The Shalom Memorial Funeral Home is being sued by a Chicago-area family. Photo courtesy of Shalom Memorial Funeral Home

Botched burial traumatized mourners, says Chicago lawsuit


A Jewish family is suing a Chicago-area funeral home for botching a burial so badly that the casket toppled and splintered in the grave, exposing the deceased’s white shroud to a gathering of over 100 traumatized mourners.

After three months of trying unsuccessfully to settle the case, the family of tax attorney Paul Horowitz filed suit last week seeking $50,000 in damages in connection with the April 28 funeral in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

The complaint alleges that the Shalom Memorial Funeral Home was negligent during the burial, resulting in the desecration of the body, which caused the family mental suffering and anguish.

A representative of the funeral home told JTA, “We have no comment at this time.”

A family friend and the plaintiff’s attorney, Henry Gruss, said the deceased’s widow and children suffered post-traumatic stress superimposed on bereavement.

“It was too horrific for words,” wrote Ronnie Horowitz, the deceased’s widow, in a statement to the media. She described the family of the 66-year-old Horowitz as “devastated.”

The complaint alleges that as the casket was lowered into the ground, it came unloose from its doweled moorings and plummeted suddenly and unexpectedly into the grave, “causing the top of the casket to be dislodged and in an improper position in the grave.” The shroud was visible from the thigh down.

Mourners screamed, shouted and cried at the gravesite, and some fled to their cars, according to the complaint.

The rabbi and the director of another funeral jumped into the grave to piece the casket together and right it, according to a family friend, retired Judge Jerry Orbach. After 40 minutes or more, the graveside service proceeded.

“This is a dereliction of responsibility on the part of the cemetery,” Gruss said.

Orbach called it “a dishonor to the deceased.”

Rabbi Elchonon Zohn, director of the National Association of Chevra Kadisha – a coalition of Jewish burial societies — said it is not uncommon for a casket lid to shift during funerals in the New York area where plots are smaller and the grave diggers can’t always allow for adequate room or a smooth ground surface.

But in Illinois, burial vaults are mandatory and, in accordance with Jewish tradition, bottomless, so the casket rests on the earth.

“The body was in a disrespected state. It was a serious breach of respect,” Zohn said. “The cemetery was not helpful, and it should have been dealt with if what the family claims is true.”

New group for progressive Zionists to march in Chicago SlutWalk


Calling themselves progressive and Zionist, about a dozen activists plan on marching in a Chicago demonstration against sexual violence to promote the idea thaZionism and liberal values are compatible.

Members of the Zioness initiative, which launched Tuesday, will march together on Saturday at SlutWalk Chicago, a women’s rights demonstration against sexual violence. Zioness members will be marching with banners and T-shirts featuring a design of a woman wearing a Star of David necklace.

Organizers of the SlutWalk initially said that they would ban Stars of David from the event, but later altered their policy to allow religious symbols but not national flags.

The SlutWalk policy came in the wake of a controversy over the Chicago Dyke March in June, when three Jewish participants at the LGBTQ demonstration were ejected for carrying LGBTQ Pride flags adorned with the Star of David. Dyke March organizers said the women were advocating for Israel at an anti-Zionist event.

The Dyke March incident served as “a watershed moment,” said Zioness organizer Amanda Berman.

“It was really a moment where everyone in the community said, ‘This is unacceptable, the line has been crossed, and there’s no way we can walk back from it now because no one can claim this is just opposition to a political party or a policy 10,000 miles away. It’s now about Jews,’” she told JTA.

The Dyke March incident was widely condemned by the Jewish community, and Jews who are pro-Israel have complained that they often do not feel comfortable expressing their religious identity openly at LGBTQ events and settings.

Berman, the New York-based director of legal affairs at The Lawfare Project — which calls itself the “legal arm of the pro-Israel community” — will travel to Chicago for Saturday’s march. She formed Zioness with around a dozen friends from across the country.

“When SlutWalk said, ‘We stand in solidarity with the organizers of the Chicago Dyke March,’ and said ‘We will also ban Zionist symbols, including Jewish stars,’ it became an opportunity to challenge the narrative that Jews and Zionists can’t participate in progressive movements,” she added.

Although SlutWalk Chicago said it would welcome religious symbols, on Thursday it denounced the Zioness initiative for using the march to promote a “nationalist agenda.”

“SlutWalk Chicago does not support the ‘Zioness progressives’ planning on coming to the walk Saturday. We at SlutWalk Chicago stand with Jewish people, just as we stand for Palestinian human rights. Those two ideologies can exist in the same realm, and taking a stance against anti-Semitism is not an affirmation of support for the state of Israel and its occupation of Palestine,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.

“We oppose all oppressive governments whether they be the United States or Israel, as we recognize these regimes often disproportionately oppress women and femmes. We find it disgusting that any group would appropriate a day dedicated to survivors fighting rape culture in order to promote their own nationalist agenda,” SlutWalk Chicago continued.

Demonstrators at a Slutwalk march through downtown Chicago, Sept. 7, 2013. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Meanwhile, Berman said the response from the Jewish community has been positive. Though the group was presently focused on Saturday’s march, organizers also have larger aspirations, Berman said.

“We do have broader goals in terms of how to turn this into something that can empower Jewish activists in the future in every variety of social justice movement, that’s certainly the goal,” she said. “Right now we’re very focused on Saturday — that’s the way that this group came to be, to challenge this narrative on Saturday by establishing a new movement and creating the opportunity for people to come and stand in solidarity.”

Gretchen Rachel Hammond first reported that three Jewish women carrying rainbow flags emblazoned with Jewish stars were kicked out of the June 24 march. Photo courtesy of Hammond

Chicago Dyke March article cost me my job, reporter tweets


The journalist who first reported the ejection of three Jewish women from Chicago’s Dyke March tweeted that she was removed from her reporting job because of that article.

In a tweet Monday, Gretchen Rachel Hammond wrote to Dyke March’s Twitter account that “You attacked, humiliated and robbed me of a job.” Hammond confirmed to JTA on the same day that she wrote the tweet.

Hammond said she could not elaborate on her tweet, citing an agreement with her employer, the Windy City Times.

Hammond, formerly an award-winning reporter for the Chicago LGBT newspaper, was transferred to its sales department after being the first to report that three Jewish women carrying rainbow flags emblazoned with Jewish stars were kicked out of the June 24 march. The women, as well as Jewish organizations, have accused the Dyke March of anti-Semitism.

March organizers said the women were ejected because they were carrying flags reminiscent of the Israeli flag at an anti-Zionist event and had “repeatedly expressed support for Zionism during conversations” with other marchers.

On June 28, an organizer of the march told Hammond in an interview that she and the newspaper had “failed in its journalistic mission.”

The Dyke March was founded over 20 years ago as a left-wing, women-centered alternative to Chicago’s annual Pride Parade, which the Dyke March’s website calls “corporate, white male dominated.” The march bills itself as anti-racist, anti-violent and anti-Zionist. This year’s march drew some 1,500 people.

Hammond, who is Jewish, told JTA that in the wake of her article, she received dozens of threatening anonymous phone calls. She said one caller called her a “kike,” while others told her she should lose her job or said she “betrayed” the LGBT community.

“One of them said, ‘I’m going to get your bitch ass fired,'” Hammond told JTA of calls and text messages she received. “It was vicious. It wasn’t even a request for dialogue. It was, ‘You f**ked with us. We’re going to f**k with you.’ They pretty much blamed me for the whole thing blowing up at them.”

