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Nechama Tec, survivor whose book about the Bielski partisans inspired the Daniel Craig film ‘Defiance,’ dies at 92

(JTA) — Nechama Tec, a Holocaust survivor and historian whose book about a group of Jews in Belarus who successfully defied the Nazis was made into the 2008 film “Defiance, “ died Aug. 3 in New York City, following an illness. She was 92. 

Tec, a member of one of only three Jewish families from Lublin, Poland, to survive the Holocaust intact from a prewar population of some 40,000, was for decades on the sociology faculty at the University of Connecticut in Stamford. Her books included “Resilience and Courage: Women, Men, and the Holocaust” (2003) and “When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland” (1986).

Prior to the film adaptation of her 1993 book, “Defiance: The Bielski Partisans,” Tec was best known within the academic world and the tight-knit community of American Holocaust survivors. 

The film version of “Defiance” was directed by Edward Zwick and starred Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber as the Bielski brothers, Tuvia and Zus. Under the brothers’ leadership, Jewish partisans rescued Jews from extermination and fought the German occupiers and their collaborators in what is now western Belarus. 

Historians had long known of uprisings at the Auschwitz and Treblinka camps, in addition to the better-known rebellion in the Warsaw Ghetto led by Mordecai Anielewicz, but the story of the Bielskis differed fundamentally in that it was successful.

When Tec set out to write a book about the Bielski brothers, she sought to fill in omissions and correct distortions created by their almost-total excision from historical accounts of the Holocaust.

“The omission is the conspicuous silence about Jews who, while themselves threatened by death, were saving others,” Tec wrote in the opening to “Defiance.” “The distortion is the common description of European Jews as victims who went passively to their death.”

Daniel Craig played one of the leaders of a successful Jewish uprising during World War II in the 2008 film “Defiance.” (Screen shot from YouTube)

In her five-decade career at the University of Connecticut, Tec received numerous awards for her publications, including a Pulitzer Prize nomination for “Resilience and Courage.” She was awarded the 1994 International Anne Frank Special Recognition prize for ”Defiance.” She was a member of the advisory council of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York. In 2002, she was appointed by President George W. Bush to the council of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Born May 15, 1931, to Roman Bawnik and Esther (Hachamoff) Bawnik, Tec was 8 years old when the Germans arrived in Lublin. She and her sister survived three years by posing as the nieces of a Catholic family; her parents also survived the war by hiding in homes and evading German detection.

“An extra layer of secretiveness, combined with a fear of discovery, became part of my being,” she wrote of those years in her 1982 memoir, “Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood.” “All my life revolved around hiding; hiding thoughts, hiding feelings, hiding my activities, hiding information.”

After the war, Tec immigrated to Israel, where she married Leon Tec, a noted child psychiatrist. Later they moved to the United States, where she earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at Columbia University and served on the faculty there for a decade. She began teaching at Connecticut in 1974. 

The couple had two children, one of whom — son Roland — co-produced the “Defiance” film. Her daughter, Leora Tec, is the founder and director of Bridge To Poland, an organization that aims to improve relations between Jews and non-Jewish Poles. Her husband died in 2013; both children survive her.

Tec met Tuvia Bielski only once, in Brooklyn, New York, just weeks before his death in 1987. In a 2009 interview with JTA, she recalled that Bielski’s legendary charisma was apparent, even though he was old and frail.

“He was whispering,” she recalled. “I thought that my tape recorder won’t get anything. And I was trying to have the information flow. And as he got into his past, he sort of just, before my eyes, he became the person that he was, this charismatic leader, that has this absolute power in the unit.”

She added, “When he came into the room, he filled it with himself.”

While Tec was gratified that the film offered a counterpoint to allegations of Jewish passivity during the Holocaust, she also resisted what she called an impulse to blame the victim.

“Antisemitism is with us; it is like a perpetual, chronic addiction of humanity,” she told JTA. “You cannot learn about antisemitism by examining what the antisemites tell us because this is not based on fact. It is based on their need to blame somebody for something that they have not done.”

