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Bye-bye 2020: ToI writers share important stories from a year of crisis and hope – The Times of Israel

Posted By on January 4, 2021

While the coronavirus pandemic caused the world to grind to a halt this year, some things have been business as usual: Israel is headed to yet another election, the environmental crisis continues unabated, traffic safety is still a major issue on Israeli roads

Thankfully, the show must go on: Films and series continue to stream, concerts have moved online, academic forums are meeting virtually, and chefs have taken to giving cooking classes from their own kitchens.

Even without the pandemic, 2020 has had its share of extraordinary and world-changing events mass demonstrations have rocked the United States, a top Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated under mysterious circumstances, and no fewer than four Arab League nations have suddenly begun to forge ties with Israel, ushering in some fresh Middle East optimism.

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Throughout it all, The Times of Israel team has reported the news as it unfolds, working from wherever we could as Israel faced repeated lockdowns. We covered the raging pandemic, Israels rising death toll, and hospitals dangerously approaching their breaking points even as we kept a hopeful eye, now vindicated, on prospects for a coronavirus vaccine.

This year has brought us fresh perspective and wed like to share with you, our readers, some of the stories from the era of the new normal which have held the most meaning for us, ToIs writers, as we worked on them.

A terror victims family fights for justice

The Roth family, with Malki standing at right. (Courtesy the Roth family)

The story I worked hardest on this year concerns the battle, conducted by the parents of Malki Roth, to have the woman who orchestrated the 2001 Sbarro suicide bombing in which Malki was killed extradited from Jordan and brought to justice.

Its the story of a bereaved familys quixotic struggle first against evil, and then, against realpolitik.

Except its not over yet. And it just might not be quixotic.

Lebanese man who spied on Hezbollah for the Mossad begs Israel not to abandon him

Illustration by Avi Katz.

Last summer, Benjamin Philip whose true name is barred from publication contacted The Times of Israel out of desperation. Philip was a Lebanese citizen with deep connections through his family to the Hezbollah terror group. Hed worked with Israeli intelligence for years, providing what he said was highly valuable information and connecting the Mossad to operatives within the organization, who in turn supplied yet more intelligence about its operations.

After years of service, Philip was on the outs with Israel, running out of money in a foreign country and being threatened with deportation back to Lebanon which he had no intention of returning to. He was prepared to commit suicide to prevent the torture and humiliation that awaited him at home.

Reporting on the case required trips abroad, a deep and complicated independent investigation of Philips claims, grappling with ethical conundrums, fights with the military censor, and a good dose of paranoia in order to at least attempt to maintain secure communications with Philip and other sources.

The story, though, has somewhat of a happy ending. Philip is now living in a different country, where he is poised to receive asylum in small part because of this article ensuring he wont face deportation again. He is no longer contemplating suicide, having sought and received psychological help. And he is working with an organization in his new home to help LGBT refugees like himself.

Lost 1,000-year-old Hebrew Bible found on dusty Cairo synagogue shelf

In July 2017, Israeli historian Yoram Meital stumbled upon a handwritten 1028 CE biblical codex that was lying abandoned on a dusty shelf in Cairos Moussa Deri Synagogue. Wrapped in simple white butcher paper, at 616 pages, the Zechariah Ben Anan Manuscript is one of the eras most complete and preserved examples of the Writings, the third and concluding section of the Hebrew Bible. It had been lost to scholars for almost 40 years.

This detailed illustration lists the name of the scribe, Zechariah Ben Anan, as well as the owners of the Codex that was rediscovered in 2017 by Israeli scholar Prof. Yoram Meital in a Cairo synagogue. (Yoram Meital)

My awareness of the rediscovered codex came in February, directly upon the heels of an emotional first Shabbat service at a refurbished synagogue in Alexandria. I had hoped to attend the festive weekend, but was unable to get a visa to enter the country as an Israeli journalist and it was impossible to be added as a civilian to Egyptian security lists.

But I reported on the monumental event through telephone interviews with some of the 180 attendees just after the moving Shabbat. The few, mostly elderly, remnants of the once-thriving Egyptian Jewish community were overwhelmed by the rare chance to share their family heritage with their children and grandchildren.

These roots run deep in the rare Zechariah Ben Anan Manuscript discovered by Meital in the Karaite Moussa Deri Synagogue. It was previously documented in various publications by modern biblical scholars, from a 1905 Jewish Quarterly Review to microfilms of the manuscript done by a team of Israelis from the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in June 1981. But when ties with Israel again soured, access was cut off, and the manuscript was lost.

The manuscript is today hidden in an undisclosed safe place while Meital dreams of a way of exhibiting it in Cairo. In this era of increasing cooperation between Israel and the Middle East, perhaps his dream will be a reality before another four decades pass.

But there is no coronavirus, says man waking up from monthlong coma

David Vodiansky, right, with his wife Alin Zaraabel (Courtesy of Alin Zaraabel)

The pandemic has been a humbling experience for all of us. Its forced us to accept realities and make changes to our lives that we couldnt have imagined. Some have found it harder than others, and I dont think this reflects whether were good or bad people; our minds just work differently.

My interview with the couple that didnt believe in COVID-19 hammered all of this home. When David Vodiansky came around and heard he was in a coronavirus ward, he said, Its not possible, theres no coronavirus. They replied: So what are you doing here? Suddenly, the virus was all too real.

Vodiansky and his wife Alin Zaraabel had been in denial. They couldnt, or didnt want to, accept the awfulness of this illness. They were then shaken to reality. In a sense, this has been the experience of each and every one of us. For many of us, it took just a few minutes last March; for others it took months. But as I see it, this realization is the universal story of the human race in 2020.

Israels most vulnerable suffer economic brunt of coronavirus, next generation will foot the bill

People wearing face masks walk through the largely shuttered Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, on October 7, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As the 2020 Annus Horribilis comes to a close, I took some time to revisit the stories written about how the pandemic has wreaked havoc on Israels economy. Coupled with political instability, the nation is witnessing its worst recession ever.

Our stories covered the plight of small businesses, from the bar owners in Tel Aviv who saw nightlife come to a standstill, to chefs and cosmeticians who saw revenues plunge. Experts worried about how unemployment could become the Achilles Heel to recovery, as the first lockdown put over a million workers out of jobs. The virus also highlighted inequalities within Israel, with the weakest, youngest populations and women being hardest-hit by the closures. Academic Darwinism, is hurting university students, and it will be our children who will have to pay the massive bill for the huge amount of money the government is spending to keep the damage at bay.

Hopefully, 2021 will be better. As the nation rolls out the coronavirus vaccines at a world-record pace, there may be light at the end of the tunnel. Well continue to keep our fingers on the Israeli pulse. Meanwhile, keep your masks on, and dont unlock your seatbelts just yet.

Coronavirus is driving thousands to hunger in Israel

A homeless man in Jerusalem. Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel has emerged as one of the developed worlds most economically unequal countries. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With the Israeli media focused on the dual tracks of coronavirus and will-there-wont-there-be-elections, I am glad The Times of Israel could draw attention to the disturbing finding that almost one in three Israeli households now live in poverty, as families hitherto able to make ends meet have been brought down by the economic fallout of the coronavirus.

Despite this, and for political reasons, the biggest single budget for food security has been given to a ministry which is not even responsible for the issue the Interior Ministry. Fears that the criteria for food aid have been stitched up to benefit Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) families were sufficient to prompt the Movement for Quality Government to petition the High Court.

Among those hardest hit by what looks all too much like government indifference are children. The Hebrew-language media has scarcely touched on the fact that each time there is a lockdown, more than 400,000 children eligible for hot school meals dont receive them, with ministries passing the buck and blaming all but themselves.

Israeli musicians find a way for the show to go on

Ido Shpitalnik, conductor of the Jerusalem Street Orchestra, performing at the one concert hes been allowed to hold since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. (courtesy, Jerusalem Street Orchestra)

When the coronavirus arrived in Israel in March, my coverage of the local arts and culture community changed completely.

I found myself writing constantly about the struggles of artists, whether musicians, actors, dancers, directors, or anyone else involved in the performing arts world. Big names and lesser-known performers were trying to figure out what to do with themselves, how to fill their days and their bank accounts while satisfying their creative urges. For some, it was all about survival, about work, and whether they would ever be able to return to the stage full-time. Even the periods between the lockdowns were fraught with questions, indecision, concerns.

The piece I chose to highlight is about musicians staging an outdoor concert. It took several weeks to complete because each time the interviewees tried to make a plan about a performance, the government guidelines would shift and plans needed to be changed, again.

At the same time, as a reporter, I felt a kinship with and understanding of my interview subjects dilemmas. Its true I was still working, but in a different world, with changed conditions. We understood one another, and could commiserate. Cynicism was (mostly) put aside, and I wanted to report what they were experiencing, to share this particular slice of the coronavirus experience.

-Or-ly Barlev -Noy Shiv

Posted by Haddar Beiser on Saturday, August 1, 2020

1. Will the coronavirus forever change ultra-Orthodoxy as we know it?

Haredi men wearing face masks walk past Health Ministry posters warning against large Passover holiday gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Jerusalem on April 5, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In Israel, the pandemic has upended everyones lives to one degree or another. For the Haredi community, however, it attacked the very heart of their culture and challenged the basic fabric of their way of life. Its transmission traveled along pathways that in better days are the sources of Haredi societys strength and sense of purpose its academies, its tight-knit synagogues, its close-quarters socializing in the street.

One of the most poignant and complicated articles for me this year was the attempt to get to the bottom of the astounding and much-criticized Haredi failure to deal responsibly with the virus. I tried to acknowledge that failure, acknowledge the criticism, and then move past the anger from outsiders to get to the human heart of the problem, to explore how the very things that make being Haredi so rewarding in ordinary times render the community more vulnerable than others in the face of a pandemic.

2. How the Emiratis won by giving Israel something to lose

L-R: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan participate in the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House, on September 15, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Another major story this year, of course, was the sudden rush of Arab states seeking normalization agreements with Israel.

Each country had its reasons, from American F-35s for the Emiratis to getting removed from the US terror list for the Sudanese. But a unifying theme nevertheless emerges from each governments decision to abandon what was until today more or less a consensus view.

The importance of the Palestinian cause has shrunk in the broader Arab political consciousness. What was once a story that represented the general Arab experience now represents the Palestinians alone. What was once seen as a battlefield in a broader West-East clash has morphed into a conflict driven as much by an intransigent and incompetent Palestinian leadership as by Israeli malfeasance.

While the Palestinian story has diminished in importance in the Arab world, Israels story has done the reverse. Growing numbers of Arabs, especially Arab leaders, now want to learn from this small nation more than half of whose population hails from the Arab world which has achieved a level of economic and military success and power unmatched by anyone in the Arab world itself.

