led the organization to announce Monday it was pausing its current poetry reading series.

The fallout came amid a series of Israel-related clashes at cultural centers and within the arts and entertainment world at large since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks. Disputes over the attacks and Israel’s retaliation have also spilled into sports, academia, government, tech, business and law.

As Israelis and Palestinians bury their dead, both sides are demanding major institutions pick sides. And for some Jewish institutions, reeling from a Hamas attack that killed 1,400 Israelis and saw 200 others taken hostage, their usual rules of pluralism and commitment to fostering diverse opinions are harder to apply.

“It’s certainly challenging to navigate this moment as a cultural organization (much less a Jewish one) and ensure that we are remaining mission-aligned even in complicated situations,” said Naomi Firestone-Teeter of the Jewish Book Council, which books Jewish authors at JCCs and other venues around the country. “We are hearing from new authors every day who need an outlet to share their experience and ensure our global readership is aware of the pain and suffering in the Jewish community — in Israel and the Diaspora.”

Andrea Grossman, founder and director of the influential Los Angeles literary nonprofit Writers Bloc, recently canceled a planned book talk with the Jewish author Nathan Thrall because Thrall’s new nonfiction book, “A Day In The Life of Abed Salama,” deals critically with Israel’s military occupation.

Released days before Hamas’ attacks and dealing with the aftermath of a 2012 bus explosion in the West Bank, the book has become one of many Israel-related political footballs in the arts arena: American Public Media, a national content distributor for public radio and TV stations, recently told The New York Times it had pulled ads for Thrall’s book, saying they would be “insensitive in light of the human tragedies unfolding.” Thrall has undertaken his book tour alongside his subject, Abed Salama, a Palestinian father of a five-year-old boy who died on the bus in 2012.

“How does one promote a program on this subject to a largely Jewish audience when people on all sides are being bombed, killed and buried? The community is deeply polarized,” Grossman told the Guardian.

Thrall, who lives in Jerusalem, called the cancellations “outrageous.”

“There’s an atmosphere that is wholly intolerant of any expression of sympathy for Palestinians living under occupation, any discussion of the root causes of the conflict,” he told the Guardian. “My book is not a polemic. It’s been praised for showing characters, both Jewish and Palestinian, in an empathetic way.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen speaks at the PEN/Hemingway 2019 Award Ceremony at The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library And Museum on April 7, 2019 in Boston. (Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

Questions of “polarization” and “sensitivity” also seemed to be on the mind of the organizers of the Frankfurt Book Fair, a major global publishing gathering held last week in Germany. Hundreds of authors and literary professionals objected last week after organizers announced that, owing to “the war started by Hamas,” they would no longer host a prize ceremony for Palestinian author Adania Shibli.

In a statement last week, the fair’s prize affiliate, Litprom, said that it would not hold the ceremony at the Frankfurt fair as planned, “due to the war started by Hamas, under which millions of people in Israel and Palestine are suffering.” Organizers said they planned to hold the event in “a suitable format and setting” at “a later point,” and that they still intended to give it to Shibli, whose novel “Minor Detail,” released in English in 2020, recounts the 1949 gang-rape of a Bedouin Palestinian girl by Israeli soldiers.

Shibli’s English-language publisher called the decision “cowardly” and accused the fair of lying about the author’s willingness to agree to the plan.

The cancellation happened only days after the fair’s organizers had vowed on Instagram to “make Jewish and Israeli voices especially visible at the book fair.” Hundreds of authors and publishing industry professionals charged in a letter that organizers had made an inappropriate judgment in “closing out the space for a Palestinian voice.”

Among the signatories were the Man Booker Prize finalist Sarah Bernstein, who is Jewish, and the Polish Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk, whose most recent novel “The Books Of Jacob” is a deep dive into Jewish history.

PEN America, the literary and free speech nonprofit, weighed in on the Nguyen and Thrall controversies in a statement also noting “events canceled or postponed due to security concerns, including Jewish cultural events in Sweden; an exhibition of Hebrew manuscripts in Australia; and The Witness Palestine 2023 Festival in Rochester, New York.”

PEN was founded, its statement said, “on the idea that writers could play a role in preventing future wars; that when governments are locked in conflict, writers and literature can provide comfort, a bridge to empathy across divides, even a roadmap toward the faraway horizon of understanding. At a moment of great anguish, we urge the literary community to double down on that essential potential.”

The 92NY in particular has sought to operate as both a major nonsectarian cultural institution and an organization proud of its roots in the Jewish community. Formerly known as the 92nd Street Y, the institution recently rebranded itself to emphasize its outsized role in the general New York City cultural community, while also making some hires and programming moves to make its Jewish connections more explicit.

“92NY is a Jewish institution that has always welcomed people with diverse viewpoints to our stage,” 92NY said in a statement. “The brutal October 7th attack by Hamas on Israel and the continued holding of hostages, including senior citizens and young children, has absolutely devastated the community. As a Jewish organization we believe the responsible course of action right now is to take some time to determine how best to use our platform and support the entire 92NY community, so we made the difficult decision to postpone the October 20th event.”

