FaithWorld

Amid row with Israel, Turkish officials attend Istanbul Holocaust Day

turkey

Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva and Istanbul Governor Avni Mutlu light a candle at Neve Shalom Synagogue to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day/Murad Sezer

In a rare show of unity with Istanbul’s dwindling Jewish community, government officials attended the country’s first official commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Nazi concentration camps.

“For generations in Istanbul, we have lived together with love, tolerance, fraternity and without discrimination, and we are extremely determined to continue living this way,” Istanbul Governor Avni Mutlu said before lighting a candle with Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva at Neve Shalom Synagogue on January 27. Neve Shalom was one of two temples targeted in a 2003 bomb attack in Istanbul that was blamed on al Qaeda. Twenty-one Muslims and six Jews were killed, and hundreds more were wounded.

Turkish Jews, whose numbers have dwindled to about 18,000 in a country of almost 74 million Muslims, have in recent years again felt under threat as relations between Israel and Turkey, each other’s closest allies in the Middle East until recently, have deteriorated.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a devout Muslim, castigated the Israeli government in early 2009 for its incursion into the Gaza Strip. Relations hit a nadir on May 31, when nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists bringing aid to Gaza were killed by Israeli commandoes during a raid of their ship, the Mavi Marmara, in international waters.

U.S. rabbis protest Fox host’s use of Holocaust imagery

beckFour hundred rabbis published a letter on Thursday calling on Fox News to sanction host Glenn Beck for repeated use of Nazi and Holocaust imagery and for airing attacks on World War Two survivor George Soros.

In an open letter to Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp, which owns Fox, the rabbis also demand an apology from Fox News chief Roger Ailes for characterizing Beck’s Jewish critics as nothing more than “left-wing rabbis.” (Photo: Glenn Beck waves at his rally on the National Mall in Washington, August 28, 2010/Jonathan Ernst)

The letter appeared as an advertisement in the News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal on Thursday for which the rabbis spent more than $100,000, a spokesman said.

Tullia Zevi, historic Italian Jewish leader, dies at 92

rome synagogueTullia Zevi, one of the historic post-war leaders of Italy’s Jews and the only woman to ever hold the post of president of the country’s Jewish communities, died Saturday at the age of 92, her family said.

Zevi, who had been in failing health for some time and was a prominent figure in Christian-Jewish dialogue, died in a Catholic hospital just across the River Tiber from the Rome neighborhood that is still known as “The Ghetto.”

During her long career she also held senior positions in the World Jewish Congress and European Jewish Congress.

European far right courts Israel in stepped-up anti-Islam drive

street prayers (Photo: Muslims pray in the street during Friday prayers near an overcrowded mosque in the Rue des Poissoniers  in Paris on December 17, 2010/Charles Platiau)

Far-right political parties in Europe are stepping up their anti-Muslim rhetoric and forging ties across borders, even going so far as to visit Israel to hail the Jewish state as a bulwark against militant Islam.

Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front has shocked the French political elite in recent days by comparing Muslims who pray outside crowded mosques — a common sight especially during the holy month of Ramadan — to the World War Two Nazi occupation. Oskar Freysinger, a champion of the Swiss ban on minarets, warned a far-right meeting in Paris on Saturday against “the demographic, sociological and psychological Islamisation of Europe”. German and Belgian activists also addressed the crowd.

street prayers 2 (Photo: Muslims pray in the street during Friday prayers near the Et-Taqwa Mosque in Paris on December 17, 2010. REUTERS/Charles Platiau)

Geert Wilders, whose populist far-right party supports the Dutch minority government, told Reuters last week he was organising an “international freedom alliance” to link grass-roots groups active in “the fight against Islam”. Earlier this month, Wilders visited Israel and backed its West Bank settlements, saying Palestinians there should move to Jordan. Like-minded German, Austrian, Belgian, Swedish and other far-rightists were on their own Israel tour at the same time. “Our culture is based on Christianity, Judaism and humanism and (the Israelis) are fighting our fight,” Wilders said. “If Jerusalem falls, Amsterdam and New York will be next.”

Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Christmas season Bethlehem

bethlehem 1 (Photo: A decorated Christmas tree next to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, December 15, 2010/Ammar Awad)

The birthplace of Jesus is hardly an easy “weekend getaway” spot, but for a taste of how today’s Holy Land feels, this hospitable Palestinian town draped over the steep hilltops outside Jerusalem is an essential place to visit.

Most foreigners fly into Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, an hour away from Jerusalem, and enter via Israeli checkpoints into the occupied West Bank. Security remains tight but there is currently no tension to deter the hardy traveler.

Visitors love to come at Christmas, when a crowded Bethlehem celebrates its most famous date at the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square. But the town hosts tourists year round. In the summer it’s hot. In winter, there can be a veil of snow on the rooftops so warm clothing is advisable.

