News Digest — 2/9/23

Jewish Population In The United States Tops 8 Million, Study Says

The Jewish population in the United States topped 8 million in 2020, according to a new study published by the American Jewish Population Project (AJPP) at Brandeis University in Boston, Massachusetts, up from 5.5 million in the 90s.

However, the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) pins that number around 6 million American Jews.

Prof. Leonard Saxe, director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, tells Ynet that the difference stems from whom each institute considers Jewish.  The CBS only counts those who consider themselves “religiously Jewish,” while the AJPP also counts those who consider themselves “culturally Jewish.”

“It’s hard to estimate the exact number since there are no official counting standards,” he says.  “Many identify as Jewish but aren’t counted as such.  We need to strengthen the bond with such people to make them part of the Jewish identity.”

Prof. Saxe says he used to believe that only those who are part of a Jewish community should count.  “Plenty of Jews aren’t part of the community and have little knowledge about Judaism.  Outside of demographics, I’ve researched a lot about young Jews who visit Israel.  They come back statewide with plenty of knowledge and even more curiosity about Israel. They tend to marry other Jews and raise Jewish children with Jewish education.”

“Still many marry non-Jews, but keep contact with Israel, especially through Birthright (a project that offers Jewish young adults a free trip to Israel) and my research suggests that even if they marry non-Jews, it’s likely that they’ll raise their children with a Jewish perspective in mind.  The number of those who consider themselves Jewish despite being born in a mixed family has doubled,” he says.

“So the ball is in our court.  We’re developing a Jewish educational program for those who have a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother.  We believe around 40% of US Jews consider themselves neither Reform nor Ultra-Orthodox but are still somewhat involved in Jewish life.”

“Many don’t like putting themselves in a box, but just because they don’t attend a synagogue or have Shabbat dinners doesn’t mean they’re not at least culturally connected to Judaism.  They might view Israel as an anchor to their sense of belonging, even if it’s not religious by nature.”

Dr. Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative Judaism Movement in Israel, said: “For years, research centers around the world have said that the methodology that the CBS uses to count Jews is inadequate.  I’m glad it’s out in the open now.  All the doomsday scenarios about the disappearance of the American Jew have turned out to be false.  The global Jewish community has grown substantially in the last 20 years.”

“I’ve heard Knesset members all but eulogizing American Jewry.  A senior minister even told me that in 20 years, there will be almost nothing left of the stateside Jewish community, except we’re more resilient than that.  But now the Zionist movement must try to maintain the connection between the two epicenters of the Jewish people.”



Third Earthquake In Israel Within 24 Hours

An earthquake was felt in northern Israel at about 9 p.m. Wednesday night (8th), the third earthquake to strike Israel within 24 hours.

According to the Seismological Division of the Geological Survey of Israel, the 3.9 magnitude quake’s epicenter was near Israel’s border with Lebanon and Syria.

At about 5 PM Wednesday, a magnitude 3.4 earthquake struck, with an epicenter 12 miles southeast of the city of Ariel.

On Tuesday, at about 11:15 PM, an earthquake measuring 3.4 on the Richter scale was felt.  Its epicenter was 9.3 miles southeast of Ariel, close to the location of the epicenter of the second earthquake.

Thus far, there were no reports of injuries or damages from any of the earthquakes in Israel.

The earthquakes in Israel on Tuesday (7th) and Wednesday (8th) followed the devastating earthquake which hit Turkey and Syria overnight Sunday (5th) which was also felt in Israel.  The massive earthquake has been followed by hundreds of aftershocks, including one early Tuesday morning (7th) measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale.

On Tuesday (7th), officials from the World Health Organization warned that the death toll in Syria and Turkey following the earthquake could top 20,000.  The death toll has already surpassed 15,000.



Iran Displays Ballistic Missile With ‘Death To Israel’ Written In Hebrew  

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps on Wednesday (8th) displayed an apparent ballistic missile with the words “Death to Israel” emblazoned in Hebrew down the side, at an exhibition in the central city of Isfahan.

Pictures posted by the Tasnim news agency show what appears to be a surface-to-surface missile in a launcher with elaborate Hebrew script running down its side.

It was not clear if it was an actual missile or a mockup.

The display comes days after a significant drone attack on a key Iranian defense facility in the same city.  The site hit in the strike was reportedly a weapons production facility for Iran’s killer Shahed-136 drones.

The attack was one of a number widely attributed to Israel, which has a policy of not commenting on such operations.

Iran officially blamed Israel for the strike, filing a complaint with the United Nations Security Council about the “attack” launched by the Jewish state and saying it reserves its “legitimate and inherent right” to retaliate.

Following the publication of the pictures of the missile, a senior Foreign Ministry official told the Ynet news site that “the message is very clear – if anyone had any doubts.”

Iran has repeatedly vowed to “wipe Israel off the map” and Israel considers Tehran’s nuclear program an existential threat.

