Rabbi Shot In Southern Russia In Possible Anti-Semitic Attack

A Chabad rabbi working in southern Russia was shot and seriously wounded in what police say may have been an anti-Semitic attack.

Unknown assailants shot Artur (Ovadia) Isakov, 40, on Wednesday night as he exited his car and headed into his home in Derbent, in the predominantly Muslim Republic of Dagestan near Chechnya, according to Jtimes.ru, a Russian-Jewish news site.

One bullet entered his right lung and his liver, according to the report. Isakov cried out for help after he was hit and was evacuated to a hospital at about 1 a.m. RIA Novosti, the Russian news agency, reported that he has been put on an artificial respirator and is in intensive care.

Police said they are considering “religious motivations” but are exploring all leads.

Ramazan Abdulatipov, the acting president of Dagestan, released a statement blaming “extremists and terrorists [who] do not want a happy, normal life for us all.” He said, “Only ignorant people, enemies of Dagestan, are able to do this. Dagestan is outraged.”

Berel Lazar, Russia’s chief rabbi, has chartered a plane to transport Isakov to Israel as soon as his condition becomes stable enough to permit travel, according to Israel Radio.

In a statement, the European Jewish Congress expressed “deep concern and shock” following the shooting.

“We are of course aware of the growth of Islamist extremism in the region, and violence perpetrated by these groups, but we should reserve comment while we await the results of the police investigation,” said Serge Cwajgenbaum, the organization’s secretary-general.


The Price Of Jewish Blood

French Jewish Defense League activists demonstrate in Paris. (Ligue de Defense Juive/JTA)

French Jewish Defense League activists
demonstrate in Paris. (Ligue de Defense Juive/JTA)

With scooter helmets in hand, a man called Yohan and six buddies stroll around Paris’ 20th arrondissement. The seven look much like a typical group of French students — until they locate a group of Arab men they suspect of perpetrating an anti-Semitic attack the previous day.

Using their helmets as bludgeons, members of France’s Jewish Defense League, or LDJ, set upon the Arabs and beat them. Several of the Arabs attempt to escape in a blue sedan, but the LDJ members pursue the vehicle, causing it to crash into a stone wall.

The attack last August, filmed by a television crew shooting a documentary on LDJ, was one of at least 115 violent incidents that critics attribute to the group since its registration in France in 2001 — a year after the eruption of the second intifada in Israel and the sevenfold increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the 12 years that followed.

“Now they know the price of Jewish blood,” said Yohan, the nom de guerre of Joseph Ayache, one of LDJ’s young bosses.

An offshoot of the American Jewish Defense League, which was founded in New York by the ultranationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1968 and which the FBI considers a domestic terrorist group, LDJ stages violent reprisals to anti-Semitic attacks.

The group, which numbers about 300 members, is now on a collision course with France’s Jewish establishment, which has condemned its activities and threatened a lawsuit.

French authorities have ignored calls to ban LDJ, though in Israel the Kach movement, also founded by Kahane, has been outlawed.

The French government’s apparent acquiescence may have inspired LDJ to ratchet up its deterrent potential by showcasing its activities following the murder of four Jews in Toulouse last year by a Muslim extremist.

LDJ traditionally had shied away from media attention. But in the weeks after the killings, which was followed by a 58 percent increase in attacks on Jews in France over the year before, LDJ for the first time allowed a television crew to tag along on a number of guerrilla operations.

In addition to the helmet assault, Ayache was filmed calling for revenge killings in posters he and his group posted around central Paris. When a police car neared, Ayache told officers that he and his friends were working on an art project. The police officers wished him a pleasant evening and drove away.

Ayache also was filmed attempting to storm a performance of the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne.

“Since when is it illegal to run?” a brazen Ayache told the police after they detained him. Another sequence shows Ayache firing a pistol at a shooting range.

“We’ve noticed the Muslim community believes LDJ is some vast machine that operates with impunity and help from Mossad,” said an LDJ spokesman, who goes by the alias Amnon Cohen. “It’s not true, but it’s not a bad thing if they are scared. It’ll make them think twice.”

LDJ’s growing assertiveness has further strained the group’s already tense relationship with the CRIF, the umbrella body of French Jewish communities.

