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Moroccan Jews and Israelis reportedly all safe in devastating quake that killed at least 2,100

(JTA) — Jews and Jewish sites appear to have largely been spared following the devastating earthquake that struck Morocco late Friday, killing at least 2,100 people and plunging some of the poorest areas of the Northwest African country into ruins.

The export of etrogs, the citrus fruit harvested locally and used ritually in the upcoming festival of Sukkot, also appears to be continuing largely unabated.

Israeli rescue teams are on the ground and the country has offered additional aid to Morocco as a massive humanitarian effort takes shape in the hours after the quake, the region’s largest in more than a century. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which has operated in Morocco since 1947, has sent staff to begin an aid operation there.

Dov Maisel, vice president of operations at Israel Hatzalah, an emergency aid nonprofit, said a preliminary team of four people with experience in disaster management had traveled to Morocco early Sunday.

“They are describing terrible sites of destruction,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, adding that his group would determine the size and scope of its ultimate mission based on what the team observes. “Will it be more medical? Search and rescue? Psycho-trauma? This is the evaluation they are doing right now.”

The 6.8-magnitude earthquake, centered in the Atlas Mountains near Marrakesh, struck at a time of heightened Jewish tourism, following Israel’s normalization of relations with Morocco in 2020. Israel said it was aware of 479 Israelis in the country at the time of the quake and had accounted for the safety of all of them.

The quake came on the eve of a major pilgrimage timed to the anniversary of a Moroccan rabbi’s death and as the country’s etrog farms were completing their harvests of etrogs leading up to the fall harvest festival of Sukkot, which begins this year in less than three weeks, on Sept. 29. Hundreds of thousands of etrogs are grown in Morocco annually ahead of the holiday.

Jewish merchants come from around the world to buy from Moroccan etrog growers like Mohammed Douch, Assads, Morocco, Sept. 7, 2015. (Ben Sales)

Tradition holds that etrog trees were first planted in the Atlas mountains nearly 2,000 years ago by Jews who found shelter amongst the Berber tribes there after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Today, the etrog farms in the Atlas mountains are largely staffed by Berbers and owned by Jews living in Israel or in Agadir, a coastal city that was flattened in 1960 by an earthquake that, according to JTA’s reports at the time, killed a third of the local population overall and two-thirds of its Jewish community, about 1,500 people.

Like many people involved in the etrog trade, Tsvi Dahan was spending Shabbat in Agadir, where there is a tiny remaining Jewish community that grows during the etrog harvest. An Israeli who owns a grove about an hour away, Dahan was sleeping in a local hotel when the earth started shaking.

“I knew immediately that it was an earthquake,” Dahan said. (His wife, Deborah Danan, is a JTA correspondent in Israel.) “I put my head on the pillow and felt the bed move. I saw that the room was continuing to shake. In seven seconds I was downstairs without anything, just my shirt and underwear.”

The hotel did not let guests reenter, so Dahan and others spent the rest of the night sleeping outside the synagogue, where etrog season means prayer quorums can be assured. The building, like the rest in the city, was built after 1960 as Agadir was reconstructed closer to the shore, downhill from the ruined city.

Dahan said he had quickly connected with Bilaid el Bouhali, the Berber who manages his grove, and learned that while el Bouhali was safe, his city of Oulad Berhil, in the mountains between Marrakesh and Agadir, was in ruins. A video taken by el Bouhali shows widespread devastation in his town, which had grown quickly in recent years.

“It’s not so nice to say but when I saw the lampposts all leaning, one of my first thoughts was, what about my [etrog] trees? I hope they’re still standing,” Dahan recalled. “Bilaid came to pick me up from Agadir and we went straight to the mountain to check on them. Thank God they’re fine.”

On Sunday, Dahan was trying to figure out how to get himself and the etrogs out of the country. The Marrakesh airport is closed until further notice, but Dahan said he thought the first etrog shipments would depart on schedule.

