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‘Britain’s Schindler’ to Receive Czech Honor

Sir Nicholas Winton saved more than 650 Jewish children from the Nazis

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Sir Nicholas Winton, who arranged for more than 650 children to leave Nazi Germany between March and September 1939, at the Prague premiere of 'Nicky's Family' on January 20, 2011.(MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images)

Between March and September 1939, British stockbroker Nicholas Winton saved more than 650 children, most of them Jewish, by arranging kindertransports from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovkia to the United Kingdom. Winton, the London-born son of German Jews, was moved to action after visiting Prague in December 1938 and seeing firsthand the worsening conditions for the country’s Jews. The undertaking often required falsifying documents or bribing officials, but Winton managed to orchestrate eight transports of children to the U.K. by the time World War II broke out in September 1939.

The children spared the fates that befell their families and friends during the Holocaust didn’t know who their benefactor was, as Winton never publicized his actions. It wasn’t until a BBC television special in 1989 invited an unsuspecting Winton to the studio that the now-grown children saved on Winton’s transports were able to thank him in person. (A documentary about Winton, Nicky’s Family, was released in 2011.)

Now the 105-year-old, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002, is being properly thanked by the Czech Republic. (more…)

Bas Relief Depicts Circumcision in Ancient Egypt

Relic from 2400 BCE  believed to be the oldest illustration of the ritual

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(Open Culture)

Male circumcision, particularly the Jewish ritual performed on week-old Jewish newborns known as a bris, has become in recent years a hotly debated practice, with proposed bans popping up across Europe and advocates, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, speaking out for and against the ancient ritual.

Just how ancient are we talking? (more…)

Fake Jerusalem Beach Gets Heated Response

Local ultra-Orthodox rabbi calls the new outdoor offering an ‘abomination’

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(Shutterstock)

An artificial beach opened last weekend in a restored train station complex in Jerusalem, drawing crowds of residents excited for a reprieve from the oppressive summer heat. The new addition to First Station—which also features restaurants, bars, and cafes, all of which remain open during Shabbat—has angered ultra-Orthodox locals, who object to both the beach’s un-kosher hours and potential for immodesty. According to Religion News Service, ultra-Orthodox rabbis lodged a complaint with city council arguing that “the beach will encourage unseemly behavior and desecration of the Jewish Sabbath.” (A surfing simulator is reportedly opening soon on the site.)

Haaretz reports that ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem rabbi Moshe Sternbuch went so far as calling the new recreational offering an “abomination, unheard of, where they frighteningly violate the sanctity of the Holy City.” (more…)

89-Year-Old Suspected Auschwitz Guard Arrested

Johann Breyer immigrated to the United States in 1952, lives in Philadelphia

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The railway tracks leading to the main gates at Auschwitz II - Birkenau seen December 10, 2004. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

U.S. authorities have arrested Johann Breyer, an 89-year-old suspected former guard at Auschwitz and Buchenwald currently living in Philadelphia, the New York Times reports. He has been charged with 158 counts of complicity in the commission of murder. The arrest is part of renewed German efforts to identify and arrest former Nazi guards, most of whom are now in their eighties and nineties—and an acknowledgment that time is very quickly running out to hold those responsible for Nazi crimes accountable in court. Germany is attempting to have Breyer extradited to Germany, where he would face trial.

Johann Breyer, a retired tool maker born in Czechoslovakia, is the oldest person ever accused of ties to the Third Reich by United States authorities who for decades have hunted for Nazis who escaped to America after the war. Mr. Breyer is accused of joining the Waffen SS at age 17 and working as a guard at the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. (more…)

IDF Arrests Palestinians Released in Shalit Deal

51 Palestinians freed in 2011 among 240 arrested in search for missing teens

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Israeli soldiers from a special army unit take part in a search operation for three Israeli teenagers believed kidnapped by Palestinian militants, on June 17, 2014 in the West Bank town of Hebron. (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

The massive search for three Israeli teens kidnapped last Thursday in the West Bank continues, with Israeli forces arresting a total of 240 Palestinians over the past few days in what they’re calling a large-scale crackdown on Hamas. Of the 65 Palestinians arrested in an overnight raid last night, JTA reports, were 51 former prisoners who were among the more than 1,000 Palestinians released as part of Israel’s controversial 2011 deal to free Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas for more than five years.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement calling the arrests an “important message” for Hamas.

“The activities of the IDF and the Shin Bet last night, during which Hamas terrorists released in the agreement for the return of Gilad Shalit were arrested, send an important message and are a critical component in a series of operations whose purpose is to return the kidnapped boys, and damage Hamas’s infrastructure in Judea and Samaria.”

(more…)

Lack of Yiddish Translators Derails Bribery Case

Judge declares mistrial in corruption case against New York State Senator

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United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara announces federal corruption charges against New York State Senator Malcolm Smith and New York City Council member Daniel Halloran at a press conference April 2, 2013 in New York. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

In a surprising development, a federal judge has declared a mistrial in the ongoing corruption case against New York State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, the New York Times reports. Smith, a Queens Democrat, faced charges of bribing local Republican leaders to support a 2013 run for mayor as a Republican.

