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Bernie Steinberg, 78, a Harvard Hillel director who promoted pluralism, and courted controversy, to the end

(JTA) — “My goal,” wrote Bernie Steinberg when he won the prestigious Covenant Award for Jewish educators in 2010, “is to motivate the most energetic, talented, and idealistic young Jews to assume responsibility for the future.” 

As the director of Harvard Hillel from 1993 to 2010, the campus organization became “known for the scope and depth of its programs, as a model pluralistic community, as a voice for Israel, and as a leader in interfaith work,” the Covenant Foundation, which presented the award, explained. 

Steinberg, who was remembered by former colleagues and students as a master teacher and attentive mentor, died Sunday at age 78. Steinberg was also a faculty member at the Pardes Institute of Jerusalem — a pluralistic yeshiva — and a founding fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute think tank in Jerusalem.

I have rarely if ever met anyone so committed to the sacred art of nurturing young adults and encouraging them to blossom,” wrote his friend and former colleague, Rabbi Shai Held of the Hadar Institute, in a Facebook tribute

Steinberg came to Harvard Hillel after 13 years living in Israel, where he directed the Wesleyan University Israel Program and taught at the Hebrew University. Harvard Hillel had just completed Rosovsky Hall, a 19,500-square-foot building designed by the Israeli architect Moshe Safdie that was intended to place Jewish life squarely at the center of a campus that in a previous era had restricted its Jewish enrollment. 

During Steinberg’s tenure, he helped create a new leadership education program to foster interaction between diverse communities within the Ivy League university. He also created Netivot (Pathways), an intensive, year-long program in Israel for undergraduates at Harvard, Yale and New York University.

His time at Harvard was marked by a  commitment to welcoming Jewish voices from across the political and religious spectrum, courting controversy on the right when Hillel hosted a photo exhibit by the far-left Israeli group Breaking the Silence, and criticism from the left when he included the hawkish Yiddish professor Ruth Wisse on a panel commemorating the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

“I see pluralism as a value rooted in Jewish ideas,” he said in 2010. “Every person is unique in an absolute and precious sense, as testimony to God’s greatness. Every person experienced the revelation of Torah in his or her own way. Every Jewish movement and individual is part of a truth whose totality is beyond our grasp.”

In one of his last public acts, this past December Steinberg wrote an op-ed for the Harvard Crimson that some Jewish critics said pushed this pluralism beyond acceptable limits. In the weeks before the oped, the campus had been riled by accusations by Jewish groups and others saying the school’s handling of the fallout of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks — especially a statement by campus groups holding “the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence” — failed to protect Jews from a hostile environment. Steinberg countered that critics of the administration and those calling for the ouster of then president Claudine Gay were “manufacturing an antisemitism scare, which, in effect, turns the very real issue of Jewish safety into a pawn in a cynical political game.” He encouraged Jewish students to be “boldly critical of Israel.” (Gay later stepped down amid the criticism and plagiarism charges.)

Harvard Hillel, Rosovsky Hall, on Mt. Auburn Street in Harvard Square, designed by Moshe Safdie. (Courtesy of Safdie Architects)

Some called the essay courageous, while others, including Harvard Hillel’s current campus rabbi, called it out of touch and said it failed to grapple with the antisemitic intent and effect of anti-Israel speech on campus.

Hillel also drew unwelcome controversy in 2008 when an accounting contractor hired by Hillel was charged and later pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $78,000 from the nonprofit. Steinberg wasn’t implicated in the affair. 

Bernard Steinberg was born March 10, 1945, and grew up in St. Louis. After receiving a B.A. from Wesleyan University and an M.A. from Brandeis University, he taught at the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies and Case Western Reserve University and founded the department of Jewish Education at the Jewish Community Centers of Cleveland. He wrote his doctoral dissertation at the Hebrew University on the Jewish philosophers Hermann Cohen and Nahman Krochmal.

“He was a true lamdan [scholar], a superb director, a mentsch, and a deeply passionate lover of Torah,” wrote the Dartmouth University Jewish studies professor Shaul Magid, whom Steinberg hired in 1993 as the rabbi of the egalitarian minyan at Harvard Harvard. 

Michael Simon, the Hillel executive director at Northwestern University, was associate director at Harvard under Steinberg, who officiated his wedding. 

“Early on in my time at Harvard Hillel, I asked Bernie what traits we should look for when hiring people to work there. He said, simply, we should look for candidates who love people and love Torah,” Simon recalled on Facebook. “I don’t know of anyone else who epitomized that combination quite like Bernie.

