5769 in review: month by month

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OCTOBER 2008

Livni falls short: Tzipi Livni, who won Kadima Party elections in September following Ehud Olmert’s resignation, fails to assemble a coalition government and become prime minister. President Shimon Peres announces that Israel will hold new general elections.

Tzipi Livni revels in a Kadima Party victory.

Unsettling attack: An acid and feces attack at the Budapest Jewish Theater just before Rosh Hashanah revives concerns about increasing anti-Semitism in Hungary.

Rabbinical milestone: Female Rabbi Julie Schonfeld is named the new executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, becoming the first female rabbi to serve in the chief executive position of an American rabbinical association.

NOVEMBER 2008

Jews and Obama: Barack Obama is elected the first black president of the United States with 78 percent of the Jewish vote, in line with previous Democratic nominees.

Agriprocessors woes: Months after being the target of the largest immigration raid in American history, the embattled kosher meat producer Agriprocessors files for bankruptcy, leaving kosher consumers in the lurch and ushering in uncertain times for the Jewish community of Postville, Iowa. Subsequently the company is sold to a Canadian firm.

March into Congress: Three new Jewish members are elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats Jared Polis of Colorado, John Adler of New Jersey and Alan Grayson of Florida. But the Democratic tide is not strong enough to send Congress its first rabbi, Jewish Latina or Chinese Jew.

Right-hand Rahm: Rahm Emanuel is tapped to become White House chief of staff and will emerge as a key point person in the administration’s outreach to the Jewish community regarding Israel-related issues.

Terror in Mumbai: Terrorists target the Chabad house in Mumbai, India, killing its directors, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, and four others.

DECEMBER 2008

West Bank uprising: Israeli security forces forcibly evict Jewish settlers from a disputed house in Hebron, setting off a rampage of violence by some Jewish extremists against Palestinians in the West Bank.

Dec. 16, 2008 cover of the New York Post.

Madoff shock waves: The collapse of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme leads to the immediate collapse of two Jewish organizations and sends shock waves through the Jewish philanthropic world.

Two-state solution: The Bush administration makes a last-gasp push for Palestinian statehood — or the nearest it can get to it — with the apparent quiet encouragement of President-elect Barack Obama.

Deadly crash in Israel: The deadliest road accident in Israeli history kills 24 Russian tour agents and casts a dark shadow over efforts to promote tourism to the southern Israeli city of Eilat.

War in Gaza begins: Israel launches Operation Cast Lead to curtail Hamas rocket fire from the Gaza Strip onto southern Israel.

JANUARY 2009

Protests against Israel: Enduring an onslaught of massive anti-Semitic and anti-Israel demonstrations in Europe, Jewish communities throughout the continent hold counter rallies to support Israel as it wages war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

On edge in Venezuela: The vandalism of a synagogue in Caracas, Venezuela, further unsettles the Jewish community, already on edge over the harsh anti-Israel rhetoric of President Hugo Chavez.

Intense imagery helps “Waltz With Bashir” make its point. photo/courtesy sony pictures classics

“Waltz” takes high honor: Ari Folman’s animated Lebanon War film “Waltz with Bashir” wins the Golden Globe for best foreign-language film, but later fails to become the first Israeli movie to take home an Oscar.

War over: Operation Cast Lead ends after about 31⁄2 weeks and leaves some 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. Hamas rockets during the war reach as far as the Israeli cities of Yavneh, Beersheva and Kiryat Gat.

Catholic-Jewish blues: Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to revoke an excommunication order for a  Holocaust-denying bishop sparks an uproar and prompts another round of anguish over the state of Catholic-Jewish relations.

FEBRUARY 2009

Stimulus mobilization: Wading into what has emerged as a major partisan fight, Jewish organizations in Washington line up with Democrats in offering strong support for the $819 billion economic stimulus bill.

Ballots cast in Israel: In the Israeli elections, Tzipi Livni’s Kadima emerges as the largest single party, but the right-wing parliamentary bloc, led by Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, captures the majority of the Knesset seats.

New force in Knesset: Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu vaults over Labor to become Israel’s third-largest political party, with 15 seats in the Knesset. A month later, Yisrael Beiteinu becomes Likud’s first coalition partner, and the controversial Lieberman — who during the election campaign proposed mandating loyalty oaths to the Jewish state in a bid to curb Israeli Arab political power — is named foreign minister.

MARCH 2009

Shalit remains captive: Eleventh-hour negotiations to free Gilad Shalit collapse.

Belt-tightening at federations: Three of the largest Jewish federations in the country — New York, Atlanta and Cleveland — announce substantial cutbacks in staff, adding to concerns about the health of the primary American Jewish charitable network.

Bibi’s posturing: Benjamin Netanyahu’s careful articulations in his inaugural address leave uncertain where he stands on the most contentious issue in Israel, and between Israel and governments overseas.       

Reversal of U.S. policy: The United States decides to seek to join the U.N. Human Rights Council, reversing its policy of shunning the group and prompting concern among some Jewish organizations.

Lawmaker in hot water: Rep. Jane Harman (D-Torrance), a Jewish congresswoman in a fight for her political life following allegations that she agreed to intervene on behalf of two former AIPAC staffers charged with relaying classified leaks, sends a letter to the U.S. attorney general asking for the release of any tapes of classified conversations.

APRIL 2009

Seder at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.: The Obama administration organizes the first-ever seder at the White House.

President Barack Obama (right) hosts a seder April 9, 2009 in the White House’s Old Family Dining Room. photo/white house/pete souza

Sun salutations: Jews across the denominational spectrum in Israel and the United States organize to say the Birkat Hachamah, a blessing over the sun that is recited every 28 years when, the Talmud says, the sun reaches the same spot in the firmament as when it was created.

