h. --BBCi

PM Benjamin Netanyahu and wif celebrates record win

LODZ, Poland – The Polish City of Lodz hosted its first-ever Jewish celebratory event, the Festival of Tranquility, over the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. The festival, organized by the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, in collaboration with Shavei Israel emissary to Lodz Rabbi David Szychowski, was a singular event connecting art and spirituality.  The festival featured films, Torah study, workshops in calligraphy and cooking, a concert, and more.

“In order to listen to yourself and reflect on the reality around us, you need time and space,” Szychowski said.  “The residents of Lodz joined us to take pause, open up to one another, and learn about the contemporary life of the Polish Jewish community.”

”Judaism has witnessed a revival in Poland, and we are happy to celebrate it,” Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund said.

The Festival of Tranquility began with a night of Torah study in honor of Shavuot, when Jews traditionally gather to study. The following day featured a tour of Lodz and its historical landmarks. The Jewish Community Center recently commemorated the life of Maurycy Gutentag, the chief of the First Department of the Fire Brigade, and unveiled his tombstone in a ceremony led by Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich.  

On September 8, 1939 German forces entered Lodz and immediately began targeting and terrorizing Jews, who constituted 34 percent, or 223,000 people, of the city’s pre-war population of 665,000.  In early 1940, the Nazis forced more than 164,000 Jews to live within the confines of the Lodz Ghetto, which was surrounded by barbed-wire and a fence and had no running water or electricity.  It was the second-largest ghetto, after that of Warsaw, established by the Germans during the Holocaust. Residents of the ghetto came primarily from Lodz and surrounding areas but also from further afield, including Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and Luxembourg.

In January 1942, the Germans began deporting Jews from the Lodz Ghetto to Nazi concentration camps. The Nazis and SS stormtroopers liquidated the ghetto between August 9-28, 1944, in the process deporting more than 60,000 residents, mostly Jews, to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps. By the war’s end, only about 900 of the Jews of the Lodz Ghetto had survived.

“Despite the fact that thousands of young Poles have parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents who had to hide their Jewish identity for decades, Judaism has witnessed a revival in Poland since the downfall of Communism and we are happy that we can celebrate it,” Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund said.

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Poland was home to more than 3 million Jews. Today, there are approximately 4,000 Jews officially registered as living in Poland, but according to experts there are tens of thousands of people throughout the country whose forbears chose to hide their Jewish identity due to the persecution they suffered under Nazism and Communism. In recent years, a growing number of such people, popularly known as the “Hidden Jews of Poland,” have begun to explore their connections to Judaism and the Jewish people – and many have returned to Judaism.


The chair of a Belfast City Council committee has defended a decision to block council representation on a trade mission to Israel. A majority of members of the Growth and Regeneration Committee recently voted against the proposed trip.

Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Green Party and People Before Profit opposed it on grounds of "ethical trading."

Committee chair, Sinn Féin's Deirdre Hargey, told BBC's Talkback members felt the trip was "inappropriate."

DUP committee member Guy Spence posted a tweet criticizing the move.

"Sinn Fein, SDLP, People Before Profit and the Greens showed their true colors towards the state and people of Israel by refusing to allow the [council] Development Director to be part of an international trade mission... with five local businesses," he wrote.

In a further tweet, he claimed that council members had "succumbed to the pressure of the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement.

"An anti-Semitic campaign that has nothing to offer our city in regards to International Trade other than small-minded hatefulness".

The trip, due to take place in late July, would involve delegates from the council, Invest NI and Catalyst Inc.  It would cost the council about £1,500.  Ms. Hargey defended the move to block it, saying: "We have an international relations strategy where we work with key destinations across the world. We don't have a direct connection with Israel, or with Palestine for that matter, in terms of international relations."

She added that a proposal to support the BDF movement is due to go before the council on 1 July and that a majority of members felt the trip was "inappropriate" and that it should not take place "until other discussions had happened".

"There have been numerous UN violations of sanctions perpetrated against the Palestinian people.

'Saddened and disappointed'

"What we're trying to do in terms of ethical trading as a council is to look at all of those issues," she said.  According to council minutes, the meeting's aim was "to explore ways of bringing forward initiatives to support local businesses to become more competitive".

