Looking back: A journey thorough 2017

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As 2017 draws to a close, it’s time once again for a look back at the highs and lows of the past year, as covered in The Jewish Voice. What follows are a few of the highlights.

January 2017

Massive waves of wildfires in Israel caused an estimated $520 million in damage.

For eight days, firefighters battled 90 fires in 1,773 locations, with the largest blazes occurring in Haifa.

Faith leaders come together to fight poverty at annual vigil.

Faith and advocacy leaders from across the state gathered in the Rhode Island State House rotunda Jan. 4  for the “Fighting Poverty with Faith” vigil. More than 60 clergy joined hundreds of people for the annual event, sponsored by the RI Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty

Refugee ban puts Jewish asylum seekers in limbo for now.

A year after submitting their application for asylum in the United States, Shahi and his mother expected to be let in. As Iranian Jews who applied for asylum through a federally recognized agency for refugee status, their case was expected to be simple. Shahi (not his real name) is in his late 20s. As of now, mother and son are in a third transit country. President Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending the admission of all refugees into the United States for four months. The order also imposes a 90-day ban on entry visas to all citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran.

Jeffrey Savit to leave Alliance this summer

Jeffrey K. Savit, president and CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, announced his resignation. Savit, who has served as the first president and CEO of the Alliance, was hired in 2011, when the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Jewish Community Center combined to form one organization. He has overseen the merged organization as it has evolved, including the establishment of the Living on the Edge Initiative and the renovation of the Dwares JCC.

February 2017

Dwares JCC target of bomb threat.

The bomb threats targeting Jewish organizations around the United States caught up with the Dwares Jewish Community Center on Feb. 27. According to reports, at least 29 JCCs, Jewish day schools, the Anti-Defamation League in San Francisco and seven additional targets were targeted by bomb threats on Feb. 27. This was the fifth wave of threats in the last two months. 

March 2017

50 years after Nostra Aetate,  Jewish-Catholic relations have never been better.

On March 22, Providence College hosted a discussion titled “Theological Exchange Between Catholics and Jews. Nostra Aetate – Fifty Years Later,” with Rabbi Gary  Bretton-Granatoor, of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Nantucket, Massachusetts, and the Rev. Dennis McManus, of Georgetown University. The night concluded with the two leaders expressing optimism about the future relationship between the two faiths. “We [Catholics and Jews] know how to come together for the sake of healing the world,” said Bretton-Granatoor. 

Control over Touro Synagogue and its $7.4 million silver bells back in court.

Ownership of the country’s oldest synagogue and its valuable religious and ritual objects is being decided by a federal appeals court. At stake is control of Newport’s 250-year-old Touro Synagogue, the religious home of Congregation Jeshuat Israel and a pair of historically significant silver bells that are used to adorn Torah scrolls. The bells, called rimonim, are late 18th century filials handcrafted by Myer Myers, one of the most prominent silversmiths of the Colonial era. The rimonim are valued at $7.4 million.

April 2017

Anti-Semitic incidents in US surging in ’17, rose by a third in ’16.

Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States soared 86 percent in the first three months of 2017 after rising by more than one-third in 2016, according to the Anti-Defamation League. There has been a massive increase in harassment of American Jews, largely since November, and at least 34 incidents linked to the presidential election that month, the ADL said April 24 in its annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents.

May 2017

Unity Shabbat focuses on American-Israeli Jews.

On April 28, Temple Habonim hosted a seasonal “Wine and Dine” Shabbat service, titled   “Unity Shabbat,” which focused on the relationship between American and Israeli Jews. The evening’s special guest speaker was Tslil Reichman, Israeli emissary (shlichah). She spoke to congregants about the importance of this relationship as well as the significance and symbolism of three of Israel’s most notable and recent holidays, Yom ha-Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom ha-Zikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), and Yom ha-Atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day). 

The world can be thankful for these 7 incredible new things from Israel.

