Texting the Gospel this Christmas

A new initiative is encouraging Christians to tell the story of the birth of Jesus through social media this Christmas.

Premier Christian Media and Church from Scratch will be telling the Christmas story ‘as it happens’ through messages from the main characters of the story posted to Facebook and Twitter, or sent via text or email.

They hope to bring the real meaning of Advent into the heart of communities, reaching people wherever they are, be that in the office, at the bus stop or doing the big shop in the supermarket.

Peter Kerridge, chief executive of Premier Christian Media, said: “Text will be the only way some people will learn about the nativity story this Christmas.

“The majority of people these days have a mobile phone, connection to the internet and a Facebook or Twitter account. People are immersed in technology – how many immerse themselves in the Bible like that?

“We need to meet them where they, with a new and innovative conversation if we’re going to take up the opportunity to tell them about Christ.â

The messages will be sent out three times a day to anyone who signs up for the Christmas experience online.

The first messages will be sent out on Decemberಒ and will end on January 1.

Peter Dominey, of Church from Scratch said, “We loved the way The Passion Experience gave people such a memorable experience – Jesus’ amazing story sent to their phone, wherever they were. This Christmas we give the idea a fresh twist.”

To sign up, go to christmasstarts.com/experience or text STORY to 60777

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Extradition Testing Rival B’klyn Patrol Groups

Yitzchak Shuchat has until Dec. 16 to appeal extradition request from Brooklyn DA.

Hate-crime case ‘fanning flames’ between Shomrim, Shmira in Crown Heights.

The pending extradition from Israel of a chasidic man, wanted in connection with the attack on a black teen in Crown Heights in 2008, stands to put a long-festering feud between rival Jewish patrol groups there back in the spotlight.

Suspect Yitzchak Shuchat is a member of the Shmira patrol group. The man who hired a private investigator to track him down in Israel acknowledges being the coordinator of the rival Shomrim.

The animosity between some members of the formerly unified groups is so fierce that blogs operated anonymously by patrol members and supporters routinely dish dirt against each other — often extremely personal — using language uncharacteristic of chasidim.

Shuchat is accused of assault as a hate crime in connection with an April 14, 2008 attack on Andrew Charles, then a 20-year-old college student, and the son of a high-ranking police officer. Charles was attacked on Carroll Street in an apparently coordinated attack by people identified by witnesses as chasidim, at a time when Jews in the area had been complaining about a long series of attacks by black assailants. A man at first sprayed mace at Charles before another man got out of an SUV and attacked him with a wooden club, according to police reports.

There was speculation that the attackers suspected Charles or his companions of a crime against Jews. No racial epithets were used during the attack on Charles and police said at the time they did not consider it a hate crime, though Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes disagreed.

The rival groups often trade charges that each group informs on the other to the police.

“This whole Charles thing really fanned the flames of all this,” said Matt Shaer, author of the recently published “Among Righteous Men: A Tale of Vengeance and Vindication In Chasidic Crown Heights” (Wiley). The book deals extensively with the rivalry between the patrol groups and the legal action it has initiated. “It has to be the biggest flap so far,” Shaer said.

Hynes was so enraged by the case that he took the rare step of convening a grand jury — absent a suspect — to probe the case and in a Jewish Week interview at the time likened Shmira to violent inner-city gangs like the Crips and Bloods. (He later retracted that comparison.)

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly visited the neighborhood at the time and denounced the behavior of some of the volunteer patrol members, saying, “We need calm heads, cool heads. We don’t want people irrationally causing problems.”

The 2008 incident caused a spike in tensions in a community that has been the focus of extensive bridge-building efforts between the chasidic and black communities since the 1991 riots sparked by the death of a black child in an accident involving a chasidic driver in the motorcade of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Jewish community members complained after the 2008 incident that a spate of street attacks against Jews, some of them leading to serious injuries, were being treated less seriously by Hynes and the police than the incident involving Charles.

(After Kelly’s visit in May 2008, there was a visible increase in police presence, including the installation of observation towers and command posts on Eastern Parkway.)

