November 21, 2018

Supreme Court decision on funding for religious entities divides Jewish groups

Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images

A church playground in Missouri has become the unlikely focus of a sharp difference of opinion among Jewish organizations over issues of separation of church and state, following a June 26 Supreme Court decision on funding religious institutions.

Trinity Lutheran Church sued the state of Missouri for denying it a grant, offered to nonsectarian nonprofits, to enhance children’s safety by rubberizing its playgrounds. The case is Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer. As Director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Carol S. Comer is the named defendant.

The Supreme Court ruled for the church in a 7-2 vote that said denying a religious institution public funds for which it is otherwise eligible penalizes the free practice of religion. Four justices from the majority signed a footnote that limited the decision’s scope to public funding of religious institutions for a secular purpose, such as health or safety.

The Orthodox Union, which filed an amicus brief in support of Trinity Lutheran, is celebrating the ruling as a powerful refutation of religious discrimination. Other Jewish organizations, as well as several Los Angeles Jewish educators, echo concerns raised by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) that the ruling erodes the separation of church and state and constitutes government overreach into religious activity.

“Allowing churches and other religious groups to compete for direct government funds is bad for religion,” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the ADL chief executive, said in a statement. “States should not be in the religiously divisive business of choosing who, from among diverse houses of worship, should receive public dollars.”

Seven organizations signed the ADL’s amicus brief in support of Missouri, including the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Interfaith Alliance Foundation.

Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Center, dismissed the ADL’s position as an extreme stance on separation of church and state

“The ADL would be better served to deal with constitutional law as it is, rather than how they wish it would be,” Diament said.

The ruling however, is far from a cut-and-dried legal precedent. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Elena Kagan, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer, leaves many questions unanswered, including whether direct government funding would tie religious institutions to any government regulations.

“The constitution treats religion differently. That idea appears to have been lost [in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer].” —Rabbi David Saperstein, senior adviser on strategy and policy for the Union of Reform Judaism

“They who control the purse strings control the vision and direction of an institution,” said Bruce Powell, head of school at de Toledo High School in West Hills. “We have to be very careful in taking public dollars and not ceding control of our educational processes.”

Powell said he is ethically opposed to taking money directly from the government. He is hesitant to divert state funds from the public school system, and said he worries that religious schools could become dependent on fickle government funding decisions.

Rabbi Aaron Panken, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said his primary concern is that the ruling opens the possibility that the government could be more favorable to certain religions in choosing which sectarian institutions to fund.

A danger also exists that the legal precedent for treating religious institutions exactly as nonsectarian institutions are treated could undermine special privileges and protections afforded to religious institutions.

“Only religion has an establishment clause,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, senior adviser on strategy and policy for the Union of Reform Judaism. “The constitution treats religion differently. That idea appears to have been lost [in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer].”

Saperstein said he worries that fear of losing government funding might chill religion’s historical function of preaching truth to power.

Yet, for all the hypothetical risks the ruling presents, its immediate legal repercussions in California are slight.

California is one of 38 states with a constitutional provision called a Blaine Amendment, which prohibits the use of public funds to support religious institutions. Michael Helfand, associate professor of law at Pepperdine University and co-author of the Orthodox Union’s brief, said he is unaware of any existing California funding programs that exclude sectarian institutions solely for their religious character. Nor does California operate any sort of voucher program to help residents pay tuition at private schools.

Security funding — a secular benefit that religious schools are eager to obtain — is handled primarily at the federal level by the Department of Homeland Security, where there is no prohibition against funding religious institutions with taxpayer dollars.

Helfand said the ruling is symbolic, particularly in its weakening of state Blaine Amendments.

“We have seen a spike in hate crimes against religious institutions — a limited spike within the Jewish community, and an even higher spike within the Muslim community,” Helfand said. “This type of statement from the Supreme Court that everybody deserves funding to protect their institutions is vital at this juncture.”

It is plausible that Trinity Lutheran v. Comer is only a precursor to a broader expansion of funding for religious institutions. Justices Roberts, Thomas and Gorsuch did not sign the footnote limiting funding to secular benefits, leaving open the possibility that the legal wall prohibiting government funding for religious activity might eventually be broken.

Helfand and Diament said that such a development would be an unwelcome encroachment by the government on religious activity, even for a group such as the Orthodox Union, which wants state funding for secular benefits.

Unless the Supreme Court expands its decision or California offers sectarian schools a grant, Jewish schools in the state shouldn’t see any tangible benefits — or harm — from Trinity Lutheran v. Comer.

ADL, religious leaders call on Rex Tillerson to appoint envoy to combat anti-Semitism

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington, D.C., on May 3. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

The Anti-Defamation League, with the support of religious leaders of various faiths, urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to appoint a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.

The letter sent Wednesday asks Tillerson to refill the position, which has been empty since the end of Ira Forman’s term five months ago. Two dozen faith leaders, representing Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews, signed the letter.

It notes that the post was mandated by an act of Congress in 2004, and takes issue with Tillerson’s assertion earlier this month that in lieu of a dedicated envoy, “all diplomats would be educated enough to work against anti-Semitism.”

Countering the assertion, the ADL letter says that “concerns about anti-Semitism do not always make it onto the agenda of diplomatic meetings, especially when many other legitimate and pressing issues require attention. By contrast, when the Special Envoy meets with foreign officials, anti-Semitism is the agenda.”

The letter also refers to a letter from March in which 167 members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, emphasized the need for U.S. global leadership in fighting anti-Semitism.

The ADL also recently created an online petition demanding a special envoy be appointed.

The lone staffer in the office monitoring anti-Semitism is currently on a fellowship that was extended recently for 30 days by its sponsor. The fellowship is schedule to conclude at the end of July.

Ku Klux Klan still a threat in America, ADL says

A KKK member at a rally in Skokie, Il., in 2000. Photo by Tim Boyle/Newsmakers/Getty Images

The Ku Klux Klan still “poses a threat to society,” though it is relatively unstable and unorganized, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The findings of an ADL report released this week found that 42 KKK groups are active in 33 states, with an estimate of some 3,000 members. More than half the groups were either formed or restarted in the past three years.

Most of the groups are concentrated in the South and the East, with a slight increase since early 2016.

The report showed that some groups not only are still involved in criminal activity and violence, but have formed alliances with other white supremacist groups in hopes of restoring their continuity.

But their main activity is the “distribution of racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and Islamophobic fliers,” the report said.

“These hardened racists and bigots are looking to spread fear,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO said, “and if they grow dissatisfied with the Klan, they move on to other groups on the extreme far-right.”

Oren Segal, the director of ADL’s Center on Extremism, said that despite the hate group’s decline from its heyday, “we are still seeing the same extremist ideology manifesting itself into violence from some of its purported membership.”

“The somewhat new collaboration with some of the most vehement white supremacists out there is a concerning trend we will continue to monitor and expose.”

ADL urges hate crime probe in Virginia killing of Muslim girl

Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, of Sterling, Va. Photo courtesy of Fairfax County Police Dept./Reuters

The Anti-Defamation League called on authorities to probe the slaying of a Muslim girl in suburban Virginia as a hate crime.

“We urge the Fairfax County Police Department to investigate the murder as a possible bias crime,” Doron Ezickson, the ADL’s Washington, D.C., director, said in a statement Monday. “ADL has communicated that to law enforcement and we have reached out to ADAMS to offer any assistance.”

ADAMS is the acronym for the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, the mosque that Nabra Hassanen had worshipped at in Washington’s northern Virginia suburbs in the pre-dawn hours Sunday before heading to a restaurant with friends for breakfast. Muslims fast from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan.

A motorist confronted the friends and assaulted the victim as they were walking back to the mosque, according to reports. All but Hassanen fled to the mosque, where worshippers alerted authorities. Hassanen’s body was found later in a pond.

Police arrested Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, and he was charged with murder, but told the Washington Post they were not investigating the killing as a hate crime. They did not explain why.

St. Louis man accused of 8 JCC bomb threats to plead guilty

Juan M Thompson on a panel for BRIC TV in Brooklyn on Jun. 24, 2015. Screenshot from You Tube/BRIC TV

A St. Louis man accused of making eight bomb threats against Jewish institutions will plead guilty to cyberstalking charges.

Juan Thompson, 32, originally denied the charges in New York City federal court in April. Prosecutors said in a letter filed on Tuesday with the court that Thompson will enter a guilty plea when he appears in court on June 12, Reuters reported.

The cyberstalking charges are for eight threats against Jewish community centers and the Anti-Defamation League, which federal prosecutors say were “copycat” crimes during a wave of nearly 150 bomb threats to Jewish institutions during the first three months of this year. Nearly three weeks later after Thompson’s arrest, an Israeli-American teen was arrested in Israel for allegedly making the bulk of the threats.

Thompson, who previously worked as a journalist for The Intercept news website, had denied the charges, saying said that he had no anti-Semitic beliefs and that he was being framed as a black man. Prosecutors allege that the JCC bomb threats were part of a larger plot to take revenge on an ex-girlfriend.

He was arrested March 3 for the threats, which carry a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. Bail had been denied at the time of his arrest.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation complaint says Thompson threatened institutions including the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish community centers in San Diego and New York City, schools in New York and Michigan, and a Jewish history museum in New York City.

Syria’s alleged crematorium ‘invokes worst nightmares of Nazi atrocities,’ ADL chief says

Syrian residents, fleeing violence in Aleppo’s Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, arrive in the Fardos neighbourhood after regime troops retook the area from rebel fighters, on Dec. 13, 2016. Photo by Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

The head of the Anti-Defamation League drew parallels between Syria’s alleged use of a crematorium to dispose of bodies to actions committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the group’s national director, also called on the international community, including Russia, to take action to stop the violence perpetuated by the Syrian government under the leadership of President Bashar Assad.

“As Jews, we are particularly shocked by the extreme brutality of the Syrian regime, which invokes the worst nightmares of Nazi atrocities against the Jewish people,” Greenblatt said Tuesday in a statement. “The world learned from the twentieth century that it did not do enough to stop the crimes of the Nazis which led to the genocide of six million Jews.

“The nations of the world — including first and foremost Russia, which continues to aid and abet Assad’s brutality — must act to put an end to the inhumane actions of the Syrian government.”

On Monday, the United States said it believes the Syrian government built a crematorium to cover up the killing of as many as 50 detainees a day at a prison north of Damascus.

“Although the regime’s many atrocities are well-documented, we believe the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass atrocities taking place in Saydnaya prison,” said Stuart Jones, acting assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, according to CNN.

Jones added: “We are appalled by the atrocities taking place in Syria” with the “seemingly unconditional support of Russia.”

The U.S. Holocaust Museum in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon said it welcomed the release of the previously classified imagery pointing to the alleged crematorium.

Photographs of torture and death in by Syrian security forces in secret facilities have been on display at the museum since 2015; the photos were taken by a former regime photographer code-named Caesar. “These photographs constitute the most comprehensive evidence of the regime’s widespread and systematic targeting of Syrian civilians,” the museum said in its statement.

“The State Department’s revelation that the regime is now taking extraordinary efforts to cover up its crimes, through the suspected use of crematoria, demonstrate why it is all the more important to redouble efforts to bring the conflict to an end and investigate, document, and hold accountable those who direct and carry out these widespread atrocities,” according to the statement.

Daily Kickoff: Magerman sues Mercer | Wine in hand, Navarro attacks Kushner, Trump at ADL | Comey on the Holocaust | Is ‘Norman’ good for the Jews?

FBI Director James Comey on May 3. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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HEARD LAST NIGHT — Wine in Hand, Ana Navarro’s Freewheeling ADL Speech — by Jacob Kornbluh: Republican strategist and political commentator Ana Navarro, sipping from a glass of wine, veered on and off script as she recounted the controversial moments of the 2016 presidential campaign, concluding that the Jewish community cannot rely on President Trump to stand up against bigotry and anti-Semitism.

Highlights — “Did you guys hear how Barbra Streisand is blaming her weight gain on Trump? Stop laughing! I am too. It’s like I am pregnant with this baby, Rosemary’s baby. I do not know what to do about this. I cannot stop eating and drinking since this man got elected… I should also tell you… I am Ashkenazi Jewish — and Sephardic. And I am also the descendant of slaves, and Hispanic. So basically, Donald Trump has offended all of me, every single part of me. ”

The one good thing about Trump: “I think he has been supportive of Israel’s right to exist. I am not sure he can find Israel on the map. I am not sure he doesn’t think it’s a deli in the Bronx… Other than liking matzah — in the same way he likes taco bowls — Donald Trump does understand that Israel has the right to exist, and that is – in my eyes – one of his few saving graces.”

On Jared’s Middle East portfolio: “I am not sure how much Jared understands [about the Middle East], but, you know, he’s got a lot on his plate. Keeping Ivanka happy can’t be easy. Getting his family out of financial straits can’t be easy either.”

On Steve Bannon: “They keep saying that Jared and Ivanka are Jewish, so, you know, Trump is good because his daughter and son-in-law are Jewish. Well, go to them. I mean, surely you’ve got friends who know these people. Um. Hell, even I have friends who know these people. That’s why I am not deported yet – yet.” [JewishInsider]

FBI Director James Comey discussed the Holocaust in a speech at the ADL conference — by Aaron Magid: “Although the slaughter of the Holocaust was led by sick and evil people, those sick and evil leaders were joined by and followed by people who loved their families, took soup to sick neighbors, who went to Church, who gave to charity. Good people helped murder millions… I believe the Holocaust is the most significant event in human history. How could such a thing happen? How is that consistent in any way with the concept of a loving God? The answer for me is, I don’t know.” [JewishInsider

Abe Foxman tells us… “Comey understands what most people fail to comprehend about the Shoa – that six million Jews perished because ‘the good people’ implemented Hitler’s Final Solution. Germans and their accomplices, who loved their families and dogs, and religiously went to Church on Sunday, systematically murdered Jews because of anti-Semitic hatred preached and practiced for hundreds of years… Comey says he doesn’t know why. We do know why! Hate has consequences; it infects and eventually kills. That is the price of prejudice and the Shoa was the price of anti-Semitic prejudice which is still alive today.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Simon Wiesenthal Center: “I understand what Director Comey wanted to say. But to be clear, any German who participated in or abetted in any way Hitler’s Final Solution could no longer be considered “good people.” By their words and deeds abetting genocide, they voided anything “good” they had previously done.”

