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Longtime U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dies at 83

Samuel M. Lewis helped broker the 1978 Camp David Accords

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Former Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat shakes hands with former Israeli Premier Menachem Begin as former US President Jimmy Carter looks on, September 6, 1978 at Camp David.(KARL SCHUMACHER/AFP/Getty Images)

Samuel M. Lewis, the longest-serving U.S. ambassador to Israel, died Monday at 83, JTA reports. Lewis served as ambassador to Israel from 1977 to 1985, under Presidents Carter and Reagan, and was a key figure in brokering the 1978 Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

Lewis, who wasn’t Jewish, earned the nickname Shmuel Levi from former Israeli defense minister Ezer Weizman due to his interest in Israeli culture and his involvement in communications between the U.S. and Israel. (more…)

Jay Leno Is the New Israel

Bill Maher delivers mortal offense by comparing comic to Jewish state

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Comedian Jay Leno speaks during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington, DC, on May 1, 2009.(Olivier Douliery /ABACAUSA.COM)

BDS, I can take. Anti-Semitic assholes rocking a Nazi salute? I’ll happily fight that. But to have my country compared to Jay Leno is the kind of insult from which I don’t know if my national pride would ever be able to recover.

Inducted into the TV Hall of Fame last night, Leno was introduced by Bill Maher, who seemed to have the perfect analogy in mind with which to capture the essential loathsomeness of Leno. (more…)

Swastikas Graffitied on Stockholm High School

Locals say anti-Semitic vandalism the work of organized neo-Nazi groups

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Stockholm school vandalized with swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans (@CalleNathanson)

On Monday morning, students at the Vasa Real high school in Sweden’s capital of Stockholm were greeted by an ugly sight: spray-painted swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans like “disgusting Jews” and “Jewish swine.” Though not a Jewish institution, the school does offer Hebrew and other Jewish studies classes, and is attended by many Jewish students. The parent of one of them, Calle Nathanson, posted pictures of the vandalism online, and wrote that they were far from an isolated incident. (more…)

Barnard Yanks Pro-Palestinian Banner

College administration removes sign advertising Israel Apartheid Week

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Columbia University student group banner reading, "Stand for Justice, Stand for Palestine." (Photo by the author)

A banner featuring a green, borderless depiction of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip was hung at the entrance to Barnard College last night. The banner, which read, “Stand for justice, stand for Palestine,” was created by the Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine as the kick-off to their annual Israel Apartheid Week, and was displayed alongside Barnard’s official emblem in a space traditionally used to advertise campus events such as film festivals or dance performances.

By midnight, news of the banner had gone viral on campus. (more…)

Fleeing Crimea for Crown Heights

Chabad emissary forced to leave her community amidst Russian occupation

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Leah Lipszyc.(Photo by the author)

A little over a week ago, Leah Lipszyc left Simferopol, the Crimean city where she and her husband have been the Chabad emissaries for the past 22 years. There are about 13,000 Jews in Simferopol, 30 of whom come to the synagogue run by Lipszyc and her husband every Shabbat. Lipszyc, who has 12 grown children, struggled with the decision to leave—it was the Lubavitcher rebbe personally who sent her, in 1992—but advisers in Brooklyn counseled her to leave, for her own safety. “This is my community,” she told me when we met in the basement apartment/warehouse in Crown Heights where she is now staying. “On the other hand, you have your kids writing to you saying, ‘Mommy, it’s dangerous, Mommy, when are you leaving?’”

But the buses weren’t running, the roads were blocked, and the airplanes were grounded. There was only one train running, and it was going to Donetsk. “Therefore,” Lipszyc said, “I got on the train to Donetsk.” She got the last two tickets on the train. “I really only had about 10 to 15 minutes to pack. I left almost everything. I took my computer, my iPad, my camera, my cards from my other camera, and a little bit of clothes. And I forgot my good sheitel.” She laughed. “I forgot a lot of things.” (more…)

Holocaust Survivor Championing Railroad Bill Dies at 92

Leo Bretholz was set to testify on behalf of proposed Maryland law this week

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The railway spur and main building of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp are visible 12 January 2005. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Leo Bretholz, who escaped from a train transporting him to a Nazi death camp during the Holocaust, was expected to testify yesterday on behalf of a Maryland bill that would hold railroad firms accountable for their actions during the Holocaust. Unfortunately, he died Saturday, two days after his 93rd birthday and two days before his longtime project was set to make public progress.

