Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and the halacha police

(JTA) — President-elect Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, attended the Inauguration Day service Friday at St. John’s Episcopal Church, a tradition that goes back to 1933. The live video showed the Trumps shaking hands with the pastor and entering the church, followed immediately by his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner.

No big deal, right? Well, you don’t know a certain kind of Jewish reader.

On Twitter, some of the Jews I follow noted that Jared and Ivanka are Orthodox Jews, and that it is the Orthodox rabbinic consensus that Jews don’t belong in a church. One journalist examined the pool photo of the service with the attention of a forensic scientist, spotting the couple but noting that neither Kushner nor his wife appeared to be holding the prayer sheets from which the other guests appear to be praying.

I could climb on my high horse here and say that I am not one to stoop to this kind of religious gatekeeping. But let’s face it: I work at a Jewish news agency, and readers can’t get enough of Jared and Ivanka, and the idea that a day school-educated Orthodox Jew and a Jew by choice have emerged as two of the most powerful people on planet Earth. And of course I am curious about their religious choices — I wouldn’t be in this business if I didn’t find the ways people live their Jewish lives endlessly fascinating.

But too often this fascination can turn ugly, and pointing out how an observant public figure is or isn’t living up to the standards set by others can become awfully judgy. Observant Jews pass judgment, describing people’s behavior as a “kiddush Hashem” — an act honoring God’s name — or a “chilul Hashem,” a desecration of God and Jewish law, or halacha. Less observant Jews are often watching for signs of hypocrisy.

The halacha police were out in full force when Joe Lieberman was named Al Gore’s running mate in 2000. People wanted to know if the Orthodox Jewish vice-presidential candidate took part in Senate votes on Saturdays, would travel to important functions on Shabbat or scarfed down non-kosher food on the campaign trail. The upside of this kind of scrutiny is that Jewish and non-Jewish readers learned a little bit about Jewish law, and gained an appreciation for Shabbat and the relief it could provide from the 24/7 pressures of the working world.

Lieberman himself would go on to write a book, “The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath,” in which the former Connecticut senator wrote that the purpose of Shabbat isn’t “to recharge our batteries so we can work harder but to recharge our souls so we can live better.” And Lieberman explained the necessary compromises he would make while doing his best not to violate the spirit of the day of rest.

A story went around earlier this week, quoting a Republican activist in Israel, that Ivanka had gotten a special “dispensation” from a rabbi so she and Kushner could drive in a car on Shabbat and safely attend the various inauguration festivities. But talk to anybody who is observant and in public service, and you’ll find a range of ways in which they deal with the “Shabbat dilemma,” with and without their rabbi’s approval. The tradition is, after all, more lenient and creative, especially when it comes to public service or saving a life, than gossips like to acknowledge. And even in Orthodox synagogues, members don’t walk in lockstep, and they make a range of personal choices about the ways they observe.

Ivanka Trump, like Joe Lieberman, has also spoken about the pleasures of Shabbat, 25 hours that are set aside each week for family, friends, worship and blessed freedom from having to deal with the pressures of the rest of the week.

“It’s an amazing thing when you’re so connected to really sign off,” she told Vogue in 2015. “And for [their oldest daughter] Arabella to know that she has me, undivided, one day a week? We don’t do anything except play with each other, hang out with one another, go on walks together. Pure family.”

That’s a great advertisement for Jewish tradition.

We all should spend less time worrying about how Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, or any of us, observe Jewish rituals and more time asking how we or they affirm Jewish values. Jared and Ivanka, as close advisers to her father, have an opportunity to make the world a better place, to ensure equal protection for people under law, to build a sense of common cause among a divided country, to raise up the fallen and encourage policies that lead all of us in paths of peace. If they can be forces for that, then it will really be a kiddush Hashem.

Jews in Milan object to planned rally by far-right movement

ROME (JTA) – Italian Jewish leaders warned against a neo-fascist rally planned for Saturday in Milan.

In a joint statement, the president of the umbrella Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Noemi Di Segni, and the leaders of the Milan Jewish community called the planned rally by the far-right Forza Nuova movement “a dangerous initiative, promoted by a movement that openly challenges the values of our democracy.”

The statement came after Milan police ruled Wednesday that the downtown rally could move ahead despite efforts to forestall it by anti-fascist, Jewish and leftist organizations, as well as Milan’s mayor.

