February 16th, 2017

Senate panel hears ‘No Boycott of Israel’ bill

Legislation to counter anti-Israel BDS movement likely will be revised to address First Amendment concerns

By MORDECAI SPECKTOR

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Israeli-Palestinian conflict came before Minnesota legislators again, Tuesday, Feb. 14, when the Senate’s State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee heard discussion on SF247, which first appeared as the “No Boycott of Israel” bill.

The measure has been recast as an anti-discrimination measure in respect to Israel. It would require that the State of Minnesota “not enter into a contract with a vendor that engages in discrimination against Israel.” It would apply to any state contract with a value of $1,000.00 and more.

The bill’s original draft referred to “persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories.” The phrase “Israeli-controlled territories” has been stripped from the proposal.

Walid Issa (second from left), a Palestinian involved in business development in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, spoke in favor of the “No Boycott of Israel” bill before the Minnesota Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee, Feb. 14. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)

The state House companion bill, HF400, was heard Feb. 7 before the Government Operations and Election Policy Committee (Editorial, “Minnesota Legislature debates Israel,” 2-10-17 AJW). Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, is the House author; Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, is lead author of the Senate version of the bill.

At Tuesday’s committee meeting in the new Senate Office Building, Limmer introduced the bill. He was accompanied by Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, a co-author of the bill.

Sixteen states have passed legislation similar to SF247, according to Limmer, who added that 12 other states across the country are considering anti-BDS proposals.

Ethan Roberts, director of the Twin Cities Jewish Community Government Affairs Program, testified briefly in support of the bill. The measure is meant to counter the BDS movement — the acronym stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

“The goal of the BDS movement is nothing less than the destruction of the State of Israel,” said Roberts, who added that proponents of the legislation were conferring with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota, and trying to address the group’s concerns that the proposal infringes on free speech. Keep reading →

February 15th, 2017

Rabbi’s expulsion rattles Russian Jews

Kremlin kicks out Chabad emissary Rabbi Ari Edelkopf, his wife, Chana, and their seven children

By CNAAN LIPHSHIZ

(JTA) — Three years ago, Rabbi Ari Edelkopf and his wife, Chana, worked around the clock for weeks to show off their community and city to the many foreigners in town for the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The Chabad emissaries from the United States came to the city on Russia’s Black Sea coast in 2002. By the time the Olympics opened, they could offer three synagogues, five information centers and 24/7 kosher catering to thousands of people in the city, which has only 3,000 Jews.

Ari Edelkopf, with black beard, and Berel Lazar, right, listen to a speech at a reception of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia in Sochi, Feb. 9, 2017. (Photo: Federation of Jewish Communities)

The Edelkopfs were celebrated in the local media for these considerable efforts, which the Kremlin marketed as proof that Russia welcomes minorities — including by inviting a Russian chief rabbi to speak at the opening.

This month, the couple is in the news again but for a different reason: They and their seven children have been ordered to leave Russia after authorities flagged Ari Edelkopf as a threat to national security — a precedent in post-communist Russia that community leaders call false and worrisome, but are unable to prevent.

Occurring amid a broader crackdown on foreign and human rights groups under President Vladimir Putin, the de facto deportation order against the Edelkopfs is to many Russian Jews a sign that despite the Kremlin’s generally favorable attitude to their community, they are not immune to the effects of living in an increasingly authoritarian state. And it is doubly alarming in a country where many Jews have bitter memories of how the communists repressed religious and community life.

The Edelkopfs’ deportation order drew an unusually harsh reaction from the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, a Chabad-affiliated group that has maintained friendly and mutually beneficial ties with Putin.

Keep reading →

February 15th, 2017

Evangelicals speak for Israel in Trump’s Washington

Trend worries liberals who see evangelicals’ Bible-based views as too right wing, both on social issues as well as Israel affairs

By ANDREW TOBIN

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Evangelicals, who have been advocating for Israel for years, have historically let the Jews take the lead.

