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Lives Lived: Notable New Yorkers who died in 2023

(New York Jewish Week) — Before we look ahead to the New Year, the New York Jewish Week is looking back on the lives of 20 Jewish New Yorkers who, in their own way, each made their mark on public life through their contributions to the arts, writing, advocacy, music and religious life. May their memories be a blessing. 

Bob Born

Jewish maker of Peeps marshmallow candies

A “Peeps Mobile” at the Just Born candy factory in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. (Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Ira “Bob” Born was the head of the 100-year-old family candy company Just Born Quality Confections, where the Jewish Willy Wonka innovated one very un-Jewish treat: Peeps marshmallows, a staple of Easter baskets. Just Born also makes Mike and Ikes and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. Born’s father, Sam Born, was a rabbinical student from Ukraine who learned the art of chocolate-making when his family fled to Paris. The elder Born opened a factory and chocolate store in Brooklyn in 1923,the year before his son, Bob, was born. The family relocated to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1932, where the company is still headquartered. Born died on Jan. 29 at age 98. His son, Ross, told the local newspaper that his father will be remembered as a “real mensch.”

Burt Bacharach 

Sophisticated hitmaker of the 60s and 70s

Composer Burt Bacharach (left) and lyricist Hal David hold Oscars they won for “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” at the Academy Awards, April 7, 1970. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

The songwriter behind the slew of songs that made Dionne Warwick a megastar, including “Walk on By,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and “I Say a Little Prayer,” Burt Bacharach grew up in a Jewish family in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens. He wrote in his memoir that “no one in my family ever went to synagogue or paid much attention to being Jewish,” although Jonathan Freedman, author of “Klezmer America: Jewishness, Ethnicity, Modernity,” told the New York Jewish Week in 2013 that what made Bacharach’s music Jewish was his “wild play with time signatures.” Bacharach died on Feb. 8 at age 94.

Richard Belzer

Comedian and character actor who caused controversy

Richard Belzer attends the 90th birthday of Jerry Lewis, April 8, 2016. (John Lamparski/WireImage vis Getty)

Fans knew Richard Belzer for his character John Munch, the mopey, cerebral detective he played on shows like “Law and Order: SVU” and “Homicide: Life on the Streets.” But as a hard-working stand-up comedian, he infused his act with Jewish references and the occasional Yiddish-inflected parody of popular songs. “I’m a Jewish comedian, and there’s this new thing out, it’s called satire, irony and historical reference,” he said in response to criticism of a joke that leaned a little too hard into the Holocaust. Belzer died on Feb. 19 at age 78

Elan Ganeles 

Columbia graduate and IDF lone soldier killed in West Bank attack

Elan Ganeles. (Consulate General of Israel in New York/Twitter)

Friends remember Elan Ganeles as quiet, loyal, funny and down-to-earth. The West Hartford, Connecticut native grew up as a regular at the Young Israel synagogue near his home, where he often read Torah. He attended Hebrew High School of New England, Camp Gan Israel, was a member of NCSY and volunteered with Jewish Family Services. Ganeles enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces in 2014 as a “lone soldier” before returning to the New York area in 2018, when he enrolled at Columbia University. He graduated in 2022. Ganeles was back in Israel for a wedding on Feb. 27 when he was killed by a gunman who shot at him on a road near the Palestinian West Bank city of Jericho. “He was the kind of guy you could call, and you’d be sure he’d pick up and have a few minutes to talk if you needed something,” said Rabbi Yehuda Drizin of Chabad at Columbia University, who knew Ganeles as an undergraduate there. “For everyone that knew him, this is a kick in the gut. This really hurts.” The 27-year-old was buried in Israel.

Judy Heumann

Jewish disability advocate who spurred a movement

Disability rights advocate Judith Heumann sits for a portrait in Washington, D.C., May 11, 2021. (Shuran Huang for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

After contracting polio as a toddler, Judy Heumann spent the rest of her life charting new paths for wheelchair users. She broke down barriers for disabled children and educators in New York City public schools and helped pass federal legislation protecting people with disabilities. Heumann died March 4 at age 75. Born to Orthodox Jewish Holocaust survivors in Brooklyn, Heumann credits her parents’ background for their fierceness in advocating for her and insistence on keeping the family together. “The Jewish community has an obligation, I believe, to be leaders,” said Heumann, then a special advisor for international disability rights in the State Department, at a White House event in 2016. Jay Ruderman, whose family foundation supports Jewish disability inclusion, called her “one of the preeminent disability rights leaders in our country’s history and her accomplishments made our world a better place.”

Hedda Kleinfeld Schachter

Holocaust Survivor who revolutionized the bridal industry

Pictured left to right: Nancy Aucone, Hedda Kleinfeld Schachter, and granddaughter Chloe Schachter at the Wedding Salon of Manhasset. (Courtesy Ilana Schachter)

Before her Kleinfeld Bridal shop became known nationwide on the TV show “Say Yes to the Dress,” Hedda Kleinfeld Schachter had already made a name for herself in the bridal industry by bringing European designer wedding dresses to the U.S., and shifting her family business in Bay Bridge away from special occasion wear to exclusively bridal. Kleinfeld Schachter died in Manhattan on March 29. She was 99. She was born in Vienna in 1924 and left in 1938 to escape Nazi persecution. Her family arrived in Brooklyn, New York in 1940 via Cuba. “She did not share a lot of experiences from that time period, but she did have happy memories of being a teenager in Havana, which I can only imagine was quite a trip,” said her granddaughter, Ilana Schachter. “I think she appreciated being a part of an industry that was about celebration.”

