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Oldest Holocaust Survivor Dies at 110

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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(Shutterstock)

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…)

Israel’s First-Ever Zombie Movie Kills It With Cholent Joke

Fighting reanimated Hezbollah ghouls, the IDF’s heroes never lose their cool

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Scene from 'Cannon Fodder.'(YouTube)

I’m really sorry, Zombeavers. You were totally going to be my favorite zombie movie of 2014, mainly because you are about zombie beavers who terrorize attractive young people in a cabin in the woods. But that was before I saw the trailer for Cannon Fodder, which is an Israeli movie about four IDF commandoes who infiltrate Lebanon to stop a zombie epidemic unleashed by Hezbollah. (more…)

Is House of Cards’ Rachel Posner Jewish Or Not?

A spoiler-ish look at the Netflix political drama’s most confusing character

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Rachel Posner on 'House of Cards.' (Netflix)

House of Cards, Netflix’s high-voltage look at the dark side of Washington, D.C. politics, released its full second season last Friday. The show is packed with drama, intrigue, and the more-than-occasional sex scene, and Kevin Spacey plays protagonist Francis Underwood to power-hungry perfection. But having finished the second season (like you didn’t finish by Sunday night too), one nagging question remained: Is the Rachel Posner character Jewish or what? (Medium-grade spoilers ahead.) (more…)

Lunch With Baruch Goldstein, One Year Before the Hebron Massacre

A chance meeting with the settler, who killed 29 Muslims this week in 1994

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Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. (Wikimedia )

Exactly one year before he committed mass murder, Baruch Goldstein served me a delicious lunch. Of course, in the late winter of 1993 I had no idea that the next year—February 25, 1994, to be exact—my one-time host would gun down Muslim worshippers in Hebron, killed 29 and wounding 125 more, in what is known as the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre. At that point, he was just one of the many strangers I met in Israel on my gap year between high school and college.

My primary goal for the year was to explore as much of the country as possible, and to try to meet people from all walks of life. I had enjoyed a very comfortable childhood in the fishbowl of my American suburb, but I also felt a bit stifled by the uniformity of my hometown. My year in Israel was going to be my first chance to interact with people who were not all exactly like me. (more…)

First He Ran the Obama Seder. Now Eric Lesser is Running for Office.

Former White House aide launches campaign for Massachusetts State Senate

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The White House Seder in April 2009. Lesser is fifth from President Obama's right. (White House / Pete Souza)

Back in April 2008, Eric Lesser began what would become a White House tradition when he helped organize a seder for staffers on the Obama campaign trail. “We were feeling a little down because we realized it wouldn’t be possible to get home for Passover,” the 28-year-old recalled. “So we set up our makeshift seder in this windowless basement in the Sheraton in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and when we were down there getting ready to begin, all of a sudden Senator Obama popped his head in and said, ‘Is this where the seder is?’ and asked, ‘Can I join?’ It was actually a little funny, because we were planning to have a bit of a briefer version, but he was very interested in it, and so we went through almost the entire haggadah, which is much more than I had ever done with my own family.”

The seder became a yearly tradition for the Obama family, and Lesser would go on to serve as a special assistant to David Axelrod and later director of strategic planning for the Council of Economic Advisers. He was profiled–along with his weekly shabbat dinners with other young Obama administration staffers–in the New York Times, and then moved on to Harvard for law school, where he’d previously attended college. And just this week, he launched his own political career by announcing his candidacy for State Senate in Massachusetts. (more…)

Germany Arrests Suspected Auschwitz Guards

Three nabbed in investigation of 40 former guards still living in Germany

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

German police raided the homes of nine men between the ages of 88 and 94 who are suspected of serving as SS guards in Auschwitz, the AP reports. Three of the men were arrested, while police are looking for evidence to arrest three more the charge of accessory to murder.

According to the Guardian, “The three elderly men underwent medical tests and then faced a judge who confirmed their fitness to be detained in a prison hospital.” As Die Welt explains, in order to secure an indictment, complicity must be proven and the accused must still be fit to stand trial.

