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Fearing for her kids, she fled with them to Israel. Eight years later, the U.S. plans to arrest her this morning
Lerai Nichols thought her ex-husband, with whom she shared custody, might kill her and her children. So she fled California in 2014 and landed in a town north of Tel Aviv. The U.S. accused her of kidnapping, and issued a warrant for her arrest. Her kids grew into adults, her husband died. But the charges remained on the books.
Out to sea: Nichols embarked Oct. 31 on a Mediterranean cruise with her daughter, Amy. When the ship reached Crete, she received a message: Report immediately to the local immigration authorities. Those authorities detained Nichols, and forced her to remain holed up in a hotel from Nov. 2 to Dec. 15. Her lawyer helped arrange her extradition to the U.S. and a plea bargain.
End in sight: Nichols claims her ex-husband, Patrick, abused and stalked her, and killed the family dog. Patrick died in 2021; the children are now over 18 years old. When Nichols lands at Los Angeles International Airport this morning, she is expected to be handcuffed and taken to San Bernardino County Superior Court. She plans to plead no contest to three misdemeanor charges — and avert prison in the process.
Read the story ➤
‘Even if there is no electricity, the light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out,’ Zelenskky said. (Getty)
Zelenskyy, ‘modern-day Maccabee,’ invokes candle-lit Christmas in speech to Congress: The Ukrainian president spoke stirringly Wednesday night of his country’s fortitude, but when it came to moving metaphors of light fighting against the dark, he catered to his primarily Christian audience. Instead, it was President Biden who grabbed the low-hanging seasonal fruit in a speech earlier in the day, noting that Hanukkah is “a time when Jewish people around the world, President Zelenskyy and many families among them, honor the timeless miracle of a small band of warriors fighting for the values and their freedom against a much larger foe and how they endured and how they overcame.” Read the story ➤
First-person | Zelenskyy asked for military assistance. I ask for space heaters: Hanukkah celebrations have persevered in Ukraine, with a giant menorah gracing a town square in Kyiv. Even as the candles burn, there is literal darkness elsewhere, with daily power outages. Solar chargers, flashlights and other appliances are often sold out. So our reporter in Ukraine, Helen Chervitz, sent out a request to 20 American synagogues for help. A shipment arrived this week. Read her essay ➤
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Congressman-elect George Santos speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference last month. (Getty)
Congressman-elect lied about grandparents fleeing anti-Jewish persecution during WWII: After a New York Times exposé showed that George Santos had fabricated much of his resume, our intrepid contributor Andrew Silverstein dug up evidence that he had also made up his family’s emotional Jewish-immigrant narrative. Using genealogy websites and other records, Silverstein found that Santos, a Long Island Republican elected in November, did not have Jewish grandparents who fled persecution in Belgium during World War II, as his campaign website claimed; they were born in Brazil before the Nazi era.
After the Forward broke the story Wednesday, Robert Zimmerman, the Jewish Democrat that Santos beat by eight percentage points, said it was “sick and obscene” that he “would actually lie about the Holocaust to try to promote himself.” And our reporting was cited by The Times, CNN, The New Republic, The Hill, Jezebel, The Daily Beast, Newsday and other publications. Read our story ➤
Elon Musk said he is looking for a new Twitter CEO. Is that good for the Jews? Well, it’s hard to imagine a new leader making the platform worse; researchers found that the number of antisemitic posts on Twitter increased by 61% in the weeks after Musk took over. Our digital culture reporter, Mira Fox, sifted through the resumes of four potential candidates – including Jared Kushner, who was spotted with Musk earlier this week, and could bring to the table $2 billion of investment money from the Saudis. Read the story ➤
And from the Hanukkah desk…
- The Greek invaders tried to eradicate both Judaism and Israel 2,000 years ago. Recent attacks on both “shows that antisemitism and opposition to Jewish self-determination have always been the same thing,” Ambassador Asaf Zamir, Israel’s consul general in New York, argues in a new OpEd.
- Why did a non-Jewish NBA player buy Hanukkah donuts for 500 fans?
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY
Netanyahu’s coalition includes fringe figures who had been shunned by Israel’s political mainstream. (Getty)
🇮🇱 Benjamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday night that he had successfully formed a new coalition government that will soon return him to the Israeli prime ministership 18 months after he left it. Here’s a guide to who’s who in the new government, and why it matters. (JTA)
📈 And speaking of Israel … Immigration to the country hit a 23-year high in 2022, driven by Ukrainian refugees escaping the war with Russia. More than 70,000 people made aliyah in 2022, more than twice as many as the year before, according to data released by the Jewish Agency this morning. (Times of Israel)
💰 The Reconstructionist movement endorsed reparations for Black Americans, but did not mention financial compensation. “The goal of this resolution,” said Rabbi Micah Geurin Weiss, “is to establish a moral position.” (JTA)
🔎 A graduate student at Tel Aviv University, working with a team of archaeologists from across the globe, has pioneered a more accurate technique for dating events that occurred in the Bible. (New York Times)
✝️ A group of interfaith educators are calling on churches to “denounce antisemitism” in society, and to take a closer look at their Christmastime liturgy, which has a tendency to frame Judaism as a flawed precursor to Christianity. “That can feed into a popular antisemitism,” said one scholar. (Religion News Service, JTA)
🍩 An Israeli software developer trained an artificial intelligence tool to paint pictures of the most exotic Hanukkah donuts. The results were quite mouth-watering. (Geektime)
What we’re listening to ➤ This NPR story on how the recent wave of antisemitism is affecting Jewish teens …. And this NPR podcast episode about Hanukkah’s outsize place in pop culture.
Shiva call ➤ Elliott Levitas, the first Jewish congressman from Georgia, died at 91.
Dept. of corrections: Yesterday’s “Shiva call” misspelled the name of the Philadelphia-area synagogue where Rabbi Avraham Levene was the longtime spiritual leader. It is Lower Merion, not Lower Marion.
Alfred Dreyfus at his trial. (Courtesy of the Museum of Art & History of Judaism)
On this day in history (1894): French army officer Alfred Dreyfus was found guilty of treason and sentenced to life in prison. His trial, nicknamed the “Dreyfus Affair,” convinced Theodore Herzl that the Jews needed their own state, and sparked a political saga that divided France for 12 years. But after the discovery of fabricated evidence, France’s Supreme Court unanimously canceled the judgment against Dreyfus on July 12, 1906, and he was reinstated as a major in the French Army. He served during World War I, ending his service with the rank of lieutenant colonel, and died in 1935.
Last year on this day, our colleagues at the New York Jewish Week shared the story of how Pammy Brenner and David Frisch got engaged in a Yiddish library. Update: they were married in August, and told us that they are flying to London today to attend Limmud UK, where he will teach a class on American and Jewish law, and she will lead Yiddish and pickling workshops.
How do you spell Hanukkah? Let us count the ways. And the right way — in Hebrew, or Yiddish. Order one of these T-shirts – or a coffee mug, a tote bag and so much more – at our new online store.
Thanks to Laura E. Adkins, PJ Grisar, Matthew Litman and Talya Zax for contributing to today’s newsletter. You can reach the “Forwarding” team at [email protected].