TOP TALKER: “Washington Loves General McMaster, But Trump Doesn’t” by Eli Lake: “In recent weeks, Trump has privately expressed regret for choosing McMaster. Last Monday, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, who was a finalist for McMaster’s job, met with Trump to discuss a range of issues with the National Security Council. White House officials tell me the two discussed the prospect of Bolton coming in as McMaster’s deputy, but eventually agreed it was not a good fit… [Steve] Bannon and Trump, according to White House officials, pressed McMaster to fire a list of Obama holdovers at the National Security Council who were suspected of leaking to the press… Trump said in his statement to me that he couldn’t be happier with the general.” [Bloomberg]

Joe Scarborough: “Several WH sources say the Gen McMaster stories are coming from Bannon and are false. Trump has full confidence in McMaster. “He loves him.” [Twitter

Bill Kristol‏: “My read: Bannon going after McMaster, who purged him from NSC. Flynn holdovers helping Bannon. Kushner, Dina Powell allied with McMaster.” [Twitter]

Trump’s schedule today — 10:00 AM: “The President meets with National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster.”

“Steve Bannon’s Former Hollywood Partner Jeff Kwatinetz Breaks Silence: “He’s Not a Racist” Q&A by Paul Bond: “I know that he’s not anti-Semitic. I am absolutely positive that he’s not anti-Semitic or racist. It is absurd. I am Jewish, Roy Furman was Jewish, Andrew Breitbart was Jewish. He is not anti-Semitic. Period… Steve and I and a few others at the company had an idea for the future of the music business and spent a year of our lives doing the banking work and analysis for the purchase of Warner Music [from Time Warner] by private equity firms. A dozen private equity firms told us our numbers were fantasy, but a group agreed with us and bought Warner Music for $2.6 billion. Then when Edgar Bronfman was brought in late as executive chairman, we decided not to go ahead because we didn’t believe in his vision, but our analysis of how to finance and purchase the company was highly accurate and it allowed the buyers to make hundreds of millions of dollars, and in the process Steve and I made millions of dollars for putting together the deal.” [HollywoodReporter]

“Kushner emerged as conduit for Canada on NAFTA talks” by Julie Pace and Catherine Lucey: “According to a White House official, aides to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called [Jared] Kushner urgently on April 26 after seeing news reports that Trump was considering signing an executive order withdrawing from NAFTA… Kushner told his Canadian counterpart that this was a matter the leaders needed to discuss themselves, according to the White House official… But accounts of Kushner’s involvement differed Monday in Canadian media reports. According to The Canadian Press news agency, it was Kushner who first reached out to Trudeau’s chief of staff to suggest a call between the two leaders.” [AP]

“Kushner Family Stands to Gain From Visa Rules in Trump’s First Major Law” by Eric Lipton and Jesse Drucker: “There is no assertion that Mr. Kushner broke any conflict-of-interest rule; but the law does not prevent his relatives from attempting to exploit those ties to benefit the family business. Mr. Kushner’s portfolio includes a central role on China policy. That role has heightened the Kushner family name in a nation accounting for more than 80 percent of the EB-5 visas issued. Wealthy Chinese see the program as an easy way to legally move to the United States.” [NYTimes• The Kushner Project Touted in China Is in Trouble at Home [Bloomberg]

Norm Eisen: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump should recuse themselves from China policy… “It is well past time for this administration to begin drawing real and meaningful lines to avoid catastrophic conflicts of interest. The latest reports make it is even more important that Kushner and Ivanka Trump step forward and do the right thing. A broad recusal on China policy would be a good — and essential — start.” [WashPost]

DRIVING THE CONVERSATION: “Dem rep: State Dept. video ‘edited out’ Israel” by Mark Hensch: “Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) on Monday criticized the State Department for a video posted by the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia that “edited out” mentions of Israel. “I am appalled that the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia disingenuously posted this incomplete and misleading video,” Engel said in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson… “I urge you to immediately instruct the embassy to replace the video with the unedited version that includes the announcement of the President’s planned visit to Israel. We must continue to be true to our values and interests.” … Engel… noted how the version posted on the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh’s website and its Arabic-language Twitter account make no mention of Israel. The video and tweet have both been deleted.” [TheHill; Politico]

“Embassy used video of Trump travel doctored by Saudi citizen” by Richard Lardner: “The American Embassy was unaware that the video had been altered, according to the State Department official. The video was immediately replaced on the embassy’s social media accounts with the original version that includes Trump stating Israel will be among the countries he’ll be visiting. The official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity, said the embassy regretted the mistake.” [AP]

“Erdogan says US debates over Jerusalem embassy move ‘wrong’” by AFP: “Speaking at a forum in Istanbul, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan said everyone should be careful on issues that concerned the status of Jerusalem, warning that even “relocating a stone” in the city could have serious implications. “The debates over the possibility of US moving its Israel embassy to Jerusalem are extremely wrong and should certainly drop from the agenda,” the Turkish president said.” [DailyMail• Israel slams Turkey’s Erdogan over ‘apartheid’ remarks [MEE]

“Benjamin Netanyahu angry Lauder advised Abbas” by Gil Hoffman:“Confidants who spoke to Netanyahu about Ron Lauder told The Jerusalem Post that he was furious about the American Jewish leader’s meeting. “You don’t understand how much influence he has over Trump,” Netanyahu told a confidant in a private conversation Monday. “Out of the people around Trump, he is my biggest challenge to overcome.”” [JPost• Abbas ready to meet Netanyahu under auspices of Trump [Ynet]

“Abbas Told Trump: Peace Talks Should Resume From Where 2008 Negotiations With Israel Left Off” by Jack Khoury: “Abbas and his staff showed Trump documents and maps from Israel’s talks with the Palestinians near the end of Olmert’s term, explaining the proposal to him… According to Abbas… the U.S. president showed interest and revealed that he wanted to move quickly, “and even said within a year or a bit more.”” [Haaretz• U.S. Pressures Abbas to End Controversial Family Payments[WSJ]

‘Read his book’ — WH aide Sebastian Gorka on Trump’s ‘ultimate deal’ in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2: “I’ll just repeat what the President has said, okay? It’s always good to stick with what the boss says. He wishes to have a deal in which both sides are satisfied. We’re not going to say what that is. We’re not going to predict it. But I recommend all your viewers  – I’m sure it’s available in Hebrew – read his book ‘The Art of the Deal.’ If you want to understand what is possible, read that book… If anybody can bring an agreement that is good for Israel, it will be President Donald Trump. He is the master of the deal.” [Mako

“Bennett: We must tell Trump the ‘truth’ about peace process” by Ben Caspit: “I am the only person in the government of Israel who ever made a business deal in general and a business deal in America in particular,” said [Education Minister Naftali] Bennett. “I lived in the US for years. I know New York and the American business world… What I learned about dealmaking in America from this is to tell the truth, even if it is unpleasant. Don’t bluff… and I am sure that Trump would be able to appreciate that. The truth is that there is no [feasible] deal. The maximum that we are willing to give and the minimum that they are willing to accept don’t jive. As for saying that it’s possible, creating hopes and then causing disappointments and, later, violence, I don’t see who benefits from that. President Trump is talking about a deal? Let’s talk about the real deal. The real deal is economic peace and expanded [Palestinian] autonomy… All the rest is an illusion, and it will be shattered.” [Al-Monitor

KAFE KNESSET — Preparing for Friedman — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz sat down in DC yesterday with new US Ambassador David Friedman for a chat before Friedman embarks on his trip to Israel. During the meeting, also attended by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, Katz presented the two regional and economic initiatives he has been pushing — the artificial island off the coast of Gaza and a regional rail network that will connect Israel, Jordan and the Gulf States. Katz told Kafe Knesset that he “was very impressed by my meeting with Ambassador Friedman, by his knowledge, vision and sincere concern for the security and well-being of the State of Israel. I am convinced that his activities in Israel will strengthen and deepen the historic alliance between the United States and Israel. I am happy to find a partner to promote regional economic initiatives that will change the reality for the benefit of all the countries of the region and the Palestinian residents.” Today Katz is expected to present the initiatives to members of the National Security Council, and Jason Greenblatt is also expected to participate. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here[JewishInsider]

David Friedman: “I am arriving in Israel on May 15 to represent the United States as Ambassador to Israel.I hope to work out of Jerusalem very soon! 🇺🇸🇮🇱” [Twitter]

ON THE HILL — – Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Brian Mast (R-FL) introduced legislation yesterday to increase funding for Arrow 3 system, an anti-ballistic missile defense program. “As the threat of terror explodes in the unstable Middle East, it’s critical that we defend our vital ally, Israel, and strengthen our military partnership,” Gottheimer said. Mast, who personally volunteered in the Israeli military after losing both of his legs while serving in Afghanistan, emphasized the bipartisan nature of this legislation. “This bipartisan legislation would expedite the development of the Arrow 3 long-range missile defense system, which is absolutely critical to Israel’s defense and stability in the Middle East,” he noted. The measure calls for an increase of $105 million to Israel for fiscal year 2018 to fund the program. [JewishInsider

“Progressives Need a New Foreign Policy Vision. This Democratic Senator Says He Has One” by Eric Levitz: One foreign policy issue that Democratic voters have strong — and often, diametrically opposed — views on is the Israel-Palestine conflict. Polls show that younger progressives are much more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than their elders. And many such voters, along with pro-Israel, anti-occupation groups like J Street, believe that the United States should do more to discourage Israeli settlement expansion, and bring an end to the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. Do you agree?

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT): “I think that conflict is very hard to resolve given the existing leadership on both sides of the divide. The United States has always had a tricky position. We have to stand by Israel as a sacred friend in that region, but we also know historically that no deals get done unless the United States isn’t willing to tell some hard truths to Tel Aviv. The settlement construction under Netanyahu did make peace less likely because it ultimately carved out sections of a future Palestinian state in a way that wasn’t constructive. I think, I’m a believer in supporting Israel, but also in not being afraid to call them out, when they’re doing something that isn’t ultimately good for peace. I think you can walk that line. I don’t support those that the only way you are a friend to Israel is to support whatever the existing government asks you to support.”” [NYMag

–Worth noting: Sen Murphy says “to tell some hard truths to Tel Aviv” and not Jerusalem.

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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Sam Zell on WeWork: “I wouldn’t let those virtual office guys near my business ‘with a ten-foot pole'” [CNBC] • Eliot Spitzer’s marketing campaign puts the ‘high’ in high-rise [NYPost] • Sir Philip Green £433 million worse off, according to Rich List [TheJC] • Harry Macklowe may be secretly selling artwork amid $2B divorce [NYPost] • Hedge fund activist Paul Singer just found his next target [CNBC] • Hedgie Gerstner says United Airlines still has much to gain [NYPost] • Waze Now Lets You Record Navigation Instructions in Your Own Voice [lifehacker] • Has Uber Killed Off Its Self-Driving Trucks? Federal records show that Otto’s 18-wheelers are covering fewer miles than ever before [BackChannel]

“Mercer Sued by former Hedge Fund employee David Magerman who claims he was fired for calling Mercer racist” by Erik Larson: “The complaint by David Magerman, a research scientist who worked at Renaissance Technologies LLC for two decades, alleges he was wrongfully fired April 29 after his relationship with [Robert] Mercer and his family became toxic. For example, Magerman alleges that Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah Mercer, a member of Trump’s transition team, called him “pond scum” at a celebrity poker tournament. The confrontation “just shows the hostility that the Mercers had toward Mr. Magerman because he dared to challenge their political views,” his lawyer, H. Robert Fiebach, said in a phone call on Monday…”

“The dispute started on Jan. 16 when Magerman called Mercer and asked to have a conversation about his support of Trump… During the chat, Mercer said… that black Americans “were doing fine” in the late 1950s and are the “only racist people remaining in the U.S.,” according to the complaint. “Magerman was stunned by these comments and pushed back,” according to the complaint… Magerman complained about Mercer’s comments to Co-Chief Executive Officer Peter Brown, who “expressed disbelief” and urged the two men to speak again… Magerman agreed and called Mercer back on Feb. 5. “I hear you’re going around saying I’m a white supremacist,” Mercer said.” [Bloomberg; WSJ• Robert Mercer, Trump’s Sugar Daddy, Is Being Sued [VanityFair]

“Michael Bloomberg Sounds Off on Trump, Clinton and the Media” by Alexandra Steigrad: “Bloomberg said he had a post-election chat with Trump, in which he said: “Look Donald, you don’t know anything.” “We’ve got to cut him a little slack,” he said, emphasizing that it’s in everyone’s best interest that Trump succeeds as president… Eventually, the chat turned back to politics and why Clinton couldn’t close the deal. “Hillary ran a campaign that was flawed and Obama didn’t really help her,” he said… “Trump won…even if he didn’t win the popular vote. He had a positive message… I’m going to do something….The only thing Hillary said was vote for me because I’m a woman…and Trump is bad.”” [WWD]

“Sheryl Sandberg: fighting fake news and Facebook’s future” by Hannah Kuchler: “With her smooth manner, it’s little wonder that there has been speculation that Sandberg could run for political office, but she says that since her husband’s death she feels more tied to Facebook, where people continue to post memories on his page. When she was young, she thought she would work in government or a non-profit, never a company. What changed? “I think when technology happened, that Google, Facebook, these companies have as much of a mission as other organisations,” she says… Rumours were fuelled when Mark Zuckerberg embarked on a US tour to meet community groups, churches and businesses that appeared remarkably similar to an election campaign trail. Does she think he might run for president? “No.” And you? “Nope, I’ve said no.” [FT• Inside Zuckerberg’s real political strategy [Axios]

RISING STAR: “Jack Schlossberg, the grandson of John F. Kennedy, is ready for his time in the spotlight” by Rachel Shukert: “Last week, in a joint television interview with his mother [Caroline Kennedy] on The Today Show last week, [Jack] Schlossberg, in his first live TV appearance, explained their decision to award this year’s John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award to former President Barack Obama… When asked about his plans for the future on Today—particularly in regards to one day seeking public office—he was non-committal… But he also left the door wide open and swinging on its hinges: “I’m inspired by my family’s legacy of public service. It’s something I’m very proud of. But I’m still trying to make my own way and figure things out. So stay tuned—I don’t know what I’m going to do.”” [Tablet

LongRead — “Taking Down Terrorists in Court: Zainab Ahmad has prosecuted thirteen international terrorist suspects for the American government. She hasn’t lost yet” by William Finnegan: “Ahmad had a multifaceted upbringing. She grew up in suburban Nassau County, Long Island, with her father and stepmother and two younger brothers, and she also lived part time with her mother, in Manhattan. Her parents had divorced, amicably, when she was an infant, and, as Zainab grew, according to her father, Naeem, “she would play Mom off against Dad, but always for one thing—to buy more books.” “We felt comfortable here,” Naeem told me, when I visited him and his wife, Nasrin, at their home, in East Meadow. “I felt comfortable with my neighbors, and never told my children to avoid kids because they’re Christian, Jewish—none of that.” (Most of Zainab’s friends as a child were Jewish.) Naeem, a retired engineer, is an active member of a local mosque, and has taught Sunday school since the nineteen-eighties. “I am a very religious man,” he said. “But not a religiosity man. I don’t care what other people do.”” [NewYorker]

PROFILE: “A Travel Ban’s Foe: A Young Firebrand and Her Pro Bono Brigade” by Miriam Jordan: “Saying he admired [Becca] Heller’s “chutzpah,” Charles Bronfman, the Seagram heir and an executive whose organization had already given her a $100,000 prize, threw a fund-raiser for her last month at his Fifth Avenue apartment. Ms. Heller, who uses profanity when ranting and raving, kept her promise to Mr. Bronfman that she would sanitize her speech. She drew chuckles from the two dozen guests when she referred with irony to the president’s “excellent” policies, and when she threatened to steal a Chagall mounted on the wall. “We made a lot of money,” she said afterward, declining to say how much. But all the attention has helped triple the IRAP budget this year, to $6.5 million, she said. During a summer in Israel, Ms. Heller quit an internship and traveled to Jordan, where she met Iraqi refugees stuck in a state of limbo that appalled her. After finagling meetings with the United Nations refugee agency and the United States Embassy so she could better understand the resettlement process, she returned to Yale and, with another student, founded IRAP — the “I” then standing for Iraqi.” [NYTimes

TALK OF OUR NATION: “It took a century to create the weekend—and only a decade to undo it” by Katrina Onstad: “The state of the weekend is an ongoing battle in Israel, where the official weekend is the day and a half that constitutes the Sabbath, from Friday evening through Saturday. But Israel’s weekend is changing, too—tensely. Some Orthodox Jews, appalled at Sabbath-breakers, have reportedly thrown stones at Israelis taking the bus on Saturdays. With Arabs and Christians to please, there have been calls for a full, two-day Friday-Saturday weekend to accommodate holy days for all groups.” [Quartz

“Why was this Passover different from all other Passovers?” by Susan Abeles: “I was punished, and effectively forced out of my job of over 26 years, because I observed Passover. So I’m going to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear my case… As I made in my case, each year during my 26 years at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), I submitted a list of all Jewish holidays on which I would take leave that year, a procedure that was always accepted by my different supervisors… In 2013, I followed the same protocol as I had for decades… Then the MWAA… placed me on AWOL for the last two days of Passover for violating leave policy and suspended me in May for an additional five days without pay with an added-on insubordination charge for using my own vacation time to worship God.” [TheHill

TRANSITION: Jonathan Schulman has been hired as AIPAC’s National Synagogue Initiative Director. Jonathan originally came to AIPAC in 2006 joining their Southeast office as the first ever regional Synagogue Initiative Director in the country. In 2008, Jonathan moved to Washington, DC to become the National Deputy Director of the Synagogue Initiative.

HOLLYWOOD: “Is “Norman” good for the Jews?” by Jeffrey Salkin: “Norman is a collection of classic Jewish archetypes – a macher (a person who gets things done), a schnorrer (a beggar), and even sometimes, despite himself, a mensch. But, more often, he is a name dropper, a business card distributor, and a people collector. His life is a viral contagion of favors, in which he owes people, people owe him, and people owe each other because they owe Norman… We meet Norman at every major Jewish conference and convention. He hangs out on the fringes, and sometimes on the inside, of every Jewish organization. In fact, the film features a knowing facsimile of an AIPAC policy convention. And so, is “Norman” good for the Jews? Let’s just say this. “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” would have killed my grandmother. And yours, too, come to think of it.” [ReligionNewsService]

SPORTS BLINK: “Los Angeles Makes Its Case for 2024 Olympics” by Matthew Futterman: “Casey Wasserman, the sports and entertainment executive chairing the Los Angeles bid, recently said in a conference call with the media that the characteristics that have “made our bid viable and popular remain the same from the beginning, and that is the opposite of what has driven people to criticize other bids.” [WSJ]

BIRTHDAYS: Owner of St. Louis-based Harbour Group Industries, investor in 200 companies in 40 industries, US Ambassador to Belgium (2007-2009), Sam Fox turns 88… Vice President of Global Public Policy at Facebook, previously White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy (2006-2009), law clerk for Justice Scalia (1999-2000), Joel D. Kaplan turns 48… ‘Downtown macher’ Nathaniel Rosen, a Blackstone associate starting HBS this fall (h/t DB)… Business executive and philanthropist, co-managing partner of Bain Capital, owner of a minority interest in the Boston Celtics, Jonathan Lavine turns 51… Budapest-born philanthropist and social activist, she marched in Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965, Eva Haller turns 87… Academy Award-winning director, producer and screenwriter, James L. Brooks(family name was Bernstein) turns 77… Guitarist and record producer, best known as a member of the rock-pop-jazz group “Blood, Sweat & Tears,” Steve Katz turns 72… Winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, professor of structural biology at Stanford University, lives in both Israel and California, Michael Levitt turns 70…

Pianist, singer-songwriter, composer and one of the best selling recording artists of all time, Billy Joel turns 68… Physician in Burlington, Vermont, she was the First Lady of Vermont from 1991 until 2003 when her husband Howard Dean was Governor, Judith Steinberg Dean turns 64… Media, entertainment and technology entrepreneur and inventor, Brian D. Litman turns 63… Film director, film producer, playwright, author, marketing executive and arts philanthropist, Barry Avrich turns 54… DC-based, chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, Mark Leibovich turns 52… Journalist, author, and political commentator, he is currently a co-founder and editor-in-chief at Vox, and formerly wrote for and edited Wonkblog at the Washington Post, Ezra Klein turns 33 (h/ts Playbook)… Mikhael Smits turns 21…

Gratuity not included. We love receiving news tips but we also gladly accept tax deductible tips. 100% of your donation will go directly towards improving Jewish Insider. Thanks! [PayPal]

Wine in hand, Ana Navarro’s freewheeling ADL speech

Republican strategist Ana Navarro

Republican strategist and political commentator Ana Navarro, sipping from a glass of wine, veered on and off script as she addressed the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Leadership Summit in Washington, DC on Monday night.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Navarro, who is known for her fierce opposition to Donald Trump in her capacity as a political contributor on CNN, recounted the controversial moments of the 2016 presidential campaign, concluding that the Jewish community cannot rely on President Trump to stand up against bigotry and anti-Semitism. “Donald Trump has not made America great again,” she said, “Donald Trump has made American hate again. Today, we have a President who is either a bigot or has complacently allowed it because it served his political purposes. And it did – he won. But that was the wrong thing to do.”

In between those remarks, Navarro — either for the purpose of entertaining or under the influence of wine — took no prisoners while discussing the Trump Administration.

From her intro: “Did you guys hear how Barbra Streisand is blaming her weight gain on Trump? Stop laughing! I am too. It’s like I am pregnant with this baby, Rosemary’s baby. I do not know what to do about this. I cannot stop eating and drinking since this man got elected… By the way, are there any Trump supporters in the room? Go ahead, this is a room full of great tolerance. We can accept you. You might be in the wrong room, though. If there are any Trump supporters here, you’re welcome. Put your knives down. I will find something nice to say about him: He’s been good for Israel. Okay, I am done. I should also tell you… I am Ashkenazi Jewish — and Sephardic. And I am also the descendant of slaves, and Hispanic. So basically, Donald Trump has offended all of me, every single part of me. I ended up having an unbroken DNA thread with Amy Schumer, which means I am also a distant cousin of Chuck Schumer. Oy!”

Viewer discretion advised: “I know you all stand against defamation, but I am going to ask for a little bit dispensation today. Can I? Look, there is no way I can talk about the state of our government, about the state of politics today without attacking a couple of people. But if it’s warranted, accurate and true, it’s not defamation. It’s justice.”

The one good thing about Trump: “Like I said, I am going to say one good thing about Donald Trump today: I think he has been supportive of Israel’s right to exist. I am not sure he can find Israel on the map. I am not sure he doesn’t think it’s a deli in the Bronx. But nevertheless, he’s been supportive and for that one little thing, I am grateful… Other than liking matzah — in the same way he likes taco bowls — Donald Trump does understand that Israel has the right to exist, and that is – in my eyes – one of his few saving graces.”

On Jared’s Middle East portfolio: “I am not sure how much Jared understands [about the Middle East], but, you know, he’s got a lot on his plate. Keeping Ivanka happy can’t be easy. Getting his family out of financial straits can’t be easy either.”

On Steve Bannon: “What do you do with Steve Bannon? I don’t know what to tell you. Look — oy! They keep saying that Jared and Ivanka are Jewish, so, you know, Trump is good because his daughter and son-in-law are Jewish. Well, go to them. I mean, surely you’ve got friends who know these people. Um. Hell, even I have friends who know these people. That’s why I am not deported yet – yet.”

Comey on Holocaust: ‘Good people helped murder millions’

FBI Director James Comey. Photo courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League

FBI Director James Comey discussed those who participated in the Nazi atrocities during the Holocaust at the Anti-Defamation League’s annual conference on Monday afternoon. “Although the slaughter of the Holocaust was led by sick and evil people, those sick and evil leaders were joined by and followed by people who loved their families, took soup to sick neighbors, who went to church, who gave to charity,” Comey told the ADL gathering. “Good people helped murder millions.”

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

The top law enforcement officer added that in order to better understand humanity’s perils, the FBI requires officers and analysts to tour Washington’s Holocaust Museum in addition to studying about Martin Luther King Jr and the civil rights movement.

“I believe the Holocaust is the most significant event in human history. How could such a thing happen? How is that consistent in any way with the concept of a loving God?” Comey asked. “The answer for me is I don’t know.”

During the first several months of the administration, the issue of the Holocaust has consistently dogged Trump’s presidency. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer argued that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad committed acts worse than Hitler while also referring to “Holocaust centers.” (Spicer later apologized). In a statement commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, the White House declined to include Jews, a strange omission, but furthered when they refused to admit any mistake.

The FBI director also noted that on his desk he keeps a 1963 memo from Director J. Edgar Hoover to Attorney General Robert Kennedy asking permission to wiretap Martin Luther King Jr. due to “communist influences.” Comey asserted that this letter was critical to remembering the dangers of unchecked law enforcement powers.

ADL head urges creation of hate crime task force in testimony to Senate committee

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaking at the organization’s Never is Now conference in New York City, on Nov. 17, 2016. Photo by courtesy of the ADL

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League urged the establishing of a federal task force to coordinate hate crimes responses across the executive branch in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Jonathan Greenblatt set forth a series of policy recommendations during a Tuesday hearing on an increase in religious hate crimes, according to an ADL statement.

“All of us are deeply concerned about the ongoing harassment of Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and others who are being targeted because of their religion,” Greenblatt told committee members. “The federal government has an essential leadership role to play in confronting hate crimes and in alleviating intolerance. And we need to make sure that we call out bigotry whenever it happens.”

Greenblatt recommended creating a task force that would help law enforcement agencies improve hate crimes data collection and training, enacting laws to combat hate crimes, exploring approaches to cyberhate and calling out bigotry.

On Monday, the American Jewish Committee praised members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for sending a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging him “to undertake effective action to address the increasing number of religious hate crimes in the U.S.”

“Effectively combating hate crimes demands a concerted federal government response,” said Richard Foltin, the AJC’s director of national and legislative affairs. “It is imperative that federal authorities help state and local authorities in carrying out their responsibility to monitor and prosecute hate crimes, and bring cases under federal hate crimes laws, where necessary.”

Nearly 150 JCCs and other Jewish institutions have received bomb threats and three Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized this year. In March, an Israeli-American teen was arrested in Israel on suspicion of calling in more than 100 bomb threats. Last month, the U.S. Justice Department charged the teen, Michael Kadar, with making threatening calls to JCCs in Florida, conveying false information to the police and cyberstalking.

ADL reports spike in anti-Semitism since 2016

A view of the Lawrence Family JCC in San Diego. Screenshot from YouTube

Anti-Semitic acts have become significantly more widespread in the United States since the beginning of last year, nearly doubling in the first quarter of 2017, according to a national report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The U.S. saw a 34 percent uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, with an additional 86 percent increase in the first three months of this year, according to the ADL’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, released on April 24. The audit shows a year-over-year comparison of harassment, vandalism and assault linked to Jew-hatred.

In addition to the national report, the ADL released a companion report for incidents in its Pacific Southwest region, which includes Los Angeles. In California, the audit noted 211 incidents of anti-Semitism in 2016, up 21 percent from 2015.

The reports come on the heels of a pair of polls conducted by the ADL, published earlier this month, that found 14 percent of Americans hold anti-Semitic beliefs.

CR_XXXX_2016-17 Audit-graphics_Q1_v3Amanda Susskind, Pacific Southwest regional director for the ADL, noted a number of alarming trends in the audit, some of which she said likely are tied to the national political environment and the November election of President Donald Trump.

“We believe the 2016 presidential election and the heightened political atmosphere may have played a role in some of the increase,” she told the Journal.

Though the reports provide only a rough assessment of anti-Semitic acts, Susskind pointed to some causes for concern, namely, the proliferation of swastikas as a hate symbol and, among youth, “a feeling of freedom to express themselves verbally in hateful ways.”

The regional audit notes a Riverside County elementary school vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, including the words “Burn Jews,” and an Indio high school student who wore a Nazi uniform to high school for Halloween.

Susskind said the president’s failure to appropriately check his supporters who express virulently anti-Semitic views helped create a permissive atmosphere for hateful speech.

“I have no doubt that it trickled down into the mainstream and ultimately into the school yards and playgrounds, where kids are starting to become more loose-lipped,” Susskind said.

Nationally, the ADL reported “a doubling in the amount of anti-Semitic bullying and vandalism at non-denominational K-12 grade schools.”

“Seeing [anti-Semitism] in K-12 is pretty disturbing,” Susskind said. “Not that it’s not disturbing in college, but it’s newly disturbing to us this year.”

As for the swastikas, she said, “I hope it’s an anomaly.”

She noted an “extraordinarily large” number of incidents where swastikas were etched into cars, presumably owned by Jews. The regional report makes note of swastikas scratched into cars in heavily Jewish neighborhoods, including Hancock Park, Beverly Hills and Woodland Hills.

The national audit makes particular note of an uptick in anti-Semitic activity since the presidential election. Of the 1,266 acts included in the report “targeting Jews and Jewish institutions” in 2016, almost 30 percent of them occurred in November and December.

During the first three months of 2017, there were 541 incidents, far more than the 291 reported during the same time period the previous year. The 2017 count includes a national wave of phony bomb threats against Jewish institutions.

