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(JTA) Dutch compensate owners of Nazi-looted painting

A Dutch museum will compensate the rightful owners of a Nazi-looted painting the government said it could keep because displaying it would be in the public interest.

Museum de Fundatie in Zwolle has agreed to give $240 000 (R3.4 million) to the descendants of Jewish Holocaust victims who under duress sold the 1635 painting Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well by Bernardo Strozzi, the Noordhollands Dagblad reported on Monday, 19 April.

The painting, which was sold by Richard Semmel of Berlin, is one of several artworks that the Dutch government’s restitutions committee has acknowledged as looted art. The committee holds, however, that the museums should be allowed to keep the paintings because the public’s right to have access to culturally significant works outweighs the interests of the rightful owners.

This approach, unique among countries that say they are interested in resolving ownership issues among Nazi-looted art, has exposed the Netherlands to criticism.

It risks “turning the Netherlands from a leader in art restitution to a pariah”, restitution expert Anne Webber and Wesley Fisher, the director of research for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, wrote last year in an op-ed.

The best-known looted item on display in the Netherlands is Painting with Houses by Wassily Kandinsky, whose worth is valued at $20 million (R28.5 million) at least. Amsterdam’s municipal museum, Stedelijk, acknowledges it was looted, but hasn’t offered to compensate the rightful owners, who have sued the museum and lost.

Warsaw unveils monument to ghetto archive

A group of Jewish organisations has unveiled a monument marking the area where a group of Jewish writers and activists buried an archive of material documenting their Holocaust experiences.

The commemoration of the Ringelblum Archive was timed to coincide with the 78th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on Monday, 19 April.

A group of historians, journalists, writers, and social activists led by Emanuel Ringelblum and known as Oneg Shabbat collected the material – from reports and diaries to posters, drawings, and even candy wrappers – documenting the horrid conditions in the ghetto and hid the cache underground in metal boxes and milk cans. Most of the documents have been found.

The monument at 28 Nowolipki Street, designed by Łukasz Mieszkowski and Marcin Urbanek, centres on a transparent cube containing a copy of an archival document.

NYPD creates civilian panel on hate crimes

The New York Police Department (NYPD) is creating a civilian panel to help address a rise in hate crimes in New York City.

Its five volunteer members will include Devorah Halberstam, a Hasidic woman whose son, Ari, was murdered by a terrorist in the city in 1994.

Spurred by a spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans, the diverse panel will help advise if incidents involving any group should be deemed a hate crime.

The NYPD already has a Hate Crimes Task Force and has set up an undercover Anti-Asian Hate Crimes Task Force in response to attacks on members of the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders community.

The task force said 135 hate crimes had been reported in the city in 2021, compared to 93 last year. Through to the end of March, there were 20 antisemitic acts and 31 anti-Asian acts.

Macron calls for reform after French killer avoids trial

After a man who killed his Jewish neighbour successfully pled that he was unfit to stand trial because of what a court called a marijuana-induced psychotic episode, French President Emmanuel Macron is calling for legal reform.

“Deciding to take narcotics and then ‘going mad’ shouldn’t, in my view, remove your criminal responsibility,” Macron told the Le Figaro newspaper in an interview published on Sunday, 18 April. “I would like the justice minister to present a change in the law as soon as possible.”

A high court recently ruled that the killer, Kobili Traore, shouldn’t stand trial for beating Sarah Halimi to death and throwing her out the window of her third-story apartment in 2017.

The CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities called it a “miscarriage of justice”. The founder of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, a communal watchdog known as BNVCA, said he “no longer had full confidence that antisemitic hate crimes in France are handled properly”.

Traore, who is Muslim, called Halimi “demon”, as he hit her for more than 30 minutes and shouted about Allah, witnesses said. After defenestrating her, he shouted, “A lady fell out the window”, and tried to escape but was detained nearby. He was placed in a psychiatric facility and may be released.

Dutch soccer fans chant ‘Hamas, Jews to the gas’

Fans of Dutch soccer team Vitesse chanted, “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas” at a fan rally before a scheduled match against Ajax, an Amsterdam-based team known for its history of Jewish supporters.

