November 21, 2018

Israeli Tech Hits Silicon Beach with Fusion L.A.

Photo by Moshe Levis Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Andrew Rossow Tackles Cyberbullying On A National Level

Photo provided by Andrew Rossow

Andrew Rossow sits and chats with ABC News out of Dallas, Texas. Only 28 years old and three years into practicing law, he doesn’t seem overwhelmed by his flooded inbox. But, while practicing criminal defense and fighting against the opioid capital of the world from Montgomery County, Ohio, Rossow still finds time to teach a law school class, run and co-manage a PR/entertainment agency, write, and advocate against cyberbullying across the world. Through his private practice, Rossow Law, he has started one of the first social media online movements to bring Hollywood and Silicon Valley together, in efforts to combat and minimize cyberbullying.

Rossow has done something that many said he wouldn’t be able to survive on. Yes, he’s a full-time practicing attorney, but he is also an author, journalist, and entrepreneur. After graduating from The University of Dayton School of Law and passing the Ohio Bar Exam, Rossow created #CYBERBYTE, one of the world’s first social media movements, and went on to break down the barrier between Hollywood/Silicon Valley and the general public.

“Growing up in a time where social media was first hatching and cell phone were first becoming ‘smart’, I recognized the importance of understanding the consequences of when technology is pushed beyond its intended bounds. Unfortunately, I never had the computer science degree to really go beneath its surface. That’s when I decided to write.”

“I remember shortly after passing the bar exam, having this nostalgia when the smartphone game, Pokémon Go, came out. As a millennial, I grew up with Pokémon, so it was awesome to see it return. But it came in a different form—digitally and within our control. While this was a huge marketing success, it was troubling, because users would almost certainly find themselves in potentially harmful situations, whether from a privacy standpoint, or even a criminal standpoint. So, that’s why I submitted my thesis to the Dayton Bar Association.”

“That piece went viral, and before I knew it, I was being interviewed by Fox and ABC News. It was the first time I realized that this type of writing, could truly make a difference. By writing on highly-trending security / legal topics, I could really speak to people, but as a millennial.” Rossow has since gone on to write for publications like Forbes, HuffPost, Thrive Global, and GritDaily.

From the Court Room to the Keyboard

But, what’s most interesting about his story is that while practicing law full-time, he also helps run and operate a full-time PR marketing & social media agency with his business partner, while advocating against cyberbullying with his online campaign, #CYBERBYTE.

“As a millennial, I’m in this fight to combat cyberbullying. I grew up being smaller than the rest of my classmates and friends. I had a great personality but didn’t understand how to joke around or stand up for myself. I took things too personally, and it caused a great strain on my relationships, particularly my family and friends. During college, I recognized that I needed to discipline myself, which took me on a pathway to the University of Dayton School of Law in Ohio. My generation has become so accustomed to living through their social media pages and their devices while forgetting how to interact with one another, face-to-face. I believed that with #CYBERBYTE, I could help change this.”

Through CYBERBYTE, Rossow created the #CYBERBYTE Challenge, a growing social media initiative where both Silicon Valley and Hollywood actors, actresses, and musicians come together, record a video of themselves expressing personal stories involving bullying and their tips for standing up against it today.

“As a millennial, I’m in this fight to combat cyberbullying. I grew up being smaller than the rest of my classmates and friends. I had a great personality but didn’t understand how to joke around or stand up for myself. I took things too personally,” – Andrew Rossow

“Ghandi once said, ‘be the change you wish to see in the world,’ but, the problem is nobody really acts on that. Through #CYBERBYTE, I am providing a mechanism for the community, particularly, millennials, whom are able to connect with their favorite artists, musicians, and/or role-models on a more intimate level.

Andrew Rossow on ABC news Dayton talking about CYBERBYTE.

But, Rossow said this wasn’t an easy thing to implement. “It’s definitely been a long road for me,” he pointed out. “It took almost 26 years to figure out who I was and where I wanted to be. After experiencing a childhood trauma at a summer camp, I vowed I would never let anyone put me into a position of feeling helpless and powerless.”

