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National and World News Briefs from JTA

July 13, 2006 | 8:00 pm

Rallies Demand Gilad Shalit's Return

Thousands of Jews around the world gathered Monday to protest the recent kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian gunmen. The largest gathering was in New York City, where a crowd of several hundred, including Jewish leaders and their interfaith colleagues, stood in front of the Syrian mission to the United Nations. Rallies also were held in Washington, Ottawa and Santiago, Chile. Community meetings were held in Paris and Johannesburg, while Australia and Buenos Aires are planning initiatives lasting two weeks.

In London, a delegation submitted a letter requesting Shalit's release to the Syrian ambassador, who accepted the letter and invited several people into the embassy. The rallies were sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the World Zionist Organization.

Shalit, a 19-year-old corporal, was captured in a June 25 raid on an Israeli army base by gunmen affiliated with Hamas, among others. The terrorist group is headquartered in Syria.

Palestinians Support Attacks, Poll Finds

Palestinians support the kidnapping of Israelis and rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, a survey found. According to a Jerusalem Media and Communications Center poll issued this week, 77 percent of Palestinians back the abduction of Israeli soldiers in operations such as the June 25 attack on the Kerem Shalom outpost, while 67 percent favor expanding the tactic to Israeli civilians. Sixty percent said Palestinian terrorist groups should continue firing rockets into Israel, while 36 percent were opposed.

Asked about the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit at Kerem Shalom, which prompted Israeli military strikes on Gaza, 48 percent of respondents said they thought the affair would end well from a Palestinian perspective.

Women's Area at Wall Will Be Expanded

The women's section at Jerusalem's Western Wall will be expanded. Responding to requests by female worshippers at Judaism's most important shrine, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski last week ordered the women's section expanded to make it equal in size to the men's section.

"There's no reason that in the most sacred site for the Jewish people, the men will have a big comfortable plaza, while the women will have to be cramped and crowded," Lupolianski said. The mayor asked for government permission to change the route of the Mugrabi Path, which leads from the Western Wall plaza to the Temple Mount, in order to carry out the renovations.

Four Jewish Denominations Join to Combat Major Jews for Jesus Campaign in N.Y.

Jews for Jesus has been running campaigns in New York for 33 years, but the messianic group's proselytizing effort has never been as large as this summer - nor has it elicited such a united Jewish response.

The "Behold Your God" campaign represents the final stop of a five-year, $22 million tour of every city outside Israel with a Jewish population of 25,000 or more.

While Jews for Jesus' previous efforts in the New York area focused on Manhattan, this year's program is meant to target all five boroughs, plus Westchester, Bergen, Suffolk and Nassau counties. Full-time missionaries, all of whom spent two weeks at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago before their arrival, have been instructed to target Israelis, Russian-speaking Jews, intermarried families and the fervently Orthodox.

Instead of sticking to phoneathons and brochure distribution, Jews for Jesus volunteers now are manning kiosks at shopping malls, hanging out at Yankee Stadium, hosting film screenings and striking up conversations in Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish. The $3 million effort will continue through July 29. In a rare show of unity, all four major Jewish streams have banded together to launch a countercampaign. The New York Board of Rabbis also has signed on, with the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of New York's anti-missionary task force doing much of the heavy lifting.

Jews for Judaism, a Baltimore-based anti-missionary group, is serving as a consultant. The groups' message is one of unity and community building: "Say Yes to Judaism."

In roughly 60 newspaper ads, the coalition is asking Jews to affirm their commitment to Judaism by learning Torah, having Shabbat dinner or by giving tzedakah, among other things. Information on Judaism is being distributed to local camps, schools and synagogues and is available online.

Rabbi Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the JCRC of New York, said the Jews for Jesus message doesn't require a direct response, because "the vast majority of Jews have no interest whatsoever in the message the Hebrew Christians are promoting."

Israeli Hotels Charge Tourists More

Some Israeli hotels charge tourists up to 50 percent more than locals, according to a Tourism Ministry study. Ha'aretz reported Monday that the study, conducted in response to numerous complaints, found differences in rates at four- and five-star hotels in Jerusalem and at the Dead Sea. During June and July, tourists are being charged on average 42 percent more than locals during the week and 11 percent more on weekends; the difference in Jerusalem is a bit smaller. Ministry officials are weighing hotels' freedom to set prices according to supply and demand against the possibility of discrimination.

Reconstructionists Dedicate Camp

The Reconstructionist movement dedicated its first permanent summer camp site. Camp JRF was dedicated Sunday in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains. The camp is open to boys and girls entering the third through 12th grades. The camp runs two sessions that combined last for six and a half weeks as well as a 12-day mini-camp for campers entering the third and fourth grades.

Polanski Draws on Holocaust for 'Twist'

Roman Polanski said his film version of Oliver Twist reflected some of his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. The European Jewish director was in Israel this week to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Jerusalem International Film Festival, which features first screenings of his adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic novel about an orphan in 19th-century London "I can relate to the situation," said Polanski, who lost his mother to the Nazis and fled the Krakow Ghetto on foot. "You know the long walk to London? I went through it exactly at the same age that the boy did."

Polanski, who was born in 1933, dealt with the Holocaust in depth with his Oscar-winning film, The Pianist. Having made several visits to Israel, Polanski said the country's challenge is to convince the rest of the world of its normalcy.

Briefs courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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