This 2024 - Let's Win the Battle of Headlines
Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters gather in front of the Colorado Convention Center, the site of the opening plenary of the Jewish National Fund-USA annual conference, Nov. 30, 2023. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.
  • Words count:
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Headline
The folly of ceasefire
Intro
Soon after Israel began its counteroffensive, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire. It declined to make any statement condemning Hamas.
text

In the clamor for a ceasefire in Gaza, there sure is a lot of ceasing on demand. A multitude of ultimatums, public outcries and violent actions during protests that require arrest.

Nothing is too sacred to disrupt: “Gas the Jews!” abhorrently shouted at the Sydney Opera House; Armistice Day in the United Kingdom overrun with mobs of antisemites parading through Central London; the lighting of the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center enflamed by un-peaceful protests reminiscent of the Dark Ages.

This worldwide onslaught, undertaken mostly by Muslims and their “progressive” acolytes (and useful idiots: See Susan Sarandon), carried signs and chanted slogans calling for the end of a variety of Israeli cruelties: “occupation,” “apartheid,” “genocide,” “blockade” and “open air prison.” That’s a lot of ceasing, but it can be distilled to a single objective, what’s truly motivating the protestors: “Cease Jews!”

There is madness and nihilism among us—infecting minds, poisoning hearts, revealing truths. We have given radical Muslims license to forcibly hijack our streets and call for the death of Jews—wherever they may be found. The irony, of course, is that with each of these grotesque hate-fests, Jew haters are making the case for a Jewish homeland, for why the existence of Israel has, aside from the Holocaust, never before been this essential.

Such a marked contrast from the somber assemblies that Jews undertake in support of Israel. No hoarse shouting; no “death” chants and flag burnings. A tale of two communities. Which do you prefer as neighbors and fellow citizens? So stark are the side-by-side comparisons that people choosing the pro-Hamas camp can only mean one thing: antisemitism is alive and well, with practitioners shamelessly availing themselves of this permissive moment of unabashed hatred.

How else to explain the mindboggling lack of outrage with beheadings of Israeli infants and gang rapes of Jewish teenage girls? The victims on Oct. 7 were not enemy combatants. Just like Hamas’s launching of indiscriminate rocket fire at Israel since 2007, Jews need not wear an IDF uniform to be targeted for death. The savagery of Oct. 7, and the refusal of so many to condemn the actions of Hamas, suggests that so long as it is directed against Jews, violence is excusable, crimes are comeuppance, terrorism will go unnamed and Hamas will be treated like heroes.

Soon after Israel began its counteroffensive, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire. It declined to make any statement condemning Hamas.

The U.N. Women’s organization, with its specific mandate to protect women from sexual violence, demanded a ceasefire without mentioning Hamas or including a single word of disgust for the unspeakable violations against Jewish women that took place on Oct. 7. Those words only recently arrived, but tepidly stated and silent about who was to blame. The U.N. General Secretary also was inexcusably late in mentioning that Hamas broke a ceasefire on Oct. 7 by breaking every known rule of armed conflict.

It’s far worse than withholding outrage. There is also an obscene denial of the horrors that took place. Apparently, Israel fabricated the whole thing. The Jewish state staged its own massacre. The home movies taken by Hamas and treated like a Hollywood premier on social media must be fake, too. Gazans are so predisposed to being used as human shields, they actually believe that the rest of the world is as depraved as they are.

People are actually saying such things, and far too many are believing it. We are facing a pernicious strain of antisemitism never before seen. The evidence left behind is not DNA, but AI—a combination of pure ignorance and diseased malice. The alliances Jews once believed they could rely upon have disappeared into the fog of the culture wars. Jewish Lives Don’t Matter and Believe Survivors unless they’re Jews.

This is the reason why the Squad, progressives in Congress, university faculty and their mindless students have been so begrudging and dismissive when it comes to condemning Hamas. For them, this particular breed of terrorists are, in actuality, freedom fighters engaged in acceptable acts of resistance. In their twisted moral logic, the fact that Hamas is a terrorist organization is what makes its trademark Jew-hatred so attractive.

This is why they can’t stoop to reproaching Hamas. In the vocabulary of the West, “terrorism” is a negative. But for Hamas apologists, being called a terrorist is not an insult, but an allure. After all, Hamas achieves what casual, cocktail party antisemitism can never accomplish: a demonstrated capacity to rid themselves of Jews, murdering them—even the infants.

