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Jewish Life Stories: John Lennon’s lawyer, Michael Oren’s mom

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) — Leon Wildes, an immigration attorney best known for his years-long, successful battle to keep the U.S. government from deporting the Beatle John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, died Jan. 8 in Manhattan. He was 90.

Wildes started his career in 1959 as a migrations specialist with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and later served on its board of directors. While working on the Lennon case, he played a key role in shaping a legal remedy allowing law-abiding individuals to remain in the United States and avoid deportation if they are elderly, seriously ill or undergoing severe hardship. It set a precedent that enabled President Barack Obama, in 2012, to establish Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, offering a path to permanent legal residence for immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.

“When you hear about ‘Dreamers,’ that is who it refers to, and that is Dad’s perpetual gift to the world — now numbering well over 1 million people — they are keeping alive the dreams of so many people to pursue the same opportunities for themselves and their own families that he himself was so fortunate to have, and instilling those values in generations to come,” his son, Michael Wildes, said in a eulogy.

Wildes taught immigration law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law for 33 years, and served two terms as president of the Queens Jewish Center.

His survivors include Michael, an immigration lawyer and the longtime mayor of Englewood, New Jersey, and Rabbi Mark Wildes, the founder and director of the Manhattan Jewish Experience on New York’s Upper West Side.

When offered the Lennon case, Wildes acknowledged, “I have no idea who these people are.” And yet, he once wrote, “I think I can say that my career pretty well fit the daydream of an All-American success story for a kid from Olyphant,” the small town in Pennsylvania where he grew up. “With this case, though, I found myself defending not just John and Yoko’s personal dreams, but the foundation of the American Dream itself.”

A champion of the “new pluralism”

Irving M. Levine was an expert on intergroup relations and public policy at the American Jewish Committee. (Courtesy Levine family)

Irving M. Levine, an expert on intergroup relations and public policy who in a 25-year career at the American Jewish Committee advanced policy reforms in education, housing, mental health care, the urban poor, philanthropy and international affairs, died Jan. 11. He was 94. Raised in Brooklyn, Levine served for 25 years in various roles at AJC, including head of urban affairs and, later, director of national affairs. As the principal organizer and chairman of the National Consultation on Ethnic America at Fordham University in June 1968, he championed a “new pluralism” that, unlike the “melting pot” theory,” balanced small group identities with a commitment to society as a whole. “There are many pathways and byways to living in a pluralistic society,” he told the New York Times in a 1982 profile. “People ought to have a chance to identify in the way they feel most comfortable.” After an early retirement, he helped found, with Rabbi Steve Shaw, the Radius Institute, a think tank on new progressive visions for U.S. and Middle East policy.

The American mom of an Israeli diplomat

Marilyn Bornstein was a teacher and family therapist in West Orange, New Jersey. (Courtesy Michael Oren)

In 2021, Marilyn Bornstein, then 92, shared her secrets for a long and happy life: a healthy diet, a busy brain (in 2004, she wrote a novel, “Hold Fast the Time,” set in Israel), a regular schedule and, perhaps most of all, “my incredibly close relationship with my family and friends.” Bornstein, a teacher and family therapist, and her husband Lester, a hospital administrator and founder of the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, raised three children in West Orange, New Jersey, including a son, Michael Oren, who moved to Israel and served four years as Israel’s ambassador to the United States. “In addition to being long, her life was filled with meaning, creativity, spirituality, humor, family, and love,” Oren wrote last week. Marilyn Bornstein died Dec. 29. She was 95.

A versatile scholar of the Middle East

David Pollock speaks on a panel at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s 2018 Barbi Weinberg Founders Conference in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy WINEP)

David Pollock, a former State Department official who brought his expertise in Arabic and Middle East polling to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank in Washington, died Jan. 9 after a long illness. He was 73. A Harvard-trained academic, he joined the State Department in 1996, advising on South Asia and Middle East policy in various positions, including senior advisor for the Broader Middle East. At the Washington Institute, which he joined in 2007, he became a Bernstein Fellow, leading the institute’s incipient Arabic-language program, and expanded its Fikra Forum, a bilingual English-Arabic blog that gives voice to diverse Middle East writers who often cannot publish openly in their native countries. He was the co-author, in 2012, of “Asset Test: How the United States Benefits from Its Alliance with Israel.”

“David was a remarkably versatile scholar-practitioner who made a tremendous impact on U.S. foreign policy as a teacher, U.S. government official, and Washington Institute expert,” the institute’s executive director, Robert Satloff, said in a statement. “David’s legacy is monumental. He will be dearly missed as a brilliant analyst, generous colleague, and a devoted friend.”