Police began examining footage from the action on Wednesday, 21 April, which occurred in Arnhem, where Vitesse is based. The two clubs played on Sunday, and Ajax won 2-1.

Supporters and rivals of Ajax often affectionately refer to the club and its fans as “Jews” out of recognition of the centuries-long strong presence of Jews in Amsterdam. It’s a pattern across Europe used for fans of teams in England, Italy, and Germany.

But in the Netherlands, the “Hamas, Jews to the gas” chant has become more commonplace in recent years.

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Lifelong friendship helps to change the world

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A friendship that started more than 50 years ago in South Africa has sown the seeds for remarkable philanthropic success in two different continents.

Best friends Glynne Wolman and Dorit Sallis have achieved success in their respective charitable efforts and changed the lives of their beneficiaries.

Wolman is the founder of the The Angel Network, a charitable crowdfunding initiative run by a dedicated group of Jewish women that reaches more than 200 000 people across social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

Sallis’s Zurich-based nongovernmental organisation, the Twin Star Project, has also had great success since it launched in 2018, giving financial and legal assistance to economic migrants who have fled West Africa and the Middle East for Europe.

Wolman and Sallis first became friends in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) in the 1960s when they were only three years old. They were best friends throughout primary school at Theodor Herzl, but Sallis and her family emigrated to the United States in 1978 when she was 13.

The two friends lost touch with one another, with Sallis residing in various places, including New York, Russia, London, and her current home, Zurich. Meanwhile, Wolman also lived in various places, including London, Israel, Cape Town, and her current home, Johannesburg.

In spite of this long separation, the two were never too far from one another’s thoughts, and in 2016, they reconnected via Sallis’s aunt (who still lives in South Africa). They have subsequently been in regular contact through WhatsApp, but neither initially knew what the other was doing in terms of their philanthropic initiatives. However, since finding out about each other’s organisations, they have collaborated to assist one another.

Wolman is providing invaluable support and advice to Sallis and the Twin Star Project, where she is on the board along with Sallis and seven other people, including two migrants.

Sallis is using the same web designer and social media manager from The Angel Network to assist the Twin Star Project, while her husband has provided critical funding for The Angel Network.

Wolman founded The Angel Network in November 2015 after being asked on Facebook to assist with funding for matric dance dresses and a Santa Shoe Box. After receiving an overwhelming response, Wolman realised that social networking had the potential to realise a considerable change for good for those less fortunate. The Angel Network now has branches in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, and even Sweden and Sydney, Australia.

Through social media, this organisation helps to co-ordinate assistance for a variety of people in need in the local Jewish community and general South African society. Philanthropists and organisations have opened their wallets and hearts, with millions of rand donated to the network.

Rather than merely provide charity on a short-term basis, Wolman seeks to ensure that recipients are given the tools to become self-sufficient and forge sustainable success in their lives and careers – a philosophy that she describes as giving a “hands up”.

However, during 2020, the nature of this assistance changed drastically, as the focus shifted to providing immediate and urgent financial and organisational assistance rather than long-term self-sufficiency. This period has also brought out the best in people, Wolman notes.

“We have met the most phenomenal human beings during COVID-19 who are doing such incredible work on the ground and in their communities. These people have nothing, but still drive around and do the kindest, most benevolent work with no assistance – they are such good people.”

Similar to The Angel Network, the Twin Star Project’s overarching goal is to give a “hands up” to migrants, and help pave the way for them to have a financially self-reliant and productive life.

These migrants face an uphill battle from the moment that they begin their journey. Driven by dire poverty, they travel north through the Sahara Desert to Libya and cross the Mediterranean in dinghies. Tragically, Sallis notes, only about 20% of them successfully make this perilous journey. Many of the migrants who survive then land in Italy, where they struggle to find work after leaving a reception camp, and end up homeless and begging on the streets.

Relying on financial donations, the organisation performs a bridging function, meeting the immediate survival needs of migrants in the precarious period after they leave the reception camp. Migrants are placed in a halfway house in Italy, and are provided with a raft of financial and legal support, including housing and financial aid for living and medical expenses – be it in Europe or back in their countries of origin.