But the case also stoked tensions between the patrols. It was Hynes’ grand jury inquiry that led to the identification of Shuchat as a suspect, though it is not publicly known who gave up his name. He fled first to Canada and then to Israel shortly afterward.

The coordinator of the Shomrim, Aron Hershkop, said in an interview Tuesday he hired a private investigator to track down Shuchat in Israel on suspicion that he was behind a series of calls to local, state and federal authorities that led to nuisance investigations of Hershkop. “He has an obsession with me,” said Hershkop. “You have to ask him why.”

He said he did not instruct the investigator to report Shuchat’s whereabouts to the authorities.

In a brief phone interview the investigator, Joe Levin, declined to comment on the case.

But a profile in The New York Times in July, with Levin as the primary source of information, reported that “Though Mr. Levin was hired by a member of a Hasidic volunteer crime patrol, he turned his information over to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, which has requested Mr. Shuchat’s extradition.

The blog WhoIsShmira, which is vehemently critical of that patrol group, posted claims that Shuchat, from Israel, was sending information about Hershkop to the police, which Orthodox Jews call “mesira,” a term that literally means giving but implies informing to authorities.

Hershkop told The Jewish Week that reports of tensions between the two groups were overblown by the press. “They do their thing, we do ours,” he said.

But Shaer said the rivalry goes back to 1999 and allegations that members of Shomrim were involved in an attempted burglary in Montreal that caused supporters of those members to split off to take the name Shmira.

“The community leaders later issued a declaration saying Shmira is the official patrol and Shomrim is not,€ he said.

Attempts to reach Shmira’s leader, Yanky Prager, were unsuccessful on Tuesday. A recording said his cellphone voice mail system was full and couldnât accept messages.

A former Shmira administrator, Yossie Stein, declined to comment.

Sources said that Shuchat faces a sealed indictment and that it took a year for the U.S. State Department to process Hynes’ request for extradition and for Israeli authorities to process the request.

A spokesman for Hynes said Shuchat won’t be back in New York until the middle of next month, at the earliest.

“He has until Dec. 16 to decide whether to appeal” the extradition process, said the spokesman, Jerry Schmetterer.

Shaer said that while the acrimony between the groups would lead to some press coverage, “as soon as it fades from the news it goes back to the status quo because these patrols are very popular in the neighborhoods.

The executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, Eli Cohen, declined to comment on the patrol rivalry but said, “We feel that the DA™s office is wrong about it being a bias crime. It’s clear that they were responding to a legitimate complaint on patrol. If something was done wrong that will eventually be figured out, but pursuing it as a bias crime — there is no evidence of that.

Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind has written a letter to Israeli justice minister Yuval Neeman calling the extradition “a potential miscarriage of justice.

Barry Sugar, founder of the Jewish Leadership Council, a grassroots group in Crown Heights said “To me, the fact that the DA told [The Jewish Week] that he’d only called four [special] grand juries in his 22 year career, and he chose this case—a minor assault accusation—as his fifth time, is especially suspicious. There appears to be an interest in holding up Yitzhak’s prosecution as a trophy prize after a show-trial.†
 

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Shalom, ‘Grandma’

This clown’s trademark character is patterned after Jewish grandmothers in Atlantic City. Maike Schulz/Big Apple Circus

A star of the Big Apple Circus, Barry Lubin steps out of the ring after nearly three decades.

The Big Apple Circus’ bubbe, overloaded purse in hand and sensible, rubber-soled shoes on her stocking-clad feet, is shuffling away from the big top.

And with her go the ghosts of Barry Lubin’s own Jewish grandmothers, the ones he spent time with all those years ago in Atlantic City. Lubin, who created his alter ego, âGrandma,” the matronly figure with the red smock and the curly gray wig, more than 35 years ago, said he patterned the character after them, and any number of other Jewish grandmothers he saw on the Atlantic City boardwalk in the 1950s and ’60s. Rather than play a traditional clown, he would take his inspiration from them. He spent a career paying homage to them, and to grandmothers everywhere.

