News Digest — 9/1/2021

“Letters To God” Bound For The Western Wall Tripled During Coronavirus Pandemic

The average number of letters from around the world addressed to God and sent to Israel for placement in the cracks of Jerusalem’s Western Wall has tripled over the past 12 months, Israel’s post office said.

“Dear God, please put an end to the coronavirus pandemic,” wrote one boy from Germany.  “Please make my parents buy me a new iPhone and JBL speaker,” he added.

The coronavirus pandemic led to an almost complete halt of tourists visiting Jerusalem, but many sent their wishes, prayers and calls in the form of letters – which have landed in Israel’s post office throughout the year.  Many prayed for COVID-19 to be brought under control, while others asked for atonement and forgiveness.  There were also many requests for new friendships, most likely a result of the isolation during coronavirus-led lockdowns, the post office said.

On Monday (8/30), Israel Postal Co. CEO Dany Goldstein, together with Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitch, placed hundreds of notes between the stones of the last remaining wall of the Temple Mount, ahead of the Jewish New Year holiday next week.  The nature of requests is diverse, ranging from humorous letters to those asking for the victory of their favorite sports team, good health wishes, prayers for peace and messages to relatives who have passed away.

The letters sent by writers of different religions arrive from all over the world, including Kenya, Spain, India, Belgium, the United States, Japan, Canada, Ecuador, Denmark, Germany, France, Poland, and Russia.

Each year thousands of prayer notes are stuffed into the cracks of the wailing Wall and are removed ahead of the penitential selichot prayers and Rosh Hashanah.  The removed notes are put into special bags and buried along with holy books and documents on the Mount of Olives.

Rosh Hashanah begins this year on the evening of September 6.



Bahraini Ambassador To Israel Arrives In Tel Aviv

The first-ever Bahraini Ambassador to Israel Khaled al-Jalahma landed in Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday (8/31) to take up his new post, in what his Foreign Ministry described as another “milestone” in strengthening the ties between the two countries.

“An historic journey in the making accompanied by my wife.  We are both very excited!,” Jalahma tweeted.  He posted photographs of their descent from the airplane to the tarmac.

“The opportunity to fulfil His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s vision of peaceful coexistence with all nations is a privilege that I will hold in high regard,” Jalahma tweeted.

Israel normalized ties with Bahrain in 2020 under the rubric of the Abraham Accords brokered by the former Trump administration.  The United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Sudan also normalized ties with Israel.

The UAE sent its first Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Al Khaja to Tel Aviv in March.  

Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry said that Jalahma’s arrival marked “an important step in developing bilateral relations between the two countries and their peoples which has been a priority” for the foreign ministers of both countries.

“The Bahraini Embassy in Israel, as well as the Israeli Embassy in Bahrain, have a central role in the strengthening of relations and serve as yet another milestone of the vision of the peace accords signed in 2020,” the Bahraini Foreign Ministry said.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat tweeted the same message, with the greeting to Jalahma of “Shlomi Amsalem!”

Haiat stated, “We are looking forward to what will no doubt be a very productive tenure, advancing relations between our two countries.”



North American Aliyah In August Breaks Record Despite COVID-19

The arrival of 1,000 North American olim (immigrants) in August smashed the Nefesh B’Nefesh record for most new arrivals in a month.  And the numbers point to a record-breaking year.

According to Nefesh B’Nefesh, which facilitates immigration for North American Jews, 1,912 new olim arrived in Israel on 40 group flights during the summer months.  The organization has so far brought more than 3,000 new immigrants to Israel in 2021.

Nefesh B’Nefesh expects to hit its goal of 4,500-5,000 olim by the end of 2021.  And that’s despite the difficulties posed by the COVID outbreak.

“Despite the many challenges surrounding the pandemic, the resilience of our olim and dedication from our staff and partners, have enabled us to celebrate our largest aliyah month ever,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, the organization’s co-founder and executive director.

This year’s olim range in age from four months to 96 years.

They include physicians, social workers, educators, lawyers, academics and young students planning to continue their studies in Israeli institutions.  This year’s group of olim so far includes 362 families, 391 singles and 160 retirees.

Of the singles, 162 will become lone soldiers and 39 will become volunteers in national service.  Nefesh B’Nefesh expects 300 future soldiers by the end of the year.

