Day: March 9, 2017

Jewish and Arab Israelis team up to help refugees in Greece

Jewish and Arab twenty-somethings from Israel will establish a new aid centre for Syrian refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos next week, and run it together for at least four months.

Ten graduates of the Jewish Hashomer Hatzair youth movement and the Arab Ajyal organisation will be running educational classes for youngsters, as well as offering psycho-social support for all ages and flying in dentists from Israel and diaspora Jewish communities to care for refugees’ teeth.

They are volunteering through the Tel Aviv-based humanitarian assistance organisation Natan, which says that aid teams with Arabic speakers are especially effective. “It makes all the difference, and allows you not only to communicate but also to build the confidence of refugees,” said Natan’s chairman Daniel Kahn.

Israeli organisations carry out a range of activities to help refugees around the world, including putting on buses to bring the wounded to Israeli hospitals, fundraising, distributing clothes and even setting up prayer gatherings. Dental provision has not been a focus until now, but Mr Kahn said there was a need for this.

“Nobody really takes care of dental health but it’s become quite a problem for refugees who are coming from war-torn areas where they haven’t been seeing dentists and then spending months on travelling without treatment,” he said. The international Jewish dental fraternity Alpha Omega is supporting this side of the Greece operation, and will be sending members to Lesbos for short stints.

Other backers for the new aid centre include Mexico’s Jewish community, and IsraAid is partnering with the Swiss aid organisation Schwizerchrüz. “We want to improve the daily lives of refugees and restore hope,” Mr Kahn said.


Amazon Decides That the Jewish “Holocaust” Cannot Stand Up to Critical Scrutiny

And so, under pressure, censors and removes historical works of which Jews disapprove; how large will their “banned list” get? What are the Jews hiding? Truth does not fear investigation.

Editorial Note by Kevin Alfred Strom: Giant, oligopolic sites such as Amazon are de facto public utilities and should be treated as such: They should not be permitted to censor public debate on ideas of significance. We should immediately put public pressure on Amazon to reverse this decision.

A FEW DAYS AGO, a lunatic Israel-first group calling itself “United With Israel” urged its mostly Christian dupes to participate in the Jewish pressure campaign to intimidate Amazon to stop sales of books that “deny the Holocaust” — that is, books which historically examine Jewish WW2 atrocity claims and find them wanting. Their boilerplate is copied almost word-for-word from that issued by many Jewish organizations in the past week or two in a tightly-orchestrated campaign.

The online retailer Amazon caved in to the pressure and has stopped selling three “Holocaust denial” books after Jewish groups insisted that they stop selling any books of which Jews disapproved on the topic.

Jews have demanded such censorship for years, but the recent Jewish campaign to convince the world that “anti-Semitism” is an exploding, out-of-control “crisis” prompted Robert Rozett, a senior official at Jewish “Holocaust remembrance” group Yad Vashem, to orchestrate the latest pressure campaign on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — in which hundreds of Jewish and Christian groups called for “immediate action” to censor historical works that dispute Jewish claims.

On Wednesday morning, the three titles that Mr Rozett had mentioned in his campaign were suddenly unavailable for purchase. Two were not showing up in searches, and one was listed but with a note saying that it was “under review” and could not be bought. This was the case for both US and UK stores.

Mr Rozett said the company had taken a “positive first step” which showed that they were listening to him and other Jewish groups that echoed his demand, such as the World Jewish Congress.

The titles in question were: Holocaust: The Greatest Lie Ever Told, by Eleanor Wittakers; The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry, by American professor Arthur R. Butz and Did Six Million Really Die? by Richard Harwood.

Amazon did not answer a request to comment for this article, and did not inform Mr Rozett that the books were being taken down.

Mr Rozett said the real test will be whether it takes related steps to stop feeding antisemitism.

“It’s a complex problem because Amazon is selling books, carrying reader reviews which defend them, and then Amazon recommends related titles to people,” he said.

Mr Rozett wants to know that Amazon will ensure that no Holocaust denial titles are sold, that no review sections on its site are used to propagate denial, and that people who bought denial books in the past are not being recommended books “that are likely to strengthen anti-Semitic beliefs based on their purchase history.”

Jewish Board of Deputies Vice President Marie van der Zyl indicated that this censorship is just the first step, saying, “Should any member of the public find further offending works, please get in contact with us and we will report them using the appropriate channels.”