Israeli rabbis tell Jews not to sell homes to Arabs, Netanyahu disagrees (updated)

settlement (Photo: A sign advertising apartments for sale in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim near Jerusalem March 2, 2009/Ammar Awad)

Dozens of Israeli rabbis, some of them civil servants, issued an appeal on Tuesday telling locals not to sell or rent property to non-Jews, drawing condemnation from lawmakers and human rights activists. The open letter underscored Jewish-Arab tensions that have deepened along with Israel’s deadlocked Palestinian conflict, as well as more recent demographic fears triggered by an influx of illegal African migrants.

“The land of Israel is intended for the people of Israel,” Yosef Shainin, chief rabbi of the southern port city of Ashdod and one of the 41 signatories, told Israel’s Army Radio when asked about the letter.

Obtained by Reuters ahead of its planned publication in synagogues and religious journals, the letter quotes warnings by ancient sages that living with non-Jews can lead to “sacrilege.” Other concerns for property values are also raised. Another signatory, Chief Rabbi Mordechai Nagari from the Maale Adumim settlement, said: “If you allow Arabs into Jewish neighborhoods, you are asking for feuds to ensue.”

U.S. raps Palestinian report on Western Wall

wall (Photo: Jews pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, March 15, 2010/Baz Ratner)

The U.S. State Department has condemned  an official Palestinian report last week asserting that Jerusalem’s Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, is not Jewish. Al-Mutawakil Taha, deputy information minister in the Palestinian Authority, published a five-page study last week disputing Jews’ reverence of the shrine as a retaining wall of the compound of Biblical Jewish Temples destroyed centuries ago and saying it is a “Muslim wall and an integral part of al-Aqsa mosque and Haram al-Sharif.”

“We strongly condemn these comments and fully reject them as factually incorrect, insensitive and highly provocative,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters on Tuesday. “We have repeatedly raised with the Palestinian Authority leadership the need to consistently combat all forms of delegitimization of Israel, including denying historic Jewish connections to the land,” he added.

The wall is adjacent to a politically sensitive holy complex in a part of Jerusalem that Israel captured in a 1967 war. The area, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, is home to al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

Jewish leaders dismayed over Pius XII comments in pope book

piusJewish leaders reacted with dismay Sunday to comments in Pope Benedict’s new book that his wartime predecessor Pius was a “great, righteous” man who “saved more Jews than anyone else.”

Many Jews accuse Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, of having turned a blind eye to the Holocaust. The Vatican says he worked quietly behind the scenes because speaking out would have prompted Nazi reprisals against Catholics and Jews in Europe.

In his book to be published Tuesday, called “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Sign of the Times,” the German pope says Pius did what he could and did not protest more clearly because he feared the consequences.

Gas in the Holy Land: energy prospecting with the Bible as guide

israel gas 1Using the Bible as its guide, Texas-based energy company Zion Oil and Gas has searched for oil in the Holy Land for a decade. The company uses a map of the 12 ancient tribes of Israel and the biblical assertion – “the foot of Asher to be dipped in oil on the head of Joseph” – as an unlikely guide to help it decide where to drill. (Photo: A worker stands on an oil rig belonging to Zion Oil and  Gas in Karkur, northern Israel October 17, 2010/Nir Elias)

Sitting beneath an 18-storey rig in northern Israel, Zion’s CEO Richard Rinberg translates that reference by pointing to an area on the map where the territory of Asher – long and thin and shaped like a leg – once pushed into the land that belonged to Joseph’s sons.

“It’s exactly where we are,” said Rinberg, a good-humoured Orthodox Jew with a background in accounting and a belief that this biblical prophecy is backed by concrete scientific data. Founded by John Brown, a Christian Zionist who believes the Bible prophesied the discovery of oil in Israel, Zion is just one of a pack of energy companies that has spent years, even decades, surveying and drilling around Israel and its territorial waters. Like many, Zion has yet to find commercial amounts of oil or gas.

Germany ordains first female rabbi since Holocaust

rabbi 1Germany ordained its first female rabbi since the Holocaust on Thursday, marking a major step in the reintegration of Jews into modern German life.

In the glare of international media, Alina Treiger followed in the footsteps of Regina Jonas, who in 1935 was the first female to be appointed a rabbi in Germany. Jonas, from Berlin, was murdered by the Nazis in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland in 1944. (Photo: Rabbi Alina Treiger during her ordination in Berlin November 4, 2010/Odd Andersen/Pool)

The Ukrainian-born Treiger said she was thrilled to be ordained, at a ceremony at a synagogue in Berlin, with President Christian Wulff and hundreds of people in attendance, two centuries after the birth of Liberal Judaism in Germany.