Emily Hand, 8, with her father, Thomas Hand, an Irish immigrant to Israel, in Ramat Gan after being freed from nearly two months of captivity in the Gaza Strip by Hamas, Nov. 25, 2023. Credit: IDF.
  • Words count:
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  • Publication Date:
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Headline
Jerusalem summons Irish envoy after ‘outrageous’ remarks by its premier
Intro
Leo Varadkar called Irish-Israeli captive Emily Hand "an innocent child who was lost and has now been found," failing to mention Hamas kidnapping.
text

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on Sunday summoned the Irish ambassador to Jerusalem for a dressing down following "the outrageous words" of the country's prime minister.

Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar drew criticism from Israeli leaders for calling one of the hostages released by Hamas on Saturday night "an innocent child who was lost and has now been found."

Emily Hand, 8, was one of 13 women and children freed by the terrorist group in the Gaza Strip as part of a four-day ceasefire agreement. Her father, Tom, is a 64-year-old Irish immigrant.

Varadkar did not mention in his tweet that Hand was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists and her release was conditioned upon Israel having to free three Palestinian terrorists.

“Mr. Prime Minister, Emily Hand is not lost, maybe you have lost your moral compass and your connection to reality,” Cohen wrote on X.

“Emily Hand was kidnapped by a terrorist organization worse than ISIS after her stepmother was murdered. Emily and over 30 other Israeli children were kidnapped by Hamas, and you are trying to legitimize it. Shame on you!”

https://twitter.com/elicoh1/status/1728685981379731925

War Cabinet minister Benny Gantz also slammed the Irish prime minister's remarks.

“Emily was never ‘Lost’—she was brutally kidnapped and held hostage by terrorist Hamas,” Gantz tweeted.

“After 50 days held hostage in Gaza and while celebrating her 9th birthday surrounded by Hamas terrorists armed with Kalashnikovs and knives, after her father mourned her loss in front of the whole world, her father will now need to tell Emily that her stepmother was murdered by those same Hamas terrorists only 6 years after losing her biological mother to cancer,” Gantz continued.

Emily was initially thought to have been killed during the Oct. 7 massacre.

https://twitter.com/gantzbe/status/1728711154749296835

‘Completely unacceptable’

On Friday, Israel said that it was summoning the ambassadors of Spain and Belgium following a press conference the two country's prime ministers held outside of Egypt's Rafah Crossing to Gaza ahead of the first batch of Israeli hostages being released by Hamas.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called for the European Union to recognize a Palestinian state, saying that Madrid might do so. Spain holds the E.U. rotational presidency, with Belgium taking over in January.

Sánchez also accused Israel of "the indiscriminate killing of civilians, including thousands of boys and girls" in Gaza, saying it is "completely unacceptable.”

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo called for a "permanent ceasefire."

The two leaders spoke after a two-day visit to the Jewish state, as well as to the Palestinian Authority and Egypt.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement following the press conference condemning the remarks.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu strongly condemns the comments by the prime ministers of Belgium and Spain, who did not place total responsibility on Hamas for the crimes against humanity it perpetrated: massacring Israeli citizens and using Palestinians as human shields," he said.

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  • Words count:
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  • Publication Date:
    April 22, 2024

U.S. President Joe Biden is being accused of responding to a reporter on Monday in a manner that recalls former president Donald Trump's saying that there were "very fine people on both sides" of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

"Do you condemn the antisemetic protesters," Biden was asked on Monday.

"I condemn the antisemitic protests. That's why I have set up a program to deal with that," Biden said, per the pool report. "I also condemn those who don't understand what's going on with the Palestinians."

"President Biden says there are good people on both sides of Oct. 7," wrote Mollie Hemingway, editor-in-chief of the Federalist.

Josh Holmes, president and founding partner of Calvary and former chief-of-staff to then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), made a similar observation as did National Review online editor Philip Klein.

