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Hand grenade explodes 100 meters from Ahmadinejad car in Hamedan

August 4, 2010 Leave a comment

HAMADAN (WJC)–Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reportedly escaped an assassination attempt in the western Iranian city of Hamadan. Several people were wounded in the blast, said media reports. The Arab news channel ‘al-Arabiya’ said the Iranian presidency had confirmed that Ahmadinejad “escaped an assassination attempt as his procession was targeted by a bomb.” The conservative Iranian website ‘Khabaronline.ir’ said:  “This morning, a hand grenade exploded next to a vehicle carrying reporters accompanying the president in Hamedan. Ahmadinejad’s car was 100 meters away and he was not hurt.”

In his speech, which was broadcast on state television, the hard-line Iranian leader did not mention the attack. He claimed that Iran did not care about the latest US sanctions but warned countries against joining them. On Tuesday, the Treasury Department in Washington had named 21 firms and banned Americans from engaging in business with them. Thirteen of the companies are based in Europe – nine in Germany, two in Belarus, and one each in Luxembourg and Italy.

“You can make resolutions and sanctions against us as much as you want until you get fed up. As far as the Iranian nation is concerned, we do not care at all and will never beg four your goods,” Ahmadinejad told the crowd in Hamadan. The president said all the sanctions in the last four years just made the country more self-sufficient and improved its technological output. He warned all countries against joining the sanctions, saying that they would be excluded from further business with Iran and “be wiped out from Iranian markets.”

Meanwhile, Japan also imposed sanctions against Iran, in line with the recent UN resolution. The government in Tokyo said it planned to announce additional punitive measures later this month.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

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International Fellowship of Christians and Jews help underwrite Jewish day schools in former Soviet Union

July 13, 2010 Leave a comment

JERUSALEM (Press Release) –The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, under the leadership of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, its founder and president, announced a donation of $1.1 million to the Jewish Agency for Israel to support the network of Jewish day schools in the former Soviet Union. This comes in addition to the $400,000 in support to the school network given earlier this year by the Fellowship.

The network, known as Heftziba, consists of 43 schools with 9,000 students in grades 1 through 12 enrolled for the upcoming school year and is operated by Israel’s Ministry of Education in partnership with the Jewish Agency. The schools span the former Soviet Union, with 15 schools in Russia, 18 in Ukraine and Moldova, 5 in Belarus and Baltic states and 5 in Central Asia.

The gift will help sustain the schools, by covering key costs, including hot meals, clothing and medicine for children from disadvantaged families as well as school busing — a critical factor in enrollment due to the great distance some students need to travel.

“Sustaining this school network is part of the Jewish Agency’s mission to build and strengthen Jewish identity,” said Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky. “We are deeply grateful to Rabbi Eckstein, and look forward to continuing to work with him and our other partners to further strengthen Jewish education in the former Soviet Union.”

Sharansky noted Eckstein’s leadership in funding programs which assist Jewish children in the former Soviet Union and for coming to the rescue of the Heftziba network last year when the economic crisis almost brought the school system to collapse. Plans are being developed by the Jewish Agency, the Government of Israel and the Fellowship to deal comprehensively with the issues of education and care for Jewish children in the former Soviet Union.

“Thanks to our many Christian and Jewish donors, the IFCJ contributes over $25 million each year to help the Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union,” Rabbi Eckstein said. “While we feel privileged to do so, ultimately the costs of Jewish education and welfare of the children — who represent the future of Jewish peoplehood in the FSU — should be borne by the world Jewish community and we commend Mr. Sharansky and the Jewish Agency for pledging to undertake this effort.”

The Jewish Agency partners with the Government of Israel’s Ministry of Education which operates the Heftziba network, sending 50 teachers from Israel to the schools and contributing $2.8 million annually; individual schools within the network are run by Or Avner, ORT and Shema Yisrael.

Sharansky said he views Heftziba as a signature partnership program of the Fellowship and the Jewish Agency, in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Education and the Or Avner, ORT and Shema Yisrael school networks.