A memorial service for Tec at Manhattan’s Plaza Memorial Chapel is planned for Oct. 1.

The post Nechama Tec, survivor whose book about the Bielski partisans inspired the Daniel Craig film ‘Defiance,’ dies at 92 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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UN Security Council to Vote Thursday on Palestinian UN Membership

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan speaks to members of the Security Council during a meeting to address the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, April 18, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The United Nations Security Council is due to vote on Thursday on a Palestinian bid for full UN membership, said diplomats, a move that Israel’s ally the United States is expected to block because it would effectively recognize a Palestinian state.

The 15-member council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution that recommends to the 193-member UN General Assembly that “the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations,” diplomats said.

A council resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the US, Britain, France, Russia, or China to pass. Diplomats say the measure could have the support of up to 13 council members, which would force the US to use its veto.

The United States has said that establishing an independent Palestinian state should happen through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and not at the UN.

The Palestinians are currently a non-member observer state, a recognition granted by the UN General Assembly in 2012. But an application to become a full UN member needs to be approved by the Security Council and then at least two-thirds of the General Assembly.

The Palestinian push for full UN membership comes six months into a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and as Israel is expanding settlements in the West Bank.

“Recent escalations make it even more important to support good-faith efforts to find lasting peace between Israel and a fully independent, viable, and sovereign Palestinian state,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council.

“Failure to make progress towards a two-state solution will only increase volatility and risk for hundreds of millions of people across the region, who will continue to live under the constant threat of violence,” he said.

Israel‘s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said the Palestinians failed to meet criteria to become a full UN member, which he outlined as: a permanent population, defined territory, government, and capacity to enter relations with other states.

“Who is the council voting to ‘recognize’ and give full membership status to? Hamas in Gaza? The Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Nablus? Who?” Erdan asked the Security Council.

He said granting full UN membership to the Palestinians “will have zero positive impact for any party, that will cause only destruction for years to come, and harm any chance for future dialogue.”

The Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank. Hamas, a terrorist organization, ousted the Palestinian Authority from power in Gaza in 2007.

Ziad Abu Amr, special envoy of Abbas, asked the United States: “How could this damage the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis? How could this recognition and this membership harm international peace and security?”

“Those who are trying to disrupt and hinder the adoption of such a resolution … are not helping the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis and the prospects for peace in the Middle East in general,” he told the Security Council.

Abu Amr said full Palestinian UN membership was not an alternative for serious political negotiations to implement a two-state solution and resolve pending issues, adding: “However, this resolution will grant hope to the Palestinian people hope for a decent life within an independent state.”

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ADL Data Reveals Alarming Campus Antisemitism, Despite Strong Jewish Life

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Antisemitism on college campuses is a serious problem for Jewish students trying to experience the diverse landscape of academic life.

In 2023, antisemitism on college campuses reached record levels, with incidents surging by 321 percent compared to 2022, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)’s Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents.

This dramatic increase includes 922 antisemitic incidents on college and university campuses, demonstrating an urgent need to address antisemitic hate on campus to ensure that all students can learn and thrive. A 2024 CPOST study confirmed that there is a crisis of antisemitism on college campuses, reporting that 56% of Jewish college students felt in personal danger because of their stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict. A December 2023 Brandeis report showed that higher levels of antisemitic hostility on campus resulted in Jewish students feeling less safe and less like they “very much belonged.” Such hostility has translated directly to self-censorship, with a 2024 Jim Joseph Foundation study noting that “more than a third of Jewish students report they are hiding their identity in order to fit in.”

To help students, their families, and other campus stakeholders assess what’s happening on campuses — and to urge campuses to take immediate and meaningful action to improve the campus climate for Jewish students — the ADL recently released the first iteration of its new Campus Antisemitism Report Card, a tool that assesses the state of antisemitism on campus and how universities and colleges are responding.

The feedback so far indicates that we are achieving those goals.

Feedback from students and families indicates that our tool is a useful source of necessary information during this volatile time. A number of universities and college leaders have already responded with requests for information and resources, eager to learn how to improve.