“With the strong and loving support from my family, particularly, mom, dad, sister, and grandma, I was able to attend law school and spend three tough years figuring out how to be the best version of myself,” said Rossow. “However, I think my biggest challenge has always been my inability to control emotions. Life tests you in many ways, whether it’s your family, personal relationships, or your career. But, understanding how to react to high-stress situations in each of these areas, is the difference between an emotionally intelligent being and an immature, reactive individual.”

Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

Rossow said what helped him grow the most was his exposure to the world during his junior year of college. “During my junior year at Hofstra University, my parents sent me on a study abroad program, called Semester at Sea. I sailed around the world on a ship for three months, traveling to over 12 different countries.”

To most, it was a dream come true, but he had a different feeling. “The idea of leaving my college friends, fraternity, and at-the-time girlfriend behind, wasn’t okay. I thought I had it all and I didn’t need to travel. Obviously, that dogmatic thinking was holding me back. Having traveled to places like Africa, India, Vietnam, and China, I came back an entirely different person, with an entirely new perspective on how I wanted to live my life.”

But, he emphasized having the strong support of his family throughout this entire process.

“No doubt about it, my family has been the reason I am where I am today. I grew up with two extremely loving parents, Mark and Lynne, and a wonderfully talented younger sister, Alexa. I have seen those closest to me experience what it’s like to watch their family tear apart in divorces and separations,” he said. “I am extremely fortunate and lucky to say that my parents are still very much in love today. What my mother and father, in addition to my grandma, have done for my sister and I, can never be repaid back. All I can do is be the best version of myself and give back to the world as much as my parents gave to me, utilizing all the life-skills they have taught me over the years (and still do this day, ha).”

Passing Along What You’ve Learned

In our digital age, technology has made life significantly more convenient, but all the while complicated.

“Understanding that there are ways to combat online bullying, without resorting to violence and hatred, is extremely important in our society and country today. We need to bring our divided country, closer together, and that all starts with respecting one another.”

Rossow recently spoke with Michael Reagan, the son to former U.S. president Ronald Reagan. “What he told me, really hit me, and I’m not sure why, because it’s such a simple concept, yet people have a difficult time implementing it. He told me that the biggest piece of advice his father told him was to ‘look for the good in a person.’”

Rossow told us his biggest piece advice to those entrepreneurs looking to make a difference:

“Find what your passionate about, especially, if it involves technology and the cybersecurity space. Identify a problem that has yet to be solved, and find a way to solve it in your own way, but that gives back to the community. There is always a niche or opening, looking to be explored. You just have to find it.”

The Spin Doctors’ Aaron Comess on His Bar Mitzvah and the Band’s 30th Anniversary

With many millions of albums sold and a handful of singles still regularly played on the radio, The Spin Doctors proved to be one of the most successful rock bands of the 1990s. The quartet of vocalist Chris Barron, guitarist Eric Schenkman, bassist Mark White and drummer Aaron Comess is still at it 30 years late, most recently releasing “If The River Was Whiskey” in 2013.

Outside of The Spin Doctors, drummer Aaron Comess released a new studio effort earlier this year, “Sculptures.” He has also recorded with the likes of Rachael Yamagata, Willie Nile, James Maddock, Marc Cohn and Leslie Mendelson, to name a few artists. Simply put, Comess stays busy with a variety of musical endeavors.

In support of its 30th anniversary, The Spin Doctors – including Comess – will be headlining a big 30th-anniversary show at New York’s Brooklyn Bowl on Nov. 8. I caught up with the New School alumnus and New York resident on behalf of the Jewish Journal, and highlights from that Q&A are below.

Jewish Journal: As I am speaking to you for the Jewish Journal, I must ask: What do you remember about your bar mitzvah?

Aaron Comess: My parents had me do the full on bar mitzvah: the haftarah, the shacharit and the Torah portion. I also studied with a fantastic cantor named Cantor Sanders at Sherrith Israel in Dallas, Texas, where I grew up. He had me do the really hard version of the trope, which is the melodies and this weird sort of notation. It was extremely challenging and I was not happy about having to do it, but looking back on it, it was a very challenging part of my musical journey and I pulled it off pretty well. Perhaps it was good practice for the many hours of drumming practice that would follow.