"Biden condemns opponents of Hamas," wrote Stephen Miller, a former senior advisor to Trump.

Biden has cited the Charlottesville rally repeatedly as a reason he ran for president, although he reportedly made the decision prior to the event.

"Look, I wasn't going to run in 2020, because I just lost my son Beau a little earlier and—until I watched what happened down in—in Virginia when those folks came out of the fields carrying torches and—and Nazi flags and accompanied by white supremacists," Biden said at an event late last month, per a White House transcript. "And a young woman was killed—a bystander." 

"And when the president was a—former president was asked what he thought of that, he said, 'There are very fine people on both sides,'" Biden said.

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  • Words count:
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    April 22, 2024
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Yale University police arrested 47 anti-Israel protesters for trespassing on Monday morning, as “Gaza solidarity encampments” continue to disrupt college campuses across the country.

After the arrests in New Haven, hundreds of students continued to rally while university maintenance workers cleared Yale’s central Beinecke Plaza of tents, the Yale Daily News student newspaper reported.

Anti-Israel students formed the first of the encampments at Columbia University on Wednesday ahead of congressional testimony by Columbia president Minouche Shafik about Jew-hatred on campus. Shafik asked the New York City Police Department to intervene on Thursday, and more than 100 Columbia students were arrested and the tent encampment cleared.

Those arrests and the destruction of the tent encampment on Columbia’s South Lawn did not stop the protesters, who promptly shifted to Columbia’s West Lawn and built a second tent encampment.

The Columbia demonstration has since inspired copycat protests at the University of Michigan, New York University, Tufts University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among other campuses.

The disruptive student occupations have drawn the attention and condemnation of national Jewish groups and elected officials from both major parties.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national president of the Anti-Defamation League, released a video message on Monday with recommendations for Shafik to restore the safety of Jewish students.

“Number one, we need NYPD back on this campus or bring in the National Guard,” Greenblatt said. “Number two, no masks on campus.”

“This isn’t Fallujah, this is Morningside Heights,” he added, referring to the restive Iraqi city that was one of the strongholds of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State.

Greenblatt also called for students involved in disrupting campus life to be immediately suspended.

“When they say, ‘Revolution is the only answer,’ what do you think they mean?” Greenblatt asked. “We as Jews know what happens when you don’t take people at their word.”

‘Its an attack on our values’

All 10 of New York’s Republican members of Congress called on Shafik to resign on Monday, saying in a letter that “anarchy has engulfed the campus of Columbia University.”

“The ongoing situation that has unfolded is a direct symptom of your continued lax enforcement of policy and clear double standards,” the New York GOP delegation wrote in a letter led by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.).

“While the rot is systemic, the responsibility rests squarely on your shoulders. It is time for Columbia University to turn the page on this shameful chapter. This can only be done through the restoration of order and your prompt resignation,” they added.

Democrats also cited the double standards related to Jew-hatred on campus with Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) saying in remarks in front of Columbia’s Hillel chapter on Monday that any other minority group would not have to encounter the level of hate that Jews are experiencing at Columbia.

“This wouldn't be happening. It wouldn't have gotten this far,” Moskowitz said. “But because it's Jews, we fall into this weird category. Oh, we're not protected. That's why antisemitism is on the rise.”

Moskowitz was joined by Reps. Kathy Manning (D-N.C.), Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), all of whom are Jewish.

Reps. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) and Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) held their own “Rally to Protect Jewish Students” around the corner at the same time that their Democratic colleagues spoke.

“This is truly an attack on democracy. It's an attack on our values,” D’Esposito said. “When we hear ‘Death to Israel, death to America,’ it's a threat to all of us.”

“It’s the right thing to stand behind Israel, stand behind its people and do the right thing,” he added.

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  • Words count:
    711 words
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    News
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  • Publication Date:
    April 22, 2024

António Guterres, the U.N. secretary-general, said on Monday that he accepts recommendations made by a group reviewing the neutrality of the beleaguered U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

Critics predicted months ago that the review would whitewash the U.N. agency’s ties to Gazan terror groups, and Oren Marmorstein, a spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized the released report.

