On May 16, the United States Senate passed H.R. 943, the Never Again Education Act, by unanimous consent. The bill had passed in the House of Representatives by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 393-5 on January 27, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Never Again Education Act supports Holocaust education across the country by bolstering the already expansive educational resources at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
It expands the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s education programming to teachers across the country in order to help prevent genocide, hate and bigotry against any group.
It funds support and expansion of a website maintained by the museum so educators can find curriculum materials, and/or develop their own programs within sound pedagogy.
It also funds support and expansion of the museum’s professional development programs.
It authorizes $10 million over five years for these activities.
When Henry Fuchs acquired a Torah scroll from the Hungarian synagogue he belonged to as a child, it came with two conditions — that the scroll, painstakingly written in ink on parchment, be used regularly in services at Fuchs’ synagogue in North Carolina, where he now lives; and that his congregation recite the Mourners’ Kaddish once a year in memory of the 1,000 Hungarian Jews of Tokaj. In May 1944, the town’s Jews were marched into cattle cars and sent to Auschwitz. Fewer than 100 survived.
Fuchs, a professor of computer science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has honored those two conditions. Since the scroll came into his possession 18 years ago, it has been housed inside the Ark at his place of worship, the Kehillah Synagogue in Chapel Hill, where it is part of a rotation of the congregation’s four Torah scrolls. But since the coronavirus pandemic began, the scroll has taken on a starring role on Zoom.
Every Saturday, when Kehillah members gather online for services, one of the Zoom video screens shows the Tokaj Torah, which resides for the duration of the lockdown in Fuchs’ home office. When it comes time to read the weekly Torah portion, Fuchs lays it out on a table and unfurls it to the allotted chapter and verse, as the rabbi or one of the congregants reads from it on the screen, and everyone else watches from their own homes and listens to the reading.
The history of the scroll is a testament to the resilience of the Jewish people. The Jewish residents of Tokaj could not keep the Nazis from destroying their synagogue, but they had hidden the scrolls, which were unearthed after the war. Several of them were sent to an Orthodox synagogue in the southern Israeli town of Beer Sheva, where they were repaired and refurbished. Fuchs, who had followed their migration, convinced the Israeli synagogue that as one of the few remaining Jews of Tokaj, he should have one. It arrived in North Carolina in 2002, just in time for Fuchs’ son’s bar mitzvah.
In March 2020, when the coronavirus began to spread, and houses of worship canceled in-person services, Fuchs took home the Tokaj Torah, which is read every Shabbat morning via Zoom — linking his American congregation even more closely to the Hungarian one that no longer exists. At a time when Jews can no longer gather in person for services, this artifact of another time is uniting them.
(Pictured, Henry Fuchs, third from left, holds the Tokaj Torah decorated with a wreath of flowers for the holiday of Shavuot in keeping with Hungarian Jewish tradition. The story was excerpted from original publication by Religion News Service. Rabbi Jen Feldman photo)
A new survey released on Holocaust Remembrance Day found that more than half of America’s Jews have either experienced or witnessed what they perceived to be an anti-Semitic incident over the past five years. The survey was conducted in January, before the U.S. outbreak of the coronavirus, by the data analytics firm YouGov on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League.
It found that nearly two-thirds of Jews (63%) believe that they are less safe than they were a decade ago. Half are worried that a person wearing a yarmulke or other public display of Judaism will be physically assaulted (47%) or verbally harassed (50%) “on the street or in a public place,” according to the survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Among other findings:
1 in 5 (21%) have been the target of anti-Semitic comments, slurs or threats.
1 in 5 (22%) are affiliated with a Jewish institution that has been vandalized, damaged or defaced because of anti-Semitism.
1 in 7 (14%) know someone who has been physically attacked because he or she is Jewish.
1 in 20 have been physically attacked (5%) or have had “their home, car or property deliberately vandalized or defaced” because of anti-Semitism (6%).
[According to a newly released report from Tel Aviv University, the number of major anti-Semitic incidents worldwide rose by 18% in 2019 over the previous year, to 456 from 387.]