We should tragically presume that those who remain silent must regard Hamas as antisemitic rock stars, deserving not of just deserts, but everlasting praise.

As for the rest of us—Jews and non-Jews alike—surrounded by such anti-American animus and agitprop, we should prepare ourselves to accept that our cherished liberal values are under attack, that civilization itself is in jeopardy. Criminality and mass rioting is being normalized—whether it is smash-and-grab at the Apple Store or the disruption of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Big Apple.

Tolerate moral relativism too long, capitulate to the new order of woke-fueled protocols, and you end up with moral rot, confusion and mediocrity.

You don’t have to look very far. A high school in Queens turned into a lynch mob for a teacher who stood up for Israel. Firebombs were thrown at a Jewish Center in Montreal. As many as 15 synagogues in New York City received bomb threats this past Shabbat.

Much of this was taking place during Israel’s four-day ceasefire. So, is this really about the killing of Palestinian civilians? No protests erupted to denounce the 100,000 civilians killed in Ukraine. Are Palestinian lives more worthy than other civilians?

And where was the worldwide demand to return the Israeli and American hostages? Instead of blaming Israel for defending itself, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Tony Blair and the U.N. secretary general should have traveled to Egypt, and standing at the border with Gaza, demanded through loudspeakers: “Let the Jewish people go!”

Latent antisemitism is a thing of the past. Jew-hatred has returned, openly, and it is raging. After thousands of years, emanating in fits and starts, what is finally long overdue is the ceasing not of fire, but antisemitism.

Originally published by The Jewish Journal.

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  • Words count:
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  • Publication Date:
    February 21, 2024

One of about 20 anti-Israel activists, who protested a Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) fundraiser, punched a Milwaukee police officer.

The protester, a woman, asked the police officer about his ethnicity. When he revealed he had a Palestinian background, the woman struck him and told him he was on the wrong side, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

It wasn’t known if the assailant was arrested at the Sunday event. The paper reported that the officer was hurt but not seriously so.

“Striking a police officer is never acceptable,” stated Andrew Mamo, a spokesman for the senator.

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  • Words count:
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    February 21, 2024

The U.S. Justice Department announced charges against a Japanese Yakuza gang leader, who acquired weapons-grade plutonium that he intended to sell to Iran.

Takeshi Ebisawa, 60, a Japanese national, smuggled uranium and weapons-grade plutonium from Burma to Thailand for sale to a man posing as an Iranian general. The latter was actually an undercover source for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, per the indictment, which was unsealed Wednesday. 

“As alleged, the defendants in this case trafficked in drugs, weapons and nuclear material—going so far as to offer uranium and weapons-grade plutonium fully expecting that Iran would use it for nuclear weapons,” stated Anne Milgram, administrator of the DEA. “This is an extraordinary example of the depravity of drug traffickers, who operate with total disregard for human life.”

Yakuza is an umbrella term for Japan’s major organized crime syndicates, similar to the American mafia. Former U.S. president Barack Obama sanctioned the Yakuza and several other criminal organizations, which he said “have reached such scope and gravity that they threaten the stability of international political and economic systems,”  in 2011.

Ebisawa procured the nuclear materials from a Burmese rebel group and intended to sell them in exchange for money and weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, per the indictment.

An undercover agent told Ebisawa that Tehran needed the uranium for a “nuclear weapon,” the indictment alleges. 

“Ebisawa responded ‘Yes, I know.’ On the same call Ebisawa added that he could supply ‘plutonium’ that would be even ‘better’ and more ‘powerful’ than uranium for Iran’s use. Ebisawa noted that he did not have a ‘license’ to deal in these materials,” and the DEA agent “acknowledged that ‘this is gonna be a very quiet and secret illegal transaction.’ Ebisawa agreed ‘yes, so that is why we need to talk fast about that,’” per the indictment.

Ebisawa eventually supplied samples of the nuclear materials to the fake Iranian general. A U.S. nuclear forensic lab found that the plutonium that Ebisawa provided was “weapons-grade,” meaning that it was sufficiently pure for use in a nuclear weapon if enough of it could be acquired.

The lab also identified uranium and thorium in the nuclear samples.

It’s not clear where or how the Yakuza leader and his Burmese rebel co-conspirators acquired the plutonium, which can only be created in a nuclear reactor. 

