5779: The North American year in review

by | Sep 30, 2019 | Uncategorized

Highlights in North America from the Jewish year 5779.

September 2018

Leslie Moonves resigns as CEO of the CBS network after six women accuse him of sexual misconduct. The allegations, published in the New Yorker, follow six early accusations against Moonves published two months earlier. Moonves denies the claims against him.

Rabbi Rachel Cowan, a pioneer in the Jewish healing movement, dies in New York at 77. Cowan was among the founders of the Jewish Healing Center and served for 14 years as director of the Jewish Life and Values Program at the Nathan Cummings Foundation in New York, where she helped direct grants for programs that addressed the spiritual dimensions of serious illness.

Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, become the biggest spenders in American politics, having donated $55 million to groups helping to maintain Republican Party control of the House and Senate in the midterm elections, according to a New York Times report. The sum represents a substantial increase from the $46.5 million they had donated at the same point in the 2016 election cycle.

A federal court in Canada denies the appeal of a former Nazi who sought to avoid deportation after having been found to have failed to disclose his past when applying for citizenship there in 1960. The court rules that it was “reasonable” that Helmut Oberlander, 94, be stripped of his citizenship.

October 2018

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images Police tape is seen outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 28, 2018, a day after a shooting there left 11 people dead.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images - Police tape is seen outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 28, 2018, a day after a shooting there left 11 people dead.

In the deadliest attack ever on an American Jewish institution, 11 people are killed and another six injured when a gunman opens fire on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh during Shabbat morning services. Shortly before the attack, the alleged gunman, Robert Bowers, made a post on an online social networking website accusing the Jewish immigrant group HIAS of bringing “invaders” into the United States. Top officials in the United States and abroad condemn the attack, which President Donald Trump calls “pure evil.”

An explosive device is found in the mailbox of the New York home of Jewish billionaire George Soros, a major donor to left-wing causes and often a right-wing target of conspiracy theories. The police bomb squad detonates the device.

In a reversal of a 1972 ban, the Conservative movement’s religious law authorities move to allow its rabbis to attend intermarriages. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards issues the new ruling at the same time as it upholds the movement’s position that its clergy may only officiate at a marriage in cases where both parties are Jewish.

The nearly century-old Hebrew College in suburban Boston installs its first female president. Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld had served 12 years as the dean of its pluralistic rabbinical school.

November 2018

The online home rental service Airbnb says it will remove listings of rooms and homes for rent in West Bank Jewish settlements. In a statement, the company says it consulted with experts to learn about the historical disputes in the region in order to make a decision about whether it should be doing business there. Israel’s tourism minister, Yariv Levin, calls the decision “discriminatory.”

In what is believed to be the largest gift ever to higher education in the United States, the billionaire Jewish businessman Michael Bloomberg announces a $1.8 billion gift to Johns Hopkins University to eliminate student loans and financial aid packages for incoming students. In an op-ed announcing the gift, the former New York City mayor and alumnus of the Baltimore university says that denying college entry to students based on their ability to pay undermines equal opportunity, perpetuates intergenerational poverty and “strikes at the heart of the American dream: the idea that every person, from every community, has the chance to rise based on merit.”

The Reform movement’s rabbinical wing appoints Rabbi Hara Person as its first female chief executive. Person succeeds Rabbi Steven Fox as head of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which represents 2,100 Reform rabbis around the world.

Data released by federal law enforcement authorities show that hate crimes against Jews in the United States rose by more than a third in 2017. The FBI further shows that Jews were targeted in 58 percent of religion-based hate crimes. Overall, hate crimes increased by 17 percent in 2017.

Elaine Luria

Elaine Luria

More than 75 percent of Jewish Americans cast their ballots for Democrats in midterm congressional elections, according to polls. The election, which returned Democrats to the majority in the House of Representatives, brought eight new Jewish members into that body and two Jewish candidates to governorships. In Virginia, Elaine Luria became the state’s first Jewish woman elected to Congress.

The American-Israeli man convicted of making hundreds of bomb threats to Jewish community centers and Jewish schools in the United States in 2017 is sentenced to 10 years in prison in Israel. Michael Kadar had admitted making hundreds of threats against American Jewish institutions that forced widespread evacuations and promoted fears of mounting anti-Semitism.

The New York City Health Department warns of an outbreak of measles in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community, where vaccination rates are lower. The department said a total of 17 cases had been recorded in the heavily Jewish neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Borough Park, three of which—including the initial case—were acquired by children on a visit to Israel.

Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, one of the founders of the Women’s March, apologizes for causing harm to the movement’s Jewish members and being too slow to fight anti-Semitism. “We are deeply sorry for the harm we have caused, but we see you, we love you, and we are fighting with you,” Sarsour said. The statement came a day after another of the march’s co-founders, Teresa Shook, called on the movement’s current organizers to step down because they have “allowed anti-Semitism.”

