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A new Israeli restaurant in Brooklyn confidently opens in a NYC transformed by Oct. 7

(New York Jewish Week) — At first glance, it may not seem like the wisest or safest decision to open an Israeli restaurant in a New York City that’s been thrown into turmoil since the Israel-Hamas war began.

Yet Nina, a 162-seat Mediterranean restaurant helmed by Israeli chef Sagi Azrouel, opened on Nov. 30 in Dumbo, just blocks from the iconic Brooklyn intersection where tourists flock to snap pictures of the Manhattan Bridge against the city’s skyline.

Despite a rash of antisemitic incidents targeting Israeli restaurants in the city, business at Nina has been good, Azrouel insists. That’s especially true on weekends, when the chef, 31, said the line stretches out the door with patrons waiting to enjoy a dinner accompanied by a DJ and a party atmosphere. During Hanukkah, a menorah was prominently displayed inside next to a Christmas tree, and the restaurant served sfinge, Moroccan fried yeast donuts made from Azrouel’s grandmother’s recipe.

Azrouel and Anna Castellani, a partner in the restaurant, say they are unconcerned about Nina experiencing wrath from anti-Israel protesters. “Not at all,” Azrouel told the New York Jewish Week. “I feel sad for the people who are trying to ruin someone else’s business because of their political agendas.”

He said he thought protesters who have targeted Israeli restaurants do not understand Israeli food.

“When I see those people, the way they behave, I see it comes from missing knowledge,” he added. “They don’t know enough, they’re not educated enough. When we say ‘Israeli food,’ for me, Israeli food is built out of hundreds of different cuisines — that doesn’t mean it’s Jewish food. It means Israel is built out of hundreds of different cultures.”

Azrouel noted that Israeli families can have roots in dozens of countries around the world, and how the food found in Israel can be Arabic, Eastern European, American or even Palestinian in origin. “Israel is the one place in the world where you can find every kind of food,” he said.

Chef Sagi Azrouel came to NYC in 2013, directly after his army service in Israel ended. (Delaine Dacko for In Haus)

At Nina — named for Castellani’s eldest daughter — these cross-cultural influences are found across the menu. Among the starters, for example, is a selection of dips that include a Moroccan matbucha made of tomatoes, pepper and garlic ($18), as well as an albacore tuna ceviche ($17) and french fries with chimichurri sauce ($12). Main dishes include a vegetarian schnitzel made with eggplant ($20) and fettuccini with kebob-style meatballs ($24). Unlike most Israeli and Middle Eastern restaurants, Nina doesn’t serve pita bread as an accompaniment — rather, there is vegan challah, made at the restaurant without eggs.

“I did not try to create fine dining — I just wanted to create good quality food where everyone feels at home,” Azrouel said.

The preparations to open Nina began in May 2023, well before the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7. “No one foresaw the drama unfolding,” said Castellani, who is also the force behind nearby DeKalb Market Hall, which has some 40 food vendors including a Brooklyn offshoot of Katz’s Deli. “I’m not Israeli, I’m not Jewish, I come at this purely from a culinary point of view.”

A lifelong New Yorker, Castellani’s aim for the 3,200-square-foot space, previously a gourmet grocery, was to create a local staple for Dumbo residents like herself. “We have a burgeoning, very young population,” she said of the neighborhood, explaining the increased need for restaurants. “In fact, we are underserved.”

Castellani said she was considering opening an American restaurant, or possibly a bistro, but had difficulty finding the right chef. As providence would have it, Castellani and her business partner Moshe Ziv happened to drop into 260s New York, a Garment District coffee shop that Azrouel opened last spring. Ziv knew Azrouel through a mutual friend — “he’s like a second father to me,” Azrouel said — and, as the trio talked, Castellani started to think that maybe he’d be a good fit for the new restaurant. When she asked if he thought he could handle the kitchen, he assured her could, compiled a sample menu and tasting, and was quickly hired.

Castellani was convinced Azrouel was “the right spirit fit,” despite his lack of formal training.

“It’s my confidence,” Azrouel quipped.

Azrouel, whose family hails from Morocco, grew up in the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod. Three days after he completed his army service in 2013, he decamped for New York City. “I came with $400, but huge faith,” he said. “And I never stopped believing, even during dark days, and I’m sure whoever lived in New York experienced that. I think New York is the city for creatives and believers, as long as you believe in yourself, you can make it.”

It doesn’t hurt to have a high-end fashion designer as your uncle. Upon his arrival in the city, Sagi Azrouel started as the chief of operations for Yigal Azrouël’s fashion line, handling production, studio operations, finances and procurement. Fashion is in the family blood — Azrouel said his father’s family had owned a large textile business back in Morocco. And in early 2023, Azrouel opened his own apparel manufacturing company on West 39th Street, Lab 26, which provides fashion development and production services.

At the same time, Azrouel loved to host parties and also occasionally worked as a private chef, eventually opening 260s New York on the same block as his apparel business last spring. The Garment District, he said, lacked “something a bit more stylish and cozy where people can step in and disconnect from the craziness of the city for a few minutes.”