The announcement of the new funding follows the recent adoption by the Jewish Agency of a strategic plan that calls for supporting programs like Heftziba which enable young Jews to “connect with their people, heritage and land, and empower them to build a thriving Jewish future and a strong Israel.” For its part, the Fellowship has raised roughly one billion dollars from Christians to help Israel and Jews in need, enabling “hundreds of thousands of Jews to escape poverty and anti-Semitism and return to their biblical homeland, and funded humanitarian assistance that has touched millions of Jews in Israel and around the world.”

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Preceding provided by Jewish Agency for Israel

‘Chagall’ proves to be an exciting work in progress

June 14, 2010 1 comment

By Sheila Orysiek

Sheila Orysiek

SAN DIEGO–The 17th Annual Jewish Arts Festival, which runs from May 30th to June 21, spans the wide spectrum of the performing arts.  Malashock Dance and Hot P’Stromi brought together modern dance and Klezmer at the Lyceum Space Theatre in downtown San Diego.  I attended the performance on June 13th.

What better way to celebrate art than to bring together artists of different genres to celebrate the life of another artist?  John Malashock – founder and choreographer of Malashock Dance – and Yale Strom – violinist, composer, filmmaker, writer, playwright and photographer – combined their significant talents to produce their newest collaboration Chagall.

The Lyceum Space Theatre is a small venue (seating approximately 270) with a square stage jutting out into the audience on two sides.  Thus one is both near enough to feel close to the action, but far enough away to see the design concept as a whole.  Seats are in tiers, so for the most part sight lines are good.  Because of the proximity over zealous amplification can be avoided – for which this observer is grateful.

Strom brings his varied background plus a group of musicians playing Klezmer (and more) under the name:  Hot P’Stromi.   The program opened with several selections of Klezmer from parts of Eastern Europe, such as the vicinity where Chagall was born and spent his childhood, to Romania which is just across the river. 

Love it or not, and I do love it, it is impossible not to respond to Klezmer.   In some ways it is like American jazz – the musicians responding to one another, each in turn picking up the motif – adding, subtracting, clarifying and crafting a specific sound for a specific instrument.  Then, coming all together they go rollicking along.  But, Klezmer also can be winsome and even sad.  The audience reacted to both – some barely able to keep their seats.

John Malashock founded his modern dance company in 1988 and has been a significant presence in San Diego ever since.  His background is impressive and runs the gamut from film (dancing in Amadeus), television specials, choreographing for many other companies – both dance and opera -culminating in four Emmy awards.  He spoke to the audience briefly – but enjoyably – about the work being performed and his plans for it.

Chagall is still a work in progress and Malashock presented three scenes from what will eventually be a full length amalgam of dance, music and imagery.  The first scene was of the village Vitebsk, where Chagall was born in what is now Belarus, but was then Russia and at times Poland.  The second scene is his first significant love who introduces him to her friend who becomes the “love of his life.”  

Michael Mizerany, associate artistic director and senior dancer (with an impressive resume including two Lester Horton Dance Awards) was “Chagall” and brought to the role an understanding of how to portray a painter/artist through the art of dance/movement. 

It is difficult to understand why Chagall would reject his first love, Thea, (Lara Segura) for Bella (Christine Marshall).  But love is not mental – it is visceral and there is no accounting for it.  It is the one emotion we cannot place at the service of reason; however, I think I would enjoy seeing that explored a bit more.  Segura was a lovely Thea.  Costumed in a simple short white sheath she danced passionately while still innocent enough to introduce her friend to her lover.  Marshall, surely a fine dancer, didn’t quite tell me what Chagall saw in her to capture his heart – but perhaps that was not Malashock’s intent.  Or perhaps Chagall didn’t know.

Chagall’s physical love feeds his artistic vision.  He takes his brush and paints her in invisible images upon invisible canvasses.  Then, he uses his brush to explore her body – never vulgarly – but always seeking to understand her outline.  Maybe that is what he really needs.

The pas de deux (this is modern dance so perhaps I should say “dance for two”) is well done – but somehow didn’t convey the depth of passion that must have been there.  However, this is still a work in progress not only for the choreographer, but also for the dancers and they haven’t as yet internalized it.  It is certainly a good beginning.

