ISRAEL PRESIDENT RIVLIN SENDS ROSH HASHANAH MESSAGE TO JEWISH COMMUNITIES AROUND THE WORLD
President Reuven "Ruvi" Rivlin
President Rivlin said that Israel will always defend its citizens no matter where they are. “But we all have to fight terror together, we have to fight hatred and racism together,” he said.
In the run-up to the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, President of Israel Reuven Rivlin recorded a video message to Jewish communities around the world wishing them a happy and healthy New Year.
In his message, the President noted the importance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as a time for reflection and soul searching, and of the obligation to consider others, and our relationships with other people.
“I am proud of Israel’s efforts, and those of all the Jewish community, to help those affected by natural disasters around the world.”
Speaking of the challenges of the past year, the President said, “This past year there have been some terrible things. Terror has struck across the world, we have seen the danger of hatred and racism”. He continued, “Meeting with leaders from around the world this year, we said again and again: Israel will always defend its citizens no matter where they are. But we all have to fight terror together, we have to fight hatred and racism together. There is a long way to go, but together, we will win this fight.”
He also noted that, “We have also seen the true power of nature, as natural disasters have destroyed so many lives". The President spoke of his pride at the generosity and unity Jewish communities had displayed in the face of these disasters. He said, “In the face of these difficult challenges, in the face of such darkness, we have showed how much light we create when we stand together, Jews of all communities, and Jews and non-Jews together. I am proud of Israel’s efforts and those of all the Jewish community, to help those affected by natural disasters around the world.” He stressed, “We are thinking at this time, of our brothers and sisters of the Jewish communities in Houston, Florida, and Mexico.”
The President concluded by saying, “On the verge of the New Year I want to remind you that Israel will always be your home, the home of every Jewish person.” He added, “From our shared home, I wish and pray that this year we will overcome together, all the challenges before us.”
ZOA OPPOSES U.S. DECISION TO RETURN TO IRAQ JEWISH ARTIFACTS STOLEN FROM IRAQ’S DISPOSSESSED JEWISH COMMUNITY
Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton A. Klein released the following statement:
The Tillerson State Department’s statement last week that it will “return” to the Iraqi government the thousands of Jewish holy and secular objects, representing thousands of years of Iraqi-Jewish culture, that the Iraqi government stole from the persecuted, dispossessed Iraqi-Jewish community, makes the Tillerson State Department complicit in Iraq’s theft of Jewish property. (See “Despite Protests, State Department Says It Will Return Trove of Jewish Artifacts to Iraq,” by Josefin Dolsten, JTA, Sept. 8, 2017.) As a November 13, 2013 bipartisan Congressional letter to former Secretary of State John Kerry from Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and former Congressman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and 47 fellow Congress-members stated: “The Government of Iraq has no legitimate claim to these artifacts. . . . It would be criminal for the U.S. government to be complicit in denying the Jewish community what is rightfully theirs.”
ZOA urges Tillerson and the State Department to immediately reverse their immoral decision, and to return these Iraqi Jewish artifacts to their rightful Jewish owners: Iraqi Jewish families and their descendants, and the Iraqi Jewish community in America and Israel and elsewhere outside of Iraq.
ZOA urges Tillerson and the State Department to immediately reverse their immoral decision, and to return these Iraqi Jewish artifacts to their rightful Jewish owners: Iraqi Jewish families and their descendants, and the Iraqi Jewish community in America and Israel and elsewhere outside of Iraq. (Due to Iraq’s persecution, expulsions, hangings and other torments meted out against the 150,000 Jews who lived in Iraq in 1948, less than 10 Jews remain in Iraq today.) These stolen Jewish artifacts include Torahs, Haggadahs, ancient texts, manuscripts, school records, personal photographs, and Jewish community and family records. (See “Who Owns the Jewish Treasures that Were Hidden in Saddam Hussein’s Basement?,” by Sandi Fox, PBS News Hour, Apr. 29, 2014.)
If these items are sent to Iraq, Jewish Iraqis will not be able to even access their own precious property and records. The U.S. State Department warns all U.S. citizens against travel to Iraq. (U.S. State Dept. Iraq Travel Warning, June 14, 2017.) Pro-Israel Jews face even more mortal danger in Iraq. The U.S. State Department Iraq report notes: “Iraq’s criminal code 201 stipulates that any person promoting Zionist principles, or who associates himself with Zionist organizations or assists them by giving material or moral support, or works in any way towards the realization of Zionist objectives, is subject to punishment by death.”
There is also no guarantee that Iraq would preserve and protect these Jewish items.
