Tag Archives: Anti-Semitism

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We’ve Seen This Before

French Jews fighting pro-Palestinian rioters on the Paris street where the Synagogue de la Roquette is located, July 13, 2013.  (YouTube)

French Jews fighting pro-Palestinian rioters on the Paris street where the Synagogue de la Roquette is located, July 13, 2013. (YouTube)

The scourge of anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head in Europe. And a troubling number of people aren’t even pretending anymore. Gone are the days of the false explanation that “I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m just anti-Zionist.” Instead, the haters are clear: They hate Jews.

Case in point: The sign in a Brussels café is written in two languages. In Turkish it reads, “Dogs are allowed in this establishment, but Jews are not under any circumstances.” The French translation next to it replaced “Jews” with the word “Zionists.” And no one seems terribly embarrassed.

Following the recent outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, anti-Israel protesters in Paris didn’t march on the Israeli embassy. Instead, they surrounded a synagogue, where they chanted “Death to the Jews” while the members of the congregation were locked down inside. Days later, in a Paris suburb dubbed “Little Jerusalem,” a kosher grocery and a Jewish-owned pharmacy were torched by protesters who were incensed by Israel’s actions. “Anti-Semitism today is hiding behind anti-Zionism,” Paris Rabbi Salomon Malka told The New York Times, “and hate speech has become uninhibited.”

While it may be true that anti-Semitic agitation and violence in Europe have increased sharply since the Gaza hostilities began, the current round of Mideast fighting is hardly the cause of Muslim and neo-Nazi violence in Europe. The killing of three at a Jewish Museum in Brussels earlier this year and the 2012 attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse both occurred long before the current hostilities between Hamas and Israel.

So where are the governmental leaders? And what happened to law enforcement? While it is somewhat encouraging that French President Francois Hollande decried the hate and promised that he would not allow places of worship to be threatened, is that really enough? Saying the words without forceful enforcement of the law raises real questions about the level of governmental commitment to religious freedom and rule of law.

Let’s be clear. Chants to kill Jews are not manifestations of free speech. They are frightening calls to genocide that are reminiscent of a pre-World War II Europe that is chilling. Offenders should be arrested and prosecuted. And political leaders need to step forward with more than words to address the rising problem.

Jewish Agency President Natan Sharansky recently observed that “we are seeing the beginning of the end of Jewish history in Europe.” We hope he is wrong. But unless European leadership does something to stem the tide of hate, discrimination and growing anti-Semitism, it is only a matter of time until European Jews will leave of their own accord or be forced to leave under pressure.

We have seen this movie before. And we didn’t like the ending.

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Trying To Revive

Rabbi Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland, learns with members of the Polish Jewish community.

Rabbi Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland, learns with members of the Polish Jewish community.

In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, instantly murdering about 20,000 Jews and bombing approximately 50,000 Jewish-owned factories, workshops and stores in more than 120 local communities. Several hundred synagogues were also destroyed.

Within a month, all Polish Jews were either confined to ghettos or in hiding.

Then the Nazis began liquidating the ghettos. Within 18 months, almost all of them had been emptied. Following a period of calculated mass murder, Poland’s once-thriving Jewish population of 3.3 million was diminished to 100,000.

Poland, under Soviet rule and a curtain of communism, forced what remained of its Jewish population to emigrate or to go into hiding. Many converted or denied their faith. In 2013, only approximately 3,000 to 4,000 Jews register themselves as Jewish. But it is believed that in Poland there are an estimated 25,000 Jews among a population of 38.5 million people.

And slowly, more and more Jewish faces are starting to appear. Some call it a renaissance. Others call it a resurgence. But a once dark and diminished community, it seems, is slowly — and maybe not as slowly as one would think — starting to emerge.

The Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in the Polish Republic coordinates the activities of the different Jewish organizations in Poland. The Lauder Foundation has established a number of clubs and events for the Jewish youth, as well as a primary school in Warsaw. And through the assistance of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, not only are the survivors and other elderly being cared for, but young Jews also are reconnecting to Judaism and working to secure a new and vibrant future for what was once Europe’s largest Jewish community.