I’m not much of a singer, although I did sing a small background vocal part on our song “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” so perhaps my bar mitzvah paved the way for my big professional short-lived singing career. Needless to say, I’ve stuck to the drums from that point on. 

JJ: I believe 3 members of The Spin Doctors are technically Jewish, yet I don’t remember reading about The Spin Doctors being a “Jewish band” the way that KISS or The Beastie Boys were. Was it simply a coincidence that most of the band was Jewish?

AC: We never really think about it or put religion into our music, although we do joke around and call ourselves “three jews and a black.” In fact we almost used that as one of our company names but wisely decided against it. I probably should not even be mentioning it here, but we get a good laugh out of it. (laughs)

JJ: Judaism aside, what do the next few months look like for you career-wise? A lot of Spin Doctors activity?

 AC: We just had a great 2018 and are looking forward to a busy year ahead. We have a few shows left this year and are especially looking forward to our 30th anniversary show at the Brooklyn Bowl in New York City where we will play two sets. Aside from the band we are all four very active in many other musical projects and our own groups.

JJ: Finally, Aaron, any last words for the kids?

 

AC: What do you want to be when you grow up? Happy. That’s what I always tell my daughter, and also to find something you love to do and you will never have to work a day in your life.


More on Aaron Comess can be found at www.aaroncomess.com, while The Spin Doctors keep an online home at www.spindoctors.com.

Texas High School Curriculum Blames Arab World for Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Photo from PxHere.

The Texas State Board of Education voted on several changes on Friday to the high school curriculum in the state, including teaching students that the Arab world is to blame for the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The Dallas Morning News reports that “Arab rejection of the State of Israel has led to ongoing conflict” has be re-inserted into the Texas high school curriculum; students will have to explain why the “Arab rejection of the State of Israel” is to blame for the current Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Additionally, Texas high school students will be taught that Moses was an influential figure on the American founding, as were Judeo-Christian principles.

Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller were among the notable figures who were taken out of Texas curriculum.

The vote is preliminary; a final vote will be held in November.

The Jerusalem Post notes that Texas “leads the textbook industry in approving content, curriculum standards and supplemental materials for public schools.”

According to Jewish Virtual Library, the Arabs rejected the Peel Commission’s 1937 proposal to establish a Jewish state and an Arab state and rejected the United Nations partition plan to establish two states. In 2014, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinians “will never recognize the Jewishness of the state of Israel.”

Don’t Dismiss the Power of Prayer

This week, a mass shooter in Texas walked into a Baptist church and murdered 26 people, including more than a dozen children. Many conservatives — and many religious people more generally — immediately offered their thoughts and prayers. The most controversial figure to do so was Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who tweeted, “The people of Sutherland Springs need our prayers right now.”

This drove a tsunami of rage from gun control advocates. Actor Wil Wheaton tweeted, “The murdered victims were in a church. If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive, you worthless sack of s***.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted, “We have pastors, priests and rabbis to offer thoughts and prayers. What we need from Republicans in D.C. is to do something. Lead.” Keith Olbermann of GQ tweeted in less temperate fashion, “shove your prayers up your ass AND DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR LIFE BESIDES PLATITUDES AND POWER GRABS.”

It’s questionable whether some additional law would have prevented the massacre in Sutherland Springs. It’s clear from the evidence that the shooter never should have had a gun: He was convicted of domestic violence, including cracking the skull of his infant stepchild; he’d pleaded guilty to animal abuse; he’d been sending threatening text messages to his mother-in-law, who attended the church he shot up. The Air Force has openly admitted that it didn’t send his criminal record to the FBI, which would have prevented him from buying weapons under current law.

But there’s something deeper going on here with the anti-prayer tweets — something more troubling. First, dismissing prayer dismisses the value of religion more generally; second, conflating prayer-driven-action with action you like makes religion irrelevant, and your political agenda paramount.

