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There are 240 hostages in Gaza. One is Uriel Baruch.

Uriel Baruch works in construction, selling sand and other supplies to contractors. At his wedding in Jerusalem six years ago, guests danced until 3 a.m. He is 35 years old, a fan of techno music, and the sort of person who invites someone dining alone in a restaurant to join his table.

For his son Ofek’s 5th birthday yesterday, there was a blue-and-white balloon arch, a mural featuring a life-size unicorn and many, many cakes.

The only thing missing was Baruch. He has not been home since Oct. 7, when Israeli officials believe he was abducted by Hamas terrorists from the Nova Music Festival.

“We are wearing the shirts with pictures of Uriel — we want him to stay with us, so we have the pictures on the shirts,” Baruch’s father-in-law, Dan Anteby, told me.

“We prepare ourselves for everything. I hope he will come back alive, but you don’t know.”

I’d never heard or seen Baruch’s name until last Sunday, when I covered a vigil for the hostages in Montclair, the New Jersey suburb where I’ve lived since 2016.

Local Israeli ex-pats spent more than three hours meticulously setting a long Shabbat-themed table on the street I walk down to get to the train into the city, between two cafes where I sometimes meet friends for breakfast. The plastic plates and goblets were taped down in case of wind. There were bottles of grape juice, candles, fresh red roses and 240 empty chairs, each with the photo, name, age and nationality of a hostage believed held in Gaza.

The kids’ places had highchairs and sippy cups.

The idea of these displays — whether at the Tel Aviv art museum or the Lincoln Memorial — is to shock viewers with the staggering number of innocent people who were abducted. It is effective but also overwhelming. I walked slowly around the table before the vigil began, trying to absorb the information on each of the 240 KIDNAPPED signs, trying to imagine each individual’s story. But the faces blurred together in my mind; I couldn’t remember the names.

Then the organizers handed out wallet-sized cards, each with a single hostage’s picture, name and age on one side, and a short prayer on the other. Rabbi Elliott Tepperman, who leads the Reconstructionist synagogue in town, urged us to each tuck our card into a pocket or tack it up on a bulletin board, to stick it in the frame of a bathroom mirror or carry it in our wallet.

To learn whatever we could about the person — and to tell others about them.

“Our tradition teaches that every human life is holy — that to take a single life is to destroy the world, and to save a single life is to save the world,” Tepperman said, referencing one of the most cited lines from the Talmud.

“Keep these cards in the way you might treat a sacred text,” he added. “It might not be possible to think about all 240, but to think about this one person, to pray the prayer. To do what we can to save that person and that world.”

My card said Uriel Baruch, 35 years old, kidnapped by Hamas.

He is the third of four sons who grew up in Tiberias, Kfar Saba and Jerusalem. He is the father of two boys; the older one, Shalev, is 7. And he is the husband of Rachel, a hairdresser who also works as a secretary at the catering company where Anteby, her father, is a chef. She has not been to either job since Oct. 7.

“She stopped crying,” Anteby told me, because she has run out of tears. “She is doing nothing, nothing. She is waiting at home. And looking for him.”

Nobody is even sure Uriel Baruch is in Gaza.

He went to the all-night desert dance party in Kibbutz Re’im with a neighbor. Around 9:30 or 10 a.m. on what Israelis now call Black Shabbat, Anteby said, the family saw videos on social media showing Baruch’s car — “and his friend dead inside the car.”

“And we saw Uriel on the ground, but we don’t know if he’s alive, dead, shot, not,” he told me. “It’s very short,” he said of the video clip. “We saw him near the car on the ground. Later, he disappeared.”

For the next 11 days, Anteby said, “nobody tells us nothing.” Uriel’s brothers and Rachel went “to all the hospitals in Israel,” he said, imagining — hoping — that he might be lying in one of them, unconscious and without identification.

“In the north, in the south, in the west, in the east,” Anteby said. “In Beersheva, in Ashkelon, in Ahdod, in Haifa, in Jerusalem, all the hospitals, to look, maybe he’s there.”

He was not.

Eleven days after the attack, Anteby said, the army finally called, and then came to see the family. They had identified the body of the friend Baruch had been with. They’d found no blood on the road next to the car where Baruch had been lying, so they thought he was alive. But there were no photos or video showing him being taken.