Like other nationalist movements in Europe, Forza Nuova is strongly anti-immigrant and xenophobic. It has yet to win a seat in the Italian parliament.

The Jewish leaders’ statement noted that Jan. 27 is marked in Italy and other countries as Holocaust Memorial Day.

“We cannot allow those who trample the significance of memory and advocate racist and xenophobic theses to have a public place, and one in the center of Milan, in which to assert their ideologies of hate,” the statement read.

A counter-demonstration is also expected to take place at a separate location.

6 Israeli startups that want to change your everyday life

(JTA) — As any pro-Israel activist will tell you, innovators from the Jewish state have invented products and technologies you use all the time, from instant-messaging technology to Waze, the crowdsourced traffic app.

Israel’s tech scene is famously thriving, with about 5,000 startups across the country. Nearly 1,500 of those are in Tel Aviv alone — that’s one startup for every 300 residents of the city, the highest ratio in the world.

A new wave of Israeli companies is inventing more technologies to improve day-to-day life, and 16 of these innovators are in Las Vegas this week to present at the Consumer Electronics Show, one of the world’s premier technology trade shows that draws more than 150,000 attendees.

From slouch-prevention technology to a device that turns any surface into a touchscreen, here are six remarkable Israeli innovations participating in the show.

Upright: Stop slouching, already!

It’s a product perfect for concerned Jewish mothers everywhere: a wearable device that makes you sit up straight.

According to Upright Technologies, habitually bad posture can begin as early as age 12. And with our culture having us sitting and staring at screens all day, bad backs can be hard to avoid.

Upright aims to solve the problem with a small, white device that looks like a ball with a piece of sashimi on top. Place the “sashimi” — it’s really a sensor — on the small of your back and connect it to your phone; it will provide a gentle buzz whenever you slouch too much. The app also guides users through a program to get them in the habit of using good posture.

Lexifone: Erasing the language barrier

In a global economy, not knowing English or another common language can be a barrier to doing business. Lexifone is an app that aims to solve the problem by making the “languages” section of your resume all but irrelevant.

Lexifone’s function is simple: It instantly translates whatever you say into the language of whomever you’re speaking to, and vice versa. So if you’re on a call to an associate in Rome, you won’t need to know anything more than “ciao” (actually you don’t even need to know that). It’s easy to understand why this would be especially useful in Israel, a country with a unique native language that few others speak. Lexifone works in 15 languages, from Arabic to Taiwanese Mandarin.

GreenIQ and Sensibo: Making your home more efficient

One of the most widespread Israeli innovations is drip irrigation, a technology that saves water by having it drip into the ground from pinpricks in a hose rather than from a sprinkler. GreenIQ aims to take watering efficiency in private homes to the next level with a product called the Smart Garden Hub: It adapts your sprinkler system to the weather forecast. That way, it can increase water volume on hot, dry days, but shut off the system when it’s already raining.


Sensibo, another company, works to make home air conditioners more efficient. It’s a small disc you stick on any remote-controlled air conditioner or heater: As long as the unit is on automatic mode, it will heat your house before you wake up or cool it down before you get home from work. Like many smart home devices, a phone app controls it. Sensibo claims it can reduce air-conditioning energy usage by up to 40 percent.

Bird: Turn any surface into a touchscreen


Sick of being glued to your phone, tablet or computer? Check out Bird. It’s a wearable device — also somewhat sushi-like in appearance — that fits on the tip of your finger and turns any surface into a touchscreen — tables, walls, you name it. Made by the startup MUV Interactive, it lets wearers move objects and click on icons simply by touching. In the video, for example, a child plays a video game that is projected on the walls of a living room.

HearPhones: Making hearing aids fashionable and easy

As most people age, hearing loss occurs — yet Alango Technologies says only 15 percent of those with hearing loss use hearing aids. Why? Because they are often complicated to use and aren’t particularly effective.

So Alango developed HearPhones, a hearing aid technology that can be adapted to a pair of headphones, a Bluetooth set or any other external device that people often wear on their ears. By merging hearing aids with everyday devices, Alango makes them easier to manage (from an app on your phone, natch). Bonus factors: HearPhones technology also allows the device to become a Bluetooth headset or slow down rapid speech to make it easier to understand.

Want more?

Here’s the complete list of Israeli startups presenting at CES.