“There’s been a significant, sustained increase in anti-Semitic activity since the start of 2016, and what’s most concerning is the fact that the numbers have accelerated over the past five months,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a press release.

Susskind was careful to indicate that the incidents in the audit represent only those reported to the ADL or that ADL staffers read about and followed up on, and also that the information was anecdotal rather than scientific.

Moreover, she said there are other arenas where anti-Semitism is entrenched that are not included in the reports.

Susskind said the ADL continues to monitor cyberhate, for instance, which has not abated since the election. She said haters are emboldened when the White House fails to condemn acts of anti-Semitism quickly and strongly.

“There’s a failure of leadership consistently, and in that vacuum, hate rushes in,” she said.

ADL audit notes spike in anti-Semitism since 2016

These two notes were left on a house neighboring Chabad of Oak Park in February. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Yisroel Levine

Anti-Semitic acts have become significantly more widespread in America since the beginning of last year, nearly doubling in the first quarter of 2017, according to a national report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The United States saw a 34 percent uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, with an additional 86 percent increase in the first three months of this year, according to the ADL’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, released April 24. The audit shows a year-over-year comparison of harassment, vandalism and assault linked to Jew hatred.

Graphic courtesy of ADL.

Graphic courtesy of ADL.

 

In addition to the national report, the ADL released a companion report for incidents in its Pacific Southwest region, which includes Los Angeles. In California, the audit noted 211 incidents of anti-Semitism in 2016, up 21 percent from 2015.

The reports come on the heels of a pair of polls conducted by the ADL, published earlier this month, that found 14 percent of Americans hold anti-Semitic beliefs.

Amanda Susskind, Pacific Southwest regional director for the ADL, noted a number of alarming trends in the audit, some of which she said likely are tied to the national political environment and the November election of President Donald Trump.

“We believe the 2016 presidential election and the heightened political atmosphere may have played a role in some of the increase,” she told the Journal.

Though the reports provide only a rough assessment of anti-Semitic acts, Susskind pointed to some causes for concern, namely, the proliferation of swastikas as a hate symbol and, among youth, “a feeling of freedom to express themselves verbally in hateful ways.”

The regional audit notes a Riverside County elementary school vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, including the words “Burn Jews,” and an Indio high school student who wore a Nazi uniform to high school for Halloween.

Susskind said the president’s failure to appropriately check his supporters who express virulently anti-Semitic views helped create a permissive atmosphere for hateful speech.

“I have no doubt that it trickled down into the mainstream and ultimately into the school yards and playgrounds where kids are starting to become more loose-lipped,” Susskind said.

Nationally, the ADL reported “a doubling in the amount of anti-Semitic bullying and vandalism at non-denominational K-12 grade schools.”

“Seeing [anti-Semitism] in K-12 is pretty disturbing,” Susskind said. “Not that it’s not disturbing in college, but it’s newly disturbing to us this year.”

As for the swastikas, she said, “I hope it’s an anomaly.”

She noted an “extraordinarily large” number of incidents where swastikas were etched into cars, presumably owned by Jews. The regional report makes note of swastikas scratched into cars in Jewish neighborhoods including Hancock Park, Beverly Hills and Woodland Hills.

The national audit makes particular note of an uptick in anti-Semitic activity since the presidential election. Of the 1,266 acts noted in the report “targeting Jews and Jewish institutions” in 2016, almost 30 percent of them occurred in November and December.

During the first three months of 2017, there were 541 incidents, far more than the 291 reported during the same time period the previous year. The 2017 count includes a national wave of phony bomb threats against Jewish institutions.

“There’s been a significant, sustained increase in anti-Semitic activity since the start of 2016 and what’s most concerning is the fact that the numbers have accelerated over the past five months,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a press release.

Susskind was careful to note that the incidents in the audit represent only those reported to the ADL or that ADL staffers read about and followed up on, and also that the information was anecdotal rather than scientific.

Moreover, she said there are other arenas where anti-Semitism is entrenched that are not included in the reports.

Susskind said the ADL continues to monitor cyberhate, for instance, which has not abated since the election. She said haters are emboldened when the White House fails to quickly and strongly condemn acts of anti-Semitism.

“There’s a failure of leadership consistently, and in that vacuum, hate rushes in,” she said.

Moving & Shaking: “Evening of Inspiration,” Suzy & Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award and more

The American Technion Society’s Albert Einstein Award went to David, Janet, Jeffrey and Robert Polak. Pictured at the organization’s Los Angeles dinner are (from left) David and Janet Polak; their grandson Ethan; Robert and Victoria Polak; and Lauren and Jeffrey Polak. Photo by Elaine Lee Photography

Unconditional love for Israel was in the air at the American Technion Society’s “Evening of Inspiration” on March 16.

“I’m here because I’m an Israel-loving, proud Jew, and because the Oscars never called,” comedian and event emcee Elon Gold said onstage in a ballroom at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills.

The gathering, which sought to increase support and awareness for the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, honored David, Janet, Jeffrey and Robert Polak with the Albert Einstein Award.

The Polaks, according to a press release, are “luminaries of the Los Angeles community and multigenerational supporters of the Technion.”

“This evening is more about the Technion than our family,” David Polak said upon accepting the award from Israeli biologist, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry and Technion distinguished research professor Aaron Ciechanover.

“No other institute can do the things we can do,” Ciechanover said, before presenting the Polak family with the award.

About 250 people attended the event, including Philip Gomperts, regional director of American Associates Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; financial adviser and pro-Israel philanthropist Barak Raviv; Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer Andrew Cushnir; StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein; Jewish Journal President David Suissa; evening co-chairs Rita and Steve Emerson; Helgard and Irwin Field; Denise and Bob Hanisee; and about 15 alumni of the Technion, which is located in Haifa, Israel.

During a showcase and cocktail-hour kickoff for the event, Yael Vizel, CEO of Zeekit and a former Israeli air force telecommunications officer, balanced the obligatory schmoozing with demoing Zeekit, an Israeli fashion startup enabling users to try on clothes while shopping online. She graduated from the Technion in 2010.


From left: IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous; Melissa Balaban, founding president and executive director of IKAR; and NewGround Executive Director Aziza Hasan attend the Suzy and Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award luncheon, where Balaban was honored. NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change organized the event. Photo by Shams Soomar

From left: IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous; Melissa Balaban, founding president and executive director of IKAR; and NewGround Executive Director Aziza Hasan attend the Suzy and Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award luncheon, where Balaban was honored. NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change organized the event. Photo by Shams Soomar

More than 300 guests attended the March 26 luncheon for the Suzy & Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award at the IMAN Cultural Center in West Los Angeles. The event — organized by NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change — exhibited the viability of interfaith work.

“This work between Muslims and Jews is more important than ever,” IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous said as she addressed the audience. “We do this work because it’s right. Now, after a decade of working together to build these relationships in the city, we do it not only out of sense of obligation but also out of sense of love.”

During the ceremony, several guests received awards from NewGround, which marked its 10th anniversary earlier this year. The recipients of the Suzy & Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award were IKAR’s founding president and executive director, Melissa Balaban, and the Aga Khan Council for the Western U.S. The Day School Exchange, a project of New Horizon School Pasadena and Sinai Akiba Academy in Los Angeles, was given the inaugural NewGround Change-Maker Award.

The event had more than 30 sponsors, including Suzy Marks; David Weiner, CEO at Social Studies School Service; the Islamic Center of Southern California; and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. The Ismaili Choir of Los Angeles performed, singing a song in Hebrew, Arabic and English as the guests were served kosher and halal food.

Other guests at the event included Rabbi Sarah Bassin, of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and former executive director at NewGround, and Andrea Hodos, program director at NewGround and creator of Moving Torah Workshops.

Daniel Tamm, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s interfaith liaison and Westside representative, said he is a big fan of NewGround.

“It’s one of my most favorite organizations in Los Angeles,” Tamm said. “I love it because it builds bridges instead of creating boundaries.”

The event raised $85,000 for NewGround, which promotes discussions and partnerships between Jewish and Muslim communities.

Olga Grigoryants, Contributing Writer


Zane Buzby, comedy producer and Survivor Mitzvah Project founder, and actor Ed Asner come together at the Anti-Defamation League annual Deborah Awards. Photo courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League

Zane Buzby, comedy producer and Survivor Mitzvah Project founder, and actor Ed Asner come together at the Anti-Defamation League annual Deborah Awards. Photo courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) held its annual Deborah Awards dinner March 30 at the SLS Hotel Beverly Hills, honoring women who exemplify professional leadership and civic contribution.

This year, the ADL honored comedy producer and Survivor Mitzvah Project founder Zane Buzby, sports and entertainment executive Francesca Leiweke-Bodie of Oak View Group, and AEG Executive Vice President Martha Saucedo, who leads the entertainment firm’s external affairs, including its charitable involvement.

“The ADL is honoring Zane Buzby,” actor Ed Asner joked in Buzby’s introduction. “What is that? Is that a condition?”

Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke presented the award to Leiweke-Bodie, his daughter, and Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo introduced Saucedo.

The black-tie event, with about 300 attendees, raised more than $300,000 for the ADL.

Among the celebrity guests were actors Topher Grace, Allen Leech, Frances Fisher and Emmanuelle Chriqui.

Cal State Northridge Police Chief Anne Glavin delivered an address thanking the ADL for its work training law enforcement officers, saying a recent four-hour training session had helped her staff differentiate between hate speech and hate crimes.

Telemundo executive Mónica Gil and longtime ADL supporter and donor Suzanne Prince acted as the event’s co-chairs. Actress and musician Janina Gavankar was the emcee.

Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


Julie Munjack

Julie Munjack

Julie Munjack, director of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Los Angeles, was among 30 Jewish professionals and volunteer leaders from around the world selected by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation for the third cohort of the Schusterman Fellowship.

The foundation describes the fellowship as an “executive leadership program that features individualized professional development experiences.”

Fellows will gain leadership skills, develop strategic networks, and maximize their potential to affect “Jewish organizational and societal change,” the foundation said in a press release.

Munjack, who oversees a staff of eight and leads operations and development efforts for AIPAC’s second-largest market, is the only person from Los Angeles named to the latest cohort of fellows. She was selected through a competitive application process. Her goal, according to the Schusterman website, is to “grow the pro-Israel movement in Los Angeles and train our local leaders.”


From left: Daniel Levine, Amanda Khalil, Nerses Aposhian, Mary Isaac and Darion Ouliguian participated in a panel titled “Indigenous People Unite.” Photo by Mati Geula Cohen

From left: Daniel Levine, Amanda Khalil, Nerses Aposhian, Mary Isaac and Darion Ouliguian participated in a panel titled “Indigenous People Unite.” Photo by Mati Geula Cohen

Students Supporting Israel at UCLA on March 9 held an event called “Indigenous People Unite,” which brought together representatives of the Armenian, Jewish, Assyrian and Coptic indigenous communities to speak about their identities, struggles and futures in the United States and in their homelands.

Speakers included UCLA graduate student Daniel Levine, speaking for the Jewish community; Loyola Marymount law student Nerses Aposhian, president of the Armenian Law Students’ Association; UCLA alumnus Mary Isaac, for the Assyrian community; and UCLA undergraduate student Amanda Khalil for the Coptic community.

The goal of the event was to recognize and bring attention to indigenous people and their stories, to create a dialogue between the communities and show the similarities between each other’s narratives.

Some of the topics focused on biblical Jewish history and modern Zionism, the current conditions of the Coptic Christian community in Egypt, the Armenian genocide and communities in the Diaspora, as well as the Assyrian people’s desire to return to their homeland and how their community maintains its identity.

At one point, in response to a question by a member of Students for Justice in Palestine about “the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government,” Liat Menna, president of Students Supporting Israel at UCLA, responded, “The reason why we are doing this event is so that conversations get started.”

The audience included UCLA students from various backgrounds, as well as UCLA professor emeritus and Daniel Pearl Foundation President Judea Pearl, and Zionist Organization of America’s West Coast Campus Coordinator Leore Ben-David.

Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Poll finds majority of Americans concerned about Anti-Semitism

A row of more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in St Louis on Feb. 21. Photo by Tom Gannam/Reuters

More than half of Americans are concerned about anti-Semitism and more than three-quarters are concerned about violence against Muslims, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found in two new public opinion polls.

The results show that a majority of Americans, 52 percent, are concerned about violence in the U.S. directed at Jews, and 76 percent are concerned about violence directed at Muslims. The ADL based its findings on 1,500 interviews conducted last October and 3,600 in January and February.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL chief executive, said he was heartened by the survey results, showing that people are concerned about Jews and Muslims.

“We conducted two polls to ensure that we fully understood the mood of the country,” he said in a statement. “The good news in this research is that today a large majority of Americans do not subscribe to common anti-Semitic stereotypes. It’s also encouraging that a record number of Americans are concerned about violence against the Jewish and Muslim communities, and are troubled at how intolerance has infected our politics.”

The polls are part of ADL’s continuing research into anti-Jewish attitudes under the ADL Global 100, a project begun in 2014 to establish a worldwide index of anti-Semitic attitudes.

Released on April 6, the new surveys measured, among other things, perceptions of President Donald Trump and whether he holds prejudiced views. A third of respondents agreed with the statement “Donald Trump holds anti-Semitic views,” while half disagreed. The remaining 17 percent “don’t know,” said Todd Gutnick, vice president of communications at the ADL.

The surveys also found that 14 percent of the American population holds anti-Semitic beliefs.

Nearly half of Americans, 49 percent, said Trump could have done more to discourage anti-Semitism, the survey found, and more than 8 in 10 Americans, 84 percent, said they believe it is important for the government to play a role in combating anti-Semitism, up from 70 percent in 2014.

A majority of Americans, 52 percent, are concerned about violence in the U.S. directed at Jews, and 76 percent are concerned about violence directed at Muslims.

The polls also examined anti-Semitism in politics and whether “Americans believe there was more anti-Semitism in the 2016 election than previously.” Nearly half of those surveyed, 47 percent, said there was more and 39 percent said the level was no more than in previous campaigns.

Last October, the ADL released “Anti-Semitic Targeting of Journalists During the 2016 Presidential Campaign,” a study that concluded that although Trump may not be the cause of anti-Semitism, people who were responsible for spreading hate online often were supporters of Trump as a candidate.

Regarding Muslims, the survey found that 59 percent of respondents agree that “Donald Trump holds anti-Muslim views,” and 64 percent said they do not believe the government is doing enough to ensure their safety.

Perceptions of Trump bias against Muslims may be due, in part, to his efforts to use executive orders to bar individuals from Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Federal judges have twice stuck down his orders.

“It’s discouraging to know that Muslims and other minorities feel unsafe. Clearly, there is still a lot of work to do,” Greenblatt said.

