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Tribute: Rabbi Dovid Schochet, 91, a pioneer in building Toronto’s observant community

The Jewish community in Toronto lost a towering leader when Rabbi Dovid Schochet, the president of the Toronto Rabbinical Council and the senior rabbi of the Chabad community in Toronto, passed away at the age of 91 on Jan. 28. He was born in 1932 in Basel, Switzerland, the second of 10 children, to Rabbi […]

The post Tribute: Rabbi Dovid Schochet, 91, a pioneer in building Toronto’s observant community appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Georgia Governor Signs Bill Adopting Leading Definition of Antisemitism

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) on January 31, 2023 signing bill that adopts International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. Photo: Office of Governor Brian Kemp

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) signed on Wednesday a bill that will require law enforcement officials in the state to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating antisemitic hate crimes.

The Georgia Assembly overwhelmingly passed the bill, HB30, last Thursday, nearly a year after similar legislation was blocked during the waning hours of the 2023 legislative session, an outcome that a legislator described to The Algemeiner at the time as “devastating to watch.” This time it passed in the Georgia House 129-5 and in the Georgia Senate 44-6.

“There has been a troubling rise in antisemitism across our nation in recent years, especially following the horrific terrorist attacks in Israel on October 7 that claimed the lives of over 1,200 Israelis,” Governor Kemp said during a signing ceremony at Georgia’s State Capitol. “Georgia has not been immune to that horrible reality. Our Jewish students have experienced hate in the form of antisemitic flyers spread across neighborhoods, messages on social media calling for the death of Jews in Israel and around the world and even hateful gatherings outside synagogues.”

He added,” So we’re all thankful for the perseverance and dedication shown in getting this bill across the finish line as we work together to send a clear, unified message. In Georgia, we proudly stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters, today and every day!”

First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations and is supported by lawmakers across the political spectrum.

33 US States have adopted the IHRA definition, including Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida.

“It is encouraging to see state after state adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism at a time when antisemitism continues to run rife throughout America and the greater world,” Roz Rothstein, CEO of civil rights nonprofit StandWithUs, said in a statement addressing Georgia’s action. “Historically, the world has struggled to address antisemitism due to its evolving nature. Codifying the IHRA definition remains crucial to helping authorities realize how antisemitism manifests both classically and contemporarily while serving as an essential tool that will help standardize the fight against antisemitism.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Attacker in 2021 Antisemitic Assault in New York Sentenced to Three Years in State Prison

Joseph Borgen, victim of an antisemitic attack, addressing a rally in Long Island. Photo: courtesy

The final criminal proceeding for the case of Joseph “Joey” Borgen, a Jewish man whom a gang of antisemites mauled and pepper-sprayed in broad daylight during protests and counter-protests over Israel’s 2021 war with Hamas, resulted in another conviction Wednesday.

Mohammed Said Othman, 29, was sentenced to three years in state prison, according to a press release issued by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg.

Borgen, who is Jewish, was wearing a kippah while walking in Manhattan when Said Othman, along with several other men, ambushed him without being provoked. They shouted antisemitic slurs at the pro-Israel advocate, who suffered a concussion, wrist injury, black eye, and bruises all over his body.

Since then, three other sentences have been handed down in the Borgen case. Waseem Awawdeh, who continuously struck Borgen with a crutch while allegedly joining the others in shouting antisemitic epithets at him, pleaded guilty to attempted assault as a hate crime and received 18 months in jail, as part of a plea bargain negotiated with Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Jonathon Junig.

In November, Mahmoud Musa received seven years in prison for his role in the attack. In December, Mohammed Othman was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in state prison and five additional years of post-release supervision.

As seen in footage of the incident, Othman kicked and repeatedly struck Borgen in the face while sitting on his chest to weigh him down. In court, he pleaded guilty to gang assault and third-degree hate crime assault.

“These defendants violently targeted and assaulted another individual simply because he is Jewish,” District Attorney Bragg said in a statement. “While this office always supports the right to peacefully protest and engage in open dialogue, these multi-year prison sentences makes clear that physically attacking someone because of their religion is never acceptable. I thank our hate crimes unit for its diligent work in this case.”

Throughout the criminal proceedings in his case, Joey Borgen called on New York City lawmakers to do more to eradicate antisemitic hatred in the five boroughs.

In December, he told The Algemeiner that while he is pleased with the outcome of the case he is worried that the group with which his attackers were allegedly affiliated, the extreme anti-Zionist organization Within Our Lifetime (WOL), is still engaging in antisemitic activity that could lead to more hate crimes.

