Seeking Closure Palestinian terrorism victims, Israel advocates want more cases to be tried in U.S.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) saw in Israel’s justice system a lesson for  the United States.  (Daniel Schere)

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) saw in Israel’s justice system a lesson for the United States. (Daniel Schere)

Despite a commitment from the United States government to bring overseas terrorists to justice, American victims of Palestinian violence overseas are still searching for  answers. None of the 64 cases in the last 23 years has resulted in a conviction, prompting anger from some Jews here and in Israel.

In 2004, Congress passed the Koby Mandell Act, which created the  Office for Victims of Overseas Terrorism within the Department of Justice to handle cases of overseas terrorism against Americans. It came in response to the 2001 murder of 13-year-old American citizen Koby Mandell, who was living and attending school near the West Bank.

“We’ve been dealing with the Justice Department and the State Department since Day 1, since the Koby Mandell Act, and we know since we called them to prosecute [on behalf of] our client [Mandell] that they’re not coming through,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, an attorney and activist who leads the Shurat Hadin Law Center in Israel. For 15 years, Darshan-Leitner has worked with organizations around the world to make sure countries block funding from designated Palestinian terrorist groups and secure funding for victims and their families.

Last year, Shurat Hadin worked with other attorneys to win a lawsuit brought in a New York federal court against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The suit resulted in more than $200 million for victims of six attacks that occurred between 2002 and 2004 as reported by Washington Jewish Week. American courts may also try terrorists under the Antiterrorism Act of 1996 if the victims were American; however, Darshan-Leitner said the unwillingness of the Justice and State departments to get involved in these cases is “outrageous.”

“It’s disappointing. I don’t know if  [the Justice  Department] is evenhanded or if they’re inherently incompetent.”
— Robert Slatkin, chair of the  Baltimore Zionist District

“They want to play even, which they should, but not when it comes to pure justice,” she said. “Not when it comes to implementing the law or enforcing the law. When it comes to an act of murder, you have an obligation as an American citizen to take steps and prosecute. Otherwise, you’re betraying your own citizens.”

During a hearing in the Subcommittee on National Security on Feb. 2, lawmakers heard testimony from victims of Palestinian violence as well as from Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brad Wiegmann.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) challenged Wiegmann to put  together a task force to learn why the Justice Department has not prosecuted any Palestinian suspects.

Following the hearing, Sarah Stern, founder and president of the pro-Israel group Endowment for Middle East Truth, commended the committee for their work.

“Ever since Oslo, these victims of terrorism have become the invisible or disposable Americans,  whom, for political reasons, our government has decided are not deserving of the same justice as any other American citizen who has been killed,” she wrote in a statement. “The United States needs to seek justice for Americans everywhere and stop letting the Palestinians get away with murder, which will just encourage more terrorism directed against Americans.”

The unwillingness by U.S. courts to litigate cases involving Palestinians also has upset Zionists such as Robert Slatkin, chair of the Baltimore Zionist District. Slatkin believes the U.S. has not been more involved because it is afraid to aggravate Muslims around the world.

“It’s disappointing. I don’t know  if [the Justice Department] is evenhanded or if they’re inherently  incompetent,” he said.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Sticking It to Israel Taking Maryland’s quintessential sport to the Holy Land

Jules Jacobs (center) poses for a photo with Israeli players at a lacrosse clinic in Netanya. (SportPic)

Jules Jacobs (center) poses for a photo with Israeli players at a lacrosse clinic in Netanya. (SportPic)

Could soccer-crazy Israelis fall in love with lacrosse?

After spending winter break touring the country on a service trip with the Israel national team, Jules Jacobs is convinced that the sport with indigenous roots in the Native American Iroquois people is primed to take off in the Holy Land.

“The kids are embracing it. The communities are embracing it. It’s great for everyone, and it’s really becoming something that I think Israel is really going to adopt fast,” said Jacobs, 17, a junior at Wootton High School in Rockville and the only Marylander on the trip.

Jacobs, son of former Washington Jewish Week editor-in-chief and current Jewish Women International executive Meredith Jacobs, said the Israeli kids would “light up” when the lacrosse players showed up. Clinics were held in Netanya, Ashkelon and Haifa.

The Israeli national team is headquartered in Ashkelon. The southern coastal city is a sister city of lacrosse-hotbed Baltimore. Charm City is an  official partner of Team Israel lacrosse.

Scott Neiss founded the Israel Lacrosse Association — the official governing body of lacrosse in  Israel — in 2010. The executive director and Oceanside, N.Y., native got the idea for Israel Lacrosse while on a Birthright Israel trip and founded Israel Lacrosse soon after. The Israel Lacrosse Association is a  member of the Federation of International Lacrosse and the European Lacrosse Federation.

Jacobs was struck by the passion Israeli children have for the sport of lacrosse despite facing at times adverse conditions in the volatile Middle East. One child they were teaching recounted a time when he was practicing and Iron Dome shot down a rocket over the field.

“He hid under some benches and the Iron Dome just blew up this rocket that was going on above him and debris fell — and he just went and continued playing lacrosse,” Jacobs said. “This is life for them, and they don’t have the luxury  of having nice fields or having these places that  they can really feel safe. So, lacrosse is an outlet  for them to really express themselves and to  develop as people.”

At the conclusion of the service trip, Jacobs, who plays long-stick midi and close defense, participated in tryouts for the men’s national U-19 Israel lacrosse team that will play this summer at the World Championships in Coquitlam, British  Columbia, Canada.

Non-Israeli Jews are eligible to play on the Israeli national team because lacrosse is such a new sport there. But Jacobs is confident that lacrosse will continue making inroads into Israeli society and that one day the roster will be fully Israeli.

“We’re going to see a rallying around lacrosse in the future because it’s something that Israelis are so good at, and it’s something that will become  ingrained into the culture,” said Jacobs. “Give it 20 years — lacrosse is going to be everywhere. Every kid is going to be holding a stick. Every kid’s going to be out there practicing on the wall. I really think it’s just a matter of time.”

jmarks@midatlanticmedia.com

Syrian Refugee Crisis Safety concerns, Jewish ethics guide attitudes toward helping those in need

Saturday morning, a few days after the terrorist attacks in Paris last November, Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg of Beth Am used his Shabbat sermon time to invite an open discussion about the brutal and tragic incidents that occurred throughout the city and their aftermath.

Several people expressed their anger and concern about the way Syrian Muslim refugees — those fleeing possible persecution and fear of death — were repeatedly linked with terrorist activities in the rhetoric of some politicians and in the media. They also voiced concern about an ensuing climate of fear and hateful sentiment aimed at refugees that could spread from that portrayal.

