September 21, 2018

Buoyed by charedi growth, Jewish school enrollment in NY up by 4.4 percent in one year

Enrollment in New York State’s Jewish day schools and yeshivas increased by 4.4 percent last year.

According to data compiled by the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council from statistics provided by the New York State Education Department, more than 143,000 students were enrolled in 405 K-12 Jewish schools in the state during the 2014-15 academic year.

Not surprisingly, enrollment and growth was highest in counties with the largest charedi Orthodox populations. Brooklyn enrolled 80,132 students, up from 78,759 the previous year. Other top-enrolling counties were Rockland (23,618), Orange (10,997), Queens (10,503) and Nassau (7,592), all of which experienced increases over the previous year.

Enrollment declined slightly in Manhattan, however, with 4,360 students enrolled, down from 4,408 the previous year. The greatest increase was in Rockland, where enrollment rose by 7.1 percent. Rockland County’s large haredi Orthodox population has spurred controversy in recent years, particularly in the East Ramapo Central School District, where the Orthodox-majority school board has cut the public school system’s budget dramatically. In addition, haredi schools in both Rockland and Brooklyn have been criticized in recent years for allegedly failing to meet state requirements for secular education.

Going back two years (2012-2013 vs. 2014-2015), the percentage rise in Jewish school enrollment was 7.9 percent statewide.

The growth in Jewish enrollment came despite an overall decline in nonpublic school enrollment in New York state.

According to a news released issued by Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, the 143,156 students in Jewish schools receive, on average, “well below $1,500 in tax-funded services a year; compared to more than $19,500 per each public school student” saving taxpayers “at least $2.57 billion in education funding last year.”

The council claims that the private Jewish community “also directly funds the public school system,” due to property tax revenues from “properties owned by members of the Orthodox Jewish community.”

Orthodox activists and victims asking NY to change sex abuse reporting laws

Advocates for sexual abuse victims in the Orthodox Jewish community will be descending on New York’s state capital on May 3 to lobby the legislature to eliminate the statute of limitations for child sex abuse offenses.

A bill to change the statute of limitations has languished for years in a state legislative committee committee, due in large part to opposition from the Catholic Church and Agudath Israel of America.

The bill, known as the Child Victims Act, would “completely eliminate the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse offenses in the future,” according to SOL Reform, an advocacy group that is sponsoring a series of panels and news conferences May 3 and 4.

It would also suspend the civil statute of limitations for one year, during which time the accuser could bring a civil lawsuit against a private educational organization no matter how far back the alleged abuse dates.

While the bill passed the New York State Assembly, it has been blocked in the State Senate in the decade since it was introduced.

Agudah, which represents haredi Orthodox schools and synagogues, says the bill would open up institutions to “ancient claims and capricious litigation,” as the group wrote in a 2009 statement it issued with the haredi schools network Torah Umesorah.

“We do not oppose extending or even eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for cases of abuse,” Rabbi Avi Shafran, an Agudah spokesman, told JTA. “Our concern is simply protecting the economic viability of Jewish schools. Yeshivas operate on shoestring budgets.”

Advocates for abuse victims say opponents of the legislation are putting their institution’s finances and reputations ahead of justice for abuse victims.

“They are most interested in keeping the civil lawsuits from happening because that is where all of the secrets and cover-ups come out,” said Marci Hamilton, a professor at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law and an organizer of SOL Reform. It “is about image and power.”

Criminal cases focus narrowly on the perpetrator’s actions rather than institutions that may have protected him, she says.

“Only through a civil case can you document an institution’s negligence and the way it failed children. The problem is that they won’t fix their internal procedures unless there are civil claims, because they don’t have to,” Hamilton said.

Among those advocating for the New York law are Chaim Levin, a Crown Heights resident who in 2013 won a $3.5 million civil judgment against a cousin, Sholom Eichler, following accusations that Eichler, who was then 23, had abused Levin when he was 8. Levin has not been able to collect any part of the judgment since Eichler fled to Israel.

Levin narrowly made it under the current statue of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit. According to Hamilton, studies show that most sex abuse victims do not come forward until they are in their 40s.

Other activists making the trip to Albany on May 3 are Hamilton; Meyer Seewald of the Orthodox-run anti-sexual abuse organization Jewish Community Watch; Manny Waks, CEO of the advocacy group Kol v’Oz, and Sara Kabakov, the author of an article in the Forward earlier this year describing the abuse she said she suffered as a child at the hands of the former rabbi and author Marc Gafni.

Levin says he expects the lobbying group to include 20 to 30 people. Advocates for haredi victims say cultural prohibitions against reporting abuse to police remain strong in their communities, where extended families are often large and influential, and relationships are tightly knit.

The lobbying push in Albany comes amid allegations of abuse leveled against haredi-run schools, including a March article in Newsweek titled “Child Abuse Allegations Plague the Hasidic Community.” The article alleged that a prominent Chabad yeshiva, Oholei Torah in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, had ignored or downplayed reports of physical and sexual abuse against students.

Following the Newsweek report, Oholei Torah’s top administrator, Rabbi Shlomo Rosenfeld, wrote a letter to parents saying, “I can categorically assure you that there is absolutely no abuse taking place in Oholei Torah that we know of – neither sexual abuse, nor physical abuse, nor verbal abuse.”

Seewald’s group, Jewish Community Watch, recently posted a response to Rosenfeld’s letter.

“Those at Oholei Torah have buried their heads in the sand and want all of us to do the same,” Jewish Community Watch wrote. There is “willful disregard on the part of Oholei Torah directors and board members who possess factual knowledge of present and past physical and sexual abuse within the walls of Oholei Torah.”

Administrators at Oholei Torah did not respond to multiple phone messages and emails.

The increasing visibility of Jewish Community Watch, however, suggests that attitudes are changing within the Orthodox world itself.

The Orthodox newspaper Algemeiner Journal last year honored Seewald, 27, as one of the 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life.”

Among other activities, Jewish Community Watch publishes the names of proven abusers and helps connect victims with therapists, currently paying fees for 80 people, Seewald said. The organization holds awareness-raising events in Orthodox communities such as Miami, Baltimore, Montreal and Israel.

“Without question, it’s so different now than even five years ago,” said Seewald, who grew up in Crown Heights and now lives in Miami. As a young boy he was sexually molested by a camp counselor, he said. And as a teen, a schoolmate at Oholei Torah gave him a massage and put his hands down Seewald’s pants, he said.

“People are 100 percent more willing to come forward. Four years ago we were attacked beyond everything to show we weren’t credible. It was 10 percent of people supporting us. Now it’s 80 percent,” said Seewald.

“Leaders of the community have changed. Now they realize there are so many kids at risk, problems with marriage because of sexual abuse, they are supportive. Not yet publicly, unfortunately, but behind the scenes they will support the work we do.”

Jewish Community Watch now has a benefactor, Miami businessman Eli Nash. Nash, 30, told JTA he was sexually abused for three years, starting when he was 8, by a 14-year-old family friend, and physically abused by his teachers in first and fourth grades. When a teacher threw him against a wall it left bruises, said Nash, who also grew up in Crown Heights.

He and his brother have given about $1 million to Jewish Community Watch over the past two years and have pledged ongoing support. The organization now has 11 employees in Miami and Israel, and soon plans to open a Manhattan office.

“It’s not PC to say anymore you don’t care about it. It’s not acceptable to say ‘we’re not doing more, we don’t take it seriously.’ It’s not even acceptable to say anymore ‘you can’t call the cops,’ which was very accepted before. That’s what has changed,” said Nash, who owns a cellphone wholesale business.

“In the abstract everything’s changed,” he said. But “in the particulars, a lot more has to.”

Great Adventure: How an amusement park goes Orthodox for Passover

Pinchas Cohen spent most of Monday wandering around Six Flags Great Adventure under a blazing sun, wearing a knee-length black coat and carrying a big box of shmura matzah under his arm.

An imposing, Russian-born Chabad-Lubavitch Hasid who now lives in Brooklyn, Cohen came to this amusement park in New Jersey with his 11-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter, the two youngest of his nine children, to have some fun on the first day of chol hamoed, the intermediate days of Passover.

But when Cohen’s turn came to ride the Runaway Mine Train roller coaster, he faced the dilemma of what to do with the box of matzah, which was labeled “fragile.” A Great Adventure staffer helped him stow it in a nearby bin, along with Cohen’s hat.

“That’s my lunch,” he said with a smile as he offered a large piece of matzah to a stranger.

The Cohens were among the thousands of Orthodox Jews who flocked this week to the popular park about 90 minutes from New York City in what has become an annual Passover tradition.

“I used to come every year when I was a kid,” said Yocheved, a 35-year-old mother of two from Teaneck who was at the park on Monday with her husband, kids and two nieces from Sharon, Massachusetts. “I can’t turn the corner without seeing someone I know.”

Kid-friendly amusements all around metropolitan New York tend to be jammed with Jewish children on Passover, from the Bronx Zoo and botanical garden to the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut.

But nothing compares to the annual Passover pilgrimage to Six Flags, which some years is open exclusively to visitors from the Orthodox Union’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the organizer of the program.

Passover at Great Adventure, a mainstay since 1983, is also the year’s biggest fundraiser of the year for NCSY’s New Jersey chapter, which usually raises more than $100,000 after expenses. NCSY buys tickets in bulk and resells them for 30 percent off regular admission price, markets the program, organizes busing to the park and coordinates with park administrators to accommodate Orthodox needs. The park offers kosher-for-Passover food concessions, and NCSY puts on a concert featuring a popular Orthodox singer. This year the entertainer is Baruch Levine.

Six Flags Great Adventure, an amusement park in New Jersey, on Passover becomes the site of an annual Orthodox Jewish pilgrimage. (Uriel Heilman)Six Flags Great Adventure, an amusement park in New Jersey, on Passover becomes the site of an annual Orthodox Jewish pilgrimage. 

“Every kind of Jew ends up coming here during Pesach. Depending upon the time of year, we bring public school kids together with Orthodox, non-Orthodox, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, kids with kippot, kids without, poor kids, rich kids, special-needs kids,” said Rabbi Ethan Katz, the director of New Jersey NCSY and coordinator of the Passover program. “It’s a tremendous kiddush Hashem” – sanctification of God’s name – “for so many Jews to be together in one place for such an amazing event.”

On Monday, a beautiful, sunny day with temperatures in the high 70s, more than 4,000 park visitors bought tickets through NCSY, Katz said. That comprised more than one-third of all visitors, according to a park representative, and many more Jewish visitors came on their own.

