BERLIN (JTA) — Novelist Ruby Namdar’s appearance at a major conference of European Jewish leaders wasn’t meant to include a speech to an empty chair. But there he was on Sunday night, addressing the chair he had thought would hold Amichai Chikli, Israel’s minister for Diaspora affairs.
Chikli had been scheduled to address the summit, organized by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the European Council of Jewish Communities, but arrived too late to speak and left early Monday, amid a political crisis in Israel.
“In Israel right now under this government… our house has become rotten and corrupt,” Namdar told cheering conference attendees. “We have lost all shame in Israeli politics. It must be restored.”
Namdar, an Israeli who lives in the United States, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he spoke out because he worried that others at the conference would not.
“A large part of the Jewish leaders of the world and of Europe are here, and I know that many of them, if not most, are very concerned, very worried, feel very alienated,” he said. “But they’re not able to voice it because they’re instinctively so used to supporting Israel, even though it has become harder and harder with every passing year.”
The episode reflected the degree to which Israel’s political crisis is affecting Jews abroad, even reshaping what is discussed during convenings meant to elevate Diaspora Jewish life. On Monday, the saga took a sharp turn, after a historically large protest movement forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay controversial proposed reforms to the country’s judicial system.
It was the fifth edition of the summit and the first one held in person since the pandemic hit three years ago. The gathering included leaders and Jewish professionals from 35 communities across Europe and covered a broad range of topics, from how to combat antisemitism to how European Jewish communities have responded to Russia’s war against Ukraine; from gender issues to the challenges of “creating Judaism with no synagogues.”
Rates of emigration to Israel from parts of Europe have been high in recent decades, in the wake of the Ukraine war, the rise of right-wing populism and several violent antisemitic attacks by Muslim extremists and neo-Nazis. But some attendees at the conference said the recent crisis there was shaking the sense of safety that many European Jews associate with Israel.
“Democracy is a very important part in our lives especially as young leaders because we have been preached that it is such an important dogma,” Joelle Abaew, a German-Jewish teenager and member of the youth group BBYO’s international board, told JTA. “When, especially as young Jews, most of us identify with our homeland in Israel and if we don’t see that [strong democracy] there, we might question: Is that even our homeland, can we even identify with what they are doing?”
Jonathan Marcus, who is active in several Jewish organizations in Berlin, said he had seen people moving back from Israel to Germany in recent months “because of the current climate,” reflecting a trend of liberal Israelis considering emigration in response to the crisis. He also said he was worried about the religious agenda that some in Israel’s right-wing government want to advance — doing so in the language most often used to describe concerns about religious law in Europe.
“I worry on a personal level: What can I do to make sure we don’t wake up in a Jewish mullah regime?” Marcus said. “Will Israel be where my family and friends live, and be a part of my life?”
Namdar was not the only one to speak out against Chikli. A protest like the ones that have taken place across Israel and the Diaspora took place outside the conference venue, the Hilton Berlin. Inside the hotel’s dining room where Chikli was due to speak, conference guests found fliers distributed clandestinely on each table announcing that hosting him was “a slap in the face of hundreds of thousands of Israelis defending democracy for us too.”
Alexander Oscar, president of Shalom, Bulgaria’s main Jewish umbrella group, said at previous conferences he has attended it would have been unheard of to aim such statements at Israeli government officials. He said that though many European leaders are not Israeli citizens, “we all have our families in Israel and consider the state of Israel our homeland.”
“This is the first time ever I have seen this in conferences with other, you know, other countries, but never for the State of Israel.” Oscar said. “And it makes me happy, because what it says is that Israel is a democracy, and that it has a strong civil society.”
The protesting dovetails with a widening gulf he says that he and other Jewish communities in Central and Eastern Europe are finding with Israel.
“Over the past several years, we are seeing how, in various ways, the State of Israel is actually more prone to supporting the individual states in Europe, sacrificing the interests of the local Jewish communities,” Oscar said. “I’m speaking, in particular, about countries like Poland, like Hungary and Bulgaria nowadays. The local Jewish community is fighting with different groups, and even with the authorities, in terms of preventing the Holocaust distortion, and also combating antisemitism.”
“So we are ending up when the State of Israel is not defending the Jewish communities, in areas where until five, six years ago, it would have been impossible even to think of,” he added.
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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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