National

Rabbi Grafman, Dr. King and the letter from Birmingham Jail

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Southern Jewish Life) — “Are you still a bigot?” Every year for the rest of his life, students studying the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” would call Rabbi Milton Grafman, knowing little of the situation in 1963 Birmingham, and pose that question. His… Read more »

Security prep for Memphis Klan rally seen as national model

Klansmen exiting the Shelby County Courthouse in Memphis, Tenn., moments before their rally, March 30, 2013. (Blake Billings)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (JTA) — Cantor Ricky Kampf descends from the bimah, adjusts his prayer shawl and strides up the aisle, cutting through the cavernous sanctuary to greet the familiar out-of-towner. “Y’all here for the shindig?” Kampf says at the Baron Hirsch Synagogue here as he grasps the hand of… Read more »

In Florida, Venezuelan Jewish expats set down new roots

SUNNY ISLES BEACH, Fla. (JTA) — Sitting outside a Starbucks coffee shop in this small city north of Miami Beach, Paul Hariton recalls the dramatic night in 2002 when he and his wife decided to leave their native Venezuela. Leftist leader Hugo Chavez had just returned to power following… Read more »

After Israel trip and apology to Turkey, Obama gains political capital. Will he spend it?

President Obama placing a stone on the headstone of Yitzhak and Leah Rabin during a visit to Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. (Mark Neyman/GPO/JTA)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — For a trip that U.S. officials had cautioned was not about getting “deliverables,” President Obama’s apparent success during his Middle East trip at getting Israel and Turkey to reconcile has raised some hopes for a breakthrough on another front: Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The question now is whether… Read more »

NEWS ANALYSIS: Did Obama’s charm offensive in Israel work?

Israeli President Shimon Peres presents the Presidential Medal to President Obama at Peres' residence in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. (Mark Neyman/GPO/Flash90/JTA)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — President Obama had three goals for his first presidential trip to Israel. He wanted to persuade Israelis that the United States is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He wanted to promote the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, albeit without any specific “deliverables.” Most… Read more »

Obama: Peace is possible

President Obama speaks to Israeli students at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, March 21, 2013. (Uriel Sinai/Getty/JTA)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to Israel and called for a renewed peace process in a speech to thousands of Israelis in Jerusalem. In the centerpiece of his first presidential visit to Israel, Obama on Thursday stressed America’s “unbreakable” alliance with Israel and support for Israel in the… Read more »

As trip begins, Obama and Netanyahu are all smiles

President Obama greeted by children waving Israeli and American flags at a welcoming ceremony at Shimon Peres' residence in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. (Uri Lenz/FLASH90/JTA)

JERUSALEM (JTA) – President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it’s safe to say, haven’t always been the best of friends. The leaders of two closely allied countries, they’ve have had a relationship described more often as tense than anything else. But on the first day of Obama’s… Read more »

Obama lands in Israel, praises ‘unbreakable’ U.S.-Israel bond

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets President Obama at a welcome ceremony for the president at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, March 20, 2013 (Miriam Alster/Flash90/JTA)

TEL AVIV (JTA) — President Obama began his first presidential visit to Israel with an airport speech calling the United States the “strongest ally and greatest friend” of Israel. “Why does the U.S. stand with Israel?” Obama asked the crowd at the welcoming ceremony Wednesday afternoon at Ben-Gurion Airport. “We… Read more »

Jewish leaders join new alliance pitching domestic fossil fuels

WASHINGTON (JTA) — On page 15 of the most recent edition of the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association’s newsletter, beneath griping about perceived threats to the industry posed by President Obama’s tax and energy policies, was a nugget of positive news: A new coalition had formed between the… Read more »

Lots of listening, no grand initiatives expected on Obama’s Mideast trip

A Palestinian policeman in the West Bank city of Ramallah standing next ot a poster with a slogan protesting the upcoming visit of President Obama, March 12, 2013. (Issam Rimawi/FLASH90/JTA)

TEL AVIV (JTA) — When President Obama visits Israel next week, Gavriel Yaakov wants him to jump-start the peace process. “I’m excited,” said Yaakov, 67, sitting in a Tel Aviv mall. “I want negotiations to get to an agreement on a long-term peace with the Palestinians.” Yaakov said he… Read more »

