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SUZANNE BELLING

Legal battle lost to move husband’s remains to Israel

LONDON – A widow’s long campaign to have her husband’s remains exhumed and reburied in Israel has been thwarted by a top judge. Joseph Charazi was buried in a Jewish cemetery in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, more than 20 years ago but his wife Anne claims his dying wish was to be buried in his homeland. However, four of his six children have “vehemently opposed” the exhumation, London’s High Court heard. The Adath Yisroel Burial Society, which administers the cemetery, has repeatedly refused to consent to the remains being dug up. Sam Grodzinski QC, acting for the burial society, said there were concerns that the process would be “unwholesome, undignified and demeaning”. Judge Leigh-Ann Mulcahy denied Mrs Charazi permission to mount a full judicial review of the burial society’s stance. Charazi moved to Israel in 2011 and, due to the sale of a property, is now in a position to pay for the removal of the remains to Israel. Charazi wanted to “fulfil her husband’s wishes” and to know that, when she passes away, “she will be buried next to him”. Judge Mulcahy said: “I have reached the conclusion that permission (to apply for judicial review) should be refused.” She said it was a “decision of a religious body in a matter of a religious nature” and these are “generally not amenable to judicial review”. She added: “In my view this claim is long out of time.” – Jewish Chronicle, London

World’s first blood test to aid diagnosis of Parkinson’s

HAIFA – An Israeli company expects to begin commercialising its unique assay on Parkinson’s disease (PD) in 2017 and is applying for CE clearance in Europe. Doctors diagnose as many as 60 000 new cases of PD every year in the US. Yet diagnosing PD with certainty can take years – long after early signs and symptoms have appeared. The Israeli startup BioShai has a game-changing product on the horizon: PDx, the world’s first simple blood test for the early diagnosis of PD. The test results can be combined with clinical data, providing a more accurate diagnosis to help doctors decide on the best course of treatment at a much earlier stage. More than 10 million people worldwide are living with this chronic and progressive movement disorder caused by the malfunction and death of neurons that produce dopamine, a chemical that co-ordinates the brain’s control of movement and coordination. “Having a diagnosis at an earlier stage can lead to a more precise treatment and a higher quality of life for the patient,” says BioShai CEO Jennifer Yarden, who has a PhD in medical science and formerly was responsible for clinical and commercial development of diagnostic assays and kits at Glycominds. She is also CEO and cofounder of Curewize Health. “Offering a simple and inexpensive test for the diagnosis of Parkinson’s is considered essential for the development of neuroprotective therapy,” she explains, “because by the time a patient has the many movement symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, a majority of the dopamine-producing neurons are lost or become impaired by the disease.” – ISRAEL21c

 Furore over Jewish One Nation event

 MELBOURNE – After a week of confusion and accusations of anti-Semitism, One Nation senators Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts have confirmed they will take questions from the community on December 4 at IDF Training in Caulfield. Gym owner Avi Yemini, who last week founded the Independent Jewish Council of Australia (IJCA), invited the pair to speak and contacted Glen Eira Council last Wednesday to see if the town hall was available. Yemini claims he was told on the phone the booking was confirmed, but a council spokesperson said no form was submitted and that the event with the politicians couldn’t be held in Glen Eira Town Hall on the date in question. Alongside concern that an unknown Jewish group was hosting the politicians, it was Roberts’ response as the story broke last week that also left councillors and Jewish leaders shocked. “Senator Malcolm Roberts has blasted the City of Glen Eira in Melbourne for the deep-seated and appalling anti-Semitic behaviour over its arbitrary and bigoted cancellation of a peaceful gathering of the local Jewish community,” Roberts posted on his Facebook page. “Senator Pauline Hanson and I were to attend the meeting and listen to community concerns, but once council got wind of firstly our presence and then secondly, that it was a Jewish community meeting, their sense of dignity and respect melted,” he claimed. And Yemini backed up the claim. “I do believe the council is discriminating based on the fact that I am Jewish with views that don’t suit their agenda,” he said. Councillor Joel Silver said Roberts has done the Australian Jewish community a great disservice. “There is nothing that infuriates me more, as the grandson of Holocaust survivors, than the levelling of false or unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism,” he said. “Such cries of ‘wolf’ only trivialise the genuine article, and cause the accusation to be taken far less seriously than it must always be.” Glen Eira mayor Mary Delahunty met with Senator Roberts last week Tuesday to explain that the decision was not based on religious or political views. – Australian Jewish News

