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An Israeli envoy looks back on 5 tumultuous and gratifying years in New York

(New York Jewish Week) — Within the Israeli foreign service, the Consulate General of Israel in New York is often described as both the friendliest and the most consequential posting for an Israeli diplomat. As I conclude my tenure here, I am struck by just how accurate, yet limited, that description is. My service here, over the past five years, has turned out to be the most meaningful relationship a diplomat could possibly have with a local community. The feeling that resonates, repeatedly, is that we are a family. We have a shared history and a shared fate. We are working on a shared future and it is our duty to continue forging these important bonds. 

Even before I arrived, I knew tackling record-high antisemitism was already at the top of our agenda. Nothing could have prepared me for that first October, mere months into my term, when Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue was stormed by an armed perpetrator. After what turned out to be the most lethal antisemitic attack in American history, many were reminded that Jew-hatred remains a murderous cancer.

American Jews were shaken by a torrent of attacks. After Pittsburgh came Jersey City, when four people died in an attack at a kosher store, then Monsey, when five Jews were stabbed by an intruder at a Hanukkah party. Then right here in the streets of New York, in May 2021, Jews were violently assaulted ostensibly because of a conflict that was taking place thousands of miles away in Israel. Antisemitic hate became a daily physical, verbal and online occurrence. 

As representatives of the State of Israel to New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Delaware, my colleagues and I expressed Israel’s unwavering and continuing support, especially in the darkest of hours. As the homeland of the Jewish people, reborn out of the ashes of the Holocaust, Israel has a historic and moral responsibility to stand by the Jewish people everywhere, especially in times of need. Our words quickly turned into actions following these tragedies. Scores of Israeli private citizens flew to Pittsburgh and other sites of tragic antisemitic attacks, to provide different types of support and begin the healing process. The Israel Trauma Coalition sent therapists and Dream Doctors sent medical clowns. These professionals came not because they were instructed, but simply because they cared and shared in the commitment of Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, all of Israel are responsible for each other. This commitment stretches the world over, from Pittsburgh to Kyiv to Addis Ababa. Jews come to each other’s aid because of a deep-rooted sense of commitment and peoplehood. One might even say it’s an instinctive pull.

That’s not to say it’s always easy to help each other, or even possible. A dramatic rupture was, of course, the once-in-a-century COVID-19 pandemic that forced Israel, the eternal home and refuge of the Jewish people, to shut itself off from the world. For the first time in history, the pandemic did not allow Jews to enter Israel freely. Those who wanted, and needed, to come home had to acquire special permission to travel. We all acutely remember this period as heartbreaking. It was a blow to our central role as connectors of families and communities to Israel. Jews from across the world were separated, and although they have since been reunited, the wounds inflicted by this experience will take a long time to heal. Nevertheless, the innumerable messages we received from American Jews trying so diligently to travel to Israel demonstrated to me how central our homeland was in our collective Jewish identity. It became clear that these actions were unifiers of our people on a grand scale.

Unfortunately, at times, this value of a cross-continental Jewish family has come under threat due less to external hazards than to internal discord. Like every family, ours is no stranger to challenges, disagreements, arguments and complexities. We live in a period defined by polarization. A period in which people do not celebrate their differences, but rather let those differences drive them apart. We willingly live in echo chambers, communicating only with people who think like us, instead of engaging in a dialogue with those who think differently. We do not talk “to” one another, but talk “at” one another.

While we may vehemently disagree on certain positions or policies, it is of the utmost importance to engage, rather than to disengage. It is important for us to stay active and bring others into the conversation and into the relationship. It is our shared responsibility to emphasize the importance of this relationship, to educate our younger generation about being engaged, to maintain Israel as a central part of our Jewish identity. It is further important for Israelis to share in this relationship, and know that they are part of a shared peoplehood. Through it all, we are one family. The willingness of leaders in the American Jewish community to shoulder this burden with us, and to speak candidly about sensitive issues, is a tribute to their dedication to our family and its long-term cohesion.

It is during the most challenging times when I think it is most important to remember what binds Am Yisrael together. We are a family whose unity transcends languages, borders and politics. As we work together to shape our shared destiny, we do best by remembering our commonalities while engaging with each other and discussing our polarities. Shying away or staying silent is tempting, but damaging. Unfortunately, engagement is often only appreciated in hindsight, but families never grew stronger through acquiescence. Our Israel-diaspora relationship rests on substantive conversations and passionate involvement of Jews from both sides of the Atlantic.

I have lived, worked and davened (prayed) among you in the United States for the past five years. I have forged incredible friendships with the entire political and denominational spectra of your Jewish communities. These friendships will no doubt last a lifetime. I am leaving this position feeling more Jewish than ever, with a profound appreciation for the diversity, dynamism and resilience of American Jewry.