“Hamas has infiltrated UNRWA so deeply that it is no longer possible to determine where UNRWA ends and where Hamas begins,” Marmorstein stated. “The problem with UNRWA-Gaza isn’t that of a few bad apples. It is a rotten and poisonous tree whose roots are Hamas.”

Catherine Colonna, the former French foreign minister, led the group that released the report on Monday. The report says that the Jewish state failed to provide evidence for its claims that UNRWA staff participated in Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre and, broadly, about terror activity in the Gaza Strip.

The review found UNRWA “irreplaceable and indispensable” to Palestinians it serves in Gaza and elsewhere and said that the U.N. agency already has a detailed screening process in place to “ensure compliance with the humanitarian principles.”

It noted that stronger safeguarding mechanisms could be implemented with respect to neutrality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The secretary-general accepts the recommendations contained in Ms. Colonna’s report,” stated Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Guterres. 

“He has agreed with Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini that UNRWA, with the secretary-general’s support, will establish an action plan to implement the recommendations contained in the final report,” Dujarric added of the U.N. secretary-general.

The review, which ran separately from and parallel to an internal U.N. investigation,  addressed allegations that 12 UNRWA workers participated in the Oct. 7 attacks. 

It was seen as a way for UNRWA to assure donors of its compliance with employment and neutrality mandates in the wake of 16 countries suspending aid to the agency. Some have already resumed contributing to UNRWA. Washington is bound by law to cease funding UNRWA at least until next year. 

Guterres “counts on the cooperation of the donor community, the host countries and the staff to fully cooperate in the implementation of the recommendations,” Dujarric stated. “Moving forward, the secretary-general appeals to all stakeholders to actively support UNRWA.”

The three Nordic research groups that took place in the review have a history of criticizing Israel and defending UNRWA.

Critics have long said that UNRWA acts in coordination with—and often as a front for—Hamas. It has been accused of fomenting hate and violence through its youth education curriculum and for turning a blind eye to Hamas military infrastructure and storage at UNRWA sites in Gaza.

The Colonna report states that UNRWA “has a more developed approach to neutrality than other similar entities of the United Nations or NGOs.”

UNRWA employees making anti-Israel and antisemitism statements have been documented extensively.

Beyond alleging that 12 UNRWA staffers participated in the Oct. 7 attacks, Israel has accused up to 12% of the agency’s staff of affiliations with terror groups in Gaza.

Israeli officials have also called for UNRWA to be defunded and disbanded, claiming other U.N. and international organizations can replace it.

“The Colonna report ignores the severity of the problem and offers cosmetic solutions that do not deal with the enormous scope of Hamas’s infiltration of UNRWA,” Marmorstein stated.

“This is not what a genuine and thorough review looks like,” the Israeli ministry spokesman said. “This is what an effort to avoid the problem and not address it head-on looks like.”

Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO of the International Legal Forum, told JNS that the report “into UNRWA’s complicity during the Oct. 7 massacre by Hamas, handed down today by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna, is nothing short of a complete whitewash of the mass murder, rape and abductions committed by UNRWA staff.”

“Instead of using the opportunity to provide an independent and honest account of UNRWA’s actions, the report was fixed from the outset, with a restricted mandate, deeply biased appointees and conflicting interests in violation of the UN’s own Standards of Conduct,” he added. “Its sole purpose was to exonerate UNRWA and serve as an excuse by donor nations to resume funding.”

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  • Words count:
    735 words
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  • Publication Date:
    April 22, 2024

The Jewish state responded to Hamas's Oct. 7 terror attack with "a sustained, wide-scale military operation in Gaza, which had killed more than 21,000 Palestinians and injured more than 56,000 by the end of the year," according to the 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which the U.S. State Department released on Monday.

