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‘Stop Cop City’ activists infuse Jewish rituals into their protest against Atlanta’s planned police training center



(JTA) — As the sun set on Feb. 5, signaling the start of Tu Bishvat, a group of Jews carried shovels into the South River Forest southeast of downtown Atlanta.

In the day’s declining light, they planted saplings — seven paw paws, three fig and two peach — to honor the holiday, Judaism’s “new year of the trees.” They recited the Shehechiyanu prayer, and a rabbi led them in singing “Tzadik Katamar”: “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon,” from Psalm 92.

The traditional holiday observance doubled as a protest against “Cop City,” the name that self-described “forest defenders” have given the city of Atlanta’s plan to build a $90 million, 85-acre police and fire training center on 300-plus acres that it owns just over the city line in DeKalb County, Georgia.

Two years into protests against the plans, a “week of action” that began over the weekend swelled the protesters’ ranks and brought an even greater police presence to the site of the planned training center. On Sunday night, a group of activists broke from a nonviolent protest, burning police vehicles and, police said, throwing rocks at officers. Dozens of people were arrested.

The violent turn throws into question other plans for the week, which include a Purim celebration on Monday night and a Shabbat service on Friday, the latest Jewish milestones in nearly two years of controversy and confrontation.

“They’re living Jewish values more legitimately, more sincerely than some of the biggest institutions,” said Rabbi Mike Rothbaum of Atlanta’s Reconstructionist Congregation Bet Haverim, of the Jewish protesters. Rothbaum attended the Tu Bishvat event and is scheduled to lead this week’s Shabbat service; he was speaking before the weekend’s events.

Comparing their worship to a mishkan, the portable sanctuary that the Israelites carried in the desert, Rothbaum said of the protesters, “They go to shul at ‘Cop City.’”

A sukkah constructed in October 2023 at the “Cop City” protest site in the Atlanta forest was destroyed in a police raid in December. (Courtesy of Jewish Bird Watcher Union)

Until about 200 years ago, South River Forest was home to the Muscogee (Creek) tribe, who called it Weelaunee — “brown water,” the name painted on protest banners strung between trees. White settlers drove out the Muscogee, and the land later became a slave plantation, a Civil War battlefield and a city prison farm. Portions have been a police firing range and used for explosives disposal, and it has also been the site of illegal dumping.

In April 2021, Atlanta announced plans to build a police training facility in the forest. Opponents immediately launched a protest. They oppose the redirection of natural resources to the police and want the forest maintained as a natural sanctuary.

After two years as a primarily local issue, national and international attention spiked on Jan. 18, when a protester camped in the woods was killed during what police called a “clearing operation.” The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Manuel Paez Teran fired a handgun, wounding a Georgia State Police trooper, then was killed by return fire. An independent autopsy reported that the 26-year-old known as “Tortuguita” was struck by at least 13 rounds. An Atlanta police vehicle was torched in a subsequent protest downtown. Charges against more than a dozen of those arrested include violating the state’s domestic terrorism statute.

Across Intrenchment Creek from the city property is a DeKalb County park that bears the waterway’s name and is the subject of an associated protest. Much of the “Stop Cop City” activity has taken place in the 136-acre Intrenchment Creek Park. Legal challenges are pending against a land swap in which the county gave 40 acres to the now-former owner of a film studio, whose crews leveled trees and tore up a paved path until a judge issued a stop work order.

Conservation groups and community organizations in the surrounding majority Black neighborhoods fear that any development will degrade the tree canopy in Atlanta — which calls itself the “city in the forest” — and exacerbate flooding in low-lying areas.

The larger, decentralized protest movement includes a number of Jews, most in their 20s and 30s, who have made their stand by holding Jewish rituals in the forest, some under the banner of the “Jewish Bird Watcher Union.” They have held Shabbat services, performed the Tashlich ritual on Rosh Hashanah, slept in a sukkah during Sukkot, lit Hanukkah candles, and planted trees on Tu Bishvat. Prayer books were adapted for Shabbat and the High Holidays, with illustrations by the Jewish artist Ezra Rose.

Digital fliers advertising Jewish activities during a “week of action” by protesters opposing Atlanta’s planned police training facility. (Shared on social media)

Most of the Jewish events have been held in Intrenchment Creek Park. At the entrance, signs attached to a crumpled gazebo denounce the “film site” property owner. Improvised memorials and slabs of stone bearing spray-painted slogans dot the parking lot. To frustrate machinery drivers, some trails were blocked by barricades formed from downed trees, discarded tires and anything else handy.

The day before Tu Bishvat, three of the young Jewish activists met with a reporter, in an unheated community center a short drive from the forest. Expressing concern about their personal security, given the heated atmosphere around the issue, they spoke on condition that they be identified only by their first names and that their photographs not appear.

Cam, 24, is a labor union activist who grew up in Atlanta, attending Conservative and Reform congregations. Ray, 24, is a software engineer and Georgia Tech graduate, who grew up attending a Reform synagogue in Maryland. Ruth, in her late 20s, works in “regenerative landscaping” and moved to Atlanta with her Israeli family as a child. All said they feel disconnected from the mainstream Jewish community in Atlanta, religiously, politically and ideologically.