Overall, the survey found that 34 percent of American Muslims hold anti-Semitic views, compared with 55 percent of Muslims in Europe and 75 percent in Middle East/North Africa.

The poll’s release comes on the heels of several incidents of vandalism targeting Jewish cemeteries and waves of bomb threats that have targeted Jewish community centers, schools and other institutions, including ADL offices, across North America over the past several months.

Authorities arrested two people in connection with the bomb threats, all of which turned out to be hoaxes: Juan Thompson, a discredited journalist in St. Louis who was apparently seeking revenge against an ex-girlfriend; and Michael Kaydar, an Israeli-American teenager who his lawyer said may suffer from mental illness.

The ADL was one of several organizations that compiled data on the more than 150 bomb threats that targeted Jewish centers.

The ADL has been polling anti-Semitic attitudes in the U.S. since 1964. Later this month, the organization plans to release an audit of 2016 anti-Semitic incidents, drawing on data from ADL regional offices, including ADL Pacific Southwest, which serves Los Angeles.

The October survey, conducted by Marttila Strategies, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent. The more recent poll, conducted by First International Resources, had a margin of error of 1.6 percent for the general population and 3 percent for American Muslims.

Jewish leaders owe an apology to Trump and America

President Donald Trump in Ypsilanti Township, Mich., on March 15. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Last month, I wrote a column under the headline, “There Is No Wave of Trump-Induced Anti-Semitism or Racism.” I was right. But my being right is not what matters. What matters is that the mainstream media and the Jewish left — which is now essentially almost all of Jewish life outside of Orthodoxy — were wrong. So wrong that it was morally inexcusable.

Some Jewish leaders need to either publicly apologize — to the Jewish community, to conservatives, to America and to President Donald Trump — or be fired from their positions. 

The entire claim that America was engulfed in a rising tide of anti-Semitism was a lie — “fake news.” And the claim that Trump’s election is what aroused all this anti-Semitism was not merely a lie, it was malicious libel.

No Jew has disseminated this libel as much as Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect in New York, part of a worldwide network. The man has engaged in chillul Anne Frank — a desecration of the name of Anne Frank.

Here are a few examples of Goldstein’s public comments:

“The cancer of Antisemitism has infected his [Trump’s] own Administration.”

“Make no mistake: The Antisemitism coming out of this Administration is the worst we have ever seen from any Administration.”

“The most vicious antisemites in America are looking at you [Trump] and your administration as a nationalistic movement granting them permission to attack Jews, Jewish institutions, and sacred Jewish sites.”

The entire claim that America was engulfed in a rising tide of anti-Semitism was a lie — “fake news.”

If the organization doesn’t fire this man, it is complicit in his radical politicization of an institution calling itself a center for “Mutual Respect,” and in the misuse of Anne Frank’s name to disseminate political hate.

More important than Goldstein and his so-called Center for Mutual Respect is Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of what is supposed to be the leading American-Jewish organization dedicated to exposing and combating anti-Semitism, the Anti-Defamation League. He has played a leading role in disseminating the narrative that since the Trump election, America has been drenched in anti-Semitism — even comparing its levels to those of Nazi Germany.

As reported by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in December:

“ ‘Anti-Semitic rhetoric in the United States has reached levels unprecedented since 1930s Germany,’ Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt warned a gathering of Israeli lawmakers in Jerusalem on Monday.

“ ‘Anti-Semitism has wound its way into mainstream conversations in a manner that many Jews who lived through Nazi Germany find terrifying,’ he said at the Knesset meeting, which was convened to discuss the plight of American Jewry under the incoming Trump administration.”

Greenblatt’s allusion to Nazi Germany cheapened the evil of Nazism and of the Holocaust; I wrote about left-wing Jews doing this very thing in another column in mid-February.

And note Haaretz’s inflammatory description — “the plight of American Jewry under the incoming Trump administration” — made six weeks before there was a Trump administration!

In December, Greenblatt told NPR:

“We found it so deeply problematic when some of the images and some of the rhetoric [from Trump] seemed to evoke longstanding anti-Semitic conspiracies.”

Greenblatt repeated this charge in February in an op-ed he wrote for The Washington Post:

“Last year, we watched as the Trump campaign repeatedly tweeted and shared anti-Semitic imagery and language, allowing this poison to move from the margins into the mainstream of the public conversation.”

That whole charge — made by the left within and outside of Jewish life — was false. But the left has always believed it is OK to falsely accuse conservatives of racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, bigotry, xenophobia, hate, etc. It’s effective, after all.

Greenblatt also wrote in that Washington Post column:

“Trump could have said he condemns anti-Semitism and takes incidents, such as the dozens of threats made to Jewish Community Centers, seriously. But instead, he lashed out against those asking the question.”

It turns out that President Trump was right: There was no eruption of anti-Semitism in America, let alone in the White House. And “those asking the question” did indeed deserve the contempt the president showed them.

It turns out that some disturbed American-Jewish kid in Israel was the source of nearly all these threats against Jewish Community Centers (JCCs). And the handful of other threats to JCCs came from a Black radical.

So, it turns out, as I wrote here four weeks ago: “[T]here is no wave of Trump-induced anti-Semitism or racism in America. This is only one more example of left-wing hysteria. … ”

And, it turns out that the conclusion to my column was also valid:

“Jews who think there is such a wave do so because they hate Donald Trump so much, they want to believe it. In other words, a lot of Jews want to believe that Jews are hated in America more than ever. Yet another way in which leftism has poisoned Jewish life.”

That’s the “poison” that ought to concern Jonathan Greenblatt.

In the meantime, he owes the president of the United States and the American people an apology.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Head of GOP in Israel says ‘self-hating Jew’ Sarah Silverman ‘needs a muzzle’

Sarah Silverman speaking during the first day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, July 25, 2016. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

The leader of Israel’s main Republican group called Sarah Silverman a “self-hating Jew” and said she “needs a muzzle.”

Marc Zell made the comments Saturday night on behalf of the Republicans Overseas Israel Facebook page, which he manages as the group’s co-chairman. The post links to a blog post about a decade-old video clip of the Jewish comedian performing her standup show “Jesus is Magic.”

The Feb. 2 blog post by conservative documentary filmmaker Pat Dollard is titled “Jew Sarah Silverman: “I Hope The Jews Did Kill Christ. I’d Fucking Do It Again In A Second,” and features Silverman delivering a version of that line.

Zell, an attorney who lives in the West Bank settlement Tekoa, said Silverman’s comments “damage” the Jewish community and insult Christians. He said it falls within the mission of Republican Overseas Israel to “call down” public figures like Silverman.

“Republicans Overseas Israel exists in order to not only represent the Republican Party here in Israel but also to represent the Jewish community in Israel to the Republican Party and the millions of Americans who support the Republican Party and our president,” he told JTA Sunday. “I think it’s appropriate to say something about a public figure as widely known as this woman, who during the campaign also had some ‘precious’ views to express about our candidate and our president. People like her need to be called down when they step over the line.”

Silverman — who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., and then Hillary Clinton, for president during the 2016 election campaign — has been an outspoken critic of Trump. Last March, during the Republican primaries, she appeared on TBS’ “Conan” dressed as Adolf Hitler and complained of her character being “unfavorably” compared to Trump.

Republican Overseas Israel held a get-out-of the-vote campaign in Israel for Trump during the general election, and Trump and Vice President Mike Pence recorded video messages for an event the group held in Jerusalem in October. Zell claimed a record number of Americans in Israel cast absentee ballots, though that was widely disputed.

One of Donald Trump’s most prominent boosters in Israel during the campaign, Zell continues to combatively advocate for and defend the president, along with Israel and the settlements. On the Republicans Overseas Israel Facebook page Thursday, he also deemed the Israeli-American teenager from Asheklon who was arrested last week on suspicion of calling in more than 100 bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers across the United States “The Ultimate Self-Hating Jew.”

Four women had commented on Zell’s Facebook post about Silverman Sunday, all agreeing with its sentiment. One invited Silverman to visit the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip, saying “Your friends are there, you’ll feel really comfortable and soon the rainy season is over so you won’t drown in your bed.” Others called her a “Trash box” and a “pig.”

Zell responded in a comment Sunday: “Better not to even pass her stuff around. I’m hitting delete.” But the post remained up.

Jerusalem-based journalist Noga Tarnopolsky in a tweet called on the Republican Party and the Republican Jewish Coalition to “do something” about Zell, saying of Zell’s Silverman tweet: “This is in your name.”  She also tweeted to the Anti-Defamation League, saying: “Hi & : An online troll is confusing a prominent Jewish woman with a dog. Do something.”

Jewish bomb threat suspect undermines groups’ narrative on anti-Semitism

Evan Bernstein, left, and Oren Segal of the Anti-Defamation League at a news conference at ADL headquarters in New York City on the arrest of Juan Thompson, who allegedly made bomb threats against Jewish institutions, March 3. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Many Jewish groups blamed white supremacists, emboldened by Donald Trump’s campaign, for the bomb threats that have plagued Jewish institutions since the beginning of this year.

It appears the groups were wrong.

The news that one Jewish teen — an Israeli, no less — was behind most of the approximately 150 bomb threats that have hit Jewish community centers since the start of 2017 is a shocking twist in light of months in which the Anti-Defamation League and other groups pointed their collective finger at the far right.

“We’re in unprecedented times,” said Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, at a March 10 news conference on the bomb threats. “We’ve never seen, ever, the volume of bomb threats that we’ve seen. White supremacists in this country feel more emboldened than they ever have before because of the public discourse and divisive rhetoric.”

The ADL has repeatedly charged Trump with emboldening extremists, anti-Semites and far-right groups in the U.S. Other groups were even more explicit in linking rising anti-Semitic acts this year to the new president. On Jan. 10, following the first wave of JCC bomb threats, Bend The Arc, a liberal Jewish group, said that “Trump helped to create the atmosphere of bigotry and violence that has resulted in these dangerous threats against Jewish institutions and individuals.”

In February, the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect said in a statement to Trump that “Rightly or wrongly, the most vicious anti-Semites in America are looking at you and your Administration as a nationalistic movement granting them permission to attack Jews.”

But the perpetrator of the anti-Semitic acts, while his political opinions are not known, does not fit the profile of a white supremacist. According to Israeli reports, he’s a mentally ill Israeli-American Jewish teenager.

He worked from home, using a computer lab with sophisticated equipment, encryption and transmission systems, and a powerful antenna, according to reports. And his father may have known what he was doing.

Israel’s anti-fraud squad arrested the 19-year-old suspect at his home in southern Israel and searched the premises on Thursday. He was brought to court and ordered held until March 30.

The other suspect in the bomb threats, arrested earlier in March, also does not appear connected to the far right. He’s a left-wing African-American former journalist who apparently made the calls in a convoluted vendetta against a former romantic partner.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told JTA Thursday that the organization stands by its prognosis of a surge in anti-Semitism and hatred in the U.S. since the campaign. Aside from the JCC bombings, Greenblatt pointed to a range of other hateful activities tied to white supremacists, from abuse of journalists on Twitter and harassment of Jews in Whitefish, Mont. to a South Carolina man who plotted a mass shooting at a synagogue.

“The impact is still the same: you’ve got children, families, the elderly, teens and others who have been terrorized by these attacks,” Greenblatt said. “We’ve seen rising levels of bigotry in ways that are brand new. The emergence of the alt-right and the rising levels of abuse they perpetrated during the campaign against Jews and other minorities is despicable.”

The Anne Frank Center, a small group whose profile has risen in part due to the attention around the JCC threats, said in a statement Thursday that “it doesn’t matter where any suspect is from or what his or her background is.” Bend The Arc CEO Stosh Cotler said in a statement: “Violence and threats of violence, whoever or wherever they come from, are unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.”

The JCC Association of North America said it was “troubled” by the news that the suspect is Jewish, while the Jewish Federations of North America called the news “heartbreaking.”

Greenblatt and Paul Goldenberg, director of the Secure Community Network, which advises Jewish groups and institutions on security, both said the suspect’s age and location were less relevant than the fact that someone has been caught for making the threats.

“What is relevant is that an individual or individuals were placed into custody who were engaged in or involved in criminal behavior, who were looking to terrorize our community,” Goldenberg said. “I do understand why people may have believed that this was part of a larger effort.”

For longtime observers of anti-Semitism, the news showed the need to be cautious when analyzing hateful acts. Former ADL National Director Abraham Foxman, who has previously called for cooler heads in responding to recent hateful acts, said Thursday that the arrest shows the pitfalls of making assumptions.

“Always take these things seriously, but don’t jump to conclusions,” Foxman told JTA. “History has taught us the source of anti-Semitism does not come from one direction. It’s universal in its nature. … I think it is on the increase, but it’s not in epidemic proportions.”

Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, noted that this isn’t the first time that Jews have committed anti-Semitic acts. In 1989, the former president of the Jewish Student Union at the State University of New York in Binghamton was charged with painting anti-Semitic slogans on campus.

“It is a reminder that we have to be very careful before we talk about a whole wave of anti-Semitism,” Sarna said. “Something like this will surely make everybody a little embarrassed as Jews, but also embarrassed in the sense that it’s not what people imagined it would turn out to be.”

Sarna added that this incident shows Jews may not be as hated in America as it may have seemed. He cited a recent study by the Pew Research Center showing Jews to be the most popular religious group in America.

“It’s good to take a middle ground,” he said. “Yes, there are people who hate Jews, but we’re not seeing storm troopers at the gate.”

Still, Sarna and Foxman noted the string of other anti-Semitic acts recently — the cemetery desecrations and swastika graffiti, as well as a deluge of anti-Semitic harassment on Twitter last year. Because anti-Semitic acts, beyond the JCC threats, remain frequent in the U.S., Foxman does not believe that Thursday’s arrest will lead to anyone downplaying future acts of anti-Semitism.

“It’s there,” Foxman said of anti-Semitism. “So there’s one guy who, whatever his problem was, that doesn’t change the fact that every day there are incidents of anti-Semitism in this country.”

Moving and Shaking: VBS students dance, ADL honors law enforcement, new leadership at LAMOTH

Orly Star Setareh (far right), a dance specialist, leads VBS students in dance at The Music Center. Photo courtesy of the Music Center.

About 40 Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Day School fifth-graders were among the 18,000 elementary school students who participated in the 47th annual Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival, a free arts education initiative held Feb. 28 at The Music Center in downtown Los Angeles.

Nancy Herbst, director of general studies at the day school, was among the adults accompanying the VBS students, who attended a performance by the Ailey II dance company in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion before they performed a synchronized dance inspired by Ailey II in The Music Center plaza.

Blue Ribbon is the self-described “premier women’s support organization of The Music Center.”