At the 150-foot tall Ferris wheel, wig-wearing mothers in ankle-length skirts and commandeering double strollers lined up surrounded by broods of children dressed in identical outfits. At the 15-story giant swing, modern Orthodox teens in jeans and T-shirts who had taken off their yarmulkes for the ride seemed in no hurry to put them back on. Near the kosher food concession, a group of men held an impromptu afternoon prayer service.

Yeshiva students from the nearby Orthodox stronghold of Lakewood congregated around the basketball throw, removing suit jackets and ties to take shots and drawing cheers from casually dressed general-admission visitors when they sank their free throws.

At the gondola that ferries visitors around the park, an Asian-American staffer named Josiah did his best to wish Jewish visitors a happy holiday.

“Are you guys Jewish?” he bellowed, offering a mangled version of a Yiddish-Hebrew Passover greeting when they nodded in assent. “Did I say it right?” he called out as the gondola rose into the air.

Staffers practice some deference when it comes to asking visitors to remove hats and yarmulkes on rides — though only an act of God could save one’s head-covering from flying off on rides like Kingda Ka, a roller coaster that goes from zero to 128 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds.

Pam Nuzzo, general sales manager for Six Flags Great Adventure, said that after doing Passover for so many years, staffers are familiar with Orthodox needs.

“Passover is part of the park’s history. It’s one of our bigger special events throughout the year,” she told JTA. “It’s good for the park. It brings a lot of people.”

NCSY also brings groups throughout the year, including on the intermediary days of Sukkot. But Passover, when Jewish schools stay closed and many Orthodox parents take off, is the biggest draw. This year, because Passover coincides with schools’ spring holidays, the park is also open to the general public.

Once when NCSY had exclusive rights to the park, Katz recalled that the administration made the faux pas of including Wonder Woman among the costumed characters entertaining visitors. The “woman walking around in her underwear” disappeared once staffers realized their blunder. NCSY also has organized all-boys days at Great Adventure’s water park, Hurricane Harbor, for those whose religious observance precludes mixed-gender swimming. All the lifeguards that day are male. (An effort to organize an all-girls day so far has been unsuccessful.)

“We work a lot on bridging gaps, especially so the ultra-Orthodox can come here and have a great experience and feel very welcome and at home,” Katz said. “It’s a very positive Jewish environment for everybody.”

Pinchas Cohen, a restaurateur and father of nine from Brooklyn, brought his own box of handmade shmura matzah to the amusement park for Passover, April 25, 2016. (Uriel Heilman)Pinchas Cohen, a restaurateur and father of nine from Brooklyn, brought his own box of handmade shmura matzah to the amusement park for Passover, April 25, 2016. 

Dovid Kessner, a Lakewood father of seven, came to the park on Monday along with his family and those of two of his siblings, with 23 or 24 children among the three couples. A first-timer, Kessner said he decided to come after seeing an ad in his local Jewish weekly.

“I’m not such an amusement park guy,” said Kessner, who obtained a group rate for his crew. “I usually take my kids boating or fishing on the Jersey Shore.”

Great Adventure forbids bringing in outside food or drink, and many Orthodox families picnicked right outside the gates. But Kessner said attendants didn’t give him a problem bringing in provisions.

“I told them I needed to bring in some food for the kids. They didn’t give me a hard time,” he said. “I didn’t try to sneak it in. That’s not what I want to teach my kids.”

At the Passover concession, Reuben’s Glatt Spot, menu items included $7.25 hot dogs (on Passover buns), $16 chicken nuggets, $7 French fries and 2-liter bottles of Coke for $9 apiece.

“The hot dog buns don’t really hold the hot dogs well. It keeps slipping out,” said Sarah Ifrah, who was in town from Toronto to visit her sister in Woodmere, New York. “It’s also a little on the expensive side, but we’re glad they have it. Who comes to an amusement park on Pesach and can buy some food? It’s great.”

Sanders hits Clinton on campaign finance hours before New York votes

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders accused front-runner Hillary Clinton of apparent campaign finance violations on Monday, ratcheting up the rhetoric against his rival one day before New York state's crucial primary elections.

Sanders questioned whether Clinton's campaign violated legal limits on donations by paying her staffers with funds from a joint fundraising effort by Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, or DNC.

Sanders has long maintained that the DNC has favored Clinton over Sanders. The U.S. senator from Vermont is a democratic socialist who has run as an independent in his Senate campaigns.

“While the use of joint fundraising agreements has existed for some time – it is unprecedented for the DNC to allow a joint committee to be exploited to the benefit of one candidate in the midst of a contested nominating contest,” Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, said.

The Clinton campaign dismissed the charge, with chairman Robby Mook saying Sanders was making baseless accusations.

“It is shameful that Senator Sanders has resorted to irresponsible and misleading attacks just to raise money for himself,” Mook said.

The accusations surfaced as the Democratic and Republican candidates engaged in a final frenzy of campaigning before Tuesday's primaries.

Both the Democratic and Republican primaries are expected to be the state's most decisive in decades in the selection of the parties' candidates for November's general election.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, the national front-runners, were favored to win their respective primaries in the state that both call home. Victories would be a tonic for both candidates following a series of losses.

In recent weeks, Sanders has defeated Clinton in nominating contests. On the Republican side, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Trump's closest challenger, has outmaneuvered the billionaire businessman in the fight for delegates to the Republican National Convention that will pick the party's nominee in July.

By the end of Monday – the last official day of campaigning before the New York primaries – tens of thousands of New Yorkers will have heard the candidates' closing pitches.

At St. John's Riverside Hospital in Yonkers just north of New York City, Clinton spoke to doctors, nurses and others at a hospital cafeteria, asking for their votes and taking a jab at Cruz's dismissal earlier in the campaign of “New York values.”

“I think New York's values are America's values,” she told the crowd.

Cruz defended his “New York values” catchphrase on ABC's “Good Morning America” in Times Square on Monday, saying New Yorkers had “suffered under the left-wing Democratic policies” of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Sanders needs a strong victory in New York, where 291 delegates to the Democratic convention in July are at stake, if he is to overtake Clinton.

With 2,383 delegates needed to secure the Democratic nomination, Clinton has 1,758 to Sanders' 1,076, according to an Associated Press tally. That total includes unpledged superdelegates who are free to back the candidate of their choice but told the news service whom they support.

For Trump, the question is whether he will make a clean sweep of all 95 Republican delegates at stake by earning the majority of votes in all 27 congressional districts in the state.

Total victory in New York would help Trump avoid the possibility that the nomination could be wrested from him at the party's July 18-21 convention in Cleveland if he arrives without a majority of at least 1,237 delegates. In that scenario, another candidate could win on a second or subsequent ballot.

Trump has 744 delegates to 559 for Cruz and 144 for Ohio Governor John Kasich, according to the Associated Press. The count includes endorsements from several delegates who are free to support the candidate of their choice.

In Wyoming, in the latest state-by-state delegate battle, Cruz was awarded all 14 delegates, according to a party official on Saturday.

“Lyin' Ted Cruz can't win with the voters so he has to sell himself to the bosses-I am millions of VOTES ahead! Hillary would destroy him & K,” Trump tweeted on Monday.

On ABC, Cruz responded by saying that Trump was throwing a fit because he has lost several recent state contests.

“The stakes are too high to hand the election to Hillary Clinton, which is what nominating Donald Trump” would do, he said.

Jewish groups blast Sanders over Israel stance

Bernie Sanders didn’t help himself with the Jewish community in New York – a strong constituency in next week’s primary – as he “>interview, Sanders erroneously inflated the number of Palestinian civilians killed during the 2014 Gaza conflict, for which he has since pulled back after a conversation with ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt.

“Senator Sanders’ failure to demonstrate a grasp of the Palestinian terrorism that fueled Israel’s actions to protect its citizens in the summer of 2014 is extremely concerning,” American Jewish Congress’ President Jack Rosen said in a statement on Sunday. “Any attempt by a presidential candidate to qualify Israel’s self-defense against indiscriminate attacks without mentioning the nature of the attacks is a worrisome signal.”

Rosen, himself a supporter of Hillary Clinton, but speaking on behalf of the American Jewish Congress, called on Sanders to “adopt a more balanced perspective on the 2014 conflict as well as the current political reality in Gaza.”

The Orthodox Union, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, said it was “offended” by Sanders’ recent comments.

“The Orthodox Union rejects Sen. Sanders’ assertion that Israel acted in a “disproportionate” manner in responding to Hamas terrorist actions; frankly, we are offended by Sen. Sanders’ suggestion,” the group said in a statement on Monday. n 2014, Israel was attacked by Hamas, which fired more than 4,500 rockets and mortars from Gaza at Israel. These rockets were intended to murder and maim innocent Israelis. Israel’s response and tactics were anything but disproportionate or indiscriminate.”

Sanders pushed back against his critics, insisting that his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “balanced” while being “absolutely pro-Israeli” and supporting “Israel’s right to exist in peace in security.”

“Whether you’re Jewish or not Jewish, I would hope that every person in this country wants to see the misery of never-ending war and conflict ended in the Middle East,” the Democratic presidential hopeful told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Sanders is currently trailing Hillary Clinton in the April 19 New York primary by double digits. According to a recent Fox New poll, Clinton leads Sanders among Jewish voters by 24 points (59-35 percent).

in 2013, the Jewish vote made up 16-19 percent of the electorate in the New York City Democratic mayoral primary.

The Sanders campaign did not immediately respond to request for comment.

United Nations: ‘Miscommunication’ behind ban of Israel’s Zionism display

A “miscommunication” led the United Nations to ban a display about Zionism from an Israeli exhibition at its headquarters in New York, a spokesman told JTA.

Hours after the exhibition opened Monday morning, an initially banned display panel about Zionism was added. But the U.N. stood firm in banning two other panels that Israel had proposed — one about Arab Israelis and another about Jerusalem. The panels are several-feet tall standing boards with images and texts.

“The panel on Zionism was not disallowed. There was a misunderstanding … and so it was initially communicated to the Mission that the panel could not be displayed. That was immediately revised and it was then clearly communicated to the Mission shortly after the first message that the panel could be displayed,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. secretary general, wrote Monday afternoon in an email follow-up to a telephone conversation with JTA.

For his part, Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., called the allowance of the Zionism panel a “clear win for Israeli diplomacy and a victory for the truth about Israel” in a press release Monday.

“This is a step in the right direction, but the UN must reverse its earlier decision entirely and allow the exhibit to be displayed without censoring the truth about Israel and Jerusalem – the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” he said.