Seymour Stein 

Music mogul who discovered Madonna and The Ramones

Seymour Stein with David Byrne and Madonna in 1996. (KMazur/WireImage/Getty Images)

One of the most influential music executives of the 20th century, Seymour Stein helped put the industry’s biggest stars, including Madonna, The Ramones, The Smiths, The Cure and Talking Heads, on the map. Born Seymour Steinbigle in 1942 and raised near Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, Stein co-founded Sire Records in 1966 and helped found the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the early 1980s. Along the way, he found camaraderie with other Jewish executives and stars. “It’s amazing now that so many doctors and lawyers are Jewish,” he said in a 2013 interview with Tablet magazine. “Jews in America weren’t allowed in those professions 120 years ago. Music is something Jews were good at and they could do. All immigrants into America tried their hand at show business.” Stein died on April 2 at age 80.

Mimi Sheraton

Pioneering food critic and scholar of the bialy

Mimi Sheraton’s books include “1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die.” (Eric Etheridge/Workman Publishing)

The daughter of a Lower East Side grocer and the granddaughter of talented cook, Mimi Sheraton, born Miriam Solomon in Brooklyn in 1926, seemed destined for a life in food. After graduating from Midwood High School and New York University, Sheraton worked a slew of magazine jobs and became one of the best known food critics of her generation, penning 16 books in her six-decade career, including “The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World.” Sheraton died on April 6 at age 97. She was a contributing editor and critic for New York Magazine and became the first woman to serve as the New York Times’ chief restaurant critic in 1976. “The most prominent characteristic of her reviews was the vast amount of knowledge she brought to the job and the enlivened, precise language she used to convey that information,” wrote Charlotte Druckman, in her 2019 book “Women On Food.” “It was service journalism with expertise and voice.”

Al Jaffee

Iconic Mad Magazine cartoonist

Al Jaffee at an event at New York Comic Con, Oct. 6, 2017 in New York City. (Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Mad Magazine)

Best known for his back-of-the-book “Fold-In” features for Mad Magazine, cartoonist Al Jaffee and the self-described “usual gang of idiots” at the humor magazine shaped the sensibilities of many future comics. He was born into an Orthodox Jewish immigrant family in Savannah, Georgia in 1921, but moved back to his mother’s native Lithuania, staying just long enough to develop his love of comics (mailed to him by his father), Yiddish and “anti-adultism.” Jaffee died on April 10 in New York City at age 102. For nearly a decade, he also had a side gig as a cartoonist for The Moshiach Times, a Chabad-affiliated magazine, where he inked a cartoon called “The Shpy,” depicting a rabbinic secret agent who battles forces of evil.

Sheldon Harnick

The last surviving creator of “Fiddler on the Roof” 

Lyricist Sheldon Harnick, circa 1995. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The American lyricist and composer Sheldon Harnick first encountered the stories of Sholem Aleichem as a teenager growing up in Chicago. At first, he wrote them off. But 20 or so years later, he found the writing “wonderfully human and moving and funny.” In the late 1950s Harnick began to work with Jerry Bock and Joe Stein to adapt the material for the stage; “Fiddler on the Roof” opened on Broadway in 1964 and ran for more than 3,200 performances, which stood as a Broadway record for a decade, and won multiple awards. “We hoped with any luck that it might run a year,” Harnick said in 1981 on “The Songwriters,” a PBS showcase series. “We were totally unprepared for the impact the show would have literally around the world.” Harnick died in Manhattan on June 23 at 99.

Alan Arkin

Jewish actor with uncommon versatility

Alan Arkin in 2007. (Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

The son of Ukrainian and German Jewish immigrants, Alan Arkin wrote in his 2011 memoir “An Improvised Life” that he knew he was going to be an actor from the age of five. Born in Brooklyn in 1934, Arkin made a name for himself playing a wide variety of characters, from a conflicted Russian submarine officer (“The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming,” 1966), a struggling Puerto Rican widower (“Popi,” 1969) and a mild-mannered Manhattan dentist recruited into an unlikely espionage scheme by his daughter’s future father-in-law (“The In-Laws,” 1979). Arkin died on June 29 at 89. Over his seven decade career, he was nominated four times for an Academy Award, and won in 2007 for his role in “Little Miss Sunshine,” as the vulgar grandfather of a little girl who dreams of winning a beauty pageant.

Louise Levy

‘Supercentenarian’ subject of longevity study among Ashkenazi Jews

Louise Levy was born in 1910 and grew up in Cleveland and New York City; Levy often ascribed her longevity to a daily glass of red wine and a low-cholesterol diet. (Photos courtesy Levy family, via Fox Funeral Home)

Born on Nov. 1, 1910 in Cleveland, Louise Levy joined a small group of supercentenarians — people older than 110, of which there are fewer than two dozen in the world — when she turned 110 in 2020. She was a participant in The Longevity Genes Project, a study of long-living Ashkenazi Jews that aims to explore what genetic factors might allow people to live well into the triple digits. Levy, meanwhile, credited her long life to a daily glass of red wine and a low-cholesterol diet, and she said she never ate sweets. Levy died on July 17 at age 112. Before her death, she was the oldest living resident of New York State.

