November 14, 2018

Israeli Tech Hits Silicon Beach with Fusion L.A.

Photo by Moshe Levis Photography

Given their growing tech ecosystems, it seems only natural that Israeli startups and Los Angeles’ Silicon Beach should come together — and that’s exactly what Fusion LA is doing.

Over the past 12 months, the accelerator program that helps Israeli companies gain traction, raise capital and work with industry leaders in the U.S. has brought 20 Israeli companies to Silicon Beach, the coastal strip between LAX and Santa Monica that is home to more than 500 tech startups. The most recent eight startups were highlighted in an exclusive reception last month at SPACES in Santa Monica, hosted by Fusion LA Israeli co-founders Yair Vardi and Guy Katsovich. More than 80 investors and technology executives from Silicon Beach attended the event, which featured food, drinks and a showcase of brief pitches from the founders of a slew of Israeli-based startups. 

Katsovich said two of the startups, Farm Dog, a digital agriculture solution to help farmers use fewer pesticides; and Zero Energy Solutions, which helps commercial real estate companies save money on energy through their Climate Intelligence platform; are ready for investors.

“The grand vision is to be the launchpad for early-stage tech companies out of Israel,” Katsovich said. “We want to utilize the talent of Israeli founders and have them do business here in the United States, specifically Los Angeles.”

Katsovich visits Israel every few months to seek out tech companies. He brings their people to L.A. on tourist visas, where they then take part in a three-month program led by Vardi. During the program, Fusion LA helps participants meet investors, entrepreneurs and executives who help them adapt their companies’ branding, marketing and sales strategies to the U.S. market. 

“Coming to the U.S. is all about building relationships and long-term commitment,” Katsovich said. “Half of our companies we’ve invested in have already set up shop here. They have a founder that’s moved [to Los Angeles] or some business development representative. This is something we put an emphasis on.”

“There are companies that have been around for four or five months. It’s really about how we succeed in L.A. together, helping each other out. That aspect I love.” — Liron Brish

Iftach Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Zero Energy Solutions, which is headquartered in Tel Aviv, said he is about to open a U.S. subsidiary. “The reason I joined this specific program is for their networking,” Cohen said. “For me, [this event] is an opportunity to say what [we’re looking] for and what we are delivering.”  

Katsovich and Vardi invest $20,000 in each of the companies in exchange for 5 percent equity in each of them. Moving a business to another country can pose significant challenges, so they look for smart, talented and assertive people to work with, among other things. 

Liron Brish, CEO of Farm Dog, was born in Israel and grew up in Texas and New York before heading back to Tel Aviv for six years. He moved to Los Angeles a month and a half ago, something he had planned to do before connecting with Fusion LA.

“Moving to California was difficult for me internally, but being able have a soft landing and folks that I can call great friends right off the bat was very helpful,” he said.

“There’s been great camaraderie between all the different startups,” Brish added. “My company’s been around for about three years. There are companies that have been around for four or five months. It’s really about how we succeed in L.A. together, helping each other out. That aspect I love.”

Vardi said, “We’re proud to see many familiar faces and new professionals who recently joined our community as mentors and friends of the program, investing their time and money to help Israeli founders scaling their companies in the U.S. market. The L.A. tech ecosystem is booming with over $10 billion in venture capital investments in the past two years. It’s exciting to be part of boosting Israeli innovation in SoCal.” 

A Case of A Silent, Deadly #MeToo in New York

Among the many tragedies of the past couple of weeks, on Oct. 24 the bodies of two young Saudi Arabian sisters were found near the Hudson River, bound together with duct tape. They had been seen that morning in nearby Riverside Park, praying.

Police are still investigating but suspect the sisters’ deaths were a double suicide. Rotana Farea, 22, and Tala Farea, 16, had moved to Fairfax, Va., with their family in 2015. Rotana was enrolled at George Mason University. They ran away last December and entered a domestic violence shelter after reportedly telling authorities that they were being physically abused at home. They then left the shelter without notice in August. 

The sisters had applied for political asylum, and seemingly because of that, their mother received a call from the Saudi consulate ordering the family to return to Saudi Arabia, according to news reports. Officials at the consulate denied the allegations and told reporters that they had hired an attorney to “follow the case closely.”

Two days later, the girls were found dead. According to the police, the girls said they would rather die than return to Saudi Arabia, where they would most likely be forced into arranged marriages.

The day the news broke, my Yemenite neighbor, Waseif Qahatan, came to my apartment in tears. “I could have saved them,” she said. 

Qahatan was a child bride at the age of 14. She had been sold to the highest bidder, her cousin. Though born and raised in the Bronx, that summer she went back to Yemen to wed. Her father received $80,000 in return.

“I believed it was a ‘regular marriage,’ but the truth was, it was indentured slavery,” said Qahatan, now 32. “I was not a wife but a slave to my husband, a slave to medieval rules, a slave to my family’s wishes.”

“When I could no longer handle the pressures, I reached out to local authorities. I was told nothing could be done because I was a minor. So, I was old enough to be married but not old enough to have a say about my body or my life.”

After having her first child at 18, Qahatan was finally granted a divorce at age 20. She was back in the U.S., but a year later was stuck in a second arranged marriage. After her second child, she ran away with her children to a domestic violence shelter. “Although I was very much alone, I finally felt free,” she said.

It is another, silent, deadly #MeToo. Physical abuse, rape, stoning, honor killing — all continue to be standard practice in religious Muslim communities around the world. But because cultural relativism is a big part of leftist ideology, many feminists remain silent on the issue. Linda Sarsour, leader of the “Women’s March,” has so far had zero to say on the Saudi suicides. 

The New York Times ran a story about the tragedy that happened just miles from its offices —and then nothing. No editorials, no op-eds, nada. President Trump couldn’t be blamed for it, so why bother?

Earlier this year, Qahatan started a nonprofit called After the Veil that is geared to help young girls needing to escape abusive families or forced marriages. She posted her mission on the organization’s website at AfterTheVeil.com: “Give a voice to Arab American women in order to empower them. Provide these women with a safe haven and the resources necessary to reach their full potential.”  Further on the website, Qahatan says the location of her organization’s safe house is kept secret to protect the women staying there. 

“Arabic girls all over the world feel they have no options,” Qahatan told me. “The conditioning of Arabic culture is that of suppression and silencing the voices of those who need to be heard the most.”

She remains upset that her nonprofit wasn’t further along to help the Saudi girls, but their deaths have given her renewed focus.

“These girls had made a decision, so they were not praying for themselves but praying for girls like them to one day have a chance, to live a life of freedom,” she said. “I have fought all my life and will continue to fight against the idea that females cannot have power. To girls in this situation, I say hold on. Help is coming.”


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.

Talking to Your Students About Pittsburgh

In the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting, Jewish educators have come together to discuss strategies to help students navigate this difficult period. On Nov. 1, The Jewish Education Project, a New-York based organization that empowers leaders and educators, hosted a webinar titled “Responding to Pittsburgh: Helping Jewish Children and Educators Feel Secure.” 

Some 350 people logged on to watch the event, moderated by Rabbi Jen Goldsmith, managing director of Congregational Learning and Leadership Initiatives, and David Bryfman, chief innovation officer of The Jewish Education Project. 

“We hosted this webinar because our Jewish educators are on the front lines, dealing with the confusion of emotions that our children experience,” Bryfman told the Journal in an email. “We owe it to our youth to provide frameworks for them to come together in times like these. And we believe that educators need to take the time to care for themselves so that they can be the best educators that they can possibly be.”

Also on the call were Liron Lipinsky, associate vice president of Jewish Enrichment at BBYO, which calls itself a pluralistic Jewish teen movement; Betsy Stone, psychologist and adjunct lecturer at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; Meredith Lewis, director of content and engagement at PJ Library; and Shira Deener, director of Jewish education at Facing History and Ourselves.

“What’s interesting to see is how the different groups here are coping,” Lipinsky, who is based in Pittsburgh, said during the webinar. “Some are empowered to speak out and speak up about why they believe this tragedy took place and wanting answers and solutions so that this doesn’t happen again. And there are others who really would prefer to spend this time focusing on breathing.”

Stone spoke of the importance of being aware of “stress reactions — sleeplessness and fear” from children in the wake of the tragedy. “And everything we have to be prepared for in our children, we have to be prepared for in ourselves,” she said. 

For students in fifth grade and above, Stone recommended they write condolence notes. “A condolence note has three lines: ‘I’m so sorry’; something nice about the person or the thing you’re writing the condolence note about; and ‘I’m so sorry.’” 

“We owe it to our youth to provide frameworks for them to come together in times like these.” — David Bryfman

Stone also suggested placing large Post-it notes on the wall that state, “I feel” or “I want” and then giving students markers to fill in the blanks. “It gives kids the opportunity to see what other people are saying and to say what they feel anonymously. Don’t just do this once,” she said. “Do it again in a month, and maybe about something else. What it does is validate people’s emotional experiences.”

Lewis, who in her role at PJ Library connects parents and educators, said parents are looking for age-appropriate spaces where they can channel some of their hopelessness and despair into action. Since community vigils and conversations may be the only thing available for families, and are not right for a lot of young children, it’s a challenge.

“It’s OK for parents and children to do different things right now,” Lewis said. Instead of going to the community vigil as a family, Lewis suggested an adult say, “I’m going to a community vigil. As a family, we’re going to bake challah for our neighbors, because there’s a tradition of when we create and bake and share, we express love.”

Stone added it’s important to be careful to not project adult fears onto children. “Kids don’t need to hear how frightened you are,” she said. “That effectively makes it impossible for them to tell you how frightened they are or what else they might feel. It also tells the kids your feelings matter more than theirs.”

Lewis added, “Children are not little adults. They see the world differently. And they probably have a lot to teach us. Just remember, that all of the adult stuff we bring to the table we actually don’t need to bring to them. We can let our children lead.”


For more resources, click here.  

When Anger Becomes a Political Force

Al Franken, accused of sexual harassment, felt compelled to resign his seat in the U.S. Senate. Republican Brett Kavanaugh, accused of sexual assault and misconduct, fought for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court and won.

What is wrong with his picture?

The wildly uneven results of the women’s movement in American governance are likely to be on the mind of every reader who picks up a copy of “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger” by Rebecca Traister (Simon & Schuster), a deeply well-informed study of women in politics that is also lively, rousing and timely.

