WASHINGTON (JTA) — In songs and in speeches, an event at the White House marking Jewish American Heritage Month celebrated the presence of Jews in America since colonial times — and fretted about threats to American Jewry today.
“For some reason it’s come roaring back in the last several years,” President Biden told a crowd of Jewish supporters in the White House’s East Room on Tuesday evening. “Reports have shown that antisemitic incidents are at a record high in our history — a record high in the United States.”
The emphasis on antisemitism was evident even in the entertainment — which featured a selection of songs from “Parade,” a Broadway musical about the 1915 lynching of a Jewish man. That theme was a departure from past White House Jewish American Heritage Month events, which focused on Jewish accomplishments and spotlighted legendary Jewish athletes, scientists, artists and performers.
Biden says he was shaped as a child by his father’s fury with the United States for not doing enough to stop the Holocaust. On Tuesday, he spoke again of how he was spurred to run for president in 2020 after the deadly Neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia three years earlier — and former President Donald Trump’s equivocation when he was asked to condemn the marchers.
“That’s when I knew… our work was not done,” he said, turning to address a delegation of Jewish Democratic lawmakers who were attending the event, and who have pressed for a more aggressive response to antisemitism. “Hate never goes away.”
This was the first Jewish American Heritage Month event at the White House since 2016. Trump’s administration paid less attention to the commemoration, which was enshrined in a law passed with bipartisan support in 2006. Biden’s hopes of staging an event were delayed in the past couple of years by the coronavirus pandemic.
Describing current antisemitism, Biden referred not just to attacks from the far right, but to attacks on visibly Orthodox Jews, which have proliferated in the northeast, and to the threat some Jewish students describe on campuses. He listed incidents including “violent attacks on synagogues and Jewish businesses, Jewish institutions under armed guards, Jews who wear religious attire beaten down in the street, Jewish students harassed and excluded from college campuses, swastikas on cars and cemeteries and in schools.”
Biden’s emphasis on a broader understanding of antisemitism, beyond the far right, came after a number of Jewish groups met in December with Doug Emhoff, the Jewish Second Gentleman, and asked him and other top officials to consider a more holistic approach to the problem.
A task force led by Emhoff, who also spoke at the event on Wednesday, is expected to release a strategy to counter antisemitism in the next few weeks.
Biden, in his remarks, said the strategy “includes over 100 meaningful actions that government agencies are going to take to counter antisemitism.” He did not detail any of those actions, except to say that the strategy would increase understanding of antisemitism and Jewish heritage, provide security for Jewish communities, reverse the normalization of antisemitism and build coalitions.
“It also includes calls to action for Congress, state and local governments, technology, and other companies, civil society, faith leaders to counter antisemitism,” he said.
A backgrounder to the event sent to reporters focused entirely on antisemitism, listing five actions Biden had taken to combat the phenomenon, including signing a bill to combat hate crimes and increasing funding for security at vulnerable institutions.
There were lighter elements to the event, including recognition of the services Jews have provided to the United States over the centuries, and a rendition of “Hava Nagila” by the Marine Band. Israeli-American chef Michael Solomonov, whom Biden recognized, prepared Moroccan cigars, smoked sable on challah and something called “fairy tale eggplant,” a variety of the nightshade vegetable.
“Our special guest shall ensure that today is both delicious and glatt kosher,” Biden said, to surprised laughter, as Solomonov took a bow.
Still, even the entertainment referred to what Biden called the “stain” of antisemitism threading through American history. Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond performed songs from “Parade,” which they are starring in. Its subject matter is the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank, a Jew in Georgia falsely accused of murder.
Platt and Diamond had to rush back to New York in time for an 8 p.m. show, but beforehand, Platt praised the musical’s composer, Jason Robert Brown, who accompanied them on piano. Brown, Platt said, “is really telling you an important Jewish story.”
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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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