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Israel to Build Reform Synagogues


The state will fund the construction of a Reform synagogue for the first time in history. Until now, the state has funded only religious services recognized by the Rabbinate.

Construction on the structure began Monday in Modiin. The state will provide buildings to five other Reform and Conservative congregations as well, as part of a deal made in response to a lawsuit from the Reform movement's Israel Religious Action Center.

Israel: 'Significant Progress' in Talks with Palestinians on Borders

By VOA News &

A senior Israeli official said the government has made "significant progress" in talks with the Palestinians on drawing the borders of a future Palestinian state.

The official, who asked not to be identified, told reporters that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas discussed the border issue Monday in Jerusalem. Officials from both sides said negotiators have begun exchanging maps.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Monday's talks were perhaps the most serious the two sides have ever had. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat described the Olmert-Abbas meeting as "deep and serious."

The talks came hours after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ended a three-day visit to the region. Rice said the U.S. would send monitors to the West Bank to observe the removal of Israeli roadblocks and to determine the impact on Palestinian movement.

Rice has said Washington is interested not just in the quantity of roadblocks Israel removes, but also in the steps taken by Israel to improve the everyday lives of Palestinians.

In another development, Israel said it would bar Palestinians from entering the country from early Tuesday until Friday, as part of security measures for its 60th anniversary celebration. Israel regularly closes its crossings with the West Bank and Gaza during national holidays, citing security concerns.

A similar closure imposed before Holocaust Remembrance Day was lifted on Friday. During the closure the passage of Palestinians was permitted only in humanitarian cases.

The security establishment has received a number of specific warnings and dozens of general ones regarding possible attempts by terror organizations, particularly in northern Samaria, to carry out suicide bombings and kidnappings. The warnings also relate to the possible terror attacks emanating from Gaza.

Israel's military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin recently warned cabinet that Palestinian terror groups are looking to carry out "quality" attacks on Independence Day, which may include an attempt at kidnapping a soldier.

A siren marking the beginning of Remembrance Day will be heard throughout the country on Tuesday at 8 p.m. The main Remembrance Day memorial ceremony will take place at the Western Wall and will be attended by President Shimon Peres, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Nahal Brigade commander Brig.-Gen. Miki Edelstein.

Another siren will be heard on Wednesday at 11 a.m., after which state memorial ceremonies will be held at 43 military cemeteries and near the memorial for the fallen Bedouin soldiers. More than 1.5 million Israelis are expected to attend the ceremonies. Israel will also be honoring the 1,634 Israelis who were killed in terror attacks since the country's caption.

Also Monday, the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees said it has received enough fuel from Israel to continue aid operations in the Gaza Strip for another 20 days.

The U.N. agency warned Sunday that it would have to suspend operations in Gaza because of a lack of fuel for its vehicles. Gaza has been suffering fuel shortages because of Israeli cutbacks in fuel supplies to the territory and a IDF imposes full closure on West Bank ahead of IDF Memorial Day.

The closure will continue throughout the Independence Day celebrations on Wednesday and will be lifted Thursday night barring any unforeseen security developments.

New Missionary Campaign in Shadow of Bible Contest Controversy


The Christian missionary organization known as "Jews for Jesus" is about to launch a new proselytizing campaign in Israel. Their redoubled effort to gain Jewish converts comes on the heels of a controversy over the participation of an Israeli girl who worships Jesus in the annual International Bible Contest, to be held on Independence Day in Jerusalem.

The family of Bat-El Levy, 17, the winner of the Jerusalem District Bible contest for secular public schools, is known to be active in a group whose members call themselves "Messianic Jews." Her success in the regional competition earned Bat-El a place among four students representing Israel in the Bible Contest finals on Independence Day, this Thursday. Dozens of Jewish youth come to Israel each year for the last leg of the Bible Contest.

In reaction to the participation of a worshiper of Jesus in the Bible Contest, the head of the anti-missionary organization Yad L'Achim sent a letter to rabbinical and lay leaders in the religious community last week calling for efforts to get Levy disqualified. Several rabbis agreed to call for a boycott of the contest if Levy was allowed to compete.

In a letter to the Education Minister, Yuli Tamir, Knesset Member Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) asked last week that Levy be disqualified from the Bible Contest on the grounds that she is not Jewish according to the High Court of Justice.

In cases relating to the Law of Return, granting automatic citizenship to Jewish immigrants, the High Court has ruled that those who profess the Christian faith will not be recognized as Jews regardless of their ethnic background. Furthermore, Porush said, the Bible Contest itself may be turned into a tool for Christian proselytizing among Jews, which is forbidden by law in Israel.

According to Porush, one of the goals of the annual Bible contest, officially called the International Bible Contest for Jewish Youth, is "to strengthen the religious awareness of the students and their appreciation of the Bible as the source of the fulfillment of the commandments and the religious lifestyle." Therefore, the competition is open only to Jews, which would exclude Jews who believe in worship Jesus.

In response to the controversy, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said that because Levy is listed as Jewish in school records and in the Population Registry, she is Jewish for the purposes of the Bible Contest as well. Therefore, she cannot be barred.

