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An Israeli author was excited for his best friend’s wedding. After Oct. 7, it became a funeral.

(JTA) — Like other Israelis around the world, Iddo Gefen spent the hours of Oct. 7 rifling through various news reports and messages from friends and family about the terror attacks unfolding in southern Israel.

But from his apartment in New York City, Gefen was specifically focused on the news about his good friend from childhood, Sagi Golan. The reservist had left his home in Herzliya, a city just north of Tel Aviv, to help the military efforts in Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the enclaves under attack from Hamas. Golan hadn’t waited for a command to do so — he just grabbed his gear and hit the road.

“He gave me a kiss on the lips, and he said [he’d be back in] ‘Less than a week,’” said Omer Ohana — who was due to marry Golan on Oct. 20.

But Golan wouldn’t return. He died in the fighting at the kibbutz, after saving dozens of people from falling into Hamas’ hands, according to reports that Gefen has heard.

Just over two weeks later, Gefen found himself relaying this story Wednesday night at what was originally planned as a cheerful event to mark his winning this year’s Sami Rohr Prize, a prestigious $100,000 honor given to works that examine the “Jewish experience.” Gefen, 31, won for his short story collection “Jerusalem Beach,” which was first published in Israel in 2017. (The book became the first translated work to win the Sami Rohr Prize.)

In speaking with Gal Beckerman, a previous Sami Rohr winner, at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, Gefen also talked about how reality has begun to imitate the semi-surrealist stories in his book. In one, “The Geriatric Platoon,” an old man decides to leave his family and enlist in the army in Israel’s south, where he believes Israel’s security is being threatened.

In reality, a 95-year-old man suited up for the war effort in the days after the events of Oct. 7 — which mostly took place in southern Israel, including on some of the same kibbutzes named in the story.

Ezra Yachin, 95, suited up in his Israeli military uniform to join the effort to defeat Hamas in the days after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. (MyIsrael/X)

“I heard [Israeli novelist] David Grossman say once that you write sometimes in hopes of protecting the people around you, by creating realities that are far away from what’s really happening,” Gefen told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Thursday. “Sometimes we hope that literature and writing can be a way of shifting reality in a better way, but sometimes it just creates another angle on the reality we already live in.”

The Israel-Hamas war found its way into every question at Wednesday’s talk, even most of the ones that moderator Sandee Brawarsky — a former New York Jewish Week editor — asked about Gefen’s literary technique. Gefen opened up about his friendship with Golan and offered a specific portrait of what one Israeli deeply affected by the conflict has experienced over the past two weeks.

Since Golan’s wedding would instead be a funeral — which Jews traditionally hold as soon as possible after a person’s death — Gefen showed up at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport on Oct. 8, without a ticket in hand. Flights to Israel were scarce given the security situation, but with the help of volunteers aiding people in the airport, Gefen found himself on one of the few flights departing that day. He said El Al allowed 24 more people than there were seats on the plane; some sat on the ground, others sat in the cockpit or in the back with flight attendants.

He arrived in Israel around 4 p.m., with the funeral scheduled for 5 p.m., so he rushed to the cemetery. Golan’s family handed out flowers that were originally meant to be used in the wedding. Howling in tears, Ohana explained that the family had asked Ivri Lider, one of Israel’s biggest pop stars, to perform the song that Ohana and Golan had chosen for their first dance. Lider — who himself had lost a dear friend on Oct. 7 — showed up and played an acoustic version of the song “I Was Privileged to Love.”

סרן במיל׳ שגיא גולן ז״ל שנפל בעת קרב בקיבוץ בארי נגד מחבלי החמאס, היה מיועד להתחתן עם בן זוגו עומר בעוד שבוע לצלילי השיר ״זכיתי לאהוב״. הערב הזמר עברי לידר הגיע לבצע את השיר בהלוויתו. שגיא ירד ביום שבת, מבלי לחכות לקריאה לקיבוץ בארי כדי להציל חיים ומשפחות נצורות. pic.twitter.com/epOVTVCMnY

— האגודה למען הלהט”ב בישראל | The Aguda (@AgudaIsraelLGBT) October 12, 2023

Gefen had known Golan since childhood and described him as a funny, creative friend who was committed to volunteering and helping others. Gefen dedicated his recent novel to a slapstick character the pair had invented and embellished together.

