Year in review: Highlights of 5772

The following is a review of the news highlights of the Jewish year 5772.

September 2011

An Egyptian mob breaks into the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and Israeli personnel are stuck inside for hours until Egyptian commandos arrive at the scene. Israeli Air Force jets evacuate the Israelis from the country. The attack exacerbates fears in Israel that it is losing a once-reliable ally to the south.

The Palestinians submit their bid for statehood recognition to the U.N. Security Council. In speeches at the U.N. General Assembly, President Obama rejects the Palestinians’ unilateral approach, saying that Israel’s security concerns are legitimate and must be addressed. In dueling speeches in the same forum, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas trade charges of ethnic cleansing.

Lauren Bush, granddaughter of the first President Bush and niece of the second, marries clothes designer Ralph Lauren’s son in a ceremony presided over by an ordained rabbi.

Turkey expels Israel’s ambassador to the country and downgrades diplomatic and military ties.

A California court finds 10 students affiliated with the Muslim Student Union at the University of California, Irvine, guilty of two misdemeanor counts for disrupting a speech in February 2010 by Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

Some 15 countries announce before the Durban Review Conference known as Durban III that they will boycott the proceedings. The one-day session receives little attention amid all the goings-on at the United Nations.



Turkey agrees to accept Israel’s help after initially rejecting assistance during an earthquake there that kills 430 people and injures 1,000.

The terrorist organization Hamas releases Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit after the Israeli Cabinet approves a deal in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Cheering crowds greet Shalit when he finally returns to his family home in Mitzpe Hila after five years in captivity. Less than a week after the Shalit deal, Egypt agrees to release dual American-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel in exchange for 25 Egyptians, and he reunites with his mother.

The United States stops paying its dues to UNESCO after the U.N. cultural and scientific agency’s vote to grant full membership to the Palestinians. A month later, UNESCO calls for emergency donations because of the loss of U.S. funding. Israel also cuts tax payments to the Palestinian Authority.

The New York Times reports that President Barack Obama is considering granting clemency to convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, but Vice President Joe Biden objects, telling the president that Pollard would be released “over my dead body.” Biden subsequently agrees to meet with Jewish leaders to press the case for Pollard, a U.S. Navy civilian analyst who was convicted in 1987 and has been serving a life sentence in a federal prison.

Five Jewish scientists win 2011 Nobel Prizes: Israeli professor Daniel Shechtman, chemistry; University of California physicist Saul Perlmutter, physics, with Johns Hopkins astronomer Adam Riess; and immunologists Ralph Steinman and Bruce Beutler, medicine.

American Jewish clergy and organizational leaders condemn an arson attack on a mosque in northern Israel by extremist West Bank Jewish settlers.

A protest encampment in Lower Manhattan takes on an increasingly Jewish flavor as services are organized for Yom Kippur and a sukkah is installed for the holiday of Sukkot. Critics charge that the so-called Occupy movement, motivated largely by anger over corporate greed and income inequality, harbors anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist undertones — charges that are vigorously disputed by Jewish participants in the protests.

Former Beatle Paul McCartney marries American Jewish heiress Nancy Shevell in London, the day after the couple attend Yom Kippur services at a British synagogue. McCartney’s former wife Linda Eastman also was Jewish; she died in 1998.



French President Nicolas Sarkozy calls Prime Minister Netanyahu a “liar” in a private exchange with President Obama during a summit meeting. Obama responds by saying, “You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day.” Sarkozy subsequently meets with French Jewish leaders in an effort to make amends.

Penn State ousts its Jewish president, Graham Spanier, after reports of a child sex-abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at the university. The scandal, in which an alleged pattern of sexual abuse by Sandusky was brushed under the carpet by university officials, also leads to the firing of the school’s iconic football coach Joe Paterno, who dies shortly after his ouster.

The ACLU sues a Michigan bus agency that refuses to post an advertisement calling for a boycott of Israel.

Israeli President Shimon Peres meets in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah to discuss bilateral issues, the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and new developments in the region.

Three cars are set ablaze in a heavily Jewish neighborhood of Brooklyn and anti-Semitic graffiti is found painted on nearby sidewalks and benches. The incident is the first in a string of anti-Semitic incidents in New York and New Jersey that include the firebombing of a rabbi’s home. Two suspects are arrested in the New Jersey incidents.