Nechama Tec

Survivor whose book about the Bielski partisans inspired the Daniel Craig film ‘Defiance’

University of Connecticut sociologist and historian Nechama Tec’s 1993 book “Defiance: The Bielski Partisans” was adapted for a 2008 film directed by Edward Zwick. (Jewish Women’s Archive)

Born in Lublin, Poland in 1931, Nechama Tec survived the Shoah by posing as the niece of a Catholic family. She eventually immigrated to New York via Israel, where she earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Columbia University. For decades, she was on the sociology faculty at the University of Connecticut, writing mainly about overlooked aspects of the Holocaust, including the role of Christian rescuers and the gender dynamics among and between Jewish survivors. Her 1993 book, “Defiance: The Bielski Partisans,” about a group of Jews in Belarus who successfully defied the Nazis, was made into the 2008 film “Defiance.” Tec died in New York City on Aug. 3 at age 92.

Cantor Philip Sherman

The ‘busiest mohel in New York’

Cantor Philip Sherman was a prominent mohel in the New York City area. (Courtesy Philip Sherman)

Wearing a signature bowtie to each of his appointments, Cantor Philip Sherman performed more than 26,000 circumcisions during his 45-year career, including for the offspring of many Jewish celebrities. His record, he told JTA in 2014, was 11 in one day. Sherman died of pancreatic cancer at 67 on Aug. 9 in New York City. His family remembers him as optimistic, determined and passionate about the Jewish community. “He would run in, run out because it was important to him to cover as many brisses as he could,” said his son Elan Sherman, who was with him on the record-setting day. “He wanted to leave that mark on the Jewish community, that he was really there as much as he could be for all Jewish babies.” Born in Syracuse, Sherman graduated with a joint degree from Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1979, and served as a cantor at several Manhattan synagogues including Park East Synagogue, Lincoln Square Synagogue and Congregation Shearith Israel-The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.

Rabbi Israel Francus, Rabbi Avraham Holtz, Samuel Klagsbrun

Revered scholars of Conservative Judaism professors at the Jewish Theological Seminary

Samuel Klagsbrun, Israel Francus and Avraham Holtz were on the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary. (Via JTS)

The Jewish Theological Seminary, the flagship rabbinical institution of the Conservative movement, was in deep mourning in November after three scholars died within days of each other. Rabbi Israel Francus and Rabbi Avraham Holtz both died on Nov. 15 at ages 96 and 89, respectively. Both were professors at the seminary; Francus taught Talmudic exegesis and Holtz was an authority on the Nobel Prize-winning Israeli author S.Y. Agnon, as well as the chair of the department of Hebrew Literature and dean of Academic Development. Samuel Klagsbrun was a psychiatrist who for many years taught pastoral psychiatry to JTS students and founded the school’s Center for Pastoral Education in 2009. He died on Nov. 11 at 91. “Together, these three individuals reflect the breadth and depth of a JTS education,” Shuly Rubin Schwartz, the chancellor of JTS, said in a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. She noted that the three represented “the importance JTS attaches to educating not only the texts, history, and ideas of our people but also ensuring that future clergy were attuned to the heart, soul, and emotional lives of the Jews they would serve.” 

Neil Drossman

Ad writer admired for his wit and wordplay

Neil Drossman created a series of ads for Teacher’s scotch featuring ghost-written testimonials by celebrities, including Groucho Marx, left. (Photo courtesy of Robert Danor)

Those familiar with the memorable ad campaigns of Meow Mix — “The Cat Food Cats Ask For By Name” — and Emery Air Freight, which featured a photo of globe-trotting Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with the headline, “Emery flies to more places than he does,” are familiar with the work of Brooklyn-born Neil Drossman. He wrote some of most admired tag lines and campaigns in the history of the advertising business at the tail end of the “Mad Men” era. “Seeing his work transformed my views of what advertising could be,” the advertising executive Lee Garfinkel wrote in a tribute in the trade journal Ad Age. “Each headline was smart, funny, insightful, unexpected and thought-provoking.” Drossman died on Nov. 25 at age 83.

Rabbi Laurie Phillips

Founder of a Manhattan ‘synagogue without walls’

Rabbi Laurie Phillips founded the New York-based “synagogue without walls” Beinenu. (Courtesy Debbie Mukamal and Rabbi John Franken)

Rabbi Laurie Phillips founded “Beinenu” (“between us” in Hebrew) in 2014 as a means of offering Jewish worship and celebrations in intimate spaces. She co-directed the organization with musician Daphna Mor, and also led High Holiday services at JCC Harlem. Before launching Beinenu, Phillips served as the associate director for the Mandel Center for Jewish Education at the JCC Association of North America, where she co-created Lechu Lachem, an immersive program for Jewish camp directors. She also helped create, with the JCC Manhattan and three nearby synagogues, the Jewish Journeys project, which provides personalized alternatives to synagogue-based supplementary Jewish schooling. Phillips died on Nov. 26 at age 55. “I am so lucky to have found a partner with whom I could create my dream version of a Jewish community in NYC, led through the heart, held by music, genuine love, and joy,” Mor said in a statement to JTA. “Laurie’s legacy of light, love and kindness keeps shining through all the people whose lives she touched.”

Rabbi David Ellenson 

A prominent scholar, a leader of the Reform movement and ‘everyone’s favorite rabbi’

Rabbi David Ellenson served for 12 years as president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. (Courtesy of HUC)

As the president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Rabbi David Ellenson mentored a generation of rabbis and scholars as a historian, adviser and confidant. He prioritized a year of study in Israel for rabbinical students, shepherded the institution through the 2008 financial crisis, expanded the number of women in leadership roles and led efforts to ease the Israeli Orthodox rabbinate’s grip on religious ritual in Israel. A prolific scholar of modern Jewish thought and history, Ellenson died on Dec. 7 at his home in Manhattan at age 76. Before his 12-year-long tenure as president, which ended in 2013, Ellenson spent some 30 years as a student and faculty member at HUC-JIR. “My soul is bound to this institution and to the holy mission that animates it,” he wrote in 2013. “It has been the greatest privilege to devote my life to this school.”

