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Jewish teens balance pride and safety when navigating public spaces



This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with teens across the world to report on issues that impact their lives.

(JTA) — After wearing his yarmulke all day at his Orthodox yeshiva on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Zac Jacobs takes it off before boarding the 6 train home.

 “I think it helps mitigate any potential danger that I could be in,” Jacobs, 17, said. “You never know what could happen; the trains are mostly safe, but it takes one person to push you into the tracks.” Besides, he said, he knows that God is above him.

With the 2022 increase in transit crime and with a rise in antisemitic hate crimes, many young Jews in New York City are scared to display their heritage in public settings. 

The violence hit close to home for Jacobs last November, when a man threw rocks at his school, Ramaz, damaging a window. It was the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass” when, in 1938, the Nazis orchestrated attacks on synagogues and Jewish businesses.

For some teens, showing their Jewishness publicly can make them feel self-conscious.

Sima Epstein,16, is always wary of whether people can see the star of David necklace she wears. 

“I probably wouldn’t hide it [my Judaism] in a situation or a conversation, but I wouldn’t let it come up” outside of school, said the  junior at Yeshivat Frisch,an Orthodox day school in Paramus, New Jersey. “I would avoid discussing religious topics all together.” 

Removing their yarmulke in public can be a tough call for a Jewish teen:  Halachah, or Jewish law, requires that males wear a head-covering in public. And while the Torah permits Jews to protect themselves when there is a possibility of harm, not all rabbis would agree that riding the subway presents the kind of danger that would allow someone to hide their Jewishness.

“If we are so concerned about appearing Jewish on the subway, what does that say about our ability to live in New York?” says Rabbi Aviad Bodner, a spiritual advisor at Ramaz. As an Orthodox rabbi and mentor, he often deals with students who have concerns about showing their identity in public. “I’m very troubled by the recent uptick [in antisemitism], and it is something we should all be considering when we make decisions.”

Instead of a yarmulke, Bodner wears a fedora-style hat everywhere he goes, so being visibly Jewish is not a concern for him, but he understands and empathizes with students worried for their safety. However, this doesn’t stop him from studying Jewish texts on his morning commute. 

He distinguishes between Jewish teens who are not wearing their kippot for safety reasons, and those who do not want to be viewed as “different” by the general public. 

“All teens desire to fit in, and sometimes showing off their cultural heritage is not the way to be seen as popular, especially on college campuses, with antisemitism rising,”  says Bodner. Day school students in particular are more likely to encounter antisemitic attitudes or anti-Israel hostility at college than they are in their parochial schools.

For Oren Leitner, 16, the issue is personal. A junior at the Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, New Jersey, Leitner was verbally attacked on the subway as an elementary school student. He was with his older brother and both wore kippot. “He started talking/screaming about how Christianity is the right religion and how we should not be Jewish,” Leitner said. “I was really young at the time, and I did not understand what was going on and was very scared.” 

This and other antisemitic instances shaped his Jewish identity. Although in all other areas of his life, he wears his kippah proudly, on the subway he covers it up with a hood. 

How Jewish he can look and act in public is a concern for Leitner as he considers applying to college. “It is a risk I would be willing to take if I end up going to one [that is not Jewishly affiliated]. But it is a factor my family and I will have to take into account,” he said.

Emy Khodorkovsky takes the opposite approach. He fights antisemitism by never hiding his Jewishness. “The only way we can combat Jew hatred is by being proud of our heritage,” the 16-year-old said. He understands why some of his friends decide not to display their Judaism openly. He also used to remove his yarmulke on the subway but not since the Ramaz junior became active in his school’s Israel advocacy club and recently attended the Anti-Defamation League’s “Never Is Now” summit on antisemitism.  

“I was worried, like other people are, about getting attacked, but then I realized that we can not shy away from showing our beliefs just because others do not like it,” he said. He thinks about his parents who escaped antisemitism in the former Soviet Union for a better life for their children.

Khodorkovsky has never experienced aggression on the subway, and is unruffled by the curious looks he gets when he carries his lulav and etrog on Sukkot or his tefillin bag to school. “New York is a big place, and there are stranger things to look at than a kid carrying a palm tree,” says Khodorkovsky. 

The post Jewish teens balance pride and safety when navigating public spaces 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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