Israeli soldier who shot downed Palestinian terrorist convicted of manslaughter

TEL AVIV (JTA) — An Israeli soldier who shot a downed Palestinian terrorist was convicted in an Israeli military court of manslaughter.

The verdict against Sgt. Elor Azaria, 20, was read out Wednesday by a panel of three judges at the Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Hundreds of protesters outside the venue clashed with police and several were arrested over the course of the more than three hours it took to read the decision.

The judges rejected the defense’s claims and version of what occurred in the March 24 incident.

“He opened fired in violation of orders, the terrorist did not pose any threat,” the judges wrote in their verdict. “The fact that the man sprawled on the ground was a terrorist who had just sought to take the lives of IDF soldiers at the scene does not in itself justify disproportionate action.”

Azaria, a medic in the elite Kfir Brigade, came on the scene following a Palestinian stabbing attack on soldiers in Hebron in the West Bank.

One assailant was killed, and Abdel Fattah al-Sharif was injured. Minutes later, while Sharif was lying on the ground, Azaria shot him in the head in a shooting that was captured on video by a local resident for the Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem. Azaria was arrested the same day and indicted nearly a month later. Autopsy reports showed that the shots by Azaria killed Sharif.

Prior to shooting Sharif, Azaria had cared for a stabbed soldier.

The case has been controversial in Israel, with some on the political right calling for solidarity with Azaria and others, including military leaders, suggesting such calls reflect a national crisis of ethics.

Azaria’s defense team said it would appeal the verdict. Many government ministers have called for a presidential pardon for Azaria.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in an interview outside the courtroom called the decision a “difficult verdict” that “must be respected. ”

After UN settlement resolution, will another shoe drop?

TEL AVIV (JTA) — The feeling in this country following the adoption of the anti-settlements resolution in the U.N. Security Council on Friday is more than palpable.

For those who observe Shabbat, there was the knowledge on Friday afternoon that a vote in New York would occur after all had sat down to dinner, with the outcome unknown until early the next evening. For others, Shabbat dinner was served with the TV volume turned up to hear the outcome of the vote.

By Saturday evening, and continuing into the new week, the resolution and its ramifications had become Topic A in cafes, barber shops, supermarkets and offices. The national letdown caused by the American abstention — outrage may be a better word — can be felt everywhere.

Now the conversation is turning to what may come next. There is concern that another shoe will soon drop, possibly a Security Council measure that would outline the parameters of a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a development that would fly in the face of the long-supported notion that only face-to-face negotiations can bring about a lasting peace agreement.

Next month, several new countries will be assuming seats on the Security Council, including Bolivia, Italy, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Sweden. The council will be chaired for the month of January by Sweden, whose government has made no secret of its pro-Palestinian bias. Sweden was the first European country to recognize a Palestinian state and its foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, has essentially signed on as a cheerleader for the Palestinian Authority. Wallstrom blamed Palestinian “despair” for motivating the terrorists who carried out the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher killings in Paris in January 2015. Following the spate of stabbings of Israelis in Jerusalem and other cities, she charged Israel with “extrajudicial executions” of those who perpetrated the acts. On her recent visit to Israel, before which she was told she would not be welcome, no major Israeli political figure would meet with her.

How would a vote on a new resolution look? That’s unclear. Israel in recent years has made important strides in its relationships in Africa. Jerusalem’s ties to Ethiopia are long standing as well. But Addis Ababa is home to the African Union, some of whose members have excellent relations with Israel and some who don’t.

Kazakhstan, the site of a recent visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also has had ties with Israel going back to the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. So does Italy, which will rotate its council seat with the Netherlands. Both countries are also members of the European Union, which as a member of the Quartet — along with the United States, Russia and the United Nations — has taken upon itself to push for a two-state solution based on direct negotiations.

What does the Quartet position mean in the wake of the settlements resolution? The United Kingdom and France, both currently EU member states, voted for the settlements resolution, much as they did when the matter last came before the Security Council in 2011.

These European members of the council bear a special responsibility toward Israel and the Jewish people. In three of them — France, Italy and the Netherlands — Nazi collaborators (and in the case of Italy, the state) collectively sent over 200,000 Jews to their deaths during the Holocaust. And the U.K., in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, prevented thousands of survivors with tattoos on their arms from entering prestate Israel, sending them to internment camps in Cyprus.

With that in mind, and with acts of anti-Semitism becoming a daily occurrence across the continent, will the European members arbitrarily dictate the security borders of the Jewish state, very possibly leaving it indefensible against neighbors and terrorist organizations?