Lubin says he remembers Myrtle Weinberg and Ann Lubin, his bubbes, as “warm, nurturing individuals.” But his Grandma, who doesn’t speak while performing in the Big Apple Circus, is really everyone’s grandmother, with no discernible ethnic or religious characteristics. The typical crowd during a recent show was multi-racial and multifaith, including nuns in habit and Muslim women in the hijab. All laughed at Grandma’s antics.

But the laughter for Grandma at the Big Apple Circus will stop next year.

Lubin, who first crafted the role while working for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey circus, has announced that this will be his last season (his 29th) as Grandma with the Big Apple Circus. He’s moving to Sweden.

The circus ends its current New York run on Jan. 8, and takes the show on the road. After its season closes in July, Lubin will settle in Sweden, where he has a girlfriend and post-Big Apple entertainment and education possibilities. “I will seek opportunities worldwide,” he says, preparing for a recent show.

“I am walking away from the dream job,” Lubin says, sitting at a table in a dressing room a hundred yards from the tent in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park. “It’s time for me to do other things with my life.”

As is his custom, Lubin starts getting dressed for work in a converted office near the big top about 10 minutes before he leaves for his job. First, he dons a pair of sweatshorts and a T-shirt. Then, some makeup, a string of fake pearls and the rest of Grandma’s distinctive garb. Then he walks through a warren of trailers and animal cages to make his entrance at the 63-foot-high, 1,619-seat tent.

The circus, which recently opened its 2011ᆠ season, features magicians and trapeze artists, trained animals and two-legged steeds, jugglers and gymnasts, crowd participation and shills from the crowd, a master-of-ceremonies and various assistants. But Grandma is clearly the star, a sashaying, shpritzing, purse-swaying, apparently befuddled figure who wanders around the ring to the apparent amusement of the other performers and the definite approval of the crowd.

Lubin is 59. Grandma is 36.

As other performers stretch and warm up nearby before the day’s show, Lubin tells why a nice Jewish boy from Atlantic City decided to join the circus.

Partly shy, partly outgoing as a teen, he was chubby, and used humor — as many future comics and comedians do — to build social bridges. In high school, he was, predictably, “the class clown,” the wise-cracking source of classmates†laughter, though another classmate, Lubin notes with some irony, was voted class clown.

He briefly thought about becoming a dentist, but “blood” — the sight thereof — dissuaded him. Then, in high school television productions, he did in-the-spotlight and behind-the-scenes work. “I had a chance … to act, and that is where I performed physical comedy for the first time.” He considered becoming a TV director. In college, unsure of exactly what he wanted to do for a career, he dropped out, saw an ad for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Clown College, applied and was accepted, and discovered his calling; the circus would be a good way “to see America … to travel on someone else’s dime.”

Lubin was a natural.

“I was always a clown,” he says, “just not professionally.”

As a clown he follows a small but proud Jewish line that most notably includes the late Lou Jacobs, who, while working for more than 60 years for Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey, popularized the clown car, and supposedly originated the now-ubiquitous red rubber ball nose. An inductee into the International Clown Hall of Fame, Jacobs was the first living person whose portrait appeared on a U.S. postage stamp; his two daughters, Lou Ann and Dolly, also became successful circus clowns.

Lubin, also a member of the International Clown Hall of Fame, will be inducted in January into the Circus Ring of Fame, a Sarasota, Fla., foundation that recognizes individuals “who have made significant contributions to the circus.” He’s served for a decade as director of clowning and creative consultant to the Big Apple Circus’ production team, mentored other clowns, trained the 800 clowns who take part in the Macy™s Thanksgiving Day Parade, taught at the Clown College, produced a television pilot for Nickelodeon Networks and worked as a creative consultant for NBC’s €œCheers.”

A PBS documentary series last year, “Circus,” about the Big Apple Circus, focused on Lubin and his successful battle against thyroid cancer a few years ago.

He’s fine now, but that experience caused him to “reassess my life and my career,” he told The New York Times.