Here are eight Jewish candidates for Congress to keep an eye on as the election season heats up, says Aiden Pink, deputy news editor of The Forward:
• Dr. Al Gross, Independent from Alaska
Gross, an orthopedic surgeon and a commercial fisherman, is running as an Independent, but is endorsed by the Senatorial Campaign Committee (no Democrat is running in the race). It may be an uphill battle against the incumbent Republican, Sen. Dan Sullivan, but Gross has financial muscle with $2 million banked already.
• Sara Jacobs, Democrat from California
Jacobs is running for a San Diego-area congressional seats. Only 31 years old, Jacobs has an accomplished résumé for someone so young, having worked as a foreign policy advisor for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign after stints at the United Nations, UNICEF, and as a State Department contractor. She’s been endorsed by both moderate and progressive Democratic members of Congress. Her billionaire grandparents, Irwin and Joan Jacobs, are co-founders of Qualcomm.
• Matt Lieberman, Democrat from Georgia
Lieberman, who is running for Senate, is the son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman, the only Jew to run on as major party’s presidential ticket. Matt Lieberman is a former teacher. Incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler is under fire for accusations of insider trading, and will face multiple challenges in a primary.
• Kathy Manning, Democrat from North Carolina
Manning’s name is likely familiar to Jewish insiders: The Greensboro NC philanthropist was the founding chair of Prizmah Center for Jewish Day Schools, and was the first woman to serve as chair of the Jewish Federations of North America. She narrowly lost her 2018 congressional election, but her district was redrawn after the state Supreme Court said it was too gerrymandered. Now it’s expected to be more favorable to local Democrats, who picked her as their nominee once again.
• Jon Ossoff, Democrat from Georgia
Ossoff, a former documentary filmmaker, narrowly lost an expensive congressional race three years ago and is running again for the other Senate seat. He was endorsed by the Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights legend before his death last year, and a poll last month found him 15 points up on the closest Democratic competitor in an upcoming primary.
• David Richter, Republican from New Jersey
Richter, the former CEO of Hill International, the construction megafirm co-founded by his father, is running for Congress in New Jersey’s 3rd district, in the south-central portion of the state. If he wins the primary, he’ll face off against Democratic freshman Rep. Andy Kim. Insiders rate the race a toss-up.
• Lisa Scheller, Republican from Pennsylvania
Scheller, a former Lehigh County Commissioner, is running in part on her business experience, having turned the aluminum paint manufacturing firm founded by her immigrant grandfather into a global company. She is also running on her personal history: Open about being a recovering drug and alcohol addict, she founded a coffee shop where every employee is in recovery or is a family member of someone dealing with addiction. Pennsylvania has been particularly hard hit by the opioid crisis. If she wins the primary, she’ll face off against first-term Rep. Susan Wild, who is also Jewish. The race is expected to be close.
• Renee Unterman, Republican from Georgia
Unterman, a health insurance executive and former mayor, is the only Jewish member of the Georgia state senate, where she’s represented parts of the Atlanta suburbs since 2003. She’s an outspoken conservative, but she also shows she’s not afraid to buck members of her own party: in 2018, she called for an investigation into then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who was running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, over questionable campaign donations he had received.
In a new series now streaming on Netflix, a young Hasidic woman’s flight from her marriage and community makes for a modern-day period piece with a striking star performance by Shira Haas (from “Shtisel”), based on the memoir by Deborah Feldman.
One day, with cash and a few papers stashed in her waistband, she breaks the eruv wire that surrounds the Satmar Hasidic community where she lives. She catches a plane for Berlin, looking for the mother who herself fled the Satmars and her alcoholic husband when Esty was a child. Of course, Esty’s disappearance creates a scandal in the community, but what unfolds is a “story of personal discovery with the intensity of a spy thriller,” the New York Times said.
The distribution and production company Cohen Media Group has acquired North American rights to the Holocaust-era drama “Persian Lessons” and plans to release the film in late 2020, according to an article in Variety.
Set in 1942, the film is about a Belgian Jew in a German concentration camp who claims to be Persian to avoid being executed. The prisoner tries to save himself by agreeing to teach Farsi, a language he does not know and subsequently makes up, to a Nazi officer who hopes to open a restaurant in Iran after the war.
The film, based on the story “Erfindung Einer Sprache” by Wolfgang Kohlhaase, was first written in Russian, then translated into English and eventually into German. The film had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival on Feb. 22.