The Twin Star Project then assists the migrants to find future employment either through training or by funding small businesses, either in Italy or back in their home countries.

There have already been numerous success stories, with one migrant having been given the financial aid to establish a grocery store in Nigeria, while her husband is being given advice and material support to set up a business.

Sallis notes that a similar philosophy to The Angel Network underpins the Twin Star Project’s work.

“Ultimately, I want the people that the Twin Star Project helps to move towards their goal as efficiently and quickly as possible. But I also want to ensure that I take good care of them until they find a long-lasting solution for their careers and lives.”

Contrary to the perception that migrants are opportunists looking to take advantage, they are earnest and salt-of-the-earth people, Sallis says.

“I have found migrants to be decent, honest, and exemplary people. Even though they have suffered unimaginably hard times, their kindness and goodness shines through. I want to see them fulfil their potential.”

Sallis has had an illustrious professional career. She is currently managing director of the Joint Chamber of Commerce, which serves as a business bridge between Switzerland, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the South caucuses, promoting bilateral relations between 13 countries in this region.

In spite of this success, she was motivated to create a larger impact on society. She started the project after seeing images on television of migrants travelling from West Africa to Europe on precarious dinghies.

“I saw images of people floating in dinghies and it broke my heart. As a Jewish person, I know all about expulsion and feeling left out, and I couldn’t just let this go by. It touched a deep nerve. I realise that I got lucky in life, and I want to share my good fortune with those less fortunate.

“The Twin Star Project is the culmination of my professional career, and is beyond meaningful. I believe I will continue to do this forever.”

Sallis says the example set during the Holocaust by the Righteous Among the Nations is an example that she aims to emulate.

“Non-Jews have helped Jews in need in the past, and we have to reciprocate in the present. If they could help us then, then we can help those who are in need right now.”

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Mahmoud Abbas ready to ‘remove obstacles’ to relations with US

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(JTA) Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he was ready to “remove obstacles” to renewing ties with the United States, apparently signalling a willingness to stop the payments to the families of Palestinians who have killed Israelis and have proven to be a stumbling block.

Speaking on Sunday, 18 April, to J Street’s annual conference, Abbas also urged the participants of the liberal Middle East policy group’s forum to lobby congress “to repeal all laws that block the road toward enhancing Palestinian-US relations”. The current law designates the Palestine Liberation Organisation a terrorist group, and bans direct aid to the Palestinians as long as payments are made to the families of Palestinians jailed in Israel for any terrorism-related offense.

“On our part, we will remove all obstacles to achieve this goal,” Abbas said. “The continuity of these laws is frustrating and unconstructive.”

Abbas didn’t outline which “obstacles” he planned to remove, but his pledge, however vague, was a sign of Palestinian eagerness to re-engage with the US after years of virtually no relations under former President Donald Trump. Trump mostly ceased ties with and assistance to the Palestinians, in part because of the payments, but also because the Palestinians rejected his peace proposal, which recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and allowed Israel to eventually annex parts of the West Bank.

At a news conference on Monday, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami encouraged Abbas to reform the payment programme and make other changes, including ending anti-Israel incitement in official Palestinian media and textbooks, and holding long-delayed elections.

“I think the principle that the Palestinian Authority understands is that even many of those who have goodwill towards the cause of the Palestinian people are deeply disturbed by the shape of the current programme, and we’d like to see reform,” Ben-Ami said.

The Palestinians have long argued that Israel’s terrorism laws are too broad and are applied promiscuously. But they have privately acknowledged that payments to those who have killed civilians – as opposed to those convicted of lesser crimes, including membership of banned organisations – complicates their case.

President Joe Biden campaigned on restoring assistance and reopening diplomatic ties with the Palestinians. He has already restored nearly $300 million (R4.3 billion) in aid through United Nations relief agency UNRWA and other platforms.