The Dyke March itself has fielded criticism for using an anti-Semitic slur, tweeting on July 13 that “Zio tears replenish my electrolytes.” White supremacists, including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, have used the term “Zio,” derived from Zionist, as a slur for Jews.

On July 14, the Dyke March deleted the tweet and apologized, saying it “didn’t know the violent history of the term.”

Hammond was transferred to the sales department on July 10, and told JTA that she was looking for a reporting position elsewhere.

Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim confirmed last week that Hammond had been moved, but would not elaborate. Regarding the newspaper’s coverage of the Dyke March, Baim said the editors “stand by our reporting by Gretchen and our other reporters on that story.”

Laurel Grauer, one of the women ejected from the march, works for A Wider Bridge, a pro-Israel LGBT organization. She said she has brought the flag to the march for years in order to celebrate her LGBT Jewish identity.

But in a June 27 statement, march organizers said the women were ejected “for expressing Zionist views that go directly against the march’s anti-racist core values.” The statement claimed that the women were “disrupting chants,” which Grauer denies. It called Zionism “an inherently white-supremacist ideology.”

Both Grauer and Hammond told JTA that they have attended the march in past years without incident. Hammond said this year’s march felt more vitriolic.

“There was something different this year, for this to happen, for the kind of hatred and bile that’s coming out of them,” Hammond said. “They have chosen to exercise their anger against Israel, but do it in an anti-Semitic way.”

Rubi's Taco "Lengua" - Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Tasty, authentic Mexican cuisine: Chicago’s Maxwell St. Market


Though Chicago’s been in the news a lot lately — dealing with political issues, a crime wave and harsh weather — it’s still one of the great cities in the world! From its very beginnings, Chicago rose above the neighboring prairie towns in sophistication and culture. Folks came up from the Mississippi Delta and also, from around the globe.

One of the city’s historic outdoor markets — Maxwell Street Market — isn’t even on Maxwell Street anymore, but its quirky mystique follows it wherever it goes. For over 100 years, the market has been a famed melting pot of ethnic foods, flea market and back in the day, a well-known place to fence stolen goods! Unlike some of the city’s other farmer’s markets, Maxwell Street is open every Sunday, year round. I visited it on a gorgeous, unseasonably warm November day. The market was packed with neighborhood South Loop residents, as well as people the north side by way of bikes on this lovely day. Some brought their dogs, as the market seems to be dog-friendly.

These days, Maxwell Street Market’s food vendors are Mexican and other Latin street food, in all of their glory. Have you had pozole? It’s a traditional Mexican stew made with pork, hominy, spices and herbs, all slow-cooked. It felt so warming and perfect as a brunch starter on a warm-cool morning. Sitting at the pozole booth’s communal picnic table, I chatted up a couple of local fix-it guys: they felt the same way. The recipes are the real deal . . . I’m sure of it. Many of the vendors don’t speak English and my Spanish is sorely lacking.

Pozole Booth at Maxwell St. Market - Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Pozole Booth at Maxwell St. Market – Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

As I finished up my stew, I glanced at a growing line in front of one of the vendors across the way. It was unlike anywhere in the whole market! I’ve always known that when it comes to local restaurants — even if it’s a food truck or a truck stop — the ones with huge crowds are where you want to go. The locals know what’s best!

Rubi’s Tacos

Rubi's Taco "Lengua" - Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Rubi’s Taco “Lengua” – Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Rubi’s Tacos are revered by people all over Chicago. The vendor serves varieties that aren’t dumbed down for tourists. They take a while to get to your order, because everything is made of the freshest ingredients to order. I got a taco with chopped tongue, along with huitlacoche: a corn fungus known as “corn truffles”.  You can get your taco garnished with your choice of roasted spring onions, roasted chili peppers, fresh cilantro, onion, tomato and lettuce. The shell is a freshly baked soft taco. Luscious! There wasn’t a single person in the long line who was disappointed.

Rubi's Tacos at Maxwell St. Market - Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Rubi’s Tacos at Maxwell St. Market – Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

 

A view of the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Milwaukee Wisconsin, which was one of several JCCs to receive more bomb threats on Sunday. Photo from Facebook.

At least 7 JCCs receive bomb threats on Purim


At least seven Jewish community centers in the United States and Canada received bomb threats while they were hosting Purim events.

The threats, either called in or emailed, were reported Sunday at JCCs in Rochester, New York; Chicago; Indianapolis; Milwaukee; Cleveland; Houston, and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Most of the JCCs were evacuated and searched. None of the threats turned out to be credible.

For some of the centers it was their second threat in the past week.

The threats are part of a wave that has hit JCCs, Jewish schools and other Jewish institutions since the start of 2017. More than 150 threats have been received since the beginning of the year, according to the Secure Community Network, which coordinates security across Jewish organizations in North America.

On Sunday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the second such threat against the Rochester JCC in less than a week “a despicable and cowardly act” of anti-Semitism. Cuomo ordered the New York State Police to launch a more intense investigation into the threats, and to work with federal and local law enforcement on the investigation.

“Like all New Yorkers, I am profoundly disturbed and disgusted by the continued threats against the Jewish community in New York,” Cuomo said in a statement. “As New Yorkers, we will not be intimidated and we will not stand by silently as some seek to sow hate and division. New York is one family, and an attack on one is an attack on all.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he plans to provide additional law enforcement intelligence and staffing to the JCC in Milwaukee so it “continues to be a safe place” after it was evacuated Sunday for the fourth time in six weeks.

Meanwhile, a rally was held Sunday outside the Rady Jewish Community Centre in Winnipeg, Canada, which was evacuated due to a bomb threat on Thursday, “to send a signal of unity against fear and terrorism.”

On clear days, four states are visible from the Willis Tower. The John Hancock Building is a prominent feature of Chicago's skyline.

CityPASS Chicago: The Only City Tour You Need


For Chicago residents and visitors alike, CityPASS is the best way to see five of the city’s best attractions for an unbeatable value.

CityPASS includes admission to the Shedd Aquarium, Skydeck Chicago at the Willis Tower, and the Field Museum, as well as two choices: the Museum of Science and Industry or 360 CHICAGO at the Hancock Tower, and the Adler Planetarium or the Art Institute of Chicago. At just $99.75 for adults and $84.75 for children, the combined ticket provides a savings of over 50% compared to purchasing tickets separately.

The Field Museum, Aquarium and Planetarium are conveniently located close together, but the Field Museum could easily fill a day on its own. Admission includes access to special exhibits as well as a 3D film.

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The Ancient Americas is a permanent exhibit tracing the history of civilizations such as the Inca.

Currently on view is an exhibit showing the long history of tattoo and its significance to various cultures, along with exquisite full-body designs by current artists. The Cyrus Tang Hall of China contains hundreds of objects representing the country’s dynamic history. One of the 3D film options, Mysteries of China, is the perfect complement. It brings the discovery of the Terra Cotta Warriors vividly to life.

The museum’s vast permanent collections are also well worth exploring. These include fascinating exhibits on the Americas and ancient Egypt. Families with children will enjoy Evolving Planet, with its towering dinosaur skeletons.

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A gator at the Shedd Aquarium.

The Shedd Aquarium has collections of marine life from all over the world. The playful beluga whales are one of the highlights. Admission also includes a 4D experience. Lucky visitors may get to see a diver pointing out different species in the large center tank, or seals eating their lunch while floating on their backs, using their stomachs as a table.

The Adler Planetarium holds exhibits on the planets and the history of space exploration, along with a collection of instruments historically used for astronomical calculations.

planetarium_2_orig

mars_rover_orig

One of the Adler Planetarium’s permanent exhibits describes the planets and describes the technology used for exploring the Solar System.