The post Lives Lived: Notable New Yorkers who died in 2023 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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More than 1,300 attend a free Shabbat dinner at Ayat, a Palestinian restaurant in Brooklyn

(New York Jewish Week) — More than 1,300 people made their way to Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, last Friday night to take part in a free Shabbat dinner at Ayat, a local Palestinian restaurant owned by restaurateur Abdul Elenani and his wife, Ayat Masoud, for whom the restaurant is named.

The dinner was called for 9 p.m., but guests began gathering a couple of hours earlier, milling about outside the restaurant, chatting and waiting to be let inside. Meanwhile, more than 150 people of all ages — several wearing kippot, others with keffiyehs wrapped around their necks like scarves — participated in a Shabbat service that preceded the meal.

Intended as an antidote to turmoil across New York City — including in its Jewish and Palestinian restaurants — since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent war in Gaza, the dinner attracted New Yorkers who remain hopeful that coexistence is possible. Many, but far from all, were affiliated with left-wing and anti-Zionist Jewish groups that have held regular protests calling for a ceasefire since immediately after Oct. 7.

Among the attendees was New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, who learned of the dinner via two Jewish groups he is known to be active in: Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and Kolot Chayeinu, a progressive congregation in Park Slope. He describes himself as supporting a peaceful two-state solution and ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

“This is about a Palestinian making a generous Shabbat dinner without regard for their politics,” Lander told the New York Jewish Week. “Nobody is being asked at the door what their position on the conflict is. Everyone is welcome.”

A steady stream of guests arrived at the restaurant at 1616 Cortelyou Rd. throughout the night. Elenani opened the doors at 9 p.m. and, by 10:30, there was still a line down the block to get in.

The Kabbalat Shabbat service, held in the street outside the restaurant in a tent that Elenani rented for the night, was led by Laura Elkeslassy, a Brooklyn-based singer, actor and educator born in France with roots in Morocco and Israel, along with two members of the Egalitarian Sephardi/Mizrahi Kehilla of Brooklyn, a prayer community of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East.

Owner Abdul Elenani had the idea to host the Shabbat dinner at the Ditmas Park, Brooklyn restaurant, which is named for his wife, Ayat Masoud, right. (Rachel Ringler)

Jessica Roda, an academic who taught a course at Georgetown University that explored the modern history of Jewish-Muslim relations, was one of those who showed up early. She came to Ayat in hope that there “might be healing here,” she told the New York Jewish Week.

“A lot of people are here — different types of people,” Roda said. “Hopefully more of this is what we need. Being together.”

Bringing people together was a key part of Elenani’s plan. The invitation to come to the Shabbat dinner was shared via Ayat’s Instagram and on the Ditmas Park Facebook page, which has nearly 9,000 members. It read, in part: “We invite all our incredible neighbors, especially our Jewish neighbors, to a heartfelt Shabbat dinner at Ayat Restaurant. It’s not just about breaking bread; it’s about breaking barriers, fostering dialogue and connecting on a human level.”

Elenani, who was born in the United States to Egyptian parents, was insistent that the Shabbat dinner be free of charge. “Hospitality is what I was raised up to do,” he said. “If you are going to invite people to your table and your place, if you are actually doing an invite for people to come in for a dinner between Jews and Muslims during this time specifically, charging is the wrong thing to do.”

Elenani has six Ayat restaurants — with locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island and Allentown, Pennsylvania — but he chose to host the Shabbat dinner at the Ditmas Park location because of negative publicity it received at the end of December from the British newspaper The Daily Mail. The reporter took umbrage with Ayat’s menu in which the fish section was called, “From the River to the Sea,” a phrase frequently used by pro-Palestinian activists that Jewish watchdogs view as a call for Israel’s destruction.

Elenani was outraged by the accusation. “All my life I have always wanted to make peace between Jews and Muslims,” he said.

Elenani, who opened his first Ayat restaurant in Bay Ridge in 2020, told the New York Jewish Week that he has long dreamed of opening a warehouse with a kosher kitchen alongside a halal kitchen. It would have, he said, “a large communal table in the middle where people of both faiths come and grab their food and sit together, break bread together and talk about life.”

On Friday night, lots of bread was broken. In addition to saj, a Middle Eastern flatbread, there were seeded water challahs purchased from Gombo’s Heimishe Bakery, a kosher bakery in Crown Heights. A huge challah filled half the length of a table in the center of the restaurant. People sat on either side of it, pulling from the bread while eating their meals and talking.

The idea to hold the event was Elenani’s, but his wife, the restaurant’s namesake, was fully supportive.

“We have always shared the idea that we have nothing against the Jews,” Masoud said. “We always find peace. I am an attorney. I have so many Jewish friends in the legal field. In law school, I used to put together a lot of interfaith events with the Israeli members of school. When Abdul decided to do this — to me, there is nothing more important.”

After reading about the event on Instagram, local members of Jewish Voice for Peace, which describes itself “the largest progressive Jewish anti-Zionist organization in the world,” reached out to Elenani and offered their assistance in planning the event. “We were consulting,” said Emily Lever, who identified herself as a JVP spokesperson.

Elenani said that JVP members handled the ritual part, advising him on challah, candles and wine, which is not normally sold at the restaurant during regular business hours though patrons are invited to BYOB.