To build a Jewish state in the Middle East, Israelis had to be innovators.

Some of what they’ve come up with has been used mostly by their fellow citizens – think Hebrew slang, Bamba snacks and the Iron Dome missile defense system – at least so far.

But many other Israeli creations have changed the world: drip irrigation, the USB flash drive and actress Natalie Portman, among them.

Some incredible things Israel gave the world this year, its 69th year of independence.

A weed inhaler, the Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva announced it would begin marketing a medical cannabis inhaler in Israel that delivers precise doses of the drug. A binge-worthy TV series. The Israeli TV drama “Fauda” has given the world a compelling look inside the conflict at the heart of the Jewish state. A popular sport for middle-aged women. Popularized by Israeli moms in 2005, the women’s sport of catchball has recently gone global. Richard Gere playing a Jewish schlub. Richard Gere, a famously suave gentile, stars as a schlubby Jewish schemer in “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.” Self-driving cars Your next car may very well come with an Israeli driver, though it won’t be human. A Wonder Woman with training After first playing Wonder Woman in last year’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” Israeli actress Gal Gadot will appear in her own DC Comics film this summer.

Community social service agencies to merge.

After nine months of planning and negotiations, Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island (JFSRI) and the Jewish Seniors Agency of Rhode Island (JSA) have agreed to merge into one comprehensive agency called Jewish Community Services of Greater Rhode Island.

R.I. Foundation offers $35,000 to Jewish groups.

Jewish community charitable organizations, synagogues and day schools from Barrington to East Greenwich have until June 9 to apply for more than $35,000 in grants through the Bliss, Gross, Horowitz Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation.

June 2017

Large crowd turns out to celebrate Dwares JCC’s reopening  

It was a festive celebration for all ages as the Alliance’s Dwares JCC officially reopened on May 24. Visitors streamed into the newly renovated building at 5 p.m., excitedly anticipating a talk by Nate Ebner, a special teams player on the New England Patriots and a U.S. Olympics rugby player. Upstairs, in the Sapinsley Family Gymnasium, a bounce house and games entertained young children. 

Carl Reiner, 95, dishes his secrets to longevity.

The first thing Carl Reiner does every morning is pick up the paper and read the obituary section to check if he’s named there.

“If I’m not, I’ll have my breakfast”– or so he says in the charming and appropriately titled HBO documentary “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.”

Then the 95-year-old actor, writer and director, the creator of the “Dick Van Dyke Show” – “my greatest achievement,” he tells JTA – goes to his computer to work on his latest project, a book.

Adam Greenman appointed president, CEO of the Alliance.Adam Greenman will be the next president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, it was announced on June 14.

Greenman comes from a nonprofit background, working most recently as executive vice president of United Way of Rhode Island and executive director of the Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance.

Riding for Holocaust education.

On June 9, Jewish motorcyclists from as far away as California and Toronto roared into Rhode Island for the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance’s Ride2Remember 2017. This year’s fundraising ride was to benefit the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center, in Providence.

August 2017

A new era for Holocaust education in Rhode Island.

At its annual meeting on June 22, the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center (SBHEC) marked the beginning of a new era: the SBHEC celebrated moving into its new space in the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, in Providence, and welcomed incoming president Edward H. Newman.

Touro Fraternal celebrates 100 years.

For 100 years, the Touro Fraternal Association has brought Jewish men together, offering a sense of community and belonging. Founded in 1917 and organized a year later, gatherings were social at first. Later, community service and philanthropy were added to the mix.

Today, its nearly 500 members are fathers and sons from all over Rhode Island.

Honoring survivors at the Holocaust Memorial.

Rhode Islanders gathered at the Holocaust Memorial on the River Walk in Providence twice in just six days to recognize another milestone in the establishment of the memorial. The names of Holocaust survivors who settled in Rhode Island have been engraved on stones surrounding the memorial pathway. 

September 2017

A few of the top 10 moments that mattered to Jews in 5777.