To dismisss the value of prayer after horrific events demonstrates a lack of knowledge about prayer itself — or worse, an antipathy toward the values prayer promotes. Prayer is designed for several purposes. Prayer reminds us that while we must strive each day to prevent evil from succeeding, God’s plan is not ours; we will not always succeed in stopping evil’s victory. That knowledge suggests a certain humility, an unwillingness to surrender to the foolish optimism of utopianism. It’s why Jews say, “Baruch Dayan Emet” (“Blessed is the true judge), upon learning of a death.

Prayer also helps us see the value in others, and convey that we understand that value to others. Atheists say that prayer is nothing but empty verbiage, but how many people have been changed because they entered a prayerful community? The people who died in the church were attempting to reach out to one another and provide one another support. That’s why we pray with a minyan. It’s why we pray communally.

Finally, prayer reminds us that we must better ourselves: We must treat our friends, neighbors and family members better, correct our mistakes. We cannot change God, but we can change how God responds to us if we change ourselves. In this sense, prayer provides the impetus to action.

We have a reactionary tendency to credit our opponent’s worst intentions.

It’s this last rationale for prayer that many on the left have seized upon to the exclusion of the other two. They say, rightly, that action is one of the anticipated outcomes of prayer. That’s fine so far as it goes — but it doesn’t go particularly far when you are making the secular case for gun control, then demanding religious support for it. Just because someone disagrees with you on a remedy to a problem doesn’t mean that their prayers are insincere — or that the goal of their prayers is the same as yours.

Recognizing that simple truth would go a long way toward healing wounds that seem to be festering. We have a reactionary tendency to credit our opponents with the worst intentions, up to and including insincere use of prayer, in order to press them to embrace us, but the opposite is usually the outcome. If you alienate religious people who disagree with you by stating that their prayers are insufficient, they’re likely to stop seeking common ground. That will be your fault, not theirs: You’re cutting them off at the knees.

Just because we disagree on gun control doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray, or that our prayers lack merit. And ripping prayer itself after dozens of Americans are murdered while praying is disrespectful to our fellow citizens and to the religious victims.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the conservative podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

Here’s What You Need to Know About the Texas Shooter

Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, of Braunfels, Texas, U.S., involved in the First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, is shown in this undated Texas Department of Safety driver license photo, provided November 6, 2017. Texas Department of Safety/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY

At least 26 people were killed and 20 others were injured at Sunday’s shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, TX. The shooter has been identified as Devin Kelley, 26, who is now dead. Who is Kelley, and what was his motive?

Kelley, a former unarmed security guard at a waterpark, has a rap sheet of alleged violence. He plead guilty in 2012 to assaulting his then-wife and stepson; the latter suffered a fractured skull as a result of Kelley’s violence. Kelley was serving in the Air Force at the time and was dishonorably discharged as a result of his actions.

Additionally, Kelley was accused of punching a dog in 2014, an allegation he denied and the charges against him were dropped. Some women have accused Kelley of stalking them, including one who claimed he stalked her when she was 13 years old.

Those who knew in high school described him as being socially awkward and creepy. One former classmate of his told the Daily Mail that Kelley “always creeped me out.” Another wrote on Facebook that Kelley “got in an argument with me in school and tried to punch me several times.”

Other former classmates noted that Kelley frequently berated people online who didn’t subscribe to his atheist worldview.

“He was always talking about how people who believe in God we’re stupid and trying to preach his atheism,” Nina Rose Nava, a former classmate of Kelley’s, wrote on Facebook.

Kelley also recently posted a photo of a firearm resembling an AR-15 to his now deleted Facebook profile, writing “She’s a bad b*tch.” Kelley had an AR-15 and a handgun on him during the shooting.

Under federal law, it is illegal for those who have assaulted or attempted to assault a family member to own a firearm. But Kelley was able to obtain his firearms because the Air Force didn’t provide the FBI with Kelley’s violent history, thus resulting in his background checks to come back clean.

However, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told CNN that Texas denied Kelley from obtaining a right-to-carry permit.

