Irma and A Short Story About Goodness


This guest post is from Adam Weinberg, a dear friend and collaborator on Shabbat Tent. His story is a profound  lesson about how goodness changes the world, one family at a time.

You should not place a stumbling block before a person who is blind. It’s a well known commandment found in the Hebrew Bible.  It is found in a portion of the Bible called Kedoshim, most commonly translated as “holy ones”.  I thought about this idea several times while preparing for Hurricane Irma, while running away from Hurricane Irma, while being taken care of during Hurricane Irma, and while on my return home from Hurricane Irma.  I thought about this idea both for its obvious implications as a prohibition from taking sinister action to hurt or deceive someone, as well as its proactive positive inverse — You should find and remove any stumbling block already before a person who is blind.  

Hurricane Irma, and the media attention surrounding its long march towards the islands and the main land made many of us blind. Some physically, but most of us emotionally and psychologically. Here is one story, about individuals, families, businesses, and major corporations (mostly) removing stumbling blocks, doing good and being holy ones for us.  

Hurricane Irma is Coming

My family and I were visiting friends and seeing the band Phish in Denver at Dick’s Sporting Good Arena over Labor Day weekend.  We flew home to Miami Beach on Monday September 4th.   When we landed, a text message awaited us from our Denver friends.  It was screen shot of Governor Rick Scott’s state-of-emergency message that had been announced while we were comfortably experiencing the miracle of flight.  My wife and I shrugged it off.  It’s Miami in September.  Storms develop, threaten, and then sputter out somewhere.  My wife and I both lived through Hurricane Andrew.  Whatever Irma was would be fine.  Later that evening I went to our neighborhood Publix grocery store to restock the refrigerator after our vacation.  Publix was already in some kind of minor hysteria.  Shelves being emptied, friends and neighbors stopped in the aisles discussing escape plans.  It all seemed a bit much considering the projections I had googled didn’t have it making landfall in South Florida for nearly a week; a long time in the uncertain path of a Hurricane.  But it was hard not to absorb some of that frantic energy so I went to the water aisle to stock up.  

When I got to the aisle a Publix employee pointed out to me that Publix was discounting its water.  A case of 24 bottles of 16.9 oz water was on sale for $2.49.  By comparison I know friends who paid $15-20 for the same thing at other stores or through Amazon once everyone shifted into Hurricane preparation mode.  Publix was being good.  Disaster had not struck, and it was at least six days away, but Publix immediately removed any obstacle to acquiring safe drinking water for a price nearly anyone could afford [as a note, in the future Publix should limit the amount of water you can buy under such circumstances to ensure it doesn’t all sell out too quickly, giving as many people as possible access to these deals].

That Monday night I tried to read as many models on Irma as were available online. National Hurricane Center, Wunderground, the-never-wrong-European Model.  A friend posted the website windy.com which has this absolutely beautiful animated map of the world and its wind, ocean, and wave patterns.  You can allow the site to play out several days of ocean activity.  It’s really stunning to watch, so I just sat there watching it as it demonstrated Irma slamming into Miami. I looked at flights to Baltimore, MD where my closest friends outside of Miami live.  Tickets were reasonable at $180 round trip.  But when would Irma really hit?  I went to sleep, no tickets purchased.  By the time I looked at flights again Tuesday morning, the certainty of a direct hit with which the local and State governments and the media spoke had been ratcheted up to an “11”.  Plane tickets to Baltimore were now either sold out or $800 round trip with a stop. My wife and I are fortunate to have three kids.  That’s $4,000 and a serious stumbling block.

The Road Trip Begins

I spent most of the work day on Tuesday looking at hotels in Orlando and Atlanta trying to predict what days we would need them for.  Both cities were quick to jump on Miami’s panic and instituted hardline cancellation policies, giving those who booked on Tuesday afternoon for a storm that might hit on Saturday, or Sunday, or maybe even Monday only a day to cancel.  Basically take your money, throw it in a garbage bag, and set it on fire.  A coworker’s sister works for Marriott and shared with us her “friends” corporate code.  This got us a discount and a later cancellation policy.  I booked rooms for myself and a friend.  About thirty-minutes later I called my parents and sister.  They wanted rooms too in case they began to panic in a similar fashion to myself.  I went back to Marriott.com, entered the “friends” code.  It was no longer enabled.  No more corporate discounts or later cancellation terms.

A good friend said to me during the whole Irma experience that he was unaware of a single couple that didn’t get into a major disagreement over how to deal with Irma. Disagreements which often spread beyond Irma.  By the time I had hotel rooms booked I had one foot in the car; road-trip ready.   My wife on the other hand was spared the anxiety gene, and has a work ethic only matched by her father.  She works at a major hospital on the water in Miami Beach and was on the schedule until Friday. We fought about it.  Without much consulting with my wife, I had agreed to hit the road on Wednesday with our closest friends in Miami.  My wife was not leaving the hospital that quickly.  We fought some more.  Eventually, we reached a compromise.  My wife would work a half-day Thursday. Ensure her patients were taken care of and prepped or evacuated ahead of the storm.  

The first three-and-a-half hours of the drive from Miami to Orlando were fun and the roads generally smooth with short periods of slow down.  This kids drew pictures, watched The Lion King and generally enjoyed themselves.  About 40 miles south of Orlando the real traffic began. Standstill.  Cars began using the shoulder as an additional lane.  I made some comment about the selfishness of people who clog the shoulder in situations of potential need.  My wife decided a better approach would be to assume that anyone speeding down the shoulder was racing to save someone’s life.   This became the new vocalized motto for shoulder-drivers “Save your life!”  Ok, good.

It took another three hours to go those last 40 miles, but we made it to the hotel, a Marriott.  Our plan was to stay in Orlando for one night and then head to Atlanta as early as possible the next morning.  At check-in another Miami evacuee was noticeably anxious.  She explained to the front desk that she had only booked a room through Sunday morning and now the storm had slowed down and was projected to pummel Orlando on Sunday or Monday.  The two women working the front desk responded as perfectly as any two humans could have.  They assured her that many people were booking, cancelling, rebooking, and on and on.  They would find her additional room nights at their hotel. If they couldn’t guarantee it at their hotel, they would find her a room at another hotel.  If they couldn’t find her a room at another hotel they would make sure she was safe in their hotel, even if it meant getting creative with the sleeping situation.  Furthermore, if she ended up booking additional nights at another Marriott and then needed to cancel, the general cancellation terms were waived.  Basically book whatever you want, cancel whenever you want, and you won’t be charged unless you actually sleep in a hotel room.  These women saw an individual who was scared, and they promised her an environment that would protect her while making the financial burden as minimal an issue as possible.  Goodness. Hotels redeemed.

My kids went swimming in the hotel pool.  My wife and I committed to waking up at 4:30am to head to Atlanta. I studied waze and google maps trying to make sense of each map’s inability to accurately increase the estimated arrival time based on current traffic issues.  What I learned was that the estimated arrival time shown in these apps during such complicated traffic data situations is almost always wrong, but there is an easy way to figure out the truth.  If you zoom in on each current traffic incident, each app will show an estimated delay for that specific incident.  Add up all those estimated delays and tack it on to the overall travel time given.  For example, at approximately 2am Friday morning, both google maps and waze predicted that it would take 8 hours to get from Orlando to Atlanta.  There were still a few areas of “red” traffic incidents even at 2am, each with a delay of approximately 30 minutes.  Therefore, the real travel time at 2am; assuming no more traffic incidents occurred, would have been 9 hours.  If it wasn’t obvious from my 2am data set, sleep was not coming easily.  

I texted my sister who had just arrived in Atlanta after driving 19 hours straight from Miami.  I expressed my trepidation for the early morning journey.  I made my case to take I-95 instead of the Turnpike and I-75.  While I-95 was longer in mileage, it had experienced less traffic incidents the day before.  It didn’t have service stations built into the highway which were causing major slowdowns on the Turnpike and I-75.   I committed that if at 4:30am there were already traffic incidents on the Turnpike and I-75 and none on I-95, 95 would be the route.

Meanwhile, the hotel was doing more good.  They waived their normal pet prohibition and many guests were grateful.  Our neighbor across the hall had brought his dog and then apparently went for a very long walk or was deaf.  The dog barked incessantly most of the night. Days after the storm I listened to an interview with a man who remained in the middle Keys during the storm.  When Irma had passed, he went walking around his island and found more of his neighbors’ pets roaming around than his actual neighbors.  I tried to sleep, but it never came. 4:30am. I checked the map apps.  The Turnpike and I-75 already had a few small incidents showing up.  95 was clear sailing.  Nonetheless, all the apps still suggested taking the Turnpike.  I was too sleep deprived to battle the all powerful Waze and its handler Lord Google.  We abandoned the I-95 plan without much debate.

The first few hours, with my wife at the wheel, were smooth sailing.  Some back roads provided beautiful scenery, even if that scenery was too often speckled with confederate flags.  There was a lot of chatter on line about gas shortages.  My wife and I talked about how amazing truck drivers are. While nearly a million residents were fleeing north, the men and women who drive oil tankers were hauling up and down the highways ensuring gas was readily available.  Somewhere around Perry, GA we stopped.  Refill the tank, empty the bladder.  A tanker was at this particular stop refueling the station.  I went over to the men at the tanker and thanked them for what they were doing.  They seemed genuinely grateful for the recognition and we chatted briefly.  One of the men was from a town in Ft. Lauderdale just about 20 miles north of our family’s home.  These guys were goodness.  As stressful as it was, ultimately it’s easy to run away.  It’s much harder to spend days on the road, away from family and friends, to ensure everyone else has the fuel to keep running.

The overly simplistic formula I had devised in the middle of the night was proving true.  The map apps kept pretending that it was an 8-hour drive to Atlanta, but each traffic incident delay needed to be added to that base number.  About 10 hours into the drive, somewhere north of Macon, GA and among beautiful back roads and less attractive confederate flags, I decided we should fly back to Miami.  Most major airlines were now in redemption mode — offering direct flights from Atlanta to the Miami area for around $100 per ticket.  I booked five flights with cancellation insurance for Monday.  I then began the process of trying to find someone who would drive our car back.

Goodness began spilling out in all directions

We had hotel reservations at the Marriott Suites in Midtown Atlanta for the next three nights.  We also had the option to stay at the home of my sister’s best friend from college.  We went with the home.  I called the hotel to cancel.  All reservations were now fully refundable until 2am the night/morning of check-in.  The woman on the phone encouraged me to keep my remaining nights, and decide day by day.  Even if I forgot to cancel, she assured me, they would make sure the room was refunded if I hadn’t actually checked in. More goodness.  We arrived at our friend’s home after about 13 hours of driving, and the goodness began spilling out in all directions.

