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Philip Sherman, cantor, actor and ‘busiest mohel in New York,’ dies at 67

(JTA) — Cantor Philip Sherman’s biggest audience might have been for his role as a judge on the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.” But his most prominent role was as one of New York’s most in-demand mohels, performing, by his own estimate, more than 26,000 circumcisions during his 45-year career.

The tally included the offspring of celebrities; babies born in far-flung countries; and his own sons and grandsons. “My record is 11 in one day – [two pairs] of twins and seven others,” Sherman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2014, in an article naming him one of “America’s Top Mohels.”

That record stood for the rest of his life. Sherman died at 67 Wednesday in New York City. The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to his family; optimistic and determined throughout his yearlong battle, he had announced a six-month sabbatical in June.

“It was always family first” for Sherman, his daughter Nina Sherman Green told JTA, even as he participated in the formative moments of thousands of Jewish families. She recalled the hours he spent teaching her and her two brothers the skills he considered essential: how to read from the Torah, how to root for the New York Giants and, perhaps most of all, how to drive.

The last was in some ways pragmatic: Sherman’s work had him ping ponging across New York City and its suburbs daily, from early in the morning until dusk. (Circumcisions must be performed during the day, according to Jewish law.) There was lots of time to practice, and many places to be.

His children learned to navigate the city’s highways and side streets. He also demanded that they be able to parallel park in 20 seconds. Sometimes, though, their job was to wait in the car and fend off parking enforcement as Sherman raced inside, wearing his signature bow tie, to perform the ceremony that Jewish tradition considers essential to bringing baby boys into a covenant between them and God.

“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.”

Cantor Philip Sherman poses with his children, their spouses, and his grandchildren in a 2022 family photo. (Courtesy Sherman family)

Green noted that her father would emphasize to parents that they should not be deterred if they or anyone else they knew could not afford his fee.

“He did many on the house, and it was something that he was really grateful that he was able to do,” she said, adding, “Living day to day, knowing that he was doing mitzvot for everybody, that gave him a lot of pride.”

A typical Phil Sherman bris was fast and funny. He was known for adding levity around a procedure that often induces great anxiety. But he was also deeply proud of his part in carrying on a tradition that dates back to the Bible.

“I’m there to fulfill a Torah commandment, to educate, let them know what the significance is, briefly, appropriately, tastefully,” he once told the New York Times about a procedure that would take him between 15 to 20 seconds to perform. (He believed that doctors who work as mohels, increasingly the norm in some Jewish communities, unnecessarily add discomfort for babies and their parents.)

In the same article, Sherman also listed the celebrity offspring for whom he performed the procedure, including the grandchildren of two Israeli prime ministers, the sons of movie stars and other celebrities, including actress Rachel Weisz, and the son of the then-Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer.

Sherman was himself a celebrity of some note. Articles about the modern, pager-carrying mohel appeared in local media by the early 1990s, and the creation in 1997 of his website — emoil.com — occasioned an “Only in New York” brief in the New York Post. (His vanity plate had the URL.) A profile in the New Yorker followed two years after that. That was also the year that he stood alongside Whoopi Goldberg in an ad for a short-lived online currency called Flooz. In 2009, New York Magazine featured him as “the busiest mohel in New York” — complete with a photograph showing him surrounded by 30 babies he’d recently circumcised.

A member of the Screen Actors Guild, Sherman played rabbis in small roles on TV and film and consulted with creators who wanted to get the Jewish details right. In 2011, he was cast in “Our Idiot Brother,” the Paul Rudd vehicle. “I played a mohel, but the scene was cut,” Sherman told JTA. “How ironic.”

He played a character billed as “Aliyah Man” in an episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” In “Orange is the New Black,” about a women’s prison, he had a brief scene as a judge presiding over a trial involving one of the prisoners.

“The really amazing thing about that is that it’s a real part in a real show, where I’m not playing a rabbi or cantor or some Jewish guy,” he told JTA at the time.

Cantor Philip Sherman played a judge on a 2018 episode of “Orange is the New Black.” (Netflix)

Sherman grew up in Syracuse, New York, where his family had little money or connection to Jewish practice. Inspired by the religious observance of his grandparents on the Lower East Side, he enrolled in the joint program at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, graduating in 1979 with degrees in music and Bible. While still an undergraduate, he received training and certification as a mohel from the former chief mohel of Jerusalem, the late Rabbi Yosef Hakohen Halperin.

“Cantor Sherman was a beloved friend and colleague,” Cantor Mark Kushner, one of the mohels to whom Sherman directed families during his leave, told JTA on Wednesday. “We trained together in Jerusalem over 45 years ago. We spoke nearly every day. I will miss him dearly.”

Adept in leading prayer according to  both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions, Sherman also served as cantor at a number of Manhattan synagogues, including Park East Synagogue, Lincoln Square Synagogue and Congregation Shearith Israel-The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, where he worked full time early in his career and returned on a part-time basis more recently.

Sherman boasted about being the only motorcycle-riding rabbi in the actors union, and his love of driving — and steering others on the right path — remained a constant of his life and work.

Even in his final weeks, Green said, Sherman was offering driving pointers on his way to hospital appointments. “He was still directing me,” she said. “He was still being a backseat driver in the front seat, which was his role. He was still navigating … and making sure I knew which lane to be in.”

Sherman is survived by his children; their spouses; and six grandchildren.


The post Philip Sherman, cantor, actor and ‘busiest mohel in New York,’ dies at 67 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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UN Committee Says Not Enough Evidence to Declare a Famine in Gaza

Egyptian trucks carrying humanitarian aid make their way to the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, at the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Israel, May 30, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

The United Nations Famine Review Committee (FRC), a panel of experts in international food security and nutrition, has cast doubt on the notion that the northern Gaza Strip is suffering through a famine.