Israel's response to the Oct. 7 attack also "displaced the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza and resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis," according to the State Department report, whose section on Israel runs about 23,000 words. "The continuing conflict had a significant negative impact on the human rights situation in the country."

Among dozens of "significant human rights issues," which the report said Israel is accused of based on "credible reports," are "arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings," "enforced disappearance" and "torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by government officials."

Israel also is guilty of "harsh and life-threatening prison conditions," "punishment of family members for alleged offenses by a relative" and "serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom, including violence or threats against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecution of journalists and censorship," per the State Department.

"The government took some credible steps to identify and punish officials who may have committed human rights abuses," it stated.

Among the sources that Foggy Bottom cites in its criticism of Israel are the harsh Israel critics Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Committee of the Red Cross, Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, B’Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights Israel.

"Arab criminal organizations were involved in many intracommunity killings, with 244 Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel who were victims of crime and violence within Arab communities, an increase of 134% over the previous year," per the State Department, citing the nonprofit Abraham Initiatives, "making it the deadliest year ever for crime and violence within the society of Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel."

In a section on the "West Bank and Gaza," which runs about 33,000 words, the State Department accuses Israel of "a sustained, wide-scale military operation in Gaza, which had killed more than 21,000 Palestinians (about 1% of Gaza’s population) and injured more than 56,000 (more than 2% of Gaza’s population) by the end of the year, displaced the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza and resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis with estimates of 50%-70% of buildings destroyed or damaged."

"The continuing conflict had a significant negative impact on the human rights situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip," the State Department added. "In the West Bank, the trend of violent attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, as well as attacks by Palestinian militants against Israelis, had already increased in the first nine months of the year to record levels, and spiked sharply after Oct. 7."

In the "West Bank," the report alleged that there are "serious problems with the independence of the judiciary," "violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists and censorship," "serious restrictions on internet freedom," "extensive gender-based violence," "violence or threats of violence motivated by antisemitism," "crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex persons" and "existence of the worst forms of child labor."

In Gaza, the report accuses Hamas of crimes that include "severe physical abuses and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment," "serious problems with the independence of the judiciary," "conflict-related sexual violence or punishment," "unlawful recruitment or use of children in armed conflict,"violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified detentions of journalists and censorship," "serious restrictions on internet freedom," "inability of citizens to change governance peacefully through free and fair elections," "crimes involving violence or threats of violence motivated by antisemitism," "crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex persons" and "existence of the worst forms of child labor."

"Palestinian Authority authorities took some steps to identify and punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, but human rights groups criticized Palestinian Authority officials for not taking sufficient action or implementing measures against officials implicated in human rights abuses," per the State Department. "This lack of response raised concerns about accountability."

"There were no legal or independent institutions capable of holding Hamas in Gaza accountable for acts of terror, and impunity was widespread," it added. "Several militant groups with access to heavy weaponry, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, also operated with impunity in and from Gaza."

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  • Words count:
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    April 22, 2024
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The Zionist Organization of America announced the filing on April 18 of a Title VI complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS).

In 28 pages, it detailed multiple incidents of ethnic slurs, swastika vandalism, pro-Hamas teachers and retaliation against educators, ringing the alarm bell about the threat to Jewish students.

Noting a previous Title VI filing against the district, the complaint states that it “relied solely on an opinion piece written by a Jewish parent and a Jewish teacher in MCPS. We respectfully urge OCR to open another investigation into the antisemitism plaguing MCPS, based on the ZOA’s detailed complaint, which is grounded in reports to us from many members of the MCPS community.”

Susan B. Tuchman, director for ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, told JNS that their complaint “describes in detail years of antisemitism in MCPS, at all grade levels, even before the Hamas massacre on October 7—and years of inaction and indifference from district officials.”

She noted anti-Jewish slurs that students had experienced, including Hitler salutes and jokes about Nazi concentration camps.

