Paris suburb shuts down unlicensed Jewish preschool

JTA Wire Service

A suburban Paris municipality ordered the closure of an unlicensed Jewish preschool.

City officials in Charenton, south of the French capital, closed the preschool there last month following complaints and a surprise inspection, the Le Parisien daily reported last week.

The preschool, which served about 50 toddlers since its opening about one year ago, was run by the Association of the Jewish Community of Charenton, known locally by the acronym ACIC. [Read more…]

Man who raped Holocaust survivor sentenced to jail

JTA Wire Service

An Australian man who sexually assaulted a Holocaust survivor was sentenced to up to five years in prison.

Robert Webb, 39, was sentenced to a minimum of three years in jail for the 1991 attack. Arrested and charged in 2011, Webb could be released within a year given time served, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald. [Read more…]

Syria At A Standstill

Proposed peace conference has hosts, will it have any guests?

From Washington and Jerusalem, it’s hard to tell the good news from the bad in the stalemate that is the Syrian civil war. This week the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad appeared to gain some ground and momentum against the rebels fighting to force him from power.

Former U.S. diplomat Aaron David Miller looked at the situation and concluded that there are “no good options in Syria” for the U.S. and its allies. [Read more…]

First Novel In Hindi On Indian Jews Appears After 52 Years

Sheela Rohekar, the only Jewish writer of the Hindi language, has launched her latest novel, “Miss Samuel: Ek Yahudi Gatha,” which is her first novel to depict the life of her Bene Israel community in India. The official launch took place on March 30 at the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi, the Academy of Dance and Drama, in Lucknow. The event was organized by the Lucknow Book Club. [Read more…]

Israeli intelligence: Syria used chemical weapons

JTA Wire Service

Syrian forces have used chemical weapons against rebel forces and civilians, the head of Israel’s military research said.

The weapon likely is sarin-based, which targets the nervous system and can cause paralysis or death, Brig. Gen Itai Baron, the head of the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence Research Branch, said Tuesday. [Read more…]

Brewing Up A New Connection To Lag BaOmer

Sit back by the bonfire and pop open a brewski, it’s Lag BaOmer.

Since we have been counting the Omer — a biblical measure of barley that was brought as an offering to the Temple — each evening from the second night of Passover, what better way to mark the coming holiday than by downing a barley beverage, cold and carbonated? [Read more…]

Turkey’s Jews Worship Quietly

As visitors heave open the thick, vault-like metal door to the Neve Shalom Synagogue on a discreet side street in the Galata neighborhood of European Istanbul, a skittish guard confronts them.

Guests are shuttled through secure, windowless rooms to an X-ray mac-hine and metal detector. Pockets are emptied and passports surrendered. The guard questions the reason for the visit and the guests’ ethnicity. He then determines whether they can be allowed through. [Read more…]

Against The Wall

Men pray at the  Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site and the center of an escalating battle over women's prayer restrictions.

Men pray at the
Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site and the center of an escalating battle over women’s prayer restrictions.

He brought unprecedented attention to the plight of Soviet Jewry. He stood up to the KGB. He survived nine years in Siberia. He served in Israel’s fractious government.

Now, Natan Sharansky is facing his next challenge: finding a solution to the growing battle over women’s prayer restrictions at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.

In recent months, Diaspora Jewish activists have grown increasingly incensed by the arrests and detention of women seeking to pray publicly at the site in keeping with their religious practices — but in violation of the rules of the wall under which women may not sing aloud, wear tallit prayer shawls or read from the Torah.

The controversy threatens to drive a wedge between Diaspora Jewry, in which egalitarian prayer is common, and Israel, which has upheld Orthodox rules at the wall, also known as the Kotel.

American Jewish leaders in the United States say the rules alienate Reform and Conservative Jews. Within Israel, too, the wall has become a flashpoint for non-Orthodox religious activists and the Kotel’s haredi Orthodox leadership.

Jewish Agency head Natan  Sharansky, shown at a Jerusalem conference in June 2011, has been tasked with finding a solution to the  growing battle over women's prayer restrictions at the Western Wall. Miriam Alster/Flash90/JTA

Jewish Agency head Natan
Sharansky, shown at a Jerusalem conference in June 2011, has been tasked with finding a solution to the
growing battle over women’s prayer restrictions at the Western Wall.
Miriam Alster/Flash90/JTA

Two weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asked Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, to look into the controversy and propose solutions. The question is whether the former refusenik leader and human rights advocate can resolve a dispute that pits Jew against Jew.

“Will it happen through Sharansky?” asked Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group that organizes monthly women’s services at the Kotel. “That I doubt, but I’m willing to give him a chance. Sharansky will understand how much traction this issue has.”

Hoffman was arrested in October for wearing a tallit at the site, and several more of the group’s members have been detained at subsequent services.

Sharansky declined to comment on the issue until he gives his recommendations, but activists on both sides of the issue say the gaps between the site’s leadership and pluralism advocates may be too wide for Sharansky to bridge.

Shmuel Rabinowitz, the wall’s chief rabbi, would like to maintain the status quo, where men and women are separated by a partition and only men may wear tallit and tefillin and convene a minyan prayer quorum with Torah reading. Hoffman and her allies have proposed alternatives that involve the religious streams sharing time and space in the Kotel Plaza, with each praying according to its own precepts.

