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At event inspired by The Moth, yeshiva graduates drop the mic on their haredi Orthodox upbringings

(New York Jewish Week) — One spoke of using binoculars to watch TV through a neighbor’s window. Another talked about an abusive rabbi. Another said that, as a student, he would draw swastikas when he was upset — but he didn’t know what they looked like, so he wound up repeatedly writing Z’s in his notebooks.

A series of graduates of New York yeshivas gathered Tuesday night to talk about what they described as their often harrowing, sometimes humorous experiences growing up. As children and young adults, they studied in the kinds of haredi Orthodox schools that were at the center of a high-profile investigation by the city’s Department of Education.

The investigation ended late last month after eight years with a report that said 18 of the city’s yeshivas do not sufficiently teach secular studies such as math, English and science.

Tuesday’s event, called Yeshiva Stories, was run by Yaffed — the nonprofit that has taken a leading role in pushing for greater oversight of the yeshivas — and was inspired by The Moth, the popular live storytelling series. Most of Tuesday’s speakers spoke in loosely-connected vignettes, and most were critical of the broader haredi Orthodox world in addition to the yeshivas.

“I gotta be a little honest here — I went to the Footsteps gala dinner,” said one speaker named Tzvi Cohen, referencing an organization that offers assistance to people who choose to leave haredi Orthodox communities. “I drank a lot of wine, and the next day I was told that I agreed to do this. So, much like my secular education growing up, I don’t know if it actually existed.”

On Wednesday morning, just over 12 hours after the event, Yaffed detailed its response to the results of the city’s investigation at a press conference outside the Tweed Courthouse in lower Manhattan, which houses the Department of Education. The group announced that it filed a petition with the department on Wednesday to try to force government officials to “re-look at the schools that were deemed compliant” with state education standards during the investigation.

The investigation found that five schools were considered compliant because they were affiliated with high schools that meet state approval. The schools that the city judged to be failing now need to come up with plans for improvement. It is unclear what repercussions await if they do not.

“I call upon New York City’s education leadership to address the humanitarian crisis — one of many — currently taking place, conclude the investigation into failing Hasidic schools and give my grandchildren and their peers a taste of the American Dream,” said Beatrice Weber, Yaffed’s executive director, on Wednesday.

In all, it was a whirlwind 24 hours for the group whose complaints with the city more than eight years ago opened the investigation.

Tuesday night’s event attracted around 50 people — mostly yeshiva graduates or their friends as well as other Yaffed supporters, such as longtime New York State Assembly member Deborah Glick, who represents part of lower Manhattan — to a small arts space called City Lore in the East Village. The night was meant to bring out the individual stories of those affected by what Yaffed describes as neglectful and at times abusive yeshiva leaders. (Yeshiva administrators and their advocates say the schools turn out successful graduates and offer a quality education that is rooted in the haredi communities’ religious values. Some have accused advocates for secular education of harboring bias against haredi Jews.)

“When you actually hear [peoples’] stories, that’s what you realize, oh, like, this is real,” said Weber, who has performed at Moth events.

Libby Pollack, who has a YouTube series on “Advice and awareness about growing up with religious fundamentalism and coping in the ‘afterlife’ transition,” was one of the speakers. In addition to using the aforementioned binoculars in her Hasidic Williamsburg household, she spoke of trying to hack into nearby radio signals and secretly listening to non-religious music — which she said elders in her community called “jazzy music.”

“If you listen to jazzy music, it would come home to you when you get married,” she said. “When you’re standing under the huppah… and you only want to think holy thoughts, the last thing you want is for jazzy music to come up.”

She also told a story about going on a Birthright trip in her early 20s, after her transition out of the Orthodox community had started. She went out one night with some of the people on the trip and described not knowing how to dress or what the word “club” meant — besides being the word for a weapon meant to hurt people.

“It’s a verb? It’s an activity? So what happens, do people beat each other up?” she said.

Not all the stories were lighthearted. Many spoke of physical or emotional trauma perpetrated by their teachers and Hasidic “royalty,” or prominent members of their communities. Jay Fishman, a 25-year-old software engineer who attended the event and grew up going to a yeshiva until he was 15, said the event featured a good balance of humor and seriousness.

“So many people hear about these stories, but just in the news, right?” Fishman said. “It’s very kind of disassociated. I feel like this was good to humanize people.”

He added, “For me, I grew up with this. I know what it’s like, I know the human part of it. So many other people realize it’s bad, but you can’t really connect it in a way.”

The last storyteller was Ari Goldman, the former New York Times reporter known for his years on the religion beat. He grew up Modern Orthodox, but his parents opted to send him to a haredi Orthodox yeshiva. It was on the 90-minute subway rides each day from home in Jackson Heights, Queens, to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, that he learned to love reading newspapers, he said.