Admission includes two shows as well as a ride in the Atwood Sphere. This 17-foot planetarium has nearly 700 holes showing the positions of the stars. Visitors ascend into the sphere’s interior seated on wooden benches, and it revolves to show the positions of stars and constellations in all the seasons.

The Willis Tower is in the southern part of the Loop, about 45 minutes’ walk from the Museum Campus. It was the most crowded of the sites – we stood in line for an hour even with the Fast Pass priority admission. The view is breathtaking, with five states visible on clear days. There are ledges where visitors can step out onto a transparent floor to view cars the size of ants.

hancock2_orig

Looking north from 360 CHICAGO.

At 360 CHICAGO, in the John Hancock Building, the view is similar but provides a different perspective. We visited in the late afternoon, arriving in time to watch a stunning sunset. The spacious 94th-floor exhibit included a Lego model of the building, with over 22,000 bricks. A video documentary described the challenges that arose during the building’s construction. For the adventurous, there’s an extra attraction: Tilt!, which lets visitors lean out outward and observe the city beneath.

The Art Institute has been voted the best museum in the world, and it’s easy to get lost in its enormous collections. Some of the most memorable works are the Thorne Miniature Rooms, detailed reconstructions of home interiors across multiple centuries. Other halls trace the history of everything from Greek pottery to medieval suits of armor. The museum is located on Michigan Avenue, right next to Millennium Park in the heart of Chicago.

The Museum of Science and Industry is further south than the other sites, but it’s well worth the travel time. Its exhibits span an enormous variety of topics, from weather patterns to the history of flight. Most spectacular of all is the German U-505 submarine, which American soldiers captured in World War II. With hands-on activities for all ages, this is another museum where visitors could easily spend an entire day.

Whichever options you choose, the CityPASS will give you a taste of Chicago’s most popular sites, cutting out all the hassle so you can enjoy the best the city has to offer.

 

If you go:

CityPASS Chicago

http://www.citypass.com/chicago

$99.75 adults,  ($212 for attractions if purchased separately)

$84.75 children

Thriving indie Jewish communities join forces to create rabbinic fellowship


In the summer of 2011, Lizzi Heydemann returned to her native Chicago to establish a Jewish community loosely modeled on Ikar, the Los Angeles congregation where she had spent two years as a rabbinic intern.

She set about harvesting email addresses and putting out the word on social media. Heydemann called her community Mishkan – the Hebrew word for the mobile sanctuary built by the ancient Israelites from communal donations.

Heydemann’s first Shabbat service, held in someone’s living room, drew 65 people. The numbers snowballed from there – 90, 120, 150 for the monthly service. Mishkan’s first High Holiday service, in 2012, drew 600 people. The following year, it was 900 – among them Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his daughters. Last year, the service had 1,400 worshippers, comparable to what many large and established synagogues draw on the High Holidays.

“Synagogues just haven’t been doing it for the vast majority of Jews in America,” Heydemann said. “And that means there are a lot of really thirsty people out there.”

At a time of communal hand-wringing over declining rates of Jewish identification and synagogue membership — evident most recently in the 2013 Pew survey of American Jews — a handful of independent rabbis like Heydemann have demonstrated a consistent knack for drawing large numbers of mostly younger and mostly unaffiliated Jews to religious services.

Now seven of those rabbis are joining together in an effort to share their methods of connecting with this elusive cohort, which the institutional Jewish community has spent millions trying to reach.

The Jewish Emergent Network — a new partnership of communities widely hailed for their innovative spirit and proven success in attracting the young and unaffiliated — announced last month that it was establishing a fellowship for early-career rabbis. Modeled on the fellowship Heydemann did at Ikar, the program will place the seven rabbis in each of the participating communities for two years, during which they will receive mentorship and other training. Funded by the Jim Josephs Foundation and the Crown family of Chicago, the fellowship will begin in June.

The participating communities — in addition to Ikar and Mishkan, the group includes Lab/Shul and Romemu in New York, The Kitchen in San Francisco, Kavana in Seattle and Sixth & I in Washington, D.C. — are among the most successful young congregations in the United States.

They are led by rabbis routinely named to various annual lists of the most influential Jews and top American rabbis. Two of the seven showed up on the website Jewrotica’s lists of the sexiest rabbis. They use buzzwords like “high-content Judaism” and “DIY Judaism.” They have “spiritual directors” instead of rabbis and “live entertainment managers” in place of cantors. Their services tend to be lively and musically oriented, and they are explicitly committed to welcoming all comers, regardless of level of religious practice or sexual orientation — or even whether the participants are Jewish.

And even though none of these communities are affiliated with the major denominations and most don’t have a regular space, let alone their own building, they are consistently able to draw hundreds to weekly Shabbat services and thousands on the High Holidays. The vast majority of attendees are under 40 and unaffiliated with traditional synagogues.

“People in the network are simply doing R&D in the trenches,” said Amichai Lau-Lavie, the director of Lab/Shul, a 3-year-old “everybody-friendly” and “God-optional” community that drew more than 2,000 people to High Holiday services last year. “I think by the nature of things, the seminaries will catch up. The seminaries will always be behind people in the trenches.”

Though the individual communities differ somewhat in their particulars, they share a conviction that declining synagogue affiliation rates are not evidence that Jews have lost interest in Judaism. Rather, members suggest that traditional synagogues are largely unable to speak to the Jewish masses — either because they are too rigid and dogmatic, or because they have watered things down to the point where Judaism fails to inspire.

“The secret sauce is some kind of combination of being radically accessible and welcoming on the one hand, and raising the bar on engagement [on the other],” said Ikar leader Sharon Brous, who was named America’s top rabbi in 2013 by The Daily Beast.

“At Ikar we strive for an environment that really welcomes and embraces everyone – including folks who are ambivalent, atheist or just cynical about community, ritual, even God,” Brous said. “And at the same time, we don’t lower the bar for them. If we did, they’d walk in and run out.”

Whatever it is, the approach appears to be working. Noa Kushner, the fourth-generation Reform rabbi who leads The Kitchen, drew 1,000 people to High Holiday services last year in the most secular major metropolitan area of the country. A self-described “religious start-up,” The Kitchen is experimenting with a range of Silicon Valley-esque products, from a Pause app to create space daily for awe and gratitude to a deck of Passover cards to help newbies run their first seder.

“We don’t check pedigrees at the door,” Kushner said. “We have radical access. Anyone can stand up and say Kaddish. If you want to roll up your sleeves and do Jewish, we want you there.”

The Jewish Emergent Network came about through informal discussions among the communities over the past two years. So far it has raised $4 million toward a projected budget of $6 million that would fund two fellowship cohorts over four years.

Participants hope the fellowship will help spread their methods and thinking to other communities and, more broadly, that the network will help strengthen communities doing similar work. Beyond the fellowship, they are unsure where their partnership will lead, but they are certain where it won’t: For a group whose independence from the constraints of denominational affiliation has been their calling card, they are careful not to become what they have rebelled against.

“Some people have suggested, you’re building a movement. And I say, God forbid,” Brous said. “I have no interest in creating new institutional spaces with national conferences that people will roll their eyes at going to.

“My interest is in supporting each other, lifting the American Jewish community out of the demographic free fall and inspiring creative work.”

Chicago mayor cuts short vacation after latest police shooting


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Monday he would cut his family vacation in Cuba short to address the fatal shooting of two more black residents by a city police department already under federal investigation over its use of deadly force.

The decision comes after activists stepped up calls for Emanuel's resignation over his handling of policing in the nation's third-largest city. A protest is planned at City Hall on Thursday. 

