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Reuben Efron, the CIA agent who tracked JFK’s assassin, tried to recruit his nephew — to be an observant Jew

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Visiting his uncle Reuben in his Washington D.C. law office when he was a teenager, something seemed amiss for Barry Effron.

“There was a wooden desk, and a couple of wooden chairs, [but] there were no bookcases,” he recalled of the visit, which would have taken place in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

Lawyers frequently have legal volumes at arm’s reach, but the absence of bookshelves wasn’t the first gap that Barry and his dad, Irving, had noticed when it came to Irving’s brother. “He had traveled a lot, yet he had no visible means of support,” Effron said this month in an interview.

Reuben Efron did, in fact, have a good job, one that would have come with a pension and a generous expense account. He was a CIA spy, and documents recently declassified by the Biden administration show that Efron was involved in tracking John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, in the years prior.

After that revelation, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency uncovered another side to Efron: a scholar who after his retirement wrote passionately about spies in the Bible, applying the spycraft he learned on the job to assess figures as diverse as Joshua, David and Rahab the courtesan.

Reuben Efron was expansive about his Orthodox faith, Barry Effron recalled, urging Barry to intensify his Jewish observance. “He talked mostly about Judaism, about being religious and being righteous, being prayerful.”

Jewish spies have at times been integral to the American intelligence complex, and at others have been viewed as suspect because of their purported ties to Israel. Efron seems to have been among those who thrived in the service.

Abba Cohen, the Washington director of Agudath Israel of America, whose father was an Orthodox CIA agent, recalled in an email that his parents socialized with the Efrons when they lived in Washington in the 1970s, as members of both the Orthodox and CIA communities.

“I would visit them for dinner after school sometimes, as the Rittenhouse where they lived was across the street from the Hebrew Academy on 16th Street,” he said. “Reuben was an extremely good-natured, low-key, scholarly and modest person.” The friendship between his parents and the Efrons continued after both couples moved to Israel, Cohen said.

After the D.C. visit, the Effrons, father and son, began to put two and two together. (Reuben Efron, the elder brother, and Irving Effron spelled their last names differently.)

“He didn’t have much of a law practice, he knew a lot of languages and he was very, very, very erudite, and he traveled a lot and he had a PhD in international affairs, and he wrote dense scholarly articles that appeared in places like Foreign Affairs Quarterly,” said Barry Effron, who is now a cardiologist in Cleveland. “We thought Reuben was in the CIA.”

The turmoil of the first half of the last century kept the brothers apart for years; Irving Effron was the first to come to the United States, finding work with uncles in Cleveland. Then he returned to their native Lithuania. He used his skills in English to return to the United States via England as Hitler’s shadow loomed larger over Europe; around the same time Reuben managed to arrive in the United States via Cuba. Their widowed mother perished in the Holocaust.

The brothers were not close, but they kept in touch and got together for major occasions; Reuben Efron attended Barry Effron’s bar mitzvah in Cleveland and his wedding in Columbus, and Irving and his wife attended Reuben’s late-in-life wedding to Edna, the “spinster” secretary at the Orthodox synagogue in Miami where Reuben prayed.

The wedding was at the Fontainebleau. Efron in his retirement had purchased an apartment on ritzy Collins Avenue, and also a garden apartment on Keren Hayesod street in the heart of Jerusalem. For Barry Effron, the displays of wealth were additional evidence that there was more to his uncle than met the eye.

Lorri, Barry’s wife, chimed in during his interview, saying she recalled that Reuben Efron’s Jerusalem apartment was near those of government officials (he lived a five-minute walk away from the prime minister’s residence). “He used to have meetings,” she said. (Barry Effron did not recall that detail.)

When they visited him, whether it was in Miami or in Jerusalem, much of the conversation was about Jewish observance, Effron recalled.

“He was proud of his religion, he believed in Jewish law and he believed in kashrut, he believed in davening and all that so he was particularly interested in passing it on,” Effron said. “He had no children of his own, so he was interested in conveying his love of Judaism to his nephew and niece,” Barry’s sister.

He was taken with his great-nieces, Barry and Lorri Effron’s daughters. One had bright blue eyes; he would call her a “shayneh maydeleh,” Yiddish for pretty girl. One of the last times they saw him before he died in 1993, at a home for the elderly in Florida, the girls joined him in Shabbat prayers.

Barry’s family was all Reuben had, Barry Effron said, besides his wife, Edna. “He had my dad and then he had my sister and me,” he said.

Irving Effron was proud of his brother. Effron recalled that his father kept copies of Foreign Policy Quarterly, with its august gray cover and its thick interiors paginated by volume instead of by issue, inside a desk drawer. He was thrilled to see his brother’s name on the same contents page that had featured luminaries like Henry Kissinger.

