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Uriel Heilman
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Will Israelis pay the price for a natural gas ‘monopoly’?

WorldPublished: 03 July 2015

Israeli consumers are no strangers to high prices.

Basic household goods like food and toiletries cost more in Israel than in all but two countries in Europe, a recent Nielsen research study found. Israeli real estate prices are up nearly 60 percent since 2008. Tel Aviv is the world’s third-most expensive city in which to buy beer, and furniture prices at IKEA Israel are more than double those at IKEA Norway, recent surveys have shown.

Now Israeli consumers are worried about high natural gas prices.

At issue is a deal on which the Knesset is preparing to vote that would give a partnership between two companies — Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Group — control over developing the two largest gas fields discovered off Israel’s Mediterranean coast in recent years.


How to build an American shtetl

See: Bloomingburg, N.Y.

WorldPublished: 29 May 2015

BLOOMINGBURG, N.Y. — This is how you launch a chasidic shtetl in 21st-century America.

Step 1. Find a place within reasonable distance of Brooklyn where the land is cheap and underdeveloped.

Step 2. Buy as much property as you can in your target area — if possible, without tipping off locals that you plan to turn it into a chasidic enclave.

Step 3. Ensure the zoning is suited to chasidic living: densely clustered homes big enough for large families and within walking distance of the community’s vital infrastructure.

Step 4. Build the infrastructure: Houses, a synagogue and study hall, kosher establishments, a mikvah. Lay the groundwork for a school. Launch a shuttle service so chasidim who don’t drive or don’t own cars can get from the new shtetl to shopping outlets and other chasidic communities in the region.


1 in 6 Jews are new to Judaism —  and 9 other new Pew findings

WorldPublished: 15 May 2015

The Pew Research Center’s newly released 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study offers a trove of data on American Jews based on interviews with 35,071 American adults, 847 of whom identified their faith as Jewish. Here are some of the more interesting findings about the Jews.

We’re highly educated! There are more American Jews with two or more university degrees than those who have just one — 31 percent have a graduate degree and 29 percent have just a bachelor’s degree. With a college graduation rate of about 59 percent (more than twice the national average of 27 percent), American Jews are the second most-educated religious group in America after Hindus, at 77 percent.

We’re the biggest religious minority! Judaism is the largest faith group in America after Christianity, and its relative size in America has grown slightly since 2007 — from 1.7 percent of the U.S. population in 2007 to 1.9 percent in 2014. The denominational breakdown of Jews who identify with the Jewish faith (“Jews by religion”) is 44 percent Reform, 22 percent Conservative, 14 percent Orthodox, 5 percent another movement, and 16 percent no denomination.


New details on mikvah-peeping rabbi

Court filings show Freundel also had extramarital sexual encounters

WorldPublished: 15 May 2015

In addition to secretly recording women undressing for the mikvah — the ritual bath — Rabbi Barry Freundel engaged in sexual encounters with several women, according to prosecutors.

That’s one of several new details about the mikvah-peeping rabbi to emerge from two documents filed in Washington, D.C. Superior Court on May 8 — one each by the prosecution and defense — before Freundel’s sentencing on Friday. The documents, which attempt to sway the judge’s sentencing, shed new light on Freundel’s behavior and offer some particulars about his life since his arrest on October 14, 2014 — including that he has resumed some rabbinic teaching.

Freundel pleaded guilty in February to 52 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism for installing secret cameras in the shower room of the mikvah adjacent to Kesher Israel, the prominent Washington Orthodox synagogue he led for some 25 years.


‘A Nazi Legacy’

Two sons diverge on mass-murdering fathers

FilmPublished: 08 May 2015

It’s hard not to get emotional watching the superbly rendered “A Nazi Legacy: What our Fathers Did.”

But unlike many Holocaust documentaries, the overwhelming feelings aren’t sadness and loss, though there are those, too. They are exasperation and anger.

In the film, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York last month, British-Jewish lawyer Philippe Sands tells the story of two men, both the children of high-ranking Nazi figures.

Niklas Frank is the son of Hans Frank, Hitler’s lawyer and the governor-general of Nazi-occupied Poland. The elder Frank was hanged in 1946, after being found guilty at Nuremberg for complicity in the murder of Poland’s 3 million Jews.