After leaving Harvard, Steinberg moved in 2012 to Berkeley, California, where he served as vice president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and later a visiting scholar at the Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. He was a member of Congregation Beth Israel, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Berkeley. Most recently, he lived in Chicago, where his son Avi is an author and lecturer in nonfiction writing at the University of Chicago. He is also survived by his wife, Roz; a daughter, Adena; and a granddaughter.

“I miss an Abba with whom I communicated in a short-hand very few but we could understand, whose greatness, humbleness, goodness, sharpness, optimism, moral clarity, and unconditional love were integrated truths which he wielded with fluency and flexibility,” Adena, a clinical psychologist, wrote on Facebook. “I hope that different parts of him continue to live on in the many many people he loved so much, especially his granddaughter, nieces, nephews, grand-nieces, grand-nephews, dear friends, colleagues and students.”

The post Bernie Steinberg, 78, a Harvard Hillel director who promoted pluralism, and courted controversy, to the end appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Rashida Tlaib Votes ‘Present’ on US House Condemnation of Hamas’ Use of Sexual Violence

Wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) addresses a Congressional debate on Palestinian violence against Israel, 2021 Photo:

The US House of Representatives passed a resolution on Wednesday condemning Hamas’ use of sexual assault as a weapon of war during its October 7 terrorist attack — in which it killed 1,200 Israelis and took almost 250 more hostage — in a near-unanimous vote, with a single exception.

The one “present” vote came from Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who argued that she could not vote in favor of the resolution because it does not also accuse the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) of using sexual assault as a weapon of war.

By a vote of 418-0-1, the House passed a resolution that “condemns all rape and forms of sexual violence as weapons of war, including those acts committed by Hamas terrorists on and since October 7th.” It also “calls on all international bodies to unequivocally condemn” Hamas’ actions.

Tlaib has emerged as the most outspoken anti-Israel member of the House in recent months. She has accused Israel of committing genocide and has appeared at events with people who celebrated Hamas’ October 7 attack.

Michael Dickson, Executive Director of the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, reacted to her vote, saying, “Rashida Tlaib is so racist she cannot bring herself to condemn the brutal rape of women used by Hamas as a weapon of war… because the women that were raped were Jewish Israelis. A new low. Most American women – and men – will recoil in horror at her vote.”

The former US Deputy Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism, Ellie Cohanim, wrote that Tlaib “is the ONLY member of Congress who refuses to condemn Hamas’ rape. What an absolute sicko.”

However, in a speech on the floor of the House, Tlaib said, “While the resolution on the floor rightfully denounces any sexual violence by Hamas, I am disturbed that it completely ignores and erases any sexual violence and abuse committed by the Israeli forces, against Palestinians, especially children.”

She cited an article from Haaretz about an incident in October where settlers and soldiers detained three Palestinian men in the West Bank, had them strip to their underwear, and beat them. The piece notes that there was even “an attempt to penetrate one of them with an object.” 

The article notes that, in response, the IDF dismissed the force commander and opened an investigation into the incident. Later, five additional soldiers were dismissed for their role in the abuse.

Since October 7, numerous independent investigations have found that Hamas engaged in widespread sexual and gender-based violence against Israelis, including rape.

After the resolution passed, Rep. Louis Frankel (D-FL), who introduced the bill, wrote, “Our resolution makes it clear: Rape & sexual assault are not acceptable tools of war.”

CEO of the American Jewish Committee, Ted Deutch, applauded the passage of the resolution but added that “The international community’s utter failure to adequately condemn and address Hamas’ use of sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of war on and since October 7 is not merely disappointing – it is a dereliction of duty for all who claim to stand for human rights and humanity.”

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‘No Reward for The Murderers’: Israeli Officials Bash US Plan To Recognize Palestinian State

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich attends an inauguration event for Israel’s new light rail line for the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, in Petah Tikva, Israel, Aug. 17, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

A chorus of Israeli officials spoke out against a reported peace plan being pushed by the United States and several Arab states that would include the recognition of a Palestinian state on Thursday.

The proposed plan, as detailed in The Washington Post, calls for “the withdrawal of many, if not all, settler communities on the West Bank; a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem; the reconstruction of Gaza; and security and governance arrangements for a combined West Bank and Gaza.”

In order to attempt to force Israel’s hand, the report says, “U.S. officials said the menu of actions under consideration include early U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state — even as elements of political reform, security guarantees for both Israel and the Palestinians, normalization and reconstruction are being implemented.”

“In my speech yesterday in Berlin, I warned against the dangerous plan that is taking shape for unilateral international recognition of a Palestinian state,” said MK Gideon Sa’ar, who is not part of the government coalition – but part of the war cabinet coalition – National Unity. “This plan will not only not resolve the conflict but will make it intractable. The Palestinians will receive state recognition without paying the the price of compromise and they will continue the conflict from an upgraded position that will harm Israel’s right to self-defense.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been clear that he is opposed to a Palestinian state, and that Israel will maintain security control over the Gaza Strip once the war ends.

