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Abe Lebewohl Park honors murdered 2nd Ave Deli founder and East Village ‘mensch’

(New York Jewish Week) — “I need two matzah ball soups!” a deli clerk yells into the microphone during the lunch rush at 2nd Ave Deli — which, since 2006, is no longer located on Second Avenue but on East 33rd Street between Lexington and Third Avenue.

While the original deli building is now a bank, the Midtown location boasts the same old-school vibe: The menu is packed with Ashkenazi treats such as knishes, stuffed cabbage and, of course, pastrami; the gregarious waiters are full of personality; the logo’s Hebraic-styled lettering remains unchanged.

But one fundamental part of the restaurant’s DNA didn’t make the move: its founder, Abe Lebewohl. He was robbed and killed on his way to the bank on March 4, 1996, in a crime that transfixed New York City and has yet to be solved.

Back at East 10th Street and Second Avenue, across from where the deli sat for over 50 years, is a triangular, tree-lined plaza named Abe Lebewohl Park. “They called him the mayor of Second Avenue,” Steve Cohen, the longtime manager of the deli, told the New York Jewish Week of his former boss.

The decision to name the park after Lebewohl was a “no-brainer,” as Cohen called it. It was “neighborhood people” who initiated the naming of the plaza, which is located in front of St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery and dates to 1799. As it happens, in 1980, Lebewohl had joined forces with Marilyn Appleberg, who was president of the 10th and Stuyvesant Streets Block Association, in an effort to clean up the plaza and make it more welcoming.

“That was his neighborhood,” Cohen said. “He was ubiquitous and all-encompassing. When you were around him he blanketed you.”

That Lebewohl would make his mark in Manhattan wasn’t preordained. Lebewohl was born in Kulykiv, Ukraine, in 1931. When World War II broke out, his father was sent to Siberia and Abe and his mother went to Kazakhstan. The family ultimately reunited and ended up at a refugee camp in Italy, where Abe’s brother Jack was born. In 1950, when Abe was 19, the Lebewohls emigrated to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Eager to help his family, Abe went to work as a soda jerk at a deli in Coney Island.

In 1954, Abe opened 2nd Ave Deli with two partners. A few years later, he bought out his partners, and the deli would remain on that corner for decades to come.

Cohen first met Lebewohl while he was working for an electrician, and Lebewohl was looking for a bookkeeper for the deli. Cohen took that job and has now worked at the 2nd Ave Deli in various roles for 40 years. He said Lebewohl was always urging people to “do better” and “would bother you until you did the right thing.”

“He was a world-class noodge but he did it with such warmth,” Cohen said, adding, using a word referring to the Jewish way of life, “He believed very strongly in Yiddishkeit.”

Cohen said Lebewohl was always helping people. One, he recalled, Lebewohl personally drove a 100-year-old customer to the tailor from the deli because he couldn’t get a cab. Another time, he went out of his way to deliver a Shabbat meal to an elderly woman every week. And there was a time he flew to England to cater a wedding so the family of the groom didn’t have to pack deli food in their suitcases. Cohen added that there were several instances when Lebewohl told customers who came up short on their checks, “You’ll pay me next time.”

Cohen said Lebewohl’s kindness extended to his staff, too “I broke my back and I was in the hospital for six weeks and he visited me every day and brought me food every single day,” he recalled. “I would give out the food — I had doctors coming to my room and I would say, ‘You were here yesterday, give it to another doctor.’”

Lebewohl was known for his faith and optimism in people: “He gave them his best and he expected the same in return,” Cohen said in a speech on “Abe Lebewohl Night” in 1998 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

The deli is now under ownership of Lebewohl’s nephews, Josh and Jeremy Lebewohl. Following the move uptown, they opened a second location on the Upper East Side. It’s been 27 years since his murder and, on 33rd Street, there is still a sign in the deli’s window offering a $150,000 reward for information that will help solve the crime.

In addition to the park, Lebewohl left another lasting mark on Second Avenue: the Yiddish Theatre Walk of Fame, which he installed on the sidewalk in 1984 to honor Yiddish theater actors, playwrights and composers, including Fyvush Finkel and the Barry Sisters.

“One of the great things Abie has taught me was that you could be a success in business and still be a mensch,” Cohen said. “I attended Talmud Torah [school] for 10 years and learned more about being a good Jew and a good human being working for Abie. It certainly was more palatable.”

Lebewohl was known for sitting down with his customers and enjoying half a sandwich with them. “You thought, and rightly so, you were coming to his home to eat,” Cohen said.

That same sort of hospitality is kept alive to this day: When I arrived at the 33rd Street at the midtown location to interview Cohen, he immediately asked if I wanted a sandwich, some matzah ball soup, the works. When I declined, he turned to the deli clerk behind him and said, “Let me get some pieces of sliced pastrami and corned beef.”

Cohen said he consciously carries on Lebewohl’s way of interacting with customers. “I tell people when they start to work here; you can either be entertained by people all day or assaulted by people all day, now which one are you gonna have a better day with?” he said. “Abe always felt he was entertained by people and he wanted to entertain people.”

During our conversation, every time someone walked into the deli, Cohen greeted them like an old friend. “When people leave here and they say to me, ‘It’s exactly like I remember it,’ to me that’s the greatest compliment,” he said. That’s the way I want it. I want people to say it’s like when Abie was here. I want to carry out his legacy.”

The post Abe Lebewohl Park honors murdered 2nd Ave Deli founder and East Village ‘mensch’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Biden Administration Urges Israel to Tone Down Response to Hezbollah Aggression in Bid to Avert Wider Conflict

Mourners carry a coffin during the funeral of Wissam Tawil, a commander of Hezbollah’s elite Radwan forces who according to Lebanese security sources was killed during an Israeli strike on south Lebanon, in Khirbet Selm, Lebanon, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

The Biden administration has been pushing the Israeli government to de-escalate hostilities with Hezbollah to prevent a full-scale war from breaking out along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where the powerful Iran-backed terrorist group wields significant political and military influence.

In Israel’s north, Hezbollah terrorists have been firing rockets at Israel daily from southern Lebanon since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre, leading Israeli forces to strike back. Tensions have been escalating between both sides, fueling concerns that the conflict in Gaza — the Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas, another Iran-backed Islamist terrorist group, to Israel’s south — could escalate into a regional conflict.

More than 80,000 Israelis evacuated Israel’s north in October and have since been unable to return to their homes. The majority of those spent the past eight months residing in hotels in safer areas of the country. The mass displacement has ramped up pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find a swift resolution to the situation.

The ongoing conflict between both sides escalated on Tuesday when senior Hezbollah commander Taleb Sami Abdullah was killed in an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah responded by launching over 200 missiles into northern Israel. 

During Abdullah’s funeral, senior Hezbollah official Hachem Saffieddine vowed that the terrorist group would intensify its strikes on Israel. 

“Our response after the martyrdom of Abu Taleb will be to intensify our operations in severity, strength, quantity and quality,” Saffieddine said. “Let the enemy wait for us in the battlefield.”

In Israel, meanwhile, officials have said they prefer a diplomatic solution to the current crisis but are prepared to escalate military action to push Hezbollah back from the border in order to allow internally displaced Israelis to return home. Polling has shown that the majority of the Israeli public wants the military to engage in expanded actions against the Lebanese terrorist group, which is committed to Israel’s destruction.

The Biden administration has been advising Netanyahu against pursuing the idea of a “limited war” against Hezbollah, arguing that it could spark a regional war throughout the Middle East. According to multiple reports, US officials have warned Israel that Iran could dispatch militants from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen into Lebanon to bolster Hezbollah’s effort.

The White House has also expressed concern  that Israeli officials do not have a clear strategy on how to keep the war contained to solely Lebanon. Fear of a broader regional war has intensified the Biden administration’s urgency to finalize a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas, which launched the ongoing war in Gaza by slaughtering over 1,200 people throughout southern Israel and kidnapping more than 250 others on Oct. 7.

“We are concerned about an increase in activity in the north. We don’t want this to escalate to a broad regional conflict and we urge de-escalation,” a Pentagon spokesperson told reporters this week.

The Pentagon also released a statement saying that Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin discussed efforts to “de-escalate tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border in the wake of Lebanese Hezbollah’s increased aggression.”

According to multiple reports, Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden for energy and investment, will head to Israel on Monday in an effort to temper tensions between the Jewish state and Hezbollah. Hochstein will meet with Netanyahu and Gallant with the goal of swaying them against green-lighting a “limited ground invasion” in Lebanon. Hochstein will reportedly also journey to Beirut to conduct discussions with Lebanese officials.

“There was a lot of work, diplomatic work done behind the scenes by several folks in the US administration, working with regional powers and our allies to try and tamp this down,” Hochstein has said regarding the prospect of a regional war erupting in the Middle East.

Hochstein argued that preventing a large-scale war between Israel and Lebanon requires “active engagement” with both parties and for the public of both countries to “understand the risks” of further escalation. He added that “despite the bravado talk” coming from government officials, Lebanese people do not to go to war with Israel.

“The bottom line is a lot of civilians will die,” Hochstein said.

Despite chest-thumping by Hezbollah leaders, experts believe that the elimination of Abdullah might cause Hezbollah to exercise caution in engaging further with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 

The powerful elimination worries Hezbollah members. They now understand that the IDF knows much more about them than we do,” Professor Amatzia Baram told The Jerusalem Post. “Additionally, the operation indicates that Hezbollah’s field security is not airtight and that the organization’s intelligence system has been penetrated to such an extent that we were able to eliminate such an important sector commander. The IDF managed to infiltrate their networks and systems and identify the right people for elimination.”

