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Chicago rabbis attend funeral of Palestinian-American child killed in alleged Islamophobic hate crime

(JTA) — Before he paid his respects at the funeral of Wadea al-Fayoume, the 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy stabbed to death in what police are calling a hate crime, Rabbi Ari Hart called the officiants of the funeral to make sure his presence would be welcome.

“’I’m an Orthodox rabbi, I’m a Zionist rabbi, I need you to know that,’” he recalled telling the Chicago-area Muslim religious leaders. “And they said, ‘We understand. We would like you to come.’ And that was not easy for them. And it was not easy for me.”

Al-Fayoume’s killing, reportedly connected to his assailant’s rage over the war between Israel and Hamas, has drawn shock and condemnation from government officials as well as religious groups. On Tuesday, a broad coalition of Jewish organizations made a statement calling the murder “despicable” and speaking out against anti-Muslim hate.

Hart and three other Chicago-area rabbis — Hody Nemes and Josh Feigelson, who are both Orthodox, and Lizzi Heydemann, who runs an independent synagogue — wanted to deliver those sentiments in person. They attended the boy’s funeral in the village of Bridgeview, Illinois — a community known as “Little Palestine.”

Hart said that what drove him to attend the funeral wasn’t only his horror at Al-Fayoume’s death. It also flowed from his outrage over Hamas’ massacre of Israeli civilians.

“Islamophobia is wrong and killing anybody because of who they are and what they believe is wrong,” Hart said. “And we need to speak out about that. We certainly know what happens when there’s hatred and we’ve experienced that in our history. And we experienced it this week, the hatred and the mass murder.”

Hart added, “This little boy was killed solely because of his religion and his identity. We need to try to build a world where it doesn’t happen to anyone.”

Hart is the senior rabbi of Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob, a Modern Orthodox congregation in a heavily Jewish Chicago suburb. His career as a rabbi has featured interfaith and social justice work in the area that has addressed topics including medical debt and racial justice. He said that through attending the funeral, he wanted “to try to affirm our shared humanity, try to stand up together to any form of bigotry and hatred and murder.”

Feigelson wrote in a Facebook post that the funeral “wasn’t an uncomplicated visit.” But he said that felt safe and welcomed the entire time

“Dozens of people came up to me to shake my hand and thank me for coming. A few of us hugged,” he wrote. “While I’m sure some assumed that my presence meant that I was an anti-Zionist, those who asked learned of my Zionist attachments and commitments. And everyone seemed able to share the sentiment that what the vast majority of people want is simply to be able to raise their families and live in their communities in peace. That felt like a small glimmer of hope.

Fayoume was allegedly stabbed 26 times by his family’s landlord, Joseph Czuba who, according to reports, had previously been close with the family. According to NBC News, Czuba “listens to conservative talk radio on a regular basis” and recently began fixating on the fighting between Israel and Hamas. Czuba was also worried about reports of a call for a global “day of jihad” on Oct. 13, a country prosecutor said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Czuba believed Fayoume’s mother, Hanaan Shahin, who is a Palestinian immigrant, was “going to call Palestinian friends to come and harm them,” the prosecutor said.

The funeral wasn’t easy, Hart recalled, describing cries of anguish, pain, and yelling that hit home for him in part because he is the father of a 5-year-old son.

“If I was in their shoes, I would have the same raw pain,” he said.

“They spoke a lot about feeling demonized and targeted. And that’s what happened to this boy,” he said. “The vast majority of us want the same things. We want our children to be safe and happy and flourish.”

Al-Fayoume’s mother was not in attendance because she was still recovering from the attack, when she was stabbed 12 times. Palestinian flags were hanging on the inside of car windows headed toward the mosque, where a digital billboard read: “Stop inciting violence and hatred against Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities.”

“I can’t solve the conflict between Israel and Hamas,” Hart said. “But maybe I can do something about how we live together here in Chicago. And I think their leadership probably feels a similar way.”

The post Chicago rabbis attend funeral of Palestinian-American child killed in alleged Islamophobic hate crime appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Flip through the digital edition of the Summer 2024 print magazine from The Canadian Jewish News

We’ve produced a collection of feature articles four times a year since 2022. A special edition of this magazine will appear in mid-September—with reflections on the Jewish year that was. And in December, look out for a reimagined publication with a name of its own. Get future copies delivered to your door as a thank-you […]

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Top US Official Calls Hamas Leader Sinwar a ‘Psychopath,’ ‘Messianic’ as Ceasefire Talks Swirl

Yahya al-Sinwar, head of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends a meeting with people at a hall on the seashore in Gaza City. Photo: Yousef Masoud / SOPA Images/Sipa via Reuters Connect

A senior US official said that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar is the Palestinian terrorist group’s ultimate decision maker and has little interest in reaching a ceasefire deal with Israel, in testimony before a US Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

“At the end of the day, there’s one guy 10 stories below the ground: a psychopath, messianic in his own belief that he has established himself in history, and [he believes that] there’s a sunk cost of having lost thousands of fighters and carnage in Gaza,” said Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs.

Sinwar, the top Hamas official in Gaza and the mastermind behind the terrorist group’s Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, has reportedly been hiding in Hamas’ extensive network of underground tunnels during Israel’s ongoing military campaign in the coastal enclave.

Leaf’s comments echo others made by Biden administration officials.