“Even after the Hamas massacre, when it would be reasonable to think that district and school officials would finally be more responsive to antisemitism, MCPS showed the same indifference,” Tuchman said. “When a Jewish student was recently told by another student that Hitler hadn’t done enough and that the Jewish student should go back to Israel, school officials didn’t even bother to alert the community to the antisemitism and condemn it. And they didn’t hold the perpetrator accountable.”

Tuchman told JNS that parents and community members had pushed MCPS for years to work harder to counter antisemitism.

“They’ve asked MCPS to take steps that are both reasonable and doable: Alert the community to antisemitic incidents and forcefully condemn them. Punish the perpetrators,” she said. “And provide education and training to staff and students about how antisemitism is expressed today, including relating to Israel.”

Tuchman lamented that previous efforts had “fallen on deaf ears.” She told JNS, “Now we are hoping that OCR will compel the district to finally live up to its legal obligations and provide Jewish students with the safe environment they deserve and are legally entitled to.”

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  • Words count:
    1589 words
  • Type of content:
    COLUMN
  • Byline:
  • Publication Date:
    April 22, 2024

This is not the first time that Passover has been celebrated at a moment when the Jewish people were under siege or being attacked. The reason why the famous passage in the Haggadah that we read during the seder that references this fact always resonates so much with us is that it has been a rare generation, if indeed there was ever one throughout millennia of persecution, in which those words were not true of the present.

The Haggadah states, “For it was not one enemy alone who rose up against us to destroy us; in every generation, there are those who rise up against us and seek to destroy us.”

We can only imagine what it meant to read those words in Poland in April 1943 as the remnant of European Jewry still alive in the Warsaw Ghetto began their heroic and doomed uprising as the German Nazis and their collaborators began their final drive to exterminate the Jews of Poland.

What did the Jews of Warsaw think on April 19, 1943, as they read the promise of Divine intervention that followed the mention of foes rising against the Jews? “But the Holy One, Blessed be He, saves us from their hands.”

A handful who survived the bloody fight to defend the ghetto—and then survived the death camps or the partisans’ fight in the forests—were saved to begin Jewish life again. But most did not. And after so many had already died of hunger or disease in the ghetto or were carried off to death in the furnaces of the Holocaust, most were realistic enough to know that the odds were against them. And yet, even in that dire moment, the accounts of that awful night when German machine guns were firing and the ghetto had begun to burn do not, for the most part, speak of despair.

If that was true for them, then surely, despite the dire circumstances under which Passover is being celebrated in 2024, we cannot allow ourselves to despair either.

Gimmick or parody seders

Some Jewish families may gather for a seder in prosperous circumstances and peace, oblivious to the events of the last six months. Like many Jews in the past, they will strive to ignore the growing threats facing their people, even in a country like the United States, where Jews have lived in unmatched peace and freedom. For them, the atavistic ritual of the seder—whose orderly regimen seeks to remind us that we, too, were slaves in Egypt, and were among those liberated to find freedom in the Law and the Land the children of Israel were given—is mere rhetoric. They will not remember the Jewish hostages still being held in captivity in the Gaza Strip or those Israelis fighting there to rescue them, as well as to defend their homes and families against the genocidal terrorists of Hamas.

Others, though not as many as some in the corporate media would have us believe, will even gather to express their perverse solidarity with the enemies of the Jewish people and their cause of destroying the one Jewish state on the planet. These recitations of documents, such as the Jewish Voice for Peace Haggadah, which calls for an Exodus from Zionism and support for the cause of Israel’s destruction, will be parody seders. This comes, after all, from a group that openly traffics in antisemitic blood libels against Jews and supports the pro-Hamas mobs attacking Jews on college campuses and in the streets of America’s cities.