In asking J Street to seek the rollback of US laws, Abbas named the 1987 law designating the PLO, an adjunct of the Palestinian Authority, as a terrorist group. The law has complicated US-Palestinian relations for years – setting up a Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington DC, for example, required a special waiver. Abbas suggested that the basis for the law was moot, noting that the PLO had recognised Israel and entered into agreements with it.

The J Street conference, held virtually this year, was a celebration of the group’s renewed influence now that Democrats hold the White House and lead both chambers of congress. There were greetings from an array of Democrats, including moderates like Representatives Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, and party leaders Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the American ambassador to the UN, spoke on Monday evening.

Also speaking were Israeli leaders who oppose the right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including Ehud Olmert, who succeeded Netanyahu following Netanyahu’s original tenure in the 1990s.

J Street, once an organisation that sought bipartisan reach and managed to attract a handful of Republicans to its conferences, now makes no pretence of being anything other than in the Democratic camp. Speaker after speaker at the conference extolled the ouster of Trump and Democratic wins in congress. The Jewish Democratic Council of America, a partisan group, hosted a session on political strategy.

One of the many topics tackled at the conference was an exploration of a Palestinian-Israeli confederation as a means of preserving the two-state solution. Also on the agenda was advocacy for restrictions on how Israel spends US assistance. Last week, J Street endorsed a bill that would ban Israel from using US funds on jailing Palestinian minors, destroying Palestinian buildings, and annexing Palestinian land. For a group that calls itself pro-Israel, it was a notable break from the pro-Israel orthodoxy that American financial assistance to Israel is sacrosanct.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, who spoke on Monday afternoon, said “it would be irresponsible not to consider all of the tools we have at our disposal” to influence Israel, including military assistance. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who spoke that night, delivered a similar message. During their unsuccessful presidential bids last year, both Sanders and Warren said aid to Israel should no longer be untouchable.

Unusually, Warren also weighed in on coalition negotiations in Israel, advising parties not to endorse Netanyahu for another term. Warren likened the situation facing the party leaders to Americans who in November united to remove Trump from office. Israel’s elected leaders should do the same, she said, and give the Israeli people a new prime minister.

“Will they continue to fight among themselves and, in the process, prop up a corrupt leader who puts his own interests ahead of those of his country?” she asked, referring to Netanyahu’s current trial on corruption charges. “Or will they join together to begin the difficult task of rooting out corruption and reinstating the rule of law?”

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Dying art of caring: lessons from 34 years in a Hospice

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“Some day, we will all die, Snoopy,” is the declaration of Charlie Brown in the Peanuts cartoon by Charles Schulz. “True, but on all the other days, we will not,” is Snoopy’s famous, gentle retort. It’s this cartoon that palliative nurse Janice Malkinson carries with her as a reminder of the deeper philosophy behind her work, which spanned 34 years at St Francis Hospice in Port Elizabeth until her recent retirement.

Looking back on a career that started with training at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town at the age of 17, Malkinson says she hopes to have made “whatever path the patient was on that little bit lighter or easier”.

It’s a humble reflection for a medical professional who has received international recognition for her humanitarian work by being awarded a Paul Harris Fellow through the Rotary Foundation. She also served as a past chair of the Port Elizabeth Union of Jewish Women and on the committee of the city’s Jewish Benevolent Fund.

Born in Pretoria shortly after World War II, Malkinson grew up in the small Western Cape towns of Mossel Bay and Worcester. As a child, she says nursing “was the only thing I ever thought of doing”.

In those days, student nurses immediately began working as part of their studies. She recalls feeling “overwhelmed” the first time she entered Groote Schuur Hospital.

“I couldn’t even find the ward where I needed to go. It was the surgical ward, C Ward, on the third floor, and I remember I was late because I got a bit lost. I walked in, and the sister asked me who I was. When I replied, she said, ‘G-d, een bliksem se Jood [one damn Jew] in the whole lot of student nurses, and I had to get her!’

“At the end of my three months with her, she said to me, ‘Ek wil net een ding sê: as ek hoer al ooit daar is nog ’n Jood, ek sal sê, Ek wil haar hê!’ (I want to say just one thing: if I ever hear there is another Jew, I will say, I want her!).”