She’s an award-winning journalist for New York and Elle magazines whose beat is the role of women in politics, entertainment and the media, and the author of “All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women.” The theme of her latest books, she declares, is “the specific nexus of women’s anger and American politics, about how the particular dissatisfactions and resentments of American women have often ignited movements for social change and progress.”

Traister looks candidly and unapologetically at the anger of women — “deep, rich, curdled fury — as a political phenomenon. She reaches back in history — all the way back to ancient Greece, in fact — to make the point that anger has boiled up among oppressed women again and again over the centuries and millennia, and she argues that it has served as “the sparking impetus for long-lasting, legal, or institutional reform in the United States.” She shows how “the rages of women” have been focused on slavery and lynching, the denial of the right to vote, and the exclusion of women from many jobs and the exploitation of women in the jobs they were permitted to take.

Above all, Traister upholds the open expression of anger by women as a political weapon, and she repudiates the argument that it is counterproductive. “There will be, already is, a desire to treat this iteration of women’s uprising as hysteria, a mob, a witch hunt, a passing phase, a childish tantrum, something irrational, something niche, something that can be averted or neutralized as soon as everyone just calms down,” she writes. “But these are all strategies that have long been used to get people, including women themselves, to look away from, disregard, and suppress one of the great drivers of social upheaval and political change in this country: their own fury.”

“Rebecca Traister upholds the open expression of anger by women as a political weapon, and she repudiates the argument that it is counterproductive.”

Of course, she is not surprised that the activism of women does not always result in positive change in American politics. Indeed, she points out that anger itself is perceived differently in men and women, which is why “both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders can wage yelling campaigns and be credited with understanding … the rage felt by their supporters while their female opponents can be jeered and mocked as shrill for speaking too loudly or too forcefully into a microphone.”

And Traister is compelled to confront the fact that the first woman to win the popular vote in a presidential election did not win. Hillary Clinton was characterized by Sean Hannity as “angry, bitter, screaming,” and yet a Washington Post reporter insisted that she “turned soft and thoughtful.” Ironically, she was forced to run against the angriest man in living memory of American presidential politics. “To fight her … the Republican party had chosen a figure who embodied every one of the strains of denigration and disrespect that had historically worked to bar women and nonwhite men from the presidency and to deny them equal access to political power,” Traister writes. “It worked.”

The separate and different fates of Franken and Kavanaugh are illuminated, although her book went to press before the Kavanaugh hearings. Franken was forced out because the Democratic women who serve in the Senate “chose to do what women had been unable to do, or had chosen not to do, during the [Bill] Clinton mess — they openly rebuked a powerful and widely beloved man.” By contrast, she points out, “Fox News chief Roger Ailes had protected Bill O’Reilly, keeping him in a multi-million-dollar berth for years after public claims of harassment had surfaced; O’Reilly in turn had defended Ailes when Ailes was accused of serial harassment at his network. And their network had defended Donald Trump.”

Traister ponders “the most incandescently furious” figure of the women’s movement in recent American politics, a Cuban-American teenager named Emma González. She’s the young woman with a shaved head who spoke up for her fellow survivors of the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., by repeatedly and forcefully “calling B.S.” on the pieties and verities of conventional politics. González reminds Traister of Rose Schneiderman, a 28-year-old labor organizer who spoke up for the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 women in 1911. “Public officials have only words of warning to us — warning that we must be intensely peaceable,” declared Schneiderman. “I can’t talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled.”

Exactly here is the proof text of Traister’s doctrine of rage as a tool of politics. Compare González and Schneiderman to Christine Blasey Ford, the accuser of Brett Kavanaugh. Surely, it was her decision to suppress her own anger and to present herself as temperate, measured and mild — to remain “intensely peaceable.” It was Kavanaugh who erupted in volcanic anger, and it is Kavanaugh who now sits on the Supreme Court.   


Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.

Members of the Tribe Show Up to Vote

The Midterm Election Day is here and Jewish Americans all around the country are headed to the polls to cast their votes. If you think the famous members of the tribe are skipping out on fulfilling their civic duty, you’ve got another think coming. Here’s a roundup of our favorite nice Jewish celebrity boys and girls who are celebrating Nov. 6 all over social media.  

 

New York Rabbi Harassed by Farrakhan Supporters

A rabbi in New York shared in a Facebook post that he was harassed by a couple of supporters of Louis Farrakhan, who is known for his anti-Semitic views, during his evening commute.

Rabbi Avram Mlotek of Base MNHTN said that while he was on the subway, a man asked if he was “a real Jew.” When he said that he tries to be, the man replied by calling him an “impostor.”

This man told me repeatedly that Israel was not mine, that I was a fraud, and that Jews are responsible for the mess we find ourselves in today in the city of New York and all over the world,” Mlotek wrote.

The man then showed him a picture of Farrakhan and asked him who he was. Mlotek said that Farrakhan is an anti-Semite, the man replied, “No, that’s a real Jew. You’re a f***king fake.” The post continued:

At this point another man on the subway said, “He ain’t gonna take your bait.” The first man then said, “Yeah, brother. Black power.” The second man about me, “He a photo-copy” and lifted up his fist in the Black power symbol. The first man went on: “And a bunch of them are gays. Fu*king faggots. You gonna get off this subway stop, man?” “I’m going to go home to my wife and kids,” I said. “Yeah, you a c******r,” he said. “Have a blessed night,” I said as I got off the train. On a crowded subway home, no one besides a second man who seemingly held similar ideologies said anything.

Farrakhan recently compared Jews to “termites” in a video.

Boosting the Israeli flavors, Balaboosta is back!

Chef Einat Admony

As steam rises from multiple dishes that are being prepped to go out to their waiting diners, it’s apparent that the real-life Balaboosta, Chef Einat Admony, is the embodiment of the name she chose for her recently reopened restaurant. In what just might be the city’s fastest comeback, Balaboosta is now located in the West Village right between Chef Einat’s first restaurant, Taim Falafel, and her latest, Kish-Kash.

View this post on Instagram

Oh Yes She Can! 💪🏼 and she did! @ChefEinat re-opend @BalaboostaNYC and it is fierce! . Now located at 611 Hudson St. this place is the hottest place in town! . Einat Admony is chef and owner of the
@Balaboostanyc, @KishKashNYC @TaimFalafel restaurants in New York City and author of
Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to
Feed the People You Love. . Her life has been an adventure. After growing up in Tel Aviv, she secured illicit rations for her kitchen as a cook in the Israeli Army, walked away from college
after two months, traipsed around Germany as a gypsy, then packed up her life to move to New York City and work at “a million venerable kitchens around the city,” according to The New Yorker. Then things got interesting. . Inspired by the street food of her native Tel Aviv,
Einat opened the falafel joint Taïm (tah·eem) in Manhattan’s West Village in 2005. In 2010, she launched Balaboosta where the manner of cooking is not so much Middle Eastern as Mediterranean. In 2018 she opened her third restaurant Kish-Kash, a West Village moroccan couscous bar-eatery named after one of the kitchen utensils used in order to hand roll couscous. . Her way with ingredients has been lauded repeatedly by The New Yorker, The New York Times, and New York Magazine, among many others, and her way with people was noted by The New York Times’ critic Sam Sifton: “Admony…runs Balaboosta exactly as if she’d invited a room full of strangers for dinner, then told her family to be nice to them.” . Einat is married to Stefan Nafziger. Together they own and operate Balaboosta, Kish Kash, and Taïm. . They live in Brooklyn with their two young children, Liam and Mika. When Einat is not at the restaurant she can be found at home, cooking for the crowd of family and friends continually gathered around her
dining table. . 📸: Maya&Michelle creative

A post shared by Jews of NY (@jews_of_ny) on

Taim Falafel opened in the Village in 2005 and has since become a chain of four locations in the city that is now expanding out of state with the assistance of new management formerly from mexican fast-food chain Chipotle.

“We are extremely excited and ready for our new chapter in TAIM, working on our fifth location in NYC and a new one that is outside of NY. My husband Stéfan and our director of operations Bethany Strong are running the show like wizards.” Admony said.

Most recently, Chef Einat reopened Balaboosta, her take on modern Israeli cuisine. The new menu features all-time favorite dishes such as the cauliflower with lemon, currants, pine nuts, parsley and crushed Bamba (the famous Israeli peanut snack), and Fried Olives with labne cheese and harissa oil.

But new creations like the Short Rib Zabzi with hand-rolled couscous, herbs, and almonds, and a Red Snapper dish with pickled okra tempura and sour Fresno chili in chraime sauce.

And of course you can’t miss their scrumptious desserts of Malabi and Halva Creme Brulee.

It’s been well over a decade that Chef Einat has been a major part of introducing Israeli, Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern cuisine to New York. For many years now it’s been her dream to create a place that serves homemade, authentic couscous, and she made that dream come true in Kish-Kash, New York’s first ever couscous bar.

Named after the sieve traditionally used to make couscous, the casual dining eatery specializes in hand-rolled, hand-sieved Moroccan couscous and authentic North African Jewish cuisine. You’re invited to the dinner table to enjoy slow cooked dishes such as Mafrum, a Libyan dish of spiced ground meat in a tomato sauce, Chef Einat’s Tbecha B’salk, a short rib, Swiss chard and white bean stew, and there are chicken tagine, lamb, fish and vegetarian options to choose from as well.

Of the Balaboosta reopening process, Chef Einat said, “It’s been fun to explore fresh ideas too – riffing on homespun Israeli and Middle-Eastern classics while continuing to innovate and play with the ingredients, flavors, and techniques that make my beloved Israeli cuisine among the most exciting in the world. I can’t wait to introduce a few new, interesting and delicious dishes such as Lamb Neck with preserved lemon, dates and sun-choke and more.”

Chef Einat and partner (and husband) Stéfan Nafziger worked with designer Silvia Zofio of SZProjects to design the new Balaboosta in the space that was formerly Bar Bolonat.

“The interior design of the new Balaboosta location is bright, airy, and the Mediterranean feeling is evoked through the color scheme, banquette fabric pattern and Middle Eastern inspired glass pendants.” Zofio said. “The centerpiece of the room is a nostalgic black and white mural designed in a playful way with its narrow blue stripes being repeated as a pattern on the concrete floor.”