(Jodi Hilton/NurPhoto/Newscom)

(Jodi Hilton/NurPhoto/Newscom)

The discussion resulted in a small group of congregants meeting with employees of the International Rescue Committee’s Baltimore office on Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown a few weeks later to learn what they might do to welcome and assist Syrian refugees who are expected to arrive in Baltimore in the coming year.

Congregant Wendy Schelew, who has a decades-long history volunteering and working in refugee resettlement in her native Toronto, went to the IRC, she explained, because “as a Jew I really felt it was a moral obligation to help people who didn’t have a home and that we could not relive the history of the Second World War and turn away from people in need.” She added that though she has her concerns about  the State Department’s ability to screen refugees adequately to weed out potential terrorists, “I believe that most of these people are not security threats. They’re homeless just like so many of our [ancestors] were, and they deserve a chance to start over in a new place.”

If people are committed to protect refugees just because they look like they do or worship like they do, that won’t really lead to anybody being protected. So we have to stand up for everybody.

— Mark Hetfield, president and CEO, HIAS

The group learned that the IRC helped resettle more than 800 refugees last year; 35 of them are Syrians, but there is no information on how many Syrians will be resettled in Maryland in 2016. The organization provides clients with up to eight months of case-management support when they arrive to help them stabilize and navigate a new life. Refugees are met at the airport and ensured simply furnished affordable housing — the first month’s rent is paid for — and a first warm meal, and their children are enrolled in school. Each new arrival must attend a five-day orientation that covers details such as instructions for riding the bus, getting groceries and finding English-language classes; and everyone receives a full medical screening within a week or so of arrival. Then the IRC’s employment services team steps in to help the adults find work.

“That’s the big ask by the U.S. government,” said Ruben Chandrasekar, executive director of the IRC’s Baltimore and Silver Spring offices. “We welcome you, but you’ve got to work, to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. So we help folks find their first job. Then usually within three to four months, 85 percent of our clients are working and paying their bills.”

The U.N. Human Rights Council estimates there are 4.5 million Syrian refugees, with many more displaced. Approximately 1,800 Syrians entered the U.S. as new immigrants in 2015, and President Barack Obama has pledged to accept approximately 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. (MUHAMMAD HAMED/REUTERS/Newscom)

The U.N. Human Rights Council estimates there are 4.5 million Syrian refugees, with many more displaced. Approximately 1,800 Syrians entered the U.S. as new immigrants in 2015, and President Barack Obama has pledged to accept approximately 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. (MUHAMMAD HAMED/REUTERS/Newscom)

Staffers at the IRC cited several large local employers who regularly return to them seeking employees, impressed by the pool of new immigrants’ work ethic. About 12 percent of Maryland’s population is foreign born, yet immigrants own and run about 22 percent of small businesses, which are viewed as economic generators. Currently, there are sizable communities of Burmese, Somali, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Congolese and Iraqi populations throughout the greater Baltimore area.

The available resources and capacity of resettlement agencies determine the number of refugees assigned to a city. About 1,800 Syrian refugees arrived in the United States in 2015, and the largest Syrian community is located in Toledo, Ohio. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Syria’s civil war remains the single biggest generator worldwide of both new refugees and continuing mass internal and external displacement.

“The reality is, because [Syrians are] a new migrant group and because of the lengthy vetting process, we’ll be seeing very few coming to Baltimore in the coming year,” said Beth Am member Joe Nathanson, who went on the IRC visit and has an extensive background in economic urban planning for refugee communities.

With nearly 60 million refugees worldwide, and 4.5 million of whom are Syrians — one quarter of that country’s population — Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, the organization formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, called the Syrian displacement “the biggest refugee crisis” since World War II.

“Frankly, the U.S. response is disproportionately low compared to other refugee crises,” he said.

Hetfield noted that 240,000 refugees were admitted to the United States from Vietnam in 1980; by contrast, just 10,000 Syrians are slated for admission this year.

Organizations such as the International Refugee Committee and HIAS assist refugees before and after they arrive into a newly adopted country. IRC settled more than 800 refugees in Maryland last year, 35 of whom are Syrians. (Ervin Shulku/Polaris/Newscom)

Organizations such as the International Refugee Committee and HIAS assist refugees before and after they arrive into a newly adopted country. IRC settled more than 800 refugees in Maryland last year, 35 of whom are Syrians. (Ervin Shulku/Polaris/Newscom)

In 2016, for a person to gain refugee status and legally enter the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security, he or she must first apply through the United Nations High Commission of Refugees. Less than 1 percent of those applying achieve resettlement. A person must prove he’s been driven from his home “due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion,” as stated in the 1951 Refugee Convention, which was created in response to the Holocaust and to prevent countries from denying refugees entry and sending them back to life-threatening situations.

If an applicant clears this first step, his or her documents are sent to the State Department, where more information is collected and security screenings are done via the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. Syrian applicants get additional interviews and screenings called the Syrian In-House Review, which could include more cross- referencing with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ fraud detection and national security directories. Biometric screenings, including fingerprinting and often iris scans, are collected from all applicants and are crosschecked with databases at the FBI, DHS and the Department of Defense. If the applicant passes all of these screenings, he or she submits to health screenings and is enrolled in cultural orientation classes while information continues to be checked against terrorist databases to ensure no new intelligence has turned up since the application process began.

We evolved from being an agency that helped refugees because they were Jewish to an agency that helps refugees because we are Jewish.

— Mark Hetfield, president and CEO, HIAS

In total, the vetting process can last 12 to 24 months from application to arrival here, and it’s considered the most rigorous of any country in the world. However, in November, the House of Representatives voted 289 to 137 in favor of a bill that would further tighten the vetting process for Iraqis and Syrians. The bill was defeated in the Senate on Jan. 20.

Still, FBI director James Comey testified in October that “a number of people who were of serious concern” have slipped through screenings, including two Iraqis arrested on terrorism-related charges, as reported in The Washington Post. “There’s no doubt that was the product of a less-than-excellent vetting,” Comey said. “I can’t sit here and offer anybody an absolute assurance that there’s no risk associated with this.”

Hetfield compared the Syrian vetting process with the scrutiny of the Iraqi and Afghan vetting process, but “we actually occupied those countries and had access to their criminal records to use during the screening processes, and we don’t have that luxury with Syrians.”

Syrian sisters, resettled with assistance from the IRC, share a hug in their adoptive city of Baltimore. (Camille Wathne/IRC)

Syrian sisters, resettled with assistance from the IRC, share a hug in their adoptive city of Baltimore. (Camille Wathne/IRC)

“But security is not a new issue for refugees,” Hetfield added, citing the more than 400,000 Soviet Jews who came here from what was “probably the most fearsome [foe] that the United States has ever had. There was plenty of opportunity for mischief by the Soviets … and the U.S. knew that and tried to screen for it. I’m sure they caught some and others slipped through, but the bottom line is, we’re stronger as a country because we brought in those 400,000 Soviets. But there was a risk.”

