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Uriel Heilman
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8 things you should know about the Gaza-Israel conflict

WorldPublished: 18 July 2014

Israel and Hamas are fighting their third major conflict in six years, and while some things have stayed the same, the battle lines have also shifted in a few notable ways. Here are eight things you need to know about the current conflagration:

• Iron Dome has been a game changer: The U.S.-funded Israeli anti-missile system was operational during the last conflagration, in November 2012, but its remarkable success rate this go-around has reduced Gaza’s missiles to more of an irritant than a deadly threat for Israel — so far.

In the eight-day conflict in 2012, Gaza fired some 1,500 rockets into Israel and killed six Israelis, five of them from rocket fire. In the three-week war of 2008-09, 750 rockets were fired into Israel, killing three (another 10 Israelis were killed in fighting). By comparison, more than 1,100 rockets have been fired toward Israel this time and so far there’s only been one Israeli death — by mortar fire at a border area, not by a rocket attack.


Another black eye for Israel

Beating of Palestinian-American teen one more mark against Israel

WorldPublished: 11 July 2014

For Israelis, the enduring image of the past few weeks may be the montage of the three Israeli teens murdered last month after being abducted from a hitchhiking post in the West Bank.

But another enduring image has emerged in the last few days that is unlikely to garner much sympathy for Israel: a minute-long video in which a Palestinian-American teenager is beaten by two Israeli border policemen. One officer is seen pinning Tariq Abu Khdeir to the ground while the other pummels the 15-year-old with his fists and also kicks his head.

After the incident, photos of the boy’s bloody face, including black eyes and a severely swollen lip, rocketed around the globe.

It was but one episode in a gruesome few days that saw Tariq’s cousin, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, burned to death by Jewish extremists, Gaza rocket crews fire scores of missiles into Israel, and the Israeli army respond with an expanded bombing operation of targets in the Gaza Strip.


Twenty years after rebbe’s death, has Chabad changed?

WorldPublished: 04 July 2014

What does a fervent religious movement do after the death of its singular leader?

That was the existential question the Chabad-Lubavitch movement faced 20 years ago this week, when its charismatic rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, died, leaving no heir.

Amid the grief and turbulence that followed his death, many people believed that Chabad would be torn apart by those who believed it should proclaim its departed rebbe as the messiah and those who didn’t, or that the messianists would doom the movement’s wider appeal.

Both views turned out to be wrong.


American Jews join forces over missing Israeli teens

Local | WorldPublished: 20 June 2014

The Reform movement posted a prayer. Chabad asked followers to pledge to do a mitzvah. The Jewish Federations of North America set up a web page to express solidarity.

The disappearance of three Israeli teens in the West Bank last week is being taken as a call to action uniting many disparate elements of the American Jewish community.

At synagogues across America spanning the major denominations, Jews recited psalms or offered special prayers for the safe return of the teens, echoing a prayer rally held Sunday at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. On Monday, demonstrators held a rally opposite the Israeli consulate in Manhattan.

“I have a 16-year-old myself,” Steven Levine of Brooklyn said at the rally. “It could have been any of us. They’re my brothers, they’re my children. That’s why I’m here.”


Where Chabad’s lost boys go to find themselves

WorldPublished: 13 June 2014

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — The Bais Menachem Youth Development program in this northeastern Pennsylvania city is no typical Chabad yeshiva.

The students wear flip-flops and T-shirts, not the typical black-and-white of chasidic seminaries. In addition to Jewish law and Bible study, the curriculum includes improv nights, poetry slams, and screenings of National Geographic nature shows. The students take tae kwondo classes, skiing lessons, and canoe trips down the Delaware River. There’s even a house band.

Welcome to the yeshiva for wayward Chabad youths.

“A couple of years ago, I was coming out of a very dark time in my life,” said a 17-year-old named Levi, who grew up in the Chabad-Lubavitch stronghold of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. “I used to party and smoke marijuana and hang out with very bad people.”


JCC bets big on fading city

WorldPublished: 06 June 2014

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — There once was a time when the Jewish community in this Pennsylvania city just west of the Pocono Mountains was thriving.

That much is clear from a quick tour. The sanctuary at the local Orthodox synagogue, Ohav Zedek, seats nearly 1,000. Temple Israel, the Conservative shul, has two huge buildings, a hulking sanctuary and a three-story school. There’s a Jewish day school, a JCC with its own bowling alley, and a Reform synagogue with many sanctuaries.

But there’s also ample evidence that the Jewish heyday is long gone.

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Shul caught in scandal, school closes

WorldPublished: 06 June 2014

It’s been a rough few weeks for Conservative Jews in the Boston suburbs known as the South Area.

First, Rabbi Barry Starr, the longtime spiritual leader of Temple Israel of Sharon, resigned amid allegations that he used synagogue discretionary funds to pay about $480,000 in hush money to an extortionist to hide a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy.

Then came the news that the area’s only Conservative Jewish day school, the Kehillah Schechter Academy of nearby Norwood, will be shutting down at the end of the school year. With the next-closest non-Orthodox day school more than 45 minutes away, it doesn’t leave a whole lot of options for South Area Conservative Jews — notably in Sharon, the single largest source of KSA’s students.

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Orthodox vendors going the way of Cubs’ hopes at Wrigley

generalPublished: 02 May 2014

Longtime fans of the Chicago Cubs know there are a few mainstays they can expect when they visit Wrigley Field: ivy on the outfield walls, a strict no-wave policy rigorously enforced by fans, and on most days, disappointing play by the hometown team.

But there’s one little-known quirk at Wrigley that appears to be fading away. The ballpark, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last week, enters its second century, but the many Orthodox Jewish vendors who sell food and drinks in the stands seem to be vanishing.

A few subtle signs could give the vendors away: a stray tzitzit strand flapping out of a jersey, a name tag reading Simcha, the Mincha prayer minyan that used to take place in the outfield stands before or after games.

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Holocaust restitution moves slowly in Eastern Europe

LocalPublished: 25 April 2014

When a 2009 Holocaust-era assets conference concluded with a landmark statement of principles on Holocaust restitution, many restitution advocates had high hopes that a corner had been turned in the struggle for survivor justice.

The Terezin Declaration, which had the support of 46 countries participating in the conference in the Czech Republic, outlined a set of goals for property restitution. It recognized the advancing age of Holocaust survivors and the imperative of delivering them aid and justice in their final years.

“Participating States urge that every effort be made to rectify the consequences of wrongful property seizures, such as confiscations, forced sales and sales under duress of property, which were part of the persecution of these innocent people and groups, the vast majority of whom died heirless,” the June 2009 declaration stated.

But five years on, progress on securing restitution has been painstakingly slow.

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Partnership minyans grow in Orthodox grassroots

WorldPublished: 07 March 2014

If it wasn’t clear before, it should be abundantly clear now: The Orthodox establishment will not sanction so-called partnership minyans, and it’s willing to go to the mat to fight them.

In recent weeks, a flurry of articles by leading Orthodox rabbis and scholars have taken aim at the growing phenomenon of partnership minyans, which feature traditional Orthodox liturgy and mechitzah dividers separating the genders but allow women to read from the Torah and lead certain parts of the service.

Last week came news of a penalty for a rabbinical school student who had attended one such minyan: The New York Jewish Week reported that Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, known as RIETS, had threatened to withhold rabbinic ordination from a young man who had hosted a partnership minyan in his home.

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