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‘I just felt this urgency’: For some, Oct. 7 fueled a renewed dedication to becoming Jewish

(JTA) — Jasamine Hodge started converting to Judaism eight years ago, but it wasn’t until Oct. 7 that she set a date to finish.

As a child and teen, Hodge, 33, who lives in Kansas City, had grown up with families that practiced Christianity and Islam. When a friend introduced her to Judaism when she was 24, she realized she had found her “religious home.”

Over the years, she studied Judaism intensively, spent time in Israel and learned Hebrew. Yet because of complications in her life and community, including rabbinic turnover at her synagogue, she still was not officially Jewish last fall.

When Hamas struck Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking hundreds of hostages, she felt the gap in her identity acutely.

“When the attack happened, I just felt this urgency to be even more connected with God because I felt that every single prayer, with so many against us, was needed right now,” Hodge said. “As I continued to elevate my prayers and elevate my closeness to God, I realized that this was the time more than ever that I needed to push things to the finish line.”

Hodge is not the only person to experience a pull toward conversion after Oct. 7. Multiple rabbis told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that they have seen a surge in interest from potential converts since the attack, both from people who were already in the process of converting and from people who had never before been in touch. The surge has taken place even as the attack and the ensuing war between Israel and Hamas have fueled antisemitic incidents around the world.

“It’s been nothing short of profound and personally inspiring as an educator, and invigorating as a spiritual leader, to see people in the face of such brazen hatred feel all the more called to step into their Judaism,” said Rabbi Avram Mlotek, who received Orthodox ordination and lives in New York City.

For those who were already Jewish on Oct. 7, there has also been a noticeable  inclination to draw closer to those identities or to Israel. Some Israelis have reconnected with their faith since the war began, and a number of Jewish families that had been planning to move to Israel before October sped up their immigration process in response to the attacks.

With two other Orthodox-trained rabbis in New York City, Mlotek facilitates a 22-week online course and beit din, or three-member religious court, aimed at making Orthodox Jewish conversions accessible outside of the rigid process overseen by the Rabbinical Council of America, an umbrella Orthodox rabbinical association that coordinates its conversion process with that of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

Rabbi Adam Mintz, who leads a congregation in Manhattan and is part of Mlotek’s conversion initiative, said that in the weeks immediately following Oct. 7, he and his colleagues “have found an explosion of people who are interested in beginning to explore conversion.” He said he had been fielding three to five phone calls per week with people who were interested in pursuing conversion — a substantial increase over the typical rate.

In Los Angeles, meanwhile, the Miller Introduction to Judaism Program, which operates an online conversion course that many Conservative rabbis recommend to potential converts, experienced a 40% uptick in interest inquiries in the three months following Oct. 7.

“There was a noticeable increase,” said Benjamin Wright, the program’s associate director. He characterized the rise as “pretty sharp.”

Exactly what is driving the uptick is still coming into focus. In addition to people who are part of Jewish families seeking to formalize the way they feel, there are examples throughout history of people choosing to become Jewish after learning about Judaism or identifying with it because of a trauma to the Jewish people.

Most notably, thousands of Germans expressed a desire to convert to Judaism in the years after the Holocaust, with many saying they were overcome by their sense of “guilt and shame and shock” at the atrocities their country had committed, according to one historian. The interest was so high that in 1950 a special commission was formed to help Berlin’s top rabbi sift through the requests. In recent years, a debate has consumed some Jewish circles in Germany over whether there is such a thing as too much conversion.

But for now, the rabbis say the people who have moved most quickly from Oct. 7 toward conversion are people who have longstanding connections to Judaism.

Kelly Tanner was already months into her conversion process when the attack occurred. The daughter of a Catholic mother and a Methodist father, Tanner, 26, began looking for a church when she moved to New York City for college. But it was not until she met Jake, who had grown up in a Conservative Jewish home and introduced Tanner to Shabbat and other Jewish traditions, that she felt she had found the right religious home.

“It felt like I was getting a piece of that spiritual side of me back that I had been looking for since I was 6 years old asking my mom to go to church,” she recalled.

Tanner initially had not expected to complete her conversion until closer to her wedding, planned for 2025. But after she reached out to Mintz the week of Oct. 7 to find out whether their regularly scheduled meeting was still on, she felt inspired by his response to move faster.

Mintz responded that “the perfect reaction to this war was creating really strong Jewish families,” Tanner said.

“That stuck with me for the rest of the conversion,” she added. “You feel so helpless here. But when you think about the importance of just spreading light during this time, and creating community, which are all huge parts, obviously, of Judaism, then it feels like you are doing something. Like there is some kind of tangible thing that you can do way over here in New York, when it feels like the world is just crumbling.”

Tanner completed her conversion on Dec. 21.