Chandrasekar hopes that advocacy by his and other resettlement organizations will push the U.S. to increase President Barack Obama’s pledge to accept 10,000 Syrians and 85,000 refugees overall to 100,000 and 200,000 refugees, respectively.

It’s a prospect that has some in the Jewish community, including Zionist Organization of America national president Morton Klein, concerned about the nation’s safety.

My main concern right now is to continue to encourage our own people, the Jewish community, to think expansively and kindly about the other.
— Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg, Beth Am Congregation

“The violence perpetrated by Muslim immigrants in Europe —  especially toward European Jews — portends what America has in store if we bring more such immigrants here,” Klein wrote in an opinion piece published late last year by the Jewish Times. He reproached HIAS, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Council, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Jewish Community Relations Councils nationwide for signing a letter that opposed the induction of additional restrictions and security measures and for “supporting dangerous Syrian immigration.”

Groups representing the Conservative and Orthodox movements, however, have joined the JCRCs, the AJC and the URJ in backing the call to resettle Syrian refugees.

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied outside the White House in November in support of allowing Syrian refugees to enter the United States. (Jeff Malet Photography/Newscom)

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied outside the White House in November in support of allowing Syrian refugees to enter the United States. (Jeff Malet Photography/Newscom)

Jewish Roots, Jewish Ethics

Albert Einstein’s plea for political asylum in 1933, when the Nazi regime took hold of Germany, “was the guiding force behind the creation of the IRC,” Chandrasekar said. “He was responsible in many ways in stimulating the IRC.”

He added that in the beginning it was “a clandestine organization that had staff in German occupied territory,” such as Varian Fry, a Jewish journalist-turned-activist who created fake travel permits allowing Jews to escape to other parts of Europe and the United States. “Our history as an organization is linked to the Jewish community and its history.”

Now, the IRC has offices in 33 countries and 26 American cities. Internationally, it provides humanitarian assistance such as food, shelter and medical care. Within the United States, many refugees helped by the IRC have stories similar to that of Ali and Amina (not their real names).

Ali was a successful carpenter in Damascus and owned three retail furniture stores. He and his wife, Amina, had five daughters with a much-hoped-for son on the way. Violent conflicts and eventually civil war erupted in Syria, but the family chose to remain in their home country. While the civil war raged on, the hospital Amina gave birth in was bombed and her infant was killed.

It was then the couple had to make a difficult decision to leave for their safety and that of their daughters. So in 2012, they left for Lebanon and lived off of savings for a while. Soon Ali needed work and found a job delivering furniture. They tried to make ends meet, but life as a displaced refugee was a dangerous struggle with no end in sight.

Finally, they applied for entry into the United States.

An anti-Syrian refugee protester in New York City. (Alberto Reyes/INFphoto/Newscom)

An anti-Syrian refugee protester in New York City. (Alberto Reyes/INFphoto/Newscom)

“We resettled them 18 months after they applied, in 2014,” Chandrasekar said, adding that a goal of the IRC is to help repopulate Baltimore City, which lost about 300,000 inhabit-ants during the decades between 1980 and 2000, and to increase its tax base. “Now, Ali works at Under Armor as a fork-lift driver. Amina just received her driver’s license and the kids are in school.” After losing so much, “refugees come here with the passion to rebuild.”

“And when you look at the nation’s history for more than 200 years, that’s what refugees have done,” Hetfield said.

“They’ve strengthened this country not weakened it.”

Since its inception in 1881, HIAS has resettled nearly 5 million new immigrants. This month, after 130 years in New York City, the organization moved its headquarters to Silver Spring, Md.

In the past decade, HIAS readjusted its mission as the first and only agency to protect and resettle Jewish refugees to focusing on non-Jewish refugees. It has received some criticism for the change.

“We evolved from being an agency that helped refugees because they were Jewish to an agency that helps refugees because we are Jewish,” said Hetfield, who has worked with HIAS on and off since he began as a caseworker in Rome in 1989. “Now, we’re a humanitarian service agency, an advocacy agency that is guided by Jewish values and history.”

The result has been that a majority of Jewish family service agencies HIAS previously partnered with to do the groundwork once a refugee entered the United States have either dropped out of the network or will do so this year, including such agencies in Maryland and Washington.

But supported by Jewish laws protecting strangers Hetfield notes are the most repeated in the Torah, he sees his mission as a righteous one.

We were “once strangers ourselves,” he said. “So for that reason it’s very important we’re committed to refugees regardless of who they are. If people are committed to protect refugees just because they look like they do or worship like they do, that won’t really lead to anybody being protected.

“So we have to stand up for everybody.”

To that end, HIAS “managed to easily” get more than 1,200 rabbis to sign a declaration — including more than 80 from the Baltimore-Washington area — that was delivered to all members of Congress in December imploring them to learn from Jewish history, welcome all nationalities of refugees to the country “and to oppose any measures that would actually or effectively halt resettlement or prohibit or restrict funding for any groups of refugees.”

Cotzin Burg of Beth Am was one of the letter’s signees.

“My main concern right now is to continue to encourage our own people, the Jewish community, to think expansively and kindly about the other,” he said. “And this [refugee crisis] seems to me a great opportunity to do so.”

A Continuing Jewish-Muslim Dialogue

Since 2000, the Baltimore Jewish Council has hosted interfaith events that stimulate a dialogue among members in the Baltimore community. The Jewish-Muslim dialogue is one of them.

“The mission is to create genuine and organic relationships and open the dialogue between the Jewish and Muslim communities,” said Madeline Suggs, director of public affairs at the BJC, “and focus on the topics we do have in common and can work on together.”

There were more than a dozen events last year, and they expect to host as many in 2016. Suggs noted that Gov. Larry Hogan’s office “has been a fantastic partner,” with its office of community initiatives that does interfaith work, as well as the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies with Muslim scholars Homayra Ziad and Ben Sax.

Martha Weiman, BJC Interfaith Commission chair, warned of the danger in generalizing about an entire community, as people have historically done to the Jews, but “when you keep the doors open there’s dialogue — whether it’s small or whether it’s large. And you have to hope that it spreads.”

Women participate in advocacy training with BJC’s Jewish-Muslim dialogue program. (Provided)

Women participate in advocacy training with BJC’s Jewish-Muslim dialogue program. (Provided)

This month, the BJC cosponsored a Jewish and Muslim women’s advocacy program, where they trained on lobbying techniques and strategies with Ziad and Rep. Shelly Hettleman. There were about 25 women in attendance, Suggs said, and “it was a rallying call to focus on how we can work together. The unifying factor was women’s issues, she added, but the overall message was, “We can’t give in to the polarizing climate of the national dialogue.”