The judge approved the defense’s motion for a mistrial in both cases after several jurors on the case were unable to continue to serve on the jury through the middle of next month—the amount of time required for the translation of 300 wiretapped phone conversations (28 hours!) in Yiddish, which the government recently released and which Smith’s lawyers argued were pivotal to their client’s defense. Government prosecutors, meanwhile, called the tapes “completely innocent.” (more…)

Lemur at Israeli Zoo Predicts World Cup Winners

Max, a red-ruffed lemur, has gotten 7 of his 12 guesses correct so far

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A different red-ruffed lemur, who might not even like soccer at all. (Shutterstock)

The 2014 World Cup is underway in Brazil, which here in New York means soccer fans crowding sports bars at night and computer monitors by day, jersey-clad subway riders cursing weak cell phone signals while refreshing their smartphone livestream, and the occasional shouting of “GGGGOOOOAAAALLLL!” from an apartment/office/cubicle down the hall. It also means quirky, heartwarming stories about animals who successfully predict winning teams.

The bar is set pretty high for animal oracles ever since Paul the Octopus correctly predicted the 2012 World Cup winner. (Paul died several months later at two-and-a-half years old, which Wikipedia says is a normal life span for an octopus, and was memorialized in today’s World Cup-themed Google Doodle.) But the Jerusalem Post reports on a new contender for the preternatural throne: a red-ruffed lemur in Tel Aviv named Max. (more…)

‘I’m More Jewish Than You Think I Am’

Texas Governor Rick Perry boasts Semitic street cred at Los Angeles deli

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference on May 31, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Rick Perry, the Texas governor and Republican presidential hopeful, is known for his staunch support of Israel. His approval of 2011 legislation that codified the right for a Texas home to display a mezuzah up to 24 inches long inspired a massive Rick Perry Mezuzah that sells for $999. Now, Perry has taken things a few steps further, sitting down with The Town author Mark Leibovich at a Los Angeles deli and telling him he’s more Jewish than the (Jewish) politics reporter might expect. (more…)

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: The Musical?

A 28-year-old Broadway actress takes on an unexpected new project

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Footbridge over Chłodna St. in the Warsaw Ghetto, 1942. (Wikimedia Commons)

One would be forgiven, upon hearing the words “Warsaw Ghetto Uprising” and “musical,” for cringing—or at least cocking an eyebrow.

But Haley Swindal, the non-Jewish granddaughter of former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, is on a quest to bring Warsaw: A Musical Drama to Broadway audiences. The 28-year-old Broadway actress first encountered the show, written by William Wade with lyrics by John Atkins, when she was cast in it. The show had been performed in abbreviated form as a concert in synagogues, churches, and theaters, and on this past Tuesday, at the Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater as an industry concert Swindal hoped would showcase “how special this piece is and how special the story is of these heroes” to the New York theater community. (more…)

Search Continues For Missing Israeli Teens

Israeli forces arrest more than 200 Palestinians in crackdown on Hamas

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Israeli soldiers walk in a single file on a path during an operation in the West Bank town of Hebron on June 17, 2014 as Israeli forces broadened the search for three teenagers believed kidnapped by militants and imposed a tight closure of the town. (HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)

The search for three Israeli teenagers kidnapped last Thursday while hitchhiking continues as Israeli forces mobilize throughout the West Bank in search of 16-year-olds Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach, closing off towns and searching homes and vehicles. Soldiers arrested more than 40 Palestinians in an overnight raid, the AP reports, bringing the total number of arrests to more than 200. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly blamed Hamas for the kidnappings—and Israeli forces targeted its members for arrest—but the terrorist organization has not claimed responsibility.

Tuesday’s arrests brought the total number of Palestinians detained since the teens disappeared Thursday to over 200, most of them Hamas activists, the biggest West Bank crackdown on the militant group in almost a decade. Israel has vowed to exact a heavy price from Hamas, saying the aim of the military operation goes beyond searching for the boys. (more…)

World’s Largest Shabbat Draws 2,226 to Tel Aviv

The mega-dinner was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records

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World's largest Shabbat, in Tel Aviv on June 14, 2014. (Casey Kelbaugh)

History—at least the Guinness Book of World Records kind—was made in Israel this weekend, as more than two thousand people gathered for what was officially deemed the world’s largest Shabbat dinner. The record-breaking event, which was organized by White City Shabbat, drew an impressive crowd of 2,226 (with 3,000 more people on the waiting list) and required “800 bottles of wine, 80 bottles of vodka, 50 bottles of whiskey, 2,000 challah rolls, 80 long tables, 1800 pieces of chicken, 1,000 pieces of beef, 250 vegetarian portions,” according to the jubilant press release.

Guinness World Records adjudicator Pravin Patel, in town from London to oversee the record-setting attempt, called it at 11 p.m. according to Haaretz, the Guinness rules guiding the event were almost as strict as the halakhic ones.