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Source: National Vanguard correspondents

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Cancer Pill Gleevec Keeps Patients Alive and Well for a Decade


Everyone hopes and wishes for that last-minute cancer breakthrough that will save doomed patients. It almost never actually happens. With Gleevec, it did.

The once-a-day pill turned chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML, from a certain death sentence into a manageable disease. Now data shows it’s helped 83 percent of patients live 10 years or longer, even with side-effects that include a characteristic rash, nausea and fatigue.

Gleevec the cancer drug. Carlos Chavez / LA Times via Getty Images

And some may be able to stop taking the pills altogether, even though they are not cured, the original team of researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine Thursday.

“It’s the first targeted personalized medicine that had ever been used. It was also the most successful,” said Dr. Richard Silver, a hematologist and oncologist at New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center who helped first test the drug in patients.

Related: Cancer Raises Bankruptcy Risks

“This has been the thrill of my life,” Silver told NBC News.

Before Gleevec hit the market, CML patients had three options: treatment with toxic chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant, or just dying. Even with treatment, patients rarely lived longer than three years. “It was really a death warrant,” Silver said.

Gleevec worked so well and so quickly that the trial testing the drug against the older chemo regimen was stopped so everyone could get the pill. Food and Drug Administration approval was swift and now the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society estimates 36,000 to 100,000 Americans are CML survivors.

Bharat Shah of Atlanta is one of them.

Shah had brought his wife Milan and his daughter-in-law Dr. Reshma Shah, a family practice physician, to the meeting where his oncologist gave him the diagnosis in 2000. “I looked at Reshma, and as soon as her head went down and she started crying I knew that the news was not good,” Shah recounted.

“I had like six months to three years to live.”

Related: Surviving Cancer in a Broken Market

Shah felt fine, but his blood told a different story. His white blood cells, the immune system cells, were proliferating wildly. Just 60, he faced harsh chemo and all its side-effects before near-certain death.

He and his family hit the Internet. Several relatives are physicians and they heard Silver’s lab was taking part in a clinical trial of Gleevec. Through a coincidence, one physician relative met a former staffer of Silver’s and Shah enrolled in the trial.

Bharat and Milan Shah
Bharat and Milan Shah pose for a recent photo. Bharat Shah was one of the patients to first try Gleevec to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML. He’s still alive 17 years later, having been given 6 months to 3 years to live. Now researchers report more than 83 percent of patients who take the once-a-day pill are still alive. Courtesy Shah Family

“Within two months I was back to normal,” Shah said. He became a regular commuter between Atlanta and New York. He takes Gleevec every day.

“After 17 years of treatment, the only side-effect that I feel is that my eyes are a little puffy,” Shah told NBC News.

He plays golf every week and does charity work. And Silver has him talk to his medical school class every year.

“He might have been dead. It’s been unbelievable,” said Silver.

“To have lived through the opportunity where we can go to a patient and say, ‘We have got this new drug and it looks great’ and it is great,” Silver added. “You can imagine what a thrill it is to see these people and see them live their lives productively, with their jobs and their families and children and grandchildren.”

The researchers, led by Dr. Brian Druker of Oregon Health & Science University, published their final report Thursday on the original Gleevec trial, which had 1,100 patients.

The drug was the first to be designed to match the particular genetic mutation that causes CML. Up to then, most chemotherapy went after rapidly dividing cells — a hallmark of cancer, but an approach that also damages hair follicles, the inside of the mouth, the lining of the intestines and other healthy tissue.

Gleevec is targeted to a mutation specific to CML. Now targeted therapies are common and can have remarkable results in a small group of patients with specific genetic mutations in their tumors. With CML, the same genetic changes affected almost every patient.

“It’s a 10-year survival of 83 percent, which is extraordinary,” Silver said. “It has led to what we call biologic cures.” Patients still have leukemia, but it’s not affecting their blood cell counts.

In Europe, doctors are beginning to recommend that patients who are doing well on the drug for a year or longer try stopping. Druker and colleagues believe that about 10 percent of all Gleevec patients will be able to safely stop taking the drug, and 40 percent or more of those who show a quick response to the drug.

Shah tried stopping, but his blood count soon shot up and he and Silver decided he should resume the pills.

