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With Israel still reeling from Oct. 7, Jewish educational group steps up its support at star-studded evening in NY

NEW YORK — Ilan Abecassis of Sderot is still reeling from the events of Oct. 7.

That morning, he watched from the window of his home as terrorists in pickup trucks overran his city, gunning down Israelis in the streets and in their homes.

In the ensuing days, he and almost all of Sderot’s other residents were evacuated. Abecassis, along with many others, was sent to Israel’s southern resort city of Eilat.

A teacher and vice principal at the AMIT high school in Sderot, Abecassis barely took a breath before swinging into action. With the help of the AMIT organization, an educational network of nearly 100 schools, youth villages, surrogate family residences and other programs in some 30 Israeli cities, Abecassis moved quickly to lead an alternative school in Eilat for evacuated children.

Following the trauma of Oct. 7, the focus has been largely on evacuees’ emotional, social and mental health.

“Throughout all of this, AMIT has been covering our physical and emotional needs,” Abecassis said. “Principals, teachers, management teams all left their families to come and offer us their support.” 

Abecassis spoke at AMIT’s 2023 National Event in New York on Nov. 20 to recognize the donors who support AMIT’s network of religious Jewish educational institutions. Incorporating academic and technological studies, AMIT institutions have a special focus on children from underprivileged backgrounds and from Israel’s peripheral areas.

“Ninety-nine percent of the aid we received came directly from AMIT,” Abecassis noted in his remarks. “A significant portion of this was thanks to your generous donations.”

AMIT’s Evening of Solidarity with the Children of Israel took place at Manhattan’s Sony Hall and attracted about 250 of AMIT’s major donors and national leaders as well as notable figures such as Gilan Erdan, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

Idina Menzel, the Tony Award-winning Jewish actress and singer famous for being the voice of Elsa in Disney’s “Frozen,” was one of several artists and musicians who performed at the event. She sang a rousing rendition of the song “Tree of Life,” written to commemorate the victims of the October 2018 Tree of Live synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. Violinist Adda Kridler and pianist Cynthia Meng opened the evening with a musical tribute to AMIT’s founder, Batya Bessie Gottsfeld. Michael Harpaz, the Israeli singer, actor and dancer, emceed the evening.

The high school in Sderot is far from the only AMIT institution directly affected by the tragedy of Oct. 7. All nine public schools in Sderot are under the aegis of AMIT. In the wake of Hamas’s attacks, about 4,300 students at those schools were evacuated — mostly to Eilat and the Dead Sea and with smaller numbers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In addition to the significant regular funds AMIT raises via its annual campaign, since the war began AMIT has generated over $1.5 million in additional funding just for the children of Sderot. It’s being used to fund trauma therapy and a variety of other services to help evacuees from the city.

With over 40,000 students in various schools and institutions around Israel, AMIT is an integral part of Israeli society. Hostage Noa Argamani, the 25-year-old woman who was seen being taken by Hamas terrorists on a motorcycle while being kidnapped at the Nova rave party near Re’im that morning, is a graduate of the AMIT Wasserman High School in Beersheva. 

The Nov. 20 event, which had been scheduled before the war, turned into an opportunity for AMIT donors to express support for the people of Israel – and for each other – in this difficult time.

“This event is to honor all those people who have already made investments in Israel,” AMIT President Shari Safra said. “Although the tone is a little more subdued, the substance of the program is still just as relevant.”

Joyce and Daniel Straus, left, hold aloft a Torah scroll after the dedication announcement of the Gabel & Straus Campus at Kfar Batya, Israel, flanked by AMIT President Shari Safra and AMIT’s executive vice president, Andy Goldsmith. (Abbie Sophia)

Andy Goldsmith, AMIT’s executive vice president, said the evening reflected the seriousness of the crisis in Israel “while providing the opportunity to join together and recognize those who have distinguished themselves with their extraordinary commitment.”

Among those recognized at the event: Joyce and Daniel Straus of Englewood, New Jersey, who officially named the $70 million Gabel & Straus Campus at Kfar Batya; Ellen Spitzer-Kronitz and Emanuel Kronitz, for their support of Tiferet Gur Aryeh Junior College; and Shawna Goodman of the Morris & Rosalind Goodman Family Foundation, for supporting the AMIT Summer Camp program.

In a particularly emotional exchange, Goldsmith presented Joyce and Daniel Straus with a Torah scroll written in Poland more than 100 years ago — “rescued from the ashes of Europe and fully restored to its original glory, much like the Jewish people,” Goldsmith said.

“Joyce and Daniel, you epitomize the finest qualities of the American Jewish community. When the news from Israel is good, you celebrate with pride in her accomplishments and victories,” Goldsmith said. “And when the news is bad or, as now, laced with tragedy, you feel it with every fiber of your being and are moved to respond—in tefila [prayer], in protest, and in action.”

The Kfar Batya campus is a 10-acre educational site under construction in the central Israeli city of Ra’anana that is designed to incubate ideas and level the playing field for children from Israel’s social and geographic periphery. The campus’s name recognizes Stefanie and Jack Gabel, the parents of Joyce Straus, and Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus, parents of Daniel Straus. Its naming represents the largest donation in AMIT’s 98-year history. The campaign to fund the brand-new campus is still underway.

