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What’s a Nice Jewish Girl Doing With a Bishop, a Pastor and a Rabbi in Southfield, Michigan?

Word of Faith - Day to Honor Israel

Photo credit: Keith A. Butler Facebook page / The Word of Faith Digital Media Department

By Cathy Lanyard
Executive Director, American Friends of ALYN Hospital

It’s not every Sunday morning that a nice Jewish girl (well, OK, to be honest, more a woman of a “certain age” than a girl) finds herself in the center seat of the center row of a 5,000-seat sanctuary in an Evangelical church listening and foot tapping to a 200 member choir and a 100-person orchestra! And if that wasn’t enough of a shell shock for me, I was a scheduled speaker at this special service and knew not only would I have to climb the steps to that enormous stage and face 5,000 people but that I would follow world renown Pastor John Hagee!

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself so let’s start the story back at the beginning. In November of 2015, I had the incredible opportunity to take Bishop Keith Butler, the founder and spiritual leader of Word of Faith Church, on a private tour of ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem. ALYN is a well-kept secret. It’s a jewel in Israel’s crown of accomplishments that too few have heard about or seen. It’s the most amazing pediatric rehab center where absolutely everything needed to rehab a physically disabled child (and his or her family) is under one roof. Bishop Butler flew expressly to Israel to see ALYN for himself on the recommendation of his dear friend Rabbi Jonathan Hausman. The Rabbi has been connected to ALYN for decades and I am lucky enough to count on him as my friend, my personal rabbi and a member of my Board; therefore one of my bosses.

In November, in Israel, Bishop Butler reacted as everyone does after seeing ALYN. He was deeply moved. I honestly believe that if someone tours ALYN and doesn’t have that reaction they should go — immediately without stopping — to their cardiologist and find out what’s wrong with their heart. Butler’s heart is in tip top condition and minutes after we left ALYN, he extended the most incredible invitation to me. He asked me to come to Southfield on Sunday, April 3rd and be a part of his church’s CELEBRATE ISRAEL DAY. I was asked to talk about ALYN and told that Pastor John Hagee, Founder and Leader of CUFI — the largest organization of Evangelicals devoted to Israel — was another invited guest and would give the morning’s keynote address.

To be in the company of two giants in the Evangelical world is an experience I will never forget. Butler and Hagee could not be more different physically. But their hearts and minds are one — as if they were identical twins. Both are so committed to Israel and so dedicated to the safety of wellbeing of all Jews and especially the continuity and future of the State of Israel. They both spoke on Sunday and both quoted the Bible and I learned much about how the Christian and Jewish scriptures coincide which I did not know. But it is their shared passion and commitment to Israel that is still resonating with me.

I’m also reflecting on how much we have in common despite our very different outward appearances and our very diverse lives. There was not a person in that sanctuary that did not sing Israel’s praises. When the Word of Faith church sang the Star-Spangled Banner everyone stood and cheered. And when they sang Israel’s anthem, Hatikva, there was not a dry eye in the house. I’ve never heard Hatikva sung so beautifully and soulfully and it reminded me how precarious Israel’s existence is and how crucial to democracy in the Middle East she is. I was enveloped in the love that Bishop Butler has infused into the creation of Word of Faith and that Pastor Hagee has infused into the creation of CUFI. The feeling that I had sitting there in awe and appreciation for the service and the day reminded me of how I feel every time I am at ALYN. I feel enveloped in the love that was infused into the creation of the ALYN Hospital and the love that I see there every single day as they treat the heroic kids.

So I addressed the congregation. I speak publicly all the time but I admit to being nervous having to follow the giant that Hagee is and nervous hoping I would meet Butler’s expectations. I told the audience about ALYN, of course, but I also told them that I know that peace is possible in the Middle East because it exists at ALYN. In addition to the rehabilitation miracles that we perform there every day with children who many others deem “not worth the effort” we also are world leaders in cultural diversity.

The entire span of Israeli society can be seen at ALYN. Our patients, families and staff are white, black, Jewish, Christian, Arab, Orthodox, Muslim, secular and more. Learned prejudices and hatred are put aside to face the seemingly insurmountable challenges of living with severe physical disabilities. Yes, in the face of adversity, teamwork and love can rule the day.

Then I looked into this massive sea of faces and quoted Pastor Hagee who had said in his remarks “Doing shows your love” and invited everyone to do the most they can for the kids of ALYN so that these courageous kids can stand up and dance with joy and love — whether on their own legs or with the help of crutches, walkers and wheelchairs — just like every single one of the 5,000 at Word of Faith did in Southfield. Read the rest at the Huffington Post.

Congress Moves to Spur Return of Artwork Stolen By Nazis

Congress - Full House

Photo credit: Wikipedia File Photo

New bill paves way for justice decades after Holocaust

By Adam Kredo

Congress is paving the way for Holocaust survivors to reclaim artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War II, according to new legislation filed by a bipartisan group of senators.

The new bill would facilitate the return of these looted artworks by permitting Holocaust survivors to have their cases heard before courts in an expedited manner.