 Canadian Jewish groups condemn new Green BDS resolution

 CALGARY – Despite Federal Green Leader Elizabeth May’s vocal opposition to the passing of a resolution that supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel at the party’s convention in August, the text of a new policy on Israel and Palestine – which lists May as one of its sponsors – is being criticised by Jewish leaders as “divisive”, “discriminatory” and “anti-Semitic”. The Green Party then passed a resolution in Ottawa in support of the “Palestinian self-determination and the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions”. Earlier this month, the party posted a new policy on its website that will come before a special general meeting scheduled for this week in Calgary. The new “Policy on Israel and Palestine”, states, among others, that the “Palestinian people are among the indigenous people of the geographic region now designated as Israel and the [occupied Palestinian territory]”, and it supports “only non-violent responses to violence and oppression, including economic measures such as government sanctions, consumer boycotts, institutional divestment, economic sanctions and arms embargoes”. It calls on the Canadian government to repeal the House of Commons resolution that last February condemned the BDS movement. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said the new resolution is “anti-Israel and suggests that Palestinians have no role or responsibility in advancing the peace process”. CIJA Chaiman David Cape said he is “appalled that the Green Party’s leadership would propose such a divisive policy that is hostile towards Israelis and riddled with egregious historic distortions”. B’nai B’rith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said: “It’s unfortunate that after rightly voicing her opposition to the BDS movement, Elizabeth May is now bowing to pressure from extremist elements within her party and targeting the Jewish state with this discriminatory and anti-Semitic motion.” – Canadian Jewish News

 Work of art makes ‘Jewish statement’ in UCLA dispute

 LOS ANGELES – The tortured saga of a UCLA graduate student who left the campus due to what he called pressure from pro-Palestinian elements got a happy epilogue of sorts. On November 14, UCLA’s Anderson School of Management unveiled “Warsaw”, a 2011 art piece by financier-turned-artist Robert Weingarten, depicting the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 on a second-floor landing of the university’s Cornell Hall. The business school’s decision to display the piece averted a donor’s threat to pull his art collection of more than 20 pieces that hang in its halls as a result of the student controversy. The events that led to the unveiling of “Warsaw” began when Milan Chatterjee, a UCLA law student and former president of the Graduate Student Association (GSA), decided over the summer to leave the university, citing harassment by the pro-Palestinian community. Chatterjee, who is a Hindu, faced blowback after he made GSA funding for an event contingent on there being no discussion of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. His departure was spurred by a “hostile and unsafe campus climate”, he wrote to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. When JP Morgan executive David Pollock learned of Chatterjee’s decision to leave, he was ready to take back the art collection he and his wife had lent to the business school some five years before. Pollock called Weingarten, an old friend who created the artwork in the collection already on loan to UCLA, to discuss the situation. Weingarten decided to lend UCLA “Warsaw” to hang along with his other works in Pollock’s collection. In “Warsaw,” pictures of the ghetto uprising are overlaid on modern photographs of the Polish capital. – Jewish Journal, Los Angeles