There are social justice and social programs as well, such as collecting goods for donation that go to each community, which is “a great way to see what our faiths have in common, and charity is one of them,” Suggs said. The BJC also hosted dinner in the sukkah, and in the spring, it will collaborate with ICJS and The Stoop Storytelling Series to host an evening of stories about what “home” means to them as Muslims and Jews.

Suggs said gender for attendance is split 50-50, and there is a “really strong young professional age group.” But depending upon the programming, ages range from 30 to 70.

After 9/11 there were federal and state Homeland Security grants available to communities that felt threatened, and “the Muslim community asked us to help them with the grant for a fence around their mosque on Johnnycake Road,” Art Abrams, BJC executive director, said. “We helped them get $20,000, and we continue to do so; we work together constantly.”

Suggs said a new dinner program will be launched in May, a trilogue of Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths. There will be panelists including an imam, a rabbi and a priest to kick off discussion, then attendees will break into small discussion groups.

One of the biggest causes of anti-Semitism or anti-Muslim sentiment, Suggs said, “is a fear of the unknown, and by creating relationships and friendships, we’re able to tackle the fear and misconceptions that make that happen.”

HIAS: For the Refugee from Moth on Vimeo.

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Regrettable’ Why U.S. lawmakers want Germany to take another look in its museums

Visitors look at Max Beckmann's “Portrait Quappi Beckmann” from 1925 at the Hypo-Kunsthalle in Munich.

Visitors look at Max Beckmann’s “Portrait Quappi Beckmann” from 1925 at the Hypo-Kunsthalle in Munich.

In a letter emblazoned with the insignia of the U.S. House of Representatives, 29 members of Congress reprimanded the German state of Bavaria for neglecting its historical responsibility to victims of the Nazis.

“The Free State of Bavaria has yet to fully honor its pledge regarding restitution or compensation for Holocaust-related confiscations of property, including artwork, made under duress,” read the Nov. 9 letter addressed to Bavaria’s governor, Horst Seehofer. “The importance of these issues to Holocaust survivors and their families cannot be overstated.”

Why would members of Congress send such a sharply worded — if diplomatic — missive to the largest state in Germany, a major U.S. ally, some 70 years after the end of World War II?

In the preceding months, retired American-British physician Michael Hulton, 69, had met with Congress members throughout the United States to deliver an impassioned presentation about his great-uncle Alfred Flechtheim, a flamboyant German Jewish art dealer destroyed by the rise of the Nazis.

German institutions, Hulton told the lawmakers, are failing in their responsibility to secure justice for Flechtheim and other early victims of the Nazis. He asked for their help.

In an interview at his lawyer’s Manhattan law firm, Hulton said he was heartened by how receptive the lawmakers were to his message.

“And not the obvious ones,” he said. “Not the Jewish ones.”

Germany is widely acknowledged to be a leader in Holocaust restitution. The state has paid nearly $70 billion to Nazi victims since 1953, according to Wesley Fisher, director of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

And although any statutes of limitation long ago expired on cases of Nazi-looted art, Germany is among 44 nations that voluntarily committed in the Washington Principles of 1998 to restitution of art stolen by the Nazis or sold under duress they caused.

But Hulton said Germany has not fulfilled its commitments under the agreement, not to mention its historical obligations. He noted that state authorities set the bar very high for claimants of restitution — requiring them to prove that Nazi oppression directly contributed to the loss of the art in question.

That can be difficult, especially where records are lacking.

For example, early in 2015, the Limbach Commission — a state-established panel that advises on requests for restitution for art lost due to Nazi oppression — rejected a claim on “A Weekday in Paris,” a painting by German artist Adolph von Menzel. The heirs of the artwork’s one-time owner, George Behrens, argued that the Jewish banker sold the work to the city of Dusseldorf in 1935 because of Nazi persecution.

The commission pointed out that Behrens was paid 30,000 Reichmarks for the painting, which was in line with the market price of the day. Further, the commission said, the bank Behrens owned was still in good economic order in 1935, suggesting he was not in financial duress.But it’s worth remembering the pervasiveness of Nazi influence, even when it cannot be pinpointed.

“One should ask: Why did Behrens sell?” said Marc Masurovsky, an art historian and co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project. “If it was to finance his exit from Germany, then we are within the reach of a forced sale. If it was to pay for lunches and dinner, clearly not.”

Flechtheim probably wasn’t eating out much by 1932, when he is said to have sold the most valuable works in his collection: six paintings by the famed German Expressionist Max Beckmann.

After a roaring 1920s spent hobnobbing with artistic elites from Paris to Berlin, Flechtheim that year became the literal cover boy for the “Jewish problem.” A sketch of his face in profile was published on the cover of the Nazi magazine Illustrierter Beobachter alongside the headline “The Race Question is the Key to World History.”

The persecution worsened from there, with the Nazis breaking up a 1933 auction he was participating in. Later that year, Flechtheim fled Germany. He died in London in 1937, destitute and miserable.

In 2008, using photographs of the art in Flechtheim’s Berlin apartment, Hulton began claiming as his inheritance 17 paintings and other works that were once in Flechtheim’s collection — including pieces by Beckmann, Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee. German museums now own the works. Hulton and his lawyers value the estate at some $124 million.

Since then, Hulton has settled claims with only two museums regarding eight of the works. On the Beckmann paintings held by Munich’s Pinakothek der Moderne, the state-owned museum has been uncooperative and will no longer even discuss the matter, he said.

It was frustration with the museum that led Hulton to seek help from Congress members. But another letter may turn out to be more decisive in his campaign for justice.

Pinakothek der Moderne contends that Flechtheim sold the Beckmann paintings to an art dealer in New York in 1932. When Flechtheim was later offered a fraction of the agreed sum, he responded with a letter protesting in French: “Tant pis!”

Whether Flechtheim was turning down a sale that had not yet happened or regretting a sale he had already agreed on is up for debate. But the meaning of his protest is not: “The situation is regrettable!”

Day to Remember Reston, Va., veteran recalls heroism of righteous gentile

Paul Stern was standing with 800 other American soldiers on Jan. 27, 1945, at the Stalag IXA prisoner of war camp near Ziegenhain, Germany, when the Nazi commandant confronted Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, ordering him to have all the Jews step forward — 150 to 200, according to Stern.

“We are all Jews here,” Edmonds replied. The commandant then put a gun to Edmonds’ head and said he would shoot him unless he commanded the Jews to step forward. Edmonds replied that the Geneva Conventions state that captured soldiers need only to give their name, rank and serial number. “If you shoot me now, you’ll have to shoot all of us because we all know who you are, and when the war is over you will be tried as a war criminal,” Edmonds said. The German commandant retreated to his barracks.

