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Israelis are going forward with their weddings despite war and loss in their own families

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Doron Perez thought he would be supporting his son Yonatan under the huppah at Yonatan’s wedding last week. Instead, it was Yonatan holding him up — and defying all odds to do so.

Yonatan Perez had been shot in a battle with terrorists on Oct. 7. His brother Daniel Perez was missing in action, and Daniel’s tankmates were dead and abducted. Their country had been plunged into despair.

And yet the family went on with the wedding on the date set months prior, despite the pain they all felt.

“We couldn’t really think about [the wedding] for the first few days, and with Yonatan injured, we didn’t quite know what to do,” Doron Perez, a rabbi and executive chairman of the Mizrachi World Movement, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

But five days after the attack, when Daniel was officially declared missing and it became clear that Yonatan would recover enough to return to his unit, the path forward became clear. Yonatan and Galya Landau, whose family had been evacuated from their kibbutz, wed at Yad Binyamin, where the Perez family lives, on Oct. 17.

Yonatan Perez and Galya Landau are wed at Yad Binyamin in Israel on Oct. 20, 2023. Perez was wounded in the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 and his brother was declared missing. (Courtesy Perez family)

“It wasn’t a difficult decision but it was difficult to go through the experience of the decision,” Perez said. The wedding itself, he said, was “a happy event” despite the circumstances.

“It just felt holy,” he said. “It felt like we’re living in a special time of big things happening … and even though the price has already been so difficult, the overriding feeling was one of happiness, one of just celebration.”

The family’s experience was an extreme version of what many couples in Israel are going through, as they decide whether and how to follow through with their weddings despite the pain and upheaval instigated by Hamas’ attack on Israel.

Some are downsizing their celebrations because family and friends from abroad are unable to come. Many also want to ensure that guests can get to bomb shelters if needed. Others are seeing the guest list grow as bringing joy to brides and grooms has joined the tasks for which Israelis are volunteering in droves.

Some couples are rushing their nuptials in advance of grooms heading to the reserves. And a few have gotten married on the front lines, their parents and fellow soldiers the only guests at ceremonies in the shadow of war.

Reuven Lebetkin, 25, and Shirel Tayeb, 23, were supposed to get married on Monday with many of their family members in attendance from overseas. Both moved to Israel with their families as children, Lebetkin from Miami and Tayeb from France. Instead, they had an intimate wedding at Israel’s northern border, where threats from Hezbollah in Lebanon loomed.

“That’s the date that we decided beforehand. We don’t believe that it’s good luck to push it off,” Lebetkin said. “Also, if we do it means that we give into the terrorism.”

The couple had chosen a song by Israeli musician Noam Banai to play during the veiling ceremony, called a bedeken. They were shocked to see Banai himself at the wedding, in a surprise organized by his friends. Banai ended up playing for the entire ceremony.

Other prominent Israeli musicians have made appearances at wartime weddings. The religious pop star Ishay Ribo played at a backyard wedding where the groom was on a 24-hour leave, according to a report in the Times of Israel, and Ivri Lider sang his hit “I was Fortunate to Love” at a wedding that was downsized from a 400-person hall to an apartment balcony. (Lider also sang the song at the funeral of a soldier who had planned to have it played at his wedding on Oct. 20.)

Hanan Ben Ari surprised another couple, Nadav and Noam, at their ceremony on a military base. Eden Hasson sang for a couple after encountering their wedding while visiting a military base to cheer up soldiers. And the singer Ariel Zilber posted a video of himself performing at a different wedding in the north on Thursday, a red carpet laid down next to a military truck, the bride wearing military attire along with a veil and flowers.

The weddings frequently go viral on social media, in an indication of how deeply the traumatized nation is craving signs of joy and hope.

For the Perez family, just being able to hold the wedding at all was a triumph. It was Yonatan who had alerted his father that Daniel’s tank was missing from their base near Kibbutz Nahal Oz — a fact they found reassuring. “It was a good sign,” Perez said, pointing to the tank’s indestructibility.

