First Read For Feb. 2
News RoundupThe headlines American Jews are talking about today.

First Read For Feb. 2

Inauguration rabbi raps Trump on Holocaust statement; revival for Sicilian Jews; Jewish Venezuelans allowed in Israel.

Rabbi Marvin Hier speaking at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s 2015 National Tribute Dinner in Beverly Hills, Calif., March 24, 2015. JTA
Rabbi Marvin Hier speaking at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s 2015 National Tribute Dinner in Beverly Hills, Calif., March 24, 2015. JTA

The rabbi who delivered a benediction at Donald Trump’s recent inauguration as president is critical of the White House’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which did not mention Jewish victims specifically.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and head of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, called the statement a mistake, according to Haaretz.

“I do not accuse President Trump of wanting to dishonor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust who were Jewish, but it was a mistake,” Rabbi Hier said. “The Final Solution was not planned against Gypsies. The Final Solution was not planned against homosexuals. It was not planned against any group other than Jews,” he said. “Of course there were many victims who were non-Jews. But the principle objective of Adolf Hitler was to do away with Europe’s Jews.”

While Hier said he had no idea how the White House statement was drafted and who wrote it, he attributed it to a “rookie mistake.”



Does Donald Trump have a prayer?

He does if Benjamin Netanyahu has his way.

According to the israeltoday website, the Israeli prime minister, in a recent visit to one of the country’s most influential charedi Jewish sects, asked the members to pray for the success of the U.S. president.

Netanyahu was paying his condolences to Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, head of the Belzer community, following his mother’s death.

Israeltoday quotes the charedi B’Hadrei Haredim news portal as reporting that Netanyahu asked Rabbi Rokeach to keep President Trump in his prayers. “We had a big miracle that we’re over a difficult time in the U.S.,” Netanyahu reportedly said. “Now a new president has been elected and we should pray that he will be good for the Jews and for Israel.”


The Jewish Agency has worked out an arrangement with the Israeli government to allow nine Jewish Venezuelans entry into the country, representing a reversal of a decision to bar their immigration earlier in January, according to Tablet magazine.

The Venezuelan group —three families consisting of five adults and four children—was converted by a Conservative rabbinical court in 2014, but their immigration requests were denied Israeli citizenship by the Interior Ministry because they were not “involved enough” in the Jewish community.

The Venezuelans will settle in Israel once they undergo a second, “symbolic” conversion.



The small Jewish community in Sicily is undergoing a revival.

According to the Times of Israel, the millennia-old community, which once had at least 25,000 members and is now estimated as under 10,000, is the subject of an outreach effort coordinated by the Union of Italian Jewish Communities and the Israel-based Shavei Israel organization – with a boost from the Archdiocese of Palermo.

The Times of Israel reports an increase in interest in Judaism among many Sicilians, so-called “lost Jews,” who suspect that they have Jewish roots.

The Archdiocese last month donated the building of the Oratory of Santa Maria Delle Grazie al Sabato to the Jewish community, and mayor Leoluca Orlando replaced street signs in the historic city center with new ones that feature the names of the streets in Hebrew and Arabic letters as well as Latin, to pay homage to the island’s multicultural past.

Since 2013, Palermo hosts a public lighting of a Chanukah menorah in the Palazzo Steri, the former headquarters of the Catholic Inquisition.


The Jewish Community of Warsaw has sent matzah to a public television official who was accused of anti-Semitism after he mentioned the traditional Passover food on air while denouncing anti-government protesters, JTA reports.

Marcin Wolski, director of the TVP2 state-funded channel, read a poem he wrote saying protesters outside the Polish parliament were “handing out matzah” during anti-government protests, and suggesting that Jews were behind the demonstrations against proposed curbs on the media by Poland’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice party .

The Jewish Community of Warsaw filed a complaint for racist rhetoric with the National Council on Radio and Television, which has guidelines against airing such content.

Anna Chipczynska, president of the Jewish Community of Warsaw, included in the matzah delivery to the station a leaflet on how to fight anti-Semitic rhetoric, which she posted on Jan. 24 from the community’s head office in Warsaw.



Hamas has restored its operational capabilities to the levels the terrorist organization had reached before Israel’s Operation Protective Edge 2½ years ago, a senior defense official has warned, according to Arutz Sheva.

The Hamas military wing held a rally last week in a show of force, the website reports, in honor of Mohamed Zaouari, the aviation engineer who worked on drones for the terrorist organization and who was assassinated in Tunisia last month.

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