“That one act of courage and bravery by [a] master sergeant saved my life as well as all the Jewish prisoners at Ziegenhain,” Stern, 91, recalled at Congregation Beth Emeth’s first annual Veterans Shabbat, held Nov. 7 at the Herndon synagogue.

The Bronx, N.Y., native and Reston, Va., resident presented this testimony to the Israeli government. That helped to make the late Edmonds, who died in 1985, become the first American serviceman recognized as a righteous gentile by Yad Vashem,
Israel’s Holocaust memorial. The announcement was made Dec. 2.

The Israeli Embassy in Washington will hold a ceremony on Jan. 27 in honor of Edmonds. Stern plans to attend.

Stern was captured during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, along with another Jewish soldier, Lester Tanner. They both ended up at Stalag IXA. After the war, Tanner, also a Bronx native, invited Stern to meet his family in the borough, where Stern was introduced to Tanner’s sister, Corinne. They have been married for 68 years.

Stern and his wife are members of Beth Emeth and have a daughter, Joanne Stern Fleeter, also of Reston, and a son, Jeff Stern of Washington.

“When we were young, he was always very reserved and quiet about his war experiences. But certainly in the last 10 or so years, he’s really opened up and told us a lot of the stories and felt comfortable speaking in front of groups, like he did at the temple — and regaling friends and family with his exploits and what he went through,” said Jeff Stern. “I’m very proud of him for doing that, and I think it’s a great thing to be able to tell his children and his family and the grandchildren, so people remember it over time as this ‘greatest generation’ begins to leave us.”

Said Fleeter: “I’m pleased that this story has come and that Roddie Edmonds is getting the validation and the honor that he deserves. I’m proud that my dad was an eyewitness who could give testimony for this heroic act.”

The date his life was saved by Edmonds carries extra significance for Stern: It is also his birthday.

jmarks@midatlanticmedia.com

A Sense of Pride In an ultra-wealthy Moscow suburb, a luxurious JCC opens its doors

An exterior view shows the grandeur of the Zhokuvka Jewish Community Center.

An exterior view shows the grandeur of the Zhokuvka Jewish Community Center.

ZHUKOVKA, Russia — On the only road connecting this affluent village on Moscow’s western outskirts, Russian secret service agents are blocking all inbound traffic. Drivers bound for Zhukovka pull over and step out to smoke while chatting with other
motorists as a line of luxury cars grows on the shoulder of a two-lane road.

The closures are a frequent occurrence because Zhukovka and the adjacent riverside village of Barvikha are home to some of Russia’s richest and most powerful people. Among the combined 5,500 residents living in the villages are Ukraine’s ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, who has a $52 million mansion in the area, and the Russian Jewish construction magnates Boris and Arkady Rotenberg. All three are associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Ordinary” millionaires who live here must wait patiently as VIPs travel in motorcades to and from Moscow or receive visits by senior officials. So do the tourists who come here to catch a glimpse of the village’s sprawling villas, with their private tennis courts and hedge mazes.

But this month Muscovites, and Jews especially, received a more accessible attraction in Zhukovka: A $20 million Jewish community center and synagogue opened here on Dec. 6 amid fanfare and in the presence of 400 guests, including Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi, David Lau. And while the new JCC is seen as a demonstration of this community’s robustness, it nonetheless comes amid growing Jewish emigration that is widely attributed to the financial crisis in Russia and concern over its government’s nationalist agenda.

From the international design firm Gensler, the Zhukovka JCC is a doughnut-shaped structure with a granite facade, 54,000 square feet of floor space, a small cinema and 24 luxury guest rooms that are intended to be used free of charge by Shabbat overnighters.

At the heart of the building is a synagogue with a capacity of 400 worshippers and modular tables made of Swedish wood. The basement has still-unfinished, warm-water mikvah ritual baths. The building is under the watchful eye of 24/7 security guards, who operate airport-grade body and luggage scanners. The basement of the center, which was built with money donated by wealthy Jews (and some non-Jews), has a gourmet kosher restaurant. Its kitchen is overseen by two Italian chefs, including the renowned restaurateur Uilliam Lamberti.

Among the first-time visitors to the center last week was Oleg Babinski, a retired army officer and business owner in his 50s who worships with the Zhukovka Jewish community, though he does not live in the village.

“I am not a rich man, but it still fills me with pride to see that our community can achieve something like this,” Babinski said.

Such a building would stand out almost anywhere else in Russia, where the average monthly salary among city dwellers is less than $600. But it’s par for the course in Zhukovka, where the shopping malls have Gucci and Prada stores, and there are a host of luxury car dealerships.

At one mini-mall this year, local Jews placed a large menorah opposite a Bentley dealership.

No one knows exactly how many Jews live in and around Zhukovka. But it’s doubtful there are enough to fill the synagogue.

“Granted, this place is a little big for the community’s needs right now, but it’s with an eye to the future needs of a growing community,” said Velvel Krichevsky, a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi from Israel who will be working at Zhukovka.

The head rabbi at Zhukovka is Alexander Boroda, the president of the Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, a vast network whose rabbis have formed a main engine for the renewal of Jewish life in Russia after the fall of communism. Among those rabbis is Berel Lazar, one of two chief rabbis in Russia. Lazar is known for his close ties to Putin — the two men lit Chanukah candles together at the Kremlin on Dec. 9.

Federation ties with Russian politicians have been instrumental in obtaining land and some funding for opening dozens of Jewish institutions across Russia, though the Zhukovka center became a reality without such aid. The decision to build a Jewish center in Zhukovka came at the request of wealthy area Jews, according to Boroda.

“My friends asked for a synagogue near their home, and I wanted to open a Chabad House somewhere, so that’s why it happened there,” said Boroda, a former Red Army soldier who began exploring his Jewish identity after his discharge from the military in the 1980s.

Still, there is symbolism in the center’s opening in Zhukovka. The village, after all, used to be the resort destination of Russian Communist government leaders — the Soviet statesman Vyacheslav Molotov and Joseph Stalin’s daughter used to live here — who persecuted Russian Jewry and effectively drove it underground.

“This is going to be really great in summer,” said Rosa Skvortsov, 10, of Zhukovka, who attends the Reshit Chochma Litvak religious school in Moscow. Rosa visited the center last week with her father, Vasily, a film director, and a friend.

But the new center’s future is by no means certain. Built with funds collected over years, it opened at the height of a financial crisis that since August 2014 has halved the ruble’s value against the dollar amid dropping oil prices and Western sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory.

Although many Jews are assured by Putin’s pro-Jewish policies, others are jittery over his overt nationalism and expansionism, as well as his government’s xenophobia toward gays and Muslims. The combination has already generated a 31 percent year-over-year increase in Jewish immigration to Israel, or aliyah, from Russia, which is home to about 260,000 Jews. In 2014, some 5,921 Russian Jews made aliyah, compared to 4,094 the previous year.