In 2010, a documentary reported that Burma had a nuclear weapons program, and a U.N. report that year accused North Korea of exporting nuclear technology to Burma, Iran and Syria. The Nuclear Threat Initiative, a think tank that tracks nuclear proliferation, does not assess that Burma has a nuclear weapons program, despite previous accusations.

Iran has enriched uranium to 84% purity, which is just shy of the weapons-grade 90% threshold. Tehran denies that it is pursuing a nuclear weapon, but the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency says there is no civilian use for the levels of enrichment that Iran is undertaking.

Wednesday’s Justice Department charging documents do not indicate that Ebisawa was ever actually in contact with any real Iranian officials. He was arrested in New York.

Ebisawa and a co-conspirator will be arraigned in federal court in the Southern District of New York on Thursday. He has been indicted on eight felony counts, including international trafficking of nuclear materials and conspiracy to acquire, transfer and possess surface-to-air missiles, and faces multiple potential life sentences. 

He has pleaded not guilty and is being held in a federal jail in Brooklyn.

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    February 21, 2024

A poll of registered N.Y. voters suggests that a majority of Jews in the state intends to vote for former U.S. president Donald Trump in the presidential election in November.

N.Y. Jews now favor Trump to U.S. President Joe Biden 53% to 44%, according to the Siena College poll, released on Tuesday. Jews in the state said that they intend to continue to back Democrats over Republicans 54% to 39% in congressional elections.

The poll has an overall margin of error of 4.2 percentage points in either direction, which means that a gap of 8.4 percentage points could potentially be dead even.

Jews made up just eight percent of the large sample size: 806 people. That means the margin of error for the some 65 Jewish respondents would be potentially much larger than 4.2 percentage points. 

Mark Mellman, president of Democratic Majority for Israel, told JNS that “the margin of error for Jews in the Sienna poll is plus or minus 13 points on each number.”

“This poll tells us very little about how New York Jews will vote,” he said.

Mellman expects Biden, who “has been uniquely supportive of Israel,” to do well with Jews, as did Democrat Tom Suozzi, who beat Mazi Pilip earlier this month in a N.Y. congressional election.

Sam Markstein, national political director at the Republican Jewish Coalition, sees things differently. Markstein wrote on Wednesday that the poll reflected a shift among Jewish voters.

“Jewish voters moving towards the GOP is a clear trend, long in the making,” he wrote. He cited Lee Zeldin’s comparative success attracting Jewish votes in the 2022 N.Y. gubernatorial election.

Zeldin, who is Jewish and an RJC board member, did particularly well in New York’s Orthodox Jewish communities. 

He won upstate Rockland County, which has the largest per capita Jewish population of any U.S. county, by 12 points. He also garnered 88% of the vote in New York City’s 48th Assembly District, which includes the heavily-Chassidic Borough Park neighborhood.

That wasn’t good enough for Zeldin to win, however, as Gov. Kathleen Hochul was re-elected by a 6% margin.

The Siena poll does not suggest that even an increasingly Republican-friendly Jewish community could flip the state red, as the poll has Biden beating Trump overall 48%-36%.

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    February 21, 2024
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Rivka Herzfeld loves the idea that Jewish law calls for new dishes to be dipped in a mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath, and that one thanks God before using such utensils. The resident of Teaneck, N.J. just needs a way to access the water.

Herzfeld uses a motorized scooter to get around, which means that the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Pashut Solutions, which helps venues become more accessible for those with disabilities, needs a ramp to access the mikvah.

That’s not something upon which she and others with physical disabilities can always count.

February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, and Rebecca Schrag Mayer, director of Yachad New York, told JNS that it represents “an opportunity to amp up what we’re always doing.”

“The point of this month is an invitation to everyone to take a step back,” she said. “Just to realize who isn’t there and something small we can do to make everyone feel comfortable.”

Yachad, an agency of the Orthodox Union, dedicated to “enriching the lives of Jewish individuals with disabilities and their families,” created a calendar for the month with each day assigned its own theme.

Feb. 2 encouraged using “inclusive body language,” and Feb. 6 recommended attending shiurim, or Torah classes. Feb. 16 called for people to learn brachot, or blessings, in sign language. Feb. 25 is “disabilities in media.” Along with these themed days, the Yeshiva University book sale is going on from Feb. 4 to Feb. 26.

Wheelchair Accessibility
Ramp to assist accessibility for those in wheelchairs. Credit: AndrzejRembowski/Pixabay.