“1,400 murdered and the world wants to give them a state. It won’t happen,” tweeted National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. He added in an interview with Israeli media “The intention of the US, together with the Arab states, to establish a terror state alongside the State of Israel is delusional and part of the misguided conception that there is a partner for peace on the other side… While we are in the government, no Palestinian state will be established.”

Education Minister Yoav Kisch added “We are only concerned with winning in Gaza. There will simply be no reward for the murderers.”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also tweeted against the plan, saying “We will in no way agree to this plan, which actually says that the Palestinians deserve a reward for the terrible massacre they did to us: a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. The message is that it pays very well to massacre Israeli citizens. A Palestinian state is an existential threat to the State of Israel as was proven on October 7, Kfar Saba will not be Kfar Aza!”

He further called on the cabinet to issue “a clear and unequivocal decision stating that Israel opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state and the imposition of sanctions on over half a million settlers. I expect clear support from Prime Minister Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, Gadi Eisenkot and all the ministers.”

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‘Explosion of Hate’ Antisemitism in United Kingdom Reached Unprecedented Level in 2023, New Report Says

People march in a protest, in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in London, Britain, November 11, 2023. Photo: Alishia Abodunde via Reuters Connect

More antisemitic incidents occurred in the United Kingdom in 2023 than any year in the history of recording such data, according to a new report issued on Thursday by Community Security Trust (CST), a nonprofit that offers security services and training to the country’s Jewish community.

The report, titled Antisemitic Incidents Report 2023, said that 4,103 antisemitic incidents happened in the country in 2023, an increase of 147 percent from 2022. They included physical assaults, hate speech, threats, and cases of what the nonprofit described as “damage and desecration” of Jewish religious symbols and houses of worship. CST noted that over 2,000 other incidents reported to its offices were not included in its official statistics, noting that some “were not deemed to be antisemitic” while others involved “suspicious activity” and other potential threats to physical safety.

“British Jews are strong and resilient, but the explosion in hatred against our community is an absolute disgrace,” CST chief executive Mark Gardner said in a statement. “It occurs in schools, universities, workplaces, on the streets, and all over social media. Our community is being harassed, intimidated, threatened, and attacked by extremists who also oppose society as a whole. We thank the government and police for their support, but this is a challenge for everyone and we condemn the stony silence from those sections of society that eagerly call out racism in every other case, except when it comes to Jew hate.”

CST’s data shows a massive uptick of antisemitic incidents immediately after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, which resulted in hundreds of murders of civilians, abductions of the young and elderly, and numerous sexual assaults of Israeli women. Between January and September, there were fewer than 200 incidents but 1,303 in October alone, over 1,200 in November and December. From Oct. 7 until the end of the year, CST added, its offices received an average of 31 reports per day.

In that span of time, CST recorded its highest single-day and single-week totals of antisemitic incidents, indicating “that it was celebration of Hamas’ attack, rather than anger towards Israel’s military response in Gaza, that prompted the unprecedented levels of antisemitism across the country.” Additionally, the report added, perpetrators signposted their anti-Zionist hatred in 43 percent of incidents, saying Zionist, Zionism, or “Free Palestine!” while committing an offense. In 955 others, they alluded to Adolf Hitler and Nazism, both of which they often connected to Hamas and anti-Zionism.

“Perpetrators either glorified Hamas’ act of terror as a repeat of the Nazis extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust, or lamented Hitler’s failure to eliminate world Jewry entirely,” CST explained, adding that others expressed being motivated by Islamic-antisemitism, viewing the conflict between Israelis and Hamas as part of a larger conflagration between Jews and Muslims.

Antisemitism on social media also proliferated after Oct. 7, appearing the most on X/Twitter, where CST found 704 examples of it, an increase of 249 percent. X users often based their antisemitism on conspiracies and other extreme political ideologies.

“The figures noted in CST’s Antisemitic Report 2023 should be a reminder to British civil society of the serious nature of antisemitism and the impact that it has on the Jewish community,” Lord Mann, His Majesty’s Government’s Independent Adviser on Antisemitism, said in a statement on the report’s findings. “As we have seen over the years, when tensions rise in the Middle East there is an increase in antisemitism around the world. However, this scale is unprecedented and is, for the first time ever, widespread across every police region in the United Kingdom.”

Mann continued, “This country will not tolerate the abuse or intimidation of any of its citizens and I will continue to make sure that it remains a safe place for our Jewish community.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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