The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Helene & Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate luncheon and awards ceremony was held March 14 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The event honored law enforcement officials who have played a role in fighting hate in Southern California.

Among the honorees were Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Yadira Perez, who helped apprehend an arsonist responsible for setting a mosque ablaze in Coachella in December 2015, and Cindy Cipriani, senior management counsel and director of community outreach in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, who “has dedicated her life’s work to advancing the values of unity and understanding with humility and compassion,” the ADL statement said.

Perez recalled her decision to pursue the arsonist after spotting him while off-duty: “At that point,” she said, “I felt the risk to public safety outweighed the risk of me catching him.”

LAPD and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators and L.A. city attorneys, who were honored for their takedown of a white supremacist gang in the San Fernando Valley, come together with Joseph Sherwood (seated, front row) and his son, Howard (crouching, far right) at the Anti-Defamation League’s Helene & Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate luncheon and awards event.

LAPD and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators and L.A. city attorneys, who were honored for their takedown of a white supremacist gang in the San Fernando Valley, come together with Joseph Sherwood (seated, front row) and his son, Howard (crouching, far right) at the Anti-Defamation League’s Helene & Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate luncheon and awards event.

The fire at the mosque was seen as a vengeful reaction to the killing of 14 people and wounding of 22 earlier that month at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino by perpetrators who claimed terrorist allegiances.

In addition, the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Division, its Orange County Resident Agency, the Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California were honored as a group for thwarting “two Anaheim individuals planning to travel to Syria and fight for ISIS,” the ADL said. One of the individuals had planned to fly from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv to join terrorist fighters in the Middle East.

The event’s additional group honoree was the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ L.A. field division, the L.A. City Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles Police Department’s Major Crimes Division, which were honored for removing a “stronghold of San Fernando Valley Peckerwoods, a white supremacist gang,” the ADL said.

The more than 250 attendees included Ayelet Feiman, an L.A. city attorney prosecutor who was honored with the Sherwood Prize in 2013 for her efforts on a case involving swastikas drawn in maple syrup outside the home of a Jewish family in Northridge; Joseph Sherwood and his son, Howard; ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind; L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and others.

The event also celebrated Joseph Sherwood’s 100th birthday, on March 12.

The Sherwood family launched the prize in 1996 as a way to bring attention to the positive contributions of law enforcement.


From left: Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Michael Tuchin, Richard Pachulski and Patricia Glaser attend the American Friends of Hebrew University Torch of Learning Award Dinner, which honored Tuchin and Pachulski. Photo courtesy of AFHU.

From left: Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Michael Tuchin, Richard Pachulski and Patricia Glaser attend the American Friends of Hebrew University Torch of Learning Award Dinner, which honored Tuchin and Pachulski. Photo courtesy of AFHU.

The March 1 American Friends of Hebrew University (AFHU) Harvey L. Silbert Torch of Learning Award Dinner at the Beverly Hilton honored Richard Pachulski, a corporate restructuring attorney, and Michael L. Tuchin, a founding member and co-manager of Klee, Tuchin, Bogdanoff & Stern.

Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who often writes about events pertaining to Israel and has spoken out against President Donald Trump despite being a conservative, was the guest speaker. He discussed what makes America great, noting the disproportionate number of Nobel Prize winners who are Americans, many of whom are immigrants. Additionally, he said HU, with its diverse student population of Arab, secular and religious students, embodies what is best about Israel.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is described by an AFHU press release as “the honorees’ longtime friend,” presented Pachulski and Tuchin with their awards.

The event raised $1.2 million for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law.

Attendees included Patricia Glaser, event chair and the AFHU western region vice chair; Michael Karayanni, dean of the Hebrew University Faculty of Law; Richard Ziman, vice chairman of the AFHU board of directors; and Brindell Gottlieb, president of AFHU’s western region.

AFHU raises awareness of and support for Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


From left: Cedars-Sinai Dr. Shlomo Melmed, Isabelle Szneer and Cedars-Sinai Dr. Charles Simmons commemorate Szneer’s donation to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Photo courtesy of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

From left: Cedars-Sinai Dr. Shlomo Melmed, Isabelle Szneer and Cedars-Sinai Dr. Charles Simmons commemorate Szneer’s donation to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Photo courtesy of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The family of the late Leopold Szneer, a German-Jewish Holocaust survivor and former Congregation Mogen David cantor, has provided a $250,000 gift to the Cedars-Sinai Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease program.

A dedication and luncheon to celebrate the donation, given in Szneer’s memory and in the memory of the 1.5 million children who perished during the Holocaust, was held Jan. 17 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Szneer, who died in 2016, was imprisoned in Dachau during the Shoah, fled on the Kindertransport to Belgium in 1938 and experienced numerous challenges before immigrating to Los Angeles in the 1950s.

He went on to serve as a cantor, his longtime dream, at Congregation Mogen David in Pico-Robertson, for more than 20 years.

Isabelle Szneer, his wife since 1947 and also a Holocaust survivor, provided the gift in her husband’s memory. “He was a much loved man in the city,” she said.

Attendees at the event included Congregation Mogen David Rabbi Gabriel Elias; Dr. Shlomo Melmed, executive vice president of academic affairs at Cedars-Sinai; and Dr. Charles Simmons, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Cedars-Sinai.


Beth Kean

Beth Kean

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), which describes itself as the oldest survivor-founded Holocaust museum in the country, has named Beth Kean its executive director and Paul Nussbaum its president, according to a March 14 announcement.

Kean, who became the museum’s president in January 2016, had also been serving as interim executive director since November, following the departure of the museum’s previous executive director, Samara Hutman. Nussbaum previously served as the museum’s treasurer. Jamie Rosenblood, a current board member at LAMOTH and museum docent who has a background in finance, is succeeding Nussbaum in that role. 

Paul Nussbaum

Paul Nussbaum

The leadership transition is part of “an unprecedented five-year plan to expand [the museum’s] mission of teaching the dangers of genocide and promoting empathy, tolerance and understanding through history, shared knowledge, and personal experience,” the announcement says.

Kean, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, has been involved in various leadership roles on the museum’s board for more than a decade. Her husband, Jon, is a filmmaker whose work includes the documentary films “Swimming in Auschwitz” and “After Auschwitz.”

“The relevance and urgency of our mission has never been more critical than it is in today’s environment,” Kean said in the announcement. “We are creating a strategic plan that will ensure that we continue to provide free educational programming, opportunities for dialogue with Holocaust survivors, and substantially grow our audience while teaching them the relevance of becoming stewards of this important history.”

The museum expects to draw more than 60,000 visitors in 2017, an increase from the 48,000 visitors it had in 2016, according to the announcement.

In the announcement, Nussbaum, the son of Holocaust survivors, expressed optimism about the museum’s continued success.

“We’re aware that we’ve become one of the most cherished cultural assets not only in Los Angeles but in the country,” Nussbaum said. “Our intent now is to establish a roadmap to guide LAMOTH on its journey toward continued growth and awareness.”


From left: Rabbis Elie Spitz, Naomi Levy, Stewart Vogel and Reuven Taff — all of California — received honorary doctorates from Jewish Theological Seminary. Photo by Jewish Journal Staff.

From left: Rabbis Elie Spitz, Naomi Levy, Stewart Vogel and Reuven Taff — all of California — received honorary doctorates from Jewish Theological Seminary. Photo by Jewish Journal Staff.

During a March 2 ceremony at Sutton Place Synagogue in Manhattan, New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) awarded honorary doctorates of divinity degrees to 55 rabbis, including five California rabbis, all of whom are members of the Rabbinic Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis.

The honorees have served the Jewish community for 25 years or more, on the pulpit, in the classroom and elsewhere.

The local rabbis were Elie Spitz of Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin, who was ordained at JTS in 1988; Naomi Levy of Nashuva in Los Angeles, who was a member of the first class of women to attend JTS’s rabbinical school, in 1984; Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, who was ordained in 1988; Neal Scheindlin of Milken Community Schools in Los Angeles, who was ordained in 1986; and Reuven Taff of Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento, who studied at JTS and was ordained in 1988 at a seminary in Israel.

Levy gave remarks on behalf of those being honored.

— Jewish Journal Staff


CORRECTION – 3/28/17: The original version of this story misidentified Orly Star Setareh.

AIPAC seeking bipartisan spirit in a polarized capital

The crowd at last year’s AIPAC conference at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

Maintaining Iran sanctions, crushing BDS and ensuring aid to Israel are high on the agenda, of course.

But the overarching message at this year’s conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is, if you want a break from polarization, come join us.

“This is an unprecedented time of political polarization, and we will have a rare bipartisan gathering in Washington,” an official of the lobby told JTA about the March 26-28 confab. “One of the impressive aspects of our speaker program is that we will have the entire bipartisan leadership of Congress.”

That might seem a stretch following two tense years in which AIPAC faced off against the Obama administration – and by extension much of the Democratic congressional delegation – over the Iran nuclear deal.

But check out the roster of conference speakers and you can see the lobby is trying hard.

Among Congress members, for instance, there are the usual suspects, including stalwarts of the U.S.-Israel relationship like Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rep. Ed Royce, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Vice President Mike Pence is speaking, and so are the leaders of each party in both chambers.

But also featured is Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a freshman who had the backing of Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate who had his request for a satellite feed at last year’s conference turned down. Also present this year and absent last year, for the most part: Democrats who backed the Iran deal.

Among the other speakers are Obama administration architects and defenders of the nuclear deal, which traded sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program.

One striking example is Rob Malley, a National Security Council official who didn’t join President Barack Obama’s team until his second term in part because pro-Israel objections kept him out in the first four years. (Malley, a peace negotiator under President Bill Clinton, had committed the heresy of insisting that both Israelis and Palestinians were to blame for the collapse of talks in 2000.)

If there’s a let-bygones-be-bygones flavor to all this, it results in part from anxieties pervading the Jewish organizational world about polarization in the era of Trump. Jewish groups get their most consequential policy work done lining up backers from both parties.

“We continue to very much believe in the bipartisan model because it is the only way to get things done,” said the official, who like AIPAC officials are wont to do, requested anonymity. “This is the one gathering where D’s and R’s come together for high purpose.”

J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group, demonstrated at its own policy conference last month that it was only too happy to lead the resistance to President Donald Trump, who has appalled the liberal Jewish majority with his broadsides against minorities and his isolationism. J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, explicitly said he was ready to step in now where AIPAC would not.

AIPAC is also under fire from the right. Republican Jews who consider the lobby’s bipartisanship a bane rather than a boon were behind the party platform’s retreat last year from explicit endorsement of the two-state solution. More recently, Trump has also marked such a retreat, at least rhetorically.

The Israeli American Council, principally backed by Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who in 2007 fell out with AIPAC in part over its embrace of the two-state outcome, has attempted to position itself as the more conservative-friendly Israel lobby. The right-leaning Christians United for Israel is similarly assuming a higher profile on the Hill.

And so, in forging its legislative agenda, AIPAC is doing its best to find items both parties can get behind. There are three areas:

* Iran: Democrats are still resisting legislation that would undo the nuclear deal, but are ready to countenance more narrowly targeted sanctions. AIPAC is helping to craft bills that would target Iran’s missile testing and its transfer of arms to other hostile actors in the region.

* Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: AIPAC will back a bill modeled on one introduced in the last congressional session by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Ben Cardin, D-Md., that would extend to the BDS movement 1970s laws that made it illegal to participate in the Arab League boycott of Israel.

* Foreign assistance: AIPAC activists will lobby the Hill on the final day of the conference with a request to back assistance to Israel (currently at $3.1 billion a year, set to rise next year to $3.8 billion). Support for such aid is a given, despite deep cuts to diplomatic and foreign aid programs in  Trump’s budget proposal.

Also a given will be the activists’ insistence that aid to Israel should not exist in a vacuum and should be accompanied by a robust continuation of U.S. aid to other countries. With a Trump administration pledged to slashing foreign assistance by a third and wiping out whole programs, AIPAC is returning to a posture unfamiliar since the early 1990s, when it stood up to a central plank of a Republican president.

Notably absent from the agenda is any item that robustly declares support for a two-state outcome. AIPAC officials say the longtime U.S. policy remains very much on their agenda, but the lobby’s apparent soft pedaling of the issue is notable at a time when other mainstream groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, have been assertive in urging the U.S. and Israeli governments to preserve it.

Let’s stop patronizing the new generation

In the Jewish world today, if you’re young and cool and love to criticize Israel, community leaders will treat you with kid gloves, because they’re afraid of “losing” you. They’re afraid, among other things, that you might join one of those anti-Zionist movements like BDS or Jewish Voices for Peace, or just abandon Israel altogether.

Fear of loss can make people overly timid and deferential.

Take the case of IfNotNow (INN), a young and trendy Jewish activist group that regularly demonstrates against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. These activists are proponents of “Jewish values” who care about Palestinians and are giving Israel a dose of tough love.

Evidently, they believe that the best way to fight the occupation is to demand that it end now, and to demand that other Jewish organizations demand the same. It’s social justice on demand.

Because it’s never too cool to take on young activists who represent the revered “new generation,” there’s a general reluctance in our community and in the Jewish media to criticize INN and its demonstrations. But putting that reluctance aside, I think their PR spectacles can use some criticism. For one thing, they distort the reality of a complicated conflict.

To attract media attention, INN activists like to target high-profile Jewish groups and make an effort to get arrested, as happened last week in front of the AIPAC offices in Los Angeles and last year in the lobby of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) building in New York City. Their message is conveyed in cocky slogans such as, “Moral Jews must resist AIPAC” and “Dayenu—End the Occupation.”

It hardly helps peace to make Israel look like the only bad guy in the conflict.

Now, if I’m a typical Israeli voter who’d love to end the occupation but believes that, at this moment, it will lead to war rather than peace, I might look at such scenes and ask myself: What do these American kids know that I don’t?

To its credit, the ADL called them out last year in a statement from national director Jonathan Greenblatt: “It is unfortunate that INN seems to be more interested in spectacles and ultimatums than in discussion and dialogue grappling with the difficult issues involved in achieving peace. Nevertheless, our doors are open, and our invitation to speak with INN still stands.”

They never took him up on the offer. Indeed, for young activists looking for action and attention, the notion of dialogue must seem dull and tedious. How do you compare a discussion of complex issues with an Instagram photo that makes you look like an anti-establishment rebel?

If there’s one thing rebels don’t like, it’s complications. When I meet with INN sympathizers, I try to offer at least one annoying wrinkle: After Israel leaves the West Bank, I tell them, it’s highly likely that terror groups like Hamas and ISIS will swoop in and start murdering Palestinians, as happened in Gaza. The ensuing chaos and violence would be a disaster for the Palestinians, significantly worse than anything they’re facing now.