It’s not all sweetness and light. Even though Gleevec has been on the market for more than 15 years, it still costs more than $140,000 a year, according to Dr. Hagop Kantarjian of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the original Gleevec trial leaders.

Related: New Patient Group Takes on Drug Prices

Shah, now on Medicare, pays for his own travel to and from New York to see Silver and follow up on his care. “Without insurance, it would have cost me like $20,000 a month,” he said. Even so, he spends $8,000 to $10,000 out of pocket for the drug. “Medicare is paying a lot of money on my behalf,” Shah said.

Gleevec, known generically as imatinib, now has generic rivals. The price is not down in the U.S. yet but the pills made by one Indian generic company cost $400 a year and a Canadian version costs $8,800, Kantarjian wrote in a review for the American Society for Clinical Oncology.

“Imatinib was priced at $26,000 a year in 2001. The price of imatinib has increased by 10 percent to 20 percent annually,” he noted.

Oncologists have been pressuring Gleevec’s maker, Novartis, and generic makers to bring the price down.

“The cost to manufacture a one-year supply of 400-mg imatinib tablets is $159,” Kantarjian wrote. “Two years from now, the price of generic imatinib in the United States (or purchased from abroad) will be significantly lower, hopefully less than $1,000/year.”

And there are two rival drugs in the same class as Gleevec. Tasigna,known generically as nilotinib, and Sprycel or dasatinib, work in patients who have not been helped by Gleevec or whose cancer has mutated to resist its effects.

They can also cost as much as $150,000 a year.

“Each of the newer agents has a distinct safety and efficacy profile,” Druker’s team wrote.

In 2014, every new cancer drug approved by the FDA cost more than $120,000 a year to use.

Drug companies point out that they don’t always charge that price to insurance companies and say they also offer discounts and special coupons for patients who don’t have insurance.

Novartis, which makes Gleevec and earns more than $4 billion a year from it, says most patients pay less than $100 a month out of their own pockets.

“It’s worth it, I am telling you,” Shah said.

PS4 Tops Xbox One In February 2017 US Sales

Extending its win streak another month, Sony’s PlayStation 4 was the top-selling home console in the United States for February, according to NPD data released today.

Sony did not have a statement to share, but a representative confirmed that the PS4 was the No. 1 overall home console in the US in terms of sales for February.

No Caption Provided

In its own statement, Microsoft said global Xbox One game hours in February jumped 11 percent year-over-year, while global unique multiplayer users reached 35 percent-plus growth compared to last year. Xbox marketing boss Mike Nichols called out Halo Wars 2, For Honor, and Grand Theft Auto IV (in backwards compatibility) as helping drive engagement on Xbox One during the month.

A week from today, the NPD Group will announce the top-selling games for February 2017. We’ll report back with more details as they become available.

Nvidia: Will The GTX 1080 Ti Hold The High End?


Nvidia’s GTX 1080 Ti is the new graphics champ according to reviews.

Unclear whether the 1080 Ti will fend off the challenge of AMD’s forthcoming Vega.

Nvidia scores a true Open Compute Project design win.

Rethink Technology business briefs for March 9, 2017.

Reviews are in for the Nvidia GTX 1080i

Source: Guru3D

In my March 1 Tech Brief I talked a little about the presentation by Nvidia’s (NASDAQ:NVDA) CEO Jen-Hsun Huang at the Game Developers Conference. It was mainly a preview of the GTX 1080 Ti high-end video card. I pointed out that the main purpose of the card seemed to be to head off the imminent threat of Advanced Micro Devices’ (NASDAQ:AMD) new Vega GPU architecture.

How successful Nvidia will be remains to be seen, but it appears that Nvidia has done what it can in the near term to boost performance of the Pascal architecture while keeping the price reasonable. The 1080 Ti delivers approximately the performance of the Titan X for a Founders Edition list of $700 vs. the $1,200 of the Titan X.

Reviews just came out today, and I looked at reviews from Tom’s Hardware, Ars Technica, AnandTech and Guru3D. My general impression is that Nvidia more or less delivered on its promise of a 35% performance improvement over the 1080 for 4K resolution gaming, currently the most stressful. At lower resolutions, the performance improvement was less, typically 15-20%.

How did Nvidia manage to equal the performance of the Titan X? More to the point, does this imply lower margins on the 1080 Ti? I thought that Tom’s explained this very well.

