WASHINGTON (JTA) — Benny Chukrun, speaking in Hebrew on a wind-whipped day outside the Israeli embassy in the U.S. capital, had a message for his fellow protesters.
“We have a special role in Washington. We have access to the Jewish opinion leaders in the United States,” he said at a rally on Sunday opposing far-reaching changes planned by the new government in Israel, including a proposal to limit the power of the country’s judiciary. “We have to leave our comfort zone and act.”
Israeli expatriates have been coming together in cities worldwide in solidarity with the tens of thousands who have gathered every Saturday night in Tel Aviv and elsewhere to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government. Rallies have taken place in New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles, Miami, Vancouver, Sydney, Berlin, Paris and London, drawing crowds ranging in size from 50 to 200. This weekend, the protests in North America took place on Sunday to accommodate demonstrators who observe Shabbat.
It’s new and at times intimidating territory for Israeli expatriates. Israelis in America were once known to keep a low profile in Jewish communities due to a stigma associated with leaving Israel. That sense of shame has faded as growing numbers of Israelis have relocated to the United States for work in the tech sector or other fields. Overseas travel and communication have also grown far easier. More recently, Israeli political activists in the United States have become best known for supporting their country publicly via organizations such as the Israeli-American Council.
The group organizing many of the rallies, UnXeptable, formed in 2020 to demonstrate in solidarity with Israeli protests against Netanyahu. Now, the mandate has broadened to oppose the actions of the Israeli government. That change has sparked familiar anxieties among Israelis in the United States: Are they harming Israel’s public image? Do they have a right to criticize their home country now that they have moved outside of its borders?
These questions populated multiple WhatsApp groups ahead of this weekend’s protests, said Kathy Goldberg, 57, an Israeli American who helped organize the solidarity protest in Evanston, Illinois, a Chicago suburb.
“There were fears of it looking, ‘anti-Israel,’ fears of antisemitism, that it will look like we’re piling on Israel and giving them more ammunition, when in fact these are people who love Israel and believe that right now this is the most pro-Israeli thing we can do, to help protect Israel as a democracy,’” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
What helped Goldberg and other Israelis overcome those fears was the role that they feel Israelis living abroad can play in explaining to Jewish communities why it’s OK, this time, to come out and protest. At the rally outside of the Israeli embassy, Chukrun pointed out that Israeli Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli just traveled to the United States to defend the government’s proposals.
“Chikli was here a while ago, trying to persuade the conservative Jewish funders of Kohelet that the revolution underway is not antidemocratic,” Chukrun told the 50 or so Israelis who met outside the embassy, referring to the Kohelet Forum, an influential Israeli right-wing think tank that is leading the charge in advocating abroad for the new government.
“We can give the opposing voice, we must give the opposing voice,” he told the crowd, which responded with murmurs of agreement. “Whoever has friends in Jewish organizations, reach out. We must explain to them what is going on. There is a lot of ignorance, misunderstanding.”
The Israelis who are protesting, both in Israel and abroad, are reeling from a barrage of potential changes. The issue with the highest profile has been a proposed reform that would significantly weaken Israel’s judicial review and change the way judges are appointed. Groups of protesters also oppose government pledges to annex West Bank territory to Israel, restrict the rights of LGBTQ Israelis and expand police powers — particularly in relation to Israeli Arabs.
“A lot of [Jewish] Americans say,’What’s the problem? Here [in the United States], politicians pick judges,’” said Chukrun, 62, who works in educational tech. “They don’t understand that [in the United States], it is just one part of an overall structure of checks and balances, and you can’t just take one aspect of the state of Israel that is already a democracy standing on chicken legs.”
Etai Beck, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, told the crowd at the San Francisco protest that the Jewish Diaspora had a moral stake in speaking out now. He framed his speech as a true/false test. Like Chukrun, he criticized the Kohelet Forum as well as Israel Hayom, a free right-wing tabloid in Israel that is funded by Miriam Adelson, wife of the late casino magnate and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson.
“The Jewish people outside Israel are not allowed to express their opinions and join the protest: False,” he said in his remarks in English, which were shared on WhatsApp with other protesters. “One, Israel was established as the worldwide Jewish center. Two, the Jewish people worldwide lobbies and supports Israel — in Congress, in the media, in day to day life.”
To the degree that Israeli Americans have had a public profile until now, that profile has leaned right. The Israeli-American Council, funded to a large degree by the Adelsons, has served as a forum for Republicans in recent years; it was one of just two Jewish groups that Donald Trump agreed to speak to as president, and he used the occasion to mock American Jews for not supporting Israel enough. The protests IAC organizes typically defend Israel’s sitting government.
Shay Bar, 38, who attended the Los Angeles protest with his family, said the concerns of Israelis abroad in this instance stretched beyond partisanship.
“Our solidarity from abroad is for the future of Israel and our future here in the Diaspora,” he said. “If Israel’s democracy erodes, that will directly affect Jewish and Israeli life and in the Diaspora.”
At the Washington rally, protesters held up massive Israeli flags. An older man, speaking Hebrew, asked a group of teenagers holding up letters spelling “DEMOCRACY” in English whether they were aligned properly, and they collectively rolled their eyes and said, in English, that yes, they were. The protest ended with a rendition of “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem.
Protesters in San Francisco made light of an old Israeli warning not to “wash one’s dirty laundry” abroad. “We learned from Bibi [Netanyahu] to wash our dirty laundry overseas,” said a poster in San Francisco, a reference to Netanyahu’s wife Sara’s habit of loading her flights with dirty clothes because she preferred laundry service overseas.
“Some of us here are here temporarily, some not so much,” said Yoni Charash, 47, a lawyer wearing a T-shirt bearing UnXeptable’s logo. “We all go visit, we have a connection, those of us who leave Israel are not cut off from Israel.”
Nor were they cut off from the larger Jewish communities they live in, said Chukrun. Times had changed since Israelis arriving in the United States kept to themselves because they were alienated by the synagogue-centric life of American Jews.
“Jews in the United States feel the Judaism of faith and Israelis feel the Judaism of national identity, the Israeliness,” he told JTA. “There is a cultural difference, but in recent years it’s begun to change.”
Bar in Los Angeles said Israelis are likelier now to assimilate into American Jewish communities than not. “We’re Israeli Americans who live within the community, we send our kids to school with a Jewish education, go to synagogues on holidays and are an integral part of the American Jewish community,” he said.
Chukrun, speaking to JTA, said it was critical to leverage the relationships Israelis had with American Jews.
“We have to explain that it’s not the land of the patriarchs and matriarchs, not the land of the Bible,” he said. “It’s a real country with real people — with ugly things.”
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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