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Antisemitic attack against school bus reported in Chicago media didn’t happen, Jewish school says

(JTA) – Chicago Jews were alarmed Thursday as local news outlets reported that a bus full of Jewish schoolchildren had been the victim of antisemitic harassment. 

Police were investigating after a group of adults had forced the bus to stop, made their way on board, and then delivered a “Heil Hitler” salute, according to the reports, which appeared in a wide array of Chicago outlets, including the Tribune and Sun-Times newspapers.

The story unnerved parents and triggered outcry among Chicagoans worried about rising crime and antisemitism at an especially tense time for American Jews. 

But it wasn’t true, according to the CEO of the school whose students were involved.

“This is the definition of a fake story,” Rabbi Menachem Levine, the head of Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov – Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi elementary school in West Rogers Park, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Friday. “I literally had a media incident for nothing.”

The saga raises questions about how antisemitism watchdogs call attention to the incidents that American Jews report. The story landed in the papers through the advocacy of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which sent a press release Thursday noting that the incident took place on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the 1938 pogrom that marked a turning point in the Nazis’ campaign against the Jews of Europe. 

The center had been contacted by a Chicago parent whose child reported that a man had made a Nazi salute during a conflict with the children on his bus. The parent also filed a report with the Chicago Police Department.

What actually happened, Levine said, was unnerving but not antisemitic. According to a video of the incident which he said he reviewed, the elementary school-aged kids had been calling out of the school bus at a group of men on the street, saying they looked like they were “mafia guys.” One of the men flagged down the bus, and the bus driver, acting against protocol, opened the door; the man then yelled an expletive at the kids, warning them to “watch what you say.”

While this was happening, Levine said, “the kids are laughing their heads off. They think it’s this hysterical thing.” Levine said he couldn’t share the video with the media because students’ faces are visible, but that he had also spoken to the students involved to confirm their accounts.

Afterward, however, one of the students reported to their parent that they had seen one of the men performing a Nazi salute; none of the other witnesses recalled such an act taking place. The parent, in turn, filed a police report and contacted the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has played a prominent role in responding to multiple high-profile instances of antisemitism. 

The organization reported the parent’s account of the incident to the media while linking it to the high-profile rise in antisemitism reported across the country.

“The Simon Wiesenthal Center is urging anyone with information about the anti-Semitic incident to contact the Chicago PD or the Midwest offices of the Simon Wiesenthal Center,” Alison Pure Slovin, the group’s Midwest director, said in the release.

The release led to a flurry of news reports that quickly circulated among Chicago’s Jewish community, which is centered on the north side of the city, where the incident took place, and in its northern suburbs. It ignited fear among families already on edge because of national incidents and reports about harassment of Orthodox Jews in New York City.

“We plan to send our kids to Jewish schools, and this is the biggest fear — things like this happening,” said Rebecca Finkel, a mother who lives within a 10-minute drive of the reported incident. “I’m the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. And in my mind, it’s not a question of if these things can happen, but which generation is going to be most impacted.”

All that left Levine, whose campus is the largest Jewish elementary school in the Midwest, in the position of trying to play catch up against what he said was a false news story as it spread rapidly through local and national outlets. 

In an email to parents, he emphasized that “there was no antisemitic, threatening or racist behavior in the occurrence,” and continued, “We know there has been an increase in antisemitism recently, and we are all concerned about this. However, this occurrence was not one of antisemitism; the spread of misinformation is simply due to irresponsible reporting.”

Reached for contact, Slovin, the midwest director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told JTA that the center had relied on the parent’s report when they made their “statement of concern” to the media. (Most outlets that reported on the incident relied almost entirely on the center’s statement.) 

She said she had spoken to two parents who filed police reports and also spoke to multiple police officers who were investigating the allegations. It is typical for officers to investigate reports of violence or harassment that are filed. 

Slovin added that the Chicago PD told her organization that the incident was being investigated as a hate crime, but she acknowledged that the school itself “do[es] not believe it was antisemitic in nature.” The center had not retracted its press release on Friday.

While Levine said the center does “good work,” he said their handling of the bus incident was “highly irresponsible” and “a ‘boy who cried wolf’ case.”

The grandson of four Polish Holocaust survivors, Levine said that if there ever were an antisemitic incident at the school that required his attention, “I’ll be the first one to scream it out.” But he said he does worry that the false reports of the bus incident could encourage “one nutcase to read this and say, ‘Oh, I’ll show them real antisemitism’ — that’s all we need.”

Finkel, too, said she was concerned about the ramifications of a false report of antisemitism at a time when multiple indicators suggest that incidents targeting Jews are rising. The reports from her city broke during the “Never Is Now” conference organized by the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights group that last year tallied more incidents of antisemitism in the United States than in any year since it began publishing annual counts in 1979.

“Antisemitism is so real and so dangerous and so pervasive,” Finkel said. “We don’t need to fabricate anything — we can rely on the truth to ask for allyship and to fight it in our own community. The truth is scary enough.”


The post Antisemitic attack against school bus reported in Chicago media didn’t happen, Jewish school says appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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Ben Carr

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