‘They do it because it’s the right thing’

Erica Baruch consults with nonprofits, including religious organizations, and helps 12 Jewish organizations in the Denver and Boulder areas of Colorado with accessibility and inclusion, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Baruch told JNS that religious organizations do not need to comply legally with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. “They do it because it’s the right thing,” she said.

“Accessibility is really important because if you can’t get into the building, if you can’t use the bathroom, then you can’t be there,” she said. “You can’t be part of the community.”

Mezuzah
Mezuzahs can be hung lower on walls to allow easier access for all. Credit: BRBurton23/Pixabay.

Automatic door openers can be useful for those who need them, but they can conflict with a synagogue’s or other Jewish organization’s security needs, particularly in the midst of surging antisemitism. When considering security, Jewish organizations should also remember that there need to be ways for those with disabilities to evacuate quickly, in the event of a fire, active shooter or other emergency, Baruch said.

Among the ways that some synagogues have sought to become more accessible are ramps leading up to the bimah; sound systems that are compatible with different sorts of implants for hearing; wheelchair-accessible sanctuary seating; and renovated bathrooms.

Herzfeld told JNS that others—pregnant women, the elderly, parents of young children in strollers, anyone with an injury—can also benefit from accessible shul buildings.

Yachad recommends that synagogue leaders consider widening aisles in sanctuaries to accommodate wheelchairs, large-print prayer books and mechanisms to facilitate those with physical impairments being called up to the Torah or opening the ark.

Many changes don’t require significant funds, according to Baruch.

One religious school moved a student’s classes to the main floor since the student was unable to ascend or descend stairs, she said. Lowering mezuzahs or adding a mezuzah at a lower height (traditional observers often touch them and say a blessing), also doesn’t cost much.

“The things that you can do without major fundraising, you do,” she said. “And you talk about it. You talk about why you’re lowering the mezuzahs. You talk about why you’re holding services in the social hall.”

“You raise awareness, and the hope is that builds momentum,” she said.

Herzfeld’s synagogue spent $1,500 turning a step from the sanctuary women’s section to an elevator into a ramp, allowing a smoother path for her scooter. That wasn’t free, and it took three days to complete, but it was a substantially cheaper fix than leveling the entire women’s section, she said.

‘Finding places where everyone belongs’

A survey of more than 2,300 Jews released in November 2021 found that 31% percent thought the Jewish community was doing “extremely” or “very” well, including those with disabilities in synagogues and Jewish organizations, and at communal events. More than four in 10 (41%) thought the Jewish community was doing “somewhat” well, according to the survey by the nonprofit RespectAbility.

Jewish Boy in Wheelchair at Mikvah
A young Jewish boy in a wheelchair is lowered into the water at the Mikve Tehera in Efrat, Israel. Disabled in wheelchairs will, with the help of new electronic equipment as the facility modernizes its utilities, be able to bathe in the mikvah. Aug. 17, 2016. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90.

“When asked where the community found the ‘most access and inclusive environment’ and where they found the ‘most challenges for access and inclusion’ of people with disabilities, the largest response was the same for both questions—synagogues,” per the survey.

More than one in five (21%) said that “synagogues have the most access while 18% said synagogues have the most challenges,” according to RespectAbility. “This follows multiple efforts to expand inclusion at synagogues and demonstrates the inconsistencies in disability inclusion among varied institutions.”

Mayer told JNS that the isolation that came with the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns reversed progress made over the more than 15 years she has been at Yachad.

“We were so focused on expanding our circle and finding places where everyone belongs,” she said, of the pre-pandemic days. Then lockdown restrictions came.

“The first people you’re limiting are the outliers,” she told JNS.

When restrictions lifted on the size of religious gatherings, many synagogues retained a mindset that they had developed—faster and quieter prayer services, with less singing and dancing. The faster clip posed challenges to those who already struggled to keep up, Mayer said.

Baruch added that “the more we talk about it, the more we raise awareness about the different disabilities that exist in our community.”

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  • Words count:
    962 words
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  • Publication Date:
    February 21, 2024

Who is a Kohen, a Jewish priest? Technically speaking, of course, the Kohen is a member of the priestly tribe of Israel descended from Moses’s brother Aaron and Aaron’s sons—the first Kohanim. Today, scientists claim to be able to detect the “Kohen gene” in those descendants’ DNA. It’s mind-boggling that, well over 3,000 years later, we can identify the descendants of a certain family and determine who is a Kohen through genetics.