A view of a destroyed building after a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Marrakesh, Morocco, Sept. 9, 2023. (Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

In Marrakesh, where about 120 Jews live, many buildings have collapsed, and authorities have instructed residents to sleep outdoors for the next several days in case of aftershocks. (The majority of Morocco’s 1,500 Jews live in Casablanca, which was not affected by the earthquake.) But while many homes lay in ruins — including Dahan’s family home, where his grandmother and uncles lived until recently — relatively few deaths occurred there.

“Everything is okay — not a single Jew was injured,” said Menachem Danino, a Casablanca-born Israeli who runs a Facebook group for Moroccans in Israel. “All of the houses in the quarter were destroyed except the synagogue, which is fine with the exception of some cracks in the walls.”

Just a few miles outside the city, entire villages have crumbled, and an accounting of the injured and dead is still underway. Maisel said the Hatzalah team is part of that effort.

“They have been throughout the day on the ground meeting with officials and going out on the ground to villages between 15 to 20 kilometers outside of Marrakesh where the earthquake really wiped the villages off the face of this earth,” Maisel said.

He said his group had been alerted to the earthquake first by volunteers who happened to be in Morocco as tourists, including some who were preparing for a pilgrimage, called a hiloula, to the grave of Rabbi Haim Pinto. That pilgrimage to the coastal city of Essouira, which was set for Tuesday, drew about 2,000 people last year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened his Sunday Cabinet meeting by pledging support to Morocco and his counterpart there. An official request for aid had not yet been made by midday Sunday, Israeli officials said.

The Moroccan flag is projected onto the wires of the suspension bridge in Jerusalem in support of the earthquake victims in Morocco, Sept. 10, 2023. The display comes after Israel and Morocco normalized relations in 2020. (Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Another Israeli nonprofit, SmartAID, said it had sent 20 people late Saturday night, along with technology that could facilitate communication and medical care in areas without electricity and running water. And JDC is building up a team around its Casablanca-based Morocco director for a sustained aid operation.

“As we mourn the harrowing loss of life and devastation in Morocco, we’re working quickly with the Moroccan Jewish community to provide assistance to those most impacted in Marrakesh and ensure their most basic needs are being met,” Pablo Weinsteiner, JDC’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “As we in the Jewish community approach the High Holidays, weighing the uncertain balance between life and death, and the importance of aiding those most in need, we are on the ground in Morocco to preserve life, to comfort and support the most vulnerable, and to fulfill our commitment to repairing a broken world.”

Danino said he saw divine intervention in the fact that Morocco’s many Jewish sites had apparently survived the quake.

“Graves of Jewish sages [in the affected area] were not damaged,” he said, noting that he had spoken to the people responsible for the upkeep of the tomb of Rabbi Shlomo Bel Hench, a chief rabbi of Marrakesh who died 500 years ago and is buried outside the city in Ourika.

“There have been funerals day and night at the cemetery but the tomb of Rabbi Shlomo was not damaged at all,” Danino said. “How do you explain this?”

The post Moroccan Jews and Israelis reportedly all safe in devastating quake that killed at least 2,100 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Former ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Star Patricia Heaton: Every Human Being Should Be Against Antisemitism

One of the billboards erected in partnership between JewBelong and O7C. Photo: Instagram

Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton said this week that following the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, it should be a “natural” reaction among all humans to want to combat antisemitism, as well as support the Jewish people and Israel’s right to exist.

The “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle” star, who is a devout Catholic, made the comments during her guest appearance on the NewsNation show “CUOMO,” where she also advocated for Christians to voice solidarity with Jews and Israel after Hamas terrorists murdered 1,200 people and took 250 hostages during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Heaton began by telling host Chris Cuomo that after the Oct. 7 atrocities, she was “confused by the lack of outcry from the churches.”