“While Mayor Emanuel has been in constant contact with his staff and Interim Superintendent (John) Escalante, he is cutting his family trip short so that he can continue the ongoing work of restoring accountability and trust in the Chicago Police Department,” said the mayor's spokeswoman, Kelley Quinn.

Emanuel is set to arrive back in Chicago on Tuesday afternoon, she said. The mayor's office did not say when he left for Cuba or when he had been scheduled to return. 

The latest police shootings killed Bettie Jones, 55, and college student Quintonio LeGrier, 19. Family members said police were called after LeGrier, who had mental health issues, threatened his father with a metal baseball bat.

Jones' family is expected to seek video footage of the shootings, which occurred early on Saturday, if any exists, in an attempt to get a clearer picture of what happened, according to its attorney.

The release of a Chicago police video last month of the fatal shooting of a black teenager, which had been withheld for more than a year, led to the resignation of the city's police chief and the start of a U.S. Department of Justice probe into whether the city's police use lethal force too often, especially against minorities. 

High-profile killings of black men by police officers since mid-2014 have triggered waves of protest, including in Chicago, and fueled a civil rights movement under the name Black Lives Matter. On Monday a grand jury cleared two Cleveland police officers in the November 2014 fatal shooting of black 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was brandishing a toy gun in a park.

Emanuel called Jones' family to offer his sympathy, according to Ja'Mal Green, an activist and protest organizer in Chicago. But he said Emanuel should resign and his return will not help problems in the city's social and justice systems.

“Here or not, you know, is still like him not here,” Green said.

The embattled mayor issued a statement on Sunday calling for a review of the police Crisis Intervention Team and better guidance for officers when dealing with mental health cases. 

“There are serious questions about yesterday's shootings that must be answered in full by the Independent Police Review Authority's investigation,” his statement said.

Regarding the latest shootings, police said LeGrier was being combative, but have admitted that Jones, who lived on the first-floor of the building, was shot by accident and offered condolences.

Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said on Monday he did not know if there was video of the shooting.

However, attorney Larry Rogers Jr., representing Jones' family, said at a prayer vigil on Sunday that there may be a video from a house under construction across the street, and that police footage may exist.

The previous killing of 17-year-old black teen Laquan McDonald in October 2014, which was captured on video released last month, led to multiple protests and calls for Emanuel's resignation. 

Emanuel, previously U.S. President Barack Obama's White House chief of staff, became Chicago's mayor in 2011 and was re-elected earlier this year in a run-off. He was already facing pressure over high crime and gang violence in parts of the city and had been criticized for closing 50 public schools in mostly minority areas. 

Calls for his resignation started with the release of the McDonald video last month. 

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton said Emanuel should step down in an interview on MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' program on Monday, before Emanuel said he was returning.

Along with Jewish vendors, another Cubs legacy at risk–losing


I wrote a story last year about the Orthodox Jewish vendors that used to work Cubs games at Wrigley Field.

The story, “At Wrigley Field, Orthodox vendors going the way of Cubs wins,”prompted an outpouring of reminiscing in Jewish Chicago about the good old days, including a letter from a reader about the first Orthodox Jewish vendor ever to work the ballpark.

Here was my original lede:“Longtime fans of the Chicago Cubs know there are a few mainstays they can expect when they visit Wrigley Field: ivy on the outfield walls, a strict no-wave policy rigorously enforced by fans and, most days, disappointing play by the hometown team.

“But there’s one little-known quirk at Wrigley that appears to be fading away as the ballpark, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last week, enters its second century: the numerous Orthodox Jewish vendors who sell food and drinks in the stands.

“A few subtle signs could give them away: a stray tzitzit strand flapping out of a jersey, a name tag reading Simcha, the mincha prayer minyan that used to take place in the outfield stands before or after games.”

With the Cubs now in the MLB National League Championship Series for the first time since 2003, one proud Chicagoan told me on Saturday that I should change the story to eliminate the references to Cubs’ losses.

Well, let’s see. That was before the Cubs dropped the first two games to the New York Mets. With the playoffs now shifting to Chicago, can the Cubbies rewrite history?

Praying for a World Series berth, Cubs fans turn to Orthodox rabbi


Is God a Cubs fan?

For long-suffering mortal supporters of the Chicago franchise, which has not won a World Series since 1908 (and has not even played in one since 1945), the answer may appear to be no.

But Chabad Rabbi David Kotlarsky has faith. He’s been wrapping Cubs fans in tefillin in a booth outside Wrigley Field all season — and the club is now just four wins away from a World Series berth.

Asked the God question by a local journalist, Kotlarsky said: “God is a fan of doing things that will make more people happy,” according to Chabad.org. “I think there’s a lot of good people in Chicago who should be happy; that’s what we’re thinking about right now.”

Kotlarsky, co-director of Chabad of East Lakeview on Chicago’s North Side, has been offering fans spiritual support and help wrapping teffilin ever since the Cubs’ first home game in April. His local status has grown of late, helped by a tweet sent last week by Yahoo sports writer Jeff Passan to his 131,000 followers.

Outside of Wrigley Field, a Hasidic Jew tried to wrap me in tefillin. “It's for the Cubs!” he said. “They need every blessing they can get.”

More importantly, the Cubs are in the MLB National League Championship Series, one step away from the World Series, for the first time since 2003. On Tuesday night, they will return home to Wrigley after losing the first two games of the best-of-seven series to the New York Mets.

“We’re seeing a lot more people coming by now during the playoffs,” Kotlarsky told Chabad.org. “People are telling us we’re part of their pre-game ritual.”

After decades of disappointment, the Cubs fanbase is famously superstitious. The legendary “Curse of the Billy Goat” dates back to 1945. After Billy Sianis, owner of Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern, was kicked out of a Cubs World Series game against the Detroit Tigers because his pet goat was annoying fans in the stadium, he allegedly cursed the team by saying, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

The team has not made it back to the World Series since.

Thanks to an influx of young talent assembled by their new Jewish general manager, Theo Epstein, who helped the Boston Red Sox end a similarly long championship drought in 2004, many Cubs fans think this season might finally break the curse.

“Thousands of fans go by, and there’s a feeling of excitement about it,” Cubs fan Jay Sandler told Chabad.org about the tefillin booth. “Since Cubs fans are so ritualistic, I think if they [wrapped tefillin] before and the Cubs won, they’ll certainly do it again.”

Chicago Jewish federation comes out against Iran deal


Chicago’s influential Jewish federation has come out against the Iran deal.

After a three-hour discussion by the board of directors, “a majority opinion emerged and was adopted: to call on Congress to oppose the JCPOA as originally submitted, and to ask legislators to work with the Administration to produce better solutions addressing Iran’s nuclear program,” the board said in a statement released Friday.

JCPOA stands for Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the official name of the nuclear agreement reached between world powers and Iran on July 14.

With annual revenue of nearly $100 million, the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago is a major religious and philanthropic organization. In the statement, released a full month after the deal was announced, the federation’s board claimed to represent “the diversity of our beloved Chicago Jewish community.”

The board expressed gratitude for the Obama administration’s focus on the Iranian nuclear threat, but went on to say that the Iran deal should be strengthened, war is not the only alternative to the deal (Obama has claimed it is) and Israel is being singled out.

“Iran’s threats to annihilate the U.S. and Israel, its role as the leading state-sponsor of terrorism, its destabilizing of neighboring countries including U.S. allies, its theocratic, anti-democratic regime, its abysmal human rights record, and its Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism must no longer be rationalized or minimalized,” the board said. “It is long past time to place Tehran where it belongs on the world’s political map: isolated and ostracized. Hence, no nuclear accord should provide Iran with an unearned ‘express pass’ to international legitimacy.”

The Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago joins at least 17 other Jewish community groups that oppose the deal, along with many that are skeptical but not yet opposed and a couple that are unsure. Congress is reviewing the deal ahead of a vote to approve or disapprove in September.

To reach its decision on the Iran deal, the board said it met with officials from President Barack Obama’s administration, Israel, the Illinois congressional delegation and independent experts, and heard the views of “many hundreds” of its community members.

Moving forward, the board pledged to continue its past work against Iran, which it said saw the creation of the advocacy group United Against A Nuclear Iran and passage of Iran divestment legislation by Illinois, Cook County and Chicago.

The board further said it would push the U.S. government to make credible the military option against Iran, to intensify international efforts against Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and to upgrade military cooperation with Israel, including possibly making Israel a NATO member. From both Chicago and New York, the board said it would advocate for the United Nations to crack down on Iran’s Holocaust denial and genocidal statements.

Even as it took the potentially divisive stand against the Iran deal, the board repeatedly called for “communal unity,” saying: “Before and after Congress votes, every Jew is a precious, welcomed, valued member of this cherished community. No matter your views, you are us, and we are you. We are all better together.”

Through its support of the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago coordinates the collective policies and programs of 46 constituent Jewish organizations.

Touch of Pray: Celebrating Shabbat and the Grateful Dead


What a long, strange trip it’s been for Shu Eliovson.

The American-born resident of Kfar Maimon, a religious moshav in southern Israel, Eliovson is CEO and co-founder of the tech start-up Likeminder, an anonymous social networking site for “authentic conversation” with “likeminded” people. He is also an ordained rabbi, though his colorful pants, fedora and purple T-shirt with the Grateful Dead’s famed dancing bear logo make him unconventional, to say the least.

A father of five, Eliovson is also the founder of JamShalom, a “grassroots movement bringing spiritual connection to music festivals across North America.” Since 2011, he has become a legendary face and somewhat of a pied piper to fellow Jewish travelers on the American jam band scene. Eliovson speaks of music festivals as “a tremendous opportunity to create a spiritual encounter” and looks for places to “throw down a big Shabbos.”

“JamShalom is about celebrating the inherent spiritual joy of music, and its power to bring like-spirited people together and sharing a Jewish experience that is unique,” Eliovson told JTA.

And what better place to have an epic Shabbat “throwdown” than the Grateful Dead’s highly anticipated Fare Thee Well Tour — three nights of shows, Friday through Sunday, at Chicago’s Soldier Field marking the 50th anniversary of the band’s founding (as well as the 20th anniversary of the group’s final show with frontman Jerry Garcia)?

Typically, Grateful Dead shows (along with those of their like-minded brethren, like Phish) occur over several days at venues in which camping becomes an integral part of the experience. But due to strict ordinances against camping in downtown Chicago, Eliovson found himself in a bind in the weeks leading up to the Dead’s final shows: How to create a temporary, intentional community in a space where camping wasn’t allowed. And how would folks keep the spirit of Shabbat if they needed to shlep far distances to the stadium?

“I needed a miracle!” Eliovson quipped, using the familiar Dead lingo.

His “miracle” came in the form of Rabbi Leibel Moscowitz of Chabad of the South Loop. After a few calls, Moscowitz was able to offer use of an undeveloped (but highly visible to concertgoers) lot owned by a Chabad supporter. Eliovson was granted permission to set up several RVs and a Shabbat tent. Along with his 18-year-old daughter and a few members of the JamShalom crew, he set out by van from New York to Chicago, kosher food in tow.

On Thursday evening, the entourage began setting up camp — only to discover, at 9 p.m., that the ban on RV camping was to be strictly enforced, even on a privately owned lot. The JamShalom village was shut down; desperate posts on Facebook informed followers that the group was seeking a new site.

With Shabbat only four hours away, on Friday afternoon the group worked out a deal with a less conspicuous parking lot on South Michigan Avenue, one block from the Chabad HQ at a luxury residential building and just a few blocks from Soldier Field.

Volunteers quickly set up tents, chairs, tables and Grateful Dead-themed decorations.  The unexpected move meant canceling some advertised programs, like “Munches and Meditations with Rabbi Shu,” as well as the 3 p.m. “Beer and Blessings.”  But fortunately, by the time Shabbat rolled in, the tent, two RVs and a colorfully painted bus with “God is One” and “Na Nach” (for Rabbi Nachman of Bratslov) in Hebrew were set up on the site.

At 6 p.m., some 25 guests — who were encouraged to bring “instruments, voices and dancing shoes” — met for a musical Kabbalat Shabbat service. Rabbi Moshe Shur, the former director of the Queens College Hillel and a longtime member of the Jewish music scene, led the service with an inspiring rendition of “Lecha Dodi” set to the classic Dead songs “Ripple” and “Uncle John’s Band.” Midway through the service, those lucky enough to have tickets for Friday night’s show headed out.

Zach Finkelstein, 22, of Long Island, who drove from New York with the JamShalom caravan, was happy with the scene.

“It is almost like going to Israel,” he said. “You land, you feel it in your heart. You are home. There are no strangers. We are all here for the same reason — peace, music and a good time!”

ADL condemns Farrakhan’s claim that Jews were behind 9/11


The Anti-Defamation League condemned Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as the “leading anti-Semite in America” after a speech in which he blamed “Israelis and Zionist Jews” for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“At a time when anti-Semitic attitudes are at historic lows, Farrakhan’s unabashed promotion of anti-Semitism is a throwback to the intolerance of another era,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement issued Thursday.

Farrakhan, who has a long history of anti-Semitic remarks, delivered his speech Sunday in Chicago as part of his Saviors Day 2015 sermon.

“It is now becoming apparent that there were many Israelis and Zionist Jews in the key roles of the 9/11 attacks,” Farrakhan said. “If they can prove me wrong, I’ll pay with my life, since they want to kill me anyway. Prove me wrong. We’re dealing with thieves and liars and murderers.”

Some of Farrakhan’s other claims in that speech relating to Sept. 11 include that “an Israeli film crew dressed as Arabs were filming the Twin Towers before the first plane went in” and “many Jews received a text message not to come to work on Sept. 11.”

Farrakhan’s religious group Nation of Islam, once led by Malcolm X, is labeled as a hate group by theSouthern Poverty Law Center. Farrakhan left the group in 2007 due to health problems but has continued to give public speeches promoting anti-Semitic claims in recent years.

Leaflets threaten Chicago Jews over Israel’s Gaza operation


Leaflets threatening the Jewish community because of Israel’s Gaza operation were found on parked cars in a Chicago neighborhood.

The leaflets found Saturday on six cars in the Pulaski Park neighborhood, in the northwestern part of the city, threatened violence if Israel did not pull out of Gaza and end its operation in the coastal strip that began July 8, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Chicago Police opened an investigation and notified the department’s hate crimes unit, according to the newspaper.

The leaflets were discovered a day after hundreds of protesters held a demonstration in downtown Chicago, including a “die-in” in which protesters representing the more than 400 Palestinians killed by Israel in the Gaza operation lay on the ground.

The demonstrators then moved their protest in front of the Israeli Consulate in Chicago, according to the Tribune.

Loyola of Chicago Student Senate passes divestment measure


The student government at Loyola University in Chicago passed a resolution calling on the university to divest from companies that do business in Israel.

Meanwhile, the University of Michigan and Arizona State University student governments voted to postpone consideration of divestment bills, according to the pro-Israel group StandWithUs.