Slowly but surely, the Arab world is coming to view Israel as one of its own, a strange but nevertheless unavoidably present part of the landscape, which has a lot to offer its newfound friends. I explored these shifts after the first announcements of normalization deals in August and earlier this month in an essay sparked by some surprising comments from a senior Emirati official. [Editors note: Haviv and the following writer were allowed to pick two articles, because 2020 has proven there are no rules.]

1. After UAE announces ties with Israel, Palestinians still without a plan

Palestinians in the West Bank city of Ramallah burn pictures of Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (top) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, during a demonstration against the UAE-Israeli agreement to normalize diplomatic ties, August 15, 2020. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Every year is a year of dramatic upheaval in the Middle East but 2020 more than most. The decision by some Arab regimes to normalize ties with the Jewish state heartened many Israelis and angered the Palestinians. The process happened slowly, and then all at once: Four normalization accords in four months. The Palestinian leadership, surprised by how quickly the regional order was upended, spun its wheels.

While this piece was written back in September, directly after the announcement of an accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the sense of political isolation, receding alliances, and dwindling, unappealing choices still haunts policymakers in Ramallah. They can but hope that 2021 and a new administration in the White House will bring more appealing news for their cause.

2. At Jerusalem protest, water cannons everywhere, but not a place to go

Police use water cannons on demonstrators against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, on July 18, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Moving to Israel from the United States to report for The Times of Israel in the middle of a pandemic in July heralded something of a change in my Saturday night plans. Almost as soon as I got out of quarantine, I was off until all hours covering the nascent protest movement against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, week in, week out for nearly four months.

The early days of those thousands-strong demonstrations saw some violence. While nothing compared to that seen on a regular basis during clashes between Ultra-Orthodox or Palestinians with Israeli security forces, it was noteworthy for West Jerusalem. Watching water cannons and mounted officers attempt to push protesters off the light-rail tracks was as interesting a Welcome to Israel in 2020 as I could have hoped for.

It was at these events when I came to really appreciate the role of the reporter as witness: The importance of having someone to record what was happening on the ground, even when it was late at night and everyone just wanted to head home. It made it worth getting my clothes soaked.

United States assures Emirates it wont back Israeli annexation until 2024

(L-R, rear) US senior presidential advisor Jared Kushner, US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and US National Security Advisor Robert OBrien clap for US President Donald Trump after he announced an agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalize diplomatic ties, at the White House, August 13, 2020. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

The August 14 joint statement from the US, Israel and the United Arab Emirates declared that Abu Dhabi had agreed to normalize relations with the Jewish state in exchange for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspending his West Bank annexation plans but what wasnt specified was just how long that postponement would be.

It took almost a month, but I was able to confirm the agreed-to suspension would last at least three years. The major revelation put to bed speculation that Israel, with backing from the settlement-sympathetic Trump administration, would still move forward with annexation several months down the line, after the dust had settled. What the Emiratis had was not a commitment from Netanyahu as several sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations told me but a promise from the White House that Washington wouldnt give its blessing on annexation until at least 2024. For the Emiratis, who understood that Netanyahu would not pull the trigger on such a controversial plan without US President Donald Trumps support, this was enough to agree to normalization.

The countless conversations with government officials and others in-the-know that it took to confirm the story served as a helpful crash course for my new beat as US correspondent one I had started less than two weeks before the normalization announcement. As a rather junior reporter with much more to learn, the experience provided me with a jolt of confidence that I have tried to subsequently leverage to continue breaking news.

Out of quarantine and into the polls Israel votes in the coronavirus era

An Israeli under home quarantine arrives to cast a vote in a special polling station outside the city of Modiin, March 2, 2020 (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

On the day of the national ballot in March, I wanted to do something different, having already spent two election days in the previous year-and-a-half following politicians around as they cast their votes and made unremitting speeches. I wanted something novel. And what had more novelty than going to one of the 16 specially-equipped voting booths for the 5,630 voters under home quarantine to prevent the Israeli spread of the novel coronavirus (as we called it at the time)?

Ten Israelis had tested positive for the coronavirus back then, and Israel had taken what seemed like far-reaching steps to prevent an outbreak, banning entry to foreigners who had been to China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Italy, and compelling all Israelis recently in those areas to self-quarantine for 14 days. They were, however, allowed out of quarantine in order to vote in the tented polling stations while taking special precautions like wearing face masks and gloves (remember those?).

As voters arrived, they were greeted by polling staff wearing full protective gear who asked them to temporarily take off their face masks and checked their identity against their Israeli identity card. Then, after each applying anti-bacterial hand gel, the voters were given a specially-prepared pack with a new face mask and gloves to wear while voting. I observed the masked voters queueing up, as polling workers told them through a megaphone to stay at least two meters apart, which was met with curiosity and some bewilderment.

Few at the time could have predicted that less than a year later, Israel would be going to yet another election after the failure of a national unity government specifically formed to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far taken over 3,000 Israeli lives. Fewer, perhaps, could have imagined that those elections would be taking place after (at least) three national lockdowns aimed at cutting raging coronavirus infection rates that reached close to 10,000 new cases a day at the peak.

Those 16 polling stations turned out not to be a quirk but an omen. And the novelty has long worn off.

Muslim delegation visits Auschwitz, normalization ensues

A delegation of Muslim religious leaders at the gate leading to the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz, together with a Jewish group in what organizers called the most senior Islamic leadership delegation to visit the former Nazi death camp, in Oswiecim, Poland, January 23, 2020. (American Jewish Committee via AP)

At the risk of sounding flippant, over the course of 2020 there were moments when I thought about where Id spent much of the years beginning covering various delegations at Auschwitz and how in retrospect, for me those visits had set the tone for the rest of it. But this year hasnt been all bad. Along the way, some unexpected silver linings have popped up and surprised us.

Looking back, I see that I was able to catch a moment that hinted at bigger things coming when I covered an unprecedented Muslim delegation, headed by world-renowned Saudi cleric Mohammed al-Issa, paying their respects at Auschwitz. At the time it seemed like a nice gesture, but I would have guessed normalization with Israel was at least a decade away if it were ever to come at all.

As 2020 concludes, no less than four additional Arab League countries have established or reestablished ties with Israel, and it looks like more will do the same in 2021. This has been a year with a lot of loss and even more sacrifice, but it may also be remembered as the year that saw the sun rise over the Middle East.

Originally posted here:

Bye-bye 2020: ToI writers share important stories from a year of crisis and hope - The Times of Israel

21 places to go in 2021: ‘The holidays we’re dreaming of this year’ – The Guardian

Posted By on January 4, 2021


A stroll and a gourmet treat by the river at Amarante My go-to place for escape is the mountains. In normal times, Id make a beeline for the granite-strewn plateaux of Serra da Estrela or the wooded slopes of Gers. But the ups and downs of lockdown have left me craving something a little less wild. I feel a need for repose, not action.

Amarante would be just the ticket. On the banks of the Tmega River, a gorgeous bow-shaped bridge connecting its two halves, the town north-east of Porto is a maze of cobbled streets and quiet cafes that ask nothing of you other than to wander at will. Id probably visit some of my favourite haunts: the medieval So Gonalo church, the Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso art museum next door, the ruined Solar dos Magalhes manor house.

If my activity itch strikes, a stroll through the city park or a short bike ride along the old train line (now a cycle path) should scratch it.

As a very exceptional treat, Id cap things off with a visit to Largo do Paco. In the Casa da Calada hotel, a stately pile right on the river, its one of Portugals best restaurants outside Lisbon. Pooling my savings from a year of evenings in should see me good for a main course, at least. If my pennies stretch to a glass or two of vinho verde, all the better.Oliver Balch

Restorative walking in the DolomitesFresh air, space and nature these are the things I look for in a holiday, especially in these times. One place that offers all three in abundance is Renon (also called Ritten), a plateau that lies above the northern Italian city of Bolzano, or Bozen, in the Dolomites region of Alto Adige, known as South Tirol in English.

Sigmund Freud was Renons most famous visitor. During a three-month stay at Hotel Bemelmans-Post in Collalbo village in 1911, he wrote: Here on the Ritten plateau it is divinely beautiful and comfortable I have discovered in myself an inexhaustible desire to do nothing.

Renons 300km of well-marked hiking trails, one named after Freud, are enough to keep you active by day and satisfyingly exhausted by night. My favourite goes up to Corno del Renon, a 2,260-metre summit with otherworldly views of the Dolomites and even a place to stay the night, at Corno del Renon mountain hut.

I head back to Gasthof Wiesenheim, a family-run guesthouse in Collalbo, which serves fantastic food. You dont need a car to get to Renon take a train to Bolzano and a cable car from there. On the plateau, a scenic light railway service connects the main villages. Angela Giuffrida

The delightful quirks of KromPrague may be the Czech Republics spire-filled holy grail but its the countrys rural regions, with their madcap locals and tourist-free quirks, that give me a buzz. And nowhere embodies this quite like the town of Krom, in south-eastern Moravia.

Constructed around the Archbishops Palace, a Unesco-protected baroque chateau, this old-world spot oozes tranquillity and warm-hearted Czech charm. In the palace gardens, peacocks strut within maze-like topiary, and a mini-zoo replete with cockatoos, baboons and red-faced macaques is an intriguing curiosity. For a bit of fun especially if you have kids take the electric train for a jaunty 30-minute ride (with English audio) around the grounds.

Nearby, the towns dazzling cobbled square is full of terrific restaurants. The local brewery ern Orel (the Black Eagle) is a particular favourite; a half-litre of its delicious semi-dark beer and a plate of traditional Czech svkov (beef tenderloin in cream sauce) is my pub order of choice.

The Krom attraction that gets me most giddy, though, is the outdoor lido. For the entry price of a pound, you can swim, drink beer, eat sausage and choose between two equally great sights: huge-stomached locals belly-flopping into the deep end or an unimpeded view of the gorgeous chateau. Mark Pickering

Leaving the 21st century behind on TinosOne of the best things about living in grubby, swarming, glorious Athens is that when the urban hustle gets too much, you can hop on a ferry and an hour or two later alight on a Greek island. Theres nothing like plunging into the Aegean to rinse off city life.

The restorative weekend rituals of striding across crinkly hills pricked with thyme, or idling in a kafenio and watching sunbeams flicker across limewash, have been agonisingly off-limits for much of the past year. So when lockdown lifts, I plan to take the slow boat to the Cyclades archipelago and Tinos, an island of luminous marble villages and profound, almost primeval beauty. At sea, Aeolus will blow away the internet signal, and Ill stare at the widescreen horizon instead of the blurry blue light of constant connectivity.

