Review of the year 2015: Hope amid chaos

Despite the terror and conflict that dominated the headlines — there were acts of kindness that touched us all


Listen to our 2015 news round-up podcast here

Four dead in Hyper Cacher attack Click for full story

Two days after 12 people were killed in an attack by Islamist gunmen on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January, four were murdered at kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher in Paris.

Employee Yoann Cohen was killed, as well as three customers: Philippe Braham, Francois-Michel Saada and Yoav Hattab. Killer Amedy Coulibaly was later shot dead by police.

Bibi wins again

Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected as Israeli Prime Minister in March.

In the final days of the contest, his political days seemed numbered as Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog surged in the polls. But in a last-minute turn-around, and with the highest turnout since 1999, Bibi came back to grasp victory.

Seven weeks of coalition talks followed, with Mr Netanyahu eventually pulling together a new government to give him his fourth term in power.

Ukrainian community flees as ‘catastrophe’ continues

Thousands of Jews spent Pesach as refugees after fleeing war-torn Ukraine. Around 11,000 members of the Donetsk community left their homes following the fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis called on the British community to do more to help.

He backed an open letter calling the situation a “catastrophe” after reports revealed humanitarian relief had been stopped from reaching the city. A call to action, led by World Jewish Relief, was also supported by the Board of Deputies and the senior rabbis of the Liberal, Masorti, and Reform movements.

Corbyn questions

A last-minute nomination for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election encouraged his supporters to sign up for party membership.

The JC’s key questions over his association with Holocaust deniers, terrorists and antisemites sparked widespread debate and coverage in August.

The Islington North MP was elected with a landslide victory the following month, prompting communal concern over Labour’s future positions on issues relating to Israel and the Palestinians.

The end for Ed as Labour beaten

Ed Miliband resigned as Labour leader the morning after May’s general election following the Conservatives’ outright majority. One Labour winner was Ruth Smeeth, becoming one of the new Jewish MPs after holding the Stoke-on-Trent North seat.

Chief Rabbi Mirvis visits refugee camp

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis led a delegation to Greece to visit one of the country’s largest refugee camps and to see the aid effort being carried out by World Jewish Relief.

He and four other United Synagogue rabbis spent a day at the camp on the northern border, where up to 10,000 refugees a day make the crossing into Macedonia.

The November trip, organised by WJR, took place amid high security as Rabbi Mirvis and his colleagues arrived in the Greek town of Idomeni. Details of the trip had been kept a closely-guarded secret. JC reporter Rosa Doherty joined them.

Death comes to the party

Jewish security volunteer Dan Uzan was murdered by Islamist terrorists while guarding Copenhagen’s Central Synagogue during a batmitzvah in February. The shooting followed an earlier attack at a cafe in the city in which one person was killed and three were injured.

Aleppo escape against all odds

The JC exclusively told the story of how the last Jews of Aleppo escaped the Syrian city.

American business tycoon Moti Kahana masterminded the plan to smuggle the Jews out of their home in a daring rescue mission earlier this year.

But the Jewish Agency — the body charged with bringing Jews to Israel — refused to allow all members of the Halabi family into Israel.

Their escape came amid another year of death and destruction just across Israel’s north-east border with Syria.

Meeting menschs

In the run-up to Pesach the JC launched its Mensch of the Year competition in association with the United Synagogue, honouring 50 noted volunteers.

The joint winners were Meir Plancey, co-founder of Camp Simcha, which supports children with life-threatening illnesses, and Frada Wilenski (above), a community worker from Sheffield.

More than a dozen people nominated maths teacher Daniel Aaron, who died suddenly in January aged 34, for a posthumous award.

Charity donor, Mr Aaron made it into the top 10. Among the many communal organisations he supported were Aish HaTorah and Club Sandwich, a Borehamwood-based charity.

Candidates had to receive nominations before being put before a panel of judges from across the community to make the final decision.

Terror returns to Israel with dozens of stabbing attacks

A spate of terror attacks across Jerusalem and the West Bank saw dozens of stabbings amid fears of a new intifada in early October.

Naama and Eitam Henkin were murdered by Palestinian gunmen while driving near the settlement of Itamar at the start of the month. Their four children, who were in the car, were unharmed.

The most intense day of attacks saw four terror attacks in two hours, including a shooting and stabbing aboard a bus.

Two were killed and dozens injured. There were two attacks in Jerusalem on one Shabbat.

In a bungled revenge attack, an Israeli Jew from Kiryat Ata stabbed and wounded another Jew, thinking he was an Arab.

Giants mourned

David Cesarani, the English historian who specialised in Jewish history and the Holocaust, died in October at the age of 58.

Dr Cesarani was considered a pioneer in Shoah education. He wrote and edited more than a dozen books and was the author of the official history of the JC.

David Cameron praised his “brilliant and passionate contribution”, saying Mr Cesarani “had a profound influence on how we remember the darkest hour of human history”.

This year, we also lost his fellow historian and writer Martin Gilbert, antisemitism scholar Robert Wistrich, neurologist Oliver Sacks, statistician Lord Moser, philanthropist Naim Dangoor, and Kindertransport organiser Sir Nicholas Winton.

Sir Nicholas, who was 106, brought 669 youngsters to the UK from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939.

Grynhaus jailed

Todros Grynhaus, a Jewish teacher and rabbi’s son, was jailed for 13 years and two months for molesting two
teenage girls.

He was ordered to pay one victim £45,000 and the other £35,000 in compensation as well as prosecution costs of £35,000 after being convicted in May.

Grynhaus had taught in Jewish schools before setting up a direct debit management business while filling a role as a respected figure within the Charedi community in Salford.

His was the most high-profile of a number of sex abuse cases this year. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has encouraged Orthodox communities to do more to weed out abusers.

Queen makes historic concentration camp visit

The Queen laid a wreath at the memorial of Anne Frank on a visit to Bergen-Belsen in June.

Her first trip to the camp, it commemorated the 50,000 Holocaust victims who were killed there.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis attended the memorial with other faith leaders. He spoke of the Jewish world’s appreciation of the solidarity displayed by the Queen’s visit, which came 70 years after British forces liberated the camp.

Together against neo-Nazis

Groups from across the Jewish and wider communities worked together on a month-long campaign to oppose a planned neo-Nazi protest in June.

Golders Green Together supporters distributed leaflets and decorated the north-west London area in an attempt to combat the rally.

Backed by the Board of Deputies, London Jewish Forum, Hope Not Hate and others, it succeeded in having the protest moved to Whitehall.

Listen to our 2015 news round-up podcast here

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