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Israel

I don’t remember the first time I skimmed my skull with a bobby pin and pushed a circle of knitted white cloth and strands of hair into its metal clasp. Wearing a kippah felt like a natural extension of the Jewish history I was learning and the Hebrew grammar and vocabulary that was quickly becoming the primary language through which I understood my surroundings. I was 15 years old, and I had chosen to study on Kibbutz Tzuba with Eisendrath International Exchange as a return to both my symbolic, spiritual home as diaspora Jew, and to my familial home, only miles away from the kibbutz where my father grew up and his parents and siblings still lived. I wanted to know, as I began to plan out my college career, if Israel would be my future home, if the army would be my intermediary step and if I would, perhaps, studying at Hebrew University  instead of an American university.

The Israel Religious Action Center has long brought our attention to the long, hard work that needs to be done to rid our Jewish homeland from violence, hate and discrimination. Unfortunately, IRAC was forced to remind us last week of just how much work there is to do. On Wednesday and Thursday, two religious buildings were torched, first a mosque in the West Bank town of K’fir Jab’a, then a Greek Orthodox Seminary in Jerusalem. Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of IRAC, discussed this in the IRAC newsletter, the Pluralist:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to a joint session of Congress earlier today to oppose a nuclear deal with Iran.

As we wrap up Jewish Disability Advocacy Month, we think also of people with disabilities in other countries. Worldwide, 650 million people live with disabilities, more than twice the population of the United States. In Israel, there are over a million children and adults of working age who live with disabilities, according to a report by the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute. About one out of every five Jewish Israelis lives with a disability, and about one of four Arab Israelis.

On March 3, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be addressing a joint session of Congress to talk about the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1. Prime Minister Netanyahu has long been vehemently opposed to these negotiations. The speech would have been a hallmark example of the cooperation between the United States and Israel, except for two facts:

At our L’Taken Social Justice Seminars, teens take what they’ve learned from the program to Capitol Hill. Over the January 6-9 program, students Allie Gurwitz and Caroline Kaden from Congregation Beth-El in San Antonio, TX spoke about their support for Israel and the peace process to the offices of Senator Ted Cruz, Member of Congress Lamar Smith and Member of Congress Lloyd Doggett:

Early Saturday morning, two swastikas were painted on the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house at University of California Davis. The police have deemed the attack a hate crime. Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi and other UC Davis officials condemned the crime in a statement saying, "this kind of behavior is not only repugnant and a gross violation of the values our university holds dear, it is unacceptable and must not be tolerated on our campus or anywhere else.”

You may not have seen it last night, but Rachel Maddow interviewed Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the RAC's new director. You can watch the entire clip below, but essentially, Rabbi Pesner was responding to political leaders accepting support and funding from a hate group in making an important trip to Israel.

It’s been just 29 days since I last gave an update on new elections for the Israeli Knesset, but there has been no shortage of newsworthy developments from the Jewish State. With only seven weeks left until Israelis go to the polls, parties (and party leaders) are frantically posturing for their party to look the most attractive to voters on Election Day.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, will be holding informal talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other negotiating teams on the sidelines of World Economic Forum this week in Davos, Switzerland. Yet the real negotiating is going on around Capitol Hill, where the newly-sworn in 114th Congress is proposing new legislation around the talks. Three different pairs of Senators are proposing new bills: