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A new walking tour of NYC Israeli restaurants becomes an exercise in togetherness

(New York Jewish Week) — It was a damp, dreary Tuesday evening in Manhattan, but inside the Greenwich Village outpost of Caffe Aronne, the vibe was warm and friendly as a group of 10 people, nearly all of them women, shook off their umbrellas and introduced themselves to one another. 

Most of us were strangers, but we became fast friends over the next few hours as we walked from one downtown Israeli restaurant to the next, sharing details of our lives with one another alongside plates of food. The 10 of us had assembled for the first-ever Delicious Cities tour in New York, a new domestic food tour initiative from Inbal Baum, the founder of Delicious Israel, a company that specializes in food tours of Israel.

Baum, who founded Delicious Israel in 2011, had made a lightning-quick business pivot to New York City-based tours after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas terrorists and the subsequent war in Gaza brought tourism in Israel to a standstill. “Besides the incredible trauma, incredible heartache, incredible pain of everything going on, as a tourism business, and as a tourism business owner, it’s another layer of trauma,” Baum told me. 

“Interestingly, in the pandemic, the entire world was shut down,” she added, referring to a previous massive blow to her business. “Now it’s just Israel.”

But Baum quickly clarified her remark: Day-to-day life in Israel is not shut down, it’s just that the tourists have stopped coming. “Everything is open — well, not everything, but things are open,” she said. “We can do tours, our guides would be happy to show someone something positive and be part of the positivity that we love so much to share.” 

She also thinks there is an appetite not only for Israeli food but for supporting Israelis, wherever they live. “The enthusiasm that I saw when we did a virtual cooking event with The Nosher and 250 people showed up to be together, and to share that moment together around food, was so inspirational and so powerful,” she said, referring to the Oct. 25 gathering as well as other online, food-focused gatherings she’s hosted since the war began. “I knew that that was the direction we had to go: how to bring people together in a way that speaks to what’s happening right now.” (The Nosher and the New York Jewish Week have the same parent company, 70 Faces Media.)

Baum — who said she considers herself American-Israeli when she’s in Israel and Israeli-American when she’s stateside — currently lives with her family in Park City, Utah but lived and worked as a lawyer in New York for six years. In October, she assembled a small team of Delicious Israel guides in New York City and began creating a strategy around tours. “We spent a day running — literally knocking on doors,” Baum said about how she got restaurants to participate. “In the doors that we knocked on where people answered, they were like, ‘We want to be a part of this, we want to support this.’” 

Now working in the fickle business of Manhattan restaurants, Baum and her team are still figuring out the details: Since the test tour this reporter attended ahead of Thanksgiving, the itinerary has changed slightly, Baum said. But, for now, Delicious Cities is running an approximately three-hour Manhattan tour of West Village Israeli restaurants for $160 — with an optional addition of $40 for alcoholic beverages — on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. There are also tours being planned for Brooklyn and Philadelphia.

When asked why it was meaningful for her to support Israeli restaurants stateside, Baum said she’s always cared about the industry and added,  “Now just happens to be a time where we are, unfortunately, having to explain our existence. And so, in my eyes, food has always been the way that we’re able to come together, provide support, provide love.”

That feeling of togetherness was palpable last month as our group — which included a few of Baum’s old friends, some Delicious Israel regulars and two New York Jewish Week journalists — toured Israeli eateries downtown. We began our time together with an icebreaker: Standing in a tight circle inside the tiny Caffe Aronne, participants took turns introducing themselves to the group and sharing a favorite food memory of Israel. Two people mentioned a kubeh selek, a beet soup with meat-filled dumplings, and one woman shared an entertaining story of consuming a few too many shots of arak on a trip to Israel at age 15. 

At the time of our visit, Caffe Aronne had just been in the news for the outpouring of support it received from local Jews when employees allegedly quit the cafe’s Upper East Side branch in protest of the business’s pro-Israel stance. (The story, it turned out, was a bit more nuanced than it first seemed.) Barista Luis, who did not provide a last name, was employed at a different cafe on the day the story broke. He volunteered to pitch in, serving some 500-600 customers that day, he said, and he has stayed with the Israel-inspired cafe since. 

“I like the vibe, the people,” he told us. 

At Aronne, the tour participants had a choice between two special lattes: cardamom pistachio or almond rose. Neither of these drinks were on the compact menu, a reporter pointed out — and that’s by design, explained Baum, as many of the offerings presented on the tour are off-menu or specially curated for the group. 

Tour guide Jordana Meyer gave us a quick rundown of the evening. Explaining that New York is a “chik-chak city” — a Hebrew phrase akin to “pronto” or “chop chop” — she said we would be keeping a brisk pace. 

Getting to know one another is a key part of the Delicious Cities experience; here, guide Jordana Meyer shares with a tour group. (Shai Hansav, courtesy Delicious Israel)

Our next stop was Kubeh, Chef Melanie Shurka’s Sixth Avenue restaurant that’s dedicated to “lesser-known cuisines of the Middle East,” per its website — hand-rolled dumplings, or kubeh, in particular. As we sipped on a wickedly good, almost healthy-tasting cocktail called The Persian — with gin, Persian cucumber and zaatar — and snacked on hummus, muhammara and pita, Shurka told us a bit about her passion for the dumplings. “Kubeh, kibbeh, kabbah — they’re all the same,” she said, explaining that the word comes from the Arabic verb meaning “to roll, make something round.”

Shurka, whose father is Israeli and mother is a Jewish New Yorker, told us how she learned her techniques from Israeli grandmothers. “This is a special place,” she said of her six-year-old restaurant as she served the group both fried kubeh and kubeh in broth. “It’s my first baby. My second was born a year ago.”

Next, it was a short, drizzly walk to Einat Admony’s Balaboosta, where a bartender had laid out a spread that included whipped feta with silan (date syrup), hummus, fresh pita and the restaurant’s signature fried olives. Participants drank Israeli wine and milled about.

“This is Israeli and Jewish spirit and resilience at its finest,” said Eilon Gigi, who had worked for celebrity Israeli-American chef Michael Solomonov in Philadelphia for several years before joining the Delicious Israel team. 

Admony — wearing a bright-orange cap emblazoned with the word “Yalla!” — greeted the group as well. Later, when a reporter asked her how her business was faring in a time of unrest and increased antisemitism throughout the city, the chef responded that Balaboosta has been “very busy.”

“Our community is stronger than hate — we are all doing fine,” Admony said of Israeli and Jewish restaurants in the city.

And yet, Admony said she unabashedly welcomes the extra business brought in by a Delicious Cities group. “It’s New York,” she said. “We always need business.”

Our fourth and final stop was for dessert at Port Sa’id, a restaurant from freshly Michelin-starred Israeli chef Eyal Shani that opened just north of Tribeca over the summer. Chef Victor Gothelf greeted us warmly and gave a short spiel about the restaurant, where dishes are “prepared today, made today, salads cut today.”  

Then, in true Shani style, Gothelf glopped a mess of desserts — including Basque cheesecake, apple crumble and a vegan malabi — directly onto a table covered with butcher paper, then topped the whole thing with strawberry sauce, blackberries, powdered sugar and more. It was a visual feast, as well as an actual one, and Gothelf encouraged us to dig in and share. As he stepped away, he said to our group, in Hebrew, “Am yisrael chai” — the Jewish people live.

With its combination of “really good food — pure, not complicated — and really good music,” Port Sa’id aims to “bring people together,” Gothelf told me later in the evening. 

“People are afraid,” he said when asked about the highly charged climate in the city, “but we won’t back down.”

Gothelf added that he jumped at the chance to add Port Sa’id as a part of the new Delicious Cities tour. “Especially because of the situation right now, I was so happy and eager to be a part of it,” he said. 

As the evening drew to a close, tour participants gathered again in a tight circle, this time with our bellies full and glasses of wine in our hands. We took turns sharing a personal highlight of the experience — several people homed in on the the feelings of camaraderie within the group, saying that at a time of so much turmoil in Israel, it felt good to gather with other Jews in Israeli spaces and break bread. Business cards and hugs were exchanged and, solo or in pairs, participants departed the bustling restaurant and headed out into the dark, rainy New York night. 

Looking ahead, Baum hopes to attract “anyone who is interested in good food, in supporting these restaurants and learning something new and doing something fun.” 

“I’m a Jewish mom,” she explained. “I’ve been a Jewish mom way before I was a Jewish mom. I have an instinctual desire to feed people and to have them fed.”

The post A new walking tour of NYC Israeli restaurants becomes an exercise in togetherness appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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South Dakota Passes Bill Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Gov. Kristi Noem (R) speaking to legislators during the State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024 at South Dakota State Captiol in Pierre. Photo: Samantha Laurey and Argus Leader via REUTERS CONNECT

South Dakota’s state Senate passed on Thursday a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating anti-Jewish hate crimes.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) already adopted the definition, which has been embraced by lawmakers across the political spectrum, via executive order in 2021. This latest measure, HB 1076, aims to further integrate the IHRA’s guidance into law and includes the organization’s examples of antisemitism. It now awaits a vote by the state House of Representatives.

“As antisemitism continues to rise across America, having a clear and standardized definition enables a more unified stance against this hatred,” the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Kristi Noem for making this legislation a policy goal of hers, strengthening the use of the IHRA Working Definition in South Dakota through legislation, following the December 2021 adoption via executive proclamation.”

CAM called on lawmakers in the lower house to follow the Senate’s lead and implored “other states to join the fight against antisemitism by adopting the IHRA definition, ensuring the safety and well-being of their Jewish residents.”

First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations.

Widely regard as the world’s leading definition of antisemitism, it was adopted by 97 governmental and nonprofit organizations in 2023, according to a report Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Antisemitism Research Center issued in January.

