Rabbis arrest in voyeurism case spurs calls to reform Modern Orthodox conversions

The voyeurism case against Rabbi Barry Freundel prompted calls for reform in his Modern Orthodox community this week, with a key rabbinical group creating a committee to improve the conversion process and other leaders calling for women to have a more prominent role in the use of the mikvah, or ritual bath.

Freundel, the longtime rabbi of Georgetown synagogue Kesher Israel, was arrested and charged with six counts of voyeurism this month after allegedly planting video cameras in the mikvah he oversaw. The case intensified debates within Modern Orthodoxy the more liberal part of Orthodox Judaism over the place of women in the spiritual and legal leadership.

On Wednesday, the Rabbinical Council of America the worlds largest body of Modern Orthodox rabbis announced that it had formed a committee in response to the Freundel case. Two years before his arrest, several conversion students of Freundels complained to the RCA that he was coercing them to donate money and do clerical work for him. Other converts have come forward since the arrest to say Freundel made inappropriate comments about their appearance or seemed to relish his power over them in an unscrupulous way.

The current [conversion] structure requires a thorough review and enhancements to avoid future abuses, the rabbinical group said in statement announcing the committee. The panel will look at such topics as how to make less vague the conversion process so converts dont feel in the dark during what can be a long and difficult process. It will also discuss establishing a system for potential converts to voice complaints or discomfort about their experiences.

The 11-member committee includes two female converts to Judaism, both of whom worked with Freundel, 62. Soon after Freundels Oct. 14 arrest, the RCA said it would appoint a woman to serve as an ombudsman for all the regional rabbinical courts that oversee conversions.

Also this week, a trailblazing Modern Orthodox school that ordains women as spiritual leaders an institution far to the left and not recognized by much of Jewish Orthodoxy said the Freundel case shows a prevailing need for the development of a new approach to the male-only court that oversees conversions, including the final visit to the mikvah at the end of the process.

Rabbi Jeff Fox, the academic head of Yeshivat Maharat, which seeks to expand womens leadership roles in Orthodox Judaism, said the school will soon come out with a paper arguing that under Jewish law, men need not be in the mikvah room when a woman immerses at the end of her conversion.

In Judaism, three rabbis are appointed to each converts court and must affirm at the end of the process that the person was fully immersed in the ritual bath. Practices vary, but in many places, the men are able to see at least some part of the woman as she goes under the water, though she may be behind a sheet or wearing a robe. In some places, she is completely naked before them; in others, the men are in the hallway with a door open or in the next room.

My sense is that the experience is extraordinarily uncomfortable for many women. We need to rebalance that hierarchy in some sense, Fox said Thursday. Having men outside the door and women educated to assist is a small attempt to focus on the need for modesty and to help with the imbalance of power.

The issue of womens roles has been explosive in Modern Orthodox Judaism in recent years, and some say the Freundel case is being exploited by both sides by the more permissive to say that women need more authority and by the more conservative to say that Freundel wasnt Orthodox enough.

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Rabbis arrest in voyeurism case spurs calls to reform Modern Orthodox conversions

Sweden Recognizes Palestine, Drawing Sharp Israeli Criticism

Sweden today recognized Palestine, just weeks after incoming Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said his government would become the first major European nation to make the move.

In response, Israel’s Foreign Ministry recalled Isaac Bachman, its ambassador to Sweden, for consultations. The Haaretz newspaper cited an unnamed Foreign Ministry official as saying Bachman would remain in Jerusalem until further notice and that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was considering downgrading relations with Sweden.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom described the recall as a maneuver that “is part of the diplomatic tool kit.”

“I am convinced that both our countries have an interest in maintaining and strengthening our good bilateral ties,” Wallstrom said.

Her comments were reported by The Associated Press.

Lieberman called Sweden’s decision “very unfortunate,” adding: “The Swedish government needs to understand that relations in the Middle East are more complicated than a piece of furniture from Ikea that you assemble at home, and [Sweden] should act with responsibility and sensitivity.”

Wallstrom responded to that barb with this quip: “I will be happy to send Israel FM Lieberman an Ikea flat pack to assemble. He’ll see it requires a partner, cooperation and a good manual.”