Jews lived in Iraq for over 2,700 years, since 722 B.C.E., and contributed enormously to Iraqi society and culture: for instance nearly all of Baghdad’s symphony was Jewish prior to the 1948 expulsions. Some of the world’s most prominent Jewish scholars produced the Babylonian Talmud in Iraq between 500 and 700 C.E. Sadly, Iraq’s Muslims horribly persecuted the Iraqi Jewish community. Hitler collaborator Haj Amin al Husseini (the Palestinian Arab leader who also incited murderous anti-Jewish pogroms in Jerusalem, Sefat and Hebron during the 1920s and 1930s) inspired the infamous Farhud pogrom against Baghdad’s Jews in 1941: Iraqi mobs (with the complicity of the Iraqi police and government) murdered 180 Jews and wounded almost 1,000 Jews in just two days, during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. As Jerusalem Post senior editor Caroline Glick notes, the Farhud pogrom was the Arab world’s Kristallnacht. More persecution of Iraqi Jews (and Jews throughout other Muslim nations) followed, forcing the Iraqi Jewish community to flee for their lives and leave their billions of dollars of lands and possessions behind – including the important cultural artifacts that the State Department would once again deny to their rightful Jewish owners. (See, e.g., Jews in Islamic Countries: Iraq, Jewish Virtual Library; and Caroline Glick’s video about the Persecutions of the Iraqi Jewish Community and the Iraqi Jewish artifacts, Sept. 12, 2017.)
The bi-partisan Congressional letter briefly quoted above eloquently describes the history of the Iraqi Jewish artifacts and why they must be returned to Iraqi-Jewish families and the Iraqi-Jewish community, as follows:
As Members of the United States Congress who are committed to ensuring justice for victims of ethnic and religious persecution, we are writing to express our concern regarding the return of a collection of restored Jewish communal and religious items by the United States Government to the Government of Iraq.
The Jewish community in Iraq has roots that date back thousands of years. Once the epicenter of Jewish cultural, religious and scholastic life, Baghdad is now estimated to have a Jewish population in the single digits. As the rise of the Nazis began in Germany, a rampant hatred for Jews became more prevalent in Iraq. The Iraqi Jewish community faced increasing harassment, persecution, and pogroms that left hundreds dead, eventually forcing the majority to flee the anti-Semitic policies of the Iraqi government.
When the Jewish people were forced to uproot their centuries-old community, they left behind their sacred treasures in the last remaining Jewish temple in Baghdad for safe keeping. Then in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein ordered his men to confiscate almost all of their possessions. Many communal, religious, and even personal items ended up warehoused in the basement of the Mukhabarat secret police headquarters, with no regard paid to their condition. Ancient texts, letters, books, and even personal photos were left to slowly disintegrate. It was not until U.S. and coalition forces entered Baghdad in 2003 that this cultural treasure trove was rediscovered. This set in motion a rescue operation that would eventually lead to these items finally being cared for in a professional and respectful manner here in the United States.
The State Department, along with the National Archives, has worked diligently to preserve these artifacts and to allow the public to get a glimpse of the rich life that was once the Iraqi Jewish community. However, we understand that the United States Government agreed with the Government of Iraq to send these looted items back to Iraq rather than to the Iraqi Jews, to whom they rightfully belong.
The Government of Iraq has no legitimate claim to these artifacts. We firmly believe that that these items should be returned to the descendants of the Iraqi Jewish community, who still mourn the loss of these priceless reminders of their former lives in Iraq. Therefore we urge the Department of State to facilitate the return of these items to their rightful owners or their descendants, and not to the Government of Iraq. We are committed to ensuring justice for the Iraqi Jewish community and their descendants and to seeing that these important artifacts that were confiscated from them are rightfully returned to their community.