“I even posted on Instagram, ‘Did you ever have that thought that if you were in Germany during World War II, you hoped that you would be that good German that helped to hide your Jewish neighbors? Well, today you have that opportunity,’” she added.

Following the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton founded a nonprofit called the Oct. 7 Coalition (O7C) to urge Christians to be visibly outspoken against antisemitism, and in support of Jews and Israel’s right to exist. Heaton’s O7C has since teamed up with the nonprofit JewBelong to launch a nationwide billboard campaign to raise awareness about antisemitism in the US.

Talking about why she wanted to get involved in rallying support for Israel and Jewish communities facing a rise in antisemitism in the US since the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton said, “I think if you’re a human being, that should be your natural response to what we saw.” When asked about how people in the entertainment industry have reacted to her avid pro-Israel stance, she said Jewish friends in the business have called her “brave and courageous.”

“[But] I just think this is just a normal human reaction,” she said. “I have heard ‘We have projects we have to promote. We don’t want to bring politics into it.’ I guess if someone spent 50 or 100 million on a movie, they don’t want to introduce this subject matter and I guess you can understand that. But generally speaking I think Hollywood could do more to support our Jewish community.”

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‘Encampment Has Crossed a Line’: California State LA President Condemns Pro-Hamas Rioters

Protesters at California State University, Los Angeles, attempted to take over a second spot on the CSULA campus in Los Angeles, United States, on June 12, 2024. Photo: Shay Horse/Reuters Connect

The president of California State University, Los Angeles has issued a searing condemnation of a pro-Hamas riot that broke out on campus on Wednesday night and resulted in her being trapped inside her office for hours after activists led by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) illegally occupied an administrative building.

“Last night, those involved with the encampment chose violence and destruction,” Berenecea Johnson Eanes wrote on Thursday in a note to the campus community. “The significant damage to [the Student Services Building] will affect student-facing services: including admissions, records, accessible technology, basic needs, new student and family engagement, Dreamer resources and educational opportunity programs. It will take time to restore all those spaces and divert significant resources that would otherwise go to academics.”

Eanes added, “I am saddened, and I am angry … I cannot and would not protect anyone who is directly identified as having participated in last night’s illegal activities from being held accountable. The encampment has crossed a line. Those in the encampment must leave.”

According to Eanes, as well as various local media outlets, a night of destruction unlike any in the school’s history began on Wednesday when a mob of students stormed the campus, overturning cars, vandalizing school property, and assaulting students and staff. They proceeded to take over the Students Services Building (SSB), which they barricaded with numerous objects they amassed from across campus, including — according to The Los Angeles Times — bikes, tables, umbrellas, and rope. They even used their own bodies, “chaining” themselves to various access points.

The mob’s takeover of SSB was sudden and swift, forcing the school to issue a “shelter in place” order which trapped Eanes and dozens of other administrative staff in their office. Four people, including one student, were assaulted during the attack on the building. When it cleared, police essentially quarantined the area, reportedly declaring it a crime scene.

Footage of the riot shows scenes unlike any that have taken place on US college campuses since earlier this year when pro-Hamas rioters began commandeering sections of school property and refusing to leave unless administrators agree to adopt the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel — an initiative aimed at isolating Israel from the international community as the first step towards its eventual elimination. Broken glass carpeted the building’s floor, the result of the students smashing through door glazings with blunt objects. Meanwhile, red paint stained its tiles, and graffiti displaying anarchist symbols and saying “Free Palestine” covered its interior walls.

“Campus community: Know that we will recover from this, but also know that I am committed to doing everything we can to ensure this will never be allowed to repeat,” Eanes said in Thursday’s statement. “A trust we had in the encampment to practice non-violence has been violated. Trust is a hard thing to restore, but we will do the work together.”

Meanwhile, Students for Justice in Palestine has hinted that more destruction is forthcoming, and the latest local reporting indicates that no one has been arrested.

“We will not back down!” the group said in a social media post. “We will remain steadfast for Palestine!”