Several in attendance Friday night expressed surprise at the size of the crowd, in which guests filled both the upstairs and downstairs dining areas, as well as inside the tent where the service had been held. Surveying the packed room, klezmer clarinetist Michael Winograd was overheard saying, “This is a major Jewish event!” before heading outside to play an impromptu concert on the street.

As for the meal — which Elenani said he paid for out of his own pocket — Elenani used the meat from 15 lambs, 700 pounds of chicken and 100 branzino fish to prepare enough food for 1,000 people. Ayat Masoud’s sister, Asma Masoud, is the chef at the restaurant and she and her staff cooked and served mansaf, a popular Palestinian dish made of chunks of lamb cooked in fermented yogurt; roasted chicken seasoned with a spice rub of allspice, sumac, curry, paprika, garlic, nutmeg, and cinnamon. There was hummus, babaganoush and a chopped salad.

The recipes, said Ayat Masoud, who was born in the United States but whose parents are from Jerusalem, “are not my recipes.They are my mother’s, and her mother before her. They have been passed down for generations.”

For guests who don’t eat non-kosher meat, Elenani brought in Lev, a pop-up catering outfit run by two Israeli expats — Loren Abramovich, hailing from a moshav in the Galilee, and Daniel Soskolne from Jerusalem — who specialize in “the rich mix of culinary traditions Jewish immigrants brought from around the world together with the Palestinian traditions.” They prepared a “kosher-style” chraime, a spicy Moroccan fish stew that was topped with tahini and cilantro and served with fresh chunks of water challah. For attendees who wanted kosher-supervised food, there were sandwiches from a local glatt-kosher caterer — though there appeared to be little demand for them.

Lisa Maya Knauer, a 67-year old anthropologist who lives in Prospect Park South and describes herself as “an anti-Zionist Jew,” came to try the food, to meet people and to support a small, local business.

“As someone who is anti-occupation, and against the war, I wanted to support a restaurant that is owned by a Palestinian person who is very committed to creating goodwill and to creating relationships with neighbors,” she said.

Misha Shulman, the rabbi of the New Shul in Greenwich Village, who was born and raised in Israel, learned about the event from a WhatsApp group for members of left-wing Israelis in New York.

“Even for an anti-occupation Israeli, to be invited by a Palestinian, is rare these days,” said Shulman. “For most Palestinians right now, the situation is so painful and dire that they find it hard to be in community with anybody who supports the existence of the State of Israel.”

“I love this event,” said New York-based musician Noa Fort, who was born in Israel and is a part of the anti-occupation bloc, which had gathered at the restaurant the previous Monday. “It feels like a huge reunion because I know so many people here from so many walks of life and it is lovely to see people who I didn’t know were interested in those bridges and they’re showing up to a dinner like this. I knew they were Jewish or Israeli but [it’s nice] to see them here for similar reasons that I’m here: building bridges and connections between communities.”

The post More than 1,300 attend a free Shabbat dinner at Ayat, a Palestinian restaurant in Brooklyn appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Rabbi Art Green, prominent scholar of Hasidic Judaism, is barred from Hebrew College following sexual misconduct allegation

(JTA) — The founding dean of Hebrew College’s rabbinical school has been barred from its campus over the fallout from allegations of sexual misconduct brought by a faculty member who was previously his student.

Rabbi Arthur Green, a prominent scholar of Jewish mysticism, retired in May 2022 after two decades at the non-denominational Boston-area seminary. In separate email announcements on the same day, both Green and the college said a private matter concerning another member of the college’s community contributed to the timing.

Last week, however, Hebrew College’s leadership informed the community that the matter cited in 2022 involved “a report by a community member of an unwanted and distressing sexual advance” by Green, and that Green is no longer allowed to set foot on campus at all.

In an email to Green informing him of the ban last week, Hebrew College’s leadership mentioned “conduct by you in a recent interaction with an individual in Israel” that it called “concerningly similar” to the previous report of sexual misconduct. It also accuses Green of breaking a confidentiality agreement he made with the college.

In an interview with JTA, Green said he inappropriately kissed the faculty member but rejected the school’s claims that a second inappropriate incident had occurred or that he had violated his agreement with the school. Green also said that following the initial incident, he carried out several steps required by the school, but stopped short of taking part in a public “ceremony” that he said had been requested.

The ban, which was announced last week in an email to the Hebrew College community hours after Green was informed about it, marks an ignominious coda to a storied career for a rabbi who is widely considered a leader in neo-Hasidism or Renewal Judaism. The author of more than a dozen books, Green served as president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College before founding Hebrew College’s pioneering rabbinical seminary near Boston in 2003. As a teacher and administrator there, Green oversaw the seminary as it grew and contributed to a widespread disruption of the denominational rabbinical school model.

“Rabbi Art Green is no longer employed at Hebrew College nor welcome in the Hebrew College community because he engaged in sexual misconduct that caused significant emotional harm to a member of our community and was a serious violation of our institutional policies and our communal values,” the college’s president, Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

She added, “Rabbi Green’s conduct and communication since the reported incident have not reflected a genuine understanding of the harm he has caused, nor has he undertaken a good faith process of teshuva,” Hebrew for repentance.

Green insists that he has not crossed a line since striking a retirement agreement with Hebrew College. Anisfeld did not describe the incident in Israel, or when it occurred. A source affiliated with Hebrew College said the college did not take steps to verify the incident.

Green does acknowledge acting inappropriately with a male faculty member who was previously his student, and expressed regret about it.

“I did something wrong,” he told JTA. “So I’m aware of that. I take responsibility for that.”

He also said he believed the incidents did not merit his ouster and questioned whether the allegations were used as a pretense to eject him from the school he shaped.