Despite its strengths, some have criticized the Report Card or the specific grades it assigned, suggesting that the evaluations may not align with personal experiences on certain campuses.

It’s important to note, however, that while individual experiences may vary, the Report Card is based on data and research, focusing on institutions’ responses to antisemitism and reported incident data.

The data is clear — many of these schools are failing to meet the moment when it comes to addressing rising antisemitism. This is data and information that students, families, alumni, and other campus stakeholders deserve to have. Moreover, it is data and information that should incentivize meaningful corrective action from the institutions themselves.

Although the Jewish student experience is deeply related to what we were aiming to assess — namely the level of antisemitism on campus and how universities are responding — those things are not one and the same. Students on campuses that receive lower grades may still experience positive Jewish life due to strong support systems like Hillels, Chabads, robust Jewish studies programs, and Jewish Greek life organizations.

Conversely, campuses with high grades may still have students experiencing antisemitic incidents.

It is important to note that a high grade does not imply that a campus is free from antisemitism, just as a low grade does not suggest the absence of robust Jewish student life and support. In fact, many campuses received full credit for every aspect of Jewish life we assessed, but the high level of antisemitic incidents on campus, or the university’s lackluster response, drove the grade down.

Many factors affect an individual student’s experience on campus, which is why students and families should view the Report Card as one tool in a suite of available resources that they use to assess campuses.

Our Report Card aims to create a race to the top among campuses, motivating them to strive for excellence in addressing and combating antisemitism. The race is on, and removing the hurdles will only benefit students by creating safer and more inclusive campus environments for all students, including Jewish students.

We hope these schools will implement new programs and policies that we and others recommend, and that their grades will improve accordingly.

Shira Goodman is Senior Director of Advocacy at ADL (the Anti-Defamation League).

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New Hospital Approved for Construction in Southern Israel Amid Gaza War

Israeli soldiers operate at the Shajaiya district of Gaza city amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, Dec. 8, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Yossi Zeliger

The Israeli government on Thursday announced the approval of a new hospital to be built in the city of Be’er Sheva, the latest move toward expanding health offerings particularly in southern Israel.

“Today we are taking a big step forward towards the establishment of a new hospital in Be’er Sheva,” Israeli Health Minister Uriel Bosso said in a statement. “This is historic news that will change the face of our health system for generations to come. This is an important move for the Negev, which will lead to an increase in medical assistance in all areas and will directly affect all citizens of Israel.”

He added, “Building a new hospital in the Negev is a just move that will improve the lives and health of the residents, and will be a significant source of employment and research.”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who approved the allocation of funds for the construction, also praised the hospital’s approval.

“This is an important and significant decision for Be’er Sheva and the entire southern and Negev region, which will substantially improve medicine in the community and advance the provision of excellent health services to the residents of the south,” he said. “This step is part of a number of steps designed to increase investment in infrastructure in the [Gaza] periphery, and there is no doubt that it will lead to an increase in the population in these areas.”

The new hospital, to be operated by Sheba Medical, will feature 600 beds. Officials hope it will open in 2028 at a cost of 1.5-2.5 billion NIS ($395 million to $659 million).

Opening a new hospital in the southern region is something that has been long debated — the lack of one has created issues during the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which borders the Jewish state to the south. Those injured in southern Israel during the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, as well as Israeli soldiers injured in the ensuing Gaza war, were forced to be brought to hospitals in the country’s central region, such as Tel HaShomer near Tel Aviv or Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Karem. In some cases this meant an hour-long flight from Gaza or the border area by helicopter.

Despite the travel, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has been able to cut down the death rate among wounded soldiers in Gaza to 6.3 percent, well below the current average, as revealed last week by the IDF;s chief medical officer. Having a nearby hospital in the event of a future war in Gaza could result in saving more lives.

“The new hospital will strengthen medicine in the south of the country … and reduce disparities in access to health services,” Israel’s Health Ministry said in a separate statement.

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