That simple point alone gives them pause. It also challenges the delusion that Israel can just snap its fingers and end the occupation, as INN slogans demand.

It takes little courage to yell on a street corner and make demands on the most criticized country on earth. It takes even less courage to go after other Jewish groups because they don’t do things your way. Let’s see if INN activists will ever take on the biggest enemies of peace, those evil forces that make a living delegitimizing the Jewish state and promoting genocidal Jew-hatred.

Maybe one day, we’ll see some Jewish rebels protest outside INN offices and give them a taste of their own medicine. Here’s one idea for a pro-peace sign they can hold up: “Fight Jew-hatred: Are you INN or out?”

It should be clear by now that it hardly helps peace to make Israel look like the only bad guy in the conflict. If INN really wanted to work for peace, it would wrestle with the many difficult issues surrounding the conflict, as Greenblatt invited them to do. Last time I checked, wrestling with difficult issues is also a great Jewish value.

Of course, it’s always easier to just protest and make demands on the Jews, especially if you sense the Jewish establishment is walking on eggshells around you, because it’s so afraid to lose you. But from where I sit, I think we’ll lose the new generation a lot faster if we continue to patronize them and treat them with kid gloves.

Just like INN, I much prefer tough love.

AIPAC paid $60,000 to group that peddles anti-Muslim conspiracy theories

Lillian Pinkus, President of AIPAC, speaking at the 2016 Conference. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

An AIPAC affiliate paid $60,000 during its campaign to thwart the Iran nuclear deal to a group that engages in anti-Muslim extremism.

Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, which was launched in the summer of 2015 to rally opposition to the Iran deal, paid the money to the Center for Security Policy, according to a report Wednesday by LobeLog, a Middle East policy news and analysis site.

An American Israel Public Affairs Committee official confirmed the payment to JTA and said it was for an ad. The official did not describe the ad or where it appeared, but Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran ran ads from July 2015 through September of that year in a failed bid to have Congress nullify the deal.

The Center for Security Policy and its director, Frank Gaffney, have drawn fire for sweeping generalizations about Muslims and Islam, including from Jewish groups. In November, the Reform movement and other liberal Jewish groups urged Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer, not to accept an award from Gaffney’s group because of his statements, which the Reform described as “anti-Muslim bigotry.”

The Anti-Defamation League stopped short of asking Dermer to turn down the award but decried “baseless claims or stereotypes” propagated by the Center for Security Policy.

Gaffney accuses officials in the U.S. government and elsewhere of acting on behalf of radical Muslims, often with scant evidence or because of tenuous associations. He has suggested that former President Barack Obama, a Christian, is a Muslim, and joined in condemnations of a Muslim community in Tennessee seeking to expand its mosque, calling the Muslims there “stealth jihadists.” Attacks on the Muslims in Murfreesboro have included violence and elicited expressions of support for the community from Jewish groups.

Gaffney is close to Steve Bannon, a top strategic adviser to President Donald Trump. In a New York Times report last month on people who have shaped the administration’s views on Islam, Gaffney described what he sees as a decades-long conspiracy by the Muslim Brotherhood to infiltrate all levels of American society, likening those he said were adherents of the Islamist movement to “termites.”

The Center for Security Policy also was adamantly opposed to the Iran deal, and its supporters would have been receptive to appeals to lobby congressmen to oppose the agreement. Additionally, the think tank, which advocates for increased defense spending, and Gaffney, a top Pentagon official under President Ronald Reagan, have longstanding ties to the defense and security establishment. Advertising in its published materials would reach important influencers in those communities.

The AIPAC official noted that the $60,000 was a fraction of the $20 million budgeted to defeat the deal, which Israel’s government, AIPAC and most Republicans opposed.

The deal traded sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear program. The Obama administration said it was the best means of keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; opponents said it facilitated the acquisition of nuclear weapons because some of its restrictions would lapse in a decade.

Bomb threats alter way of life, peace of mind

The Westside JCC, which was targeted with a bomb threat on Monday. Photo by Ryan Torok.

When a bomb threat was called into the Westside Jewish Community Center (WJCC) on Feb. 27, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate the building, the specter of violent anti-Semitism that looms over focal points of Jewish life reasserted itself. Although the distorted voice on the phone issued what turned out to be a hoax — as with the other 160-plus threatening phone calls and emails received by Jewish organizations nationwide this year — and the WJCC had recently beefed up security measures, the community was put on edge.

So, at a March 8 meeting organized by the WJCC and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to address the lingering concerns — one day before a second bomb threat was emailed to the WJCC — it appeared the scope of the threat had expanded into the psyches of WJCC members, and heightened levels of stress and suspicion had set in.

The meeting began with WJCC Executive Director Brian Greene summarizing the swift, effective reaction to the bomb threat that led to the building being vacated within seven minutes and a rapid law enforcement response that brought 20 officers from the Los Angeles Police Department. It continued with discussion about how to broach the topic of anti-Semitic terrorism with children, led by the ADL’s David Reynolds. And it concluded with a Q-and-A session with Greene.

The dialogue provided a view into how the Jewish community is reacting to and coping with the wave of anti-Semitism. Fears and frustrations have been adding up. People have pondered worst-case scenarios and considered the sacrifices they would have to make in the name of security, some of them for the first time.

“I think [the bomb threat] was a wake-up call for a lot of parents,” said Jenny Kurpil, who had two children attending the WJCC preschool when the building was evacuated. After receiving a phone call notifying her that her kids had been taken to a secure location, Kurpil said, she broke down in tears. Even though she was confident in the security protocols that were in place, “the actual knowledge that a threat call had been placed [made me] very emotional.”

She wasn’t alone. The meeting was the third that the WJCC organized after the evacuation. An informal bagels-and-coffee huddle was held the morning after the threat, and a WJCC/ADL-organized gathering for preschool parents the following week was so positively received and well-attended that another was scheduled for the entire community.

About 20 people came to the March 8 meeting (half the number of the previous event’s). When invited to describe their feelings about the recent incidents in one word, attendees volunteered “edgy,” “unsettled” and “sad.” When reviewing security protocols, they talked in dark — but in their view, not inconceivable — hypotheticals.

People confronted by such hostile acts often face a psychological challenge, Greene said, as they struggle to reconcile those emotions with the actual risks, considering that none of the bomb threats has resulted in material damages or human casualties.

“The anxiety, the apprehension, the fear that this brings up, it reminds you of all the other [scenarios],” Greene said. “It opens up the door. … It just brings up these emotions in you. Before you know it, your mind’s going to places that are fearful.”

For Amanda Perez, whose children attend the preschool but were not present during the recent scare, going to the meeting wasn’t necessary for her peace of mind.

“I’m an extremely rational person,” Perez said. “My husband is the more emotional person. Even though my kids weren’t here, my husband went bananas. You just have to trust that all the policies are in place — otherwise you’ll make yourself crazy.”

The elevated caution prompted some parents to reconsider friendly habits — such as holding open an otherwise secure door for a stranger — that feel like embodiments of Jewish values but could potentially invite harm. Others admitted that even an official change of protocol on those matters would be difficult to enforce.

But everyone agreed that compromising their usual, relaxed way of life had become a necessary measure.

“My attitude has changed,” one parent said. “I’m more guarded.”

Though people seemed assuaged by the security at the WJCC, they left with a sense that their fear of potential danger — whether rational or exaggerated — was not going away.

“I wish I knew [it would],” said Kurpil, the mother of two WJCC preschoolers. “Unfortunately, I don’t think it will in the current climate we live in.”

Over 300 recent anti-Semitic incidents shown on one interactive map

A screenshot of the interactive map of recent anti-Semitic incidents published by ProPublica. Photo courtesy of ProPublica.

The investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica has produced an interactive map that chronicles over 300 anti-Semitic crimes across the United States from the past few months.

The graphic, which was published Wednesday, is a companion to an article ProPublica ran last week, “In an Angry and Fearful Nation, an Outbreak of Anti-Semitism,” which found evidence of over 330 incidents of anti-Semitism between last November and early February.

Both are part of ProPublica’s “Documenting Hate” series, which the company launched last year to “gather evidence of hate crimes and episodes of bigotry from a divided America.”

The interactive map links each pin to local news reports from across the country, allowing users to access the original news stories for each instance of anti-Semitism. About 160 of the incidents involve vandalism, such as spray-painted swastikas and other defacement of public spaces.

Other organizations have documented spikes in anti-Semitic incidents since the election of Donald Trump as president in November. The Southern Poverty Law Center recorded 100 incidents in the first 10 days after Trump’s election. The New York Police Department recorded 43 anti-Semitic incidents in New York City in the month after the election.

JTA has reported in recent months that dozens of Jewish community centers across the country have been threatened with over 150 phoned-in or emailed bomb threats.

The head of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, said at a conference in November that public discourse in the United States on anti-Semitism was at its worst point since the 1930s.

Trump was dogged by assertions during the campaign that he failed to condemn the anti-Semitism displayed by some of his supporters, such as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. After avoiding the topic while being asked about it multiple times at news conferences and interviews, Trump condemned the attacks on JCCs late last month.

St. Louis man alleged to have made 8 bomb threats against JCCs, ADL is denied bail

The St. Louis man accused of making at least eight bomb threats against Jewish community centers and the Anti-Defamation League must remain in jail until his trial, a federal judge in that city ruled.

The allegations against Juan Thompson, 32, are “very serious,” U.S. District Court Judge David Noce said Monday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Noce said that allowing Thompson to post bail and leave jail would “not reasonably assure the court that he will not endanger the safety of any other person or the community.”

Thompson, who was arrested March 3, has been charged with cyberstalking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. He has no previous criminal record. He made some of the threats in the name of a former romantic partner he had been cyberstalking, according to the U.S. Attorney of Southern New York.

Thompson’s public defender at a hearing last week had requested house arrest and GPS monitoring, and said his client would stay at the home of his mother and stepfather in St. Louis.

The judge responded Monday that allowing Thompson to stay in the home from which he had allegedly made some threats might not stop him from making more and that GPS monitoring might prevent him from fleeing but would not stop threats, according to the Post-Dispatch.

More than 150 threats have been received by JCCs, Jewish schools and other Jewish institutions since the beginning of the year, according to the Secure Community Network, which coordinates security across Jewish organizations in North America.

Chelsea Clinton cites Purim in scoring congressman who says ‘demographics are our destiny’

Chelsea Clinton speaks at an event, April 17, 2014. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Chelsea Clinton cited the lessons of Purim to chastise a congressman who said restoring Western civilization could not be done “with somebody else’s babies.”

“Clearly the Congressman does not view all our children as, well, all our children,” Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, who lost the November presidential election to Donald Trump, said Sunday in a tweet quoting a tweet by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. “Particularly ironic & painful on Purim.”

Clinton’s husband, Marc Mezvinsky, is Jewish. Purim celebrates the triumph of Persia’s Jews over a deadly enemy, Haman. Some Jewish traditions cite its lessons as upholding diversity.

King in his tweet praised Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker whose party is among those competing in elections this week in the Netherlands.

“Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny,” he said. “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

The tweet was reviled as bigoted almost as soon as King posted it.

“This is so offensive, it’s hard to know where to start,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League CEO, said in a tweet. “America’s greatness is the diversity of our culture, the dynamism of our demography.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., alluded to King’s closeness to Trump, and claims from Democrats that Trump’s election has spurred increased bigotry, in calling the comment “racist.”

“It’s no accident that communities across America have been threatened by emboldened racists,” she said in a statement Monday. “The GOP Leadership must stop accommodating this garbage, and condemn Congressman Steve King’s statements in the strongest and most unequivocal terms.”

In an appearance on CNN on Monday morning, King would not say whether he believed Muslims were “equals,” but defended the tweet from charges that it was racist.

“It’s the culture, not the blood,” King said. “And if you can go anywhere in the world and adopt these little babies and put them into households that were already assimilated into America, those babies will grow up as American as any other baby with as much patriotism and as much love of country as any other baby. It’s not about race.”

JCC bomb threats are weapons of fear

A view of the Lawrence Family JCC in San Diego. Screenshot from YouTube

The “fear itself” thing? FDR was on to something.

The rash of JCC bomb threats and cemetery desecrations, combined with a general sense that the country is becoming more intolerant, has Jews on edge in ways they haven’t been in years. The head of a major American Jewish organization wrote to me that the recent outbreak of anti-Semitic activity “is the worst America has seen since the 1930s.” (It’s not.)

Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress has declared that “in recent weeks and months we have witnessed an unprecedented and inconceivable escalation of anti-Semitic acts in the United States” — again, an exaggeration.

The stats, tracked rigorously but narrowly by the Anti-Defamation League and haphazardly by the FBI, aren’t in for 2016 or early 2017, the period covering the presidential campaign and that presumably would include the kinds of “spikes” many would like to attribute to Donald Trump’s racially and ethnically charged campaign and emboldening of the “alt-right.”

One of the more worrisome accountings came from the NYPD, which found that anti-Semitic incidents were up 94 percent in the city over this time last year, with 35 anti-Semitic incidents reported in January and February.

But such numbers don’t yet point to an “unprecedented and inconceivable escalation” in anti-Semitism. And they don’t take into account the counter-evidence, like a Pew study that found that Jews are the most “warmly” regarded religious group in the U.S. (“Great news!” said parents and staff huddled outside an evacuated JCC). Or the acts of kindness and concern that followed many of the attacks, from Muslims raising money to restore a vandalized cemetery to the unanimous Senate letter urging the White House to boost security measures at Jewish institutions and assure the investigation and punishment of hate crimes.

Nor can it be overlooked that American Jews are as comfortable and accepted as they have ever been in history. No school, no neighborhood and no profession is off limits. Jews are over-represented in politics, academia and media. Even the high rate of intermarriage is a sign of social acceptance of Jews. Unlike many parts of Europe, where armed guards protect synagogues and observant Jewish men often hide their kippot under caps, American Jews can be out, proud and as loud as they want to be.

But the numbers and sociology can’t account for the way Jews feel, and right now many are not feeling good. The high levels of Jewish anxiety owe t0 a combination of the commander in chief, the political mood, the nature of the JCC attacks and the media.

Let’s start with President Trump: Most Jews didn’t vote for him, and regarded his campaign antics as particularly unsettling, from his appeal among white supremacists and ethno-nationalists to his willingness to exploit the country’s racial and ethnic divides.

In his embrace of a fiercely chauvinistic “economic nationalism,” White House strategist Steve Bannon represents something “unprecedented and inconceivable” in the minds of many Jews. Until Trump, resurgent nationalism seemed very much a problem for Europe, where economic malaise, fear of immigrants and the ghosts of the 20th century have combined into a particularly toxic brew on the right.