According to Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which facilitates aliyah, there’s been a rise in the number of Jews moving to Israel from Moscow and St. Petersburg, where Russian Jewry’s intellectual and financial elites tend to live, and where Jews used to be more resistant to leaving than their coreligionists in poorer areas.

These developments already are affecting the fundraising ability of Jewish groups. In Zhukovka, the congregants who asked Boroda to build the center “have all left, some to Europe, others elsewhere,” the Zhukovka rabbi said.

Still, Boroda insists that others have replaced those who have
departed and his community will continue to raise enough money to maintain its infrastructure, including the high-maintenance center in Zhukovka.

“You don’t build a synagogue according to this year’s balance sheet,” he said.

And while emigration may be on the rise, Boroda added that “Russian Jews as a whole are never going to let go of what we have achieved just because of a few rough years.”

Cnaan Liphshiz traveled to Russia to receive a journalism award from the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia. The federation did not pay for his trip and had no role in the editing or writing of this article.

Counterattack Influential academics tackle boycott movement on college campuses

Campus

Kenneth Waltzer (left) and Mark G. Yodof and Kenneth Waltzer have taken the lead in the Academic Engagement Network. (Courtesy photos)

Alarmed by what they called “Orwellian efforts” by the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to link Israel with a multitude of free-speech issues roiling college campuses across the United States, a group of influential academics launched the Academic Engagement Network.

Led by Mark G. Yudof, president emeritus of the University of California System, and Kenneth Waltzer, former director of Jewish studies at Michigan State University, the Academic Engagement Network has taken it upon itself to combat “Orwellian efforts to link Israel with a multitude of issues, from the shootings in Ferguson to high levels of student tuition.”

“In the face of activities aimed at vilifying Israel, AEN members will facilitate robust and civilized discussions relating to Israel on campuses, promote academic freedom and freedom of expression, stand for human rights for Arabs and Jews and engage colleagues and students to better understand these complex issues,” Yudof, the network’s chair, said earlier this month in a written statement.

Network members, including several presidents emeriti of area universities, will act as resources on their campuses and provide advice to their academic colleagues on how to address anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activities, without trampling on free speech. A manual, “Academic Freedom and BDS: A Guide for University Presidents and Administrators,” is in the editing stages with a release date of early January, in time for the spring semester.

It has to do with what I’m focusing on, which is the American university. [We need] to enable deliberations which are based on facts rather than opinion.”

— Stephen J. Trachtenberg,
president emeritus of George Washington University

Stephen J. Trachtenberg, president emeritus of George Washington University, described the group as a collection of concerned academics who value academic freedom and “have devoted themselves to making it possible for people from all points of view … to speak candidly and without disruption.”

During the last few years, some members of pro-BDS groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine have taken to shouting down invited Israeli guest lecturers.

In early November, Assi Azar, an Israeli television personality and LGBT rights advocate, was interrupted during a discussion of his film “Mom, Dad, I have Something to Tell You” at Goucher College.

Last winter, masked protesters wielding electronic noisemakers and carrying signs reading “Ferguson, Pittsburgh, Gaza, Fight Back,” disrupted a talk by a former Israel Defense Forces medic on gender roles during wartime. The event was co-sponsored by a pro-Israel student group at the University of Pittsburgh. Campus police eventually intervened.

Preventing invited guests from speaking and providing misinformation are among the methods BDS employs that Trachtenberg and his fellow AEN board members describe as “anti-intellectual” and as harmful “for peace and for academic freedom.”

“On some campuses, certainly, issues that are either popular or unpopular off-campus in the larger community sometimes find a way to the campus, and it causes no small degree of indigestion, if you will,” said H. Patrick Swygert, president emeritus of Howard University in Washington. “But I’ve never been one to be persuaded that silence or simply just going along [is the right path].”

Swygert, who has been an academic for nearly four decades and has taught in Israeli universities on multiple occasions, said he has heard “obvious untruths about the State of Israel with no rebuttal.”

It is a university president’s duty, he added, to “be clear in the sense that the university has values, and one of them is free speech in contrasting and opposing ideas.”

There is a space for serious debate on Israel if “the president is able to articulate what the reality is of Israel as an open democratic society in a volatile part of the world,” said Swygert.

Trachtenberg agreed, saying that he would like to see robust debate, perhaps in the same vein as the Oxford University debate on BDS that pitted liberal American lawyer and staunch Israel supporter Alan Dershowitz against British human-rights activist Peter Tatchell. Dershowitz was declared the winner of the November 2015 debate.

“We ourselves are critical of Israel. We don’t claim perfection for Israel, and no one expects us to do that,” said Trachtenberg. “We’re not afraid of fair criticism of Israel. … We simply think that the kind of advocacy, behavior that BDS advocates, is bad for universities, bad for scholarship and a bad way for advocating their position.”

For Trachtenberg, his affiliation with AEN “transcends the issue of Israel.”

“It has to do with what I’m focusing on, which is the American university,” said Trachtenberg. “[We need] to enable deliberations which are based on facts rather than opinion.”

AEN national advisory board members include: Gabriella Blum, Harvard University; Scott Cowen, Tulane University; Larry Diamond, Stanford University; Rabbi David Ellenson, Brandeis University; William “Brit” Kirwan, University System of Maryland; Deborah Lipstadt, Emory University; Rachel Moran, UCLA; Geri Past, Israel Action Network; Steven Pinker, Harvard University; Dan Rodrigues, Northwestern University School of Law; Ricardo Romo, University of Texas at San Antonio; Steven Davidoff Solomon, University of California Berkeley; and Lawrence Summers, Harvard University.

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Scandalous’ Climate activists welcome deal but rap Israel for ‘minimalist’ commitments

Arava Power Company's  4.9-megawatt field sits outside Kibbutz Ketura in Israel.

Arava Power Company’s 4.9-megawatt field sits outside Kibbutz Ketura in Israel.

TEL AVIV — During last week’s climate summit outside Paris, the 195 delegate countries — including Israel — committed to implementing plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improving their goals every five years.

The aim: Keep Earth from warming more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the 21st century.

“This demands international discipline, which is not easy, but for the good of humanity, I hope that it will be found,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who attended the climate talks, told his Cabinet on Sunday. “It will certainly be found in the State of Israel.”

But the historic deal leaves much to be desired, a range of Israeli climate activists, experts and government officials say. They point out that Israel’s plan to help reduce global warming falls short of what other countries have vowed to do. And some Israelis have expressed doubt that the plan will be implemented at all — Israel won’t face concrete repercussions if it fails to meet its goals beyond being excluded from the accord moving forward.

Still, Israeli environmentalists say Israel’s commitments under the deal are a welcome first step. They hope Israel’s proposal will encourage the government to make clean energy a priority. And they expect that the accord will create a global market push to expand environmentally friendly businesses and products.

