Your First Read For Sep 8


Syrian rebel returns lost eagle to Israel

Syrian rebel commander have helped return to Israel an eagle that was released into a nature reserve in the Golan Heights four months ago and accidentally made its way to the Syrian side, the Times of Israel reports. The bird, dubbed S-98 by its handlers at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, was returned to Israel through the Israeli Flying Aid organization, a non-profit that works to deliver aid internationally to communities affected by conflict and natural disasters.

The unnamed Syrian militia head had contacted the organization, claiming to have saved the eagle which had got caught up in fighting territory held by the Islamic State in the war-torn country. The GPS affixed to the bird had stopped sending back signals shortly last month, worrying its Israeli handlers and weeks of worry ensued, according to the report.

The commander said he spotted the eagle during battles with the Islamic State when his unit was setting up ambushes.

Borough Park rabbi claims harassment in Vermont

An Orthodox rabbi from the Borough Park section of Brooklyn was recently held at gunpoint and treated like a common “criminal” by a Vermont state trooper, the New York Post reports. The wife of Rabbi Berl Fink said that while driving along I-91 north near Fairlee he was ordered out of his family’s 2004 Toyota Camry by Trooper Justin Thompson around 11:30 p.m., as the couple’s two teenage children watched.

Thompson then allegedly pushed Rabbi Fink to the ground, handcuffed him and frisked him for weapons, while four other troopers “tackled” her son to the ground, “repeatedly” frisked them and searched their car, Sarah Fink said. The next day, she said, the officers told the family that they were pulled over for speeding and that the arresting trooper believed the rabbi was drunk; a Breathalyzer test was never administered.

The family is threatening to sue the Vermont State Police for civil rights violations. Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind said he has called on Vermont Gov. Phil Scott to investigate the Finks’ allegations.

Is Qatar courting US Jewry?

Qatar, the oil-rich Gulf emirate known for supporting Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, has reportedly hired a prominent U.S. public-relations firm to improve its image in the American Jewish community, according to Haaretz. The paper cites an article in O’dwyer’s Report, a website specializing in news about the advertising industry, which said Qatar will pay Stronington Strategis $50,000 a month for such purpose. 

The report said Qatar signed a contract with the public relations firm aiming “to strengthen its relationship with the U.S. and build bridges to the Jewish community.” Stonington Strategis is headed by Nick Muzin, a Republican consultant, who said, “Engagement with Qatar can only be in the best interests of the United States and the Jewish community, as we cannot allow Qatar to be ostracized by its neighbors and pushed into Iran’s sphere of influence.” 

“Qatar is currently suffering from regional pressure and isolation as a result of its ongoing dispute with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and other leading Arab countries, which accuse the rich emirate of supporting terror organizations and using its’ influential satellite channel, Al-Jazeera, to encourage revolutions in other countries,” according to Haaretz.

Student leader apologizes for holding anti-Israel meeting on Passover

The head of the student government at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has apologized for holding a meeting last Passover that featured a vote on an anti-Israel resolution, JTA reports.

Katrina Morrison said the student government, which passed the resolution calling for divestment from companies operating in Israel while several Jewish student government representatives were absent from the meeting because of the holiday, should operate in “an atmosphere of respect for all opinions.”

Prominent former refusenik dies

Maria Slepak, a Prisoner of Zion and Soviet Jewry leader with her husband before they were finally allowed to immigrate to Israel, has died, according to JTA. The couple were permitted to leave the Soviet Union in October 1987, 17 years after they first applied for an exit visa.

Maria and Vladimir were arrested in 1978 for hanging a pro-immigration banner outside their Moscow apartment window. Vladimir, who died in 2015, was sentenced to five years’ exile in Siberia on charges of malicious hooliganism, and Maria, a radiologist, was given a three-year suspended sentence. But she volunteered to share her husband’s exile, traveling to Moscow periodically in attempts to retain her residency permit.

Chief rabbi urges inclusivity of LGBT community

British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has urged more than 100 of his Orthodox colleagues to be more inclusive toward the LGBTQ community, JTA reports. At his annual pre-High Holidays conference this week for the rabbinate, he also called for extra concern for other special groups as well.

“Every person is precious. Single parents, women, the unaffiliated, LGBT Jews – let no person feel they have no place in our shuls,” Rabbi Mirvis said at the conference, which was titled “Every One Counts.”

His comments come on the heels of the recent controversy surrounding Britain’s top Sephardi rabbi’s near ouster for similar comments. (More on that here.)