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‘Awakening of unity’: Hamas attack, war spark outpouring of support for Israel in haredi communities

(New York Jewish Week) –When 3,000 Orthodox men packed into a New Jersey event hall late last month to mark a milestone in their 7 1/2-year cycle of Talmud study, they added an unusual component to the celebration.

In addition to sermons from prominent rabbis and collective prayer and study, the men watched videos showing uniformed Israel Defense Forces soldiers studying, singing, dancing with haredi Orthodox men and visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

“It was a remarkable evening and an expression of solidarity with the soldiers of the IDF, and with the people in Israel who are feeling besieged and of course those who have been taken hostage,” Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, the executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, the haredi umbrella group that organized the event, told the New York Jewish Week.

What was remarkable was the public celebration of Israel’s soldiers at the event. Haredi movements have a range of approaches to Israel and Zionism. Some believe a Jewish state should be established only with the coming of the Messiah, while others are ambivalent and still others vocally supportive of Israel.

But regardless of their attitude toward the state, haredi leaders in New York City emphasize that their communities have a deep affinity for the land of Israel and its Jewish residents, no matter their politics or religious observance. After Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, they say that feeling has sparked an outpouring of support for Israel and its military at a level not seen in decades and — in at least one instance — active disavowal of an anti-Zionist protest group.

“The outrage and sheer brutality of the October 7th attacks has united the Jewish community in common cause in a way I personally have never seen before,” said Chaskel Bennett, a community leader and the co-founder of the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition who was a pro-Israel activist prior to Oct. 7. “The Orthodox Jewish community always pulled together in times of crisis, but October 7th has touched a raw emotional nerve that has transformed how Jews identify and connect with their brethren in Israel in an unprecedented way.”

Haredi groups in New York do not typically hold organized street rallies, as some Jewish groups have done in recent weeks, but haredi communities have mobilized in their own ways, including by focusing on the traditional practices of prayer and charity.

“In virtually every synagogue people stay a few minutes later beyond the usual closing time of the prayer service and they recite psalms that are appropriate for the situation,” Zwiebel said.

Religious Jews at the March for Israel on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on November 14, 2023. (Luke Tress)

In the days after Oct. 7, thousands of haredi Jews poured into the streets in Brooklyn’s Borough Park and Crown Heights in spontaneous gatherings to pray and show support for Israelis. In the weeks since, haredi communities in New York have collected supplies for the Israeli military, held vigils for hostages held by Hamas, flown the Israeli flag at events, demonstrated support for secular Jewish college students and organized prayers for the terror group’s victims. Several Hharedi groups, including Agudath Israel, attended a mass demonstration in support of Israel last week, alongside crowds of non-Orthodox Jews.

Haredi websites are raising funds, messages of mourning for fallen troops are spreading across haredi WhatsApp groups and haredi news outlets closely track the fighting in Gaza. In one widely shared clip, a large Israeli flag was hoisted above the crowd at a Hasidic wedding.

“The realization of brotherhood and sisterhood is really displayed in a way that I’ve never seen in my lifetime,” said Avi Greenstein, CEO of the Boro Park Jewish Community Council, a social services organization in the heavily haredi Brooklyn neighborhood, calling the moment an “awakening of unity.”

Even haredi opponents of Zionism have taken steps to disavow anti-Israel activism. A leader of the anti-Zionist Satmar Hasidic movement, Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, decried the fringe Naturei Karta group for joining anti-Israel demonstrations, accusing the faction of supporting “haters of Israel and murderers.” Satmar rabbis have also pushed back against growing affinity for Israel and the IDF, however.

Religious events have shifted to focus on Israel, including Chabad-Lubavitch’s annual conference of thousands of male emissaries. A rabbi affiliated with Chabad, which often responds to crises by encouraging Jews to perform traditional rituals, is sending ritual fringes traditionally worn by Orthodox Jewish men to the front lines. The movement, which is more outwardly supportive of Israel, has been distributing charity to Israelis in need, and some members of its New York community are IDF veterans who rushed back to their units after the war broke out. At least one soldier from the movement was killed in the Oct. 7 attack.

In another event late last month, neighborhood organizers in Crown Heights, Chabad’s Brooklyn home base, set up an empty Shabbat table with 230 seats to symbolize the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. The event was organized to counter a rally led by hardline pro-Palestinian groups the following day, and drew around 1,200 participants.

The Chabad conference annual gala, in Edison, New Jersey, November 12, 2023. (Luke Tress)

“We prayed, we sang, we cried and we stood in solidarity with both the hostages, the Israeli public and the IDF,” said Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, the president of the Jewish Future Alliance, a community advocacy group. Chabad has also held prayers with families of hostages at the grave of its former leader, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and at the movement’s headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway.

The IDF is a largely secular institution, and Israel’s haredi men are mostly exempt from the country’s mandatory draft, a policy that has long caused friction in the country’s society and politics. But the outpouring of support for the military in the U.S. mirrors developments inside Israel, where thousands of haredim have enlisted in recent weeks and volunteers have provided meals and prayed with troops. A video showed dozens of haredim dancing in a city square after a female Israeli soldier was rescued from Hamas captivity.