“My dad was very proud of it, even though he probably didn’t understand the article and of course I didn’t as a young kid or a teenager, but that was pretty exciting,” Effron said.

After Reuben Efron died in 1993 and Irving Effron died in 1996, Barry Effron took to searching for clues about his uncle on the Internet. He soon realized that his and his father’s guess, that Reuben was a CIA agent, was correct.

One piece of evidence was Efron’s presence as a translator for Marina Oswald, the assassin’s Russian-speaking widow, when she was interrogated by the congressional committee investigating the assassination. Another was his uncle’s involvement in the alleged sighting of a UFO in the Soviet Union, while accompanying U.S. Sen. Richard Russell, a Georgia Democrat on a visit to the Soviet Union.

“The guy’s traveling in Russia at the height of the Cold War in 1957, with a congressman, he’s obviously a CIA attache of some kind,” he said.

Barry Effron was in Israel recently for a wedding. He sought out the Keren Hayesod address where his uncle once lived.

“It’s now a very wealthy area in Jerusalem,” he said. He would have ventured closer, but he couldn’t find parking.

The post Reuben Efron, the CIA agent who tracked JFK’s assassin, tried to recruit his nephew — to be an observant Jew appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students

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

Over 1,000 university professors will participate in a new campaign to show solidarity with Jewish students experiencing levels of antisemitism that are without precedent in the history of the United States, the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), which promotes academic freedom, announced on Tuesday.

Titled “KeeptheLightOn,” the initiative comes amid a reckoning of congressional investigations, lawsuits, and civil rights inquiries prompted by an explosion of antisemitic discrimination at some of America’s most prestigious universities. It will see the formation of a new group, the Faculty Against Antisemitism Movement (FAAM), comprising professors from across the US who will pressure senior administrators at their schools to address anti-Jewish hatred as robustly as other forms of racism.

“We have written books, op-eds, and articles, but they are not penetrating the echo chamber of anti-Zionist antisemitism,” Southwestern University English professor Michael Saenger said in a press release. “As with previous protest movements, visual displays are sometimes necessary to get people to stop demonizing marginalized groups. We need to respond to bullying and hate, directed against ourselves and Jewish students, more directly and more personally: by visibly advocating for a university that treats Jews as people, and that treats Israel as a nation.”

As part of the campaign, FAAM professors will leave their office lights on after hours to “publicly demonstrate their commitment to fighting antisemitism.” AEN added on Tuesday that the lights will “also symbolize the faculty’s commitment to ‘light a fire’ under administrators to ensure a better academic year ahead.”

“Keep the Light On” was inspired by University of California, Berkeley professor Richard Hassner, who last month held what was widely believed to be the first teacher “sleep-in” protest of antisemitism, AEN said. For two weeks, Hassner lived in his office until administrators agreed to stop an anti-Zionist group’s blockade of a campus foot-bridge which made it impossible for Jewish students to cross without being verbally abused.

Numerous Jewish faculty members at other campuses have also begun stepping up and demanding a change. Some have organized faculty trips to Israel. Others have cobbled their peers together to form groups — such as Yale’s Forum for Jewish Faculty & Friends and Indiana University’s Faculty and Staff for Israel — which have since grown exponentially and will serve as a well of support for FAAM.

“The FAAM initiative is both a distressing sign of the times and a hopeful symbol for the future not only for Jews but also for the academy,” Smith College professor and AEN advisory board member Donna Robinson Divine said. “An academy that has become the core location for an activism promoting social justice cannot sustain its credibility by tolerating hostile attacks against its Jewish student and faculty. Nor can education leaders preserve the legitimacy of the universities over which they preside by ignoring the recycling of this old and dangerous hatred. Rooting out antisemitism in classrooms, lecture halls, and social gatherings is thus as important for Jewish students and faculty as it is for the academy and the nation.”

As The Algemeiner has previously reported, Jewish college students have never faced such extreme levels of hatred. Since Oct. 7 — when Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists invaded Israel, massacred 1,200 people, and kidnapped 253 others as hostages — they have endured death threats, physical assaults, and volleys of racist verbal attacks unlike anything seen in the US since the 1950s.

Many college officials at first responded to the problem sluggishly, according to critics, who noted universities offered a host of reasons for why antisemitic speech should be protected even as they censored students and professors who uttered statements perceived as being conservative. At the same time, progressive thought leaders came under fire for hesitating to acknowledge a swelling of antisemitic attitudes in institutions and organizations reputed to be champions of civil rights and persecuted minority groups. One recent study found that US universities have demonstrated an “anti-Jewish double standard” by responding to Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel and the ensuing surge in campus antisemitism much less forcefully than they did to crimes perpetrated against African Americans and Asians.