The new Balaboosta is definitely a cosy, hip and delicious option for those long and cold NYC nights. They are open for dinner form 5:30-10:30pm and will soon be open for brunch and lunch as well. And don’t worry, we got a personal promise from Chef Einat that she will be reintroducing the infamous Balaboosta shakshuka to the brunch menu.

Two Orthodox Jewish Men Assaulted in New York

Screenshot from Twitter.

Two Orthodox Jewish men were recently assaulted in New York over the past couple of days, one on Oct. 14 and the other on Oct. 15.

Video footage of the incident shows the assailant, reportedly identified as 37-year-old Farrukh Afzal, getting out of his car and beating the victim, 62-year-old Rabbi Lipa Schwartz, at a crosswalk. Another Jewish man eventually confronts Afzal, who then chases after the other man. Afzal was arrested later in the day.

According to prosecutors, Afzal allegedly honked at Schwartz because he didn’t think he walking across the street fast enough; the two yelled each other before Schwartz allegedly punched Afzal’s window. Afzal proceeded to get out of his car and allegedly assault Schwartz.

Schwartz claims that Afzal shouted “Allah” and his desire to “kill all Jews,” however law enforcement has stated that the assault was due to road rage and not a hate crime. Afzal’s family members are saying that Afzal suffers from schizophrenia and acted because he didn’t take his medication.

Video footage of the Oct. 15 incident shows a Jewish man being chased by a black teenager with a stick. The man can be seen running into a coin-operated laundry business; the teenager then attacks the Jewish man with the stick, which snaps in half after striking the man’s shoulder. The teenager then throws the stick toward the business, causing further injury to the Jewish man and the owner of the business, and flees the scene.

The teenager has been apprehended by law enforcement and has been charged with a hate crime. Law enforcement also revealed that teen had been released less than 30 minutes earlier for shoplifting.

“We are deeply disturbed by and unequivocally condemn these horrific attacks, and thank the New York City Police Department and its Hate Crimes Task Force for taking swift action and for investigating a bias motive,” Evan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New York-New Jersey chapter said in a statement. “We cannot allow events such as these to become the new normal.  We will continue to offer our support in responding to hate, so that New York City remains safe and inclusive for all.”

N.Y. Dem Assemblyman Criticizes Gillibrand for Sarsour Association

Screenshot from Twitter.

Dov Hikind, a Democrat assemblyman in New York who is retiring after this year, released a video on Twitter criticizing Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) for appearing onstage with Linda Sarsour at a rally protesting Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Hikind began the video by listing out some of Sarsour’s past statements, including her showing support for Rasmea Odeh, who was convicted by an Israeli court of a 1969 Jerusalem supermarket bombing that killed two college students, and saying that “nothing is creepier than Zionism.”

“Sen. Gillibrand, I know you,” Hikind said. “I know you stand for the principles that make America great. I know that you are a person who does not accept any kind of racism and anti-Semitism. But senator, you cannot sell out the principles that you have always lived by simply because you want to be president and you have to appeal to people on the extreme left.”

Hikind added, “When it comes to racism and anti-Semitism, there is no compromising.”

The outgoing assemblyman then gave a pointed message to the media, stating that the media is responsible for helping create “a new generation of anti-Semites and racists” on both sides of the aisle when they fail to expose and shame racism and anti-Semitism.

“A racist, an anti-Semite, needs to be ostracized, condemned,” Hikind said. “Period.”

Sarsour introduced Gillibrand at an Oct. 6 rally during Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote. Sarsour called Gillibrand “another champion, another one of our people who works for us on the inside.”

Gillibrand previously praised Sarsour and the other Women’s March leaders – Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Bob Bland – in a 2017 piece in Time. Gillibrand called them “extraordinary women” who “are the suffragists of our time.”

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt criticized Sarsour, Mallory and Perez for their associations with Louis Farrakhan in March 2018.

Gillibrand’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

H/T: Daily Wire

NYPD to Investigate Sukkah Defaced With ‘Free Gaza’ Graffiti As Hate Crime

Screenshot from Twitter.

The New York Police Department is investigating a sukkah that was vandalized with “Free Gaza” graffiti as a possible hate crime, according to the New York Daily News.

The sukkah, which was erected at Carl Schurz Park in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, was vandalized on Sept. 30 with “Free Gaza” spray-painted in three places. The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) New York chapter condemned the graffiti in a tweet.

“Targeting a premises used for religious purposes during the #Jewish holiday of Sukkot is simply beyond the pale,” the ADL New York chapter tweeted. “Thankful to @NYPDnews for swiftly being on the scene & investigating.”

Rabbi Ben Tzion Krasnianski, who heads the local Chabad chapter, told the New York Post, “To come this morning and see this vicious act, insult, there is just no room for this hatred in New York City. Especially on the Upper East Side, which is a beautiful community, especially at the door steps of Gracie Mansion.”

The “Free Gaza” graffiti was eventually overwritten by messages of “Shalom” and “Sukkah of Unity” on the sukkah.

In October 2017, a sukkah on the Upper East Side was damaged by with what appeared to be a knife.

The Wit and Wisdom of Fran Lebowitz

Photo from Facebook

The 1970s were a grim decade in New York: the city teetering near bankruptcy, the Son of Sam murders, Studio 54. 

If there was a bright spot, it was author, public speaker and occasional actor Fran Lebowitz’s monthly column, “I Cover the Waterfront,” on the last page of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. Her columns were tart, finely observed and urbane, filled with word play and aphoristic pronouncements that earned her comparisons to Dorothy Parker. 

Collected in two books, “Metropolitan Life” and “Social Studies,” now compiled in “The Fran Lebowitz Reader,” they still bristle with a keen intelligence and can still make you laugh, even if some of the subjects have long since faded into the past.  

Lebowitz, 67, had a recurring role as a judge on “Law and Order” from 2000-07 and was the subject of Martin Scorsese’s 2010 HBO documentary “Public Speaking.” But she hasn’t published another book since 1981. Her distinctive, world-weary voice occasionally pops up in Vanity Fair, a bracing shot of bitters against the cotton candy of lifestyle journalism. There were rumors of two novels, “Progress” and “Exterior Signs of Wealth,” but the promised publication dates passed without issue. 

Speaking with the Journal by telephone from her home in New York recently, she said she was about halfway through both books and had proposed publishing them together — “Two halves make a whole, right?” — but for some reason her publisher was less than enthusiastic. The problem with publishing, she said, is that no one has any sense of fun.

Lebowitz indulged in a free-ranging conversation, chatting about everything from the Donald Trump administration and what really bothers her, to ruminating about Jewish comedians and the disparate quality of bagels in New York and Los Angeles.

Jewish Journal: As a funny person and a Jew, why do you think Jews are so associated with comedy?

Fran Lebowtiz: I’m not sure that’s true any more. There are still funny Jews and Jewish comics, but Jewish comedians, as a group, they’re no longer prominent. Their place has been taken by Black comedians. I don’t watch much TV, but whenever I see a comedian and think they’re funny — they’re Black. And it’s happened for the same reason. It’s immigrant humor; it’s the point of view of the outsider looking in. Jews are still thought of as comic. A friend of mine was looking to cast a comedian and there was one person she liked, but didn’t cast. He wasn’t Jewish, she said. Neither was she, I told her. “But I’m from New York,” she said. As if it’s the same thing.

But funny is funny. Look at Leo Rosten. He’s the Jewish James Thurber. The kind of writer who makes you laugh out loud. I made a friend of mine read “The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N” — she’s Boston Italian — and she agreed. But the world of that generation is disappearing. The same with Thurber.  That small-town Ohio life: That world is gone. But you can still discover it in a book. That’s why people should read.

JJ: So what do you think caused this change? Assimilation?

FL: The worst thing that happened to the Jews is that so many of them became Republicans … or, even worse, neo-cons.  

JJ: Did this change help give us Donald Trump?

FL: [Trump voters] are reactionaries. Look, Donald Trump’s family were German immigrants, and his father, Fred, was a KKK member who probably wished they never left Germany. Many others wish that as well. 

A friend is very upset that [people like] Michael Cohen and Stephen Miller work with Trump. But it didn’t start with Trump. Many of the people who advised George W. Bush about Iraq — John Podhoretz, William Kristol — they were Jewish. My mother used to watch the Army/McCarthy hearings in the ’50s, and what drove her crazy was seeing Roy Cohn. That was a name everyone knew was Jewish.

JJ: What bothers you the most?

FL: Telling kids they have self-esteem. When I was young, you were taught not to talk about yourself. But today, not only do kids talk about themselves, they talk about themselves first. Why do kids even need self-esteem? They haven’t done anything yet.

JJ: You once advised chefs that if no one has thought of putting grapes in a chicken dish before, there’s a good reason for it. 

FL: I wrote that 40 years ago! 

JJ: Speaking of food, what did you think of people complaining about [“Sex and the City” star/New York gubernatorial candidate] Cynthia Nixon ordering a cinnamon-raisin bagel with lox and cream cheese at Zabar’s?

FL: Goyim! What are you going to do with them? Years ago, I took a friend from the Midwest to Lindy’s. She ordered a pastrami on white with mayo. The waiter looked at her and said, “No.” She started arguing with him, and I told him to just bring her a regular sandwich: on rye with mustard. 

JJ: Do you notice a difference in audiences when you’re in L.A. from New York?

FL: New Yorkers are quicker. And more aggressive. I take questions from the audience. If you don’t call on a New Yorker, they’ll shout out their question anyway.

JJ: And Los Angeles?

FL: It’s not really a city. It’s gotten better. But those things they call bagels? New Yorkers know they’re just doughnuts. I still can’t take spending hours either driving a car or being driven. 

Lebowitz is currently on a speaking tour. She will be appearing at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Sept. 30, as part of the 2018-19 CAP UCLA season. She’ll be interviewed by KCRW’s Matt Holzman, followed by an audience Q-and-A session.


Steven Mirkin is a freelance writer and a copy editor at the Jewish Journal. 

Blessed by Movement

Photo by Puls

At the beginning of summer, life changed in the Upper East Side apartment I share with my 9-year-old son, Alexander. Although it was a positive change, a change I’ve been wanting for years, it was still fairly dramatic for him.

I promised Alexander all sorts of things to help make the transition easier. “We’re going to finish decorating,” I told him. “And we’re going to make it beasal” — a word he uses to mean uber-cool. “We’re finally going to get a puppy. And we’re going to make this into a party apartment — with all of your friends coming over and hanging out.” 