The officials said Baruch was “missing,” not that that was news. Another week passed, Anteby said, before Baruch was officially added to the list of the kidnapped. Remember when the numbers kept going up?

Anteby, who is 60, said Baruch is more like a son than a son-in-law, always asking if he can help the older man with things around the house. He recalled the vacations he takes the young family on every year to a hotel on the Sea of Galilee. He said Baruch once told him he cannot handle seeing blood.

And he told me this story: About a week before the attack, before the start of the Sukkot holiday, Uriel and his brother Ohad — who was visiting from his home in New York — went to a restaurant for dinner, and saw a woman sitting alone. Uriel went over to the woman and asked why she was alone. The woman said she was celebrating her birthday.

“He said, ‘Alone?’ She said, ‘Yes, this is my life,’’’ the father-in-law recounted. “He said, ‘No, you’re not alone.’ He said come to my table. He got a cake for her, they sang ‘Happy Birthday to You,’ she said thank you and cried.”

Ofek, Baruch’s son, was also not alone for his birthday. Volunteers poured into Giv’at Ze’ev, a settlement of about 20,000 people a few miles from Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, to make the party and dozens of children attended. There was a bouncy house, music, games, bundles of snacks adorned with Ofek’s picture, and a cake with a picture of Noa Kirel, an Israeli pop star who placed third in Eurovision last spring with a song called “Unicorn.”

Anteby said Kirel herself was coming to sing to Ofek this weekend.

It will be hard to top this birthday. Unless, when Ofek turns 6, Uriel is there to celebrate with him. No unicorns necessary.

Uriel Baruch’s son, Ofek, celebrated his 5th birthday this weekend. Courtesy of Dan Anteby

The post There are 240 hostages in Gaza. One is Uriel Baruch. appeared first on The Forward.

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Alleged Neo-Nazi Indicted for Plot to Carry Out New Year’s Eve Mass Casualty Attack Against Jews, Other Minorities

An American flag waves outside the US Department of Justice Building in Washington, US, Dec. 2, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Tom Brenner

US federal authorities have charged, and a grand jury has indicted, a foreign national with planning a mass casualty attack against Jews and other minorities in New York on New Year’s Eve.

The United States Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York reported that a grand jury indicted Georgian national Michail Chkhikvishvili with soliciting hate crimes and acts of mass violence.

Chkhikvishvili is reportedly the leader of a group called the “Maniac Murder Cult,” a white supremacist, neo-Nazi group.

Specifically, he was recruiting people to carry out arson and bombing attacks — as well as attacks aimed at Jewish and other minority children, according to US officials.

The US Attorney’s Office explained that the “planned New Year’s Eve attack involved Santa Claus handing out poisoned candy to racial minorities as well as distributing poisoned candy to Jewish children in Brooklyn.”

There were more than 450,000 Jews who lived in Brooklyn as of May 2024. Many neighborhoods are known to be predominantly Hasidic.

Authorities found out about the plot when Chkhikvishvili solicited an undercover law enforcement official to be involved in the attack.

He “sought to recruit others to commit violent attacks and killings in furtherance of his Neo-Nazi ideologies,” US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in a statement. “We will not hesitate to find and prosecute those who threaten the safety and freedoms of all members of our community, including members of minority communities, no matter where in the world these criminals might be hiding.”

FBI New York Acting Assistant Director Christie Curtis lauded law enforcement for stopping the attack before it could ever take place.

“The swift disruption of this individual, accused of allegedly plotting violent attacks in New York, sends a clear message: we will use every resource in our power to ensure the safety of the American people,” she said. “The men and women who work on this task force day in and day out exemplify true service to our community, demonstrating unwavering commitment in thwarting those who seek to harm our citizens and our way of life.”

The plot comes amid a wave of antisemitic attacks that ramped up in America and around the world after Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, amid the ensuing war in Gaza.

Earlier this month, an observant Jew was sucker punched and beaten in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC. The alleged attacker subsequently expressed his motive, saying “They’re [the Jews] the cause of all our wars,” and “We know who you are! We know the lies that you’ve told, that you have stolen the place of the true children of Israel.”

He was charged with assault and a hate crime.

In December, the FBI said there had been a 60 percent spike in antisemitic hate crime investigations since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war. Then, in April, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the probes into antisemitic crimes tripled in the months following Oct. 7.