When Malkinson graduated, she was still so young that she couldn’t get her epaulettes until she turned 21. By then, she was training to be a midwife in London, first at the Chelsea Hospital for Women in South Kensington and later in the countryside in Ealing, replete with her very own “Call the Midwife” bicycle.

She recalled a time that it was pouring with rain, and she was pushing her bicycle because it had a puncture. “A big truck driver stopped, and I thought, ‘Oh boy! He wants to put my bike on the back and offer me a lift!’ Instead, he stuck his head out the window, and asked if I could give him directions – everyone knew the nurses knew the area. So I gave him directions, and he left me standing in the pouring rain, still pushing my bike!

“It was great fun!” she says with a laugh. “It was about bringing life into the world.”

In the interim, she returned to South Africa and settled in Port Elizabeth, where she got married and had three children. She also studied to be a paramedic and volunteered in the field, later teaching the course to first-year-university pharmacy students.

In 1978, a friend told her about meetings that were being held at a local hospital on palliative care. Malkinson went along to a meeting, and soon started working as a volunteer. When St Francis Hospice was later formally established, she first volunteered and then later became a full-time staff member.

Her first patient was a young mother who had a brain tumour. “Her children were the age of my youngest child.”

The night before Malkinson was to visit, she remembers getting so nervous that she lost her voice. She had to be coaxed by Port Elizabeth’s Hospice founder, Lesley Lawson, to go, and it was with this gentle nudge that she began her true calling.

From that first visit onwards, she took steps to place herself in the right frame of mind to care for the terminally ill.

“Generally, I walk quickly and work quickly. I remember on that first visit, parking my car, and jumping out – and then stopping, thinking, this patient is in bed, she can hardly move. I need to slow down.”

It’s a practice she adopted over the next decades of work.

“Before each patient, I would take a moment to be aware of where I was and the patient’s circumstances.”

Malkinson worked both in the in-patient unit of Hospice when it was in operation and travelled door-to-door across the length and breadth of Port Elizabeth communities attending to patients at their bedsides.

“My job became the opposite of paramedic work. I couldn’t save or cure them. It was about making them have a life, day-by-day, as they were, and where they were. It was to make each day for them as kind and as good as it could be, to help alleviate symptoms and to listen.

“Especially in the early years, the families of patients couldn’t bear to hear the reality of their experience. People kept telling them, ‘It’s going to be okay; you’ll see, you’ll be better’. It was so hard for the patients. They needed them to acknowledge the reality, to have them say, ‘I hear what you say.’”

Malkinson has seen society grow tremendously in its ability to cope with these difficulties. However, she laughs wryly that mentioning she’s a Hospice nurse is still a definite conversation killer at dinner parties!

Yet, the truth is that the work isn’t just the doom and gloom people imagine. “There is such warmth, because in these circumstances, life is so real and kind. There are still happy times around the table as families gather. You see families grow together and come nearer. You see people take in other people who haven’t got a place to stay. I remember there was one woman who heard about a school friend she had last seen when she was 15. Her friend was now ill and not being cared for properly. She went to fetch her friend, and brought her to her home. You hear of incredible women who take back the man they divorced and care for them in their days of need.”

Overall, says Malkinson, “the work has given me much more than I’ve given”.

Nevertheless, according to her colleagues, Malkinson’s legacy is profound.

Lawson says Malkinson’s gifts lie in both her head – in her extraordinary expertise and knowledge – as well as her heart. “She is just fully present to her patients.”

Trevor Wiblin, the director of Hospice who retired alongside Malkinson after nearly two decades of service, says he has received countless letters from the families of patients in gratitude for the work she did.

He jokes that she had to often be “reigned in”, so unconditional was her sense of service and dedication.

Hospice’s Dr Niel Malan said her work could be described only in superlatives, recalling times when she went into dangerous areas and even after experiencing problems with this, still “went back because they needed her”.

He said she was, in fact, the first Jewish person with whom he had ever had close contact. “My goodness, what an example of humanity, of kindness, of sincerity!” Malan says. “She has taught me so much.”

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