Rabbi Tarlan Rabizadeh, who directs the Miller program, is expecting more than 100 students when her next course begins later this month. “I have never had this many students ever,” she said.

But while she said she was eager to learn from her new students about why they had chosen to reach out since Oct. 7, she had already learned about the effects of the attack on people who have chosen Judaism.

Some have sought her advice about the safety of keeping their mezuzahs publicly displayed on their doorposts and about discussing Israel with their non-Jewish relatives.

“When [Oct. 7] first happened, I had students who came up to me and said, ‘Rabbi, I didn’t realize that I had to have a relationship with Israel as a Jew. I was converting to Judaism, but I didn’t know that I had to have a relationship with Israel,’” Rabizadeh said.

“I had other students that came up to me who had already converted and said to me, ‘I suddenly feel Jewish now. And not only do I suddenly feel Jewish, now I suddenly understand what antisemitism is,’” she added.

Tanner said that while her family has been “incredibly supportive” of her decision to convert, some of her family and friends have expressed concerns “because it’s a scary time to be Jewish right now,” she said.

Mlotek said that unfortunate reality has come up in his class, too. Because many of the students are already engaging in Jewish practice or have expressed sympathy for Israel after Oct. 7, they may be considered Jewish by others, for better or worse.

“We got into this conversation about how the enemies of the Jewish people don’t look with as piercing precision as the way we Jews do ourselves about Conservative, Orthodox, Reform,” Mlotek said. “Whether that hatred comes from the right or the left, if you stand with the Jewish people, you’re considered one of us. I think our students are experiencing that in a very acute way.”

That experience was deeply personal for Veronica Elmendal, who lives in the northern Israeli city of Tiberias and whose children are in the Israeli military.

“Why did they kill us?” she asked, referring to Hamas. “Because we’re Jewish. They slaughter us because we’re Jewish.”

Raised Christian in Sweden, Elmendal, 45, underwent a conversion to Judaism in 2004 when she was living in Los Angeles, after having already lived in Israel for a time in the late 1990s. But after her family moved to Israel in 2021, religious authorities there said they could not verify the rabbi who had overseen her conversion and thus could not recognize her as Jewish.

Veronica Elmendal with her youngest daughter, Lilach Zelig. (Courtesy of Elmendal)

Elmendal was able to secure a spouse visa through her husband, who is Israeli, and she said she and her four children — ages 7 to young adult — knew they were Jewish, no matter what the government said.

“My kids, they always feel Jewish anyways. They know they’re Jewish. And I’m Jewish, too. I don’t care what anybody says,” she said.

But after Hamas’ attack, she said, that didn’t feel like enough. “When Oct. 7 happened, all my kids, it was very important for them to be registered as Jewish,” Elmendal recalled.

Now, she is working with an Israeli rabbi on a conversion that will pass muster with the country’s religious authorities. She immersed in a mikvah and completed a conversion exam last month.

“They’re ready to take my kids to the army. And they’re ready to die for this country,” she said about her older children. “So this is why it’s very important for us to do the conversion.”

Hodge, too, recently completed her conversion. On Dec. 21, she immersed in a mikvah under the supervision of three rabbis, including Mlotek and Mintz, to finish the process. Now back in Kansas City, where she works in real estate and is preparing to marry her Israeli fiance, she says she is ready to contribute to the Jewish people — as a Jew.

“When the war happened, I felt that my connection to Judaism was growing stronger,” Hodge said. “I felt my need to be a Jewish mother was growing stronger, and my desire to be in Israel, to help and just to be unified with the people. So for me, this was the biggest push. I want to start my Jewish family. I want to bring good to the Jewish world right now. We just need that right now.”


The post ‘I just felt this urgency’: For some, Oct. 7 fueled a renewed dedication to becoming Jewish appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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US ‘Strongly Opposes’ China-Brokered Deal to Form Palestinian Unity Government With Terrorist Groups

Mahmoud al-Aloul, Vice Chairman of the Central Committee of Palestinian organization and political party Fatah, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Mussa Abu Marzuk, senior member of the Palestinian terror movement Hamas, attend an event at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on July 23, 2024. Photo: Pedro Pardo/Pool via REUTERS

The US on Tuesday said it “strongly opposes” a Beijing-brokered declaration signed earlier in the day by the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah movement and the Hamas terror group, aimed at reconciling their longstanding divisions and establishing a unity government to manage Gaza after the war.

The declaration, which was also signed by more than a dozen other Palestinian factions, is seen as a symbolic win for China’s role as a global mediator, with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi describing it as a “historic moment for the cause of Palestine’s liberation.” However, doubts linger about its effectiveness in addressing the years-long rift between the groups.

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller responded to the announcement, saying Hamas had “blood on its hands, of Israelis and of Palestinians,” and could not be in any leadership role.