Tribes premiered in 1996 and has the feeling and confidence of a complete work, completely conceived – much like a Mozart symphony.  It is a dance (again using Strom’s original music) which is described by Malashock as follows:  “….each dancer creates his/her own culture.  These fantastical “tribes” connect, collide, and ultimately share in a blending of the eternal spirit.”

It is always fascinating to see what Malashock does with the music; forming groups and then breaking them apart.  Each twosome or threesome dances to the same music at the same time, but completely differently – bringing to view other aspects of the music.  And each is valid and “true.”  I find myself saying “yes, that is how the music looks.”  He also never falls overly in love with his own invention – it is given, enjoyed and then he moves on, confident in his next vision.  The flow is natural, never contrived, and though one knows of the reality of the endless rehearsal which must have taken place, the movement is fresh, natural and seemingly – what a painter would call – a “happy accident.”

The dance flows from shape to shape, pausing for just a moment to allow the eye to capture it, but still keeping the seams between phrases invisible.  The entire body is used; hands and heads as important as legs and arms as important as spines and breath.  There were a couple of times, when the choreography allowed, I would have enjoyed seeing some eye contact betwixt the dancer and the observer – a living connection; “I am also dancing for you.” 

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Dance critic Orysiek is based in San Diego.  She may be contacted at ORZAK@aol.com

The Jews Down Under~Roundup of Australian Jewish news

January 18, 2010 1 comment

Compiled by Garry Fabian

A survivor’s homage to her floating angels

MELBOURNE, January 11, 2010— Judy Kolt wrote her World War II story, Tell It to the Squirrels, in honour of her father. She had spent World War II in perpetual flight,  hidden by nuns in a convent boarding school,  disguised as a blind child in an institute for  the blind, hidden in an old people’s home, in different homes and ghettos and on a farm.

She and her older sister, Tosia, were two of at  least 13 Jewish children sheltered by the nuns in a boarding school of 30, while her mother disguised her Jewish looks by dressing like a prostitute.

”They put their own lives at risk and completely  disregarded the dangers. They smiled right  through it,” Kolt said yesterday. ”When I first saw them I didn’t think they were  human. With their long clothes, I couldn’t see  their feet and thought they were floating angels.”

Kolt, born Izia Jablonska in 1936, has just  published her remarkable story, Tell It to the Squirrels, with the help of another remarkable  story, the Write Your Story program.

The program began with 10-weeks of state-funding  to help elderly Jews record their histories for  their children and grandchildren.

Eleven years later, it has produced 85 books and  another six anthologies of shorter stories, and  is about to link up with Monash University.

The authors pay the costs, and may print as few as 40 copies, but some are sent to various archives.

Founder Julie Meadows, 74, herself a Polish Jewish emigrant at two, said 10 people responded to an advertisement in The Australian Jewish News in 1998, seven of them Holocaust survivors. By the second week, she realised it was vital social
history and decided to keep it going.

”In 11 years I’ve raised more than $200,000 of funds. I pick pockets, and I never stop and it’s hard – I can’t even sell a raffle ticket – but I’m passionate about it,” she said.

”I consider this holy work. This is my synagogue. When you hear stories like Judy’s, it’s full of miracles.”

Kolt’s father fought with the underground and was eventually captured, which was why the nuns rushed Judy and Tosia to the blind institute, but not before he saved not only his own family but many other children.

The nuns took many photos of the Jewish children in communion clothes to protect them if arrested.

She wrote her story because she wanted her children to know the grandfather they never met and to honour the nuns and other heroes.

”They were special people who against all odds saved a handful of people, and from that handful there’s a whole generation now.”

At first she saw the audience as just her family: three children, six grandchildren. But she felt an urgent need that the Holocaust be remembered as ”it is already being denied and forgotten”.

”It’s not just an episode in the lives of Jewish people, it’s important for all humanity. There are witnesses who will never forget it, but for how much longer? I was a child, and I’m in my 70s now.”

That’s why Julie Meadows has not run short of material. People who remember the war are getting older, and their children are urging them to record their lives.

