TEL AVIV (JTA) — Al Hambra Deli, a neighborhood cafe and wine bar in Jaffa, would usually expect to be bustling on this Thursday night, the beginning of the Israeli weekend. Located on Jerusalem Boulevard., one of the city’s main arteries, it’s right on the path of Tel Aviv’s recently opened light-rail system, and not far from a soccer stadium.
But this week, its doors have been shuttered. A sign greets passersby: “Beloved neighborhood, half of us are in the army and half are protecting our homes. We love you and are waiting to return, Staff.”
It’s a mood felt throughout the city and others in Israel’s crowded central region: Five days after an attack by Hamas killed and wounded thousands in the country’s south, streets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are chillingly quiet aside from sirens warning of incoming rockets. Schools are closed and residents are yearning for ways to help as they cope with the physical and emotional fallout of the massacre and the war Israel is now fighting against Hamas in Gaza.
Earlier this week, supermarket shelves emptied out as authorities recommended that Israelis stock up on three days’ worth of food. Shufersal, the country’s largest grocery chain, set limits on purchases of bread, bottled water, milk and eggs.
Details of the atrocities in the south continue to emerge, and 300,000 Israelis have been called up for reserve duty. Rockets continue to target Israeli cities, and Israeli airstrikes hit Gaza, as the country girds for what will likely be a prolonged conflict.
“We live in a permanent state of fear,” said Inès Forman, 29, a French-Israeli writer, describing the last week in Tel Aviv. “I feel anxiety and fear in my body every second that I am awake.”
Forman has committed herself to spreading news on social media about Saturday’s massacre. Many of the Instagram posts on her profile are about art or literature, but the images she’s shared over the past 24 hours are of a different kind: widely circulated clips of reporters describing the scenes they’ve encountered in towns on the Gaza border, and photos and video condemning Hamas and its supporters.
“We are working on fighting fake news… basically all day” she says of her new routine, keeping a schedule that involves waking up and starting at “five or six until very late at night. Yesterday, I finished at around one” in the morning.
On Thursday, Forman attended the afternoon funeral of her friend’s younger sister, Shira Eylon, 23, who was presumed captured until her body was discovered in the woods on Wednesday amongst those who were murdered at the massacre at the music festival outside Kibbutz Re’im.
“My beautiful and pure fairy — today you received wings. I love you forever,” her older sister wrote on Instagram, announcing her death.
“There is not anyone who doesn’t have a loved one who’s either been killed, someone who they know, a friend or a loved one, or injured, or taken captive” said Melanie Landau, a 50-year-old Australian-Israeli therapist living in the Baqa neighborhood of Jerusalem. “So many people are on the front line and just worried about their loved ones.”
Many residents have left Tel Aviv, traveling abroad or to an area of Israel farther from Gaza, and have listed their apartments on spreadsheets coordinating housing for refugees from areas in Israel’s north and south that have been evacuated. Several people described the normally crowded city as a “ghost town.”
Some Tel Aviv residents have relocated within the city. Lotte Beilin, a 30-year old British-Israeli news producer, is staying in a friend’s apartment because her own building is older and doesn’t have a bomb shelter. The city streets are “so quiet you can hear a pin drop.”
There are more “uplifting” moments too, Landau said, adding that “the sort of resilience and strength of the human spirit” has been on display this week.
Throughout the country, many efforts are underway to collect needed supplies for the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who arrived at their bases lacking some critical resources.
Lee Mangoli, a 32-year-old Canadian-Israeli yoga teacher in Tel Aviv, recalled that “on Sunday we started to come out of shock and I realized I needed to take action to help myself.” She met with a friend and started collecting food and other “basic amenities” like shampoo and socks for soldiers.
Very quickly, she says that their small project “exploded with money coming in from abroad… and we are dealing with a lot of requests from a lot of different bases that cost money.”
While there have not been any issues raising funds, her group has run into difficulties sourcing the supplies. “We are not finding the goods anymore. UPS and Fedex are not delivering to Israel” and certain much-requested items like Leatherman utility knives have been nearly impossible to locate. “I could buy 200 and have soldiers to give them to but nobody has them,” she said.
For others such as Becky Schneck, 36, a physical therapist and mother of four young children, the burden of her husband’s call-up to reserve duty on Saturday, in addition to the closure of schools until further notice, has been too overwhelming to consider volunteering for the war effort.
“I am so busy, I don’t even want to think about it too much,” she said. “I do not have the emotional capacity to deal with everything going on in my house and also everything going on in the country.” Neighbors in her community of Tzur Hadassah, outside Jerusalem, have stepped up to deliver food to families like hers.
While Masa Israel, an umbrella group for gap year programs, said shortly after the massacre that none of its 5,700 fellows were harmed, at least one program has closed — the Yahel Social Change Fellowship, which engages its participants in social action and volunteering across Israel.
“With a heavy heart, the Yahel board and staff have made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend the Yahel Social Change Fellowship until things calm down here,” announced Yahel’s executive director, Dana Talmi.