And finally, what of the United States? With very few exceptions, the consensus view in Israel is that allowing the settlements resolution to be adopted will not bring peace, or any accommodation with the Palestinians for that matter, one day closer. Whatever one may feel about settlements, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel has been re-energized by the resolution’s differentiation clause, which calls on countries to distinguish between Israel and the territories. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority is chomping at the bit to take Israel before the International Criminal Court. With Palestinian claims to the Temple Mount now buttressed by the resolution, the P.A. can now proceed to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March waving the settlements resolution in support of that body’s infamous Item 7 basket of anti-Israel resolutions.

All of this is enough to conclude that rather than advancing a settlement, the gulf has now been widened.

Enough damage has been done to the cause of peace by the Obama administration’s enabling the settlements resolution. In the three weeks that remain before a change of U.S. administrations, can we turn instead to the tragedy of Syria, of which Aleppo is the symbol? Or to fighting ISIS? Or to calling out Iranian deception regarding the nuclear agreement, its takeover of Lebanon, half of Iraq and half of Yemen, and its support for Hezbollah and Hamas?

Is it possible, for a just a moment, to stop fixating on an issue that calls not for bias and placing one’s ally in an untenable position, but for a solution that leaves the Jewish state in a more secure condition?

Is it possible?

(Daniel S. Mariaschin is the executive vice president and CEO of B’nai B’rith International.)

Israel’s Chief Rabbinate promises standards for conversion rabbis and to count Ivanka Trump as Jewish

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Chief Rabbinate committed to creating standards for recognizing which Diaspora rabbis it trusts to handle Jewish conversions.

The Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis announced separately Wednesday afternoon that they would convene a meeting next week with the Chief Rabbinate Council and the Supreme Rabbinical Court aimed at determining the standards. The standards would be used to create a list of Diaspora rabbis recognized by the Rabbinate, Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said in his statement.

He also promised the Jewish conversion of Ivanka Trump, the daughter of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, would be recognized under the new standards.

“This reform is expected to stop the suffering of many converts who have been through a conversion abroad when they come to register for marriage and divorce in Israel. In contrast to the situation in the past, in which some officials in the Chief Rabbinate assumed the authority to check every case individually, now as mentioned above, every conversion that will be approved by a rabbi who is on the list of the approved rabbis will not be subject to further checking but will be approved automatically,” Yosef said.

“For example, what reached the headlines recently was the issue of the recognition of the conversion of Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the president-elect of the United States. According to the new proposed outline in which you check the converting rabbi only, their conversion would be legitimized without the need for further checking,” Yosef said.

The Chief Rabbinate is Israel’s highest Jewish authority, with control over personal status issues, like conversion, marriage and divorce. The Chief Rabbinate Council is its advisory body. The Supreme Rabbinical Court is the highest rabbinical court, which resolves disputes regarding personal status issues.

The Rabbinate released a list in April of more than 100 rabbis from the U.S. and 19 other countries whose authority over Jewish conversions it accepts. But the Rabbinate attached a letter to the list saying it was “not exhaustive” and simply included rabbis whose authority had been accepted in the past. The letter also said there was no guarantee the rabbis would be trusted in the future.

The Chief Rabbinate did not respond to JTA’s request for comment.

Controversially, the Rabbinate’s April list did not include prominent modern Orthodox rabbis like New York Rabbi Avi Weiss, who founded the progressive Open Orthodoxy movement.

The haredi-dominated Rabbinate has never recognized non-Orthodox rabbis or conversions, and in the past few years it has questioned the credentials of a few leading liberal Orthodox rabbis. In September, Haaretz revealed the Rabbinate had rejected four conversions approved by Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, the head of the Rabbinical Council of America’s rabbinical court. In July, the Rabbinate rejected a conversion by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the former leader at Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan’s Upper East Side under whose auspices Ivanka Trump converted before her marriage to Jared Kushner.

ITIM, an organization that helps Israelis navigate the state’s religious bureaucracy, petitioned a Jerusalem court in 2015 to pressure the Rabbinate to be more transparent about how it determines which Jewish conversions are legitimate. That petition led to the release of the Rabbinate’s first list of rabbis. It also drew attention to Itamar Tubul, a midlevel bureaucrat who evaluates requests from Israeli immigrants seeking a marriage license and ensures they are Jewish.