During a thorough apartment detox, I came across a small tile that the super had found behind the stove. The tile was sky blue, engraved with Arabic calligraphy. Though I had no idea what it said, it was too beautiful to throw away. I set it aside on the kitchen counter and prayed it said something positive.

Meanwhile, Alexander wasn’t dealing well with the transition. His anger and sadness made me sadder than I had ever been — how could I hurt my son? — even though I knew that it was all for the best. When he escaped to a gorgeous camp in Westchester every day, I tried to make the apartment more beasal for his return. 

Weekends were hardest for him. Most of his friends had gone to sleepaway camps. We took trips, but the thing that helped us the most was a Saturday afternoon basketball class in Central Park run by Ameen, a sheikh at the local mosque. The weekly class allowed Alexander to be challenged by boys much older, and he gained new confidence. 

Ameen and I would sit and watch the boys play — an array of ethnic diversity amid the natural diversity of the park. Each week, Ameen looked into my eyes as though he was examining the health of my soul. He knew exactly what to say to calm me and to make Alexander glow. 

School started, and with it Alexander became more sensitive and vulnerable again. I tried to compensate by having over a steady stream of his friends. But that wasn’t always comforting. Kids can say mean things, most often when they don’t know what to say.

On Yom Kippur, after returning from services, we heard a faint knock on the door. “Hi, I’m Waseif from Yemen,” a strikingly beautiful woman said. “We moved in next door. In my culture we bring food to our new neighbors.” Before I had a chance to say, “So do we,” Waseif handed me a box of cookies. Then her 14-year-old son, Reese, came to the door and said hey to Alexander; soon her daughter, Anaya, a 7-year-old firecracker, waltzed in. Two puppies followed. 

“On Simchat Torah, we bless the movement, the transition, the essential cycle of life — one door closes and another one opens.”

Suddenly, our apartment was filled with warmth, light and joy. The boys bonded over technology; Anaya entertained us with her gymnastic moves; and Waseif and I talked as though we had known each other our entire lives.

Then I remembered the tile.

“Please,” I asked Waseif, “what does this mean? I found it here, in the kitchen, after my ex-husband moved out.” Tears welled in her eyes. “Baraka,” she said. “It means blessing…. Like your B’racha.”

Stunned, I had to verify this with my Egyptian friend, Marwa. She confirmed it and added: “We have a saying: ‘Al Haraka Baraka. In movement there is blessing.’ ”

For the next few days, there was a lot of movement between our apartments. Waseif taught me how to apply makeup “like Cleopatra.” Alexander gave Anaya some of his stuffed animals. Reese helped me fix a bed issue. 

We finally came full circle with a challah sandwich. Alexander is hard to please for packed lunches, but I recently had made him a challah and turkey sandwich that was a big hit. I was making him another when Reese asked for one too. 

“Have you ever had challah?” I asked. He shook his head, shyly. “Well, you don’t have to eat it if you don’t like it.” He loved it.

There is, indeed, blessing in movement, in finding peace and serenity in unexpected places, in opening our hearts and souls to let in light.

On Simchat Torah, we bless the movement, the transition, the essential cycle of life — one door closes and another one opens. But we only find it, as Waseif said, when we are ready to see it.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.

N.Y. Man Sentenced to Six Months in Jail for Anti-Semitic Graffiti on Neighbor’s House

Screenshot from Twitter.

A New York man has been sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation for painting anti-Semitic graffiti on his neighbor’s house.

The man, James Rizzo, Jr., was initially arrested in October 2017 when surveillance footage showed him painting a swastika and the word “Kyke” [sic] in black paint on his Staten Island neighbor’s white garage door. Rizzo admitted to the crime, telling police, “I knew my neighbors were Jewish because of the way they spoke.”

However, his neighbors were not Jewish.

The defense had argued that he suffered from mental health issues; the ensuing psychiatric evaluation concluded that Rizzo was unfit to stand trial. After receiving treatment, Rizzo was found capable to stand trial in May. He eventually plead guilty to third-degree criminal mischief as a hate crime in June.

One of the victims, 17-year-old Halle Calabrese, told CBS New York at the time of the vandalism, “It’s hard and very upsetting to know that someone could have that much hate for someone of a certain religion or a certain race.”

Once Rizzo was arrested, police officers and a cleanup team sent by the local city council went to the Calabrese house to expunge the anti-Semitic graffiti.

Rizzo had previously been arrested in 1998 for burglary.

A Tribute to Terrorists

As a New York City parent, I knew something like this was in the offing. I just never thought it would be this egregious.

The Beacon School, a “highly selective” public high school in Hell’s Kitchen, held a moment of silence last week for the 62 Gazans killed trying to storm Israel’s border, 50 of whom were confirmed as Hamas terrorists while several others allegedly were part of Islamic jihad.

Before jumping to conclusions, we should put this into the proper context.

The Beacon School never had a moment of silence for the dozens of Syrian children gassed to death by President Bashar al-Assad, nor for the scores of Palestinians slaughtered in Syrian refugee camps. Though the school bills itself as progressive, it has never mourned the gay men that the Iranian theocracy has executed by hanging, nor Pakistan’s enforced honor killings or its stoning of women.

In fact, silent tributes at the school are very rare. So, just like the United Nations, the mainstream media and an alarming number of universities across the country, the Beacon School has a “social conscience” only when the perpetrators are Israelis, and even if the victims are mostly terrorists.

As one Jewish father put it: “I did not send my child to a New York City public school to pray for Hamas operatives.”

Principal Ruth Lacey has yet to be available for comment. A Department of Education spokesman told the New York Post: “We support civic engagement and advocacy amongst students, and encourage schools to provide inclusive environments where students are able to respectfully discuss current events.”

But there was no discussion before or after the moment of silence. And from what I heard, many Jewish students at the school did not feel respected at all.

As one Jewish father put it: “I did not send my child to a New York City public school to pray for Hamas operatives.”

Jewish parents at my son’s elementary school — all Upper East Side Democrats — were aghast at Beacon’s illiberal political act. It was the only reassuring aspect about the incident.

Hearing the truth straight from the terrorists’ mouths doesn’t seem to matter to most progressives. Hamas asserts time and again its intent to murder “every Jew,” and it makes little difference.

The Forward published a bizarre piece on the Beacon controversy that literally made no mention of Hamas. Who was killed? “Dozens of Palestinians.” It’s almost as if they are trying to signal Hamas: “Don’t worry; let us do the talking.” How progressive.

Progressives buy into every lie about Israel because they have been taught to replace critical thinking with victimhood ideology, and victimhood ideology teaches that Israel is the absolute worst “white colonialist offender.” The fact that Israelis are not white; that Jews have been occupied, persecuted and slaughtered en masse throughout history; that Israel has made repeated offers for peace that have been rebuffed; and that Israel doesn’t start wars but defends itself against forces indoctrinated to hate Jews — all of this is conveniently ignored.

I hope someday someone examines how Israel came to be seen as the worst “white colonialist” offender. Was it a coincidence, or perhaps the remarkable success of the propagandistic theories espoused by people like Edward Said, a Palestinian American professor at Columbia University, 70 blocks north of Beacon? Said is best known for wiping away centuries of Arab conquest and occupation and blaming it on the West.

None of this, of course, is to suggest that Israel is immune to criticism. The sharpest criticism can be found in Israel’s vibrant media, something sorely missing in its neighborhood. I wonder if students at Beacon have been taught this balanced perspective.

Meanwhile, about a week after Beacon’s “tribute” to Hamas, the third grade at my son Alexander’s school had a special “Journey to America” musical performance. Unlike Beacon’s moment of silence, this was completely apolitical: they told the story of immigrants’ journeys to America, an essential part of the American story.

So, the question remains: Why can’t progressive administrators in high schools and progressive professors in academia understand the difference between blatant politicization and proper education? I don’t know the answer, but for America’s sake, I just hope it’s not that their goal is indoctrination.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic.

Thoughts On Diaspora

Photo from Flickr/ryan harvey

What does it mean to be home, and not home, at the same time?

I’ve been thinking about the idea of diaspora ever since I left the East Coast and moved to my husband’s adopted hometown of Portland, Ore., five years ago.

Let me pause for a moment to say: In an age of refugees and epidemic homelessness, having a safe and stable place to live is a privilege — although it should be a right. I know I am lucky to live here, to raise my children here.

But that’s the thing about diaspora: When one’s physical needs are met, the heart turns to the emotional ones.

I love many things about this town, and I’m certainly not here against my will, but every day I feel the distance from my family and old friends. Alongside the joy of new friends and the privilege of an actual backyard, there is a drumbeat of sadness. Two flights and nine hours of travel lie between me and my Baltimore-based parents. And so my kids see their grandparents only a few times a year. Being together on birthdays and holidays is a rare exception, and most of my oldest friends have never met my son.

The children of immigrants grow up as Americans who have never known another life, just as my children think of Portland as their only home.

I truly am grateful to make my home here. It’s just … really far from home.

I know I am not alone in this. If you merge your life with a person from another place, especially with kids in the mix, it’s fairly inevitable. Economics, love and school districts combine into a stark truth: someone’s going to be far from home.

And so here I am in the diaspora of the Diaspora. And in the way Jewish prayers long for Jerusalem, I find myself longing for New York, where I lived for 14 years. (Not that I necessarily want to move back there — just as many Jews pray to return to Jerusalem three times a day for decades, although they could just buy a plane ticket.)

Still, when I go back to visit, just walking down the street in certain neighborhoods is like watching a slide show of my life. It’s as if the city holds keys to my past: There’s the block where my grandmother grew up; there are the red brick buildings of my college; there’s the office building where I worked; and the cafes and bars where I talked for hours with friends, when we were young together. I see layers of places I loved; ghosts of lovers and teachers; doorways and corners and elevators and apartments where I became who I am now.

And yet, again, even in this nostalgia, I am fortunate. New York may be gentrified almost beyond recognition, but it is there. How many refugees think of the shops, streets, chimneys of their former homes, knowing they no longer exist at all?

There is another side to the story of this place where I now live, too. Two hundred years ago, this land was inhabited by Native Americans of the Multnomah tribe. They were almost entirely wiped out by disease in 1830, the remainder forced by the white settlers to live on a reservation two hours away.