The Robkin-Salzberg clan have a large but modest home.  Their home exists to be used not be seen.  The only sacred elements in their home are the people, and not any of its things. By the time we arrived, rooms had already been set up for my wife and I, our kids, an amazing couple from Venice, FL, my sister, and her friend from Miami.  If more people showed up invited or otherwise, they were clearly welcome.  There was a ceramics art studio in the basement. Musical instruments lined the walls in another part of the basement.  Food was being prepared in the kitchen.  Enough for twenty people.  We were all instructed not to lift a finger. They would take care of us.  

Stories began to spread throughout the various communities in Atlanta who were housing Florida evacuees.  One couple had a baby in their hosts’ home, and their hosts were now planning the bris for that couple’s new baby boy.  By the time night fell Friday evening my wife and I were still shedding layers of stress but our kids were on vacation.

Irma kept shifting west.  Miami would be spared the worst, but many islands had already been hit hard and Naples and Tampa were now in the direct path.  Our flights for Monday were cancelled and automatically rebooked for Thursday.  If you recall my wife’s insistence on working as close to impact as possible earlier in this tale, you can intuit that returning four days after the storm would be unacceptable.  Drive or fly?  To drive meant to wait until Tuesday, once the storm was done with Florida and Georgia.  Roads would be a mess with debris. Gas tankers wouldn’t be able start refueling until Tuesday. The storm went up the West Coast of the State, but it was so large that East Coast cities like Jacksonville still flooded and suffered wide spread power outages.  Leaving Tuesday seemed like a bad idea.  I started calling Delta a few times a day to see if any earlier flights; perhaps Tuesday night or Wednesday were available.

Meanwhile, the Robkin-Salzberg clan and their guests continued breathe, eat and sleep goodness.  My close friend, and local mayor back home, had chosen to stay put and hang with the police and other first responders.  He was updating me.  Flooding, damage, but overall gratitude that Miami had dodged a major bullet.  I was probably one of a hundred or more people reaching out to him for updates. After the storm he went by my house. Took pictures. Told me it would all be good.  He was goodness.

Another friend back home is a news reporter.  He had to report in this thing.  Not because it provides some rush like sky diving, or because it’s actually safe.  It’s scary as all hell.  It’s completely not safe for all the reasons these same reporters tell you it’s not safe while they dodge debris and get strewn about by 100 mph gusts of wind.  But he did it. He told me a few days later that if his reporting provided advice or calm to even one person that otherwise would have done something to jeopardize their own safety that it was worth it.  He was goodness.

I kept checking on line for updates and predictions from friends. The same friend who posted that mesmerizing site windy.com now posted a note about a former student of his named David who escaped South Florida for Atlanta but now had no ride back.  I asked for his number and reached out.  I told David we weren’t sure if we’d be driving back or flying but either way he’d have a ride with us or he could take our car.  Win win. Plan in place.

Atlanta was great for the kids.  Young kids dealing with the fallout from a major hurricane is not ideal.  This seemed better. We went to parks, the aquarium, played music, made short films.  Over five and half days in Atlanta we ate only one meal not prepared by the Robkins-Salzbergs.  We went out with friends in the City.  After ordering I realized I had forgotten to get anything for our youngest son.  I went back to the counter, placed the order and took out my wallet.  The woman behind the counter refused my money.  She had overheard our kids talking about getting to go home, and decided we had enough to deal with.  The forgotten sandwich order would be on her.  I insisted to pay.  She refused to accept.  Goodness.

Tuesday morning our best friends, who had also escaped to Atlanta, made a run for it back home.  I wasn’t so adventurous and decided to keep looking for earlier flights. If that failed, I resigned myself to Wednesday driving, hoping gas and road conditions would be more predictable by then.  Tuesday night I called Delta back and was connected with an agent named Angie.  Angie was empathy incarnate.  She knew why I was calling without me really having to explain anything.  She told me that everyone she was speaking with was conflicted on how to get home and seats were being booked, cancelled, rebooked, and on and on.  If she kept refreshing her seating map occasionally new seats would become available. Finding five seats on an earlier flight would be challenging but she told me she would stay on the phone with me as long as I wanted her efforts to endure.  She also told me that if I wanted to cancel my Thursday flights in order to drive, all tickets were now fully refundable. Goodness.  

At one point Angie had three seats held for me to Ft. Lauderdale for Wednesday morning.  I could send my wife and two younger kids home first.  She wanted to keep trying.  Refresh the page.  Try a new flight. Refresh.  Check Miami airport instead of Ft Lauderdale. Check West Palm Beach. Refresh.  Debate the usefulness of this exercise.  Refresh. Double refreshing. Eventually Angie had four seats held on a Wednesday afternoon flight to Miami.  Book it.  I could easily find a single seat on another flight. By the time Angie had entered my family’s flight information into the seating manifest she had grabbed a fifth seat and had spent nearly an hour on the phone with me to accomplish the task.  My wife could now get back to work a day earlier.  We could all fly together for about the same cost as gas, food and hotel would cost to make the drive over two days.  David would drive the car back.  Good.

The last thing my grandmother ran away from was Hitler.

We got home early Wednesday evening. Power had just been restored after being out for close to five days.  My in-laws were still without.  They would stay with us.  My father-in-law had already started the clean up before we got home.  Goodness.  My parents escaped South Florida to Atlanta with my 95 year old grandmother.  The last thing she ran away from was Hitler.  From Atlanta, my mother took my Grandmother to New York to visit my aunt and uncle, her other grandkids and great grandkids. Goodness.  My father and sister each drove home solo.  Not easy after absorbing a week of stress.  Impressive goodness.

Then came Jose. The islands got it again.  As I finish this, Puerto Rico is being pummeled by Maria and Mexico is suffering from another major earthquake.  We were fortunate – both because Irma wasn’t a direct hit and because we had the means and finances to run. Others were not.  At home we helped friends and neighbors with clean up.  We had countless conversations with those around us to make sure they had everything they needed.  The local synagogues (and I assume churches and mosques) provided meals, places to stay and around the clock support. After a few days home, a very common story on line and in the media, revolved around looting and disgruntled residents still without power.  I get it. These are real issues.  But I had just been the recipient of so much good, from people who were not police officers, fire fighters, FEMA workers or other first responders – all who deserve high praise as well.  The goodness my family and I received came mostly from people who removed stumbling blocks – physical, emotional, psychological, and financial – simply because they wanted to do something good.  I’m going to focus on that for now.  

If you want to support some charities that I believe are doing the most good they can for Hurricane related challenges, check the grid and feel free to add your suggestions: CHARITY GRID

Love and thanks to Michelle, Simone, Lev, (little) Shai, Sara, Mom, Dad, Grandma Sylvia, Zeity Jack, Safta Rachel, Grandma Frances, Amy, Ben, Ellie, Ari, (Big) Shai, Judy, Navit, Ori, Kol, Havi, Renee, Marc, Chloe, David, Bruce, Pete, Luciana, Gabe, Rosh, Angie, Moshe, hotel folks, restaurant folks, oil tank drivers, the guy at that gas station in no-wheres-ville-Georgia who offered to fill my tires with air, and I’m sure a lot of other folks who deserve it.

______________

Adam Weinberg is a concert producer, promoter, part time guitar player, and occasional writer living in Surfside, FL with his awesome wife and kids.
The sanctuary of the United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston flooded during Hurricane Harvey. Screenshot from Vimeo

Hurricane Harvey fundraising for Jewish Houston just getting started


More than 1,000 Jewish families were confirmed as displaced from their homes in Houston by Hurricane Harvey, the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston estimated this month, with that number expected to more than double.

The devastating floods launched a national fundraising effort by Jewish groups to spur the recovery process. As the Jewish year drew to a close in mid-September, fundraising was well underway, but it continued to be outpaced by needs and hampered by the shrinking media attention, which shifted from Hurricane Harvey in southwest Texas to Hurricane Irma in Florida and the Caribbean. Even if fundraising goals are met, community members in Houston expect the recovery to last for months or more.

[Hurricane Harvey: How you can help]

After Harvey wrought catastrophic damage on Houston’s Jewish community, the Jewish Federations of North America put out a call asking for donations to the recovery effort that inevitably would follow.

“Especially in Los Angeles, people care about this,” said Jay Sanderson, CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which raised $550,000 for victims of Harvey. “But the further and further away we get from the hurricane itself, the further people will feel from it. And what we do know is this is a long road that Houston has to deal with.”

Jewish communities from across the continent answered the Federations’ pleas, sending in $12 million by mid-September to a Federation fund set up for the recovery. But three weeks after the storm, the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston still aimed to raise another $18 million to meet the needs of its community.

After Irma brought flooding and power outages to Florida in early September, the Jewish Federations of North America launched a companion effort to raise funds for its victims. However, though Florida’s Jewish population is about 10 times the size of Houston’s, Jewish communities and institutions in the Sunshine State were spared the same catastrophic damage.   

During and immediately after Hurricane Harvey, the Houston Federation worked closely with local Jewish organizations in the city, including the six major institutions that flooded: Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform temple; Congregation Beth Yeshurun, a Conservative synagogue; United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston (UOS); the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Houston; the Torah Outreach Resource Centre of Houston (TORCH); and Seven Acres Jewish Senior Care Services, a residential facility for the elderly.

Despite flooding at the homes of its top leaders, the Houston Federation partnered with Houston’s Jewish Family Service and Chabad to deploy aid.

Operating through its Texas regional headquarters in Houston, Chabad also launched a separate aid and recovery effort as record-setting rainfall lashed southwest Texas from Aug. 25-27.

Rabbi Barry Gelman of the United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston in the main sanctuary of the shul, which flooded during Hurricane Harvey.

During the first days of the disaster, Chabad arranged to ship tens of thousands of pounds of kosher meat to the Houston Jewish community, which is concentrated in the hardest-hit areas of the city and was devastated by feet of floodwater that often carried sewage and other waste.

By mid-September, the religious outreach group had collected approximately $800,000 in cash donations and donated goods worth hundreds of thousands more for relief efforts in the Houston and Corpus Christi regions, according to Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff, Chabad’s Hurricane Harvey relief coordinator. The funds are being used for storm cleanup, trucking of goods, emergency assistance, temporary housing, a food and supplies pantry, a Chabad command and call center and more, he wrote in a Sept. 17 email.

“We are focusing as well on the emotional and spiritual recovery of the community through uplifting and educational programming addressing the aftermath of Harvey” at 11 Houston-area Chabad centers and another in Corpus Christi, Lazaroff wrote in the email.

Meanwhile, Sanderson wrote in a community-wide email that the money raised by L.A.’s Federation would go to cash assistance for victims, extended day camp programs for children, congregational grants, volunteer coordination, counseling and mental health services, and mapping the community and its needs.

“We need to be invested in our brothers and sisters in Houston in the long term, not just in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane,” Sanderson told the Journal.

A set of videos produced for the Houston Federation documented the flood damage at the six Jewish institutions washed out by floods.

“It’s devastating,” Bruce Levy, president of Congregation Beth Israel, told the videographer, standing in a hallway of the flooded synagogue. “There’s so much destruction, so much loss. But we have a proud and hardworking community, and we’re going to build it back up again. That’s what I know.”

