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Jewish Life Stories: Hasidic filmmaker Menachem Daum, pioneering publisher Carol Hupping Fisher 

This article is also available as a weekly newsletter, “Life Stories,” where we remember those who made an outsize impact in the Jewish world — or just left their community a better or more interesting place. Subscribe here to get “Life Stories” in your inbox every Tuesday.

(JTA) — Filmmaker Menachem Daum, a member of Brooklyn’s Gerer hasidic movement whose documentaries challenged preconceptions about haredi Jews and Polish gentiles, died Jan. 7. He was 77.

A gerontologist by training, Daum and his frequent collaborator, Oren Rudavsky, made the 1997 PBS documentary, “A Life Apart: Hasidism in America,” which introduced many Americans to his community from a rare insider’s perspective. In “Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust” (2004), he traveled to Poland in part to dispel his religious sons’ mistrust of gentiles by finding the Polish family that helped save his parents during the Holocaust. And in “The Ruins of Lifta” (2016), he and Rudavsky documented the efforts of an Israeli-Arab group trying to prevent an empty Arab village from being demolished by Israeli developers.

Daum was born October 5, 1946 at the Landsburg Displaced Persons Camp in Germany, and lived in Brooklyn most of his life. Last year, Daum told the news site Shtetl that he made “A Life Apart” as a way to honor his father, a Holocaust survivor and devoted Hasid. And he made “Hiding and Seeking” to challenge his community’s discourse around gentiles. “As a Jewish filmmaker, I use film to challenge stereotypes,” he told the Jewish Standard in 2022. “If Jews thought that all Poles were incorrigible antisemites, I can show films about the Poles who protected my family, and Poles who now are going to great lengths to protect Jewish cemeteries.”

Author and filmmaker Eva Fogelman, whose advice Daum sought in making “Hiding and Seeking,” told JTA she appreciated his “courage to speak out against intolerance within a religious community that was healing itself from persecution and is not ready to embrace ‘the other.’”

A bat mitzvah at 91

Holocaust survivor Eugenia Unger, then 91, celebrates her bat mitzvah in Buenos Aires in 2017. (Facebook screenshot)

In 2017, after decades in which she shared her experiences of surviving the Majdanek and Auschwitz concentration camps, Eugenia Unger made national news in Argentina by celebrating her bat mitzvah at age 91. She was called to the Torah at the Herzliya Jewish community center and synagogue in Buenos Aires, which also organized a birthday celebration in her honor. She told Argentine media that “the culmination of my whole life is my bat mitzvah.” One of the founding members of the Holocaust Museum of Buenos Aires in 2000, she wrote three books about her experiences. Unger died Dec. 19 in a private hospital in Buenos Aires. She was 97.

A tireless defender of public health

Sidney M. Wolfe (1937–2024), physician who challenged drug companies. (Wikimedia Commons)

In 1967, the Cleveland-born physician Sidney Wolfe traveled to the South to provide medical care during voter registration drives. There he met the consumer activist Ralph Nader, and the two would go on to found Public Citizen. As head of its affiliated Health Research Group, Wolfe demanded accountability from the pharmaceutical industry and government regulators, leading campaigns to drive dangerous or mislabeled prescription drugs and devices off the market. His book “Worst Pills, Best Pills: A Consumer’s Guide to Avoiding Drug-Induced Death or Illness” was a perennial bestseller. In 1992, Manhattan’s Central Synagogue presented him with its annual Shofar Award, given to those “whose accomplishment, mission, and goals in pursuit of social justice are informed by the highest principles of Judaism and the Jewish people.” Wolfe died Jan. 1 at his home in Washington. He was 86.

