The Year Of Living Dividedly
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Goodbye 2016

The Year Of Living Dividedly

A look back at 2016, from Trump Tower to the Kotel.

We said goodbye to giants — Elie Wiesel and Shimon Peres. Whatever our political persuasion, we couldn’t help but ride the Bernie wave, as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (from James Madison High in Flatbush and with Brooklyn in his voice) became the first Jewish politician ever to win a presidential primary, and the man who put the phrase “income inequality” on all our lips. We winced at the bitterness unleashed by the issue of egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, which reached from the Kotel to Queens and made Reform and Conservative Jews here wonder if the holiest site in Judaism belonged to them, too. We watched with pride as “Grandma” Aly Raisman raised high another gold medal for the American women’s gymnastics team at the Rio Games. And our jaws dropped when the news broke from Stockholm that Bobby Zimmerman, the Jewish kid from the Iron Range in northern Minnesota who came east with a guitar slung over his shoulder and words that glowed like burning coal, won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Knockin’ on heaven’s door, indeed.

But 2016, of course, was the year of Donald Trump, a profoundly polarizing figure who will take the oath of office on Jan. 20. From his daughter and son-in-law to his chief strategist, the alt-right champion Stephen Bannon (whose Breitbart News website has been accused of anti-Semitism), to David Friedman, his controversial pick for ambassador to Israel, Trump’s story is laced with Jewish significance. And it’s one that will likely consume us — for better or worse — as we cleave to hope for a better 2017, and that, maybe, just maybe, there is a balm in Gilead.

Robert Goldblum

JANUARY

Israeli members of Women of the Wall, carry a Torah scroll during prayers in the women's section of the Western Wall on November 2, 2016. Getty Images
Israeli members of Women of the Wall, carry a Torah scroll during prayers in the women’s section of the Western Wall on November 2, 2016. Getty Images
  • In response to unspecified complaints that products produced in the West Bank are mislabeled as originating in Israel, the U.S. customs agency reiterates its policy that any goods originating in the West Bank or Gaza Strip be labeled as such.
  • After decades of squabbling, the Israeli government approves a compromise to expand the non-Orthodox Jewish prayer section of the Western Wall. Under terms of the deal, the size of the non-Orthodox section of the Western Wall will double to nearly 10,000 square feet and both areas will be accessible by a single entrance.
  • The Cleveland Cavaliers fire Israeli-American head coach David Blatt, who led the team to the NBA Finals in 2015. Blatt releases a statement saying he was “grateful” for the chance to serve as coach.
  • Rabbi Eugene Borowitz, an influential thinker in Reform Judaism, dies at 91. A longtime faculty member at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Rabbi Borowitz was the author of 19 books and hundreds of articles on Jewish thought.
  • The Mount Freedom Jewish Center in New Jersey announces it has hired a woman using the title “rabbi.” Lila Kagedan, a graduate of New York’s Yeshivat Maharat, was ordained in June as an Orthodox clergywoman. The school permits graduates to choose their title; Kagedan is the first to choose rabbi.
  • Hundreds of protesters at a gay conference in Chicago, charging “pinkwashing” of Israeli misdeeds, disrupt a reception for Israeli LGBT activists, forcing the event to shut down. The disruption is strongly condemned days later by several leading gay activists, including former Rep. Barney Frank and Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that led to the legalization of gay marriage.

 

FEBRUARY

Géza Röhrig as Saul in “Son of Saul.” JTA
Géza Röhrig as Saul in “Son of Saul.” JTA
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, wins the New Hampshire primary over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, becoming the first Jewish candidate in American history to win a presidential primary.
  • The Hungarian Holocaust drama “Son of Saul” wins an Oscar for best foreign language film. Other Jewish winners at the 2016 Academy Awards are “Amy,” the documentary about the late Jewish singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, and Michael Sugar, who wins for best picture as co-producer of “Spotlight,” the story of the Boston Globe investigative team led by Jewish editor Marty Baron that exposed sex scandals in the Catholic Church.
  • The Canadian Parliament formally condemns the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, saying it “promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel.”
  • The Jewish Theological Seminary announces the sale of $96 million worth of real estate assets and its intention to use the funds to upgrade its New York facility. The seminary of the Conservative movement says it intends to build a state-of-the-art library, auditorium and conference facilities, and a new 150-bed residence hall on its main campus.
  • Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump disavows the support of David Duke after earlier claiming he knew nothing about the former Ku Klux Klan leader’s views.

