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Newsdesk August 20, 2004

Israeli Man Killed in D.C.

Twenty-five-year-old Israeli Ehud Reich was murdered in Washington on August 15, apparently by a criminal gang.

Reich, who had been living in the city for eight months and working as a locksmith, responded to a call in the southeast part of town from a burglary victim whose car keys had been stolen. While working on the lock, a man approached him, fired one bullet at his neck and fled into a nearby car where an accomplice was waiting. Reich died shortly thereafter at a local hospital.

Washington police believe the murder was not politically motivated, and are considering that the intended victim was the car owner, whose home had been robbed previously. Police are seeking a young suspect in the robbery-murder case. The Israeli Embassy was notified of the murder Sunday, and informed Reich’s family in Israel. The body is due to arrive in Israel today.

Birthright Funds Approved

The Israeli Finance Ministry has agreed to allocate some $10 million to Birthright Israel, at the request of Minister for Diaspora Affairs Natan Sharansky. The government sharply reduced its participation in Birthright this year, thereby endangering the program’s continuation. Birthright brings young Diaspora Jews on a 10-day free trip to Israel.

The allocation marks a $1 million increase over last year, despite planned cuts to other areas of the Israeli public sector under the spending package approved Monday by the Cabinet. Sharansky said the boost to Birthright showed “the government’s recognition of the importance of the project to the Jewish people.”

The treasury also will increase funding for immigrant absorption by hundreds of millions of shekels in 2005. Immigrant Absorption Minister Tzipi Livni persuaded the treasury to restore mortgage grants for immigrants from Ethiopia, which had been cut back sharply in the 2004 budget, helping hundreds of immigrants who are still in absorption centers to buy homes. Nearly $10 million more will be allocated for the initial absorption of Ethiopian immigrants in absorption centers.

Baptist Cave ‘Found’

Archaeologists announced this week that they have found a cave in the Judean Hills leading to the oldest baptismal site discovered to date — a huge water cistern decorated with evocative wall carvings, where they believe John the Baptist anointed many disciples.

During a tour of the cave at Kibbutz Tzuba, south of Jerusalem, archaeologists presented the ancient wall decorations, as well as a stone they believe was used for ceremonial foot washing.

They also reported sifting about 250,000 pottery shards from the cave, the apparent remnants of small water jugs used in baptismal ritual. The oldest shards are from the mid-second-century BCE.

“The site we’ve uncovered is seemingly the connecting link between Jewish and Christian baptism,” said British archaeologist Shimon Gibson, who heads the private Jerusalem Archaeological Field Unit and supervised the dig.

However, others said there was no actual proof that John the Baptist ever set foot in the cave, located about four kilometers from Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood, birthplace of the preacher and the site where, Christian tradition holds, he baptized Jesus.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t find any inscriptions,” said James Tabor, a religious studies professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which helped sponsor the dig.

The discovery, if confirmed, would be among the most significant breakthroughs for biblical scholars in recent history.

Voucher Plan Rejected

Florida’s voucher program was found to be unconstitutional. An appeals court in Florida on Monday upheld an August 2002 ruling that found the statewide voucher program unconstitutional, holding that it violated the Constitution’s doctrine against government-established religion and the Florida Constitution’s ban on direct state aid to religious schools. The state is expected to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. Several Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League, filed a brief supporting the plaintiff in the case.

Prayer Site Dedicated

A section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem set aside for women’s and mixed prayer services was officially inaugurated. The site, located on a section of the wall next to Robinson’s Arch, now home to an archeological garden, will be used starting this week for all-women’s prayer services conducted by the Women of the Wall group. The site also will be used for mixed services held by Israel’s Conservative movement, which has been using it unofficially for the past five years.

Poll: Israelis Favor Bush

Israelis overwhelmingly prefer President Bush to his challenger, Senator John Kerry, a new poll shows. A Tel Aviv University survey last week showed that 49% of Israelis preferred Bush to 18% for Kerry. The poll had a margin of error of 4.5%. An earlier poll conducted by the Teleseker organization showed that Bush out-polling Kerry 48% to 29% and broke preferences down according to Israeli party affiliation. Likud voters preferred Bush to Kerry by 69% to 18%; Labor voters preferred Kerry 44% to 36%. The American candidates were in a statistical dead heat among Shinui voters.

Kushner, Spielberg Inked

Pulitzer Prize-winner Tony Kushner is writing a new screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s film on the aftermath of the 1972 Munich Olympics. Kushner won his Pulitzer for “Angels in America,” a work about the AIDS crisis. The new film focuses on the hunt for the Palestinian terrorists who took the Israeli team hostage at the Munich Games. Production of the film has been postponed to June 2005. Marvin Levy, Spielberg’s spokesman, denied a New York Post report that the delay was based on fears that Muslim extremists might target the locations to be used in the movie. Instead, the delay is mainly due to Spielberg’s dissatisfaction with the first draft of the script, Levy said. He also denied that “Vengeance” had been chosen as the film’s title.

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