(JTA) – The U.S. Education Department says it will investigate allegations of antisemitism within a Northern Virginia public school district brought by the Zionist Organization of America, in a case the ZOA has pursued for more than a year.
The federal department’s Office of Civil Rights wrote in a Nov. 3 letter to ZOA that it would investigate whether Fairfax County Public Schools, in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, failed to act on alleged incidents of harassment including students making “Heil Hitler” salutes and Holocaust jokes. The department said the opening of the investigation does not mean that ZOA’s claim has merit, only that they determined that it fell within their purview.
The department also declined to investigate a key allegation made by ZOA: that a school board member’s tweets about Israel in 2021 fell under the rubric of antisemitic discrimination. The department said this was because too much time had passed since the tweets, but the decision was a notable loss for pro-Israel legal groups, who have successfully used Department of Education civil rights complaints as a way to challenge what they describe as anti-Israel speech in schools and universities.
ZOA leaders still celebrated the opening of the investigation. The group’s President Morton Klein said in a statement: “We are pleased that OCR is investigating FCPS for failing to respond effectively to longstanding problems of antisemitism in the district.”
The conservative group’s past activities in Fairfax hinted that it had planned to make the board member’s Israel tweets a central component of its legal strategy. ZOA had been beating the drum about a Muslim Fairfax board member’s tweet about Israel for more than a year, sending letters to the district’s superintendent and school board accusing board member Abrar Omeish of antisemitism. Omeish had tweeted in May 2021 in support of Palestinians during Israel’s deadly conflict with Hamas, wishing her followers a happy Eid while adding: “Hurts my heart to celebrate while Israel kills Palestinians & desecrates the Holy Land right now. Apartheid & colonization were wrong yesterday and will be today, here and there.”
After criticism, Omeish later followed it up with a message pledging “robust and empathetic engagement with Jewish leaders,” as some speakers at a Fairfax school board meeting called for her resignation. At that same meeting, the board read out a statement acknowledging both antisemitism and Islamophobia, and standing “against any acts of violence and hatred committed against any person or group within our community.”
A month later, Fairfax County board members were targeted with antisemitic flyers that appeared to originate from a white supremacist group, calling the board “Jew-inspired, communist, queer-loving sex fiends.” The flyers, which would not have fallen under the Department of Education’s purview, were not mentioned in the civil rights complaint, and did not appear to have any connection to the Israel controversy.
The details of the other parts of the complaint were nearly identical to a Washington Post op-ed by Anna Stolley Persky, a Jewish parent of three Fairfax students. Persky, a former staffer at the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, wrote that “it is ridiculously hard to raise a Jewish child in Fairfax County Public Schools,” detailing alleged incidents of student Nazi salutes and the district’s scheduling of tests and other events on the High Holidays.
Persky’s Washington Post piece was published in March 2021, pre-dating Israel’s outbreak of violence and Omeish’s tweets.
The Department of Education also rejected a third allegation in the complaint, saying it would not investigate the district’s alleged scheduling of events on Jewish holidays because such an incident fell outside the department’s civil rights purview. The local Jewish community had allied with Omeish in an effort to add Jewish, Muslim and Hindu holidays to the school year, and Jewish officials said at the time of her tweet that her words were especially painful because of the alliance. The local Jewish Community Relations Council rescinded an honor it planned to confer on Omeish.
The Fairfax case echoes a previous one in which an Arizona school district was found to have failed to respond to multiple instances of alleged antisemitic harassment of a student. The district reached an agreement with the office of civil rights to update its harassment reporting policies, require discrimination and investigation training for its staff, post a district-wide anti-harassment statement, and conduct further audits of its harassment handling procedures.
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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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