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, WOL has posted (and deleted) a map, titled “Know Your Enemies,” showing the addresses of Jewish organizations in New York City, and staged numerous disruptive protests. The group is led by Nerdeen Kiswani, a former City University of New York (CUNY) student who once threatened to set on fire someone’s Israel Defense Forces (IDF) hoodie while he was wearing it.

“They’re still causing havoc; they’re forcing Jewish attendees of a fundraiser to speak at the backdoor of a police van, and they’re bombarding the mother of a hostage with horrible antisemitic chants,” Borgen said. “While I’m happy that I got a positive result in my case, I’m still disturbed that this same group is still going around causing issues for Jewish people, attacking restaurants, and putting people in danger.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Why the Conservative movement is changing our approach to interfaith marriage

(JTA) — At the recent convening of Conservative/Masorti movement leaders, we were holding a workshop on new approaches to engage intermarrying couples when a participant spoke frankly about her own family. She said she felt like a failure and was not sure what to do.

“We’ve raised our daughter with a thorough Jewish experience,” she explained. “But she recently told us she is going to marry someone of another background.”

A member of the workshop panel responded quickly and emphatically: “Mazal Tov!”

Murmurs quickly spread throughout the room. Some people echoed the hearty wishes of congratulations and wanted to give the parent permission to fully embrace the young couple. Others were more measured, reflecting a strong, traditional preference for marrying Jewish partners.

The tension in that room over how hearty our blessing should be reflects the tension we face in the Conservative/Masorti movement. That tension was addressed in a new report from our movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, which I lead, issued this week, exploring ways to better welcome interfaith couples.

I was brought up in the 1970s and 1980s to believe that if I intermarried, it meant I didn’t care about Judaism and the Jewish people.

But in more than two decades of my rabbinate, I have not found that to be the case. Some of the most beautiful things said to b’nai mitzvah in my congregation came from parents who are not formally Jewish. They have been full partners — and in some cases, the driving force — in organizing religious school carpools, hosting a Passover seder, lighting candles, putting a mezuzah on their door and taking trips to Israel. Some ultimately chose to convert to Judaism.

And let’s face it: there are certainly households with two Jewish parents who make far fewer intentional choices about creating a Jewish home.

Being a rabbi also proved different than I expected when I was ordained. In rabbinical school, my teachers taught me a lot about rabbinic authority. When I actually started at my synagogue, I discovered that my influence with congregants was based much more on trust and relationship than on my title.

Given these experiences, it’s no wonder that our Conservative/Masorti movement is changing how we engage intermarrying and intermarried couples and families.

A series of prohibitions — around officiation, synagogue hiring, rituals and public roles — were developed in previous decades on the premise that intermarriage would inevitably lead to Jews leaving our people, and that religious authority could influence congregants’ choices.

But that culture of disapproval did not generally dissuade individuals in their marriage choices. It certainly did not draw people closer to our communities. Instead, too often, it pushed them away.

It is time for us to reconsider some of those practices.

These policies and prohibitions also made it much too easy for rabbis and couples to avoid hard conversations about what it means to create a Jewish home together. Whether it was discussing what kind of wedding ceremony could have Jewish integrity for both the officiant and the couple, or what it would mean to raise Jewish children, our policies — and our attitude — have meant we didn’t have the opportunity to engage. Why bother having these conversations when our culture simply disapproved of intermarriage?

The issue of officiation at a wedding ceremony by a rabbi is a complex conversation, which our rabbis, and so many others in our communities, take seriously. The Rabbinical Assembly report issued this week recommends that the prohibition around officiation at interfaith weddings be maintained at this time.

But the report was clear that this standard of rabbinic practice does not need to be the start (or end) of our conversations. Our culture of welcoming and engagement can start with how we announce all of our weddings and lifecycle events; how we offer blessings as a community in the days before and after a wedding; the pastoral conversations we have with all couples about creating a Jewish home; and how we include everyone in our communities during lifecycle events, in worship, in Torah study and in acts of kindness and justice.

This new invitation is also reflected in the establishment of a Joint Working Group between the RA and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), which represents our congregations, on how we can better engage intermarrying couples.

For more than 100 years, our movement has learned how to conserve tradition while evolving with a culture of respect, inclusion and egalitarianism. I have no doubt we will continue to do so.

As I listened to the murmurs in the room when the mother shared her feelings of failure, it was clear to me that our movement has a duty not just to love every Jewish person — but to love the ones whom they love. I recognize this both as a parent and as a rabbi. This love inspires me to find the words to congratulate couples and their families and then to to help them find a path toward a meaningful Jewish life.

The post Why the Conservative movement is changing our approach to interfaith marriage appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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