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Meet Thomas Poretsky, 10-year-old Native American-Jewish racer

ELKO NEW MARKET, Minn. (JTA via TC Jewfolk) — Thomas Poretsky is six years away from being behind the wheel of a street-legal car and is too young to drive bumper cars at the State Fair. This is ironic as he stands in the shadow of Elko Speedway in a firesuit and holds his racing helmet, waiting to take his Bandolero race car onto the track to get some practice laps in.

“I don’t like bumper cars,” he said. “I’m trying to avoid running into things.”

Poretsky, a 10-year-old Prior Lake resident, has been driving cars for nearly half of his life. His No. 8 car is emblazoned with two important pieces of family heritage: an Israeli flag denoting his father’s Jewish heritage, and a flag of the Quechan Nation, the Native American tribe of his mother’s side of the family.

“It means a lot to me,” Poretsky said during a recent practice session. “There’s not a lot of Native and Jewish mixes and it’s just … me. It shows my story.”

The Bandolero looks like a scaled-down stock car. It has a tube frame with a roll cage to protect the driver and is covered by fiberglass panels that can be removed for maintenance.

Poretsky is in his first season driving Bandoleros but has been behind the wheel of cars since he was six.

“Thomas was always quiet and shy and not sure of himself,” said Mary Poretsky, Thomas’ mother. “And one day, he said he wanted to race cars. He and I, we made this deal. He said, ‘Mom, I’ll race as long as you’re there.’ So I said ‘okay.’ And then one thing led to another and then I’m looking for a car.”

Poretsky’s car features Native American and Israeli flags. (Lonny Goldsmith/TC Jewfolk)

Poretsky started driving in what so many young drivers — including professionals — started: quarter-midget cars. But the Poretskys learned that those cars require more maintenance than the Bandoleros, so they made the move up a class.

“It’s an introductory class for kids,” said Tim Brockhouse, referring to the Bandoleros. He is the owner of the Great North Legends Bandolero parts and repair shop in Burnsville, Minnesota, and maintains Poretsky’s car. “And that’s what we try to keep it as. They actually have adults racing them down south, but at 14 we kick them out.”

Thomas drives his car around the quarter-mile inner oval at Elko Speedway at roughly 46 miles per hour. His father Solomon times his laps and said Poretsky was consistently between 18.9 and 19.1 seconds per lap.

“I’m really, really happy with his performance,” Solomon Poretsky said. “If you rip a good lap, the problem is you may not be able to repeat it. If you’re consistent, you always do the same thing.”

Consistency has been a feature of Thomas’ racing. He took part in a competitive go-kart league at Pro Kart in Burnsville last winter. Solomon Poretsky said that his son was never near the front of the pack, but consistent laps and finishes helped him finish in third place in the final standings, behind “generational racing families.”

“For a starting Bando racer to finish every race and not damage your car, that’s an accomplishment,” the elder Poretsky said. “His car control’s pretty good, especially for a beginning driver.”

Family affair

Solomon and Mary Poretsky met online in the pre-dating app era, after he answered an ad she placed on Yahoo! Personals.

“He sent me this whole dissertation,” she said.

“It was more of a thesis,” he quipped back.

That was 25 years ago, and 17 years ago when they moved to Minnesota from Sacramento, Solomon knew that they didn’t want their kids to play hockey. It was too expensive, he said, laughing. (Thomas’ car cost $7,000, and the engine — which is sealed and can only be purchased from one spot — is $2,500.)

Neither of Poretsky’s parents are mechanically inclined. Solomon has decades of experience in real estate, and Mary used to run her own small business before giving it up to focus on her son’s racing. Solomon joked that he only buys new cars to avoid dealing with repairs.

Mary said she’s getting the hang of filling Thomas’ car with gas and managing the tire pressure. But “it’s been a real learning process,” she said.

(Lonny Goldsmith/TC Jewfolk)

And the parents agreed: if Thomas is serious about pursuing racing long-term, they will support him — even if it means they need to move out of Minnesota.

Mary recalled how in an early practice session, her son’s engine blew out and he had to be pushed up the track.