“Environmentalists should celebrate because the government made its most ambitious statement to date,” said Alon Tal, founder of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense. “Now we hold its feet to the fire.”

Israel, with about 0.1 percent of the world’s population, contributes about 0.2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Israel’s plan pledges, by 2030, to keep greenhouse gas emissions at about their current levels. Without implementing the plan it committed to in France, Israel would emit an estimated 105.5 metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2030. The plan would lower that number to some 82 metric tons, which is around what Israel has emitted this year. Taking population growth into
account, the plan amounts to a per-capita greenhouse gas emissions reduction of approximately 26 percent.

The United States, by contrast, has pledged to reduce emissions from a total of about 5.5 billion metric tons of carbon in 2015 to under 5 billion by 2025. The U.S. plans to reduce its absolute number of emissions 26 percent below 2005 levels — not relative to population growth. The European Union has pledged to lower its emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels. China, meanwhile, has pledged to draw 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

Yosef Abramowitz, an Israeli solar energy entrepreneur and delegate at the Paris conference, called Israel’s plan “scandalous.”

“For a startup nation to have one of the lowest solar goals on the planet betrays our values and our potential,” said Abramowitz, who called the Israeli goals “so minimalist that it made it difficult for us in Paris” when defending it to other delegates.

Israel’s initiative involves an eightfold increase in renewable energy sources, like solar and wind power. Implementing greener building codes to promote energy efficiency, moving from coal power plants to burning Israel’s abundant natural gas and investing in public transportation are also part of the plan.Israel’s proposal calls for the government to vote on an implementation plan for the proposal in 45 days, though ministries are still debating whether to enact a carbon tax, which taxes CO2 emissions, or a cap-and-trade program, which limits the amount of greenhouse gases that companies can emit and provides incentives for companies that come in under the threshold. Israel’s government has had a poor track record on these projects.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, joins his French  counterpart, Manuel Valls, at the United Nations Climate Change  Conference in Le Bourget, France.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, joins his French
counterpart, Manuel Valls, at the United Nations Climate Change
Conference in Le Bourget, France.

The Israeli government had aimed for 5 percent of the country’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2014 and 10 percent by 2020. Now it’s at less than 2 percent and is slated to miss the 2020 target by 2 or 3 percent. A high-speed train to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv that began construction in 2001 won’t provide service until at least 2017, while light rail projects in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have both experienced delays.

“We claim there is a huge potential, but without stable regulation and planning the investors aren’t going in,” said Gil Proaktor, the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s senior coordinator on climate change. “We have a government decision on plans, but not on implementation.”

While the France deal sets a target of avoiding a rise of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, analyses show that taken together, all the countries’ plans would lead to a temperature increase of about 4.8 degrees. And Israel’s tiny size means that no matter what it does, it will have a minuscule effect on global emissions.

“It’s not just the Israeli government,” said Moti Shechter, director of Haifa University’s Natural Resource and Environmental Research Center. “Politicians make promises only when they don’t have a choice, when there’s catastrophe. When the danger isn’t at the door, they can push it off.”

Israeli environmentalists, however, believe the government has missed an opportunity to commit itself to a greener future. Israel’s climate plan aims for solar power to provide 17 percent of Israel’s energy by 2030. Eli Brif, head of the climate protection department at Green Course, an Israeli environmentalist group, says a country that’s mostly sunbathed desert can go further.

No new solar fields have been approved for three years, which officials and experts attributed to bureau- cratic delays and a powerful fossil fuel lobby.

“We have the potential and ability to use solar power on buildings, public institutions, barns, chicken coops and in solar fields,” Brif said. “It’s going in the right direction, but we need serious strides, not baby steps.”

Several activists, however, see in the Paris accord a glimmer of hope. The climate issue is now on the national agenda — even if Israel’s commitments, as they see them, are falling short.

“It’s all a question of political will and pressure,” said Yael Cohen-Paran, Israel’s sole lawmaker from the Green Movement who serves as part of the opposition Zionist Union. “I hope and assume there will be global pressure. Israel’s lagging a little and it doesn’t bother anyone. We need to scream a bit louder.”

Fleeing Recession, Violence Brazilian Jews moving to Israel in record numbers

Fabio Erlich (left) and his family join other Brazilian emigres in the Israeli city of Modi’in. (Courtesy of Erlich family)

Fabio Erlich (left) and his family join other Brazilian emigres in the Israeli city of Modi’in. (Courtesy of Erlich family)

RIO DE JANEIRO — For four years, llana Lerner Kalmanovich rode a hot and crowded bus three hours each day to reach the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, where she was pursuing degrees in physical education and nutrition.

Police raids into nearby slums, or favelas, often blocked the freeway, and stray bullets from gun battles with criminals were a constant threat. Even on the Federal University campus, the oldest and among the most prestigious in Brazil, Kalmanovich felt unsafe. Robberies were commonplace, and, every now then, corpses were found in the nearby woods.

So in 2007, Kalmanovich moved to Israel. She had spent a whole year there a decade earlier on a youth movement program and fallen in love with the country. And though she holds German citizenship and could have built a new life for herself in Europe, there was never any doubt she would make her home in the Jewish state.

“Israel is the place where I feel at home, happy, among my people,” Kalmanovich said. “We say ëShabbat shalom’ to the bus driver, to the garbage man, to the sales clerk. Everyone shares mostly the same social and economic level. We all celebrate the same national holidays. It’s like living in a huge kibbutz of 8 million people. Here I am the rule, not the exception.”

Kalmanovich is not alone. Immigration to Israel, or aliyah, from Brazil has more than doubled in the past four years, from 191 in 2011 to over 400 so far this year. The average growth in aliyah for all of Latin America in the same period was just 7 percent. Though it has approximately half the Jewish  population of neighboring Argentina, Brazil has sent more immigrants to Israel for two years  running. An estimated 120,000 Jews live in Brazil.

“They seek a better future,” said Gladis Berezowsky, 58, who helps run Beit Brasil, a nongovernmental organization based in Israel established in 2014 to assist Brazilians seeking to move to Israel.

Brazil, a nation of 200 million, is facing its steepest recession in a quarter century, with the economy expected to shrink by almost 2 percent this year — down from more than 7 percent GDP growth in 2010. The Brazilian real has shrunk 138 percent compared with the American dollar in the past  five years, and the inflation rate has edged up to  10 percent.

The country is also one of the bloodiest on earth with more than 58,000 Brazilians dying a violent death in 2014.

“More people are killed every year in Brazil through intentional violence than anywhere else on the planet, including most of the world’s war zones combined,” said Robert Muggah, a research director of a Rio-based think tank that studies the  intersection between violence and the drug trade.

