Established in 1937 as “a force for constructive communal consciousness,” the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin communicates the messages of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and its agencies, and, as the city’s only Jewish newspaper, aims to inform, inspire and enrich the lives of all members of this diverse community.

Suspected Kansas City JCC shooter found competent to stand trial

Cross, who also goes by the name Frazier Glenn Miller, can understand the charges against him and help his defence team, Johnson County District Court Judge Thomas Kelly Ryan said Thursday at a competency hearing. [Read more...]

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Menorah honouring terror victims erected in Sydney

SYDNEY, Australia  — Chabad set up a menorah in downtown Sydney as a tribute to the victims of a terrorist attack.

The 32-foot menorah was erected late Thursday night in downtown Sydney, just hours after Chabad cancelled its annual candle-lighting ceremony in the wake of the terror attack that killed  three people, including the assailant. The menorah has been used for Chanukah lighting ceremonies for nearly 30 years. [Read more...]

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Gross’ release signals new day for Cuban Jews

Alan Gross, shown with his wife Judy Alan Gross was imprisoned while trying to connect Cuba’s isolated Jewish community to the wider world. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

 

Alan Gross was imprisoned while trying to connect Cuba’s isolated Jewish community to the wider world. The deal that got him released five years later may do just that and much more.

Gross’ flight home to suburban Washington on Wednesday with his wife, Judy, was part of a historic deal that overturns over five decades of U.S. policy isolating the Communist island nation helmed by the Castro brothers.

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” President Barack Obama said in announcing Gross’ release and radical changes in U.S. Cuba policy.

U.S. officials in a conference call outlined sweeping changes, including the resumption of full diplomatic relations, the opening of an embassy in Havana, and a loosening of trade and travel restrictions.

Dina Siegel Vann, the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs, said Gross’ release and the opening of ties with Cuba is a twofer for the Jews: In addition to the benefits accrued to all Cubans from open relations, she said, Cuban Jews “will have stronger ties to Jewish organizations, they will be much more in the open.” An estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Jews live in Cuba.

Gross, who is now 65, was arrested in 2009 after setting up Internet access for the Cuban Jewish community while working as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Never formally charged with espionage, Gross was convicted in 2009 for “crimes against the state.”

Back in the United States on Wednesday, Gross held a news conference, which he began with the greeting “Chag sameach,” noting that his release coincided with the first day of Chanukah. He thanked political leaders, the Washington Jewish community, the local Jewish Community Relations Council and other faith groups that pressed for his release.

“But ultimately – ultimately – the decision to arrange for and secure my release was made in the Oval Office,”said Gross, reserving special praise for President Obama and his National Security Council.

Vann said improved U.S.-Cuba relations would have a rollover effect, removing obstacles to U.S. ties with other Latin American countries — and this in turn would remove tensions that have affected Jewish communities.

“Cuba and Venezuela have a very interdependent relationship,” she said. “Anti-Semitism and anti-American rhetoric are being used by the regime in Venezuela, and with this that’s being undermined.”

Daniel Mariaschin, who directs B’nai B’rith International, a group with a strong Latin American presence, said a new era of ties “will raise the profile of Latin American communities and interest in those communities.”

In a deal American officials said was technically separate from the Gross release, the United States and Cuba agreed to exchange the three remaining incarcerated members of the “Cuban Five,” a Florida-based spy ring, for an American spy held in Cuba for 20 years and whose identity remains a secret.

Obama insisted that Gross was not part of the spy exchange and that, in fact, his imprisonment held up changes to the U.S. Cuba relationship he had intended on initiating years ago.

“While I’ve been prepared to take additional steps for some time, a major obstacle stood in our way,” the president said, referring to Gross’ “wrongful imprisonment.”

Republicans who have opposed easing the Cuba embargo blasted the deal.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, told Fox News that Obama was “the worst negotiator since at least Jimmy Carter, and maybe in the history of this country.”

Many Jewish groups welcomed the deal, however, and noted the political difficulties it must have created for the Obama administration.

“We know the decision to release the Cuban three was not an easy one,” the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said in a statement. “We appreciate the efforts of President Obama and Vice President Biden in bringing this about.”

Gross is in ill health. He has lost more than 100 pounds since his incarceration and suffered from painful arthritis.

A senior administration official who spoke to reporters before Obama’s announcement said the Vatican played a key role in negotiating the deal, in part through Pope Francis’ pleas to Cuba to release Gross as a humanitarian gesture.

In a statement, the pope said he “wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.”

The administration official also noted the significance of the Jewish holiday season of freedom.

“We believe that Alan was wrongfully imprisoned and overjoyed that Alan will be reunited with his family in this holiday season of Chanukah,” the official said.

-JTA

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Report: Alan Gross released from Cuba

ABC News is reporting  the U.S. has secured the release of Alan Gross, a Jewish-American contractor, as part of a prisoner swap with Cuba.

Gross, who was arrested in 2009 after setting up Internet access for the Cuban Jewish community while working as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, recently marked the completion of his fifth year in prison. Cuba charged him with espionage.

Gross 65, of Potomac, Maryland, reportedly is in ill health and has lost more than 100 pounds since his incarceration and has suffered from painful arthritis.

 

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European Parliament passes resolution favouring Palestinian statehood recognition

The resolution, which was drawn up by five political groups, passed on Wednesday during a vote in the European Parliament’s seat in Strasbourg by 498 votes to 88, with 111 abstentions, the European Parliament’s press service wrote in a statement. [Read more...]

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Islamist gunman among two reported dead in hostage rescue operation

 Police storm Sydney cafe; hostage taker identified as self-styled Iranian cleric Man Haron Monis

An Islamist gunman holding at least a dozen hostages at a Sydney cafe reportedly was among two people killed in a rescue operation by police.

Heavily armed forces from the Australian Federal Police stormed the Lindt Chocolate Cafe at about 2 a.m. Tuesday following the escape of several hostages from the building, which is located in the heart of the city’s financial and shopping district. Several people were injured in the rescue effort. [Read more...]

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Gunmen fire on Israeli embassy in Athens, no injuries

Unidentified gunmen opened fire on the Israeli embassy in Athens before dawn Friday.

Unidentified gunmen opened fire on the Israeli embassy in Athens before dawn Friday.

ATHENS, Greece — Unidentified gunmen opened fire on the Israeli embassy in Athens before dawn Friday, but caused no injuries.

Greek police shut down roads around the embassy as white-clad  forensic experts searched through the driving rain  for clues of the attackers. [Read more...]

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Orthodox groups file with U.S. Supreme Court in support of Muslim head scarfs

Samantha-Elauf

Jewish groups have joined the legal fight on behalf of a Muslim woman, Samantha Elauf, whose right to wear a headscarf in a retail job is under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court.

WASHINGTON — Seven national Orthodox Jewish groups filed a U.S. Supreme Court brief in favour of a Muslim woman’s right to wear a head scarf at work.

The brief was filed by attorney Nathan Lewin of Lewin & Lewin, LLP of Washington, D.C., for a case that is expected to be heard in February or March of next year on whether an applicant’s failure to give explicit notice that she is a practicing Muslim who wears a head scarf at work allowed clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch to reject her application, saying it was in violation of the company dress code. [Read more...]

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