The exhibit, created by Israel’s permanent mission to the U.N. along with Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, initially went up without three of the 13 proposed panels. In protest, organizers displayed a photograph of the Zionism panel with the word ‘Censored’ across it. The original full panel was later placed in the exhibition.

Dujarric said he could not explain the reasoning behind the ban of the other two panels in detail, but said the fact that the U.N. considers eastern Jerusalem occupied territory probably played a role in the decision on the Jerusalem panel. He promised to look into the matter further, but had yet to report back.

“As general rule, the aim is of these exhibits is to allow Member States to showcase cultural and/or social achievements, their history,” he said. “We try to make sure, among other things, that displays are in line with international legality (re panel on Status of Jerusalem). We also try to the best of our ability to keep these spaces free from polemics.”

The Israeli exhibition appears in an area of the U.N. headquarters that is not open to the public, and is mostly trafficked by delegates and staff, Dujarric said. Decisions about such exhibitions are made by the U.N.’s Department of Management in consultation with the Political Affairs Department and others, he said.

“This is not an exact science, as we’re dealing with understandable sensitivities. One must also keep in mind that we’re dealing with 193 member States, who all have to feel that this is their house. We regularly look at this process to see how it can best serve all the member States,” he said. The disapproval of parts of a country’s display “is not unprecedented.”

The Zionism panel speaks of “the liberation movement of the Jewish people, who sought to overcome 1,900 years of oppression and regain self-determination in their indigenous homeland.”

The Jerusalem panel describes the Jewish people as “indigenous to Israel” and states that “Jerusalem has been the center and focus of Jewish life and religion for more than three millennia and is holy to Christians and Muslims as well.” The panel on Israeli Arabs calls the group “the largest minority in Israel, making up 20 percent of Israel’s population.” Israel Arabs are “equal citizens under the law in Israel,” the panel says.

UN censors exhibit on Israel set for NY headquarters

The United Nations has censored an exhibition about Israel set to go on display at the organization’s headquarters in New York.

Three of the 13 panels in the exhibition “Israel Matters,” which is set to open Monday, will be deleted, the U.N. decided over the weekend. The censored panels deemed “inappropriate” are on the subjects of Zionism, Jerusalem and Arab-Israelis.

The exhibit was created by Israel’s permanent mission to the United Nations with the organization StandWithUs.

Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, has called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to reverse what he called the “scandalous” decision and allow the panels to be displayed.

“By disqualifying an exhibition about Zionism, the U.N. is undermining the very existence of the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people,” Danon said in a statement. “We will not allow the U.N. to censor the fact that Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital.”

He added: “The U.N. must reverse this outrageous decision and apologize to the Jewish people. Zionism and Jerusalem are the foundation stones and the moral basis upon which the State of Israel was founded.”

The Jerusalem panel describes the Jewish people as “indigenous to Israel” and states that “Jerusalem has been the center and focus of Jewish life and religion for more than three millennia and is holy to Christians and Muslims as well.”

The panel on Arab-Israelis calls them “the largest minority in Israel, making up 20 percent of Israel’s population” and says they are “equal citizens under the law in Israel.”

The Zionism panel calls it “the liberation movement of the Jewish people, who sought to overcome 1,900 years of oppression and regain self-determination in their indigenous homeland.”

Michael Bloomberg will not enter presidential race, denounces Trump

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on Monday that he has decided against an independent run for president in 2016. 

In a post published on Bloomberg View, Bloomberg cited his fear that he would play the spoiler and hand over the presidency to one of the likely Republican presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

“When I look at the data, it’s clear to me that if I entered the race, I could not win,” Bloomberg said. “I believe I could win a number of diverse states — but not enough to win the 270 Electoral College votes necessary to win the presidency. In a three-way race, it’s unlikely any candidate would win a majority of electoral votes, and then the power to choose the president would be taken out of the hands of the American people and thrown to Congress.”

Bloomberg began flirting about running and making history as a third-party candidate as polls indicated Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders could win their parties nomination. The former New York Mayor saw an opportunity to serve as a compromise candidate for Republican and Democratic voters who would be unsatisfied with their respective parties’ nominees. 

But as Hillary Clinton showed signs of overcoming her Democratic challenger and public opinion turned against Trump, Bloomberg opted out for the good of the country, in his words. “As the race stands now, with Republicans in charge of both Houses, there is a good chance that my candidacy could lead to the election of Donald Trump or Senator Ted Cruz. That is not a risk I can take in good conscience,” he wrote. 

Bloomberg berated Trump for running “the most divisive and demagogic presidential campaign I can remember, preying on people’s prejudices and fears.”

New York court allows fraud claim against Trump University to proceed

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump suffered a legal setback on Tuesday when a New York state court allowed a multimillion-dollar fraud claim against Trump University, filed by the state's attorney general, to proceed.

The claim is part of a lawsuit that accuses Trump and the now-defunct for-profit venture of misleading thousands of people, who paid up to $35,000 to learn the billionaire businessman's real estate investment strategies.

Trump University, which Trump chaired, has become a target for his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, particularly Marco Rubio.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's lawsuit, filed in 2013, seeks $40 million in restitution plus penalties and other costs, his office said.

The ruling by a four-judge panel of a mid-level appeals court in Manhattan brings the case closer to a potential trial. It could make it easier for the Trump venture ultimately to be held liable, because the claim does not require proof that there was intent to defraud. 

The judges also extended the statute of limitations for the claim back to 2007 instead of 2010, asTrump's attorneys want. The program stopped taking students in 2010.

“Today's decision is a clear victory in our effort to hold Donald Trump and Trump University accountable for defrauding thousands of students,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

The Trump Organization's general counsel, Alan Garten, said he would seek to appeal the ruling, and called the case “politically motivated.” Schneiderman is a Democrat.

“We think all these claims are without merit and baseless,” Garten said. “Ninety-eight percent of those who participated in the programs filled out written surveys giving the programs the highest grades.”

Class actions are pending in California on similar claims by former Trump University students.

Rubio, who hammered Trump over Trump University at last week's Republican presidential debate, on Tuesday pointed to the New York court's decision at a rally in Minneapolis.

The U.S. senator from Florida said prospective Trump University students increased the borrowing limit on their credit cards in order to pay for the course. 

“Some graduated, some didn't, but in the end the only thing you got was a piece of paper that was worthless and a picture with a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump,” he said.

“That's a fraud case and it is outrageous,” Rubio said. “… What he did to those people is what he is doing to Americans now.” 

At the debate, Trump told Rubio he had won most of the lawsuits involving Trump University.

The appeals court's decision revived a second claim for fraud. A lower-court judge had allowed Schneiderman to proceed only on a type of fraud known as common-law fraud, which would have been more difficult to prove.

The lower-court judge in Manhattan has already determined that Trump and his university are liable for operating illegally in New York state as an unlicensed educational institution.

New York notified Trump in 2005 that he was violating state education law by using the word “University” when it was not actually chartered as one. In 2010, Trump University changed its name toTrump Entrepreneur Initiative and later that year notified the state Department of Education that it had ceased operations.

Meet the guys helping Israeli entrepreneurs make it big in the Big Apple

The hoodie-clad millennials tap furiously at their laptops. They’re perched on colorful couches, or sitting at long, communal tables, munching on Fruit Loops from the built-in dispenser in the open, subway-tiled kitchen.

In other words, AlleyNYC is your typical co-working space. There are plenty of international workers here, yet the space is quintessentially New York with its upscale, industrial look and “work hard, play hard” philosophy, complete with biweekly happy hours.

Its location in Chelsea, on the West Side of Manhattan, makes it a hub for local entrepreneurs, particularly those in the tech scene. That cachet made it the perfect home for ICONYC Labs, a new accelerator program that helps Israeli startups launch their businesses stateside.

Israel has earned a global reputation as “Start-Up Nation” for its lively tech scene — Israel is home to nearly 7,000 high-tech companies, and nearly 80 percent of those are startups, according to a report from the business information firm Dun & Bradstreet. But despite its track record of innovation, Israeli startups often struggle with finding local investors. Additionally, Israeli deals generally require entrepreneurs to cede a greater share of their companies than a typical American deal.

So a main goal of ICONYC Labs is to connect Israeli entrepreneurs with New York investors. Additionally, the program helps Israelis adapt their pitches and products to better appeal to American investors, who typically have a longer decision-making process than their Israeli counterparts.

“In America, it’s about building relationships over time, but that’s not something that’s in Israeli DNA,” says ICONYC co-founder Eyal Bino. “It’s definitely a mindset we are trying to change with our founders, and it’s not always an easy task.”

But this incubator program isn’t just about generating money — through the shared workspace, the program also embeds Israeli startups in the city’s tech scene.

“While they’re here, they’re mingling with the other entrepreneurs in the kitchen,” says co-founder Arie Abecassis. “They want to be here and get to know New York, and one of the goals of this program is to help them exponentially expand their social network in tech.”

Other goals include providing mentorship, assistance with media relations and branding, as well as operations support on logistics like immigration, banking and accounting. In addition to these services, ICONYC Labs provides the startups with $20,000 and office space in AlleyNYC in exchange for a small equity stake in the firms.

ICONYC Labs’ first cohort, which began last April and finished the end of October, consisted of Myndlift, a mobile health solution targeting those who suffer from ADHD; Flux, a smart agricultural product enabling water-efficient growth of food and plants; DandyLoop, a cross-promotional marketplace for independent online stores to gain traffic; Clickspree, an ad-tech firm focused on video engagement and return for brands, and Gaonic, a platform for businesses to monitor Internet of Things data.

While working with ICONYC Labs, the companies’ founders must spend at least a week each month in New York, although many stay longer. During the weeks they are all here, ICONYC hosts networking events and fireside chats with high-profile startup success stories. It also sets pitch meetings with potential investors and advisers.

“At the end of the program, they’ll have the ability to expand their business to New York and raise money here,” Bino said.

Going forward, the incubator will shorten the program to four months and accept companies on a rolling basis. Two startups began in January; three more will enter the program this month.

ICONYC staffers sift through hundreds of applicants to select businesses to accept into the program — there’s no shortage, after all, of companies hoping to be the next Waze and make it big in the U.S. They put potential applicants through a serious vetting process, which includes outside experts assessing their business prospects and an investigation into their reputation in the Israeli startup community. They’re looking for companies that already have a viable product with the potential to scale in the United States, along with a committed team and a willingness to learn.

