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What Jewish voters need to know about Ron DeSantis, the Florida Republican running for president

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(JTA) – In late April, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis visited Jerusalem, voicing support for Israeli West Bank settlements, touting a law he had just signed giving families thousands of dollars per year in private school tuition vouchers and signing a bill that increased penalties for antisemitic harassment.

Two weeks later, his education department rejected two new textbooks on the Holocaust as part of a clampdown on what he has called “woke indoctrination.”

Those two developments may anchor the Jewish arguments for and against DeSantis as he stands on the cusp of announcing a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Supporters paint him as a steadfast ally of Israel who speaks to the pocketbook concerns of Jewish families. In the years since he became Florida’s governor in 2019, the state has seen an influx of Orthodox Jews, drawn both by lax pandemic policies and the promise of discounted day school tuition.

But DeSantis’ opponents portray him as a cultural reactionary whose anti-“woke” politics are inhibiting education on the Holocaust and antisemitism — along with teaching about race, gender and sexuality. He has repeatedly condemned George Soros, the progressive megadonor who is an avatar of right-wing antisemitic conspiracy theories. Surveys show that his near-total restriction of abortion rights is unpopular with Jews nationally.

And hanging over the campaign is the candidacy of former President Donald Trump, who is running for a second term, is leading in the polls — and shares much in common with DeSantis even as he has attacked him.

While DeSantis’ allies have played up some of their differences (such as DeSantis’ youth and military service), when it comes to their respective records on issues of interest to Jewish voters, Trump and DeSantis are less distinct.

Each has sought to cultivate Jewish support by focusing on Israel and erasing church-state separations that, Orthodox Jewish leaders argue, inhibit religious freedoms. And both have attracted white nationalist supporters while leaning into the culture wars.

DeSantis is set to officially announce his campaign in a chat with Elon Musk, who was just condemned by a wide range of Jewish figures (and defended by a handful of others) for tweeting that Soros “hates humanity.”

Here’s what you need to know about DeSantis’s Jewish record:

He has been an outspoken booster of Israel.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a Jerusalem Post conference at the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem on April 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

DeSantis, a Catholic, has a visceral affinity for Israel, and has framed his support for the country in religious terms.

“When I took office, I promised to make Florida the most pro-Israel state in the United States, and we have been able to deliver on that promise,” he said this week, addressing evangelical Christians at the National Religious Broadcasting Convention in Orlando, The Jerusalem Post reported.

He likes to tell audiences that on his first visit to Israel as a U.S. congressman, his wife Casey scooped up water from the Sea of Galilee into an empty bottle to save for baptisms. The couple had yet to have children.

The water came in handy for the baptisms of their first and second children, but after DeSantis was elected governor, staff at his residence cleared away the unremarkable bottle (which was still half full) after their second child was baptized in 2019. Not long afterward, DeSantis mentioned the minor fiasco in passing at a synagogue in Boca Raton, and before he knew it people were sending him bottles of water from Israel.

The gesture still moves him. “I was sent, all the way from Israel, this beautiful big glass jar filled with water from the Sea of Galilee that sat on my desk in the governor’s office in Tallahassee until our third child was born and baptized, and we used that water to do it,” DeSantis said last month when he visited Israel.

DeSantis made Israel a focus when he was congressman, taking a leading role in advocating for moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He was among a group of lawmakers who toured Jerusalem in March 2017 and was bold enough to pick out what he said would be the likeliest site. 

In November of that year, as chairman of the House national security subcommittee, he convened a hearing on what he called the necessity of moving the embassy. The following month, Trump announced the move, and the site the Trump administration chose was the one DeSantis had identified.

In May 2019, just months after becoming governor, DeSantis convened his state cabinet in Jerusalem and gave a definition of antisemitism favored by the pro-Israel community the force of law. The same year, he banned government officials from using Airbnb after the vacation rental broker removed listings in West Bank settlements. DeSantis’ blacklisting of the company was seen was key to Airbnb reversing the decision.

He’s garnered allies — and enemies — among Florida’s Jews.

DeSantis has done much to cultivate support in Florida’s growing Orthodox community, which shares his enthusiasm for bringing faith into government.

In 2021, DeSantis came to a Chabad synagogue in Surfside to sign two bills, one affording state recognition to Hatzalah, the Jewish ambulance service, and the other tasking all Florida public schools with setting aside a daily moment of silence, long a key initiative of the Chabad movement.

In his first gubernatorial campaign in 2018, DeSantis campaigned on steering state money to religious day schools. This year he made good on the promise, signing a law that makes $7,800 in scholarship funds available annually to schoolchildren across the state, regardless of income, and to be used at their school of choice.

DeSantis also has plenty of Jewish enemies in a state where the majority of the Jewish community votes for Democrats.