Today’s move by Sweden places the Scandinavian nation among more than 100 others that recognize a Palestinian state. Most Western nations still don’t recognize Palestine, and many said they don’t plan to follow Sweden. EU member states such as Hungary and Poland that do recognize a Palestinian state did so before they joined the bloc.

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Sweden Recognizes Palestine, Drawing Sharp Israeli Criticism

Israel to reopen Jerusalem holy site

JERUSALEM (AP) Israel closed all access to Jerusalem’s most sensitive religious site on Thursday, a rare move that ratcheted up already heightened tensions following the attempted assassination of a prominent Jewish religious activist and the killing of his suspected Palestinian assailant by police.

The Palestinians accused Israel of a “declaration of war,” deepening a crisis fueled by failed peace efforts, continued Israeli settlement construction and months of simmering violence in the holy city. While Israel said it would reopen the site on Friday, the increasingly religious nature of the unrest risked igniting further violence.

Palestinian youths throw stones during clashes with Israeli border police after Moatez Higazi was shot in east Jerusalem, Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014. Israeli police shot and killed Higazi suspected of trying to kill a hard-line Jewish activist in Jerusalem, an incident that quickly sparked clashes between masked stone throwers and Israeli riot police, threatening to further enflame the already high tensions in the city. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean) (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

Both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders blamed each other for the tensions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has called for banning Jews from the hilltop holy site, of inciting the violence.

“The international community must stop its hypocrisy and act against the inciters,” Netanyahu said.

Abbas, meanwhile, said Jerusalem is a “red line that must not be touched.” The decision to close access to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound was “a declaration of war” that “will lead to further escalation and instability,” his spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said. Abbas made no mention of the attempted killing of the Jewish activist.

East Jerusalem, the section of the city captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians, has experienced unrest since the summer, with Palestinian youths throwing stones and firebombs at motorists and clashing frequently with Israeli police. The violence gained steam last week, when a Palestinian motorist rammed his car into a crowded train station, killing a 3-month-old Israeli-American baby girl.

Palestinian youths clash with Israeli border police after Moatez Higazi was shot in east Jerusalem, Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014. Israeli police shot and killed Higazi suspected of trying to kill a hard-line Jewish activist in Jerusalem, an incident that quickly sparked clashes between masked stone throwers and Israeli riot police, threatening to further enflame the already high tensions in the city.(AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean) (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

Much of the unrest has centered on the holy site, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The violence reached a new high late Wednesday when a gunman on a motorcycle shot and seriously wounded Yehuda Glick, a U.S.-born activist who often leads groups of Jews on visits to the site.

Glick is a leading voice in efforts to allow Jews to pray on the mosque compound something that Israeli authorities ban because they fear it would prompt violence. Muslim worshippers view Jewish prayer there as a provocation, fearing that Jewish extremists are plotting to take over the area.

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Israel to reopen Jerusalem holy site

Jews and Muslims Unite in Outrage as Israel Closes Temple Mount Over Violence Fears

Prayer Rugs and Anger in Streets of Seething Holy City

getty images

Published October 30, 2014.

Jerusalem Muslims and Jews united in outrage as Israel blocked all access to the Al Aqsa compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount amid fears of unrest following the shooting of a prominent right-wing Israeli activist and the police killing of his suspected attacker.

Muslims in Jerusalems Old City prayed on the streets after they were prevented from getting near the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque, kneeling on prayer rugs outside convenience stores and near stone archways under a heavy police presence.

Rowaida Mahamezz, a 21-year-old student, said that her family comes to pray every Thursday at Al Aqsa, traveling from Umm al-Fahm near Haifa. They knew that the site was closed, but they came anyway.

We have the right to pray in Al Aqsa every day, she said. Instead, they prayed at a spot outside of Lions Gate, one of the main entrances to the Old City.

Rajae Bitar, a 59-year-old administrator at Al Quds Open University who lives in the Old City, says he prays at Al Aqsa daily. But today, he prayed at a spot just before the Via Dolorosa, the path on which Jesus was said to have carried his cross until his death, instead.

There were some minor flare-ups between Palestinians and Israeli police.

But Palestinians said that things could escalate quickly in the Old City if Muslims arent allowed into the site for Friday prayers.

