The Jewish year in review

#MeToo, the embassy move and a growing gap between Israel and the Diaspora


JTA – For North American Jews, the Jewish year 5778 began with tensions between Israel and the Diaspora over egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall and ended with more tension over a controversial nationality law. In between, North American Jews grappled with the impact of the #MeToo movement, the Trump administration relocated the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and actress Natalie Portman made headlines for turning down a chance to collect a top prize in Israel.


September 2017

A survey finds that American Jews overwhelmingly disapprove of President Donald Trump’s performance. The poll, conducted by the American Jewish Committee, shows that 77 percent view Trump’s performance unfavorably and 21 percent view it favorably – figures considerably worse than Trump’s performance in polls of the general population conducted around the same time.

Edie Windsor, whose landmark Supreme Court case paved the way for gay marriage in the United States, dies at 88.

Windsor’s 2013 lawsuit resulted in the court’s overturning the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that had defined marriage, for federal purposes, as the union between a man and a woman.

Rabbi Ari Berman is installed as the fifth president of Yeshiva University. A graduate of the university and its rabbinical seminary, Berman succeeds Richard Joel, who had led the Modern Orthodox institution through a turbulent economic period.

Disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner is sentenced to 21 months in prison for transferring obscene material to a teenage girl. The former House of Representatives member from New York had pleaded guilty in the case, which followed multiple instances of sharing sexually explicit material online.

A French Jewish leader and his family are assaulted in their home near Paris amid a spate of violent break-ins, including deadly ones, targeting Jewish victims, according to authorities.

October 2017

The United States announces its intention to withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization over its anti-Israel bias. The decision, which will go into effect at the end of 2019, reflects concerns about the general need for reform of the organization as well as “continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” the State Department says.

Harvey Weinstein is fired from the film production company he founded in the wake of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Weinstein, who co-founded Miramax (later The Weinstein Company) with his brother Bob, also is expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that awards the Oscars. The Weinstein revelations spur similar allegations against numerous powerful men, leading to the #MeToo movement.

S.I. Newhouse Jr., the billionaire media mogul who ran dozens of magazines and newspapers, dies at 89 in New York. The grandson of Russian immigrants, whose initials stand for Samuel Irving, since 1975 had run the magazine division of Advance Publications, known as Conde Nast, which publishes Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.

Monty Hall, host of the long-running television game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” dies at 96 in Los Angeles. Born Monte Halperin in Winnipeg, Canada, Hall hosted thousands of episodes of the show over more than two decades.

Leon Wieseltier, the influential Jewish scholar and magazine editor, is fired from the New Republic following revelations of multiple accusations of sexual harassment during his long tenure at the magazine.

November 2017

Alex Bregman stars as his Houston Astros win their first World Series championship. The Jewish infielder hits two home runs and in Game 5 becomes the first Jewish player to win a Series game with a walk-off hit. On the losing side, outfielder Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers breaks the record for most homers in a Series by a Jewish player with three, beating the mark of two set by Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg in 1934. Eight months later, Bregman is named the All-Star Game MVP for slugging the tie-breaking homer in the American League’s victory.

The umbrella group of North American Jewish federations demands Israel reverse its “divisive and damaging” steps to freeze an agreement on egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, warning that ignoring the concerns of non-Orthodox Jews could undermine the Zionist vision. A resolution slamming Israel’s moves on pluralism is adopted by the board of trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America at its annual General Assembly in Los Angeles.

Israeli actress Gal Gadot is named GQ magazine’s 2017 Woman of the Year. Gadot soared to international celebrity as the star of the blockbuster film “Wonder Woman.”

Stephen Bannon, the former chief strategist for Donald Trump, calls himself a “Christian Zionist” in an appearance at the Zionist Organization of America’s annual dinner.

Bannon had long been the target of liberal Jewish protests due to links between the “alt-right” movement and Breitbart, the right-wing news website that Bannon led before joining Trump’s presidential campaign and rejoined after leaving the White House. Bannon received a standing ovation at the ZOA dinner.

The U.S. Department of Justice begins distributing $772.5 million in recovered funds to some victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. The sum, which was returned eight years after the Jewish investment adviser pleaded guilty to committing one of the largest fraud schemes in U.S. history, represents only a fraction of the more than $4 billion in assets that U.S. law enforcement is able to recover for Madoff’s victims.

Actress Natalie Portman is named winner of the 2018 Genesis Prize. The award, dubbed the “Jewish Nobel,” honors individual Jews of outstanding professional achievement and commitment to Jewish values. The award comes with a $1 million prize.