Prior to the shooting, Kelley had reportedly been texting threats to his mother-in-law, Michelle Shields, who is a member of the First Baptist Church in which the shooting took place. Shields was not present at the church at the day of the shooting, but Kelley’s grandmother-in-law, Lula Woicinski White, was at the church and killed by Kelley.

Kelley and his current wife Danielle are reportedly separated.

Kelley fled the scene of his crime after Stephen Willeford, a former National Rifle Association (NRA) instructor, heard the gunshots from across the street and fired his gun at Kelley.

“I know I hit him,” Willeford told a local news station. “He got into his vehicle, and he fired another couple rounds through his side window. When the window dropped, I fired another round at him again.”

Willeford hopped into another man’s truck and they chased down Kelley. Kelley’s car crashed, and it is believed that he shot himself before law enforcement arrived.

27 Dead in Texas Church Shooting

The area around a site of a mass shooting is taped out in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017, in this picture obtained via social media. MAX MASSEY/ KSAT 12/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

As many as 27 people are dead and 24 others injured in a shooting that occurred Sunday morning in a Texas church. It is the deadliest church shooting in modern U.S. history.

The gunman, identified as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, entered First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs at 11:30 am local time and fired around 20 shots. The gunman fled the scene and was chased by a local resident into Guadalupe County. It is not known if he killed himself or was killed by the resident.

One of the victims include Annabelle Pomeroy, the 14-year-old daughter of the church’s pastor, Frank Pomeroy. Pomeroy told ABC that his daughter “was one very beautiful, special child.”

Multiple others are being treated in nearby hospitals, including three children who are in critical condition.

“My heart is broken,” Wilson County Commissioner Albert Gamez Jr. told CNN. “We never think where it can happen, and it does happen. It doesn’t matter where you’re at. In a small community, real quiet and everything, and look at this, what can happen.”

Sutherland Springs is a small town of less than 400 people that is about 30 miles southeast of San Antonio. Alena Berlanga, who lives close to Sutherland Springs, told the Associated Press that the shooting was “horrific for our tiny little tight-knit town.”

“Everybody’s going to be affected and everybody knows someone who’s affected,” said Berlanga.

President Trump gave his condolences on Twitter:

The Texas senators also issued tweets responding to the situation:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said in a statement, “While the details of this horrific act are still under investigation, Cecilia and I want to send our sincerest thoughts and prayers to all those who have been affected by this evil act. I want to thank law enforcement for their response and ask that all Texans pray for the Sutherland Springs community during this time of mourning and loss.”

Recruiting Jews to the Cause of Persecuted Yazidis, One Synagogue at a Time

After Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Yotam Polizer, co-CEO of the disaster relief organization IsraAID, called his friend Haider Elias in Houston to see if IsraAID could help him.

Instead, Elias countered with his own proposition: His home was spared by the flooding, so he and half a dozen members of his religious community — a Middle Eastern ethnic group called the Yazidis — offered to work alongside IsraAID packing possessions and removing debris from flooded Jewish homes.

“There is really a shared destiny,” Polizer told an audience on Sept. 17 at University Synagogue in Brentwood, sitting next to Elias. “There is a unique partnership between the Yazidis and the Jews.”

Because of their historical proximity to genocide, American Jews are a prime target for Elias’ effort to lobby the United States government to come to the aid of this ancient religious sect as it struggles with an ongoing genocide at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

During two trips to Los Angeles last month, Elias addressed the local Jewish community in a series of synagogue visits, private dinners and High Holy Days appeals, hoping to mobilize them to lobby the United States on behalf of displaced and enslaved Yazidis. With Yazidis a population of well under 10,000 in the United States, Elias is increasingly relying on Jews to join the ranks of his supporters.

“As soon as we talk to a Jewish community member, they understand it right away,” Elias said in a phone interview after he returned to Texas. “They absorb it. They relate. They know exactly what is happening. It’s very hard for some other communities to understand.”

The Jewish community has loomed large on his recent travel schedule. In late July, Elias flew to Israel and visited Yad Vashem with fellow Yazidi activist and former sex slave Nadia Murad.

