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‘Jewish life goes on’: Djerba Jews and their supporters show resilience after deadly attack



(JTA) — The day after a gunman killed four people outside an ancient place of Jewish worship on the Tunisian island of Djerba, men gathered in the same synagogue not to mourn, but to celebrate.

They were there to witness the blessing of a new life: a brit milah, or ritual circumcision. Not long after, a recording of the ceremony, complete with the men chanting in Hebrew as they surrounded the eight-day-old baby, made its way to the phone of Isaac Choua, a Sephardic rabbi living in New York.

For Choua, watching the ceremony was a relief from the horrors that had emerged the day before, when a rogue security official at the Tunisian synagogue killed two Jewish cousins, Aviel Haddad, 30, and Benjamin Haddad, 43, as well as two security guards before being gunned down.

“Something beautiful happened,” said Choua, the Middle East and North Africa communities liaison for the World Jewish Congress, in an interview. “They had a brit milah in Djerba, even with all the chaos. Jewish life goes on.”

Tuesday’s deadly shooting came during the Hiloula, an annual pilgrimage and celebration of Jewish sages held on or around Lag b’Omer, which takes place a little more than a month after the beginning of Passover. The annual festivity attracts thousands of Jews from around the world, many of Tunisian descent. It is held at the El Ghriba synagogue — a 19th-century building constructed on a site believed to have been a Jewish house of worship for as long as 2,500 years.

The pilgrimage has grown substantially in recent years, after trepidation following an attack on the synagogue by Al-Qaeda in 2002 that killed 20 people, and a suspension of the pilgrimage in 2011 amid security concerns in the wake of the Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia. 

The Tunisian government has invested in the pilgrimage, billing it as a symbol of the country’s tolerance, and has provided intense security. Last year, Tunisia was one of six African countries that signed the “Call of Rabat,” an initiative of the American Sephardi Federation that sought a commitment to preserving Jewish heritage on the continent.

Jason Guberman, the executive director of the American Sephardi Federation, said the numbers that the Hiloula attracts today have not yet reached the 10,000 or so who attended before the 2002 attack. The Arab Spring and COVID-19 pandemic, he said, “have also deterred pilgrims in the past decade.” He estimated that fewer than 5,000 people attend annually now. 

Additionally, Tunisia’s authoritarian president Kais Saied remains unfriendly to Israel and has rebuffed efforts by successive American administrations to join the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreements between Israel and several Arab countries.

Djerba, nonetheless, remains an oasis of coexistence, said Yaniv Salama, the CEO of the Salamanca Foundation, which seeks to reinvigorate Jewish communities in Muslim lands.

​​”You have to understand something about Djerba,” Salama said. “The community there has very, very deep ties with the local municipalities. Everything is done in conjunction — there are joint [security] watches” between the Jewish and larger communities, “and joint communication between the Jewish community leaders and the local police.”

Jason Isaacson, the American Jewish Committee’s chief policy and political affairs officer, who has frequently visited Djerba, said it was significant that two Tunisian security officials died protecting the Jewish community.

“It’s obviously now going to be a source of shame for the country that this happened, within its own military forces, but this happens within military forces” everywhere, he said. “The fact that the country deploys a huge protective cordon around the synagogue and around the festivities and around the worshipers who come, to assure that it all goes off smoothly and proper in a celebratory spirit, is significant.”

Aaron Zelin, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank whose expertise is Islamist extremism in Tunisia, said the attack appeared to be an outlier, unlike the carefully planned 2002 attack.

“It wasn’t really a sophisticated attack,” Zelin said. “So it’s plausible it could have just been one person that just decided to do something on their own accord, and there wasn’t some broader plot or planning in the same way.”

Choua said the Tunisian Jewish Diaspora would not be deterred. “Jewish Tunisians are still going to either visit family [or] visit this pilgrimage site,” he said. “Jews are resilient.”

Djerba has the attention of the world, at least for the moment. The day before the attack Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. envoy monitoring antisemitism, alongside U.S. ambassador to Tunisia Joey Hood, joined Tunisian officials in a ceremony launching the Hiloula.

“I am sickened and heartbroken by the lethal, antisemitic attack targeting the Ghriba synagogue in Djerba during the Lag B’Omer celebrations, with thousands of Jewish pilgrims in attendance,” Lipstadt said on Twitter.

That may be the silver lining, the World Jewish Congress’s Choua said: The predominantly Ashkenazi Jewish Diaspora tends to forget the communities that persist outside the Western world.

“The Jewish world is noticing that there’s still Jews in the Middle East and North Africa,” he said. “This might even spark more tourism in the country itself.”

Salama said he did not expect the community of about 1,400 people, which includes a number of institutes of religious learning, to be broken following the attack.

“They’re all they’ll do their grieving and they’ll continue, they’ll push forward,” he said. “They really have got a stiff upper lip.”

Robert Ejnes, the executive director of CRIF, the umbrella body for French Jewry, said the French Jewish community is close to the Tunisian Jewish community because France colonized the country beginning in the 1800s, and because the community speaks French. He said that the Hiloula attracts French Jews of all ethnic origins.

“It’s really affecting the whole of the community of France because on the Hiloula, there are a lot of people going [from] the French Jewish community of all origins,” he said.

Ejnes found it notable that even after the attack, French Jews who attended the Hiloula posted photos of the festivities on social media. He said he expected the same number of people to attend next year’s Hiloula.

“People will be resilient,” he said. “They posted pictures of them[selves] at the Ghriba, saying, ‘We’ll be back.’”

The post ‘Jewish life goes on’: Djerba Jews and their supporters show resilience after deadly attack 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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Local News

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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