Canadian Jews take issue with a government report showing a decline of 56 percent in the country’s Jewish population between 2011 and 2016. Statistics Canada says the number of Canadian Jews dropped to 143,665 in 2016 from 329,500 in 2011. Critics charge that a change in the way a survey question was worded accounts for the falloff.

Far-right marchers in Warsaw, Poland, shout “Jews out” and other racist slogans at an Independence Day march by 60,000 people, constituting one of the largest nationalist gatherings anywhere in Europe.

December 2017

President Trump commutes the sentence of the former chief executive of the Kosher meatpacker Agriprocessors, who had been convicted of bank fraud and money laundering. Sholom Rubashkin had served eight years of a 27-year sentence. In making the move, Trump cites appeals from across the political spectrum as well as former top-ranked Justice Department officials.

Sen. Al Franken announces he will resign from Congress following accusations of sexual misconduct by several women. The Minnesota Democrat had faced increasing calls to step down by leading members of his own party.

Trump signs a proclamation recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and directing the State Department to begin planning for a U.S. Embassy in the city. Soon after, the president signs a waiver delaying the embassy move for another six months.

Billionaire philanthropist Barry Sherman and his wife, Honey, are found murdered in their Toronto-area home. Sherman, chairman of the drug maker Apotex, was the 15th richest Canadian with an estimated net worth of over $4 billion Canadian. The Shermans gave tens of millions of dollars to Jewish causes and sat on the boards of several Jewish groups.

A Brooklyn woman and three of her children are killed in a house fire sparked by a Hanukkah menorah. Aliza Azan, 39, and children Moshe, 11; Yitzah, 7; and Henrietta, 3, are buried in Israel. Yosi Azan, three other children and a cousin sustain injuries in the blaze.

A Syrian asylum seeker breaks into a Kosher restaurant in Amsterdam while waving a Palestinian flag as police officers look on. His sentence of 52 days in jail and absence of hate crime charges in his indictment anger Dutch Jews.

January 2018

The Reconstructionist movement announces that its rabbinical school and congregational umbrella will change their names to Reconstructing Judaism and the College for Reconstructing Judaism, respectively. The college’s president, Rabbi Dr. Deborah Waxman, explains that the change better reflects the movement’s objective of “actively expressing Judaism.”

A Pew Research Center poll finds that the split between Democrats and Republicans over Israel is the greatest since 1978. The survey reports that 79 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians.

Vice President Mike Pence arrives in Israel for a two-day visit. Pence delivers a speech to the Knesset, visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and prays privately at the Western Wall.

Singer Neil Diamond announces he will cease touring following a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. The Jewish singer and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee has 10 No. 1 singles to his credit and starred in the 1980 remake of “The Jazz Singer,” in which he played a synagogue cantor who pursues a pop music career.

Singer Neshama Carlebach speaks out about allegations of sexual misconduct against her father, the late Jewish composer Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Longstanding allegations against the elder Carlebach had resurfaced amid the national reckoning with sexual misconduct sparked by the #MeToo movement. “My sisters, I hear you. I cry with you. I walk with you,” Neshama Carlebach writes in a blog post.

A photograph of former President Barack Obama with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan surfaces, prompting the Anti-Defamation League to ask Obama to again denounce Farrakhan, who has drawn regular criticism for anti-Semitic rhetoric. The photo was taken in 2005 during a Congressional Black Caucus meeting in Washington, D.C., when Obama was a senator representing Illinois.

Poland’s parliament passes a controversial law that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes. The law triggers a diplomatic row with Israel, prompting the law’s amendment to remove criminal charges against would-be offenders.

Anti-Semitic incidents reach a record high in Britain and Ukraine.

February 2018

Malcolm Hoenlein announces he will step aside as executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations after more than three decades at the helm. Hoenlein says he will remain with the conference, the American Jewish community’s umbrella foreign policy group, in a capacity to be determined.

The Anti-Defamation League reports a spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2017. The 1,986 acts recorded in the U.S. that year represents a 57 percent increase over the 1,267 in 2016, representing the largest one-year rise ever. The ADL says the jump is due in part to an increase in people reporting incidents of anti-Semitism.

Ten Jewish organizations urge the Trump administration not to reinstate a question about citizenship in the 2020 Census, saying it will raise fears among immigrants. Among the signers of a letter sent to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross are the Anti-Defamation League, the Union for Reform Judaism, Jewish Federations of North America, Hadassah and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Iceland and Denmark each draft precedent-setting legislation proposing a ban on nonmedical circumcision of boys under 18. Amid protests and intense lobbying by international Jewish organizations, politicians from the ruling parties in each country express opposition to both projects.

Look for March through July in the Sept. 7 issue of The Voice.