Horst von Wachter is the son of Otto von Wachter, an Austrian who served as the Nazi governor of Galicia (now Lviv, Ukraine) and died in hiding in 1949 while under the Vatican’s protection.


Intermarried rabbis?

Reconstructionists consider dropping ban as its seminary numbers drop

WorldPublished: 24 April 2015

The Reconstructionist movement is on the cusp of making a historic decision about whether to drop its longstanding ban against intermarried rabbinical school students.

If the policy change passes, as most expect, Reconstructionism would become the first of America’s four major Jewish religious denominations to ordain intermarried rabbis.

Supporters of the change argue that the ban hews to an outdated way of defining Jewish identity and community, and that eliminating the ban would reaffirm Reconstructionism’s commitment to progressivism and inclusivity. In 1985, the movement was the first among the major Jewish denominations to ordain openly gay rabbis. And it embraced its first woman rabbi in 1974, just two years after the Reform movement. Last year it became the first to install a gay rabbi, Deborah Waxman, at the helm of its flagship seminary, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

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Meet Omer Mei-Dan

Israeli BASE jumper, stuntman — and orthopedic surgeon

WorldPublished: 09 April 2015

BOULDER, Colorado — Dr. Omer Mei-Dan has jumped off more cliffs than he can count — not to mention helicopters, skyscrapers and bridges.

Just don’t call him a skydiver.

An orthopedic surgeon and extreme sports athlete, Mei-Dan, 42, is a BASE jumper — one of an estimated 1,500 to 3,000 worldwide who jump from the fixed platforms for which the sport is named: buildings, antennas, spans and earth. Skydiving is a cakewalk by comparison.

Because BASE jumpers leap from much lower altitudes, they often have mere milliseconds to deploy their parachutes. And for leaps that involve hazards below, like craggy mountainsides or steel structures, the risks are exponentially greater. To guide and control their falls, jumpers often don wingsuits, which make them look like bats or flying squirrels.

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Now what?

The next step after the nuclear negotiators go home

WorldPublished: 03 April 2015

Diplomats in Lausanne, Switzerland, have extended their deadline on a framework accord on Iran’s nuclear program. But even if an agreement is reached this week, it’s merely a way station toward a comprehensive deal that is due by June 30.

If a deal is reached, who has to approve it?

If the six world powers negotiating with Iran — that’s the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France, and Germany — manage to reach a final deal, Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei still must grant his approval, and President Obama will have to overcome opposition in Congress.

The deal need not be subject to a congressional vote, but there are several ways Congress could scuttle it anyway. Opponents could assemble a veto-proof congressional majority for a bill that either negates the deal or makes implementation extremely difficult — perhaps delaying the lifting of sanctions until Iran satisfies certain conditions, or automatically reinstating them if Iran supports a terrorist act.

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Grief spans an ocean

Israel burial for 7 kids killed in blaze

WorldPublished: 27 March 2015

Even in a city accustomed to deadly fires, this one stood out for the sheer scale of the tragedy.

Seven children, ranging in age from 5 to 16, were killed in the middle of the night after awakening from their Sabbath slumber to smoke and flames.

It was New York’s deadliest blaze since 2007, and there were only two survivors: mother Gayle Sassoon, 45, and daughter Tziporah, 15, who jumped from second-story windows to escape the flames sparked by a malfunctioning Shabbat hot plate in their home in the Midwood section of Brooklyn.

The other children could be heard screaming from their rooms, but rescuers could not reach them in time.

The victims’ father, Gabriel Sassoon, was away at a religious retreat in Manhattan when the fire struck. He learned about what happened only when New York Police Department officers located him at a synagogue on Saturday morning.

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Swarthmore Hillel votes to disaffiliate with Hillel International

WorldPublished: 20 March 2015

Swarthmore Hillel’s student board voted to drop its affiliation with Hillel International and change its name, citing Hillel International’s restrictions on Israel issues.

Following an extended debate, the 11-member board elected late Monday night in a 7-3 vote to drop the affiliation, effective immediately. (One board member was absent.)

In December 2013, the Hillel of Swarthmore College declared itself an Open Hillel, saying it would not abide by Hillel International’s rules prohibiting partnering with or hosting groups or speakers who deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish or democratic state; delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel, or support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

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