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A 19th-century painting of the Western Wall could fetch $3M at Sotheby’s

(New York Jewish Week) – A hyper-realistic 19th-century painting of worshippers at the Western Wall that spent many forgotten years in a synagogue’s storage room is headed to auction at Sotheby’s New York on Thursday. 

The painting, “The Western Wall,” created in the late 1880s by German artist and illustrator Gustav Bauernfeind, is expected to fetch an estimated $2 to $3 million.

In his day, 1848-1904, Bauernfeind, who had some Jewish ancestry, was a well-known “Orientalist” painter who stood out for his realism and focus on architecture. This particular piece was donated to a synagogue in Southern California in the mid-1980s by the family of Theodore Cummings, a former U.S. ambassador to Austria and confidante to President Ronald Reagan. However, many years ago, during renovations on the synagogue, the painting was placed into storage — where it remained until the executive director of the congregation discovered the piece last summer. 

The director of the synagogue, which wishes to be anonymous, reached out to Benjamin Doller, a Sotheby’s senior auctioneer and its chairman of the Americas, who has previously auctioned several of Bauernfeind’s paintings. Doller immediately hopped on a plane to California to see the painting in person.

“It just knocked my socks off, basically,” Doller, who specializes in 19th-century art, told the New York Jewish Week. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is just incredible.”

“Even though they sent me the dimensions, until you stand in front of something, you really don’t get the sense of the scale,” he said of the painting, which is nearly 4 feet by 3 feet. “The quality was fantastic and the condition was amazing — it’s in really spectacular condition.”

“The Western Wall” depicts, in remarkably realistic fashion, a diverse set of worshippers huddled together at the base of Judaism’s holy site, known in Hebrew as the Kotel. Some Jews wear the fur hats known as shtreimels, while others wear fezzes and still others wear black hats and kippot. Nearly all of the men are wrapped in prayer shawls, while women are shown in the rear of the scene, their hair and bodies wrapped in colorful scarves and shawls. 

Etchings of Hebrew names appear in the nearest corner of the wall, likely foreshadowing the modern practice of leaving notes and prayers inside the cracks of the wall, Doller said. Because Bauernfeind was a realist painter, the painting is considered an accurate depiction of what the Western Wall likely looked like at the time. 

It’s a very interesting historical document of how the area in front of the Kotel looked in the late 19th century before the whole area was cleared to create the big space that it is now,” Claude Piening, the senior international specialist for 19th-century European paintings at Sotheby’s, told the New York Jewish Week. “He was a master at painting perspective.”

Bauernfeind, who was born in Sulz am Neckar, Germany, began his career as an architect but turned to painting later in his life. Much of his work focused on the buildings and scenes of Palestine, where he traveled extensively in the 1880s before permanently moving to Jerusalem with his wife and son in 1896. He died there in 1904.

The painting is considered a highlight of this year’s “Masters Week,” a weeklong series of curated auctions that include “rare and exciting masterpieces from the 14th to 19th centuries,” according to Sotheby’s. “The Western Wall” will be on the block as part of the Master Paintings Part I auction that begins on Thursday at 10:00 a.m. at Sotheby’s headquarters on the Upper East Side. 

Doller and Piening aren’t ruling out the possibility that it could go for higher than the estimate.

The last time a comparable work came up was in 2007, and it made $6 million from a very low estimate,” Piening said. 

That painting, “The Wailing Wall,” also by Bauernfeind, was of a similar scale, but featured only a dozen or so worshippers — as opposed to the packed crowd of “The Western Wall.”

“It’s just a very rare thing to appear on the market,” he added.


The post A 19th-century painting of the Western Wall could fetch $3M at Sotheby’s appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Delaware school district promises changes in response to federal probe of antisemitic bullying

(JTA) — A Delaware public school district will send staff to anti-harassment training and compensate the family of a Jewish student who alleged antisemitic bullying.

The agreement followed a U.S. Department of Education investigation into how Red Clay Consolidated School District handled allegations of antisemitic incidents, detailed in a complaint to the agency last June. 

The agreement marks the first time in nine months that the education department announced the closure of an antisemitism-related investigation filed under Title VI, the clause of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of “shared ancestry” or “national origin.”

It comes as the department embarks on a wave of antisemitism investigations at schools and colleges in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which has triggered widespread allegations of antisemitism on campuses. What happened in Red Clay, the department said, should be seen as a model for its work.