“Mainstream Judaism has completely lost touch with the radical history and radical tradition of the Jews,” Ruth said. “The things I like about Judaism, I want to live them in real life.”

She added, “When Sukkot came around and we built a sukkah in the forest, this is the closest I’ve been to relating to the story of traveling, of being in the desert and sleeping under the canopy.”

A makeshift memorial for environmental activist Manuel Paez Teran, who was allegedly killed by law enforcement during a raid to clear the construction site of a police training facility that activists have nicknamed “Cop City” near Atlanta, Georgia, as seen Feb. 6, 2023. (Cheney Orr/AFP via Getty Images)

Upwards of 50 to 60 Jews have participated in the forest-based worship, and hundreds of people have streamed into the “living room” section of the woods. “I don’t know if they’re all gathering for Shabbat or not but they all gathered around with us and listened to us sing prayers and light candles,” Ray said.

Rothbaum said he admired what he saw the Jewish protesters doing. “Whatever your opinion of the activists at ‘Cop City,’ you have to admire their commitment,” he said, adding, “These kids are reacting to the assimilation of a great heritage of meaning and justice.”

The sukkah survived for two months past the end of Sukkot, until a Dec. 13 police raid against encampments on both sides of Intrenchment Creek. A photo posted on Twitter showed the dismantled poles and torn sheets. The disappearance of the large menorah from the Intrenchment Creek parking lot after Hanukkah was blamed on crews working for the film site owner.

May the candle lights of Khanukah ignite the flames of rebellion. @defendATLforest

— Fayer – פֿײַער (@FayerAtlanta) December 22, 2022

The morning after Tu Bishvat, city and county SWAT teams, along with state police, were deployed as construction equipment was brought into the police training center site. Two weeks later, at a Shabbat dinner in the forest following the Jan. 18 raid, attendees recited a Mourner’s Kaddish for Manuel Paez Teran and sang the traditional prayer “Oseh Shalom Bimromav” — “They who make peace in their high places.”

The Jewish activists see parallels between their activism on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what’s happening in their local forest.

“Anti-Zionism was a major part of what brought us together in the first place, even before the forest movement,” said Cam, who said he saw the two issues as “related struggles.” Opposing Israel is “a big part of what leads us to feel alienated from most mainstream Jewish communities and the inability to be accepted there, and the necessity of forming our own.”

Ruth participated in activism on behalf of Palestinians while visiting family in Israel last summer. “I was hearing and seeing old ancient olive orchards that were destroyed, burned or cut by settlers in order to disempower Palestinians from living there,” she said. “It made me really feel, like, defend the forest everywhere.”

Atlanta officials say they do not plan to defile the forest and argue that the city’s police training facilities are inadequate. The planned complex would serve the police and fire departments, the 911 call center and K-9 units. It would include a shooting range, a “mock city” (with a gas station, motel, home and nightclub) and a “burn building.” The remainder of the land will be developed for recreational use, officials say.

“This is Atlanta and we know forests. This facility will not be built over a forest,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said at a January news conference. “The training center will sit on land that has long been cleared of hardwood trees through previous uses of this site decades ago.”

Activists accuse the city and county of a lack of transparency throughout the process. In a February interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dickens conceded that the city could have done a better job selling the project. “We didn’t do that. And because we didn’t do that it started getting painted by anybody that had a brush,” he told the newspaper.

The mayor’s words have not deterred activists, whose goal is nothing less than cancellation of the project.

“They have destroyed a lot of the beauty already,” Cam said. “They have created this place of desolation and death and destruction, and that is in opposition to our task as Jews to create a world of beauty and joy and holiness. By coming to this place and planting trees, we are reclaiming it, making a place of peace and joy.”

Rabbi Mike Rothbaum, seen here in Massachusetts in 2017, is an Atlanta rabbi who has participated in “Cop City” protests. (Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The local Jewish protesters have lately gotten a boost from a progressive Jewish organization based in Philadelphia. The Shalom Center launched in the 1980s to oppose nuclear proliferation and now focused largely on climate justice.

“Our sacred text is called ‘The Tree of Life,’” wrote the center’s founder, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, and national organizer Rabbi Nate DeGroot in a Feb. 28 letter to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp that noted Jewish law’s prohibition on uprooting trees. “We pray that the trees of the Weelaunee Forest remain trees that support the flourishing of sacred life for generations to come.”

Rothbaum said he was inspired by the young Jewish activists. “They are reminding us of the Jewish values that come to us through Torah, through the rabbinic writings, that are timeless,” he said. “They are reminding us of what we’re supposed to be. And we owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Ruth had a message for Atlanta’s Jewish congregations and communal organizations, most of which have not engaged publicly on the issue: “I would invite them to join us, to put their Jewish values into action,” she said. “Everything we’re doing here is really Jewish.”

The post ‘Stop Cop City’ activists infuse Jewish rituals into their protest against Atlanta’s planned police training center 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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