Lautenberg Amendment, Soviet-era law now helping Iranians, gets lifeline

The Lautenberg Amendment paved the way for these Iranian Jews shown arriving at Kennedy Airport in New York in 1995 to come to the United States. (Courtesy HIAS)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – When the Lautenberg Amendment was introduced in 1990, it provided a mechanism for hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews to exit their crumbling country and immigrate to freedom in the United States. Since 2004, it has served as a lifeline for religious minorities fleeing the Islamic… Read more »

Obama to Jews: Peace is essential but prospects are bleak

President Barack Obama, left, talking with Chief of Staff Jack Lew, center, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as they walk on the colonnade of the White House, shortly before the president announced Lew as hs nominee to replace Geithner as treasury secretary, Jan. 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama believes prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace are “bleak,” but he still will urge both sides to avoid unilateral actions that might further damage a process he hopes will be back on track within a year. That was the message Obama delivered Thursday in a meeting… Read more »

At AIPAC confab, sequester looms large

Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, has been a prime figure in negotiations to avoid the sequester, which pro-Israel advocates worry could imperil the security of the Jewish state. (Courtesy AIPAC)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Imminent threats threading through the rhetoric at AIPAC conferences is hardly new, but this year’s alarm raising had a unique wrinkle: In addition to the prospect of a nuclear Iran, the other danger targeted by the pro-Israel lobby was domestic — sequestration. The message hammered home… Read more »

What’s missing from this year’s AIPAC conference?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, shown addressing the AIPAC policy conference in Washington in March 2012, will present a video message to this year's confab. (Robert J. Saferstein)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – This week’s annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington may be as notable for what — and who — is missing as what’s planned. For the first time in at least seven years, neither the U.S. president nor the Israeli prime minister will attend. In addition, for… Read more »

Israeli mall workers drawing attention from U.S. law enforcement

Israeli singer Rami Feinstein singing "Something Amazing," about his mall-working experience. (YouTube)

NEW YORK (JTA) — In 2006, aspiring Israeli singer Rami Feinstein faced a big-time dilemma: Would he sign a 19-year contract with a top talent agent and relinquish 45 percent of his future profits, or take a job selling cosmetics at an American shopping mall? Feinstein took the job at… Read more »

Bill granting FEMA funds to Sandy-damaged shuls sparks uncharacteristic Jewish response

At Mazel Academy in Brooklyn, Torah scrolls were unrolled to dry after being damaged by the floodwaters from superstorm Sandy, Oct. 31, 2012. (Ben Harris/JTA)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — How essential is a house of worship to a neighborhood? That’s the crux of a question now exercising Congress as a bill advances that would provide direct relief to synagogues and churches damaged by superstorm Sandy last October. The bill, which passed the U.S. House of… Read more »

Canadian-born Orthodox Jew Nick Muzin helps boost black GOP Sen. Tim Scott to prominence

Nick Muzin, left, consulting with then-Rep. Tim Scott at a forum in Charleston, S.C., hosted by Scott for Republican presidential candidates, August 2011. (Photo by Kay Fekete, courtesy of Nick Muzin)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – On a Saturday night following Shabbat, Nick Muzin arrayed on his dining room table what would turn out to be the winning strategy to elect the first black Republican to Congress from South Carolina in more than a century. The next night at the same table… Read more »

Will Obama’s planned Israel visit revive Israel-Palestinian peace talks?

President Obama, shown visiting the Western Wall in ­July 2008, when he was a presidential candidate. (Photo: Avi Hayon/Flash 90/JTA)

Is President Obama’s plan to visit Israel a sign that he’s ready to take another shot at Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking? The White House announced Tuesday that Obama would visit Israel in the spring, his first trip there as president. He did visit in 2008, when he was a candidate for… Read more »

Ed Koch, pugnacious New Yorker and passionate Jew till his dying day

Even in his late 80s, political endorsements from Ed Koch, who served as New York City's mayor from 1978 to 1989, were prized. He appeared in this 2012 video supporting President Obama's bid for reelection. (Obama Campaign/YouTube)

NEW YORK (JTA) — One of the proudest moments of Ed Koch’s life came during a trip to Israel in 1990, in the midst of the first Palestinian intifada. Koch had recently left City Hall after 12 years as mayor of New York City and was touring Jerusalem when… Read more »