December 2018

The American Civil Liberties Union announces a lawsuit against the state of Texas over a 2017 law prohibiting government contractors from engaging in boycotts of Israel. The ACLU argues that the law infringes on a legitimate form of political protest, while defenders say they don’t inhibit free speech but only extend existing civil penalties for complying with boycott requests from foreign countries. Political commentator Marc Lamont Hill apologizes for calling for “a free Palestine from the river to the sea” during a U.N. event in solidarity with the Palestinian people. CNN fires Hill, a professor of media studies at Temple University, as a commentator for using the slogan, which Palestinian groups have invoked in rejecting any Israeli sovereignty between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. “I take seriously the voices of so many Jewish brothers and sisters, who have interpreted my remarks as a call to or endorsement of violence,” Hill writes in an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Congress passes bipartisan legislation named for the late Elie Wiesel that aims to improve the U.S. response to emerging or potential genocides. The Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act passes the House of Representatives by a vote of 406-5. The Senate had passed the measure with 24 co-sponsors.

January 2019

Robert Kraft, the New England Patriots owner, is named the winner of the $1 million Genesis Prize, the so-called Jewish Nobel. Kraft, 77, is the sixth person to win the prize, which honors individuals who serve “as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews through their outstanding professional achievement along with their commitment to Jewish values and the Jewish people.”

The Forward announces it will be ceasing its print edition and laying off its editor in chief and 20 percent of its staff. Founded in 1897, the storied Jewish newspaper began as a Yiddish-language publication and launched an English edition in 1990. The Forward will continue to publish online in both English and Yiddish.

Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images Rep. Ilhan Omar is seen outside the Capitol Hill building, Sept. 12, 2019.

Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images - Rep. Ilhan Omar is seen outside the Capitol Hill building, Sept. 12, 2019.

Prominent Democrats launch a pro-Israel group to counter the party’s drift away from Israel. “Our mission at Democratic Majority for Israel is to strengthen the pro-Israel tradition of the Democratic Party, fight for Democratic values and work within the progressive movement to advance policies that ensure a strong U.S.-Israel relationship,” says Mark Mellman, a longtime Democratic Party pollster who has been active in the pro-Israel community. Other party leaders involved in the effort include Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Michigan; Henry Cisneros, a Housing secretary under President Bill Clinton; and Ann Lewis, chief of communications under Clinton and a longtime leading supporter of Hillary Clinton.

Rep. Ilhan Omar disavows a 2012 tweet in which she said Israel had “hypnotized” the world, saying the term was “unfortunate and offensive.” One of two freshman lawmakers to endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign targeting Israel, the Minnesota Democrat’s comment comes days after she is named to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “It’s now apparent to me that I spent lots of energy putting my 2012 tweet in context and little energy in disavowing the anti-semitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive,” she says.

February 2019

Al Vorspan, who helped organize the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and served as the longtime director of its Commission on Social Action, dies at 95. A World War II veteran, Vorspan pushed the Reform movement to create the commission in 1953, and later pressed for the creation of the Religious Action Center, which became the movement’s voice in Washington.

Omar says in a tweet that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee pays politicians to be pro-Israel, a falsehood that draws quick rebukes from a number of her Democratic colleagues, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and two key committee chairs, Eliot Engel and Jerry Nadler. Omar subsequently apologizes for the tweet and expresses gratitude to “Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.”

Michael Cohen, the longtime lawyer for President Donald Trump, cites his father’s survival of the Holocaust to explain why he turned on his one-time mentor and employer. “My father survived the Holocaust thanks to the compassion and selfless acts of others,” Cohen says in a statement prepared for delivery to the House Oversight Committee. “He was helped by many who put themselves in harm’s way to do what they knew was right.” Cohen pleaded guilty to fraud and violating campaign finance laws and was preparing to serve three years of jail time.

The U.S. Senate approves a bill that provides legal cover to states that target the movement to boycott Israel over the objections by several prominent Democrats. Critics say the measure, which passed by a 77–23 margin, infringes on free speech freedoms. Its opposition includes Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders—all candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Every Republican senator except Rand Paul of Kentucky supports the bill.

A Holocaust survivor who escaped the shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue where 11 worshipers were killed is a special guest at President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. Judah Samet, 81, was late to services the morning of the shooting and was warned to stay outside the building. Samet sat in the gallery with first lady Melania Trump for the address with 12 other guests, including a police officer who was shot several times battling the Tree of Life gunman.

March 2019

Jewish megadonor Michael Steinhardt is accused of a pattern of sexually inappropriate behavior by seven women. In an expose published by the New York Times and the journalism nonprofit ProPublica, the women accuse Steinhardt, a founder of Birthright Israel and a major giver to Jewish institutions, of making sexual requests while they were relying on or seeking his support. Steinhardt denies the accusations, but acknowledges a pattern of comments “that were boorish, disrespectful, and just plain dumb.”