Signed by the following bipartisan Members of Congress (most of whom are still in Congress):
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL); Steve Israel (D-NY); Carolyn Maloney (D-NY); Janice Schakowsky (D-IL); Jerold Nadler (D-NY); Gus Bilirakis (R-FL); Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY); Robert Latta (R-OH); Steve Chabot (R-OH); Nita Lowey (D-NY); Alcee Hastings (D-FL); Trent Franks (R-AZ); Pete Sessions (R-TX); Brian Higgins (D-NY); Grace Meng (D-NY); Alan Nunnelee (R-MS); Theodore Deutsch (D-FL); Lois Frankel (D-FL); Sander Levin (D-MI); Steve Stivers (R-OH); Tim Griffin (R-AK); Tim Ryan (D-OH); Juan Vargas (D-CA); Mo Brooks (R-AL); Patrick Murphy (D-FL); Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); Trey Radel (R-FL); Joseph Crowley (D-NY); Bill Johnson (R-OH); Frank Wolf (R-VA); Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL); Peter Roskam (R-IL); Dina Titus (D-NV); Michael Grimm (R-NY); Randy Weber, Sr. (R-TX); Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL); Alan Lowenthal (D-CA); Gerald Connolly (D-VA); James McGovern (D-MA); Frederica Wilson (D-FL); Peter King (R-NY); Patrick Tiberi (R-OH); Joyce Beatty (D-OH); Blake Farenthold (R-TX); David Cicilline (D-RI); Doug Collins (R-GA); and Ron DeSantis (R-FL).
The Jewish Observer,
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ISRAELI TEAM ASSISTS FLORIDA KEYS RESIDENTS
IRC and United Hatzalah team members in the field with local rescue services
KEY WEST, Florida -- On Tuesday, the Israel Rescue Coalition and United Hatzalah first response teams divided up into two groups with one headed to Key West, and the other headed to Naples.
In Naples, the team walked into pandemonium. Houses were completely destroyed and people were without food, water and electricity. The team was warned by local officials that there were groups of looters who had no hesitation to shoot at first responders. Luckily, the group did not encounter any of these groups. They worked with community centers that were taking in displaced people who had stayed in the city during the hurricane but were forced to evacuate their homes due to a lack of power, water and food. They joined clean up efforts and helped feed some 500 people at a local Chabad house after clearing the damage that the house had sustained during the hurricane. In one location, Psychotrauma responders helped calm a man who had been stuck in an elevator for some time while emergency crews worked to extricate him.
In the Florida Keys, the situation was far more dire. Key West and many of the surrounding Keys had been without water or electricity since Saturday, and in spite of an evacuation order for the area, many people had decided to find shelter in the safety of their own homes. The highway leading to the Keys had flooded and there was no way in or out for many people who were trapped there.
“One such person, a military veteran named John, lives by himself in the city of Marathon in the central Keys,” said Tamar Citron, a veteran Search and Rescue volunteer from Israel who is part of the IRC and United Hatzalah team. “John suffers from a respiratory condition that requires him to receive oxygen on a regular basis. Once the hurricane hit, he like all the residents who were still on the Islands were unable to leave. He took shelter from the storm in his bathroom and has spent the last four days without water, electricity or telephone reception. When we got to him he barely had any drinking water or food left.”
“You are the first people to come down here and offer aid,” John told the group of rescuers.
“We provided him with water, food and a lot of positivity. We notified local authority and EMS teams that he was here and made sure that they followed up to properly care for him. Unfortunately, John is not alone and there are many people stuck on the Keys right now without access to food, water, electricity or a method of communication. Yesterday we were able to help dozens of people in a similar situation. On Wednesday, our entire team is heading down to the Keys to help rescue more of these people.”
Another man by the name of John Conrad was visiting the Keys when the hurricane struck. “I’m from Tennessee, and I’ve been trying to make my way back to Fort Lauderdale since Saturday. I got caught in the hurricane and we had no food or water and no transportation. I decided I was going to make my way back to the mainland somehow, but then you guys came and picked me up. You brought me about a hundred miles today, and that is something I will never forget.”
The team brought aid, medical assistance and much needed water and food to residents of the Keys yesterday. They conducted house to house searches for people who stayed be and were stranded by Hurricane Irma.
EMT first responder Gavy Friedson who is also a member of the IRC and United Hatzalah team spoke about the plan for the team’s continued efforts. “We are going back to the Keys again this morning and will be there all day. The entire area is without water, power, food, plumbing or cell service and most of the homes are severely damaged. It has been reported that more than a quarter of all the homes in the Keys have been destroyed and are unlivable. We are on the way to assist with search & rescue ops such as door-to-door searches for missing people or families and unfortunately, there is a long list of missing people. Additionally, we will be bringing food and water to distribute to those who choose to stay. Currently, the only way to communicate is via satellite phone and thankfully our team has some but the residents don’t. We will help as many people as we can and continue to do so for the length of our mission here.”
AISH HA TORAH WELCOMES BROWNBACK
Kansas Gov. Samuel Brownback, who is waiting for confirmation as Trump’s new Ambassador for Religious Freedom, recently visited Aish HaTorah Dan Family World Center.