Earlier this month, Georgia became the latest US state to pass legislation applying IHRA’s guidance to state law. 33 US States have as well, including Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Columbia University Sued for Allowing Antisemitic Violence and Discrimination

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Columbia University allowed for antisemitism to explode on campus endangering the welfare of Jewish students and faculty, StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice and Students Against Antisemitism (SAA) alleges in a lawsuit announced on Wednesday.

Filed in the US District Court of Southern New York, the complaint recounts dozens of reported antisemitic incidents that occurred after Oct. 7 which the university allegedly failed to respond to adequately because of anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Zionist, bias.

“Columbia refuses to enforce its policies or protect Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community,” Yael Lerman, director of SWU Center for Legal Justice said on Wednesday in a press release. “Columbia has created a pervasively hostile campus environment in which antisemitic activists act with impunity, knowing that there will be no real repercussions for their violations of campus policies.”

“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” Columbia University spokesperson and vice president for communications told The Algemeiner on Friday.

The plaintiffs in the case accuse Columbia University of violating their contract, to which it is bound upon receiving payment for their tuition, and contravening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. They are seeking damages as well as injunctive relief.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews, “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” students chanted on campus grounds after the tragedy, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, the complaint says. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

300 faculty signed a letter proclaiming “unwavering solidarity” with Massad, and in the following days, Students for Justice in Palestine defended Hamas’ actions as “rooted in international law.” In response, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, opting not to address their rhetoric directly, issued a statement mentioning “violence that is affecting so many people” but not, the complaint noted, explicitly condemning Hamas, terrorism, and antisemitism. Nine days later, Shafik rejected an invitation to participate in a viewing of footage of the Oct. 7 attacks captured by CCTV cameras.

The complaint goes on to allege that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

More request to the university went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held demonstrations. The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events whole no one explained the inconsistency.

Virulent antisemitism at Columbia University on the heels of Oct. 7 was not a one-off occurance, the complaint alleges, retracing in over 100 pages 20 years of alleged anti-Jewish hatred at the school.

“Students at Columbia are enduring unprecedented levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel hate while coping with the trauma of Hamas’ October 7th massacre,” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in Wednesday’s press release. “We will ensure that Columbia University is held accountable for their gross failure to protect their Jewish and Israeli students.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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University of California-Los Angeles Student Government Passes BDS Resolution

Graphic posted by University of California, Los Angeles Students for Justice in Palestine on February 21, 2024 to celebrate the student government’s passing an resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Los Angeles student government on Tuesday passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as false accusation that Israel is committing a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

“The Israeli government has carried out a genocidal bombing campaign and ground invasion against Palestinians in Gaza — intentionally targeting hospitals universities, schools, shelters, churches, mosques, homes, neighborhoods, refugee camps, ambulances, medical personnel, [United Nations] workers, journalists and more,” the resolution, passed 10-3 by the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC), says, not mentioning that UN personnel in Gaza assisted Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

It continued, “Let it be resolved that the Undergraduate Student Association of UCLA formally call upon the UC Regents to withdraw investments in securities, endowments mutual funds, and other monetary instruments….providing material assistance to the commission or maintenance of flagrant violations of international law.

The days leading up to the vote were fraught, The Daily Bruin, the university’s official student newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“Non-UCLA students” sent USAC council members emails imploring them to vote for or against the resolution and USAC Cultural Affairs Commissioner and sponsor of the resolution, Alicia Verdugo, was accused of antisemitism and deserving of impeachment. The UCLA Graduate Student Association and University of California-Davis’ student government had just endorsed BDS the previous week, prompting fervent anticipation for the outcome of Tuesday’s USAC session.

Before voting took place, members of the council ordered a secret ballot, withholding from their constituents a record of where they stood on an issue of monumental importance to the campus culture. According to The Daily Bruin, they expressed “concerns” about “privacy” and “security.” Some members intimated how they would vote, however. During a question and answer period, one student who co-sponsored the resolution, accused a Jewish student of being “classist” and using “coded” language because she argued that the council had advanced the resolution without fully appreciating the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of antisemitism.

“As a Guatemalan, …my country went through genocide,” he snapped at the young woman, The Daily Bruin’s reporting documented. “My family died in the Guatemalan Mayan genocide. I understand. I very well know what genocide looks like.”

Other council members  voiced their support by co-sponsoring the resolution, which was co-authored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that has held unauthorized demonstrations and terrorized Jewish students across the country.

Responding to USAC’s decision, Jewish students told the paper that they find the campaign for BDS and the attempts of pro-Palestinian students to defend Hamas’ atrocities myopic and offensive.

“How can anyone dare to contextualize since Oct. 7 without acknowledging that the Jewish people are victims of such a cataclysmic attack?” Mikayla Weinhouse said. “BDS intentionally aims to divide a community. Its supporters paint a complex and century-old conflict in the Middle East as a simplistic narrative that inspires hate rather than advocates for a solution.”

University of California-Los Angeles denounced the resolution for transgressing school policy and the spirit of academic freedom.

“The University of California and UCLA, which, like all nine other UC campuses, has consistently opposed calls for a boycott against and divestment from Israel,” the school said in a statement. “We stand firm in our conviction that a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty and to the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on this campus.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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