Genetic research claims to trace mysterious origins of Israel’s Druze

SHEFFIELD – A study of Israeli Druze genetics published in Scientific Reports of Nature may help shed light on the secretive religious sect’s history and ancestry. Researchers examined a sample of genes from members of the country’s 130 000 Druze in an attempt to better understand the origins of the group. Druze constitute a small minority, not quite 10 per cent, of Israel’s Arab population. Around 138 000 of the world’s estimated 2,3 million adherents call Israel home; Syria is home to half a million and Lebanon to another 250 000. The religion splintered off from Shia Islam in the late 10th century CE and spread to the Levant by the following century. According to Druze authors writing centuries later, persecution of the faithful between 1021 and 1042 sent Druze fleeing for refuge from Levantine cities to the mountains of Lebanon, Syria and northern Israel that they inhabit today. “The racial origins of the Druze have been the subject of wild speculation over the years,” University of Haifa historian Kais Firro noted in his 1992 “A History of the Druzes”. The new study, supervised by University of Sheffield population geneticist Eran Elhaik, sought to put some of the more dubious theories to rest by using the geographic population structure (GPS) tool, an algorithm that tries to pinpoint a population’s origins based on their genetic code. Elhaik’s GPS method isn’t without controversy. Earlier this year Elhaik’s study which pointed to Ashkenazi Jews originating in what is today Turkey, supporting an equally controversial theory about the origins of the Yiddish language, was dismissed by some scholars. The new study’s findings indicated Druze were most closely related to neighbouring Arabs in Syria, Lebanon and Palestinian areas, and to Armenians. – The Times of Israel

 

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Centenarian Rose Norwich zooms in on a life of achievement

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They say that age is just a number, but when you turn 100 during a pandemic, there’s every reason to celebrate.

Riviera resident Rose Norwich marked her centennial birthday on 2 January, and while COVID-19 prevented any in-person celebration, the occasion was a special one indeed.

“People have been so kind,” Norwich told the SA Jewish Report. “I didn’t realise I was a such a novelty. Turning a hundred kind of creeps up on you.”

Although unable to see her four children, eight grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and other relatives, Norwich celebrated her birthday with friends and family in Zoom gatherings.

“My family all live in different places around the world, and we had three separate Zoom sessions: one for my children and grandchildren, another with my siblings, and the others with friends around the world. It was such fun and really wonderful.

“It was almost better, in a way, to have this. Most of them couldn’t have come here, regardless of COVID-19. If anything, this business has taught us a lesson that we need to stay together as families rather than be separated. At times of crisis, we need one another.”

Born in 1921 in Johannesburg, Norwich has notched up endless accomplishments. The second of five children, she completed a degree in architecture at 22, and went on to devote much of her life to Jewish communal organisations.

“I did my degree towards the end of the war, met my husband, and started a family,” she says. “My parents had both been integrally involved in community organisations, so it wasn’t new to me.

“I started at ORT Jet in the sixties. The organisation was going through a bad patch, and Richard Goldstone, Basil Wunsch, and I worked to resurrect it and see it grow. We changed what it did, made it interdenominational, and set up a system that would help all kinds of people achieve all kinds of different things.”

Norwich was subsequently invited to join the Union of Jewish Women, becoming the organisation’s president and joining the South African Jewish Board of Deputies as a result.

“They asked me if I would do an exhibition of South African Jewry for the Beit Hatfutsot Museum in Israel. It was a major project that I did over two years, collecting plenty of photos for use in the exhibition. They say that 60 000 people saw it in Israel, and I visited it with my late husband, Isadore.”

Another major project to which Norwich devoted herself was a master’s dissertation, which she took up at the age of 66, 44 years after completing her first degree.

“I met somebody overseas who showed me pictures of destroyed shuls,” she says. “I knew we had shuls in South Africa which had fallen apart owing to sheer neglect, so I did my dissertation on 43 of the early synagogues of Johannesburg and the Reef.

“It took me four years, trawling through archives and discovering places that had been forgotten. It was remarkable. There are copies of my dissertation at Hebrew University, Beit Hatfutsot, and I gave one to each of my children. I’m very proud of that accomplishment.”

The last surviving member of her immediate family, Norwich spends much of her time alone these days, but has devoted herself to penning her life story.