Green detailed the allegations against him and the events leading to his being barred from campus in a draft email he shared with JTA on Friday and said he intended to send to his contacts. He sent an abbreviated version of the same email on Sunday afternoon.

In the email he sent, he wrote, “I am, and have always been, a bisexual man” and had “made the difficult decision to keep this private while still a rabbinical student nearly sixty years ago” in order to build a career in the Jewish world.

In the draft email, he had written that he had been looking for companionship after the 2017 death of his wife of 49 years.

“My admittedly inappropriate loss of control was an expression of affection by a lonely old guy, not an assertion of power to demand or force sex,” Green wrote in the draft.

He also said that he believed he had been wronged by Hebrew College’s handling of the incident.

“I consider myself a victim of the extreme ‘Me-tooism’ that has come to plague our society,” he wrote in the draft, referring to the movement to hold perpetrators accountable for sexual misconduct. He added that the faculty member “reported to Sharon he had ‘felt some sexual tension’ between us on prior occasions. I would just call it closeness.”

In the sent email, he acknowledged “another unwanted kiss by me” more than 30 years ago with a different person who he said was not a student.

“I take full responsibility for these encounters, my misjudgment of the situations, and the unintentional harm I caused to people for whom I cared,” he wrote. “I have communicated with them and sought to repair the harm. I am committed to ongoing awareness about this matter and exercising extreme caution in the future.”

Through representatives, the junior faculty member declined to speak about his experience. (JTA has spoken to two people with whom he shared his account.) He has retained attorneys, including Debra S. Katz, who is known for representing alleged victims of sexual assault such as Christine Blasey Ford, who accused now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

The attorneys said in a statement that the faculty member had “participated in a restorative justice process with Rabbi Art Green. As part of that process, our client and Rabbi Green agreed they would alert the other party before making any public statements. We are disappointed that Rabbi Green has failed to adhere to that commitment, forcing our client to hear through the grapevine of the narrative Rabbi Green is advancing.”

The first public sign of allegations against Green came in May 2022, when he and Anisfeld sent separate messages to the Hebrew College community announcing his retirement.

In Green’s email, sent first, he mentioned “a private matter concerning an incident that occurred some time ago, which involved an act on my part that deeply impacted a colleague in our community.” He added, “I feel badly about that situation, and that too has contributed to my decision to retire this year.”

Anisfeld’s email, arriving a little less than an hour afterwards, also referenced “a private personnel matter that deeply impacted another valued member of our Hebrew College community” as part of a “combination of factors” influencing the timing of Green’s retirement. But the email also lauded Green and his contributions to Hebrew College. “I know we will continue to be blessed by Art’s lasting influence as a teacher, mentor, scholar, and friend,” she wrote.

Neither email provided any details about the “personnel matter”; both emails said Green and another party were involved in a “restorative process” with the community member and had requested privacy.

The emails were referring to the faculty member who had previously been Green’s student. Green wrote in his email draft that he and the faculty member were “quite close” from the faculty member’s student days. He said he chose the student to be a research assistant on a large project and characterized his relationship with the then-student as a “growing friendship.”

In the fall of 2019, after the student had been ordained as a rabbi and joined Hebrew College’s faculty, Green allegedly made the first unwanted sexual advance, according to the two people with whom the faculty member shared his account. Green and the faculty member were among a group that had traveled to Uman, a city in Ukraine that is the burial place of the turn-of-the-19th century Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and is a major pilgrimage site for his followers. Green’s “Tormented Master,” published in 1979, is considered a definitive biography of Rabbi Nachman.

According to the friends with whom he shared his account, the faculty member — once the group had arrived at their hotel — found himself in a room alone with Green, who proceeded to make an unwanted sexual advance on him. One of the friends, a former classmate, told JTA, “They were there, and Art made a sexual advance toward my friend physically.”

The classmate added, “My friend stopped him and then has spent the next many years of his life trying to put it back together again.”

Green denies that he crossed any boundaries in Uman and said any accusation that he committed sexual misconduct on that trip is “absolute nonsense.” He said people in the group were pairing off to share hotel rooms, and that he had offered to split a room with the faculty member. Once it became clear that there was no need for the two to share a room, he claimed, they slept in separate places. He did not reference the Uman incident in either version of his Sunday email.

“Since this person … is an out gay man, I thought other people might be uncomfortable sharing a room with him,” Green told JTA. “So I said that I would. It then turned out there was an extra room and we did not share a room. That’s the end of the story. Nothing happened.”

The second incident occurred that December and, according to Green’s email draft, is the allegation that prompted Hebrew College to initiate disciplinary action against him.

Green acknowledged, in his email draft and to JTA, that he kissed the faculty member “in a way I shouldn’t have” while the two were in Green’s Boston-area home.

Green attributed his behavior to having smoked marijuana with the faculty member. He said the faculty member had given him the drug, which felt particularly strong.

He wrote in his email, “What began as an expression of genuine affection was completely inappropriate and out-of-bounds to our relationship.  I accept responsibility for my behavior and regret it deeply.”

But he added in the draft that had the faculty member felt any discomfort, Green expected him to resolve the situation privately. “I figured that if he was upset, he would let me know, but he didn’t,” Green wrote in the email draft.

Subsequently, Hebrew College administrators informed Green that he had been accused of misconduct.

According to Green, the college and the faculty member’s attorneys, the college attempted to resolve the issue through a private mediation and reconciliation process between Green and the faculty member. In the email she sent to the Hebrew College community this month, Anisfeld described the allegation as an “unwanted and distressing sexual advance, which was viewed as a breach of personal and professional boundaries.”