And now, as rents continue to skyrocket, people who have lived in Portland for generations — primarily families of color —  are being displaced from the city center, fracturing their communities. I am part of this story, too.

I don’t know how to solve these complex equations of diaspora. All I can do is to try to be mindful of them as I make my way in this new home.

Meanwhile, time passes, and we grow into the places where we live. The children of immigrants grow up as Americans who have never known another life, just as my children think of Portland as their only home. And I, too, feel this place becoming part of me. Here my second child came into the world; here I make seder each spring and celebrate Rosh Hashanah each fall; here I teach Torah and plant my gardens and wake up each day a little more at home.

I think of the Jewish tradition of leaving part of a house unpainted in memory of the destruction of the ancient Temple, and the exile that followed. Perhaps this tradition is also a symbol of a larger truth.

Displacement, migration, diaspora: These are part of the human experience. We’re just lucky if we get some choice in the matter. A little heartbreak threads through every place we call home.


Alicia Jo Rabins is a writer, musician and Torah teacher who lives in Portland, Ore.

The Soul of Beauty

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Walking around the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue, one cannot help but notice the purity of art that doesn’t feel obligated to have a “message” in order to be relevant. It is a freedom we have largely lost today.

The Neue Galerie, which is actually more of a museum than a gallery, houses businessman, philanthropist and World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder’s stunning collection of early 20th-century German and Austrian art. The landmark building, completed in 1914, was once the home of society doyenne Grace Vanderbilt.

The current exhibition, “The Luxury of Beauty,” presents a major retrospective of the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops): a collection of artists and craftsmen that produced artisanal furniture and homewares in Vienna from 1903 until 1932. The Werkstätte’s historical significance cannot be overstated: It essentially transformed the realm of design.

Founded by painter Koloman Moser, architect and designer Josef Hoffmann and Fritz Waerndorfer, a Jewish textile magnate who provided the funding and management, the Werkstätte had a single, fairly ambitious intent: the beautification of everyday life. Their goal was to elevate everyday objects to the stature of art, and for that art to reach the broadest possible audience. The Werkstätte was the first to create and implement a democracy of beauty.

Author Hermann Broch called fin de siècle Vienna “a joyful apocalypse,” in which an old order was crumbling and a new, uncertain one was emerging. As a result of the Vienna Secession, an avant-garde movement that began in 1897, part of that new order was a desire to unify art and design, to eliminate the distinction between fine and applied arts — to counter the impersonal character and low quality of goods made by industrial means. An elevation of design, the Secessionists believed, would elevate lives.

With more than 400 objects in four rooms, the Neue Galerie’s exhibition surveys the entirety of the Werkstätte’s extensive output in a variety of media — ceramics, drawings, fashion, furniture, glass, graphic design, jewelry, metalwork, textiles and wallpaper. Guided by the genius of Hoffmann and Moser, many of the pieces hit what I consider the sweet spot of design; they feel simultaneously innovative and timeless, modern and classic. They touch the soul of beauty.

Consider, for instance, Hoffmann’s exquisite glassware. The simple lines belie a sensuality that remind me of a quote from Goethe: “The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone.” Fortunately, many of Hoffmann’s glass pieces are still being produced by J. & L. Lobmeyr, and can be ordered through the Neue Galerie’s website.

Just as fresh are the graphics of Moser. If you peel back five layers of what we have come to call Art Nouveau, you will find Moser’s crisp yet ethereal reinterpretations of the patterns of nature. In Moser’s work, you can also vividly feel the Secessionist motto: “To every age its art, every art its freedom.”

A desire to again create beauty for beauty’s sake.

With its emphasis on craftsmanship, the Werkstätte struggled financially from the beginning. It was supported by a small group of artists and wealthy Austrian Jews. The appeal for both was the emphasis on individual artistic statements. “The Austrian style,” writes curator Christian Witt-Dörring in the opulent accompanying catalog, “offered the assimilated Jewish population the potential of a feeling of belonging that was not defined in terms of nation.”

Financial issues finally forced the Werkstätte to close in 1932, but its legacy of everyday beauty lives on in our gorgeously designed spatulas, toaster ovens and linens. The genius of the artists also can be seen in how hard it is today to find that sweet spot — the soul of beauty. We travel back and forth from soulless modernism to overdesigned postmodernism, neither of which can elevate the spirit as exquisitely as soulful beauty.

Perhaps this magnificent retrospective, on view until Jan. 29, will inspire artists and designers to reach for that timeless ideal. Perhaps it also will inspire a new freedom for 21st-century artists: a desire to again create beauty for beauty’s sake. After all, as Phil Ochs put it, in such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author. Her writings have  appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

ISLAND OF SCIENCE: Technion Teams Up With Cornell to Bring Startup Nation to America

Cornell Tech campus construction is set to be completed in about 15 years. The campus is on Roosevelt Island. Photo by Iwan Baan

Roosevelt Island is a curious spit of land in the East River, nestled between Manhattan and Queens. It began as farmland, then housed a penitentiary and lunatic asylum and, later, hospitals.

Once home to the diseased and criminally insane, today it is home to a cutting-edge complex that is a marriage of Cornell University and Israel’s Technion Institute of Technology. Their union is launching new companies in an effort to create New York City’s own Silicon Valley. And, not incidentally, boost Israel’s image.

Based on what is already percolating at Cornell Tech and the related Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, they are on their way.

The Cornell-Technion marriage — and a great deal of philanthropic and city funding — has produced architecturally interesting, environmentally sensitive new buildings, which house academic programs and the nascent businesses.

Cornell Tech is the overall owner of the Roosevelt Island enterprise. Within it is the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, a first-of-its-kind partnership between the two universities that includes a double degree-granting master’s program and a post-doctoral fellowship designed to launch inventive tech businesses.

Cornell Tech and the Jacobs Institute moved into their new home in August, in time to open their doors for the current school year. The programs are housed in two buildings at the south end of the almond shaped, 2-mile-long, 800-feet-wide island. Elsewhere on the island, some 14,000 people now live in apartment buildings that first opened in 1975.

The story of the joint venture begins seven years ago, when then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a competition to create an applied sciences campus on Roosevelt Island. Fifty educational institutions were invited to compete. Technion was the only one from Israel.

Technion President Peretz Lavie recalls asking Bloomberg why Technion was invited. The mayor told him that “you took Jaffa oranges and turned them into semiconductors and I’d like you to do the same in New York,” Lavie said in an interview with the Journal. At its home campus, Haifa-based Technion has 14,500 students majoring in engineering, science, medicine and architecture.

The ultimate goal of their union? To create New York’s own Silicon Valley.

The project’s ultimate goal is to be an economic engine for the city of New York and feed talent into the growing tech sector. In a Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute video, Bloomberg says he expects Cornell Tech to contribute $23 billion to New York’s economy over the next three decades.

It was a high-stakes, hugely visible competition. The mayor pledged nearly free use of Roosevelt Island and $100 million of the city’s money.

Once it decided to apply to the New York City competition, Technion forged ahead with a sky’s-the-limit approach.

“Designing a university from scratch is the fantasy of every university president,” Lavie said. He told Technion’s deans to “think out of the box. It is a new academic adventure. Let’s think about a new way of education that would be difficult to implement usually because universities are very conservative.”

Twenty seven universities, from Manhattan’s Columbia University to one in Korea expressed interest. Seven submitted complete proposals, with Stanford and Cornell considered the front-runners. After months of secret talks, Cornell and Technion decided to join forces.

“Technion didn’t have a chance” of winning the competition alone, said philanthropist Sanford Weill during a tour of the Cornell Tech campus on Oct. 26. Weill is chairman emeritus of Citigroup and a major donor to New York institutions, including Carnegie Hall and the Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. “Not because it wasn’t capable, with its graduates running half the high techs in Israel,” he said in a presentation welcoming about 200 Technion donors who were visiting the campus, “but because the Israeli government wouldn’t invest in the United States.”

Stanford dropped out after Cornell announced it received a $350 million then-anonymous gift toward construction costs. On Dec. 19, The New York Times reported that the Cornell-Technion partnership was the winner, which soon was formally announced.

Google quickly offered them free space to kick off their partnership until Roosevelt Island’s campus was ready. The new enterprise stayed at Google, whose building takes up an entire square block in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, from 2012 until August, when it moved onto Roosevelt Island with about 300 graduate students.

When construction on Cornell Tech concludes in roughly 15 years, plans call for 2 million square feet of educational space on two acres, accommodating 2,000 students and 280 professors.

At the moment, three buildings are finished. Two house classrooms, studios and offices: The Bridge, and the Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center. The latter is named for Michael Bloomberg’s daughters and funded with a $100 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Nearby is a boxy, 26-story building called The House, which provides housing for 550 students and faculty. Built to Passive House standards, which require little energy to achieve a comfortable temperature year round, and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certified, it is designed to optimize energy consumption by using passive solar heating and cooling techniques and is essentially airtight.

Enormous arrays of photovoltaic panels top The Bridge and Bloomberg buildings. Under a rolling lawn outside, 80 tanks collect rainwater through the grass. They provide gray water used to water the lawn during dry periods and flush toilets inside the Bloomberg Center.

There are other ways the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute is special, as well. As the only overseas university approved to grant degrees on American soil, it is a jewel in Technion’s crown, Lavie said. While it is Technion’s first foray into international branching out, the Israeli university is slated to open its second international campus, in China, next month.

The Jacobs Institute, which occupies about a third of the overall Cornell Tech space, is named after donors Irwin and Joan Jacobs, who gave the project $133 million. Irwin Jacobs is a founder of mobile chipmaker Qualcomm.

The Jacobs Institute has two interdisciplinary parts.

One is a master’s degree program focused on “hubs” in health technology and in connective media. The 70 master’s students earn two degrees: one from Cornell and one from Technion. A third hub, now in the planning stages, will focus on urban cyber-physical systems, said Ron Brachman, Jacobs Institute’s director.

The hubs are designed to be flexible. They “could have a finite lifetime and be phased out when they’re no longer providing something unique you can’t get elsewhere,” Brachman said. “At other universities, programs go on indefinitely.”

Eva Stern-Rodriguez is a first-year master’s student focusing on connective media. In one required course, called Product Studio, students develop projects with potential real-world applications. She is collaborating with students from inside and outside of the Jacobs Institute. The app they are designing would connect skilled immigrants with nonprofit organizations to help them build financial stability.

