How a March to Save Soviet Jews Changed America — and the World

By: Mikhail Fridman; jta.org

Former refuseniks Natan Sharansky, left, and Vladimir Slepak join Elie Wiesel and the American Jewish leader Shoshana Cardin at the march on Washington, D.C., in support of Soviet Jewry, Dec. 6, 1987. (Peter Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

(JTA) — Thirty years ago, Jews in the Soviet Union were not allowed to study Hebrew, eat kosher food, talk about Zionism, go to a synagogue or, most important, leave the country. If they tried to emigrate, they would almost certainly be refused, lose their jobs and be blackballed in their professions. They would then be put on trial and imprisoned for being unemployed.

Thirty years ago, American Jews understood that if Soviet Jews were being silenced, American Jews would have to be loud.

On Dec. 6, 1987, some 250,000 American Jews got very loud. They gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to protest the plight of their Soviet brethren on the eve of a U.S.-Soviet summit. Organizers weren’t sure the demonstrations would work – and there was real worry that a small
demonstration would do more damage than no demonstration at all. But after 25 years of tireless activism, American Jews gathered in huge numbers and used their voices to change history.

I came of age under a regime that barely tolerated and actively persecuted me, my family and my friends because of our heritage. The pre-summit protests showed the world that my community was not alone. The power of unified action won for us our fundamental freedoms.

Speaking at the event, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush called on Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to “let these people go.” The next day, President Ronald Reagan confronted Gorbachev with news of the protest, and the U.S. government began to focus on the plight of Soviet Jews in its exchanges with Soviet authorities. Reagan regularly carried lists of refuseniks into meetings, insisting that their circumstances be addressed. Slowly but surely the gates of Soviet Russia began to open, all the result of resolute advocacy by the American Jewish community. It is not exaggeration to say that the American Jewish community set my people free.

Many Jewish families can trace their presence in the U.S. directly to that day on the National Mall: PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, actress Mila Kunis, singer-songwriter Regina Spektor and Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelburg, among others. The scale of the eventual exodus from the Soviet Union to the U.S. was vast. Today, former Soviet Jews and their offspring account for 10 to 15 percent of the Jewish population in North America.

As a Jew brought up in Lvov in Ukraine, my gratitude toward the American Jews and the pride I feel in their accomplishment is immense. In 1987, Soviet Jews were only 40 years away from one of the worst genocides in world history – the Holocaust, whose scale and unfathomable cruelty in the
countries of the former USSR are not yet properly documented to this day. Many of us still carry the scars of that horror, as well as from Stalin’s purges and other violent anti-Semitism in many corners of the world.

Were it not for the 1987 march in Washington, whole families would have been lost, American society would have not been as enriched, and the world would have lost untold technological and cultural advances. None of this would have been possible had Jewish people and their leaders in America
decided instead to play it safe.

The struggle to achieve religious and cultural freedom has defined and shaped all of human history. Every generation, whether Jewish or not, must confront humanity’s bloody history and fight to achieve and maintain the freedoms that are rightfully ours. The world learned 30 years ago that it is
those choices that make the difference.

The lesson I carry with me on this anniversary is a powerfully uplifting one: When we unite behind the common good, when we stand up to danger, and when we join hands to take action, great things can happen. The Jewish community across the world, no matter where they or their grandparents
call home, should look back to the 1987 march on Washington with pride and a renewed sense of purpose. Together we called on the world to let our people go – and our people were freed.

 

After Second Incident, Swedish Anti-Semitism Watchdog Warns of Wave of Attacks

jta.org

Police arrive after a synagogue was attacked in a failed arson attempt in Gothenburg, Sweden, Dec. 9, 2017. (Adam Ihse/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) — In the aftermath of a second anti-Semitic attack this week in southern Sweden, the spokesman for a local watchdog group said the Jewish community must be vigilant but will not go underground.

Willy Silberstein, spokesman for the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism, spoke to JTA on Monday hours after an incident in Malmo in which police said they discovered traces of a flammable fluid near a Jewish cemetery that they suspect had been targeted by arsonists.

“There is a wave of anti-Semitic attacks right now, and I suspect this won’t be the last incident,” Silberstein said.