But while its leadership seemed to want to put the Nyugen’s event on hold until it could figure out how to orient itself in the wake of Hamas’ attacks, some writers who pulled out of events there saw darker motives. The critic Andrea Long Chu called the group a “pro-war nonprofit.”

Meanwhile Nyugen, whose event was staged at a different location Friday evening, considered the 92NY’s decision a “cancellation.” 

“I have no regrets about anything I have said or done in regards to Palestine, Israel, or the occupation and war,” he wrote on Instagram.

The post 92NY implodes over cancellation of Israel-critical author event appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Menorahs in Brooklyn Stolen and Vandalized, NYPD Investigating as Hate Crime

A man seen on CCTV vandalizing a menorah in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Source: X/Twitter

Multiple public menorahs in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York were stolen and vandalized, according to a spokesman for the Chabad Jewish movement.

The stolen menorah was seen on Sunset Park Center lawn on Wednesday evening, according to Yaacov Behrman, a spokesperson for Chabad. On Thursday, it was found broken.

In a separate incident captured on video, a man is seen riding up to a menorah in Sunset Park on a bicycle and pushing it over.

“The holiday hasn’t begun, and the vandalism has already started,” Behrman said on X/Twitter.

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) is investigating the incidents as hate crimes.

The post Menorahs in Brooklyn Stolen and Vandalized, NYPD Investigating as Hate Crime first appeared on

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More than 500 staffers of Jewish groups, most of them progressive, appeal to Biden to press for ceasefire in Israel-Hamas war

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Hundreds of staffers for 140 Jewish organizations, most of them progressive, signed a letter to President Joe Biden and Congress urging them to press Israel to agree to a ceasefire in its war with Hamas, citing their work “building thriving Jewish communities.”

The letter, which does not necessarily reflect the views of the signatories’ employers, is the latest sign that differences among American Jews regarding Israel’s response to Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 invasion are becoming more public and pronounced. A number of Jewish Congress members now back a ceasefire, after having initially presented a unanimous voice in support of Biden’s backing for Israel.

“We are individuals who work for a wide array of Jewish organizations across the United States, coming together across the broad range of beliefs, practices, backgrounds and identities that make up the rich fabric of the American Jewish community,” said the letter, first reported Thursday by NBC.

“We are uniting together in this moment to call for a ceasefire, the release of all hostages, and a commitment towards a long-term political solution that ensures the freedom and collective safety of Israelis and Palestinians,” the letter said.

The letter comes just weeks after a mass pro-Israel rally on the National Mall, during which speakers enthusiastically endorsed Israel’s refusal to halt its military campaign until Hamas is dismantled and all the hostages it abducted on Oct. 7 are returned home. Hamas released more than 100 hostages in exchange for hundreds of security prisoners during a seven-day ceasefire that ended last week

The letter suggests to the president that the vocal Jewish groups that have opposed the war are also representative of a wide swath of American Jews. Biden prides himself on being attuned to Jewish sensibilities; he has cited his decades of closeness to Israel and to the American Jewish community in resisting calls from the left to press Israel into a ceasefire.

“As a group of professionals from a wide spectrum of Jewish organizations, many of us have devoted our life’s work to building thriving Jewish communities,” said the letter. “Our organizations may or may not join the call for a ceasefire themselves, but we feel moved to speak as individuals to demonstrate broad support within the Jewish community for a ceasefire.”

Most of the organizations listed as affiliates of the signatories are on the left of the political spectrum, among them Bend the Arc, Jews For Racial and Economic Justice, and Workers Circle and its affiliates, all of them social justice advocacy groups. Some of the social justice groups themselves have not endorsed a ceasefire, in part because their focus is on domestic issues. (A Boston spinoff of Workers Circle is an exception, and so is JFREJ.)

There are also staffers from the two leading groups that have mobilized Jewish opposition to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and backed a ceasefire: IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, which is anti-Zionist. Left-wing activists point to Tthe visible presence of activists for these groups at antiwar protests to assert that there is Jewish backing for a ceasefire.

But some of the signatories come from groups focused on Israel that have opposed a ceasefire, including J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group. But in another sign of shifting sentiments, J Street said in a press release Thursday that it was reconsidering its position on the war.

There are also staffers for synagogues, some but not all known for their liberal outlook, that have not taken a position on a ceasefire.

More than 80 of the staffers signing asked for anonymity but listed their employers, which include mainstream groups that have backed Israel’s war effort, among them the Reform and Conservative movements. The list includes three anonymous staffers for UJA-Federation of New York, which has raised millions for Israel during the war.

“I signed this letter because all decisions at this fragile moment must be made with lasting peace and safety in mind for all people in the region,” the group’s press release quoted one of the unnamed UJA staffers as saying. “I call on President Biden to take immediate action for a permanent ceasefire, release of all hostages, and a just resolution to this brutal war.”

Heather Booth, a consultant for Jewish groups who did not sign the letter, urged the mainstream Jewish groups employing some of the signatories not to retaliate.