It is inspiring.

“It’s changing,” said Polish-Jewish fashion designer Antonina Samecka in an article published by JDC. “It’s not like you think in Poland anymore.”

It Takes Time
Seven mainstream Orthodox rabbis. Three Chabad rabbis. Three Reform/ progressive rabbis. That is how many clergy are actively working in Poland each day.

Rabbi Michael Schudrich serves as the chief rabbi of Poland. He visited Poland for the first time in the 1970s but moved there beginning in 1990. He was appointed to his post in 2004.

Rabbi Schudrich said the Polish-Jewish resurgence has progressed in three or four stages. In the early 1990s, the question was, “Are there still Jews in Poland?” Then, as they were slowly found, the question became, “Do they want to be Jewish?” Finally, “How can we remake this Jewish community? How can we help Polish Jews?”

“I am not here to tell people what they must do,” said Rabbi Schudrich of when someone comes to him and says he or she might be Jewish. “I am here to teach them what Jewish tradition says, and they have to decide what they want to do with that.”

Many learn Hebrew and attend a synagogue or a lecture. Some have documentation that they are Jewish and others undergo a conversion process. It is all very personal, and it all takes time.

Rabbi Schudrich talks about one woman who 18 years ago approached him and told her that her mother’s grandmother died of typhus in 1842; Jews were more likely to die of the disease back then. She said her mother cooked Jewish foods, such as tzimmes and kept a special pot in which to cook milk (as opposed to meat).

“Am I Jewish?” she asked me, recalled the rabbi. “That is a very hard question. We talked about it. … We talked, and then she left. That same woman came back three months ago and said, ‘Now I am ready to be Jewish.’”

He continued, “It is a progress and a process. We are in the middle of a process. … The key is openness, accepting people where they are and as who they are and letting them make their journey to their Jewish identity in a way that makes sense for them.”

Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis expressed similar sentiments. The rabbi of a small town called Katowice, he said only about 200 Jews live in a population of three million people there. He said his job is about “achdut” [Jewish unity], and he looks at what he does as “an opportunity to galvanize the people, to keep them moving forward.”

Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak oversees the Jewish Renewal or progressive Judaism movement in Poland. He said that as many as 30 people convert to Judaism through his movement per year. The group just completed its first progressive prayer book, which is Hebrew translated and transliterated into Polish.

There was a massively successful Limmud program this past year as well.

“A lot of people are coming forward now,” said Rabbi Beliak. “No one has papers. No one can prove their Jewish identity. They might have a siddur they found in the attic. … We are not in control of everything the way we would like to think we are. There is a migration of Jewish souls back [to Judaism], and I cannot explain why people are coming back in rational terms.”

Rabbi Schudrich equated the resurgence of Judaism to the Marranos or “Secret Jews” of the Iberian Peninsula, who maintained a private religious identity behind a façade of Catholicism. However, said Jonathan Ornstein, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Krakow, “We are not waiting 500 years to see who has Jewish roots.”

To be fair, anti-Semitism does still exist in Poland, though according to those on the ground it is not on the upswing as we are seeing in many European and Eastern European countries. Joanna Auron-Górska, who works with the progressive Beit Polska, said the younger generation harbors less prejudice and less fear than their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. She countered that while many surveys paint young Poles as racist and anti-Semitics, her personal experience is different.

“People in their 20s and 30s are the most tolerant people. … They are curious, but they are willing to help,” she said.

On the day that she spoke with the JT, she had come from the police department. There she had been reporting a website that listed Jewish people participating in her programs as targets for anti-Semitic attacks. There has been nothing physical directly pointed at Jews, she said, but in the smaller towns — outside of Krakow and Warsaw — she said there is more curiosity.

Rabbi Ellis said similarly that there are certain routes he thinks twice before taking and that whereas African-Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, in Poland he has seen very few. And Jews are almost as scarce — so people notice.

The call to action, said Lucia Goodhart, one Polish activist in an interview provided to the JT by Auron-Górska, is for the Diaspora Jewish community to be supportive.

She said, “If we have Jewish people who are making a life now in Poland, it behooves us, as our brothers’ keepers, to be involved positively.

