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The new U.S. policy of rapprochement with Cuba, which was accompanied by the celebrated release of imprisoned Jewish aid worker Alan Gross, probably will give American Jews greater access to a Jewish community with which few are familiar. But visitors will find that the years have not been kind to once-thriving Cuban Jewry, writes historian Rafael Medoff.

Hollywood has had its share of big-budget biblical flops, but until now, the Exodus narrative has not been among them. Studios have brought Moses to the big screen sparingly, but in ways that defined the image and character of Moses for each generation of audiences. Marshall Weiss recaps nine decades of Moses at the movies, including the most recent iteration—Christian Bale in the newly released “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

In “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Ridley Scott’s attempt to reinvent the biblical narrative becomes laughable, namely an awkward experiment with trying to rationalize supernatural events like the Ten Plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. “Exodus” is a competent film with epic intentions and scale, but doesn’t live up to its potential, writes reviewer Jason Stack.

In December 2007, leaders of the Hazon nonprofit drafted seven-year goals for what they coined as the “Jewish Food Movement,” whose emergence has led to the increased prioritization of healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and food-related activism in the Jewish community. What do the next seven years hold in store? “One thing I would like to see happen in the next seven years is [regarding] the issue of sugar, soda, and obesity, [seeing] what would it be like to rally the Jewish community to take on this issue and do something about it,” says Nigel Savage, Hazon’s founder and president. Ahead of Hazon's eighth annual Food Conference, JNS.org interviews various leaders and followers of the Jewish Food Movement—most of whom started or increased their involvement in the movement due to the conference.

This time of year, festive holiday displays are sometimes accompanied by not-so-festive controversies over the appearance of religious symbols in public places. But for Jews, the increasing inclusion of the Hanukkah menorah as well as other Jewish symbols in the pantheon of American civic and religious discourse highlights their mainstream acceptance in society. “I can walk down the street knowing that I am proud to be a Jew,” said Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, a Pittsburgh-based Chabad-Lubavitch emissary. “And in fact the government does whatever they can to help us and encourages us to practice our faith.”

The 75th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone with the Wind,” which was marked Dec. 15, presents an opportunity to examine the Jewish influence on one of the most popular films of all time. That influence starts with the American Civil War epic’s famed Jewish producer, David O. Selznick, and trickles down to fired director George Cukor and cast member Leslie Howard. “[Jewish film industry giants like Selznick] had been very nervous of there being an anti-Semitic reaction to their success and to the film business,” said David Thomson, author of the book “Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick.”

Rather than celebrating Hanukkah, American Jews could have adopted a secularized Christmas, as many German Jews did in the 19th century and early 20th century. But instead, Reform and Conservative Jews led the way in the Americanization of Hanukkah, not only by inventing the custom of giving eight gifts (one per night) and using colored candles, but also by reshaping the message of the menorah’s light to fit the American Jewish predicament, writes Noam Zion, a fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute and author of "A Different Light: The Hanukkah Book Celebration."

It was an era of steel strings, guitar heroes, and storytellers—high on heroin, rebellious. Outlaw country music, the hallmark of Nashville’s powerful and angry music scene of the 1970s, was the brew of greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt. But there is another, little-known music hero of that era: Daniel Antopolsky. A Jewish lad from Augusta, Ga., the “Sheriff of Mars” fled the aggressive U.S. music scene for a tranquil life on a farm in Bordeaux, France. Over the last 40 years, he has written nearly 500 songs. Now, his music is being shared with the world for the first time through a new documentary and music album.

Against the backdrop of protests over the decisions not to indict police officers in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, all the Palestinian solidarity movement provides are false and offensive analogies that will only deepen the sense of polarization in America, instead of bringing us closer together, writes JNS.org Shillman Analyst Ben Cohen.

It is one of the great mysteries of American foreign policy that while terrorists from around the world are routinely extradited to the U.S. to be prosecuted for attacks on Americans, there is one class of killers that seems to be immune from extradition: Palestinians. But why? The answer tears the issue away from the realm of justice and morality and into the fetid swamp of political convenience, writes attorney Stephen M. Flatow, whose daughter Alisa was murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group Islamic Jihad in 1995.

