Shimon Peres became Israel's ninth president. In parliamentary voting Wednesday, the longtime leader defeated rival Knesset members Reuven Rivlin and Colette Avital. Rivlin and Avital dropped out after the first round, having received 37 and 21 votes respectively, the Jerusalem Post reported. In the second round 86 Knesset members supported Peres, the only remaining candidate, and 23 opposed him.
"I have been in the Knesset for 48 years and not for one moment have I lost faith or hope in Israel," Peres said in his acceptance speech. "What Israel has achieved in 60 years, no other country has been able to achieve. I hope I can represent our faith not because there are no problems but because we all want to overcome them."
Peres, 83, will assume the presidency, a largely ceremonial post, on July 15
for a seven-year term. The presidency will cap a six-decade career in which
Peres has served in virtually every top civilian post in Israel. In 1993 he
won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.
Oprah Criticized for Pro-Israel Stance
Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI), a partnership between the East Jerusalem YMCA and the YWCA of Palestine, said in a June 8 letter that Oprah Winfrey's willingness to visit Israel was "very shocking" considering her image as someone who "stands with oppressed, marginalized people, fights racism, and works for justice and human rights."
The letter was apparently a response to the talk show host's declaration last month that she sympathized with the suffering of Israelis and would accept an invitation from Elie Wiesel to visit the Jewish state. Calling Israel's policies a violation of international law, the JAI invited Winfrey to visit Palestinian areas and "witness firsthand the refugee camps, Apartheid Wall, movement restrictions and ghettos."
Health Care Tops Poll for Jewish Progressives
An online poll conducted by progressive Jewish Web sites showed health care to be the top domestic political priority. The poll, coordinated by Jewish Funds for Justice, listed 10 issues and asked respondents to pick the five most important. The top five were, in order: health care, the environment, education, civil rights and wages. The other issues, not in order, were seniors, immigration, housing, child-care and hurricane devastation. Each issue was framed in progressive terminology.
The poll got more than 8,600 responses through participating Web sites, including the Shalom Center, Jewcy and the National Council for Jewish Women. Polling experts believe online polls are suggestive at best, as participants are self-selective.
Grinspoon Offers $300,000 for Youth Philanthropy
The Harold Grinspoon Foundation will award $30,000 to each of 10 communities to start a B'nai Tezedek program, which asks teens to contribute a minimum of $125 of their bar or bat mitzvah money to an individual endowment fund. The foundation matches the contribution to help the teens establish a fund of at least $500, from which they make allocations every year. The program, which started in Western Massachusetts, where the foundation is based, is already up and running in 37 communities. The grants will be given on a first come, first serve basis, the foundation announced in a press release.
"It is essential to the future of Jewish society that we get our teens involved in giving to charity in a personally engaging way, and equip them with the tools to become financially intelligent donors," said Harold Grinspoon, founder and chair of the foundation.
Rabbi Offers Online Advice for Interfaith Weddings
InterfaithFamily.com, a support and resource center for intermarried families, has hired Rabbi Lev Baesh as its first Rabbinic Circle director. The 1994 graduate of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion begins work July 9. Baesh's main tasks will be referring interfaith couples to rabbis who will officiate at their wedding and running a listserv for rabbis to discuss the issue and share practical tips.
InterfaithFamily.com President Ed Case, who said he receives about 60 requests a month from interfaith couples looking for officiating rabbis. Case says this service differs from the "rent-a-rabbi" phenomenon because the rabbis on Baesh's list are all carefully vetted, and couples will be steered toward their local synagogues. "Our intention is not to tell rabbis that they should officiate, or pressure them to do so," Case said.
The Reform movement's rabbinic association officially discourages intermarriage, but leaves it to the discretion of individual rabbis whether or not to officiate at interfaith weddings. Conservative and Orthodox rabbis are barred from doing so.
Shalit's Mother Assails Government
The mother of an Israeli soldier held hostage by Palestinians assailed the government for not doing more to recover him. Aviva Shalit, whose son Gilad was abducted to the Gaza Strip by Hamas-led gunmen last June, broke her silence in a newspaper interview published Monday. Previous public comments on the family's ordeal have been made by Shalit's husband, Noam.
"All year I hoped that the repeated promises to do everything for Gilad's release would bear fruit, but this hope is also beginning to wane," Aviva Shalit told Yediot Achronot. "My strong feeling is that not enough has been done, because if had they really done everything, Gilad would be home, and so would the other two kidnapped soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev," Shalit said, referring to troops held by Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon since last July.
Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including top terrorists, in exchange for Shalit, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled this out for fear of encouraging further kidnappings.
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegrapic Agency