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by SA JEWISH REPORT STAFF | Mar 02, 2016

Auschwitz medic’s trial suspended; he’s ‘unfit’


LONDON - The trial of a 95-year-old former Auschwitz medic has been suspended after he was deemed unfit to go to court.

Hubert Zafke, a former SS medic who was stationed in Auschwitz in 1944, has been charged with being an accomplice to the murder of at least 3 681 people.

However, a doctor who examined Zafke last Sunday, found him to have “suicidal thoughts and was suffering from stress reaction and hypertension”, prompting the judge to rule on Monday that he was “not in a state” to be transported to court or stand trial.

Prosecutors say that Zafke would have seen prisoners being sent to their deaths from where he was stationed - a path that led to the gas chambers. The charges against him focus on a month in 1944 - between August and September - when 14 trains arrived at Auschwitz. On one of these trains was Anne Frank who, along with her sister Margot, was later transported to Bergen-Belsen where they died in April 1945.

Zafke’s suitability for trial has been questioned since charges were first brought against him. An appeals court ruled against an original finding that he could not stand trial due to dementia. When he was first identified as a suspect last year, his son said: “My father is an elderly man. He has lived his life, so leave him in peace.” - Jewish Chronicle, London


Non-Jew becomes ambassador against bigotry


PITTSBURGH - Shortly before Hurricane Ivan struck Western Pennsylvania in September 2004, Bill Stevens had poured more than $30 000 into renovating his family’s home in Carnegie: new windows, a new kitchen, a new water heater - the works.

Stevens, the director of maintenance at Beth El Congregation of South Hills, lost everything when his house was flooded with six metres of water. He had no flood insurance, and his homeowner’s policy did not cover any of the damage. But thanks to donations from Beth El’s congregants, Stevens was able to rebuild and replace almost everything that he lost.

“My family knows how blessed we are,” said Stevens, who has worked at Beth El for 20 years. “I don’t know what we would have done if I didn’t have my Beth El family.”

Prior to moving to Pittsburgh and taking a job at Beth El, he really had no experience interacting with Jewish people. Now, he is overwhelmed with respect and love for those with whom he has worked and served for two decades.

Despite some negative stereotypes he had heard about Jews before coming to Beth El, Stevens was always open to forming his own opinions.

“I’ve learned how kind, and respectful and nice Jewish people are,” he said. “I think they have big hearts.” – Jewish Chronicle, Pittsburgh



Rivlin cancels Australian trip


SYDNEY - Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has cancelled his scheduled visit to Australia next month, and will instead travel to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In what would have been the first visit Down Under by an Israeli head of state since Moshe Katsav in March 2005, Rivlin was due to spend five days in Australia in mid-March, and visit Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney.

During the trip he would have met with Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other major political figures. In Sydney he was due to attend a Shabbat service and a communal event on Sunday, March 20.

“Because of regional developments related to the events in the Middle East, and the need for a meeting between the presidents of Israel and Russia in Moscow, the president is forced to postpone his trip to Australia, which was scheduled [for the same time],” the President’s Residence said.

“The decision was made in consultation with the relevant bodies in the foreign service and with the prime minister.”

The President will speak with Cosgrove and Turnbull and express his intention to set an alternative date for his visit “as soon as possible”. - Australian Jewish News


Anne Frank’s letters come alive


SYDNEY - Australians will be able to take part in a world first at the Sydney Jewish Museum (SJM) this week at a cocktail party launching the museum’s exhibition, Anne Frank: A History for Today.

Attendees will be able to view recently discovered correspondence from the 1950s to 1970s between young Australians and Anne’s father Otto, following the publication of his daughter’s diary.

The letters, which form part of the exhibition, were located by the SJM team last year and reflect how those teenage Australian girls were inspired by the young Bergen-Belsen victim’s words.

Consul-general of the Netherlands Willem Cosijn will officially open the exhibition, which has been on show at the SJM since last week and will run until September this year.

Among those in attendance will be some of the women whose letters feature in the exhibition. – Australian Jewish News


Training the human brain


BEERSHEBA - Brains can be trained to improve their ability to ignore irrelevant information, resulting in reduced neurological reactions to emotional events, according to an Israeli neuropsychologist whose collaborative PhD research is the first study to demonstrate that this effect is possible to achieve through non-emotional training.

Noga Cohen’s study also showed that the same simple computer-training task can change the brain’s wiring, strengthening neural connections between brain regions involved in inhibiting emotional reactions.

In the study, the brains of 26 healthy volunteers were monitored before and after multiple computerised training sessions using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The training involved a non-emotional “executive control task” of identifying whether a target arrow points to the right or to the left, while ignoring the direction of arrows on either side of it. A resting-state fMRI scan assessed connections between brain regions during no specific task and later during an emotional reactivity task in which participants were asked to ignore negative pictures.

“As expected, participants who completed the more intense version of the training (but not the other participants) showed reduced activation in their amygdala - a brain region involved in negative emotions, including sadness and anxiety. In addition, the intense training resulted in increased connectivity between participants’ amygdala and a region in the frontal cortex shown to be involved in emotion regulation,” reported Cohen.

The researchers hope to examine the impact of this non-emotional training on depressed or anxious individuals. They say it may also be helpful for people at high risk of increased blood pressure in reaction to emotional information.

“Such future directions carry important potential clinical implications for a large percentage of the population,” said Cohen, who conducted the study at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Cognitive Neuropsychology Lab under the supervision of Prof Avishai Henik.

“This cognitive training can be easily employed with different populations, such as children, elderly adults, and individuals with neurological or psychiatric disorders.” – Israel 21c


Retired lawyer charging El Al with sexism


JERUSALEM - Renee Rabinowitz is a sharp-witted retired lawyer with a PhD in educational psychology, who escaped the Nazis in Europe as a child. Now she is about to become a test case in the battle over religion and gender in Israel’s public spaces - and the skies above - as the plaintiff in a lawsuit accusing El Al, the national airline, of discrimination.

Rabinowitz was comfortably settled into her aisle seat in the business-class section on El Al Flight 028 from Newark to Tel Aviv in December when, as she put it, “this rather distinguished-looking man in Chassidic or Haredi garb, I’d guess around 50 or so, shows up.”

The man was assigned the window seat in her row. But, like many ultra-Orthodox male passengers, he did not want to sit next to a woman, seeing even inadvertent contact with the opposite sex as verboten under the strictest interpretation of Jewish law. Soon, Rabinowitz said, a flight attendant offered her a “better” seat, up front, closer to first class.

Reluctantly, Rabinowitz, an impeccably groomed 81-year-old grandmother who walks with a cane because of bad knees, agreed.

She told The New York Times: “For me this is not personal. It is intellectual, ideological and legal. I think to myself, here I am, an older woman, educated, I’ve been around the world, and some guy can decide that I shouldn’t sit next to him. Why?”

Now, a liberal advocacy group that had spent two years searching for a test case on switching seats plans to sue the blue-and-white flag carrier on Rabinowitz’s behalf in a Tel Aviv court.

“We needed a case of a flight attendant being actively involved,” explained the group’s director, Anat Hoffman, “to show that El Al has internalised the commandment, ‘I cannot sit next to a woman’.” - The New York Times

An El Al spokesman said in a statement that “any discrimination between passengers is strictly prohibited.

“El Al flight attendants are on the frontline of providing service for the company’s varied array of passengers,” the statement said. “In the cabin, the attendants receive different and varied requests and they try to assist as much as possible, the goal being to have the plane take off on time and for all the passengers to arrive at their destination as scheduled.” - The New York Times


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