Bob Dylan is awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature.

In an unexpected move, the Swedish Academy bestowed the iconic Jewish American singer – born Robert Zimmerman – with the highly coveted Nobel prize in October. Trump takes office, bringing Ivanka and Jared with him. Trump took office in January after his unexpected victory over Hillary Clinton in November, pledging in his inaugural address to put “America first.” Israel freezes pluralistic Western Wall agreement. A June decision by Netanyahu’s Cabinet to put a hold on the creation of an egalitarian section of the Western Wall, a deal passed in 2016, drew the ire of American Jewish leaders. Neo-Nazis rally in Charlottesville.  Neo-Nazis and white supremacists gathered in a Virginia park in August to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.  Hurricane Harvey floods Houston

Homes were flooded and lives were turned upside down as Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in August. Over 70 percent of the city’s Jews live in areas that experienced high flooding, and synagogues, schools and other Jewish community buildings sustained significant damage.

 

From Poland to Jerusalem in time for Israel’s 70th.

March of the Living offers a two-week once-in-a-lifetime experience for 10th to 12th graders. Starting the journey in Poland, the teens will arrive in Jerusalem in time for Israel’s 70th birthday celebration.

 

October 2017

School project to remember Holocaust victims surpasses goal.

A 9-year-old school project to commemorate Holocaust victims surpassed its unlikely goal to collect 11 million stamps – representing the lives of 6 million Jews and 5 million other victims of intolerance who perished. From its modest beginnings of collecting a few thousand stamps, the Holocaust Stamp Project has transformed into an all-volunteer community service component for the school’s high school students.

Woonsocket congregation to meet Sunday to decide its future.

Congregation B’nai Israel, in Woonsocket, like many synagogues in Rhode Island, is facing some difficult challenges.  The oldest Conservative synagogue in Rhode Island, B’nai Israel Now, the dwindling membership must care for an aging building that needs constant upkeep and increasingly expensive capital repairs.

Inspiring Jews who died in 5777.

The number of Jews who left historic marks on their fields – and, more broadly, on Jewish culture – was remarkable. Some of them are: Carrie Fisher, 60: Leonard Cohen, 82;  Simone Veil, 89; Jerry Lewis, 91; Zsa Zsa Gabor, 99; Don Rickles, 90; Henry Heimlich, 96;

 

November 2017

Jewish takeaways from Election Day.

The big post-Election Day headline is the stunning Democratic sweep in Virginia’s gubernatorial and House elections, coupled with the predicted Democratic win of the governor’s mansion in New Jersey. Virginia over the last couple of decades seems to have transitioned from Republican red to Democratic blue, with the Democrats close to taking the House of Delegates in a result no one anticipated. Virginia’s Albermarle County was closely watched this election: It includes Charlottesville, the home to the University of Virginia and a liberal enclave in conservative central Virginia. Democrats are notoriously tough to get out in off-year elections, and Albermarle was seen as a bellwether of the party’s get-out-the-vote operation. In Mea Shearim, a haredi Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, the best way to take the political pulse is by looking up – at the stone walls, where densely written posters break down the issues in Yiddish. Jacob Frey, 36, a marathon runner, supposedly faced a hurdle in his bid to become mayor of Minneapolis because he wasn’t born in Minnesota. New Jersey’s first Sikh mayor. The popular Democratic mayor, Dawn Zimmer surprised her constituents by opting not to run again, saying she preferred to focus on climate change. Instead, she endorsed City Councilman Ravi Bhalla. Bhalla won, becoming the state’s first Sikh mayor.

Medieval Jewish cemetery uncovered in Bologna, Italy.

Authorities in Bologna, Italy, have announced the discovery of the site of the city’s medieval Jewish cemetery, which was destroyed in 1569. They said archeological excavations in 2012-14 uncovered 408 graves, making the cemetery the largest medieval Jewish cemetery known to date in Italy.

For more on any of these stories, got to jvhri.org and search for the article title.