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JCCV seeks guidance on gay issues

MELBOURNE, 13 January – The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is to establish a reference group to better understand the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of the community.

The announcement follows a meeting last month between senior members of the JCCV and a number of people who identify themselves as gay or lesbian.

Describing the discussions as “frank and wide ranging”, council president John Searle said participants agreed to set up the roundtable to address issues of vilification and discrimination against gay or lesbian Jews, and to look at the
mental health implications of exclusion based on sexual preference.

“Commencing in early 2010 this reference group will explore and develop strategies to address these issues as they relate to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, with a view to bringing together appropriate partnerships
with service providers in the community.”

While the make-up of the reference group has not been finalised, Michael Barnett, the head of Aleph, a Jewish group for gay men, said it was his understanding he would not be included in the group.

“John Searle does not want to talk to Aleph,” he claimed.

Barnett, who has been engaged in ongoing dialogue with the JCCV president as well as other membersof the Jewish community, public office holders and leaders in the gay and lesbian community, has repeatedly accused some communal organisations and individuals of homophobia.

Searle, however, reiterated his commitment to fighting prejudice and discrimination, whatever its form.

“The vilification of any members of the Victorian Jewish community is intolerable,” he said.

“The JCCV recognises that its role extends beyond the so-called mainstream and intends to work with all its members in ways that are acceptable to the entire community.”

As to gay or lesbian Jews who may feel alienated from communal organisations, he added: “One of my main ambitions on assuming the presidency of the JCCV was to bring disconnected Jews back to our community, a difficult task by definition.”

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Another synagogue faces cash problems

MELBOURNE, 13 January – The city’s only Sephardi synagogue has been left without a rabbi, with the community struggling financially and membership dwindling.

Paul Berman, president of the Sephardi Association of Victoria, has confirmed that Rabbi Yehuda Cohen’s contract had not been extended. It is due to expire on January 31.

It is understood that Rabbi Cohen, who has been at the synagogue for five years, will not return to Melbourne after taking annual leave over the summer.

“We’re in the financial position that we need to get a part-time rabbi,” Berman said. “He wasn’t able to consider that as an option.”

Sephardi Association members, which number about 150, were informed of Rabbi Cohen’s departure in November last year. A newsletter to members said
that with “decreasing membership and high holy day donations, coupled with increasing operational costs”, the board could not afford the expense of a full-time rabbi.

Berman added: “There are members within our congregation who are disappointed, who have made connections with Rabbi Cohen and feel it is a shame that he hasn’t been able to stay, and there are members who are looking forward to a new beginning with someone new.”

The outgoing rabbi had tried to build up the Sephardi community, which is seeking younger members, but Berman admitted his organisation is going through “trying times”.

“Our donations were the lowest they have ever been in the history of the association over the past high holy days.”

While the search for a new, part-time rabbi is undertaken, Rabbi Ben Hassan, a shaliach at Leibler Yavneh College, will lead services.

Rabbi Hassan arrived in Melbourne at the end of last year. He is English-born, but undertook his rabbinic studies in Israel.

“He is very excited to be involved with a Sephardi congregation and certainly he is
assisting us at the moment,” Berman said.

A formal search has begun, but the president said the Sephardi Association would be limited somewhat due to its financial difficulties.

“We don’t have a bucketful of Sephardi rabbis here in Australia,” he added.

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Knives & Forks at ten paces

SYDNEY, 13 January – A last-minute deal between two different kashrut authorities this week have saved a Sydney wedding from being thrown into turmoil. Just 48 hours before the big day, it seemed guests at the simcha might go hungry after the
family’s attempt to bring kosher meat from Melbourne to the event was blocked.

The hosts had turned to Victorian kosher caterer Eshel because it offered more competitive rates that they could get locally. And for religious reasons, they wanted meat certified by Melbourne’s Adass Israel Kosher Certification
Authority.  However, the policy of the NSW Kashrut Authority (KA) prevents meat from other kosher authorities being used by a caterer or restauranteur in the state unless a KA supervisor has overseen the slaughtering process or the KA
has provided special permission.