In September, he spoke on four panels in West Los Angeles with Polizer, whose group has offered aid and counseling to Yazidis in Iraq and Europe, and Rabbi Pam Frydman, an activist who heads the Beyond Genocide Campaign for the Board of Rabbis of Northern California. All four panels were co-sponsored by the Jewish Journal.

Returning to Los Angeles on Yom Kippur, Elias spoke at Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills. In muted tones from the lectern, he described the events of Aug. 3, 2014.

In a single day, ISIS overran the Yazidi homeland in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq, murdering nearly 6,000, Elias said, including his 24-year-old brother, two of his cousins and nearly 50 close friends.

ISIS fighters loaded thousands more Yazidis onto trucks, with women and girls destined for sexual enslavement and young boys due to be brainwashed as child soldiers. About half a million Yazidis were driven from their homes, ending up in displaced persons’ camps where hundreds of thousands still live in tents.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish Regional Government has prevented Yazidis from returning home with any food, medicine and supplies that would enable them to rebuild their lives, Elias said.

Elias grew up in Til Azir, a small city of 28,000 Yazidis in the Sinjar region. Today, it’s a ghost town.

He followed news of the genocide from Houston, his home since 2010 after earning a visa for his work as a U.S. Army translator.

His home in Iraq was ransacked down to the windows and doorframes.

At the time, he was studying toward an undergraduate degree in the hope of becoming a doctor. But shortly afterward, he abandoned his medical ambitions to start Yazda, a lobbying and advocacy group based in Lincoln, Neb., where most American Yazidis live (yazda.org).

Elias engages audiences on a frenzied schedule. Between his two L.A. engagements last month he flew to New York and San Francisco, stopping each time for a brief layover in Houston.

To some extent, his efforts have succeeded. In the days after the genocide, demonstrations and lobbying in Washington, D.C., by Elias and others helped persuade President Barack Obama to launch strategic airstrikes that enabled Yazidis to escape an ISIS siege.

In March 2016, following lobbying efforts by Yazda and Frydman’s Beyond Genocide Campaign, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution recognizing the Yazidi genocide.

Now, Frydman and Yazda are pushing for Congress to pass the Justice for Yazidis Act, which would extend psychosocial support and speed refugee resettlement for Yazidis and other persecuted minorities in Iraq.

Elias said his work takes its toll. Each time he speaks to an audience, it traumatizes him anew.

He drew a contrast with his previous occupation as a translator.

“Translators, they’re like instruments,” he said. “They transfer the words. Most of the time they’re too busy to feel the information. If you’ve gone through something, it’s different.”

“It affects you,” he added. “And if it doesn’t affect you in the moment, it has its negative impact soon after, in the future. It makes you different.”

With all of his speaking engagements, Elias has little time to see his wife and three children, ages 16, 14 and 6 years old, and little leisure time for himself. Once a film buff, he hasn’t finished a film since August 2014, he said. His mind always returns to the massive amount of work on his docket.

His work also impacts his children. “Their daddy is not around most of the time,” he said.

Elias said his children understand why he’s gone so often. When other kids ask what their father does, “they say nothing directly,” he said. “They say he’s helping people.”

Houston Jewish community ravaged by Harvey’s torrential rains

Residents wait to be rescued from the flood waters in Beaumont Place, Texas, on Aug. 28. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

Most Houston-area Jewish institutions have been flooded due to Tropical Storm Harvey and a large portion of the city’s Jewish population is living in areas that have experienced flooding, the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston said.

“While we do not yet know the full extent of the damage, we know that most of our Jewish institutions have flooded,” the federation said Monday evening in a Facebook post. “We know that 71 percent of our Jewish population lives in areas that have seen massive flooding and Jews have been displaced from their homes with flooding ranging from six inches to ten feet. We know that close to 12,000 elderly members in our community live in areas impacted by flooding.”

[Hurricane Harvey: How you can help]

As some two inches of rain fell per hour in the Houston area on Tuesday morning, according to reports, Jewish institutions were pitching in to provide shelter and relief for those affected by the storm.