Each video ends with the same fundraising pitch, the words appearing over images of buildings destroyed and Jewish texts soaked beyond repair.

“No other Jewish community in the U.S. has witnessed such widespread devastation,” the boldfaced captions read. “Harvey’s catastrophic destruction has left Houston’s Jewish community in jeopardy. We need to rebuild. We cannot do it alone. We need your help.”

Property damage is seen at a mobile home park in Naples, Fla., on Sept. 11. Photo by Stephen Yang/Reuters

Hurricane Irma tears through Florida: Here’s how to help


Two weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston with historic floods, Hurricane Irma tore through Florida, delivering devastating wind and rain and forcing millions to evacuate. Though flooding did not reach the same catastrophic proportions as in Houston, the storm nonetheless left much of Florida’s Jewish population of 655,000 without basic necessities such as food, power and fuel.

Rabbi Levik Dubov of Chabad of O’Town in downtown Orlando spoke with the Journal Sept. 11 as family and friends cooked a meal on a portable stove in his home. Without power, they had to use up as much perishable food as they could before it spoiled.

Dubov said he had spent the morning checking in on friends and community members to make sure they were safe. Across the state, Chabad houses have become de facto storm relief centers.

“If they need food, if they need shelter, if they need fuel, if they need resources, we’re there to help,” Dubov said. “It’s whatever people need, and right now it seems food is the biggest thing.”

Click here to learn more about Chabad’s efforts in Florida and donate.

Chabad was among the Jewish organizations rushing to help communities impacted by Hurricane Irma. 3 On Sept. 11, more than two dozen Chabad houses planned to open their doors to community members in need of a dinner meal.

“People right now, they just want to have a sense of morale, a sense of togetherness,” Dubov said. “Food provides that.”

After Hurricane Harvey, Jewish Federations across the country opened fundraising pages to help storm victims. But as the extent of the damage in Florida became clear, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles extended its fundraising effort to include victims of Hurricane Irma.

Alana Weiner, vice president of media relations and strategy at the Los Angeles Federation, said funds raised through the Federation’s website would go to victims of each hurricane as needed.

Click here to learn more about Federation’s efforts.

Jacob Solomon, CEO of Greater Miami Jewish Federation, said while Jewish communal structures escaped serious damage for the most part, the lack of a functioning power grid posed a serious challenge.

“It looks like there’s relatively little structural damage to communal institutions,” he told the Journal. “The big issue right now is it’s something like 80 percent of Miami-Dade County is without power.”

In Atlanta, home to the closest large Jewish community to Florida, nearly a dozen synagogues opened their doors to Jews fleeing the hurricane.

“We were starting to get inquiries about Irma — two, three, four people asking about coming for Shabbat. We realized this is going to be a real need, and instead of dealing with a one-off, let’s open our community,” Rabbi Adam Starr of Young Israel of Toco Hills, one of the participating synagogues, told JTA.

The synagogues’ efforts were supported by thousands of kosher meals from the Orthodox Union.

Click here to learn more about disaster relief from the Orthodox Union.

A number of Jewish disaster relief organizations in the United States and Israel quickly moved to expand efforts launched in the wake of Hurricane Harvey to include victims in Florida.

Less than two weeks after dispatching an emergency response team to Houston, the volunteer group Israel Rescue Coalition sent 15 medics to help in Florida. Meanwhile, NECHAMA: Jewish Response to Disaster prepared to deploy a team to Florida to help victims recover from storm damage.

Solomon, the CEO of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, said cash donations were preferable to other kinds of aid.

“Walmart and Target and JC Penny have a pretty good distribution system already,” he said. “What we need is the ability to go out and buy what we need when we need it.”

Solomon spoke on the phone Sept. 11 as he decided whether he was going to break a county curfew to go recite the Mourner’s Kaddish with a prayer quorum — he’s mourning the loss of three close relatives in the past year. But as the storm chugged northward towards Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama, he struck a note of confidence for Miami, a city that has seen its fair share of nasty storms.

“We’re going to be just fine,” he said. “We know this drill.”

Volunteers in Atlanta's Orthodox Jewish community coordinate homes for evacuees from Hurricane Irma, which is set to hit Florida this weekend. Photo courtesy of Adam Starr

Jews fleeing Hurricane Irma are taking refuge in Atlanta’s synagogues


Rabbi Adam Starr was returning from an emergency trip to Houston, where he had helped a colleague clean up his synagogue after Harvey swept through that city, when his phone began to buzz. Jews from Florida had begun contacting Starr’s Atlanta synagogue seeking a safe haven from Hurricane Irma.

So on Tuesday, right after Starr got back from pulling out drywall and moving holy books in Texas, he began organizing his own relief effort back home. By Thursday night, he and a team of local volunteers were sitting around folding tables in Beth Jacob, a suburban Atlanta Orthodox synagogue, each working on laptops to coordinate shelter for Florida Jews.

“We were starting to get inquiries about Irma – two, three, four people asking about coming for Shabbat,” said Starr, rabbi of the Young Israel of Toco Hills, near Beth Jacob. “We realized this is going to be a real need, and instead of dealing with a one-off, let’s open our community.”

Irma, a Category 4 storm, has been called one of the worst hurricanes in decades. It ravaged the Caribbean this week and is expected to make landfall in Florida late Saturday.

The number of families seeking refuge in Atlanta’s Orthodox community is up to 250 — and growing. The community has turned into a landing spot for religious Jews from Florida seeking home hospitality, a local synagogue and meals for Shabbat funded by the Orthodox Union. Starr estimates that about 600 Orthodox families live in the area; many of them will be hosting impromptu guests on Friday night.

“What’s been going on for the past 36 hours is making shidduchim,” Starr said, using a Hebrew word for matches. “We’re the largest [nearby] Orthodox community that’s not directly in the path of the hurricane. We can do a tremendous kindness in assisting these people who want to get out of harm’s way.”

The Orthodox synagogues are two of nearly a dozen Atlanta Jewish institutions that have pitched in to help Irma evacuees from Florida, which has one of the country’s largest Jewish populations. Members of B’nai Torah, a Conservative synagogue, are hosting about 150 people, including some non-Jews. On Saturday morning, a few dozen members of the Conservative Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, on Florida’s coast, will attend services and lunch at B’nai Torah.

A few other synagogues have opened their doors, as have three nearby Jewish camps that are hosting evacuees. The campus Chabad at Georgia Tech is welcoming students from out of state, and the local Jewish community center is offering free passes to evacuees. Jewish Family and Career Services has a hotline where evacuees experiencing trauma can talk to clinicians.

The rabbis aren’t sure how long they will have to host the Floridians, though Heller estimates they will be in Atlanta at least until Wednesday. And though Atlanta is inland, there is a chance that Irma could bring damage there, too. Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, are also in its path.

“All of Florida is trying to come to Atlanta at the moment, and Savannah and Charleston are close behind,” said B’nai Torah Rabbi Joshua Heller, who was up at 1:30 a.m. Friday inflating air mattresses in his basement for evacuees.

This isn’t the first time Atlanta’s Jews have mobilized to help out-of-state hurricane victims.

Melissa Miller, public relations manager for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, recalls the community making a similar effort in 2005 to shelter Jewish victims of Hurricane Katrina as it swept through New Orleans. Some of those evacuees never left Atlanta.

“We had whole families in the middle of the night who came to Atlanta, left all their belongings,” Miller said. “There’s a tradition of loving kindness and Southern hospitality that all goes hand in hand. We’ve just always mobilized.”

Some of the wreckage wrought by Hurricane Irma on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin on Sept. 6. Photo by Lionel Chamoiseau/AFP/Getty Images

Hurricane Irma was no match for this mikveh on St. Martin


It was 5 a.m. Wednesday and Hurricane Irma was pounding the tiny Caribbean island of Saint Martin. Rabbi Moishe Chanowitz and his wife, Chana, the Chabad movement’s emissaries there, gathered their five children and hunkered down in an unlikely place: a mikveh.

According to the Chanowitzes, as told on Chabad.org, the ritual bath helped save their lives.

The storm killed at least eight people on St. Martin and a councilman told Reuters that 95 percent of the 34-square-mile island was destroyed. Irma’s winds reached around 180 miles per hour and decimated trees and homes, flinging cars around in its wake.

Even though the Chanowitzes’ Chabad center building was sturdy and built into the side of a mountain, the storm had them rightly terrified. By 4 a.m. Wednesday, the front door of the building had flown off.

“You could hear it; you feel the pressure in your ears,” Moishe Chanowitz said. “I thought the windows would explode at any moment.”

With more wallboards flying away, the Chanowitzes fled to the center of the building and into the mikveh. It’s still under construction but crucially has an outer wall and a door. The family pushed a commercial freezer in front of the door.

The door of the Chabad center in Saint Martin blew off when Hurricane Irma passed through. (Chabad.org/News)

“We have hurricane-proof doors and windows; it’s not like we weren’t prepared,” Chanowitz said. “But this was off the charts. The mikveh saved us.”

Around 10 a.m., the family and hundreds of neighbors finally ventured out into the disheveled landscape. Most had similar stories. One friend told the Chanowitzes he survived by hiding in a closet.

For now, the Chanowitzes, along with the rest of Saint Martin, are left without electricity.

“The damage is unimaginable,” Chanowitz said. “But we’re going to rebuild.”

The Chasidic Chabad movement is known for its outreach around the world and has emissaries in nearly 100 countries.

Floridians in Tampa filling sandbags to prepare for Hurricane Irma on Sept. 5. Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Bubbe lives in the path of Hurricane Irma. Now what?


Beatrice Marks’ one-story home might flood this week. But she laughs off the threat.

“It doesn’t faze me one bit. Not anymore,” said Marks, 86, whose community of seniors lies in the path of Hurricane Irma, which is set to make landfall in Florida at the end of the week. “As far as the actual fear of the hurricane, we all are afraid. But it’s a thing we know that can come and go.”

Marks, who has lived in Florida for more than 70 years, is an outlier among octogenarians — living alone and driving with barely any assistance in everyday activities. But as a Jewish senior in Florida, she is far from alone.

Long a mecca for Jewish retirees, South Florida has a disproportionate number of Jewish elderly. With thousands of local seniors in their areas, Jewish communal agencies are gearing up to prepare the elderly for Irma, which officials say could be one of the worst hurricanes in decades.

“We’ve already been getting calls from people who are scared,” said Barbara Bailin, director of financial services for Goodman Jewish Family Services of Broward County on Florida’s east coast. “A lot of our seniors are in old condominiums. They might be living near the beach in things that are 40 years old, and a lot of people don’t want to leave.”

Irma, which is predicted to hit the Caribbean on Wednesday, has been designated a Category 5 storm and has the highest wind speeds recorded since the 1980s. Its current path has it crossing Puerto Rico and Cuba before reaching southern Florida on Sunday morning — just two weeks after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas coast.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a statewide state of emergency, and Jewish groups already are focusing on the state’s large population of Jewish seniors. In South Florida, more than a quarter of its population is seniors, according to recent population studies.

