Former NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire, says he is in the process of converting to Judaism. Stoudemire, who played last year for Israel’s basketball team, Hapoel Jerusalem, says he is converting as part of his acclimation to Israeli culture and to get help in applying for Israeli citizenship. But he is careful to point out that his journey “on this path really has nothing to do with citizenship, it’s just really truly a spiritual journey, and my goal is to get into the kingdom, and that’s the only mission.” Stoudemire has always maintained that he has “Hebrew roots” and has taken courses in Judaism and Israeli culture.
United States President Donald Trump is “seriously considering” easing the parole conditions of Jonathan Pollard, so he may be granted travel to Israel once the embassy is moved to Jerusalem. Currently, his parole restrictions do not allow him to leave New York and move to Israel. Pollard was paroled from prison in November 1985, after serving 30 years of a life sentence for spying for an ally. Upon hearing the news, Pollard said, “I am praying for a miracle. I just want to come home.” Intelligence Services Minister Israel Katz said allowing Pollard to come to Israel would be another welcome gesture by the Trump administration when the United States embassy moves to Jerusalem. “In order to make the celebration even happier, I would like to ask our great friend President Trump to give the Israeli public one more present, and to allow Jonathan Pollard to come to Israel, and celebrate with us in Jerusalem,” Katz said.
Heads of the Falash Mura community in Addis Abba in Ethiopia threatened to go on hunger strike if the Israeli government fails to make a decision soon on bringing 8,000 members of the community to the country. In 2015, the government approved the migration of 9,000 Ethiopian Jews, mostly those who already have family living in Israel. Since then the community has encountered delays upon delays with many expired deadlines. The threat was issued during President Reuven Rivlin’s state trip to Africa in an attempt to strengthen diplomatic and business ties and to encourage Israeli aid and development assistance. There was some progress last year when 1,300 Ethiopians were brought to Israel, but since then the government has not allocated funds to bring the remaining 8,000. “I have been waiting 20 years to make aliyah. My parents and three sisters are all in Israel, and 2,000 of our community have died in those 20 years waiting to make aliyah,” Melese Sidsto, head of the Falash Mura community in Addis Ababa told Rivkin. The Falash Mura community consists of Jews forced into Christian conversion in the late 19th and early 20th century. They are not entitled to citizenship under the Law of Return, but have in the past been given special dispensation to come to Israel and obtain citizenship after undergoing a conversion process. Critics of the move claim that the criteria used in previous rounds of immigration were too broad and that allowing for further family reunification will lead to ever more rounds of immigration of people not necessarily connected to Judaism. Oren Cohen of the Prime Minister’s Office said that a ministerial meeting including the finance, interior, aliyah, and integration ministers is scheduled for June 18, when a decision will be made.
The Nikaia cemetery, a Jewish cemetery near Athens, was desecrated once again with neo-Nazi symbols and destroyed marble headstones. Two years prior, black paint was splattered on the entrance to the cemetery with the number 18, a known neo-Nazi code for Adolf Hitler. The perpetrators, who have yet to be identified, also wrote in black paint “raus,” which translates to “out” in German. There was also a swastika painted on the cemetery’s gate. The head of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, or KIS, Minos Moissis, said he was “very angry” about the desecration, and posted pictures of the broken headstones. The Nikaia cemetery is an active and relatively new place for Jewish burial. The community has been burying its dead there since shortly after World War II when city authorities allocated the land to the community for this purpose.
The Lost Shtetl Museum, a new 3,000 square foot facility, is being constructed in Lithuania to commemorate and educate the world about the history of shtetls. The interactive museum will show how the small Jewish towns played an integral part in Lithuanian Jewry, which numbered about 200,000 before WWII. Politicians, dignitaries, and members of the Jewish community recently broke ground on construction of the building. The museum will focus on pre-war Jewish life in Seduva, northern Lithuania, one of dozens of pre-war shtetls that dotted the Baltic state’s countryside. The project is being overseen by the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund, which recently restored an old Jewish cemetery containing some 1,300 gravesites opposite the site where museum will be built. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė praised the opening of the facility saying that it will bring back from oblivion the names and faces of many families, friends, and neighbors, as well as their customs and traditions. “When we talk about the past of Lithuanian Jewry, we often say that ‘time was merciless’,” said Sergey Kanovich, founder of the Seduva Jewish Memorial Fund and the Lost Shtetl project manager. “But time is not anonymous. We cannot put all the blame and guilt on it…It depends on the here and now. Memory is the responsibility of all of us. Lithuanian Jews and their legacy cannot live only in commemorations and solemn speeches.” Today, 3,000 Jews reside in Lithuania. The Lost Shtetl Museum is expected to open its doors in 2020.
Uber is investigating an allegation of anti-Semitism committed by one of its drivers towards an Israeli diplomat. Itay Milner, who is a deputy counsel of Israel to the Midwest, claims he was ejected from his ride by the driver, identified only as “Yuva,” simply for speaking Hebrew on the phone. Milner says that 10 minutes into the ride he made a call and was speaking in Hebrew when the driver became irate and demanded that he exit the vehicle, which was driving on Lower Wacker Drive, a busy area in Chicago. The Uber driver told the diplomat that the reason he was being asked to leave was that he was speaking Hebrew “I just had the worst experience of my life. I was thrown out of an Uber because I was speaking my mother tongue,” Milner wrote on his Facebook page. “I never thought something like this could happen in America, such awful racism.” The driver has been employed with Uber for one year and has a high rating of 4.89. The company has suspended the driver and is currently looking into the incident saying, “Uber does not tolerate any form of discrimination. We are reaching out to the rider to extend our support for the experience he described here. As soon as we were made aware of this, we removed the driver’s access from the app as we look further into this.”