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Jews and Muslims Unite in Outrage as Israel Closes Temple Mount Over Violence Fears

Museum dedicated to Jewish history in Poland opens in Warsaw

A museum dedicated to the history of Jews in Poland officially opened in Warsaw this week at the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. The museum opened its doors to the public last year, but the event Tuesday formally inaugurated the institution, whose full name is the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

The opening drew prominent political and cultural figures, including Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.Film director Roman Polanski was also in attendance for the museum’s inaugural celebrations.

The museum’s name is a reference to the Hebrew words for “Poland” and to “dwell” or “rest here.”

On Tuesday, the museum unveiled its core exhibition titled “A Thousand-Year History of Polish Jews.” The exhibition begins with the arrival of Jews in what is now Poland during the Middle Ages and continues through the Holocaust and into the present day.

At the start of World War II, Jews numbered about 3.3 million in Poland. By the end of the war, the number was 200,000 to 300,000.

The museum, which is estimated to have cost close to $100 million in total, was designed by Finnish architectsRainer Mahlamki and Ilmari Lahdelma.

The rather stark design features a large gap in the middle that the architects have explained as representing the parting of the Red Sea.

Rivlin, who became Israel’s president in July, spoke at the museum’s opening. An Agence France-Presse report quoted him as saying that “although Jews were torn away from Poland, it is difficult, or even impossible to tear Poland away from Jews. It is impossible to erase history so rich, so full and so extremely painful.”

The museum describes itself on its website as a private-public partnership, with the city of Warsaw and the Polish Ministry of Culture covering the majority of its operating budget. The Assn. of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland, a private organization, also contributes the operating budget.

Twitter:@DavidNgLAT

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Museum dedicated to Jewish history in Poland opens in Warsaw

Infant and young woman killed in Jerusalem terror attack

(JNS.org) A three-month-old infant and an Ecuadorian woman in the process of converting to Judaism have died, following a vehicular terror attack on the Ammunition Hill light rail station in Jerusalem Wednesday, Oct. 22.

Chaya Zissel Braun

Chaya Zissel Braun, a U.S. citizen, died in the hospital after her stroller was hit in the attack. Chaya and her parents were on their way back from the infants first visit to the Western Wall.

The parents had just gotten off the light rail. The attacker waited for people to gather at the station and then accelerated, driving directly into the crowd.

The car hit the babys stroller, said Chayas grandfather, Shimshon Halperin. The baby flew 10 or 20 meters (30-60 feet) in the air and hit her head on the concrete. The doctors at the hospital did the best they could. I want to thank them.

Chayas parents had waited for a baby for several years, said Halperin.The parents are in shock. They are traumatized. The baby was born after a long period of time that they did not have children, and they were overjoyed at her arrival.

Karen Mosquera

Karen Mosquera, 22, who came to Israel from Ecuador to undergo conversion to Judaism, died on Sunday, Oct. 26 of wounds suffered in the attack.

Her mother, Rosa Cecilia, said that her daughters dream was to travel to Israel and build her life there, but her life has been cut short.

Speaking at Hadassah Medical Center, where Mosquera died, her mother added: People always say things against Israel in the news, but when you come here you see the truth.

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Infant and young woman killed in Jerusalem terror attack

Saving Our Religion: 14th Street Church-Turned-Synagogue Is Now A Landmark

After nearly half a century of waiting, a nearly 150-year-old Manhattan religious institution has been preserved. The Landmarks Preservation Commission voted Tuesday to designate the Tifereth Israel Town and Village Synagogue at 334 East 14th Street a city landmark. A year ago, the synagogue was put on the market as a development site for $14 million, but the listing has since disappeared. After the designation, synagogue representatives said that they will not be selling or moving.

The synagogue has a fascinating religious history, as it did not start as a synagogue. Constructed from 1866 to 1869 and designed by Julius Boekell in the German Rundgobenstil style, it started life as the First German Baptist Church. It was the architect’s only church and was said to have emphasized the affirmation of German cultural identity. At that time, the spot was the northern boundary of an area known as Kleinduetschland.

The building’s Rundbogenstil design incorporates such typical German Romanesque features as roughly coursed stone facings, large round-arch openings, arcuated corbel tables, bet and string courses, and a central gable pierced by an ocular window, the commission said.

In 1926, it was leased and then sold to the Ukrainian Autocephalic Church of St. Volodymyr. In 1939 and 1940, the structure was refurbished. In 1962, it was sold Congregation Tifereth Israel Town and Village Synagogue, which occupies it today.