Azrouel said he was always interested in cooking; growing up he loved to help his mother chop vegetables. He became a dishwasher at a restaurant in Ashdod at 13, and started assisting the chef whenever he had an opportunity. According to Azrouel, the chef eventually asked him to officially join the team and by 18, he said, he was running the kitchen.

With the opening of Nina, Azrouel realized a lifelong dream. “If you ask my mom, I’ve always said that I’ll have my own restaurant, since  a very young age.”

Nina is kosher-style: It does not serve dishes mixing dairy and meat, nor does it serve the meat of non-kosher animals, such as pork or shellfish, but it does not have kosher certification and serves meat from kosher animals that was not slaughtered in accordance with Jewish law.  That means Azrouel, who himself observes the laws of kashrut, does not taste the meat at the restaurant. He claims he can judge the quality and doneness of those dishes by looking and smelling.

Though Azrouel is proud of his Israeli identity, he and Castellani are marketing Nina as a Mediterranean — and not necessarily Israeli — restaurant. “Sagi’s Israeli, but he has a very unique take and you really can’t call the menu classic Israeli,” Castellani said.

“Some restaurants are afraid of the protesting and you don’t want to get into a situation where people get violent and use their hands,” Azrouel said. “But at the same time, it’s our part to stay strong and be proud. If there’s any place in the world we can be proud as Jews it’s New York.”


The post A new Israeli restaurant in Brooklyn confidently opens in a NYC transformed by Oct. 7 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Rashida Tlaib Votes ‘Present’ on US House Condemnation of Hamas’ Use of Sexual Violence

Wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) addresses a Congressional debate on Palestinian violence against Israel, 2021 Photo: Screenshot.se

The US House of Representatives passed a resolution on Wednesday condemning Hamas’ use of sexual assault as a weapon of war during its October 7 terrorist attack — in which it killed 1,200 Israelis and took almost 250 more hostage — in a near-unanimous vote, with a single exception.

The one “present” vote came from Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who argued that she could not vote in favor of the resolution because it does not also accuse the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) of using sexual assault as a weapon of war.

By a vote of 418-0-1, the House passed a resolution that “condemns all rape and forms of sexual violence as weapons of war, including those acts committed by Hamas terrorists on and since October 7th.” It also “calls on all international bodies to unequivocally condemn” Hamas’ actions.

Tlaib has emerged as the most outspoken anti-Israel member of the House in recent months. She has accused Israel of committing genocide and has appeared at events with people who celebrated Hamas’ October 7 attack.

Michael Dickson, Executive Director of the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, reacted to her vote, saying, “Rashida Tlaib is so racist she cannot bring herself to condemn the brutal rape of women used by Hamas as a weapon of war… because the women that were raped were Jewish Israelis. A new low. Most American women – and men – will recoil in horror at her vote.”

The former US Deputy Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism, Ellie Cohanim, wrote that Tlaib “is the ONLY member of Congress who refuses to condemn Hamas’ rape. What an absolute sicko.”

However, in a speech on the floor of the House, Tlaib said, “While the resolution on the floor rightfully denounces any sexual violence by Hamas, I am disturbed that it completely ignores and erases any sexual violence and abuse committed by the Israeli forces, against Palestinians, especially children.”

She cited an article from Haaretz about an incident in October where settlers and soldiers detained three Palestinian men in the West Bank, had them strip to their underwear, and beat them. The piece notes that there was even “an attempt to penetrate one of them with an object.” 

The article notes that, in response, the IDF dismissed the force commander and opened an investigation into the incident. Later, five additional soldiers were dismissed for their role in the abuse.

Since October 7, numerous independent investigations have found that Hamas engaged in widespread sexual and gender-based violence against Israelis, including rape.

After the resolution passed, Rep. Louis Frankel (D-FL), who introduced the bill, wrote, “Our resolution makes it clear: Rape & sexual assault are not acceptable tools of war.”

CEO of the American Jewish Committee, Ted Deutch, applauded the passage of the resolution but added that “The international community’s utter failure to adequately condemn and address Hamas’ use of sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of war on and since October 7 is not merely disappointing – it is a dereliction of duty for all who claim to stand for human rights and humanity.”

The post Rashida Tlaib Votes ‘Present’ on US House Condemnation of Hamas’ Use of Sexual Violence first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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‘No Reward for The Murderers’: Israeli Officials Bash US Plan To Recognize Palestinian State

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich attends an inauguration event for Israel’s new light rail line for the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, in Petah Tikva, Israel, Aug. 17, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

A chorus of Israeli officials spoke out against a reported peace plan being pushed by the United States and several Arab states that would include the recognition of a Palestinian state on Thursday.

The proposed plan, as detailed in The Washington Post, calls for “the withdrawal of many, if not all, settler communities on the West Bank; a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem; the reconstruction of Gaza; and security and governance arrangements for a combined West Bank and Gaza.”

In order to attempt to force Israel’s hand, the report says, “U.S. officials said the menu of actions under consideration include early U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state — even as elements of political reform, security guarantees for both Israel and the Palestinians, normalization and reconstruction are being implemented.”