The situation changed after three presidents of elite universities were hauled before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce to account for their handling of antisemitism and said on the record that there are cases in which they would decline to punish students who called for a genocide of the Jewish people. The stunning admissions prompted the resignations of Elizabeth M. Magill as president of University of Pennsylvania and eventually of Claudine Gay, Harvard University’s former president, who would not leave until a series of reporters exposed her as a serial plagiarist.

The US Congress is currently investigating whether several colleges intentionally ignored discrimination when its victims were Jewish. On Wednesday, its focus will shift to Columbia University, where Jewish students have been beaten up and harassed because they support Israel. The school’s president, Minouche Shafik, is scheduled to testify, and the event promises to be a much scrutinized affair.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students first appeared on

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Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one

It was close, but Toronto synagogues Adath Israel and Beth David will remain separate entities after Beth David’s vote on amalgamation fell short of the required two-thirds threshold. Adath Israel, the larger of the two Conservative synagogues by membership and facility size, voted overwhelmingly on April 14 to amalgamate, with 91 percent in favour. But […]

The post Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder

Jewish women in Ethiopia sort through grain to be used in baking matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

The Jewish community in the embattled region of Gondar, Ethiopia is preparing for the world’s largest Passover Seder this year, with nearly 4,000 Ethiopian Jews residing in camps and awaiting immigration to Israel expected to attend.

Over 80,000 matzot have been baked by members of the community over the past several weeks in preparation for the holiday, Jeremy Feit, the president of the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ) aid group, told The Algemeiner. A smaller Seder, with almost 1,000 attendees, will take place in the capital of Addis Ababa.

The Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates the Biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt, will begin next Monday evening and end the following Tuesday.

A portion of the 80,000 matzot for use during Passover in Ethiopia. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

Past Passover Seders in Ethiopia have provided attendees a rare opportunity to partake in the traditional feast, offering some their first ever taste of meat — a luxury they could not otherwise afford. But according to Feit, food price hikes of 50 percent to 100 percent have meant that this year’s feast will largely consist of potatoes and eggs.

“With the extreme price increases and the resulting hunger, the community will feel the intensity as they pray to celebrate the Seder next year with their families in Jerusalem,” Feit said.

The Seder comes on the heels of an airlift of medical supplies for the beleaguered community, facilitated by SSEJ. Ten pallets of aid were delivered to a medical clinic established by the group a year ago in Gondar, serving 3,300 children and 700 elderly. The aid was dedicated in memory of former US Sen. Joe Lieberman, who served as SSEJ’s honorary chairman and who passed away during the weeks-long airlift operation.

SSEJ, which is based in the US  and entirely volunteer-run, is the only provider of humanitarian aid to Jews in Ethiopia. The group aims to mitigate some of the hunger ravaging the community by providing more than 2.5 million meals per year, prioritizing very young children, pregnant and nursing women, and students at a local yeshiva, who Feit said were often “so hungry they would faint in class.”

SSEJ and its leaders have assisted around 60,000 Ethiopians immigrate to Israel, more than the total number brought to the Jewish state during its storied military operations in 1984 and 1991.

Jewish men in Ethiopia need the dough that will be baked into matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

According to Feit, some 13,000 Jews still remain in Ethiopia. Recent years have seen several hundred Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Israel at a time, especially during periods of violent civil strife, but even that trickle has dried up following the brutal Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel.

“The average person in Gondar and Addis Ababa has been waiting to make aliyah for 20 years,” Feit said, using the Hebrew term for immigration. “They left their villages with the thought that Israel was going to bring them in. And they’ve been left since as internally displaced refugees.”

Feit said the decades-long wait is especially painful for those with first-degree relatives in Israel, and is further compounded for those with relatives serving in the Israeli military.

“Jews in Ethiopia are extremely concerned about their [family members’] welfare as the IDF [Israel Defense Fores] battles Hamas terrorists” in Gaza, he explained. “They are especially concerned given the vastly disproportionate number of Ethiopian Jewish soldiers killed in Israel during the current conflict.” Jews in Ethiopia, he averred, comprise “one of the most Zionist communities in the world.”

Since Oct. 7, there has been no indication as to how many Ethiopian Jews will be brought to Israel and when. Those with relatives in Israel were struck with another blow when Israel’s economy took a hit following the Hamas onslaught, and many of those who rely on remittance from their loved ones in Israel stopped receiving money.

“This has left the Jews in Ethiopia in a dire situation, with food and medical care hard to come by. Living in squalor, without access to clean water, electricity, or even bathrooms, the malnourished Jews in Ethiopia suffer untold horrors,” Feit said.

Despite the grim depiction, Feit struck a more positive note about the upcoming holiday.

Ethiopian Jews eating matzot in synagogue last year. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

“Given that most of the year they’re feeling despair at their lack of redemption, at least Passover is a time to celebrate the possibility of redemption and reunification,” he said. “Being able to celebrate with thousands of their friends and family members in a joyous celebration of Passover is a welcome relief.”

The post Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder first appeared on

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