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Newsdesk August 22, 2003

Complex’s Murals To Stay

Historic preservationists scored a victory last week when shareholders of the Seward Park housing complex voted 376 to 202 to maintain the murals that grace the buildings’ lobbies. The murals, painted in 1959 by well-known artist Hugo Gellert, were at risk of being covered up in a redesign of the lobbies. The building had put the issue of maintaining or covering up the murals to a vote of its shareholders. Fliers had made their way to Seward Park residents, urging them to vote to keep the Gellert murals as art-historical anomalies, and as artifacts of Lower East Side history.

Pro-preservation residents were thrilled at this turn of events. Longtime resident Vicky Amter, a signer of the appeal that made its way to Seward Park residents before the vote, expressed relief at the vote’s outcome. “We were fighting for it — they’re part of the history of the country. We want someone to touch it up and bring back some light to it.” Another signer, Lillian Lifflander, worried that the issue would be brought up again one day. We have voted that way every time,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to make a difference. It comes up every few years, and from past experience, I think some people dislike the murals and will never accept this as a final decision.”

The confusing nature of the vote’s wording had led to panicked midweek speculation by preservationists that their side was in danger of losing the vote. “There was some confusion that a vote to keep [the murals] was a decision not to remodel the lobbies,” said Jonathan Kramnick, author of the pro-preservation flier.

Report: Immigrants Leaving

One out of every four immigrants from North America to Israel who arrived in Israel since 1989 have left the country for good, according to a Ha’aretz analysis based on border control statistics kept by the Israeli Interior Ministry.

About 25.8% of immigrants from Canada and 22.5% from the United States have left Israel, compared to 19.8% from South Africa, followed by 19.3% from Britain and 16% from France.

Anne Frank Friend Dies

Jannie Brandes-Brilleslijper, the last person who saw Anne Frank alive, died last week in Amsterdam at 86. Brandes-Brilleslijper, a member of the resistance against the Nazis during the war, saw the teenage diarist a few days before she died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen in the spring of 1945. After the war, Brandes-Brilleslijper told Otto Frank of his daughter’s death.

Arab Think Tank Closed

Jewish groups are welcoming reports that an Arab think tank known for promulgating antisemitism has been closed. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center are praising the United Arab Emirates for reportedly shutting down the Zayed Center, which has provided a platform for antisemitism and Holocaust denial.

Center Helps Bnei Menashe

A vocational center for Jews recently opened in northeastern India.

The ORT Manipur Computer Centre mainly serves the Bnei Menashe, a group of Indians who say they are descended from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and who have begun practicing Orthodox Judaism.

The center offers computer-related training.

Senate Notes Milestone

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution marking the 350th anniversary of American Jewish life.

The resolution, passed earlier this month, supports the designation of September 2004 as American Jewish History Month. That month will launch a yearlong celebration that will include a national exhibit at the Library of Congress in Washington.

In 1654, 23 Jewish refugees fled Brazil and landed, by mistake, in New Amsterdam, later renamed New York.

Diplomat Assails Jews

Lebanon’s ambassador to Canada and a Canadian native leader were criticized for saying that Jews control the media.

The Lebanese ambassador, Raymond Baaklini, told an Arabic-language weekly that the news media are “controlled by certain parties” that “seek to exaggerate every news item pertaining to Israel.”

Baaklini made similar comments in December, prompting a reprimand from Canada’s foreign minister, Bill Graham.

Also, in a recent press interview, David Ahenakew, former leader of the Assembly of First Nations, a group representing Canadian native peoples, said that “one race of people’’ controls the world media.

Ahenakew was charged in June with inciting hatred after making antisemitic remarks at a Saskatchewan conference in December 2002.

The Canadian Jewish Congress, B’nai Brith Canada and the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation all condemned Baaklini’s remarks.

Cemetery Faces Lawsuit

A federal district court judge agreed to allow a class-action lawsuit to proceed against Menorah Gardens in West Palm Beach and its parent company, Service Corporation International, which stand accused of desecrating graves and selling nonexistent burial plots.

In his order certifying the class action, Judge J. Leonard Fleet said that lawyers representing the plaintiffs established that there are too many people involved to have individual trials, that separate lawsuits would raise many of the same complaints and legal issues, and that most of the plaintiffs are seeking the same legal remedies.

Although the lawsuits do not allege mistreatment at every grave, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, Neal Hirschfeld, said that each cemetery advertised adherence to Jewish law, which was severely compromised when vaults and coffins were broken and people’s remains were mixed or discarded in nearby woods.

The number of plaintiffs could soar past 100,000 because next-of-kin and living customers who have purchased plots for future use are included in the class, according to the Fort Lauderdale daily Sun-Sentinel.

Service Corporation International acknowledges that there was wrongdoing but contends the culpability lies with several lawbreakers, not corporate policy.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs disagreed.

“SCI knew when it purchased the cemetery in the mid-1990s that there were serious spacing issues, lack of space for burials in the cemetery,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Ervin Gonzalez. “Having all this information before them, they would ignore the problems, continue selling burial plots and deal with the problem burials on a case-by-case basis.”

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