Ornstein said this involvement is important for Diaspora Jews, too. He told the JT that the story of Polish Jewry is an important story of revival.

“It is not just for the Polish community, but for all of us, as a people. We are able to thrive despite the Holocaust,” he said. “We can connect to the loss, but also must connect to the growing and the thriving of Jewish community. We need to know about this as North American Jews.”

WJRO Renews Call For Private Property Restitution In Poland >>

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief — mjaffe@jewishtimes.com

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‘Dirty, Smelly Jew’

Dr. Bert Miller says he faced anti-Semitism in his Baltimore County school.

Dr. Bert Miller says he faced anti-Semitism in his Baltimore County school.
(David Stuck)

Dr. Bert Miller taught math in Baltimore County for almost 40 years. He holds master’s, associate’s and doctorate degrees in mathematics education, has earned two National Science Foundation fellowships, has published software for math teachers, and he even discovered a new theorem in 2009. In his second year of teaching in the county in 1974, the office of the state superintendent personally contacted him to apply for Maryland Teacher of the Year.

Yet, in June 2010, Miller retired under protest as he was facing termination for incompetence. The termination followed two years of unsatisfactory teacher evaluations, during which he was denied contractually mandated appeals. He believes, and a colleague’s deposition showed, that anti-Semitism among members of his appraisal team played a major role.

“It was a conspiracy, there’s no question,” Miller, a 66-year-old Orthodox Jew, said. His suit against the Baltimore County Board of Education is set for a five-day civil jury trial in May in the Circuit Court.

Miller started teaching at New Town High School in Owings Mills in 2005 after more than three decades of a successful teaching career. It wasn’t long before he started to clash with his superiors.

The most substantial evidence of anti-Semitism came to light later, when a colleague of Miller’s was deposed by the Baltimore County Board of Education. She claimed that his immediate supervisor, who was a member of his appraisal team, regularly referred to Miller as a “dirty, smelly Jew,” bribed volleyball players with starting positions to get their parents to complain about Miller to the principal and placed a lemon with pins in it on Miller’s keyboard, a witchcraft ritual that brings bad luck.

“This is Maryland, one of the bluest states in the nation in one of the bluest counties in the state,” said Kevin Joyce, Miller’s attorney. “From Dr. Miller’s perspective, it’s appalling and I’m inclined to agree with him. ‘Dirty, smelly Jew’ — there’s no other way to interpret that.”

The Jewish Times confirmed the colleague’s testimony in regards to the ‘dirty, smelly Jew’ comment and the lemon incident via court documents.

Miller ran afoul of administration early in his time at New Town High, he said. The first thing he picked up was in 2007, when he needed two days off during state exams to observe Shavuot. He claims that a member of his appraisal team, who has a master’s degree in theology, said there’s no such holiday. Miller was criticized for being behind the pace of the curriculum in a trigonometry class when he was absent for five of the previous 23 days observing Rosh Hashanah, two days of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. The school was closed for Yom Kippur and the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

“If there is a fact to be understood in a way most harmful to me, that’s the way the appraisal team would choose to understand the fact,” Miller said. “‘Students have low grades? Well, it’s obvious you’re a bad teacher. What other explanation could there be?’”

Baltimore County Public Schools, the law firm representing Baltimore County and the Teachers Association of Baltimore County declined to comment on the case. Baltimore County school spokesman Mychael Dickerson said the school system’s insurance policy is paying for representation from Towson firm Pessin Katz Law.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the global Jewish human rights organization Simon Wiesenthal Center, said it’s an unfortunate reality that anti-Semitism is alive and well.

“It’s our obligation when we confront or see that something that smells like it represents hatred and bigotry — that’s a wake-up call that we should do something about it,” he said. “You can’t prevent them because evil exists and anti-Semitism exists, but you have to fight against it and make a big stink about it,” he said.

A new Anti-Defamation League survey shows that 12 percent of Americans hold anti-Semitic views, a 3 percent decline from the ADL’s 2011 poll. Fourteen percent said Jews have too much power in the U.S. and 26 percent blame Jews for the death of Jesus.

