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Rene Trabelsi, a Jewish businessman, was recently appointed to be Tunisia’s minister of tourism. The country has been facing economic difficulties including unemployment and high inflation.  It is hoped that Trabelsi, who runs a successful business in the tourism sector, can help with the economy. Trabelsi owns the Royal First Travel agency, which organizes pilgrimages to Djerba, the oldest synagogue in Africa, attracting 300,000 tourists annually.  Trabelsi will be Tunisia’s  third-ever Jewish minister in the predominantly Muslim country. His father, Peres Trabelsi, was a key leader in the Jewish-Tunisian community.  Trabelsi  spends half the year living in France and the other in his birth country of Tunisia, where  he is a prominent media figure due to his calls for Jewish-Muslim coexistence. According to the Associated Press, at one point Tunisia was home to 10,000 Jews, but today only 1,500 remain. Most of the Jewish population fled to France after the country gained its independence.   



Two Jewish teenagers were assaulted in Paris earlier this month.  One of the victims, a 19-year-old male, was attacked by three men who attempted  to steal his wallet and computer. When the perpetrators noticed he was wearing a yarmulke, they became more aggressive in their attack and repeatedly kicked the victim in the back. The other victim is a teenage girl who reported that a Muslim man struck her in back of the head while yelling in Arabic. She told officials that he also made gestures of firing a gun at her. Officials believe the girl was singled out because of her private school uniform which identifies her as Jewish. In a separate incident, “Long live Palestine, Jews out”  was spray-painted on a Paris synagogue in Les Lilas, an eastern suburb of Paris bordering on the 19th District, the same location where the other two attacks occurred.


The Polish city of Lodz was in the process of demolishing some old wooden shacks when they discovered a  150-year-old Torah scroll hidden within the walls of one of the houses. Other Jewish artifacts were also found in the walls.  The scroll was shipped to Israel. The Lodz ghetto was established in 1940 and became the second-largest ghetto created by the Nazis. About 164,000 Jews were held there before it was finally liquidated toward the end of 1944.



Israel’s tourism took a dive in 2014 due to escalations from the Gaza war,  but it seems to have finally recovered, with Israel’s Ministry of Tourism reporting a record-breaking number of visitors.   October saw some 500,000 visitors, the largest number ever for a single month. The Tourism Ministry said the most significant increase is in arrivals from Poland (up 90%), followed by Hungary (up 65%), Italy (50%),  and Romania and the Netherlands (40% each). One explanation for the tourism boom is the new Open Skies aviation pact with the European Union, which has caused the price of airfare to decline while the number of carriers serving Israel continues to increase.  Wow Air, an Icelandic budget airline, says it will resume flights to Israel by the summer; they have been acquired by rival Icelandair. El Al is capitalizing on the growth by starting a new route between Tel Aviv and Manchester beginning in May 2019. This will allow them to compete with EasyJet, a low-cost carrier.


Citing environmental and health concerns, Israel is planning to stop all coal production and ban imported cars using pollutant fuel by 2030. To accomplish this, Israel plans on generating 80% of its electricity from natural gas, with the rest generated by a mix of alternative energy sources. There is already a distribution pipeline network for liquefied gas currently under construction. “Within 20 years, we will be the most densely populated country in the West,” warns Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Resources Dr. Yuval Steinitz, who wants to phase in electric and hybrid vehicles and reduce air pollution by 60%. In the transportation arena, the plan calls for gradual weaning of public transportation and truck traffic from gasoline, to be replaced with electricity and natural gas-burning engines. Israel has already invested $6.9 million (25 million shekels) in programs to build electronic vehicle charging stations across the country. The coal-burning facilities of the Israel Electric Company in Ashkelon and Hadera will be shut down. Steinitz believes that if his plan does not get implemented Israel “will face a catastrophe. This is a matter of our health, and we cannot afford delays.”


Canadian-Israeli billionaire businessman Sylvan Adams is on a mission to put Israel on the moon. He is partnering with SpaceIL, a nonprofit organization, and donating five million dollars to make Israel the fourth country to soft-land on the lunar surface. The  spacecraft is set to launch in early 2019. Adams is interested in expanding Israel’s space program because he sees it as a way to encourage Israeli youth to take up STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) studies.  Adams also contributed to the Israel Aerospaces Industries (IAI) MBT Space Division in Yehud, where the spacecraft is being assembled.


Jews everywhere were stunned when back in October, Lipa Schwartz, 62, an innocent, elderly man walking in Boro Park was viscously assaulted by Farrukh Afzal, 38,  a Muslim cab driver for no apparent reason.  Afzal faced his day in Brooklyn Criminal Court recently and now faces a 17-count indictment that besides for the assault  now labels his act a hate crime. Afzal, who hails from Pakistan, but lives in Staten Island, has been ordered to undergo  psychiatric examination and  is expected to return to court on Jan. 14. If found guilty, he faces up to seven years in prison.  Video surveillance captured the cab driver driving erratically and swerving before beating Schwartz in the head while screaming “Allah” and “Israel.”  Another Jewish man attempted to stop the attack but was then also chased by Afzal until he was finally restrained by a good Samaritan.

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