Theres certainly no wifi at Krokos, an off-grid hideout way up in the misty, scarcely habitable mountains of Tinos. Camouflaged among spherical boulders like giant cannonballs, the two shacks slabs of schist stacked by shepherds in a past age seem to surface from the landscape. The cool, cave-like rooms are souped up with flea-market chic, while verandas dangle over rippling hills.

Krokos is in the centre of Tinos, so you can strike out in a different direction each day. Or you can recall how to stay still, feeling your senses sharpen as you tune in to the scratchy crickets and soulful owls, the drifting light and wind in the vines, carrying wafts of rosemary and verbena.

The owners, Sabrina and Jerome Binda, left Paris to pursue their passions on Tinos: she set up a ceramics studio and he launched a natural winery, Domaine de Kalathas. After a week or two at Krokos learning to throw pots, meandering about the vineyards, and acquiring a taste for their heritage grapes, Im tempted to follow their lead and abandon city life altogether.Rachel Howard

Lyngens dazzling skies and snowscapesI was born in Hammerfest, the northernmost city (or town) in the world with a permanent population of more than 10,000. Even though I have travelled a bit and now live in Oslo, I still have a strong affinity with northern Norway, and the cold months in particular. While its not always a winter wonderland, squally days and nights have their magic too. There is something oddly soothing about storm-watching from the warm side of a window. Or driving with studded tyres in a slow convoy behind the snowplough with its flashing lights, while staying within two metres of the car in front so as not to lose sight of its tail lights through the storm. Most days are less dramatic though, if thats possible in such a theatrical landscape.

I plan on heading to Lyngen, which is Norway in miniature the imposing Lyngen Alps surrounded by two fjords, narrow valleys, dramatic waterfalls and colourful villages. It is roughly the size of the West Midlands, but with a population of only 2,800. And the people here are as warm as Scandinavians come they even smile occasionally.

Then there are the northern lights sometimes relatively calm, at other times frenziedly dancing across the sky yet never making a sound. There isnt a lot of noise around here: no hustle or bustle, no traffic, no nothing. And I love how the quiet nothingness is amplified by the pristine air. The temperature typically drops to minus 20C, and can even reach minus 40C, and that turns evenings around the wood burner in your log cabin into yet another highlight.Gunnar Garfors

Cycling to carnival through the Limburg hillsPeople who dont know the Netherlands often think of it as a country that all looks roughly the same: pretty little towns cobwebbed with canals, green fields freckled with windmills and dairy cows, and as flat as a pancake. The south-east of the country, however, isnt like that at all, and thats where Im heading once lockdown is over.

The province of Limburg dangles like an untied shoelace from the bottom edge of the Netherlands. It is prettily forested and has the kind of hills that would go unnoticed in Britain, but by Dutch standards require crampons. Cycling through the trees, Ill reach the Drielandenpunt (three countries point), where three nations meet on a hilltop and where, with the borders open again, Ill visit both Belgium and Germany just by taking a few steps in either direction.

After a slice of local vlaai (fruit pie) in a cafe, Ill cycle on to Maastricht, which combines a grand Roman history and glorious old churches with a feisty local culture. If the vaccines come soon enough, Ill time my visit to coincide with the annual carnival, when the city goes wild in a celebration that feels like a hybrid of Mardi Gras, Glastonbury and a raucous teenage disco. Its always crowded, but Ill relish being surrounded by others, as I dance, drink countless plastic cups of beer and eat enough rookworst hotdogs to give a cardiologist a heart attack. Ben Coates

Relishing a burger on the slopes of St-LucI miss eating out. Restaurants were closed from early November to mid-December in Lausanne, where I live, and in many other parts of the country, including Valais where I often ski in winter. But with most Swiss ski resorts now open and operating under strict guidelines Im hoping to head back to a mountain restaurant I discovered last year when skiing with friends in the small Valais station of St-Luc.

At the top of the Bella Tola lift, we basked in sunshine at 3,026 metres, ogling the jagged crown of peaks before us. Then we launched ourselves down a red run that promised a descent of 1,700 metres over 6km. My heart pumped hard, my cheeks stung in the chill and my smile felt as wide as the piste. Eventually, the slope narrowed and guided us to Le Prilet restaurant, where the scent of melting cheese beckoned us in.

We clattered through the door, peeling off layers before tucking into beer and burgers fat, juicy and messy. Afterwards we lingered in the warmth, taking for granted the things Covid has since denied us: the company of friends, good food and the freedom of flying down a slope.Caroline Bishop

Ljubljanas heavenly food market Im lucky enough to live at the foot of the Kamnik-Savinja Alps, in a town called Kamnik, amid a landscape that could pass for the setting of The Sound of Music. This means Ive been able to visit precipitous mountains, verdant cow-strewn plateaux and deep forests safely and freely, even during the tightest lockdown.

So while the city-bound may pine for wilderness, I am looking forward to a return to convivial, crowded social spaces. My first stop will be the central farmers market in Slovenias capital, Ljubljana. The market was designed by Joe Plenik, Slovenias greatest architect, and completed in 1944 as part of Pleniks vision of creating a version of all the public spaces there would have been in an ancient Greek city, making Ljubljana into a new Athens.

The market is backed by a colonnade that leads on to the river and is an urban social centre. On Fridays, Odprta Kuhna (Open Kitchen) would normally take over part of the square and as many as 20,000 people would descend on a pop-up food fair with dozens of stalls selling everything from sauerkraut and Kranj sausage to morn (chopped pancakes topped with berry jam, a Habsburg favourite).

Ill head to the stall with the longest queue and greet Marjetka, whose family are among the last in the world to produce Ljubljana cabbage, said to make the worlds best sauerkraut. Then Ill stroll over for lunch at JB, which showcases the markets produce in dishes I have dreamed about, like ravioli with chestnut, pear and foie gras.Noah Charney

Swimming in the crystal waters of Lake ZellI spent the spring and autumn lockdowns at home in Vienna, but the small window of domestic travel in the summer proved just how much I miss, and need, nature. I enjoyed days swimming in the huge bathing lakes of the Salzkammergut, and breathing alpine air in the mountainous region of Tirol.

On the way home, I drove past a stretch of Lake Zell, 50 miles south of Salzburg. The piercing blue basin is cradled by some of the highest mountains in Austria a mix of glacier-topped, rugged peaks and softer, green alpine ridges.

The lake, a four-hour train ride west of Vienna, sits near the very centre of the country and is crystal clear because it is fed from mountain streams. Im determined to return, and Ill swim or rent a rowing boat from the lakeside esplanade and find a quiet spot in still waters far from the shores of the lake.

On another day, Ill switch the altitude and head to one of the towns four cable-car stations, with routes up the Schmittenhhe. Ill start with the gondola that gets me to the High-Altitude Promenade, a hiking trail at 1,939 metres thats said to provide the best views of the lake below and the panorama of mountain summits.Becki Enright

The return of rugby crowds I was at Cardiffs Principality Stadium the last time Wales played rugby in front of a full house. It was only in February but, flicking through the pictures and videos now, after everything that has happened, it feels a bit like Im blowing away a thick film of dust from some childhood box of slides out of the attic, not simply thumbing left across my phone screen. Theres my wifes cousin Hannah, her husband Huw, his brother and his wife, my wife and me, all grinning away in the stands, happily smashed on Brains bitter.

Its only when something is taken from you that you realise just how much you miss it. I miss the slow walk from my old home in Canton to town more than the match itself. The buzz around the pubs, the bookies and the greasy spoons. How everyone wears a bit of red for luck, from the obvious (replica Wales tops, skintight and tugged down over beer bellies) to the oblique (the elderly homeless fella whos tied a red ribbon round the neck of his beloved staffordshire bull terrier).

I miss how Im always a bit late for the game by the time Ive crossed the River Taff. I miss trying, and failing, to nip into a pub for just one last pint before kick-off. And I miss buying as much beer as I can carry from the stadium bars instead.

Then Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the Welsh national anthem, is being belted into the sky by tens of thousands of people and I forget everything. I forget I need to pee. I forget which drink was mine. I even forget Im not actually Welsh.

Hopefully, it wont be long before I can make that slow walk once more, but Ill never take it all for granted, ever again.Will Millard

The curative waters in Uriage-les-BainsUriage-les-Bains, a genteel spa village 10km south-east of Grenoble, is a refuge of calm and my ideal destination once travel restrictions are lifted.

Uriages water was officially declared curative in 1781, when a farmer noticed how healthy his animals were after they drank from the local source. His son built some wooden huts for those wanting restorative baths, and word spread; an elegant thermal resort was constructed in the 1870s, including a tramway to bring in wealthy patrons from Grenoble.

Little has changed since then, including the row of shops that occupies the old stables (from the days when spa guests arrived by horse-drawn carriage). Theres a baker, a grocer, a butcher, a couple of cafes and an ice-cream parlour, making it a picnickers paradise.

I dream of sitting under one of the Atlas cedars in Uriages giant park, watching dogs leap across the brook, and of walking through the pine-covered valley and perhaps joining the cyclists outside La Fondue for a dish of walnuts and a restorative glass of Chartreuse.

Behind the steamed-up windows of the villages tablissement Thermal are swirling mineral-water pools, spray chambers and massage rooms. Outside, there are boules and tennis courts, a fairground carousel, belle poque villas and steep footpaths heading up towards the ski resorts of the surrounding Alps.

The thermal spas will reopen soon hopefully, followed by Uriages season of live soires when the music wafts across the grass and over the willows and conifers to the turreted chateau perched above.Jon Bryant

Getting to the heart of the nationThe first thing I am going to do is drive to the very centre of Ireland. From what I can tell it is a field. This is no great surprise. Most of Ireland, north and south, still is. It is either a few miles from the town of Athlone, in County Roscommon, or a couple from Loughanavally in neighbouring Westmeath. (The Hill of Tara, in Meath, also claims it. However, the Hill of Tara is as much the centre of Ireland as my house in east Belfast is.)

I think I drove past or possibly even right in between them back in September, when driving places was still a thing, although even then there was an announcement on the radio as I was crossing the border that people should only be making the journey for work. My work is writing books: I was travelling south to research the one I am currently writing. I sat in a layby weighing it up for 10 minutes then drove on. I wasnt set on the centre then, but the Midlands more generally: the least visited part of the island. I think I had in mind to write at the end of my visit, and now I know why, but I had a lovely weekend in and around Westmeath and Offaly.

On the way home, I have an urge to go by way of Annaghone in County Tyrone the geographical centre of Northern Ireland. (Ive searched Google images. It looks a bit field-y.)