“This important agreement requires the Red Clay Consolidated District to fulfill its federal civil rights obligation to ensure that all of its students, including Jewish students, can learn safely and without discriminatory harassment in its schools,” Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights in the department, said in a statement announcing the resolution. “We look forward to active work with this district going forward to protect Jewish students, and all students, from targeted discrimination that impedes their equal access to education.”

The department said that a student in the district, which includes parts of Wilmington and its suburbs, was targeted by her classmates for being Jewish. Classmates had written “Blood of the Jews” and drawn swastikas on paper airplanes, and raised their arms in Heil Hitler salutes at the student. 

The department’s Office of Civil Rights said it had further determined that the district’s responses to these incidents “were often haphazard; were inconsistently enforced as well as inconsistently reflected in district documentation; did not consistently include effective or timely steps to mitigate the effects of the harassment on the student or other students; and did not appear to respond to escalating and repeated incidents.” The department opened its investigation into the district in June 2023.

In response, Red Clay has agreed to implement new annual Title VI harassment training for its staff; publicize a new anti-harassment statement; conduct a new audit of past student discrimination complaints; revise its procedure for investigating such claims, and report back to the civil rights office with student climate surveys. 

It will also reimburse the student’s family “for past counseling, academic, or therapeutic services they obtained for the student as a result of the antisemitic harassment the student experienced,” according to the department’s announcement. 

The listed agreements do not include specific antisemitism-related training that some Jewish groups have pushed schools to adopt. They do include training to recognize discrimination based on “shared ancestry and ethnic characteristics,” the Title VI language.

“A recent Office of Civil Rights investigation has highlighted the need for a collective effort to address hate and discrimination, and we want to assure our community that we stand firmly against hate in all its forms, including antisemitism,” district superintendent Dorrell Green said in a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Green’s statement added that the district would undertake a “comprehensive audit” and that it would encourage open dialogue with the community.

Jewish groups including the American Jewish Committee and the Orthodox Union praised the settlement agreement.

“This resolution from the Department of Education is an important step forward and contains numerous action steps that all schools can and should take to create and maintain a safe learning environment for Jewish students,” Ted Deutch, the head of AJC, said in a statement. “Discipline is not enough, and these steps crucially can create a safe, inclusive climate for learning.”

In his own statement, OU executive vice president Rabbi Moishe Hauer tied the resolution into the more than 50 Title VI investigations that have been opened since Oct. 7.

“Antisemitism has become a significant factor in the lives of Jewish students at universities and public schools,” Hauer said. “Schools must fulfill their responsibility under Title VI to maintain an environment where all students can study and thrive without experiencing hostility based on their shared ancestry or ethnicity.”

The department’s last resolution of an antisemitism investigation took place in April 2023, and involved the University of Vermont, which had agreed to take similar steps to address the problem on its campus. It has closed some investigations without publicizing them. Investigations remain ongoing in antisemitism-related cases at Columbia, Brown, the University of North Carolina and others. The Department of Education’s dockets list still-opened Title VI shared ancestry cases dating as far back as 2016.


The post Delaware school district promises changes in response to federal probe of antisemitic bullying appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Evan Gershkovich’s pretrial detention extended through late March, one year after his arrest

(JTA) — A Moscow court extended the pretrial detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich through March 30, meaning he will have spent at least a year behind bars before his trial begins.

Gershkovich, the 32-year-old American son of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union, has been held on espionage charges since March 29, 2023, when he was arrested by Russian agents while on a reporting trip in the city of Yekaterinburg. Gershkovich, the United States government, and the Wall Street Journal deny the allegations, for which the Russian government has not provided evidence. The U.S. government considers him to be wrongfully held. 

The Wall Street Journal and its parent company, Dow Jones, condemned the court’s decision, which was made in a closed hearing on Friday.

“It is chilling and outrageous that Evan has now spent 10 months of his life in prison, simply for doing his job,” their statement said. “While these are clearly sham proceedings about patently false charges, we intend to appeal today’s ruling, as we have in the past. Journalism is not a crime, and we continue to demand Evan’s immediate release.”

Gershkovich is the first American reporter held on espionage charges in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War more than 30 years ago. His arrest came roughly a year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine precipitated a crackdown on press freedom in Russia.

At his end-of-year press conference in December, Russian president Vladimir Putin made his first public remarks on the jailed journalist, saying that Russia hopes to reach an agreement to release Gershkovich and U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been held in a Russian prison since 2018.