A number of kosher consumers have long claimed the policy is anti-competitive, and legal action was threatened in 2005. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission later granted immunity to the KA, though it was said it was “not an endorsement of its policy”.

In the end as a one-off arrangement, the parties involved  in the function resolved that an Adass shochet and a mashgiach (supervisor) would fly up to Sydney to supervise the event, but the meat would be sourced from Sydney.  It is understood
that the KA’s rabbinic coordinator, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, even went so far as to provide the funds to pay for all the expenses, including the meat.

This latest incident, however, has once again raised concerns about the potential for a kashrut turf war. It has also highlighted Sydney’s lack of competition in kosher catering and the perception that prices are higher than in Melbourne.

At present, there is only one kashrut authority in Sydney.  Melbourne, meanwhile, has a number of kashrut organisations. Supervision is carried  out by Adass, Mizrachi’s Kosher Australia, Kosher Veyosher , and the Chabad Kosher Committee.  Adass charges “about $1 a head for supervision, while Sydney’s KA charges anywhere from $1.20 to $6.60 per head, depending on the catering charges per person.

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Paying tribute to Raoul Wallenberg

MELBOURNE, 18 January – The heroism of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved up to 100,000 Jews during the Holocaust, was honoured on the weekend.

Melbourne survivors gathered at a ceremony at St Kilda Town Hall on Sunday January 17 at 11am to pay tribute to Wallenberg, who disappeared 65 years ago.

The annual event has the backing of B’nai B’rith’s Raoul Wallenberg Unit and the City of Port Philip, with personal involvement of Mayor Frank O’Connor.

Susan Ginesy, who was born in Budapest, was saved from deportation to the death camps when she was placed in one of the protected houses set up by Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat. She has written about her experiences in her memoirs, When I Was There . And Now.

Avraham Zeleznikow, who is a member of Raoul Wallenberg Unit and the elderly citizens committee at the City of Port Philip, said that while “most people are familiar with the story”, Wallenberg’s heroism needs to be commemorated,
particularly in St Kilda and surrounding suburbs, where many Holocaust survivors live.

During 1944, Wallenberg, who was posted by his government to Budapest, saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews by thwarting attempts to transport them to Auschwitz.

Working illegally, he issued thousands of protective Swedish passports, and intervened to have Jews pulled off trains heading for Auschwitz.

When the Soviets invaded Budapest in January 1945, Wallenberg was taken into “protective custody”, and was last seen on January 17 of that year.

Some years later, the Soviet Union responded to a growing outcry for Wallenberg’s whereabouts by claiming simply that he had died in custody.

A memorial tree at St Kilda Town Hall is surrounded by a reflective seat, inscribed with the talmudic saying: “Whoever preserves the life of a single human being, it is as if he had preserved an entire world.”

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Moshiach men sanctioned by rabbi

MELBOURNE, 15 January – The head rabbi of Melbourne’s Chabad community this week moved to excise a controversial fringe group from the Jewish community.

Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Telsner, dayan of the city’s Yeshivah College, called on the so-called “Moshiach Men” to be shunned for publicly flouting the Fast of Tevet.

The group is best known in the wider community for their regular antics around St Kilda East. Followers dressed in yellow shirts and novelty hats wave large flags and sing songs proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah, who they believe to be the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Late last month, a small number of people associated with the Moshiach Men flouted the fast of Tevet 10 by hosting a party at a private home and recording the celebration, which was posted on YouTube.

The video and the event riled Rabbi Telsner, who called the action a chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) and in complete contradiction to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s teachings.

“In light of the above, I find it necessary to rule that until the perpetrators of these deeds stand before a Beis Din of three Rabbonim, and seek forgiveness and correction of that which they have done, they are to be ostracised by all
members of the community,” Rabbi Telsner wrote in a strongly-worded letter that has since been widely circulated.

He elaborated, writing that the Moshiach Men should not be counted as part of a minyan and cannot be given an aliyah to the Torah.

“Similarly, one should not speak to them or have any business dealings with them,” the Chabad rabbi added.