Shortly after the 1965 law establishing the Landmarks Preservation Commission went into effect, a move to landmark the synagogue went before the commission and was calendared, but no vote was taken. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) described it as having been in “landmarks limbo” since then. The item came up on March 25 of this year, but no vote was taken. Today’s action involved its own bit of waiting. The presentation was made in the morning as the second item of the day, but there was no quorum, so the actual vote had to wait until after lunch.

[Back building, not included in the designation, outlined in red. Satellite photo via Google Maps.]

The designation, at the request of the synagogue, does not include a building on the rear portion of the lot, which LPC chair Meenakshi Srinivasan described as having “no style.” Commissioner Michael Devonshire said he wanted the structure preserved, but Srinivasan felt it wasn’t important enough since you can’t see it from outside the synagogue and can only see some of it from part of the inside of the synagogue. She also said that leaving it out of the designation would give the synagogue more freedom to use the space as they see fit for their mission.

As for the main building, Srinivasan cited its “particularly interesting history” when it comes to the development of the Lower East Side (though the synagogue’s location on 14th Street between First and Second avenues is most definitely the East Village).

When the vote took place, it was unanimous, save for Commissioner Devonshire’s official objection to not designating the entire complex a landmark.

“It’s wonderful that after nearly half a century, this venerable piece of our city and our neighborhood’s history will finally receive the recognition and protection it deserves and which we fought so hard for,” GVSHP executive director Andrew Berman said. “With recent plans by the congregation putting the fate of this historic building in doubt, it’s especially important that landmark designation was finally granted today.” Berman was disappointed that the rear building was not included in the designation. “We are concerned that this could allow construction of a large, out-of-context structure in the back of that lot which could loom over the historic building.”

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Saving Our Religion: 14th Street Church-Turned-Synagogue Is Now A Landmark

Israel Expects U.S. Peace Push After Election: Official

Israel expects U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to renew efforts at brokering a peace agreement with the Palestinians after next weeks midterm elections, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzahi Hanegbi said.

I believe that John Kerry, who is a relentless believer and optimist, probably on the instructions of the president, will try to find the right formula, Hanegbi, a longtime ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said in an interview. We are definitely for it.

Kerrys last effort collapsed in April after nine months of negotiations. In the interim, tensions exploded in the Gaza Strip in a 50-day war that left more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis dead.

Hanegbis remarks at his office in Jerusalem come amid new strains between Israel and the U.S., its main ally. The Obama administration has condemned Netanyahus latest plan to build more than 1,000 new apartments in east Jerusalem.

Palestinians say they see little point to renewing U.S.- mediated talks and will instead appeal again to the United Nations for recognition as an independent state.

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said at a news conference in Ramallah this week that its not true that Kerry has presented new ideas for reviving talks. Netanyahu, he said, is not a two-stater.

While Kerry said in Berlin on Oct. 23 that getting Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table is a matter of urgency, a former member of his team said the secretary of state is wary about the possibility of another failure.

There has to be something more substantial there than just, lets meet, because thats where the deadlock was last time, said David Makovsky, who recently returned to the Washington Institute for Near East Studies as a senior fellow.

While the U.S. will continue to be available in the search for a settlement, we cant do it for them, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington. Referring to Israels latest settlement plans, she said that such action makes it very difficult to not only return to a negotiation but to obviously reach a two-state solution.

Hanegbi, 57, insisted that Netanyahu does support the two states for two peoples formula, provided that Israels security needs are fully addressed. He said the prime minister went through an historic metamorphosis with his 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University that outlined his terms for statehood after a career of fighting against the very idea of a Palestinian state.

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Israel Expects U.S. Peace Push After Election: Official

Israel Looks To Finalize Local Export Options, Beginning With Jordan

Nearly nine months after announcing a 15-year plan to ship Israeli natural gas to Jordan, the kingdom has hinted that a long-term supply deal could finally be within view.

In February, Israel and its production partners in the offshore Tamar natural gas field announced a $500 million, 15 year plan to sell gas to two Jordanian chemical companies. Marking the first time Israeli gas has been designated for sale beyond its own borders, the deal with supply 66 billion cubic feet to Jordan, according to Reuters. The deal would provide some gas relief for Jordan, which has seen its imports threatened on several occasions over the last three years. Partially dependent on Egyptian gas to meet its domestic demands, Jordan experienced shortages beginning just after the collapse of the government of Hosni Mubarak. With government forces focused elsewhere, militant attacks increased in the countrys eastern Sinai Peninsula, including nearly 20 on eastbound gas pipelines.