“We wanted to give this gift in honor and memory of our parents, to benefit AMIT and the state of Israel,” said Joyce Straus. “We hope that this will inspire others with the ability to give, to make a significant investment in AMIT and Israel’s future.”

The Gabels, Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the United States in 1949, rebuilt their lives in Queens, New York. While still in her teens, Gwendolyn Straus joined AMIT — then known as the Mizrahi Women’s Organization of America — and was a lifelong Zionist. Joyce Straus, a longtime AMIT board member and officer, is AMIT’s former chair and its current vice president for financial resource development.

Founded in 1925, AMIT largely was a women’s organization until recently. In 2019, Alex Luxenberg of Great Neck, New York, became one of the first three men to join AMIT’s board in its nearly 100-year history. Luxenberg has been involved with AMIT for about 15 years and currently serves as AMIT’s vice president of marketing.

As the Nov. 20 gala event wound down and board members bade each other goodbye, some were careful to note that it was only “l’hitraaot” — see you later. Several board members will be joining an upcoming three-day support mission to Israel that begins on Dec. 4.


The post With Israel still reeling from Oct. 7, Jewish educational group steps up its support at star-studded evening in NY appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Harvard Alumni File Lawsuit Claiming Campus Antisemitism ‘Devalues’ Their Diplomas

[Illustrative] Harvard University students displaying a pro-Palestinian sign at their May 2022 graduation ceremony. Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder

A group of ten Harvard University alumni filed a lawsuit against the institution on Wednesday, accusing it of “devaluing” their degrees through permitting and fostering an environment of antisemitism, support for terrorism, and anti-Israel sentiment. 

Filed in a Massachusetts federal court, the alumni claims that Harvard has breached an implicit contract with its graduates, promising to maintain the institution’s prestige, which they allege has been compromised due to a toxic campus environment. This, they argue, has led potential employers and prestigious law firms to distance themselves from Harvard alumni.

“Harvard has directly caused the value and prestige of plaintiffs’ Harvard degrees to be diminished and made a mockery out of Harvard graduates in the employment world and beyond,” the lawsuit said. 

The lawsuit argues that the university’s administration has failed to combat campus anti-semitism, and has consistently overlooked assaults on Jewish students and calls by students and faculty for the annihilation of Israel. It highlighted, among other things, an open letter signed by more than thirty student organizations blaming Israel for the October 7 Hamas-led attack, and campus protests which included chants like “Long live the intifada!” and “There is only one solution: intifada revolution!” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine is Arab!”

The suit also points to then-Harvard president Claudine Gay’s testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where she stated that calls for genocide against Jews would only violate bullying and harassment policies “depending on the context,” as indicative of the school’s tolerance of antisemitism.

The lawsuit is part of a growing dissatisfaction among graduates over what they perceive as rampant antisemitism on U.S. campuses, according to attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of legal aid group, Shurat HaDin, who is representing the alumni alongside New York-based lawyer, Robert Tolchin.

Darshan-Leitner criticized the colleges for becoming “hate centers” under the guise of academic freedom. 

The lawsuit, Darshan-Leitner said, reveals the “growing outrage and contempt that graduates all across the US are feeling over the wild antisemitism and hate speech being encouraged and explained away on the American campuses.” 

“This dangerous weaponization of higher education by radical faculty and students as well as the impotent administration response, all justified under the guise of academic freedom, has turned the colleges into hate centers which has greatly devalued their reputation and diplomas,” she said, adding that the suit could prompt similar actions from graduates of other institutions.

Tolchin accused the university of succumbing to “the flavor of the month, the lowest level of discourse.”

“Harvard’s seal proclaims “Light and Truth” in Latin and Hebrew–yes, Hebrew, the language spoken by the indigenous Israelites. Yet light and truth have been hard to find at Harvard. The darkness of antisemitism and the dishonesty, hate, and discrimination have cast a pall over Harvard so embarrassing that people do not wish to be associated with Harvard,” Tolchin said. 

Harvard has been accused of facilitating an educational environment that is unwelcoming to Israelis and Jews for years, with the lawsuit citing annual events such as “Israel Apartheid Week” and incidents targeting Jewish students and symbols on campus. 

Antisemitism expert Dara Horn, a Harvard alumnus who was asked to join Gay’s anti-Semitism advisory committee, authored a damning essay published this week in The Atlantic in which she detailed the Jew hatred on campus predating October 7. 

She noted that staff members “who grade Jewish students used university-issued class lists to share information about events organized by pro-Palestine groups;” In one instance, a professor continued teaching after rejecting the findings of an investigation by Harvard after he was found discriminating against several Israeli students. Last spring, a student was asked to leave because her identity as an Israeli was making her classmates “uncomfortable.”

She also pointed to courses themselves “premised on anti-Semitic lies”, pointing to one called “The Settler Colonial Determinants of Health”, and noted that lecturers invited to speak at the campus included some who peddled in blood libels that Israelis harvest Palestinians’ organs or that the IDF uses Palestinian children for weapons testing. 