Bretholz, a Baltimore resident, was to testify before the Maryland House of Delegates’ Ways and Means Committee on behalf of proposed legislation that would make Maryland the first state to bar companies from receiving U.S. government contracts due to unresolved ties to the Holocaust. (more…)

Israeli Attacked With Stun Gun Outside Paris Synagogue

The 52-year-old man required medical attention but wasn’t seriously injured

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Pletzl Pavee Synagogue. (Wikimedia)

An Israeli man was assaulted by two men with a stun gun near a Paris synagogue in the Marais, the city’s historic Jewish quarter, last night, JTA reports. The victim filed a complaint with the Paris police for assault and a racial hate crime.

K. Sassoun, a 52-year-old Israeli, was identified as the victim of Monday night’s attack at a building next to a synagogue on Pavee Street in central Paris, according to the JSSnews.com news site. Sassoun was not seriously hurt but required medical treatment after being knocked down by the stun gun, which sends electric currents that usually incapacitate targets or render them unconscious for several minutes.

(more…)

Israel’s First Whisky Distillery Opens in Tel Aviv

Milk and Honey Distillery to produce an Israeli single malt whisky

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(Shutterstock)

The world’s largest whisky exhibition finally reached Tel Aviv last week. For the first time, Whisky Live, a two-day showcase of 300 bottles from countries like Scotland, Ireland, the United States, Japan, Taiwan, and India, set up shop in the Holy Land.

One of the most popular stands at the fair, though, had yet to make one bottle. The Milk and Honey Distillery, Israel’s first-ever whisky distillery, started in 2012 as an idea between six friends. They raised more than $70,000 in late 2013, enough to buy barrels and copper stills for their distillery in northern Jaffa. Master distiller Jim Swan, who has advised whisky operations in other New World countries like Taiwan and India, is overseeing their production. I spoke with Milk and Honey co-founder Simon Fried at Whisky Live to learn more about the project. (more…)

Back in Israel, Netanyahu Stays Serious on Iran

Gives press conference in front of Navy-intercepted rockets bound for Gaza

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press at southern Israeli port of Eilat, on March 10, 2014, as Israel displayed advanced rockets type M-302 capable of reaching distances of up to 200 km that were unloaded from the Panamanian-flagged Klos-C vessel on March 9, 2014 in the southern Israeli port of Eilat. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is back in Israel, and back to business. He gave a press conference today about the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, standing in front of neatly stacked piles of Iranian-supplied missiles that the Israeli navy intercepted last week, reportedly en route to Gaza.

An additional 180 mortar shells and 400,000 rifle rounds sat beside the captured missiles on the Eilat pier where Netanyahu was speaking, bolstering the prime minister’s stern message. An Israeli naval missile boat that took part in the raid was docked behind the weapons. (more…)

Kerry Appeals to Iran for American’s Release

Calls for Robert Levinson’s return to U.S. seven years after his disappearance

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US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to reporters about the Ukraine crisis after his meetings with other foreign ministers, on March 5, 2014 at the US ambassador's residence in Paris. (KEVIN LAMARQUE/AFP/Getty Images)

Sunday was the seventh anniversary of the disappearance of Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who was abducted on a secret CIA mission to the Iranian island of Kish in 2007. He is among the longest-held American hostages; photographs and videos that have been sent to his family over the years show an increasingly haggard man with an untamed beard wearing an orange Guantanamo-style jumpsuit and begging for help.