Many immigrants don’t know how to access that kind of support, Stern-Rodriguez said, and “a lot of NGO [nongovernmental organizations] websites are hard to parse or out of date because they don’t have the money to do updates.” Their app will launch in English and Spanish presenting a curated list of NGOs meant to allow immigrants to find the information they need in one place.

In another class Stern-Rodriguez is taking on new media, students are partnering with media companies to develop new ways of fact-checking.

“You took Jaffa oranges and turned them into semiconductors, and I’d like you to do the same in New York.” — Michael Bloomberg

In the master’s program’s second semester, student teams compete to win one of four $100,000 awards given to projects with the best startup potential, said Jacobs Institute Director Brachman.

Plans for the Cornell Tech campus call for 2 million square feet of educational space on two acres. Photo by Iwan Baan

The last of the Jacobs Institute hubs will focus on “the convergence of the digital world and urban life,” Brachman explained. It relates to “intelligent transportation systems, smart buildings, the social media elements of governance and other types of urban planning, like urban robotics, which could be helping people and populations.”

The other part of the Jacobs Institute is its Runway program.

Runway offers salaried fellowships to post-doctoral students, providing the training, space and seed money they need to launch new tech companies. Each post-doc student has mentors both in their discipline and on the business side. They get instruction on finance and fundraising and the program files patents for them. The value of each fellowship, which lasts between one and three years, starts out at $175,000 for the first year, said Fernando Gomez-Baquero, a nanomaterials engineer recently appointed director of Jacobs’ Runway and Spinouts. In return, the Jacobs Institute gets a small ownership stake in the new business.

The first 21 post-doc fellows launched 17 companies, 14 of which are still in business, Gomez-Baquero said.

One Runway startup is Shade. It developed a small sensor to attach to clothing and measure the ultraviolet rays to which its wearer is exposed. Its first market will be people with autoimmune diseases triggered by sunlight, like lupus, explained its creator, Emanuel Dumont, in a presentation. Since sunlight also ages skin, it also has a potential market in the beauty industry, he said.

Another startup, Biotia, is aimed at battling hospital infections. One in 25 people admitted to the hospital acquires an infection there, according to Biotia, and one in nine people will die from that infection. The risk is even higher for cancer patients and others with compromised immune systems. Their product helps hospitals quickly sequence swabbed pathogens’ DNA to identify what it is and treat it appropriately. Their first major customer, a large hospital in Southeast Asia, has just bought the product, Gomez-Baquero said.

A third new product, already on the market — perhaps Runway’s most successful launch to date — is the Nanit baby monitor (see sidebar).

A product that failed was an app that would take a photo of food and provide nutritional information, Gomez-Baquero said. Its inventors “were very close to doing a partnership with Weight Watchers, but it didn’t work in the end. The market didn’t really want to pay for a service like that. It didn’t seem to be a viable business model,” he said.

The Bloomberg Center is one of three finished buildings on campus. Photo by Matthew Carbone

Runway is fine trying startups that fail, he said.

“We don’t measure ourselves by the ones that are successful. Our mandate as Jacobs and as Runway is to experiment. To really push the boundaries,” he said.

The Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute endeavor is also having a more prosaic impact. It has boosted fundraising for the American Technion Society, said Jeffrey Richard, its executive vice president. “[Now] when our staff, lay leaders and supporters are out in public trying to tell the Technion story, there’s much more recognition [of the university],” he said.

That’s showing up in its bottom line. In its last big fundraising campaign, which ended in 2014, the U.S. development organization for Technion raised an average of $84 million a year, he said.

“Now we’re averaging $140 million a year in campaign support. We’re definitely seeing increases,” Richard said.

“It makes things more tangible” to potential donors, said Reyna Susi Dominitz, who heads the Miami branch of ATS, during the Roosevelt Island tour.

“We don’t measure ourselves by the ones that are successful. Our mandate…is to really push the boundaries.” – Fernandez Gomez-Baquero

Daniel Doctoroff is CEO of Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet (i.e., Google-related) company focused on designing cities of the future. When Bloomberg was mayor, Doctoroff worked as New York City’s deputy mayor for economic development. He went on to run Bloomberg L.P., the financial information company.

While Doctoroff wasn’t involved in creating Cornell Tech or the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, he is familiar with the project, and bullish about its prospects for contributing to the technology industry and New York City’s economy.

“They’re still in the very early days,” Doctoroff said. “But it’s very encouraging. … It offers incredible promise.”


Debra Nussbaum Cohen is a freelance writer in New York.

Teen Faces Indictment for Vandalizing Jewish Cemetery

Screenshot from YouTube.

A teenager has been indicted for vandalizing a Jewish cemetery in New York.

Eric Carbanoro, 18, is being indicted for allegedly being a part of a group that emblazoned anti-Semitic graffiti on Beth Shalom Cemetery in Warwick, NY, which included the words “Heil Hitler” and multiple swastikas, on Oct. 9, 2016.

The indictment also alleges that Carbanoro deleted incriminating images from phones belonging to other people, including a meme that stated “secretly spray paints Jewish cemetery and gets away with it.”

As a result, Carbanoro is being charged with conspiring to commit a hate crime and tampering with evidence.

District Attorney David Hoovler denounced the vandalism in a statement.

“There is no room for this type of hateful desecration of religious property here in Orange County,” said Hoovler. “These anti-Semitic symbols and messages do not reflect the values of the overwhelming majority of Orange County and Warwick residents.”

Carbonaro has yet to be arrested. It is believed that he conspired with two others to commit the hate crime, both of which have yet to be identified. The investigation is still ongoing.

There have been numerous instances of Jewish cemeteries being vandalized in 2017, including a Jewish cemetery in Boston in July and three in a span of 12 days in March.

Eight Dead, 12 Wounded in Manhattan Terror Attack

A Home Depot truck which struck down multiple people on a bike path, killing several and injuring numerous others, is seen as New York city first responders are at the crime scene in lower Manhattan in New York, NY, U.S., October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

At least eight people are dead and 12 others are injured in what is considered to be the deadliest terror attack in New York since 9/11.

The terror suspect, who has been identified as 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov, reportedly drove a white Home Depot truck on the opposite side of the bike lane on the West Side Highway in Lower Manhattan, striking people in its wake. The truck eventually crashed into a school bus and another car, and the driver fled the vehicle while carrying fake guns before being shot by police.

It is also being reported that the terrorist shouted “Allah Akhbar!”

Here is a picture of the suspect being apprehended:

“This was an act of terror, a particularly cowardly act of terror, aimed at innocent civilians,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press conference.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in the same press conference that the attack appears to be a “lone wolf attack” and that New York is a prime target for those who despise America’s values.

“The truth is New York is an international symbol of freedom and democracy…that also makes us a target,” said Cuomo.

Cuomo praised the first responders on the scene of the terror attack.

“We have the finest security on the globe,” said Cuomo.

President Trump called the terrorist “a very sick and deranged person”:

One of the witnesses, Greg Ahl, told 1010 WINS he “noticed along the bike path a bunch of wrecked bicycles and as I drove it was just more and more completely and totally wrecked bicycles and people mulling around to the side.”

Another witness, Uber driver Chen Yi, told CNBC that he saw “a lot of blood” and “a lot of people on the ground” on the bike path where the terror attack took place.

Meet Mike Tolkin, the Jewish millennial running for NYC mayor

Mike Tolkin, the youngest candidate in the Democratic primary for New York mayor, at a city cafe on Sept. 5. Photo by Josefin Dolsten

Mike Tolkin apologizes for checking his phone as he sits down at a café in this city’s Flatiron district.

The 32-year-old Democratic New York mayoral hopeful was waiting to hear Tuesday whether he would be allowed to participate in the final primary debate the following day, which would boost his exposure amid an otherwise quiet campaign.

Tolkin, a technology entrepreneur and the youngest candidate on the party’s ballot to challenge incumbent Bill de Blasio, had not met the threshold necessary to qualify for matching funds from the city’s Campaign Finance Board, a requirement to participate in the debate. But he pointed out that other candidates in the past, such as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had been allowed to circumvent those rules.

Later that day Tolkin found out that he would not be included — a decision he called “deeply undemocratic and grossly unfair.”

Though polling on the race has been sparse, de Blasio is expected to win the primary and general elections handily.

Still Tolkin, who has founded a handful of startups, remains undeterred.

“It’s been a little bit difficult for us to break through, but I’m a big believer that if you put forth really great, big ideas, you can inspire people, and that’s the best way to mobilize our city,” Tolkin told JTA a week before the Sept. 12 primary.

The candidate, who is Jewish and grew up attending a Conservative synagogue on Long Island, is running on a wide-ranging platform that centers on economic improvement. But it also includes proposals to create a human rights center, legalize marijuana and provide free mental health care.

“The biggest issue, as an overarching theme, is the economy,” said Tolkin, who lives in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens neighborhood. “We have to fix the economy, we have to make it work for everyone and we have to grow our economy.”

There are four parts to his economic agenda: restructuring government to make it more efficient and transparent; investing in infrastructure, such as street cleaning services and public transportation; grow and diversify the economy by investing in new industries, such as artificial intelligence, biotech and robotics; and improve income distribution.

Tolkin believes his business acumen makes him the ideal choice for running the nation’s largest city. He founded his first startup while studying at the University of Pennsylvania’s prominent Wharton School, where in 2007 he led a team that created a make-your-own chocolate bar company that won an award for the best undergraduate business plan.

A few years after graduation, in 2011, he founded Merchant Exchange, an incentive-based marketing platform for millennials, and in 2013 he founded two IMAX initiatives, including IMAXShift, a high-tech indoor cycling studio in which scenes are projected onto an extra-large screen. In 2015, he founded his latest venture, Rooms.com, a home design website that offers virtual tours of designer rooms.

Tolkin, however, was compelled to do something different earlier this year.

“What can I do as an individual to be more civically engaged, to take action in light of the fact that there are so many massive challenges?” he wondered. “I can’t sit on the sidelines anymore.”

He launched his mayoral campaign in January, meeting with New Yorkers from all parts of the city. He left the startup world a few months later to pursue the political effort full-time.

Tolkin said his Jewish background inspires him to give back to the community.

“It provided a really strong moral foundation for me,” he said. “The notion of charity, tzedakah and giving back is something that’s important to me.”