In both locations Ill be sure to stick to the western approaches. Then next time anyone asks me where I stand on Ireland, I can say without hesitation, left of centre.Glenn Patterson

Experiencing the Lneburg Heaths wild beautyTourists to Germany often yearn for spectacular alpine panoramas or sublime Caspar David Friedrich vistas from the mountaintops. Not me. The landscape I long to rediscover is that of the north, which reveals its beauty in less dramatic fashion.

The Lneburg Heath, a 107,000-hectare nature park in Lower Saxony, feels like it belongs in Scandinavia or a remote part of Scotland: the land is barren, with low-growing shrubs, wavy-hair grass and gnarly oaks clinging to sandy terrain.

For most of the year the nature reserve is windswept and rain-sodden, but from August to September the entire landscape turns purple as the heather blooms. Take a train from Hamburg to Handeloh, then a bus to Undeloh, where the heath starts just beyond the village pond. From here, keen walkers can embark on the 14km Heidschnuckenweg path to Niederhaverbeck, a hike named after the dishevelled local breed of moorland sheep.

Cyclists can explore the reserve by hiring bikes from Hotel Heiderose or Ferienhof Heins in Undeloh or simply catch the horse-drawn carriage that leaves for the village of Wilsede (daily mid-May to end of September), and return in the afternoon for buckwheat gateau, the local delicacy served at Teestube Undeloh. Philip Oltermann

I crave Madrids city life and art scene Ive spent lockdown up a mountain in Cdiz, so Im yearning to be jostled in the dimly lit, deafening and cosy Bar Benteveo in Madrids Lavapis district. My dream is empanadas (the owners are Argentinian), good beer and one of the retro armchairs by the window to watch people do normal things in a normal neighbourhood again.

I crave visceral city life: scruffy edginess, traffic, street art, creativity, designer-owned shops, neon, independent cafes, multicultural richness and stray cats winding between rickety pavement tables and Lavapis has it all. I have the perfect day planned: the gritty visual art centre Tabacalera to see a baffling but thought-provoking installation, then more esoteric stuff at La Casa Encendida gallery, followed by cake in the airy cafe. Ill graze my way around the bars of Mercado de San Fernando, eating arancini perched on a stool at the Mercadillo Lisboa and pausing for wine at Bendito.

Ambling a bit further, Ill rummage around antique stores and call into La Fugitiva, the creaky, quirky bookshop where customers can browse the well-curated selection of books with a drink in hand. Its the polar opposite of online shopping, in the best possible way in a barrio thats the antidote to enforced distance and silence.Sorrel Downer

The bucolic charm of Flanders WesthoekA weekend in the rolling hills between Ieper (Ypres), Poperinge and Ploegsteert feels like an escape to a part of Flanders that lives at a more relaxed pace. As the train from Brussels ventures deeper into the Westhoek region, each station feels like another marker away from the modern, urban heart of the country. Westhoek is still focused on agriculture, and roads appear to exist only to service the fields and the food they produce meat, hops, vegetables and even wine.

The campsite at De Nachtegaal has vintage campervans and caravans for rent, and is on top of the 143-metre Rodeberg, which offers views south across the entire region. This is a landscape crisscrossed with walking and cycling trails, all navigable by numbered route posts (or knooppunten), which allow you to choose your own itinerary. They lead to first world war battlefields, through beautiful villages such as Kemmel (where you should visit Cafe Boutique), and to the Trappist abbey at Westvleteren, where you can buy beer brewed by monks.

Best of all, just 300 metres from the campsite is one of my favourite places to eat in Belgium. The Hellegat offers a warm welcome, simple, well-cooked local food (the ham hock in mustard sauce is sublime) and a wide selection of west Flemish beers made with local hops.Philip Malcolm

Gorging on drunken meat in IlokThe eastern region of Slavonia is off-the-radar Croatia, and Im planning to go as soon as we can travel. Specifically to Ilok, Croatias easternmost town, which is like a fairytale.

Ilok is surrounded by fortifications, including two monuments from Ottoman times and a medieval fortress rising above the Danube, but the main reason to visit is the 15th-century wine cellars. These supplied wine for Queen Elizabeth IIs coronation, and a bottle can cost 5,000. Happily you can taste it more affordably at the Festival of Traminca, which is usually in June.

Youll also get to try the food, which has influences from Hungary, Austria and Serbia. Theres fish paprikash and something called pijana kotlovina, drunken meat, which is the speciality of a small winery north of Osijek called Vina Gerstmajer, where they cook meat in 10 litres of wine. You can prepare it with them and drink rakija (fruit brandy) while its cooking. Its like being at a friends place something weve all been missing in lockdown.Zrinka Marinovi

Stargazing in west Corks Sky Garden The elongated fingers of land that reach out into the Atlantic in Irelands remote south-west have come in for some dubious publicity of late. The success of the West Cork podcast, a compelling true-crime series about a brutal murder in the area, has lent a murky hue to the regions ruggedly beautiful landscape. That focus is only likely to intensify in 2021 with the release of two documentaries about the unsolved case.

Those looking to experience a more uplifting side of West Cork should head first to the handsome market town of Skibbereen, with its striking steel-clad Uillinn arts centre and Saturday farmers market. Most destinations are an easy drive from Skibb: the pretty harbour town of Baltimore for ferry trips to the magnificent remove of Cape Clear, Irelands most southerly inhabited island; the spectacular Three Castle Head walk, and the long sweep of Barleycove beach and dunes at the western tip of Mizen Head; and, a little further afield, Dzogchen Beara, a Tibetan Buddhist retreat and meditation centre open to all and with some of West Corks most heavenly views.

For more secular enlightenment, book lunch, dinner or an overnight stay at the secluded Liss Ard estate just outside Skibbereen, which provides access to the Sky Garden. If you stand in this 50-metre by 25-metre crater designed by the American artist James Turrell and look up, the rim forms a visual ellipse that perfectly frames the sky. The sensory artwork is at once an immense naked-eye observatory, and a celestial vault that is peaceful, contemplative and supremely calming a luminous tonic for our times.Philip Watson

ds glorious rebirth fingers crossedLast year, an argument broke out within a group of my friends about the merits of the Polish city of d (pronounced woodge).

In the 19th century d was the beating heart of industrial Poland, a centre of the textiles industry, characterised by brutal working conditions and frontier capitalist excess. The citys Jewish and German populations were either destroyed or driven out during the second world war (the d ghetto was the second-largest in German-occupied Europe), while the citys industrial base failed to survive the transition to capitalism after the collapse of communism in 1989.

Since then, it has gained a reputation as a city constantly on the verge of a glorious rebirth that has never quite arrived. But ds determined, continuing battle for recognition has yielded some museums dedicated to its fascinating industrial, wartime and cultural past the city is the birthplace of pianist Arthur Rubinstein and has a world-famous film school that counts directors Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Kielowski among its alumni. Many of its former industrial spaces are now bars, restaurants, galleries and independent shops.

Still, there are those who remain unconvinced hence the disagreement among my friends. We had resolved to all meet in d for a weekend to settle the argument, but life and then Covid got in the way. I have been dreaming ever since of a d rendezvous that will serve as confirmation that this grim extended episode in our lives is finally over.Christian Davies

Discovering the secrets of Glen LyonDuring our months-long confinement, many of us have developed a keener appreciation of the world outside our walls. The great outdoors seems greater than ever. In Scotland, were lucky weve got a lot of it.

I suspect that Scotlands tourism industry will quickly recover, and as usual Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Highlands will prove popular in 2021. Fortunately, there are many roads less travelled. Take east Perthshire I would.

Glen Lyon, along the Tay from Aberfeldy, is the glen of glens, with easy walks in the valley and several Munros surrounding it, and the Post Office Tea Room halfway in for refreshment and reflection. This is classic Scottish scenery as evocative as any in the Highlands or the Trossachs, but largely bypassed by tourists despite its accessibility.

There are great options nearby for eating and sleeping: the restored Grandtully Hotel, with the same owners as the estimable Ballintaggart Farm Cookery School up the road , is one of Scotlands most convivial roadside inns, with a bar, bistro and eight rooms, all faultless in every meticulous detail. In Aberfeldy, the Watermill (cafe, gallery, home store and great bookshop), the Habitat Cafe and the Three Lemons bar/restaurant offer great grazing and browsing options.

There are countless easy walking prospects, including the celebrated beechwoods, the Birks of Aberfeldy and the remarkable Cluny House Gardens over the Tay, with its vast tree collection including rare redwoods and a thriving colony of red squirrels. Fuel your expedition with Glen Lyon Coffee from the companys new laid-back roasting shed. Pete Irvine

Trekking to find sanctuary on the Essex coastIn 2021, I plan to walk St Peters Way, a 40-mile, four-day trek across Essex. Pilgrims on this route have long relied on the hospitality and kindness of strangers, but in 2020, with many pubs and hotels closed, finding a room at the inn proved impossible.

I hope to begin my walk at the Church of St Andrew in Greensted, the oldest wooden church in the world. Later the trail passes Mundons forest of petrified oaks, whose water-starved arms reach for the sky like a coven of witches surrendering before Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General who once interrogated some of the unfortunate villagers of these parts.

Essex has long been a county of political dissent and utopian dreams. In the late 19th century, the village of Purleigh was the headquarters of an anarchist community, who grew grapes and denounced currency before infighting led to members hopping on their bicycles and pedalling away to better things. The off-grid community of Othona, founded in 1946 near Bradwell-on-Sea, proved more successful and still welcomes those looking for respite.

The walk ends at the remote chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall. Built from the ruins of a Roman fort by Saint Cedd in AD 625, this is a place to find sanctuary, as well as to shelter from the salt-marsh winds.

Essex, with its wide skies, is the perfect place to blow away the cobwebs of last year and follow in the footsteps of countless others who have journeyed here to give thanks for safe passage through difficult times.Carol Donaldson

Descending into CopenHellI first attended CopenHell in 2011. It was a small, obscure festival for hardcore heavy metal fans, and 8,000 of us gathered at Refshaleen, a former shipyard on an artificial island where a large mural of a wolf stared down at us. Heavy metal is not featured at many festivals, so there was a collective feeling of Look what they made for us!

Many of the crowd looked like they might tear off my arm and have it for breakfast, but I have never attended a festival where everyone was so happy: the Hell-goers queued politely for beer and gallantly let me stand in front of them if they were blocking my view. Some even brought their children the sight of a grinning toddler wearing a tiny Slayer T-shirt and ear defenders really warms your heart.

