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U.S. Denies Contacts with Hamas

By Ha'aretz

The State Department on Tuesday rejected claims made by a senior Hamas leader that the United States had initiated contacts with the militant Islamic Palestinian organization. On Monday, Hamas political leader Khaled Mashal said that the group has been in contact with the United States and the European Union, despite both having listed it as a terrorist organization. "We don't conduct business with designated terrorist organizations. Hamas is a designated terrorist organization," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, adding "We are not aware of anything at all that would substantiate such a reference."

Abbas Urges End To Armed Palestinian Uprising

By VOA News

PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has again urged Palestinians to end their armed uprising against Israel. His published comments in an Arabic newspaper Tuesday came as militants killed one Thai farm laborer and wounded two others in a mortar attack on a Jewish settlement in Gaza.

Abbas told the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that the Palestinian uprising is the legitimate right of Palestinians to protest Israeli occupation through popular and social means. But he said the use of weapons in that struggle has been damaging and it should stop. His comments follow accusations from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Palestinian leaders are not doing enough to rein in militant groups.

The Bush administration has reacted positively to the latest comments from Abbas - the Palestinian leader campaigning to succeed Yasir Arafat in elections next month. During a session with reporters, White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked if Abbas' statement marked a turning point in the search for Middle East peace.

He said the United States has long urged the Palestinian leadership to take steps to fight terror. "All parties have responsibilities in the Middle East and we want all parties to meet those responsibilities," he said. "And fighting terrorism and ending the violence is critical to moving forward on building the institutions for a viable state to emerge."

McClellan said the White House always welcomes steps that are aimed at fighting terrorism, noting President Bush has talked often and at length about the need to end violence in the region so ultimately there can be two states living side by side in peace: Israel and Palestine. "We remain focused on working toward a strategy that will put in place the institutions necessary for a viable state to emerge, but fighting terrorism and putting in a unified security force are key."

Egypt, Israel Ink Trade Deal with US

By Larry James (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel, Egypt, and the United States signed a trade agreement that a senior U.S. official, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick called it, "The most significant agreement between Israel and Egypt in 20 years."

Israel hailed the agreement as a potential economic boon that could bring $150 million to Israel in its first year. Egypt said the deal could create 250,000 jobs in 2005, especially in the clothing and textile industry, which is the country's number-one export arena.

The agreement signed in Cairo allows Egypt to export goods to the United States duty-free, as long as a minimum percentage of the product is made in cooperation with Israeli companies. It establishes so-called Qualified Industrial Zones in parts of Cairo, Alexandria, and Port Said where the goods are to be made.

Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement in 1979, but ties are anything but close. Egypt recalled its ambassador to Israel four-years ago when the Palestinian uprising began and no one is expecting a new envoy to be sent any time soon. Israel's ambassador to Egypt, Eli Shaked, told Israel Radio the trade pact is a good sign, but cautioned about raising expectations too high about what it will mean to ties between the countries." We have to wait for awhile in order to see there are no obstacles and that bilateral relations are supported by a regional good atmosphere.".

The agreement does have its detractors, especially by those in Egypt who oppose any sort of relations with Israel, as well as, those who fear it gives too much economic control to Israel. They dismiss projected benefits as far-fetched. Supporters point out that similar zones set up in Jordan have seen their exports to the United States rise to $800 million a year in just five years. The Jordanian deal also created 40,000 jobs in an economy that is much smaller than Egypt's.

North American Aliyah Has Arrived


Not only has North American Aliyah (immigration to Israel) reached a 21-year high, but also the new immigrants have been absorbed with remarkable success. According to a study commissioned by the Nefesh b'Nefesh Aliyah assistance organization, Over 70% have found jobs in their fields within a year of moving to Israel. Impressive figures, especially considering that the olim (immigrants) the statistics are based on arrived in Israel as the country faced a very deep recession.

Nefesh b'Nefesh hopes to make that percentage even higher, embracing the phenomenon of outsourcing for the benefit of North American olim. "Many individuals have outsourced their old jobs here to Israel - staying up late and connecting to their old offices, doing the same work, from here," Fass said. He added that Nefesh b'Nefesh plans on encouraging the phenomenon. "We are trying to harness the time-difference. There are many businesses that want to have 24-hour productivity [in terms of] legal work, radiology, and graphic design. We want to harness that potential and create jobs for olim."

The study also shows that the olim themselves are not the only ones to benefit from the move to Israel - the Jewish State itself is the big winner. According to the study, the average adult newcomer represents approximately $200,000 in instant value to Israel's economy based on education, professional experience and financial assets upon arrival. As many as 90% join the labor pool, and unemployment for the group is on par with the national average after a very brief time in the country. T

he average family will generate output worth almost $1 million during their first 10 years in the country. Over 50% of these newcomers bought homes in Israel by the end of 2004, many doing so within 3-9 months of their arrival. "There have been many waves of Aliyah," said Nefesh b'Nefesh co-founder Tony Gelbart. "We feel it is time for the wave of North American Aliyah - it is our turn. There is a wellspring of idealistic Zionist Jews who will contribute to Israel from the moment they arrive at the airport."

Rabbi Yehoshua Fass - the Florida pulpit rabbi who left his synagogue in Boca Raton in favor of creating a mass Aliyah movement from North America - signaled a dramatic shift in the organization's mode of operation. In the past, Nefesh b'Nefesh's focused on assisting prospective immigrants in their Aliyah process, now Nefesh b'Nefesh will actively recruit American Jews to go home. "We now have the infrastructure to accommodate thousands of individuals and want to spread the word," said Fass.

He outlined several programs aimed at fostering the Aliyah revolution: * Aliyah Ambassador Program - Nefesh b'Nefesh is sending olim back to address the Jewish communities in their former home towns. The veteran olim will speak at Orthodox, Conservative and Reform synagogues across the North America.

* Instant Aliyah - Working hand-in-hand with Israel's Interior Ministry, Nefesh b'Nefesh has made it easier for students on tourist visas, "who catch the bug and want to stay," as Fass puts it, to do just that. Thanks to this new initiative, the daunting bureaucratic process now takes only a few days. "This month, over 200 students have made Aliyah and received their Israeli identification card, thanks to this new program," Fass said.

* Student Ambassadors - Working with local Zionist groups, Nefesh b'Nefesh is subsidizing college sophomores and juniors on campuses across the North America who want to promote Aliyah. 18 of the Aliyah Ambassadors, from Berkeley, UCLA, Harvard, MIT, Penn, NYU, Columbia and several other schools will be visiting Israel in the coming weeks to meet veteran Aliyah activists and exchange strategies. "They want to promote Aliyah and we are giving them the promotional tools to put the word out on campus," Fass said. "They will be our arms, eyes and ears on campus."

Also in the works are subsidized pilot trips for prospective olim and seminars in major Jewish population centers across North America aimed at supplying practical information to those "sitting on the fence," and spread the word that Aliyah is do-able.

Rabbi Ordered to Pay NIS 1.18 Million for Botched Circumcision

By Ha'aretz

The Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court on Tuesday ordered the former rabbi of the Gan Yavneh local council to pay a child and his parents NIS 1.18 million (approximately $280,000) in damages after the child was left severely disfigured when he was circumcised by the rabbi.

The rabbi, Mehumar Tzubari, performed the religious ceremony on the child in April 1995. A few hours after the ceremony, the mother realized that the tip of the child's penis was blacked and called the rabbi. He checked the area, applied iodine ointment and told the mother not to worry and that "everything will be fine."

After several days in the hospital, doctors diagnosed gangrene in the penis tip. The penis tip was lost, the penis became trapped within the skin enveloping it. Two years later, the infant underwent surgery at Schneider Children's Hospital to release the penis, replace the missing skin and give the penis a healthier appearance. The operation failed.

In August 2000, the infant was operated on in the United States by Dr. Gerald Jordan, a world-renowned expert on reconstructive surgery. According to the child's parents, the operation failed to restore the penis to normal since the reconstructed tip does not enable an erection to be maintained during intercourse.

The parents filed suit against the rabbi, the Gan Yavneh religious council, the Gan Yavneh local council and the Religious Affairs Ministry. The deputy president of the Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court, Judge Dalia Gannot, rejected the suits against the public bodies, but found in favor of the suit against the rabbi. During the trial, it emerged that Tzubari was not qualified to work as a mohel (the religious official who carries out a circumcision).

The judge ordered Tzubari to pay NIS 850,000 of the NIS 1.18 million in damages for the family's past and future suffering, and to compensate the parents for the cost of psychiatric treatment for their son.

The Ancient Jewish Community of Iraq


"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, we also wept, when we remembered Zion." Psalms 137. After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the years 587-539 BCE, the Jews were exiled to Babylonia. But Babylonian Jewry -- or the Jews of Iraq -- never assimilated.

In previous centuries, Jews were well accepted in Babylonia and held positions of authority in the government. Baghdad, situated on the left bank of the Tigris River, was close to the two centers of Jewish spiritual life, Sura and Pumbedita.

During the 12th Century the Jews of Baghdad were allowed to self-govern. The caliph Al-Muktafi appointed a wealthy man, Samuel ben Hisdai, Resh Galuta [head of community -- exilarch] in Baghdad. Benjamin of Tudela, and Pethahiah of Regensburg, Jewish travelers of this period, visited Baghdad. According to Benjamin of Tudela, at the time of his visit there were numerous synagogues, over 1,000 Jewish families, and 10 rabbinical schools. It was the Sadya Gaon of Babylon who fought the Karaites and their interpretation of Jewish life.

Once a thriving center of Jewry, scholarship [Babylonian Talmud], and great Jewish thinkers, present day Iraqi Jews left their homes as refugees with barely the clothes on their backs. A single metal suitcase, which served the dual purposes of encumbering the flight to Eretz Yisrael and preventing smuggling, was the "luggage" of the newly arrived Iraqi Jews from 1942 on. Nicknamed the perfect Diaspora, the Jews of Iraq knew how to switch from one culture to another in order to survive, and even flourish, within each regime.

But the pogroms of 1942 were a modern-day turning point for the Jews of Iraq. They understood that survival necessitated leaving Iraq and making their way to Israel. Property was confiscated, and Jews were forced to remove the Star of David -- not because it was a Jewish symbol, but rather a symbol of Zionism -- from tefilin bags. Underground organizations, like the HeHalutz Movement, and the Haganah Organization [Hashura] sprang up, to train future leaders and to protect Jews.

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