Several displaced families were taking shelter at the Robert M. Beren Academy Orthodox Jewish day school, the Texas Jewish Herald Voice reported.

The Union for Reform Judaism’s Green Family Camp in Bruceville, Texas, announced Monday in a Facebook post that it would be opening up to accept former campers, congregants and friends affected by the storm. The post said the camp could provide housing, food, air conditioning, internet and electricity “for a limited time.”

Meanwhile, Chabad-Lubavitch of Texas is coordinating truckloads of kosher food to be sent to the area and will set up a kosher food pantry available to the Jewish community as supplies reach the area. Chabad emissaries in Houston have been preparing and delivering kosher meals to people evacuated to emergency shelters or who took shelter in hotels, according  to Chabad.org.

[PHOTOS: Heroes in Houston]

IsraAID, an Israeli-based humanitarian aid agency that responds to emergency crises and engages in international development around the world, said in a tweet Monday that it was coordinating with governmental and nongovernmental first responders and that  its emergency teams continue to prepare for deployment. It sent seven members to Houston on Tuesday, who were set to join three others who already were in the United States when the hurricane hit.

Homes have been without power for two days, and floodwaters have reached the roofs of some single-family homes, according to reports. At least three deaths have been confirmed, and the Houston television station KHOU reported Monday that six family members were said to have drowned when their van was swept away by floodwaters, though no bodies have been recovered.

The National Hurricane Center Public Advisory for Harvey in an advisory Tuesday morning said that “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding continues in southeastern Texas and portions of southwestern Louisiana.”

“The level of rain that we’re seeing here is biblical,” David Krohn, a cantor at Houston’s Congregation Brith Shalom, told Haaretz. “It’s diluvian rain all day and all night, rain that keeps accumulating.”

These last few days and hours have been incredibly trying times for our friends in the Houston, Galveston, Corpus…

Posted by URJ Greene Family Camp on Sunday, August 27, 2017

Jewish groups applaud Supreme Court abortion ruling tossing restrictive Texas law

Several national Jewish organizations applauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Monday striking down a Texas law that restricted access to abortion.

In a 5-3 ruling, the Supreme Court said the HB2 law, which mandates that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, was unconstitutional. The law would have required nearly half the state’s abortion clinics to shut down.

Texas officials said the law was intended to protect women’s health.

“The court’s decision appropriately recognizes the real-life impact of HB2 on access to abortion,” said Deborah Lauter, the Anti-Defamation League’s senior vice president of policy and programs, in a news release. “This ruling is a victory for reproductive justice and gender equality in America.”

ADL was among the 48 organizations that joined with the National Women’s Law Center on a friend-of-the-court brief in the case of Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt that highlighted the negative impact of the restrictions on women, particularly those of color, with low incomes and in low-wage jobs. Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Jewish Women International and Women of Reform Judaism also signed on to the brief.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, also praised the ruling, saying in a statement that it strikes down “unnecessarily burdensome and medically inaccurate provisions that aimed to restrict access to abortion.”

“This historic decision ensures that women in Texas and across the United States face fewer barriers to receiving legal healthcare services,” Pesner continued. “Jewish tradition teaches the importance of a woman’s ability to make her own healthcare decisions. That principle is as true today as it was in Medieval times when Jewish physician and philosopher Maimonides wrote that ‘Women are commanded to care for the health and well-being of their bodies above all else.’”

In another statement, Nancy Kaufman of the National Council of Jewish Women called the ruling a “huge victory for every woman who seeks to make her own decisions about her health, family, and future. It goes a long way toward restoring the promise of Roe v. Wade — that abortion is a right protected by the US constitution.”

Jewish Women International CEO Lori Weinstein said in a statement that the ruling “affirmed what women and advocates have long known: That sham laws like HB2 are ‘a substantial obstacle’ for women seeking abortion, and that this type of ‘undue burden on abortion access’ is absolutely unconstitutional.”

‘Suspicious’ fire that killed Jewish lawyer in Dallas may have been revenge

The “suspicious” fire that killed a longtime civil rights lawyer from a prominent Jewish family in Dallas reportedly may have been revenge by a client or former client.