A Russian poet and critic of the Kremlin

Russian Jewish poet Lev Rubinstein, a leading figure in the Soviet underground literary scene and frequent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Natalia Senatorova/Wikipedia)

Russian Jewish poet Lev Rubinstein, a leading figure in the Soviet underground literary scene and frequent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, died Jan. 14, days after being hit by a car in Moscow. Police are investigating the incident. He was 76. While working as a librarian in the 1970s and 1980s, Rubinstein was a leading light of Moscow Conceptualism, an avant-garde movement that mocked the Soviet-approved doctrine of Social Realism. After the fall of the USSR, he remained a frequent critic of the Kremlin, most recently opposing the war in Ukraine. “In war, people’s souls are destroyed and distorted, and the consequences of a war are at times disastrous even for the generations that come after,” Rubinstein said.

A pioneer of Women’s Studies

Elaine Reuben, as an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the late 1960s, helped spread the gospel of Women’s Studies as an interdisciplinary field. (Courtesy Brandeis University)

When women’s studies first entered the university in the 1970s, “merely to assert that women should be studied was a radical act,” according to a history of the field. One of those radicals was Elaine Reuben, who as an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison helped spread the gospel of Women’s Studies as an interdisciplinary field. Shortly after directing Women’s Studies at The George Washington University Graduate School, she co-chaired, starting in 1971, the Modern Language Association Commission on the Status of Women. While teaching in the American Studies program at the University of Maryland, she served, in 1978, as national coordinator of the National Women’s Studies Association. At Brandeis University, she was a board member of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and founded the Reuben/Rifkin Jewish Women Writers Series.

She was also active in a number of progressive Jewish organizations, including the New Israel Fund and J Street. A native of Indianapolis, she was a longtime member of the Fabrengen havurah in Washington. Reuben died Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C. She was 82.

The post Jewish Life Stories: John Lennon’s lawyer, Michael Oren’s mom appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Top Swiss Diplomat Appointed to Mediate Tensions Between Jewish Tourists, Businesses in Davos Ski Resort

A Hebrew sign at the Pischa Restaurant in the Swiss resort of Davos informing Jewish guests that they are banned from renting ski equipment. Photo: Screenshot

The tourism authority in the exclusive Swiss mountain resort of Davos has appointed a top diplomat to mediate the growing tensions between local businesses and Orthodox Jewish visitors as complaints of antisemitism increase.

Michael Ambühl — the former State Secretary of Switzerland previously in charge of the country’s relationship with the European Union (EU)  — will head a task force to tackle the problem, Swiss media outlets reported on Friday.

The announcement of Ambühl’s appointment comes just days after the resort was roiled by the refusal of a restaurant that operates a ski equipment rental store to provide services to Jewish guests.

A sign in Hebrew at the Pischa Restaurant in Davos stated that “due to various very annoying incidents, including the theft of a sledge, we no longer rent sports equipment to our Jewish brothers. This affects all sports equipment such as sledges, airboards, skis and snowshoes. Thank you for your understanding.”

Swiss police are currently investigating the incident as a possible case of discrimination. One Israeli tourist reported that he had visited the Pischa Restaurant where he “pretended not to understand Hebrew and asked if we could rent the equipment. After the woman consulted with the manager, she rejected our request.”

The tourism authority’s decision has irritated the country’s main Jewish representative body, the Swiss Israelite Association (SIG), which had been engaged in a separate dialog with the authority about accommodating Jewish guests that was abruptly closed down last year.

“The latest case shows that something is obviously wrong in Davos,” SIG General Secretary Jonathan Kreutner said in remarks quoted by the Blick news outlet.

Kreutner said that “comparable problems are not known from other holiday destinations, especially in those where our dialogue program is still active.” Kreutner acknowledged that the tourism authority “wants to take a new path, but we don’t yet know what it looks like and where it will lead.”

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‘Israel Outright Rejects International Dictates’: Biden Creating Plan For Palestinian State, Netanyahu Pushes Back: Report

US President Joe Biden holds a bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the 78th UN General Assembly in New York City, US, Sept. 20, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

US President Joe Biden, along with a number of Arab states, are quickly working to form a plan to end the Israel-Hamas war and create a Palestinian state, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday, sparking pushback from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The first step of such a plan would be for Israel and Hamas to agree to a six-week ceasefire in exchange for the Israeli hostages. Then, during that pause in fighting, the U.S. and its Arab partners would announce the plan and start to form an interim Palestinian government.

The US, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates are all reportedly are part of the talks, which have an ultimate goal of creating a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Washington Post also suggests that Israel may be expected to expel many of its own citizens from West Bank settlements and help rebuild Gaza.