 

The national debate on immigration is very much on the minds of some American Jewish leaders and organizations, and the same was true 75 years ago this month—when Louis D. Brandeis, then a recently retired Supreme Court justice, took a position that surprised many, writes historian Rafael Medoff.

 

Jewish students at Wellesley College, a Boston-area school for women, fear that anti-Semitism is growing on their campus following what they call the school administration’s lax response to the anti-Israel activities of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Wellesley also decided to eliminate the staff positions of Hillel director and Jewish chaplain, a move some Jewish students describe as the removal of their support system.

 

Melanie Goldberg, who was booted from an anti-Israel event at Brooklyn College last year for taking out information sheets to rebut the speaker, writes that the pro-Israel side is being drowned by its opponents on campus. We must show that anti-Zionism is in fact anti-Semitism when one side’s position is stifled, writes Goldberg, who now attends law school and is one of the founders of a new student-led legal chapter of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.

The numbers are staggering: 4,202 shluchim (emissary) couples working around the world; 94,650 students interacting with Chabad on campus annually; 37 million unique visitors per year to Chabad.org. On Nov. 23, more than 5,000 people attended the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries. Since the passing of movement leader Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson 20 years ago, there has been a 236-percent growth in the number of Chabad emissaries, who work in 80 countries and 49 of 50 U.S. states. A unique aspect of Chabad’s growth in America has been the significant participation of Jews across denominations and levels of affiliation in Chabad institutions—particularly in its schools.

Against the backdrop of growing threats facing Israel at home and abroad, one of the fastest-growing ethnoreligious segments in the U.S. is stepping up its support for the Jewish state. At the forefront of the interests of America’s Hispanic Evangelical Christian population is the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC)/Conela. Representing more than 100 million Hispanic Evangelicals in the U.S., NHCLC/Conela is now beginning to wield its considerable influence for the purpose of standing up for Israel. “My job is to convince young Latino people that supporting Israel actually works for the good of all in the Middle East,” said NHCLC/Conela President Rev. Samuel Rodriguez.

The pattern is quite familiar: Palestinian terrorists murder Israelis. The Obama administration condemns the attack. And that’s it. No change in U.S. policy, no penalties or consequences for those who encourage and praise the killers. Bland verbal condemnations don’t make any difference, writes Stephen M. Flatow, whose daughter Alisa was killed in a Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995.

From Tevye the dairyman to Maroon 5’s Adam Levine to “Let It Go” singer Idina Menzel, Jews have always been at the forefront of the music scene. Burt Sugarman and Mark Goodman are no different. As one of the pre-eminent television and film producers in history, Sugarman’s rolodex of connections would make any A-lister blush. Goodman, one of the first on-air personalities for the MTV network, had his finger on the pulse of pop music for years. The two industry icons spoke to JNS.org about the recent release of a collector’s edition DVD set of Sugarman’s pioneering television program “Midnight Special” by StarVista Entertainment/Time Life.

What message is the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) sending to the Jewish community through its recent selection of White House aide and social entrepreneur Jonathan Greenblatt to succeed longtime National Director Abraham Foxman? While some are praising ADL for thinking outside the box with its hire and trying to appeal to a younger demographic, others are concerned that Greenblatt is too visibly partisan and that his past experience may signal ADL’s de-emphasis of the fight against anti-Semitism in favor of civil rights work.

While reports suggest that Iran and its Western negotiating partners are close to striking a nuclear deal before the Nov. 24 deadline for an agreement, the Iranians find themselves at a crossroads. Iran—which has long promoted Islamic extremism and exported terrorism—must choose between security cooperation with the West against the Islamic State terror group and economic relief, or continuing down its current path towards becoming a nuclear pariah state. That choice comes against the backdrop of a growing push within Iran for a change in the country’s direction, following years of isolation and economic stagnation. 

 

 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is getting fed up with anything that sounds like a demand from the West in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. But while Iran seems to be saying "shut up and make a deal" before the Nov. 24 deadline, President Barack Obama may not need much convincing. For the time being, then, the main brake on Iran’s further accumulation of power and influence lies in the U.S. Congress, writes JNS.org Shillman Analyst Ben Cohen.