“[Thomas] was in tears,” she said. “And people just came to help, and slap a new engine in. Nobody asked for anything. I was saying thank you to everybody, and everybody kept saying ‘It’s for the kids.’

“It was so beautiful,” she added. “It just looked like a testament of the goodness of humanity. They didn’t know him, they didn’t know us. We never even said hello to each other before.”

Since he has started racing at his current level, Thomas’ parents and their friends have noticed a different kid.

“He walks differently, he talks with a little bit more authority,” Mary said. “It’s like he came out of his shell. He’s making friends left and right. He has the admiration of the kids in his class. His teacher even came at the end of school to watch him.”

Said Thomas: “[My friends] didn’t believe it until I showed them a picture of the car.”

Meaning in the car design

Poretsky and his father both said a plain, white car was fine. His mother protested.

“No, it needs to be pretty,” she said.

The car number is for Thomas’ favorite NASCAR driver, Kyle Busch. The white on the bottom features tribal-inspired geometric patterns — the white and green are separated with a thin line of blue, with a diamondback snake over it. The snake is native to the southwest where Mary’s tribe originates.

The flags on either side of his name over the windows to the car was the icing on the cake.

“He’s Native American. And he’s Jewish. And we should be proud of that. And we should be proud of him,” she said.

Solomon, who described his family as “gastronomic Jews,” said being a “member of the tribe” has taken on a new meaning for Thomas. In addition to the tribal components of Native American and Jewish culture, the racing community is tight-knit, too.

“People have been so welcoming and so kind,” Solomon said. “I can’t tell you how many people have put their kids in the car, they’ve got a picture of their kids in the car smiling out the window with a Quechan and an Israeli flag. It’s been completely welcoming.”

Towards the rear of the car behind the windows on each side is a blue Thunderbird. In Native traditions, the Thunderbird is a desert bird that is the protector of the sky.

“When he flaps his wings, that’s the thunder. And he shoots lightning out of his eyes,” Mary said. “I thought that was good for Thomas to have a protector.”

Thomas said he drives for two reasons: For fun, and because he gets to inspire people.

“That’s a really big thing for me,” he said. “A lot of people wish they could do this, and it’s just cool to know that they’re feeling happy because they’re inspired to follow their dreams.”

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Israel, US Blast ‘Outrageous’ ICC Request for Netanyahu’s Arrest

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Jerusalem, Feb. 18, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday issued blistering condemnations of the International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor’s demand for arrest warrants for the Israeli premier, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Hamas terror chief Yahye Sinwar.

Biden said the move by Karim Khan was “outrageous” and “shameful,” adding, “Let me be clear: Whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken added that the US “fundamentally rejects the announcement.”

In a video message, Netanyahu called the warrant application “absurd and false” and said it “was not directed only against the prime minister of Israel and the defense minister, but against the entire State of Israel and against the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers, who are fighting with otherworldly heroism against the depraved Hamas murderers who attacked us with savage butchery on the seventh of October.”

Addressing the chief prosecutor, Netanyahu continued: “With what chutzpah do you dare compare the monsters of Hamas to the soldiers of the IDF, the most moral army in the world? With what audacity do you compare between Hamas that murdered, burned, butchered, raped, and kidnapped our brothers and sisters, and the IDF soldiers who are fighting a just war that is incomparable, with a morality that is unmatched?”

In addition to Sinwar, the request also called for the arrests of Hamas’ political leader in Qatar, Ismail Haniyeh, and the Palestinian terror group’s military head, Mohammed Deif, on charges of war crimes.

Blinken called the prosecutor’s equivalence of Israel with Hamas “shameful.”

“Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization that carried out the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and is still holding dozens of innocent people hostage, including Americans,” Blinken said.

He emphasized that the ICC had “no jurisdiction” over the war, and noted that both Israel and the US are not parties of the Rome Statute, the international treaty that established the court. The top US diplomat also called into question “deeply troubling processes” by Khan, who was supposed to send a team to Israel on Monday to coordinate his own visit next week.

“Israel was informed that they did not board their flight around the same time that the prosecutor went on cable television to announce the charges. These and other circumstances call into question the legitimacy and credibility of this investigation,” Blinken said.