Students for Justice in Palestine, which has resorted to intimidation, harassment, and even physical violence to pressure universities into severing ties with Israel, defended their actions in a press release issued on Wednesday. Noting that its members had camped on campus for 40 days, the group said that Eanes, whom they summoned to a meeting after blocking all of SSB’s exits, ran out of time to accede to their demands.

“This direct action is in response to the failure of President Eanes to continue to negotiate in good faith with the Popular University for Gaza Solidarity Encampment on campus,” SJP said. “She has refused to continue negotiations or make meaningful progress toward meeting the demands of the student body. Delaying negotiations past the end of spring semester at a commuter campus shows clear bad faith and an attempt to wait out students instead of actively working to reach an agreement.”

In a chilling statement which acknowledged the intentionality of their behavior, SJP said administrators who had been trapped inside SSB could only exit with “escorts.”

“We will not back down and we will rise again just like our comrades in Palestine,” SJP said after law enforcement reclaimed the campus, suggesting there will be violence next time rather than peaceful protests. “We will remain steadfast in our mission for disclosure, divestment, boycott, and for our university to call for the end of the occupation and bombardment of Gaza.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Judge Allows ‘Mandalorian’ Actress to Proceed With Disney Lawsuit After Being Fired for Nazi Germany Comments

Gina Carano as Cara Dune in “The Mandalorian” season two, exclusively on Disney+. Photo: Disney+

A US federal judge ruled on Wednesday that actress Gina Carano can proceed with her lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm, which fired her from the Disney+ television series “The Mandalorian” because of a social media post that compared political differences in the US to what Jews experienced in Nazi Germany.

“I look forward to this case moving forward and proving Disney’s blatant discriminatory actions,” Carano said after leaving court in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

“Disney should not have carte blanch authority to fire any actor just because Disney disagrees with something they say outside of work,” she added. “No actor would be free to have a voice if that were true.”

US District Judge Sherilyn Peace Garnett in Los Angeles ignored efforts by Disney lawyer Daniel Petrocelli to dismiss the lawsuit. Petrocelli claimed Disney has the “right not to associate with a high-profile performer on a high-profile show who’s imbuing” the Star Wars-based series with “views it disagrees with,” which could result in fans turning away from the show. He argued that Disney has the First Amendment right to sever ties with an employee who does not share the company’s values, even if the move violates state anti-discrimination laws. Disney purchased Lucasfilm, started by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, in 2012.

“I’m not convinced there are no disputed facts,” Judge Garnett said in response to Petrocelli’s argument. The judge referred to allegations made by Carano that she was fired in 2021 to draw attention away from some of the controversies Disney was involved in at the time, including its contract dispute with actress Scarlett Johansson and critique of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act.

Carano starred as bounty hunter Cara Dune in the first two seasons of “The Mandalorian.” She was not under contract to appear in the third season of the show, according to court records.The actress claims in her lawsuit, which has received funding from X/Twitter and Tesla owner Elon Musk, that she was wrongfully terminated and discriminated against when she was fired from “The Mandalorian” in 2021 for expressing personal views on social media that Disney did not support.

Lucasfilms, which co-produces “The Mandalorian,” announced Carano’s firing after the former mixed martial arts fighter shared a post on social media that said: “Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors … even by children. Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?”

Disney argued that the state cannot force employers engaged in “expressive activity,” like Disney and LucasFilms, to work with someone who allegedly hinders its ability to properly express its values. Petrocelli claimed that the First Amendment entitles Disney to take action to make sure “The Mandalorian” is not associated with views that it and many viewers might find offensive and contrary to the company’s message.

“The messenger is part of the message,” Petrocelli said. “Imagine she made comments that she hates Jews or that there was no Holocaust.”

A final ruling in the lawsuit has not been made yet. Disney has not publicly commented on Garnett’s decision on Wednesday not to dismiss the lawsuit.

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