“The absurd violence in Rio was postponing our plans to have children,” said Silvia Brafman, 33, who moved from Brazil’s second-largest city to Haifa in late October with her husband. “The high unemployment rate and lack of opportunities were the second reason to head for Israel. The current stabbing wave here does not scare us at all. What really frightens me most is the language, which can delay my entering the job market.”

Fabio Erlich, 33, hasn’t had that problem. Erlich, who moved last year with his wife and three daughters to the central Israeli city of Modiin, secured jobs  at two Jerusalem yeshivas before he arrived with help from Brazilian friends who were already  established in the country.

“We wanted to give our children a better quality of life in the educational, social and religious fields,” Erlich said. “Israel allows you to be a Jew with no limitations, not only in the outside but mainly deep within. Finding a job in Israel made our big Zionist dream come true.”

Brazilian Jews have traditionally boasted a  comfortable upper-middle-class life, but things are changing. Several Jewish day schools have merged or are in the process in order to survive, while  administrators at some of them say the number of scholarship applications has never been higher.

“We have seen a 100 percent rise in requests  recently,” said Yehoshua Goldman, the chief Rio representative of Chabad, which runs Lar da  Esperanca (Home of Hope), an organization for Jews in financial need.

Despite the economic slowdown, real estate prices have nearly tripled in some parts of Rio in the past five years. Carlos Cohen, 36, a skilled IT specialist, could not afford the exorbitant rents, so he found an apartment in a favela near his office. When his daughter was born, Cohen realized he needed to get out.

“The high-tech market here is very vibrant,” said Cohen, who moved to the coastal city of Netanya with his family in 2012. “You only remain jobless if you want. We are proud to call this place ours, where we can truly put our citizenship in practice. Urban violence here is nearly  zero, the safety feeling is absolute. We now can finally raise our family in a better place.”

For Martin and Michele Teitelbaum, being robbed in broad daylight in Higienopolis, an upscale and heavily Jewish neighborhood of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, was the last straw. In 2010, they took their three children — ages 2, 5 and 7 — and headed for Raanana, a city in central Israel with a large population of immigrants from Europe and the Americas.

“In Brazil, I was merely one more trying to survive,” Martin said.

“Life was sort of superfluous there, with many inverted values,” Michele added. “Here in Israel we value what must be valued.”

Psychologist Rita Cohen Wolf is a neighbor of the Teitelbaums in Raanana, where she settled in 1977 after she had been robbed eight times in Brazil. The last time, she had a gun pointed at her head.

In 2014, Wolf posted an open  letter to President Dilma Rousseff on Facebook in which she criticized the violence in Brazil. She was astonished to see it republished in the Brazilian press.

“In Brazil, violence is felt every day,” Wolf said. “In Israel, we don’t feel threatened with imminent  violence. The feeling of security with our police and army plus unity of the population reinforces the generalized feeling that we are not alone.”

Keeping a Low Profile How the world’s longest-running Chabad house survives in Morocco

Rabbi Shalom Edelman has served as a Chabad emissary in Morocco  for the past 57 years.

Rabbi Shalom Edelman has served as a Chabad emissary in Morocco
for the past 57 years.

CASABLANCA, Morocco — Raizel Raskin’s office feels like a cluttered museum of Moroccan Jewish heritage. A photo from an old Jewish summer camp lies on the table. Another, of a rabbi meeting Moroccan dignitaries, hangs on the wall. Outside the door is a bookshelf filled with Hasidic tracts translated into Arabic.

But the rest of Chabad’s multistory complex here looks almost abandoned. Once a school bustling with hundreds of Jewish children, the facility today is largely an empty shell, with dust collecting on unused sports equipment and desks sitting disorganized in unused classrooms. Even the portrait of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the movement’s late leader whose bearded face typically occupies a place of honored prominence in Chabad homes, is peeling off the wall of the foyer.

“Every emissary has their own problems,” said Raskin, who moved to Morocco from France with her husband, Yehuda, in 1960.

At 65 years old, the Chabad in Casablanca is the Hasidic movement’s oldest outpost in the world and one of only two in the Arab world (the other is in Tunis). Chabad’s first emissaries arrived there in 1950, the beta test for what would grow into a global movement of thousands of Chabad rabbis and their wives scattered across six continents.

In its early years, Morocco’s Jewish population numbered 250,000, and Chabad served 5,000 students in schools across the country. But following the establishment of Israel in 1948 and Morocco’s independence from France in 1956, the vast majority emigrated.

Today, Chabad runs classes, weekend programs and a summer camp for the 2,500 Jews who remain.

Chabad has survived here by keeping a low profile and maintaining good relations with the government. Like other Jewish institutions in Morocco, Chabad’s activities take place mostly behind closed doors. Its main building in Casablanca is unmarked, and a second facility is accessible through a winding alley removed from the street, with little outward identification.

Local rabbis also avoid talking about the Jewish state. Rabbi Levi Banon, who was born in Morocco and returned to run the operation in 2009, says Casablancans are mostly indifferent — or even friendly — toward Jews, though tension does flare during Israel’s frequent military operations. Raskin said that during Israel’s earlier wars, Moroccans would throw stones at Jews.

“Moroccan people are good people,” Banon said. “To them, the most important is the human touch and the human instinct. That’s more important than politics.”

The first Chabad rabbi in Morocco, Michael Lipsker, was dispatched by Schneerson at the behest of his predecessor, Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, who wanted Chabad to help ensure that the country’s long rabbinic tradition wouldn’t be lost.

“The tradition is very strong here — everyone has his own customs, his family’s customs,” said Raskin, whose husband served as the Morocco emissary for more than four decades until his death in 2004. “The previous rebbe said that the Jews of Morocco have a lot to do.”

Chabad has persisted through the years by staying in the good graces of Morocco’s rulers. A photo of King Mohammed VI hangs next to Schneerson’s portrait near the building’s entrance, and Banon says Schneerson kept a correspondence with Mohammed’s father, Hassan II.

Hassan’s United Nations ambassador even visited Schneerson in Brooklyn in 1988.

“There were a few problems, but not from the government,” said Rabbi Shalom Edelman, who has served as a Chabad emissary in Morocco since 1958. “The government was always good to Jews.”

In recent years, Morocco has experienced what the Chabad emissaries describe as a newfound openness to the world. The standard of living has risen, and though Morocco and Israel don’t have formal diplomatic relations, Chabad rabbis can still freely travel between the two countries, an impossibility in the 1960s.

But none of that is likely to result in a resurgence of Jewish life in the country. While Raskin and Edelman are happy so many emigres have moved to Israel, they feel like caretakers for the vestiges of what was once an illustrious community.

“I know they went to Israel, to a safe place I can’t worry about, to a good place for fearing God,” Edelman said. “But for us, it’s harder. We need to fill a space. We educated them and they left, so what we accomplished left.”