All the attendees needed to be in their seats and served their first course by the waiters within five minutes, and then be at their tabled eating for a full hour. Table captains were appointed to make sure that the meal adhered to traditional Jewish customs for Shabbat, including the proper prayers, Kiddush, HaMotzei, and that no Jewish religious laws were broken.

(more…)

Hate Is Always Wrong—No Matter the Victim

PETA responds to Tablet’s article about the organization’s latest campaign

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PETA's 'Rights for All' banner in Washington, D.C. (Photo by James Kirchick)

As an openly gay man and the senior vice president of campaigns for PETA (where I’ve worked since 1985), I’m perplexed by James Kirchick’s take on our “Rights for All” banner. Much of the gay community has long embraced animal issues. PETA’s most notable celebrity spokespeople have always included gay icons, including k.d. lang, members of The B-52s, Tim Gunn, the duo from Erasure, Martina Navratilova, Lady Bunny, and Alan Cumming. Gay kids know what it’s like to be bullied for being different, so it’s hardly surprising that many of us grow up speaking out against all forms of mindless prejudice—including prejudice against animals.

I first made this connection when I was in school, where I got beaten up for being gay. I vividly remember lying on the ground, gasping for breath, surrounded by other kids who were looking down at me and laughing. Around this same time, I went on a fishing trip and caught a large flounder. When I pulled the animal onto the boat, the fish was gasping for breath, too. At that moment, the flounder was the only other being I could relate to, and I realized that I had become the bully.

Just as it is always wrong to bully and abuse people simply because they’re different—whether they are Jews, women, gays or people of color—it is always wrong to abuse and oppress animals. (more…)

At Masada, Opera Gets a Powerful Backdrop

Israeli Opera performs La Traviata this week at the ancient fortress

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'La Traviata' performed at Masada. (Yossi Zwecker)

Unlike a lot of Jews, Israeli maestro Daniel Oren, now conducting the Israeli Opera’s production of La Traviata at Masada, never visited the iconic national symbol as a child. He said his mother was too busy shuttling him between lessons among Israel’s most talented musicians to give the prodigy a chance to go on frivolous hikes.

“I had a Jewish mother, that’s my problem,” Oren said in his dressing room, moments before the final dress rehearsal of the week-long Verdi run last Wednesday. “She decided that I should learn signing, composition, painting, piano, violin, cello, and then when I was 13 years old, conducting. So no friends, no friends for my mother also. She didn’t want friends also because, she said, ‘It will disturb my child’s studies.’ No hikes, no school trips, nothing, only study.”

Oren conducts regularly in leading opera houses in New York, Rome, Paris, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, and Venice and he is the artistic director of the Verdi Opera House in Salerno, Italy. He visited Masada with his family for the first time about six or seven years ago, he said. In 2009, in an ambitious move meant to rejuvenate flagging audiences, the Israeli Opera began staging operas at the historic site. Oren has directed all four productions: Nabucco (2010), Aida (2011), and Carmen (2012). The hulking mountain of Masada provides an unforgettable backdrop. (more…)

Presbyterian Minister to Israelis: ‘Come Home to America’

Advocate of Israel boycott tells Jews that America is ‘the Promised Land’

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America. (Shutterstock)

Jewish-Presbyterian tensions are high this week, as the Presbyterian Church (USA) votes at its General Assembly on divestment from Israel. Thus far, the assembled delegates have heard arguments in favor of the proposal from groups like the Israel/Palestine Mission Network and Jewish Voice for Peace, and arguments against from others like J Street, Reform Movement head Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and the American Jewish Committee.

And then there are the arguments of Reverend Larry Grimm of the Capitol Heights Presbyterian Church in Colorado, a longtime boycott advocate who apparently wants the Jews to get out of Israel.

In a Facebook posting yesterday that was quickly shared and seconded by other Presbyterians, some of whom are currently attending the Church’s General Assembly, Grimm patiently explained to Israelis that they ought to leave the historic Jewish homeland and “come home to America”:

America is the Promised Land. We all know this. Come to the land of opportunity. Quit feeling guilt about what you are doing in Palestine, Jewish friends. Stop it. Come home to America! (more…)

Eric Cantor’s Sermon

The House majority leader spoke at the Hampton Synagogue last weekend

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) arrives for a meeting with House Republicans at U.S. Capitol, June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Eric Cantor, the House majority leader who last week lost the Republican primary for the Virginia congressional district he’s led for seven terms, told CNN’s State of the Union that he had “no regrets” about his unexpected loss to little-known Tea Party candidate Dave Brat, Time reports.

“We don’t always know right here and now why,” he said during a Sunday appearance on CNN‘s State of the Union. “And I think the perspective of time will actually indicate [how] something that may have seemed really bad at the time can turn out to be really good.”

His Sunday comments, tinged with the Bible Belt religiosity he honed successfully for years as a Jewish congressman in Virginia (read Allison Hoffman’s 2011 profile for more on Cantor’s distinctly Southern brand of Judaism), came on the heels of an address he made the previous day which offered a more, well, Jewish message. (more…)

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