Terrorist plot in Egypt: The discovery of a Hezbollah terrorist network in Egypt highlights the divide between the pro-Western moderates in the Middle East and the Iranian-led radicals, as well as the regional interests Egypt and Israel share.

Durban II ruffles feathers: Jewish and Israeli activists descend en masse on the “Durban II” U.N. racism conference in Geneva. European delegates walk out of the main hall to protest an inflammatory anti-Israel speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Specter joins other side: Arlen Specter switches to the Democratic Party, leaving the Senate without a Jewish Republican for the first time in decades.

South African Jews’ dilemma: Jacob Zuma of the African National Congress is elected South Africa’s new president, though 80 percent of Jews vote for the opposition party.

Happy 100th: Tel Aviv kicks off its centennial celebrations.

MAY 2009

AIPAC staffers off hook: The government moves to drop charges against two former AIPAC staffers charged with passing classified information to Israel.

Push for a freeze: During speeches at the annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) pledge to confront Iran and protect Israel, but call on the Jewish state to freeze settlements. In the ensuing weeks, U.S.-Israel tensions mount as President Barack Obama and other administration officials also press for a settlement freeze.

Pope visits Middle East: Pope Benedict XVI visits Israel and the West Bank. In Bethlehem he calls for a Palestinian homeland, leaves an interfaith conference in Jerusalem early after a Palestinian cleric accuses Israel of killing women and children, and destroying mosques, and prompts disappointment among some Israelis for remarks on the Holocaust seen as insufficient.

Obama, Netanyahu meet: President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold their first meeting at the White House. Obama talks of putting a timetable on U.S. diplomatic outreach to Iran over nuclear weapons, while also emphasizing that Israel needs to take “difficult steps” such as freezing settlements. Netanyahu stresses his interest in achieving peace, but stops short of endorsing a two-state solution.

Hello dolly: The first Jewish historical doll in the American Girl series — a 9-year-old girl named Rebecca Rubin living on the Lower East Side in 1914 — goes on sale.

JUNE 2009

Obama addresses Muslims: In a speech in Cairo billed as an address to Muslims worldwide, President Barack Obama describes Israel and the United States as sharing an unbreakable bond, then criticizes Holocaust denial in the Arab world and the use of the Palestinian issue to distract Arab populations from other problems. Obama draws criticism from some corners of the Jewish community for reiterating his call for a settlement freeze and failing to talk tough on Iran. Some critics claim that the president appears to embrace the Palestinian understanding of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

First on the bimah: Alysa Stanton becomes the first black female rabbi after being ordained by the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion.

Name change: The United Jewish Communities decides to change its name to the Jewish Federations of North America and hires Jerry Silverman, a key player in raising tens of millions of dollars for Jewish summer camps and a former Levi Strauss and Co. executive who helped popularize the Dockers brand, as its next president and CEO.

Swing to the right: Far-right parties in Europe score significant gains in continent-wide elections for European Parliament.

Gunfire at Holocaust museum: A security guard is killed when a gunman known for his anti-Semitic beliefs opens fire at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

“Positive movement” in Israel: In a speech at Bar-Ilan University, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expresses conditional support for the eventual creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state. The Obama administration hails the speech as “positive movement,” while the Palestinian Authority condemns it.

Parking lot protests: Haredi demonstrators in Jerusalem turn violent protesting the opening of a parking lot on Shabbat and the arrest of a haredi woman on charges of child neglect.

Unkosher flu: Camps across the country report outbreaks of the swine flu virus, forcing some to postpone their openings and others to implement sweeping measures to screen new arrivals for signs of the illness.

Sharansky wins post: Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident, is elected chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Restitution resolution: At the close of a Holocaust Era Assets Conference in Prague, 46 countries sign the Terezin Declaration, a nonbinding set of guiding principles aimed at faster, more open and transparent restitution of art and private and communal property taken by force or under duress during the Holocaust.

Pressure on Iran: With unrest mounting in Iran over official claims of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election, U.S. Jewish organizational leaders call for more American support for the protesters and more international action to stop the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

Another Jewish senator: With its decision in favor of former comedian Al Franken, the Minnesota Supreme Court gives the Senate a 13th Jewish member.

JULY 2009

Jews, Christians get together: Nearly 40 Jewish and evangelical Christian leaders meet in Washington for a groundbreaking dialogue session.

Life sentence in France: The leader of the gang responsible for kidnapping, torturing and murdering French Jew Ilan Halimi in 2006 is sentenced to life in prison. Many French Jews are upset that the trial is held behind closed doors, as the crime’s anti-Semitic nature was in dispute.

Jewish leaders push Obama: President Barack Obama has his first White House meeting with Jewish leaders, sitting down with representatives of 14 organizations. Jewish leaders offer no direct criticism of his calls for a settlement freeze, but say he appears to be putting more pressure on Israel than on the Palestinians and Arab states. The president says he will work to change that perception.

Maccabiah madness: Some 8,000 athletes from around the world participate in the 18th Maccabiah Games, including U.S. Olympic swimmer Jason Lezak, who chooses the so-called Jewish Olympics in Israel over the World Championships. Lezak wins four gold medals, but Israel easily wins the medals competition.

Scandal in New Jersey: Five rabbis are among 44 people arrested as part of a public corruption and international money-laundering investigation in New Jersey that uses a prominent rabbi’s son as an informant. Also charged are the mayors of several New Jersey cities and other state politicians, as well as a Brooklyn man who is accused of acquiring and trading kidneys for transplants.

AUGUST 2009

Two killed in Tel Aviv: A masked gunman attacks a gay community center in Tel Aviv, killing two people and injuring a dozen. The tragedy sparks demonstrations throughout Israel in solidarity with the victims and the gay community.