A representative of the Moshiach Men declined to comment on the letter, saying it had not been specifically addressed to the group.

Rabbi Telsner also refused to elaborate on the drastic measures he had taken against the group, which considers itself part of Chabad Judaism.

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Apron art promotes tolerance

MELBOURNE, 15 January  –  An apron might be a symbol of domesticity, but for a group of 13 women, it became a symbol of tolerance and diversity.

Women from Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Jewish backgrounds gathered for a two-day interfaith workshop last month facilitated by Jewish Care, Prahran Mission Multicultural Program and the Victorian Multicultural Commission.

The women, who have all been touched by mental illness or have experienced some kind of abuse, designed and decorated aprons to represent their own personal journeys.

Jewish Care CEO Bruce Salvin said: “The workshop provided an opportunity to share experiences, tell stories and build trust.”

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Heading for record feat

SYDNEY, 15 January –  -A fitness challenge with a friend has catapulted Jarryd Rubenstein to internet stardom and the Guinness Book of World Records.

The Sydneysider was recorded completing 26 consecutive “muscle ups” — a feat no one around the world has been able to match.

For the mortal athletes out there, a muscle-up is a combination of a chin-up and a dip in one movement, something that, according to Rubenstein, “shouldn’t be tried unless you can do 20-25 chin-ups first”.

Training is Rubinstein’s passion — he exercises at North Bondi beach “as long as it’s notsnowing” – fuelled by 16 months with the Israel Defence Forces Sayeret Golani unit.

His time in Israel converted him to a regime in which, he said, he has “not picked up a weight in five years”.

Back in Australia since 2008, the chiselled 26-year-old who works in wealth management trains religiously by the beach, doing exercises that use only his body weight for resistance.

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Jewish Community acts on Haiti tragedyMELBOURNE,  15 January–To all concerned Jewish community members:

In Haiti, tens of thousands of people are reported dead and the death toll continues to rise after the most devastating earthquake to shake the region in two hundred years.

Schools, hospitals and thousands of homes have been destroyed and over three million people have been left without adequate food, shelter, healthcare and basic infrastructure.

All proceeds from this appeal will be distributed to CARE Australia, which is a non-religious and non-political Australian charity, who are conducting a large scale relief and rescue operation:

“CARE is deploying additional emergency team members to the devastated city of Port-au-Prince in Haiti, where the worst earthquake in 200 years
destroyed houses and left thousands homeless.

While the exact death toll from the 7.0-magnitude quake is not yet known, it is expected to be catastrophic.

“It is just morning here now,” describes CARE’s Country Director in Haiti Sophie Perez on January 13, less than a day after the quake. “I can hear helicopters working on the search and rescue. The immediate need is to rescue people trapped in the
rubble, then to get people food and water. We’re particularly worried about the children, because so many schools seem to have collapsed. Children were still in school in the afternoon when the earthquake hit, so there are many children trapped. It’s horrifying.”

The Australian Jewish community is being mobilised to support Haitians in their time of need. Please consider a generous contribution to JAA’s Haiti Appeal, to enable CARE to assist communities in Haiti to respond, recover and rebuild in the wake of this enormous disaster.

Thank you for your generous support.

Sincerely,

Gary Samowitz
CEO, Jewish Aid Australia

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Jewish charitable organisations are helping the rescue and relief effort in Haiti  after the Caribbean Island was decimated by an earthquake on January 13.

The Victorian chapter of Magen David Adom (MDA) is collecting  funds, as is Jewish Aid Australia (JAA).

Haiti’s president Rene Preval said that up to 50,000 may have been killed in the earthquake, which registered seven on the Richter scale. The International Red Cross has estimated that up to three million Haitians have been left homeless, injured or dead.

Many governments and non-government organisations have mobilised to help Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries. They include the Israeli Government, which together with the Red Cross and MDA Israel, is preparing to send a delegation of doctors and paramedics, as well as medical supplies.

In order to support the Israeli effort, the local MDA group is raising money for emergency and medical supplies to be sent to Haiti.

JAA has partnered with CARE Australia, a non-religious and non-political charity, which is conducting relief and rescue operations on the small island via emergency teams. Fundraising undertaken by JAA will be directed to CARE.

