Opinion

My top 10 Jewish stories of 2017

Clockwise from top left: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Holocaust survivor Yisrael Kristal, President Trump declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, and Gal Gadot, a former Israeli soldier, as the heroine in the hit film “Wonder Woman.”

(RNS) — For the past 26 years, I have been cataloging the most important stories of the year. As a rabbi, I’m particularly interested in stories that impact the world Jewish community. Here are my top 10 Jewish news stories in 2017 in reverse order:

10. Notable deaths

2017 saw the deaths of Edith (“Edie”) Windsor, the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that helped legalize same-sex marriages; Holocaust survivor Yisrael Kristal, who at his death at age 113 was the world’s oldest man; Otto Warmbier, an Ohio college student who died shortly after his return to the U.S. from a North Korean prison; Jonathan Woocher, an influential scholar and author on Jewish education, and comedian Jerry Lewis.

9. Celebrities on the rise

The sports and entertainment world produced two Jewish stars in 2017. Andy Bregman, the third baseman of the Houston Astros, helped propel his team to its first World Series win. Gal Gadot, a former Israeli soldier, gained global fame as the glamorous and tough heroine in the hit film “Wonder Woman.”

8. German college extends an honor

German-born Rabbi Walter Jacob of Pittsburgh founded the Abraham Geiger College near Berlin in 1999, a post-Holocaust seminary that has ordained a growing number of German-speaking progressive rabbis. This year the school awarded its highest award to the famed Israeli author Amos Oz for his commitment to “openness, courage, tolerance and freedom of thought.”

7. Israel’s world diplomacy

Israel broke out of its previous diplomatic isolation by improving relations on three important fronts: India, the world’s largest democracy, China and a number of African countries. The dangerous regional challenge of a militant Shiite Iran prompted improved relations with Sunni Saudi Arabia and other anti-Iranian Muslim nations.

6. Four historic anniversaries

2017 included four anniversaries ending with the numeral “7”: Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, convened the movement’s first Congress in 1897; Great Britain issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917, giving international affirmation to Zionist dreams; the U.N. General Assembly called for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab states in 1947; and Israel achieved an extraordinary and far-reaching military victory over several hostile Arab nations during the Six-Day War in 1967.

5. Trump’s mixed feelings

In January, President Trump issued a statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day that omitted any explicit reference to Jewish victims of genocide. The omission sparked an intense backlash because of the nebulous presidential reference to “innocent people” killed by Nazism. It was a glaring omission that was in sharp contrast to the Holocaust Day statements issued by former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In May, Trump visited Israel and specifically mentioned Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

4. JCC bomb threats

A series of anonymous telephone calls threatened terrorist bombings at more than 100 Jewish Community Centers, schools and other public institutions in the U.S. and Canada. The ominous calls created an acute sense of danger and dread until the two suspects were arrested. One was a 31-year-old former St. Louis journalist and the other a 19-year-old Israeli-American with a history of behavioral issues.

3. Western Wall controversy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came under sharp criticism from leaders of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, both in Israel and the United States, after he froze a 2016 agreement that provided space for pluralistic prayers at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site. Violence broke out in November when security guards roughed up representatives of the Union for Reform Judaism when they attempted to pray at the wall.

2. Anti-Semitism outbreaks

The ancient pathology of anti-Semitism — hatred of Jews and Judaism — intensified with severe outbreaks of physical violence in Charlottesville, Va., and in many European cities. The assaults came from both the political right and left as well as from Islamic extremists.

1. Jerusalem recognition

President Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel. His action overturned a long-held U.S. policy position that the permanent status of Jerusalem would be determined in the final negotiating phase of a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In addition, Trump appears determined to move the U.S. Embassy, located in Tel Aviv, to the biblical city of King David.

(Rabbi A. James Rudin is the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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