“The mountain of proof at Harvard revealed a reality in which Jewish students’ access to their own university (classes, teachers, libraries, dining halls, public spaces, shared student experiences) was directly compromised,” Horn writes.  The alumni’s legal action comes alongside another lawsuit filed by six current Harvard students on January 10, claiming that the university has not done enough to combat antisemitism on campus which had become a “bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.” It also comes a day after a professor at the university, Walter Johnson, resigned from two anti-Zionist campus groups after they posted antisemitic cartoons.

The post Harvard Alumni File Lawsuit Claiming Campus Antisemitism ‘Devalues’ Their Diplomas first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Israel Not Budging After Eurovision Disapproval of Song Commemorating October 7

Eden Alene, winner of the reality show “The Next Star to Eurovision,” during finals in Neve Ilan studio near Jerusalem on Feb. 4, 2020. Photo: Shlomi Cohen/Flash90.

Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar sent the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) a letter on Thursday urging them to approve Israel’s submission to the Eurovision song competition, after the EBU called it “too political.”

“As you know, the State of Israel is experiencing one of the most difficult and complex periods since its establishment. We lost our loved ones, and there are women, men and children who are still held captive by a terrorist organization,” Zohar said.

Israeli media reported that the broadcasting union would not approve the song, called “October Rain,” after a number of countries even issued threats to boycott the event if Israel participates. The EBU issued a statement saying “We are currently in the process of carefully examining the lyrics of the song – a process that is confidential between the EBU and the Public Broadcasting Corporation until a final decision is made. To all broadcasters, they have until March 11th to officially submit their songs. If a song does not meet the criteria for any reason, the corporation will be given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics, according to the contest rules.”

“The song that Israel sent to the Eurovision Song Contest was chosen by a professional committee made up of well-known names in the local music and entertainment industry,” Zohar added. “It is a moving song, discussing renewal and revival from a very fragile reality of loss and destruction, and describes the current public mood in Israel these days. We see now most clearly because our lives – as one, united society – manage to overcome even the greatest suffering. This is not a political song.”

Despite the news that the song by Israeli singer Eden Golan would not be approved, The CEO of KAN, Israel’s national broadcasting service, and the body that approves the song, Golan Yokhpaz, said “We will not change the words or the song, even at the cost of Israel not participating in Eurovision this year.” Adding “The Israel Broadcasting Corporation (KAN) is in dialogue with the EBU regarding the song that will represent Israel at Eurovision.”

Zohar said later in a television interview “The songwriters, KAN, and the singer will have to make the decisions at the end of the day… I do think that Israel should participate in Eurovision because it is important for us at this time to be represented there, and to express ourselves throughout Europe.”

Speaking to the EBU, he said, “We trust that you will continue in your important task of keeping the competition free from any attempt at political manipulation.”

The post Israel Not Budging After Eurovision Disapproval of Song Commemorating October 7 first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’

UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine Francesca Albanese, October 27, 2022 (Photo: Screenshot)

The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territories referred to Israelis as “colonialists” who have “fake identities” while quoting another Twitter/X account on Wednesday, raising questions about the impartiality of the international body.

Francesca Albanese responded to a long post by Alon Mizrahi, a far-left activist, arguing that the reason many Western nations support Israel is that they are colonial projects. 

She highlighted the following quote from Mizrahi: “free Palestine scares them [Westerners] bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities.”

” free Palestine scares them bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities..” https://t.co/N1wkOPgKJs

— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) February 21, 2024

The original post claimed that “All colonial powers work together to guarantee the supremacy of made-up identities over genuine, native ones. Because if this model breaks anywhere, it will collapse everywhere.”

Mizrahi argued that “A Palestinian state would be a major, major moral blow to white, Western colonialism.”

The tweet was met with immediate condemnation.

David Friedman, who served as the US Ambassador to Israel from 2017 to 2021 under former President Donald Trump wrote that her tweet was “Exhibit A why the UN is a failure and why we no longer belong in that bastion of hypocrisy and corruption.”

An account documenting Hamas’ October 7 atrocities asked, “If Israel is indeed a ‘colonialist project’ Where should all the Israelis go if this project should be dismantled?”

The perception of UN bias against Israel has also been boosted by the fact that, in 2023, Israel was condemned twice as often as all other countries combined.

It is not the first time Albanese has made comments that raise eyebrows. Earlier this month, in response to French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron calling the October 7 attack “largest anti-Semitic massacre of the 21st century,” she said “No, Mr. Macron. The victims of October 7 were not killed because of their Judaism, but in response to Israel’s oppression.”

Following backlash, she wrote that she opposes “all racism, including anti-Semitism, a global threat. But explaining these crimes as anti-Semitism obscures their true cause.”

Hamas’ founding charter, in a section about the “universality” of its cause, reads: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

Albanese has also argued that Israel should make peace with Hamas, saying that “It needs to make peace with Hamas in order to not be threatened by Hamas.” 

When asked about what people do not understand about Hamas, she added, “If someone violates your right to self-determination, you are entitled to embrace resistance.”

The post UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’ first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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