 

MARCH

Hillary Clinton addresses the annual policy conference of the AIPAC ON March 21, 2016 in Washington, DC. Getty Images
Hillary Clinton addresses the annual policy conference of the AIPAC ON March 21, 2016 in Washington, DC. Getty Images
  • Jewish comedian Garry Shandling dies in Los Angeles at 66. Shandling wrote for several sitcoms before starring in his own shows, including “The Larry Sanders Show,” which aired on HBO in the 1990s and earned Shandling 18 Emmy Award nominations.
  • Venice launches a yearlong commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the world’s first official Jewish ghetto. Among the many events scheduled for the anniversary is an appearance by Jewish U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who presides over a mock trial of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender character from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.
  • Microsoft pulls its artificial intelligence tweeting robot after it posts several anti-Semitic comments. The software company had launched the so-called chatbot as an experiment but quickly paused the endeavor after the controversial tweets, several of which expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler.
  • Israeli leaders condemn the actions of a solider caught on video shooting an apparently incapacitated Palestinian lying on the ground. “What happened today in Hebron does not represent the values of the IDF,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says following the release of the video. The soldier is charged with manslaughter in May and later goes on trial.
  • Thousands of delegates attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington featuring appearances by most contenders for the presidency — most controversially Donald Trump, who sparks much talk of protests and walkouts in the days leading up to the conclave. Speaking the morning after Trump’s address to the gathering, AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus issues a rare apology for Trump’s attacks on President Barack Obama, saying the group is “deeply disappointed that so many people applauded a sentiment that we neither agree with or condone.” Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and John Kasich also address the conference, while Bernie Sanders issues a written statement to the group from the campaign trail.
  • Merrick Garland, the chief of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, is nominated to replace Antonin Scalia, who died in February, on the Supreme Court. In his acceptance speech, Garland emotionally recalls his grandparents who had fled antisemitism for better lives in the United States. Republicans vow not to consider his nomination during President Obama’s last year in office.

 

APRIL

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders shaking hands before the CNN Democratic Presidential Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. JTA
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders shaking hands before the CNN Democratic Presidential Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. JTA
  • Days ahead of the New York primary, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton engage in a heated exchange over Israel at a debate in Brooklyn, with the Vermont senator accusing the former secretary of state of neglecting the Palestinians and reiterating his charge that Israel used disproportionate force in Gaza in 2014. Clinton won the primary in New York, home to the country’s largest Jewish population, 58-42 percent.
  • A majority of professors at Oberlin College sign a letter condemning the “anti-Semitic Facebook posts” by a fellow faculty member. The letter, signed by 174 professors, does not name Joy Karega, the rhetoric and composition professor whose posts, including one accusing Israel and “Rothschild-led bankers” of responsibility for downing an airliner over Ukraine in 2014, drew widespread attention.
  • Bernie Sanders suspends his Jewish outreach director after revelations of social media posts that used profanity to describe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Simone Zimmerman, a former activist with J Street, reportedly called Netanyahu a “manipulative asshole.”

 

MAY

Sen. Bernie Sanders waves to the crowd after delivering remarks on the first day of the DNC in Philadelphian on July 25, 2016. Getty Images
Sen. Bernie Sanders waves to the crowd after delivering remarks on the first day of the DNC in Philadelphian on July 25, 2016. Getty Images
  • Bernie Sanders names three prominent critics of Israel to the committee charged with formulating the Democratic Party platform. Days later, he releases a statement emphasizing that while he supports Israel’s right to live in peace, lasting peace will not come without “fair and respectful treatment of the Palestinian people.”
  • Britain’s Labour Party launches an investigation into anti-Semitism within the party one day after the suspension of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who said Adolf Hitler was a Zionist because he advocated moving Europe’s Jews to Israel.
  • Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and major backer of Republican candidates, endorses Donald Trump for the presidency. In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Adelson cites Trump’s executive experience and the threat of a “third term” for President Obama if Hillary Clinton is elected.
  • Julia Ioffe, a reporter who wrote a critical profile of Donald Trump’s wife, Melania, is deluged with anti-Semitic phone calls and messages on social media, including a cartoon of a Jew being executed. Ioffe files a police complaint about the threats.