In street clothes, with closely cropped graying hair, Lubin looks the part of … a middle-aged Jewish professional. When he’s not on stage — or in his case, in the ring — he’s not “on,” not a joking kibitzer. He talks quietly, answering questions about his life.

Hired out of Clown College by Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey, he worked as a regular clown until developing his Grandma persona at the circus’ winter quarters in Venice, Fla. He wasn’t strong on physical skills; he needed a distinctive character.

Grandma was born.

A person of indeterminate gender perambulating around the ring would stand out, could be a star. If I were a regular clown,” he says, âI wouldn’t be noticed. I worked with 28 clowns on Ringling and knew that in order to stand out I had to be different. Different meant looking like someone from the audience, not the stripes and plaids and big shoes and outrageous wig colors.”

By the time he joined the Big Apple Circus — a 34-year-old troupe and circus school that was based at first in Battery Park, and is credited with influencing the creation of Cirque du Soleil — in 1982, Grandma was a fixture.

These days, no one overlooks Grandma.

Lubin had no problem donning female — but decidedly not overtly feminine — garb. “I’m not insecure about my masculinity.”

As Grandma, who initially looks like a spectator who accidentally stumbled into the ring, Lubin is a good-natured insider and outsider, a silent Greek Chorus whose facial expressions comment on the other performers. “I consider myself part of the audience, in awe of the surroundings and the thrill of the circus, much more than [a part of] the world of the circus,” he says. “I really feel that way, and Grandma is a reflection of me.”

And of his own grandmothers, and the countless grannies he had noticed on the Atlantic City boardwalk and in Miami Beach, where his family vacationed.

He keeps their memory in mind while on the job. “They got to spoil us. They spoiled the kids and returned them to their parents. That’s the role of Grandma.”

The product of a “typical” Conservative Hebrew-school-and-bar-mitzvah upbringing who frequently gets invited to families™ seders and yom tov meals while on the road, Lubin says he offers a short prayer before every show. “I pray to be present. I pray to be of service.”

“I have,” says Lubin, “a close relationship with God.â€

As Grandma, he has performed, by his own estimate, in front of 20 to 30 million people in person, and in front of tens of millions more when part of the Big Apple Circus cast marching down Broadway in the televised Macy’s Parade. He’s also done the David Letterman show, and several other TV shows.

During his Big Apple Circus performances, his eyes, he says, are trained on individual audience members with whom he can establish a quick, personal rapport while walking up and down the aisles. He’ll make a quick aside, a shrug, an “Oy!” for obviously Jewish kids.

After the show, the makeup comes off in a minute or two, and he will join the departing parents and children, listening, unrecognized, to their comments. He enjoys the anonymity.

“At the beginning” of his career, he says, “it was all about me.” The recognition. He’s matured. “At this point it’s all about the audience.”

Clowning, Lubin says, is a “very spiritual” job. He gets to make people laugh, “This is a service job.”

After leaving the Big Apple Circus but not retiring from the clowning profession, Lubin — who retains proprietary rights to his Grandma character — will line up his own performances and teach “physical comedy.”

Lubin says his grandmothers died before he became Grandma.

Would they recognize themselves in Grandma? Probably not, he says. Grandma is an amalgam, not a reflection of any single person.

Lubin says his late mother “kept waiting for me to get a ‘real job’… a real, conventional profession.”

Then he started appearing, as Grandma, on NBC’s Today Show. At least 15 times. And his mother came to his shows, seeing how he had found steady work brightening peoples’ spirits. Then, he says, œshe ‘got it.’”

What would he tell young people interested in following in his footsteps as a clown?

Don’t do it—“unless you really want to be it. Itâs not easy at all.” Clowning is hard work — “very hard work,” Lubin says.

Is he happy he became a clown? “Oh God, yes,” he says. “I wouldn™t have it any other way.”

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Can Online Portals Transform Hebrew Schools?

Cleveland educators participate in a technology conference. Photo by Dave Weinberg

Content providers like Behrman House are looking to take learning beyond the classroom in race to the digital top.