Ira Edwin Tobolowsky, 68, was found dead in his garage on Friday morning in a blaze that fire officials are calling “suspicious in nature,” according to The Dallas Morning News.

Tobolowsky’s body had been doused with some kind of fuel and set alight, the Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA reported Monday, citing unnamed sources. The case has been turned over to Dallas Fire-Rescue’s arson investigators. Investigators reportedly believe a client or former client may have taken revenge. Tobolowsky’s law partner, Faith Burk, told WFAA that he had recently been involved in contentious litigation.

Tobolowsky comes from a family active in the Dallas Jewish community. Among his well-known family members are his cousin, state District Judge Emily Tobolowsky; actor Stephen Tobolowsky, who has appeared in films such as “Groundhog Day” and on television; and University of North Texas professor Peggy Tobolowsky, a lifetime trustee of the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Tobolowsky was a father of three; his son’s wedding reportedly is scheduled to take place in two weeks.

Other family members were home at the time of the blaze. Paint and other accelerants were stored in the garage leading to the explosive fire, according to Fox4.

Following the determination that the fire was suspicious, the Sheriff’s Department increased security for a District Court judge, Eric Moye, due to fears that there may be a connection between a civil lawsuit in his court and Tobolowsky’s death, according to reports.

 

Texas Gov. Abbott rejects administration’s request to lift state sanctions on Iran

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday informed the Obama administration that the state of Texas will reject the administration’s request to lift its sanctions against Iran. 

“Because the Iran deal is fundamentally flawed and does not permanently dismantle Iran’s nuclear capability, Texas will maintain its sanctions against Iran,” Abbott wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama on Monday. “Further, because your administration has recklessly and unilaterally removed critical sanctions, I have called on the Texas Legislature to strengthen the Iran sanctions that Texas already has in place.”

The letter was a response to a letter sent by the administration on April 8, 2015, requesting that Texas “review” its economic sanctions against Iran. 

“Entering into an agreement with a country that consistently calls for ‘death to America’ and repeatedly articulates anti-Semitic policies is short-sighted and ignores geopolitical realities,” Governor Abbott writes in the letter. “As a strong supporter of Israel, I am committed to doing everything in my power to oppose this misguided deal with Iran. Accordingly, not only will we not withdraw our sanctions, but we will strengthen them to ensure Texas taxpayer dollars are not used to aid and abet Iran.”

Speaking to reporters in New York on Monday, Abbott said he will seek to expand his state’s divestment policy on all state agencies and prohibit local government entities in the State of Texas from investing in Iran or entities conducting business with Iran during the legislative session this summer. 

The Texas Governor also said that he will issue a bipartisan call to governors of all 49 states to join him in rejecting the sanctions relief as part of the international accord. 

While refusing to officially endorse Donald Trump for president, Abbott said the election of Hillary Clinton would be “catastrophic” for the U.S. and Israel.

“I can tell you this: had Ted Cruz been elected as president, he would have been the most pro-Israel president in the history of the United States,” Abbott said. “Ted Cruz, obviously, didn’t win the nomination. So you have to make a choice. You choose either Donald Trump or you choose Hillary Clinton. Not participating is not a choice. Candidly, I don’t know Donald Trump and I don’t know what his positions are. I do, however, know Hillary Clinton’s positions and what she will do, and Hillary will be catastrophic to the United States of America.”

“I am perplexed about the Jewish community in this regard, ” he continued. “After seeing eight years of the Obama administration, and the damage caused by the Obama administration to Israel and the U.S.-Israel alliance, I don’t understand how anyone who cares about Israel can support a Democrat.” 

Abbott emphasized that the future of the Iran deal will be determined by the outcome of the presidential election in the fall. “If Hillary is elected president, she will perpetuate Barack Obama’s deal with Iran,” he said. “I believe that if the Republican is elected president, that deal will not exist in its current form and a new and better deal is going to be struck that is going to be safer and better for Israel and safer and better for the United States.”


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