The AP also reports that of the six men under investigation, five made no statements, but one 88-year-old “admitted being a guard at Auschwitz but denied committing any crimes.” (more…)

Israel and Jordan Ink $500 Million Gas Deal

Tamar natural gas field will export to two Jordanian companies

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The Tamar drilling natural gas production platform is seen some 25 kilometers West of the Ashkelon shore on March 28, 2013 in Israel.(Albatross via Getty Images)

Gas fields off the coast of Israel in the past few years have upped the stakes in the Eastern Mediterranean, with surrounding countries looking to get in on the action—and profits. Just weeks after the Turkish navy intercepted a Norwegian exploration vessel looking for gas off the coast of southern Cyprus, Israel’s Tamar gas field—which is “estimated to contain 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas”—has inked its first export agreement. The partners behind the Tamar gas field have agreed sell $500 million of gas over the next 15 years to two different Jordanian companies, Haaretz reports.

Under the agreement, Tamar will supply 66 billion cubic feet of gas a year to Arab Potash and its unit, Jordan Bromine – a joint venture with U.S. Albemarle, and the Jordanian version of Makhteshim Agan – at their facilities near the Dead Sea, Noble Energy said Wednesday.

In total, the Jordanian buyers have agreed to buy some 1.8 billion cubic meters of natural gas. (more…)

Hundreds of Copies of Anne Frank’s Diary Vandalized in Japan

Other Holocaust-related literature also reported damaged

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Anne Frank.(Courtesy)

According to an official of the Japan Library Association today, pages have been torn out of over 200 copies of Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl in multiple libraries across Tokyo, including those in Nakano, Nerima, and Suginami. In addition, Japanese media are reporting that other Holocaust-related literature was also found to have been vandalized.

The incident has drawn sharp condemnation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. “The geographic scope of these incidents strongly suggest an organized effort to denigrate the memory of the most famous of the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis in the World War II Holocaust,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean. “I know from my many visits to Japan, how much Anne Frank is studied and revered by millions of Japanese. Only people imbued with bigotry and hatred would seek to destroy Anne’s historic words of courage, hope, and love in the face of impending doom. We are calling on Japanese authorities to step up efforts to identify and deal with the perpetrators of this hate campaign.” (more…)

Israeli Courts Slam Refugee Detention Process

Judges cancel summonses ordering African migrants to detention facilities

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African asylum seekers, who entered Israel illegally via Egypt, enter the Holot detention centre in Israel's southern Negev Desert, on February 17, 2014. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

A number of judges in district courts in Israel have delayed or cancelled summonses received by African asylum seekers in Israel ordering them to report to the Holot detention facility, Haaretz reports. The judgements, which come on the heels of widespread protests by African migrants against a new detention policy, criticized various summons processes as fundamentally flawed for their failure to hold hearings before ordering asylum seekers to detention facilities.

According to Haaretz, Israel ordered more than 3,200 asylum seekers to Holot last month, threatening a penalty of imprisonment if they didn’t report there within 30 days. Only 40 percent reported to Holot on time. Judge Chany Slotky of the Be’er Sheva District Court “harshly criticized the government’s conduct” against a 29-year-old Sudanese man who had escaped persecution and torture in Sudan for belonging to a student organization at the University of Khartoum. Slotky ruled that the state had failed to inform him why he was being questioned, in addition to violating his right to legal representation.

The decision, though seemingly a step in the right direction, is being met with skepticism within the African community, explained Oscar Olivier, an asylum seeker from Congo and a community organizer with the African Refugee Development Center. “It will not be the first time judges say one thing and politicians do another,” he said over the phone from Israel, and recalled the Israeli Supreme Court judgment against short-term detention centers which led to the Ministry of Interior creating indefinite detention centers. “When the court ruling is in their interest, they support it, but when it’s not, they turn a blind eye. There is nothing wrong with Israeli law, which is democratic. The problem is that politicians don’t uphold it.” (more…)

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