But this is not only a question of discovering our biological lineage. There are often important halachic issues at play if one is a Kohen. As a member of the priestly tribe that once served in the Holy Temple, the Kohen is held to a higher standard in a number of areas of life. He may not act as a pallbearer at funerals and must keep his distance from graves. Nor is he permitted to marry a divorcee or a convert. Other rules apply as well.

As a rabbi, I’ve had my fair share of trying to establish with certainty whether someone is a Kohen or not in order to confirm, for example, whether he is allowed to marry a divorcee. I’ve done identity checks and genealogical searches, including trying to locate the tombstones of great-grandparents.

This week, in Parshat Tetzaveh, we read about the sacred vestments of the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol, and the ordinary priests. The High Priest looked quite majestic in his regalia. His ornamental garments included a decorative robe, tunic, turban, breastplate, apron and gold headband. He cut a very impressive figure indeed when he entered the Temple. 

But believe it or not, according to Maimonides, every Jew is a Kohen.

Just before the Ten Commandments and the great Revelation at Sinai, God told Moses that He had a mission for the Israelites: “You will be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

So, the entire Jewish people was given a mission on the mountain. We are all expected to be singular people with a particular mission. We have been made messengers of God, a “light unto the nations,” and to make the world a better place in every way we can. We are all part of the “kingdom of priests” and together we are called upon to be a “holy nation.”

But what does “holy” mean? The dictionary definition is “sacred, dedicated or consecrated to God or a religious purpose.” Personally, I have always preferred translating “holy” as “distinctively different.” 

Not every Jew is a genetic Kohen. The vast majority are not. But according to Maimonides, we can all be a Kohen spiritually.

In his magnum opus Mishneh Torah, at the end of the Laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, Maimonides states:

What differentiated the tribe of Levi [which the priestly tribe comes from] was that they were designated and set apart from the ways of the world. They do not receive land, nor do they acquire for themselves through their physical power. Instead, they are the Legionnaires of God.

And not only the tribe of Levi exclusively, but anyone whose spirit generously motivates him and he understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before God to serve Him. … Proceeding justly as God intended, removing from his neck the yoke of the many material schemings which people seek, such a person is sanctified as holy of holies.

So, figuratively speaking, everyone can be a Kohen. By dedicating our lives to a higher purpose, to more noble pursuits, we become part of the “kingdom of priests” whether our father was a Kohen or not.

If you weren’t convinced that Israel and the Jews have a special place in the world, all you need to do is read the headlines. That the whole world is so preoccupied with Israel, that they ignore the real atrocities and genuine genocides around the world in China, Russia, Syria, Iran and elsewhere, actually proves that we are distinctly different.

Why do we attract the world’s undivided attention? It’s not normal. As Douglas Murray put it recently, “Israel is the only country who isn’t allowed to win a war.” Clearly, we are an exceptional people.

Many times in the past, however, Jews have been described as “a messenger who forgot the message.”

If we did, then Oct. 7 reminded us. It was a horrible wake-up call, but the mission is now well remembered. We got the message loud and clear. Even secular, unaffiliated Jews have woken up to the eternal reality of their true, inner identity; their separateness from the mainstream and their distinctive differentness.

But we must never allow that distinctiveness to be defined by victimhood. We must be what we were meant to be: Nothing less than the moral conscience of the world.

In the Book of Kings, seeking to guarantee that her son Solomon will inherit the throne, Bathsheba says to her husband King David, “The eyes of all of Israel are upon you.” 

Eighty years ago, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, then the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe, told his troops just before D-Day, “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”

So it is with our brave defenders today. And not only our valiant warriors, but all of us must remember the message and the mission.

With faith and fortitude, we must recommit ourselves to our national calling of being “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

And as G-d promised to look after the tribe of Levi, his “legionnaires,” so will He keep all of us—especially our soldiers and the hostages—safe and secure, forever enveloped by His loving and protective embrace. Amen.

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  • Words count:
    239 words
  • Type of content:
    Update Desk
  • Byline:
  • Publication Date:
    February 21, 2024
  • Media:
    1 file

New data shows that an effort by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to respond to antisemitism in higher education has led to nominal results so far.

In January, DeSantis announced an “emergency measure” during Florida’s State of the State address that would allow Jewish students and others experiencing religious discrimination to potentially receive in-state tuition, with application fees waived, as part of the process. 