 

JUNE

A swastika at a children’s playground in Brooklyn Heights, New York. (Screenshot from Twitter)
A swastika at a children’s playground in Brooklyn Heights, New York. (Screenshot from Twitter)
  • Rabbi Maurice Lamm, the author of “The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning’ and several other notable Jewish books, dies. First issued in 1969, the book is considered a seminal work on the topic of Jewish death and mourning rituals.
  • British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, already under fire over allegations of rampant antisemitism in his party, draws more criticism for seeming to compare Israel and the Islamic State terrorist group. A report on anti-Semitism within Labour finds that the party is not overrun by anti-Semitism but that there is an “occasionally toxic atmosphere.”
  • Hallel Yaffa Ariel, 13, is stabbed to death while sleeping in her bed in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba by a Palestinian teenager. The attacker, Muhammad Nasser Tarayrah, had jumped the settlement fence and entered the sleeping girl’s bedroom. He later is shot and killed by civilian guards.
  • Israel and Turkey sign a reconciliation agreement six years after relations were cut off following an Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship attempting to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
  • Anti-Semitic incidents on American college campuses nearly doubled in 2015, the Anti-Defamation League reports. A total of 90 incidents were reported on 60 college campuses in 2015, compared with 47 incidents on 43 campuses in 2014. The ADL audit records a total of 941 anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2015, an increase of 3 percent over the previous year.

 

JULY

Eli Wisel in his study. Courtesy
Eli Wisel in his study. Courtesy
  • Pope Francis visits Auschwitz, where he prays in silent contemplation and meets with Holocaust survivors. Francis is the third pope to visit the camp, following the Polish-born John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.
  • Debbie Wasserman Schultz steps down as leader of the Democratic National Committee following the emergence of emails showing senior DNC staffers sought to undercut the campaign of Jewish presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.
  • Goldie Michelson of Worcester, Mass., the oldest living American, dies at home at the age of 113 and 11 months. Michelson, the daughter of Russian Jewish parents, immigrated with her family to Worcester when she was two.
  • Jared Kushner defends his father-in-law, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, from charges of anti-Semitism following the elder Trump’s tweeting of an image of Hillary Clinton with a six-pointed star reminiscent of a Star of David over a background of dollar bills. The tweet is later deleted. “I know that Donald does not at all subscribe to any racist or anti-Semitic thinking,” Kushner said.
  • Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, author, activist and Holocaust survivor, dies at 87 of natural causes. Wiesel, who wrote “Night” and “The Jews of Silence,” was well-known internationally for his books and as a leading voice of conscience.
  • Israel’s highest rabbinical court rejects a conversion performed by a prominent American rabbi, Haskel Lookstein. The conversion had been rejected originally in April by a court in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petach Tikvah. Rabbi Lookstein, the former rabbi of Kehilath Jeshurun, a tony modern Orthodox synagogue on the Upper East Side, performed the conversion of Ivanka Trump, the daughter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

 

AUGUST

Esther Jungreis, from 2016, founded the organization Hineni to bring young Jews closer to Orthodox Judaism. Via Hineni.org
Esther Jungreis, from 2016, founded the organization Hineni to bring young Jews closer to Orthodox Judaism. Via Hineni.org
  • Esther Jungreis, aka “The Rebbetzin,” a pioneer in the Jewish outreach movement and founder of the organization Hineni, dies at 80.
  • American gymnast Aly Raisman wins three medals at the Rio Olympics, a gold for the overall U.S. women’s team and two individual silvers. Israel takes home two medals at the games, both bronze in judo, while American Jewish swimmer Anthony Ervin at 35 becomes the oldest person to win a gold medal in an individual swimming event. The Rio games also pay tribute to the 11 Israelis killed at the Munich Olympics in 1972.
  • Fyvush Finkel, an Emmy Award-winning actor who began his career performing in the Yiddish theater, dies at 93.
  • An offshoot of the Black Lives Matter movement adopts a platform describing Israel as an “apartheid state” and claims it perpetrates “genocide” against the Palestinian people. The coalition of 50 organizations is harshly criticized by Jewish organizations.
  • Gene Wilder, a comedic actor who played the title characters in the films “Young Frankenstein” and “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” and also starred in the Mel Brooks’ Western spoof “Blazing Saddles,” dies at 83.