The former trade union activist, the Rev. Chris Hudson, said he was "saddened and disappointed" at the move.

"The rationale and the logic of it doesn't stack up and it actually won't make the slightest bit of difference, because Israel will go on to build its economy, to trade with numerous countries, particularly America.

Mr. Hudson pointed to Tuesday's 30th anniversary commemorations of the Tiananmen Square killings, adding that despite its poor humanitarian record, "there will be no question that Belfast will continue [trading] with China, as will Ireland, as will the rest of the UK."

A similar council trip to Shenyang has been supported in the past. Mr. Hudson said: "I could give you a list of 10 countries where human rights violations exceed anything that's happening between Israel and Palestine. But this will be read by people in the Jewish community that Israel is always to be treated differently and that the BDS campaign is not about the violations against the Palestinian people, but about the destruction of the state of Israel.

He added: "I think Deirdre would be much better for her party and the other parties to engage in critical dialogue with the Israeli authorities, with civic society, and indeed go on a delegation and bring those questions with you. But this [the committee vote] is just posing - it adds up to nothing."  --BBCi


NEW YORK – The World Jewish Congress expressed its outrage on Tuesday at the prospect of construction being carried out on a plot of land in Poltava, Ukraine containing the mass graves of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The graves, identified by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and the Ukrainian government, contain the remains of thousands of Jews and gentiles executed by the Nazis.
Responding to the prospective development of the site, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder stated, “The mere prospect of construction on the site of these mass graves is deeply troubling. It is critical in 2019, with rising nationalism and increasing attempts by some to whitewash history, that we work together to ensure that sites such as this one are preserved so they may serve as a reminder to the world of what can happen when hatred is permitted to thrive unchecked. I am sure that, after further reflection, the Ukrainian government will act accordingly by honoring the memory of the victims and appropriately commemorate the atrocities that occurred on this hallowed ground.”

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) is the international organization representing Jewish communities in 100 countries to governments, parliaments and international organizations.


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The German government's anti-Semitism commissioner has urged Jews to avoid wearing skullcaps in public.  Felix Klein warned Jews against donning the kippa in parts of the country following a rise in anti-Semitism. He said his opinion on the matter had "changed compared with what it used to be".

Israel's President Reuven Rivlin said the recommendation amounted to "an admittance that, again, Jews are not safe on German soil".  A sharp increase in the number of anti-Semitic offences was recorded by the German government last year.

Official figures showed 1,646 hate crimes against Jews were committed in 2018 - an increase of 10% on the previous year.   Physical attacks against Jews in Germany also rose in the same period, with 62 violent incidents recorded, up from 37 in 2017.

Speaking to the Handelsblatt newspaper, Justice Minister Katarina Barley said the increase in anti-Semitic crimes was "shameful for our country".

What did Mr Klein say?

"I cannot recommend to Jews that they wear the skullcap at all times everywhere in Germany," he told the Funke newspaper group.  Mr Klein suggested "the lifting of inhibitions and the uncouthness" of society could be behind the spike in anti-Semitic crimes.

The internet, social media and "constant attacks against our culture of remembrance" may be contributing factors, he said.  He also called for police officers, teachers, and lawyers to receive training to clarify "what is allowed and what is not" when "dealing with anti-Semitism".

His comments came weeks after Germany's top legal expert on anti-Semitism said the prejudice remained "deeply rooted" in German society.

"Anti-Semitism has always been here. But I think that recently, it has again become louder, more aggressive and flagrant," Claudia Vanoni told the AFP news agency.

How has Israel's president responded?

Mr. Rivlin said he was "shocked" by Mr Klein's warning and considered it a "a capitulation to anti-Semitism".

"We will never submit, will never lower our gaze and will never react to anti-Semitism with defeatism, and expect and demand our allies act in the same way," the Israeli president said.  He also acknowledged "the moral position of the German government and its commitment to the Jewish community".

Why is anti-Semitism on the rise?

Jewish groups have warned that a rise in popularity of far-right groups is fostering anti-Semitism and hatred of other minorities throughout Europe. Since 2017, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has been the country's main opposition party. AfD is openly against immigration but the party denies holding anti-Semitic views. However, a number of comments from their politicians, including remarks about the Holocaust, have drawn criticism from Jewish groups and other politicians.

Last year, a survey of thousands of European Jews revealed that many were increasingly worried about anti-Semitism. --BBCi


Israeli aircraft have struck Syrian army targets after rockets were fired at the occupied Golan Heights, the Israeli military says. Three Syrian soldiers were killed in the overnight strike, Syrian state media said on Sunday.

Israel seized the Golan from Syria in 1967 and later in effect annexed it, in a move not recognized internationally. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel "would not tolerate" any firing into its territory.

In a tweet, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) gave details of the latest strike - which targeted Syrian positions in the Mount Hermon area, which borders the Golan Heights.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli military said it was unclear who had fired the rockets but added that the Syrian army was responsible for attacks launched from the territory it controls.

On Monday, IDF said it had attacked a Syrian anti-aircraft system that fired on one of its warplanes. Syrian state media said one soldier had been killed in that incident. [Golan Heights is] the region is located about 60km (40 miles) southwest of the Syrian capital, Damascus, and covers about 1,000 sq km (400 sq. miles).

Israel seized most of the Golan from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Middle East war, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake the region during the 1973 war. The two countries agreed a disengage-ment plan the following year that involved the creation of a 70km-long (44-mile) demilitarized zone patrolled by a United Nations observer force. But they remained technically in a state of war.

In 1981, Israel's parliament passed legislation applying Israeli "law, jurisdiction, and administration" to the Golan. But the international community did not recognize the move and maintained that the Golan was occupied Syrian territory. UN Security Council Resolution 497 declared the Israeli decision "null and void and without international legal effect".

Three years ago, under then-President Barack Obama, the US voted in favor of a Security Council statement expressing deep concern that Mr Netanyahu had declared Israel would never relinquish the Golan.

In March, President Donald Trump officially recognized Israeli sovereignty over the area, overturning decades of US policy. In response, Syria has vowed to recover the area "through all available means".
Syria has always insisted that it will not agree a peace deal with Israel unless it withdraws from the whole of the Golan. The last US-brokered direct peace talks broke down in 2000, while Turkey mediated in indirect talks in 2008.

There are more than 30 Israeli settlements in the Golan, which are home to an estimated 20,000 people. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this. The settlers live alongside some 20,000 Syrians, most of them Druze Arabs, who did not flee when the Golan was captured.


Bulgaria is planning a tourist route of its main Jewish landmarks as part of a campaign to promote its Jewish heritage. The idea is the brainchild of the tourism ministry and "Shalom", the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria. The initiative will include key Jewish cultural sites in 13 counties, although no detailed route has yet been published.

"It will be a gesture of respect to the Jewish community's cultural and historic contribution," the ministry said, as well as a way of attracting tourists from Israel and Jewish communities around the world.

Popular destination

Bulgaria has become a popular holiday destination for Israelis in recent years, attracted by its proximity, competitive prices, and Black Sea beaches. Sofia synagogue is the largest in the Balkans and one of the biggest in Europe.

The spike in numbers can also be attributed to the decline of Israeli tourism to neighboring Turkey, after relations between the two countries broke down over the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident.

A deadly bomb explosion on an Israeli tourist bus in Burgas in 2012 does not appear to have had a long-term impact, as the tourism ministry says visitor numbers rose more than 17% on the year in 2018.
 Anthony Georgieff: "Jewish heritage in Bulgaria is a poignant reminder of an epoch long gone"

Anthony Georgieff, the photographer and co-author of an English guide to Jewish heritage in Bulgaria, says that Bulgaria's Jewish heritage is a "poignant reminder of an epoch long gone. It holds many fascinating stories to tell."

"As it is in one of the least-known lands in Europe, it has the aurora of the exotic, of the outlandish - perfect for anyone with an interest not only in Bulgaria, but in this part of the continent," he told the BBC.Although it fell in line with much of the anti-Semitic legislation of its German ally, Bulgaria's King Boris III and Orthodox Church prevented its 48,000 Jewish citizens from being deported to Nazi death camps during World War Two.