He said of the measure that “the pro-Hamas activities and rampant antisemitism we’ve witnessed throughout the country on these campuses has exposed the intellectual rot that has developed on so many university campuses over the years.”

At the same time, the Republican governor acknowledged in his address that those considering a move “will have a tough decision to make—pack up and leave, or stay and endure continued hatred.”

According to state records, at least five individuals have expressed interest in transferring. It’s not clear if any or all are Jewish.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani said she thought the measure was “more political than actually intentional.”

JNS contacted DeSantis’s office and was referred to the Florida Department of Education.

Amy Farnum-Patronis, director of the office of university communications for Florida State University in Tallahassee, confirmed that the school had one application via the executive order.

Althea Johnson, director of media relations at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said one student is going through the transfer for the summer semester.

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  • Words count:
    49 words
  • Type of content:
    Video Page
  • Byline:
  • Publication Date:
    February 21, 2024

JCPA president Dan Diker and Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh discuss how radical fundamentalists have been pouring money into Middle East studies programs on U.S. campuses for decades. They also analyze the use of U.S. charities to funnel money for terrorism.

https://youtu.be/Vv89RFmrw3c
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https://youtu.be/Vv89RFmrw3c
  • Words count:
    697 words
  • Type of content:
    Opinion
  • Byline:
  • Publication Date:
    February 21, 2024

It’s challenging to remember life in Israel before the Simchat Torah massacre of Oct. 7., but it’s possible. We can remember the horrid Yom Kippur, just 12 days before the massacre, that required police to control and then stop a prayer service. For over a year beforehand, Israelis were at each other’s throats over proposed judicial reforms. Lines were drawn between right and left, religious and secular, north and south, the center and the periphery.

On Oct. 7, however, we realized that in a divided society everyone is distracted from keeping us safe and secure. Hamas saw an opening and took advantage of it.

Since Oct. 7, Israel changed in many ways. Most importantly, it changed from a divided to a united nation. Israelis from all walks of life came together to serve in IDF reserve units, send supplies to soldiers and refugees, and pray together in mass gatherings.

In early November, an iconic photo went viral on Israeli social media. It showed attorney Ran Bar-Yoshafat, the vice president of the Kohelet Policy Forum that advocated for judicial reform, standing with his arm over the shoulder of Gideon Segev, an activist with Brothers in Arms, the lead organization opposing judicial reform. They were both dressed in their IDF uniforms, rifles slung from their shoulders. They were united against Israel’s enemies.

This unity was refreshing and inspiring. Over multiple elections over the last several years, Israel’s political polarization seemed irreparable. Yet the impossible occurred: Politics gave way to unity. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz even set aside their differences and created a landmark agreement to establish an emergency wartime government. Almost all Israeli politicians refused to play the blame game and focused on fighting the enemy together.

The war isn’t over yet, but the question of whether Israel can win is no longer being asked. It’s clear that Israel isn’t just winning the war; it’s crushing the enemy. The IDF has killed over 12,000 Hamas terrorists. Over 70% of Hamas’s fighting force has been demolished. There are few Hamas strongholds left and its leaders are on the run. Israel’s soldiers have experienced unprecedented success.

Israel isn’t only winning on the battlefield; it’s winning the diplomatic war as well. It has successfully staved off the usual demands for an immediate ceasefire. It has also won in the courts. South Africa’s charge of genocide and its request for a court order stopping Israel’s military operations were rejected by the International Court of Justice. There is bipartisan support for Israel in the U.S. Congress, with more than 20 Senate Republicans crossing party lines to vote for a Democratic bill that will help fund Israel’s war effort.

Just as Israel’s division resulted in its devastating losses on Oct. 7, its newborn unity has resulted in its military success. A unified nation is no longer distracted by the divisions that weaken it. It can focus its efforts, energies and resources on the country’s safety and security. Its leaders, soldiers and citizens can focus on preserving the nation’s values. It is strong.

It's unfortunate that such a devastating tragedy was necessary to unite the people of Israel. It would be easy to allow regret to overcome the nation. Instead, it’s time for the Jewish people to redouble their efforts to preserve our newfound unity.

It won’t be long before Israel’s leaders and the IDF declare victory over Israel’s enemies and the end of the war. There will be celebrations of victory and memorials for the heroes we lost. The post-war recovery will be shortened by convening commissions of inquiry and holding new elections. That is when the Israeli people must apply the lessons of Oct. 7.

