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Behind the scenes of Justin Jones’ viral ‘tikkun olam’ encounter with Jewish teens in DC



(JTA) — Sam Rosen and Noah Segal were sitting with their friends on the steps of the Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Monday when they spotted one of America’s most talked-about politicians.

Justin Jones, a Democratic lawmaker in Tennessee whom Republicans kicked out of the state’s legislature in retaliation for a gun-violence protest, was walking by in his signature white suit.

“I remember me and my friend looking at him and being like, ‘Is that him? Is that really one of the Tennessee Three?’” Rosen recalled on Wednesday from his home in Dallas. “To me, he’s kind of the face of upholding democracy right now, so it was very cool to see that.”

Jones waved at their group, this year’s crop of Bronfman Fellows, a prestigious leadership program that aims to empower Jewish teens. That initiated an encounter steeped in Jewish lingo that went viral after a liberal news outlet in Tennessee shared a video on social media.

“Can I shake your hand?” Segal, a high school senior from Ardsley, New York, asked Jones. Several of the other teens introduced themselves, too, and one explained that they were all Jewish teens from across North America.

“This is a Jewish program?” Jones asked after giving a brief pep talk about getting more young people involved in politics, drawing an affirmative response.

“Tikkun olam,” Jones ventured, seemingly testing whether he had correctly named the Hebrew term meaning “repair the world” that has come to signify social justice in progressive circles.

“Yes,” the teens replied in unison, many of their faces lighting up with excitement. “We just talked about that!” Rosen said, with apparent delight. After chatting with the group for a few more minutes, Jones said he had to head off for a White House meeting with President Joe Biden — but he took the time first to pose for a picture with the group.

For many of the people who saw and shared the video, produced and posted Tuesday by the Tennessee Holler news site, the exchange offered an example of cross-cultural solidarity at a time of polarization. The video has been seen well over 2 million times on Twitter and more on other platforms.

“It seems like it resonated because it was a genuine, uplifting moment that showed how impactful it can be to have young leaders showing other young people the way forward — and because it crossed lines. Racial lines. Religious lines. Geographic lines. It shows how essential it is to come together,” Justin Kanew, Tennessee Holler’s founder and editor, told JTA. (The site was the first to report that a Tennessee school board had banned the Holocaust novel “Maus” last year.)

Kanew added: “Also: Justin Jones is the real deal. Sincere, and inspirational. So that helps.”

Jones burst onto the national scene last month when he and another Tennessee lawmaker were ejected from the state legislature after staging a protest over the Republican-led body’s inaction after a school shooting in Nashville. Both men are Black; a third lawmaker who protested is a white woman and she was not ejected. The racial disparity in the lawmakers’ treatment drew widespread criticism, even after local elected officials in Nashville and Memphis reversed the ejections.

The saga has made Jones into a folk hero among progressives, as well as an inspiration to those who want to see young adults — he is 27 – play an active role in shaping the country.

“Thank you for being a role model for the young,” Dan Libenson, the head of a Jewish education philanthropy who teaches in the Bronfman program, tells Jones in the video.

WATCH: “Thank you for being a role model for the young.”

As the #TennesseeThree arrived at the White House a group of Jewish students from across were there on a tour, and they were thrilled to meet @brotherjones_. #TikkunOlam

— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) April 25, 2023

Libenson told JTA that it had taken the group a moment to realize that the man in the white suit was in fact Jones, as the group had been sequestered at a Jewish retreat center in Maryland and had not heard about Jones’ visit, or about the backlash from some conservatives against it.

“As you can see from the video, as soon as it registered, we all rushed down to greet him,” Libenson told JTA in an email. “It’s clear that Gen Z has been traumatized by the mass shootings that seem to happen every day, and I think many of the fellows see Justin Jones as a hero for not taking no for an answer with regard to the safety of young people like them.”

Said Segal, “The whole seminar theme was vision and the future, so it was random and funky and cool to see someone who is right there making a change.” About Jones’ invocation of tikkun olam, he said, “I was impressed with him before that and impressed with him after that.”

The Bronfman Fellows program is not partisan, and participants hold a wide range of political views, according to Becky Voorwinde, the group’s CEO. But she noted that applicants for the fellowship must write about a contemporary issue that matters to them, and many choose gun violence. “It cuts across political viewpoints,” she said. “They grew up after Sandy Hook. This is their reality.”

Asked whether the issue was one he thought a lot about, Rosen answered, “How can it not be?”

He went on, “It’s not like it’s one awful shooting a year. It’s every day. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before it’s me. It’s not something that controls my entire life, but it’s always in the back of my mind.”

What the Bronfman Youth Fellows’ group photo with Tennessee Rep. Justin Jones looked like from the vantage point of where they’d been sitting before they spotted the prominent lawmaker. (Courtesy of Becky Voorwinde)

Segal said that he, too, viewed the threat of gun violence, alongside climate change, as one of the widest problems facing young people. In fact, he said, for part of a final project in the fellowship, he’d facilitated a discussion about what it means to fight antisemitism for a generation surrounded by mass shootings.

The Washington trip was a closing activity for the cohort of Bronfman Fellows, who first spent five weeks together last summer before getting together throughout the year virtually and in person. Before running into Jones, the group had been meeting with four Jewish White House staffers; afterward, they broke into small teams to meet with past fellows working in a wide array of jobs in the area.

The day before the viral encounter, the group visited a haredi Orthodox yeshiva in Baltimore. There, too, tikkun olam came up in discussion — but the head of the yeshiva seemed to dismiss it as a meaningful framework for Jewish life compared to the commandments of traditional Jewish law.

Rosen, who belongs to a Reform synagogue in Dallas and is headed to Brandeis University in the fall, pushed back.

“I said, ‘Rabbi, this is an obligation that we all uphold in our community. It’s a core value of Judaism and who I am,’” he recounted. “To me, that’s why it was so cool that Justin Jones said that.”

The entire encounter with Jones, Rosen said, felt authentic and empowering. And that feeling, Kanew said, could be contagious.

“Everything we need to save this country from descending into a dark place was right there in that exchange,” Kanew said. “And the beauty of it is everything that moment represents will inevitably come to fruition if people stay engaged and keep fighting for it. So it’s an incredibly hopeful moment, and hope is what people are looking for right now.”

The post Behind the scenes of Justin Jones’ viral ‘tikkun olam’ encounter with Jewish teens in DC appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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