But Yonatan, who was shot in the leg during a five-hour gun battle in the Gaza envelope, painted a dire picture of the base, which was overrun by terrorists. “There was death and destruction all around. RPGs everywhere. Every army vehicle had been destroyed,” Perez said, citing Yonatan.

One of the soldiers from Daniel’s tank, Tomer Liebowitz, was found dead. Another, Itay Chen, was confirmed captured. Chen’s father, Ruby, last week also celebrated a lifecycle event — a bar mitzvah — in the absence of his older son, telling JTA that his youngest son “deserved to have a happy bar mitzvah.” Then he flew to the United States to lobby at the United Nations and in Washington, D.C., on behalf of his son and the more than 220 other Israelis taken hostage.

Daniel’s absence was palpable at Yonatan and Galya’s wedding. “When the rabbi mentioned him, it was very, very hard and I broke down,” Perez said. “I had my son holding me up, instead of me holding him up.”

His daughter, meanwhile, said the hardest part of the wedding was being pictured with all her siblings — minus one. “It was a moment that was hard, and we acknowledged that and validated it.”

But, Perez continued, even though Daniel’s “presence, or lack thereof, permeated the whole wedding, it didn’t set the tone.”

Jewish weddings have a built-in acknowledgment of catastrophe amid joy, in the breaking of the glass that takes place at the end of the ceremony. Jewish tradition also holds that weddings should go on as planned whenever possible, no matter the circumstances.

Perez said he had gained a new appreciation for those ideas, in an acutely personal way.

“Unfortunately, I’ve had to learn that it somehow is possible to live with such conflicting, contradictory feelings as deep pain, worry, dread, fear… and at the same time to marry off a son,” he said. “I have learned that it’s possible to do both. To sort of compartmentalize, and I think I did that at the wedding.”

He said he knows his family isn’t the first to forge forward in moments of crisis.

“I’ve also drawn a lot of strength that throughout the most challenging times, Jewish people got married and had families,” he said, citing the Holocaust as an example. “We are part of a people that sanctifies life. It’ll be a new dawn and a much better time for the Jewish people going forward.”

The post Israelis are going forward with their weddings despite war and loss in their own families appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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UN Committee Says Not Enough Evidence to Declare a Famine in Gaza

Egyptian trucks carrying humanitarian aid make their way to the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, at the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Israel, May 30, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

The United Nations Famine Review Committee (FRC), a panel of experts in international food security and nutrition, has cast doubt on the notion that the northern Gaza Strip is suffering through a famine.

In a report released earlier this month, the committee responded to a claim by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) — a US-created provider of warning and analysis on food insecurity — that a famine was likely underway in northern Gaza. FEWS NET said that northern Gaza began experiencing famine in April and projected that the embattled enclave would endure famine until at least July 31.

The FRC rejected the assertion that northern Gaza is experiencing famine, citing the “uncertainty and lack of convergence of the supporting evidence employed in the analysis.” The panel carries out evaluations of humanitarian conditions on behalf of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), an international famine monitoring initiative. 

The FRC added that there is not sufficient evidence to confirm the existence of a famine within northern Gaza and called for more humanitarian access into the warzone, providing experts an opportunity to give an accurate assessment of the conditions. 

“The very fact that we are unable to endorse (or not) FEWS NET’s analysis is driven by the lack of essential up-to-date data on human well-being in northern Gaza, and Gaza at large,” the report stated. “Thus, the FRC strongly requests all parties to enable humanitarian access in general, and specifically to provide a window of opportunity to conduct field surveys in northern Gaza to have more solid evidence of the food consumption, nutrition, and mortality situation.”

However, the panel warned that Gaza is still enduring “extreme human suffering” and called for the “complete, safe, unhindered, and sustained” transport of aid into the enclave.