Most of the organization’s olim come from New York, New Jersey, California, Florida and Maryland.  They tend to settle down in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beit Shemesh, Modi’in and Ra’anana.

Founded in 2001, Nefesh B’Nefesh has helped more than 65,000 North American Jews make aliyah.



‘If I Win Elections, Canadian Embassy Will Be Moved To Jerusalem’

Erin O’Toole, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, vowed on Monday (8/30) that if his party wins in the upcoming federal elections, Canada’s embassy in Israel will be moved to Jerusalem.

“This was a commitment I made several years ago,” he told reporters.  “Israel is a close ally of Canada, a friend, a democracy in a place in the world that needs more democracy.  And we will move our embassy and respect their capital being established in Jerusalem.  We will exhibit leadership.  It’s important for Canada to once again emerge on the world stage as a country that will stand by our values, that will be a defender of human rights and will commit to a strong, principle-based foreign policy,” he said.

Relocating the embassy to Jerusalem is also part of the Conservative Party of Canada’s manifesto.

The federal elections are slated to take place on September 20.

Four countries currently have their embassies located in Jerusalem: the United States, Guatemala, Kosovo, and Honduras. 



Survey: Anti-Semitism Growing On US College Campuses

Anti-Semitism is on the rise at universities across the United States, according to a survey conducted by the Alums of Campus Fairness.

ACE is America’s “unified alumni voice on issues of anti-Semitism, demonization of Israel, and bigotry,” according to the organization’s website.

Conducted between late March and mid-June of this year, the organization partnered with Jewish on Campus to recruit respondents and record multiple forms of anti-Semitism on campuses.

Examples include stereotyping, anti-Zionism threats of violence, slurs, Holocaust comparisons and even physical assault documented in reports from 500 respondents comprised of current students and alumni that are or were involved in Jewish affiliations.

“These findings illuminate the troubling reality on US campuses as anti-Semitism is increasingly a pernicious threat, with Jewish students under siege,” ACE Executive Director Avi D. Gordon said.  “Today’s universities take great pains to embrace and protect students from all races, religions and backgrounds.  But Jewish students are often left to fend for themselves against discrimination.”

According to the reports, all respondents say anti-Semitism is a problem on campus and half of the students say that discrimination against Jews is increasing on the campus where they study, including reports of some Jewish students experiencing discrimination first-hand.

“I had a professor make a horribly offensive analogy about the Holocaust,” one student said.  “When I told her it was offensive, she gaslighted me and said if I was so sensitive, I should find another career.”

Furthermore, nearly four out of five students had heard of other students making anti-Semitic comments, with almost half of them having experienced or heard first-hand about students being physically threatened because they identify as Jewish,” according to the ACE.



Is Brazilian Viper Venom The Secret Weapon In The COVID War?

Brazilian researchers have found that a molecule in the venom of a type of snake inhibited coronavirus reproduction in monkey cells, a possible first step toward a drug to combat the virus causing COVID-19.

A study published in the scientific journal Molecules this month, found that the molecule produced by the jararacussu pit viper inhibited the virus’ ability to multiply in monkey cells by 75%.

“We were able to show that this component of snake venom was able to inhibit a very important protein from the virus,” said Rafael Guido, a University of Sao Paulo professor and author of the study.

The molecule is a peptide, or chain of amino acids, that can connect to an enzyme of the coronavirus called PLPro, which is vital to reproduction of the virus, without hurting other cells.

Already known for its antibacterial qualities, the peptide can be synthesized in the laboratory, Guido said in an interview, making the capture or raising of the snakes unnecessary.

“We’re wary about people going out to hunt the jararacussu around Brazil, thinking they’re going to save the world …  That’s not it!” said Giuseppe Puorto, a herpetologist running the Butantan Institute’s biological collection in Sao Paulo.  “It’s not the venom itself that will cure the coronavirus.”

“Researchers will next evaluate the efficiency of different doses of the molecule to discover whether it is able to prevent the virus from entering cells in the first place,” said a statement from the State University of Sao Paulo, which was also involved in the research.

The researchers are hoping to test the substance in human cells but gave no timeline.

The jararacussu is one of the largest snakes in Brazil, measuring up to 6 feet long.  It lives in the coastal Atlantic Forest and is also found in Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina.