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Anna Sokolow Way honors fierce Jewish dancer and choreographer

Editor’s note: This article is part of a new series, Sign Post, which explores street signs and other locations around the city that are named in honor of Jewish New Yorkers.

(New York Jewish Week) — For more than 50 years, Jewish dancer and choreographer Anna Sokolow would sit at the window of her apartment at 1 Christopher Street, drawing inspiration from the colorful parade of people walking by. 

A pioneer of modern dance, Sokolow was known for exploring the pressing issues of her lifetime, including the Great Depression, the Holocaust, the anti-Vietnam War movement and the American counterculture of the 1960s. Her aim, according to Jewish Virtual Library, was to challenge her audiences to think deeply about the world around them,

On March 31, 2004 —  four years after her death at age 90 — the Christopher Street block where she lived, between Greenwich Avenue and Sixth Avenue, received the name “Anna Sokolow Way.” Linda Diamond, a dancer, neighborhood fixture and a friend of Sokolow, led the effort to name the street. As part of the dedication ceremony, Diamond and her dance company performed several of Sokolow’s works at the Lucille Lortel Theater down the street, the New York Times reported that day. 

Sokolow, whose most famous works include “Lyric Suite” (1953) and “Rooms” (1955), gained renown for creating work that commented on society. And yet, “She was very clear about not being political, but that she made dances about what she saw,” Samantha Geracht, the artistic director of the Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble, told the New York Jewish Week. “So she would consider it humanity.” 

Sitting at Greenwich Village’s Rosecrans Florist and Cafe, located just below Sokolow’s apartment, Geracht — who joined Sokolow’s dance company, then known as Players Project and later renamed Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble — reflected on her mentor’s life and legacy. “Like Jewish tradition, modern dance — and particularly the way Sokolow coached modern dance —  is an oral tradition,” said Geracht, emphasizing that Sokolow’s works must be passed down person-to-person.  

Anna Sokolow was born in 1910 in Hartford, Connecticut to Russian Jewish immigrants, but soon after, her family moved to the Lower East Side, where she grew up. She first stepped into dancing shoes at Emmanuel Sisterhood of Personal Service, a Jewish social welfare organization run by women, and later, the Henry Street Settlement House, where she trained under modern dance legend Martha Graham, among others. 

In the 1930s, Sokolow became affiliated with the “radical dance” movement, which helped establish choreography as a way to shed light on society’s problems. Her first big choreographed dance, “Anti-War Trilogy,” was performed at the 1933 First Anti-War Congress, and, according to Jewish Virtual Library, in the mid-1930s, Sokolow became the youngest American choreographer to lead her own professional dance group. The first showcase of her work took place at the Young Men’s Hebrew Association in 1936.

Eventually, Sokolow went on to choreograph Broadway shows, including 1955’s “Red Roses for Me,” for which she was nominated for a Tony award. She also staged work for the New York City Opera. 

Sokolow also incorporated her Jewish identity into her work: In 1945, as the horrors of the Holocaust came to light, Sokolow choreographed her artistic response, “Kaddish,” in which she wrapped herself in tefillin and depicted scenes of mourning. “Dreams,” which premiered in 1961, was another dance exploration of the Holocaust.

In the 1950s, Sokolow was invited to travel to Israel to work with the Yemenite dance company Inbal Dance Theater, and continued her visits until the 1980s. 

“Sokolow belongs to American Jewish culture, and people don’t know, and they should,” Geracht said. 

To that end, Geracht and the Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble have worked to incorporate Sokolow’s dances into synagogue programming and have even written a curriculum for religious school students to learn about Sokolow and her legacy. They also teach at various colleges, often partnering with Hillel and dance organizations. 

As a choreographer, Sokolow knew exactly what she wanted from her dancers, and got just that. But at the same time, she was generous to her company. “She would personalize [her choreography] to the point of each person feeling complete ownership of what they were doing,” Geracht said. “I think that was a gift to the dancer and a gift to the audiences.”

Geracht reflected how Sokolow could often be heard saying: “It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s that I love dance more.”

Upon her death in 2000, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency wrote that Sokolow was known for embracing “pessimistic themes” in her work. “I’m not neurotic,” a JTA News Bulletin quoted Sokolow as saying. “But I don’t have that happy philosophy, because what the hell is there to be happy about?”

Her stubbornness when it came to dance translated to other parts of her life as well. Geracht says she can’t recall a time — even when the choreographer was well into her 80s — when Sokolow would take the elevator. Sokolow was notorious for refusing to take a cab or the subway. Walking was another way for Sokolow to people watch, and everyone talked to her. 

“Every storekeeper knew her. The homeless people knew her. They all knew who she was,” Geracht said. “And so she was a fixture of the neighborhood by nature of her personality and by nature of being a people-watcher.” 

“She was a force to be reckoned with,” she added. 

To find out about upcoming performances and learn more about Anna Sokolow’s dance legacy, visit

The post Anna Sokolow Way honors fierce Jewish dancer and choreographer appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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‘A Time for Vigilance’: FBI Director Says Agency on Alert for Threats Against Jewish Community During Passover

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before the House Approbations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, April 11, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Michael A. McCoy

The director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Wednesday said his agency was on alert for threats posed to the Jewish community during Passover, which begins on Monday night.

Christopher Wray told a group of Jewish community security officials about the FBI’s state of alertness during an event titled, “Passover Without Fear: Preparedness and Security Considerations in Today’s World.”

Wray said the FBI was “particularly concerned” that lone-wolf attackers may target Passover gatherings, high-profile events, and/or religious locations. 

At the same time, he said that while “I’m not providing these updates in any way to alarm you, because this is not a time for panic,” it was “a time for continued vigilance.” 

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.

The national director and CEO of the Secure Community Network — the organization Wray was speaking to and that describes itself as “the official safety and security organization of the Jewish community in North America” — said he was not aware of any specific threats at this time.

Taking a step back, Wray said that even before the Hamas terror group’s Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, “the threat to Jewish Americans had already elevated.” However, he continued, “in the six months since then, we’ve seen those threats elevated” even further.

In December, the FBI said there had been a 60 percent spike in antisemitic hate crime investigations since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war. Then on Wednesday, Wray said the probes into antisemitic crimes tripled in the months following Oct. 7.

“Between Oct. 7 and Jan. 30 of this year, we opened over three times more anti-Jewish hate crime investigations than in the four months before Oct. 7,” he explained.

Last year, the FBI found that 63 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes were directed against Jews.

There have been a number of mass shooting, bomb, and other threats against synagogues across the US since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, when the Palestinian terror group killed 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostages to Gaza.

Wray’s latest comments came one day after the the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released its annual audit of hate incidents that targeted the Jewish community.

The ADL recorded 8,873 antisemitic incidents in 2023 — an average of 24 every day — across the US, amounting to a surge of 140 percent compared to the prior year and the most such outrages since the organization began tracking such data in 1979.

The vast majority of the antisemitic incidents — 5,204 — occurred after the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7.

“Since Oct. 7, anti-Zionism is impossible to separate from the Hamas attacks,” the ADL said. “These rallies have a dramatically different impact on the Jewish communities that have felt demonized and harassed because of this sustained level of intense anti-Zionist street activism.”

Beyond outrages such as assault, vandalism, and harassment, the ADL included in its tally “rallies that include support for Hamas or justify its attacks, calls to ‘globalize the intifada’ or ‘by all means necessary,’ and expressions of anti-Zionism such as the phrases ‘Zionism is terrorism,’ or ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.’”

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US to Oppose Palestinian Bid for Full UN Membership

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks to members of the Security Council during a meeting to address the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, April 18, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The United States on Thursday will vote against a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership, a US official told Reuters, blocking the world body from effectively recognizing a Palestinian state.

“It remains the US view that the most expeditious path toward statehood for the Palestinian people is through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the support of the United States and other partners,” the US official said.

The 15-member council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution that recommends to the 193-member UN General Assembly that “the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations.”

A council resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the US, Britain, France, Russia, or China to pass. Diplomats say the measure could have the support of up to 13 council members, which would force the US to use its veto.

“We have long been clear that premature actions in New York, even with the best intentions, will not achieve statehood for the Palestinian people,” the US official said.

The Palestinians are currently a non-member observer state, a recognition that was granted by the UN General Assembly in 2012. But an application to become a full UN member needs to be approved by the Security Council and then at least two-thirds of the General Assembly.

The Palestinian push for full UN membership comes six months into a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and as Israel is expanding settlements in the West Bank.

“Recent escalations make it even more important to support good-faith efforts to find lasting peace between Israel and a fully independent, viable, and sovereign Palestinian state,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council.

“Failure to make progress towards a two-state solution will only increase volatility and risk for hundreds of millions of people across the region, who will continue to live under the constant threat of violence,” he said.

Israel‘s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said Palestinians failed to meet the criteria to become a full UN member, which he outlined as: a permanent population, defined territory, government, and capacity to enter into relations with other states.

“Who is the council voting to ‘recognize’ and give full membership status to? Hamas in Gaza? The Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Nablus? Who?” Erdan asked the Security Council.

He said granting full UN membership to the Palestinians “will have zero positive impact for any party, that will cause only destruction for years to come, and harm any chance for future dialogue.”

The Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank. Hamas, a terrorist organization, ousted the Palestinian Authority from power in Gaza in 2007.

Ziad Abu Amr, special envoy of Abbas, asked the United States: “How could this damage the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis? How could this recognition and this membership harm international peace and security?”

“Those who are trying to disrupt and hinder the adoption of such a resolution … are not helping the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis and the prospects for peace in the Middle East in general,” he told the Security Council.

Abu Amr said full Palestinian UN membership was not an alternative for serious political negotiations to implement a two-state solution and resolve pending issues, adding: “However, this resolution will grant hope to the Palestinian people hope for a decent life within an independent state.”

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New Haggadah Released for Israeli Soldiers in Gaza Ahead of Passover

Israeli soldiers respond to an alert of an apparent security incident, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Oct. 10, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

A new Haggadah designed specifically for Israeli soldiers is heading into the Gaza Strip as the Jewish holiday of Passover is set to begin new week.

The book, composed by Rabbi Gamaliel HaCohen Rabinowitz of Rehovot, came after he researched the various Jewish laws and customs regarding how to conduct a Passover Seder in a war zone.

Titled “The Seder in Gaza,” the new Haggadah answers questions such as what to do if there is only a small period of time to conduct the Seder, the traditional Passover feast, which can typically last hours. The text also addresses if soldiers need to return to combat, the order of conducting a quick Seder, and what to do about the issue of chametz within a house that is used as a temporary home to soldiers — technically it is forbidden to have chametz, or leavened products, in one’s home during Passover

The Haggadah tells the story of the Passover Seder, which celebrates the Biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt. Passover is a week-long celebration by Jews around the world who read the Haggadah to commemorate the exodus from Egypt.

Many Israeli soldiers will remain in Gaza during this year’s Passover — which will begin next Monday evening and end the following Tuesday — due to the ongoing war with Hamas. The Palestinian terrorist group launched the conflict with its brutal invasion of southern Israel on Oct. 7, when the terrorists murdered 1,200 people and kidnapped 253 others as hostages.

Most enlisted and reserve soldiers have been released from duty, though some remain and there is a growing number who are returning amid the anticipated operation in Rafah, the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip and where it is believed the last remaining Hamas battalions are camped out.

There are about 130 hostages remaining in Gaza who will not be celebrating the holiday with their families.

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