A Time Of War, A Time Of Peeping Tom-ism
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A Time Of War, A Time Of Peeping Tom-ism

From Gaza to a D.C. mikveh to a Cuban jail cell, a look back at the top stories of 2014, plus leading figures we lost.

1. The Gaza War

In July, Israel launches its third major Gaza operation in six years. Dubbed Operation Defensive Edge, the campaign begins with 10 days of intensive airstrikes in Gaza. After several failed cease-fire attempts, a ground invasion of Gaza follows.

Hamas fires thousands of rockets into Israel, striking as far away as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and a Haifa suburb. In four weeks of fighting before a 72-hour cease-fire in early August, some 1,800 Palestinians are reported killed. Israel comes under heavy criticism for attacks that kill children, strike UN facilities and damage civil infrastructure. Israel blames Hamas for using civilians as human shields and schools, hospitals and UN facilities as weapons depots. The death toll in Israel includes 64 soldiers and three civilians. Several of Israel’s casualties are due to Palestinian infiltrations of Israel through tunnels burrowed under the Israel-Gaza border. Israel’s prime minister says destroying the tunnels is one of the war’s main objectives.

In the U.S., the war fuels a bitter debate in the Jewish community, with liberal Zionists questioning whether Israel’s conduct of the war led to a disproportionate number of civilian casualties in Gaza, and the pro-Israel community staunchly backing Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas rocket fire.

2. Peace Talks End

After weeks of near breakdowns in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel, in April, suspends all negotiations after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party signs a unity accord with Hamas, a designated terrorist organization. President Obama responds by saying it may be time for a pause in Middle East peacemaking. Kerry later expresses regret for saying that Israel risks becoming an “apartheid” state or a non-Jewish one if the two-state solution is not implemented. U.S. negotiators blame Israel for the talks’ collapse.

3. Naftali, Gilad And Eyal

In June, three Israeli teenagers, later identified as Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, are kidnapped in the West Bank from a hitchhiking post. Israel responds with three weeks of intensive searches, including mass arrests in the West Bank of Hamas members and the re-arrest of dozens of Palestinians released as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner-exchange deal. Three weeks on, Israeli authorities find the teens’ bodies and announce that the boys were believed to have been killed the night they were kidnapped. The incident sparks the revenge killing by Jews of an Arab teen, riots and a surge of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces responds by launching Operation Protective Edge – Israel’s deadliest foray into Gaza since its 2005 withdrawal – on July 8.

4. Anti-Semitism In Europe

A riot outside a French synagogue in July is one of several incidents related to the Gaza war that threaten Jews in Europe. The riot by Palestinian sympathizers outside the Synagogue de la Roquette in central Paris traps some 200 people inside the building. A street brawl ensues between the rioters and dozens of Jewish men who arrived to defend the synagogue.

5. Rabbi Barry Freundel Voyeurism Charge

In October, Rabbi Barry Freundel, longtime spiritual leader of Washington’s prestigious Kesher Israel synagogue, is arrested on a voyeurism charge. Police say he videotaped women undressing in the synagogue’s mikveh. In the wake of the arrest, the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest organization of Orthodox rabbis in the world, establishes a committee (six men and five women) to review its conversion process; it is the largest appointment of women to an RCA committee in its 80-year history, according to the group’s president.

6. ‘Death Of Klinghoffer’ Protests

“The Death of Klinghoffer,” a Metropolitan Opera production that centers around the 1985 terrorist murder of a Jew in a wheelchair aboard the Achille Lauro cruise ship, ignites protests in the Jewish community in September. Protestors claim that the opera, written by leading composer John Adams, is anti-Semitic and excuses Palestinian terrorism. The Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, agrees to cancel a worldwide simulcast of the production, but the protests continue, amid calls for the Met to cancel the production. Gelb accuses protestors of fomenting a possible backlash against the Jews for seeming to want to control a major arts institution. The show, according to Met figures reported in The New York Times, drew more concertgoers than any in the Met’s fall season.

7. Iran Talks

In July, Iran and the major powers, led by the United States, agree to extend negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program for another four months, citing progress in a number of areas. But the potential deal breaker remains: Iran does not want to reduce its number of its centrifuges, and the world powers say they won’t accept Iran maintaining its existing capacity for uranium enrichment. The deadline was extended again in November.

