United States

First black woman rabbi ordained in US

By Miriam Shaviv, May 21, 2009

Alysa Stanton is used to heads turning when she enters a synagogue; African-American Jews are still a relatively rare sight in mainstream American congregations. But next month she will be even more visible, because she will be sitting in the rabbi’s chair.

Stanton is about to be ordained by the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, making her the first ever female African-American rabbi. Soon after, she will join a small Reform congregation in North Carolina as its spiritual leader.


‘Israel spy’ charges dropped by US judge

By Nathan Guttman, May 7, 2009

All charges have been dropped against Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, the two former pro-Israel lobbyists accused under the Espionage Act of passing classified information to Israel.

The case may be closed for the two defendants, but it is just the beginning of many open questions for the Jewish community.

The decision to drop charges was based mainly on the understanding that winning the case would be virtually impossible, given the high bar for conviction set by the district judge.


Senate shock as lawmaker swaps parties

By Nathan Guttman, April 30, 2009

The only Jewish Republican in the Senate has defected to the Democratic Party, causing a potentially major shift in the senatorial balance of power.

Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, one of the longest serving senators, has long been at odds with his Republican colleagues.

His moderate views on economic and social issues became increasingly unwelcome and he publicly disputed the Republican caucus’s decision to oppose President Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan.


Profile: Arlen Specter

By Nathan Guttman, April 30, 2009

At 79, Arlen Specter was a rare Republican voice. The Jewish lawmaker from Pennsylvania started as a Democrat but joined the Republicans at a time when party leaders promoted the idea of a “big tent” which could accommodate moderates and conservatives.

But during the Bush era, moderates had been consistently sidelined in favour of conservative voices.


‘Shylock’ off statute book

April 29, 2009

The offensive term “shylock”, referring to illegal money-lending, will be dropped from Florida’s statutes.

State governor Charlie Crist signed a bill this week removing the term from some provisions of state law after a campaign.


Bugged US lawmaker ‘spoke to Israeli spy’

By Nathan Guttman, April 23, 2009

A row has broken out in Washington over a Jewish congresswoman’s links to pro-Israel lobbyists after her phone calls were wiretapped by the National Security Agency.

Rep Jane Harman, a California Democrat known for her strong ties with pro-Israel groups, was heard conducting a conversation with a “suspected Israeli agent”.

In the call, Ms Harman was asked to use her influence with the administration to help two former staffers of the pro-Israel lobby Aipac who are facing espionage-related charges.


Russian leadership plan

April 22, 2009

A $2.7 initiative to promote leadership among Russian-speaking Jews living in the US has been announced in New York.

The money will go to training lay leadership in the community and supporting professional development.


Prince Charles stars in The Rescuers: Heroes of the Holocaust

By Tom Tugend, April 22, 2009

The Prince of Wales is to appear in a new film telling the stories of 12 non-Jewish diplomats who helped save an estimated 200,000 European Jews during the Second World War.

The film also highlights others who helped Jews survive, including Princess Alice of Greece, Prince Charles’s grandmother, who hid Jews in the royal palace in Athens during the German occupation and withstood interrogations by Nazi officials. The Prince pays tribute to his “very remarkable” ancestor in the film.


Web racists are refused asylum in US

By Leon Symons, April 22, 2009

Two men convicted of publishing racially inflammatory material on the internet have been refused asylum in America and will be returned to Britain to serve their sentences.

Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle fled to the United States during a trial at Leeds Crown Court last year. The jury had returned 11 verdicts of guilty out of 18 counts when the men jumped bail, travelled to Ireland and then flew to Los Angeles, where they claimed political asylum. It was the first prosecution of race hate on the internet.


Rabbi is jailed for £5m fraud

By Tom Tugend, April 7, 2009

A Brooklyn rabbi has been jailed for two years after pleading guilty to a tax fraud and money laundering scheme.

Rabbi Moshe Zigelman was key to a conspiracy which used five charities of the ultra-Orthodox Spinka group as fronts. Contributors received receipts for large sums which they wrote off on their tax returns. Then they were secretly repaid most of the cash.

In 2006 alone, Zigelman helped solicit more than $8.5 million (£5.3m), of which just $750,000 (£500,000) was kept by charities.