In April, a US official told reporters that Sinwar is single-handedly holding up any progress on a potential hostage deal.

The senior Biden administration official said that while Hamas’ political bureau has shown some willingness to compromise on the terrorist group’s most hardline positions, Sinwar’s maximalist demands continuously win out.

“Sinwar has made the decision he’d rather hold [the hostages seized by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7] than secure a ceasefire, and that’s just the truth of the situation,” the official said.

Leaf, in her testimony on Tuesday, said that Qatar — where many top Hamas political officials are based — has been “squeezing” the group — though to little effect, according to a report from Axios.

“There’s a cadre of political officials of Hamas in Doha, and boy do they squeeze them, I can assure you they squeeze them,” Leaf said.

Israel has described Hamas’ response to the new US ceasefire proposal as total rejection. But efforts to secure an agreement are still continuing, according to mediators in Qatar and Egypt, backed by the United States.

The Axios report added that Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani met on Tuesday in Doha — Qatar’s capital — with senior Hamas officials in an attempt to reach a breakthrough in the talks about the hostage and ceasefire deal.

Egypt and Qatar — which along with the United States have been mediating between Hamas and Israel — said on June 11 that they had received a response from the Palestinian groups to the US plan, without giving further details.

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Blinken Confirms US Pausing Bomb Shipment to Israel After Netanyahu Calls for End to ‘Inconceivable’ Weapons Halt

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken hold a joint news conference in Jerusalem, May 25, 2021. Photo: Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday confirmed the US was still withholding a shipment of bombs to Israel, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Washington to remove restrictions on arms deliveries to the Jewish state and asserted that the top American diplomat had assured him the Biden administration was working to lift any halts on weapons.

The Biden administration is “continuing to review one shipment that President [Joe] Biden has talked about with regard to 2,000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah. That remains under review,” Blinken said at a news conference at the US State Department.

However, he added, the administration is committed to making sure “that Israel has what it needs to effectively defend itself.”

Blinken’s remarks came after Netanyahu posted a video online earlier in the day in which he lamented that the US recently paused a weapons shipment to Israel and threatened to block more but said Blinken told him that Washington was seeking to end any halts on arms deliveries.

“When Secretary Blinken was recently here in Israel, we had a candid conversation. I said I deeply appreciated the support the US has given Israel from the beginning of the war,” Netanyahu said.

“But I also said something else. I said it’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel,” he continued. “Israel, America’s closest ally, fighting for its life, fighting against Iran and our other common enemies.”

The Israeli premier then asserted that Blinken told him the issue would be addressed.

“Secretary Blinken assured me that the administration is working day and night to remove these bottlenecks,” Netanyahu said. “I certainly hope that’s the case. It should be the case. During World War II, Churchill told the US: ‘Give us the tools; we’ll do the job.’ And I say, ‘Give us the tools, and we’ll finish the job much faster.’”

Following Netanyahu’s comments, both the White House and the US State Department refuted his apparent claim that Washington was withholding more than a single shipment of bombs.

“Everything else is moving as it normally would move, and again, with the perspective of making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against this multiplicity of challenges,” Blinken said.

The White House echoed Blinken’s comments, saying that only one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs had been withheld and nothing else.

“We genuinely do not know what he’s talking about,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “We just don’t.”

Jean-Pierre added that the US and Israel have been having discussions about the release of the shipment but that there was no update at this time.

“There are no other pauses, none,” Jean-Pierre said. “No other pauses or holds in place.”

On Monday, unconfirmed reports in both Israeli and German media said that during Netanyahu’s meeting with Blinken in Jerusalem last week, the Israeli premier urged the US to return the frequency of its arms shipments to the level immediately after Oct. 7, when the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas launched the war in Gaza with its massacre across southern Israel. According to the reports, Blinken said that Washington would remove all restrictions on weapons transfers to Israel in the coming days.

Netanyahu also reportedly warned Blinken that the slowing of aid and the perception of America’s weakened support for Israel benefits Iran and its terrorist proxies across the Middle East, including Hamas, emboldening them to intensify attacks against Israel and potentially resulting in a broader regional war.

The Biden administration has been under intense pressure from Democrats, especially those on the progressive left, to condition if not outright withhold US military support for Israel. Critics of Israel have argued the Israeli military campaign in Gaza has killed too many civilians and led to a humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian enclave. Israel has said Hamas is to blame for starting the war, stealing aid, and intentionally placing its operation centers inside or underneath civilian sites.

Hamas started the war with its surprise invasion of Israel on Oct. 7, when the terrorist group murdered 1,200 people and kidnapped over 250 others as hostages. Israel responded with its ongoing campaign aimed at freeing the hostages and destroying Hamas, which rules Gaza.

In recent months, the Biden administration has become increasingly critical of Israel’s operations both in public and private, pressuring Jerusalem to change its military strategy and seek a ceasefire.

The issue came to a head last month, when Biden announced that it would cease a bomb shipment to Israel and threatened to halt more weapons deliveries if the Israeli army launched an offensive in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza and Hamas’ last major military stronghold.

I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven’t gone in Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities — that deal with that problem,” Biden told CNN.

Israeli officials and experts have said operating in Rafah is essential to eliminating the last remaining Hamas battalions. Netanyahu said the Jewish state appreciates US support but “will stand alone” if necessary.

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