In recent decades, gimmicky seders and new rituals have become commonplace as many American Jews sought to universalize even the most particularist elements of Judaism and strip it of its specific meaning. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, such seders were intended to provide some Jewish inspiration and meaning to secular causes. But in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 massacres and the surge in antisemitism around the world—and specifically, in the United States—that is being driven by hatred for Israel and libelous smears of it, tolerance for efforts to hijack Passover in this manner is impossible to justify. Indeed, what could be a greater proof of the antisemitic intent of the “pro-Palestinian” movement than its efforts to twist and distort Judaism to justify the murder of Jews?

Smearing Israel as Pharaoh

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism rightly notes that efforts to accuse Jews of being Nazis as falling under the category of Jew-hatred. The same could also be said of trying to twist the story of the Exodus into a narrative in which the Jews are Pharaoh and the Palestinians are the Jews.

This is a vile lie that seeks to obscure, rationalize or even justify the largest mass slaughter of Jews since World War II and the Holocaust carried out by Hamas and its Palestinian supporters. It is an attempt to delegitimize the rights of the Jewish people as indigenous people, described in the Haggadah as being given to them by their Liberator.

Only in the bizarro neo-Marxist world of the far left can the people who were subjected to murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, burning and wanton destruction on Oct. 7 be portrayed as the Egyptian slavemasters. Only in a world in which woke ideologies like critical race theory and intersectionality grant a permission slip for antisemitism could the justified efforts of Israel to destroy the latter-day Nazis of Hamas be considered analogous to Pharaoh’s evil minions.

That is why this festival of freedom must this year serve as more than merely a family ritual punctuated by food and talk of the past. The Haggadah enjoins us to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt not merely as a history lesson or an exercise in faith about past miracles and wonders. Rather, it is a reminder that the historic challenges facing the Jewish people—whether during the biblical Exodus or in today’s fight for Israel’s survival, are very much an essential part of our lives, too.

Bumping into history

This generation of American Jews had good reason to think of themselves as uniquely blessed. They had achieved more freedom, prosperity and power than any other in the history of the Diaspora, in addition to the ability to assimilate, if they chose, to opt out of the Jewish story. But like it or not, it’s no longer possible to pretend that the sorrows and challenges of Jewish history have nothing to do with us. That’s because it’s not just the Jews of Israel who are under siege by vicious enemies.

The same is now true for American Jews, even in the precincts of institutions—like Ivy League universities—where they once felt most accepted and at home. As the great writer and activist Ben Hecht who worked for Jewish rescue during the Holocaust wrote of himself in the late 1930s, we have all “accidentally bumped into history.”

While the situation of the Jewish people today is not as dire as it was 81 years ago as the extermination of European Jewry was underway, it is easily the most serious and troubling moment in Jewish life since then. The efforts of the Israel Defense Forces must ensure the victory of the Jewish state over Hamas, Iran and other Islamist enemies, and the defeat of their genocidal aims. But American Jewry is similarly challenged to defend itself against the woke tide of so-called “progressives” who seek to drive Jews off of college campuses, the streets, and ultimately, the public square itself.

This year’s seders must not only inspire us to identify with every generation of Jewish history from the Exodus to the present but, as Moses did against Pharoah, to speak up and fight against those who, whatever their claims or motivations, are seeking to normalize antisemitism and hatred for Jews under the guise of anti-Zionism or progressivism. We must resist the lies that falsely brand the cause of denying Jewish rights and security as a “pro-Palestinian” movement or anything other than a particularly vicious form of hatred.

To be confronted with the evidence of the unspeakable crimes of Oct. 7 or even to watch the videos of the woke Jew-hating mobs on American college campuses is enough to cause even strong people to question their faith and confidence. But the seder reminds us that we must find the courage and faith to carry on just as generations before have done.

We should do so with confidence that we are not alone. We have many friends in the Christian community, in addition to great faith in the power and strength of the Jewish state, which is the only true memorial to the Holocaust.