Since then CopenHell has grown into one of the largest festivals in Denmark, and Ive been back every summer. There was no festival in 2020 for obvious reasons, but I cant wait to go back and let my hair down in a drunken crowd. I might even give the heavy metal karaoke a go. Andrea Bak


21 places to go in 2021: 'The holidays we're dreaming of this year' - The Guardian

Its being treated like a war: Israels rapid Covid-19 vaccination drive – The Irish Times

Posted By on January 4, 2021

More than one million of Israels population of 9.3 million have now received the first of two doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine.

Politics has played a role in the countrys drive to get people inoculated against the disease, with prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who will soon face another general election, of the belief that a successful and rapid vaccination programme could lay the ground for victory.

Netanyahu moved quickly to guarantee supplies of the vaccine, speaking directly with Pfizers Greek-born chief executive, Albert Bourla, whose parents were among the few Jews in Thessalonika to escape the Holocaust.

Netanyahu said Bourla was very proud of his Greek heritage and his Jewish heritage and appreciated the nurturing of relations between the countries during his years in power.

Equally, Israel was prepared to pay a very high price for early delivery, according to reports in the Israeli media, with minister for finance Yisrael Katz refusing to say exactly how much despite repeated questioning.

However, given the successful campaign to date, few Israelis care about the cost. The country has also drawn on its own advantages: it is small, has a well-equipped public health system and ample experience in coping with national emergencies.

Its really being treated like a war and Israel is experienced in battles, said infectious disease expert Prof Allon Moses. Its very similar to battle you have an enemy, you have the right ammunition and you just have to deliver.

People who have met Netanyahu in closed meetings in recent weeks were quoted as saying that he believes that mass inoculation will dramatically change the mood of the country.

People in the end vote according to action taken, on results, on achievement, Netanyahu said. In the moment of truth, they know who brought them the vaccines, and who is getting them out of the crisis.

Given the need for a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine three weeks after the first, and a lag thereafter before it takes full effect, the first signs that the campaign is working will not come until the middle of February.

Netanyahu personally handled the vaccination issue from the start, blocking an attempt by ministers to discuss the issue at cabinet, claiming he did not want to politicise the matter. He also made sure he was the first to receive the jab, launching the vaccination drive on December 19th at Tel Avivs Sheba hospital, an event broadcast live on television, radio and online.

With its extraordinary success in getting stocks of the vaccine, and the successful rollout of what it has received, Israel currently leads the race, along with Bahrain, to ensure that its population is protected from the disease.

Along with front-line medical staff, the jab is being limited initially to the over-60s, who have made up more than 90 per cent of Israels 3,300-plus deaths linked to Covid-19, and others deemed to be at highest risk.

By the end of March, five million people may have received the vaccine, allowing families and friends to gather safely for the Passover holiday and to vote in a fourth general election in two years.

Some 150,000 a day are getting injections at the moment. However, the rapid rollout has not prevented a surge in infections, which has led to Israels third national lockdown, including a ban on foreigners entering the country.

The Israeli story with Covid-19, like elsewhere, has been marred by failures and disagreements. Health advice was ignored, the governments communications were mocked and there were lax rules on international travel.

Despite suggestions otherwise, Israel has so far used only the Pfizer two-dose vaccine, but further supplies from the manufacturer are not expected until February. It has ordered millions of doses of the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines, too.

Moderna had promised its first deliveries to Israel before March, though weekend local reports suggested supplies could come next week. But the AstraZeneca vaccine, although approved by the regulator in the UK, will not be used in Israel until it is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Due to the success of the initial drive, Israel has enough doses left for another week of vaccinations, by which time more than two million people will have been covered, including most of the over-60s .

On January 10th, clinics will stop administering first doses and concentrate on giving a second jab to those already given the first. Inoculations for those awaiting a first dose will resume in early February, once new shipments arrive.

Three million extra Pfizer vaccines are due by February, and the same number is again expected in March and April. On Thursday, prisoners, prison staff, air and seaport workers and those in contact with the dead were added to the top priority list.

Divisions, though, have emerged about who should be covered first. Tel Aviv municipalitys plans to vaccinate teachers next week has provoked criticism from Israels coronavirus co-ordinator, Prof Nahman Ash.

I agree that it is a good idea to vaccinate teachers and school staff, he said, But the more vulnerable in the population the elderly and those with underlying conditions must come first.

Some 300 vaccination centres which have so far seen few, if any, issues are in operation. Soldiers began to be vaccinated last week, beginning with the medical corps and other high-risk troops.

The successful rollout of the campaign has changed the public mood. A month ago, large numbers of Israelis were hesitant about the vaccine. Now the main question voiced is how quickly they can get the jab.

Every Israeli has received WhatsApp images from smiling relatives or friends receiving the jab, which has led to a sense of national pride that Israel is leading the world. Are we still ahead of Bahrain? is a question now frequently asked.

Once people have the second Pfizer jab they will receive a green passport via a phone app to prove they have been vaccinated so they will not have to isolate if they are exposed to a person with the virus, or if they return from abroad.

Demand is now so high that appointment booking websites have crashed, while phone bookings can take an hour or more. Inoculation centres operate 24-7, including Saturdays, despite strong opposition from conservatives.

The weakest link in the chain remains the rollout among the Israeli Arab community, who make up almost 20 per cent of Israels population. Inoculation levels in the Arab sector are significantly lower than elsewhere.

Health experts point to mistrust of the authorities among Arabs, combined with unfounded rumours over negative side effects. The government has launched a huge advertising campaign to try to boost these numbers.

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Its being treated like a war: Israels rapid Covid-19 vaccination drive - The Irish Times

Oakland County community calendar Jan. 3 and beyond – The Oakland Press

Posted By on January 4, 2021

Business events

Pontiac Chamber of Commerce hosts Fruitful Toast, 5:30-7 p.m. Jan. 8, online via Zoom,, $50 for members and $60 for non-members. Tickets include access to online event and celebration basket (delivered),, 248-335-9600.

Homeschool Nature Programs meet Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, 1:30 to 3 p.m., Jan. 5-March 18 (No class Feb 16-18) at the Farmington Hills Nature Center in Heritage Park, 28600 Eleven Mile Road, Farmington Hills. For ages 6 to 12, sign up child(ren) for one session only, dress for outdoors, $65 per child each week for residents/$75 non-residents,, with COVID-19safety measures, 248-477-1135 or email

Young Explorers classes, Thursday or Friday, Jan. 7-March 19, (no classes Feb.18-19) at the Farmington Hills Nature Center in Heritage Park, 28600 Eleven Mile Road, Farmington Hills. Drop-off program for ages 3-5; children must be potty trained, dress for the weather, sign up child(ren) for one session only, $85 per child each week for residents/$95 non-residents. Register at, with COVID-19safety measures, 248-477-1135 or email

Morning Munchkins is 10:30-11:30 a.m. Jan. 8 at Red Oaks Nature Center, 30300 Hales St., Madison Heights. For preschoolers, story and a related hands-on, nature-based discovery activity. Series will be offered the first Friday of each month, $4 per child. Rregistration with payment required by calling 248-858-0916, weekdays.

Many local communities and trash collection services offer tree pickup and recycling.Oakland County Parks and Recreation will not be providing the annual Christmas Tree Recycling program, this year.

During the holiday season, the Farmington Hills Fire Department offers fire safety tips for those who decorate with live trees. Their fire education slogan is Water Your Tree So We Dont Have To! The National Fire Protection Association emphasizes that trees must be watered daily and recommends cutting at least two inches off the base of the trunk prior to placing the tree in the stand. Artificial Christmas trees also pose hazards. If an artificial tree catches fire, the house can fill with smoke in a matter of seconds. The association recommends having working smoke alarms and a family escape plan,

Oakland County Farmers Market offers free virtual cooking demonstrations by local chefs held in cooperation with edibleWOW. The video, recipe and chef information will be posted on the Oakland County Farmers Markets Facebook page by 10 a.m. Jan. 9. Additional copies of the recipe will be available at the farmers market, 2350 Pontiac Lake Road in Waterford, for ingredient list while shopping at the market. Chef Omar Mitchell from Table No. 2 in Detroit is scheduled for Jan. 9,

American Red Cross,, 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669). Mail a check: American Red Cross, PO Box 37839, Boone, IA 50037-0839

Easter Seals,, 800-221-6827

Evolve12 seeks nominations for Holiday Meal/Gift Giving, for a family or individual to receive holiday assistance,

Forgotten Harvest,, 248-967-1500

Gleaners Food Bank,, 866-GLEANER (453-2637)

Goodwill Industries,, 800-466-3945

Grace Centers of Hope shelter,

Lighthouse,, 248-920-6000

Oakland County Children's Village Foundation is hosting a coat, hat, and glove drive for the residents of Children's Village. For information on how to donate items or funds, visit

The Salvation Army, choose from the following options to donate: Text GIFT to 24365; visit the website at; call 877-SAL-MICH; or send a check, made payable to The Salvation Army, to: 16130 Northland Drive, Southfield, MI 48075.

Thankful Hearts, a Pontiac nonprofit, is seeking donations of new or gently used coats or jackets, toys, hats/gloves, and monetary donations, which can be sent to: Thankful Hearts, 257 Rapid St., Pontiac, MI, 48341. For more information, call Ruth Montague at 248-563-3191.

Troy People Concerned, a service organization supporting Troy residents in times of need with assistance, information and referrals. The organization seeks donations. Checks can be mailed to TPC, 2045 Austin Drive, Troy MI 48083 or use the PayPal account on TPCs website at

United Way for Southeastern Michigan,, 313-226-9200, or call 211.

Jewish Family Service presents psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey London, as he provides an introduction to anxiety disorders and how to prepare emotionally for the winter months and what anxiety looks like in children and adults, 3:30-4:30 p.m. Jan. 6, via Zoom, adv. register at

Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo, New dates, Jan. 6-10, 8450 W. 10 Mile, Royal Oak, 248-541-5717, adv. timed tickets, $15-$20, plus $8 parking,

Glenlore Trails Aurora is open through Jan. 10, half-mile outdoor walking path, holiday light display, 3860 Newton Road, Commerce Twp., masks required, social distancing, timed tickets at, adults-$20; ages 4-12, $10; free for ages 3 and younger.

Big Bright Light Show is 5 p.m.-midnight, every night through Jan. 31, downtown Rochester, (updated)

Berkley DDA is hosting a winter-themed scavenger hunt through Feb. 1 in downtown Berkley. Visitors can vote for their favorite holiday window displays through Jan. 18, at

Brandon Township Public Library, Storytime with Miss Fran is 11 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays through Feb. 8, at Brandon Township Public Library Facebook page.