But that help has been slow to arrive. Iran’s leadership has continued to insist it has no idea who took Levinson or where he might be. “We don’t know where he is, who he is,” Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, told CNN in September. And while American officials insist they haven’t abandoned him, their strategy for finding him has involved polite appeals to Iran, rather than, say, making his re-appearance a precondition of pursuing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. (more…)

Before ‘Monuments Men’ Premiere, France Returns Nazi-Looted Art

Life imitates art with announcement timed to the film’s French release

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Left to right: Dimitri Leonidas, John Goodman, George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Bob Balaban in The Monuments Men.(Claudette Barius/Sony Pictures)

In the kind of publicity-generating move movie studios only dream about, the French government has announced that three valuable paintings looted by the Nazis will be returned to the descendants of their original owners the day before The Monuments Men is set to arrive in theaters in France, JTA reports. According to France’s Culture Ministry, the timing is intentional.

“Portrait of a Woman,” believed to be painted by Louis Tocque, originally belonged to Rosa and Jakob Oppenheimer, Jewish art dealers in Berlin. “Virgin with Child,” by Lippo Memmi or an associate, was seized in 1944 from banker Richard Soepkez in Cannes, and “Mountain Landscape,” by Flemish painter Joos de Momper, belonged to a non-Jewish Belgian banker whose property in France was confiscated in 1943. (more…)

The Year’s Big Question: What Does Haman Say?

The Purim parody videos have arrived

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Purim begins Saturday evening, which means it’s time for the parody videos, that historic holiday tradition, to begin making their way across the Internet. This one, from A.K.A. Pella, takes a page from one of recent pop culture’s most deliriously catchy creations: Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis’ inanely entertaining What Does The Fox Say?

It’s actually a pretty concise retelling of the Purim story, which works strangely well with the song’s jaunty rhythm. It gets a little intense toward the end, though, perhaps forgetting it’s a parody and not a parsha. Still, it’ll probably get stuck in your head. (more…)

Ultra-Orthodox in NYC Protest Israeli Draft Law

Tens of thousands flood lower Manhattan to challenge proposed legislation

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Orthodox Jews gather on Water Street in lower Manhattan March 9, 2014 to pray and protest against the current effort by the Israeli government to pass a law to draft religious Jews into its army. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Downtown Manhattan yesterday looked a lot like Jerusalem the previous weekend, with tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathering to protest Israel’s proposed military draft, which would require religious citizens to join the army.

Sunday’s two-hour rally brought together protestors from various ultra-Orthodox communities, some from Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island, and many others from the predominantly ultra-Orthodox enclave of Kiryas Joel, north of Manhattan. Tight security surrounded the streets around Wall Street, where men and women stood in separate groups while chanting along to Hebrew prayers blasting over loudspeakers, the New York Times reports. (more…)

Remembering Murdered Researcher Jiři Fiedler

Jewish heritage archivist and his wife found dead in their Prague apartment

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Jiři Fiedler; Prague Jewish Museum. (Prague Jewish Museum/Wikimedia )

The brutal murder of the pioneering Jewish heritage researcher Jiři Fiedler has shocked and saddened the Jewish heritage community and beyond.

Fiedler, 78, and his wife Dagmar, are believed to have been killed in their Prague apartment at the end of January, though their bodies weren’t found until two weeks later. Local news reports at the time didn’t reveal their names. Police are investigating, but so far, few details have been made public. (more…)

Barber Shop Offers Jews Pre-Passover Discount

Washington Heights barber advertises $12 haircuts for Jewish customers

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(Shutterstock)

A barber in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan is offering an usual deal: a pre-Passover haircut for Jews. The cost of the cut, the New York Daily News reports, is just $12—a $3 discount from the usual $15 price.

Miguel Sanchez, who advertised the deal on a hand-written sign outside his barber shop on Broadway and West 187th St., told the Daily News that more than 20 Jewish customers had since stopped in for a trim. Still, his promotion drew criticism from locals, largely because it appeared to directly offer a discount to a specific group of people, which in addition to being kind of tacky is also discriminatory. (more…)

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