In April, CRIF’s former president, Richard Prasquier, said he would sue LDJ for defamation for posting a photograph on its website depicting him with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The caption accuses Prasquier of “pardoning [a] killer.”

LDJ, meanwhile, has accused CRIF of being undemocratic, obsolete and ineffective.

“We operate outside and independently, and that creates opposition within the establishment, which is run by men and women who mean well but don’t know the painful reality of the Jewish rank and file in Paris’ suburbs and poor neighborhoods,” Cohen said.

“There are hundreds of French and Belgian Muslims fighting in the Syrian civil war. When they return, do you think they will be scared of a couple guards trained by the community?”

CRIF declined to comment.

Earlier this month, LDJ announced that its “soldiers” had put a young Arab in the hospital with a coma, “a rapid and effective response” to the man’s attack on Jews at Saint-Mande, just east of Paris.

The announcement drew calls to ban LDJ. As criticism mounted, LDJ retracted the statement and denied any involvement in the violence.

Cohen said the person who published the “false statement” had been removed from the group and that the violence actually resulted from a drug deal gone sour. A spokesperson for the Saint-Mande municipality confirmed that account.

Still, the events at Saint-Mande resulted in a public row between LDJ and CRIF, which on June 4 blamed LDJ for the violence at Saint Mande and for subsequent calls “to take revenge against the Jews.”

Cohen said CRIF is looking for a “scapegoat” to distract from its failure to prevent attacks on Jews through outreach and education. He also denied the group engages in violence, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Besides the television footage, a French court last week sentenced LDJ activist David Ben Aroch to six months in prison for an attack he staged with another LDJ member at a Paris bookstore owned by a pro-Palestinian activist.Aroch’s accomplice, Jason Tibi, was sentenced to four months for the attack at Librairie Resistance that sent the two victims to the hospital for days.

It may have been a real-life demonstration of what one masked LDJ boss recently called “treatment a la Israel” during a speech at a secret training camp in France.

The filmed address was the introduction to a LDJ propaganda clip titled “Five cops for every Jew, 10 Arabs for each rabbi.”

Machzorim For Lund
A mohel for all seasons
Read Cantor Thom King’s next piece about the Swedish Jewish community. Visit jewishtimes.com.

Cnaan Liphshiz writes for JTA Wire Service

Machzorim For Lund

There were many coincidences that informed my decision to personally travel to Sweden to deliver Machzorim to Lund. One of the most happy coincidences happened when I sent out a group e-mail asking if any of my cantorial colleagues had a Swedish connection. Imagine my surprise when Hazzan Edwin Gerber of Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase replied: “My brother Maynard is the cantor of the great synagogue in Stockholm.”

I immediately contacted Ed, and it wasn’t long before I was engaged in a lively transcontinental telephone conversation with his brother. When Maynard told me he was going to be visiting the States late in June, I considered it an opportunity not to be missed. That is how I found myself in Cantor Gerber’s home, talking to the <I>other<P> Cantor Gerber.

Cantor Gerber’s journey to becoming a mohel began when he was already the Chief Cantor in Stockholm.

“I felt there was need for a real mohel in the community,” says Gerber. “There were a few Jewish doctors performing circumcisions, but sometimes they would say the right blessings, sometimes not, and sometimes they would do it on the eighth day, sometimes not.”

His views on the subject were also affected by his participation in a brit milah in Salt Lake City that was performed by an inexperienced physician; after 20 minutes, the grandmother of the honoree turned to him and whispered, “Is it supposed to take this long?”

When the time came to renegotiate his contract in 1987, he asked that the community support him in his goal to become a trained mohel. He took a sabbatical, and spent 10 months in Jerusalem with his family as a mohel apprentice. Upon returning to Sweden he immediately began applying his new-found skills, and was dubbed “The Yankee Clipper.”

Most doctors in Sweden will not perform circumcisions because they consider it unnecessary surgery at best, or mutilation at worst. Finding someone in Sweden to perform a brit milah has always been a challenge. This situation became more serious, and more politically charged, about 20 years ago.

Cantor Gerber describes it:

“Over the past 30-35 years, Sweden has taken in refugees from Muslim countries who practice circumcision. In some of the refugee camps in the 1990’s, boys of varying ages were being circumcised by very non-professional lay people, without anesthesia, and bad things were happening — infections and accidental mutilations. The story got into the Swedish newspapers, and people began to protest this “barbaric ritual” going on in their progressive country,” the cantor explained.