Bino, 40, and Abecassis, 49, are uniquely positioned to help Israeli companies acclimate to New York’s startup ecosystem. Both were born in Israel — Abecassis moved to the U.S. as a young child, and Bino attended college here and moved here for work a few years later.

When they met in 2014, Bino was working as a business development consultant for international startups in New York, and Abecassis was serving as a board member, adviser and investor for several startups. Bino tapped Abecassis to mentor some Israeli startups, and the two began discussing the specific needs of Israeli entrepreneurs in New York.

The pair saw a gulf between the growth potential of many Israeli startups — the talent and the ideas were strong — and their ability to connect with a wider variety of investors, and turn those connections into meaningful business opportunities.

One challenge facing Israeli entrepreneurs in New York is their products may not yet have an American following.

“We work extremely hard to help our founders prove their concepts in the U.S. markets, so they are worthy of funding from venture capitalists in New York,” Bino said. “The more traction our founders have, the better their story becomes.”

For Omer Rachamim, co-founder and CEO of DandyLoop, moving his business to New York was always the long-term plan because it’s a global hub e-commerce.

“ICONYC came along at just the right moment,” he said. “They helped us do a soft landing in the city, and really leveraged their connections in a way that helped me to be completely emerged in the startup community and the VC community within a few months. It’s like integration into the city on steroids.”

Since completing the program, DandyLoop, which is now incorporated in the U.S. and has an office in the city, has added advisers, investors and clients in New York.

In recent years, New York City has become a hub for Israeli-based startups — nearly 300 Israeli companieshave a presence in the city. While Silicon Valley grabs a lot of the startup spotlight, New York typically makes more sense for Israeli entrepreneurs — the time difference (7 hours versus 10 hours) makes business calls more conducive, and it’s an easy train ride to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

“They see New York as the market where they can meet clients and investors as well as the big American corporations they want to do business with,” said Guy Franklin, founder of Israel Mapped in New York, which tracks the Israeli startup community.

Plus, in some significant ways, New York City is more culturally similar to Israel than Silicon Valley.

“There’s the food, the holidays,” Bino said. “Israelis may not be able to see themselves renting a house in the suburbs in California, but they could live on the Upper West Side.”

Another mutation of the anti-Semitism virus – or just ignorance?

Now showing in New York schools: Videos transplanting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions sentiments into classes on ancient history! What? Yes, but not for long, thanks to Kenneth Zebrowski, a New York assemblyman who is calling on the state’s legislators to pay attention.

Study.com, a California startup that makes cartoon-type videos to enhance learning in and out of schools, chose to portray Jews of the first century as people who “got what they deserved” while Christians “took control of the empire that oppressed them.” Hmm. By the way, pardon the grammar. Jews of the time were “violent religious extremists” while Christian “martyrs’ murders advanced the cause.” Double hmm. Were the martyrs murdered or murderers? What contemporary cause does this sound like?

It would take a long time to go through what the company alleges to be a stock of more than 10,000 videos. But when its cartoons portray Jewish people in black hats and long coats, with earlocks and white beards, when they proclaim that the Torah is the Ten Commandments, and state that God gave Abraham the land of Canaan, which is “parts of Israel and Palestine,” you start to get the picture. Much of the company’s material on religion, social science and history is simple pablum, but subtle and not-so-subtle messages are being conveyed, as well. 

Not only for Judaism. When the title of a video is “Protestantism and Liberation Theology,” you know that Martin Luther and Archbishop Oscar Romero are choking in their graves. (John Calvin gets a mention with Max Weber — mispronounced — and capitalism.) When we’re told that Jesus preached a religion of personal salvation, we wonder what black hole swallowed up the scholarship of the last 60 years on early Christianity. When the narrator of a religion video pronounces Judaism “Ju-DAY-ism,” you know something has gone deeply awry.

The company’s founders are an Argentine computer scientist who twists English idioms to entertain his colleagues, and a young man with a bachelor’s degree in business administration who heads content development. The two young Cal Poly San Luis Obispo graduates, now in Mountain View, allege to have “hundreds” of instructors, but the website seems to provide information on only a couple of dozen. Religion isn’t mentioned as one of its  six academic fields, but it’s a topic for a whole set of videos. As for history, the six instructors for whom they offer bios seem to have studied topics relevant to the Americas and ancient Greek philosophy.

And the New York public school system is subscribing to this company’s videos? Is it trying to surpass the record for bad educational ideas (previously held by a school district that was going to buy iPads for all)? Of course, it’s possible that officials thought they would give the teachers a break while the kids watch a few “harmless” cartoons. It’s like Shakespeare comics, no?

You don’t have to be Jewish to realize that this isn’t a good idea. Real educators know that in some areas of math and science, business and accounting, certain topics can best be learned by breaking them down into simple steps. We all were amazed when Khan Academy paved the way, and helped make that kind of learning more enjoyable and tailored to the pace of the student. (I don’t know what it’s doing now, so that’s not a plug.)

But human cultures, history and religion are a different story, so much more complex, not convertible into simple facts; so much more dangerous when handled poorly. To think of fourth- or fifth-graders viewing these videos and being imprinted with the stereotypes, anachronisms and outright misinformation is horrifying. We’ve been worried about Palestinian textbooks teaching hate. Now it’s coming home, not yet as hate but as ignorance and distorted perspective. Hate, however, has a fertile ground.

Study.com said it didn’t mean to “offend anyone” and will change “at least one” video (two were identified as anti-Semitic by the Jewish Federation of Rockland County). 

Actually, the videos have offended not only Jews but the intelligence of thousands of American teachers. But OK, we can only expect that they will do the usual brush-off, since money is at stake.

However, since more than money is at stake for us, we now have to investigate where else this is happening. Noxious weeds rarely sprout only one seed, nor do viruses make only one person sick. If you have children, nieces, nephews or grandchildren in public schools, give their school a call. Ask what educational “enhancements” it is using to make subjects more fun — for what classes, in what grades. What companies does it contract with? How can you as a concerned citizen see them? Especially if the subjects include history, literature, religion, “civilizations” or social science, you should insist on viewing or using these supplementary materials so you can see what kids are learning in this new tech era. Hopefully, you’ll have some fun and not see danger signs. But for the future of all of us, we need to find out.

A big thanks to the Jewish Federation of Rockland County and Assemblyman Zebrowski for this wake-up call.


Tamar Frankiel is a professor of Comparative Religion and provost at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California.

Thank you for not dying

David Wichs was walking to work in TriBeCa last Friday morning when a 565-foot construction crane toppled onto Worth Street and killed him. He was 38.

I didn’t know him – I saw it in the paper.  Workers had been lowering the crane as a precaution from wind gusts when it crushed him.  From the noise and vibration, people on the block thought a bomb had exploded. He was remembered as warm, decent, “unusually gentle for someone who lived in this city.” Czech immigrant; Westinghouse Science Talent Search Semifinalist; a math degree from Harvard; a career in finance; a bolt out of the blue. “Despair and shock,” the New York Times Emergency responders at the scene of a 565-foot-tall crane that toppled and flipped upside down, stretching along nearly two city blocks in downtown Manhattan on Feb. 5. Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Drunk drivers, earthquakes, cancer, shooters – and now cranes.  It’s rattling to be reminded how vulnerable we are. We busy our lives to distract ourselves from mortality, to extract meaning from absurdity, to pretend we control a cosmos of chance.  At best, what I get from Worth Street is the gong of mindfulness. Savor the moment. Hug your children. Don’t go back to sleep. At worst: Grow up. It’s all hanging by a thread. 

Now David Wichs’ whole life story is shadowed by how it ended. This is cruelly unjust.  An ominous theme underscores all of it, imposing dread on ordinary moments, robbing them of their quotidian glory.  In the wake of a freak accident, casual snapshots become fraught with foreboding; light words become last words. David plans, but God laughs.

The tyranny of endings defines us all, even if we’re lucky enough not to be unlucky. We experience our lives as stories. As each day unfolds, we update the narrative in our head, recasting Before in light of After. Life delivers randomness, but we’re ingenious at discovering cause and effect in its depths. We are as adept at rewriting as at writing. Our nimble revisionism allows us to believe we’re the authors of our existence – not the journalists reporting it, but the screenwriters creating it.

But no matter how good we are at reverse engineering our path to the present, our appointment with mortality guarantees an ending. As we succumb to the inevitable deterioration, we lose not only our health, but also our power to control our own story.  “The terror of sickness and old age,” Atul Gawande writes in his best seller ““>Rancho La Puerta and the Golden Door, is running martyk@jewishjournal.com.

UN’s Ban to speak at Manhattan synagogue’s Shabbat service

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will speak at a Shabbat service at an Orthodox synagogue in New York.

The service this Saturday at the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan is in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was observed around the world last week. Ban will be accompanied by Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon.

The event is sold out, according to a notice on the Park East website.

Ban’s appearance will come nearly two weeks after he said in an address to the U.N. Security Council that Palestinian violence against Israel is a result of “frustration” over “a half century of occupation and the paralysis of the peace process.”

“Security measures alone will not stop the violence,” Ban said in remarks that Israeli officials said appeared to justify Palestinian terror.

“They cannot address the profound sense of alienation and despair driving some Palestinians – especially young people. It is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the U.N. leader of “giving terror a tailwind.”

Days after the Security Council address Ban, who also condemned Palestinian terror attacks, doubled down on his remarks in an Op-Ed in The New York Times headlined “Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Israel.”

Reconsidering Kaddish: Four new approaches to an old ritual

“Yitgadal v’yitkadash…” the words of the Kaddish have echoed through synagogues for centuries, traditionally intoned by a Jewish man in mourning during a prayer service, with nine other men — at various points — interjecting an “amen.” But in this century, in various communities, Kaddish is getting a modern overhaul. Four emerging Kaddish innovations — two in Los Angeles, one in New York City and one in the United Kingdom — preserve the words of the prayer, while attempting to expand access to this ritual and to add layers of modern resonance our shtetl-dwelling forebears never would have imagined.

‘Hello From the Other Side’ (Los Angeles)

While saying daily Kaddish for her father this year, Pico-Robertson resident and educator Nili Isenberg found that Adele’s ubiquitous song “Hello” had stuck in her mind. In addition to the music, she said in an interview, “the actual words of the song resonated, about saying the words every day and trying to reach out to someone through these words.” So the mother of three took a literal note from pop culture, transforming the song into a ” target=”_blank”>LAReformMinyan.com). Instead of tasking one synagogue with running a daily minyan, six Reform synagogues — Congregation Kol Ami, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Temple Isaiah, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Leo Baeck Temple and Wilshire Boulevard Temple — have banded together, each taking responsibility for one day of the week. Each host synagogue may shape the service and schedule in its own way to suit its membership. The only requirement is that Kaddish must be recited. 

