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After losing friends on Oct. 7, this Israeli NCAA basketball player looks for an escape on the court

(JTA) — Romi Levy glides towards the basket, her sole focus on finishing at the net in the University of South Florida’s practice facility. Moments later, during a break in practice, she checks her phone, hoping not to see any alerts about rocket alarms in her hometown of Herzliya, Israel.

More than 6,000 miles from home at a U.S. university, Levy always thought about Israel often. But things changed on Oct. 7, when some of her high school friends were killed during Hamas’ terror attack on the Re’im music festival. Her cousin, one year younger and like “a little brother,” is on the front lines of the war.

“Trying to stay on top of school and basketball and also knowing everything going on at home was hardest the first week, and it still is hard,” Levy told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “I’m just trying to do my best and make sure that everybody at home is OK and try to be there and support them.”

Basketball is an escape. Levy’s time with the team, about six hours per day at the team’s practice facility, gets her away from watching the news “nonstop.”

“I just love basketball so much that when I get on the court I just have fun,” Levy said. “I know that if something were to happen my phone is right there, so I don’t need to think about it when I play basketball.”

She was already looking to turn her college career around on the court this year. This past March, after an injury-plagued three years at Auburn University, Levy put her name in the NCAA transfer portal. More than 40 Division I women’s college basketball programs reached out, illustrating the 6-foot-3 wing player’s potential.

“New life, New team, New position. Starting it all over!” she captioned an Instagram post after transferring to USF.

Born and raised Jewish, Levy is a third-generation standout Israeli athlete. Her grandmother, Tamara Metal Schumacher, was the first female Israeli Olympian, competing in the 1952 Games in the high jump and long jump. She also played for the country’s national basketball team, as did her mother. Levy’s “23” tattoo on her arm honors her grandmother’s Olympic number.

Levy is also a dual Israel-American citizen. Her father, Alon, a former professional soccer player and Ironman triathlete, lived in Los Angeles for a decade and became an American citizen. He and Romi lived in Boca Raton, Florida, during her freshman year of high school, where she attended Olympic Heights Community High School. They moved back to Israel at the end of that school year.

Between graduating from Hof Hasharon High School and beginning college, Levy completed Israel’s mandatory two-year national service requirement. During her service, spent at her parents’ rehabilitation center working with Israel Defense Force veterans, Levy also represented the Israeli national team at the U18 Women’s European Championships, leading the team to a bronze medal.

She enrolled at Auburn in 2020 on the recommendation of Israeli three-time Olympic swimmer Yoav Bruck, a 1994 Auburn graduate and friend of her parents. Levy posted her best season to date as a freshman, averaging 5.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game en route to SEC All-Freshman Team honors.

She then missed her sophomore season due to an ACL tear suffered in her left knee and injured her meniscus in both knees during a preseason practice. She made a strong return, posting 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in 23 appearances for Auburn last season, but Levy played through pain. Unable to straighten her leg all the way, it swelled to the point where she needed it drained and took steroid shots. With Auburn out of any postseason play, Levy sought an MRI. She again underwent season-ending knee surgery in February.

She called Auburn — where she celebrated Jewish holidays with men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl and his family — “a great place for school, but for basketball it wasn’t a good fit for me.” USF boasts a stronger women’s basketball program: While Auburn finished a solid No. 81 out of 361 teams in last year’s NCAA NET Rankings, USF finished No. 39.

Levy likes to play far from the basket on offense. A physical lefty with a deft shooting touch, she flashed 3-point range during her time at Auburn but mainly played with her back to the basket in the post. At USF, she’s transitioning back to her natural position on the wing.

Carsen McFadden, a current member of the Auburn women’s basketball team in Levy’s recruiting class, told JTA she appreciated learning about Jewish and Israeli culture from Levy — such as the fact that Hebrew is written from right to left. McFadden, who called Levy her “best friend,” acknowledged Levy’s efforts to stay positive during a trying time at Auburn, always there to lend a listening ear and a hug.

Outside of basketball, Levy felt comfortable with USF because of its large international student population — more than 50% of the undergraduate population in the fall of 2021, according to the school. At USF, she has also found a larger Jewish community, attending events at the school’s Hillel center and Chabad house and in the greater Tampa community, as her busy schedule permits. She does her best to celebrate all of the Jewish holidays stateside but longs for extended family’s Friday night Shabbat dinners.

Levy struggled with injury issues at Auburn and is looking for a clean start at the University of South Florida. (South Florida Athletics)

“We’d do the Kiddush and all that,” Levy said. “Seeing everyone together is something I miss. Friday nights aren’t as special here as they are in Israel.”

Levy’s parents still live in Israel, roughly an hour by car from the Gaza Strip. Alon Levy traveled from Israel to Tampa this week to visit his daughter and attend her first game at USF, a 76-61 win over UT Arlington in which Romi scored 10 points across 21 minutes of action. Alon said he and his wife Liat communicate with Romi and their older daughter, Sean, a New York City-based model, daily.

“I can’t explain what we are feeling, but we are in shock, all of Israel is for what happened,” Alon said. “I think almost everybody in Israel has someone that something happened to. There are no words to explain it.”

He told Romi not to look at the news too much and try to focus on her new beginnings in Florida.

“I’m coming now, also, to give her a hug and see how she feels,” he said. “From a distance, you never know exactly how your children are feeling. They always say they are OK. But she’s OK. She’s OK.”

The post After losing friends on Oct. 7, this Israeli NCAA basketball player looks for an escape on the court 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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