Beatrice Marks has lived in Florida for 70 years and isn’t fazed by the arrival of Hurricane Irma. (Courtesy of Marks)

Many of those seniors live independently or, like Marks, in a community where some housekeeping is taken care of, but a fraction are dependent on Jewish organizations for meals on wheels, medicine and transportation. Others turn to the agencies when other support runs out or in emergencies like these. Jewish service agencies hope to assist those clients by connecting them with relevant state agencies, helping them stock up on supplies and persuading them to get out of harm’s way.

“Everyone’s taken a little bit aback by the latest turn of events,” said Alec Rosen, vice president of community engagement for Jewish Community Services of South Florida. “We’re calling clients, making sure they have adequate food and water.”

Rosen’s organization delivers more than 100,000 kosher meals annually to 665 homebound seniors, and is ensuring that they have three days worth of food, water and medication. And while most local buildings have hurricane protections like shutters and reinforced windows, Bailin’s agency will work to persuade seniors living in insecure areas to leave their homes for government-run special needs centers, which will be safe from damage and able to provide the necessities now being cleared off of South Florida’s supermarket shelves.

Local and state governments provide a share of the assistance, from ensuring buildings are safe to transporting seniors to the evacuation centers. On Wednesday, Miami-Dade County will begin evacuating special-needs residents. But Bailin said getting seniors to go to the shelters isn’t easy.

“Seniors don’t want to leave their homes when they can’t take care of themselves anymore,” she said. “You hear, ‘I’ve lived here for 40 years and never had a problem.’”

Previous storms — like Hurricane Wilma in 2005 — have taught Bailin to prepare as much for the storm’s aftermath as for the lead-up. People often hoard perishable food, she said — a likely power outage will render it useless. Better, she recommended, to buy dry staples that will last. Jewish Family Services also holds off on providing emergency food stipends to clients until the storm passes.

“You’ve got to stop to realize the worst hurricane comes and goes within three or four days,” Marks said. “Why would you stock up on food when your lights are going to go out? You’re not going to have refrigeration. You buy crackers, you buy dry food, you’ve got cereal.”

What can distant children and grandchildren do to help? Not much, Bailin says, beyond calling service agencies to confirm that their relatives are located and have all the essentials provided. Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs has a hurricane preparedness guide.

And it’s important, Bailin said, to make the call now.

“Make sure mom and dad have a plan in place,” she said. “Encourage them to evacuate where they have emergency services. If they call us at the last minute, they can’t do anything then.”

Marks doesn’t plan to leave her home, but if she does, she will join one of her sons, who both live nearby. But she doubts they’ll be able to do much she can’t do on her own.

“As far as preparation is concerned, there isn’t too much we can do about that,” she said. “We all have shutters in our home. The water is a menace and always will be, I think.”

Clinton leads Trump by 43 points among Jewish voters in Florida


Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is leading Republican nominee Donald Trump by 43 points among Jewish voters in Florida, a new poll released on Friday showed.

According to the poll, conducted by Jim Gerstein from GBA Strategies, Clinton is supported by 66 percent of Jewish voters, while Trump is supported by 23 percent.

Trump’s image among Jewish voters is underwater by 50 percent. Only 21 percent view the father of Ivanka Trump and former Grand Marshal at the Israel Day Parade favorably. A whopping 71 percent have an unfavorable view of him.

Clinton is viewed favorably by 57 percent of Jewish voters and unfavorably by 33 percent.

The only group Trump is doing well is among Orthodox Jewish voters (6 percent of the Florida Jewish electorate). According to the poll, Trump leads Clinton 66-22 percent among Orthodox Jews. Among all non-Orthodox voters, Clinton leads Trump 77-22.

Jewish voters represent 3 to 6 percent of the electorate in Florida, in a state that is expected to be one of the toss-up battleground states that could determine the presidential race.

Clinton is ahead by 3.3 percentage points in Florida, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

“I think that in a situation where the race is almost certain to be as close as it will be, that, obviously, every community’s vote is going to be crucial and the Jewish community’s vote is something which could be expected to play a factor in this race, for sure,” Andrew Weinstein, an attorney and prominent Democratic donor from Coral Springs, told Jewish Insider.

The Republican Jewish Coalition highlighted the fact that Clinton is currently underperforming, polling lower than Obama’s actual portion of the vote in 2012. “This recently released poll of Jewish voters in Florida confirms again that Jews continue to flee the Democrat Party in greater and greater numbers,” Matt Brooks, RJC’s Executive Director told Jewish Insider is a statement. “Due to President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s policies, voters have seen the world fall into chaos as well as the erosion of our close alliance with Israel. Four years after President Obama received the lowest amount of support from Jewish voters in decades, Democrats should be panicked to see Hillary Clinton falling even further behind.” 

In 2012, President Obama got 68% of the Jewish vote in the Sunshine State, while Republican nominee Mitt Romney got 31 percent, according to exit polls.

A J Street exit poll also showed that 54 percent never considered voting for Romney, while only 27 percent always considered voting against Obama. Numbers from an “>interview with Jewish Insider last year, NJDC’s chairman Greg Rosenbaum boasted that Florida ended up in the Obama column in 2012 due to a concentrated effort to mobilize Jewish voters in the Sunshine State in the last weeks leading to Election Day. An exit poll conducted by Melman showed an increase of support from 59 to 71 percent – a twelve point shift in seven weeks, which was about 144,000 additional votes. The President’s margin of victory in Florida was less than 1 percent – 70,000 votes.


” style=”text-decoration: underline;” title=”View Jake Korn’s profile on Scribd”>Jake Korn on Scribd

If confirmed as an act of terrorism, it would be the deadliest such attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, when al Qaeda-trained hijackers crashed jetliners into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, killing some 3,000 people.

The choice of target was especially heart-wrenching for members of the U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida.

“Gay clubs hold a significant place in LGBTQ history. They were often the only safe gathering place and this horrific act strikes directly at our sense of safety,” the group said in a statement. “We will await the details in tears of sadness and anger.”

In an apparently unrelated incident on Sunday, a heavily armed man from Indiana who said he was headed to a Los Angeles-area gay pride festival was arrested in nearby Santa Monica, California, where police found guns and chemicals to make explosives in his car.

How to tragedy


This is what you do when it all goes to hell again.

You casually turn the television on while the coffee water boils, but the news punches you in the gut and takes your breath away.

You instantly revise the whole history of the world in order to make the horror now unfolding the inevitable trajectory of reality.

You say out loud, even if there is no one to hear you say it, “Oh, my God.”

You do not notice that you have pulled God into the picture. You do not yet wonder what kind of God, if any, could cause or permit this nightmare to happen. 

You pray that no one you love was there, but you know that everyone who was there was loved by someone who is also praying they were not there.

You pray that whoever did this does not belong to any tribe that you do.

You do not yet wonder Whom it is you are praying to.

You text your family and friends, who are doing the same thing you are, their TV remotes in one hand and their cell phones in the other. 

You watch the president call the massacre an act of terror and an act of hate. You learn this is the fifteenth time a mass murder has required him to console us. You cannot help thinking it’s not the last time he will have to do it. 

You learn what set the shooter off: the sight of two men kissing. You wonder how anyone could live in Florida, or anywhere, without having seen that happen before. You shudder at, but gain no insight from, the proximity of love and hate.

You text a friend about going to the West Hollywood Pride Parade to show LGBTQ solidarity. He texts back, “I’m thinking it’s very dangerous No way of guarding against anything Boston marathon flashbacks.” You reply, “Vs Je suis Charlie?” He forwards an L.A. Times tweet: “Man with weapons, possible explosives arrested, said he was going to L.A. gay pride parade.” You stay put.

You hear a gay bar called a “soft target,” and you are forced to confront the inconceivability of hardening the soft targets where you live your life, like the mall you were planning to shop at this afternoon, or the café where you ate last night, which in hindsight could be the twin of the Tel Aviv café where terrorists killed four people a few days before.  

You hear that the bodies of the victims are still being identified. You see parents on the streets of Orlando showing photos of their missing kids to passers-by. You cannot begin to imagine the pain of the looming moment when they will hear their child referred to as their “loved one.”

You read a stream of I-told-you-so tweets about “radical Islamic terrorism,” prompted by a presidential candidate with zero self-control and zero capacity for empathy, and you recall that narcissism is not the description of a colorful personality trait, but the diagnosis of a psychiatric character disorder.

You watch that candidate go on to assert that the murder of 50 people by a man born in New York is manifest justification for banning all Muslims from entering the U.S., and you realize that national tragedy has lost whatever power it once possessed to impose an armistice on partisan bitterness and grace our mourning with dignity and unity.

You hear the sound a military assault rifle makes when it kills and wounds 103 people in less time, as one of the survivors put it, than it takes to play a song at a nightclub.

You read an outpouring of heartfelt grief from scores of members of Congress who have received scores of thousands of dollars from the NRA, and who have fought every gun safety bill ever brought to a vote.

You do, finally, think about God. 

You contend with the same question that gnawed at believers in a benevolent deity when the Lisbon earthquake and tsunami struck on All Saints Day of 1755, killing some 50,000 Catholics. The same question that seized the victims and descendants of the Shoah.  That ravaged the families of 9/11, and the families of all the other passengers on the other planes that have fallen like Icarus from the sky. The same question that scares every patient awaiting test results. That stalks Orlando. That haunts America.

Why? What kind of God lets tragedy happen? 

You know the answers. 

God’s ways are mysterious. God’s plan is beyond understanding. God created the world, but then withdrew from it. God gave us the free will to choose life or death. God and Satan struggle for our souls. God gives life everlasting to the good. God weeps at our plight. God is Nothing. God is Being. God is chance. God is dead.

You turn the television off. You turn your phone over. 

You are alone with your breath. 

In, out. In, out. In, out. 

You are grateful.  

God is gratitude.


Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Interview with U.S. Senate hopeful Carlos Lopez-Cantera


Eleven Republicans are seeking to succeed Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate. Among them is Florida’s Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

Rubio hasn’t endorsed yet in the Republican primary. But on Monday, the senator suggested he may be ready to endorse the Republican he wants to see in office come January 2017. If this is to be any indication, Rubio is expected to appear Tuesday night at a Lopez-Cantera fundraiser in Washington, D.C., according to “>Quinnipac poll showed Rep. Patrick Murphy leading Lopez-Cantera by four points (38–34), while Grayson ties him 37-37 percent.

“Do you think that Trump at the top of the ticket helps you or creates a challenge?” we asked.

“The honest answer to that question is: I don’t know,” he responded. “I don’t think anybody knows what November is going look like as far as the top of the ticket. I am focused on winning the senate race.”

 

Would-be Miami synagogue bomber reportedly was Muslim convert, wanted to inspire other attacks


The South Florida man arrested for planning to bomb a Miami synagogue has been publicly identified and charged in federal court.

James Gonzalo Medina, 40, of Hollywood, appeared in court in Miami on Monday afternoon, several media outlets reported.

