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Citing risk to Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night,’ Iowa judge blocks key parts of state book ban law

(JTA) – A federal judge in Iowa has blocked much of a state law forbidding school libraries from stocking books depicting “sex acts,” in part because he said it was keeping a classic Holocaust memoir off shelves.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher granted a preliminary injunction against the law, Iowa Senate File 496, on Friday, just before a Jan. 1 deadline for schools to begin enforcing it. The “staggeringly broad” law, he wrote in his opinion, would prevent public schools from stocking “non-fiction history books about the Holocaust.” He pointed specifically to Elie Wiesel’s “Night” as an example of a book that could be caught in the dragnet.

Lochner had previously brought up “Night” during oral arguments about the Iowa law. At a Dec. 22 hearing, he grilled a state attorney about which kinds of books the state had the authority to pull from schools. Asked if Wiesel’s memoir could be pulled along with World War II history title “The Rape of Nanking,” the attorney responded that it could, the Des Moines Register reported at the time.

At that hearing, Locher called the law “one of the most bizarre laws I’ve ever read in my life.”

The injunction is temporary while Lochner considers the law and challenges against it more fully. Still, it represents a major blow to efforts by conservative legislators in Iowa to import a national effort to purge school libraries of books they consider inappropriate. The effort has focused on books about race and sexuality but has also led to books dealing with Judaism and the Holocaust being challenged or removed.

“Night” previously entered the book-ban debate when a Pennsylvania district forced a librarian to take down a poster featuring a Wiesel quote.

In Iowa, months-old local reports and Locher’s opinion indicated that “Night” was at one time removed from at least one Iowa public school district, although a regularly updated database of pulled books maintained by the Des Moines Register no longer lists the title.

Other Jewish books have also been affected by the law. “Maus,” Art Spiegelman’s graphic Holocaust memoir, was on the chopping block in at least one district along with Judy Blume’s “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret,” before the school reversed course and put them back on shelves. According to the Des Moines Register, “Maus” remains banned at another Iowa district: Alta-Aurelia, in a rural northwest region of the state.

Iowa’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, signed SF 496 into law last year along with other culture-war legislation targeting transgender athletes and student pronouns in schools.

Locher’s ruling said that most parts of the law, including the provisions requiring schools to ban all books depicting a “sex act” and prohibiting instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation through the sixth grade, could not go into effect.

Two separate lawsuits challenging the law’s constitutionality will remain active in the meantime: One of them was brought by Penguin Random House and four bestselling authors, including Jodi Picoult, while the other was brought by LGBTQ students.

Challenges to similar laws are also winding through courts in Texas and Florida.

The post Citing risk to Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night,’ Iowa judge blocks key parts of state book ban law appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Tribute: Rabbi Dovid Schochet, 91, a pioneer in building Toronto’s observant community

The Jewish community in Toronto lost a towering leader when Rabbi Dovid Schochet, the president of the Toronto Rabbinical Council and the senior rabbi of the Chabad community in Toronto, passed away at the age of 91 on Jan. 28. He was born in 1932 in Basel, Switzerland, the second of 10 children, to Rabbi […]

The post Tribute: Rabbi Dovid Schochet, 91, a pioneer in building Toronto’s observant community appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Attacker in 2021 Antisemitic Assault in New York Sentenced to Three Years in State Prison

Joseph Borgen, victim of an antisemitic attack, addressing a rally in Long Island. Photo: courtesy

The final criminal proceeding for the case of Joseph “Joey” Borgen, a Jewish man whom a gang of antisemites mauled and pepper-sprayed in broad daylight during protests and counter-protests over Israel’s 2021 war with Hamas, resulted in another conviction Wednesday.

Mohammed Said Othman, 29, was sentenced to three years in state prison, according to a press release issued by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg.

Borgen, who is Jewish, was wearing a kippah while walking in Manhattan when Said Othman, along with several other men, ambushed him without being provoked. They shouted antisemitic slurs at the pro-Israel advocate, who suffered a concussion, wrist injury, black eye, and bruises all over his body.

Since then, three other sentences have been handed down in the Borgen case. Waseem Awawdeh, who continuously struck Borgen with a crutch while allegedly joining the others in shouting antisemitic epithets at him, pleaded guilty to attempted assault as a hate crime and received 18 months in jail, as part of a plea bargain negotiated with Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Jonathon Junig.

In November, Mahmoud Musa received seven years in prison for his role in the attack. In December, Mohammed Othman was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in state prison and five additional years of post-release supervision.

As seen in footage of the incident, Othman kicked and repeatedly struck Borgen in the face while sitting on his chest to weigh him down. In court, he pleaded guilty to gang assault and third-degree hate crime assault.

“These defendants violently targeted and assaulted another individual simply because he is Jewish,” District Attorney Bragg said in a statement. “While this office always supports the right to peacefully protest and engage in open dialogue, these multi-year prison sentences makes clear that physically attacking someone because of their religion is never acceptable. I thank our hate crimes unit for its diligent work in this case.”

Throughout the criminal proceedings in his case, Joey Borgen called on New York City lawmakers to do more to eradicate antisemitic hatred in the five boroughs.

In December, he told The Algemeiner that while he is pleased with the outcome of the case he is worried that the group with which his attackers were allegedly affiliated, the extreme anti-Zionist organization Within Our Lifetime (WOL), is still engaging in antisemitic activity that could lead to more hate crimes.

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, WOL has posted (and deleted) a map, titled “Know Your Enemies,” showing the addresses of Jewish organizations in New York City, and staged numerous disruptive protests. The group is led by Nerdeen Kiswani, a former City University of New York (CUNY) student who once threatened to set on fire someone’s Israel Defense Forces (IDF) hoodie while he was wearing it.

“They’re still causing havoc; they’re forcing Jewish attendees of a fundraiser to speak at the backdoor of a police van, and they’re bombarding the mother of a hostage with horrible antisemitic chants,” Borgen said. “While I’m happy that I got a positive result in my case, I’m still disturbed that this same group is still going around causing issues for Jewish people, attacking restaurants, and putting people in danger.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post Attacker in 2021 Antisemitic Assault in New York Sentenced to Three Years in State Prison first appeared on

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See Mark Breslin live in conversation with Ralph Benmergui

A special live taping of our podcast ‘Not That Kind of Rabbi’.

The post See Mark Breslin live in conversation with Ralph Benmergui appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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