While many Reform Jews might not list a daily Kaddish minyan as a priority, Missaghieh believes that’s because they didn’t know it could be an option. “It was always seen as ‘only the traditional Jews do this.’ But with education and exposure and gentle invitations for people to do this in environments that are comfortable for them, it will become a need,” she said.

“It’s one of those ideas that was just waiting to be discovered,” Marcus said. “It takes a bit of commitment, but people realize the seriousness with which Kaddish is treated in the Jewish community. It’s fundamental to our longevity.“

Marcus realized that the six congregations launching the L.A. Reform Minyan Project evokes the six points of the Magen David (the six-pointed Jewish star). “To me, it’s a Venn diagram of intersecting triangles and finding that place in the middle. If there’s ever a time for a metaphor,” he said, “it’s totally the overlap, the rich center of the star that we’re making here. And it’s only possible if we do it together.”

‘Women Mourners: A Guide to Kaddish and Mourning’ (London, United Kingdom)

In the United Kingdom, the Orthodox movement is now encouraging women to engage in the Kaddish ritual if they want to, with a new guide published by United Synagogue (the U.K.’s council of Orthodox rabbis) titled, “Women Mourners: A Guide to Kaddish and Mourning.” The six-page booklet outlines the options for Orthodox Jewish women mourners regarding Kaddish and suggests other recommended acts of memory, effectively forming a Frequently Asked Questions-style guide. “Do I have to be observant in order to recite Kaddish?” is answered with the movingly inclusive, “Kaddish is something that every Jewish person can say in U.S. [United Synagogue] communities, if, sadly. they need to.” 

Other questions highlight imbalances that remain in Orthodox Judaism, and the potential roadblocks for women saying Kaddish. “What if there is no mechitzah [divider between men’s and women’s sections] when I get to shul?” reflects the reality: Most daily minyanim are attended solely by men, so women may need to call in advance to ask that the mechitzah be set up for services at which they are planning to say Kaddish. And “Should both men and women respond to me when I am saying Kaddish?” acknowledges that many men believe it is forbidden to answer a woman’s Kaddish. 

While the guide still expects women to join a minyan of 10 men (a female-inclusive minyan is not an option according to Orthodox Judaism), it does indicate a shift toward expanding access to the ritual of saying Kaddish.

Virtual Kaddish (New York and the world)

For those of any gender, especially those not connected to Orthodoxy or the culture of daily (or any) prayer, the New York-based Lab/Shul founded by Amichai Lau-Lavie has launched a virtual space for Kaddish recitation. This “experiment in virtual ritual reality,” as the Lab/Shul website terms it, is a free conference call. Callers “share their names and reasons for saying Kaddish, read a poem and learn a brief sacred teaching together, and then recite the Kaddish together.” The call often takes about 30 minutes. 

The concept evolved from Lau-Lavie’s Kaddish experience, he said in a phone interview. The rabbinical student, writer, educator and Storahtelling founder has a sizable following of friends and colleagues from his years in the Jewish innovation and education space, many of whom had expressed a wish to support Lau-Lavie as he mourned his father. Lau-Lavie explained that many of these people weren’t comfortable in a synagogue, or were “women where there wasn’t a friendly minyan available.” Their phone conference experiment — to stand with Lau-Lavie virtually as he said Kaddish — drew about 30 people from all over the world.  

Lau-Lavie’s year of mourning is over, but the call is still held on Thursdays at noon, Eastern time. Recent calls have drawn participants from Alaska, Arizona, Florida, New York and Massachusetts, as well as international calls from France and Israel. 

Because Lab/Shul is an experimental space — as the website calls it, an “artist-driven, everybody-friendly experimental community for sacred Jewish gatherings” — this service may evolve again to include video, but the Lab/Shul founder has his reservations. “There’s something comforting in just a voice,” he said, calling it “personal and anonymous.”

First kosher-certified pot to go on market next month

A New York company is preparing to market what it says is the world’s first kosher-certified marijuana.

The Orthodox Union has certified Vireo Health of New York’s non-smokable medical marijuana products, Vireo announced in a news release Wednesday. Vireo is one of five medical marijuana providers selected to participate in a New York state medical marijuana program that goes into effect next month; none of the others will be certified kosher.

“Being certified kosher by the OU will not only help us serve the dietary needs of the largest Jewish community in the United States, but also combat unfortunate stigmas associated with medical cannabis,” Vireo CEO Ari Hoffnung said in a statement. “Today’s announcement sends an important message to New Yorkers of all faiths and backgrounds that using medical cannabis to alleviate pain and suffering does not in any way represent an embrace of ‘pot’ culture.”

Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the O.U.’s kashrut department, said in a statement that Vireo’s medical cannabis products “were developed to alleviate pain and suffering in accordance with the New York State Compassionate Care Act.”

The statement adds, “Using medical cannabis products recommended by a physician should not be regarded as a ‘chet,’ a sinful act, but rather as a mitzvah, an imperative, a commandment.”

Vireo operates a facility in the upstate town of Perth and will open four retail dispensaries in January, including two in the New York City area.

U.S. denying security clearances due to Israeli ties

As many as 100 American citizens were prevented from joining the U.S. army in the last decade because they had family living in Israel. But the latest case of a 60-year-old dentist from Brooklyn having his clearance application denied because his mother lives in Israel, prompted Avi Schick, a renowned attorney from New York, to address the matter in a letter directed to the head of the U.S. Navy.

According to Schick’s account, Dr. Gershon Pincus, who after 35 years as a private dentist started working as a part-time civilian dentist at an off-base Naval clinic in Saratoga, NY, recently received a notice that he was deemed ineligible to receive security clearance because he has “weekly contact with [his] mother and brother in Israel.”

In September, after two interviews with the Office of Personal Management (OPM), Dr. Pincus’s received a “Statement of Reasons” explaining why he was denied the security clearance. “You have weekly telephone contact with your mother and brother in Israel. You added your mother, sister and brother may have contact with neighbors in Israel. Foreign contacts and interests may be a security concern due to divided loyalties or foreign financial interests, may be manipulated or induced to help a foreign person, group, organization or government in a way that is not in U.S. interests, or is vulnerable to pressure or coercion by foreign interests,” the statement read.

But what is seen as even more unreasonable is the fact that his 89-year-old mother, who moved to Israel late in her life to be with her son and daughter who moved to Israel in 1980, still retains her U.S. citizenship and are not listed as Israeli citizens. DR. Pincus has lived all of his life in the United States; all of his assets and income are in the United States; as are his friends, community, and interests. He visited Israel only three times in the past decade, including one for his father’s funeral.

In a letter to Ray Mabus, Secretary of the U.S. Navy, Schick writes, “The entirety of the concern about Dr. Pincus, and the sole basis for the decision to deem him ineligible for clearance and to disqualify him from the opportunity to serve, is his relatives’ residence in Israel.”

“That is unwarranted by the facts and deeply offensive to American Jews whose loyalty to the U.S. is apparently called into question by our military if they have relatives in Israel,” Schick’s letter, obtained by Jewish Insider, reads.

“We would like to believe this can’t be happening in 2015, but unfortunately, it happens frequently,” Schick told Jewish Insider. “Over the past decade, there have been more than 100 reported clearance denials to employees of government contractors because of ties to Israel. And that doesn’t include any of the cases where military employees were denied clearance or when contractor employees don’t have the means or the stomach to fight the denial.”

In the past seven years, under the Obama administration, there has been a total of 58 cases in which Jewish Americans were denied because of their Israeli ties. As many as 36 applicants lost their appeals. “What that means is that what happened to Dr. Pincus was not an isolated incident, but rather part of a systemic problem,” he said.

In his letter to Mabus, Schick asks why someone who wants to give back to his country after a long, productive professional career is being treated with such intense suspicion.

Adding, “It is useful to go through the mental exercise of replacing Israel with the name of other countries also closely allied with the United States. It is difficult to imagine Dr. Pincus being denied clearance because he has relatives in England, Germany, France, Spain or a host of other countries. Our elected officials often talk about the special relationship between the United States and Israel, but I don’t think they mean for Israel and American Jews to be singled out in a way they have been during the interview and clearance process for Dr. Pincus.”

The Orthodox Union on Thursday expressed its outrage at the “anti-Semitic bias” by the OPM. “The notion that an American Jew, a citizen of the United States, could be accused of having ‘divided loyalties’ and therefore be denied security clearance and lose his job, simply because he has family members who live in Israel, is outrageous and offensive,” Martin Nachimson, president of the Orthodox Union, said in a statement.”The American Jewish community is an active and vital element of all parts of this country’s economy and job force. Discrimination against one individual because of his family’s whereabouts—or against a much larger population of applicants because of familial connections with Israel—suggests an anti-Semitic bias that is poorly disguised as security concerns.”

Kuwait Airways, ordered to stop refusing tickets to Israelis, drops NYC-London flight

Kuwait Airways is eliminating service between New York and London after the US Department of Transportation ordered the carrier to stop refusing to sell tickets to Israelis.

Namrata Kolachalam, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, announced the airline’s decision, USA Today reported Tuesday.

On September 30, the department announced that the airline had acted illegally when it refused to sell a ticket to Eldad Gatt, an Israeli citizen, in 2013. On October 29, the department ordered the airline to “cease and desist from refusing to transport Israeli citizens between the U.S. and any third country where they are allowed to disembark,” USA Today reported, citing a letter from the department’s assistant general counsel for enforcement.

The newspaper reported that Kuwait Airways explained its refusal to sell Gatt a ticket by saying it needed to comply with a Kuwaiti law barring citizens from agreements “with entities or persons residing in Israel, or with Israeli citizenship.”

 

The airline filed a counter suit against the department on November 24, which it has not yet withdrawn. If it prevails, it may resume the New York-London flights.

Outrage over removal of Israeli flag at Haaretz Conference

The removal of the Israeli flag ahead of a Palestinian representative at the Haaretz conference in New York on Sunday is continuing to make waves and has sparked harsh criticism from Israeli politicians.

As first reported by Jewish Insider, an Israeli flag that was placed on the stage for the opening session of the newspaper’s inaugural conference at the Roosevelt in NY was removed from the ballroom moments before chief Palestinian negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat took the stage.

Many participants criticized the move.