The lack of access to Egyptian gas resulted in about $6.6 billion debt for Jordans state electricity firm, NEPCO, as they were forced to pay independent producers for energy produced by expensive diesel and heavy fuel, according to a Reuters report. Jordan had previously looked to Egypt for about 80 percent of its energy needs.

Despite the plan announcement earlier this year, Jordan and Israel have failed to finalize any efforts, though Amman has suggested approval could come as early as mid-November. While the deal approval would save Jordan an estimated $1.4 billion annually, it would also benefit Israel by providing a local export option for the countrys reserves. After establishing export criteria that would set aside 40% of natural gas produced for the export markets, Israel has been exploring the most cost-effective means for selling its offshore gas. While the country has no shortage of interested consumers, many options would require substantial early investment that could cut into valuable revenue. By looking to regional customers like Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and possibly Egypt, Israel could reduce initial costs required for deep-water pipelines or new LNG facilities.

Possible options for moving gas westward include a Liquified Natural Gas plant on the island of Cyprus, which comes with a $10 billion price tag, and a subsea pipeline through Turkey. The latter proposal also comes at a significant cost, but also requires significant diplomatic progress between Turkey, Israel and the Republic of Cyprus, which has emerged as Tel Avivs most active energy partner in the region.

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Israel Looks To Finalize Local Export Options, Beginning With Jordan

Museum shares story of Polish Jews

WARSAW In the two millennia between ancient Israel and its modern rebirth, Jews never enjoyed as much political autonomy as they did in Poland, a land that centuries later became intrinsically linked to the Holocaust.

The story of this great flourishing of political and cultural life is part of a 1,000-year history told in a visually striking new museum, the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which opens its long-awaited core exhibition to the public Tuesday amid days of celebrations.

The Polish and Israeli presidents will attend, along with Polish Holocaust survivors who helped build this memorial to the lost world of their ancestors.

Polin is Hebrew for Poland, and also means rest here, a reference to a story Jews told themselves about their arrival in Poland in the Middle Ages: that they found favor from the rulers and were allowed to dwell there in tranquility. The result was centuries of a flourishing Yiddish-speaking civilization that made important contributions to Polish and world culture before being nearly wiped out by Nazi Germany.

The Holocaust has cast a shadow onto this great civilization and the generations of Jews who lived in Eastern Europe before the Second World War, as if those centuries of life were little more than a preface to the Holocaust, museum director Dariusz Stola said. But that is absurd. This museum stresses that 1,000 years of Jewish life are not less worthy of remembrance than the six years of the Holocaust.

Poland, in a union formed in the 16th century with Lithuania called the Commonwealth, became one of Europe’s largest and most ethnically diverse territories. Jews benefited from tolerance and a large degree of self-governance granted by the rulers, growing into the world’s largest Jewish community. Today, 9 million of the world’s 14 million Jews can trace their ancestry to Poland.

Despite their once-significant presence, memory of the Jews all but disappeared from public discourse in Poland in the communist era, leaving postwar generations largely unaware that their country was once a multi-ethnic land where Jews and other religions lived in relative peace, even avoiding the religious wars that devastated other European lands.

Poland’s prewar population of 3.3 million Jews was reduced to 300,000 by Adolf Hitler’s genocide, while communist-era persecution drove most of those survivors away. Today, there are fewer than 30,000 Jews in Poland, though the community is again growing.

In the postwar decades, Polish history didn’t speak of Jews. It spoke of cemeteries, of the Holocaust, of the ghettos. … It spoke exclusively of death, said Piotr Wislicki, who heads a Jewish historical association that raised $48 million for the exhibition. And in the eyes of the world, Poland was just one big cemetery.

The museum is part of a broader attempt by Poland’s leaders and elite to reclaim that pluralism, an ethos that took root after Poland threw off communism 25 years ago.