Medina, who according to court papers is a convert to Islam, was arrested on a charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in an attempt to blow up the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center during Friday night services, the last night of Passover. The Conservative synagogue has about 800 member families and houses an early childhood center, according to its website.

Local 10 News reported that the criminal complaint also accuses Medina of planning to attack the synagogue on Yom Kippur. Medina told a confidential informant more than once that he planned to strike during Yom Kippur using AK-47 assault rifles, Local 10 said, citing the complaint. When the informant told Medina the attack might look as if it were orchestrated by the Islamic State, Medina expressed pleasure, believing it would “inspire other Muslims to attack as well.”

Asked by the FBI informant why he wanted to attack the synagogue, Medina said it was his “call of duty” and something he had to do “for the glory of Allah,” the complaint said, according to the Washington Post. Medina also told the informant he believed “Jewish people are the ones causing the world’s wars and conflicts.”

According to the Sun Sentinel, Medina tried to make a speech during his court appearance, but was stopped by U.S. Magistrate Judge William Turnoff after saying, “I’ve got a few words of my own. … My name is James Medina, aka James Mohammed.”

Prosecutor Marc Anton told the judge that Medina talked about “obtaining a bomb he could either place under a car or throw it over the wall.”

After the undercover informant provided Medina with what he said was an explosive device, the FBI arrested Medina on his way to the synagogue. The device was not real, authorities said.

Medina is being detained at the Federal Detention Center in Miami and will remain there until at least Thursday, the day of his arraignment and bond hearing.

If convicted, Medina faces a maximum penalty of life in federal prison, according to the Sun Sentinel. He has not indicated whether he will plead innocent or guilty.

In a statement published in the Sun Sentinel, the synagogue said its leadership “has been briefed by law enforcement and Jewish community security officials” and been assured “that the synagogue and school were never at risk at any time during the investigation and arrest, and that there are no credible threats directed against us at the present time.”

The synagogue and an affiliated school were operating as normal Monday.

Medina has several prior arrests, including one for sending violent threats via text message. He said in court that he is out of work, divorced and has no significant assets. He was provided a court-appointed lawyer.

Israel emerges as campaign issue ahead of voting in three big Jewish states


Israel has prominently emerged as a presidential campaign issue ahead of critical primary contests in five states on Tuesday, three of which – Ohio, Illinois and Florida – have substantial Jewish communities.

Israel was the subject of a heated exchange in the Republican debate last week in Miami, with front-runner Donald Trump hammered by his opponents for saying he would be a neutral broker of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Trump has defended his position as essential to achieving a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, but his three remaining rivals for the Republican nomination said they would stand with Israel and that no peace agreement is possible.

“The policy Donald has outlined, I don’t know if he realizes, is an anti-Israeli policy,” Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who desperately needs a win in his home-state primary, said at the debate. “Maybe that’s not your intent, but here’s why it is an anti-Israeli policy: There is no peace deal possible with the Palestinians at this moment.”

The real-estate magnate parried the criticism by noting his love for Israel and his daughter Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner, the scion of another real-estate family. Trump said there was no one “on this stage that’s more pro-Israel than I am,” citing his role as grand marshal of the 2004 Salute to Israel Parade in New York, which prompted some laughter in the audience. And he defended his promise of neutrality, saying it was essential to achieving a peace deal.

“If I go in, I’ll say I’m pro-Israel and I’ve told that to everybody and anybody that would listen,” Trump said. “But I would like to at least have the other side think I’m somewhat neutral as to them, so that we can maybe get a deal done.”

The Israel discussion was the most expansive one on the subject in any Republican debate this season, and it continued even after the debate concluded. Rubio’s campaign sent an email blast immediately after with the subject line “Trump Is No Ally to Israel.” The next day, surrounded by prominent Jewish backers — including Adam Hasner, a close colleague of Rubio when they were both in the Florida Legislature, and Dan Senor, a veteran of the George W. Bush administration — Rubio took aim at Trump in an appearance at a West Palm Beach synagogue.

“We are electing the next commander-in-chief, and when the one leading in the polls will not take sides, imagine if he were president?” Rubio said Friday at Temple Beth El.

“For people in the Orthodox community, and more broadly in the pro-Israel community, who have a view they are unhappy with the Obama administration because Obama’s approach has been more neutral, Trump talking in those terms is not reassuring,” said Nathan Diament, the Washington director for the Orthodox Union.

On Sunday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, also needing a win in his home state on Tuesday, notably pivoted on a key Israel-related issue, saying on the Fox News Network that he now favors suspending the Iran nuclear deal. Until now Kasich, like Trump, has said the deal is a bad one, but that he would first consult with experts before suspending it. Kasich said his mind was changed by Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests.

Ted Cruz, the last of the four remaining contenders for the Republican nod, took his pro-Israel message to voters through social media, a campaign official told JTA, reminding them of his pro-Israel activism in the Senate. Cruz’s Jewish surrogates have appealed to Jewish voters whose names they compiled from synagogue membership lists and made appearances at Jewish voter events in South Florida.

Hillary Clinton, the front-runner in the Democratic race, has also been reaching out to Jewish voters ahead of the Florida primary. But her message has emphasized not so much her differences with Bernie Sanders, the Independent Jewish senator from Vermont who has mounted an unexpectedly tough challenge for the nomination, but to the threat Trump poses to Israel.

Sarah Bard, Clinton’s national Jewish outreach director, said Trump’s incendiary rhetoric had helped their efforts to mobilize campaign volunteers.

“Where we had a hard time pushing volunteers out the door, he does make our job easier,” Bard said.

Clinton has been leading in Florida polls, but after last week’s upset in Michigan, she is leaving nothing to chance. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., a Clinton supporter and the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, held a conference call Monday with hundreds of rabbis across the country. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., is speaking Monday with Jewish students at Florida Atlantic University on Clinton’s behalf. And Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., held a call Sunday with Jewish leaders organized by the Clinton campaign.

Another Clinton surrogate, Robert Wexler, a former congressman from Florida, in a weekend Op-Ed in the state’s Sun-Sentinel newspaper, warned that neither Sanders nor Trump has the understanding necessary to handle the Middle East, though he didn’t name either candidate.

No candidate understands “the nuances and sensitivities of the Middle East as well as the former secretary of state,” Wexler wrote. “Just look at the statements we’ve heard in the campaign as of late, with one candidate saying he’d be ‘neutral’ concerning Israel and another calling to ‘normalize’ relations with Iran. Both positions are naive, betraying a lack of understanding in general and about the Middle East in particular.”

Sanders has called for the normalization of ties with Iran in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal reached last year.

Deutch said in his pitches to Jewish voters, he contrasts Trump’s “neutrality” with Clinton’s record.

“After hearing the comments that Donald Trump has made, I have found that, with Secretary Clinton’s strong support for Israel, her very clear position that the United States, both during speeches and in debates, that the United States will stand with Israel, they found these very reassuring,” he said.

Trump does have Jewish backers. Philanthropist Jacob “Hank” Sopher ran a full-page ad in the Miami Herald on Sunday calling for Jewish support for Trump, calling him “a man of integrity, a friend of the Jewish people, a friend of Israel.”

Jewish platform raises political dough for Cruz


UPDATED 11:54 a.m.

A group of Orthodox Jews supporting Ted Cruz for president have launched a 24-hour campaign to raise $1 million for Cruz's campaign on the day of crucial primary contests in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina.

The campaign “Million For Ted” was posted on the popular fundraising website Charidy.com, a non-partisan corporation that serves as a crowdfunding platform for non-profit charitable campaigns. The goal is to raise at least $250,000 from members of the Orthodox Jewish community sympathetic to the conservative policies of the Texas Senator, which will then be matched 75 percent by the Wilks family. “It’s all or nothing, if we don’t reach one million, all donations will be returned,” a message posted on the site read.

The organization hosting the campaign is called Reigniting the Promise, a super PAC in support of Cruz. 

The fundraising platform appears to be a for-profit business that takes a 2.9% cut of funds raised, which is legal under campaign finance laws, according to Paul S. Ryan Paul, deputy executive director of the Campaign Legal Center. Hecht told Jewish Insider that no service fee will be charged if the goal is not met by midnight (CT)

“Charidy is a bipartisan website. We are not officially endorsing. We are hosting this campaign,” Moshe Hecht, a chief fundraising specialist at Charidy, told Jewish Insider. “There are some Jewish people behind the scenes who want to promote this to the Orthodox community because they feel the community should support Ted Cruz.”

Hecht said that while certain people in the company may have contributed to Cruz's campaign, this campaign is not an endorsement, adding that this is the first political campaign out of 600 campaigns that the site has hosted so far.

The campaign raised $15,000 in the first half hour (1:30 p.m. ET).

Trump scores crucial win in Florida as five states vote


Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump scored a crucial win in the Florida primary on Tuesday, striking a potentially fatal blow to rival Marco Rubio's campaign and moving closer to securing the party's nomination as five U.S. states voted.

Trump was aiming to sweep all five states on Tuesday, including Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina and Illinois, and deal another setback to establishment Republicans who fear his rowdy campaign will lead the party to defeat in November.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 68, also captured the Florida primary as she aimed to put some distance between herself and rival Bernie Sanders, 74, a U.S. senator from Vermont, in primaries in the same states.

Trump, the 69-year-old billionaire businessman, was aiming to knock out his two mainstream rivals, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida, who probably need to win their home states to keep their campaigns alive. His closest challenger nationally is U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, 45, a Tea Party favorite.

A Trump loss in any of the five states on Tuesday would give new hope to Republicans battling to deny the brash New Yorker the nomination and block him from capturing the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination at the party's July convention.

Hillary reaches out to Jewish voters in Florida


All eyes are on Florida. Sunshine State voters are about to play a big role in picking each party’s nominee on Tuesday. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is expected to win by a comfortable margin and pick up as many delegates as possible to solidify her lead over Senator Bernie Sanders.

Clinton enjoys a few key advantages, including strong backing from Jewish community leaders and Jewish Democrats, in the first contest where Jewish voters could determine an election. According to a recent study, 12 percent of Jewish Americans reside in Florida.

In 2008, Clinton won Florida’s Jewish voters 2-to-1 over [President] Barack Obama.

In the last few weeks, and over the weekend, Clinton’s Jewish outreach team has organized phone banks, house parties, canvasses and voter registration drives, according to a person with knowledge of the campaign’s activities.

On Sunday, Congressman Steve Israel joined a conversation with FAU Jewish Student Union and Hillel members at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton to shore up support for the former Secretary of State. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) participated in a conference call with Jewish Women for Hillary, and Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL) held a conference call with hundreds of rabbis and Jewish community leaders on Monday.

“My expectation is that Hillary will win by a very large margin,” Congresswoman Lois Frankel (D-FL22), who was campaigning for Hillary over the past few weeks, told Jewish Insider in a phone interview on Sunday. “She’s very well known here in Florida. We have many New Yorkers that know her, who are here either in the winter or they’ve moved here and knew her as senator. She’s very admired.”