Laurie Cardoza-Moore, for one, is excited that they are poised to take on a prominent role. An evangelical TV host and activist, Cardoza-Moore backs President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a supporter of the settlement movement who is deeply skeptical of the two-state solution.

Laurie Cardoza-Moore, who has spent more than 15 years in pro-Israel work, says she has seen evangelicals rallying to the cause. (Photo: Cardoza-Moore)

And she is confident Trump will make good on his promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

“I am excited to see this development. It further illustrates the commitment of this [incoming] administration,” she recently told a Christian news service. “And God willing, Friedman will be the one who helps orchestrate that transition.”

Cardoza-Moore was in Israel last week filming a new episode of “Focus on Israel,” which is widely syndicated on Christian television. In an interview at a Tel Aviv café last week, she said in over 15 years of pro-Israel work as the president of Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, she has seen evangelicals rally to the cause.

“After the 9/11 attacks, a lot of Christians were ready to hear our message,” she said. “Having read the Bible, they felt we were under a curse and the way to change that curse was to make sure we supported Israel. I always knew if we could get the information to the Christians, they would respond and they would stand up.”

But while that support is undeniable and certainly welcomed by a Jewish state that could use all the friends it can get, it still discomfits many in the pro-Israel camp, especially liberals. They worry evangelicals’ Bible-based views are too right wing, both on social issues as well as Israel affairs.

Keep reading →

February 13th, 2017

More theater

The Guthrie highlights a frequently neglected Jewish playwright

By MAX SPARBER

The Guthrie Theater has a relatively new artistic director, Joseph Haj, who has promised greater diversity in the plays the theater chooses to stage. Despite this, on its surface, The Royal Family, playing through March 19 at the Guthrie, isn’t much of a break from the sorts of plays the theater has produced for decades.

The play was cowritten by George S. Kaufman and debuted in 1927, and the Guthrie has demonstrated longstanding tastes for both Kaufman and the Roaring 20s. In the past decade they have produced Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s Once in a Lifetime, and they regularly costume and set design Shakespeare plays as though the Bard had been a Jazz Age author.

Michelle O’Neill (Julie Cavendish) and Shawn Hamilton (Oscar Wolfe) in the Guthrie Theater’s The Royal Family, written by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber and directed by Rachel Chavkin. (Photo: Heidi Bohnenkamp)

The Royal Family isn’t an especially avant-garde script either. Kaufman authored crowd-pleasers, and this play, about three generations of a theatrical family inspired by the Barrymores, is an enjoyable romp, awash with both daffy satiric jabs at the theatrical family and some unforced sentiment.

But The Royal Family had a second author, Edna Ferber. She was a Kalamazoo-born daughter of a Hungarian Jewish shopkeeper, who grew up to be one of America’s finest writers. Her works include Show Boat, Giant (the basis for the 1956 film) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning So Big.

In the past, the Guthrie notoriously failed to seek out work by women for their stage, and audiences might be forgiven for thinking there just weren’t many great plays written by women, especially within The Guthrie’s vague mission of presenting classical theater and contemporary classics.

Of course, there are women who fit that mission, plenty of them, and Ferber is a terrific example; it’s great to see her work on the Guthrie stage. Keep reading →

February 9th, 2017

What Jelly and George shared

Upcoming shows at Dakota Jazz Club will feature music of two 20th century musical icons

By MORDECAI SPECKTOR

Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941), ragtime pianist, composer and bandleader, is seen as a pivotal figure in the development of jazz. His song “Jelly Roll Blues” was the first published jazz composition, in 1915.

George Gershwin (1898-1937), pianist and composer of enduring popular and classical music, was deeply influenced by the jazz sounds of his day, which found their way into such memorable works as “Rhapsody in Blue,” “An American in Paris,” and the opera Porgy and Bess.

Aaron Diehl, a rising star as a pianist and composer, has created a program titled “Jelly and George,” which he will present Feb. 21-22 at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. A stellar group of musicians will be featured in the four shows later this month.