After serving in an elite intelligence unit of the Israel Defense Forces — ironically one focused on saving hostages — Golan studied economics and political science, eventually finding himself at a high-paying job at a tech company that designed video games. But he left the job to work for TailorMed, which helps patients without health insurance get vital care and medications in emergency situations.

Gefen hasn’t quite fully come to terms with the enormous tragedy of the moment, and he was surprised that Wednesday’s event — which was introduced by George Rohr, son of the prize’s late namesake philanthropist Sami Rohr — went on as planned. But he said he was able to turn it into a kind of therapeutic experience.

Iddo Gefen, at right, speaks with Gal Beckerman and Sandee Brawarsky at a New York Jewish Week event at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, Oct. 25, 2023. (Philissa Cramer)

“I think one of the things that is important for me in this situation is to talk about Sagi. Having the chance for people to know about him and his story as much as possible — I think that’s one of the motivations of going up and speaking in this time,” he said.

Despite the fact that “Jerusalem Beach” was a hit in Israel and established Gefen as a rising star there, he chose to enroll in a neuroscience PhD program at Columbia University, which he is finishing soon. His research focuses on memory and decision-making, and many of his stories explore that terrain, including “Debbie’s Dream House,” told from the perspective of a man who gets a job manufacturing nightmares. The story, he said, has been optioned by Ryan Gosling’s film production company.

Gefen has already published another novel, “Mrs. Lilienblum’s Cloud Factory,” and an English translation will be out next year. Will he continue working in neuroscience while using the prize money to continue to work on books? He’s not sure. But he does know that his writing feels invigorated with a new sense of purpose.

“When I wrote the book [‘Jerusalem Beach’], if somebody would ask me, do I have any message with my writing, I would say, ‘no, everybody needs to find their own message.’ And today, I think from the last year and especially since the past few weeks, I think in the end, all these stories do talk about the importance of compassion and humanity and the fact that some humans can do horrible stuff, but they’re also there to comfort and help each other,” he said. “And I think literature at its best is also a place people can look to for comfort. It doesn’t always help, but sometimes it has value.”


The post An Israeli author was excited for his best friend’s wedding. After Oct. 7, it became a funeral. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Online Live Chat Service for Jews to Connect With Rabbis Sees 300% Increase Since Oct. 7 Attacks

A protester wrapped in an Israeli flag at a rally against antisemitism at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Photo: Reuters/Lisi Niesner

A live web service provided by Aish.com that allows users to speak directly with one of the Jewish organization’s leading rabbis has seen a 300 percent increase in usage since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel.

More than 5,000 chat responses (over 225 per day) are received each month, according to Aish, which added in a press release that many of the chats turn into extended conversations, sometimes on WhatsApp, in which rabbis help unaffiliated or disconnected Jewish users reconnect with their Jewish identities and form bonds with other Jews.

The Jewish organization said it believes the increase in usage of its live web chat service is due to the global rise in antisemitism and a newfound curiosity about Israel following Oct. 7, as well as a “yearning for meaning and community in the face of life’s uncertainties, and a desire for deeper meaning and spirituality in the face of a fast-paced modern culture where spiritual needs have been put on a backburner for too long.”

“We’re hearing from so many Jews who feel profoundly disconnected, whether due to living in areas with little Jewish community or lack of affiliation growing up,” said Rabbi Tzvi Broker, who oversees Aish.com‘s Live Chat. “The personal nature of these interactions, coupled with their anonymity, creates a safe space to ask questions and begin exploring. Having a live rabbi to connect and share with, has been a draw for many, and we’re seeing lives transformed as a result.”

Among their efforts, Broker and his team have helped people on the chat slowly incorporate Jewish rituals and traditions into their lives, and have connected them with peers through the organization’s new online community Aish+ so they can continue learning and engaging with other Jews.

“It’s amazing to witness lives being transformed in such profound ways,” said Broker. “Jews around the world are finding threads of connection to their heritage, and tapping into the depth and wisdom of our tradition to find meaning, community, and resilience in these challenging times.”