A Quinnipiac poll released on Monday showed Hillary with a 60–34 percentage point lead over Sanders.

According to Rep. Deutch, Clinton’s decades-long record on Israel and relationship with the Jewish community going back to the time she served as First Lady in the state of Arkansas, is what gives her the upper hand over her rival Bernie Sanders, who’s Jewish, among Jewish voters in Florida. “This is a long relationship that the community has had to know Secretary Clinton,” Deutch told Jewish Insider. “They know where she stands on these issues, and that’s why I’m confident she is going to do so well in the Jewish community.”

Frankel echoed this sentiment. “For people who are concerned about foreign affairs, there’s no question that Hillary comes with the experience that surpasses anybody – Democrat or Republican – running,” she told Jewish Insider. “But even on domestic issues, I don’t think people here really know Bernie Sanders that well.”

Sanders, who made history in New Hampshire by being the first Jewish candidate in American history to win a presidential primary, has been largely absent in southern Florida’s Miami, Palm Beach and Boca Raton counties – areas with high Jewish residential density.

Last month, former President Bill Clinton met with over hundred Jewish community leaders, rabbis, elected officials, and supporters in Palm Beach. “President Clinton and Hillary Clinton have always had a deep connection to the Jewish community – and Hillary Clinton has made clear that continuing to strengthen this partnership will be a top priority of her presidency,” the Hillary for America campaign said in a readout of the closed-press event.

Clinton is expected to address AIPAC’s Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., next week.

Where Jeb Bush’s Jewish backers go from here


Many of Jeb Bush’s supporters and longtime friends expressed their disappointment in the outcome that caused the former Florida governor to suspend his campaign on Saturday night.

“I’m very disappointed that the rest of America didn’t agree with me, but they certainly spoke,” Fred Zeidman told Jewish Insider on Sunday. “I always felt Jeb was the best candidate to beat whoever the Democrats put up.”

“Times have changed, the country has changed, the electorate has changed,” Mel Sembler, former RNC finance chairman and board member of the pro-Jeb Bush super PAC Right to Rise, was quoted as saying by Tampa Bay Times. “I don’t understand our country anymore.”

Just one year ago, Jeb was considered by many to be a leading contender for the 2016 Republican nomination. On June 15, the son and brother of former Presidents presented himself to the American people as an accomplished conservative leader with the best experience needed to win back the White House. On August 25, the Bush campaign launched the largest ‘National Jewish Leadership Committee’ for a presidential primary contender, consisting of 71 prominent members of the Jewish community.

As Donald Trump gained in the polls and dominated the news cycle on a regular basis, Jeb’s early supporters maintained hope and confidence that their struggling candidate would perform well enough in the Iowa caucuses and then ultimately win the New Hampshire primary. Despite spending a significant amount of time and resources in the Granite State, Bush came in with a disappointing fourth-place finish, barely ahead of Marco Rubio, who days earlier surprisingly wilted under sustained attack by his rivals. On Saturday, after finishing fifth in the SC primary, Jeb told his supporters, “The people of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken. I respect their decision. So, tonight, I am suspending my campaign.”

Jewish Insider spoke with some of Jeb’s leading Jewish supporters to hear their thoughts on Jeb’s campaign and the state of the race going forward.

“I am still very much despondent about Jeb’s unexpected departure from the race,” Thane Rosenbaum, an American novelist and law professor, told Jewish Insider via email. “I thought he was the superior candidate with the right attitude and policy proposals toward Israel, the Iran [nuclear] deal, and global anti-Semitism–issues that matter to me greatly.”

“Having been ‘Associate Jewish Coordinator ‘ for the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1992, against George H.W. Bush, it was ironic that Jeb’s was the first Republican Presidential campaign in which I became engaged,” Michael Granoff explained. “Jeb’s appeal across party lines as Governor (of Florida) played a major role in my decision because I believe political polarization is eroding the country’s fabric and hampering its ability to deal with very real national security threats.”

Noam Neusner, a WH Jewish liaison in the Bush 43 administration, shared his experience in the short-lived campaign of the younger Bush. “Working for Jeb was immensely rewarding. He is a great boss — lively and upbeat,” said Neusner. “He cares deeply about ideas and governing, and public service — and his staff and volunteers all could see it in everything he did as a candidate and before that as a governor.”

Scott Arogeti, who was appointed as the White House liaison to the Jewish community in the last year of the George W. Bush administration, had only words of praise for the former Florida Governor. “Jeb Bush is a patriot that ran an honorable, substantive campaign aimed at helping millions of Americans reach their full potential,” Arogeti told Jewish Insider. “Additionally, his consistent support for reasserting and strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship was genuine, and deserving of both our respect and our gratitude. I’m proud and thankful to have been a small part of his team.”

Members of the “Right to Rise USA” super PAC, took pride in their work on behalf of their candidate despite burning over $100 million in the past few months. “I’m proud to have supported Jeb,” Charlie Spies, the leading counsel to Right to Rise, related to Jewish Insider. “His campaign focusing on policy solutions and an optimistic vision that was an example of the best in our politics. It was also great to see President George W. Bush back on the trail in SC this week. Both he and Jeb have been steadfast friends of Israel and their leadership in a dangerous world is in stark contrast to the failed ‘leading from behind’ of the Obama administration.”

Jason Lyons, founder and CEO of the Wall Street Conference and a political expert, explained what went wrong for Jeb in this unpredictable political season. “We’re in a particular time right now when voters are very upset and looking for someone who says exactly what’s on their mind without thinking twice,” Lyons asserted in a phone conversation with Jewish Insider on Sunday. “Jeb is not that person. His message was not able to resonate since that is not part of his DNA. Donald Trump did an effective job painting Jeb as low energy. The irony is, knowing Jeb, he is anything but low energy.”

According to Lyons, Jeb’s physical makeup suggested the opposite. “You know, he lost a significant amount of weight going into this election and with all the traveling he’s done, one could make the argument that he actually had more energy than anyone else,” he maintained.

“It’s been a crazy year,” Jay Lefkowitz, a senior partner at the Kirkland & Ellis law firm, who also served as President Bush’s Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, summed up the outcome of the recent primaries. “We’re seeing a political year in which both parties, voters are favoring fringe candidates. It could well be that the Republican Party is on its way to nominating Trump as its nominee, which a year ago was unthinkable.”

Looking forward, Ronnie Krongold, a longtime friend and supporter of the Bush family, said he’s confident Jeb “will continue to support conservative principles and the State of Israel, even though he is no longer in the presidential contest.”

“Jeb is a serious leader, who assembled a presidential policy team. I hope he stays in public life,” added Sander Gerber.

In terms of supporting any of the other candidates remaining in the race, many pointed towards Marco Rubio as their favorite. “I think Rubio is the most attractive candidate in the race. I am sure other donors will also shift their support to Rubio,” said Lefkowitz. Adding that the outcome of the Florida primary on March 15 will determine whether Rubio could beat Trump and win the nomination.

“The only one that I could foresee having the potential to build bridges is Marco Rubio,” Granoff stated. “Watching his appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations last spring, I was enormously impressed with his granular grasp of fundamentalist Islamic threats, and by his moral clarity. Likewise, I was impressed with his thoughtful response to the controversy surrounding Apple’s decision to challenge Federal authorities on the San Bernardino iPhone. It is my hope that, despite my discomfort with some of his positions on social issues, despite his young age and lack of executive experience, Senator Rubio will be able to parlay his eloquence and command of issues into an ability to inspire Americans across the political spectrum – and begin to bring them closer together.”

Former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman also announced he was shifting support to Rubio. “With Bush out, I’m clearly on Rubio’s team. I’m not sure whether that helps or hurts. I thought Jeb was the most qualified to be president,” Coleman said in a statement, according to Star Tribune. “But Rubio clearly is our best hope and most qualified to be commander in chief with Jeb out of the race.”

The rest remained undecided, saying they would need time to assess before deciding whom to back. The consensus, however, was that the Republicans must nominate a candidate who can beat the Democratic nominee in the fall. “You can put me in the undecided column,” Krongold told Jewish Insider. “Where I’m not undecided is with regards to the Democratic candidates. We must not allow either of them to end up as President.”

“We all miscalculated,” Zeidman conceded. “We need to sit back and assess who has the best chance to beat the Democrats.”

Lyons offered some deeper analysis on the state of the race. “It’s a three and a half man race,” he said. “I say three and a half because Kasich has to be still involved since Ohio is a swing state. It would be in the best interest of the remaining candidates to come together after Super Tuesday and decide who will be the nominee, the VP candidate, Secretary of State, etc. I would just add that Marco and Ted are very gifted individuals. At this stage, the remaining candidates should begin to unify the party. The Republicans have a real opportunity to recapture the White House if they stop killing each other one by one.”

If Donald Trump continues winning states in March, Lyons suggested that it would be time for the establishment “to rally around him as well and support him.” But he also offered some unsolicited advice to the Republican presidential frontrunner: “It’s time for Trump to tone down some of the rhetoric and start embracing the establishment.”

Granoff, however, said he would refuse to accept the idea of supporting Trump in the general election. Instead, he added his voice to the recent chatter around Mike Bloomberg running as an independent. “If the circus continues, and Trump prevails as the GOP nominee, then it is my conviction that it would be a moral imperative for someone richer than him to enter the race. Maybe someone richer than him who popularly governed the nation’s largest city for over a decade,” he recommended.

Florida man pleads guilty over threats to bomb two mosques


A Florida man pleaded guilty on Friday to a federal hate crime for threatening to bomb two mosques and shoot their congregants shortly after November's deadly attacks in Paris.

Martin Alan Schnitzler, 43, of Seminole, pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing persons in the free exercise of religious beliefs, U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley of the Middle District of Florida said.

Schnitzler entered his plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Julie Sneed in Tampa.

The defendant faces up to 20 years in prison, but is likely to get much less under recommended federal guidelines. He remains free pending sentencing, which has not been scheduled.

Schnitzler admitted to having left profanity-laced voice messages with the Islamic Society of St. Petersburg and the Islamic Society of Pinellas County on Nov. 13, 2015, and in which he threatened congregants.

Both messages referred to the Paris attacks, which had occurred the same day and killed 130 people. Schnitzler admitted that his threats were prompted by the attacks.

In one message, he threatened to “personally have a militia” show up at one of mosques, and “firebomb you, shoot whoever is there on sight in the head.”

Bryant Camareno, a lawyer for Schnitzler, in a phone interview said his client expressed remorse at his plea hearing, and was “upset at the emotional harm” he caused congregants.

He also said Schnitzler was not a credible threat, having taken no steps to carry out the harms he threatened.

Schnitzler entered his plea one day after a Connecticut man, Ted Hakey Jr, pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime for shooting at an empty mosque next door to his Meriden home, one day after the Paris attacks. No one was injured.