“When it comes to governance of Gaza at the end of the conflict, there can’t be a role for a terrorist organization,” Miller said.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) — which currently exercises limited self-governance in the West and has long been riddled with allegations of corruption and authoritarianism — should be in control of both the West Bank and Gaza, Miller said, adding that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), unlike Hamas, had renounced terrorism.

The PLO is a coalition of Palestinian factions, including Fatah.

“If you look at the death and destruction that Hamas’ decision to launch the attacks of Oct. 7 has brought on Gaza, they have — there’s no one that has brought more pain and suffering to the people in Gaza than Hamas through their decisions — first to launch the attacks of Oct. 7, and then their ongoing decision, which continues today, to hide among civilian communities and use civilians as human shields.”

Miller also addressed China’s role in the mediation, saying that the US has generally encouraged China to leverage its influence with regional countries, especially those where the US has less sway, to prevent conflict escalation. One example was the Chinese-mediated deal last year restoring ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The US also urged China to discourage both Iran from financing proxies attacking Israel and the Houthis from targeting commercial shipping. “We have asked China to use its influence to try to bring those attacks to an end, and we’ll continue to do that,” Miller said.

Tuvia Gering, a China and Middle East analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies, said the move is part of China’s effort to rival the US by building alliances with developing nations as well as the Arab and Muslim world to prioritize its interests and stifle Western dominance.

China is “challenging America in every space possible as a new type of major power that takes in the considerations of the Global South and the coalitions of those oppressed by imperialism and Western hegemony” to create “a new global order,” he told The Algemeiner.

Gering condemned Beijing’s move, saying it “normalized terrorism” and will embolden the Palestinians into further intransigence in talks for any future peace accord.

“Until today, China failed to criticize [the Palestinians] and put all the onus onto Israel. This means effectively that the Palestinians will only adhere to the most maximalist positions in negotiations for the two state solution [which] will become even more of a distant reality,” Gering told The Algemeiner.

Gering also predicted that the “golden age” of China-Israel relations, which burgeoned over the last decade with the inking of major bilateral deals, was over because of China’s decision to “legitimize terror” since Oct. 7. Gering warned that moving forward, Israeli strategy in the region must also take China into account.

Gering expressed doubts that the declaration signed on Tuesday would lead to any major developments, noting “a large amount of skepticism” in the Arab world.

Indeed, the declaration gave no outline for how or when a new unity Palestinian government would be formed.

The Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, which was also a signatory on the declaration, issued a statement later in the day outlining its demand for all factions in any future unity government to reject recognition of Israel.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz blasted the agreement, saying it underscored Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ embrace of “the murderers and rapists” of Hamas, which rules Gaza.

“In reality, this won’t happen because Hamas’ rule will be crushed, and Abbas will be watching Gaza from afar. Israel’s security will remain solely in Israel’s hands,” Katz said.

In his statement, Wang reiterated China’s commitment to a “comprehensive, lasting, and sustainable ceasefire” in Gaza and advocated for an “international peace conference” aimed at pursuing a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Dina Lisnyansky, an expert in Middle East affairs and Islam, warned that while the deal may not come to fruition, China’s role is of growing concern for Israel. Egypt and Algeria — both mediators in failed past attempts at rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas — were far weaker than China as regional actors. “When China sets its sights on something it usually achieves its goals, so it should worry us greatly,” Lisnyansky told The Algemeiner.

Lisnyansky also said that Israel should sanction the PA for signing the declaration. “Israel should negate any entity that has any ties at all to Hamas, which needs to lose both its authority and legitimacy.”

The post US ‘Strongly Opposes’ China-Brokered Deal to Form Palestinian Unity Government With Terrorist Groups first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Here’s every Jewish athlete competing at the 2024 Paris Olympics

And who has the best chance of medalling in Paris.

The post Here’s every Jewish athlete competing at the 2024 Paris Olympics appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Kamala Harris’s Record on Israel Raises Questions About Support for Jewish State if Elected US President

US Vice President Kamala Harris. Photo: Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS

Following US President Joe Biden’s stunning exit from the 2024 presidential race, allies of Israel are looking for clues as to how Vice President Kamala Harris, the new presumptive Democratic nominee, could approach issues affecting the Jewish state if she were to win the White House in November.

Harris’s previous statements reveal a mixed record on Israel, offering signs of both optimism and pessimism to pro-Israel advocates.

Though Harris has voiced support for the Jewish state’s right to existence and self defense, she has also expressed sympathy for far-left narratives that brand Israel as “genocidal.” The vice president has additionally often criticized Israel’s war effort against the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in Gaza.

In 2017, while giving a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), then-Senator Harris delivered a 19-minute speech in which she showered praise on Israel, stating that she supports “the United States’ commitment to provide Israel with $38 billion in military assistance over the next decade.” Harris stated that America has “shared values” with Israel and that the bond between the two nations is “unbreakable.”

In 2020, while giving another speech to AIPAC, Harris emphasized that US support for Israel must remain “rock solid” and noted that Hamas “maintains its control of Gaza and fires rockets.”

Despite such statements of support, however, Harris has previously exhibited a degree of patience for those who make baseless smears against Israel. 

In October 2021, when confronted by a George Mason University student who angrily accused Israel of committing “ethnic genocide” against Palestinians, Harris quietly nodded along and then praised the student. 

“And again, this is about the fact that your voice, your perspective, your experience, your truth cannot be suppressed, and it must be heard,” Harris told the student. 

Following Hamas’ slaughter of 1,200 people and kidnapping of 250 others across southern Israel on Oct. 7, Harris has shown inconsistent support for the Jewish state. Although she initially backed Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas’ terrorism, she has also levied sharp criticism against the Jewish state’s ensuing war effort in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

During a call with then-Israeli war cabinet leader Benny Gantz earlier this year, Harris suggested that the Jewish state has recklessly imperiled the lives of Palestinian civilians while targeting Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

“Far too many Palestinian civilians, innocent civilians have been killed,” Harris said. 

The same month, while delivering a speech commemorating the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, Harris called the conditions in Gaza “devastating.”

“And given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire for at least the next six weeks,” Harris said.

While speaking with Israeli President Isaac Herzog to mark the Jewish holiday of Passover in April, Harris shared “deep concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and discussed steps to increase the flow of life-saving humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians and ensure its safe distribution.”

Harris also pushed the unsubstantiated narrative that Israel has intentionally withheld aid from the people of Gaza, triggering a famine. 

“People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane. And our common humanity compels us to act,” Harris said. “The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid.”

The United Nations Famine Review Committee (FRC), a panel of experts in international food security and nutrition, released a report in June arguing that there is not enough “supporting evidence” to suggest that a famine has occurred in Gaza.

Harris has also expressed sympathy for anti-Israel protesters on US university campuses. In an interview published earlier this month, Harris said that college students protesting Israel’s defensive military efforts against Hamas are “showing exactly what the human emotion should be.”

“There are things some of the protesters are saying that I absolutely reject, so I don’t mean to wholesale endorse their points,” she added. “But we have to navigate it. I understand the emotion behind it.”

Some indicators suggest that Harris could adopt a more antagonistic approach to the Jewish state than Biden. For example, Harris urged the White House to be more “sympathetic” toward Palestinians and take a “tougher” stance against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a Politico report in December. In March, White House aides forced Harris to tone down a speech that was too tough on Israel, according to NBC News.

Later, she did not rule out “consequences” for Israel if it launched a large-scale military offensive to root out Hamas battalions in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, citing humanitarian concerns for the civilian population.

Harris initially called for an “immediate ceasefire” before Biden and has often used more pointed language when discussing the war, Israel, and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. However, her advisers have sought to downplay the notion that she may be tougher on the Jewish state.

“The difference is not in substance but probably in tone,” one of Harris’s advisers told The Nation.

Meanwhile, Halie Soifer, who served as national security adviser to Harris during the then-senator’s first two years in Congress, said the current vice president’s support for Israel has been just as strong as Biden’s. “There really has been no daylight to be found” between the two, she told Reuters.

Still, Biden, 81, has a decades-long history of maintaining relationships with Israeli leaders and recently called himself a “Zionist.” Harris, 59, does not have such a connection to the Jewish state and maintains closer ties to Democratic progressives, many of whom have increasingly called for the US to turn away — or at least adopt a tougher approach toward — Israel

Former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman suggested that Harris would be a far less reliable ally than Biden, pointing to her ideological alignment with the most progressive lawmakers in Congress. 

“Biden made many mistakes regarding Israel, but he is miles ahead of Harris in terms of support for Israel,” Friedman told The Jerusalem Post. “She is on the fringe of the progressive wing of the party, which sympathizes more with the Palestinian cause.”

“This will move Jewish voters to the Republican side,” the former ambassador argued. “Harris lacks any affinity for Israel, and the Democratic Convention will highlight this contrast. This could lead to a historic shift of Jewish voters to the Republican side.”

Meanwhile, J Street, a progressive Zionist organization, eagerly endorsed Harris the day after Biden dropped out of the presidential race, citing her “nuanced, balanced approach” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflictt.

“Kamala Harris has been a powerful advocate for J Street’s values in the White House, from the fight against antisemitism to the need for a nuanced, balanced approach on Israel-Palestine,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement. “She’s been a steadfast supporter of hostage families and Israel’s security, while also being a leading voice for the protection of Palestinian civilians and the need to secure an urgent ceasefire.”

The post Kamala Harris’s Record on Israel Raises Questions About Support for Jewish State if Elected US President first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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