President Trump signs a proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, making the U.S. the first country to recognize Israeli rule over the strategic plateau captured from Syria in the 1967 war. Israel annexed the territory in 1981.

A Gallup poll finds that a majority of Americans sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians, but that the percentage is slipping. Some 59 percent of Americans say they sympathize more with the Israelis, down from 64 percent in 2018, Gallup’s annual World Affairs survey finds. The poll also finds that 43 percent of Democrats sympathize more with Israel, while 76 percent of Republicans do, and 21 percent with the Palestinians, unchanged from the previous year.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee opens its annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., with a defiant refusal to be silenced in the face of mounting criticism from the left. “When they try to silence us we speak up, and when they tell us to sit down we stand up, we stand up. We. Stand. Up,” AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr says in a fiery opening speech. MoveOn, a progressive grassroots organization, had called on Democratic presidential candidates to boycott the conference, though candidates generally do not appear at AIPAC in non-election years. Some 18,000 activists attend the conference.

Trump calls Democrats the “anti-Jewish” party following a House vote condemning anti-Semitism. “The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They’ve become an anti-Jewish party, and that’s too bad,” the president says. The House resolution condemns anti-Semitism primarily, along with Islamophobia and other biases, and specifies that charges of dual loyalty are especially harmful. The entire Democratic caucus votes for the resolution along with all but 24 Republicans. The resolution was spurred by several comments made by Omar that appear to traffic in anti-Semitic tropes.

April 2019

Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images A makeshift memorial sits across the street from the Chabad of Poway Synagogue, April 28, 2019, one day after a gunman killed one person and injured three others.

Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images - A makeshift memorial sits across the street from the Chabad of Poway Synagogue, April 28, 2019, one day after a gunman killed one person and injured three others.

One person dies and three are injured in a shooting at a Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, near San Diego. Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, is killed when a gunman opens fire on the synagogue on the last day of Passover. The 19-year-old suspect is charged with murder as well as federal hate crimes and civil rights violations.

Airbnb says it will reverse its decision to remove West Bank settlement listings from its website. The online rental service changes its policy after two federal court settlements between the company and two groups of Jewish-American plaintiffs accuse the company of discrimination. In a statement posted to its website, Airbnb says it will donate the proceeds from West Bank rentals to humanitarian groups.

The Anti-Defamation League says there were 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2018, a drop from the 1,986 reported in 2017, but still the third highest since 1979. The vast majority are incidents of harassment or vandalism, but the number of assaults doubles since 2017 to 39 from 17. In Canada, the number of anti-Semitic incidents tallied by B’nai B’rith Canada rises to a record high for the third consecutive year, surging to 2,041 in 2018 from 1,752 reported the prior year.

The New York Times publishes a cartoon in its international edition depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog wearing a Star of David collar and leading President Trump, who is wearing a black yarmulke. The cartoon is broadly condemned as anti-Semitic, and the newspaper says it is “deeply sorry” to have printed an image that includes “anti-Semitic tropes.” In a subsequent editorial, the paper calls it “an appalling political cartoon” that is “evidence of a profound danger—not only of anti-Semitism but of numbness to its creep.”

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein submits his resignation letter to Trump. Rosenstein had appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to look into Russian interference in the 2016 elections and was a key player in overseeing the probe that the president called a “witch hunt.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declares a public health emergency over a measles outbreak in Brooklyn’s haredi Orthodox community, ordering unvaccinated people living in four Zip codes there with heavily Orthodox populations to be vaccinated or pay fines up to $1,000. A week later, the city closes a yeshiva preschool in one of those neighborhoods, Williamsburg, for defying a Health Department order to provide medical and attendance records regarding measles vaccinations. According to the city, between October and April, there had been 285 reported cases of measles in Brooklyn’s Orthodox community, including 246 children.

May 2019

Daniel Atwood, an American, becomes the first openly gay man ordained as an Orthodox rabbi at a ceremony in Jerusalem. Atwood had been denied ordination by the liberal American Orthodox rabbinical school Yeshiva Chovevei Torah three months prior to his graduation. The New York City school declined to specify the reason for its decision, but it came just months after Atwood and his partner were engaged to marry. Atwood’s ordination was granted by Rabbi Daniel Landes, a prominent American-Israeli rabbi.

Herman Wouk, the best-selling Orthodox Jewish author whose literary career spanned nearly seven decades, dies at 103. Wouk helped usher Judaism into the American mainstream through more than two dozen novels and works of nonfiction, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Caine Mutiny from 1951, which was a fixture on best-seller lists for two years, and the best-selling Marjorie Morningstar from 1955.