Imagine your child’s Hebrew school homework isn’t on some worksheet crumpled at the bottom of her backpack, forgotten until time to leave the house on Sunday morning.

Instead she’s been logging onto a password-protected website throughout the week, where she’s watched and commented on a video, played some Hebrew decoding games (her performance is automatically reported to the teacher) and discussed the Torah portion with her teacher and classmates. Her assignments, textbooks and other materials — along with contact info and a profile photo for all class members — all appear in one place, accessible 24ǝ.

What only a few years ago might have sounded like some utopian vision for reworking the much-maligned Hebrew school (also known as congregational, or complementary, school) is today not only possible, but may soon be the new normal.

In January, Behrman House, the leading publisher of textbooks for the Hebrew school market, will roll out its Online Learning Center, a platform enabling all of the above activities and offering digital access to its library of lesson plans, games, articles and textbooks (albeit for a yet-to-be determined price). Meanwhile MicroSteps, an Israeli company that enables nursery school teachers to share information, videos, photos and other materials online with parents, has begun offering similar portals for Hebrew schools.

Proponents of web portals say these “digital classrooms” can dramatically improve Hebrew school, by extending learning time beyond the often-minimal classroom hours, fostering more parental involvement and encouraging more communication throughout the week.

For David Behrman, president and publisher of Behrman House, it’s a question of closing what he calls the “digital gap,” whereby American Jews, up to date in their secular lives, “check our technology — our innovation — at the door when it comes to educating our children in our religion and heritage.

In a post that appeared this summer on eJewishPhilanthropy, Behrman wrote that, in failing to make use of tech tools, Hebrew schools not only deprive themselves of “powerful ways to engage children” but “send a message: that the latest technologies — the ones our kids find so compelling — aren’t right for the Jewish world. Either they’re irrelevant … or the enterprise of Judaism isn’t important enough for us to use them.”

But are North America’s Hebrew-school teachers — a high-turnover, overwhelmingly part-time workforce, almost half of its members over age 50 — ready to embrace the new high-tech resources? And is Behrman House, a relatively small company, up for the task?

Adena Raub, information manager of the Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education (PELIE), which focuses on complementary schools, thinks Jewish educators, particularly in complementary schools, still need help “to make an attitudinal shift about the potential that technology brings to education.”

Toward that end, PELIE is organizing a series of one-day regional “Kadima” (Hebrew for “forward”) conferences to promote technology and provide hands-on training.

Will PELIE encourage teachers at the conference to use the new Behrman House portal?

Raub says she offers “tremendous kudos to Behrman House for being forward-thinking in the learning-management space and going beyond the book,” but her group hasnt yet decided “if we’ll be featuring specific products” at the conferences.

â™

In development for more than a year, the Online Learning Center is a way to “take what we offer to the next step,” says Vicki Weber, Behrman House’s head of sales, marketing and customer support.

In recent years, the publisher has offered CDs and online bonus materials with many of its books, including interactive Hebrew games and drills. As it became clear that CDs were “a transitional technology,” she says, the company began looking to put more tools and content directly on the Internet.

Why bother with Behrman’s Online Learning Center rather than take advantage of the various free portals for secular education, such as Moodle or Blackboard? Or, why not use rival MicroSteps?

The Online Learning Center differs from all these other options, Weber says, because it “is the only place with access to content and access to an environment you can use in any way you want to.

€œOur vision was to create something that had direct access to Jewish content and put it in an environment that is templated — preformatted — so teachers donât have to spend a lot of time setting it up,” Weber continues. “We recognize that Jewish educators want to be Jewish educators. Most don’t also want to be tech gurus and go out and figure out how to make some of the secular systems work in this environment.”

Through the Online Learning Center, teachers will ultimately have access to all the Behrman House textbooks and related materials the school has purchased (not all are digitized yet), as well as a library of lesson plans, games, videos and other resources ” some free, some for a fee.

While much of the libraryâ€s material is available elsewhere online, this way âyou don’t have to be charging around the Internet looking for things and then determining whether they’re appropriate,” Weber explains. “This is curated content.”