While Miller feels there were some more blatant instances of prejudice, he also noticed some unorthodox evaluation practices. Once, he was observed on the fourth day of school, when he claims he was still learning all the students’ names. Another member of the appraisal team once observed him for only 20 minutes. Another observation, which ended with 10 out of 10 students getting 100 percent on a quiz, was rated unsatisfactory.

In the second semester of the 2008 to 2009 school year, he was only given one observation when he was supposed to have two due to his previous unsatisfactory ratings. Even though the semester started Jan. 24, his Jan. 10 observation was counted, he said.

“This is well beyond intellectual dishonesty,” Miller said. “When you put all that together, with ‘dirty, smelly Jew’ and the Wiccan intimidation with pins in the lemon and the administration knowing about it and not doing anything and criticizing me for being behind the curriculum pace when I was absent five days in the previous 23, I think I’m beginning to see a pattern in the data.”

Miller was also made into a trouble maker when he pointed out academic inconsistencies as exemplified by a college algebra class that did not have proper preparation for the course and teachers getting less preparation time than contracts mandate. While the complaint about teacher prep time was made anonymously, the administration wanted to know and found out who made the complaint, Miller said.

A friend of his who taught at a neighboring high school told Miller that the math department chair at that school said that New Town High was trying to get rid of Miller. The comment was made a day after there was a county meeting of administrative personnel, Miller said.

When a teacher is given an unsatisfactory evaluation, there is a three-level appeal process. The first appeal is with the assistant superintendent, the second with the superintendent’s designee and the third with an arbitrator paid by the Board of Education. Miller never received his third-level appeals for his four unsatisfactory evaluations, one for each semester. His breach of contract suit is over the denial of third-level appeals.

After two years of unsatisfactory evaluations, Miller retired in protest in June 2010 prior to a termination date of June 30, in order to maintain retirement benefits he had earned.

“We’re confident that if an appeal does take place, [anti-Semitism] will be part of an appeal, and I’m confident we’ll win,” Joyce said. He expects the case to last until 2015 or longer with the appeals the Board of Education is expected to file after court judgments.

“You could see this thing stretched out for another four years,” he said.

A story Miller likes to tell about his teaching record is that of a female African-American student who won a trip to Atlanta to present a prize-winning essay at a national conference. The topic? How Miller, her demanding math teacher, helped her turn her life around by expressing his admiration for her work and behavior and saying he respected her for acting like a lady.

“Dr. Miller has no idea those are words I will take to my grave,” the student wrote. “They are words that get me through some of my darkest moments.”

While the suit is seeking monetary damages, settlement offers of $2,000 and $10,000 were declined. Joyce thinks Miller’s main concern is having his name cleared, the ability to work again and someone taking the responsibility for the events that led to his early retirement.

“They effectively ended my career,” Miller said.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter — mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

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Absurd And Unreal

Dr. Shimon Samuels says Greek anti-Semitism has existed for years.

Dr. Shimon Samuels says Greek anti-Semitism has existed for years.

Whenever there is a profound social or financial crisis, covert anti-Semitism will make its way to the surface.

That was the message Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, delivered regarding the recent vocal surge of anti-Semitic sentiments in Greece, mainly through the Golden Dawn Party, which now hold seats in the Greek Parliament.

But Rabbi Cooper painted a picture that is both strikingly concerning and also improving, one in which there is much anti-Semitic talk (though not much action yet) on the one hand and blossoming Greek-Israel relations on the other. It seems inexplicable, but according to other experts in the field, Rabbi Cooper is painting an accurate picture.

Rabbi Cooper’s colleague, Dr. Shimon Samuels, director of internal relations at the center, has been focused on researching and halting anti-Semitism for the last 40 years, especially in Greece. He told the JT that much of the anti-Semitism (usually covert) in Greece stems from the Greek Orthodox Church.

“The Greek Orthodox Church still has a great deal of anti-Semitic tropes in its language,” said Samuels. “The Greek Church has not gone through a reformation like the Catholic Church.”