The Loyola Student Senate voted Tuesday evening to remove its holdings from eight companies that provide equipment to Israel for use in the West Bank. The vote on a measure proposed by the Loyola chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine passed 26-0 with two abstentions.

The companies are Caterpillar, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Raytheon, Elbit Systems, SodaStream and Veolia.

“By passing this piece of legislation, the student body at Loyola University Chicago is asking for further and constant examination of Loyola’s assets for future investments,” the Student Senate said. “In the policy statement on Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), the Board of Trustees claims to commit to a social mission with the promotion of social justice. Divesting from these companies remains true to this statement and ensures that Loyola is not profiting from companies that contradict Jesuit traditions and values.”

Also on Tuesday night, the Assembly of the Central Student Government at Michigan voted 21-15 with one abstention to postpone indefinitely consideration of a divestment bill. The measure, which was proposed by the Students Allied for Freedom and Equality organization, was virtually identical to the Loyola legislation.

The same night, the Arizona State student government also voted to table a divestment proposal.

Chicago rabbi arrested on sex abuse charges


Chicago Rabbi Larry Dudovitz was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2006.

Dudovitz, 45, was arrested Saturday, the Chicago Tribune reported, and is being held on $100,000 bail.

Dudovitz, who is also known by his Hebrew name Aryeh, reportedly leads a Chabad synagogue in Chicago. He was formerly a rabbi at the Chabad House of Northwest Indiana.

According to authorities, the alleged assault occurred at the victim’s home on Oct. 26, 2002 in the West Rogers Park neighborhood.

American gets 35 years for aiding Mumbai terrorists


A federal judge in Chicago sentenced an American citizen to 35 years in prison for helping Islamist terrorists kill 160 people in India in 2008.

David Coleman Headley, a 52-year-old U.S. citizen of Pakistani heritage, was sentenced Thursday after an attack victim appealed on behalf of herself and others for a life sentence, the Associated Press reported.

Headley was arrested in October 2009 and agreed to cooperate with U.S. investigators and intelligence officials and to testify against one of his co-conspirators. He had mapped out the targets for attack, although he did not participate in the actual shootings.

Headley pleaded guilty in March 2010 to all 12 counts in his indictment. The charges included conspiracy to bomb public places in India, conspiracy to murder and maim persons in India, and six counts of aiding and abetting the murder of U.S. citizens in India.

The plea saved Headley from a death sentence, but victims had hoped for a life sentence. The 35-year sentence could see Headley freed on good behavior before he is 80.

Among the dead in the coordinated attack on targets across the city were six American citizens, including Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his pregnant wife, Rivka, the Chabad emissaries in Mumbai, who were killed at the local Chabad house.

Among calling for a tough sentence were Kia Scherr, whose husband Alan and daughter, Naomi, 13, were killed. Her message was read by Linda Ragsdale, who was wounded in the attack.

Ragsdale and Alan and Naomi Scherr had been staying at a retreat targeted in the attack.

Tel Aviv Lollapalooza festival canceled


The Lollapalooza music festival scheduled to take place in Tel Aviv was canceled.

No reason was given for the cancellation for the August event in Yarkon Park, the Los Angeles Times reported. A festival spokeswoman characterized the cancellation as a postponement.

The website for Lollapalooza Israel was closed earlier this month, according to the newspaper. The event had been announced last August.

Israeli organizers and promoters reportedly were having trouble recruiting top artists for the festival, and also faced financial and production setbacks, Israeli news organizations reported.

Lollapalooza launched in 1991 as a farewell tour for the band Jane's Addiction, fronted by Perry Farrell, who also is the festival organizer, before settling down in Chicago's Grant Park in 2005. In the last two years the festival was held in Chicago as a weekend event, and is planning to continue having the Windy City as its U.S. home in addition to its international expansion thus far in Chile and Brazil.

Bears bring in Jewish head coach, Marc Trestman


The Chicago Bears hired a Jewish head coach, Marc Trestman.

Trestman, 57, a longtime NFL assistant, was named Wednesday to his first head coaching post in the league. The 57-year-old Minneapolis native will be the only Jewish head coach in the National Football League.

Over the past five seasons he served as head coach of the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League, leading them to two championships.

In Chicago, he succeeds Lovie Smith, who was released following nine seasons that included one Super Bowl appearance. The Bears finished 10-6 last season but did not reach the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, even after a 7-1 start.

Trestman, who has been an offensive assistant with several NFL clubs, has gained a reputation for improving the play of his quarterbacks. The Bears were seeking improvement on offense.

“He understands quarterbacks,” the Bears' signal-caller, Jay Cutler, told the team's website. “He understands their thought process and the minds of quarterbacks and what we have to go through. It's going to be a quarterback-friendly system and I can't wait to get started with him.”

The Bears reportedly interviewed at least 13 candidates for the position and had brought back two others for second interviews.

Emanuel blasts Netanyahu for ‘betraying’ Obama


Rahm Emanuel said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu betrayed the Obama administration by announcing a new settlement expansion and the cutoff of tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority.

Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and President Obama's chief of staff in his first term, delivered the assessment over the weekend at the Saban Forum, an off-the-record Washington event.

Emanuel's comments were made public by another participant, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, during an open forum and were confirmed by other participants.

According to an account by New Yorker journalist David Remnick, Emanuel had said that Netanyahu had “repeatedly betrayed” Obama, and that the latest Israeli moves — apparent retaliations for the successful Palestinian bid to achieve non-observer state status last week at the United Nations — were especially galling given U.S. support for Israel during its recent mini-war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Youkilis traded from Red Sox to White Sox


Kevin Youkilis is changing his Sox: The three-time All-Star was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Chicago White Sox.

Youkilis, who is Jewish, was sent to the American League Central Division club on Sunday for utilityman Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart, who was pitching in the minor leagues. The White Sox also received cash in the deal.

A three-time Gold Glove winner who can play first base or third, Youkilis had a .287 career batting average with 133 home runs and 563 runs batted in during his 8 1/2 seasons with the Red Sox. He was a member of the club’s 2004 and 2007 championship teams.

Youkilis has been hampered by injuries in the past three seasons, and the emergence of third baseman Will Middlebrooks made him expendable in Boston, where he was a fan favorite. He received a long standing ovation at Fenway Park after leaving Sunday’s game against Atlanta for a pinch runner after tripling in the seventh inning.

“He pushes me every day, and I want to go out and play hard every day just like he does,” longtime teammate Dustin Pedroia, a former A.L. Most Valuable Player, told ESPN.

Manager Bobby Valentine and Youkilis have had some public disagreements in Valentine’s first season with the team.

Chicago urges city workers’ pension fund to divest from Iran


The Chicago City Council urged the city’s largest employee pension fund to divest from Iran.

The council unanimously approved a non-binding resolution this week that encouraged the Municipal Employees Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago to divest from companies doing business with Iran’s energy sector. Divestment would be gradual.

If the fund follows through, Chicago would join New York City, Washington and 11 other U.S. cities in divesting from businesses involved in Iran. A number of states also have divested from Iran or are considering legislation that would do so.

The Chicago-area Jewish Community Relations Council lobbied to pass the resolution. B’nai B’rith International praised the work of the Chicago City Council.

“Chicago’s city government has set an important example for other municipalities to get on board to isolate Tehran,” B’nai B’rith President Allan Jacobs, a resident of the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, Ill., said in a statement. “Sanctions are working. Resolutions such as this are helping unite local governments as well as the global community in a cohesive effort to isolate Iran.”

Ex-Mich. Rep. gets year for role in terrorism funding


A former Michigan congressman was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison on for assisting a charity accused of funding Hamas and other terrorist groups.

