(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.”
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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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