“My husband passed away 25 years ago,” she says. “I’ve been lonely, but I can’t sit around and do nothing. I may be a little more tired than I used to, but I can still see and hear. I need to keep busy.

“I’ve learned first-hand that when push comes to shove, you need other people in your life. You can’t do it alone. You have to put your foot in the water to get going, be open to all sorts of things, and go out there to see what’s what.”

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Habonim honours Anstey, a ‘superman without a cape’

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The outgoing manhig (leader) of South African Habonim Dror, Errol Anstey, took his departure from the youth movement after 20 years of service in an online Zoom call with nearly 300 current and former members, friends, and family.

“I agreed to take the job for a year or two back in 2000, and never dreamt it would end up being 20 years of challenging but hugely satisfying work,” Anstey said in an emotional speech to his audience from around the world.

In the late 1990s, the movement had dropped in numbers, finances were in a mess, and the well-known Onrust campsite was in bad shape, former shaliach Ronen Segall recalled. “Errol was the obvious choice for someone with deep knowledge of the movement, its workings, and its campsite. In my eyes, Errol became Habonim’s true hero, a superman without a cape but full of capability.”

In a short space of time, Anstey led a significant turnaround for Habonim along with the team of shlichim and Habonim leadership. His fundraising, finance, and administration skills shone, and over his term as manhig an estimated R20 million has been raised and invested in the Onrust campsite to make it one of the most sought-after and valuable campsites in South Africa.

“This has enabled the movement not only to maintain the site to a high level, but the revenue has helped finance many of the movement’s activities,” Anstey proudly told his audience.

The traditional role of the manhig since the founding of SA Habonim Dror was always to be the “adult in the room” to act as a guide and mentor to the movement’s young leadership. Former mazkira klalit (general secretary) of Habonim from 2005, Micaela Browde, paid tribute to Anstey saying, “You were really a stalwart for us, you fought for us, you had our backs, you made sure we were supported, guided, and you did so with strength, humility, and humour.”

Anstey described some of the challenges during his stint including differences of opinion and sometimes open confrontation with mainstream Jewish community leadership when Habonim was critical of some of Israel’s actions. “It wasn’t easy to be a lone voice for progressive, liberal thinking as South Africa’s community became predominantly conservative,” he said with his usual frankness.

Another mazkir klali, Daniel Sussman from 2019, described Anstey’s catch phrase as “do everything, all the time, never sleep”. This succinctly summed up for him the endless number of projects and activities which Anstey led over the past two decades on behalf of Habonim.

Stanley Bergman, originally from Port Elizabeth and now in New York, the national treasurer for Habonim in 1968, paid tribute to Anstey’s enormous efforts to support several generations of Habonim members. He praised him for his ability to connect with graduates from the movement around the world and develop a donor community to support the Habonim Foundation which he initiated.

Anstey spoke of the erratic provision of Habonim shlichim from Israel over the years, and how he had additionally become a shaliach himself, which meant mentoring the leadership and members of the movement. He emphasised that he had “the privilege of working with the cream of South African Jewish youth” and said “there was nothing more fulfilling than working with inspired youth”. Their activism had motivated him to run successfully for public office in 2011 as a member of the Democratic Alliance.

During the Zoom session, many participants showered praise on Anstey’s term as manhig including Isaac Herzog, the chairperson of the Jewish Agency for Israel, who acknowledged the “outstanding contribution” that he had made to Habonim over so many years.

Former mazkir klali in the early 1980s, Stephen Pincus, expressed his appreciation for Anstey’s earlier roles as camp organiser at one of the largest Onrust camps ever, and later in spearheading the 50th anniversary celebrations of the movement.

“It was clear from those early years that Errol had that obvious aptitude for organisation along with a commitment to the movement,” he said. “Little did we know that we unleashed a formidable force which reverberated in the movement for more than 40 years.”