“Between Oct. 7 and Jan. 30 of this year, we opened over three times more anti-Jewish hate crime investigations than in the four months before Oct. 7,” he explained.

Last year, the FBI found that 63 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes in the US were directed against Jews.

The post Alleged Neo-Nazi Indicted for Plot to Carry Out New Year’s Eve Mass Casualty Attack Against Jews, Other Minorities first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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RNC Spotlights Campus Antisemitism as Elise Stefanik Teases ‘Bombshell’ Findings From US Congressional Probe

US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) speaks during a House Education and The Workforce Committee hearing titled ‘Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism’ on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, Dec. 5, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

US lawmakers are preparing to release later this year a trove of new “bombshell” information revealing the extent to which antisemitism has been allowed to flourish on university campuses across the country, according to a high-ranking Republican.

US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) spoke with political pundit and podcast host Megyn Kelly about the efforts of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to investigate surging antisemitism, including anti-Jewish bias, on college campuses. While reminiscing over last December’s congressional hearing with the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — in which each campus leader proclaimed that calls for a genocide of Jews may not violate school rules depending on “the context” — Stefanik revealed that the committee has obtained new documents shedding light on anti-Jewish hate at elite universities.

“This is pervasive in higher-ed. We have worked on this investigation, and if you think the hearing was bad, Megyn, we’re going to have to talk about all the documents that have been turned over because of our subpoena,” Stefanik said. “We’ll put out a report later this year. That’s even more bombshell material in there. It’s a disgrace what’s happening at these universities.”

Antisemitism has exploded at universities since the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, amid the ensuing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Over the past several months, the committee has rigorously investigated antisemitism at America’s most prestigious universities. The panel recently unearthed and exposed text message exchanges between Columbia University deans which revealed the campus leaders mocking Jewish students as “privileged.” The lawmakers also alleged, based on their investigation, that Harvard University has engaged in a “pattern of inaction” in response to campus antisemitism.

Stefanik spoke to Kelly at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Republicans are gathering this week to nominate their 2024 presidential candidate. The issue of campus antisemitism has been a key issue highlighted at the RNC.

On Wednesday night, Shabbos Kestenbaum, a recent Harvard graduate suing his alma mater over its alleged failure to protect Jewish students, took the RNC main stage and delivered an impassioned speech on campus antisemitism. Kestenbaum said that the surge of unchecked antisemitism on Harvard’s campus in the months following Oct. 7 left him disillusioned with progressives, prompting his move to the political right. 

“After Oct. 7, the world finally saw what I and so many Jewish students across this country experienced almost every day,” he told the RNC crowd. 

“My problem with Harvard is not its liberalism, but its illiberalism. Too often, students at Harvard are taught not how to think, but what to think. I found myself immersed in a culture that is anti-Western, that is anti American, and that is antisemitic,” Kestenbaum said. 

Kestenbaum implored the crowd to support the presidential campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump. 

“Sadly the far-left wing tide of antisemitism is rising,” Kestenbaum said. “But tonight, tonight we fight back. I am proud to support President Trump’s policies to expel foreign students who violate our laws, harass our Jewish classmates, and desecrate our freedoms … let’s elect a president who recognizes that although Harvard and the Ivy Leagues have long abandoned the United States of America, the Jewish people never will.”

Anti-Israel protests have ravaged college campuses across the United States in the months following Oct. 7. Students at prominent universities such as Harvard, Columbia, and MIT have participated in demonstrations chanting slogans such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” and “Burn Tel Aviv to the ground!” Progressive student organizations have also openly banned “Zionists,” forcing Jewish students to choose between supporting Israel and maintaining their social network. Campus demonstrators have also openly cheered Hamas and in some cases threatened or committed violence against Jewish students.

Jewish donors and alumni have condemned university administrators over their unwillingness to shut down demonstrations. As a result, many of them have pulled funding and vowed not to allow their children to enroll at their alma maters.

Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots NFL team, has ceased donating to Columbia University, citing “virulent hate” against Jews on campus.  Ross Stevens, founder and CEO of Stone Ridge Asset Management, pulled a $100 million donation from the University of Pennsylvania. The MIT Jewish Alumni Alliance urged Jewish graduates and allies to protest campus antisemitism by lowering their annual donation amount to $1.