Hoffman says her minimum demand is for women to receive one hour at the beginning of every Jewish month — excluding Rosh Hashanah — when they can pray as a group with tallit and tefillin, and read the Torah. Ideally, Hoffman says she would want the Kotel’s partition between men and women to be removed for several hours each day so that women and egalitarian groups can pray there undisturbed, but she acknowledges that such a scenario has virtually no chance of being
approved by Rabinowitz.

Other activists say the solution lies in adding a partition rather than removing one. Yizhar Hess, the CEO and executive director of the Israeli Conservative movement, Masorti, advocates dividing the Kotel Plaza into three sections: one for men, one for women and one for egalitarian groups. Hess said that he would like to see the rear section of the plaza opened to cultural activities such as concerts and dancing, which are prohibited now.

“There are many egalitarian groups who come to the wall and view it as the peak of their emotional and spiritual experience in Israel,” said Uri Regev, a Reform rabbi who runs Hiddush, an Israeli religious pluralism non-profit. “The fact that they can’t express that spiritual experience in a spiritual way is a missed opportunity.”

According to a 2003 Israeli Supreme Court ruling, non-Orthodox and women’s prayer groups can pray at Robinson’s Arch, an archaeological park adjacent to the Kotel Plaza, where an admission fee is required. Regev suggested that Sharansky may recommend improvements to Robinson’s Arch, including an expanded prayer area and free admission for prayer groups.

That may be the maximum compromise that Rabinowitz would make.“I think what’s happening today at the Kotel is the best for all viewpoints of the world,” Rabinowitz said. “No one gets exactly what they want — not Haredim and not Women of the Wall. If someone thinks they can bring something better, I’d love to hear it.”

Rabinowitz declined to comment on time- or space-sharing proposals.

Meanwhile, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which controls the Kotel, announced recently that women are no longer allowed to bring tallit or tefillin into the Kotel Plaza.

The prime minister’s office hopes Sharansky will bring to bear his “unique experience and abilities in serving as a bridge for all streams within the Jewish people” as he approaches the problem.

One potential bridge between Rabinowitz and Hoffman are Modern Orthodox rabbis who believe both in Orthodoxy and pluralism.

The Kotel “is a holy place, but needs to belong to all of Israel,” said Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, who co-founded the Modern Orthodox rabbis’ organization Tzohar. Cherlow says he isn’t throwing his backing behind any particular solution, but that a time-sharing arrangement may work.

Daniel Goldman, chairman of the religious-secular non-profit Gesher, says the only way to reach a compromise is to find figures who occupy middle ground and can foster some sort of accord.

“If Natan Sharansky could broaden the people involved in that debate beyond Rabbi Rabinowitz and Women of the Wall, it’s possible to use this issue to create a more constructive dialogue,” Goldman said. “If you get Anat Hoffman and Rabbi Rabinowitz in a room, it’s quite obvious and clear that there will be no compromise solution.”

Israel’s Mega Storm — The Numbers

The Jordan Valley flooded, making it impossible  to commute. Peleg Amiton/Tazpit News Agency

The Jordan Valley flooded, making it impossibleto commute.
Peleg Amiton/Tazpit News Agency

Last week’s storm in Israel was a record-breaker on many accounts.
Many areas in the country received between 8 and 12 inches of rain, an amount that occurs on average every 10 to 15 years.
• Rainfall in the north: 80% – 95% of the total annual average rainfall; 180% – 230% of the average rainfall for this time of the year
• Rainfall in central Israel: 70% – 85% of the annual average; 150% – 200% of the average for this time of the year
• Rainfall in the Negev Desert: 150% of the average rainfall for this time of year


Snow covered Jerusalem and its surrounding communities. Shown here: Efrat. Aryeh Savir/Tazpit News Agency

Snow covered Jerusalem and its surrounding communities. Shown here: Efrat.
Aryeh Savir/Tazpit News Agency

There have been only four times in the last 50 years that rain has fallen for 6 to 7 days in a row, in 1965, 1969, 1992 and 1995.The level of the Kinneret Lake continues to rise as a result of the heavy precipitation. The Kinneret is Israel’s main source of water. The level rose by 35 inches in the past week, one of the sharpest recorded rises in such a short period of time. The Kinneret’s current level already has surpassed the highest level recorded last winter, and the estimates are that this year will be a really good one for the Kinneret. The Kinneret has risen a total of 57 inches since the beginning of the season. The Kinneret is expected to rise at a rate of 1 inch per day until the end of the season.


Snow and rain caused an  estimated 1 billion NIS  ($260 million) of  damage. Shown here: A snow-covered bike inDolev.  Meital Hertz/Tazpit News Agency

Snow and rain caused an
estimated 1 billion NIS
($260 million) of damage. Shown here: A snow-covered bike inDolev.  Meital Hertz/Tazpit News Agency

Other weather results: Snow: Snow has accumulated throughout the Galil and Golan in the North, and in Jerusalem and its environs, and even in the northern Negev. Such a heavy snow fall occurs every few years, the last such storm in 2008. Other storms in the past 15 years were in 2003, 2000 and 1998. Wind: Winds on Jan. 9 hit 63 to 69 mph in some places. In Jerusalem they hit 69 mph, beating the record in 2000 of 60 mph.
Damage: Many homes in the center were flooded as a result of the torrential rains. The Union of Local Authorities in Israel has estimated that the damage caused to infrastructure by the storm stands at 1 billion NIS ($260 million). The estimated damage caused to the financial sector is estimated at 300 million NIS ($65 million), 150 million lost due to the absence of workers who were unable to get to work because of the flooding on the roads.