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Jared Armstrong, basketball player who fought for Israeli citizenship, is now working to promote Black-Jewish relations

(JTA) — Basketball player Jared Armstrong made headlines last year for his months-long effort to obtain Israeli citizenship. Armstrong, who was raised Jewish and completed a Conservative conversion to help his citizenship bid, was rejected multiple times before being granted temporary residence last May. The case drew attention from prominent Jewish leaders and drew accusations of racism.

It also cost him a spot on Hapoel Haifa, a team in Israel’s top basketball league, he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The team voided his contract because he didn’t receive citizenship in time.

But this weekend, before returning to play hoops in Israel’s second-tier league, Armstrong is putting the drama aside to focus on something else he is passionate about: strengthening the relationship between the Jewish and Black communities.

On Sunday, Armstrong is running a free basketball clinic for sixth, seventh and eighth graders in Philadelphia. If all goes well, he hopes to start a two-week summer camp next year to continue this work.

“With a rich history of Black and Jewish relations, and kind of where we’re at in society, it’s only right that we come closer together,” Armstrong said. “I thought it would be great to do that starting from the youngest age and up.”

The controversies and accusations of antisemitism surrounding rapper Kanye West and NBA star Kyrie Irving last year led to increased calls for collaboration between the Black and Jewish communities, from members of Congress to other prominent sports leaders like New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Armstrong said 28 kids have signed up for his clinic, including both Jewish and Black athletes, with some attendees coming in from as far as Connecticut. His goal is to use sports as a vehicle for combating antisemitism and racism, and he hopes that as many as 80 sign up for a camp next year.

“I think at a young age, most kids have a passion for something they love,” Armstrong said. “Sports are normally the first thing they fall in love with, and it’s a great way to build community, build lifelong relationships and learn a lot of life lessons.”

This weekend’s participants will hear from Eric Rubin, a veteran financial executive who is involved in several Jewish organizations aimed at using sports to combat hate.

Rubin is the managing director of Project Max, a collaboration between the Maccabi World Union sports umbrella and the Israeli AI company Sighteer. Its mission is to “fight racism, antisemitism, and intolerance through sports.” Armstrong sits on the group’s advisory board. Rubin is also a board member of Athletes for Israel, the organization that has organized Israel trips for a number of top U.S. collegiate basketball teams.

Armstrong said Rubin will speak to the participants about “the importance of community and being able to work with people that are different from you.” Attendees will also meet American former professional basketball player Bilal Benn, who has played in Israel.

Growing up in Severn, Maryland before moving to Philadelphia during middle school, Armstrong was raised Jewish by a mother whose conversion is not recognized by any of the major Jewish denominations. His own conversion was overseen by Rabbi Michael Beals, a Conservative rabbi in Delaware known for his close relationship with U.S. President Joe Biden. Beals has said that Israel’s rejection of Armstrong’s citizenship application was an “insult to the Conservative movement,” whose rabbis have struggled for recognition in a state where religious affairs are dominated by Orthodox rabbis.

At the same time Armstrong’s case was denied by Israel’s Interior Ministry last year, Portuguese soccer player Miguel Vitor was granted citizenship to play soccer in Israel. Israeli media questioned why Vitor received preferential treatment while Armstrong saw his case drag on with no resolution.

At the end of the month, Armstrong, who played Division II basketball at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, is headed back to Israel to join Elitzur Ironi Ashkelon, a team in Liga Leumit, or National League, Israel’s second tier of professional basketball. Last year, he ultimately played for Maccabi Rishon LeZion, which is also in Liga Leumit. The season begins in October.

“I have lifelong friends that I’ve made in Israel, not only through my case, but outside of my case and through playing basketball,” Armstrong said. “I love the country as a whole. I love being there. I love the experience. It’s my second home.”

Armstrong said he hasn’t faced any racism in Israel, but rather what he called ignorance from those who question his Jewishness based on the color of his skin.

“I think there’s just a lack of information that I see not only Israel, [but] in the American community as well,” Armstrong said. “That needs to change.”

Beals told JTA that he and Armstrong are still in touch throughout the year, especially when Armstrong is in the U.S.

“I only have great things to say about Jared Armstrong — his persistence, his vision, his ability to turn lemonade from lemons,” Beals said.

Beals praised Armstrong for staying the course through his citizenship fight. “Other people would’ve given up, but he had a bigger picture of what he wanted to achieve,” Beals said.

