The Year That Was
Thu, 02/23/2012
Debbie Friedman, famed Jewish singer/songwriter, left thousands mourning her early passing.
Debbie Friedman, famed Jewish singer/songwriter, left thousands mourning her early passing.

The following is a review of the news highlights of 2011.

January

Jews worldwide mourn the passing of Debbie Friedman, a popular singer and songwriter who is widely credited with reinvigorating synagogue music and best known for her composition “Mi Shebeirach,” a prayer for healing that is sung in many North American congregations.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), the first Jewish woman elected to Congress from Arizona, is shot in the head during a public campaign appearance in Tucson, triggering a national outpouring of sympathy and prayer. First responders later credit the emergency bandage colloquially known as “the Israeli bandage” with saving lives in the aftermath of the shooting that left six dead and 13 wounded.

Newly leaked maps detailing Palestinian and Israeli negotiations over the West Bank in 2008 show how close the two sides were on some issues — and how far apart they were on others. With Lebanon in turmoil and a Hezbollah-backed prime minister poised to take power in Beirut, Israel is concerned at the prospect of a tectonic shift in the regional balance.

February

Massive street protests drive Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, an ally of Israel and the United States, from power. Coming on the heels of a similar turn of events in Tunisia, Mubarak’s fall raises hopes that a wave of democracy has been unleashed and fears — especially in Israel — that what is being called the Arab Spring will end with radical Islamic forces in power.

U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, a tough-talking Jewish Democrat from California, suddenly decides to quit Congress in a sign of the precarious position of the Democratic Party’s centrist bloc.

An annual survey from The Chronicle of Philanthropy finds that America’s most generous citizens gave less in 2010 than they have over the past decade, with Jews remaining among the top givers.

At the Academy Awards, Jewish winners included Israel-born Natalie Portman for her portrayal of a tortured ballerina in “Black Swan” and 73-year-old “The King’s Speech” screenwriter David Seidler, himself a stutterer whose paternal grandparents perished in the Holocaust. Oscars were handed out as well to American filmmakers Kirk Simon and Karen Goodman for “Strangers No More,” a short documentary on the Bialik-Rogozin School in south Tel Aviv, and Susanne Bier, the Danish director-writer of “In a Better World” who studied for two years at the Hebrew University and the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem.

An Israeli backpacker is among the dead after an earthquake hits Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island. The city’s Chabad house is destroyed.

Actor Charlie Sheen’s rant against his Jewish boss is called borderline anti-Semitism by the Anti-Defamation League and, after some additional outbursts by Sheen, results in his eventual firing from the popular CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men.”

March

The fashion house Dior fires acclaimed designer John Galliano after a video surfaces of him praising Hitler.

In a terrorist attack in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Itamar, five members of the Fogel family are massacred as they sleep. Two Palestinians in their late teens are arrested; one is found guilty by an Israeli military court. The other suspect is awaiting trial.

Israel’s Navy intercepts a ship laden with weapons bound for Gaza.

Jewish and Israel groups begin sending aid to Japan as it struggles to respond to a massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

American Jewish contractor Alan Gross is sentenced to 15 years in prison in Cuba for subversive activities. The United States says Gross was in the country to help Cuba’s Jews.

A car bomb explodes in central Jerusalem, killing one.

Groups on the Jewish left express outrage after a Knesset subcommittee votes to convene hearings on J Street, the Washington-based lobby that calls itself “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” NGOs condemn the hearing as part of an Israeli government campaign to target NGOs critical of Israel.

Academy Award-winning actress Elizabeth Taylor, who maintained a support for Israel after converting to Judaism in the late 1950s, dies.

Protests sweeping the Arab world spread to Syria.

April

Richard Goldstone, author of the controversial UN report on the 2009 Gaza War that accused Israel of war crimes, withdraws the central tenet of that report in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post. That prompts an unsuccessful drive by Israel and its supporters to void the report formally in the United Nations.

A bomb explodes outside a Chabad center in Southern California. The suspect turns out to be Jewish.

President Barack Obama picks Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Jewish Democrat from Florida, to chair the Democratic National Committee.

The Union for Reform Judaism names Rabbi Rick Jacobs as its choice to succeed Rabbi Eric Yoffie at the helm of the movement. Jacobs comes under fire for his affiliations with J Street and the New Israel Fund. He is later confirmed by the union’s board.

The Palestinian Hamas and Fatah factions announce that they are reconciling, prompting calls for the U.S. government to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority. However, a Hamas-Fatah unity government fails to materialize.