A journalist for a haredi news outlet, Yanki Farber, shared the video on X, writing, “My son asked me right now why I’m crying.”

“Hasidim are dancing in the streets of Ashkelon after the release of a female soldier. I didn’t see anything like this when Gilad Shalit was released,” he wrote, referring to the Israeli soldier freed in a deal with Hamas in 2011. “There is an incredible sense of understanding among all of us that we must not return to being divided.”

The cross-community solidarity in Israel feeds back into the United States, Zwiebel said.

“Attitudes that are developed in Israel proper will have an impact on the broader international Jewish community,” he said. “We’re all in this together and that’s certainly being felt in Israel and yes I think there is some spillover and some sense of greater solidarity here in America.”

The surge in antisemitism in the U.S. has also spurred greater haredi solidarity with non-haredi Jewish communities. In an unusual message late last month, Agudath Israel issued a call to support Jewish college students as antisemitism and anti-Israel activism roiled U.S. campuses. The Chabad movement has a presence on hundreds of U.S. campuses and has also played a central role in supporting students.

“There are Orthodox Jews in the colleges, but if you’re not Orthodox, there are Jews in colleges and we care deeply about them,” Zwiebel said.

Despite the outpouring of support, the conversation about Zionism among haredim has not undergone a sea change, Zwiebel said. But he said antisemitism is leading some families to consider Israel as a future home.

“The hostility that we’re facing here in the United States, or even more so in Europe, is that reminding us that these are not necessarily ideal long-term homes for the Jewish people?” he said. “That kind of conversation is taking place. It’s taking place in homes where parents have sent their children to study in Israel and are wondering, ‘Should we bring them back? Should we let them stay there?’”

Several haredi community members said they hoped that the feeling of solidarity would last after the war ends.

“It took a vicious attack by merciless enemies to somehow bring people together,” Zwiebel said. “If we’re looking for a silver lining in this terrible cloud, I guess that would be it. If only we can keep this going beyond this war.”

The post ‘Awakening of unity’: Hamas attack, war spark outpouring of support for Israel in haredi communities appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Top Swiss Diplomat Appointed to Mediate Tensions Between Jewish Tourists, Businesses in Davos Ski Resort

A Hebrew sign at the Pischa Restaurant in the Swiss resort of Davos informing Jewish guests that they are banned from renting ski equipment. Photo: Screenshot

The tourism authority in the exclusive Swiss mountain resort of Davos has appointed a top diplomat to mediate the growing tensions between local businesses and Orthodox Jewish visitors as complaints of antisemitism increase.

Michael Ambühl — the former State Secretary of Switzerland previously in charge of the country’s relationship with the European Union (EU)  — will head a task force to tackle the problem, Swiss media outlets reported on Friday.

The announcement of Ambühl’s appointment comes just days after the resort was roiled by the refusal of a restaurant that operates a ski equipment rental store to provide services to Jewish guests.

A sign in Hebrew at the Pischa Restaurant in Davos stated that “due to various very annoying incidents, including the theft of a sledge, we no longer rent sports equipment to our Jewish brothers. This affects all sports equipment such as sledges, airboards, skis and snowshoes. Thank you for your understanding.”

Swiss police are currently investigating the incident as a possible case of discrimination. One Israeli tourist reported that he had visited the Pischa Restaurant where he “pretended not to understand Hebrew and asked if we could rent the equipment. After the woman consulted with the manager, she rejected our request.”

The tourism authority’s decision has irritated the country’s main Jewish representative body, the Swiss Israelite Association (SIG), which had been engaged in a separate dialog with the authority about accommodating Jewish guests that was abruptly closed down last year.

“The latest case shows that something is obviously wrong in Davos,” SIG General Secretary Jonathan Kreutner said in remarks quoted by the Blick news outlet.

Kreutner said that “comparable problems are not known from other holiday destinations, especially in those where our dialogue program is still active.” Kreutner acknowledged that the tourism authority “wants to take a new path, but we don’t yet know what it looks like and where it will lead.”

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‘Israel Outright Rejects International Dictates’: Biden Creating Plan For Palestinian State, Netanyahu Pushes Back: Report

US President Joe Biden holds a bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the 78th UN General Assembly in New York City, US, Sept. 20, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

US President Joe Biden, along with a number of Arab states, are quickly working to form a plan to end the Israel-Hamas war and create a Palestinian state, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday, sparking pushback from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The first step of such a plan would be for Israel and Hamas to agree to a six-week ceasefire in exchange for the Israeli hostages. Then, during that pause in fighting, the U.S. and its Arab partners would announce the plan and start to form an interim Palestinian government.

The US, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates are all reportedly are part of the talks, which have an ultimate goal of creating a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Washington Post also suggests that Israel may be expected to expel many of its own citizens from West Bank settlements and help rebuild Gaza.