“Those who have signed the letter are responding to their values,” Booth told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We may or may not agree with what they’re signing and saying and I didn’t sign this myself for many reasons. But I support their right to share their passionate commitment to their values.And it’s a sign of these times at some on the list fear retribution for signing.”

In a press release, a Boston-area rabbi said her support for a ceasefire stemmed in part from her revulsion from Hamas.

“For the sake of defeating the insidious ideology of Hamas, for the sake of returning all of the hostages to their homes, for the sake of the wellbeing of all of the Israelis and Palestinians caught up in this war, I urge the Biden administration to do all it can to bring about a ceasefire as a first step to a lasting, political solution to the conflict,” said Rabbi Tovah Spitzer of Dorsey Tzedek, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Newton.

The letter comes as a number of Jewish Democrats in Congress have in recent days called for a ceasefire, or have called for restrictions on emergency aid Biden has requested for Israel that has yet to be approved. One of the Democrats, Rep. Becca Balint of Vermont, made a statement in support of the letter.

“Thousands of Palestinians, including thousands of children, have been killed. Many more have been displaced, without water, food, medical supplies, and fuel,” she said. “This is inhumane. What is needed is a negotiated bilateral ceasefire that ensures the release of all hostages and paves a path toward peace, security and safety for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Hamas killed more than 1,200 people and wounded thousands on Oct. 7, most of them civilians. Since Israel launched counterstrikes and a ground invasion of Gaza, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry has reported that some 17,000 people have been killed, including thousands of children. What portion of that number are combatants, and what portion were killed by misfired rockets aimed at Israel, is not known. Israel has estimated that twice as many civilians as militants have died in its counteroffensive.

The post More than 500 staffers of Jewish groups, most of them progressive, appeal to Biden to press for ceasefire in Israel-Hamas war appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Shots fired fired at Albany synagogue with preschool, suspect in custody

(New York Jewish Week) — Shots were fired at Temple Israel in Albany on Thursday, the first night of Hanukkah, as U.S. Jews grapple with a surge in antisemitism following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the Israeli military’s military campaign in Gaza.

There were no injuries in the shooting on the premises of the Conservative synagogue in New York’s capital, Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement, adding that she had spoken with the congregation’s rabbi. She said in a press briefing, however, that the synagogue has an on-site early learning center, “with at least two dozen children, preschoolers, who were on the premises.” She added that the facility went into lockdown but that all children have been released safely to their parents. 

A 28-year-old male is in custody, said Hochul’s press secretary, Avi Small.

The suspect shouted “Free Palestine” during the incident, Albany’s Times Union reported, citing police and another source.

Hochul said she had directed the New York State Police and the state’s national guard to be on high alert and step up patrols of at-risk sites for Hanukkah, such as synagogues, yeshivas and community centers throughout the state — including New York City, which is home to the largest Jewish population in the United States. 

“Any act of antisemitism is unacceptable, and undermining public safety at a synagogue on the first night of Hanukkah is even more deplorable,” Hochul said. “We reject hate, antisemitism and violence in all forms.”

Hochul visited the synagogue on Oct. 7 in a show of solidarity amid Hamas’ attack. 

The governor said that, following Thursday’s incident, she contacted Temple Israel’s Rabbi Wendy Love Anderson, and “assured her that the state of New York will do everything possible to restore the sense of security her congregation needs at this time,” adding that she plans to attend Shabbat services there this Friday evening. 

In the briefing, Hochul noted that the synagogue had been one of several targeted with bomb threats in September. 

There was no immediate public comment on the incident from the synagogue or the Albany police department.

Law enforcement and Jewish community security groups have reported a surge in antisemitism since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

In New York City, the NYPD reported 62 antisemitic hate crimes last month and 69 attacks in October, a steep increase. Anti-Jewish incidents made up 65% of all hate crimes reported to police last month. There is no comparable data available for antisemitic hate crimes in upstate New York.

Synagogues and other Jewish institutions have been targeted in the wave of hate crimes. On Friday, bomb threats were made against 15 synagogues in New York State, including five in upstate areas. 

The threats were made as part of a campaign intended to interrupt synagogue operations by forcing law enforcement to go to a location, and there did not appear to be any actual danger to the targets, said the director of the Jewish security group the Community Security Initiative, Mitch Silber. 

“The bottom line is this: The safety of Jewish New Yorkers is non-negotiable,” Hochul said in the briefing. “Every act, whether it’s verbal or physical, any act of antisemitism is unacceptable, and undermining the public safety at our synagogue, on the first night of Hanukkah, is even more deplorable.” 

“I remind everyone: As New Yorkers, this is not who we are. This must stop, ” she added. “We reject hate, antisemitism, Islamophobia. All hate crimes must stop, and all violence in every form must cease. We have no tolerance for these acts of evil that have now permeated our society.”

Ahead of questions, the briefing concluded with the lighting of Hanukkah candles, led by Eva Wyner, the state’s deputy director of Jewish affairs.

The post Shots fired fired at Albany synagogue with preschool, suspect in custody appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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