The government got involved, and formed a committee comprising representatives of all the ethnic minorities practicing circumcision: Jewish, Muslim and certain African communities. Cantor Gerber was appointed as the Jewish representative, which surprised him since he was the only non-physician on the panel. The government came up with a set of rules that stated that not only must anyone performing circumcisions be licensed and approved by the Board of Health, but that some kind of anesthesia must be used, which must be administered by a medical professional. At first, this made cantor Gerber’s job much more complicated. Eventually, he was able to find a retired Jewish nurse who was only too happy to accompany him on his rounds. But because of these new regulations, it became even more difficult for Swedes to obtain a circumcision for either religious or health-related reasons.

Because of the unavailability of professionals who are both qualified and willing to perform circumcisions, Cantor Gerber has found frequent need of his services from an unexpected source- Sweden’s large Muslim population. Although circumcision is not a religious requirement in Islam, it is a very old and established tradition that connects the male Muslim to Abraham. The experience of performing circumcisions on Muslim babies has been very interesting for Cantor Gerber; most of the procedures he performs for Muslims are done in the nearby university town of Uppsala. Cantor Gerber said jokingly, “I have my own Muslim congregation.”

When asked how he is received when he visits a Muslim home, he said, “I have never had a problem. There is often a language barrier because many of the recent immigrants don’t speak Swedish, and since most of them live in apartments the conditions can be very cramped. But they are very gracious and appreciative because there are not many people in Sweden, including doctors, who will perform this important ritual for them. They often offer me Turkish coffee or baklava to take home.”

He also observes that there are a few differences in a Muslim circumcision. Due to the prohibition against alcohol, he will give the Muslim babies sugar water instead of Manischewitz. Instead of singing “sim’n tov u-maz’l tov,” there is a lot of high-pitched ululation.

Cantor Gerber related one personal story which speaks volumes about the impact his work has made. He was invited to an interfaith dialogue at a largely Muslim school, and was seated on stage with an Imam and a Lutheran minister. Every time the Imam would make a point the crowd would cheer, while Cantor Gerber’s statements regarding Jewish tradition were met with stony silence. In particular, one older Muslim man in the front sat frowning and staring, and Cantor Gerber assumed he must be a virulent anti-Semite. After the event, the participants were able to meet with the audience, and the man who had been frowning at Cantor Gerber walked up to him. His face broke into a smile of recognition he said, “I knew you looked familiar. You did my son’s circumcision!”

It is through relationships such as this that relations between peoples are strengthened. Throughout history, Jews have faced adversity and in overcoming challenges have found new ways to connect with other peoples. Cantor Gerber, through his dedication and his humanity, has forged a unique link with a traditional adversary, and has proven himself a true rodeph shalom, a pursuer of peace.

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Quebec Official: Rosh Hashanah Election Date Not Discriminatory

A Canadian government minister who said the Jewish community receives “privileged treatment” denied that a 2016 election scheduled for Rosh Hashanah discriminates against Jews.

“Give me a break,” said Bernard Drainville, the Parti Québécois minister of democratic institutions and active citizenship, in response to a reporter’s question about his refusal to change the proposed date for Quebec’s first fixed-date election in 2016, which coincides with the Jewish New Year.

Drainville said it will be possible to vote before the election on Oct. 3, 2016, the Montreal Gazette reported.

Last week, one of Quebec’s opposition parties, the Coalition Avenir Québec, joined Parti Québécois in voting down a Liberal Party amendment that would have allowed flexibility in setting the election date if it coincided with a religious holiday or for other reasons.

Lawrence Bergman, a veteran member of the provincial Legislature for a largely Jewish Montreal-area district, said an election on Rosh Hashanah would mean “some people will not have a chance to vote.”

But Drainville insisted that “the main issue here is not a Jewish holiday.”

“The issue here is the principle of not setting the election date according to the different religious holidays,” he said, according to the Gazette. “There are more than 100 religious holidays in the calendar. You cannot say we’re going to allow for the postponement of the vote according to one religion because other religious communities will also demand the same.”

Last month, Drainville opposed the relaxation of parking restrictions in Montreal on Jewish holidays, saying the Jewish community receives “privileged treatment.”