The development of these plans is part of the reason Biden has cautioned Israel against moving on to fighting Hamas in Rafah — the terrorist group’s last stronghold. He believes such a ground offensive could jeopardize the prospect of peace. 

In a statement on Thursday, the White House said Biden “raised the situation in Rafah [during a call with Netanyahu], and reiterated his view that a military operation should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the civilians in Rafah.”

In response to these reports and the conversation he had with Biden, Netanyahu wrote that “Israel outright rejects international dictates regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians. Such an arrangement will be reached only through direct negotiations between the parties, without preconditions.”

He added, “Israel will continue to oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Such recognition in the wake of the October 7 massacre would give a huge reward to unprecedented terrorism and prevent any future peace settlement.”

The tension represents the latest hiccup in Biden and Netanyahu’s relationship, which has grown increasingly sour since October 7 as Biden put pressure on Israel to wind down its fight against Hamas.

Netanyahu, jpwever, was not the only one to question the prudence of the proposed American-led plan. Left-leaning group Democratic Majority for Israel said in a post on Twitter/X: “We have always favored a two state solution. But right now, how do we ensure the lesson does not become ‘sheer evil,’ pays? That must be a central part of any plan.”

Richard Goldberg, a Senior Advisor at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies contended that the plan “is doomed to fail for several reasons. Two big ones: It’s premised on Hamas surviving and involves Qatar.” 

“Israel will be in a much stronger position after it takes Rafah,” he argued.

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Harvard University Issued Subpoenaed for Antisemitism Documents

Pro-Hamas students rallying at Harvard University. Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder

Following weeks of warnings and ultimatums, the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce subpoenaed Harvard University on Friday to hand over documents related to its handling of allegations of antisemitic intimidation and harassment.

The order represents an escalation of tactics by the House Committee, which began investigating Harvard University last semester to determine whether it ignores complaints of discrimination when the victims who lodge them are Jewish. Since then, Harvard has been asked twice to submit a trove of materials requested by the committee.

Last week, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) wrote Harvard a censorious letter accusing school officials of obstructing the committee’s investigation with “grossly insufficient” responses to its inquires and submitting content of a “limited and dilatory nature.”

In a statement to Reuters, Harvard maintained that it has cooperated with the committee in “good faith,” providing “10 submissions totaling more than 3,500 pages that directly address key areas of inquiry put forward by the committee.” Chairwoman Foxx told the outlet, however that the problem is one of “quality, not quantity,” suggesting that Harvard is frenetically pantomiming compliance without providing anything of substance.

Foxx has requested “all reports of antisemitic acts or incidents and “related communications” going back to 2021 that were sent to Harvard’s offices of the president, general counsel, dean of students, police department, human resources, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, among others. She also requested documentation on Harvard Kennedy School professor Marshall Ganz, who, the school determined, had “denigrated” several students for being “Israeli Jews.” Originally, Foxx gave Harvard a deadline of Jan. 23 by which to comply.

“While a subpoena was unwarranted, Harvard remains committed to cooperating with the committee and will continue to provide additional materials, while protecting the legitimate privacy, safety, and security concerns of our community,” Harvard told Reuters.

“We will use our full congressional authority to hold these schools accountable for their failure on the global stage,” said committee member and Harvard Alumnus Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) in a statement announcing the action.

The past four months have been described by critics of Harvard as a low-point in the history of the school, America’s oldest and, arguably, most prestigious institution of higher education. Since the October 7 massacre by Hamas, Harvard has been accused of fostering a culture of racial grievance and antisemitism, while important donors have suspended funding for programs, and its first Black president, Claudine Gay, resigned in disgrace last month after being outed as a serial plagiarizer. Her tenure was the shortest in the school’s history.

As scenes of Hamas terrorists abducting children and desecrating dead bodies circulated worldwide, 31 student groups at Harvard, led by the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) issued a statement blaming Israel for the attack and accusing the Jewish state of operating an “open air prison” in Gaza, despite that the Israeli military withdrew from the territory in 2005. In the weeks that followed, anti-Zionists stormed the campus screaming “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “globalize the intifada,” terrorizing Jewish students and preventing some from attending class.

In Novevmber, a mob of anti-Zionists — including Ibrahim Bharmal, editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review — followed, surrounded, and intimidated a Jewish student. “Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!” the crush of people screamed in a call-and-response chant into the ears of the student who —as seen in the footage — was forced to duck and dash the crowd to free himself from the cluster of bodies that encircled him.

By Dec., Claudine Gay —  along with Elizabeth Magill of University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and Sally Kornbluth of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — was hauled before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to account for her administration’s handling of the problem. For weeks, Gay was reluctant to punish students who chanted genocidal slogans and unequivocally condemn antisemitism. During questioning, she told the committee that determining whether calling for a genocide of Jews constitutes a violation of school rules depends “on the context.”

Two days later, the committee launched investigations of Harvard, Penn, and MIT.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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