A spokesman for the Swedish police said there were no suspects in custody in connection with the incident.

On Saturday night, several men hurled firebombs at a synagogue in the nearby city of Gothenburg hours after hundreds marched through the city in protest of the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday in a White House announcement by President Donald Trump. Three arrests were made.

Notwithstanding the incidents, the capital of Stockholm will have a public lighting of a Hanukkah menorah in a central square on Wednesday, Silberstein said.

“People are advised to be vigilant but normal life continues, even under increased police protection, which we received this week,” he said of the centers of the Jewish community of Stockholm, where some 18,000 Jews live.

Swedish police reportedly have tightened security near Jewish sites throughout the country in the wake of the two attacks.

Silberstein said wearing a kippah in Stockholm is relatively safe, “but there are some areas of Malmo where I wouldn’t advise it.”

Following the attack in Gothenburg, some observers, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, linked the incidents to the Swedish government’s perceived hostile attitude toward Israel. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom last year said that killings of Palestinians who attempted to carry out terrorist attacks against Israelis were “extrajudicial executions.”

But Silberberg rejected the claim, saying authorities have done much to protect Swedish Jews from attacks, whose perpetrators are often Arab or Muslim.

“Maybe more could have been done,” he said, “but generally speaking the Swedish authorities have taken necessary measures.”

The attacks in Sweden followed a violent assault on a kosher restaurant in Amsterdam Thursday and chants in Arabic about killing Jews that were heard in Vienna, London and Berlin, as well as in Malmo at protest rallies against U.S. recognition of Israel’s capital. In France, the boycott of Israel was promoted at two protest rallies, in Paris and Lyon. The rally in Paris featured calls to free Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons on murder charges, who were celebrated at that rally as “heroes.”

The Amsterdam attack ended with the arrest of a 29-year-old Palestinian waving his national flag who smashed the eatery’s windows, broke in while staff was inside and took out a flag of Israel that was hanging in the restaurant. Two police officers who watched his actions with passers-by arrested him as he exited the restaurant.

Ronny Naftaniel, a board member of the CEJI organization for education against hatred and a former director of the Dutch CIDI watchdog on anti-Semitism, criticized the Dutch judiciary for a draft indictment of the man, who admitted the actions attributed to him, because it did not contain a reference to his actions as a hate crime. He is to be charged with vandalism and theft, according to the Dutch media.

“When you enter a kosher restaurant, break in and take the Israeli flag, you are not committing a break-in,” Naftaniel wrote Monday on Twitter. “You are committing a hate crime.”

 

1 in 5 Brits Don’t Know Christmas Is Celebration of Jesus’ Birth: Poll

By: Michael Gryboski; christianpost.com

(PHOTO: SCREENSHOT/YOUTUBE/CHRISTMAS STARTS WITH CHRIST)

A recently released survey has found that about 20 percent of Britons do not know that Christmas Day is a celebration of Jesus’ birth.

The History Channel and Onepoll.com surveyed 2,000 British adults and found that one in five respondents did not know the true meaning of Christmas.

“Almost one in 20 thought Jesus was born over Easter — the holiday which is actually held to mark his death and subsequent resurrection,” reported the London Economic on Wednesday.

“Around one in 10 were unable to name Bethlehem as the town considered to be His place of birth while another 10 percent were unaware He was born in a stable.”

The poll was conducted in conjunction with the release of a documentary titled “The Real Jesus of Nazareth,” featuring actor Robert Powell.

“For many of us, Christmas is a festivity we all look forward to celebrating with our loved ones,” a History Channel spokesman told The Independent.

“But over time, it seems people are becoming more and more unaware about the real reason we mark the day and the story of Jesus.”

This is not the first time that a History Channel-sponsored survey conducted by OnePoll.com showed an apparent large-scale ignorance of the past among British citizens.

In October, the History Channel released a survey showing that many Britons were unaware of several basic facts pertaining to Wold War II.

“Despite its name, 43 percent were unaware the Battle of Britain was fought in British airspace,” the Sun reported earlier this year.

