Connect with us


A new symbol at some Passover seders: an empty seat for Evan Gershkovich, Jewish journalist jailed in Russia



(JTA) — Shayndi Raice, a Wall Street Journal reporter based in Israel, is hoping that Jews around the world dedicate a portion of their Passover seder this week to one of her colleagues, currently detained in a Russian prison.

“This Passover, please consider setting a place at your Seder table for @evangershkovich,” Raice tweeted on Sunday. “As you celebrate freedom, join us in demanding freedom for Evan.”

The call — echoing a tactic used in the 20th-century campaign for the freedom of Soviet Jews — grew louder on Monday as it was shared by prominent personalities from tech journalist Kara Swisher to the former chief rabbi of Moscow to Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of New York City’s Central Synagogue, who said she would be leaving an empty chair at her own seder in honor of Gershkovich, a Moscow correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.

Gershkovich, 31, has been charged with espionage, in a move that human rights organizations are decrying and the Biden administration is fighting. He was arrested Wednesday while he was dining at a restaurant in the city of Yekaterinburg, about 800 miles east of Moscow in the Ural Mountains.

The Wall Street Journal has denied the allegations against Gershkovich, who pleaded not guilty during a court appearance last week, according to Russian state and international media. He reportedly has not been able to speak to an attorney representing him while he is held in the notorious Lefortovo Prison, whose past inmates include the famous Soviet Jewish dissident Natan Sharansky.

Gershkovich is the first American journalist since the Cold War to face spying charges in Russia, which carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. People charged with espionage are almost always convicted in Russia, according to the New York Times.

“Let him go,” President Joe Biden said Friday about his message to Russian authorities in Gershkovich’s case, using a phrase that itself is redolent of the Passover story and the Soviet Jewry movement.

The arrest has propelled Gershkovich to the front lines of deepening tensions between the United States and Russia. It has also drawn attention to Gershkovich’s background as the child of Jews who fled the Soviet Union — and renewed questions about whether people like him can be safe in Russia today.

“He cares a lot about his identity as a Jew, and especially his identity as the son of Soviet Jewish immigrants,” his college roommate Jeremy Berke told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “I think that was a large part of why he wanted to go back to Russia.”

Gershkovich was born in New York City to Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union who left in the late 1970s, when the Communist state briefly opened the gates to emigration for some of its Jewish citizens.

His father is from Odessa — today in Ukraine — and his mother is from St. Petersburg, Time Magazine reported. According to an account published by the Wall Street Journal, the only outlet to which his family has spoken, his mother fled Russia using Israeli documents with her mother, a Ukrainian Holocaust survivor, after hearing rumors that Jews were going to be deported to Siberia.

Gershkovich grew up speaking Russian at home in New Jersey, where he graduated from Princeton High School before heading to Bowdoin College in Maine. After college, he got a job first at the New York Times before moving to Moscow in 2017 to report for the Moscow Times, an English-language news organization that has been a launching pad for multiple high-profile Russia reporters. His reporting there included coverage of Hanukkah celebrations in Moscow.  He was hired by the Wall Street Journal in 2021.

His mother told the Journal that Gershkovich had become more interested in his Jewish identity while in Russia, taking her to a synagogue that she had been warned as a child never to enter. “That’s when Evan started to understand us better,” she said.

“Part of his mission was to not only explain Russia to a Western audience, but to really kind of pierce the bubble and tell the stories of Russians themselves, which was something he was able to do, because he’s fluent in Russian,” Berke told JTA.

He said his friend sought to tell “stories that weren’t necessarily just the purely kind of economic stories that you saw coming out of the country, but that were really about what the people were doing — you know, people in synagogues, people in nightclubs, like all aspects of Russian society.”

Like many foreign journalists, Gershkovich left Russia in February 2022, after Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine and turned overnight into a pariah state that intensified its crackdowns on dissenters. But he returned later in the year on the longstanding assumption that foreigners would be insulated from the harsh treatment that Russian journalists can face.

“By detaining the American journalist Evan Gershkovich, Russia has crossed the Rubicon and sent a clear message to foreign correspondents that they will not be spared from the ongoing purge of the independent media in the country.” said the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Gershkovich, drop all charges against him, and let the media work freely and without fear of reprisal.”

Gershkovich had most recently reported on Russia’s declining economic position and was reportedly in Yekaterinburg reporting on the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary force, and Nizhny Tagil, a factory town where Russian tanks are made.

Wagner’s owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, joked about Gershkovich and other journalists being found in a mass grave or a torture chamber when reached by the Daily Beast last week. Prigozhin said he had not known about Gershkovich’s arrest at that time.

Julia Ioffe, a fellow Russian-American Jew and journalist, said after Gershkovich’s arrest that the Kremlin takes criticism from people of their background differently than from other journalists.

“Although he was born in the U.S., his parents were immigrants from the Soviet Union, Jewish immigrants,” Ioffe told CNN. “There is a sense in Moscow, especially in the foreign ministry and in the Kremlin, that people of this background — my background — they are particularly sensitive to … our criticism. They feel that it is a different kind of betrayal.”

WSJ’s Evan Gershkovich, detained in Russia for espionage, is about the age @juliaioffe and I were when we met as Moscow reporters. We spoke today about what Gershkovich is facing, particularly as a reporter whose family fled the Soviet Union and how Russia is ‘banking’ hostages.

— Alex Marquardt (@MarquardtA) March 30, 2023

The former chief rabbi of Moscow who fled Russia shortly after the invasion of Ukraine last year suggested that Russia had targeted Gershkovich because of his identity.

“He just happened to be Jewish, right?” Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt sarcastically tweeted last week.

Goldschmidt has emerged as a prominent critic of the Russian government after leaving the country last year, saying that as a prominent rabbi he faced pressure to support Putin’s war.

“When we look back over Russian history, whenever the political system was in danger you saw the government trying to redirect the anger and discontent of the masses towards the Jewish community,” he told the Guardian in an interview late last year.

Gershkovich is not the first American to be arrested in Russia amid rising tensions between the countries. Last year, the basketball star Britney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison on drug charges, then traded to the United States in exchange for the release of Victor Bout, a Russian convicted of dealing arms.

In a social media post this weekend, Griner called on the United States to “continue to use every tool possible to bring Evan and all wrongfully detained Americans home.”

The Wall Street Journal has made Gershkovich’s reporting free and produced a video highlighting his importance as a journalist. Meanwhile, Gershkovich’s Jewish supporters are putting their own spin on the campaigns to raise awareness of Gershkovich’s plight and lobby for his release.

“Dear friends, if you are in shul this weekend, please say an extra tefillah for the release of @evangershkovich, a @WSJ reporter and son of Soviet Jewish immigrants, who was detained this week by the Russian government,” tweeted Chavie Lieber, a Wall Street Journal reporter, last week. (Lieber was a JTA reporter in 2012 and 2013.)

On Monday, Raice’s call for a place at Passover seders for Gershkovich was being shared widely.

“A worthy endeavour. However, Evan is not the only political prisoner in Russia and Byelorussia. Thousands of people are being held in prisons in Russia and Byelorussia, among them Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Kara Murza, Ilya Yashin and others, many, who are of Jewish descent,” Goldschmidt, the former Moscow chief rabbi, tweeted. “We should remember all of them, when we celebrate freedom at the Seder table Wednesday evening!”

The post A new symbol at some Passover seders: an empty seat for Evan Gershkovich, Jewish journalist jailed in Russia appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

Continue Reading

Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

Continue Reading


Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017 - 2023 Jewish Post & News