Although this was the governor’s first visit to the building and view -- directly overlooking the Temple Mount, rising seven stories above the Western Wall Plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem, he is not a novice to religious institutes. President Trump chose him to be the next Ambassador for Religious Freedom. Gov. Brownback has also served as a United States Senator from 1996 until he became governor in 2011.
Gov. Brownback remarked recently, “Religious Freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your own soul. I am honored to serve such an important cause.”
Throughout his career, Brownback is known as an ardent supporter of Israel whether during his time as the US Senator, or governor of Kansas. Gov. Brownback recently signed a Kansas State bill outlawing discriminatory boycotts of Israel.
Rabbi Steven Burg, director General of Aish HaTorah Global, commented, “Governor Brownback stands by Israel and against the anti-Semitic BDS movement. We at Aish are proud that the future Ambassador spent time with us on his recent visit to Israel.”
Aish HaTorah proudly welcomed the governor on Friday, Sept. 1 with the fervent hope that it began a warm, embracing relationship between the current governor of Kansas soon to be the American Ambassador of Religious Freedom and Aish HaTorah. Aish HaTorah is an international platform empowering Jews to discover their limitless potential through Torah wisdom in an inspirational, meaningful and welcoming way, encouraging every Jew to fulfill their destiny. To date, Aish HaTorah has 35 branches worldwide, engages over 250,000 people per year and reaches over 1,000,000 people online.
HURRICANE AIDE - OU PARTNERS & ATLANTA’S JEWS OFFER RESPITE TO FLORIDA EVACUEES
When facing predictions of a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, the largest storm the Atlantic had ever seen, the OU’s Southeast Regional Director, Naftali Herrmann told his daughters’ nanny on Wednesday that they planned to evacuate from their home in Boca Raton to Atlanta. When he invited her to join them, she asked “Who do you know in Atlanta?”. “We don’t know anyone,” was his response “But the Jewish community is one family.”
Packing up their belongings, he took a last look at his house before driving away and felt emotional as he wondered what their house would look like upon their return. “Our house is our home”, he said, “It’s terrifying to think that our home which is supposed to be where we are safe can no longer afford that safety.”
Naftali and his family were one family among an estimated 350 Jewish families who evacuated from southern Florida, to be embraced by the warmth of the Atlanta Jewish community; for most of them, they had never met their hosts before.
Looking at the laughing camaraderie as the Florida visitors mingled with their Atlanta hosts at Kiddush, you would never imagine the worry they felt at what might happen to their homes- or the memories of the 20 hours spent in traffic, fearful that they would run out of gas, and with a fear unique to observant Jews, that they would be stuck on the road for Shabbat.
In the jubilant dancing at Kabbalat Shabbat, the festive communal meals at both of Atlanta’s largest shuls, the community-wide kumsitz on Saturday night and concert on Sunday morning, all of which had hundreds of attendees, one could sense the Florida families had found an oasis from the week-long stress and fear they had experienced as they prepared for the hurricane’s arrival.
The Atlanta Jewish community, known for its warmth and hospitality has opened its doors to hurricane victims before, in 2005 to evacuees from Hurricane Wilma and in 2016, to Savannah and Charleston evacuees from Hurricane Matthew. Once again, as soon as calls went out that hosts were needed, community members eagerly signed up, offering their homes to Florida evacuees for as long as needed, with one family hosting 75 people for Shabbat dinner and others willing to not only house families, but even families with dogs, cats and a snake! But with the two largest Orthodox synagogues, Beth Jacob and Young Israel of Toco Hills at around 500 and 215 families respectively, to feed another 1500 people was as Rabbi Adam Starr of Young Israel of Toco Hills explained, “like bringing in another congregation”. Finding so much food to feed so many people was a challenge.
The Orthodox Union was quick to step in and help out. With a $50,000 donation from the organization and donations from Jewish communities across the world, Yehuda Friedman, Associate Director of Synagogue Services at the OU helped to provide truckloads of food for Shabbat and the week, including 300 pounds of schnitzel, 3,000 hot dogs, 2,500 hamburgers, 1,200 challah rolls and 25 cases of pre-made lasagna. They also provided 50 dozen boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts and 75 pies of pizza which were served at the Kumsitz.
“It was amazing to see the kids who have witnessed so much stress to be dancing at the concert”, said Naftali with emotion in his voice, “While we are constantly thinking of our friends in South Florida who are weathering the storm, we have been so moved by the achdut [unity] we have seen and the embrace of the Atlanta Jewish community. For so many people to house people they don’t know and for an indefinite period of time and to see the communities come together as one… This is a weekend that both the evacuees and the hosts will never forget”.