In an official statement released hours after the incident, Haaretz said, “Mr. Erekat’s team requested he not be made to speak next to the Israeli flag, and we honored his wishes.” In an interview with Army Radio Monday morning, Haaretz Publisher Amos Schocken said, “Haaretz doesn’t hold conferences against the backdrop of the Israeli flag. Would the Office of the President agree to have a Palestinian flag next to an Israeli flag? I don’t think so. We did not place a Palestinian flag on the stage during Erekat’s speech. We had no intention of placing any flag on the stage. We placed it on stage at President [Reuven] Rivlin’s request, and removed it at Erekat’s request.”

During his address at the conference, Erekat stated that “Israel has a partner on the basis of a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital.” He also said that the Palestinians have “recognized Israel’s existence and her right to live in peace and security in borders based on the 1967 lines.”

Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud) called the incident “a disgrace to everyone involved.”

“Erekat is a senior Palestinian Authority official who for years has been involved in the negotiations with Israel. His refusal to address the conference against the backdrop of the Israeli flag is yet another indicator how willing the Palestinians are to achieve peace,” Elkin said, according to Israel Hayom. “This incident proves, yet again, that the problem we have with the Palestinian leadership is not a territorial dispute, but it lies with their inability to recognize a Jewish state within any lines.”

Added Israel’s Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, “This is the vision of peace at the Haaretz conference in the US: to remove Israeli flags from the stage because of the demands of Saeb Erekat? It’s another record in contempt and self-effacement. And with whom specifically does Erekat intend to make ‘peace?’ With Ahmed Tibi?”

Yair Lapid, one of Israel’s leading opposition leaders, said the move “shows a loss of national pride by the far left in Israel.”

At the opening of the Yesh Atid Knesset Faction meeting Monday, Lapid said, “Imagine the outcry if an Israeli speaker at an international conference in New York had asked to remove the Palestinian flag. This kind of behavior leads us to a bi-national state. It is where the far left and far right come together, both are leading us down that path. It is time for a clear distinction in this country between the moderates and the extremes.”

“The Zionist left of Ben Gurion, of Rabin, would never have allowed something like this,” said Lapid. “This kind of behavior eats us up from the inside and we can’t go on like this.”

The Haaretz conference also featured speeches by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the Joint Arab List party leader MK Ayman Odeh, as well as a video message by President Barack Obama.

Odeh was treated like a rock star at the conference. His speech was constantly interrupted by raucous applause and standing ovations, almost equivalent to Netanyahu’s reception at AIPAC’s annual conference. “The conflict cannot be managed. It can only be solved,” Odeh declared. “the occupation is the Palestinian people’s tragedy, but it is also Israel’s prison. We must liberate both peoples from the prison of occupation.”

Last week, Odeh sparked controversy when he ditched a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations after learning that the group shared office space with the Jewish Agency and other pro-Israel organizations.

Rivlin’s appearance at the conference raised criticism back home for agreeing to participate in a conference that included “Breaking the Silence,” a group that accuses the IDF of war crimes. Rivlin addressed the issue at the start of his remarks by saying, “From time to time the obvious should be said. Especially during these days, when we are facing a difficult and dangerous fight against terrorism. The IDF does everything in its power to maintain the highest possible moral standard, even under impossible conditions, and more than any other army in the world. This is true of its commanders, and of its soldiers. For that, we are very proud of them, and owe them all our support and appreciation.”

Police, other NYC officials meet with Bukharians about rash of arsons

The president of the New York City borough of Queens, the New York Police Department’s chief of detectives and numerous other city officials met with Bukharian Jewish leaders about a string of arsons affecting the community of central Asian Jews.

At a meeting Tuesday morning at the Bukharian Jewish Community Center in Forest Hills, a neighborhood that has experienced seven arsons since October, officials promised heightened security measures, the Queens Times Ledger reported.

The previous day, the NYPD announced it sent several elite units to the neighborhood and published surveillance video showing the suspected arsonist.

All seven fires, the most recent one over the weekend, have been set at construction or renovation sites of Bukharian-owned homes. An estimated 50,000 Bukharians live in New York, the vast majority of them in Forest Hills, where community members’ construction of large, expensive homes, mostly on plots that once housed more modest residences, has sparked tensions with longtime residents in recent years.

“Today’s meeting was a very good sign that both the community and the Police Department, Fire Department and elected officials are all interested in solving the problem at hand,” Aron Borukhov, a Bukharian community leader, said at a news conference after the meeting.

Borukhov said his community is organizing security patrols that will work cooperatively with police.

Borough President Melinda Katz said: “This is something that we take extremely seriously and the community stands together in making sure that we find this arsonist that is out there destroying not only people’s homes, but people’s lives and people’s dreams.

NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said the police do not believe the suspect has ties to terror groups, but that they have not yet determined his motives. While NYPD officials have told the media they do not believe the arsons are hate crimes, Boyce said Tuesday that the department’s Hate Crimes Task Force is among those investigating.

“We have a specific community that is being targeted here,” Boyce said. “That community is behind me today, and we need their support.”

Deputy Inspector Judith Harrison, commanding officer at the 112th Precinct including Forest Hills, said, “We are speculating about the motive, but that’s what it is, speculation. We aren’t ruling anything out. We don’t believe it is bias at this time, but everything could change.”

Harrison said police have a list of 29 buildings in the area that are under construction in the neighborhood and they plan to monitor the sites.

The NYPD is offering a $12,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist; the Bukharian Jewish Community is offering a $50,000 reward.

At the news conference, State Sen. Toby Stavisky said, “It’s sad that [Bukharian Jews] cannot feel safe in their homes anymore, that they left a disturbing situation in the former Soviet Union and they have to face this in their new home.”

Amazon removing Nazi-symbol ads on NY subways for new TV show

Amazon is removing its Nazi-symbol-laden ads for “The Man in the High Castle” television show from a highly trafficked New York subway line.

A spokesman for New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority confirmed to Gothamist on Tuesday that Amazon was pulling the wraparound advertisements featuring a modified Nazi Reichsadler eagle and a variation of a World War II-era Japanese flag from the 42nd Street shuttle.

The ad campaign, which caused a stir on Tuesday, was scheduled to run through Dec. 14.

Earlier in the day, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “While these ads technically may be within MTA guidelines, they’re irresponsible and offensive to World War II and Holocaust survivors, their families, and countless other New Yorkers. Amazon should take them down.”

MTA instituted a policy in April that bans political ads from its subways and buses. Under the resolution, MTA permits only the display of commercial advertising, public service announcements and government messages on its buses and subways.

The Amazon ads do not violate this policy, an MTA spokesman told The Gothamist, which first reported the ad campaign.

“The updated standards prohibit political advertisements. Unless you’re saying that you believe Amazon is advocating for a Nazi takeover of the United States, then it meets the standards. They’re advertising a show,” MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg told The Gothamist.

Evan Bernstein, the Anti-Defamation League’s New York regional director, called the ads insensitive, according to The Gothamist.

“Half the seats in my car had Nazi insignias inside an American flag, while the other half had the Japanese flag in a style like the World War II design,” commuter Ann Toback, executive director of The Workman’s Circle, a Jewish organization, told The Gothamist. “So I had a choice, and I chose to sit on the Nazi insignia because I really didn’t want to stare at it.  I shouldn’t have to sit staring at a Nazi insignia on my way to work.”

Sister of Faigy Mayer, former Chasid who took own life, commits suicide

The older sister of a former Hasidic woman who killed herself four months ago hanged herself at her parents’ home in Brooklyn.

Sara Mayer, 31, was found dead on Sunday afternoon at the home in the Borough Park section, the New York Daily News reported.

Her death comes four months after Faigy Mayer, 30, jumped off a rooftop bar in Manhattan. Six years earlier, Faigy Meyer had left the Chasidic world in which she had grown up.

Unnamed family and friends told the Daily News that Sara Mayer was mentally ill and had been hospitalized on several occasions. An unnamed law enforcement official told the newspaper that she had been scheduled to move into a group home this week.

The New York Post reported that Sara Mayer was released last week from a psychiatric hospital where she had been an inpatient for two years. The newspaper also quoted an unnamed family member as saying she left a note to her parents telling them she loved them and was sorry.

In an essay written shortly before her death, Faigy Mayer rejected the Belz Hasidic sect of her childhood, saying that “Chasidic Judaism shouldn’t exist at all,” and lamenting that her three nephews were missing out on life by being raised in the same community.

“If people were allowed to think they would not be religious,” she also wrote.

Lindsey Graham: Muslims should be scrutinized ‘based on behavior’

Jewish Insider caught up with Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham after addressing a crowd of 120 people at the Metropolitan Republican Club in NYC Thursday evening. 

“The pro-Israel community has been a godsend of Lindsey Graham because of my unwavering support for the State of Israel,” Graham told Jewish Insider. “I’ll never forget this. It means the world to me that the American pro-Israel community, Evangelical Christians, and Jewish-Americans have been supportive of me. I’ll never, ever forget that. I’m very appreciative of that.” 

We asked the presidential hopeful whether he agrees with the remarks made by Hollywood mogul Haim Saban, a personal friend of his, suggesting that Muslim immigrants should be more scrutinized when entering the United States in the wake of the deadly terror attacks in Paris and ISIS threatening to hit America. 

“I think your behavior is what makes you scrutinized, not your background or religion,” Graham said. “We are Americans – we believe in religious diversity. But at the end of the day, it is your behavior. I’m not going to start profiling people based on their faith.”

But Graham seemed to somewhat agree with Saban that refugees coming from the Middle East need to go through a far more stricter screening process. “I’m very worried about an attack in the United States. I want to expand the NSA program, not shut it down,” he said. “And I don’t mind looking at one group differently than the other because the relent a larger threat.”

“We need to wake up to the reality that young men from the Middle East are a bigger threat than young men from other places,” the South Carolina Senator asserted. “What Israel does make sense. But the key here is to destroy ISIL. If you don’t go on the ground and destroy the Caliphate, they are coming here.” 

During the Q&A session at the Republican club, Graham said that the future of his candidacy depends on winning 3rd of 4th place in the New Hampshire primary in February. “If I win top 3rd or 4th, I will win South Carolina. But if I fall short, I will drop out and support some other candidate,” he announced. “All I need from you is a prayer and a check – a small prayer and a big check.” 

The full interview with Lindsey Graham will be published on today.

This story originally appeared at Jewish Insider.