The 1080Ti uses the same GP102 chip as the Titan X. Nvidia increased the yield of the GP102 by building in more processing cores (called CUDA cores by Nvidia) than it actually uses. That allows it to selectively disable a block of defective cores while still maintaining spec performance. Out of 3,840 cores on the GP102 die, only 3,584 are enabled.

For the new Ti, Nvidia goes a step further and disables one of 12 memory controllers and some other circuitry, whereas the Titan X needs to use all of them. This further improves yield and lowers cost of the Ti. It’s the single disabled memory controller that results in the odd 11 GB of memory for the card vs. 12 GB for Titan X.

To compensate for the decrease in memory controller count, Nvidia ups the clock rate on the memory interface and takes advantage of some slightly faster memory from Micron (NASDAQ:MU).

So the lower price doesn’t necessarily mean lower margins for Nvidia on the Ti. In addition to the higher yield, normal learning curve at Nvidia’s foundry, TSMC (NYSE:TSM), reduces cost per wafer. The net effect is that Nvidia has probably been able to hold the line on gross margin.

Can the 1080 Ti Defend Against Vega?

It will be interesting to see how the Ti matches up against Vega in performance. Rumors have generally put Vega performance somewhere between the 1080 and the Titan X. The most specific information I’ve seen is a leaked benchmark of the Radeon RX 580 published by VideoCardz for the famous Ashes of the Singularity DX12 benchmark:

It’s actually not easy to find a set of results for AotS at 1080p, since most reviewers focused on higher resolution, but Ars Technica did assemble a set of results:

Often, test results can vary a lot between reviewers based on settings used. The leaked VideoCardz result indicates a Standard preset, while Ars Technica stated that it uses “high or ultra” settings for its tests. Given the performance margin for the Ti in the results, it appears that Nvidia’s position at the top of the high performance graphics market remains secure.

This probably leaves AMD having to price Vega well below the Ti. That could be difficult, given Vega’s use of High Bandwidth Memory 2 (HBM2). HBM2 offers very high performance, but it’s inherently more expensive since the memory is mounted within the GPU package.

Source: wccftech

Nvidia only offers the GP100 version of Pascal with HBM2, and this is only available in the Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) P100 accelerator for datacenter use, which lists for $3,600. If Nvidia has been able to offer better performance without HBM2, this is probably a competitive advantage.

Nvidia’s Open Compute Project Design Win

Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Project Olympus, which I profiled yesterday, also offered some very good news for Nvidia. Although Project Olympus mainly deals with generic open standards for detacenters such as rack and server specifications, Microsoft had a very specific proposal to use the Tesla P100 accelerator in a specific rack implementation.

What Microsoft proposed is being called the HGX-1 Hyperscale GPU Accelerator and it consists of a rack of 8 P100s:

The P100s are connected by Nvidia’s high speed NV Link interface rather than conventional PCIe. Unlike other Olympus announcements, the HGX-1 was designed around a very specific GPU architecture only available from Nvidia, and really does constitute a “design win.”

According to Kushagra Vaid, GM, Azure Hardware Infrastructure,

The HGX-1 AI accelerator provides extreme performance scalability to meet the demanding requirements of fast growing machine learning workloads, and its unique design allows it to be easily adopted into existing datacenters around the world.

Rethink Technology rates Nvidia a buy.

Trump promised $1 trillion for infrastructure, but the estimated need is $4.5 trillion


The Trump administration promises to pump $1 trillion into improving the country’s crumbling infrastructure, but a benchmark report says it will take almost $4.6 trillion over the next eight years to bring all those systems up to an acceptable standard.

The price tag for redemption has grown steadily for 15 years while an expanding country has focused on building new infrastructure rather than maintaining existing systems that were nearing the end of their natural life.

Since 2001, the cost of repairing those systems has mushroomed from $1.3 trillion to the current figure, more than three times as high, according to an assessment released Thursday by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The report comes out every four years.

It gave the U.S. infrastructure an overall grade of D-plus, the same grade it received in 2013, “suggesting only incremental progress was made over the last four years.”

“President Trump is on to something when he calls for a national rebuilding,” ASCE President Norma Jean Mattei said in presenting the study. “But Congress and the American people have to pay for it.”

She said lawmakers should raise the federal gas tax by 25 cents and index it to inflation.