After learning of the alleged misconduct, Green said Anisfeld imposed several penalties, including suspending him from faculty meetings, asking him to engage in a guided conversation with the faculty member, and requiring that he sign a statement saying he would not be alone in a room with a student with the door closed. Green said he acceded to all of the penalties.

Then, at the end of 2021, Green says Anisfeld called him into her office and informed him that he was to retire in the coming year.

“I was, of course, close to retirement anyway, but I did not like this feeling of being pushed out of a program that I had created,” Green wrote in the draft. “Eventually, however, I agreed, frankly because dealing with this matter had become so painful and distressing.”

To JTA, Green said he had questions about the motivations behind his ouster. He said he had been distressed when a demand that he not attend faculty meetings in December 2021 was extended to the winter term in January 2022, when the Hebrew College community convened for a series of conversations about whether to change a policy that barred students with non-Jewish partners from attending the rabbinical school.

“I said to myself, ‘How far does this ‘He’s uncomfortable with my presence’ go?’” Green told JTA. “But then I thought, well, Sharon and I have different views on this intermarriage issue. She was very much for the change in policy, and she knew I was quite strongly against it. So, she might have found this was a convenient way to exclude me from that conversation.”

He added, “I can’t prove that. But she told me no, I could not participate in that Zoom conversation because [the faculty member] would be unhappy with my presence. And I think that was bullshit, shall we say.”

Anisfeld flatly rejected the allegation. “The intermarriage policy process is completely irrelevant and unrelated to this matter,” she told JTA by email. The school removed the ban on interfaith relationships in January 2023.

Green said Anisfeld and Hebrew College officials had escalated penalties against him over time. He said he had been barred from the two most recent Hebrew College graduations and had been kicked off a school listserv.

He also said Anisfeld had asked him to participate in a “public ceremony of confession,” but he declined.

“My generation doesn’t play that game and doesn’t do that kind of thing,” he told JTA. “I just found it distasteful.”

In recent years, a reckoning over sexual misconduct allegations has changed the norms and expectations for how institutions should respond to them, with a broad move toward greater transparency and increased understanding that misconduct can harm people beyond the direct victims. In a 2018 eJewishPhilanthropy essay, two advocates for “restorative justice” — a process for institutions to address sexual harassment allegations — described a “conference or circle with survivors, offenders, and their support people” as one possible avenue.

“Ideally, the person who has been harmed asks for restorative justice but, at times, offenders or people from the community inquire about convening a process,” Alissa Ackerman and Guila Benchimol wrote in the essay. “Inclusivity and collaboration are central because restorative justice recognizes that people belong to communities and that the harm they have caused or endured impacts wide networks.”

Anisfeld did not respond to a question about a public ceremony. In their email announcing Green’s campus ban, Anisfeld and the current and former chairs of Hebrew College’s Board of Trustees blamed his unwillingness to complete all that was asked of him.

“As an institution committed to the value — and the possibility — of teshuva, we have repeatedly asked Rabbi Green to engage in a communal process regarding this matter,” they wrote. “Rabbi Green has declined, and he therefore has been prohibited from visiting campus, or attending Hebrew College programs and communal activities.”

Last week’s email from the college leadership raised questions among some of those who received it. “One of the things that was curious to me is: Why do we need to know this?” said Shaul Magid, a Jewish studies professor at Dartmouth College who counts Green as a friend and teacher and also said he holds Anisfeld in high regard. “All the letter can do is really tarnish Art’s reputation at this point. He’s already retired.”

Green said in his email that relations between him and Hebrew College had become strained in the years since the initial allegation against him. “Although I agreed to all conditions as stipulated by Hebrew College I was surprised to find additional demands and restrictions that felt, and continue to feel, vindictive and unnecessary,” he wrote in the Sunday email.

In the email, he also said Anisfeld sent the letter announcing his ban following “an alleged additional incident that occurred recently in Israel, thus supposedly justifying publicity on Hebrew College’s part.”

In the letter from the Hebrew College leadership to Green last week, they wrote, “The College has also become aware of a report of conduct by you in a recent interaction with an individual in Israel that, as described to us, is concerningly similar to your admitted conduct during the Incident.”

Anisfeld did not offer details about that incident. Green and the two other men involved in what Green believes is the incident say it took place on Purim last year and involved an encounter at Green’s home following a party celebrating the holiday. Green said he was “very drunk” when he and another man began “touching each other, holding each other, not sexually, not genitally.” Both he and that man told JTA that their encounter was consensual.

A third man in the room, who was then an acolyte of Green’s, became alarmed. Through a representative, he told JTA that he felt violated when Green “revealed his physical desire for me and my friend’s bodies.” Previously, he had seen earlier requests for him to stay at Green’s home “as service to a holy rabbi, a kabbalist and theologian.” He said he soon left but experienced the night as “a soul-shattering crisis” because of the nature of his relationship to Green.

“I served him as one would serve Rabbi Nachman or the Baal Shem Tov,” two 18th-century Hasidic sages, the man said. He added, “Not once did warning bells ring in my head.”

Green has written about rabbis who have been accused of abuse. In 2004, when Marc Gafni, a prominent rabbi in the Jewish Renewal movement, was accused of a wide range of sexual offenses, including having sex with underage girls, Green vociferously defended him in a letter to the editor of the New York Jewish Week.