FanDuel stops letting New Yorkers play paid games

Daily fantasy sports site FanDuel said on Tuesday it would no longer let people in New York enter its paid contests in response to efforts by the state's attorney general to declare the games illegal gambling.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed earlier in the day for a temporary injunction that would shut down daily fantasy sports leaders FanDuel and DraftKings in the state in the latest blow to the fast-growing, multibillion-dollar industry. A hearing on the injunction is scheduled to be heard by a New York state court on Nov 25.

“We are temporarily suspending entry in paid contests for people located in New York,” the company said in a statement. “We believe that this restriction is temporary and we hope to be able to offer our paid contests to New Yorkers again very soon.”

The company stopped taking new deposits from players in New York on Friday but allowed New Yorkers to play in games over the weekend with money they had already deposited.

New York theater offers refunds for Roger Waters concert over his BDS views

A theater in Sag Harbor, New York has offered to refund tickets to a sold-out performance by Roger Waters over his support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel.

Waters, the former frontman of rock band Pink Floyd, has been vocal in his criticism of artists who perform in Israel. He is scheduled to perform Friday at the Bay Street Theater. Page Six reported Wednesday that the performance may face picketers in a protest organized by pro-Israel groups.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in a statement issued on Tuesday called on New Yorkers “to give Roger Waters the reception he deserves: an empty hall. We urge people who may have been unaware of his hate-filled boycott campaign and bought tickets for his performance, to vote with their feet and instead stand in solidarity — outside of the theater — with the innocent victims of terrorism in The Holy Land.”

The theater’s executive director, Tracy Mitchell, on Wednesday told local news website 27East.com that no one has requested a refund, and that the theater has people “begging for tickets.”

Earlier this month, in a much-publicized rant, radio personality Howard Stern ripped Waters for his support of the movement to boycott Israel.

Waters in an open letter to rocker Jon Bon Jovi ahead of his concert earlier this month in Israel, accused the artist of “standing shoulder to shoulder” with right-wing Israeli extremists.

In response, Bon Jovi said at his concert: “I’ll come here any time you want.”

Waters has published open letters calling on fellow musicians to join a boycott of Israel. He has also come under fire for using at in his concerts a huge inflated balloon in the shape of a wild boar with a prominently visible Star of David among other symbols, including a dollar sign and a hammer and sickle. He had used the gimmick for several years.

Community founded by Nazi sympathizers sued for housing discrimination

A husband and wife are suing a suburban New York community founded by Nazi sympathizers for violating the Fair Housing Act.

Philip Kneer and Patricia Flynn-Kneer filed a complaint against the German American Settlement League, which owns the land under the Long Island community of Yaphank, in U.S. District Court on Monday, The New York Times reported.

The league’s by-laws require homeowners in the 45-family community in Suffolk County to be primarily “of German extraction.”

The Kneers, who are of German descent, purchased their home in 1999 and are now trying to sell it. They say the restrictive by-laws, which in addition to the ethnic requirement forbid home sellers from advertising or posting for sale signs, has made selling difficult.

Founded in the 1930s, Yaphank once hosted pro-Nazi rallies and had a street named for Adolf Hitler, according to the Times. The homes were initially summer bungalows for a pro-Nazi summer camp, Camp Siegfried.

During Israel trip, De Blasio walks on eggshells

This post originally appeared at Jewish Insider.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio just concluded a 3-day visit to Israel at a time of increased violence and deadly terrorist attacks across the country.

The mayor’s trip went well in general, considering he is mayor of New York City, and the publicity he has received. But the trip missed some sparks as he sought to satisfy everyone at the same time. 

In his public remarks, de Blasio seemed to try to balance his statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to satisfy all sides. “I think it’s important as an outsider to not claim to know more than I do,” he told reporters on Saturday during a field trip with Israeli Arab and Jewish kids. The comments were a stark contrast to remarks he made just a few months ago, in which he questioned Netanyahu’s commitment to pursue a peaceful settlement and an end to the conflict with the Palestinians.

On Saturday night, after visiting terror victims at Hadassah hospital, he proclaimed, “We understand that any acts of violence against civilians. We have to condemn it, and we have to fight to stop it, because there can’t be peace when civilians are wantonly attacked just for going about their business.”

In the readout of the mayor’s meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the mayor’s spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick noted that the two leaders “discussed the current security situation, New York City’s solidarity with Israel at this difficult moment, and the continued hope for peace.” The prime minister’s office, however, didn’t even bother to send out a statement, publish a photo, or even a tweet about the meeting.

But Netanyahu himself gave us a preview of what was an indication as to what he would tell his guest in their private meeting. “Look outside the window. That’s a settlement there,” Netanyahu said while he was waiting for de Blasio to enter the room, pointing to Gilo, an Israeli neighborhood in the south-western East Jerusalem. “That’s Gilo – it’s part of Jerusalem, and it’s described as a settlement.” As de Blasio entered, the prime minister remarked, “Good to see you. God, you’re tall.”

The message coming out of the trip was confusing at some point. While the original NY Times report cited sources within the administration that a trip to Ramallah was not planned, after it was initially considered, due to security reasons, Haredi Israeli news sites ran with the story on Sunday implying that the mayor was just hours away of travelling to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian officials. Nobody seemed to be bothered about the inaccurate information that spread like fire.

De Blasio managed, unintentionally, to make the host of his trip, Jack Rosen, gasp when he mentioned the American Jewish Committee’ (AJC Global) mayors initiative for fighting antisemitism towards the end of his keynote address at the American Jewish Congress Conference of Mayors. And even though the AJC did not sponsor this trip, it was Rosen who arranged the Israeli premier to find time on his Sunday schedule to meet with de Blasio. “I told the Prime Minister’s office that they should have a one-on-one meeting,” said Rosen.

The mayor smartly maneuvered between his political affiliation and his longtime supporters who joined him on the trip, keeping some distance from their own views on Israel. This gave the impression that he’s not being guided by them by any shape or form.

In the hotel lobby, Rosen told Jewish Insider that the reason for inviting de Blasio in the first place was to give the conference a higher profile, identifying the NYC mayor as a leader with a national platform that could ultimately strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. He said that de Blasio was given the invitation a while ago and never declined it. But the idea of meeting with Arab children and meeting with the Mayor of Tel Aviv also added a meaning to the trip, Rosen said. “[Huldai] is probably more progressive than de Blasio himself,” he remarked. “I think he saw a progressive Israeli mayor, who doesn’t agree with the current coalition. And then he saw Barkat (the mayor of Jerusalem), who’s more conservative, with a different standpoint.” He stressed, “It is fine for most Israelis and a majority of American Jews to meet with Israeli Arabs. And, most of the time it was okay to go to Ramallah. It’s fine to do it. But I think when Abbas is inciting the Palestinians, then, I think it’s a different kind of message.”

Rosen added that he commended the mayor for reaching out to the Hand in Hand school, during a Shabbat dinner with Jewish leaders. “I thought they’d throw the gefilte fish at me,” he joked. “But after that they all told me ‘we are glad you said that.’”

Overall, it should be noted, de Blasio was very well received, and the message his visit sent was heard loud and clear.

In stark contrast, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s visit last year to Israel left many supporters satisfied with the outcome. First of all, the governor went with an entire delegation that included legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle, but also business people from across the State. But more striking was the kind of reception he received from the Israeli government. Unlike the photo spray de Blasio got in the cabinet room, a setting reserved for larger delegations and U.S. House Representatives, Cuomo was welcomed by Netanyahu is his office before the two walked out to a preset podium and issued lengthy statements to the press. Cuomo also capitalized on the trip weeks later, as he met with Jewish leaders for a briefing, as well as holding a press briefing to highlight the visit and the implications it had in reinforcing the friendship between New York and Israel. It is still unknown if de Blasio would do the same.

Nonetheless, the idea that the mayor of a city that represents the largest Jewish constituency outside of Israel took a trip to the Jewish State in these challenging times is reflective of the strong bond that exists between the political leadership in the United States and the State of Israel on every level.

The Mets-Dodgers series is so Jewish, congressmen are betting bagels on it

Baseball doesn’t get much more Jewish than this year’s MLB National League Division Series, which starts Friday between the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Both teams feature notable Jews: Joc Pederson in the outfield for the Dodgers and Joe Wilpon in the owner’s box for the Mets. Plus, you’ve got the famously Jewy fanbases of New York and L.A.

But what really makes this series Jewish is the bet on the outcome between two Jewish Democratic congressmen.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is betting on the Dodgers, and Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y. is betting on the Mets. If the Mets win, Schiff pays up in popcorn from Pauline’s Premier Sweets in Burbank, California. If the Dodgers win, Israel is on the hook for bagels.

And not just any bagels: The word “fresh” appears twice in a press release about the bet:

“Schiff, who represents the areas surrounding Dodger Stadium, wagered gourmet popcorn from Pauline’s Premier Sweets in Burbank, befitting his Hollywood district. Israel, who is a Mets fan representing areas surrounding Citi Field, wagered New York bagels, flown in fresh.”

Then, quoting Schiff: “Please make sure the lox is fresh, Steve.”

That’s fresh. Not pulled out of the freezer. Not toasted. As these congressmen clearly understand, freshness is for bagels and lox what “no mayonnaise” is for a deli sandwich. Some traditions as simply unassimilable.

Victims’ relatives gather 14 years after Sept. 11 attacks

Relatives assembled under overcast skies on Friday to commemorate nearly 3,000 people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and outside Washington 14 years ago, when airliners hijacked by al Qaeda militants brought death, mayhem and destruction.

In New York, families of the victims read their names in a solemn and poignantly familiar pattern, watched over by service members in their dress uniforms.

Emblematic of the generations affected, children who were not old enough to remember their late relatives or had yet to meet them participated in the roll call.

“We are so blessed to have you as an angel and we are empty without you, we love you very much,” said Daniel Pagan, who lost his cousin Melissa Candida Doi in the attack.

Families hugged each other close, some carrying photographs or wearing t-shirts depicting lost loved ones, or bearing placards with the words 'we will never forget.'

First responders were thanked numerous times by the family members for their work on what became known as 'the pile.'

Many of those who were first on the scene and those who worked for weeks afterwards searching through the rubble are still suffering from various illnesses brought on by the toxic air.

Mourners stood at the empty footprint of the World Trade Center Twin Towers, toppled by two hijacked airliners on that clear, sunny morning in 2001.

“It doesn't get any easier,” said Malcolm Dean, a first responder and paramedic with the New York Fire Department on 9/11. He lost his younger brother William and colleagues.