 

SEPTEMBER

Holocaust truth squad: (R-L) Deborah Lipstadt & actress Rachel Weisz, who plays the historian in “Denial.” Liam Daniel/Bleeker
Holocaust truth squad: (R-L) Deborah Lipstadt & actress Rachel Weisz, who plays the historian in “Denial.” Liam Daniel/Bleeker

* “Denial,” a movie about the libel trial of Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University who is sued by Holocaust denier David Irving, opens. Rachel Weisz portrays Lipstadt, who won the case.

* Three bombs explode, and several explosive devices are found in the Greater New York area. The three events — in Manhattan, and Seaside Park and Elizabeth, N.J. — are all linked to Ahmad Khan Rahimi, of Elizabeth, N.J., who was allegedly influenced by extremist Islamic ideology.

* JCC Harlem, an “initiative” of the Upper West Side’s JCC Manhattan, opens in Harlem, the latest sign of an emerging Jewish presence in the neighborhood that boasted one of the country’s largest Jewish populations early in the 20th century.

 

OCTOBER

Shimon Peres. Getty Images
Shimon Peres. Getty Images

* Shimon Peres, the last of Israel’s Founding Fathers, dies at 93. In his roles as prime minister, defense minister and president, he is feted — and alternately criticized — for his role in the Oslo peace process, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize but ultimately collapsed with continued hostilities between the Israelis and Palestinians.

* The Jewish Week, which had never endorsed political candidates, endorses Hillary Clinton for president, calling her opponent, Donald Trump, “ill-equipped for the demands of the Oval Office.”

* Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan (nee Robert Zimmerman) wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.

 

NOVEMBER

President-elect Donald Trump. Getty Images
President-elect Donald Trump. Getty Images

* In an upset not predicted by most pollsters or pundits, Republican Donald Trump is elected presidency. According to polling, Hillary Clinton wins the Jewish vote, 71-24 percent. In the election’s aftermath, a sharp rise in bias incidents — against Jews, Muslims and other minorities — is reported across the country, largely attributed to the influence of Trump, who had taken a strong stand against Muslims and Mexicans.

* Trump names former Stephen Bannon, longtime CEO of the right-wing Breitbart News website, as a top adviser in the future Trump administration. The appointment is criticized by many Jewish leaders, because of his role in nationalist alt-right movement.

Trump’s nominee as education secretary, school choice champion Betsy DeVos, draws criticism from supporters of church-state separation, while Orthodox Jewish groups support the nomination.

* The rift between Israelis and U.S. Jews deepens as an agreement for pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall falls apart, largely because of pressure from Israel’s Orthodox political leaders. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angers the Reform and Conservative movements for his ambivalent role in the controversy.

* A series of fires rage in Haifa and other Israeli cities. While the media call the fires “arson intifada” and Netanyahu suggests that terrorism is the cause, the identity and motivation of the perpetrators is unclear.

* Yeshiva University chooses Rabbi Ari Berman, former spiritual leader of The Jewish Center in Manhattan and currently head of the Jewish Heritage Center in Jerusalem, as the school’s fifth president, succeeding Richard Joel.

* Singer-bard Leonard Cohen dies at 82. A prolific writer, he was best known for “Hallelujah,” his paean to shattered faith. Although he was an ordained Buddhist monk, he was buried in a traditional Jewish funeral service in Montreal.

 

DECEMBER

Rep. Keith Ellison at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., May 24, 2016. JTA
Rep. Keith Ellison at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., May 24, 2016. JTA

* President-elect Donald Trump draws heavy criticism for his appointment of David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer and conservative Orthodox Jew with no diplomatic experience, as U.S. ambassador to Israel. Friedman, who says Trump will honor his pledge to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel, has been quoted as calling J Street members “far worse than kapos,” and defending Israel’s building of new settlements on the West Bank.

* Rep. Keith Ellison, a Muslim, is nominated as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Many Jewish leaders say they are worried, because of his past criticism of Israel.

* Ben Gilman, retired Republican congressman from Rockland County, dies at 94.

* The United States abstains on a UN Security Council resolution that condemns Israel’s settlement-building activity in the West Bank, allowing the resolution to pass. The U.S. action increases the divide between Israel and the soon-to-depart Obama administration. In response, Israel immediately announces new settlement building in east Jerusalem.

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