Thank you for this experience. Thank you for opening your arms to me, my wife and my children and making us feel welcomed, accepted and at home. It has been the honor of my life to serve this community as an Israeli diplomat. It has been deeply gratifying to serve my country, arm-in-arm with my American Jewish brothers and sisters, in building and strengthening this special relationship. Together, as one family, we safeguard our shared history. Now, we must double down on our work toward our shared future.


The post An Israeli envoy looks back on 5 tumultuous and gratifying years in New York appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder

Jewish women in Ethiopia sort through grain to be used in baking matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

The Jewish community in the embattled region of Gondar, Ethiopia is preparing for the world’s largest Passover Seder this year, with nearly 4,000 Ethiopian Jews residing in camps and awaiting immigration to Israel expected to attend.

Over 80,000 matzot have been baked by members of the community over the past several weeks in preparation for the holiday, Jeremy Feit, the president of the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ) aid group, told The Algemeiner. A smaller Seder, with almost 1,000 attendees, will take place in the capital of Addis Ababa.

The Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates the Biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt, will begin next Monday evening and end the following Tuesday.

A portion of the 80,000 matzot for use during Passover in Ethiopia. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

Past Passover Seders in Ethiopia have provided attendees a rare opportunity to partake in the traditional feast, offering some their first ever taste of meat — a luxury they could not otherwise afford. But according to Feit, food price hikes of 50 percent to 100 percent have meant that this year’s feast will largely consist of potatoes and eggs.

“With the extreme price increases and the resulting hunger, the community will feel the intensity as they pray to celebrate the Seder next year with their families in Jerusalem,” Feit said.

The Seder comes on the heels of an airlift of medical supplies for the beleaguered community, facilitated by SSEJ. Ten pallets of aid were delivered to a medical clinic established by the group a year ago in Gondar, serving 3,300 children and 700 elderly. The aid was dedicated in memory of former US Sen. Joe Lieberman, who served as SSEJ’s honorary chairman and who passed away during the weeks-long airlift operation.

SSEJ, which is based in the US  and entirely volunteer-run, is the only provider of humanitarian aid to Jews in Ethiopia. The group aims to mitigate some of the hunger ravaging the community by providing more than 2.5 million meals per year, prioritizing very young children, pregnant and nursing women, and students at a local yeshiva, who Feit said were often “so hungry they would faint in class.”

SSEJ and its leaders have assisted around 60,000 Ethiopians immigrate to Israel, more than the total number brought to the Jewish state during its storied military operations in 1984 and 1991.

Jewish men in Ethiopia need the dough that will be baked into matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

According to Feit, some 13,000 Jews still remain in Ethiopia. Recent years have seen several hundred Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Israel at a time, especially during periods of violent civil strife, but even that trickle has dried up following the brutal Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel.

“The average person in Gondar and Addis Ababa has been waiting to make aliyah for 20 years,” Feit said, using the Hebrew term for immigration. “They left their villages with the thought that Israel was going to bring them in. And they’ve been left since as internally displaced refugees.”

Feit said the decades-long wait is especially painful for those with first-degree relatives in Israel, and is further compounded for those with relatives serving in the Israeli military.

“Jews in Ethiopia are extremely concerned about their [family members’] welfare as the IDF [Israel Defense Fores] battles Hamas terrorists” in Gaza, he explained. “They are especially concerned given the vastly disproportionate number of Ethiopian Jewish soldiers killed in Israel during the current conflict.” Jews in Ethiopia, he averred, comprise “one of the most Zionist communities in the world.”

Since Oct. 7, there has been no indication as to how many Ethiopian Jews will be brought to Israel and when. Those with relatives in Israel were struck with another blow when Israel’s economy took a hit following the Hamas onslaught, and many of those who rely on remittance from their loved ones in Israel stopped receiving money.

“This has left the Jews in Ethiopia in a dire situation, with food and medical care hard to come by. Living in squalor, without access to clean water, electricity, or even bathrooms, the malnourished Jews in Ethiopia suffer untold horrors,” Feit said.

Despite the grim depiction, Feit struck a more positive note about the upcoming holiday.

Ethiopian Jews eating matzot in synagogue last year. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

“Given that most of the year they’re feeling despair at their lack of redemption, at least Passover is a time to celebrate the possibility of redemption and reunification,” he said. “Being able to celebrate with thousands of their friends and family members in a joyous celebration of Passover is a welcome relief.”