“And almost two-thirds could not name 1944 as the year of the D-Day landings. One in 10 even had no idea Adolf Hitler was involved in the war.”

Another survey released in April coducted by Onepoll.com on behalf of the History Channel found that of 2,000 respondents many had a poor understanding of the history of the Vikings.

“Almost four in 10 admit they believe the Vikings were just like the stereotype of ferocious raiders with blonde hair and big beards, but more than one in 10 aren’t convinced the Vikings even existed,” the Mirror reported last spring.

“One in four were also unaware the Vikings raided the U.K., with more than one in 20 believing they targeted south America instead.”

 

One Israeli Man’s Mission to Bring ‘Gospel Back to Jewish People’

By: Leslie Criss / Northeast Mississippi Daily Joural – Tupelo

A Jew? A Christian? A “Jew for Jesus”? Jacob Damkani isn’t as focused on his own mission as he is on challenging replacement theology.

Jacob Damkani

(TNS) – Jacob Damkani is a man on a mission. In his case, it’s a mission to his people: the Jews.

Damkani is the founder of Trumpet of Salvation to Israel, a Tel Aviv-based ministry whose goal is to “bring the gospel back to the Jewish people.”

The 65-year-old Damkani was in Tupelo, Mississippi, last week as part of his first trip back to the States in eight years, conducting interviews and promoting A New Spirit, a recently released movie adaptation of his life story.

Damkani is warm and intense, with a resonant baritone voice, a thick gray beard and curly hair. Compact and vigorous, he begins his days back home with a 5 am swim in the Mediterranean Sea.

As a young adult, he moved from Tel Aviv to Brooklyn, New York, and lived in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community before moving to Asbury Park, New Jersey, where he ran a gift shop.

“I got to be friends with Bruce Springsteen. It was before he became a big deal. He’d play at the Stone Pony, and we had a few conversations,” Damkani said in an interview from the studios of American Family Radio in Tupelo.

It was while living in New Jersey that Damkani made a profound shift in his beliefs, a shift that led him from Asbury Park to Woodland Hills, California – home to a religious community called Last Days, led by popular Christian recording artist Keith Green, who died in 1982.

Damkani lived in the community and studied under Green for a year in 1978, in the waning days of the Jesus Movement. A casual observer would say he became a Christian, but the keenly intelligent Damkani, never at a loss for words, whether in Hebrew or English, put a finer point on his change of heart.

“Wait a minute. When we say ‘Christian’ we think of another religion,” he said. “But the idea that Jesus came to establish a new religion is far from the truth. Jesus never intended to bring a new religion, and the church has to understand that Jesus is the natural continuation of God’s promises made to Israel. Men made a new religion of it, and the Jews will not accept a new religion. That is the obstacle for the Jews. I didn’t become a Christian if that means following a new religion. If it means a follower of Messiah, then OK, I’m a Christian.”

Damkani left the States and moved back to Israel in 1981, with his heart set on bringing this message to his people, and on helping others – especially Gentile believers – do the same. In 1984, he established Trumpet of Salvation to Israel. For 34 years, the group has been teaching Gentile believers how to reach Israeli Jews in a culturally sensitive and effective way.

Damkani said part of the challenge is helping non-Jewish believers understand the Jews’ natural resistance to Christianity.

“The mind of the Jews doesn’t see Christianity as followers of Messiah, but as a new religion; one that betrayed the God of Israel and Israel as a people,” he said. “When it comes to my people, Christianity is just another religion – the enemy of the Jews who have persecuted them all the way from the Crusades to the Inquisition to the pogroms and the Holocaust. Hitler is associated with Christianity, and Hitler quoted Martin Luther a number of times.”

Damkani said it can be a daunting task to train Gentile Christians to see Western Christianity from a Jewish perspective – a task which requires some deprogramming from the “replacement theology” taught in many churches.

“You cannot really blame the Jews for their hostility,” Damkani said. “For 2,000 years the church told them they aren’t relevant anymore. It’s all based on replacement theology, which is big in the church: the idea that God has sent the Jews away and now Christianity is for the Gentiles. The church has been blind to the place of Israel in the glorious final salvation and the kingdom to come on earth. Messiah didn’t come to replace Israel, he came to open the door, to reconcile all men to God, first to the Jews and then the Gentiles.”

If Western Christians are to make inroads with Israeli Jews, Damkani said they must first acknowledge the part the church has played in alienating them.

“The tragedy is the Gentile world, the church, has done everything it can to do away with Israel and to take Jesus for themselves. Gentiles need to say, ‘Please forgive us for what we have made of Jeshua, for making a blonde, blue-eyed Jesus and for turning the feasts that he celebrated into Easter and Christmas. He had nothing to do with that,” he said.

When Damkani finishes his American visit, he’ll return to Tel Aviv, and to the work he has devoted the past 34 years to, a work he describes as “a double-edged sword.”

“The task we have now is to open the eyes of the Jews to accept Jesus for who he is,” he said, “and to open the eyes of the Gentiles – the saints from the nations – to their calling to Israel.”

 

Steven Spielberg: A Legend Behind the Camera

By: Amy Spiro; jpost.com

In new HBO documentary about his life, Steven Spielberg discusses his Jewish upbringing, his illustrious career and the movie that changed his life forever.

Steven Spielberg on the set of “Schindler’s List.”. (photo credit:HBO)

You can’t discuss film directing without mentioning his name.

Over his illustrious 50-year-career, Steven Spielberg has created some of the most iconic, beloved and critically acclaimed films ever made.

And now he has taken a turn on the other side of the camera lens, sitting for hours of interviews as part of the new HBO biography and documentary Spielberg.

Documentarian Susan Lacy has pieced together interviews with the director himself, his siblings, parents and colleagues over the years, interspersed with film footage and behind the scenes videos to create a comprehensive look at Spielberg’s life. The result is a two-and a- half hour glimpse into the director’s Hollywood career, from his first professional job at age 21 to his numerous box office hits and critical successes. It is telling of the breadth of his career that 150 minutes doesn’t serve as enough time to touch on dozens of his films.

The 70-year-old is a congenial interview subject, discussing the highs and lows of his career as well as his childhood and personal life with ease.

A who’s who of Hollywood – after all, who hasn’t worked with Spielberg – weighs in as well, including his close friends and compatriots Martin Scorsese, JJ Abrams, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. Actors Richard Dreyfus, Tom Hanks, Leonardo Dicaprio, Drew Barrymore, Liam Neeson, Dustin Hoffman and Daniel Day Lewis all show up to discuss their time on set with the legendary director.

The lengthy but jam-packed documentary weaves its way through Spielberg’s illustrious career, from his first big hit with Jaws, to the iconic E.T. and Jurassic Park and the critically-acclaimed The Color Purple and Saving Private Ryan. While Spielberg has been one of the most respected filmmakers in Hollywood, he didn’t shy away from creating feel-good box-office friendly franchises, like Men in Black (which he produced but didn’t direct) and Indiana Jones.

While for many years Spielberg shied away from his Jewish identity, he has long since embraced it as part of his life and his work.

“I don’t search for films consciously that have a spiritual core,” he said of his 1977 science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. “There’s a spiritual part of myself that happens to bleed over into the work,” he added, saying he often “will find things that inherently have something of a belief system that’s beyond our understanding.”

In the interview with Lacy, Spielberg said he believes in God, and reflected on the role faith had in his upbringing.

“I was raised Orthodox, and tradition has been a huge part of my family – religious studies and Hebrew school and bar mitzvas and bat mitzvas,” he said. “But we always lived in neighborhoods where there were no Jews and there was a real cultural divide in those days.”

The director said while growing up he “certainly experienced being excluded and picked on and discriminated against.” Those experiences, he said, led in part to him beginning to “deny his Jewishness… deny everything that I had accepted as a child.”

But when he married his second and current wife, Kate Capshaw, who converted to Judaism before the wedding, he underwent a return to the faith of his childhood.

Certainly career-wise, however, there was no film that connected Spielberg to the Jewish people more than the iconic 1993 Schindler’s List.

“It was, emotionally, the hardest movie I’ve ever made,” the director recounted.

“Nothing could prepare me for my first visit to Auschwitz… I knew this couldn’t be just another movie, and it couldn’t be like anything I’d ever directed before.”

The film left more than just an indelible legacy – and Spielberg’s first Academy Award – it spurred the director to set up the Shoah Foundation.

That organization, founded with the profits of Schindler’s List (“I couldn’t take any proceeds from the film”), created an archive of filmed testimony by Holocaust survivors.

But the impact it had on Spielberg’s own life was also immeasurable.

“The experience of making Schindler’s List made me reconcile with all of the reasons… I hid from my Jewishness,” he said. “And it made me so proud to be a Jew.”

More than a decade later, the director tackled another – more controversial – film with 2005’s Munich.

That movie told the story of the Mossad’s secret plot to avenge the deaths of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.

After 11 Israeli athletes were murdered at the games by PLO terrorists, Israel embarks on a mission to kill the 11 PLO operatives involved in the murders.

“I knew it would be controversial from the very get-go,” Spielberg said. He noted that the film explored the ideas of revenge and its justification, leaving viewers with murky feelings on the morality of retribution.

“Munich is a prayer for peace,” he said. “But peace the hard way, peace by discovering within yourself your moral high ground.”

Spielberg airs in the United States on Saturday October 7. It will be available on YesVOD and HOT VOD starting October 8 and air on October 13 at 10 p.m. on YesDocu and October 14 at 10 p.m. on HOT HBO.

 

Sandy Koufax and Yom Kippur: The Link that Lasts Forever

By: Marc Brodsky; jta.org

(JTA) – As Yom Kippur approaches, Jewish baseball fans hark back to the fall of 1965, when Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax said he would not take the mound in Game 1 of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins.

Mind you, this was no ordinary pitcher. Koufax dominated on the hill that season for Los Angeles and would be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Koufax, now in his early 80s, and his choice would go down in Jewish lore, to be recalled annually on the Day of Atonement – or perhaps whenever his coreligionists have a tough call to make.

“There was no hard decision for me,” he would say later in an ESPN documentary released in 2000. “It was just a thing of respect. I wasn’t trying to make a statement, and I had no idea that it would impact that many people.”

Learn more about Koufax’s story in the video above.

 

Israel shuts down for Yom Kippur

By: TOI Staff; timesofisrael.com

Roads and airwaves fall silent, but security and rescue services remain on high alert.

Israelis ride their bicycles on a car-free highway on Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv, Friday, Sept 29. 2017. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Israel shut shut down on Friday for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

All flights in and out of Ben Gurion airport ceased at 1:35 p.m., while public transport gradually halted with buses and trains stopping their routes until after the fast day.

As sundown approached all local radio and television broadcasts gradually fell silent.

Yom Kippur begins Friday at sundown and ends Saturday night.

 

It is marked with a 25-hour fast and intense prayer by religious Jews, while more secular Israelis often use the day to ride bicycles on the country’s deserted highways.

Thousands of worshipers crowd the Western Wall in Jerusalem for traditional selihot prayers the day before Yom Kippur, October 10, 2016. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Security and rescue services, however, remain on high alert.

For the Magen David Adom Rescue service, Yom Kippur is one of the busiest days of the year with hundreds of extra medics, paramedics, ambulances and volunteers deployed across the country.

Most injuries over Yom Kippur come from accidents on the roads as tens of thousands of children and teens take advantage of the deserted streets to ride their bicycles. Other common Yom Kippur injuries are caused by parents leaving children unattended outside synagogues and, of course, dehydration and complications from fasting.

Israelis ride their bicycles on empty roads in Tel Aviv, on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays. The photo was taken on October 3, 2014. (Danielle Shitrit/Flash 90)

However, the weather this year is expected to be relatively mild, with even some light rain expected in the north.

Meanwhile, the IDF imposed a closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Friday. The closure is expected to last until midnight on Saturday, “depending on a situational assessment,” the army said.

Israeli policeman stand guard as cement blocks are placed by Israeli security forces on a road linking the Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina and West Jerusalem, on Oct. 11, 2016, ahead of Yom Kippur (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

The closure is a routine procedure during Israeli and Jewish holidays. However, in a less common move, the military also announced that Palestinian workers would be barred from entering Jewish settlements in the West Bank — a measure that is not normally taken during closures. The army said special permission may be granted in some cases.