“He really personifies everything I would hope for in a human being,” Beals added.

The post Jared Armstrong, basketball player who fought for Israeli citizenship, is now working to promote Black-Jewish relations appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Over 1,000 university professors will participate in a new campaign to show solidarity with Jewish students experiencing levels of antisemitism that are without precedent in the history of the United States, the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), which promotes academic freedom, announced on Tuesday.

Titled “KeeptheLightOn,” the initiative comes amid a reckoning of congressional investigations, lawsuits, and civil rights inquiries prompted by an explosion of antisemitic discrimination at some of America’s most prestigious universities. It will see the formation of a new group, the Faculty Against Antisemitism Movement (FAAM), comprising professors from across the US who will pressure senior administrators at their schools to address anti-Jewish hatred as robustly as other forms of racism.

“We have written books, op-eds, and articles, but they are not penetrating the echo chamber of anti-Zionist antisemitism,” Southwestern University English professor Michael Saenger said in a press release. “As with previous protest movements, visual displays are sometimes necessary to get people to stop demonizing marginalized groups. We need to respond to bullying and hate, directed against ourselves and Jewish students, more directly and more personally: by visibly advocating for a university that treats Jews as people, and that treats Israel as a nation.”

As part of the campaign, FAAM professors will leave their office lights on after hours to “publicly demonstrate their commitment to fighting antisemitism.” AEN added on Tuesday that the lights will “also symbolize the faculty’s commitment to ‘light a fire’ under administrators to ensure a better academic year ahead.”

“Keep the Light On” was inspired by University of California, Berkeley professor Richard Hassner, who last month held what was widely believed to be the first teacher “sleep-in” protest of antisemitism, AEN said. For two weeks, Hassner lived in his office until administrators agreed to stop an anti-Zionist group’s blockade of a campus foot-bridge which made it impossible for Jewish students to cross without being verbally abused.

Numerous Jewish faculty members at other campuses have also begun stepping up and demanding a change. Some have organized faculty trips to Israel. Others have cobbled their peers together to form groups — such as Yale’s Forum for Jewish Faculty & Friends and Indiana University’s Faculty and Staff for Israel — which have since grown exponentially and will serve as a well of support for FAAM.

“The FAAM initiative is both a distressing sign of the times and a hopeful symbol for the future not only for Jews but also for the academy,” Smith College professor and AEN advisory board member Donna Robinson Divine said. “An academy that has become the core location for an activism promoting social justice cannot sustain its credibility by tolerating hostile attacks against its Jewish student and faculty. Nor can education leaders preserve the legitimacy of the universities over which they preside by ignoring the recycling of this old and dangerous hatred. Rooting out antisemitism in classrooms, lecture halls, and social gatherings is thus as important for Jewish students and faculty as it is for the academy and the nation.”

As The Algemeiner has previously reported, Jewish college students have never faced such extreme levels of hatred. Since Oct. 7 — when Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists invaded Israel, massacred 1,200 people, and kidnapped 253 others as hostages — they have endured death threats, physical assaults, and volleys of racist verbal attacks unlike anything seen in the US since the 1950s.

Many college officials at first responded to the problem sluggishly, according to critics, who noted universities offered a host of reasons for why antisemitic speech should be protected even as they censored students and professors who uttered statements perceived as being conservative. At the same time, progressive thought leaders came under fire for hesitating to acknowledge a swelling of antisemitic attitudes in institutions and organizations reputed to be champions of civil rights and persecuted minority groups. One recent study found that US universities have demonstrated an “anti-Jewish double standard” by responding to Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel and the ensuing surge in campus antisemitism much less forcefully than they did to crimes perpetrated against African Americans and Asians.

The situation changed after three presidents of elite universities were hauled before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce to account for their handling of antisemitism and said on the record that there are cases in which they would decline to punish students who called for a genocide of the Jewish people. The stunning admissions prompted the resignations of Elizabeth M. Magill as president of University of Pennsylvania and eventually of Claudine Gay, Harvard University’s former president, who would not leave until a series of reporters exposed her as a serial plagiarist.