While Iranian nuclear weapons are Israel’s main concern, Jerusalem has also said that its ballistic weapons program also poses a major danger and has pushed the international community to include restrictions on the program in any future nuclear accord.

The IRGC display also featured several Iranian missiles, drones and warheads, and was open to the public.

It also comes a day after Iran unveiled what it said was its first underground air force base, with the head of the Islamic Republic’s military saying the site would be among those used to launch a response to any potential strikes by Israel or others. 

“Any attack on Iran from our enemies, including Israel, will see a response from our many air force bases including Eagle 44,” Iran’s armed forces’ Chief of Staff Mohammad Bagheri told IRNA, according to the Reuters news agency.

IRNA said the Eagle 44 site was one of Iran’s most important military facilities and would be home to fighter jets equipped with long-range cruise missiles.

Last year Iran’s army unveiled details about an underground base  in the Zagros mountain range, where it said some 100 drones were stored.  Iran has also shown off similar tunnels in the past, which serve as storage areas for missiles and drones.



Family Of Druze Israeli Teen Snatched In Jenin, File ICC Complaint Against PA

The family of a Druze Israeli teen, who last November was kidnapped from a hospital in Jenin and killed, has filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court in The Hague demanding the Palestinian Authority (PA) be investigated over its involvement in the taking of hostages as part of a campaign encouraged and supported publicly by Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

The complaint, which was submitted by the Israel Law Center, states that criminal responsibility over Tiran Fero’s ultimate death rests upon the PA since the armed men who kidnapped the teen from the hospital belonged to Abbas’ Fatah party.

Fero, 18, was kidnapped by armed Palestinians from a hospital in Jenin where he had been undergoing treatment after being involved in a traffic accident.  According to his family, the teen died when the kidnappers disconnected him from the medical equipment.  His body was held by terrorists, who later handed it over to Israel after pressure on the PA.

Tiran’s father, Hussam Fero, said the Palestinian security services were present at the hospital during the kidnapping, and were fully aware of the danger to the teen’s life.  But, they “disappeared” from the hospital shortly before the militants snatched him from the medical center.

“Instead of celebrating my son’s birthday the next day, I buried him,” said the boy’s father.  “What merciless barbarism it is, kidnapping a boy from the hospital.  Murdering an innocent boy.  All those senior security officers of the Palestinian Authority, who were at the hospital and disappeared from the place instead of fighting back and defending him, are nothing less than murderers themselves.  And the Palestinian Authority wants to be a state?  It should start with humane behavior and defense of innocent people in the hospitals.  We’re shattered.”

The complaint states that Tiran was the latest victim of a long-lasting campaign of hostage-taking, kidnapping and murder of Israelis by Palestinians.  To this day, two Israeli citizens are being held by Hamas in Gaza, and are provided no contact with the outside world.

Furthermore, the bodies of two IDF soldiers, Oren Shaul and Hadar Goldin, have been held by Hamas since the 2014 War in the Gaza Strip.

President of the Israel Law Center Adv. Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said that “the murder of this innocent boy proves again that the terrorist actors are without moral restraints, without respect for human life, and without minimal humanness.”

“It is unbelievable that when an Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, was killed by a stray bullet in Jenin, the whole world reared up and demanded an investigation, but when an Israeli boy is murdered, nobody questions the trustworthiness of the Palestinian Authority.   



Archaeologists Uncover Rare 14th-Century Synagogue

Archaeologists in the southern Spanish town of Utrera confirmed on Tuesday (7th) they had uncovered a 14th century synagogue hidden within a building that was later converted into a church, hospital and restaurant.

Archaeologist Miguel Angel de Fios told journalists that “the first thing was to confirm the presence of the prayer room” following years of analysis of the building’s walls and floors.  

“The fundamental elements of the synagogue, such as the entrance hall,” he said, “or the perimeter benches that have emerged in this survey, now confirm that we are indeed in the prayer hall.”

The only hint of the Jewish house of worship’s existence came from a priest and historian Rodrigo Caro, who wrote in 1604 that a hospital now stood on a site where Jews used to pray.

There are a tiny handful of medieval synagogues surviving in Spain, including in the cities of Toledo and Cordoba.

The Utrera synagogue was converted into a church in the 16th century, de Dios added, when all traces of its Jewish past were erased.  His team now hopes to identify the pulpit and a bath used for rituals.

“We now have scientific certainty that we are standing in a medieval synagogue,” Utrera Mayor Jose Maria Villalobos said. “The state of conservation of the synagogue, being partial, is nevertheless exceptional,” he added.

Attracting tourists interested in Spain’s Jewish past has become a key focus for towns with historic traces in recent years.

In 1492, Spain’s Catholic monarchs, Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, decreed that Spain’s 200,000-strong Jewish population convert to Christianity or be expelled.

Spain has attempted in recent years to make amends for what the government termed this “historic mistake.”  In 2015, the Spanish government allowed the descendants of exiled Sephardic Jews to apply for Spanish citizenship with 132,226 doing so.

(; associated