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Iranian Court Sentences Woman to 18 Years in Prison for Supporting Israel

Iranian protesters carry a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a Yemeni flag as they burn an Israeli flag during an anti-US and anti-British protest in front of the British embassy in downtown Tehran, Iran, Jan. 12, 2024. Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Reuters Connect

Fatemeh Sepehri, a prominent Iranian dissident and political prisoner, has been sentenced to an additional 18 and a half years in prison after she publicly expressed support for Israel.

The harsh prison sentence appeared to be at least partly in response to a video clip released on Oct. 16 from Ghaem Hospital in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad in which Sepehri, who suffers from a heart ailment, condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. Hamas is backed by the Iranian regime, which provides the Palestinian terror group in Gaza with funding, weapons, and training.

“I emphatically declare that the Iranian nation stands in solidarity with the people of Israel,” she said. “I hope [Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks] closes the Islamic Republic’s chapter in history.”


For 45 years, Iranian women have tirelessly battled for their rights, freedom, and advancement. Among them, Fatemeh Sepehri has boldly challenged the ideals of the Islamic Republic. NUFDI proudly awards her the 2024 Humanitarian Award.

— سه خط طلا (@misanthropgirl) March 19, 2024

Although Fatimeh’s court records are unavailable to the public, her brother Asghar Sepehri tweeted details about the sentence. According to her sibling, Fatimeh was sentenced earlier this month by a judge of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Mashhad to seven years for supporting Israel, another seven years for conspiring against internal security, three years for insulting Iran’s so-called “supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and one year and six months for propaganda against the Islamist regime.

Iran’s rulers regularly call for the destruction of Israel, often referring to the Jewish state as a “cancerous tumor” or “the Zionist entity.”

Sepehri was originally arrested in Sept. 2022 following the killing of Mahsa Amini, a young woman whose death at the hands of Iran’s morality police sparked nationwide protests against the ruling Islamist regime on an unprecedented scale.

Sepehri’s pro-Israel video was posted after she was temporary released from prison to undergo open-heart surgery. According to her family, Sepehri has been subjected to intense “psychological torture” while in prison. Her brothers, Mohammad-Hossein and Hossein, have also received severe sentences for similar charges: eight years and two years and 11 months, respectively.

In the past, Sepehri has been an outspoken critic of Khamenei and the Islamic Republic more broadly. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported in 2021 that Sepehri said on video that she hoped to see the day when Khamenei would be dragged through the streets and killed like Libya’s late ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Days after Sepehri received her sentence, Iran released political prisoner Louis Arnaud, a French citizen, on Thursday. Arnaud was arrested in Sept. 2022 as anti-government protests were erupting across Iran. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted shortly after Arnaud’s release, “Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran.”

Louis Arnaut is greeted by Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné at Paris’ Le Bourget Airport following his release from Iran. Photo: Screenshot

Three French nationals remain imprisoned in Iran as political prisoners. French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné posted on social media that securing their release remains a top priority.

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Former ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Star Patricia Heaton: Every Human Being Should Be Against Antisemitism

One of the billboards erected in partnership between JewBelong and O7C. Photo: Instagram

Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton said this week that following the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, it should be a “natural” reaction among all humans to want to combat antisemitism, as well as support the Jewish people and Israel’s right to exist.

The “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle” star, who is a devout Catholic, made the comments during her guest appearance on the NewsNation show “CUOMO,” where she also advocated for Christians to voice solidarity with Jews and Israel after Hamas terrorists murdered 1,200 people and took 250 hostages during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Heaton began by telling host Chris Cuomo that after the Oct. 7 atrocities, she was “confused by the lack of outcry from the churches.”

“I even posted on Instagram, ‘Did you ever have that thought that if you were in Germany during World War II, you hoped that you would be that good German that helped to hide your Jewish neighbors? Well, today you have that opportunity,’” she added.

Following the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton founded a nonprofit called the Oct. 7 Coalition (O7C) to urge Christians to be visibly outspoken against antisemitism, and in support of Jews and Israel’s right to exist. Heaton’s O7C has since teamed up with the nonprofit JewBelong to launch a nationwide billboard campaign to raise awareness about antisemitism in the US.

Talking about why she wanted to get involved in rallying support for Israel and Jewish communities facing a rise in antisemitism in the US since the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton said, “I think if you’re a human being, that should be your natural response to what we saw.” When asked about how people in the entertainment industry have reacted to her avid pro-Israel stance, she said Jewish friends in the business have called her “brave and courageous.”

“[But] I just think this is just a normal human reaction,” she said. “I have heard ‘We have projects we have to promote. We don’t want to bring politics into it.’ I guess if someone spent 50 or 100 million on a movie, they don’t want to introduce this subject matter and I guess you can understand that. But generally speaking I think Hollywood could do more to support our Jewish community.”

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