Goldman is married to Shira Dicker, who handles public relations for Yaffed and planned the event. He said the event — which Weber hinted could be the first in a series, though plans are still in early stages — struck him as a unique platform on a scale he had not seen before in his reporting on Orthodox Jews in New York.

“Storytelling is a big thing now,” he said, referring to The Moth. “I think it’s been adapted to the Yaffed culture around this.”

He added, “And I love what Beatrice said at the end — you tell your story and it empowers you.”

The post At event inspired by The Moth, yeshiva graduates drop the mic on their haredi Orthodox upbringings appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Model Bella Hadid Wears Keffiyeh Dress in Cannes in Support of ‘Free Palestine Forever’

Bella Hadid attends the red carpet of the film ”L’Amour ouf” (Beating Hearts) at the 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 23, 2024. Photo: Daniele Cifalà via Reuters Connect

Model Bella Hadid used fashion to make a political statement at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday by wearing a dress made from a keffiyeh, a headscarf traditionally worn by Palestinians that has become a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel.

In between premieres at the film festival, the model and fragrance designer walked the streets in Cannes, France, sporting a vintage Michael and Hushi “keffiyeh dress” from 2001 that was made from red and white keffiyehs. “I made [the dress] out of the keffiyeh fabric, which I still have nightmares about, as it wasn’t easy,” designer Hushidar Mortezaie was quoted as saying. Michael and Hushi also designed a black and white keffiyeh halter top worn by Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw in a season four episode of Sex and the City.

Hadid shared the meaning behind her outfit in a post that she uploaded late Thursday on her Instagram Story. She reposted an image of the original 2001 design, tagged the designers, and wrote in the caption, “Free Palestine forever.” She included an emoji of the Palestinian flag.

bella hadid’s wearing a vintage keffiyeh dress in cannes by michael and hushi

— ✭ (@badestoutfit) May 23, 2024

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war — which began after Hamas-led terrorists took around 250 Israeli and foreign hostages and killed 1,200 people in southern Israel on Oct. 7 — Hadid has repeatedly expressed solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In a lengthy statement shared on Instagram in late October, she condemned the Hamas attacks, and said she stands in solidarity with “Palestine” and the “innocent Palestinian civilians” affected by the war.

“I believe deep in my heart that no child, no people anywhere, should be taken away from their family either temporarily or indefinitely. That goes for Israeli or Palestinian people alike,” she added. She also called for humanitarian aid to help “the urgent needs of the people of Gaza.”

During the Israel-Hamas conflict in 2021, Hadid participated in a pro-Palestinian rally where she chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which has been widely interpreted as a call for the destruction of the Jewish state and for it to be replaced with a Palestinian state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. She has previously accused Israel of “colonization, ethnic cleansing, military occupation, and apartheid over the Palestinian people.”

Hadid’s father, Nazareth-born real estate developer Mohamed Hadid, recently criticized and sent racist messages to US Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) for supporting Israel. He has also accused Israel of occupation, colonialism, genocide, and apartheid. In March, he commented on the support US President Joe Biden has expressed for Israel after the Oct. 7 attacks, saying, “He will be in court with the rest of the Zionist criminals. We will hunt them down like they did the Nazis.” He also called Biden the “head of the Zionist project.”

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US House Speaker Confirms Netanyahu to Address Congress Soon

US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson stands in the House of Representatives ahead of US President Joe Biden’s third State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the US Capitol in Washington, DC, March 7, 2024. Photo: Shawn Thew/Pool via REUTERS

US House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has confirmed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will deliver a speech to a joint session of the US Congress in the coming days.

Johnson gave a keynote address at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, DC on Thursday evening as part of a yearly Israeli Independence Day event. The Republican leader told the crowd that he is “happy to announce” that Congress will “soon be hosting Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

The crowd cheered Johnson’s announcement that a visit by the Israeli premier is in the works. 

He added that hearing an address by Netanyahu would be “a strong show of support for the Israeli government in their time of greatest need.”

Johnson bemoaned that support for Israel seems to be fading among some progressive politicians and suggested that Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that launched the war in Gaza with its Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, has even “recruited apologists” among certain members of Congress.

The House speaker also took shots at US President Joe Biden, claiming that he has withheld “vital weapons” from the Jewish state. 

“Some leaders who have been previously proud to stand with Israel, and even some who have made statements of solidarity following Oct. 7, have suddenly begun to backpedal on that support,” Johnson said. 

