Greek Jews Want Failed Nazi Ransom Back

In 1942, the Jews of Thessaloniki paid in vain to release 10,000 Nazi prisoners


In 1942, the Jewish community of Thessaloniki, Greece paid 1.9 billion drachmas (roughly $69 million today) to the Nazis for the release of 10,000 Jewish men captured and forced into slave labor. The money was accepted, but the deal was denied. Soon after, the city’s entire Jewish population was sent to Nazi death camps.

Now the largest Jewish community in Greece wants their money back.

According to the Associated Press, the Thessaloniki Jewish community said Monday it has taken Germany to Europe’s top human rights court in order to regain the large ransom paid in vain. Aside from financial reimbursement, the Thessaloniki Jewish community is seeking “moral vindication.” The legal battle for the ransom’s return first began in 1997; however, in December, the country’s Supreme Court rejected the bid, claiming a “lack of authority” on the matter. Today, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is reinvestigating the suit. (more…)

Newsweek Ends Top 50 Rabbis List

The list’s co-founders explain why they’re discontinuing it after seven years


Newsweek has ended its annual Top 50 Rabbis List after seven years. Below is the letter written by Gary Ginsberg and Michael Lynton, the list’s co-founders, and Abigail Pogrebin, lead reporter and writer, explaining the decision.

If we’ve ever watched how a well-intentioned concept can generate unintended consequences, it’s the Newsweek Top 50 Rabbis list. It was conceived back in 2007 simply because we were genuinely curious about which rabbis were considered leading lights and why. It evolved over the years into a more reported piece, as we tried to showcase the broad diversity of pacesetters, speakers, teachers, authors, activists, and congregational leaders.

We tried to make it more reflective of the rise of women in the rabbinate and we tried to introduce readers to lesser-known trailblazers. The list never pretended to use any scientific methodology. We were always transparent about its subjectivity. We always kept our sense of humor. But despite our lightheartedness, the list started to carry too much weight for too many people. (more…)

Merkel Receives Israel’s Highest Civilian Honor

German chancellor calls getting the award ‘something of a miracle’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel shakes hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres after receiving the Presidential Medal of Distinction she recieved from during a ceremony at Israeli President's residence on February 25, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, steely and proper as ever, was uncharacteristically emotional while receiving the Israeli Presidential Medal of Distinction from President Shimon Peres. “Receiving the highest award bestowed by another country is a great honor for the recipient,” she said, visibly moved. “But in light of Germany’s responsibility for the tremendous suffering of the Jewish people in the Holocaust, receiving this award today is something of a miracle.”

Merkel arrived in Jerusalem last night, with 16 of her government ministers in tow, for meetings with an Israeli government and Prime Minister with whom her relationship has often been described as strained (her reported scolding of Netanyahu exactly three years ago for not making even a single step to advance peace probably marked the all-time low). But the awarding of the Presidential medal, and the official platitudes that accompanied it, were a clear attempt at a relationship reboot, as they were when the medal was bestowed upon President Obama when he visited Israel last year. (more…)

Now Your Home Can Smell Like Katz’s Deli

They’re selling a chocolate egg cream scented candle


Katz’s Deli, the venerable New York City dining institution which turned 125 last year, has been celebrating its big birthday in all sorts of ways. In addition to the usual parties and corned beef bacchanals, they released a $5,000 sneaker—a $5,000 sneaker!—in December, which was up for sale on eBay. For those of you looking to take home a slightly smaller piece of the iconic deli, though, there is hope yet. (more…)

Israel Strikes Lebanon Near Syrian Border

Warplanes target an arms smuggling route near a Hezbollah stronghold

Israeli soldiers take position on the Israeli-Lebanese border on December 16, 2013. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli warplanes struck an unidentified target in eastern Lebanon, near the country’s Syrian border, Reuters reports. The area is a known arms smuggling route between the two countries.

It was not immediately known what the target was or the exact location of the air strike, which was in a mountainous area near the border.

The Israeli army declined to comment but an Israeli security source confirmed that there had been “unusually intense air force activity in the north”, referring to Lebanon.


German Paper Depicts Zuckerberg as Hook-Nosed Octopus

Cartoonist says he’s shocked anyone misread his caricature of Facebook’s CEO

(Cartoon in Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung)

On Friday, the Süddeutsche Zeitung—one of Germany’s most serious and widely-read broadsheet dailies—published a cartoon about Facebook’s newly-announced acquisition of WhatsApp, the text-messaging service. Titled “Krake Facebook”—Facebook Octopus—it featured a many-armed creature reaching its tentacles into computers and servers, grasping the WhatsApp icon.