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Museum shares story of Polish Jews

Festival features Jewish-themed films

“Re-Living The Holocaust: Through Their Eyes,” a 52-minute documentary by the Sunrise-based Flame Society, highlights the Jewish-interest films at the 29th annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLiFF 2014), taking place Nov. 7-23 at various theaters throughout Broward County.

The film, which features former Miami TV news anchor Gerri Helfman and narration by actor Joshua Malina (TV’s Scandal and The West Wing), focuses on the eye-witness testimony of Holocaust survivors and soldiers who liberated the concentration camps in 1945.

The film screens with the 27-minute documentary, “It Happened in Havana: A Yiddish Love Story,” about a couple married for 61 years who sit on their living room couch and explain how they met in Cuba at the start of World War II.

The Flame Society, a Holocaust-related educational production company, produced the film through the cooperation of Holocaust museums and education centers around the world. Flame Society president Rabbi Yaakov Thompson and advisory board member Bob Pianka, the film’s director, will appear when the film airs in Sunrise (Nov. 16), and Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale (Nov. 17).

Helfman said: “I’m thrilled to be involved in a project that’s entered in the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. This Holocaust documentary series shares never-before-seen artifacts and the stories behind them from survivors themselves. The Flame Society was created to also turn this compelling production into classroom materials to teach the lessons of the Holocaust to schoolchildren across the nation.”

Another Jewish-interest film at the festival is “Israel Indivisible: The Case for the Ancient Homeland,” a 68-minute documentary by director Stan Moore. “Israel Indivisible” examines the many political twists and turns that make Israel the world’s most controversial nation. Moore and producer Laurie Cardoza-Moore will be special guests when the film screens in Hollywood (Nov. 9) and Fort Lauderdale (Nov. 16).

Cardoza-Moore said: “With the rise of global anti-Semitism, it is more crucial than ever that we challenge the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and anti-Zionist narrative growing around the world. This is the challenge for our generation.”

Other Jewish-interest films at the festival include:

“The Imitation Game,” a film about the controversial life of Alan Turing mathematician, cryptanalyst, World War II hero and the pioneer of modern-day computing (Hollywood, Nov. 12; Fort Lauderdale, Nov. 19)

“Arabani,” a sub-titled film about an Israeli raised as Druze a small eclectic religion returning to his native village with his children after being estranged for 17 years and the friction he causes within the closed, conservative community (Hollywood, Nov. 11; Fort Lauderdale, Nov. 16)

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Festival features Jewish-themed films

Temple website hacking part of trend

The Anti-Defamation League the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism recently condemned the anti-Semitic hacking of the website of Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El (TKAE) in Plantation, which took place over the first two days of Sukkot (Oct. 9-10).

The TKAE website was hacked with viewers re-directed to a webpage with messages expressing support for the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), including publicly viewable graphics stating “hacked Team System Dz,” “i love you isis,” and “a message to all the Israel population and the government, especially.”

The hackers appear to be based out of Algeria because “Dz” in the group’s name alludes to the Internet domain designation for Algeria. Furthermore, their Facebook profile and page uses phrases that read “Proud to be Algerian” and displays the Algerian flag.

Hava L. Holzhauer, the ADL’s Florida regional director, stated: “ADL condemns the latest in a recent series of anti-Semitic incidents and hate crimes that have occurred in South Florida. These incidents whether against persons, property or on the Internet cannot be minimized and have shaken the community.”

The TKAE hacking likely violates state and federal criminal laws. Further, the perpetrators boasted that they were able to hack the TKAE website during a Jewish holiday. Because the incident appears to be motivated by religion or national origin, it could also constitute a hate crime under Florida law.

The ADL alerted Facebook about the “Team System Dz” Facebook page, and the group’s Facebook page was removed the following day. ADL applauds Facebook’s response to the hacker group’s effort to exploit its services.

The ADL has documented similar hacking incidents around the country against Jewish institutional websites carried out by groups apparently based in the Middle East and North Africa.

For example, locally, the University of Miami Hillel’s website was hacked in July 2012 with pro-Palestinian slogans and images by an Algerian anti-Israel activist.

According to Holzhauer, Jewish websites in the U.S. have increasingly become a target for Arab and Muslim hacker groups with the number of these incidents on the rise in recent years.

Added Oren Segal, director of ADL’s New York-based Center on Extremism: “Jewish websites in the U.S. have become a common target for hacker groups in the Arab and Muslim world.”

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