Biden publicly announced earlier this month that his administration would no longer deliver shipments of offensive arms to Israel if the country were to embark on a major military operation in the city of Rafah, a step that many experts consider necessary to dismantle Hamas. Several of Israel’s allies condemned Biden’s decision to condition arms shipments to the Jewish state and argued that the president abandoned a close ally of the United States. 

Johnson also rebuked the decision of the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s office to seek an arrest warrant for Netanyahu, claiming that the organization “likened Israel’s just war to the barbarism of Oct. 7th.” He promised that the United States would not “acknowledge or abide by” the court’s mandates. 

US Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) delivered his own keynote address at the Israeli embassy on Thursday night, reaffirming America’s “commitment to Israel’s sovereignty.”

Johnson’s invitation to Netanyahu comes amid increasing tensions between liberal members of Congress and the Biden administration over Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. Some Democrats have suggested that Israel is committing “genocide” and demanded that Israel agree to a ceasefire with Hamas, signalling a growing rift between more progressive politicians in the Democratic Party and one of America’s closest allies.

Moreover, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has faced significant pressure by members of his own party not to join Johnson’s invitation for Netanyahu to address Congress. Progressive Democrats such as Maxwell Frost (D-FL), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Bernie Sanders (D-VT) have all vowed not to attend a congressional address by Netanyahu.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) on Wednesday dismissed the notion of a growing rift between Democrats over Israel as “nothing but puppies and rainbows.”

“The Republicans have repeatedly tried to make Israel a partisan political issue and divide Democrats, and they have failed,” Jeffries said.

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New Program Offers NYC 8th Graders Free School Trips to Holocaust Museum to Learn About Antisemitism

Aerial view of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York City. Photo: Gryffindor/Wikimedia.

All eight graders from public and charter schools in New York City will be offered free field trips to visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust and learn about antisemitism as part of a new initiative announced on Thursday.

The Holocaust Education School Tours program will begin in the fall and be offered free of charge to more than 85,000 students in public and charter schools over the next three years. Specially trained museum educators will guide student groups through the museum’s exhibitions, and work with schools to schedule tours and to provide free transportation. The museum will also hire additional education staff to help with the program.

The museum said the field trips “will provide critical education about the global history of antisemitism and propaganda, factors that precipitated the Holocaust, while fostering opportunities for students to reflect on the relevance of historical events to contemporary issues.” New York is one of almost two dozen states where Holocaust education is required and educators have noted that the eighth and tenth grades are prime stages in a student’s development to introduce Holocaust education, according to the museum.

The program was spearheaded by Julie Menin, a Jewish city councilwoman from Manhattan and a member of the council’s Jewish Caucus. Menin’s mother and grandmother survived the Holocaust in Hungary. She suggested the idea for the field trips following the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel, after realizing the urgent need to educate younger generations about the Holocaust and antisemitism.

New York City Public Schools Chancellor David C. Banks said there have been 281 incidents of religious bias in city schools since the Oct. 7 attacks and 42 percent of them have involved antisemitism.

“We must take decisive action as we witness the alarming surge in antisemitic incidents in our city and across our country,” Menin said. “We needed a proactive approach to combat this hatred at its roots. This initiative, born out of personal conviction and a deep sense of responsibility, aims to ensure that every young mind comprehends the history of the Holocaust and the dangers of antisemitism. My hope is that through education and reflection, we can inoculate future generations against the horrors of the past.”

The new program is part of a $2.5 million Holocaust education initiative that has received $1 million in funding from the Gray Foundation, which is co-founded by Jon Gray, the president of the investment firm Blackstone. The Gray Foundation has supported the Museum of Jewish Heritage since 2016.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage previously created an “educator antisemitism resource,” to help teachers address questions about antisemitism, and is working with the New York City Department of Education to develop a new Holocaust teaching guide for teachers that will be released in the fall. The 2024-25 New York state budget allocated $500,000 for the review and update of Holocaust curricula in schools.

“As we witness a troubling resurgence of Holocaust denial and antisemitism around the world, it has never been more critical to ensure that younger generations are equipped with the knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust,” said Jack Kliger, president and CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage. “By educating our youth about the horrors of the past, we strive to instill in them a sense of empathy, tolerance, and the resolve to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again.”

Bruce Ratner, chairman of the board of trustees at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, said that by giving eighth graders in New York City more access to Holocaust education “we are taking a proactive stance against ignorance and prejudice.”

“We believe that by understanding the consequences of hate, our youth can help build a future rooted in compassion, respect, and the steadfast commitment to never let history repeat itself,” he added.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage opened in October 2023 its first exhibition designed for visitors aged 9 and up titled “Courage to Act: Rescue in Denmark,” which highlights how Denmark’s ordinary citizens united to save nearly 95 percent of the country’s Jewish population during the Holocaust.

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