Mark Siljander, 59,  of Great Falls, Va., was sentenced Wednesday to charges of obstruction of justice and acting as an unregistered foreign agent. He had pleaded guilty to the charges in July 2010.

An Islamic American Relief Agency fund-raiser from Chicago allegedly hired Siljander to lobby for the removal of the agency from a U.S. Senate list of charities suspected of having terrorist ties, The Wall Street Journal reported. Siljander did not disclose this information and lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation during its probe.

According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, the Islamic American Relief Agency collected funds in boxes marked “Allah” and “Israel,” showing that the money was going toward attacks in Israel, and collected money in at least one Western European country that went straight to Hamas. The charity also has been connected to the Al-Aksa Foundation

Siljander, a Republican, served in Congress from 1981 to 1987. He had faced up to 15 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $500,000.

Abdel Azim El-Siddig, the fund-raiser from Chicago, who pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge, got two years probation, according to a report by Main Justice, a news website tracking the federal justice system. Mubarak Hamed, a Sudanese American who had been the charity’s director, got four years and ten months.

Receiving six months probation each were Ali Mohamed Bagegni, a Libyan American and IARA board member, and Ahmad Mustafa, an Iraqi citizen and IARA fundraiser. Both men were credited with assisting the prosecution.

Finding Jewish leadership in far-flung Iceland


For Mark Levin, a native of Chicago, it took a move to Iceland to turn him into a Jewish leader.

More than 25 years ago, Levin met an Icelandic woman while both were studying music at a university in Vienna. They married soon after, moved to Reykjavik and had two children. Levin runs a catering service in Iceland’s capital and largest city.

In Chicago, Levin occasionally had filled in for the cantor at his local synagogue, but beyond that his Jewish leadership experience was limited. Now he is the de facto head of Iceland’s tiny Jewish community, which numbers just a few dozen people in a country of some 320,000.

“I sometimes have thought that hey, this is kind of weird,” Levin, 50, told JTA in an interview. “You can’t even get matzah in Iceland or kosher wine.”

Had he stayed in Illinois, Levin says it’s unlikely he would be involved in Jewish life to the degree he is in Iceland. Here he organizes holiday celebrations, leads the occasional service with the community’s paper Torah scroll and coordinates practical affairs for the country’s Jews, such as symbolic bar mitzvahs and the rare Jewish funeral.

In the contemporary experience, Jews from large Jewish communities sometimes find their place in the Jewish constellation after a trip to or a few decades of living in a far-flung place. In this case it happened in a country with no synagogue, no Jewish community center and no Jewish organization. Judaism is not even one of Iceland’s state-recognized religions.

For Levin, as for many Jews, a big part of the motive for becoming active in Jewish community was for his children—a 17-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son.

“I wanted them to know what Judaism was, to participate, to know more than what they hear in the schoolyard,” he said. “My daughter doesn’t have the traditional Icelandic Christian upbringing, but she doesn’t have a real Jewish identity either—she’s sort of stranded somewhere in the middle.”

Over the years in Iceland, Levin, who doesn’t keep kosher or wear a yarmulke, says he has come to realize that he sometimes underestimates his place on the spectrum of Jewish knowledge and action.

“There was once a woman who brought bread to the seder,” he recalled.

When there was no matzah in the country to buy for the seder, Levin baked his own.

“The things we’ve been able to do,” he said, his voice trailing off. “Sometimes I think, oh wow, it’s good that I know these things because otherwise we’d be worse off.”

Even Iceland’s most famous Jew—President Olafur Ragnur Grimsson’s Israeli-born wife Dorrit Moussaieff—doesn’t participate in Jewish communal events.

Sigal Har-Meshi, an Israeli who has lived in Reykjavik for seven years and does volunteer Jewish work, praises Levin’s leadership of prayer services.

“He’s singing just like in Israel,” she said.

Over the past few months, Levin says he’s been helped greatly in his Jewish work by Rabbi Berel Pewzner, a Chabad emissary who has begun to come to Iceland to strengthen its Jewish community. In April, Pewzner led two Passover seders here, and last month he coordinated High Holidays services.

Levin says that in the past, new Jewish arrivals to Iceland have been anxious to become involved before discovering the lack of Jewish resources and growing disappointed and dispirited.

“Sometimes people come and they’re really gung-ho, and then they realize how little there is Iceland,” he said. “In the end you can’t fight it. It’s just overwhelming.”

Pewzner calls Levin an important resource for Iceland’s Jews—and a warm, friendly public face for the community.

“He has a big heart. He has a good laugh, a nice laugh—he makes people feel comfortable,” the rabbi said.

In their hometowns, Pewzner says, Jews like Levin may not have played such an active, crucial role, “but because they are here, they’re keeping things going.”

Despite the many hats he has worn for the Jewish community over the years, Levin says he’s not ready to officially lead the community if a campaign to get Judaism recognized by the Icelandic government ever comes to fruition.

Har-Meshi says the Jewish community of Iceland owes its very existence to Levin’s hard work.

“Everything is because of him,” she said. “He’s never given up.”

NBA lockout prompts a new motive for aliyah: Basketball


Call it circumstantial Zionism.

There’s been a recent uptick in North American aliyah—of basketball players.

More than a dozen North American players have become Israeli citizens and joined professional Israeli basketball teams and second division squads in the past few years.

It’s not exactly a trend but the result of Israeli league rules, the NBA lockout and the dreams of one particular team owner.

With an Israel Basketball Association rule requiring at least two Israelis on the court at all times and a limit of four non-Israeli players per team—combined with a shortage of skilled local players—Israel long has turned to foreign shores for players. The United States has been an obvious source, with its share of talented Jewish American basketball players who can become Israeli on the court by immigrating under Israel’s Law of Return while keeping dual American citizenship.

This year, Maccabi Tel Aviv signed former Duke University standout Jon Scheyer to a two-year contract, and the Chicago-born Scheyer became an Israeli with his move here in August. One of his new teammates, NBA point guard Jordan Farmar of the New Jersey Nets, signed a one-year contract with Tel Aviv in the wake of the continuing lockout. Farmar is eligible for aliyah but has yet to make a decision about immigrating.

Then there’s Jeffrey Rosen, who purchased the Maccabi Haifa team in 2007 wanting to turn it into “Israel’s team for America.”

Former Duke University basketball star Jon Scheyer, who will be playing pro ball for Maccabi Tel Aviv, at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel following his group aliyah flight, Aug. 30, 2011. Photo by Sasson Tiram

With U.S. tryouts in Florida for the past four seasons, he has sent more than 15 Jewish American players to Israel on aliyah, including this season’s Canadian guard Simon Farine, New Yorker Sylven Landesberg and former NCAA Division I guard Todd Lowenthal, who is playing for a second division team.

“For the Jewish American players, playing professional basketball in Israel is a unique way to connect to their heritage,” said Rosen, who wants to make Maccabi Haifa into a viable option for top Jewish American players.

The aliyah organization Nefesh B’Nefesh recently created a sports aliyah program to encourage athletes to move to Israel.

“Aliyah is aliyah,” even if it’s primarily for professional reasons, said Nefesh spokeswoman Yael Katsman. “Look, Scheyer was stuck because of injuries and he wanted to give it a try here. The process of aliyah is so much easier now, and Israel is better known as a solid marketplace.”

Scheyer had his initial NBA dreams dashed after an eye injury and a bout of mononucleosis.

“I was out all last year and then played in the NBA D-League, which was definitely not what I’d planned,” he told JTA. “Maccabi had been talking to me since the end of college and I thought it was a really unique opportunity.”