That said, teachers aren’t limited to using Behrman House materials. “You can upload things from any place,” Weber says.

Such materials can be embedded directly onto the class website, so kids dont get distracted by other things that pop up on YouTube.

The portal will also have a feature allowing teachers to create simple computer games that reinforce specific content the class is studying. For example, a teacher might make a version of Memory with words from a holiday or prayer, or characters from a Bible story.

Whether the Behrman portal, still in the testing stages, takes off — or whether congregational schools ultimately choose other online tools (or opt out of tech resources altogether) — remains to be seen.

Some people in the field say they are unsure whether a relatively small company like Behrman House will be able to offer something that is sophisticated, adaptable and reliable enough.

This summer, leaders of the Jewish Journey Project, an effort bringing together a variety of New York synagogues and Jewish institutions to develop an alternative Hebrew school model, considered using the Online Learning Center for its program, scheduled to launch in September񎧜. However, the planning group decided instead to hire someone to custom design a website/portal tailored more to its specific needs.

One synagogue education director in Manhattan who asked not to be identified praises Behrman House for its commitment to innovation, but says, One of my biggest concerns is, are they really equipped to handle this?”

The director, whose school already uses Behrman House software, says that the company is “beset by technical problems a lot,” with its server “down for a good chunk of the start of this school year,” and CDs that €œdon’t always work.”

Nonetheless, once technical glitches are worked out, parents have “100 percent satisfaction” with the software and rave about how it makes their children want to do Hebrew homework, the director notes.

In some ways, with portals already in numerous local nursery schools (thanks in part to a relationship established with the Early Childhood and Young Families Department of New York’s Jewish Education Project), a Hebrew school version being used in 27 New York and New Jersey schools, and soon-to-be-launched Android and iPhone-compatible apps, MicroSteps is a few steps ahead of Behrman House. While it lacks Behrman’s vast library of books and educational materials, as well as its name recognition in the Hebrew school world, MicroSteps has the advantage of being a larger company, one that also works in many non-Jewish schools. And unlike the Online Learning Center, its portals can actually help bring in money. In addition to selling photos on the portal, schools can set up a “bookstore” directing users to discounted items at Amazon.com; a percentage of each sale goes to the school, and another percentage goes to MicroSteps.

Asked about the Online Learning Center and MicroSteps, Cyd Weissman, director of innovation in congregational education at the Jewish Education Project, notes that MicroSteps is in “early talks” with her about the Hebrew school version, but, “I don’t feel like I know either product well enough yet” to comment on their relative merits.

However, she emphasized, while Internet tools are essential “to help people connect to one another and to resources,” schools need to also remember that what children “really need is that face-to-face contact and the caring, and the real-life doing, not just living in a virtual world.â

E-mail: Julie.inthemix@gmail.com. Next in the series: High-tech, low-cost Jewish day schools.
 

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Text the Gospel this Christmas

A new initiative is encouraging Christians to tell the story of the birth of Jesus through social media this Christmas.

Premier Christian Media and Church from Scratch will be telling the Christmas story ‘as it happens’ through messages from the main characters of the story posted to Facebook and Twitter, or sent via text or email.

They hope to bring the real meaning of Advent into the heart of communities, reaching people wherever they are, be that in the office, at the bus stop or doing the big shop in the supermarket.

Peter Kerridge, chief executive of Premier Christian Media, said: “Text will be the only way some people will learn about the nativity story this Christmas.

“The majority of people these days have a mobile phone, connection to the internet and a Facebook or Twitter account. People are immersed in technology – how many immerse themselves in the Bible like that?

“We need to meet them where they, with a new and innovative conversation if we’re going to take up the opportunity to tell them about Christ.”

The messages will be sent out three times a day to anyone who signs up for the Christmas experience online.

The first messages will be sent out on December 18 and will end on January 1.

Peter Dominey, of Church from Scratch said, “We loved the way The Passion Experience gave people such a memorable experience – Jesus’ amazing story sent to their phone, wherever they were. This Christmas we give the idea a fresh twist.”