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Israelis at Australian Open

MELBOURNE, 18 January – With the 2010 grand slam circuit kicking off at Melbourne Park today (January 18) with the Australian Open, there is
no better time for Israeli and Jewish players to build on the success of 2009.

Here are some of the key players to look out for over summer:

Dudi Sela

The spearhead of Israel’s Davis Cup side became only the fourth Israeli to play in the fourth round of a grand slam when he reached the final 16 at Wimbledon in 2009.

This time last year, Sela had to endure three-rounds of qualifying to play in Melbourne — where he eventually bowed out in the third round.

This year though, the diminutive stroke-maker arrives full of confidence, ranked 40th in the world and buoyed by a strong semifinal showing in Chennai, India,  where he gave world number 21 Stanislas Wawrinka a run. He followed that up with a first-round loss to Julian Benneteau at the Sydney International.

Shahar Peer

Israel’s number-one female player has found herself under fire from politically minded spectators in 2010, but was still able to maintain focus to reach the semifinals in Auckland last week.

The world number 30 claimed two titles in September — Tashkent, Uzbekistan and Guangzhou, China — to break a three-year winning drought. She is a Federation Cup spearhead for her country, but will be hoping for a better result in grand slams this year — her best result was reaching the third round at the US Open in 2009.

The second seed at this week’s Hobart International, she will meet Alona Bondarenko in the final on January 18

Andy Ram

Andy Ram is one of the world’s finest doubles exponents. In 2009, he reached the Australian Open mixed doubles final with Frenchwoman Natalie Dechy, and the US Open men’s doubles semifinal with Belarus’ Max Mirnyi.

The ninth-ranked player will likely team with France’s Michael Llodra this summer, after winning with Mirnyi in Miami and making five other finals last year.

Jonathan Erlich

Ram’s former doubles partner has suffered a dogged few years due to injury. The highlight of 2009 was his reunion with Ram in the Davis Cup, and a title in Turkey with compatriot Harel Levy in May.

However, the former grand slam doubles winner’s ranking has slipped to 187.

 Aleksandra Wozniak

Aleksandra Wozniak became the first Canadian woman in 17 years to reach the second week of a grand slam, when she lost to Serena Williams in the fourth round at the French Open last year.

The right-hander backed it up, reaching the third round at the US Open, and finished the year ranked 34 in the world.

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Of Killing Fields and Looted Graves: A Catholic Priest Fulfills the Command, Zachor

January 16, 2010 2 comments

Father Patrick Desbois

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By Jeanette Friedman
NY Bureau Chief, San Diego Jewish World

NEW YORK–Father Patrick Desbois is an unusual Catholic priest, who, at the behest of two French clerics (the Yiddish-speaking Holocaust survivor, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, and Cardinal Jean Pierre Ricard), officially took it upon himself to obey the commandment, Zachor, to remember. Born in the 1950’s, he is the grandson of a deportee sent to Rawa-Ruska, near Belzec, in the former Soviet Union–a deportee who witnessed mass shooting murder of the Jews by Nazis’ Einzatsgruppen, the mobile killing troops, and their collaborators.

Years later he returned to that site with his grandson, to teach him why he had to help heal the world. At that moment the wick was lit, and Father Desbois became “the memorial candle” for his family and his calling. With the blessings of the Cardinals and the Pope, in 2002, he embarked on a journey he did not then know could become dangerous.

On January 12, 2010, Father Desbois was the guest speaker at a luncheon for members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. More than 40 leaders of the Jewish community were in attendance, among them attorney Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference and chairman of the Jewish Community Center Association; John Ruskay, executive vice president of UJAFedNY; Mindy Stein, president of Emunah of America; Kalman Sultanik, honorary vice president of the World Jewish Congress, and former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman (who founded the Office of Special Investigations at the Justice Department to prosecute Nazi war criminals).

Father Desbois was there to present his case for community action and to ask the established Jewish community to help him preserve more than 900 mass graves that hold the remains of as many as 1.6 million Jews scattered all across Eastern Europe, before it was “too late,”—and to help him find as many more as he could before the sites were destroyed by grave robbers and urbanization.