Evelyn Lauder, pioneer of the pink ribbon as a symbol of breast cancer awareness, dies. Lauder, the wife of cosmetics heir Leonard Lauder and sister-in-law of Jewish leader Ronald Lauder, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989 and founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which raised $350 million to fight the disease.

Veteran Jewish congressman Barney Frank announces he will not run for reelection in 2012. Frank, a Democrat who represented his Massachusetts district since 1981, made the decision after a redistricting move that would have substantially altered the makeup of his constituency outside Boston.



Chasidic reggae star Matisyahu shaves his signature beard. Matisyahu announces the new look with a picture posted to his Twitter feed and explains that he was “reclaiming himself.”

Christopher Hitchens, the iconoclastic author, journalist and prominent atheist, dies after a lengthy battle with cancer. Hitchens discovered as an adult that his maternal grandmother was Jewish.

Thousands rally in the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh after a report that 8-year-old Na’ama Margolis was spat on by Charedim Orthodox extremists on her way to school for supposedly wearing immodest dress. The incident sets off a broad campaign to rein in religious extremism in Israel. Charedim rioters remove signs calling for the separation of sexes on city streets and clash with police.

Israel releases 550 Palestinian prisoners in the second stage of the prisoner swap for captured soldier Gilad Shalit.

Netanyahu pulls an Israeli ad campaign to lure home expatriates in the United States that angered American Jews.


January 2012

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pleads not guilty to corruption charges after being indicted for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes during the construction of the Holyland apartment project when he was mayor of Jerusalem and later Israel’s trade minister. In July, after his acquittal, he says he will not return to politics.

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson announces that he is donating $5 million to a super PAC supporting the Republican candidacy of Newt Gingrich for president. The gift is the first of several multimillion-dollar donations announced by Adelson and his wife, Miriam, to support Gingrich, who will ultimately withdraw from the race in May. Adelson, saying he will donate “whatever it takes” to defeat President Obama, later gives $10 million to a political action committee backing presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

President Obama names Jacob Lew, an Orthodox Jew from New York, as his new chief of staff. Lew replaces William Daley, who had replaced Rahm Emanuel, who is Jewish and later wins the race for Chicago mayor.

Aryeh Ralbag, the chief rabbi of Amsterdam, is suspended from his post after signing a document on “curing” homosexuality. Ralbag is later reinstated, saying he was wrong to use his Amsterdam title and that the document did not fully reflect his position on the matter.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords announces she is resigning from Congress to recuperate from a shooting a year earlier. The Jewish Democrat from Arizona was shot in the head during a campaign event in Tucson.

The owner of the Atlanta Jewish Times finds himself under fire after penning a column speculating that Israel might assassinate President Obama. Andrew Adler apologizes and, within days, resigns his post.



The breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure says it is cutting funding for Planned Parenthood, a move that sparks widespread outrage, including among a number of Jewish groups that are vocal supporters of the organization. Within days, Komen CEO Nancy Brinker, a prominent Texas Jewish Republican, announces that the organization is reversing course.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the outspoken author of several best-selling books, including “Kosher Sex,” announces his intent to run for Congress in New Jersey. Boteach says he wants to bring Jewish values into the race.

Rabbi Gunther Plaut, the author of a commentary on the Torah that has become the standard text in Reform congregations, dies at 99.

The Associated Press reports that Alan Gross, an American Jew being held in Cuba on suspicion of espionage, gave sophisticated equipment capable of providing untraceable Internet access to Cuban Jews. The revelation is expected to hamper Jewish communal efforts to secure Gross’ release.

Anne Frank and Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl are discovered to have been posthumously baptized by members of the Mormon Church. The controversial practice has long irked some Jews, who find it an insult to the memory of departed relatives. Church leaders respond with measures to eliminate “unauthorized” baptisms.

A car bomb attack in the Indian capital of New Delhi injures the wife of an Israeli diplomat. Indian police arrest a journalist in connection with the attack who reportedly had ties to Iran. India also announces it has discovered evidence linking the attack to attempted strikes on Israeli targets in Thailand and the republic of Georgia.

French Jewish director Michel Hazanavicius wins an Academy Award for his film “The Artist,” while Woody Allen takes home the Oscar for best original screenplay for “Midnight in Paris” at the 84th Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. Israel’s hopes for a statuette are dashed again when its entry for best foreign film, “Footnote,” loses to the Iranian film “A Separation.”