If Israel has learned its lesson, it will come together and hold a civilized election while maintaining its essential unity. Thus, Israel will remain strong and secure. But if Israel hasn’t learned its lesson and unity dissipates, it will be weakened and less secure.

To avoid this, the Israeli people must incorporate the lesson of unity into their national soul and ensure that it remains eternal.

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  • Words count:
    857 words
  • Type of content:
    News
  • Byline:
  • Publication Date:
    February 21, 2024

Public school districts in Chicago and in the Boston area are under investigation for alleged violations of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the U.S. Department of Education announced.

Chicago Public Schools, which traces its origins to 1837 and now has 634 schools, nearly 325,000 students and nearly 45,000 employees and an $8.49 billion budget, and Natick Public Schools, in the Boston area, which has 5,300 students at nine schools, are being investigated for discriminating based on “shared ancestry,” which can include antisemitism.

The Education Department and its Office for Civil Rights don’t detail the nature of the allegations against the schools and districts that it lists weekly on its website.

Bella Wong, interim superintendent of Natick Public Schools, told JNS that the district received notification from the Education Department on Tuesday that there is an investigation “to assure the district adhered appropriately to protocols utilized to affirm and ensure the civil rights of our students are protected.”

“The Natick Public Schools is extremely committed to this endeavor. Annual training is mandated for all staff. Working together we are engaged proactively on a daily basis in all of our schools to ensure this is true for all of our students regardless of their race, creed, color, religion, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other class protected by law,” she said.

“To this end, we welcome working with the OCR on this review,” she said of the department’s Office for Civil Rights. 

JNS asked the district for further information about the allegations it faces, but the district did not respond by press time.

In March 2022, a swastika was found drawn in a bathroom at Natick High School, one of the district’s educational institutions. More recently, community members talked about Jew-hatred at a Dec. 18 meeting of the Natick School Committee. 

One speaker referred to “increases in hateful speech and graffiti” that is antisemitic, “as we’ve seen in many of our schools. We’re not safe in this world. Please tell me that we’re safe here.”

“For years, my family has talked to me about antisemitism, but I couldn’t relate, at least in this part of the country,” another speaker said. “However, when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, it took me a couple of weeks to catch up to what many people in the Jewish community already knew. Jewish people are in trouble. The following Friday when there were terror threats, I was scared to send my son to school for the first time in my life.”

“Please, if you see a swastika in school, tell a teacher, and I’m sure they haven’t wondered if upon hearing that a child found a swastika, would the teacher care or would they feel that Jewish students deserve it?” the person added. “Please say, we can trust the Natick public schools to keep Jewish children safe.”

Windy City 

Mary Fergus, executive director of media relations for Chicago Public Schools, told JNS, that the “safety and well-being of our staff and students is a top priority and a foundational condition for our school communities.”

“While we cannot go into detail about any particular report or investigation due to student and staff privacy protections, our Office of Student Protections and Title IX thoroughly reviews each report in accordance with district policy and procedures,” she said.

“As a system, we recognize that the ongoing conflict in the Middle East has led to an increase in antisemitic and anti-Muslim incidents,” she added. “While CPS actively works to promote student voice and protect students’ constitutional free speech rights, bias-based harm is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

The school district has “encouraged everyone to ensure their language and actions are respectful of their fellow school community members,” Fergus added. “Each one of us shares the responsibility to create a safe and welcoming working and learning environment, free from harassment and discrimination.”

In January, hundreds of Chicago public school students walked out of class to protest Israel’s war to destroy the Hamas terror organization. Writing about the Chicago City Council’s vote to demand a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip—which came after the mayor Brandon Johnson broke a 23-23 tie—The Wall Street Journal editorial board noted that Chicago Public Schools aided the resolution by letting students walk out for a ceasefire and that Johnson said he is “incredibly proud” of the students.

Chicago Public Schools is working with schools where walkouts occurred to train students about inclusive environments, and it held a Feb. 9 professional development session for staff and students at schools that had walkouts about current events, including in the Middle East, according to the district. The district also mandated Title VI training for all staff starting on Feb. 9.

The school district is also working with partners to update curricula that relate to antisemitism and the war in Gaza and it is verifying that all elementary and high schools are following state law that requires instruction about the Holocaust and genocide, and it sent out resources to leaders of schools about how to respond to violence in Israel, Gaza and Judea and Samaria, according to Chicago Public Schools.

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