Ferndale Library offers podcasts accessible to all, but virtual events require registration. Visit the librarys Facebook page and register via email to The library premiered the first episode of a new miniseries, Maintaining Motivation, featuring New York Times Best Selling author Josh Malerman. Other episodes include Ferndale-based mystery author Donald Levin, Ferndale visual artist Alana Carlson, Detroit-based musicians Jibs Brown and Nadir Omowale, creative writing teacher and author Dorene OBrien, history author Sarah Miller, and writer/immersive theater director Kathe Koja. Two new episodes each week throughout January. Author Dianna Stampfler from Promote Michigan, highlighting all the outdoor winter activities in Michigan, virtual program is Jan. 7. Life coach Hailey Zureich will offer a free course on Building Confidence, Jan. 14,

Lyon Township Public Library presents Virtual Distracted Driving with Michigan State Trooper Matthew Keller, 6:30-7:30 p.m. Jan. 6, via Zoom, adv. register at This program is for teens and adults.

Lyon Township Public Library presents Virtual Teen Game Night, 6:30-7:30 p.m. Jan. 7, via Zoom, and then the first and third Thursdays of the month. Teens from Fraser, Grand Ledge, Holly, Ionia, Lyon Twp, Milan, Redford, and Stair Libraries will meet virtually to play games together online. Create a free BoardGameArena account at and register at, 248-437-8800.

Lyon Township Public Library presents Virtual Young Writers Club, 6-7:30 p.m. Jan. 11. For 5th-12th grade students, register at

Lyon Township Public Library Virtual Book Club Discussion is 7-9 p.m. Jan. 12, online through Zoom, "Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes)" by Lorna Landvik. Books are available to pickup at the library, curbside, or to checkout as an audiobook through the Hoopla Digital App. Register at

Oxford Public Library presents Michigan in the Civil War traveling exhibit from the Detroit Historical Society, Jan. 11-Feb. 28 at The Oxford Public Library, 530 Pontiac Street, Oxford,

Troy Public Library hosts Facebook Recorded StorytimeFamily, for all ages, to view at any time.

Troy Public Library hosts Preschool Storytime via Zoom, 10:30-11 a.m. Jan. 6, 13, 20. Register at or 248-524-3541.

Troy Public Library hosts virtual art lab, 7 p.m. Jan. 11, for grades 3rd-5th, register at or 248-524-3541.

Troy Public Library hosts virtual Teen Advisory Board, via Zoom, for ages 13-18. To join, email the Teen Services Librarian at

Adult Book Discussion Group, via Zoom 12:30-2 pm Jan. 6, group meets the first Wednesday of each month, register at or 248-524-3534.

Free Platform Tennis open house is at 1:30-3:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at Waterford Oaks County Park,1702 Scott Lake Road in Waterford, played outdoors in cold weather,

Huron-Clinton Metroparks are open. Limited restrooms are open, Additional precautions are in place, Park entrance fees apply.

Michigan State Parks and Recreation Areas and campgrounds, DNR boating access sites and shooting ranges are open. Fishing and hunting licenses are available for purchase online, Park entrance fees apply.

State of Michigan COVID-19 hotline - 888-535-6136. For information, visit and

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text 741741.

Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, provides immediate crisis counseling to people affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The helpline connects callers to trained professionals from the closest crisis counseling centers in the nationwide network of centers,

National Alliance on Mental Health offers support and education for families and individuals living with mental health conditions, 1-800-950-6264,

The Discover Michigan Skiing, learn to ski or snowboard program is through the month of January at participating ski areas across Michigan. The program includes a beginner lesson, ski or snowboard rental equipment and a beginner-area lift pass or cross-country trail pass, for $35 to learn to downhill ski or snowboard and $20 to learn to cross-country ski. Mt. Holly in Holly, Pine Knob in Clarkston and Mt. Brighton in Brighton are offering downhill skiing and snowboarding in the program. Participants need to fill out a voucher and register with the desired ski area. Printable vouchers along with links and phone numbers for the ski areas, are at the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association website:

The American Red Cross is urging those who are feeling well to give the gift of life by donating blood this holiday season. Make an appointment by downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). As COVID-19 hospitalizations increase, hospital demand for convalescent plasma has also grown. COVID-19 convalescent plasma is a type of blood donation given by those who have recovered from this coronavirus. Their plasma contains antibodies that may help patients actively fighting the virus. For more information, visit

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Oakland County community calendar Jan. 3 and beyond - The Oakland Press

This customized van is helping UK Holocaust survivors record their stories during the pandemic – JTA News – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Posted By on January 4, 2021

(JTA) As one of the youngest Holocaust survivors, Eva Clarke has spent years telling the story of how her mother, weighing just 68 pounds, gave birth to her inside a concentration camp just a month before it was liberated.

But this spring, as COVID-19 shut down public life, Clarkes visits to schools and community centers in the United Kingdom came to a screeching halt, indefinitely, she recalls.

Earlier this month, she got a fresh audience when an RV pulled into her driveway in Cambridge.

Inside was Antony Lishak and a retrofitted interior that would allow her to tell her story safely, and for posterity, during the pandemic.

Lishak has spent years teaching about the Holocaust to young audiences using the real-life testimonies of Holocaust survivors and rescuers. Even before the pandemic, time was not on the British educators side.

First-person accounts, delivered live, have the strongest effect on the students Lishak is trying to reach, he said. But survivors are dying and the ones still alive find it more difficult year each to deliver the talks that he organizes for them at British schools.

The pandemic put these interactions on pause, costing him time that he couldnt afford to lose, Lishak said.

Finally, months into the pandemic, Lishak came up with a way around the impasse.

In recent weeks, he has been traveling across the United Kingdom in an RV that he turned into a coronavirus-proof mobile studio for Holocaust survivors whose testimonies he films right outside their homes.

A look inside the interior of the Learning from the Righteous mobile studio in London.(Learning from the Righteous)

I cant tell you what it looks like on the film, but its an ingenious idea, said Lili Pohlmann, a 90-year-old Jewish woman from London whom Lishak also interviewed this month.

Pohlman survived the Holocaust in Lviv, in what is now Ukraine, thanks to the bravery of Andrey Sheptytsky, a senior priest, and Imgard Wieth, a German civil servant. Pohlmann and her mother were the only members of her nuclear family who survived.

In these circumstances, of course, I couldnt have done it now at all, she said about the testimony she gave recently in the mobile studio. I unfortunately cant go out. So Im at home and I cant have anybody come in.

Its outside the box, but it means the work can go on, Lishak told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency earlier this month about the studio as he prepared to drive to interview Clarke inside his rented Volkswagen California Ocean camper, which he had fitted with a Perspex divider to keep the interviewees safe.

The van has heating, a pop-up coffee table for the witnesses, revolving front seats and enough space for Lishak to comfortably record with a wide-angle lens, he said.

Lishak, CEO of the Learning from the Righteous educational nonprofit, needs a portable studio because videoconferencing is logistically difficult for many elderly witnesses.

Some chroniclers of the Holocaust, including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, have turned to videoconferencing to record interviews during the pandemic. But Lishak said in-person interviews are preferable.

A live Zoom event is difficult to set up for many survivors, he said. But the real problem is that the medium isnt conducive to the content for the student audiences he aims to reach

An edited video testimony is a superior medium for a generation who are used to TV-quality presentation, he said.

Antony Lishak interviews a survivor inside his van studio, December 2020. (Learning from the Righteous)

In January, ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Finchley Reform Synagogue, a funder of the mobile studio initiative and one of Londons largest Jewish congregations, will host Lishaks interviews on its website, ensuring they will reach thousands of viewers.

You can record Zoom sessions, but I doubt people will sit down and watch them as they would a well-edited testimony video, Lishak said.

Giving survivors a voice on International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a duty, he said. Its theme this year in the United Kingdom is Be the Light in the Darkness.

Clarke, a retired university administrator, is comfortable using videoconferencing software. But the interview she gave Lishak in her driveway in Cambridge on Dec. 14 was much more intimate, which of course helps tell the story.

Lishak said the intimacy that sets in during encounters with Holocaust survivors and high school students is a crucial factor in making them interested in the Holocaust. It made all the difference during his work at schools in impoverished neighborhoods in Manchester, he said.

Recorded interviews will not be as powerful as real-life encounters but are more effective than chaotic Zoom meetings, Lishak said. Its the best option we have right now.

In the future, he is planning to complement testimonial videos with a live video Q&A session. Lishak said hes also looking into expanding the studio into a larger mobile classroom that can stage face-to-face encounters with survivors and take them to relevant memorial sites in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Tribich, inside the van, offers her story of Holocaust survival, December 2020. (Learning from the Righteous)

That way, he said, the bus would drive up to the witness home instead of the other way around and visit a Holocaust heritage or memorial site during the same trip.

Clarke, 75, has spent the past 15 years telling her story and that of her mother, Anka Kaudrova, who died in 2013. Clarke weighed just 1 1/2 pounds when she was born at the Mauthausen death camp in Austria, where the Nazis had killed some 90,000 people, just one week before its liberation by the U.S. Army.

I find it extremely important to tell that story, which Ive sort of taken on after my mother died, Clarke said.

I tell my familys history out of a sense of commitment to her and to our society, to warn others of where racism can lead, said Clarke, who has visited hundreds of schools across the United Kingdom. It means so much to be able to carry on her work.

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This customized van is helping UK Holocaust survivors record their stories during the pandemic - JTA News - Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Anonymous benefactor assures success of Cliftonville Save Our Shul campaign – The Isle of Thanet News

Posted By on January 4, 2021

Inside the Cliftonville synagogue

By Kathy Bailes and Jodie Nesling

A campaign to save a stunning Cliftonville synagogue from developers after it was put up for auction has been successful, largely thanks to an anonymous donation.

The resplendent building in Albion Road has formed an integral part of Thanets rich Jewish history but was recently put up on the market for 300,000 after years of closure.

Campaigner Francesca Ter-berg was one of a group of isle artists and educators of Jewish heritage to set up the Cliftonville Cultural Space CIC in a bid to buy the site.

The 91-year-old building was no longer viable as a place of worship and the trustees of the Margate Hebrew Congregation had little option but to put it up for auction.

Despite lengthy negotiations the auction could not be postponed. However the campaign, launched last month, was inundated with support from the community, and allies nationally and internationally resulting in a successful outcome.

The team has worked tirelessly for the past six weeks to raise the money needed and now the future of the building is no longer in the balance, thanks to support from the anonymous benefactor who has bought the synagogue so that it can be transformed to an arts and cultural space for Cliftonvilles diverse communities.

The SOS Margate campaign gained huge celebrity backing from stars such as Miriam Margolyes OBE, Arnold Schwatrzman OBE- who was raised in Margate- Sir Ben Kingsley, Imogen Heap, Keith Bymer Jones and Steven Berkoff.

Local arts organisations and businesses put up SOS Margate posters in their windows; residents spread the word; and more than 300 people donated to the crowdfunder campaign.

Francesca said: The Cliftonville Cultural Space CIC will shortly take over the synagogue and consult with local residents, businesses and arts organisations to ensure that the new space is a welcoming meeting point for everyone. It will reflect Cliftonvilles cultural pluralism and bring people together through music, theatre, dance, exhibitions and food, as well as celebrate the rich history and diversity of the area past and present.

Fundraising will begin in early 2021 for the conversion which will start later in the year. The aim is to have the space open to the public by late 2022.

At the time of the synagogues construction in 1928 Margates Jewish community was buoyant with many hotels opened to cater for holiday makers. But there were still many obstacles to overcome before the first stone was laid.

A report in a local newspaper recorded that at the end of the war the community were very much depleted both financially and physically and the question had arisen as to selling the congregation effects.

Since 1910 the congregation had increased substantially with plans to build a synagogue but the Great War in 1914 changed everything as a sharp decline in numbers made the situation financially untenable.

Following an appeal to the Jewish Press, benefactor Joseph Jacobs cleared the congregations 200 debt which allowed Jewish soldiers to worship in Margate before heading to France many did not return.

At the stone laying ceremony in 1928, which was held at the Grand Hotel, the importance of the visitor economy was cited with tourists from London expected to support the fundraising initiative for the continued building work when they came to worship.

To contact the campaign email


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Anonymous benefactor assures success of Cliftonville Save Our Shul campaign - The Isle of Thanet News

In 1800s Poland, Hasidic runaway girls spurred a Jewish school revolution – The Times of Israel

Posted By on January 4, 2021

NEW YORK There is a saying, Well-behaved women rarely make history.

Its a sentiment that underpins author Rachel Manekins new book The Rebellion of the Daughters: Jewish Women Runaways in Habsburg Galicia.

From the late 1800s until the eve of World War I, hundreds of young Jewish women living in Western Galicia, now Poland, fled their Orthodox, mostly Hasidic, homes to find refuge in a Krakw convent where some ultimately converted to Roman Catholicism. It wasnt because they were lovelorn, or because of overbearing parents, or even because they no longer identified with Judaism. Rather they fled because they wanted more: more room to voice their opinions and, perhaps most importantly, more education.

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Unlike Orthodox Jewish boys, who attendedcheders, traditional schools where only Jewish subjects were taught, Orthodox Jewish girls were sent to Polish primary schools as per the Austrian-Hungarian governments newly established mandatory education laws.

When they went to school for the first time, they discovered their intellectual capabilities were respected. It was a new experience not shared by their parents because their parents had never attended school, Manekin said in a Zoom call with The Times of Israel from her home in Jerusalem. It was an experience not shared by the men the parents sought to make arranged marriages for their daughters. Of course, the daughters found nothing in common with those people.

In time the Orthodox community in the region answered what became known as The Daughters Question with the creation of the first religious school for Orthodox Jewish girls. The school, founded by Sara Schenirer in 1917, seeded the ground for a worldwide educational movement of Orthodox Jewish elementary and secondary schools known as Bais Yaakov.

Rachel Manekin, author of The Rebellion of the Daughters: Jewish Women Runaways in Habsburg Galicia. (Courtesy)

An associate professor of Jewish studies at the University of Maryland, Manekin said she closely identifies with her books subject, having been raised in a heavily ultra-Orthodox Israeli town and attending a Schenirer offshoot as a child.

I cant deny its something personal to me. I grew up in Bnei Brak and attended Bais Yaakov. I dont consider myself a rebellious type, but when time came that a match was offered to me, I realized that was not the life that I wanted, she said. I couldnt find common language with many of them and I knew I couldnt stay there and be so different. However, unlike the daughters, my parents never gave me a feeling I was doing something wrong. They supported me with everything.

The following conversation was edited for clarity.

The Times of Israel: Why do you think this story is not so widely known?

Manekin: Im a historian of the Jews of Galicia and I make it a point to read everything that is published about this region and I never came across anything that tells the stories of these girls. As I researched, I found the [mainstream] press was actually full of stories about what was happening. The major Viennese newspaper the Neue Freie Presse constantly writes about those girls. There were even novels and plays about it. There were police investigations, correspondence with government officials.

There was so much documentation about it. I think it was suppressed, or isnt widely known, because it was embarrassing. The rabbinical leadership had done nothing about it and these were unpleasant stories about Hasidic, wealthy, powerful families.

The Rebellion of the Daughters: Jewish Women Runaways in Habsburg Galicia, by Rachel Manekin. (Courtesy)

You write about Jewish education being complicated, citing the Talmudic statement that whoever teaches ones daughter Torah is as if he taught her lechery, (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 20a) and its subsequent codification with Jewish law. Can you elaborate on that a little more?

The explanation I give has to do with the different educational paths for Orthodox Jewish boys and girls during this period. The 1873 Galician version of the 1869 Austrian mandatory education law required six years of schooling in state approved schools for both boys and girls, Jews and gentiles. Through political arrangements, the Orthodox leadership was able to keep their sons in religious schools.

As for their daughters, they saw no problem in sending them to Polish public and private schools. In fact, many were proud of their daughters accomplishments. So, the boys grew up Jewishly educated and the girls Polishly educated. Since most Jewish girls were given only a very rudimentary Jewish education at home, this only widened the gap between them and their parents, who never attended Polish schools, and between the sexes. When time came for marriages to be arranged, many girls rebelled.

When time came for marriages to be arranged, many girls rebelled

Nowadays girls are taught a lot more in terms of religious studies. What I think still remains a problem is the fact that the path to higher education is often blocked. There are graduates of Bais Yaakov and seminary schools that attend college, but its still not the norm.

Your book makes me think about the fight for education many young women face today around the world. Did you think about that when you were working on this?

Yes, education was and is still a factor. We know its not just an issue for Jews; Afghanistan and Malala [Yousafzai] comes to mind.

In the book I tell the story of Anna Kluger, who had a passion for studying. Thats all she wanted to do. She completed her baccalaureate exam and enrolled secretly in university and later got a PhD at University of Vienna. Those stories about women who have an intellectual passion are not told. The guts she had to follow her dreams.

Runaway Jewish daughter Michalina Araten came from a wealthy Hasidic family and brought the issue of womens education to the spotlight. (Courtesy of the Central Archives of Historical Records in Warsaw)

What surprised you most about the research?

I have a friend who inherited her grandmothers opera glasses. Her grandparents were from Krakow. The story in the family was that her grandfather was a Hasid but her grandmother would go to the opera, to lectures. She would dress as a proper Hasidic woman, but she did these things.

I think for us its difficult to understand because we expect harmony, everything has to fit, but life was full of contradictions for some women then. Im not trying to claim they werent very pious or that all the women were alienated from Judaism. Im saying that a growing number of women, because of their education, had their minds opened.

This was also the time that feminism was growing. The women go to lectures, to theater. There was a lot going on and women frequent these places. What else could they do in their free time? This sets up a clash between them and their families.

Did the fact of the young women seeking refuge in the convent exacerbate relations between Jews and Catholics at the time?

Yes, definitely. This is a period of heightened anti-Semitism in the Hapsburg Empire. There are excesses in villages outside of Krakow in 1898. Theres a book about it called The Plunder, that describes all of this. There is already some inter-religious tension.

This is a period of heightened anti-Semitism in the Hapsburg Empire

The Jewish press at the time refer to what is going on as abductions, but the Polish Catholic church was saying this was free choice of the young women. The demand by Jewish families and the police to search the convent for the girls also contributed to the situation.

The Felician Sisters convent on 6 Smolesk Street, Krakw. Photograph taken by Natan Krieger, circa 1890. (Courtesy of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakw, Department of Krakw Photography)

Can you tell us a bit about Sara Schenirer and her impact?

In a way she was one of the rebellious daughters.

When she was younger, she attended public lectures for women, as well as the theater. But she ultimately abandoned these youthful pursuits and threw herself into the work of educating Orthodox girls to accept and to celebrate their different status.

The only known photo of Bais Yaakov founder Sara Schenirer. (Public domain)

I see Schenirer as a religious enthusiast and an Orthodox ideologue who spearheaded a movement that was simultaneously a revolution in Torah education and a counter-revolution in womens education: a revolution in Torah education because formal Jewish education for Orthodox women was now finally and firmly established, but a counter revolution because the educational system she helped establish deliberately blocked womens path to higher education. Recent scholarship has focused on the revolution and not the counter-revolution.

What is the most important thing you want readers to take away from the book?

The history of women is the history of families, the history of communities, the history of the state. Its intertwined. If we dont include the histories of women, we miss a lot of what is going on in a society so knowing their stories lets us see society more fully.

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In 1800s Poland, Hasidic runaway girls spurred a Jewish school revolution - The Times of Israel

Pure hate finds a home: How Parler became the social media platform for millions of Trump supporters – Milwaukee Independent

Posted By on January 4, 2021

As the three highest-profile social media companies YouTube, Facebook and Twitter continue to take action to mitigate the spread of extremism and disinformation, Parler has welcomed the ensuing exodus of right-wing users. It has exploded in popularity, doubling its members to 10 million during the month of November although it is still dwarfed by Twitters roughly 330 million monthly active users.

With its newfound success, the site is contributing to the widening gap between the different perceptions of reality held by the polarized public. On mainstream social media, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the presidential election, and theories alleging crimes by the Biden campaign and Democrats are flagged as misinformation. On Parler, Donald Trump won in a landslide, only to have his victory stolen by a wide-ranging alliance of evildoers, including Democrats and the so-called deep state.

While it is too early to tell if Parler is here to stay, it has already achieved a reputation and level of engagement that has overtaken other alternative platforms. But along with its success comes the reality that extremist movements like QAnon and the Boogalooers have thrived in the platforms unregulated chaos.

Parlers origins

Parler was launched in 2018 and found its place as another niche platform catering to right-wing users who ran afoul of content moderation on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Its user base remained small fewer than 1 million users until early 2020. Other primarily right-wing platforms, especially Gab, had housed fringe and violent ideologues and groups for much longer than Parler. These included violent far-right militias and the mass shooter Robert Bowers.

Parler, in contrast, gained a reputation for catering to mainstream conservatives thanks to a handful of high-profile early adopters like Brad Parscale, Candace Owens and Sen. Mike Lee. As a result, in 2020 when Twitter began labeling misleading Trump tweets about possible fraud in absentee and mail-in voting, politicians like Ted Cruz embraced Parler as the next bastion for conservative speech.