A Jewish publishing pioneer

Carol Hupping Fisher of the Jewish Publication Society served as publishing director, managing editor and chief operating officer. (Courtesy Fisher family)

When Carol Hupping Fisher interviewed at the Jewish Publication Society in the late 1990s, it felt like a perfect fit. “I was pursuing my Jewish education as somebody getting ready to convert,” Fisher, who grew up Protestant, told the Jewish Exponent in 2016, “and I was in publishing, so it was a beautiful blend of my personal life getting to extend … into my professional life.” Fisher would go on to become publishing director, managing editor and chief operating officer for the Philadelphia-based JPS, shepherding over 100 books into print — including “Etz Hayim,” the Conservative movement Torah commentary — and overseeing a partnership between JPS and the University of Nebraska. Before joining JPS, she was the first female and youngest vice president of publishing at Rodale Press, a publisher of health and wellness magazines and books. Raised in Merrick, New York, she died Dec. 14 of glioblastoma at her home in Collingswood, New Jersey.

A “rabbi’s rabbi” and scholar of Yiddish

Rabbi Emanuel S. Goldsmith was a professor, pulpit rabbi and co-editor of “Dynamic Judaism: The Essential Writings of Mordecai M. Kaplan.” (Queens College)

As a scholar of Yiddish literature, Rabbi Emanuel S. Goldsmith taught Jewish Studies at Queens College and other universities, and was the author, in 1997, of “Modern Yiddish Culture,” described as the first history of the 20th-century Yiddishist movement. As a pulpit rabbi he led congregations in Scarsdale, New York; Hyde Park, Massachusetts, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. And as a committed Reconstructionist Jew, he became an expert in the work of his teacher and the movement’s founder, Mordecai Kaplan. “Manny was a rabbi’s rabbi,” Mel Scult, co-editor with Goldsmith of the book “Dynamic Judaism: The Essential Writings of Mordecai M. Kaplan,” wrote in a tribute. “Manny’s scholarship was vast, and he was particularly proud of the contacts and articles he published making Kaplan known not only to the Jewish community but also to many Christian colleagues.” Goldsmith died Jan. 5. He was 88.

A rabbi’s son who helmed The New York Times

Joseph Lelyveld served as executive editor of The New York Times during a period of peak profits and expanding readership. (©Nita Lelyveld/Penguin Random House)

Joseph Lelyveld, a rabbi’s son who became a renowned foreign correspondent and who served as executive editor of The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 — a period of peak profits and expanding readership — died Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 86. Lelyveld’s father, Arthur, was a leader of the Reform movement and a civil rights activist who helped influence President Harry S. Truman’s decision to recognize the State of Israel. In a 2005 memoir, Joseph recalled how his preoccupied parents shipped him off as a child to live with a Seventh-Day Adventist family and later his paternal grandparents in Brooklyn. As the son of a prominent Zionist, Lelyveld served as an intermediary with Jewish critics of the Times’ Israel coverage, but eventually lost his patience. “There has never been a Times correspondent who was considered honorable by the more extreme faction of pro-Israel readers,’’ he told a researcher in 2012.

Faces of Israel’s Fallen

David Schwartz, left, and Yakir Hexter were photographed learning together in the beit midrash, or study hall, of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut, in a program for Israeli soldiers. (Via Facebook)

Two Israeli combat engineers who were chevrutas, or study partners, at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut were killed Monday in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in the Gaza city of Khan Younis, the IDF said. David Schwartz and Yakir Hexter, both 26, were part of a paratrooper force, and, as the Times of Israel explained, “tasked with some of the most dangerous work as part of the IDF’s ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, scanning Hamas’s tunnel networks and destroying them, along with other sites, with explosives.”

Schwartz was married to Meital Schwartz, whose father Joseph Gitler is the founder and chairman of Leket Israel, the country’s largest food non-profit. David’s sister Shira Meirman is currently an Israeli emissary at the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto. Both soldiers, who studied together as part of an army program for religious troops, had family connections to Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a Modern Orthodox seminary in Riverdale, New York: Schwartz, from Elazar, was a nephew by marriage to YCT alumnus Rabbi Marc Gitler of Denver, Colorado; Hexter, from Jerusalem, was the nephew of YCT board member Rabba Yaffa Epstein of New York’s Jewish Education Project. Schwartz and Hexter were among nine Israeli soldiers killed in combat on Jan. 8, including six troops killed in an explosion in central Gaza. Their deaths raised the toll in Israel’s offensive to 185.