For us, the closing refrain of “Next year in Jerusalem” should not be dismissed as symbolism or an ancient and outdated tradition. It must instead be a clarion call to arms to defend Israel and the Jewish people and to refuse to let the enemies of this generation triumph. And it should be a time for those Jews who haven’t seen Israel firsthand to do so, as others throughout history have wished to do but could not. Just as past generations of Jews, who suffered far more, have taken heart from the promise of liberation inherent in the seder, we must do the same.

Wishing all JNS readers, listeners and viewers and their families, a healthy, happy and inspired Passover. Chag Pesach Sameach!

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him: @jonathans_tobin.

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    April 22, 2024

The European Network on Monitoring Antisemitism, which launched last week, aims “to fill a pressing gap in the fight against antisemitism: The need for improved data collection on antisemitic incidents,” according to a news release.

It added that “ENMA aims to become a Europe-wide gateway to data on antisemitism.”

The network, which receives funding from the European Union and support from the Alfred Landecker Foundation, was founded by the German Federal Association of Department for Research and Information on Antisemitism (Bundesverband RIAS); the Austrian Reporting Centre for Antisemitism of the Jewish Community Vienna; and the Polish Jewish Association Czulent.

“Antisemitism is on the rise in Europe, but too little is known about its transnational dimension,” stated Benjamin Steinitz, executive director of Bundesverband RIAS. “For the first time, comparable data about antisemitism across various European countries will be made available. Our efforts are coordinated with key Jewish umbrella organizations and will improve the reporting infrastructure for antisemitic incidents.”

Steinitz told JNS that the surge in Jew-hatred in Europe “is clearly shown by the shocking surge of antisemitic incidents across Europe in the aftermath of the Hamas massacres on Oct. 7.”

“By mid-2025, for the first-time comparable data about antisemitism across various European countries will be made available,” Steinitz predicted, calling the network “without a doubt a game changer in the European landscape on antisemitism research and prevention.” 

“You need to make antisemitism visible in order to be able to fight it,” stated Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life.

https://twitter.com/eurojewcong/status/1780299127034642728
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Two Chicago delis are offering both innovations and classic staples for the seder table this year.

Zeitlin’s Delicatessen, run by owner and chef Sam Zeitlin, has created a brisket braised in Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry Soda. Zeitlin called the beverage the “classic drink” of Jewish delis and said that “when done right, it’s exciting. It accents the roastiness of the meat. It also kind of adds a sweet and sour type element.”

Fellow deli owner Bette Dworkin, whose family took over Kaufman’s Deli in the Skokie neighborhood in 1984 and which she has run since 2014, told The Chicago Tribune that she found Zeitlin’s plan “wonderful.”

She said “he’s keeping in the wheelhouse of being a Jewish deli, which I think is fabulous. And he’s trying something funky!” 

Dworkin praised Zeitlin as one of the “young bloods” who was “repopulating the deli business.”

Zeitlin celebrated his competitor, saying “I think that what really sets them apart is that they’re really trying to make as many things as they can in-house, while also scaling tremendously.”

Both Kaufman’s and Zeitlin’s will provide take-out seder meals this year.

Said Dworkin: “We all try to put interesting spins on what we’re doing, but certainly around the holidays … that component of tradition becomes very important to people.”

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  • Words count:
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What will be the single most popular question at seder tables around the world this year?

Probably the same as every year: “When do we eat?!”

Seriously speaking, have you had your fair share of questions at the seder? Any room for a few more?

Last week, I wrote about the famous seder in Bnai Brak mentioned in the Haggadah. The great sages were discussing the Exodus story and its ramifications all night long until their students came in the morning. This week I would like to ask a related question. In fact, I could divide it into my own “Four Questions.”

“It once happened on Seder night that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Joshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon were dining together in Bnai Brak.”

Question 1: Why does the Haggadah tell us the venue, Bnai Brak?

Question 2: Did all those esteemed sages live in Bnai Brak?

Question 3: Did they not have their own families?

