Briefs: Israel apologizes to the Beatles, Europe commemorates the Holocaust

Beatles, Shea Stadium, 1965
Israel Apologizes to the Beatles

Israel is trying to atone for a decision to bar a tour by the Beatles 43 years ago. Israel’s ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, has written a letter to relatives of the late Beatles singer John Lennon and guitarist George Harrison apologizing for a 1965 government ban on the British pop group and inviting its surviving members — Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr — to play in the Jewish state.

“We should like to take this opportunity to correct the historic error which to our great regret occurred in 1965, when you were invited to Israel,” Yediot Achronot quoted the letter as saying. “We should like to see you sing in Israel.”

The Beatles were to have sung in Tel Aviv during their 1960s heyday, but political leaders nixed the appearances out of fear the Fab Four would “corrupt” Zionist youth.

Europe Commemorates the Holocaust

Former Auschwitz prisoners gathering at the Nazi death camp was among numerous Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations in Europe. Sunday’s event in the Polish town of Oswiecim, on the third annual commemoration day created by the United Nations General Assembly, took place on the 63rd anniversary of the camp’s liberation by Soviet troops.

“Let remembrance of this serve as a shield that will protect us and generations to come against resentment, hate, aggression, racism and anti-Semitism,” said Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, a representative of Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

Sunday, Jewish communities in Ukraine lit candles and observed a minute of silence to honor the 6 million Jewish Holocaust victims, including 1.5 million Jews killed in Ukraine. It culminated four days of performances and exhibits in Kiev co-hosted by The Jewish Foundation of Ukraine and the All-Ukrainian Association of Jews – Former Concentration Camps and Ghetto Prisoners.

On Friday, the U.N. office in Vienna held a remembrance ceremony at the Rotunda of the Vienna International Center featuring the Vienna Jewish Choir performing for delegates from around the world. Also that day the Czech Senate, president and prime minister marked the Holocaust with ceremonies.

Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, will address the European Parliament in Brussels Monday as it commemorates the Holocaust. Also Monday, more than 1,600 people, including genocide survivors, are expected to attend a service at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall to mark the day in England.

Methodists Consider Divestment

A top Methodist body heard arguments for and against divesting from Israel. The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society heard from four speakers Friday discussing whether to present a divestment from Israel plan at the church’s general conference in April, according to the New York Sun.

The Rev. Douglas Mills, an executive on the church’s General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, made the case against divestment, the Sun reported, partly from concerns that a church-wide decision to divest would damage relations with Jewish groups.

Among those making the case for divestment was Susanne Hoder, a member of the New England Conference’s Divestment Task Force. Two of the 11-million member church’s regional groupings, in New England and Virginia, have recommended divestment from companies that they allege are complicit in Israel’s West Bank “occupation.” The weekend meeting, in Fort Worth, Texas, also considered divestment from other nations, including Sudan.

Christian Group to Give $3 Million for FSU Kids

A Jewish-Christian group is contributing $3 million to help needy Jewish children in the former Soviet Union. The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, will give the $3 million to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). In exchange, Eckstein, who collects money from evangelical Christians, will have a say in how the money is spent and in formulating JDC’s strategy and programming.

The JDC estimates there are up to 50,000 needy Jewish children in the region. Eckstein gave $9 million the JDC in 2007, $6 million of which went to helping elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union and $3 million that went to help children. Eckstein recently cemented a similar strategic partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel, giving the agency $15 million per year for the next three years in exchange for a seat on its highest governing committee, its executive. The Fellowship will also continue to fund JDC programming for the elderly in the former Soviet Union.

Israeli Doubles Pair Makes History

Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich became the first Israeli doubles tennis team to win a Grand Slam tennis title. The pair, seeded eighth, defeated the seventh-seeded French duo of Arnaud Clement and Michael Llorda in the Australian Open final Saturday in Melbourne. Ram has won two mixed doubles Grand Slam titles, but never with an Israeli partner.

“It’s a great day for us, for our family, for Israel, for everybody,” Ram said, who noted that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had already called the pair to congratulate them. “He left a message for us to call him back; he couldn’t reach us.”

Hundreds of flag-waving Israelis were in the crowd, including Israel’s ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem, who traveled with his staff from Canberra for the match. The Israelis, who did not drop a set in the tournament, earned $393,211 for their victory.

Shahar Peer earlier in the tournament had become the first Israeli female to reach a Grand Slam final, but lost in three sets with her partner, Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. The three Israelis are planning to play in Arab countries next month. Peer is poised to become the first Israeli to play in Qatar, while Ram and Erlich are considering a Dubai tournament along with another Israeli, Tzipi Obziler.

Facebook Founder to Visit Israel

Israel invited Facebook’s founder to attend its 60th Independence Day celebrations. Mark Zuckerberg met the Israeli delegation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week and accepted an official invitation to visit for the festivities in May, Ma’ariv reported Sunday. A former Harvard student, Zuckerberg shot to international fame by creating the Facebook networking site.

Ma’ariv quoted Zuckerberg, 23, as saying that Facebook would be an ideal platform for linking all the participants in a technology conference that Israeli President Shimon Peres is organizing in honor of the national birthday.