The post RNC Spotlights Campus Antisemitism as Elise Stefanik Teases ‘Bombshell’ Findings From US Congressional Probe first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Pro-Israel Group Calls on US Justice Department to Apply ‘KKK Laws’ to Pro-Hamas Demonstrations

Pro-Hamas demonstrators at Columbia University in New York City, US, April 29, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

StandWithUs (SWU), a Jewish civil rights group based in California, is imploring the US Justice Department to crack down on masked protests at Columbia University by enforcing legal statues which are widely referred to as the “KKK Laws,” citing a hostile environment at the school in which pro-Hamas demonstrators who have harassed and assaulted Jewish students continuously evade justice by concealing their identities.

Dating back to the administration of former US President Ulysses S. Grant, the so-called “KKK Laws” empower the federal government to prosecute those who engage in activities which violate the civil rights of protected groups, as the Ku Klux Klan did across the US South during Reconstruction to prevent African Americans from voting and living as free citizens. StandWithUs alleges that five anti-Zionist groups — most notably Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — currently operating on Columbia University’s campus have perpetrated similar abuses in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which guarantees all students, regardless of race or ethnic background, has the right to a safe learning environment.

The most obvious parallel between their conduct and the KKK’s, StandWithUs noted, is an inveterate shrouding of their members’ faces with masks and keffiyehs, the traditional headscarf worn by Palestinians that has become known as a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel. Images and footage of the practice have been widely circulated online, and it has rendered identifying the protesters — many of whom have chanted antisemitic slogans, vandalized school property, and threatened to harm Jewish students and faculty during a weeks-long demonstration between April and May — virtually impossible.

Additionally, the groups — which also include Within Our Lifetime (WOL), Columbia/Barnard Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), Columbia University Apartheid, Columbia School of Social Work 4 Palestine (CSSW4P), and Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine (FJP) — have proclaimed their intention to purge Columbia’s campus of Zionists, a category which includes an overwhelming majority of Jews in the US and around the world. Their rhetoric, StandWithUs added, is unlike any uttered in the US since demonstrations against school integration in the 1950s.

“We hope the Department of Justice (DOJ) will take this opportunity to restore justice on Columbia University’s campuses and hold bad actors responsible for violating federal laws,” Yael Lerman, director of the SWU Saidoff Legal Department, said on Wednesday. “Columbia President Shafik’s concession that Columbia is a hostile environment for Jewish students in violation of Title VI reflects a critical need for the current administration to take decisive action at Columbia.”

Lerman added, “We urge the DOJ to investigate the school’s failure to prevent groups and individuals on its campus from joining forces and depriving Jewish students of their civil rights, a failure that runs afoul of the KKK laws.”

SWU’s letter — sent to US Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department on Wednesday — comes amid an ongoing lawsuit the organization’s Legal Center for Justice (SCLJ) filed against Columbia University in February over its alleged failure to prevent and respond to an explosion of anti-Jewish hate incidents which have occurred on the campus since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, an event the protesters cheered and defended as an act of decolonization inspired by the ideas of far-left political philosophers such as Frantz Fanon.

SWU amended its complaint against Columbia in June, adding 45 students as plaintiffs and over “230 pages of allegations.” Meanwhile, the accusations which surfaced following the group’s first filing have already stained Columbia’s reputation.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews,” “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” Columbia protesters chanted on campus grounds after Oct. 7, violating the school’s code of conduct but never facing consequences for doing so, the complaint alleges. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

The protesters later reinforced their rhetoric with violence, the complaint adds. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another allegedly attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen. Following the incidents, pleas for help went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held its demonstrations.

The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were purportedly forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events while no one explained the inconsistency.

Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, who took office in July 2023, recently attempted to assuage concerns that Columbia has become a sanctuary for antisemites after it was revealed that five high-level administrators participated in a group-chat in which ideas that “disturbingly touched on ancient antisemitic tropes” were exchanged. She fired none of the administrators, however, which has led to calls for her to resign from office.

“We will launch a vigorous program of antisemitism and antidiscrimination [sic] training for faculty and staff this fall, with related training for students under the auspices of university life,” Shafik said in statement. “Columbia’s leadership team recognizes this as an important moment to implement changes that will build a stronger institution as a result. I know that you all share this commitment.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post Pro-Israel Group Calls on US Justice Department to Apply ‘KKK Laws’ to Pro-Hamas Demonstrations first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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