The legislation, titled the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, or HEAR Act, seeks to build upon current efforts by the U.S. government to pave the way for survivors to have their claims reviewed and ruled upon.

The latest legislation would establish a clear nationwide time frame by which these must be heard, according to a copy of the bill, which is being spearheaded by Sens. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), John Cornyn (R., Texas), and Richard Blumenthal (D, Conn.).

“The phrase ‘never forget’ is more than a slogan,” Cruz said in a statement. “‘Never forget’ means working to right all the terrible injustices of the Holocaust, even if many decades have passed. The HEAR Act will empower the victims of this horrific persecution and help ensure that our legal system does everything it can to redress the widespread looting of cultural property by the Third Reich as part of its genocidal campaign against the Jewish people and other groups.”

Cruz explained that the legislation also encourages the United States to focus on current cultural crimes being committed by terror groups such as ISIS, which has been destroying cultural sites and other historical artifacts as it seizes territory across the Middle East.

“It reminds us that the need to protect our cultural history in our own time is as urgent as ever,” Cruz said. “Terrorist groups from the Taliban to ISIS, seeking nothing less than the destruction of Western civilization, long to walk in the footsteps of their genocidal, thieving forebears. The HEAR Act will make it clear that the United States takes a strong stand against the looting and trafficking of antiquities and other artifacts.”

Schumer also emphasized the need to ensure that Holocaust victims receive just restitution more than 70 years after the Nazi war effort ended.

Seventy-one “years after the end of the Holocaust and Hitler’s terrifying regime, victims are still identifying possessions that have been missing all these years,” Schumer said in a statement. “When a family discovers a piece of art that was stolen by the Nazis they deserve their day in court. This legislation helps provide these families their day in court, ensuring that the heirs of holocaust victims are given the opportunity to bring their art back home.”

Artworks stolen by the Nazi regime continue to be held in private collections, museums, and by governments across Europe. Many Holocaust survivors have experienced protracted legal battles to recover these works.

Ronald Lauder, chairman of the Commission for Art Recovery and the president of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, said in a statement that the new legislation will pave the way for families to finally receive justice. Read the rest at the Washington Free Beacon.

CUFI Sunday Afternoon Must-Read: In a Rough Paris ‘Hood, Jews Keep a High Profile for Passover

      Rue Gabriel Péri, a pedestrian zone in Saint-Denis, in 2012. Photo credit: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons

Rue Gabriel Péri, a pedestrian zone in Saint-Denis, in 2012. Photo credit: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons

The Chabad House of Saint-Denis has no intention of complying with its mayor’s advice to lie low until there’s peace in the Middle East

SAINT-DENIS, France (JTA) — After three firebombs hit the synagogue of this poor and heavily Muslim suburb of Paris, municipal authorities advised the local Jewish community to lower its profile.

Like dozens of attacks on French synagogues since 2000, the January 2009 incident at the Chabad House of Saint-Denis, which did not result in any injuries, was believed to have been Islamist extremists’ retaliation for Israel’s actions – that year against Hamas in Gaza.

“We were told by the mayor from the Communist Party that it would be prudent if we tone down our activities at least until things calm down in the Middle East,” recalled Yisroel Belinow, who runs the Chabad House here with his wife, Rivky, and his brother, Mendel.

“We had absolutely no intention of complying,” he said.

Instead of laying low, the Belinows that year produced Saint-Denis’ first public community Passover seder, starting an annual tradition. Members of this besieged congregation say it succeeded because it reflects their unity in the face of rising anti-Semitic violence.

Each year since 2009, the Beth Chabad of Saint-Denis — a small building under constant army protection — welcomes about 100 congregants for a group seder dinner. It is led by Belinow, an introverted and soft-spoken man, and his more outgoing and older brother.

“It’s the best answer we could come up with to the attack,” Belinow said.

On the evening of January 11, 2009, assailants ignited and hurled firebombs into the Chabad House kitchen. The fire charred the dining area but failed to catch because of quick intervention by Mendel Belinow, who was inside the building. Belinow said police found 15 unignited firebombs in parts of the building, including a children’s play corner. No one was convicted in the attack.

“The attack lasted an instant and made an impression for a few weeks. But the seders — they’re now an annual event that’s part of the definition of this community,” Belinow told JTA during a community event last month in Saint-Denis.

Saint-Denis’ 15,000 Jews are all that remains of a community that was halved after the 1980s, when many left for more affluent and safer areas. Jewish emigration from Saint-Denis increased in 2000 amid a surge in anti-Semitic attacks. Gradually estranged from areas where it became unsafe to wear a kippah, the Jews here joined a quiet exodus that has depleted Jewish communities north of Paris.

With 100 guests, attendance at public seders in this drab suburb is relatively high for France. The Chabad House of Toulouse, where 23,000 Jews live, gets similar and even lower attendance, which sometimes leads to the event’s cancellation. And in Nice, where 20,000 Jews live, some 120 local Jews attend the local Chabad House’s public seder, which is being prepared for the fifth consecutive year.