In Greece today, he said, there are roughly 4,000 Jews, but at one time, before the Holocaust, there was a vibrant, Greek-Jewish community. The Jews lived mostly in Thessaloniki on the Island of Crete. The Jews were wiped out when Nazi Germany invaded Greece during World War II.

While the first recorded instance of Greek anti-Semitism happened during the Hellenistic period with the story of Chanukah, since then, over the years, there have been highs and lows in terms of how overt versus covert Greek anti-Semitism has been, Samuels said. He talks about how during the 1982 Lebanon War, the Greeks used the language of the Holocaust to describe the conflict in the Middle East and blame the Jews. He noted this was likely because of feelings of guilt among the Greek population, which had been accused of not speaking up on behalf of its Jewish population when the Germans arrived.

“If they can dress the Israelis in the stereotypes of the Nazis, then they can feel, ‘I was not so bad, the Jews are doing the same,’” he said.

Over the years, there have been instances of anti-Semitic acts or hate crimes. For example, in October 2012, vandals spray-painted the Rhode’s Holocaust monument, which was dedicated to the 1,600 victims of the city who had perished at the hands of the Nazis. The public prosecutor, however, took care of the case.

In Samuels’ estimation — and according to Christos G. Failadis, press and communication counselor of the Embassy of Greece in Washington — it is likely that the Golden Dawn Party, which has a swastika-like image as its logo, is getting the acceptance it has because of the current dismal economic situation in Greece and the rise in crime by illegal immigrants. The immigrants are not Jewish, but there is general xenophobia in Greece, Samuels said, and anti-Semitism is coupled with that.

“Golden Dawn [members] will escort elderly Greeks to do their shopping, will help them to take out their money,” said Samuels, explaining that by offering social services, people begin to feel loyal. Likewise, he said, they have taken many of the young adults who are out of work and created a powerful youth movement. His fear: The party is not marginalized, but it is growing. While the anti-Semitism espoused by the party is now nonviolent, Samuels said, “It can and it possibly will [turn violent].”

At that time, the only solution would be for the small number of Greek Jews who still live there to leave.

But Failadis strongly opposes Samuels’ sentiments. He said, “You cannot characterize Greek society as anti-Semitic. That’s absurd and unreal.”

He echoed Samuels’ sentiments in noting that “recently, because of the economic crisis, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party had the chance to collect more votes than expected.” But he said, “Personally, I believe that the neo-Nazi elements assailing democracy and the rule of law will be marginalized by Greek society, which, in its vast majority, deplores intolerance and nonviolence.”

Failadis cited that Jewish and non-Jewish Greeks have lived side-by-side since the 15th century. (Samuels said a recent survey showed that 24 percent of Greeks would refuse to live as the next-door neighbor of a Jew.)

Failadis said he is very proud of Greek-Israeli relations, which have taken leaps forward in the last three years, partly due to the weakening of ties between Israel and Turkey. He told the JT that the deepening of Greek-Israeli relations is based on “the major potential for mutually beneficial cooperation in a number of sectors, including economy, trade, tourism, investments, agricultural development, defense, technology, energy, the environment, shipping and education. The multifaceted cooperation between the two countries is aimed at promoting development and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. This cooperation does not exclude, and is not directed against, any third party, and it is dictated by the multiple security challenges in the region.”

“They have cartoons of Israelis devouring Palestinian children but will welcome the Israelis into their hotels because they bring business,” said Samuels. “This is a mixed relationship.”

Failadis noted the importance of seeing the positive and said, “Look to the future!”

Polish Synagogue Defiled By Swastikas

Swastikas and other anti-Semitic symbols were painted on a synagogue building in Gdansk, Poland.

The vandalism was spotted on the facade of the building on Monday morning.

“Someone just came in broad daylight and defiled our temple,” Mieczyslaw Abramowicz a representative of the Gdansk Jewish community, told TVN24 television. “It was done by anti-Semites or someone who does not know what that sign means and he did it out of sheer stupidity.”

Police investigating the case are not excluding the possibility that it may be the same vandals who three weeks ago set fire to a mosque in the city that caused approximately $16,000 in damages.

The synagogue vandalism was classified as the promotion of Nazi symbols, which could result in two years in prison.