Anstey told the audience that his two children, Saul and Talia, had followed in his footsteps, having attended 12 Onrust camps and later became his “eyes on the ground” regarding movement dynamics. He also noted that it was probably an unprecedented situation that they had actually left the movement before their father did.

Anstey warmly welcomed the new incoming manhig, Wayne Sussman, in his usual modest style saying how satisfying it was for him to hand over the mantle to “someone who will be better than me and will take Habonim to new heights”.

Sussman responded in the session with his usual passionate style, describing the six previous manhigim who preceded him as “giants on whose shoulders we stand”. He lamented the fact that the Habonim leadership was on a Zoom call and not at the annual Onrust camp, and how challenging it was going to be in 2021 without the lessons learned and experiences from machaneh.

“Our first task will be to assist the 2021 bogrim led by the new mazkir, Aaron Sher, to capture some of the magic which will be lost, but I’m confident we can do it,” said Sussman.

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JNF Blue Box enters the digital age

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When is a Jewish National Fund (JNF) Blue Box not a blue box? Never. Even though the physical box now has a digital donation option, it’s still the age-old Blue Box.

This box has for decades symbolised the JNF and the commitment of Jewish people around the world to rebuild Israel.

And for decades, it has been filled to the brim with pennies, cents, nickels, dimes, lira, and francs – coins of every denomination dropped in, one could almost say, religiously every Friday evening before Shabbat candle lighting.

Now it’s no longer limited to physical coins and a metal box. The new Blue Box with a digital donation option via SnapScan will be launched in time for Channukah to keep the tradition of the Blue Box alive for the next 120 years.

The first real Blue Box was, oddly enough, Theodor Herzl’s hat. At the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1901, he used his hat to solicit donations from delegates as a means of purchasing land to establish a Jewish homeland.

Soon after, a Polish bank clerk proposed that a collection box bearing the words “National Fund” be placed in every Jewish home to raise money for land purchases. Production began in Vienna. The boxes were initially produced in a blue material and thus became known as Blue Boxes.

Over the past 120 years, funds collected via the Blue Box from around the world have assisted the JNF to realise its aim of developing land in Israel: building roads and water reservoirs, establishing parks, and preparing the soil for agriculture and settlement. Beyond fundraising, the Blue Box is also an important educational tool for spreading the Zionist message and renewing the historic bond between the Jewish people and EretzYisrael.

Stories about the Blue Box have become legendary. In the United States around Tu B’Shvat, teams of children brandishing JNF Blue Boxes would travel from Brooklyn to Manhattan on the New York City subway system. They would move from train car to train car with these ubiquitous boxes in hand, soliciting contributions from passengers and stopping only when they sensed or saw the approach of policemen.

In South Africa, members of the JNF would visit Jewish homes every Sunday to collect and then empty Blue Boxes, diligently counting the hundreds or thousands of coins inside them. In addition to being proudly displayed in almost every South African Jewish home, Blue Boxes were also present in schools, shuls, Jewish-owned businesses, medical waiting rooms, even hairdressing salons.

In times past when life wasn’t so frenetic and women could spend afternoons playing rummy and socialising, the money raised and won during the games was often dropped into the Blue Box, adding to the largesse and reputation of that particular hostess.

Today the iconic Blue Box (or pushke) remains the link between the Jewish people and the land, and to many, perhaps even to the majority of the Jewish world, it’s a symbol of Jewish continuity. They can also be quite valuable: a few antique Blue Boxes were auctioned by Sotheby’s recently, realising more than $3 000 (R46 006) each.

However, in the age of credit cards, cryptocurrency, and e-wallets, fundraising via a coin-based Blue Box risks becoming an anachronism.

So, the JNF has relaunched the Blue Box and linked it to the SnapScan mobile-payments app. A QR code will be found on all new Blue Boxes purchased from the JNF. People with old boxes can bring them in to have the QR code imprinted for no extra charge.

It’s modern technology indeed, but inextricably linked to a century-old tradition of keeping Israel alive in every Jewish heart.

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