(JTA) – The Israeli ministry responsible for engaging with the half of the world’s Jews who don’t live in Israel has gotten a new name — and a leader who disdains the values of many American Jews.
Amichai Chikli announced during his swearing-in ceremony Monday that his ministry was changing its name from the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs to the Ministry for Diaspora Affairs and the Struggle Against Antisemitism. The name change is a sign that Chikli could plan to focus on the problems of the Diaspora more than his predecessors, who have focused largely on promoting Israel to Diaspora Jews.
Chikli is the son of a Conservative rabbi who lives on a kibbutz founded by the Conservative movement of Judaism, which he defends but says he no longer identifies with. He vaulted into prominence within Israel last year when he became the first member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to break with then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett over Bennett’s decision to form an alliance with left-wing and Arab parties.
Though Chikli holds some views promoted by Diaspora Jews, he is disdainful of Reform Judaism, the largest denomination in the United States, and of the politics of American liberals, including President Joe Biden, who won a wide majority of U.S. Jews’ votes. He has said he believes the Pride flag is an anti-Zionist symbol and also equates public criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism, a position that American Jewish groups have been fastidious about saying they do not hold.
“I have a problem with the trend of Reform Jews seeking to assimilate and affiliate themselves with groups who are anti-Israel,” Chikli told the Forward last year.
“The Reform movement has identified itself with the radical left’s false accusations that the settlers are violent, so they have earned the criticism against them, and I cannot identify with them,” he told the Jerusalem Post, also last year. “They are going back to their roots in Germany of anti-Zionism and anti-nationalism. It’s a tragedy that they are going there.”
Chikli’s appointment comes as Israel inaugurates a right-wing government that includes extremist parties, as well as one minister who has been convicted of inciting violence. The government and its priorities have drawn sharp criticism from Diaspora Jews, including from hundreds of U.S. rabbis who have pledged not to invite any members of extremist coalition blocs to speak to their communities.
Unlike some of his colleagues in the new government, Chikli says he believes there should be a space for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, a priority for many Diaspora Jews. He also criticized a haredi rabbi’s condemnation this week of Amir Ohana, a gay ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is the new Knesset speaker, saying on Twitter, “There is no disease more dangerous than baseless hatred.”
But he appears to be on the same page as some of the extremist politicians about the propriety of LGBTQ demonstrations, calling Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade a “disgraceful vulgarity” in a Facebook post this summer. (He said he believes sexual identity should be “subdued.”) He also shares their disdain of Reform Judaism, a frequent target for some of the Religious Zionist politicians who are part of the governing coalition.
In his new role, Chikli faces the task of winning over American Jewish leaders who may well be skeptical of or dismayed by Israel’s rightward shift. With his coalition seeking to narrow the definition of who is considered Jewish, make it harder to move to Israel, and strip rights from minority groups within Israel, including LGBTQ Jews, Israeli Arabs and non-Orthodox Jews, that task could be quixotic.
One area of ideological overlap, though, is in the fight against antisemitism, which watchdogs say is on the rise in the Diaspora.
Israel has gotten more involved in fights over antisemitism and anti-Zionism in the United States in recent years, appointing actress and activist Noa Tishby as its first ever “special envoy for combating antisemitism and delegitimization” last year. Tishby’s travels have included visiting the campus of the University of California-Berkeley in the midst of a student anti-Zionist controversy at that school, and making appearances as a talking head on Fox News.
Chikli has indicated that colleges and universities are an area of special interest for him. “I am very worried about what is happening on the campuses,” he said in the Jerusalem Post interview. “It is heartbreaking to see Jewish young people who concede their connections to their people and their heritage in order to connect to the latest fashionable movement that they are calling woke.”
The Israeli government also involved itself in recent legal negotiations that resulted in regional rights to ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s being sold to an Israeli company after the Ben & Jerry’s U.S. board attempted to halt the sale of its products in “occupied Palestinian territories.”
Like U.S. Jewish leaders (and Biden), Chikli vociferously opposes the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, known as BDS. He believes that anti-Israel sentiment is inherently antisemitic, issuing a stern warning to American Jews in his Forward interview.
“Don’t think that joining anti-Israel movements will help you with anything,” he said. “In the end, the folks from the BDS movement will attack you and your children because it’s not Israel that they hate, they hate Judaism.”
On Wednesday, Chikli accused Yair Lapid, the opposition leader and past prime minister, of being “the spearhead of the BDS movement” because Lapid plans to speak critically to U.S. audiences about the new government.
“What Lapid is doing now as an outgoing prime minister is a disturbing irresponsibility,” Chikli said in public comments that he also tweeted. “He does not understand that when he tells the whole world that this is a ‘dark’ government, the world does not make a separation between government and state. That’s exactly how BDS does its work.”
Chikli’s predecessor, Nachman Shai, met early in his tenure with the heads of the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements in the United States to push the message that Israel would embrace all denominations of Judaism equally.
On the occasion of the new government, Shai recently said that Israel could soon become hostile to Reform and Conservative Judaism.
Exactly how Chikli plans to engage with Diaspora Jews in his role, and when, is not yet clear; he did not respond to a request for an interview on Thursday. But he has started his tenure by taking action — canceling a 5 million NIS ($1.4 million) contract with a nonprofit group that Shai had struck shortly after the election. Chikli said the group, which has ties to Israel’s left, was “political” but that he was canceling the contract because it was inappropriate to strike one when the ministry’s leadership was set to change.
Another plan approved shortly before the election also faces an uncertain future: a $2.3 million contract with the Reform and Conservative movements in the United States to improve Israel’s image among young and liberal American Jews.
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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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