High Holidays

Looking back at the highlights of 5772


NEW YORK (JTA) — JTA follows and updates some of the stories on which it reported during 5772.

* Skeleton competitor Bradley Chalupski followed through on his plans to make aliyah, moving to Israel from Lake Placid, N.Y., where he had spent two years practicing on the bobsled track and competing in the winter sport. Though he has a day job writing English abstracts of articles in French, Chalupski is still training — except now he’s doing it on the Tel Aviv beach.

* When the founder of The Israel Project, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, decided in 2007 that she wanted to cede the reins of the organization to someone else — she said she realized that she was irreplaceable. So the organization, heralding a major shift for an organization that had been unique among pro-Israel advocacy groups for its media-friendly approach, spent millions making fundamental structural changes to ensure that someone else could take over. In February, Mizrahi announced she would step down by early summer. In August, TIP named former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block as the new CEO. Among the changes reportedly planned for the new TIP: less focus on global media.

* NBA point guard Jordan Farmar’s tenure with Maccabi Tel Aviv didn’t last long, but the Middle East apparently grew on the American Jewish player. Farmer started playing with Maccabi Tel Aviv in October after signing with the club during the NBA lockout. After the lockout ended last December, Farmer went back to the New Jersey Nets. But when the now Brooklyn Nets traded Farmer to the Atlanta Hawks in July, Farmer signed a three-year contract with the Turkish team Anadolu Efes.

* Jacob Ostreicher, a haredi Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn, has been held in a Bolivian prison without formal charges since June 2011 and has been on a hunger strike since April 13. His legal situation has not changed, but the U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on human rights is paying attention: It has held two hearings on his situation. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) introduced legislation that he calls “Jacob’s Law” to ban travel to the U.S. by government officials responsible for violating the due process rights of American citizens, according to Foreign Policy magazine’s website. As the hunger strike continues, Ostreicher’s wife, Miriam Ungar, wrote to JTA in an Aug. 4 email that “Jacob’s health is deteriorating. After coughing up blood for two days, he was transferred to a hospital on Saturday.”

* In January, JTA profiled Can Bonomo, the Izmiri Jew selected by Turkey to represent the country at this year’s Eurovision contest. Bonomo finished seventh at the contest in Baku on May 26 with an English language number, “Love Me Back.” His most recent headlines have to do with his public canoodling with Seda Bakan, a star of a popular police procedural, “O Behzat.” “We’re happy, the rest is trivia,” he told the paparazzi.

* In June 2011, JTA profiled Dan Lederman, a Republican state senator in South Dakota. Lederman is now running for his second term. One of his legislative accomplishments is a bill that addresses school bullying. He also has been prominent in the pushback against concerns about “pink slime,” or what defenders of the beef industry prefer to call “finely textured lean beef.”

* A January story centered on the clash between Josh Block, AIPAC’s pugnacious former spokesman, and the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank deemed by Block as crossing a line because of writings that suggested AIPAC was stumping for war and because a staffer at its affiliated blog, Think Progress, used the term “Israel Firster” on his private Twitter feed. As the story noted, the staffer who used the term “Israel Firster,” Zaid Jilani, had left by the time of writing. He now reports for a liberal corruption watchdog, Republic Report.

CAP and Think Progress remain critical of Israel at times, arguing for instance that Palestinian economic distress has more to do with Israel’s occupation than it does with “culture,” as asserted by Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Think Progress also continues its critical coverage of right-wing pro-Israelism, pointing out for instance the neoconservative chops of Romney’s top Middle East adviser, Dan Senor. However, nothing since the flap in January has attracted critical Jewish attention, and the outfit cites Israel in touting policies it favors, like universal health care. It also has been covering Iran’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, a nod to one of the factors driving pro-Israel concern about the country.

Jilani’s replacement is Zack Beauchamp, who dabbled in Jewish journalism at Tablet.

Another Block nemesis, MJ Rosenberg, who had popularized the “Israel Firster” term, left the liberal MediaMatters watchdog, in part because of the controversy engendered by the term.

Block, meanwhile, is now heading The Israel Project (see above).

* Murray Koppelman in an April story said a trip to Tehran — and an incident witnessing women draped in chadors being pushed to the back of a bus — prompted him to match up to $500,000 in donations to the New Israel Fund’s efforts to battle discrimination against women in Israel. Koppelman and the NIF made the appeal in an ad in The New York Times featuring a poster in Jerusalem, ostensibly defaced because it bore the image of a woman. An NIF spokeswoman said the campaign is about to wrap up and that it “exceeded expectations,” although figures would not be available until next week.

* The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools made headlines after a controversy over whether it would change the time of its basketball championships to accommodate an Orthodox Jewish school, The Robert M. Beren Academy of Houston, whose students observe Shabbat. TAPPS changed the time of its games only after several players and their parents filed a lawsuit.

The association then came under pressure from its members to become more inclusive of schools of all faiths. In April, TAPPS created a Striving for Excellence Committee made up of 16 school principals including Rabbi Harry Sinoff, head of school at Beren Academy. The committee is tasked with reviewing issues related to TAPPS governance, leadership, student eligibility, events and finance, and making suggestions to the TAPPS Executive Board, the rule-setting body for the organization.

TAPPS director Edd Burleson said the TAPPS staff proposed a policy that provides a plan for future religious accommodations, when necessary. The policy has been presented to the committee for review and to the TAPPS Executive Board for review and final approval. As of mid-August, the committee had held its organizational meeting and conducted two conference calls. It has not reported any decisions to the TAPPS Executive Board.

Asked if he was satisfied with how the incident had turned out, Sinoff said, “What we would have liked to have resulted was no press, simply a rescheduling of the game. We hope in the future that is the result.”