The report represents a course-reversal for the FRC, which claimed that Gaza likely surpassed the “famine thresholds for acute malnutrition” in March. The FRC now contends that civilians in Gaza are experiencing improved humanitarian conditions as a result of increased aid flowing into the war-torn enclave.   

“Since the FRC review conducted in March 2024, there seems to have been a significant increase in the number of food trucks entering northern Gaza,” the report read.

“The FEWS NET analysis acknowledges that humanitarian assistance in the area has increased significantly, finding that caloric availability from humanitarian assistance increased from 9 percent in February to 34 percent  to 36 percent in March and 59 percent to 63 percent in April. The opening of alternative routes to the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings, the authorization of commercial truck entry, as well as airdrops, allowed for an increase of food availability,” the report continued.

Several aid agencies, media outlets, and politicians, as well as pro-Palestinian activists, have repeatedly accused Israel of inflicting famine on Palestinians since beginning its military operations in Gaza following Hamas’ Oct. 7 slaughter of over 1,200 people throughout southern Israel. Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, accused Israel of using starvation as a “weapon of war.”

Despite these allegations, data produced by the United Nations showed that Israel allowed more than 100 food trucks to enter Gaza per day in March, an increase from the daily average of 70 trucks before the war. Moreover, many trucks transporting aid into Gaza have been hijacked and seized by Hamas terrorists, increasing the difficulty of distributing food to civilians.

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Hundreds rallied outside Toronto school board offices to protest a racism report that doesn’t mention antisemitism

Hundreds of people filled the lawn in front of the Toronto District School Board (TSDB) to oppose a proposed anti-discrimination policy being voted on by trustees that would include recognizing anti-Palestinian racism—while failing to acknowledge rising antisemitism in schools. The report, entitled Combating Hate and Racism: Student Learning Strategy, was received without any amendments by […]

The post Hundreds rallied outside Toronto school board offices to protest a racism report that doesn’t mention antisemitism appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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French President Denounces ‘Scourge of Antisemitism’ After 12-Year-Old Jewish Girl Raped

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference in Paris, France, June 12, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday denounced the “scourge of antisemitism” and called on schools to hold discussions on racism and hatred of Jews after three boys were charged with raping a 12-year-old Jewish girl in a Paris suburb.

The young girl told police that she was approached by three boys who raped and beat her in the northwestern Paris suburb of Courbevoie on Saturday in an incident that French authorities have described as a hate crime. According to French media, the assailants called the victim a “dirty Jew” and uttered other antisemitic remarks during the brutal gang-rape.

A police source told AFP that one of the boys asked the young girl questions about “her Jewish religion” and Israel, citing the child’s statement to investigators.

The boys — two aged 13 and one 12 — were arrested on Monday and indicted on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Macron’s office said the president asked French Education Minister Nicole Belloubet “to organize a discussion in all schools on the fight against antisemitism and racism, to prevent hate speech with serious consequences from infiltrating schools.”

The rape of the unnamed 12-year-old girl has caused outrage throughout France and among the Jewish community.

Elie Korchia, president of France’s Central Israelite Consistory, told BFM TV that the girl was raped “because she is Jewish,” adding, “We have never seen antisemitism that extends so far in all areas of life.”

Courbevoie Mayor Jacques Kossowski echoed that sentiment in a statement released on X/Twitter, saying, “The rape was carried out with antisemitic intent.”

Eric Ciotti, leader of Les Républicains, also condemned the “rise of antisemitism” in France, which he argued was “fueled by the alliance of the far left.” He added that “we must act as a bulwark” against antisemitism.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing National Rally party, decried the rape on social media. She noted “the explosion of antisemitic acts” in France since Oct. 7.

The recent gang-rape came amid a record surge of antisemitism in France in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. Antisemitic outrages rose by over 1,000 percent in the final three months of 2023 compared with the previous year, with over 1,200 incidents reported — greater than the total number of incidents in France for the previous three years combined.

In April, a Jewish woman was beaten and raped in a suburb of Paris as “vengeance for Palestine.”

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