He has been involved with the ROI community, an international network of Jewish leaders, and Eighteen:22, an organization for LGBTQ Jews.

Growing up, Tolkin had encountered homophobia.

“I’ve had my struggles,” he said. “I grew up as a gay boy in a world that didn’t really accept gay people.

“But I’ve been really fortunate, I’ve been really blessed. I haven’t had the same struggles as a lot of other people, so being able to take my good fortune and put myself in the shoes of who is on the other end of the spectrum is something that I don’t necessarily think is uniquely Jewish, but it’s tied to Jewish values of helping the other.”

Tolkin literally put himself in someone else’s shoes during the campaign when he slept on the streets for two nights this spring in order to understand the plight of homeless New Yorkers.

“It was awful and eye opening,” he said.

As part of his platform, Tolkin wants to create a human rights council based in New York, which he calls the League of Love. The council, which he imagines to be “sort of like the U.N.,” would unite diverse human rights groups, such as those dedicated to the rights of women, immigrants, LGBTQ people and minorities.

He also hopes to create business partnerships between the private and public sectors, such as by creating an Uber-style car ordering service owned by the city.

Tolkin has largely self-funded his campaign, contributing nearly $500,000, including $315,000 in loans, $175,000 of which he has “forgiven.” He valued an in-kind donation at $5 million for earnings from trademarked logos he created to sell on T-shirts and mugs, as well as strategy services he is providing to his own campaign. (That earned him some media coverage.)

Though his bid looks like a long shot, Tolkin remains optimistic about the campaign.

“We have a week left from today,” he said, “and I think you’re going to be pleasantly surprised by the traction we’re able to get in the final week.”

This New York City Sunday school teaches Jewish kids Yiddish — and socialism

A student and teacher play the violin during a presentation on child victims of the Holocaust at the Midtown Workmen’s Circle School in Manhattan, April 23, 2017. (Ben Sales via JTA)

NEW YORK — The Jewish Sunday school teacher, a black accordion strapped to her shoulders, stands before a photo of a 1927 Jewish protest in Warsaw and introduces her students to an important holiday observed by their ancestors.

It isn’t Passover, which has just ended, but another that is approaching in a couple weeks: May Day, the unofficial May 1 holiday celebrating workers’ rights.

“Socialism is the idea that everyone should have what they need,” says the teacher, Hannah Temple, as a projector flashes images of a protest sign and Jewish immigrants marching in a labor demonstration. On the walls, multicolored signs declare “Jewish communities fight for $15” — a minimum wage campaign — “We are all workers” and “Remember the Triangle Fire,” a reference to the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire that killed 146 garment workers at a factory and galvanized the labor movement.

Temple teaches the children words to a Yiddish May Day anthem and offers a short primer on early 20th century labor activism.

“We need to sleep some, we need to work some, but we need some time that’s for us,” she says, describing the campaign for an eight-hour workday. She invites the few dozen students and parents in the room to a May Day protest in downtown Manhattan. A few hands go up.

“Maybe?” she asks. “Maybe is great.”

The Yiddish sing-along-cum-socialist teach-in is the morning meeting of the Midtown Workmen’s Circle School, a secular Jewish Sunday school that combines Yiddish language and culture education with progressive social justice organizing. It’s one of eight such schools, called “shules,” in four states serving a total of 300 students aged 5 to 13 — teaching them everything from an Eastern European melody for the Four Questions to how to protest on behalf of underpaid fast-food workers. The curriculum ends with a joint bar/bat mitzvah ceremony for the seventh-graders.

Students at the Midtown Workmen’s Circle School in Manhattan read through a play in Yiddish, April 23, 2017. (Ben Sales via JTA)

Though it’s more than a century old, the Workmen’s Circle, a left-wing Eastern European Jewish culture and social justice group, has seen its fundraising and school enrollment grow in recent years. Part of the boost, leaders say, was due to the diametrically opposed presidential campaigns of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Donald Trump.

Sanders, says executive director Ann Toback, awakened American Jews to secular, progressive Jewish culture conveyed with a heavy Brooklyn accent. Trump, she adds, sparked Jews on the left to organize in protest.

Workmen’s Circle made a lapel pin bearing the faces of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump accompanied by the words “mensch” and “putz,” respectively. (Josefin Dolsten via JTA)

Workmen’s Circle isn’t shy about its political leanings. Following the presidential election, it made a lapel pin bearing the faces of Sanders and Trump accompanied by the words “mensch” and “putz,” respectively.

“Before there was Bernie, there was the Workmen’s Circle,” Toback says. “Is there a way we can connect to so many of his followers? The values that he based his campaign on are really the inherent values of the Workmen’s Circle and our movement.”

In the five-month period after the election, the group saw its donations double over the same stretch the previous year. It has opened five of its eight Sunday schools in the past three years. The biggest, in Boston, has more than 100 students. In May, the Manhattan school will be hosting a spring open house for the first time.

“More people are coming to us looking for — ‘I want to engage in social justice activism,’” says Beth Zasloff, director of the Midtown school. “I know that for me, after the election, having a community, having a place to go where I know we can address these issues with our children, felt extremely important.”

The Midtown school, like its counterparts, eschews traditional Jewish Sunday school mainstays like learning Hebrew or studying ritual and prayer. Israel isn’t a focus. Workmen’s Circle has partnered in the past both with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, a left-wing group that focuses on domestic issues, and Habonim Dror, the left-wing Labor Zionist movement.

Instead, kids take three types of classes: arts and crafts, Yiddish language and history, and culture and social justice. Last Sunday, the three students in the Yiddish class were reading a play, in transliteration, about a robot. The teacher would read a line in Yiddish and translate, which a student repeated.

The arts and crafts class was making banners for an immigrant rights protest. In the history and culture class, four students prepared for their bar and bat mitzvahs next year. For the ceremony, they’ll do a research project on their family history and interview an elderly relative. Later that Sunday, this year’s bar mitzvah class made presentations on children who were killed in the Holocaust.

Beth Zasloff, director of the Midtown Workmen’s Circle School (Courtesy of Zasloff via JTA)

One student said knowing Yiddish made her feel like her friends at school who hail each other in the hallways in Bengali. Another said her favorite Workmen’s Circle experience was participating in the Jan. 21 Women’s March in New York City. And for some, the appeal lies in attending a Sunday school that avoids the standard memorization of Hebrew prayers.

“This is secular, and I’m not super religious in terms of my beliefs about God,” says Moxie Strom. “So it’s nice to have something that doesn’t focus so much on ‘God said this and God said that.’”

The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring was founded in 1900 in large part to help Jewish immigrants from Europe succeed in America. Along with advocating for better working conditions, it offered members services like health care and loans. It supported socialism at a time when Jews on the Lower East Side of Manhattan helped elected a Socialist Party candidate, Meyer London, to Congress.

No longer socialist but still left wing, the Workmen’s Circle fights for those issues largely on behalf of non-Jewish workers, leading campaigns for immigrant rights or better pay.

And instead of helping Yiddish speakers integrate into America, the organization’s cultural mission has flipped, preserving and promoting an old world culture for American Jews. It runs Yiddish language classes for adults and a summer camp for kids, and hosts culinary and holiday events.

“There’s so much culture they’re missing,” says Kolya Borodulin, the group’s associate director for Yiddish programming, who grew up in Birobidzhan, the Soviet Union’s Jewish Autonomous Region. “Jewish holidays, traditions described by famous Yiddish authors — any contemporary issues you name — are reflected in the Yiddish language. So you can see this parallel universe in Yiddish.”

Even if they go to eight years of Sunday school, Borodulin says, the students are unlikely to come out speaking proficient Yiddish, or even reading a page in the language’s Hebrew script. The school’s aim, rather, is to reinforce a cultural and ideological Jewish identity in its students. The aspiration is that years after they leave, they will be able to connect to their Judaism on holidays, in song and on the picket line.

“What resonates most with them is the social justice and having a sense of what we believe in,” says Debbie Feiner, whose two sons, ages 9 and 12, attend the Midtown school. The older one, she says, understands that “when you see some injustice, you need to take action. He can’t be a passive bystander, and he’ll connect that with his Judaism.”

Manhattan commuters clean Nazi graffiti off subway car with hand sanitizer

Commuters removing swastikas from a New York City subway on Feb. 4. Photo by Gregory Locke/Facebook

Commuters on a Manhattan subway train used hand sanitizer to clean away swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti drawn in permanent marker on the train’s maps, advertisements and windows.

The subway riders discovered the graffiti on Saturday night.

“The train was silent as everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do,” one of the commuters, Gregory Locke, wrote in a post on Facebook. “One guy got up and said, ‘Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie. We need alcohol.’ He found some tissues and got to work.”

Locke’s post continued: “I’ve never seen so many people simultaneously reach into their bags and pockets looking for tissues and Purel. Within about two minutes, all the Nazi symbolism was gone.”

“Nazi symbolism. On a public train. In New York City. In 2017,” he wrote.

At least one of the messages said” “Jews belong in the oven,” according to the New York Daily News.

Locke disputed one of his fellow travelers, who said while they were cleaning: “I guess this is Trump’s America.”

He responded in his post: “No sir, it’s not. Not tonight and not ever. Not as long as stubborn New Yorkers have anything to say about it.”

Obama airs settlement concerns, Netanyahu praises US friendship in their likely final meeting

President Barack Obama expressed concern about settlement activity and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called America Israel’s best friend as the two leaders sat down for what is likely their final meeting.

The U.S. and Israeli leaders met Wednesday afternoon in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

“We are concerned about settlement activity,” Obama told reporters at the start of the meeting at a Manhattan hotel. “I want to hear from the prime minister about the situation in the West Bank and the latest violence.”

“We need to keep alive the possibility of a stable, secure Israel at peace with its neighbors, and a Palestinian homeland that meets the aspirations of their people,” he also said.

Obama opened his remarks by wishing a recovery to former Israeli President Shimon Peres, who suffered a stroke a week ago.

Netanyahu said that “Israel has no bigger friend than America and America has no bigger friend than Israel” and peace “is a goal that I and the people of Israel will never give up on.”

He thanked Obama for the recently signed 10-year, $38 million military aid agreement, which Netanyahu said “ensures that Israel can defend itself against any threat.”

Netanyahu told Obama that he always will be a welcome guest in Israel, calling him by his first name and inviting him to his private residence in Caesarea, where he said the president could improve his already terrific golf game.

