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Newsdesk March 4, 2005

Police Offer Reward

The Houston police are offering a $5,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest and charges against the perpetrators of an unprecedented rash of antisemitic hate crimes that has boggled authorities.

Fourteen acts of vandalism and phone threats against Jewish temples and community centers have been reported in the greater Houston area since last September, including eight within a three-week period in December, according to the regional office of the Anti-Defamation League.

Neither the police nor the ADL could recall seeing so many antisemitic crimes in Houston in such a short span of time.

“This has put fear in people’s minds,” Houston Police Department Investigator Catherine Richards said in an interview with The Associated Press. “This is very personal now.”

The doors of Congregation Brith Shalom in Bellaire and Houston’s Congregation Emanu El were scratched with swastikas and with the words “Jews Die” and “Aliens.” Swastikas were also scratched into windowpanes at the Houston Hillel Student Center and at the Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism, and painted on eight subway overpasses. In addition, anti-Jewish expletives were painted on a restaurant wall.

Phone threats were left on synagogue answering machines in Houston and in neighboring towns.

“We have no suspect information right now,” Richards was quoted as saying. “We don’t have any information. No witnesses, no videotaping of any type. No one has come forward.”

Dena Marks, associate director of ADL’s southwest regional office, said she was hopeful someone would come forward. She wondered what could have triggered the string of incidents.

“Does antisemitism ever make sense?” she asked.

UJC Leader Apologizes

The leader of the North American Jewish federation system has apologized for blasting the charitable network’s primary overseas partner, the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Robert Goldberg, chairman of the board of trustees of United Jewish Communities, had upset officials at the Jewish Agency when he was quoted in the Israeli daily Ma’ariv last week as referring to the quasi-governmental agency as a “a dinosaur.”

The agency is funded primarily by donations from Jewish federations, and is charged with the task of facilitating immigration to Israel.

“It’s a bureaucratic and inefficient organization, political, inflexible and does not initiate quick enough responses to changes,” Goldberg was quoted as saying, adding, “Therefore it’s having difficulty bringing immigrants from the West and is competing with private organizations that are preparing them for” immigration.

“Now aliya is made out of choice,” he reportedly said, “and the Jewish Agency is not prepared to do this because they don’t understand the mentality of Americans.”

The comments came as the Jewish Agency was wrapping up three days of meetings among its board of governors in Israel to approve programs under its new strategic plan. A key element of that plan is encouraging emigration from North America.

Goldberg is very involved with Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization founded three-and-a-half years ago to promote and organize immigration to Israel. Since its inception, Nefesh B’Nefesh, in partnership with the Jewish Agency, has brought thousands of North Americans to Israel.

Goldberg, who lives in Cleveland, could not be reached for comment this week in Israel, where he also has a home. But UJC officials issued a strong apology from him at that final session.

Iraqis Protest Sabbath

Iraqi students protested getting a second day off from school that coincided with the Jewish Sabbath. “We don’t want Saturday. It’s a Jewish holiday,” the students chanted last week in a rally in Bakuba, northeast of Baghdad, The Associated Press reported. Many groups are calling for Thursday to be the second day off. In many Shiite districts of Baghdad, schools were filled on Saturday, AP said.

Actress Repents for Kiss

Natalie Portman voiced regret for filming a romantic scene at the Western Wall, which outraged some Jewish worshippers.

“I really don’t want to offend anyone’s beliefs or impose anything on anyone, and it was mistaken to do it,” Portman, 23, told “Access Hollywood” in an interview, broadcast Monday.

She was referring to an on-camera kiss last week with Israeli heartthrob Aki Avni, which took place within sight of Judaism’s most important prayer site.

The ensuing protests from ultra-Orthodox Jews caused the crew of Portman’s latest project, the independent Israeli film “Free Zone,” to relocate.

“As soon as it offended people, we moved,” the Jerusalem-born actress said. “We had a very hectic work schedule, so we weren’t thinking. We shouldn’t have done it.”

Faith-based Hiring Backed

President Bush called on Congress to pass legislation that would allow faith-based institutions receiving federal funds to use religion as a factor in hiring.

“Faith-based organizations also need a guarantee they will not be forced to give up their right to hire people of their own faith as the price of competing for federal money,” Bush said in a speech Tuesday to the White House National Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Many Jewish groups oppose the faith-based initiatives, in part because they fear religious groups would be able to discriminate in hiring while using federal funds. As part of his plan to affirm his faith-based initiative program, the president said that Congress should pass charitable choice legislation that would give faith-based groups equal access to federal funds. Bush also said he would like to reduce tax penalties on charitable giving, an initiative that many Jewish groups support. Bush delivered his address at the same hotel where Jewish community relations groups were meeting Tuesday.

Seminary Taps Interim CFO

Officials at the Jewish Theological Seminary announced Monday that Julie Anderson had been tapped as the institution’s interim chief financial officer.

Her predecessor, Richard Bengloff, stepped down about three months after the resignation of JTS’s controller, S. David Shapiro.

This past December, news stories indicated that JTS, the flagship institution of Conservative Judaism, was tens of millions of dollars in debt.


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