To sign up, go to christmasstarts.com/experience or text STORY to 60777

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Iranian Christian couple tell of ordeal at hands of authorities

An Iranian Christian couple were attacked soon after their release from prison, according to the Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN) news agency.

FCNN says they were one of two married couples who had been taken from their home by agents of the Ministry of State Security of the Islamic Regime in September 2010, and held imprisoned for up to eight months without ever being formally charged.

Twenty-nine-year-old Arash Kermajani and his 26-year-old wife Arezoo Teymouri, had to go into hiding and eventually leave their country for fear of their lives as a result of threats by elements of the Islamic regime.

According to FCNN, the couple were detained while guests of their friends Vahik and Sonia Abramian in Hamedan, in northwestern Iran.

Plain-clothes agents of the Ministry of State Security of the Islamic Regime reportedly raided the house, arrested them all, and took them to Centre 113 of Hamedan. They were then taken to a secret prison which was later identified as the central prison of Ministry of State Security of the Islamic Regime in Hamedan.

FCNN says that throughout their detention in this secret prison, they were kept in solitary confinement, Teymouri for 11 days and Kermajani for 43 days. They were then transferred to the general ward of yet another notorious prison in Hamedan.

After their escape from the Islamic Republic, Teymouri, in an interview with an FCNN reporter, spoke of the conditions under which she was held and the reasons for her transfer to the general ward so much sooner than her husband.

“We were staying as guests at Brother Vahik and Sister Sonia’s house. On that particular day we were watching a film when State Security agents stormed in, the shock and induced fear caused spasms of bleeding, which coupled with the hunger strike that I started soon after, reduced my blood pressure to such a dangerously low levels that they were forced to take me to the city’s main hospital, demanding that I should not communicate nor speak, with anyone. As soon as my conditions improved, I was led back to the secret prison and then to the general ward of Hamedan’s main female prison.”

Remembering the harsh treatment she made to suffer in prison, Teymouri told the FCNN reporter that, “Just to put an innocent woman in solitary is in itself a severe form of torture. They did not inflict any physical torture on my body, but did not for a second stop their psychological tortures.”

Teymouri went on to say: “They ridiculed and debased me at every opportunity. Whenever I spoke of my Christian beliefs they imitated, ridiculed, and laughed at me. Well aware of my past life, they used it to crush me psychologically and reduce me to confessing to what they demanded. But I had learnt that reminders of a sinful past is satanic, and so their attacks did not have any effect on my resolve to trust in our Lord Jesus Christ and to reconcile myself to the fact that He will protect His flock. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who upon the cross, took our sins unto Himself, is standing right by me – alive, comforting, and protective – proving their falsehood.”

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Church of England says no to Bill of Rights

The Church of England has delivered a “clear no” to proposals for a UK Bill of Rights.

The Church€™s Mission and Public Affairs Council sets out its objections in a response to a discussion paper from the Government’s commission of inquiry on the proposed Bill.

In its response, the Church argues that a Bill which simply restates the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) would be “superfluous” and come “dangerously close to … ‘vain repetition’”.

One that restricts or abolishes rights enshrined in the ECHR would be “incompatible with the UK’s international obligations”.

If the Bill adds to ECHR provisions, then the status of the additional rights and obligations in UK law would be “unclear”, the Church argues.

It challenged the notion that a UK Bill of Rights would add value to the â€already complex” framework of human rights law.

â€Indeed it would risk adding further confusion, not least for those whom it was designed to benefit,” the response states.

David Cameron wants a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act, which enshrines the ECHR into UK law.

The Commission on the proposals was set up by Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke in March and is expected to produce its final report towards the end of 2012.

The Church said it was “false” to assume that a Bill of Rights would confer a degree of independence from the European Convention and the European Court, and address “human rights gone mad”.

It instead advised the Government to clear up the “widespread ignorance and misunderstanding” surrounding the European Convention and the Human Rights Act.

“An informed and expert assessment of the impact of human rights law should help to dispel myths and prejudices,” the Church said.