In a report released earlier this month, the committee responded to a claim by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) — a US-created provider of warning and analysis on food insecurity — that a famine was likely underway in northern Gaza. FEWS NET said that northern Gaza began experiencing famine in April and projected that the embattled enclave would endure famine until at least July 31.

The FRC rejected the assertion that northern Gaza is experiencing famine, citing the “uncertainty and lack of convergence of the supporting evidence employed in the analysis.” The panel carries out evaluations of humanitarian conditions on behalf of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), an international famine monitoring initiative. 

The FRC added that there is not sufficient evidence to confirm the existence of a famine within northern Gaza and called for more humanitarian access into the warzone, providing experts an opportunity to give an accurate assessment of the conditions. 

“The very fact that we are unable to endorse (or not) FEWS NET’s analysis is driven by the lack of essential up-to-date data on human well-being in northern Gaza, and Gaza at large,” the report stated. “Thus, the FRC strongly requests all parties to enable humanitarian access in general, and specifically to provide a window of opportunity to conduct field surveys in northern Gaza to have more solid evidence of the food consumption, nutrition, and mortality situation.”

However, the panel warned that Gaza is still enduring “extreme human suffering” and called for the “complete, safe, unhindered, and sustained” transport of aid into the enclave.

The report represents a course-reversal for the FRC, which claimed that Gaza likely surpassed the “famine thresholds for acute malnutrition” in March. The FRC now contends that civilians in Gaza are experiencing improved humanitarian conditions as a result of increased aid flowing into the war-torn enclave.   

“Since the FRC review conducted in March 2024, there seems to have been a significant increase in the number of food trucks entering northern Gaza,” the report read.

“The FEWS NET analysis acknowledges that humanitarian assistance in the area has increased significantly, finding that caloric availability from humanitarian assistance increased from 9 percent in February to 34 percent  to 36 percent in March and 59 percent to 63 percent in April. The opening of alternative routes to the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings, the authorization of commercial truck entry, as well as airdrops, allowed for an increase of food availability,” the report continued.

Several aid agencies, media outlets, and politicians, as well as pro-Palestinian activists, have repeatedly accused Israel of inflicting famine on Palestinians since beginning its military operations in Gaza following Hamas’ Oct. 7 slaughter of over 1,200 people throughout southern Israel. Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, accused Israel of using starvation as a “weapon of war.”

Despite these allegations, data produced by the United Nations showed that Israel allowed more than 100 food trucks to enter Gaza per day in March, an increase from the daily average of 70 trucks before the war. Moreover, many trucks transporting aid into Gaza have been hijacked and seized by Hamas terrorists, increasing the difficulty of distributing food to civilians.

The post UN Committee Says Not Enough Evidence to Declare a Famine in Gaza first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Hundreds rallied outside Toronto school board offices to protest a racism report that doesn’t mention antisemitism

Hundreds of people filled the lawn in front of the Toronto District School Board (TSDB) to oppose a proposed anti-discrimination policy being voted on by trustees that would include recognizing anti-Palestinian racism—while failing to acknowledge rising antisemitism in schools. The report, entitled Combating Hate and Racism: Student Learning Strategy, was received without any amendments by […]

The post Hundreds rallied outside Toronto school board offices to protest a racism report that doesn’t mention antisemitism appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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French President Denounces ‘Scourge of Antisemitism’ After 12-Year-Old Jewish Girl Raped

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference in Paris, France, June 12, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday denounced the “scourge of antisemitism” and called on schools to hold discussions on racism and hatred of Jews after three boys were charged with raping a 12-year-old Jewish girl in a Paris suburb.

The young girl told police that she was approached by three boys who raped and beat her in the northwestern Paris suburb of Courbevoie on Saturday in an incident that French authorities have described as a hate crime. According to French media, the assailants called the victim a “dirty Jew” and uttered other antisemitic remarks during the brutal gang-rape.

A police source told AFP that one of the boys asked the young girl questions about “her Jewish religion” and Israel, citing the child’s statement to investigators.

The boys — two aged 13 and one 12 — were arrested on Monday and indicted on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Macron’s office said the president asked French Education Minister Nicole Belloubet “to organize a discussion in all schools on the fight against antisemitism and racism, to prevent hate speech with serious consequences from infiltrating schools.”

The rape of the unnamed 12-year-old girl has caused outrage throughout France and among the Jewish community.

Elie Korchia, president of France’s Central Israelite Consistory, told BFM TV that the girl was raped “because she is Jewish,” adding, “We have never seen antisemitism that extends so far in all areas of life.”

Courbevoie Mayor Jacques Kossowski echoed that sentiment in a statement released on X/Twitter, saying, “The rape was carried out with antisemitic intent.”

Eric Ciotti, leader of Les Républicains, also condemned the “rise of antisemitism” in France, which he argued was “fueled by the alliance of the far left.” He added that “we must act as a bulwark” against antisemitism.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing National Rally party, decried the rape on social media. She noted “the explosion of antisemitic acts” in France since Oct. 7.

The recent gang-rape came amid a record surge of antisemitism in France in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. Antisemitic outrages rose by over 1,000 percent in the final three months of 2023 compared with the previous year, with over 1,200 incidents reported — greater than the total number of incidents in France for the previous three years combined.

In April, a Jewish woman was beaten and raped in a suburb of Paris as “vengeance for Palestine.”

The post French President Denounces ‘Scourge of Antisemitism’ After 12-Year-Old Jewish Girl Raped first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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