The post Jewish Life Stories: Hasidic filmmaker Menachem Daum, pioneering publisher Carol Hupping Fisher  appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Texas University Plans to Close Qatar Campus Amid Scrutiny of Hamas Ties

A Qatar 2022 logo is seen in front of the skyline of the West Bay in Doha. Photo: REUTERS/John Sibley/File Photo

On Thursday, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents voted 7-1 to end its contract with the Qatar Foundation, which will result in the college’s Qatar campus shutting down over the next four years.

Texas A&M said it decided to reassess its relationship with Qatar after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, in which the terrorist group murdered 1,200 Israelis and took more than 240 more hostage. It cites regional instability as one of the reasons for its decision. The Qatari government also has extensive ties with Hamas’ political and military leadership.

The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development is funded by the Qatari government and is the institution that funds Texas A&M’s Qatar campus.

The Chair of the university’s Board of Regents said it “has decided that the core mission of Texas A&M should be advanced primarily within Texas and the United States.” He continued, explaining that “By the middle of the 21st century, the university will not necessarily need a campus infrastructure 8,000 miles away to support education and research collaborations.”

The decision also comes amid heightened scrutiny of Qatar’s role in American higher education — as it spent almost $5 billion on American universities between 2001 and 2021 — as well as its role in funding terrorist groups such as Hamas. 

In an article for The Free Press in October, Eli Lake outlined what he saw as the significant influence Qatar is having on American higher education. He lists the universities that have gotten significant donations from Qatar, such as Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Northwestern. He also notes that Qatar’s influence goes beyond money, affecting policies and programs within specific academic departments as well. For example, the Qatar campus of Northwestern, which is home to the U.S.’s best journalism program, had an agreement with the terrorist-sympathetic Al-Jazeera that it would help train its students.

The significant attention paid to these relationships is likely driven by the steep increase in anti-Israel and pro-terrorist sentiment in the U.S., particularly on college campuses. 

A 2023 report from the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy also concluded that concealed donations from foreign governments to U.S. educational institutions are associated with an increase in antisemitic incidents on campus and the erosion of liberal norms. 

However, the Qatar Foundation believes the decision was made for political reasons. In a statement, it wrote: “It is deeply disappointing that a globally respected academic institution like Texas A&M University has fallen victim to such a campaign and allowed politics to infiltrate its decision-making processes. At no point did the Board attempt to seek out the truth from Qatar Foundation before making this misguided decision.”

There have been no indications thus far that other universities that receive a significant amount of Qatari funding, or operate campuses in Qatar, are reconsidering their relationship.

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Antisemitic Vandals Strike Hillel Building at University of Leeds in UK

Antisemitic message graffitied on Hillel House of University of Leeds. Photo: Union of Jewish Students/X

The Hillel House of University of Leeds was vandalized on Thursday night, raising further concerns about a hateful campus climate and rising antisemitism across the United Kingdom, particularly since Hamas’ October 7 attacks.

The vandals, according to pictures shared online, graffitied “FREE PALESTINE” on the building and additional scribble on two window panes.

“We are heartbroken and angry that after an uplifting and inspiring Challah Bake, our JSoc Hillel House was defaced with antisemitic graffiti,” Leeds JSoc, which uses the building for club meetings, said in a statement also signed by the Union of Jewish Students, an advocacy group. “It is shocking and outrageous that those who hate us would stoop to this level.”

The groups noted that a University of Leeds professor may be responsible for leading anti-Zionist to the building, alleging that he shared its address “for the sole purpose of intimidating Jewish students on campus.”

“We are working with CST and the police to ensure that those who committed this crime get the consequences they deserve,” the group added.

Anti-Zionists extremists struck elsewhere on Thursday, storming University of Birmingham with socialists and other far-left groups while holding signs that said, “Zionists off our campus” and “75 years of illegal occupation!” Many concealed their faces, covering them with keffiyeh.

“Jewish students are feeling less and less safe at university because of these vile antisemitic acts,” National Jewish Assembly (NJA), a Jewish civil rights nonprofit, said in a statement about the incidents. “It’s time we say enough. Jewish students deserve and must feel safe on campus.”