The US Congress is currently investigating whether several colleges intentionally ignored discrimination when its victims were Jewish. On Wednesday, its focus will shift to Columbia University, where Jewish students have been beaten up and harassed because they support Israel. The school’s president, Minouche Shafik, is scheduled to testify, and the event promises to be a much scrutinized affair.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students first appeared on

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Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one

It was close, but Toronto synagogues Adath Israel and Beth David will remain separate entities after Beth David’s vote on amalgamation fell short of the required two-thirds threshold. Adath Israel, the larger of the two Conservative synagogues by membership and facility size, voted overwhelmingly on April 14 to amalgamate, with 91 percent in favour. But […]

The post Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder

Jewish women in Ethiopia sort through grain to be used in baking matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

The Jewish community in the embattled region of Gondar, Ethiopia is preparing for the world’s largest Passover Seder this year, with nearly 4,000 Ethiopian Jews residing in camps and awaiting immigration to Israel expected to attend.

Over 80,000 matzot have been baked by members of the community over the past several weeks in preparation for the holiday, Jeremy Feit, the president of the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ) aid group, told The Algemeiner. A smaller Seder, with almost 1,000 attendees, will take place in the capital of Addis Ababa.

The Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates the Biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt, will begin next Monday evening and end the following Tuesday.

A portion of the 80,000 matzot for use during Passover in Ethiopia. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

Past Passover Seders in Ethiopia have provided attendees a rare opportunity to partake in the traditional feast, offering some their first ever taste of meat — a luxury they could not otherwise afford. But according to Feit, food price hikes of 50 percent to 100 percent have meant that this year’s feast will largely consist of potatoes and eggs.

“With the extreme price increases and the resulting hunger, the community will feel the intensity as they pray to celebrate the Seder next year with their families in Jerusalem,” Feit said.

The Seder comes on the heels of an airlift of medical supplies for the beleaguered community, facilitated by SSEJ. Ten pallets of aid were delivered to a medical clinic established by the group a year ago in Gondar, serving 3,300 children and 700 elderly. The aid was dedicated in memory of former US Sen. Joe Lieberman, who served as SSEJ’s honorary chairman and who passed away during the weeks-long airlift operation.

SSEJ, which is based in the US  and entirely volunteer-run, is the only provider of humanitarian aid to Jews in Ethiopia. The group aims to mitigate some of the hunger ravaging the community by providing more than 2.5 million meals per year, prioritizing very young children, pregnant and nursing women, and students at a local yeshiva, who Feit said were often “so hungry they would faint in class.”

SSEJ and its leaders have assisted around 60,000 Ethiopians immigrate to Israel, more than the total number brought to the Jewish state during its storied military operations in 1984 and 1991.

Jewish men in Ethiopia need the dough that will be baked into matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

According to Feit, some 13,000 Jews still remain in Ethiopia. Recent years have seen several hundred Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Israel at a time, especially during periods of violent civil strife, but even that trickle has dried up following the brutal Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel.

“The average person in Gondar and Addis Ababa has been waiting to make aliyah for 20 years,” Feit said, using the Hebrew term for immigration. “They left their villages with the thought that Israel was going to bring them in. And they’ve been left since as internally displaced refugees.”

Feit said the decades-long wait is especially painful for those with first-degree relatives in Israel, and is further compounded for those with relatives serving in the Israeli military.

“Jews in Ethiopia are extremely concerned about their [family members’] welfare as the IDF [Israel Defense Fores] battles Hamas terrorists” in Gaza, he explained. “They are especially concerned given the vastly disproportionate number of Ethiopian Jewish soldiers killed in Israel during the current conflict.” Jews in Ethiopia, he averred, comprise “one of the most Zionist communities in the world.”

Since Oct. 7, there has been no indication as to how many Ethiopian Jews will be brought to Israel and when. Those with relatives in Israel were struck with another blow when Israel’s economy took a hit following the Hamas onslaught, and many of those who rely on remittance from their loved ones in Israel stopped receiving money.

“This has left the Jews in Ethiopia in a dire situation, with food and medical care hard to come by. Living in squalor, without access to clean water, electricity, or even bathrooms, the malnourished Jews in Ethiopia suffer untold horrors,” Feit said.

Despite the grim depiction, Feit struck a more positive note about the upcoming holiday.

Ethiopian Jews eating matzot in synagogue last year. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

“Given that most of the year they’re feeling despair at their lack of redemption, at least Passover is a time to celebrate the possibility of redemption and reunification,” he said. “Being able to celebrate with thousands of their friends and family members in a joyous celebration of Passover is a welcome relief.”

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