“In my speech yesterday in Berlin, I warned against the dangerous plan that is taking shape for unilateral international recognition of a Palestinian state,” said MK Gideon Sa’ar, who is not part of the government coalition – but part of the war cabinet coalition – National Unity. “This plan will not only not resolve the conflict but will make it intractable. The Palestinians will receive state recognition without paying the the price of compromise and they will continue the conflict from an upgraded position that will harm Israel’s right to self-defense.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been clear that he is opposed to a Palestinian state, and that Israel will maintain security control over the Gaza Strip once the war ends.

“1,400 murdered and the world wants to give them a state. It won’t happen,” tweeted National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. He added in an interview with Israeli media “The intention of the US, together with the Arab states, to establish a terror state alongside the State of Israel is delusional and part of the misguided conception that there is a partner for peace on the other side… While we are in the government, no Palestinian state will be established.”

Education Minister Yoav Kisch added “We are only concerned with winning in Gaza. There will simply be no reward for the murderers.”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also tweeted against the plan, saying “We will in no way agree to this plan, which actually says that the Palestinians deserve a reward for the terrible massacre they did to us: a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. The message is that it pays very well to massacre Israeli citizens. A Palestinian state is an existential threat to the State of Israel as was proven on October 7, Kfar Saba will not be Kfar Aza!”

He further called on the cabinet to issue “a clear and unequivocal decision stating that Israel opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state and the imposition of sanctions on over half a million settlers. I expect clear support from Prime Minister Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, Gadi Eisenkot and all the ministers.”

The post ‘No Reward for The Murderers’: Israeli Officials Bash US Plan To Recognize Palestinian State first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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‘Explosion of Hate’ Antisemitism in United Kingdom Reached Unprecedented Level in 2023, New Report Says

People march in a protest, in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in London, Britain, November 11, 2023. Photo: Alishia Abodunde via Reuters Connect

More antisemitic incidents occurred in the United Kingdom in 2023 than any year in the history of recording such data, according to a new report issued on Thursday by Community Security Trust (CST), a nonprofit that offers security services and training to the country’s Jewish community.

The report, titled Antisemitic Incidents Report 2023, said that 4,103 antisemitic incidents happened in the country in 2023, an increase of 147 percent from 2022. They included physical assaults, hate speech, threats, and cases of what the nonprofit described as “damage and desecration” of Jewish religious symbols and houses of worship. CST noted that over 2,000 other incidents reported to its offices were not included in its official statistics, noting that some “were not deemed to be antisemitic” while others involved “suspicious activity” and other potential threats to physical safety.

“British Jews are strong and resilient, but the explosion in hatred against our community is an absolute disgrace,” CST chief executive Mark Gardner said in a statement. “It occurs in schools, universities, workplaces, on the streets, and all over social media. Our community is being harassed, intimidated, threatened, and attacked by extremists who also oppose society as a whole. We thank the government and police for their support, but this is a challenge for everyone and we condemn the stony silence from those sections of society that eagerly call out racism in every other case, except when it comes to Jew hate.”

CST’s data shows a massive uptick of antisemitic incidents immediately after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, which resulted in hundreds of murders of civilians, abductions of the young and elderly, and numerous sexual assaults of Israeli women. Between January and September, there were fewer than 200 incidents but 1,303 in October alone, over 1,200 in November and December. From Oct. 7 until the end of the year, CST added, its offices received an average of 31 reports per day.

In that span of time, CST recorded its highest single-day and single-week totals of antisemitic incidents, indicating “that it was celebration of Hamas’ attack, rather than anger towards Israel’s military response in Gaza, that prompted the unprecedented levels of antisemitism across the country.” Additionally, the report added, perpetrators signposted their anti-Zionist hatred in 43 percent of incidents, saying Zionist, Zionism, or “Free Palestine!” while committing an offense. In 955 others, they alluded to Adolf Hitler and Nazism, both of which they often connected to Hamas and anti-Zionism.

“Perpetrators either glorified Hamas’ act of terror as a repeat of the Nazis extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust, or lamented Hitler’s failure to eliminate world Jewry entirely,” CST explained, adding that others expressed being motivated by Islamic-antisemitism, viewing the conflict between Israelis and Hamas as part of a larger conflagration between Jews and Muslims.

Antisemitism on social media also proliferated after Oct. 7, appearing the most on X/Twitter, where CST found 704 examples of it, an increase of 249 percent. X users often based their antisemitism on conspiracies and other extreme political ideologies.

“The figures noted in CST’s Antisemitic Report 2023 should be a reminder to British civil society of the serious nature of antisemitism and the impact that it has on the Jewish community,” Lord Mann, His Majesty’s Government’s Independent Adviser on Antisemitism, said in a statement on the report’s findings. “As we have seen over the years, when tensions rise in the Middle East there is an increase in antisemitism around the world. However, this scale is unprecedented and is, for the first time ever, widespread across every police region in the United Kingdom.”

Mann continued, “This country will not tolerate the abuse or intimidation of any of its citizens and I will continue to make sure that it remains a safe place for our Jewish community.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post ‘Explosion of Hate’ Antisemitism in United Kingdom Reached Unprecedented Level in 2023, New Report Says first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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