An unprecedented majority in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset — 106 out of 120 MKs — signed a petition on Monday afternoon against what they said was an “unerasable historical crime.”

“The scandalous comparison by the Hague prosecutor between Israel’s leaders and the heads of terror organizations is an unerasable historical crime and a clear expression of antisemitism,” the petition read. “We reject this with revulsion. Eighty years after the Holocaust, no one will prevent the Jewish state from defending itself.”

Israel will likely lobby the US Congress to pursue sanctions against the ICC. Several Republican senators last month warned against issuing warrants, saying they would push for sanctions against Khan including barring entry to the US.

One of them, US Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), said on Monday he will “feverishly work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers to levy damning sanctions against the ICC,” adding that “Prosecutor Khan is drunk with self-importance and has done a lot of damage to the peace process and to the ability to find a way forward.”

Former US national security adviser John Bolton also called for the US to impose sanctions on the ICC, saying the Hague court had proved its “fundamental illegitimacy.”

“To aid our ally Israel, the US should take steps both in Congress and in the White House to condemn the ICC and impose sanctions,” he wrote on X/Twitter.

The ICC action also received strong criticism in Europe.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala called Khan’s decision “appalling and completely unacceptable.”

“We must not forget that it was Hamas that attacked Israel in October and killed, injured, and kidnapped thousands of innocent people,” he wrote on X. “It was this completely unprovoked terrorist attack that led to the current war in Gaza and the suffering of civilians in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon.”

Other European leaders, however, supported the ICC move.

“Crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators,” Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib wrote. “The fight against impunity wherever crimes occur is a priority for Belgium.”

The call for arrest warrants “is an important step in the investigation of the situation in Palestine,” she added.

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Republican Jewish Coalition Unveils $50,000 Ad Buy to Woo Jewish Voters Ahead of 2024 Presidential Election

US President Joe Biden speaks at a Detroit Branch NAACP annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner in Detroit, Michigan, US, May 19, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) will purchase $50,000 worth of digital ads in key battleground states with the purpose of targeting Jewish voters ahead of the 2024 US presidential election, according to a statement released by the group on Monday.

The RJC, an organization that seeks to build support for the Republican Party among Jewish voters, claimed it would release new ads underlining what it described as the deteriorating relationship between Israel and the United States during the Biden administration. The ads suggest that US President Joe Biden has undermined Israel’s military campaign in Gaza against Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that launched the ongoing war with its Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

As antisemitism spikes to record highs and America’s relationship with our ally Israel continues to reach new lows, the Jewish community is more energized than ever to turn the page from the failures, broken promises, and betrayals by Joe Biden,” RNC chair Norm Coleman and CEO Matt Brooks said in a statement.

The two ads will be deployed in states considered critical in the 2024 presidential election: Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Michigan. Both ads swipe at Biden over his decision to pause offensive arm shipments to Israel and suggest the president has “stabbed Israel in the back.” They also accuse Biden of not being “strong” enough to guarantee Israel’s security and urge voters to support Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

“Biden is siding with Hamas, Iran, and Hezbollah over Israel at the most crucial time, a blunder of historic proportions that will lead to more death and destruction,” one of the ads says. 

Biden expressed strong support for Israel following the Oct. 7 onslaught, and since then the US has sent significant amounts of munitions to the Jewish state for its war effort against Hamas. In recent weeks, however, he has adopted a much more critical posture toward Jerusalem, culminating with his decision earlier this month to withhold sending certain weapons to Israel due to disagreements over Israeli military operations in Gaza.

In the months following Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks on Israel, Republican politicians have attempted to capitalize on the growing tension between Democrats and Jewish voters. On May 9, Trump lambasted Jewish supporters of Biden.

“If you’re Jewish, and you vote for him, I say shame on you,” Trump said. 

Ammiel Hirsch, a rabbi of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week warning Democrats not to take Jewish voters for granted. 

“American Jews increasingly feel politically homeless. Liberal Jewish voters consider President Biden a longtime friend. At the same time, they are troubled by the growing influence of anti-Israel forces in the Democratic Party,” Hirsch wrote.