It had a human face, which belonged to Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO. The problem was that the face was drawn in the style of the worst anti-Semitic caricatures: Adorned with a greedy fish-lipped mouth and a long hooked nose under a hat emblazoned with Facebook’s logo and a fringe of Zuckerbergian curls. Had it appeared 70 years ago its intention would have been deadly clear: The “eternal Jew,” that ugly creature Germans tried to exterminate, had entered cyberspace.

You could argue it was all the spirit of the current German carnival season, in which Germans dress up in costume and make a game of social satire, but many observers thought it was more sinister than that. First in line with an accusatory public critique were the professionals of Germany’s premier satirical magazine Titanic, with a speedy “Sunday special” condemning the drawing by paralleling it clearly with Hitler’s thinking. (more…)

R.I.P. Harold Ramis, Comedic Film Icon

The Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, and Ghostbusters writer has died at 69


We’ve lost a comedic legend. Actor, director, and writer Harold Ramis—best known for acting in and co-writing Ghostbusters, as well as writing and directing Caddyshack and Groundhog Daydied today in Chicago at age 69.

Ramis grew up in Chicago and attended Washington University in St. Louis, where he wrote his first parody plays before returning to Chicago in 1968. There he began studying and performing with Chicago’s Second City improv comedy troupe and worked as a joke editor at Playboy. His next stop was New York City in 1974, where he worked with Bill Murray on the radio program The National Lampoon Radio Hour. Ramis also gained recognition as both a performer and head writer on the late-night sketch-comedy TV series SCTV. (more…)

Hey, Putin: Lay Off the Chagall

The Jewish master is as Russian as a Big Mac

"The Falling Angel," by Marc Chagall.(Courtesy of The Jewish Museum)

Dear Vlad,

I know you’re probably miffed we didn’t cover your Olympiad—massive, costly, catastrophic bouts of propaganda are sadder than a stray dog in Sochi unless everyone watches and oohs and ahs—but we really had no interest in encouraging anyone to watch any part of it. And we didn’t. We didn’t even watch the reportedly absurd closing ceremony yesterday.

But reports from it left me with one more thing to say about your sad display of national insecurity.

Look, it’s okay for you to play Rachmaninoff, even though walking my dog every day down West End Avenue I pass the plaque on number 505 informing me that here lived the great Sergei, having escaped Russia when the men who formed you and your regime started hunting down men like the great pianist and composer you now claim as Mother Russia’s. Fine. Whatever. But that bit with the Chagall painting? Stop it. Marc Chagall doesn’t belong to your Russia any more than losing a quarter of the male population to alcoholism before the age of 55 belongs to our America. (more…)

Oldest Holocaust Survivor Dies at 110

Alice Herz-Sommer featured in Oscar-nominated film, The Lady in Number 6

Alice Herz-Sommer.(AP)

The world’s oldest Holocaust survivor, Alice Herz-Sommer, has died at the age of 110 in London. Her devotion to music, which helped her survive two years in a Nazi concentration camp, is the subject of this year’s Oscar-nominated documentary, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life. Amidst the horrors of the Holocaust, Herz-Sommer maintained her unflappable optimism through music, becoming so completely immersed in it that she once said, “I am Jewish, but Beethoven is my religion.”

Herz-Sommer was born in 1903 in Prague, when it was part of Austria-Hungary, and lived there until 1943 when she was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Her impressive musical career began at a young age; she learned to play the piano at age five and was the youngest student enrolled at the Prague German Conservatory of Music. Herz-Sommer’s musical talent became known across Europe, and upon her arrival in Theresienstadt, she performed music for camp prisoners and guards. (more…)

American Murderer Killed in Israeli Prison

Samuel Sheinbein obtained a gun he turned on his guards—raising questions about prison security

Israeli guards escort an ambulance out of HaSharon high security prison, 40 kilometers northeast of Tel Aviv, on February 23, 2014, after an American-Israeli prisoner serving life for murder was shot dead after he seized a gun and opened fire on three guards. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

When the Israel Prison Service spokeswoman gathered reporters outside Rimonim Prison and told them the name of the 34-year-old inmate killed in a shoot-out Sunday—Samuel Sheinbein—there was mainly silence. Which was hardly surprising; it’s been 15 years since Sheinbein, an American-born Jew from Maryland, was in the news, first for the gruesome murder and dismemberment of a teenage romantic rival, then for his flight from American justice, which caused a diplomatic crisis after Israel refused to extradite him back to the United States to face capital charges.

He was instead charged and sentenced to 24 years in a Tel Aviv courtroom, which is how he came to be in Rimonim’s cellblock 5, where he barricaded himself in a bathroom, then pulled a gun and opened fire on guards before being shot. The one reporter who did get a fix on Sheinbein said something to the effect of, “You mean that knucklehead who tried to snatch a gun from some guy in Ramle a couple weeks ago?” And, yes, that was also Sheinbein: On his last furlough—hufsha—he arranged to meet a man in Ramle who was selling a used handgun online. Sitting in the man’s car, Sheinbein took the gun and made a run for it, but was chased down by the man and held for police. Even after that incident, he was somehow able to get his hands on another gun and get the drop on his guards at Rimonim. (more…)

‘Ex-Frum’ vs. ‘Datlash:’ Two Very Different Literary Genres

How a Hebrew acronym gives formerly religious Israeli writers more freedom


Datlash?” I ask the young man sitting next to me at an Ein Prat pre-army leadership program in Kfar Adumim, outside Jerusalem.

Dati le’she’avar,” he tells me, “Someone who was religious in the past.” No one seems to know the exact origins of the acronym or when it first began to be used, but it’s a stark contrast from the moniker ‘ex-frum,’ the closest corresponding English descriptor. The Hebrew term is more elegant, implying more a complex spectrum than a clean break. Perhaps that’s because there is no such thing here in Israel—without leaving the country, at least—as being ‘ex’ anything. (more…)

American-Raised Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein Wins the Israel Prize

Leading Modern Orthodox rabbi and political dove to receive award

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein at Yeshivat Har Etzion. (Yeshivat Har Etzion)

Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein, a French-born and American-raised leader of Modern Orthodox Jewry, will receive the Israel Prize in Jewish religious literature this year. The 80-year-old scholar was born in Paris, but grew up in the United States, where he was ordained at Yeshiva University, studied under his father-in-law Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, and received his PhD in English literature from Harvard. In 1971, he moved to Israel at the invitation of Holocaust survivor Rabbi Yehuda Amital to join him at the helm of Yeshivat Har Etzion, a religious Zionist yeshiva in the West Bank region of Gush Etzion. (The area had been inhabited by Jews until they were massacred in 1948, and was resettled after the Six Day War in 1967.)

As dean of the yeshiva, Lichtenstein has educated generations of Israeli and American Orthodox leaders in a humanistic tradition that seeks to combine religious learning and striving with the intellectual fruits of the secular world. His writings in Hebrew and English have become staples of the Modern Orthodox bookshelf, and under his leadership, Har Etzion has opened both an academic teacher’s college and a sister seminary at Migdal Oz run by his daughter Esti Rosenberg, which launched an advanced Talmud and Jewish law institute for women in 2013. Har Etzion’s Virtual Beit Midrash, one of the earliest efforts to teach Torah over the internet, now reaches thousands of subscribers.

Lichtenstein has also distinguished himself on the Israeli scene for his dovish political stances. (more…)

Obama to Award Jewish Veterans Posthumous Medal of Honor

Minority soldiers from WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War to be honored

Sergeant Jack Weinstein in Korea during the Korean War. (U.S. Army )

President Obama has announced that 24 former U.S. soldiers will be awarded the Medal of Honor—many of them posthumously—at a ceremony in March. While these veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War had all previously earned the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest honor, many of them had been overlooked for the nation’s highest honor due to longstanding institutionalized discrimination. Acknowledging and honoring these Jewish, Hispanic, and African American veterans is an historic step, and a significant milestone in recognizing the contributions of minority servicemen in our nation’s armed services.

According to the announcement, “Congressional review and the 2002 Defense Authorization Act prompted a review of Jewish American and Hispanic American veteran war records from WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.” (more…)

Some Things Really Do Warrant Comparisons to Nazis

Most Nazi analogies are hyperbolic and irresponsible. But not all of them.

German nazi Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his army parade in Prague on March 15, 1939 day of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Wehrmacht. (-/AFP/Getty Images)

Inappropriate Hitler analogies are tossed around so casually and so often, it’s easy to forget that not every comparison to the Nazi regime is completely off base.

Consider, for example, Philippine president Benigno Aquino’s February 5 statement during a New York Times interview regarding China’s aggressive territorial claims on a number of disputed islands in the South China Sea. “At what point do you say, ‘Enough is enough’?” Aquino told the Times. “Well, the world has to say it — remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II.” (more…)

How Jewish Learning Benefits From Snow Days

Teachers should harness their students’ excitement without overloading them


When SAR Academy students woke up to their first snow day two weeks ago, they also received an email with a link to my JudeoTech Haiku online education site. When they clicked they saw:

They also found two more links. The first took them to the Guttenberg Project’s text of the Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Dancing Men. The second linked to a YouTube audio dramatization of the tale, which also displayed the key to the code of the dancing men that plays a central role in the story. My snowbound students quickly realized that a game was afoot. (more…)

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