Praising Gafni as “a creative teacher of Torah,” he said that Gafni’s misdeeds were long in the past and that Gafni had been “been relentlessly persecuted for those deeds by a small band of fanatically committed rodfim,” a term that in traditional Jewish texts refers to a would-be murderer who himself must be murdered.

Two years later, multiple women in Israel said Gafni had lured them into sexual relationships using his power as a spiritual leader. Green, like other U.S. rabbis who had initially stood by Gafni, dropped his defense.

“The stories were from long ago, and he had rejected and outgrown that side of himself,” Green told the Forward at the time. “These are now new cases and new investigations.”

Green had also warned about the dangers inherent in relationships between spiritual teachers and students. In a 2010 book outlining neo-Hasidic theology by reinterpreting traditional Jewish edicts, including the Seventh Commandment prohibiting adultery, Green wrote that spiritual teachers “always need to be aware of human weakness, their own before that of all others.”

The book included a reminder for teachers: “Sexual energies are always there when we flesh-and-blood humans interact with one another, anywhere this side of Eden,” he wrote.  “Check yourself always. Be aware; know your boundaries. Precisely because good teaching is an act of love, the teacher is always in danger.”

He concluded, “Make sure that all your giving is for the sake of those who seek to receive it, not just fulfilling your own unspoken needs, sexual and other.”

The post Rabbi Art Green, prominent scholar of Hasidic Judaism, is barred from Hebrew College following sexual misconduct allegation appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Israel Can Limit the ICJ’s Potential Damage

General view of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

JNS.orgIsraelis on Friday displayed what is called Jewish joy—they celebrated that the pogromniks only broke the windows, but did not kill anyone. The good news was the International Court of Justice did not effectively order us to wait to be tortured and murdered, by demanding a halt to the Gaza War. That is certainly good—but only in the twisted world where the ICJ is putting Israel, not Hamas, on trial for the absolutely absurd charge of genocide.

Otherwise, the decision was horrible. The court accepted South Africa’s argument that it has jurisdiction and that Israel could possibly be proven to be committing genocide. The case is not over and will go on for years. In the meantime, the court has made clear that it considers itself to have authority to review and superintend every aspect of Israel’s war for survival—and demands monthly reports. No other country receives such treatment, and it is designed to make the military constantly look over its soldiers’ shoulders.

The ICJ is not an independent body—it is an organ of the United Nations. Its justices serve a renewable nine-year term, further undermining their independence. The judges are elected by the General Assembly and Security Council, and their positions largely track the foreign policy of their home countries. Thus while we might get lucky sometimes, over the long run, the policy of the court will reflect the policy of the United Nations.

The General Assembly’s obsessive condemnation of the Jewish state is well known—Israel would never agree to have its fate determined by them. But agreeing to the jurisdiction of the court indirectly does the same thing. In Israel it is thought unacceptable to have judges appointed by democratically elected politicians decide the meaning of ordinary laws. Yet we have agreed to have judges elected by dictatorial regimes decide the basic question of whether we can exist—whether we can defend ourselves.

It does not have to be this way: The ICJ does not automatically have jurisdiction over countries—they must specifically agree, typically by agreeing that The Hague can decide a specific dispute or questions under a specific treaty. In this case, Israel signed the Genocide Convention, which provides that “disputes between the…parties” about the treaty can be decided by the ICJ. But that does not mean cases like this, where a totally unrelated state has brought a purely political complaint in a matter it has no relation to. The court should not have accepted jurisdiction, and by doing so it effectively claimed for itself power to supervise the conduct of wars around the world, so long as some country claims genocide is involved.

Israel did not have to agree to the ICJ jurisdiction to be a member of the Genocide Convention, and in retrospect, doing so was a major mistake. Countries are allowed to opt out of ICJ jurisdiction in various treaties, and very commonly do so. Indeed, 16 countries have opted out of the Genocide Convention minus the ICJ jurisdiction—including the world’s largest democracies, the United States and India. Even the world’s biggest superpowers did not trust the ICJ to hear cases involving the use of force in an apolitical way.

The United States also did not agree to the provision of the Genocide Convention that deals with speech, knowing the court can twist legitimate speech into supposed “incitement.” Indeed, those who think the statements of some Knesset members are what got Israel into trouble should consider the comments of President Obama, who spoke of “eradicating a cancer” in the campaign against Islamic State, or Biden, who once said, “We should never take anything off the table when we are in war.”

But Israel did not opt out, leaving itself exposed. The Genocide Convention was a response to the Holocaust, and it seemed appropriate that the Jewish state would be fully on board. Also, Israeli officials did not expect such a gross abuse of the court’s authority. But they should have. And the Genocide Convention which Israel so respected was turned into a farce, a platform to accuse the Jews of genocide even as they defend themselves from a systematic attempt to wipe them out.

The hearings in The Hague were a judicial Oct. 7—a completely unjustified surprise attack that shows us we must fundamentally rethink our defensive posture. In this case, the extraordinary work of the State’s lawyers, and good fortune, prevented disaster.

But we must see that mere sentimentalism, or some lingering faith in international institutions, cannot be allowed to leave us open to such attack again. Even a slight change in the composition of the court or the geopolitical climate would bring a disastrous result—and hostile states like South Africa can roll the dice as many times as they want, with no consequence if they lose and a huge payoff if they win.

Thus Israel must immediately end its acceptance of the ICJ’s jurisdiction concerning the Genocide Convention. This will not end the current proceedings, but it will prevent further such attempts in this or other conflicts. Moreover, Israel must review all of its treaties for provisions granting ICJ jurisdiction and opt out of those. The United States did just that when Iran used a long-forgotten treaty to bring America to The Hague a few years ago.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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