“I will visit Israel often after I am president because it is a beautiful country,” Obama replied, and told Netanyahu to set up a tee time. Obama leaves office in January.

The leaders were scheduled to discuss the recent wave of violence in Israel, the advancement of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the continued implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran and other regional security issues, the White House said earlier this week when it announced the meeting.

Obama mentioned Israel just once during his address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, urging the Palestinians to end incitement and Israel to halt settlement building.

Netanyahu will address the General Assembly on Thursday.

New York bombing suspect Rahami captured in New Jersey

An Afghanistan-born American sought in connection with a bombing that wounded more than two dozen people in New York City and could be linked to other bombs found in New York and New Jersey was taken into custody on Monday after a shootout, a New Jersey mayor said.

Ahmad Khan Rahami of Elizabeth, New Jersey, was taken into custody after firing at police officer in Linden, New Jersey, about 20 miles outside New York, Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage said.

Investigators believe more people were involved in the New York and New Jersey bombing plots, two U.S. officials told Reuters.

The New York Police Department had released a photo of Rahami, 28, and said they wanted to question him about a Saturday night explosion that wounded 29 people in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood and for a blast earlier that day in Seaside Park, New Jersey, authorities said.

New York City shaken by ‘intentional’ explosion, 29 injured

An explosion rocked the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan on Saturday night, injuring at least 29 people, authorities said, adding that they are investigating the blast as a criminal act not immediately linked to any terror organization.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city officials said investigators had ruled out a natural gas leak as the origin of the blast but they stopped short of calling it a bombing and declined to specify precisely what they believed may have triggered the explosion.

“Early indications are that this was an intentional act,” de Blasio said. He added that the site of the explosion, outside on a major thoroughfare in one of the most bustling areas of New York City, was being treated as a crime scene.

“There is no evidence at this point of a terror connection,” the mayor said at a news conference about three hours after the blast. He added, “There is no specific and credible threat against New York City at this point in time from any terror organization.”

The mayor said investigators did not believe there was any link to a pipe bomb that exploded earlier on Saturday in the New Jersey beach town of Seaside Park. No injuries were reported in that blast, in a plastic trash can along the route of a charity foot race. Authorities said they believed it to be a deliberate act.

But a U.S. official said that Joint Terrorism Task Force, an interagency group of federal, state and local officials, was called to investigate the Chelsea blast, suggesting authorities have not ruled out the possibility of a terror connection.

A joint task force also took the lead in investigating the New Jersey incident.

A law enforcement source said an initial investigation suggested the Chelsea explosion occurred in a dumpster but the cause was still undetermined. The head of the New York Police Department's special operations division said on Twitter that a “possible secondary device has been located” in the same general area.

CNN reported that law enforcement sources believed an improvised explosive device caused the blast.

President Barack Obama, who was attending a congressional dinner in Washington, “has been apprised of the explosion in New York City, the cause of which remains under investigation,” a White House official said. “The president will be updated as additional information becomes available,” the official added.

New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said 29 people were hurt in the blast, and 24 of them had been taken to area hospitals, including one person he described as seriously injured. The rest suffered various cuts, scrapes and other minor injuries from shattered glass and other debris, Nigro said.

The explosion, described by one neighbor as “deafening,” happened outside the Associated Blind Housing facility at 135 W. 23rd Street. The facility provides housing, training and other services for the blind.

‘Sauna rabbi’ providing counseling at NY health center

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, the New York spiritual leader who resigned from his pulpit after coming under fire for having naked sauna chats with boys in his congregation, is working as a counselor at a suburban New York health center.

Rosenblatt is providing spiritual and psychological counseling at Scarsdale Integrative Medicine in Westchester County, according to his page on the health center’s website. The Forward reported Monday on Rosenblatt’s new position.

“Recently retired from more than three decades in the community rabbinate,” Rosenblatt “combines the ancient wisdom of the Jewish tradition with the sophistication of a broad Western liberal arts and social science education,” according to the medical center’s website, which does not mention why he left the rabbinate.

Rosenblatt playing racquetball and visiting the showers and sauna with boys and young men from the Riverdale Jewish Center garnered headlines after an expose in The New York Times in May 2015. The article reported that some congregants and former congregants of the modern Orthodox synagogue discussed the trips to the sauna, during which the rabbi “engaged the boys in searching conversations about their lives, problems and faith.”

No one cited in the story accused Rosenblatt of sexual touching, but several expressed their discomfort with the practice and described the behavior as deeply inappropriate for a rabbi and mentor. At various times, Rosenblatt was told by rabbinic bodies or his congregation’s board to limit such activity.

After vowing to remain in his position in the wake of fallout from the article, Rosenblatt announced his resignation as the congregation’s senior rabbi in February.

“Rabbi Rosenblatt has deep experience across a broad spectrum of challenges: coping with serious illness and bereavement, stressful family relationships, parenting challenges, life transitions, loss of a sense of meaning and direction, workplace conflicts,” according to the health center’s biography.

The bio added: “Many rabbis from around the world call him to consult on their thorniest counseling situations.”

Rosenblatt, a Baltimore native, studied in Israel at Yeshivat Har Etzion and was ordained by Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school in 1982.

4 pro-Israel NY food co-op members suspended for disrupting 2015 BDS presentation

A popular Brooklyn cooperative grocery store that has been fighting about Israel boycott efforts for eight years reportedly suspended four pro-Israel members for interrupting a meeting more than a year ago.

According to the Brooklyn Paper, four Park Slope Food Co-op members have been suspended for a year for interrupting an April 2015 presentation by members who were calling for a boycott of SodaStream, the Israeli seltzer-machine company that at the time had a factory in a West Bank settlement.

At the 2015 meeting attended by hundreds of members, the four now-suspended members went to the front of the room and unplugged the projector that was displaying an image of an Israeli soldier and Palestinian that they believed was propagandistic.

The four were subjected to a disciplinary hearing in April and found guilty of uncooperative behavior.

In a heated and much publicized 2012 referendum, the co-op voted against boycotting Israeli products. Earlier this year, its members voted to require a supermajority of 75 percent for future boycott efforts.

Smashed car window covers 6-year-old in glass, may be hate crime

A teenage boy hurled a rock into the car of an Orthodox Jewish woman in Brooklyn, shattering the back window and covering her 6-year-old child in glass.

The teen, who was not identified, had shouted an anti-Semitic remark at the woman in the car before throwing the rock and fleeing the scene, the New York Daily News reported.

The New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating.

United Auto Workers rejects NYU graduate student union vote backing Israel boycott

The United Auto Workers union struck down a vote by the graduate student union at New York University to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Last week’s decision came two months after the resolution to support the BDS movement was approved by two-thirds of the 600 union members who  cast ballots in the Graduate Student Organizing Committee vote. The committee, an affiliate of the UAW, represents more than 2,000 graduate teaching and research assistants at the university.

The resolution called on the union and the UAW to divest from Israeli companies, and on NYU to shutter its program at Tel Aviv University, which it alleges violates the NYU non-discrimination policy. Fifty-seven percent of the voting union members also took a personal pledge to boycott Israeli government and academic institutions.

The boycott should remain in place, the resolution said, “until Israel complies with international law and ends the military occupation, dismantles the wall [West Bank security barrier], recognizes the rights of Palestinian citizens to full equality, and respects the right of return of Palestinian refugees and exiles.”

Members of the graduate student union who opposed the boycott resolution had filed an appeal against the UAW vote, claiming the resolution violated the UAW constitution.

In a letter dated June 21, the UAW’s president’s office wrote that the BDS resolution at NYU, as at other university locals, “is contrary to the position of the International Union.”

On Tuesday, leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations praised the UAW for its rejection of the NYU union’s decision.

“The action taken by the UAW demonstrates it is at the vanguard of promoting justice, and reaffirms the tradition of fairness and staunch opposition to discrimination which are the bedrock of the American labor movement and our society,” Presidents Conference Chairman Stephen Greenberg and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said in a letter to the UAW’s president, Dennis Williams.

“We urge other unions, church groups and academic institutions to follow the UAW’s lead and hope they will take the same principled and moral stand against the blatantly discriminatory BDS campaign,” they added.

NYU spokesman John Beckman told Capital News New York at the time of the vote: “NYU has a long-standing position opposing boycotts of Israeli academics and institutions. This vote is at odds with NYU’s policy on this matter, it is at odds with the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas, and it is even at odds with the position of their own parent union, the UAW.”

In January, United Auto Workers International struck down a boycott resolution against Israel passed by the University of California Student Workers Union, UAW Local 2865, which represents more than 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors and other student workers in the UC system.

NY Hasidic singer Lipa Schmeltzer stars in Israeli Pepsi Max ad

Lipa Schmeltzer, Hasidic pop star and glasses fashionista, can now add another line to his resume: Israeli Pepsi Max endorser.

Lipa, who has broken with his Brooklyn haredi Orthodox community in supporting the State of Israel, recorded a minute-long Pepsi Max commercial blending Israeli culture with his own Yiddish roots that was published online Monday.

He quickly announced the launch of the “grandiose campaign” on Facebook.

In the spot, Lipa enters a classic Israeli eatery filled with haredi men. The cashier, with a knowing smile, offers Lipa trademark Israeli foods like schnitzel, shawarma and a mixed meat dish. Lipa rejects them all, leaving the cashier dumbfounded.

Lipa then sees a Pepsi Max cooler in the back of the restaurant. He procures an ice-cold bottle of the diet soda and drinks. Suddenly, a dance party breaks out. Lipa says, “Pepsi Max: That’s what I’m looking for,” and the commercial cuts to a slogan, “Top Heymish Food,” written in English. Heymish means something like “comfortably familiar” in Yiddish.

The commercial ends with Hebrew text inviting viewers to take a poll about their most heymish restaurant.

This is far from Lipa’s first foray into pop culture. He’s been called the “Hasidic Lady Gaga,” and has deviated from his traditionalist community in founding a synagogue called The Airmont Shul in upstate New York, where he welcomes all comers regardless of religious observance. He is also studying for a degree at Columbia University.

A few weeks ago, he sang with a lesbian Israeli composer.

Lipa’s dress can also at times be unorthodox. He’s known for his vast collection of glasses, and often wears colorful shirts and vests. In the ad, of course, he wears a kippah embroidered with the Pepsi Max logo.