This additional restriction is likely tied to a terror attack on Tuesday morning, in which a Palestinian gunman hid among a group of laborers waiting to enter the Har Adar settlement, outside Jerusalem. When he was called to stop, the terrorist opened fire with a handgun, killing three security officers and wounding a fourth.

In addition, the Jewish high holiday season, which began last week with Rosh Hashanah, is generally seen by defense officials as a time of increased tension in the region, when the risk of terror attacks is higher.

 

Seals from Judean Kingdom Period Shed Light on Life in Ancient Jerusalem

By: Daniel Eisenbud; jpost.com

Some of the seals are inscribed with biblical names, several of which are still used today, such as Pinchas.

A complete seal bearing the name “Achiav Ben Menachem.”. (photo credit:ISRAELI ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY/ CLARA AMIT)

A rare collection of ancient seals inscribed with the names of officials dating to the Judean Kingdom prior to the Babylonian destruction has been unearthed near the Old City’s walls during excavations conducted by the Antiquities Authority.

Dozens of seals, made of small pieces of clay used to officially close letters, were well preserved in the City of David and serve as evidence of their owners.

According to Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, directors of the excavation funded by the Ir David Foundation (Elad), the seals illustrate the advanced administrative underpinnings of Jerusalem during the First Temple period.

“The earliest seals bear mostly a series of pictures,” the archeologists said on Monday.

“It appears that instead of writing the names of the clerks, symbols were used to show who the signatory was, or what he was sealing.”

Dr. Joe Uziel with ancient seals at the City of David. (Eliyahu Yania/ The City of David)

During later stages of the period – from the time of King Hezekiah (approximately 700 BCE) and up to the destruction of Jerusalem, in 586 BCE – the seals bear the names of clerks in early Hebrew script.

“Through these findings, we learn not only about the developed administrative systems in the city, but also about the residents and those who served in the civil service,” they noted.

Some of the seals are inscribed with biblical names, several of which are still used today, such as Pinhas.

“One particularly interesting seal mentions a man by the name of Ahiav Ben Menahem,” they said.

“These two names are known in the context of the Kingdom of Israel: Menahem was a king of Israel, while Ahiav does not appear in the Bible, but his name resembles that of Ahav [Ahab] – the infamous king of Israel from the tales of the prophet Elijah.”

Although the spelling of the name, “Ahiav,” differs somewhat from “Ahav,” they said it appears to be the same name.

“The version of the name that appears on the seal discovered, Ahiav, appears as well in the Book of Jeremiah in the Septuagint, as well as in Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 15:7-8),” they said.

Chalaf and Uziel added that the appearance of the name “Ahiav” is interesting for two main reasons.

“First, because it serves as further testimony to the names that are familiar to us from the Kingdom of Israel in the Bible, and which appear in Judah during the period following the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel,” they said.

“These names are part of the evidence that after the exile of the Tribes of Israel, refugees arrived in Jerusalem from the northern kingdom, and found their way into senior positions in Jerusalem’s administration.”

While Ahab is portrayed as a negative figure in the Bible, his name continues to be in use, albeit in a differently spelled version.

“It was used both in Judea during the latter days of the First Temple, as reflected in Jeremiah and on the seal; and also after the destruction in the Babylonian exile, and up until the Second Temple period, as seen in the writings of Flavius Josephus,” the researchers said.

The stamps, along with other archeological findings discovered during recent excavations, will be exhibited to the public for the first time at the 18th City of David research conference, the annual archeological conference held by the Megalim Institute, on September 7 at the City of David National Park.

 

Israel to Offer Mexico Aid, Approves $1 Mill for Houston Jewish Community

By: Herb Keinon; jpost.com

The prime minister is set to meet with Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto on Wednesday, in a “historic” visit to Latin America.

The helmet of an Israeli soldier and member of an aid delegation is seen as he waits for a flight to Nepal at Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv, Israel April 26, 2015.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Israel extended offers of aid Sunday to the US and Mexico following a string of devastating natural disasters.

The government unanimously approved a proposal at the weekly cabinet meeting put forward by Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett for a $1 million aid package to help rebuild Jewish institutions in Houstonhit badly by Hurricane Harvey.

“This is a time for the Jewish State to help our Diaspora brothers at their time of need,” Bennett said. “They helped us when we needed it, it is our turn to help them.”

Bennett said the funds, which which will go to assist in the rebuilding of schools, synagogues and the local JCC that were damaged by the hurricane, are a “clear message about mutual responsibility.”

According to statement put out by Bennett, many of the schools and synagogues serving the 60,000-strong Jewish community cannot be used, and the community’s senior citizens home and JCC have suffered extensive water damage.

Regarding Mexico, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, set to leave for Latin America this evening, told the cabinet Sunday that when he meets Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto on Wednesday, he will offer Israel’s assistance to areas hit by the devastating earthquake there last Thursday.

Netanyahu said these are “not easy days for Mexico,” and sent his condolences to the victims of the disaster. At least 90 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the earthquake which badly hit the states of Tabasco, Oaxaca and Chiapas.

Netanyahu characterized his trip to Argentina, Colombia, Mexico — and from there to New York where he will address the UN General Assembly — as “historic,” inasmuch as it will be the first ever visit by a serving Israeli prime minister to South or Central America.

“This visit will strengthen our economic, security and technological ties with Latin America, and will constitute the continued strengthening of Israel’s position in the world, something we are leading in a successful and systematic manner,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nadav Argaman, the head of the Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet) briefed the cabinet before Netanyahu’s departure.

Netanyahu said before that briefing that the Shin Bent thwarted the efforts of more than 70 cells that were planning attacks. “Israeli citizens don’t know everything that the Shin Bet does,” he said. “I want to express my deep appreciation to the Shin Bet and all who deal with this important work for Israel’s security.”

 

Hebron’s Jewish Community Receives Separate Municipal Standing

By: Tovah Lazaroff; jpost.com

38 years after returning to the West Bank City, Hebron’s Jewish community has acquired the official status of an independent settlement.

PARTICIPANTS IN the annual Hebron march show the flag, with the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the background. (photo credit:TOVAH LAZAROFF)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman upgraded the municipal status of Hebron’s Jewish community, separating it from the Palestinian municipality, which governs the West Bank city.

Liberman announced the change in the status of the 1,000 Jews in Hebron during a briefing with reporters in Tel Aviv.

A 1997 agreement split the city, of what is now more than 220,000 Palestinians, leaving 80% under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority and 20% under Israel. But the Hebron Municipality is expected to provide basic services to the Jewish community, which has limited ability to government its own life.

The upgrade severs them from the Hebron municipality and allows them to independently seek services from the Civil Administration, which oversees civilian life in Area C of the West Bank.

The move was necessitated this year after the Palestinians in Hebron elected as their Mayor Sheikh Tayseer Abu Sneineh, who had been convicted and served time for his role in killing six Israelis in a terrorist attack.

“For years, Hebron’s Jewish residents lived without a municipal authority to take care of all the services required for normative civilian life,” said Deputy Defense Minister Eli Dahan (Bayit Yehudi). “After the election of a murderer for mayor of Hebron, the idea that they will receive these services from the municipality has become even more absurd.”

He added: “This is another important step in normalizing the lives of the Jews in Hebron, in particular, and in all of Judea and Samaria, in general.”

The upgrade comes during a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

In July, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization registered Hebron’s old town and the Tomb of the Patriarchs to the State of Palestine on its World Heritage List.

The inscription focuses on preserving the Muslim character of the 3,000-year-old-city with ties to three monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Most of Hebron’s Jewish community of close to 1,000 people, live in the city’s old town.

It also comes as the Defense Ministry is in the midst of fierce negotiations to sway 15 Jewish families in Hebron to peacefully evacuate Beit Hamachpela, a three-story apartment building they illegally moved into in July.

The families have worked for the last five years to register their property claim and have provided documentation to show that they purchased it from the Abu Rajab family, which disputes the claim and has filed a petition before the High Court of Justice, seeking the removal of the Jewish families.