WASHINGTON (JTA) — Top Biden administration officials launched a roundtable on antisemitism on Wednesday by describing a “rising tide of antisemitism” and likening the atmosphere in the United States to that of Europe, where Jewish worship is held under lock and key.
“Right now, there is an epidemic of hate facing our country,” said Douglas Emhoff, the Jewish second gentleman, who convened and chaired the 90-minute session.
Jewish officials represented at the meeting were impressed by how comprehensive the meeting was, saying it went beyond the white supremacist threat that the Biden administration has focused on in the past to other sources, among them attackers who target the visibly Orthodox and Jewish students on campuses.
The meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House, comes on the heels of weeks of antisemitic invective spewed by rapper Kanye West, who now goes by Ye, and the dinner attended last month by West, Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and former President Donald Trump at Trump’s Florida residence. The discussion also follows alarming spikes in antisemitic invective on Twitter and other platforms.
“In my experience, there’s nothing more vicious than what we’re seeing today,” said Susan Rice, President Joe Biden’s top domestic policy adviser, who described growing up in a heavily Jewish neighborhood in Washington, D.C.
Ten years ago, Rice said, when she was defending Israel against its many enemies as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she did not imagine a threat to Jews domestically. Now she says she hears antisemitic expressions coming from elected officials, public figures and entertainers, calling it an “incredible rising tide.”
Deborah Lipstadt, the State Department envoy to monitor antisemitism, said she no longer has the luxury of her predecessors, who traveled abroad to assess antisemitism in foreign countries. Now, she said, she had to treat the problem as a domestic and a foreign one.
“I can’t go to these countries and say ‘You have a problem,’” she said. “Now I have to say ‘We have a serious problem.’”
After multiple attacks on synagogues stateside in recent years, she said, Jewish places of worship were becoming more visibly fortified than they were for years when security, if it existed, was unobtrusive and synagogues were welcoming.
“For decades, when we traveled in Europe, we used to identify synagogues by gendarmes,” she said. “Now we see police cars, now we lock the doors in the United States.”
The Kanye West episodes evidently helped spur the convening of the meeting. George Selim, the Anti-Defamation League senior vice president who was present, said the meeting came together within a week, unlike similar events which can take months to organize.
“The urgency was clear, the meeting needed to be convened, it needed to be in person,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview.
Representatives of the dozen or so groups that attended were impressed by the level of attention: in addition to Emhoff, Rice and Lipstadt, there were officials from the National Security Council, the Officer of Public Engagement, and the Office of Faith-based Partnerships.
The representatives were impressed by how personal Emhoff, who is married to Vice President Kamala Harris, made the battle. He described how moved he has been by American Jews who are proud of him — the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president. “I’m in pain right now, our community is in pain,” he said.
Emhoff’s unabashed identification with the Jewish community helped elevate the issue of combating antisemitism, said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad).
“He and I might see Jewish ritual and practice a little differently. But one thing Jewish people will remember forever in our history is that when the time came for him to make his decision, he decided to identify unequivocally as a Jew,” Shemtov said.
Amy Spitalnick, the executive director of Integrity First for America, the group that underwrote successful lawsuits against the neo-Nazis who organized the deadly 2017 march in Charlottesville, Virginia, said the officials closely listened to every presentation. (The media was present for opening remarks by government officials, and was ushered out so the representatives of Jewish groups could speak freely.)
“We were watching them take copious notes, they were genuinely listening,” she told JTA.
The range of invitees and the topics addressed also extended beyond the threat posed to Jews from the extreme right, an area that has until now been the Biden administration’s focus, through a summit on extremism in September and a speech Biden gave in Philadelphia last summer.
Speakers addressed antisemitic attacks on the visibly Orthodox which, particularly in the New York area, are most often not carried out by white supremacists. And there were officials from at least three groups that represent the visibly Orthodox: The Orthodox Union, which is Modern Orthodox, along with Agudath Israel of America and American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad), which are haredi Orthodox.
Speakers also were sensitive to the plight of Jewish students on college campuses, who often face hostility from peers whose sharp criticism of Israel can sometimes manifest as antisemitism.
“On college campuses, the supposed bastions of liberal ideas and ideals, many students believe it better to camouflage their Jewish identity,” Lipstadt said. One of the speakers was Julia Jassey, a senior at the University of Chicago who is the CEO of Jewish on Campus, a student group that tracks antisemitism on campuses.
The Jewish participants said they benefited from hearing how others experienced antisemitism. Abba Cohen, Aguda’s Washington director, said he found receptive listeners when he described an increased effort by local councils to limit the building of Orthodox communities. He and Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, also described the threat to the visibly Orthodox.
Their accounts moved others present who do not live the Orthodox lifestyle. “We all have different experiences with antisemitism and clearly for someone who’s Orthodox, it might feel different than for someone who’s not,” said Sheila Katz, the CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women.
Katz said the meeting was a relief because she often has difficulty explaining to her progressive allies why antisemitism persists as a threat.
“I feel like in the last, you know, year, I’ve been saying over and over again, this is getting worse. This is getting amplified, people are emboldened,” she said. “And there are a lot, particularly in the progressive community that would say, ‘No, no, that’s not what’s happening.’”
Some practical proposals were discussed, including a letter this week from a bipartisan slate of lawmakers advocating for a cross-agency “whole of government” task force to combat antisemitism, and an expansion of federal funding that currently underwrites security upgrades for Jewish institutions to include paying for extra police patrols.
The meeting did not result in concrete decisions, but participants said they left with the impression that the federal government was ready to dive deep into finding practicable solutions.
“For me, this is not the end. This is just the beginning of this conversation,” Emhoff said.
Other groups represented included the American Jewish Committee, Hillel International, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Reform and Conservative movements, and Secure Community Network, the security consultancy for the Jewish community.
“It sends a very important message that the sort of rampant antisemitism we’re seeing is unacceptable and that the highest office in the country is doing something about it,” Spitalnick said.
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.
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.”
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.)
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.
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