Thursday’s incidents followed a set-back for the academic Jewish community. Earlier this week, it was announced that a UK government agency which arbitrates disputes over employment law ruled that University of Bristol lacked standing to fire sociologist David Miller, an extreme anti-Zionist who was accused of harassing Jewish students and promoting antisemitic tropes, and said his “anti-Zionist beliefs qualified as a philosophical belief and as a protected characteristic.”

Pervasive antisemitism and anti-Zionism at UK universities is forcing members of the Jewish academic community to conceal their identities on campus, according to a June 2023 report issued by the Parliamentary Task Force on Antisemitism in Higher Education, a committee of lawmakers and established by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2022 in response to complaints of anti-Jewish racism and discrimination.

“We were told it was commonplace for Jewish students to choose not to wear certain clothing or jewelry around campus because it would make them visibly identifiable as Jewish,” the Task Force wrote in the report, titled Understanding Jewish Experience in Higher Education, noting that academic staff “also raised important comparable concerns about negativity surrounding their Jewish identity.”

The Task Force recommended that all universities adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which, it said, has not, contrary to the claims of its many opponents, diminished free speech and academic freedom.

Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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US House Committee Threatens Harvard University With Subpoena for Antisemitism Documents

Illustrative Harvard University students displaying a pro-Palestinian sign at their May 2022 graduation ceremony. Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder

Harvard University on Wednesday was given a “final warning” to fully cooperate with the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s investigation of antisemitism on its campus.

In January, Chairwoman Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) gave the school, which spent the fall semester under fire for allegedly ignoring rampant antisemitic harassment and intimidation, two weeks to deliver documents relevant to the committee’s investigation. Harvard never did, and now Rep. Foxx is threatening to subpoena the material she requested.

“The committee has sought to obtain information regarding Harvard’s response to the numerous incidents of antisemitism on its campus and steps taken to protect Jewish students, faculty and staff,” Foxx wrote in a letter to Harvard University interim president Alan Garber and Harvard Corporation senior fellow Penny Pritzker.

“Harvard’s responses have been grossly insufficient,” she continued. “If Harvard continues to fail to comply with the committee’s requests in a timely manner, the committee will proceed with compulsory process.”

Foxx has requested a trove of documents, including “all reports of antisemitic acts or incidents” and “related communications” going back to 2021 that were sent to Harvard’s offices of the president, general counsel, dean of students, police department, human resources, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, among others. She also requested documentation on Harvard Kennedy School professor Marshall Ganz, who, the school determined during an investigation, “denigrated” several students for being “Israeli Jews.” Originally, Foxx gave Harvard a deadline of Jan. 23 by which to comply.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce is also investigating other top universities, including the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to determine whether administrators at those schools ignored antisemitic discrimination. The probes were announced after the committee grilled the presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT about their plans to respond to rising anti-Jewish hate in their communities. During the hearing, Gay of Harvard and Elizabeth Magill of Penn — both of whom have since resigned from their positions — as well as Sally Kornbluth of MIT largely evaded lawmakers’ questions, infamously equivocating on whether calling for the genocide of Jews contravenes school rules.

For Harvard, America’s oldest institution of higher education and arguably its most prestigious, the presence of radical anti-Zionists on  campus has been a persistent issue. At the start of this academic year, a student and anti-Israel activist interrupted a convocation ceremony held by the school, shouting at Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, “Here’s the real truth — Harvard supports, upholds, and invests in Israeli apartheid, and the oppression of Palestinians!”

However, the broader public largely did not take notice until Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre in Israel. As scenes of Hamas terrorists abducting children and desecrating dead bodies circulated worldwide, 31 student groups at Harvard issued a statement blaming Israel for the attack and accusing the Jewish state of operating an “open air prison” in Gaza, despite that the Israeli military withdrew from the territory in 2005.

For her part, Gay waited several days to condemn the Hamas atrocities, and when she did, her statement said nothing about antisemitism. When she resigned at the beginning of the new year, she accused her critics of racism.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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