Rabbi Seth Farber, the director of ITIM, responded to Wednesday’s announcement with cautious optimism.

“We are incredibly gratified that the rabbinate has recognized its lack of policies regarding converts from overseas in harmful to Judaism in Israel and around the world. I hope that the outcome of this assembly will remove the insane bureaucracy that converts are forced to undergo to certify their Jewishness,” he said in a statement. “We will need to see the results of these meetings and ensure the criteria do not exclude wide swaths of the Jewish people.”

But Rabbi Uri Regev, the head of Hiddush, an organization that promotes religious pluralism in Israel, was skeptical the Rabbinate was capable of significantly liberalizing.

“With the makeup of the group that is convening next week, in my view it is very unlikely that they will come up with an agreed upon set of criteria that will be inclusive of the mainstream modern Orthodox rabbinate of North America today,” he told JTA. “They may approve of Rabbi Lookstein, not because of Rabbi Lookstein but because of Donald Trump. But there is no way in the world they will accept and legitimize the rank and file rabbis without further inquiry into individual converts.



Ontario passes motion rejecting BDS

TORONTO (JTA) — Ontario has become the first Canadian province to reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, campaign against Israel.

Ontario’s legislature in a 49-5 vote Dec. 1 passed a motion rejecting “the differential treatment of Israel, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.” All five opposing votes came from the left-leaning New Democratic Party.

The vote came six months after the province voted down a proposed bill that called on the province to stop doing business with companies, pension funds, foundations and colleges and universities that support BDS. That measure, which was a proposed law rather than the largely symbolic motion passed Dec. 1, was defeated in a 39-18 vote.

Last February, Canada’s House of Commons passed a motion condemning “any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad” by a vote of 229-51.

Lawmakers speaking for the Ontario motion described BDS as thinly-veiled anti-Semitism that has silenced debate and intimidated Jewish students at universities.

“We would not be here supporting the Ku Klux Klan on our campuses so why are we allowing [the] BDS movement and other anti-Jewish and anti-Israel organizations to have demonstrations and use our campuses, which are taxpayer-funded?” asked the motion’s sponsor, Conservative legislator Gila Martow, who represents a large Jewish constituency.

Those opposing the motion argued it silences legitimate dissent.

Canadian Jewish organizations were pleased by the motion’s passage, with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs calling it a “principled declaration that, just as Ontarians rightly oppose all forms of discrimination … rejects BDS and other bigoted campaigns against Israelis.”


Giving Tuesday: Here are 8 ways to help feed the needy now

1. As the person responsible for paying the bills at Masbia Soup Kitchen Network, providing over 2,000,000 meals a year, the best way to assist me and the thousands of volunteers who feed the people in need is by making a simple monetary online donation. To find out how your donation becomes part of the 2,000,000 meals, click here.

(Courtesy of Masbia)

2. In addition to your donation, you can get Amazon to donate to us as well, at zero cost to you. Before you do any holiday shopping, sign up with Amazon Smile and 0.5% of what you order on Amazon will be donated to Masbia. Please sign up today even if you are not planning to shop right now.

3. While you do your holiday shopping, you might want to consider Masbia’s Chef Ruben Diaz on your gift shopping list. Commercial restaurants constantly need to replenish equipment. Our kitchens are heavily used to create over 2,000,000 meals every year, which creates enormous wear and tear. Here is our Chef’s equipment wishlist. Click here to check it out. A friend of mine created a special website, called MyFiki, to promote Amazon wishlist donations. Click here to find our wishlist on that site. Let me know which one you find more user friendly: info@masbia.org.

4. For the first time since we have been around for over 10 years, we will start having Shabbat meals at the newly reopened Masbia Boro Park. I have created a separate Amazon wishlist for the items needed to be able to serve people with dignity on Shabbat and throughout the week. Click here to check it out on Amazon. For the same list via MyFiki, click here.

5. Speaking about gifts, Masbia’s website has its own store. We are now offering high-end, farm-to-table, extra-virgin olive oil that will be shipped from the farm in Oregon to anyone who makes a donation of $200. For a donation of $1,000, you will receive all 5 different breeds of olives. That will for sure make the most braggable olive oil you ever had or gifted to a friend. Check it out over here. Don’t forget, Chanukah is coming up.