The Israeli eatery Zahav wins the 2019 James Beard Foundation award for outstanding restaurant. Jewish chefs Michael Solomonov, a native of Israel, and Steve Cook founded the Philadelphia restaurant, whose name means “gold” in Hebrew, in 2008.

June 2019

Quebec passes a so-called secularism law banning certain public employees from wearing religious symbols, including yarmulkes and hijabs, at work. The law, which applies to teachers, judges, and police officers, among others, is passed in a 73-35 vote following

Mark Brown/Getty Images Ryan Braun bats for the Milwaukee Brewers in a game against the Miami Marlins in Miami, Sept. 9, 2019. He became the all-time Jewish home run leader this season.

Mark Brown/Getty Images - Ryan Braun bats for the Milwaukee Brewers in a game against the Miami Marlins in Miami, Sept. 9, 2019. He became the all-time Jewish home run leader this season.

contentious debate. “The Jewish community of Quebec is profoundly disappointed by the adoption of Bill 21,” Brenda Gewurz, chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Quebec, says in a statement, adding that the measure “undermines religious freedom and equal access to employment.”

Ryan Braun passes Hank Greenberg to claim the record for most home runs in a career by a Jewish baseball player. The Milwaukee Brewers outfielder hits his 332nd homer in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez comes under fierce criticism for comparing migrant detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border to “concentration camps.” Multiple Jewish groups criticize the Democratic lawmaker’s Holocaust comparison, including Yad Vashem, the Anti-Defamation League, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

Gary Rosenblatt announces that he will be stepping down as editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week after 26 years. Rosenblatt, 72, will continue to write occasionally for The Jewish Week and remain involved in several of its educational projects, according to the newspaper.

Steven Nasatir, the longest-serving CEO of any Jewish federation in North America, says he will step down as head of Chicago’s Jewish United Fund after four decades on the job. The federation has distributed nearly $7 billion to charitable causes since Nasatir took the helm in 1979.

The White House unveils the economic portion of its Mideast peace plan, which calls for $50 billion of investment in building infrastructure as well as other needs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Authored by a team led by President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, the plan is released just days ahead of a conference in Bahrain where Kushner aims to drum up support for it. The plan includes no political details and makes no mention of Palestinian statehood.

July 2019

A man is shot several times while waiting for daily prayers to begin at a synagogue in Miami. The victim, identified as Yosef Lifshutz, undergoes multiple surgeries and is in stable condition following the shooting.

Canadian Jews are the most targeted minority group for hate crimes for the third straight year, a government report finds. Statistics Canada says that overall reported hate crimes targeting Jews fell in 2018, to 345 from 360, but Jews are still targeted more frequently than Muslims or blacks. B’nai Brith Canada President Michael Mostyn says the numbers show that hate crimes against Jews remain an “urgent concern.”

Former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren is named editor in chief of the Forward. Rudoren succeeds Jane Eisner, who was let go in a sweeping staff cut that accompanied news that the venerable Jewish newspaper would cease publishing its print edition.

Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau dies at 99. Morgenthau, an iconic figure, served from 1975 to 2009, a tenure that included the prosecution of numerous high-profile cases—including Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s assassin, and the conviction and later exoneration of the Central Park 5, black teens who were wrongly convicted of raping a white jogger.

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein in New York City, July 8, 2019.

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images - U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein in New York City, July 8, 2019.

Billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein is arrested in New York on sex-trafficking charges. Epstein, a registered sex offender who served 13 months in jail following a 2008 conviction of soliciting a teenager for prostitution, is facing charges that he was involved in trafficking dozens of minors between 2002 and 2005. In August, Epstein kills himself in a Manhattan jail cell while awaiting trial.

August 2019

Thirty-eight men file a lawsuit against the Yeshiva University High School for Boys claiming they were sexually abused over a three-decade period beginning in the mid-1950s and that the school did not act to protect them despite multiple complaints of abuse. The lawsuit follows a February change in New York state law that grants child victims of abuse one year to file civil lawsuits, regardless of when the alleged abuse took place.

President Trump says that Jews who support Democrats are being disloyal. “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” he says at a news conference. The statement is widely condemned by centrist and left-wing Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. The Republican Jewish Coalition defends the president.

An array of American Jewish groups condemns Israel’s decision to bar entry to two Democratic lawmakers critical of the Jewish state. The Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federations of North America and—in a rare statement of criticism aimed at Israel—the American Israel Public Affairs Committee all decry Israel’s refusal to grant entry to Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. The Republican Jewish Coalition and the Zionist Organization of America endorse the decision.

William Daroff is named CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Daroff, the Jewish Federations of North America’s top official in Washington, succeeds Malcolm Hoenlein, who guided the 50-member coalition for 33 years. (JTA)

Ben Harris