Doing research and tracking history and maps, Father Desbois walks across the killing fields where the mobile killing forces that followed Hitler’s army through the towns and cities, shtetls and dorfs of Eastern Europe, carried out lethal ethnic cleansing, one bullet at a time. He seeks eye witnesses who watched what happened when the Nazis arrived to do their dirty work, and tries to find and protect the mass graves.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference, says the Catholic priest appreciates, “The kedusha of the Kedoshim, the holiness of the holy ones.” As a son of Holocaust survivors, Hoenlein uses that term to describe Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust.  (The official definition of a Holocaust survivor includes any Jew who was in Europe or fled, between 1933 and 1945.)

In 2004, Father Desbois and his team created the non-profit organization, Yahad in Unum, so he could fund this quest, which often takes him and his team to remote areas, where the natives are not always friendly and might even want to kill them. It’s one reason he learned to develop a poker face, one that would not reveal his feelings even while listening to the vilest forms of anti-Semitic libels.  Said the priest: “If you show on your face what you think, the interview is over. Some of these people are violent and will kill those who try to stop them.  And some of the people who speak of the ‘innocent ones’ are afraid of reprisals.”

In one place, he spent Christmas with a Greek Orthodox family whose entertainment for the evening included skit wherein his host’s son and daughter played a Jew who said he came to swindle everyone in town, and his wife, the Rebbitzen, opened her coat to reveal stolen cell phones for sale.

The witnesses who have given testimony have allowed Father Desbois to recreate precisely the way the Einzatsgruppen carried out their tasks. In meticulous, chilling detail, he described the methodology of death by close range shooting in the days before Auschwitz and the other death camps were built.

Everything went according to a system that began when a German location scout would show up to scope out the area for the best place to locate such a grave. When the troops arrived, the mayor and municipal police were recruited to bring the Jews out of their homes and march them to the sites, where they would dig their own graves and be murdered at close range–one bullet, one Jew.  Within three weeks, beginning with the sales of clothing left at the gravesites and ending with auctions of Jewish-owned furniture in the local synagogue buildings, the entire Jewish community would disappear.  But not without a trace. Artifacts remain at many of the sites, and grave robbers know it and seek them out.

When the Yachad in Unum team comes to a town, they ask the locals if they know anyone who witnessed the mass murder of the Jews. They race against the clock because the witnesses are dying of old age. Sometimes the people come forward, and sometimes they don’t. And sometimes the evidence confirms what the witness saw. In one case a witness described someone playing a harmonica while the shootings took place, and Father Desbois’s team found the remains of a harmonica near the mass grave.

The most horrific reason and need for speed to preserve the sites is because of what is happening to those mass graves today.  In remote areas, there are mass graves that have not yet been confirmed and protected,  and locals use them as gold mines (80% of the graves in Ukraine have been looted)—digging up the remains to search for gold teeth and jewelry.

Artifacts found by the Yachad in Unum team—shell casings, bullets, necklaces, bracelets—are sent off to various Holocaust museums to refute Holocaust deniers and to educate the public. They have developed a traveling artifact exhibit, “The Holocaust of Bullets,” that is sent to schools and study centers across the globe. The team has developed special relationships with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and with the Sorbonne in Paris to make these materials available to all, and to use those resources in their research as well.

Yachad in Unum’s goal now is to get funding to expand the search for mass graves into Russia, Belarus and Poland; to maintain an archive in Paris for other museums, scholars, students, survivor families and researchers to access; and to continue to make the traveling exhibition available.

Most importantly, they want to recruit people who can help them convince area governments to seal the graves with concrete and mark them as sacred grounds so that they cannot be defiled any longer.

But this work doesn’t come cheap. Each investigative trip, which includes all the research done by the 11-member team costs approximately $55,000 and it is expected that the cost to complete the entire project and seal the graves would cost $5 million.

At the conclusion of his talk, Hoenlein presented Father Desbois with an award of thanks on behalf of all of the major Jewish organizations in the United States.