Recent Republican and Democratic administrations alike gave at least lip service to the idea of America as a vivid tapestry in which people of all races, religions and nationalities are welcome. Bannon, you’ll recall, is not just a foe of illegal immigration, but of legal immigration, which has “kinda overwhelmed the country,” as he said in a 2016 radio interview with (wait for it) Trump advisor and speechwriter Stephen Miller.

Even for those who believe Trump is the savior Israel has been waiting for, and who accept his disavowals of the alt-right, it upset Jewish assumptions about their position as a privileged minority when Trump couldn’t bring himself to forthrightly denounce the JCC threats and other anti-Semitic acts.

The nature of the JCC attacks are diabolically brilliant in their ability to unsettle Jews. I imagine a lone wolf or a team of hackers, armed with some cheap electronics and a motive to maximize mischief, working off an easy to find list of institutions with “Jewish” and “community” in their very names. There are far fewer JCCs than synagogues, but targeting JCCs assures you of hitting at least one easily identifiable Jewish institution in every consequential Jewish community across the country. I’m betting it’s only an unhappy accident that the hoaxer picked one of the few Jewish places that cuts across all movements and ideologies, and even attracts non-Jews to their fitness centers and childcare programs. That potentially puts every Jew on edge.

Coverage of these attacks, while unavoidable, also instills fear. As the editor of a Jewish news service, I feel implicated: What if in the name of informing the community, we are merely spreading anxiety? Readers rely on us to cover acts of anti-Semitism large and small. These include nasty anti-Zionist demonstrations on college campuses, grotesque internet “memes” originating with the alt-right and increasingly bizarre examples of swastika graffiti, including some carved in snow and one shaped out of human feces. 

But do these various acts, in a country of over 300 million, represent a growing trend or the salacious exception?

And what if we and the anti-Semitism watchdogs are wrong? What if the JCC attacks aren’t the vanguard of the New Anti-Semitism, but a weird and personal vendetta on the part of the hoaxer? Sure enough, Juan Thompson, a suspected copycat charged last week in at least eight of the JCC attacks, turns out to be an unhinged young man whose apparent motivation wasn’t even anti-Semitism but revenge on an old flame.

That doesn’t make the targeted Jew or Jewish institution feel any better. Fear has its own dynamic. JCCs aren’t talking about the members or preschool students they’ve lost as a result of the hoaxes, but word is getting out that the numbers might be significant. You can’t blame the families who just don’t need the tsurris, but you can look at your own behavior and ask in what ways you are making a bad situation worse.

So yes, we need strong enforcement of our hate crimes laws. And institutions that have the security they need. And careful monitoring of anti-Semitism in all its forms. And government leaders who have the backs of targeted minorities and pledge to defend the diversity of multicultural America.

But we also need a reminder that Jews have it pretty good here, and that we shouldn’t give too much power to a kid with a Sharpie, or a hacker with a speed-dial, or a disturbed, disgraced stalker. We have to stand up and say these institutions are ours, and we’re here to stay.

Zionist Organization of America welcomes Trump’s immigration order, JCPA opposes

President Donald Trump signs an executive order for a U.S. travel ban, at the Pentagon, January 27. Photo by Carlos Barria/REUTERS.

The Zionist Organization of America welcomed President Donald Trump’s immigration order banning refugees and new visas for citizens from six Muslim-majority countries, while the umbrella body for Jewish policy groups joined an array of Jewish groups opposed to it.

The order “fulfills the president’s basic duty of protecting the nation by suspending entry by nationals from six nations (Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) where current screening abilities are inadequate, resulting in an unacceptable risk that individuals who intend to commit, aid or support terrorist acts here will infiltrate into the U.S.,” the ZOA said in a statement on Tuesday.

The ZOA statement comes after an array of Jewish groups, including the Reform movement and the Anti-Defamation League, as well as Democratic Jewish lawmakers, condemned the order. Trump revised the order after an earlier one was stayed by the courts.

The consensus-driven Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella body for Jewish public policy groups and regional Jewish community relations councils, on Monday evening joined in opposition to the order, but in language less condemnatory.

“We continue to oppose such a travel ban because it reduces the number of refugees coming into this country and still specifically names Muslim-majority countries,” the JCPA said in a statement. “There’s no evidence that refugees from these countries represent a special threat.”

At least 15 Jewish sites threatened in sixth wave of harassment

Police search a Jewish Community Center after a bomb threat was reported in the Rochester suburb of Brighton, New York. March 7. Photo By Mike Bradley/REUTERS.

This is a developing story.

At least 11 Jewish community centers and institutions across North America and four Anti-Defamation League offices have received threats of lethal attack, the sixth such wave since the beginning of the year.

As of midday Tuesday, threats had been reported at Jewish institutions in Massachusetts, Illinois, Wisconsin, Maryland, Oregon, Florida, Alabama and at least two community centers in New York, according to Secure Community Network, the security arm of the Jewish Federations of North America. In addition, two threats were directed toward Canadian JCCs, in Toronto and London, Ontario.

Some threats were called in over the phone, others were emailed.

Chicago5, NBC’s Chicago affiliate, reported a bomb threat at the Chicago Jewish Day School on the city’s North Side. The MetroWest Daily News reported that a day school housed in Temple Beth Shalom in Framingham, Massachusetts was also evacuated.

Several of the targeted institutions were evacuated following the threats, but the JCC in Syracuse, New York, was different in nature from the other threats. Paul Goldenberg, the SCN director, would not elaborate. On Twitter, the Syracuse JCC said people inside had sheltered in place before the all-clear.

Meanwhile, the ADL said its national office in New York, its office in Washington, D.C., and its regional offices in Atlanta and Boston had been threatened.

“This is not ‘normal.’ We will not be deterred or intimidated,” ADL’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, said in a statement. “It is time for action, and we call on the administration and Congress to take concrete steps to catch those threatening the Jewish community.”

The Portland, Oregon threat came in Monday evening by email, and the JCC alerted local police and the FBI and closed early for a sweep.

In Rochester, the evacuation of members and staff on Tuesday was ordered shortly before 6 a.m., the local ABC affiliate 13WHAM reported. About 75 people were evacuated from the building. Parents whose children attend the JCC day care were notified and asked to make alternate child care arrangements for the day, according to the Democrat & Chronicle newspaper.

Local and state police officers and FBI agents reportedly were on the scene to sweep the building.

The bomb threat comes less than a week after at least five headstones were toppled at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery, also known as the Stone Road Cemetery, in Rochester.

A JCC Toronto client posted photos on Facebook of the downtown building being evacuated. “We are huddled inside the Second Cup where they are giving out free coffee and tea,” she said, referring to the Canadian coffee shop chain.

Ron Halber, the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said a threat to the JCC in Rockville, Maryland, was emailed late Monday night, and necessitated an additional sweep of the premises with bomb-sniffing dogs, in addition to the routine daily sweep the JCC undergoes. There was no evacuation, he said.

“The person who is doing this will fail,” Halber said. “If anything it’s bringing people together, it makes people want to stand up more, this is being a catalyst for greater Jewish involvement and pride.”

Goldenberg, the SCN director, said that in every instance protocols were observed and went smoothly.

“The protocols and processes that these institutions have in place have gone smoothly,” he said. “Our constituents and members have remained safe.”

More than 100 Jewish institutions, mostly JCCs, have received bomb threats since the beginning of the year. The last two weeks saw vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in PhiladelphiaSt. Louis and Rochester, as well as two more waves of bomb threats called into JCCs, schools and institutions across the country, representing the fourth and fifth waves of such harassment this year. No explosive device was found after any of the calls.

ADL: Juan Thompson’s arrest alone won’t stop ‘unprecedented’ wave of anti-Semitism

Evan Bernstein, the Anti-Defamation League’s New York Regional Director, speaking during a news conference at the ADL national headquarters in New York City on March 3. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Thanking the FBI and police for the arrest of Juan Thompson, who allegedly made eight bomb threats to Jewish institutions, the Anti-Defamation League called the current wave of anti-Semitic acts “unprecedented.”

“Law enforcement at all levels is a close friend to the Jewish people in America,” Evan Bernstein, ADL’s New York regional director, said at a news conference Friday. “Just because there’s been an arrest today around our bomb threats does not mean that the threats have disappeared or will stop.”

The news conference was convened after law enforcement announced earlier in the day that Thompson had been charged in connection with the deluge of bomb threats received this year by Jewish institutions. Thompson, 31, of St. Louis, allegedly made bomb threats to JCCs, Jewish schools and an ADL office as part of his cyberstalking of a former romantic partner.

The ADL and several other Jewish groups had met Friday with FBI Director James Comey. According to a statement from the groups in attendance, which were not listed, the meeting concerned recent anti-Semitic acts and collaboration between Jewish institutions and law enforcement.

“All the organizations in attendance expressed the deep gratitude of the entire community for the extraordinary effort that the FBI is applying to the ongoing investigation,” the statement said. “The representatives of the Jewish community left with the highest confidence that the FBI is taking every possible measure to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.”

According to statistics compiled by the New York Police Department, anti-Semitic acts have nearly doubled in early 2017 as compared to one year earlier. The ADL said that due to the reach of the internet and the quantity of recent bomb threats, white supremacists are more emboldened than ever. 

“We’re in unprecedented times,” said Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism. “We’ve never seen, ever, the volume of bomb threats that we’ve seen. White supremacists in this country feel more emboldened than they ever have before because of the public discourse and divisive rhetoric.”

In total, more than 100 Jewish institutions, mostly JCCs, have received bomb threats since the beginning of the year. The last two weeks saw vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in PhiladelphiaSt. Louis and Rochester, New York, as well as two more waves of bomb threats called into JCCs, schools and institutions across the country, representing the fourth and fifth waves of such harassment this year. No explosive device was found after any of the calls.

The ADL called on President Donald Trump to take action against anti-Semitism, including by directing the Department of Justice to launch a civil rights investigation into the threats, and by creating a federal interagency task force on combating hate crimes chaired by the attorney general.

“We need action to stop these threats,” Bernstein said. “History shows that when anti-Semitism gains the upper hand, courageous leaders need to speak out and take action before it’s too late.”

Segal said the ADL has been tracking Thompson, a disgraced former journalist, since he fabricated the identity of a cousin of Dylann Roof, the gunman who killed nine at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

Thompson was fired from his reporter post at The Intercept last year for fabricating sources and quotes. According to the ADL, he has posted inflammatory tweets about white police officers and the “white New York liberal media.”

For JCCs threatened three times, stockpiling blankets, diapers and resilience

Sophie Golden, in striped shirt and headband, uses social media to coordinate meet-ups with her camp friends. Photo by Davina Golden

Growing up in a small town in Georgia, Harriet Shirley may have had more exposure to Jews and anti-Semitism than the rest of her fellow Christians. She had Jewish acquaintances, read Holocaust nonfiction as a teen and later visited concentration camps on a trip to Europe.

But she was still dumbfounded when the Gordon Jewish Community Center in Nashville, Tennessee, where she worked as the health and wellness director, received three separate bomb threats since Jan. 9. Shirley had assumed anti-Semitic violence was a thing of the past — a notion her Jewish co-workers did not share.

“Honestly, it makes me angry,” she said. “It also makes me sad. I recognize that a lot of my co-workers have had to live with this stuff their whole lives. It just makes me sad.

“It’s so unfortunate and so stupid that this kind of hatred against any group still exists. We really ought to be past this.”

Since the beginning of 2017, nearly 100 bomb threats have been made to more than 70 JCCs and Jewish day schools across the United States. For most, the threat is a one-time event. But the Nashville JCC and two others — in Birmingham, Alabama, and Wilmington, Delaware — each have endured three.

All three were hit on Jan. 18, when at least 30 JCCs across the country were victimized. Nashville and Birmingham were part of the first wave on Jan. 9, and Birmingham and Wilmington were hit in the last one on Monday. All the calls in five waves of threats have been hoaxes.

The JCCs report that members are still entering the doors. But for staff, the repeated threats have been a shocking and exhausting experience that at times has made everyday work a challenge.

“It’s trying, it’s stressful, it’s everything the people behind these telephone threats want to happen,” said Seth Katzen, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Delaware, which shares a building with the Wilmington JCC. “But we stay vigilant, we stay on task, we follow protocol, we follow procedure. I’m sure it’s on the back of people’s minds, but we’re a resilient community. We will not let this get to us.”

In all three facilities, nearly all the members have stayed despite the bomb threats. In Nashville, only one of 1,600 members has dropped their membership due to the threats. In Birmingham, two of 200 preschoolers have left the school. Katzen said to the best of his knowledge, none of the more than 100 students had left the Wilmington JCC’s preschool.

Leslie Sax, executive director of the Nashville JCC, attributed its high retention rate to its security procedures, which were first formulated following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The building is removed from a busy area, and a guard is always present near the preschool. In addition, Sax has sent emails out to members following each of the five waves of JCC bomb threats, whether or not her facility was targeted.

“We always struggle: Are we too secure for friendliness?” Sax said. “It’s that balancing act we all have to do. We want to be welcoming, but we also want to be secure.”

Even as the JCC has tried to maintain its routine, Sax has noticed people making adjustments to deal with the threat of an evacuation. The JCC has stockpiled diapers and formula for preschoolers, as well as blankets for swimmers. Some swimmers now leave their car keys near the pool instead of in the locker room. And to stay in contact with the media, Sax has learned to take her phone charger with her in case she needs to exit the building.

“To go for a fire drill, you know to leave the building and congregate,” Sax said. “But when you don’t know if you’re going to be able to go back in the building, you think about what exactly are we going to need to bring?”

All three of the most-targeted JCCs are in relatively small Jewish communities. But neither Sax nor Betzy Lynch, executive director of the Levite JCC in Birmingham, feels that they’ve been targeted due to their size.

“I’m going to make the assessment that it’s probably coincidental,” Lynch said. “I don’t know if there’s any rhyme or reason to why people are chosen or how they’re chosen. Maybe it’s just random and we got the short straw multiple times.”

Lynch said the community’s intimate feel has been an advantage in dealing with the threats. Birmingham’s Muslims, whose mosque recently received death threats, have also reached out, organizing a recent interfaith prayer rally together with the Jewish community.

“This community is incredibly resilient,” Lynch said. “The outpouring of support we’ve had from the general community as well has been phenomenal. Birmingham is an incredibly generous and philanthropic and faithful community.”

Shirley, the Nashville health director, said she continues to be shocked by the threats. In the meantime, she’s tried to use them to teach her 14-year-old twins about the experience of being a minority in the United States.

“[I’m] trying to explain to them that even though we don’t really recognize it, our heritage, our family group, is one of privilege in a way,” she said. “We’re not part of any of those groups that’s the focus of hatred.”