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Protests threaten to overwhelm gathering of Jewish leaders in Israel for 75th anniversary

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OUR LEAD STORY

Organizers moved the Jewish Federations of North America annual conference to the spring and to Israel this year to overlap with the country’s 75th anniversary.

 

But the event, a premier meeting of top U.S. Jewish leaders, is now unfolding amid the massive anti-government protests that have rocked Israel in recent months. And the conference itself is now the subject of protest. 

 

My colleague Arno Rosenfeld will be traveling to the convention in Tel Aviv this weekend and sets the stage for us this morning.

 

Focus on Netanyahu: Protest leaders spent two months arranging meetings between federation officials and Israeli business and former military leaders. The goal was to convince conference organizers to disinvite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from delivering a speech during the gathering. But that bid failed — and now protesters plan to block roadways leading to the convention center and disrupt Netanyahu’s appearance Sunday evening.

 

Trying times: The Jewish federation system is a philanthropic powerhouse, making more than $3 billion in annual grants across the U.S. and Canada as well as in Israel. But broad opposition to legislation proposed by the current Israeli government has threatened to undermine its work. “For the last couple weeks I’ve gotten calls saying, ‘I don’t want to give to federation because you’re supporting Israel,’” said Lonnie Nasatir, president of the Chicago branch.

 

Celebration goes on: Eric Fingerhut, chief of the Jewish federation system, said organizers had added new speakers to help conference goers understand the political situation. But he said the focus would remain on celebrating Israel’s milestone anniversary. “This is the 75th year of independence of the Jewish state,” he said. “We’re entitled to look at it with a certain amount of satisfaction.”

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Lillian Hochman as Tanya and Matthew Woody as Fievel in ‘An American Tail.’ (Kaitlin Randolph)

‘An American Tail the Musical’ is coming — and it’s more Jewish than ever: Anyone who’s ever seen the 1986 film about immigrant mice knows it’s brimming with Yiddishkeit. After all, it opens during Hanukkah and the family is called Mousekowitz. But it took a stage adaptation for the material to go full tilt into Jewish liturgy, including the Shema and Shehecheyanu. It’s been really meaningful to me to bring a lot of my Jewish upbringing musically to the score,” said Alan Schmuckler, one of the show’s composers. Read the story ➤

 

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Elsewhere…

  • Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro shared a video giving a behind-the-scenes look at Passover food preparations in the kosher kitchen he maintains in the governor’s mansion. He was joined by Michael Solomonov, the Israeli chef and popular Philadelphia restaurateur.
  • Bob Dylan has spent the past week on tour in Japan doing something kind of bizarre: performing Grateful Dead and Dead-adjacent songs. Our music maven, Seth Rogovoy, tries to unravel the mystery, and offers some advice to Dylan.
  • Our intern Rebecca Salzhauer writes that Aaron Sorkin’s revival of the musical Camelot is filled with quick banter and Talmudic argument.
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Jewish leaders need tools and training to respond to the troubling rise in antisemitism. A new Spertus Institute program fills this critical need. 

 

This program gives front-line leaders the opportunity to work with a team of experts to equip them to respond to antisemitic incidents with knowledge, strength, and skill. 

 

Preferred admission deadline is June 1 for Fall Cohort.  

WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

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A ceremony on Wednesday in Poland marked the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The daffodil has become the emergent symbol of the rebellion after an artist made a daffodil papercut in 2012 to commemorate the event. This year, the papercuts were distributed to 150,000 people in 100 Jewish communities around the world. (Getty)

🫡  The presidents of Israel, Germany and Poland gathered Wednesday in Warsaw to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. “I stand before you today and ask for your forgiveness for the crimes committed here by Germans,” President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany told a crowd of thousands. (JTA)

 

🎒  Hebrew school enrollment in the U.S. dropped 45% over the last 15 years, even as the number of Jewish children grew. There were some pockets of growth, mostly in programs that operate outside of synagogues, and those run by Chabad. (JTA)

 

🇮🇱  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly offered the newly vacant job of Israel’s consul general in New York to May Golan, a far-right member of the Knesset who has a history of controversial remarks, including: “I’m proud to be racist.” Asaf Zamir, who formerly held the position, quit last month over Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the judiciary. (Haaretz)

 

😲  The mother of a Jewish teenager with autism says somebody carved a swastika onto her son’s back. The FBI is investigating the incident, which occurred last month in Nevada. (Jewish Press)

 

✝️  An incarcerated atheist in West Virginia is suing the prison system for requiring him to partake in a Christian-affiliated substance abuse treatment program as a condition of his release. (AP)

 

🏀  The tallest Jewish player in NBA history is set to be inducted Sunday into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Nicknamed “Shorty,” the 7-foot-tall Dave Newmark played for the Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks from 1968 to 1970. (Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

 

Shiva call: Leon Levine, the billionaire founder of the Family Dollar retail chain, died at 85.

What else we’re reading: For American Jews planning for Israel’s 75th, the birthday party has gotten complicated … The U.S. and Israel are both asking: How much power should courts have? … Is The Mandalorian a Jewish parable?

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ON THE CALENDAR

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On this day in history (1999): Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris murdered 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado. In a 2016 article in the Forward, Klebold’s mother told us that she used to believe God was watching over her family, but she changed her mind after the shooting. It “made me realize,” she said, “that none of us have any control over anything, really.”

It’s 4/20, also known as Weed Day. In this story from our archives, we explore that most existential of questions: What does the Torah have to say about marijuana?

VIDEO OF THE DAY

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When Albert Einstein died 68 years ago this week, the doctor who performed the autopsy did the unthinkable: He stole Einstein’s brain. For decades, he kept it in a beer cooler in his basement and would occasionally slice off a snippet to send to scientists who wanted to study the specimen. In the 1990s, a group of rabbis asked the doctor if they could have the brain so they could bury it in Israel. The doctor declined.

The doctor died in 2007, and the brain went missing. Until now. I tracked it down while doing research for my forthcoming book, The Einstein Effect, and shared the story in the two-minute video above.

 

Thanks to Jaclyn De Bonis, PJ Grisar, Sarah Nachimson, Arno Rosenfeld and Talya Zax for contributing to today’s newsletter. You can reach the “Forwarding” team at editorial@forward.com.

 

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