News Digest — 7/30/20

Jews Begin Tisha B’Av, Annual Mourning Of Temple’s Destruction

Jews around the world marked the beginning of Tisha B’Av at sundown Wednesday night (29th), as they began to mourn the major disasters that befell the Jewish people throughout their history.

Tisha B’Av literally translates as the ninth day of the Hebrew calendar month of Av.  Religious Jews fast and refrain from any joyous activity to mark the destruction of the two Jewish Temples in Jerusalem, the first destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE and the second by the Romans in 70 CE.

The day is marked as a Jewish day of mourning not just for those events, but other tragedies throughout history as well, including the Crusades, the expulsions of the Jews from England, France and Spain, and on Tisha B’Av in 1941 the Nazis formally approved “The Final Solution” marking the start of the Holocaust in which one-third of the Jewish population was murdered.

The three-week period before Tisha B’Av is a preparation period leading up to what is a day of mourning for the fall of Jerusalem and those who were killed, a calamity that resulted in the dispersion of Jews, as foreigners took over the Holy Land.

At evening prayers in synagogues, the biblical Book of Lamentations is chanted using a special mournful tune.  The book is a collection of sorrowful poetic and powerful symbolic recollections of the destruction of Jerusalem.

As a sign of mourning, those in the synagogue sit on the floor while the book is recited.

Traditionally, on the eve of Tisha B’Av, tens of thousands of Jews flock to the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem’s Old City for the recitation, but health restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic limits prayer groups to 10 people indoors and 20 people outdoors.

The French leader Napoleon passed a synagogue one night in Paris during Tisha B’Av and heard lamentations emanating from those inside.  When told that the wailing commemorated the destruction of the first Jewish Temple in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years previously, Napoleon proclaimed, “People who solemnize ancient history are destined for a glorious future.”

Historians estimate the number of Jews killed during all these disasters as huge.  The destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple by the Babylonians is estimated to have killed 100,000 Jews.  The Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 CE killed up to one million Jews, and when Rome crushed the Bar Kokba uprising years later, an estimated 600,000 Jews died.



UN Names First-Ever Anti-Semitism Monitor

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has named Miguel Morantinos, the High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations, as the first-ever UN Focal Point to monitor anti-Semitism.

In his new position Morantinos – a former Spanish foreign minister – will be responsible for enhancing a system-wide response at the United Nations to longstanding anti-Semitism.

“The importance of this role is reflected by the wealth of high-level experience and prominent leadership” exhibited by Morantinos, said CAM director Sacha Roytman-Dratwa.

“The fight against anti-Semitism has never been more urgent.  The rise in attacks across the world has reached truly worrying proportions,” he continued.  “By appointing an anti-Semitism envoy, the United Nations is sending a very important message to the world that tackling hatred against Jews is very much a global priority.”



COVID-19 Drives Brazilian Jews To Make Aliyah

Thousands of Brazilian Jews interested in making Aliyah attended an online fair this week, organized by the Jewish Agency.

Since March, 140 Brazilian Jews have arrived in Israel.

This week’s online Aliyah Fair for Brazilian Jews was the first in history to take place online, rather than in Sao Paolo or in Rio de Janeiro, where previous events for the Brazilian Jewish community have been held.  However, the virtual event allowed thousands of participants from throughout Brazil to learn about possibilities for a new life in Israel, from housing and employment to information about health care and help for children starting school.

According to the Jewish Agency, 2,400 people took part in the event and the information presented there reached some 7,000.

The Jewish community in Brazil currently numbers some 93,000 in about 14 locations, with Sao Paolo being home to the largest Jewish community, followed by Rio.

The ongoing coronavirus crisis in Latin America in general and Brazil in particular – has led to an increased number of Jews in those countries to send out feelers about Aliyah.  In June, the Jewish Agency opened files for 632 Jews in Latin America, 116% more than in June 2019.

Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog said “Particularly at this challenging time for the world, it’s moving to see Jews‘ growing interest in making Aliyah, and even more to see those who have made Aliyah during the coronavirus.  They come to Israel out of a strong sense of belonging and a desire to contribute to the country, and are not giving up on their dream of building their future here.”   



Scientists Get Closer To Blood Test For Alzheimer’s Disease

An experimental blood test was highly accurate in distinguishing people with Alzheimer’s disease from those without it in several studies, boosting hopes that there soon may be a simple way to help diagnose this most common form of dementia.

Developing such a test has been a long-sought goal, and scientists warn that the new approach still needs more validation and is not yet ready for wide use.

But Tuesday’s (28th) results suggest they are on the right track.  The testing identified people with Alzheimer’s v. no dementia or other types of it with accuracy ranging from 89% to 98%.

“That’s pretty good.  We’ve never seen that much precision in previous efforts,” said Maria Carrillo, the Alzheimer’s Association’s chief science officer.

Dr. Eliezer Masliah, neuroscience chief at the US National Institute on aging, agreed.

“The data looks very encouraging,” he said.  The new testing “appears to be even more sensitive and more reliable than earlier methods, but it needs to be tried in larger, more diverse populations.”

More than 5 million people in the United States and many more worldwide have Alzheimer’s.  Current drugs only temporarily ease symptoms and do not slow mental decline.

There have been a number of tests for Alzheimer’s disease, many invasive and expensive, so a simple blood test that could be done in a family doctor’s office would be a big step forward.

Last year, scientists reported encouraging results from experimental blood tests that measure abnormal versions of amyloid, one of two proteins that build up and damage Alzheimer’s patient’s brains.  The new work focuses on the other protein – tau – and found that one form of it called p-tau217 is a more reliable indicator.  Several companies and universities are also developing experimental p-tau217 tests.



Halle Synagogue Door That Saved 52 Jews To Become Part Of Memorial

Now pockmarked with bullets, the door of the synagogue in Halle, Germany, that held out a far-right gunman last October was replaced on Tuesday (28th).

The heavy wooden door will become the centerpiece of a memorial to the attack and the two bystanders killed by the assailant, The Associated Press reported.

Its removal comes as the suspect, Stephan Balliet, is standing trial at the state court in Naumburg.

The gunman tried but failed repeatedly to force his way into the synagogue in Halle, in eastern Germany, with 52 worshipers inside during High Holiday services before opening fire near the synagogue and at a kebab shop, killing two.  The assailant said that Jews are “the root of all problems.”

A manifesto, believed to have been written by the alleged attacker was posted online before the shooting and distributed by sympathizers on the messaging app Telegram.  Written a week before the shooting the manifesto said his objective was to “kill as many anti-whites as possible, preferably Jews.”

On the first day of the trial, which began a week ago, Balliet repeated anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and anti-immigrant statements, and showed no remorse, Deutsch Welle reported.