In his first term, he had a contentious relationship with Nikki Fried, a Democrat who, as agriculture commissioner, was one of the four ministers in the Cabinet who had a vote. DeSantis maneuvered to freeze her out of the decision-making process.

Fried, who describes herself as a “good Jewish girl from Miami,” now chairs the state’s Democratic Party. She routinely calls DeSantis a fascist. In April, she was arrested at an abortion rights protest outside Tallahassee’s City Hall.

Under DeSantis, Florida has prohibited abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. That stance has set him up for clashes with other prominent Jews in the state as well. Last year, he suspended Andrew Warren, a Jewish state attorney, because Warren pledged not to prosecute individuals who seek or provide abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

L’Dor Va-Dor, a synagogue in Boynton Beach, spearheaded the first lawsuit filed against Florida’s abortion ban in 2022, citing religious freedom arguments. Daniel Uhlfelder, a Jewish lawyer who drew attention when he dressed as the Grim Reaper to protest DeSantis’s reopening of the beaches during the pandemic, signed on as an attorney for the synagogue.

His “war on woke” has had implications on Holocaust education.

Recently, much of DeSantis’ tenure has been defined by what he calls the “war on woke,” a term originated by Black Americans to describe awareness of racial inequity but now more often functions as shorthand for conservative criticism of progressive values.  DeSantis has enacted multiple pieces of legislation restricting what can be taught in schools and has also limited transgender rights, banning gender-affirming medical care for children.

While most of the books challenged under DeSantis’ education laws have focused on race and gender, the study of the Holocaust has been affected as well. In addition to the education department’s rejection of the Holocaust textbooks this month, Florida laws that make teachers liable for teaching inappropriate content to students have led multiple school districts to take Holocaust novels off the shelves, including a graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary.

DeSantis calls claims that he’s chilling Holocaust education “fake narratives.” He and his defenders point to his requiring all Florida public schools to certify that they teach about the Holocaust.

Neo-Nazi and white supremacist activity has increased under his watch.

A recent report from the Anti-Defamation League described an upward trend of extremist and antisemitic activity in the Sunshine State, driven in part by emerging white supremacist groups — some of whom have gone to bat for DeSantis in the past.

DeSantis has been dogged by accusations that he caters to the far right. One of the most stinging exchanges in the 2018 election season came when Andrew Gillum, DeSantis’s Democratic opponent in the race, accused DeSantis of not being forceful enough in renouncing the white nationalists who expressed support for him in robocalls.

“First of all, he’s got neo-Nazis helping him out in this state,” Gillum said. “Now, I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist, I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.” DeSantis flinched.

DeSantis eked out a victory a few weeks later, and was soundly reelected last year, but he remains sensitive on the issue. Last year, when neo-Nazis intimidated Orlando’s Jews with signs and shouts at an overpass, politicians in the state reflexively condemned them. A reporter asked DeSantis why he had not done so, and after calling the neo-Nazis “jackasses,” the governor said the question was a “smear” and added, “We’re not playing that game.” (Several months later, the leader of the antisemitic propaganda group Goyim Defense League moved from California to Florida, saying he thought the Sunshine State would be more hospitable to his efforts.)

DeSantis has also called liberal prosecutors “Soros-funded”. It’s not an unusual political gambit — the billionaire Jewish liberal donor does fund progressives running for prosecutor. But Soros has also been the focus of multiple conspiracy theories that antisemitism watchdogs say are antisemitic, casting the Holocaust survivor as a malign influence with excessive power.

Some Jewish donors are already supporting him.

DeSantis appeared last year at a conference in New York of Jewish conservatives, where he talked to a friendly audience about his war against the “woke” and was also conveniently in the room with some of the most generous Republican donors.

He is reportedly working some of those donors, who gave generously to his gubernatorial runs. He was a star last November at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual Las Vegas confab, and Axios reported that he met with Miriam Adelson, the widow of GOP kingmaker Sheldon Adelson, as well as other Jewish donors when he was in Jerusalem last month.

A number of them are hanging back, not wanting to alienate Trump while he remains influential in the party. (Adelson has said she does not want to weigh in on the primaries.)

Among the Jewish donors and fundraisers said to be in DeSantis’s camp: Jay Zeidman, a onetime Jewish White House liaison who is now a Houston based businessman; Gabriel Groisman, a lawyer who is the former mayor of Bal Harbor; and Fred Karlinsky, a leading insurance lawyer.

Last week, Jewish conservative political commentator Dave Rubin tweeted that DeSantis would bring “Freedom, sanity and competency” to the country. Groisman shared the tweet with the word “This.”


The post What Jewish voters need to know about Ron DeSantis, the Florida Republican running for president appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Obituaries

PHYLLIS POLLOCK

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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

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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

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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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