May

Osama bin Laden is killed in Pakistan by U.S. forces, prompting questions about whether the liquidation of al Qaeda’s leader makes a follow-up attack more or less likely, and whether Jews could be a target.

JTA launches its online digital news archive, for the first time making widely available on the Internet more than 90 years of English-language Jewish reporting.

In a controversy over the Israel positions of Jewish playwright Tony Kushner, the City University of New York first cancels, then reinstates, plans to grant Kushner an honorary degree.

Capping more than three decades of legal drama, a Munich court rules that former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk, 91, was a Nazi war criminal.

Thousands of Arabs storm Israel’s borders from Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere to mark the Nakba — the anniversary of the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding. Caught unprepared, Israeli forces hold the crowds back and more than a dozen Arabs are killed.

The arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York on sexual assault charges represents a particularly harsh blow for many in France’s Jewish community. Law enforcement officials later report that major questions have emerged about the credibility of his accuser, but not before he resigns his post at the International Monetary Fund. His planned candidacy for the French presidency is considered dead.

San Francisco approves a ballot measure for November to outlaw circumcision of minors in the city. A judge later strikes the ban from the ballot, saying the city has no authority to ban circumcision.

Obama delivers a major speech on Mideast policy in which he states that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations should be based upon “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” The formulation sparks a fiery debate over whether the president was simply reiterating longtime U.S. policy or pressuring Israel. Soon after, the president holds a tense news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Both leaders speak to thousands of pro-Israel activists at the annual AIPAC policy conference. Later, Netanyahu receives multiple ovations during remarks to a joint session of Congress.

After a deadly tornado strikes Joplin, Mo., the Jewish community sends help.

In the chasidic village of New Square, N.Y., an arson attack that leaves a Jewish man severely burned raises questions about religious violence in the name of fealty to a rebbe.

The Obama administration says it will not participate in the so-called Durban III conference at the United Nations in September to mark the 10th anniversary of the U.N. anti-racism confab in South Africa, which turned into an anti-Israel hate fest. By mid-September, other countries boycotting the conference include Canada, Australia, Israel, Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy and the Netherlands.

June

One of the most ardent pro-Israel Democrats in Congress, New York’s Anthony Weiner, is engulfed in scandal over lying about illicit messages sent on Twitter and eventually resigns. In a special election held in September to fill the seat in Weiner’s heavily Democratic district, Republican candidate Bob Turner wins an upset victory in a race many describe as a bellwether for national discontent with Obama.

Yale University shutters its Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, saying it failed to meet certain academic criteria. Critics, however, claim the program was killed for shining a light on Muslim anti-Semitism.

Cottage cheese, a national staple in Israel that has seen its price rise steadily, becomes the focus of a consumer revolt and a symbol of frustration with the high cost of living in the Jewish state. Later, the protests broaden and focus on the shortage of affordable housing in the country, with mass demonstrations and tent cities popping up in Tel Aviv and elsewhere.

July

The lower house of the Dutch parliament passes a ban on kosher slaughter, spurred on by the unlikely convergence between animal rights activists and the country’s far-right, anti-Muslim movement.

After a flotilla of ships to Gaza fails to launch from Greece, protesters announce a planned “fly-in” to Israel to protest its treatment of the Palestinians.

Jewish communities in New York and Houston are rocked, respectively, by the murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, who was abducted walking home from day camp in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and a car crash that instantly killed Josh and Robin Berry, 41 and 40, and left two of their three children paralyzed from the waist down.

For the first time since 1945, the Maccabi Games — the so-called Jewish Olympics in Europe — are held in a German-speaking country. Maccabi officials said the crowd made up the largest gathering of Jews in Vienna since the Holocaust.
Israel passes a law that penalizes those seeking to boycott Israel or West Bank Jewish settlements. American Jewish groups slam the law as undemocratic.

As media mogul Ruport Murdoch’s News of the World is engulfed in a phone-hacking scandal and shuts down, some Jews worry that a pro-Israel voice in the media will be muted.

British Jewish singer Amy Winehouse, 27, dies.

Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian anti-Muslim extremist who wrote a manifesto expressing sympathy for Israel’s plight, bombs a government building in Oslo and goes on a killing spree on the nearby island of Utoya, killing 77.

Israelis protesting the absence of affordable housing and the high cost of living in Israel stage massive demonstrations, erecting a sprawling tent city in Tel Aviv and blocking roads around the country. Amid the crisis, the prime minister cancels an overseas trip and proposes a series of changes. The movement gains steam throughout the summer, culminating in a protest of hundreds of thousands in early September. A few days later the tent city in Tel Aviv is disassembled. Activists vow to continue their campaign.