Certainly any basketball player wants to play in the NBA, says the former American-Israeli basketball star Tal “Mr. Basketball” Brody, who gave up his own NBA dreams 40 years ago when he played in the Maccabiah Games and decided to stay. But when circumstances prevail, Israel is considered a reasonable backup plan.

“Players of the stature of Jon Scheyer or Jordan Farmar would say that their first desire is the NBA,” says Brody, who initially played for Maccabi Tel Aviv and is now Israel’s goodwill ambassador. “Look at [former Maccabi Tel Aviv player] Anthony Parker, who’s now playing for [Cleveland] Cavaliers.”

But Brody, a native of Trenton, N.J., and an Israel Prize laureate—says the athlete aliyah trend is about the globalization of basketball.

“Anybody can play with anybody, so you have a Greek team with few Greeks, an Italian team with few Italians and Israeli teams with less Israelis,” he said.

For other players, an Israeli team may offer an opportunity not available back home.

Farine acknowledges that it was a professional decision for him to make aliyah because as a Canadian, he had less access to professional team opportunities than his American colleagues. And having an Israeli father, he can now make contact with an extensive network of relatives.

“Making a living playing basketball in Israel is better than an office job in Canada,” said Farine, who signed a two-year contract with Maccabi Haifa. “I hope to be living here and playing basketball for years to come.”

Maccabi Haifa’s most highly touted player, the 21-year-old Landesberg, is in his second year with the team and thinks of Israel as a home away from home. Landesberg, the son of a Jewish father and a mother from Trinidad, says he sees the same reaction when people find out that the 6-foot-6 guard with Trinidian features is Jewish. And now Israeli.

“They all get the same facial expression,” he says with a chuckle. “Their eyes get wide open.”

For an American Jew, playing basketball in Israel is about much more than the game, says Brody, considered Israel’s first modern sports hero.

When he first came to Israel in 1965, Maccabi Tel Aviv had never made it past the first round of the European championships. After successfully leading the U.S. team to a gold in the Maccabiah, Brody decided to give a year of his life to Maccabi Tel Aviv and help them advance past that crucial first round.

Israel won its first Euroleague championship in 1977 and has won four more since, making it to the finals 14 times in all.

“The conditions were primitive at the time,” Brody recalls of the early days. “We traveled around Israel, and I saw all that I had studied in Sunday religious school and saw people living it. I said OK, why not?

“I’ve watched the progression of Israeli basketball for the past 45 years and seen the impact on the American players that have come here,” continues Brody, who served in both the U.S. and Israeli armies. “It’s very positive. People have come to play basketball here but have wound up staying.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel lauds Chicago federation


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the city’s Jewish federation for its work in and out of the Jewish community.

“To be a Jew is to be a member of a community—and that’s not just our community but the community at large,” Emanuel said Tuesday at the 111th annual meeting of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. “We have an obligation beyond our community to serve.”

Emanuel, the first elected Jewish mayor of Chicago, also said, “I as mayor cannot achieve what I want to do for the city if the JUF is not standing shoulder to shoulder with me.”

He said that as a member of the Jewish federation and as mayor of Chicago, “nothing makes me prouder than your work and the work of JUF [the Jewish United Fund].”

Also during the meeting Dr. Steven Nasatir, president of the federation and JUF, its fundraising arm, was presented with the annual Julius Rosenwald Award, the federation’s highest honor. He is the organization’s first sitting president to receive the award.

Chicago Jewish population sees 8 percent growth


The Chicago Jewish community grew by 8 percent over the past decade, or more than 21,000 people, according to a new demographic study.

The study, which the Jewish United Fund and Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago commissions every 10 years, found that the number of Jews living in the Chicago area increased for a third consecutive decade, to 291,800.

Chicago’s overall population over the same period grew by only 3.5 percent.

The study comes as local Jewish federations have released or are conducting a flurry of demographic studies and the Jewish Federations of North America organization has moved away from surveying the Jewish community on a national level.

A survey released recently by the Portland-area federation in Oregon found a Jewish population of 47,500—more than double the number of Jews that community leaders had believed were living in the city area.

The Chicago study also found that intermarriage had increased from 30 percent in 2000 to 37 percent in 2010, and that more than 90,000 of the 148,100 Jewish households had at least one non-Jewish member.

At the same time, the survey found that half of interfaith families are raising their children only Jewish. Previously only a third had been raising children solely in the Jewish faith.

Among other findings, half of Chicago Jews have been to Israel, 86 percent of children aged 6-18 have had a formal Jewish education and nearly all the respondents said that being Jewish was important to them.

Mezuzah case goes to federal court in Chicago


A federal trial involving a condo association that removed mezuzahs from residents’ doorposts opened in Chicago.

According to the law firm Much Shelist, which is representing the plaintiffs on a pro bono basis, the dispute is between Shoreline Towers condominium association in Chicago and residents of the building who say their mezuzahs were repeatedly removed from outside their doors by the association. A building rule adopted in 2001 prohibits “objects of any sort” outside the entrances to residents’ units.

Ironically, one of the plaintiffs chaired the committee that drafted that rule.

The plaintiffs, who are from two separate families living in the building, say they tried to resolve the issue directly with the board, but eventually filed complaints of religious discrimination with the city’s Commission on Human Relations, the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the state’s attorney general.

Since then, both the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois have passed laws protecting the display of religious objects on residential property, but those laws are not retroactive. 

The case, which is being tried before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and opened Monday, will also invoke the Fair Housing Act, which plaintiffs’ attorneys say is quite rare.

A similar case in Texas led to a state bill signed June 17 requiring homeowner associations to permit religious displays on residents’ doors, including mezuzahs. Florida passed a similar law in 2008.

Pilot interfaith outreach program set for Chicago


A project to help interfaith families connect Jewishly will launch soon in Chicago.

InterfaithFamily.com announced it has secured funding for InterfaithFamily/Chicago, a two-year pilot program aimed at helping Chicago-area intermarried families find Jewish resources and connect with the community.

The program will include a website offering local and national resources for intermarried couples making Jewish choices, inclusivity training for Jewish professionals and lay leaders, and online as well as in-person classes for the families involved.

A full-time director will start July 1, said Ed Case, CEO of Interfaith Family.com.

The training will start in the fall, and workshops for couples will be held twice this year. Programs will be coordinated with existing resources provided by local synagogues, religious movements and Jewish institutions.

“When proven successful, the Chicago pilot will be replicable around North America, filling the missing link of local community programs in the interfaith engagement field,” Case said.

Supporters include The Crown Family, the Marcus Foundation, and the Jack and Goldie Wolfe Miller Fund.

InterfaithFamily.com is a Boston-based organization that empowers people in interfaith relationships to engage in Jewish life and encourages Jewish communities to welcome them.

Emanuel sworn in to lead Chicago


Rahm Emanuel was sworn in as the first Jewish mayor of Chicago.

Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, took the oath of office on Monday. He was elected mayor of the country’s third-largest city in February after sitting mayor Richard Daley declined to seek a seventh term in office.

Emanuel, 51, also worked in the Clinton White House and is a former congressman from Chicago’s North Side. A Hebrew speaker, Emanuel is the son of an Israeli doctor who moved to the United States in the 1950s.

Emanuel faced a residency challenge during the campaign because he did not live in Chicago for a full year before the election, but his candidacy was upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court.

He now faces the formidable task of helping the city pull out of serious financial difficulties, including a 2011 budget deficit of more than $500 million.

Asked about her son’s status as the city’s first Jewish mayor, Emanuel’s mother, Marsha, told the Chicago Sun-Times, “It is awesome, my dear, unexplainable. This is an honor for the people; an honor for us; an honor for the whole culture.”