Trump reiterated campaign promises on infrastructure in his inaugural address and in his recent address to Congress, but the only supporting detail for that pledge thus far has been an 11-page white paper issued in October. In that document, Trump said the money would be raised by granting private investors an 82 percent tax credit that would encourage them to pump money into infrastructure projects.

“We can use private financing for the major things, but it’s a slice of investment,” said former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (D), who now co-chairs the advocacy group Building America’s Future. “You can’t do it on the cheap. It’s time for Congress to suck it up and vote for real [federal] investment.”

Rendell said the “fix it first” approach that Trump espouses — repairing needy infrastructure before launching new projects — is not likely to draw private investors.

Congressional leaders and state and local officials have made clear that while private investors might put money into select projects in urban areas from which they can expect a return, they would shy away from investment in rural areas and would rather build new infrastructure than repair systems that have deteriorated.

“I think the federal government has to play a larger role,” said Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D).

Infrastructure underpins everyday life in the United States, covering far more than the roads and bridges commonly thought of when the word comes to mind. It includes a vast network of other systems that most people take for granted, including drinking water and sewer service, the delivery of electricity, as well as railroads, transit systems and ports.

The ASCE has been chronicling the decline of infrastructure category by category since 1998, when it took over the task that had been handled for a decade by the National Council on Public Works Improvement.

In recent years, most of the 14 categories the ASCE has assessed have received a D, and hardly any has moved by more than a fraction of a grade. For example, inland waterways were judged to improve from a D-minus to a D, while transit systems declined from a grade of D to a D-minus.

The commentary provided with each grade was revealing:

Airports (D): Congestion at airports is growing, with 24 of the big airports expected to achieve “Thanksgiving-peak traffic volume” at least one day each week.

Bridges (C-plus): Four in 10 of the country’s 614,387 bridges are more than 50 years old and near the end of their designed life span. Nearly 59,000 are structurally deficient.

Dams (D): An estimated 2,170 of the country’s 90,580 dams are considered as “high-hazard potential” because of failed upkeep.

Drinking water (D): There are 240,000 water-main breaks each year, wasting 2 trillion gallons of water.

Electricity (D-plus): Most electrical transmission lines were built in the 1950s and 1960s with a 50-year life expectancy, and they are running at maximum capacity everywhere but Alaska and Hawaii.


Ports (C-plus): Mega-ships now arriving from the Far East and able to transit the newly expanded Panama Canal can call on very few of the 926 U.S. ports unless channels are dredged to accommodate their deeper drafts.

Railroads (B): The private freight railroads that own most U.S. rail track invested $27.1 billion to upgrade systems in 2015 and continue that investment.

Roads (D): Traffic backups cost $160 billion in wasted time and fuel in 2014, and about 20 percent of highway pavement is in poor condition.

Transit systems (D-minus): Though they carried 10.5 billion trips in 2015, chronic underfunding and aging infrastructure have led to a $90 billion repair bill.

ASCE Executive Director Thomas W. Smith III cited an urgent need for the White House to deliver a comprehensive plan for infrastructure restoration.

“Our nation’s infrastructure is making headlines for all the wrong reasons,” Smith said. “While we haven’t seen action [from the White House], we have to hold feet to the fire.”

Report: Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt (Kike) to visit Israel to talk settlements

Greenblatt would be thrust into the post of presidential adviser on Israel if Trump wins the White House. (Uriel Heilman)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reportedly will visit Israel next week.

Greenblatt’s visit aims to help determine the Trump administration’s policy on Israeli settlements, Israel’s Channel 2 first reported on Wednesday.

Among the topics of discussion will be the new settlement promised to the former residents of the West Bank Amona outpost, which was evacuated and dismantled last month, according to the report. It would be the first new official settlement in 25 years.

Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Monday told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that annexing the West Bank will lead to a “crisis” with the Trump administration, citing what he called a “direct message” from the United States.

An Orthodox Jew and Yeshiva University graduate, Greenblatt studied at a West Bank yeshiva in the mid-1980s and did armed guard duty there.

NY Jewish Children’s Museum hit with bomb threat

Jewish Children's Museum

The Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn, New York. (Google Street View)

NEW YORK (JTA) — The Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn was evacuated after receiving an emailed bomb threat.

The museum was evacuated Thursday morning following a call to the police, AM New York reported.