Others are pressing on. At the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, staff “are doing the best we can… [going] into overdrive to support our students as much as humanly possibly,” said Meesh Hammer-Kossoy, the dean of students. “Pardes is pretty serious about running” in spite of the war. Of the approximately 80 students studying year-long, 18 have joined classes via Zoom from abroad.
“We are resolutely gathering for regular prayer and trying to study as best as we can,” she said.
Landau said that many Israelis are engaged in “a battle of consciousness.”
“There are a lot of people getting overexposed to a lot of the imagery and I think that is part of the battle,” she said. “Not to lose faith in humanity and not to be pulled in by that.”
Julie Platt, chair of Jewish federations group, is helming Penn’s board amid leadership transition
(JTA) — To steer the university through an unexpected leadership change induced by debate over antisemitism, the board of the University of Pennsylvania turned to their vice chair — who is also one of the most prominent Jewish communal leaders in the country.
Julie Beren Platt, a 1979 Penn graduate, has been on the Penn board of trustees since 2006 and recently started her second stint as vice chair, making her a natural fit to step up when chair Scott Bok resigned from the management body on Saturday, following the resignation of the university’s president, Liz Magill.
Platt is also the chair of Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella of 146 local Jewish communal bodies that has collected more than $700 million — and allocated more than $240 — to drive the American Jewish philanthropic response to the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Platt cited that commitment in emphasizing that her leadership of Penn’s board would last for a short period: She said she will step down in January when a permanent chair is selected.
Platt’s dual roles mean that she has been on the front lines in two of the most prominent organizations reshaped by the Oct. 7 attack and its aftermath. It also suggests, as she acknowledged in a statement, that even the presence of a seasoned Jewish leader in a senior university board position is not sufficient to address antisemitism on college campuses right now.
“I have worked hard from the inside to address the rising issues of antisemitism on campus. Unfortunately, we have not made all the progress that we should have and intend to accomplish,” Platt said in a statement issued by JFNA, adding, “I will continue as a board member of the university to use my knowledge and experience of Jewish life in North America and at Penn to accelerate this critical work.”
A JFNA spokesperson declined to elaborate on how she will balance the two roles.
Platt, 66, is the daughter of Robert Beren, the Kansas City oil magnate and Jewish philanthropist who died in August at 97. She is also the mother of five children — four of them Penn graduates — including the Broadway actor Ben Platt and Jonah Platt, a musician who also sits on the board of 70 Faces Media, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s parent company.
Previously the chair of the Los Angeles federation and the Foundation for Jewish Camp, Platt also chairs a foundation named for her and her husband, Hollywood producer Marc Platt, and has been involved in an array of Jewish educational initiatives.
She became the second woman to helm JFNA’s board last year, assuming leadership of the fundraising organization at a crucial time. The organization has distributed hundreds of millions to groups providing emergency aid in Israel since Oct. 7. The group has also supported local Jewish communities in the United States in strengthening their own response to antisemitism through an initiative, LiveSecure, created in 2021, that Platt was instrumental in launching.
“We are leading the largest mobilization in our history in support of Israel’s right to protect its citizens and against the rise of antisemitism in North America, including staging the largest Jewish rally in American history on the National Mall,” Platt said in her statement. “We will continue this fight with all our energy.”
Penn was already grappling with a crisis related to antisemitism in the weeks prior to Oct. 7, as a festival featuring Palestinian writers drew criticism. Platt and Bok had issued a statement of confidence in Liz Magill, Penn’s president, in the wake of that crisis and in the immediate aftermath of Oct. 7, even as some criticized the school’s initially response as tepid.
But last week, Magill was one of three college presidents who declined during a congressional hearing to say that the genocide of Jews would violate their schools’ codes of conduct. Her testimony drew criticism from Pennsylvania’s Jewish governor, Josh Shapiro, and even the White House.
Platt said in a statement that she believed Magill had fallen short in the hearing. “In my view, given the opportunity to choose between right and wrong, the three university presidents testifying in the United States House of Representatives failed,” she said. “The leadership change at the university was therefore necessary and appropriate.”
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Thousands of Jews and non-Jews rally against antisemitism in Berlin
BERLIN (JTA) – Several thousand Berliners braved a chilling rain Sunday to demonstrate against antisemitism at an interfaith rally at the city’s iconic Brandenburg Gate.
The event — which drew a broad coalition of politicians and religious leaders as well as popular stars — was a response to a record increase in reported antisemitic incidents across Germany in the month after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
Dubbed “Never again is now — Germany stands up,” the rally was organized by a Jewish real estate magnate, Nicolai Schwarzer.
In announcing the event, Schwarzer, 48, said he wanted “to send a powerful and unmistakable signal to the world — from the heart of the capital — that no form of antisemitism, hatred or xenophobia will be tolerated in Berlin or anywhere else in Germany.”