“Fourteen years later it's not any easier standing here than it was the first year and the second year.”

Music and the soothing sounds of the waterfalls emptying into reflecting pools at the at 9/11 Memorial and Museum formed a backdrop as families placed flowers against their loved ones' names engraved in the bronze panels.

A veteran's trumpet salute closed the ceremony after nearly four hours, with the emptying plaza hushed and subdued.

“We come here every year. We live in New Jersey. The crowds keep getting less, but my wife and I, as long as we're breathing, we'll be here,” said Tom Acquaviva, who with his wife Josephine, lost their son Paul when the towers fell.

“No remains were ever found, so basically this is his cemetery,” he said, adding: “Couldn't ask for a better son.”

Hijackers crashed two other commercial jets into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The New York ceremony, where politicians past and present mixed with families but gave no speeches, was punctuated by moments of silence and bell ringing to mark the moments when each of the four planes crashed and when the towers fell.

In Washington, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, joined by staff, bowed their heads for a brief moment of silence on the south lawn of the White House to mark the anniversary.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter led a remembrance ceremony for relatives of those killed at the Pentagon.

Relatives of the 40 passengers and crew members who died aboard United Airlines Flight 93 gathered at the newly dedicated Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville.

The passengers fought back against the hijackers, who crashed the plane upside down at nearly 600 mph (965 kph).

In New York, the buzz of increased commerce from new residential and business towers has returned a large degree of normalcy to the area, known after the attacks as Ground Zero.

The day also honors those who were killed in 1993, when a car bomb tore through one of the parking garage of one of the towers.

Next to the 16-acre (6.5-hectare) site where the Twin Towers stood is the newly opened 1 World Trade Center, the tallest skyscraper in the Western hemisphere.

The first plane slammed into the North tower at 8:46 a.m., followed by a second plane hitting the South tower at 9:03 a.m. Within two hours, both towers had collapsed, engulfing lower Manhattan in acrid dust and smoke and debris that burned for days.

Personal grief, national grief and how we remember

It’s that time of year again, when I feel less like a citizen of Los Angeles and more like the New Yorker I was before my Western migration seven years ago. A look at the calendar, a clear blue sky, a helicopter circling overhead all cause an idiopathic pang that transports me back to a Tuesday in New York City, in September 2001.

Even though I was on the Upper West Side, “safe” from the carnage at ground zero, life throughout the city was torn apart, as if we’d fractured the space-time continuum — “Back to the Future”-style — transported into a post-9/11 reality no one could have imagined. I remember watching buildings collapse on live TV while I was on the phone with my mother. I remember the days that followed in Manhattan, how garbage pickup and transportation took a noticeable hit, and how we cried more, made more eye contact and were more neighborly — all as the faces of the “lost” smiled out at us from posters on buildings and lampposts.

In the years since the twin towers were felled by planes (and another two planes crashed, one into a field in Pennsylvania and the other into the Pentagon), I have created my own ritual of remembrance. I wake up early every Sept. 11. I listen as the names are recited on CNN. I read reflections from friends and family members who still post about the day, five, 10, now 14 years afterward. I repost my own story for anyone who still hasn’t heard it or who wants to again. If I have new reflections — like I did the year I lost my mother — I write them down and share them on social media.

But since I’ve lived in L.A., I’ve also felt a growing distance. There is now an expanse of time, as well as a massive physical space, between the incident and my here and now. In Los Angeles, I’m far from the geography that is the most affected by memory. And I know that distance from a loss can cause detachment.

When we grieve a loss that’s close to us, we are part of a small circle of bereavement. Within the circle, life is interrupted, irrevocably altered; outside, the world continues to turn, seemingly un-, or  minimally, affected. At those people, we want to shout, “What is wrong with you? Don’t you understand that everything’s different now?” But we don’t, because we know that though emotionally true, acting out isn’t socially helpful: Railing against personal tragedy helps nothing. As we learn to absorb the grief, to dull its most dangerously sharp edges and begin to coexist with it, we find ways to remember that seem more constructive than painful. But it’s still personal. And it’s still with us, even as we return to what seems — to others — like normal.

There are certainly smaller circles of mourners for whom national grief is also personal. But the vast majority of us are — though concentric to the loss — more remote from the epicenter. Our sadness is more general; our depression feels more external, happening to us instead of emerging from within us. Quickly, we harness that feeling in the service of creating communal memory; being more removed from the loss enables us to be functional and pragmatic. And once we’ve attended a memorial event, erected a museum or instituted an annual day of remembrance, we go back to our lives.

Unless we’re talking about the Holocaust. As Jewish children, we are exposed to the images, facts, figures and stories from a young age. As a community, we invoke the vigilance of memory, shout that we should “never forget,” and that if we assimilate, we’re “finishing what Hitler started.” Even if our immediate family members aren’t technically Holocaust survivors, and even while 70 years have passed, the Holocaust still feels omnipresent and personal. And we’re told over and over again to resist the complacency of our comfortable American lives, reminded to believe that “it can happen here.”

Recently, when Natalie Portman said she believes American Jews put too much educational emphasis on the Holocaust, headlines trumpeted this as a betrayal. But what her remarks really indicate is that, to her, the Holocaust is not important only as a memory, but also as a cause to action, an impetus to speak up for all of the oppressed. “We need it to serve as something that makes us empathetic to people rather than paranoid,” Portman said in a number of the many articles reporting her comments. She wasn’t saying, “Don’t study the Holocaust,” or “The Holocaust is just like any other instance of genocide, ethnic cleansing or persecution.” She was calling for us to import the lessons of the Holocaust, to take stands on other terrifying world events that are still happening, where we maybe still can make a difference.

With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 now a year away, I find myself asking questions about time, grief and memory. Personal grief, at least in Jewish life, has a defined halachic duration, although the emotional impact is far more longitudinal. When it comes to the Holocaust, we’ve been charged to “never forget.” But how long are we supposed to dwell in a national tragic memory like 9/11, which involves Jews, but isn’t about Jewish persecution?

Like Portman, I, too, wish to qualify that I’m not drawing an equal sign between two tragedies — the Holocaust and 9/11 are both immense, but very different events in scope, origin and duration. But I do want to suggest that we examine the way we remember the Holocaust while considering how we choose to remember things, especially if we weren’t there ourselves.

Can we look to our tradition, our liturgy or our history to find precedents of how to remember? Do we bentsch gomel, thanking God for the distance between us and the tragedy? Is there a special El Male Rachamim prayer for the souls of those who died? Do we create memorials and art installations and official days of remembrance with ceremonies? Do we light yahrzeit candles, say Kaddish and seek out stories so that those personal memories become a shared responsibility? Is it important for Jews specifically to connect to the trauma of 9/11, to use it as another catalyst to pursue global justice, or separate from it and move on with our lives — and if we do, do “the terrorists win”?

Because 9/11 is not Jewishly specific, some might resist the application of Holocaust-associated mourning rituals to this remembrance. Or people might feel that 9/11 happened to America, and it’s up to America to create the spaces for memorializing it. Or maybe, because 14 years is not 70-plus years, it’s still “too soon” for us — as people who were or weren’t there 14 years ago — to determine how we will remember 9/11. I imagine that back in the late 1950s, the educators of the world were still determining the best way to teach and remember World War II, and that their contemporary equivalents are engaged in a similar process regarding 9/11.

As a writer, I’m thinking about grief and memory. As, until recently, a longtime Jewish nonprofit professional, I heard and read vows of “never again” on a regular basis: On Holocaust Remembrance days and at Iran rallies, in fundraising letters and op-ed columns and High Holy Days sermons. As someone who was in New York City on 9/11 and remembers how close it was to Rosh Hashanah that year, I hear the names of the murdered people as shofar blasts piercing the long moment of silence. As someone who lost her mother back in 2011, I think more than many about how to remember in a way that’s constructive and doesn’t rip out your heart.

And as someone who thinks and overthinks things, I wonder how tragedies belonging mostly to the collective become personal; how a historic event can become a cause for action; and how stories, memory and media shape the way we share it all.


Esther D. Kustanowitz, a contributing writer to the Jewish Journal, is a writer, editor and consultant with nearly two decades of experience as a Jewish nonprofit professional. She is currently the editorial director of GrokNation.com.

With fist-bump, Trump reports for jury duty in N.Y.

Billionaire Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reported for jury duty in New York on Monday in a black limousine, signing autographs and giving a fist-bump to a supporter as he took a break from the campaign trail.

Trump, the front-runner in a crowded Republican field, appeared in Manhattan Supreme Court to join fellow New Yorkers to possibly be selected to cast a verdict in a trial.

Trump was greeted by a throng of reporters and television crews numbering around 100 people. He left for a lunch through an even larger crowd, signing autographs and taking questions while walking down the courthouse steps to his limo.

Asked on his way back from lunch if he hoped to get picked, Trump said: “If it happens, it happens.”

The real estate mogul's jury service came after a state judge earlier this year fined him $250 for failing to respond to summonses to serve jury duty five times since 2006.

Trump's representatives say the fine was ultimately waived and say the prior summonses had been sent to a wrong address for the former star of NBC's “The Apprentice.”

His jury service on Monday drew at least one protester, Bill Johnsen of Staten Island, who contended that Trump was only reporting for duty this time as a public relations stunt.

“If he wanted to disregard the notice, I'm sure he could do something,” Johnsen said.

Michael Cohen, an executive vice president and special counsel to the Trump Organization, said if Trump had received the prior notices he would have complied.

“Any assertion that Mr. Trump doesn't take his civic responsibilities seriously is absolutely false and only being used as an attempt to discredit his stellar reputation,” he said in a statement.

Trump, for his part, said: “People are surprised that I agreed to do this. I'm not surprised.”

Trump, 69, sat in the jury room with some of the 172 potential jurors who came Monday to possibly serve on trials in civil lawsuits.

With the presidential candidate in a front-row seat, a jury supervisor, Irene Laracuenta, reminded those in attendance of their responsibilities, noting “everyone has some other place they want to be.”

During a break, Trump made phone calls in a hallway away from reporters and other jurors, guarded by two officers.

“Everyone has a right to their own privacy,” Dennis Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association, told reporters.

As the break finished, Trump took a selfie with a lawyer and autographed a court artist's sketch. Going back into the jury room, he waved as someone shouted: “Mr. Trump, save this country, will you?”

Back in the jury room, Trump followed the pattern other fellow potential jurors, crossed his arms across his chest and appeared to doze off for several minutes.

His service is expected to last one day unless he is picked for a trial.