Devorah Halberstam, the museum’s director of foundation and government services, told JTA the evacuation was still ongoing as of 11:15 a.m.

“It’s a trying time for us as a Jewish people especially, and we need to be aware and we need to take heed, and we need to be careful,” Halberstam said.

She added: “I’m referring to all the threats that have been going on both locally and internationally — it’s something that is very frightening. Unfortunately anti-Semitism has been around for the longest time and I guess things don’t change, now it’s done by emails and phone calls. They use technology to hide behind it.”

Jewish institutions, including community centers and Anti-Defamation League offices, have been hit with more than 100 bomb threats so far this year, all of them hoaxes. Tuesday and Wednesday saw the sixth wave of threats, with 21 Jewish sites targeted in the United States and Canada.

Last week, the New York Police Department said that anti-Semitic incidents were up 94 percent in New York City over this time last year.

Not just prayers: synagogues are organizing to fight Trump’s agenda

Congregants of Bnai Jeshurun in New York City rally on behalf of immigrants Thursday, Mar. 9, 2017. Bnai Jeshurun is one of several synagogues more assertively embracing activism since Donald Trump’s election. (Courtesy of Bnai Jeshurun)

NEW YORK (JTA) – The day after the presidential election, as congregants gathered in her Brooklyn synagogue to air their feelings, Rabbi Rachel Timoner was already starting to organize against the incoming administration.

She called her local city councilman, Democrat Brad Lander, and together they organized an activists’ panel at her congregation, Beth Elohim, to discuss policy changes under President Donald Trump. More than 1,000 people packed the sanctuary for the event.

Four months later, Beth Elohim has been transformed into an activist hub in Brooklyn’s affluent and historically progressive Park Slope neighborhood. Together with Lander, the synagogue has set up 15 working groups on liberal causes ranging from combating anti-Semitism and Islamophobia to protecting reproductive rights. Ten thousand people are active in the groups, and seven mass meetings of the activists, educating them on issues and teaching organizing tactics, have drawn an average crowd of 1,000.

“Our people are awakened, activated, determined, in some cases alarmed, and deeply wanting to be part of preventing harm and healing this country,” Timoner said. “I have literally hundreds of members who are in acute pain, who are seeing their country become distorted.”

Beth Elohim is among several synagogues that have doubled down on political activism since Trump’s election. Synagogues are taking on roles usually reserved for nonprofits – hiring professional activists, organizing protests, mobilizing congregants to lobby and educating them on immigrant and refugee rights. Several synagogues sent delegations to the Women’s March on Washington and its local offshoots in January.

Some of these synagogues don’t see the work as partisan, aimed as they are directly at Trump’s policies. (Trump himself has called for loosening federal laws that prevent houses of worship from endorsing political candidates.) Others, citing overwhelming demand among their congregants, are less concerned about appearing political. But they all say that regardless of the risks, this is the moment for synagogues to offer their members a chance to engage on issues that matter to them in a Jewish context.

“We have Torah, and Torah is very clear that we do not oppress the stranger, that we love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves,” Timoner said. “What I think it offers to have things like this happen in a synagogue is it provides the moral framework.”

Beth Elohim has received a grant to hire a community organizer, a step Manhattan’s Stephen Wise Free Synagogue is also taking, fueled by more than $100,000 in congregant donations. Stephen Wise is organizing its members into three activist groups – on refugees and immigrants; anti-Semitism and Islamophobia; and protecting civil liberties.

Stephen Wise helped raise $20,000 for Jews in Whitefish, Montana, when they were threatened by white supremacists in January. In June, a delegation from the synagogue will travel to Greece and Germany to aid refugees, while educating kids at the synagogue about refugee rights. Ammiel Hirsch, the synagogue’s rabbi, expects groups to lobby legislators on a range of issues as well.

“Judaism is a faith that believes in action, in making the world a better place through policy,” Hirsch said. “There’s got to be a force of legislation behind it. Otherwise, it’s just a question of localized humanitarian action, without regard to collective policies that ensure we’re on a higher moral plane.”

Other synagogues have collaborated in interfaith initiatives or served as spaces for activist gatherings. B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan was the site of a rally that drew thousands before the New York City women’s march in January. The synagogue has also set up an action alert list with 200 subscribers to mobilize congregants for protests.