6. Re-purposing old furniture is very chic these days. I am sure you will agree that the most highly regarded piece of wood would be from a table that fed thousands of charity meals to the needy. The Talmud likens that table to the altar of the Temple. Imagine having a mezuzah on steroids, where the covenant with God is not only that you put a parchment of Shema on your doorpost, but the case is made out of Masbia tables. This very limited edition of mezuzah cases, carved by artist Alex Aronov, was added to our store last week. For a donation of $3,600, we will send you one of those. Check out the store here.

7. The hardest one to mention here is this one. Masbia of Queens is currently homeless. Instead of feeding people in a restaurant style setting, our staff and volunteers hang around in front of our boarded up, used-to-be facility to hand out heat meals to-go. Renovation of our new facility has stalled due to lack of finances. We have put together a dedication campaign to help us raise the funds needed to continue renovating and operating our soon to be Forest Hills facility. Options start at $25 a month to $180,000 for location naming rights. Click here to see the campaign.

8. We now also accept donations in stock. It’s a win-win situation: Masbia gets a nice contribution (we usually sell shares immediately), while you, the donor, can write off the gift and avoid paying capital gains taxes on the stock gains. Brokerage: Revere Securities, Masbia OTC#:0750, Masbia account#:75544352. Or Contact Masbia’s financial adviser, Ronald Geffen, 212-688-2350.

Thank you so much for the long read and for helping us out. Again, for a quick and simple donation, click here.

Israeli government convenes in scorched Haifa as wildfires controlled

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Cabinet held its weekly meeting in Haifa to show support for the thousands of people displaced by the wildfires that ravaged Israel in recent days.

“This is our message to all Israeli citizens whose homes and property were damaged in the fire: We will help you rebuild your homes and your lives as soon as possible and this is the main purpose of the special Cabinet session today in Haifa,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of the meeting on Sunday, adding that the government plans to “cut through the cruelty of bureaucracy” to help people get on their feet again.

Most of the fires that swept across the country in recent days have been extinguished, according to reports, though several small fires cropped up on Sunday and more could be expected.

Netanyahu said at the meeting that the fires, many of which officials blame on Arab arson attacks, are worse than “other terror attacks.”

During the meeting, Netanyahu announced that he was working to establish a multinational firefighting force, which also would make group purchases of expensive firefighting equipment. He said he had spoken to officials in several countries and had found “a great interest” in the idea.

Netanyahu thanked the countries that sent aid and aircraft, pilots and firefighters to help halt the progress of the fires. He thanked the Israeli firefighters, as well as the Israel Police, the Magen David Adom rescue service, the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command and the rest of the rescue forces, and saluted their courage. He acknowledged the swift response of local authorities and average Israeli citizens who opened their homes to the evacuees.

He added that the conditions of these fires were much more complicated than the Carmel forest fire in 2010, in which 44 people, including many police officers, were killed.

‘Death to Jews’ sprayed on Ukrainian synagogue

(JTA) — Unidentified individuals wrote “death to the Jews” on the main synagogue of a city in Ukraine that earlier this month saw the rededication of another Jewish house of worship.

The hateful graffiti was discovered last week on the façade of the Central Synagogue in Chernivtsi, a city located 255 miles southwest of Kiev, a leader of the local Jewish community said.

Earlier this month, hundreds of Orthodox Jews convened at the Chernivtsi district of Sadhora of for the rededication of a synagogue that was built in the 19th century by followers of the influential Hasidic rabbi Israel Friedman of Ruzhyn. It had fallen into disrepair decades ago.

“It’s a shame to admit that when the country is dealing with war, instead of uniting society, some provocateurs are trying to sow ethnic hatred,” Ilya Hoach, leader of the local Jewish charity Miriam, wrote on Facebook, along with photos of the vandalism. The perpetrators also drew a cross on the synagogue.

Also this month, work began on the construction near the local Jewish cemetery of a memorial museum for the Jews of the Chernivtsi area, the Vaad group of Ukrainian Jews announced.

Separately, on Nov. 19, black paint was poured on a monument for Holocaust victims on Mogilev, a city in Belarus located 150 miles east of the capital Minsk, the Belapan news agency reported. The monument was in memory of at least 6,000 Jews that German troops murdered at the Mogilev Ghetto in 1941.

A similar incident occurred in 2012, when brown paint was poured on the same monument, according to Belapan. Police said the 2012 incident was the result of an accident but the local community disputes this, the report said.