“It is not that we have refused to return them,” Putin said during the four-hour press conference. “We want to reach an agreement, and these agreements must be mutually acceptable and must suit both sides.”

Efforts toward Gershkovich’s release have focused on a prisoner swap, but the State Department revealed in early December that an offer made to Russia to trade prisoners for Gershkovich and Whelan was turned down.

“It is not easy,” Putin added. “I will not go into details, but in general it seems to me that we are speaking a language that we both understand. I hope that we will find a solution.”

If convicted of espionage, Gershkovich could face up to 20 years in a penal colony. No trial date has been set.

His detainment has mobilized the global Jewish community over the past year, drawing interest and support from Jews and Jewish organizations. That support has occasionally echoed tactics used to draw attention to the plight of Soviet Jews decades ago, such as leaving an empty seat at the Passover seder table. Ahead of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish Federations of North America organized a letter-writing campaign to Gershkovich to mark the Jewish new year.

The U.S. ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, visited Gershkovich two weeks ago in what has now become a monthly meeting. 

“Evan remains resilient and is grateful for the support of friends, family and supporters,” the U.S. Embassy to Russia shared on its Telegram account on Jan. 18. “We continue to call for Evan’s immediate release.”


The post Evan Gershkovich’s pretrial detention extended through late March, one year after his arrest appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Elliot Resnick, former Jewish Press editor, pleads guilty to Jan. 6 felony

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Elliot Resnick, the onetime editor of a Jewish newspaper who claimed that he was at the Capitol riot to cover it, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a felony charge for joining the attackers and obstructing a police officer.

“Did you do what the government stated?” U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras asked the former editor of the Jewish Press who stood, subdued, alongside his lawyer in the courtroom, a 10-minute walk away from the Capitol he and hundred of other rioters besieged on Jan. 6, 2021 in a bid to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential election.

“Yes, I did, your honor,” said Resnick, a 40-year-old New Yorker, who was clad in a black suit and black yarmulke.

Under a plea agreement the prosecution filed at the hearing, the prosecution and the defense agreed to recommend a prison sentence of 8-14 months and a fine between $4,000 and $40,000, in part because Resnick has no criminal record.

Contreras, who is not bound by the plea agreement, reserved sentencing for June 12, after he receives a report from the probation office. The maximum sentence for the charge, obstruction of law enforcement, is five years and three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.

Resnick has already agreed to pay $2,000 restitution to the Architect of the Capitol, his part of the damages incurred that day. The prosecution also agreed not to charge Resnick with other charges related to his actions on Jan. 6.

Contreras released Resnick on his own recognizance. Appointed to the court by President Barack Obama in 2012, Contreras is not known to be harsh sentencer. On Tuesday, he sentenced another Jan. 6 rioter who assaulted police to 2.5 years in prison.

Resnick and his lawyer, Clay Kaminsky, declined to comment as they left the court.

Prosecutor Sean Murphy, seated alongside Erica Tobin, the FBI agent who wrote the charging document, read parts of the document out loud.

Using video evidence and the testimony of police, Dobin wrote that Resnick held the arm of a police officer attempting to use chemical irritant to repel the rioters. The agent alleged that Resnick attempted to open doors for rioters to follow him, even when a police officer was trying to keep the door closed, and that he beckoned rioters to follow him and that he pulled rioters in through an open door.

After video emerged of his presence of the Capitol, Resnick and The Jewish Press, the Brooklyn-based tabloid where he worked from 2006-2021, the last three years as editor, said that he was covering the riot. Just months after that claim the newspaper let him go without explanation.

Resnick’s low-key affect in the courtroom contrasted with his in-your-face social media, podcasting and writing style. He has a history of using incendiary language and has called the gay rights movement “evil.” Under Resnick’s editorship, the Jewish Press, which says it presents “Torah values and ideals from a centrist or Modern Orthodox perspective,” was criticized by the Anti-Defamation League in 2019 after publishing an op-ed titled “The Pride Parade: What Are They Proud Of?” which compared marchers in the New York City event to animals, adulterers and thieves.

He also has a history of derogatory statements about Black people, and more recently has complained about how his Jan. 6 experience has inhibited his dating life.


The post Elliot Resnick, former Jewish Press editor, pleads guilty to Jan. 6 felony appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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