Bnai Jeshurun congregants at the HIAS rally for refugees in February. (Courtesy of Bnai Jeshurun)

For some of these synagogues, the current activism is just an intensification of a historical tilt toward political engagement. Bnai Jeshurun has a longstanding program to aid New York State farmworkers, while Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C., led two trips to aid undocumented immigrants in Texas in 2014 and 2016, before Trump’s election. Synagogues nationwide have long been active on Israel policy, and in the 1970s and 1980s, on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

But some congregants see synagogue-based political action as a step too far. David Horowich, a Reform Jewish businessman from Syracuse who voted for Trump, appreciates Reform Judaism’s cultural and communal aspects. But he feels synagogues shouldn’t be in the business of political advocacy, because it’s not always easy to judge whether policies are successful.

“I haven’t been in favor of coming out with statements that are political, because sometimes they can come back and haunt you,” Horowich said. “I’m open to people expressing their opinions, but you have to wait until it all plays out.”

For those who oppose him, Trump’s policies on refugees and immigration have become a particular focus of synagogue activism. All four religious denominations and several major organizations opposed the first iteration of his immigration ban in January.

In response to Trump’s immigration policies, several synagogues have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. For some synagogues, including Temple Sinai, that means setting aside rooms should undocumented immigrants need a place to live. Others, like Philadelphia’s Congregation Beth Zion-Beth Israel, which is exploring becoming a sanctuary, are holding classes for immigrants and others on immigrant and refugee rights.

“Our religious tradition teaches about not only welcoming the stranger but not oppressing the stranger, and making sure the most vulnerable in our midst has been protected and cared for,” said Temple Sinai Rabbi Jonathan Roos. “The level of fear is at a level unseen during the Obama years, even when the level of deportations was high.”

The push for synagogue activism appears to be spreading. Timoner has held two conference calls with rabbis interested in Beth Elohim’s model. And T’ruah, the rabbinic human rights group, drew 200 rabbis to a conference in February, called No Time for Neutrality, that ended with 19 rabbis getting arrested during a protest in front of a Trump hotel in New York City.

“We have more power, privilege and social capital than we’ve ever had in this country,” said Beth Zion-Beth Israel Rabbi Yosef Goldman.”It’s an opportunity for us to be vigilant about using our power to defend our own community, but [also] to defend those around us who are more vulnerable than we are.”

Swiss parliament lower house votes to halt funds to groups promoting anti-Semitism

BERLIN (JTA) — Switzerland’s lower house of parliament voted to halt public funding for organizations that promote anti-Semitism and hatred.

Submitted by Christian Imark of the right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party, the bill passed Wednesday by a vote of 111 to 78, with all center-right mainstream parties in support. Voting against the measure were the Social Democratic, Green and Green-Liberal parties.

According to a report on the parliament’s website, the motion aims to change Swiss law to ensure that public funds don’t flow to NGOs that act in ways deemed provocative by other groups or states.

The matter now goes to the Council of States, Switzerland’s upper house of parliament, which reportedly will consider the bill in May.

According to the Swiss Basler Zeitung newspaper, Imark, whose party is known for its anti-Muslim stance, introduced the bill out of concern for millions of dollars in Swiss funds that ended up in the hands of Palestinian organizations that call for violence, expulsion of Jews and destruction of the State of Israel. The payments came from Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, led by Didier Burkhalter of the liberal FDP party.

NGO Monitor, the Israel-based non-governmental organization that lobbied for the bill, said Switzerland donated $2.38 million between 2013 and 2016 to the Human Rights and International
Humanitarian Law Secretariat, a Palestinian human rights group, which then handed out funds to NGOs in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. NGO Monitor reported that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, considered a terrorist organization by the European Union, the United States and others, received some of the money.

Speaking before the vote, Imark said he did not want to get involved in the Mideast conflict, but he insisted that Switzerland check carefully where its money was going. Imark said the Swiss foreign ministry was
aiding organizations that back the anti-Israel BDS movement, call for Israel’s destruction and conduct anti-Zionist and racist campaigns. Some of the organizations have direct ties to terrorist groups, he said.

“If our country carries out a one-sided foreign policy, we will never build peace. On the contrary, we will fan the flames of the conflict, until our own hands are covered in blood,” Imark said.

The Swiss branch of the BDS movement reportedly condemned the vote.