Rental properties in U.S., landlords in Israel


Three years ago, Dana Lebel, a marketer of health supplements, bought her first apartment in Rishon Lezion, a city just south of Tel Aviv. Over time, with equity in her apartment and some disposable income, Lebel became interested in purchasing investment property to leverage her capital while earning a passive income. 

But like a lot of middle-class Israelis, Lebel discovered she was priced out of other housing in her area — a problem many Angelenos can relate to. Then her mortgage broker told her about an investment opportunity in Jacksonville, a port city in northern Florida. 

Half a year ago, Lebel walked into the Ramat Gan offices of Karkaot Israel, a real estate firm that markets properties for USAHomes, an American real estate and management company. She looked at homes for sale on USAHomes’ website, and that night set in motion the process of purchasing a $60,000 single-family house, complete with renters, in Jacksonville. The transfer of ownership, conducted through a title insurance company, was completed within two months. The remote purchase was easy, orderly and had none of the red tape that accompanied the purchase of her property in Israel, Lebel said.

“I’m not going to live there, so I didn’t investigate too much,” Lebel told the Journal over the phone. She felt secure with the investment based on reports that Jacksonville is deepening its harbor to benefit from the expansion of the Panama Canal. “I know the whole area is in major development,” she said. Today, she collects about $700 a month in rent on the house, and she hopes to buy another rental property through the same process.

According to Rina Zalachin, manager of Karkaot’s U.S. department, the company has helped dozens of Israelis purchase turnkey — ready for occupancy — rentals based on photographs and detailed information about the properties and neighborhoods, reflecting a growing trend of Israelis investing in residential properties in the U.S. 

But few of Zalachin’s clients choose to travel to Jacksonville or Rochester, N.Y., another city she markets for its location, economic stability and attractive return on investment, before purchasing a property. “What will it help to see the property?” she asked. “Today you have Google Earth.” 

Several years ago, former Israeli judo Olympian Orit Bar-On Bakarski, founder of InvestOrit, purchased and flipped several single-family homes in Memphis, Tenn. Inspired by her mentor, real estate mogul Robert Shemin, Bar-On Bakarski said she has since left her previous career in high-tech to help others invest in real estate in the U.S. 

“The more people I talk to, the more I find that they already have homes in the United States, or they’re open to it,” Bar-On Bakarski said.

Memphis and Atlanta are her cities of choice because they are located in states where laws and regulations favor landlords over tenants (for example, making it relatively easy to evict unsatisfactory tenants). Generally, she purchases foreclosed properties from banks at under-market prices and sells them to Israeli investors who entrust her U.S. team to refurbish and rent the properties. On the lower economic end, investors can expect to net $450 a month in rent on a $50,000 home in Memphis; a $96,000 house can bring investors about $1,100 in rent. (Buyers must take into account additional costs such as property taxes, insurance and sundry expenses.)

“As a foreign investor, everything is very, very easy nowadays through the Internet,” Bar-On Bakarski said. “Once the sale is closed, the records get updated in a few days and you can see your name on the deed of the property.” 

Ronen Nassimov, a CPA in Israel, has recommended that several of his clients invest abroad for the simple reason that the return on investment (ROI) is higher — about 8 to 12 percent — compared with Israeli properties, which have an ROI of about 3 to 5.5 percent.

Nassimov cites one major disadvantage of investing in another country: “In the United States, the property is far from you, you have to trust the agents, whereas in Israel, you can see the property and meet the renters.”

Owning rental property anywhere is not without hassle or risk — tenants could default on rent; homes might require sudden, expensive repairs; and a local recession could hit, driving down property and rental values. To minimize the risks, Nassimov recommends visiting the property in the U.S. rather than relying on online profiles. And, although investors are commonly advised to choose a locale based on sound financial calculations rather than an emotional response to the area, Nassimov, an investor himself, would rather choose a home in a city he wouldn’t mind living in.

That may be one reason why some Israelis decide to buy in Las Vegas, even though the ROI there is about 6 to 8 percent, less than what can be made in some other parts of the U.S. 

Real estate agent Jennifer Eckmann of Choice One Properties in Las Vegas works with Israelis who have created a portfolio of properties for investment purposes. She said they often like the benefit of an Israeli network on the ground — and an excuse to visit Sin City, where Hebrew is increasingly spoken on the streets and in the casinos. 

“Vegas is always growing, always changing, and there’s always a movement of people — always people selling and buying. There’s always action.” This “action,” she believes, is appealing to Israelis. 

Las Vegas was hit particularly hard by the 2008 crash, when prices of condos plunged to $25,000. Today, those same condos start at $65,000, and can yield approximately $700 gross monthly income.

Eckmann, Bar-On Bakarski and Nassimov have noticed another trend — Israelis coming together to leverage their joint equity to produce an even larger payout. 

Among the more prominent companies specializing in crowd investing is the private investment firm Keren Hagshama. Through the firm, for amounts starting around $35,000, Israelis can join large-scale commercial and residential projects all over the world, from Brooklyn to Berlin.

“You can play with the big leagues in Manhattan,” said the firm’s founder, Avi Katz, a business mogul who is considered to have revolutionized the Israeli cafe industry by opening Cofix, a chain where each item costs 5 shekels ($1.25). Keren Hagshama provides the expertise — including lawyers and accountants — to complete the deals, offering an ROI of up to 20 percent, according to Katz. 

Katz also said that average Israelis have few real estate investment options in Israel. Israel is expensive, making large-scale developments the province of Israeli tycoons. In addition, Israel does not have a strong rental culture; Katz estimates that 68 percent of Israelis own their homes.

Still, Bar-On Bakarski was surprised to learn that Israelis are seen as joining the ranks of other foreign investors in the U.S. real estate market. 

“I was at a real estate summit in Las Vegas,” she said, “and in that summit they host real estate television personalities, and one stood on the stage and said: ‘You know it’s crazy now — the Chinese are buying, the Canadians are buying, the Israelis are buying.’ ”

Jewish mayor says Trump not welcome in his Florida city


The Jewish mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida, said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was unwelcome in his city.

“I am hereby barring Donald Trump from entering St. Petersburg until we fully understand the dangerous threat posed by all Trumps,” Rick Kriseman, a Democrat, said Monday on Twitter.

Kriseman was playing on the statement earlier in the day by the real estate billionaire and reality show star. Trump is leading in polls of Republicans.

“Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine,” Trump said, alluding to last week’s massacre in San Bernardino, California, carried out by a couple apparently loyal to militant Islamists. “Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”

Kriseman, who was elected in 2013, is the first Jewish mayor in 30 years in the central Florida city of about 250,000.

Jewish groups have condemned Trump’s statement.

Israeli policeman given community service for beating Palestinian-American boy


An Israeli policeman was spared jail and sentenced to community service on Wednesday for beating an American teenager of Palestinian descent during Jerusalem disturbances last year, an incident that stirred U.S. concern.

Tariq Khdeir was visiting from Tampa, Florida, as protests erupted over the July 2, 2014 abduction and killing of his 16-year-old cousin, Mohammed Abu Khudeir, in Jerusalem by three Israeli suspects. 

Amateur video showed two Israeli riot policemen setting upon Tariq Khdeir, who was 15 at the time. One held the youth down while the other punched and kicked him. He was left with a black eye and swollen lip.

Police said Khdeir was among six protesters caught taking part in clashes, while he said he was only a bystander.

Israel pressed charges against one of the policeman, who was convicted of assault and battery in Jerusalem Magistrates Court.

The court on Wednesday sentenced the policeman, whose name was not released, to 45 days' community service and a suspended prison sentence of four months, a spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry's police internal affairs department told Reuters.

“We requested that he be jailed for seven months,” she said, adding that she was unable to elaborate on the sentencing. A court spokesman declined comment, saying the case was sealed.

The U.S. embassy in Israel had no immediate comment.

At the time of Khdeir's beating, the U.S. State Department said it was “profoundly troubled” by reports on the incident and “strongly condemn(ed) any excessive use of force”.

Israel has charged three Jews with the murder of Khdeir's cousin, saying they had sought to avenge the abduction and killing in June 2014 of three Israeli youths by Hamas militants. 

The incidents sparked a cascade of violence culminating in the July-August war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Joe Biden, Michael Douglas headlining Reform biennial


Vice President Joe Biden and Academy Award-winning actor Michael Douglas are scheduled to speak at the Reform movement’s biennial in Orlando, Florida.

Biden will address the gathering of Reform Jewish leaders on Saturday, the Union for Reform Judaism announced in a news release Monday. Douglas, the winner of the 2015 Genesis Prize, known as the “Jewish Nobel,” will speak on Wednesday at the conference’s opening plenary.

Douglas is the son of Jewish actor Kirk Douglas and in the past year has become an advocate for greater inclusion of intermarried families within the Jewish community. In August, the Jewish Funders Network and Genesis Prize Foundation announced a $3.3 million matching grant program in Douglas’ honor to fund an intermarried outreach initiative, and on Yom Kippur Douglas was a surprise speaker at a Reform synagogue in Bedford, New York.

The biennial, which takes place Wednesday through Sunday, is expected to draw 5,000 people from the United States and abroad, including more than 450 rabbis and 250 synagogue presidents. According to the URJ, it is the “largest religious Jewish gathering on the continent.”

Other speakers include New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, restaurateur Danny Meyer, Knesset member Stav Shaffir, and authors Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Anita Diamant.

Biden meets Jewish leaders in Florida to defend Iran deal


Vice President Joe Biden tried to reassure Jewish leaders in south Florida on Thursday that President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran would be a vital step toward making the world a safer place.

Biden, on a two-day trip to the political swing state of Florida as he explores a potential 2016 White House run, told a roundtable of more than 30 Jewish leaders he was confident the deal would halt Iran's capability to develop a nuclear bomb.

“If we can take the nuclear bomb off the table, it's better to deal with those bad guys than if we are dealing with those bad guys and the nuclear bomb is on the table,” Biden said at the meeting held in the district of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, which has one of the largest Jewish populations of any U.S. congressional district.

Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, has not yet staked out a position on the deal, but she had invited Biden to the meeting and introduced him to the group.

“I am not afraid to make this decision. I am never afraid to stand alone when necessary, to stand on principle,” she said.

The meeting came a day after President Barack Obama secured enough votes in the U.S. Senate to safeguard the deal between Iran and world powers. The deal would provide relief on economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran's agreement to curtail its nuclear program.

The lobbying has been fierce on both sides of the deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fiercely opposes it and some U.S.-based, pro-Israel groups have spent millions of dollars on campaigns urging lawmakers to oppose it.

More than a hundred protesters gathered outside the meeting as Biden entered, holding signs reading: “Nuke the deal before they nuke us,” and “We need a better deal.”

Critics have argued the deal provides too much sanctions relief and sets weak standards for ensuring compliance.

Biden disputed both points.

“This is a good deal,” he said. “It will make us and Israel safer, not weaker.”

Reporters were ushered out of the meeting before Biden engaged in a question-and-answer session with the community leaders, who included both supporters and opponents of the deal.

Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski announced her support of the deal on Wednesday, giving the administration the 34 Senate votes it needs to sustain Obama's promised veto of any disapproval resolution passed by the Republican-controlled Congress.

The next goal for supporters is to gather at least 41 Senate votes, enough to block a disapproval resolution and keep Obama from having to wield his veto power.

Jeb Bush vows to ‘fix’ Washington as he starts White House run


Former Florida governor Jeb Bush vowed to fix a dysfunctional Washington as he began his U.S. presidential bid on Monday with an attempt to move out of the shadow of the White House legacies left by his father and brother.

Bush, 62, is seeking to be seen as his own man and break out of a crowded field for the Republican presidential nomination to run in the November 2016 election.

In a speech in Miami to announce his candidacy, he presented himself as an anti-Washington figure with a can-do spirit.

“We will take Washington – the static capital of this dynamic country – out of the business of causing problems,” he said. “I know we can fix this. Because I've done it.”

Bush made his announcement at Miami-Dade College, a school whose multicultural student population was chosen to emphasize Bush's commitment to trying to expand the appeal of the white-dominated Republican Party.

“We don't need another president who merely holds the top spot among the pampered elites of Washington. We need a president willing to challenge and disrupt the whole culture in our nation's capital, he said.

He was joined by his mother Barbara Bush, 90, at the event. Former presidents George H.W. Bush, his father, and George W. Bush, his brother, did not attend.

Both men left office with low approval ratings. The legacy of Jeb's brother is particularly difficult given his 2003 invasion of Iraq and the financial crisis that erupted toward the end of his time in office.

Distancing himself from the pair, without being disloyal to his family, will be tricky for the younger Bush. His campaign logo “Jeb!” avoids using the family surname.

“I think the biggest hurdle is he is going to have to sell himself as his own person, not his brother and not his father,” said Fran Hancock, 64, from Palm Beach, a supporter at the event on Monday.

Bush's speech was briefly interrupted by pro-immigration reform protesters and he responded: “The next president will pass meaningful immigration reform.”

Bush held an early lead in opinion polls of Republican voters when he first began talking about a White House run six months ago, but that has now dissipated. He is essentially tied for the lead with a host of challengers.

Failure to deal with the Bush family legacy has already caused problems for Jeb, who fumbled a response last month to a question about whether he would have invaded Iraq.

On Monday, Bush criticized former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2016.

“With their phone-it-in foreign policy, the Obama-Clinton-Kerry team is leaving a legacy of crises uncontained, violence unopposed, enemies unnamed, friends undefended, and alliances unraveling,” he said.

Democrats made sure to remind voters of the George W. Bush's record.

“We already know what to expect from a Bush presidency, because we've seen it before. Jeb Bush supported his brother's disastrous economic and foreign policies that made us weaker at home and abroad,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, head of the Democratic National Committee.

Woman jailed after fleeing to avoid circumcising 4-year-old son


A Florida woman is in jail after fleeing with her 4-year-old son to keep him from being circumcised.

Heather Hironimus, 31, of Boynton Beach was arrested  last week after going into hiding with her son Chase three months ago rather than give her consent and turn the boy over for the surgery.

Hironimus and the boy’s father, Dennis Nebus of Boca Raton, had agreed to the circumcision three years ago as part of their separation deal. Hironimus backed out of the surgery and Nebus took her to court. In May, an appeals court in Florida upheld lower court rulings in favor of Nebus and the circumcision. The couple, neither of whom is Jewish, were never married.

On Monday, a U.S. District Court judge received assurances from Nebus’ attorney that the judge will receive 10 days notice prior to the procedure. Chase is in the custody of his father in an undisclosed location.

The judge, Kenneth Marra, made no ruling on an emergency request by Hironimus to put a temporary restraining order on the procedure.

Nebus has called circumcision “just the normal thing to do.”

An arrest warrant for Hironimus was issued in March after Hironimus failed to show up to hand the boy over to his father as required in the couple’s custody-sharing agreement.

Florida prisons ordered to serve kosher meals


Inmates in Florida’s prisons who request kosher meals must receive them, a federal judge in Miami ruled.

U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz issued the order late last week after the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections on behalf of 13 inmates. The decision is the latest following years of legal wrangling.

The two sides have until Wednesday to come up with a way to implement the plan.

The Florida case dates to 2010 when a Jewish prisoner serving life for the 1995 murder of his parents, Bruce Rich, said the state’s refusal to provide him with a kosher meal violated his rights under federal law.

More than 9,500 Florida prisoners have been approved for the kosher meals, The Associated Press reported.

The department canceled its kosher meal service in 2007, citing the expense. An average of 250 inmates used the kosher meal service at that time, including Muslims. The state offers vegetarian and vegan options.

The Obama administration joined the case in support of Rich in 2012.

At least 35 states and the federal government provide kosher diets in prison.

Courting Adelson is not Jewish outreach


This weekend, a collection of GOP presidential candidates will arrive in Las Vegas for a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. But don’t allow yourself to be fooled into thinking that these candidates are making a real attempt to appeal to American Jewish voters. Their presence is all about winning over a single Jewish donor: Sheldon Adelson.
Obviously, these candidates are familiar with how Adelson’s largesse almost single-handedly kept Newt Gingrich’s campaign alive in 2012. But the casino magnate does not speak for the American Jewish community, and the GOP candidates’ courting of an Adelson-funded super PAC should not be mistaken for genuine outreach.
There is a reason that more than twice as many American Jews identify as Democrats than as Republicans. The Democratic Party is the party of inclusion, empowerment, justice and opportunity. These are values that are closely aligned with the values that define our Jewish faith.
Growing up, my parents taught me that tikkun olam – repairing the world – is a central tenet and one of the most important outward expressions of our faith. As Jews and as active citizens, it was our responsibility to help and advocate for others. As I grew up, I also sought to exemplify other Jewish values like tzedakah and gemilut hasadim. Like many other American Jews compelled to stand up and speak out for the causes of justice, equality and righteousness in public policy debates, I found a natural home within the Democratic Party.
It is Democrats who seek to right injustice, promote tolerance and constantly strive to move our nation toward a more perfect union. Jews overwhelmingly support women’s rights, workers’ rights, gay rights and civil rights for all Americans. We know that when we help those around us, our community and our country are stronger as a whole. We understand the importance of America as a place of new opportunities, and believe in immigration reform that will pave the path toward a better future that welcomed our ancestors when they arrived on America’s shores. These are values for which Democrats have fought and Republicans have not.
Instead of changing their positions on the issues that matter to American Jews, Republicans have chosen the dangerous strategy of politicizing Israel’s security as their strategy to win over Jewish voters. This strategy is not good for Israel or for the long-term relationship between our two great nations.
And to be clear, this strategy to try to convert Jewish Democrats to vote Republican has not worked. Democrats are proud of America’s bipartisan support for Israel, and the GOP’s attempt to undermine that relationship for political gain has backfired.
As a Jewish woman, a member of Congress and as chair of the Democratic National Committee, I am proud of the efforts made by the Obama administration to solidify the relationship with one of our nation’s closest friends and strongest allies. Under President Obama, the United States and Israel have had unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation and strong economic collaboration. President Obama continues to fight for the issues that the Jewish community prioritizes – millions of Americans have gained access to health care and he is fighting every day to secure a fair and living wage so that those who work hard are able to support themselves and make a better life for their children.
When I think of the future I want for my three beautiful children and for our country, it’s one centered on those core Jewish values that defined my childhood. I know that all Americans understand these values and wish the same for their families. As American Jews, we understand how our values demand correcting income inequality and expanding opportunity for those fighting to get into the middle class.
Unfortunately, Republicans are light years away from where we stand. When their presidential candidates court a single big Jewish donor while attempting to attract voters through fear mongering, we see straight through that. Until Republicans are prepared to change more than just their rhetoric, Jewish voters will continue to overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates and policies.
(U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz represents Florida’s 23rd District in Congress and serves as the chair of the Democratic National Committee.)

Renaming of Fla. bridge for Henry Ford nixed over ‘dark history’ with Jews


Officials in Fort Myers City, Fla., withdrew a proposal to rename a bridge for Henry Ford after residents raised concerns about his anti-Semitic publications.

A vote on the proposal had been scheduled for Monday evening but was withdrawn, according to WZVN, the local ABC affiliate.

“He really has a very dark history as far as the Jewish community and Jews are concerned,” said Alan Isaacs, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties, told the news station.

Ford in the 1920s published Jewish conspiracy theories in the newspaper he owned, the Dearborn Independent. He later apologized.

He summered in Fort Myers and a museum occupies his one-time house.

Florida’s state Legislature had approved the name change for the Caloosahatchee Bridge, but local authorities must give their permission before it goes ahead.

State Rep. Matt Caldwell, who had proposed the name change, told WZVN that he still thinks it should be considered, but he is also sensitive to the Jewish community’s objections.

 

Sotloff lauded at Florida service as journalist committed to truth


Nearly 1,000 people including relatives, friends and prominent Florida politicians attended a memorial service on Friday for Steven Sotloff, who was killed by Islamic State militants, recalling him as a journalist committed to revealing the truth.

“I'm so proud of my son for living his dream,” Sotloff's mother, Shirley, told those in attendance at the Jewish Temple Beth Am.

“Most people live a lifetime and never find fulfillment,” she added, remembering her 31-year-old son as inquisitive and outgoing as a child.

The Islamic State released a video on Tuesday showing the killing of Sotloff, the second American journalist it has beheaded in its confrontation with the United States over American air strikes in Iraq on the militant group's forces.

“I have lost my son and my best friend, but I know his passing will change the world,” said Sotloff's father, Arthur, making his first public remarks since his son's death.

Speakers at the two-hour memorial service recalled Sotloff as a man who displayed empathy and courage. As a freelance reporter, he wrote about the hardships faced by average people caught up in Middle East conflicts, said his mourners, remembering his passion for exposing the truth.

Sotloff was kidnapped in Syria in August 2013 after he drove across the border from Turkey.

“Steven was committed to truth and revealing it,” said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, speaking to the crowd. “He has revealed the true nature of evil in the world today.”

Rubio sat alongside Florida Governor Rick Scott, a fellow Republican, as well as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist during the ceremony.

Sotloff first fell in love with the Middle East during trips and school in Israel, where he eventually became a citizen, according to friends and family. He spoke Arabic and traveled the region writing for magazines including Time and Foreign Policy.

Others shed light on Sotloff's more rambunctious side. Chris Castle recalled taking a shot of tequila with Sotloff after receiving his approval to marry the journalist's sister.

His uncle and godfather, Lou Bleiman, described a time he ran away from Valley Forge Military Academy and called for a ride from a telephone booth. “Steven had to march up and down in the rain and he didn't like it,” he said.

Dozens of cousins and other friends echoed a prepared statement released by the family earlier this week, calling Sotloff torn between his comfortable life in the United States and the Arab world.

Editing by Letitia Stein and Will Dunham

+