In his final statement before passing away earlier this year, former US Senator and Democratic Party vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman similarly warned Democrats and Biden about the political danger of turning against Israel.

“We are here to say that you can no longer simply count on our vote just because Jews traditionally have voted Democratic. We are here to say you must earn our vote,” the joint statement read. “We want to continue to support Democratic candidates, but you need to know that if you abandon Israel in order to garner the support of anti-Israel extremists within the Democratic Party, it will be difficult for us to support Democrats who are on the ballot this November.”

Lieberman, an ardent supporter of Israel, was the first Jewish candidate on a major party presidential ticket in the US.

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Pro-Hamas Encampment at Drexel University Pushes School Into Lockdown

“Gaza Solidarity Encampment” at Drexel University. Photo: X/Twitter

A “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” was erected suddenly at Drexel University in Philadelphia over the weekend, forcing school officials to lock down the campus to protect it from a flood of non-students who joined the demonstration.

“This demonstration has already proved intolerably disruptive to normal university operations and has raised serious concerns about the conduct of some participants, including distressing reports and images of protesters subjecting passersby to antisemitic speech, signs, and chants,” Drexel University president John Fry said on Sunday in a letter to the campus community. “These kinds of hateful and intimidating acts must be condemned, and they cannot and will not be tolerated.”

Fry added that “it has become increasingly apparent that most of the encampment participants are outside individuals who are unaffiliated with Drexel.”

The group responsible for the demonstration, Drexel Palestine Coalition (DPC), is demanding that the school adopt the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and “terminate” its Hillel and Chabad chapters.

“These organizations must be replaced by non-Zionist Jewish ones that in no way support the ongoing genocide, occupation, or apartheid in Palestine,” DPC said in a statement posted on social media.

DPC also wants the university’s police force to be abolished, amnesty granted to any protester charged with violating school rules, and a “60 percent” reduction in Fry’s salary, the savings of which would be invested “into local community efforts such as affordable housing, co-ops, land trusts — specifically towards Black Bottom residents — and the rebuilding of Palestinian institutions such as hospitals and universities.”

Footage of the demonstration shows some aggressive behavior, including the protesters’ dismantling police barricades. According to the latest reports, there have been no arrests.

“Hillel continues to be grateful to have partners on campus who believe that a university experience should be filled with opportunities to engage thoroughly and thoughtfully around issues where there is both deep investment and deep disagreement while recognizing that a prerequisite for any such conversation is a demonstrated commitment to the safety, well being, and shared sense of belonging of all of the students, faculty, and staff who call our university home,” Drexel Hillel said on Sunday in a statement issued about the encampment.

The protesters’ demands are not the first assault on Jewish organizations at Drexel University this academic year.

Last month, the Raymond G. Perelman Center for Jewish Life was vandalized, with the culprits removing large channel letters spelling out Perelman’s name from a brick structure near the entrance to the building. The disturbing act, which occurred amid an explosion of antisemitic hate crimes across the US, was filmed by surveillance cameras, but the persons responsible cannot yet be identified because they wore masks.

“It bears repeating that vandalizing centers of Jewish life and learning, defacing property with antisemitic graffiti, or ripping mezuzot off doorposts in residence halls does not constitute any legitimate form of protests,” Fry said at the time. “Such acts are antisemitic in their intent to disrupt Jewish life and intimidate our Jewish communities, and have no place at Drexel or in our democratic society.”

Drexel University joins the list of over 100 schools where anti-Zionists have taken over sections of campus and refused to leave unless school administrators agree to condemn and boycott Israel. Other demonstrations timed to coincide with the end of the academic year petered out earlier this month, but at Drexel, which uses the quarter system, classes do not end until June 8. Because of this, the encampment there could last as many as three weeks.

In the interim, the school remains locked down, and on Monday, Fry ordered that all classes be conducted virtually.

“We will continue to provide updates regarding this situation or any changes to the university’s operations,” Fry said in Sunday’s letter. “I ask for everyone’s patience and understanding as we work toward ensuring that our campus can soon return to normal.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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