The 2020 election

In the weeks before the Nov. 3 election, the big social media sites took steps to mitigate election-related extremism and disinformation. Twitter rolled out labels for all mail-in ballot misinformation and put a prompt on tweeted articles to encourage people to read them before retweeting. Facebook blocked QAnon groups and, later, restricted QAnon-adjacent accounts pushing SaveTheChildren conspiracy theories. Facebook also began prohibiting holocaust denial posts. YouTube labeled and blocked advertising for election-related fake information, though it left in place many conspiracy theory-promoting videos.

These actions continued in the wake of the election, especially as mainstream conservative politicians and Trump pushed the false claim that Biden and the Democrats committed large-scale voter fraud to steal the election. Consequently, millions of users migrated to alternative platforms: Gab, MeWe and, in particular, Parler.

Users flocked there because of the promise of a site that wouldnt label false information and wouldnt ban the creation of extremist communities. But they also moved because Republican politicians and well-known elites signaled that Parler was the new home for conservative speech. These include commentator Mark Levin and Fox host Sean Hannity.

Promoting racism, anti-Semitism and violence

Parler has only two community guidelines: It does not knowingly allow criminal activity, and it does not allow spam or bots on its platform. The lack of guidelines on hate speech has allowed racism and anti-Semitism to flourish on Parler. My research center has spent several years building an extensive encyclopedia of far-right terminology and slang, covering niche topics from the spectrum of white supremacist, neo-fascist and anti-state movements. We have studied the ways that far-right language evolves alongside content moderation efforts from mainstream platforms, and how slang and memes are often used to evade regulations.

We have monitored far-right communities on Parler since March and have found frequent use of both obvious white supremacist terms and more implicit, evasive memes and slang. For example, among other explicit white supremacist content, Parler allows usernames referencing the Atomwaffen Divisions violentlty anti-Semitic slogan, posts spreading the theory that Jews are descended from Satan, and hashtags such as HitlerWasRight.

In addition, it is easy to find the the implicit bigotry and violence that eventually caused Facebook to ban movements like QAnon. For example, QAnons version of the blood libel theory the centuries-old conspiracy theory the Jewish people murder Christians and use their blood for rituals has spread widely on the platform. Thousands of posts also use QAnon hashtags and promote the false claim that global elites are literally eating children.

Among the alternative platforms, Parler stands out because white supremacists, QAnon adherents and mainstream conservatives exist in close proximity. This results in comment threads on politicians posts that are a melting pot of far-right beliefs, such as a response to Donald Trump Jr.s unfounded allegations of election crimes that states, Civil war is the only way to drain the swamp.

Behind the scenes

Parlers ownership is still kept largely secret. However, the few pieces of information that have come to light make Parlers spike in popularity even more concerning. For example, Dan Bongino, the highly popular right-wing commentator who published a book about the deep state conspiracy theory and frequently publishes unverified information, has at least a small ownership stake in the company. CEO John Matze has said that the ownership is composed of himself and a small group of close friends and employees.

Notably, conservative billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah, are investors in the platform. Rebekah Mercer helped co-found it with Matze. The Mercers are well known for their investments in other conservative causes, including Nigel Farages Brexit campaign, Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica. The connection to Cambridge Analytica has, in particular, alarmed experts, who worry that Parler may harvest unnecessary data from unwitting users.

Parlers privacy policy doesnt put to rest concerns about user privacy, either: The policy says that Parler has permission to collect a vast amount of personal information, and gives its members much less control than mainstream platforms over what that data can be used for.

Parlers future

Parlers fate will hinge on what its members do over the next few months. Will the company be able to capitalize on the influx of new users, or will its members slowly trickle back to the larger platforms? A major factor is how Trump himself reacts, and whether he eventually creates an account on Parler.

Having catered to a right-wing audience and allowed hate speech to thrive on its platform, Parler is also at the whims of its user base. Parlers main competitor, Gab, similarly attempted to capitalize on concerns about unfair moderation against conservatives. However, Gabs expansion came to a halt after Bowers mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Bowers had been posting anti-Semitic and violent content on the platform, and the revelation resulted in PayPal, GoDaddy and Medium banning Gab from their services.

Online extremism and hate can lead to real-world violence by legitimizing extreme actions. Parlers tolerance of hate, bigotry and affiliation with violent movements opens the possibility that, like Gab, one or more of its members will commit acts of violence. Although it is hard to know how Parler will grow in the future, my research suggests that the extremism among its user base will persist for months to come.

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Pure hate finds a home: How Parler became the social media platform for millions of Trump supporters - Milwaukee Independent

Opinion | The Holocaust Stole My Youth. Covid-19 Is Stealing My Last Years. – The New York Times

Posted By on January 4, 2021

These days, Im a little bored.

The boardwalk is my lifesaver. Im two blocks from the boardwalk. I can walk to Coney Island if I want to. I go alone. I have some friends here. We used to play canasta once a week. But when Covid arrived, my daughter insisted, You cant sit in one room! So I talk on the phone. I read. The grandkids call in by Zoom. I also do a little bit of Zoom lecturing for the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

I keep very busy, and it helps me a lot. I am trying not to give up. But what is getting me down is that I am losing a year. And this bothers me terribly. Im 87 years old, and I lost almost a full year.

Im doing everything I can to stay connected, to make an impact. So even now, amid Covid, I tell my story to schools and to audiences the museum organizes for me, by Zoom.

Heres what I say: I was born in 1933 in a small town called Chodorow, now Khodoriv, about 30 minutes by car from Lvov, now Lviv, in what was then Poland and is now Ukraine. We lived in the center of town in my grandfathers house. The Russians occupied the town from 1939 to 1941, then the Germans from 1941 to 1944. My father was well liked in town by Jews and non-Jews. One day in early 1942, one of the guys came to him and said, Moshe, its going to be a big killing. Better find a hiding place. So my father built a place to hide in the cellar. My grandfather didnt want to go. He was shot in the kitchen; we heard it.

Not long after that, the Germans said they were going to relocate the remaining Jews to the ghetto in Lvov, so my father and my aunt searched for someone to hide them more permanently. They found Stephanie, who had a house on the main street with a garden and a barn. She had known my parents their whole life. My father built a wall inside the barn and a hiding place for nine people, where we slept like herrings. It was just four feet by five feet. Pigs and chickens were on one side, and we were on the other: my parents, my aunt and uncle, my maternal grandmother and four children, ages 4, 6, 8 and 12.

Eventually, with the help of Stephanies 16-year-old son, they expanded the space a bit and added a way for the kids to look out. That is where I spent the next two years. I always think of the son when I get down, because when Stephanie was scared to keep hiding us, he insisted we stay.

We had lice. We had rats. But every day in the barn was a miracle. Im not a regular person. Im a miracle child. Most of the Jews of Chodorow never returned.

So when the coronavirus came, I thought, Im a miracle. I will make it. I have to make it.

During the war, we didnt know if we would make a day. I didnt have any freedom. I couldnt speak loudly, I couldnt laugh, I couldnt cry.

But now, I can feel freedom. I stay by the window and look out. The first thing I do in the morning is look out and see the world. I am alive. I have food, I go out, I go for walks, I do some shopping. And I remember: No one wants to kill me. So, still, I read. I cook a little bit. I shop a little bit. I learned the computer. I do puzzles.

I still sometimes feel that I am missing out. A full year is gone. I lost my childhood, I never had my teenage years. And now, in my old age, this is shortening my life by a year. I dont have that many years left. The way we have lived this year means I have lost many opportunities to lecture, to tell more people my story, to let them see me and know the Holocaust happened to a real person, who stands in front of them today. Its important.

I am scared that I am not going to be in the shape I was a year ago. When this started in March, one of my grandchildren, who lives in New Jersey, went to Maine with his wife; they never came back. They have a baby boy now, and I have only seen him on Zoom. This child will never know me. Thats a loss.

Some of what Im missing is so simple. I have a male friend I know from synagogue. We would take a trip, if we could, by car. To anyplace! I would go to Florida. Maybe even go to Israel for a couple of weeks. But not now. So, again, this has shortened my life. That is my biggest complaint.

I understand the fear people have, and I understand you have to take care.

But there is no comparison of anxiety, of the coronavirus, to the terror I felt when I was a child. That was a fear with no boundary. This is going to end, and I am already thinking, planning where I am going first, what I will do first, when this ends.

Toby Levy is a retired accountant and a volunteer docent for the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

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Opinion | The Holocaust Stole My Youth. Covid-19 Is Stealing My Last Years. - The New York Times

Doherty: Goodbye and thank you to constituents – Pamplin Media Group

Posted By on January 4, 2021

OPINION: Tigard and Southwest Portland's state representative reflects on 11 years in the Oregon House.

As my time as your state representative for House District 35 winds down, I want to express my sincere thanks to all of the citizens who sent me back to Salem for the past 11 years. It has been an honor to represent you.

When I was appointed in August of 2009, I felt that I could make a difference for the citizens in Tigard and Southwest Portland.

I was raised in Southwest Portland. Went to grade school in Multnomah and graduated from Wilson High School, so I knew the area. I have lived in Tigard since 1989 and been involved in the community for the past 20 years. Little did I know that what I did in Salem would make what I coin as "a quiet difference."

I have always been concerned with student nutrition ever since a former student of mine got kind of sheepish at a reunion and felt he needed to apologize because when I had him as a sophomore, I loaned him lunch money and he had not paid it back. Ever since then, I worked so students would not feel that way.

Since then, Oregon has become one of the leaders in school nutrition programs. A few years back, we picked up the cost for reduced lunch because families were having trouble even picking up that cost. I am so proud that one of the biggest budget items in the Student Success Act was for school nutrition, with the goal of universal breakfast and lunch.

I am also proud of an action that at the time just seemed right, but drew national attention, when I shut down the horrific testimony of a Holocaust denier at a hearing when I was chair of the House Education Committee. I went to school with friends whose parents were Holocaust survivors, and I could not let this happen. I was quiet but to the point with this gentleman.

During this time of political turmoil and hurtful words, please remember that most of the legislators are trying their best to represent the people who elected them. There are good people in Salem. Sometimes we just disagree, but doesn't mean I can't call them friend.

Thank you for the privilege of serving you. It is one of the greatest honors of my life.

Margaret Doherty is state representative from House District 35, including parts of Tigard, Metzger, Garden Home and Southwest Portland, serving since 2009. A Democrat, she lives in Tigard.

You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts.Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.

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Doherty: Goodbye and thank you to constituents - Pamplin Media Group

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