Aaron Diehl (Photo: John Abbott)

Among the featured performers are jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, who has garnered critical acclaim and a rapt following over recent years; and Adam Birnbaum, a hugely talented jazz pianist and composer.

“We’re working on it right now,” says Adam Birnbaum, about the “Jelly and George” show. “It’s brand new, so this will be the first tour that you guys will be seeing.”

During a phone conversation from his home in New York City, Birnbaum, a 37-year-old Boston area native, explains that “it’s a two-piano show and it features the music of Gershwin and Jelly Roll Morton, who were two people that lived in the same time period, and you can draw a lot of parallels musically between what they did. But they’re obviously people that lived very different lives, probably never would have actually met; so it’s kind of like imagining what their music would look like if it… came together.”

The two composers had “a lot of musical commonalities,” according to Birnbaum. Gershwin likely was familiar with Jelly Roll Morton’s music, “but they hung out in different circles,” comments Birnbaum. “Jelly Roll Morton grew up in New Orleans, playing in whorehouses and other places; and Gershwin’s a New Yorker. They have their different backgrounds.”

Adam Birnbaum: The idea is to mix it up in a way that creates one tapestry.

As for the musical commonalities, Birnbaum mentions that both men “had a sense of jazz music being really important and trying to elevate it beyond, well, to use again the whorehouse analogy… to elevate it into something like classical music and to make it… something that can be maintained for future generations.”

The young pianist mentions that people are familiar with Gershwin’s aim in writing “Rhapsody in Blue,” to “bring the sounds of jazz into classical halls for audiences that may not have been familiar with jazz.”

And Jelly Roll Morton, as mentioned at the top, “was the first person to copyright his own compositions with the Library of Congress, very early on,” says Birnbaum. “He saw that the way to legitimize the music was to sort of engrave it… to show that these compositions were worthwhile to be presented at the Library of Congress and be preserved like a score by Beethoven or anything else.”

Keep reading →

February 8th, 2017

‘He just did it. That’s how he was’

Tilsenbilt Homes, the first integrated housing project in America, declared historic district

 By MAX SPARBER

In a unanimous decision at the start of January, a Minneapolis City Council committee passed a resolution to declare a group of 52 homes as an historic district. These homes, located in South Minneapolis on 3rd, 4th and 5th Avenue South, were constructed by Edward Tilsen from 1954 to 1957, and they have a very specific significance.

“We consider [the area] to be the first integrated housing project in the country,” according to James Tilsen, the grandson of Edward and current co-owner of Tilsenbilt Homes. “We call it the first, and I don’t think anyone is going to argue with us.”

Tilsenbilt Homes — these are on 5th Avenue in Minneapolis — the first integrated housing project in America, were built by Edward Tilsen, from 1954 to 1957. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)

The houses were rediscovered in 2005, when author H. Lynn Adelsman wrote about the history of the project in Hennepin History in an article titled “Desegregating South Minneapolis Housing: Tilsenbilt Homes of 1954.” In it, she discussed the city’s long history of racially restrictive housing practices, which included deed covenants and redlining that either prevented black people from moving into a neighborhood or discouraged whites from moving into largely black neighborhoods.

In that environment, Edward Tilsen’s decision to build an integrated housing project was revolutionary. “My grandfather believed in it,” James Tilsen explained. “He believed in a lot of social causes, and he was in a position to do something about it.”

Bob Tilsen, Edward’s son, supervised the project, and remembers that Edward Tilsen also thought the project would be a good financial decision. “He didn’t talk about it,” Bob told American Jewish World, “he just did it. That’s how he was. But he was a man not afraid to gamble, and he believed in people’s rights.” When the project came to him, Edward Tilsen thought that he could make more money by selling to anyone who was interested, especially as he had a realtor named Archie Givens, Sr., who was black and whose skill with real estate likely made him Minneapolis’ first black millionaire.

Keep reading →