“Our expectation is that such an assessment would reveal that unacceptable and anomalous interpretations of human rights originate, not so much from the provisions of the Convention or the decisions of the courts, but from ill-judged statements and actions by politicians and public authorities.”

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Biden Meets With Jewish Leaders About Pollard Case

 

Vice President Joseph Biden met with several Jewish American leaders to discuss the case of convicted spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard.

During Monday evening’s meeting, Biden reportedly listened to the seven American Jewish leaders, who made a case for the severity of the sentence and the support of U.S. political leaders for clemency, Ynet reported. The newspaper did not name the participants.

Biden promised last month that he would meet with Jewish leaders on the Pollard case, after telling rabbis at a political meeting in Florida that “President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, ‘Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time.’”

Jewish organizational leaders from across the political and religious spectrum have called on successive presidents to grant clemency to Pollard, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for spying for Israel. In recent months, Obama has received a flood of clemency appeals on behalf of Pollard from members of Congress, former U.S. government officials and Israeli officials.

On Monday, Pollard entered his 27th year in prison in the United States.

Pollard’s wife, Esther, said in a statement issued Monday that her husband may not survive another year in prison.

“In the last year, as Jonathan’s [medical] condition became worse, he was too weak to even sit through a one-hour visit. I feel he’s withering away in front of my very eyes,” Esther Pollard said in the statement.

She added that after “26 years, all his systems are feeble and we both know that the next emergency hospitalization or operation are just a matter a time, and that no one is promising us he’ll make it through.”

Pollard has been hospitalized four times this year.

Esther Pollard’s statement came as the Justice for Jonathan Pollard campaign called on its supporters to call the White House and send the message “Free Jonathan Pollard Now.”

The campaign has publicized the White House’s phone number and set up a special number in Israel that goes directly to the White House for the cost of a local call, according to Ynet.

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Jordan’s King Supports Palestinian Statehood in West Bank Visit

 

Jordan’s King Abdullah visited the West Bank for the first time in more than a decade to demonstrate support for the Palestinians’ statehood bid in the United Nations.

Abdullah in a meeting Monday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah urged the Palestinian leader to resume direct peace negotiations with Israel, Reuters reported.

Abdullah last visited the West Bank in 2000 to meet with Yasser Arafat, Abbas’ late predecessor.

“The visit comes in the context of Jordan’s support for the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people to achieve Palestinian national rights and an independent state,” a Jordanian palace official told Reuters Sunday. 

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Sanford Garelick, Former Top Cop And Politician, Dies At 93

 

Sanford Garelick, who as a high-ranking member of the New York Police Department worked on several high-profile cases in the 1960s, and as a public official ran for New York Mayor in the 1970s, died on Nov. 19. A lifelong Bronx native, he was 93.

Mr. Garelick, who was the first Jewish chief inspector in NYPD history, and served as City Council President under Mayor John Lindsay in the early 1970s, made an unsuccessful bid to succeed Lindsay in 1973. His opposition to a city-financed expansion of Yankee Stadium eroded his popularity, said Rabbi Alvin Kass, who knew Mr. Garelick since the start of the rabbi’s service as Police Department Chaplain 45 years ago.

Mr. Garelick was also chief of the Transit Police Department in 쌷-77, and became director of security for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1977.

Since leaving the law enforcement field, he worked in the private security firm of his son Neal, Rabbi Kass said. “He never retired.

“He was a warm, modest, unassuming person,” the rabbi said. “He really loved to help people.”

An economics graduate – and valedictorian of the University of North Carolina, Mr. Garelick took, passing with a high grade, the Police Department’s qualifying exam when jobs in economics were scarce. He rose through the ranks, handling such cases as the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X in Harlem, and student demonstrations on the Columbia University campus in 1968.

Mr. Garelick was an active member of the Shomrim fraternal organization of Jewish police officers.” He was proud of his Jewish identity,†Rabbi Kass said.

In addition to his son, Mr. Garelick is survived by a brother, Bernard, and four grandchildren.

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