Bob Diener, the founder of hotels.com and the seed funder of Aish.com’s live chat, added in a statement: “The chat has been a powerful way for people to connect one-on-one with a spiritual leader and have their unique questions answered in a non-threatening and non-intimidating way. The chat’s rabbis are connecting so many people to their roots who otherwise don’t know where to go for guidance.”

“The chats have had a deep impact on many disconnected from the Jewish community,” said Aish CEO Rabbi Steven Burg. “Each of the people we connect with demonstrates a broad yearning to explore Jewish spirituality, peoplehood, and identity and that is why they have been turning to Aish for connection and guidance. We are happy to provide both while connecting them with local Jewish communities in their area, if there is one, to continue their journey.”

The post Online Live Chat Service for Jews to Connect With Rabbis Sees 300% Increase Since Oct. 7 Attacks first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Jerry Seinfeld Ridicules Anti-Israel Heckler Interrupting His Show in Australia: ‘You Moron, Get Out of Here’

Jerry Seinfeld attends the premiere of Netflix’s “Unfrosted” at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, California, US, April 30, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/David Swanson

Jewish comedian and actor Jerry Seinfeld roasted an anti-Israel protester who tried to disrupt his comedy show in Sydney, Australia, at the Qudos Bank Arena on Sunday night.

Videos from the scene showed a male heckler in the audience repeatedly shout, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a slogan that has been widely used as a call for the destruction of Israel.

While the disruptive audience member continued to chant in support of Israel’s extermination, Seinfeld ridiculed him, sarcastically telling the audience:  “We have a genius, ladies and gentlemen! He’s solved the Middle East! He’s solved it: It’s the Jewish comedians, that’s who we have to get! They’re the ones doing everything.”

“Go ahead, keep going,” Seinfeld told the anti-Israel heckler as the audience laughed and cheered. “They’re gonna start punching you in about three second so I would try and get all of your genius out so we can all learn from you. It’s a comedy show you moron, get out of here.”

The heckler was eventually escorted out of the arena by security personnel and as he walked out of the venue, Seinfeld mocked him some more by sarcastically saying: “You’re really influencing everyone here. We’re all on your side because you have made your point so well and in the right venue. You’ve come to the right place for a political conversation. Tomorrow we will read in the paper: ‘Middle East, 100 percent solved thanks to man at the Qudos Arena stopping Jew comedian.’ They stop him and everyone in the Middle East went, ‘Oh my god, let’s just get along.’”

The “Seinfeld” creator then jokingly suggested that to solve issues with “indigenous Aboriginal people and the white people” maybe he should harass Australian comedian Jim Jefferies during a comedy show in New York because “if this works, that will work.”

“You have to go 20,000 miles from the problem and screw up a comedian. That is how you solve world issues,” Seinfeld quipped.

Seinfeld had a number of his comedy shows recently disrupted by anti-Israel activists because of his support for Israel since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks. Seinfeld’s commencement speech at Duke University was also interrupted by similar protesters, who staged a walk-out shortly after he was introduced on stage.

During an interview last month, Seinfeld addressed protesters by saying: “It’s so dumb. In fact, when we get protesters occasionally, I love to say to the audience, ‘You know, I love that these young people, they’re trying to get engaged with politics … we just have to correct their aim a little bit.”

The post Jerry Seinfeld Ridicules Anti-Israel Heckler Interrupting His Show in Australia: ‘You Moron, Get Out of Here’ first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Ratted out: Phoebe Maltz Bovy on the end of feeling a need to ask if every contrived pop-culture trend is good for the Jews

As an expert (self-proclaimed) in the female heterosexual gaze, I took note of the trend of the “hot rodent man.” Does this mean you’re attracted to the friendly mascot from Orkin Exterminator Co.? Maybe you do, maybe he’s tremendous, but no, “hot rodent man” refers to what is essentially the male equivalent of jolie laide, […]

The post Ratted out: Phoebe Maltz Bovy on the end of feeling a need to ask if every contrived pop-culture trend is good for the Jews appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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