8. Alan Gross Released From Cuba

In mid-December, five years after he was arrested in Cuba on a charge of providing illegal technical assistance to the country’s small Jewish community, New York-born Alan Gross, who inadvertently became one of the world’s most prominent Jewish political prisoners, is a free man. Gross, 65, was released from a Cuban prison on “humanitarian grounds” and flew back to the United States on an American military plane, joined by his wife, Judy, and several members of Congress. “I’m free,” Gross declared to his daughters during a phone call from the plane.

As he reunited with friends and family after landing at Andrews Air Force base near Washington, President Obama, who called Gross’ imprisonment “a major obstacle” to improved bilateral ties, announced a thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, including a start of the process to full diplomatic relations, and the weakening of the American trade embargo and other sanctions against the island nation. At the same time, Cuban President Raul Castro on Cuban TV announced the “normalization” of ties. Both cited Pope Francis, who had urged both leaders to bring about Gross’ release and an end of bilateral hostilities.

9. J Street Nixed By Presidents Conference

In a sign of the continuing split between liberal Zionists and the Jewish establishment over Israel, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations rejects J Street’s bid for membership. J Street, the liberal Washington group that lobbies for increased American pressure to bring about a Mideast peace deal, lost its bid for membership in the main communal group on foreign policy issues by a vote of 22-17, with three abstentions. J Street needed the support of two-thirds of the conference’s 51 members to gain admission.

Those We Lost

Ariel Sharon, the controversial warrior-turned-statesman who served as Israel’s prime minister from 2001 until 2006, when he was rendered comatose by a stroke, dies in January at age 85.

In May, Sol Adler, the previous longtime executive director, who was fired after revelations that he had a long-term affair with his assistant, hangs himself in his Brooklyn home. The suicide takes place shortly after the 92nd Street Y names its first non-Jewish executive director, Henry Timms.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the father of the Jewish Renewal movement, which sought to introduce more music, dance and meditation into prayer and Jewish life, dies in July in Boulder, Colo., at age 89.

Joan Rivers, a Jewish comic who broke barriers for women in comedy and on television, dies in September at age 81.

Ralph Goldman, former executive vice president of the Joint Distribution Committee and a close associate of Israel’s founding leaders, dies in October in Jerusalem at 100.

Writer and liberal activist Leonard Fein dies in August at age 80. Fein had founded Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger and the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy, and co-founded Americans for Peace Now and Moment Magazine. A few weeks later, Fein’s older brother, Rashi Fein, a Harvard professor known for his contributions to medicine and social policy, dies at age 88.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis, activist and path-breaking Conservative spiritual leader in Encino, Calif., dies in December at 89.

Transitions

In November, the Anti-Defamation League chooses White House aide Jonathan Greenblatt, a social entrepreneur, to succeed Abraham Foxman as national director. Greenblatt’s appointment receives a lukewarm reception in the Jewish community because he is not a well-known figure, and lacks a strong record of activity in the Jewish communal world.

In July, John Ruskay steps down as CEO and executive vice president of UJA-Federation of New York, a post he held for 15 years. Ruskay is credited with championing the cause of centralized philanthropy in an age of boutique giving, and stressing that the charity was actually in the business of creating “caring communities.” Fifty-four-year-old attorney Eric Goldstein takes over. His appointment is seen as significant because he did not come up through the ranks of Jewish communal life, and that he is Modern Orthodox.

In a political shocker in June, Rep. Eric Cantor, the majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives and the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in American history, is upset in the Republican primary for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District by a Tea Party challenger. Dave Brat, an economics professor, wins handily after attacking Cantor for drifting from conservative principles. Days later, Cantor resigns his post as majority leader.

In the mid-term elections in November, Long Island State Sen. Lee Zeldin, a former soldier in the U.S. Army who served in Iraq, wins his race for the 1st Congressional District. Zeldin becomes — with the primary defeat and subsequent resignation of Rep. Eric Cantor — the only Republican member of Congress. Zeldin defeated incumbent Tim Bishop.

JTA contributed to this report.

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