The development of these plans is part of the reason Biden has cautioned Israel against moving on to fighting Hamas in Rafah — the terrorist group’s last stronghold. He believes such a ground offensive could jeopardize the prospect of peace. 

In a statement on Thursday, the White House said Biden “raised the situation in Rafah [during a call with Netanyahu], and reiterated his view that a military operation should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the civilians in Rafah.”

In response to these reports and the conversation he had with Biden, Netanyahu wrote that “Israel outright rejects international dictates regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians. Such an arrangement will be reached only through direct negotiations between the parties, without preconditions.”

He added, “Israel will continue to oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Such recognition in the wake of the October 7 massacre would give a huge reward to unprecedented terrorism and prevent any future peace settlement.”

The tension represents the latest hiccup in Biden and Netanyahu’s relationship, which has grown increasingly sour since October 7 as Biden put pressure on Israel to wind down its fight against Hamas.

Netanyahu, jpwever, was not the only one to question the prudence of the proposed American-led plan. Left-leaning group Democratic Majority for Israel said in a post on Twitter/X: “We have always favored a two state solution. But right now, how do we ensure the lesson does not become ‘sheer evil,’ pays? That must be a central part of any plan.”

Richard Goldberg, a Senior Advisor at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies contended that the plan “is doomed to fail for several reasons. Two big ones: It’s premised on Hamas surviving and involves Qatar.” 

“Israel will be in a much stronger position after it takes Rafah,” he argued.

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Harvard University Issued Subpoenaed for Antisemitism Documents

Pro-Hamas students rallying at Harvard University. Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder

Following weeks of warnings and ultimatums, the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce subpoenaed Harvard University on Friday to hand over documents related to its handling of allegations of antisemitic intimidation and harassment.

The order represents an escalation of tactics by the House Committee, which began investigating Harvard University last semester to determine whether it ignores complaints of discrimination when the victims who lodge them are Jewish. Since then, Harvard has been asked twice to submit a trove of materials requested by the committee.

Last week, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) wrote Harvard a censorious letter accusing school officials of obstructing the committee’s investigation with “grossly insufficient” responses to its inquires and submitting content of a “limited and dilatory nature.”

In a statement to Reuters, Harvard maintained that it has cooperated with the committee in “good faith,” providing “10 submissions totaling more than 3,500 pages that directly address key areas of inquiry put forward by the committee.” Chairwoman Foxx told the outlet, however that the problem is one of “quality, not quantity,” suggesting that Harvard is frenetically pantomiming compliance without providing anything of substance.

Foxx has requested “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, had “denigrated” several students for being “Israeli Jews.” Originally, Foxx gave Harvard a deadline of Jan. 23 by which to comply.

“While a subpoena was unwarranted, Harvard remains committed to cooperating with the committee and will continue to provide additional materials, while protecting the legitimate privacy, safety, and security concerns of our community,” Harvard told Reuters.

“We will use our full congressional authority to hold these schools accountable for their failure on the global stage,” said committee member and Harvard Alumnus Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) in a statement announcing the action.

The past four months have been described by critics of Harvard as a low-point in the history of the school, America’s oldest and, arguably, most prestigious institution of higher education. Since the October 7 massacre by Hamas, Harvard has been accused of fostering a culture of racial grievance and antisemitism, while important donors have suspended funding for programs, and its first Black president, Claudine Gay, resigned in disgrace last month after being outed as a serial plagiarizer. Her tenure was the shortest in the school’s history.

As scenes of Hamas terrorists abducting children and desecrating dead bodies circulated worldwide, 31 student groups at Harvard, led by the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) 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. In the weeks that followed, anti-Zionists stormed the campus screaming “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “globalize the intifada,” terrorizing Jewish students and preventing some from attending class.

In Novevmber, a mob of anti-Zionists — including Ibrahim Bharmal, editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review — followed, surrounded, and intimidated a Jewish student. “Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!” the crush of people screamed in a call-and-response chant into the ears of the student who —as seen in the footage — was forced to duck and dash the crowd to free himself from the cluster of bodies that encircled him.

By Dec., Claudine Gay —  along with Elizabeth Magill of University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and Sally Kornbluth of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — was hauled before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to account for her administration’s handling of the problem. For weeks, Gay was reluctant to punish students who chanted genocidal slogans and unequivocally condemn antisemitism. During questioning, she told the committee that determining whether calling for a genocide of Jews constitutes a violation of school rules depends “on the context.”

Two days later, the committee launched investigations of Harvard, Penn, and MIT.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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