August

Standard & Poor’s says ratings for the loan guarantees that Israel obtains from the United States dropped commensurate with its downgrading of the U.S. credit rating.

The Obama re-election campaign hires Ira Forman, the ex-chief of the National Jewish Democratic Council, as its Jewish outreach director.

The brother of Yankel Rosenbaum, the Jewish scholar murdered in the 1991 Crown Heights riots, decries the Rev. Al Sharpton’s participation in a synagogue event on the riots’ 20th anniversary. Sharpton pulls out of the event and pens an op-ed in the New York Daily News acknowledging that he made some mistakes during the riots.

Obama calls for Syrian President Bashar Assad to resign in the wake of attacks by his government that have killed thousands.

Eight Israelis are killed in a terrorist attack along the Egypt-Israel border that sparks a diplomatic crisis with Egypt when Israeli troops pursuing the terrorists open fire on Egyptian soil and three Egyptian security forces inadvertently are killed. Israel quickly apologies but expresses concern that terrorists from Gaza are using the Egyptian Sinai as a route to attack Israel. Meanwhile, Israel and Gaza rocket crews trade air strikes and rocket fire.

Libyan rebels topple Muammar Kaddafy from power, but fighting between Kaddafy loyalists and rebels continues in points around Libya. With Kaddafy the third Arab dictator to fall in nine months, analysts wonder if Syria’s Assad is next.

Menachem Youlus, a rabbi who claimed that he rescued Torah scrolls lost during the Holocaust, is arrested on fraud charges and accused of fabricating the stories.

Hurricane Irene churns up the East Coast of the United States, flooding towns, disrupting transportation and killing more than 30 people, including three Jews, one of whom dies trying to save a boy and his father from electrocution. The boy later succumbs, becoming the fourth Jewish death reported in the historic storm.

September

Lauren Bush, granddaughter of President George H. W. Bush and niece of President George W. Bush, marries designer Ralph Lauren’s son in a ceremony presided over by a rabbi.

Turkey expels Israel’s ambassador to the country and downgrades diplomatic and military ties.

The Obama administration confirms it will veto any UN Security Council resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood ahead of an anticipated UN vote on a Palestinian state.

An Egyptian mob breaks into the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, ransacking the building and tearing down its security walls. Israeli personnel are stuck inside for hours until Egyptian commandos arrive at the scene. The Israelis later are evacuated from the country by Israeli Air Force jets. The attack exacerbates fears in Israel that it is losing a once-reliable ally.

The Palestinian Authority appeals to the UN for recognition of Palestine as an independent country, skirting the Middle East peace process. The UN’s recognition process takes several months, but the Palestinians’ move is seen as harmful to Israeli-Palestinian relations.

October

The Anti-Defamation League’s annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States shows the first increase since 2004. New York State, with 205 incident in 2010, is second only to California’s 297.

An organized lobbying effort by many parts of the Jewish community for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard’s release from prison reaches a crescendo with a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and Jewish leaders.

Sgt. Gilad Shalit, a kidnapped Israeli soldier who was in Hamas captivity for five years, is released in a swap for more than 1,000 Palestinian terrorists.

The revelation that a private, Orthodox bus line in Brooklyn with a city charter had forced women riders to sit in the back of the bus draws heavy criticism.

November

Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Vatican’s new head of dialogue with the Jewish community, opens a center for Interreligious Dialogue at the Jewish Theological Seminary with a defense of the wartime record of Pope Pius XII.

In an outgrowth of the Occupy Wall Street movement, an Occupy Judaism offshoot adopts an agenda of what it describes as increased democracy and more affordability in American Jewry.

The SAT cheating scandal — some students paid others to take the college admission test for them — in Great Neck widens; a large number of participants in the cheating are from Great Neck’s affluent Jewish community.

 

December

The Muslim Brotherhood is the big winner in Egypt’s first elections since the Arab Spring uprisings earlier in the year; Israel, fearful that an Islamic government would cancel the decades-old Israel-Egypt peace treaty, watches nervously.

The U.S. Army grants permission for an Orthodox chaplain to keep his beard.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs from Scarsdale succeeds Rabbi Eric Yoffie as president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

Chasidic reggae star Matisyahu shaves his signature beard, but it is unclear whether this means he is abandoning Orthodoxy.