The rally joins several others organized in major cities in Europe and the United States to demonstrate opposition to antisemitism. They have been organized in part as a counterpoint to the large pro-Palestinian rallies that have taken place in many of those cities. Such rallies have been relatively muted and heavily monitored by police in Germany, where antisemitic speech and criticism of Israel are circumscribed by laws enacted in part because of the country’s role in perpetrating the Holocaust. Still, pro-Palestinian sentiment, including among Germany’s large immigrant population, is high.
“Sometimes I don’t recognize this country, something has gone out of control,” Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said at the rally.
He described a pro-Hamas protest that took place at Berlin’s University of the Arts on Nov. 13, where he said participants “dressed in black to look like Hamas terrorists. They had painted their hands red — a clear reference to the murder of two Israeli soldiers by an Islamist mob in Gaza more than 20 years ago. The whole thing was orchestrated by visiting professors from the global south – how can that be?” Schuster said the incident was proof of the danger of the movement to boycott Israel, which has been considered officially antisemitic in Germany since 2018.
Bärbel Bas, the president of Germany’s parliament, read through a litany of antisemitic incidents: “Swastikas and Stars of David have been daubed on synagogues, memorials and even private homes.” In one notable incident on Oct. 18, two Molotov cocktails were thrown at a Jewish community center that houses a synagogue as well as a kindergarten.
Bas described hearing from a student who was the only child to attend class at her Jewish school on a day when fear reigned about a Hamas call for violence abroad.
“Jews are afraid, and they feel left alone. And it’s not only hate that creates this feeling, but also silence and indifference,” she said. “And that’s why it’s important that we make a powerful, wipeable and loud statement here today. Never again is now.”
Other speakers included Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Ron Prosor; Berlin’s mayor, Kai Wegner; author Michel Friedman; 1990s pop music icon Herbert Grönemeyer; and Hubertus Heil, Germany’s minister of labor and social affairs.
The rally began with the lighting of a Hanukkah menorah by Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal, the head of Berlin’s chapter of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Representatives of Catholic and Protestant churches lit advent candles.
Eren Güvercin, a member of the German Islam Conference — which the German government started as a forum for dialogue in 2006 — delivered a prayer of his own, for “peace for the souls” of the Israelis murdered on Oct. 7 and for the hostages and their families, “who fear for their loved ones.”
“And we pray for peace for the people who are now suffering the consequences of this terrorist organization’s crimes in Gaza,” he added. “Nothing we say here today will solve the Middle East conflict. But we raise our voices to remind everyone who lives together here in this city, in this country: Faith is a source from which we draw to create peace. Faith must not divide us. It must unite us.”
Organizers claimed 11,000 people had taken part in the rally, though police estimated the attendance at 3,000. Those gathered were praised by many speakers for braving the weather to show their support. They included members of Berlin’s Jewish community, estimated at over 30,000, as well as non-Jewish allies.
“This is the third time we have been here in front of the Brandenburg Gate since Oct. 7,” said Berliner Melanie Schmergal, 55. “It upsets me that you don’t see any big demonstrations for Israel’s right to exist and against antisemitism. You see other people screaming quite a bit. [But] I believe… that the others are not in the majority.”
“It is important to take a stand against any kind of extremism,” said Christian Götz, 60. “And that Israel has a right to defend itself, and that we as a population have to show, especially here in Berlin, that we are on Israel’s side.”
The pair, who are not Jewish, said they had met the descendants of Jews who used to live in their building in Berlin, and who were either deported or managed to flee Nazi Germany.
“It’s so incredible that something like this seems possible again,” Schmergal said.
On Dec. 8, the Bergen-Belsen Memorial in Lower Saxony hosted a public panel discussion marking 75 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifically addressing the issue of antisemitism after the Hamas terrorist attack.
Next week, the Berlin-based Tikvah Institute is co-hosting the presentation of a study on how Russian-speaking Jews in Germany perceive antisemitism after Oct. 7. About 90% of all Jews in Germany today are migrants from the former Soviet Union.
And though not in Germany, the annual Claims Conference International Holocaust Survivors Night on Dec. 11 — a star-studded event whose virtual guests of honor will include German Chancellor Olaf Scholz — “takes on unique significance,” said the organization’s president, Gideon Taylor: “We are reminded that some of the strongest among us survived during the darkest of times.”
Despite the alarming statistics in Germany and elsewhere, Jews are in a better position today in terms of world support than they were in the 1930s-40s, said New Yorker Menachem Rosensaft, who was born at the displaced persons camp at Bergen-Belsen and participated in the recent round table at the memorial.
“President Biden, for one, is the polar opposite of FDR in his unequivocal support for Israel after Oct. 7 and his equally unequivocal repudiation and condemnation of all manifestations of antisemitism,” said Rosensaft, who is also the chair of the Advisory Board of the Lower Saxony Memorials Foundation.
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Jews don’t count, but do we want to? Phoebe Maltz Bovy on why the Ivy League antisemitism hearings (sort of) matter
Someone clue me in: What’s a “Harvard”? There is but one university in North America that anyone cares about, to the point that if someone at it has a hangnail, it’s front-page news. Only one that gets the euphemistic treatment: I went to school in the Boston area, as though if the H-word were uttered […]