Even as the Bible Contest controversy is reaching its apex, in a letter to supporters the Jews for Jesus organization announced a series of new campaigns in Israel. "The campaigns are scheduled to begin in 2008 and continue through 2013," the missionary organization announced. "These campaigns could be the most important thing we in Jews for Jesus have ever done...."

Claiming that "one tenth of one percent (.001)" of the Jews in Israel "believe in Jesus," the missionaries see a positive side in that Israel "is the only place in the world where - when we do street evangelism - we don't need to wonder who is Jewish. All we have to do is walk outside and talk to everyone we meet!"

There are about 8,000 Jews in Israel who worship Jesus. Yad L'Achim says that there are over 100 missionary, or "Messianic", churches operating in Israel, representing various branches of Christianity.

Russian Deacon Calls for Proselytizing Jews

By Israel Faxx News Services

A leading Russian Orthodox scholar has called for a more fervent effort to convert Russian-speaking Jews in Israel. Deacon Andrei Kuraev, a professor at the Moscow Spiritual Academy, said the Orthodox Christian Church based in Moscow should begin to proselytize actively among Israel's 3 million Russian-speaking Jews.

"We have a unique opportunity here for the growth of Orthodoxy in general because hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews have moved to the area," Kuraev told the Interfax news service.

In his comments, Kuraev said that the middle-class intelligentsia that makes up a large part of Russian immigrants to Israel "shows a huge interest in Christianity." He doubted that the local Greek Orthodox leaders had the resources or knowledge to reach Russian-speaking Jews.

The Russian Orthodox Church, the dominant religious force in Russia, in recent years consolidated with the Russian Orthodox Church abroad to create a global unified church. "This is a unique missionary opportunity," Kuraev said. "Through Jews who were raised on European and Russian classics, we could carry the light of the Gospel to all Israel."

Foreign Paratroopers Fly in Israel's Friendly Skies


More than 100 paratroopers from around the world jumped from military planes into Israel's sparkling blue Mediterranean skies Monday afternoon as they rehearsed for a special Independence Day performance set for Thursday.

At least 120 paratroopers will parachute along the beaches of Ashkelon to salute the IDF as part of the celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of establishment of the State of Israel, according to the IDF.

Over the past weekend 150 foreign paratroopers representing armies from around the world arrived in Israel. Among them are paratroopers from the US, England, France, Spain, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Singapore, South Africa, Canada, Greece, Italy and Switzerland.

The group was first introduced to the IDF Parachuting School Sunday night and formally entered Tel Nof base at 8 a.m. Monday morning, where senior foreign officers met with the commander of the parachuting school, Col. Dror Paltin and other senior officers.

IDF paratroopers trained together with their foreign counterparts on jumps at sea Monday afternoon at Palmachim beach in preparation for Thursday's event. Israeli paratroopers in the "Oketz" unit then briefed their foreign colleagues on the capabilities of their group.

The day's events were reportedly followed by a full military ceremony in which Greek paratroopers were to lay laurels at the IDF Paratroopers' Memorial. And a Dutch paratrooper, Jesper Nels, the grandson of Righteous Gentiles, planted an olive tree next to the memorial and met the family of the man who was saved by his grandfather.

The foreign paratroopers are also expected to participate in memorial ceremonies elsewhere in Israel, including Ashkelon, Yad Mordechai, Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem and Latrun.

Their trip won't be all work and no play, however – the military guests will also be taken to visit technological farms, view the latest technological advances in the development of the Negev at Revivim and Sde Boker and enjoy a jeep tour in the desert.

The foreign paratroopers will also visit Jerusalem and follow in the footsteps of the Jerusalem Brigade that fought in the 1967 Six Day War. One of the participants, a French Foreign Legionnaire named Yoni, is named after Yoni Netanyahu, the commander who was killed in the legendary Entebbe rescue operation. He will be allowed to fulfill his dream and be given the chance to wear the IDF's Paratrooper wings.

Poll: Virtually All Israeli Jews like Living in Israel


More than 90 percent of Israeli Jews think that living in Israel is good, according to a new poll published in the Hebrew newspaper Yediot Aharonot Monday. Only nine percent responded that living is Israel is not good. Seventy percent also said they are not embarrassed at being Israeli. Of those who are embarrassed, a plurality said the reason is Israeli politicians.

Responding to a question about the biggest personal-national crisis they experienced in Israel, 12 percent cited the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, and 17 percent noted the expulsion of Jews and the destruction of their communities in Gush Katif and northern Samaria.

Oldest Immigrant Couple to Israel Wed


Ya'akov Manlun, 97, and his wife Orah, 88, new immigrants from the Benei Menashe Tribe of India, were wed Friday in a lavish ceremony joined by many guests in Kiryat Arba.

Ya'akov and Orah have been married for almost 70 years, and have recently made aliyah to Israel. The couple concluded their conversion process days ago and asked to be remarried under the Law of Moses.

Ya'akov is the oldest oleh from the Benei Menashe Tribe of India, as well as one of the oldest immigrants to ever make aliyah. The couple immigrated to Israel last year with the help of Shavei Israel, an outreach organization assisting "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish homeland.

The couple, who have waited nearly 15 years to receive permission to make aliyah, have nine children (three of whom also made aliyah), and nearly 70 grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren living in Israel and India.

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