The post Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Antisemitic Hate Incidents in US Soar 140 Percent, ADL Reports in Shocking Audit

A pro-Hamas demonstrator takes the street during a massive rally in Los Angeles on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. Photo: Jacob Lee Green/Sipa USA via Reuters Connect

Antisemitism in the US surged to catastrophic and unprecedented levels in 2023, rising a harrowing 140 percent, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) annual audit of hate incidents that targeted the Jewish community.

The ADL recorded 8,873 incidents last year — an average of 24 every day — across the US, amounting to a year unlike any experienced by the American Jewish community since the organization began tracking such data on antisemitic outrages in 1979. Incidents of harassment, vandalism, and assault all spiked by double and triple digits, with California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Massachusetts accounting for nearly half, or 48 percent, of all that occurred.

“Antisemitism is nothing short of a national emergency, a five-alarm fire that is still raging across the country and in our local communities and campuses,” ADL chief executive officer Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement on Tuesday. “Jewish Americans are being targeted for who they are at school, at work, on the street, in Jewish institutions, and even at home.”

He added, “This crisis demands immediate action from every sector of society and every state in the union. We need every governor to develop and put in place a comprehensive strategy to fight antisemitism, just as the administration has at the national level.”

Breaking down the numbers, the ADL found a dramatic rise in the targeting of Jewish institutions such as synagogues, community centers, and schools, with 1,987 such incidents taking place in 2023 — a 237 percent increase which included over a thousand fake bomb threats, also known as “swattings.”

Other figures were equally staggering, with assaults and vandalism rising by 45 percent and 69 percent, respectively, while harassment soaring by 184 percent. Antisemitic incidents on college campuses, which The Algemeiner has continued to cover extensively, rose 321 percent, disrupting the studies of Jewish students and leaving them uncertain about the fate of the American Jewish community.

“The massive volume of incidents we documented in 2023 took many forms, including bomb threats and swatting campaigns, all aimed at terrorizing the community by disrupting services and activities and synagogues and other Jewish institutions across the country,” said Oren Segal, vice president of ADL’s Center on Extremism. “Our tracking of a swatting network enabled ADL to offer crucial intelligence to law enforcement, ensuring accountability for perpetrators while also preemptively alerting targeted communities and mitigating potential harm.”

The last quarter of the year proved the most injurious, the ADL noted, explaining that after Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, 5,204 antisemitic incidents rocked the Jewish community. Across the political spectrum, from white supremacists on the far right to ostensibly left-wing Ivy League universities, antisemites emerged to express solidarity with the Hamas terror group, spread antisemitic tropes and blood libels, and openly call for a genocide of the Jewish people in Israel.

Such incidents occurred throughout the US. In California, an elderly Jewish man was killed when an anti-Zionist professor employed by a local community college allegedly pushed him during an argument. At Cornell University in upstate New York, a student threatened to rape and kill Jewish female students and “shoot up” the campus’ Hillel center. In a suburb outside Cleveland, Ohio, a group of vandals desecrated graves at a Jewish cemetery. At Harvard University, America’s oldest and, arguably, most prestigious university, a faculty group shared an antisemitic cartoon depicting a left-hand tattooed with a Star of David dangling two men of color from a noose.

Other outrages were expressive but subtle. In November, large numbers of people traveling to attend the “March for Israel” in Washington, DC either could not show up or were forced to scramble last second and final alternative transportation because numerous bus drivers allegedly refused to transport them there. Hundreds of American Jews from Detroit, for example, were left stranded at Dulles Airport, according to multiple reports. At Yale University, a campus newspaper came under fire for removing from a student’s column what it called “unsubstantiated claims” of Hamas raping Israeli women, marking a rare occasion in which the publication openly doubted reports of sexual assault.

“Despite these unprecedented challenges, American Jews must not give in to fear,” Greenblatt added in Tuesday’s statement. “Even while we fight the scourge of antisemitism, we should be proud of our Jewish identities and confident of our place in American society. It may not feel so right now, but we have many more allies than enemies. And we call on all people of good will to stand with their Jewish friends and neighbors. We need your support and your allyship.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post Antisemitic Hate Incidents in US Soar 140 Percent, ADL Reports in Shocking Audit first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Opinion: Ben Murane, who heads the New Israel Fund of Canada, argues that while Nakba Remembrance Day may be difficult for Jews, it’s also important

On April 14, the Peel District School Board added Nakba Remembrance Day to its diverse calendar of “significant days”—sparking short-sighted objections from a group of Jewish parents. The alert decried the move as “marking a day of objection to an internationally sovereign nation” and asked parents to tell the school board to not “accept politics […]

The post Opinion: Ben Murane, who heads the New Israel Fund of Canada, argues that while Nakba Remembrance Day may be difficult for Jews, it’s also important appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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