Question 4: Did they not have their own congregations and communities?

How did it come to pass that all these esteemed rabbis were together at one seder?

Well, let’s investigate the historical record: When did these rabbis live? The answer is that it was at a terrible time in our history. The Holy Temple had been destroyed by the Roman legions and lay in ruins. The Roman oppression of the Jewish remnants was brutal. The streets of Israel were littered with Jewish corpses. There were no human-rights organizations to protect Jewish victims (not that they protect them now either). Times were not only tough but probably the worst they had been in centuries.

And the great sages of Israel were in no mood for a dinner party.

A seder? To celebrate the Exodus from Egypt 1,500 years ago? To remember our liberation? We are enslaved all over again! How can we celebrate? We may be free from Pharaoh but now we have new Roman overlords. How can we drink four cups of freedom at a time like this?

So the sages were in no seder spirit that Passover. Maybe we should give it a miss this year, they might have been thinking.

And that is precisely why they were in Bnai Brak. No, they did not all live there; but they went to Rabbi Akiva, the Rav of Bnai Brak, to join him at his seder.

Why?

Because they reckoned that if there was anywhere to be this Pesach, it had to be with Rabbi Akiva. In fact, they decided it was the only place they could be.

Why is that?

At the very end of Makkot, the Talmud tells the story of how some of these very sages were surveying the ruins of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from Mount Scopus when they witnessed the most disturbing sight. They saw a fox coming out of the site of the Holy of Holies. They burst into tears.

But Rabbi Akiva smiled.

The sages challenged Rabbi Akiva: “On desolate Mount Zion foxes are running in and out of our holiest site, and you smile?”

Rabbi Akiva replied: “I could never believe it would happen, that the Temple would be destroyed. That Jerusalem should be razed to the ground. How was this possible? But the prophet foresaw it and told us it would indeed happen. And he was right. Well, there are other prophecies too, including a prophecy of redemption, that Jerusalem will be rebuilt. Now that I see with my own eyes that the prophecy of destruction has been fulfilled, I can believe that the prophecy of redemption will likewise be fulfilled. And so, I smiled.”

The sages famously responded, “Akiva nichamtanu, Akiva nichamtanu—Akiva, you have comforted us. Akiva, you have comforted us.”

So now, as these same sages agonized over how to celebrate the Festival of Freedom in such dire and dismal circumstances, they decided that the only place they could possibly be for the seder was with Rabbi Akiva. He could comfort them. He could give them some of his spirit, hope, faith, confidence and solace.

That is why all these outstanding luminaries were together in Bnai Brak that Pesach night.

And what about us?

How do we celebrate the Festival of Freedom knowing that our loved ones are still prisoners in Gaza? How do we celebrate knowing that any minute we could be forced to run to bomb shelters? How free are we?

I think if we walked down the ancient cobblestones of Bnai Brak, we might hear the legendary Rabbi Akiva giving us comfort, too: “It's true that so many of our families are suffering the loss of their loved ones and the painful absence of the hostages. And we indeed have no peace partner and nothing to look forward to on the political landscape. But there is not only destiny in deliverance. There is also destiny in darkness and even in disaster.

“We have no one to rely on but our Father in Heaven. And our own unity. When we are together as brothers and sisters, look at the miracles we have just experienced! Over 300 Iranian missiles and drones and hardly any damage whatsoever with 99% stopped in their tracks! Those who know argue that this was nothing less than a miracle of biblical proportions! Do we not have something to celebrate? Do we not have so much to still be thankful for?”

I hope Rabbi Akiva will forgive me for allowing myself the editorial license to paraphrase him speaking to us today. Maybe his words would be different. But I believe the message would be the same.

Whether we’re in Bnai Brak or Boston, Jerusalem or Johannesburg, let us connect to Rabbi Akiva’s message of vision, hope and inspiration. And please God, may we soon see the fulfillment of the prophecies of redemption for Israel and the whole world.

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