Mourners cluster around the bodies of the victims of Monday’s shooting in Toulouse during their joint funeral service in Jerusalem (Photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash 90)
Mourners cluster around the bodies of the victims of Monday’s shooting in Toulouse during their joint funeral service in Jerusalem (Photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash 90)

Group seders are less popular in France than elsewhere in Europe because it has a predominantly Sephardic community with “close family ties and a tradition of hospitality,” said Avraham Weill, a Chabad emissary and chief rabbi of Toulouse. “People get invited to family seders, lowering demand for a public one.”

Some of the Saint-Denis seder guests are poor Jews with no family in France, including Mordechai Elbaz, a 60-year-old former dope dealer who lives in a moldy two-room apartment. He plans to attend the seder this year with his only relative – a sister, who is on a visit from Israel.

Other Saint-Denis congregants choose the public seder over a family setting. Caroline Wildbaum, 47, a regular at the Mendels’ Chabad House, has attended Saint-Denis seders with her four children, now aged 15 to 22, since the first year.

“I have a rather large family, so it’s not like I come here not to feel alone,” said Wildbaum, who lives in the nearby suburb of Sarcelles, a municipality known as “little Jerusalem” for its Jewish community of 60,000. “Having a seder here doesn’t subtract from the family atmosphere, it amplifies it.”

She added: “None of Sarcelles’ synagogues offer this feeling of unity and family.”

The Chabad House is now the only synagogue in Saint-Denis, which once boasted four. Drugs are sold openly at a local train station. Young, jobless gang members loiter there. In November, two suspected terrorists were killed here in a police raid on alleged perpetrators and accomplices tied to the terrorist attacks that month in Paris, which killed 130 people.

During the raid, the Jewish community of Saint-Denis went into lockdown for a few days. But true to his institution’s ethos, Mendel Belinow vowed activities would only “increase in volume,” starting with a public lighting of Hanukkah candles the following month.

At the Chabad House, congregants exchange hugs, kisses and back slaps. They call each other by their first names and address one another, including the rabbis, with the less formal pronoun “tu.” Wildbaum sometimes teases the Brooklyn-born Rivky Belinow by calling her “my sister the princess” while playfully imitating her American accent.

Many credit the Belinows with generating this atmosphere.

“Mendel, with his fiery speeches and warm hugs, sets the tone,” said Ascher Bouaziz, a physician in his 60s who has worked his whole professional life in Saint-Denis. “Yisroel is more reserved. His administrational skills keep the place ticking. And Rivky, her charm and sweetness just melts everyone who meets her. That’s the secret to this place.”

Yet some connect the social cohesion also to the external threats, which are “making Jews seek comfort in a community where members have exceptionally strong ties to one another,” according to Irene Benhamou, a 59-year-old mother of two. “When you are surrounded by people who want to kill you, you find less time for bickering and formalities.”

Her youngest son was threatened with a knife on the street last year in what she said was an anti-Semitic incident. It made her decide to move four months ago to Noisy-le-Grand, an affluent eastern suburb, but she still comes to Saint-Denis for community events.

For Bouaziz, this year’s Saint-Denis seder may be his last. Next year he is planning to join the 20,000 French Jews who have immigrated to Israel since 2014.

“I don’t feel safe here,” he said. “When I retire I want to live where I can wear my kippah without inviting attack and army protection.” Read the rest at the Times of Israel.

Report: Hezbollah Doubles Down on Support for Assad, Building Fortified Base in Syria


Hezbollah is building a fortified base in Syria, the global intelligence company Stratfor reported Wednesday.

The site lies near the border city of Qusayr, which Hezbollah, along with the Syrian army and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), captured from Syrian opposition forces in June 2013. “According to one source close to Hezbollah, the group intends to stockpile artillery weapons [there],” Stratford reported. “It also plans to move some of its approximately 60 T-72 main battle tanks there.”

The site is also reportedly being used to stockpile Shabab-1, Shabab-2, and Fateh-110 missiles, Iranian-manufactured ballistic missiles with ranges of between 200 and 1000 kilometers, putting all of Israel within range. Stratfor added that the base, which is already a hub of IRGC activity, “could also serve as a location for interaction and training between IRGC and Hezbollah operatives,” noting that Hezbollah has dug tunnels between the site and Lebanon.

Last year IHS Jane’s reported that Hezbollah appeared to be building a drone base across the border from Qusayr in Lebanon.

Hezbollah has also been busy building up its military infrastructure in southern Lebanon, mostly within civilian areas. At a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing last month, Foundation for Defense of Democracies research fellow Tony Badran said that in building this infrastructure, “Hezbollah has essentially painted a big target on the back of all of Lebanon.” Badran continued that the placement of more missiles in southern Lebanon “as well as Hezbollah’s entrenchment in Syria and its expansion into the Golan along with the IRGC, creates a situation for Israel that will…accelerate upcoming future conflict which…is going to be far bloodier than we’ve ever seen on both sides.”

Israeli officials have warned that by moving most of its military infrastructure into Shiite villages in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah is placing Lebanese civilians at risk and using them as human shields. Read the more at The Tower.