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Israel Launches `Virtual Embassy' for Arabs in the Gulf States


Israel's Foreign Ministry has launched a virtual embassy for Arab social media users in the Gulf States. The social media page, which has been reactivated, is aimed at advancing the dialogue between Israel and the peoples of the Gulf States, against the background of the growing interest in Israel by Arabic-language surfers and their positive reactions to the Jewish State. "We are pleased to announce the re-launching of the `Israel in the Gulf' page to promote dialogue between Israel and the peoples of the Gulf," the Twitter account stated. "We hope that this virtual embassy will contribute towards deepening the understanding between the peoples of the Gulf States and the people of Israel in various fields." This latest move is part of the Foreign Ministry's Digital Diplomacy, which includes several pages on social media platforms in Arabic and pages in Persian on popular platforms used by Iranians. These pages have a total of hundreds of thousands of followers, and the content published in the Persian language goes every week to more than two million readers. On the Arabic-language platforms, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has accumulated hundreds of millions of video views since the beginning of 2017. "Israel in Arabic" shares information related to current political and security developments, but its primary purpose is to use social media to share a side of Israel that is seldom shown in the Arab world, the Ministry has explained. Israel in Arabic achieves this goal by providing followers with a wealth of information and video content, covering a myriad of aspects of Israeli history, politics, culture, and society, it says. The Digital Diplomacy Arabic Language team uses many creative and interactive approaches to share content with users, including infographics, videos, photographs, and caricatures. One of the most successful examples of this is a series called Din and Hassan in which Din – a Jewish Israeli – and Hassan – a Muslim Israeli – teach Arabic followers the Hebrew language. The series was created after the team received numerous requests from individuals interested in learning Hebrew. Since the beginning of 2017, there has been an 87% increase in the number of followers on Instagram and a 34% increase in the number of followers on Twitter. The number of YouTube viewers on the Foreign Ministry's channel has doubled. Israel in Arabic's success has traveled well beyond the confines of Facebook, earning coverage within the Arabic media and attracting the attention of government officials across the Middle East. Hamas has even warned Gazans against using these pages. Israel MFA maintains more than 800 online channels in 50 languages.

Record High Anti-Semitic incidents in the UK for 2018

By the Jerusalem Post
The UK saw record levels of anti-Semitic incidents throughout 2018, the Community Security Trust (CST) has reported in its annual review, forming a three-year sequence of record-breaking levels of antisemitism in the country. According to the CST – a Jewish community organization that works in cooperation with the UK police – there were 1,652 reported incidents of anti-Semitism, a 16% rise from the 1,420 anti-Semitic incidents recorded by CST in 2017, which was itself a record annual total, as was the total of 1,375 incidents for 2016. President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Marie van der Zyl described the figures as "very worrying for Jews living in the UK." She added: "Overall, the UK remains a happy place for its Jewish community, but this report shows that there is no room for complacency. Defeating the evil of anti-Semitism will take a concerted effort by the country's political leadership – in all parties – and civil society. We must strive to make our country a just, safe and respectful society. There can be no room for racism and hatred." Despite the general rise in incidents, violent anti-Semitic attacks were down 17% from 2017, with 123 violent attacks against Jews motivated by anti-Semitism in 2018, down from 149 the previous year, although this included one incident of "extreme violence," where the attack could potentially have led to loss of life. The CST noted that whereas previous record levels of anti-Semitic incidents occurred in years when Israel had engaged in armed conflict in Gaza leading to a spike in attacks against UK Jews, the last three years have witnessed no such military campaigns and that there was, therefore, no single cause in these record highs of anti-Jewish sentiment. But the organization did point out that the months with the highest levels of anti-Semitic incidents appeared to correlate with periods in which debate over allegations within the UK Labour Party was at its most intense. "These periods saw an increased number of incidents directly related to those debates, while the increased attention paid to the issue of anti-Semitism is likely to have emboldened offenders and encouraged victims to report more incident," the CST report says. The organization said it recorded 148 incidents in 2018 that were examples of or related to arguments over, alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, of which 49 were recorded in August 2018.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein who Built Bridges with Evangelicals Dead at 67

By World Israel News

At the age of 67, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein suddenly died from heart failure on Wednesday. His funeral is set for Thursday in Jerusalem. Eckstein leaves behind the organization he founded in 1983 and helped build, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ). In his role as president of the IFCJ, Eckstein raised hundreds of millions of dollars to aid Jewish communities in Israel and across the world, focusing on improving the plight of impoverished Jews wherever they are found. Eckstein also earned a reputation as a trailblazing bridge-builder, connecting with Evangelical Christians and helping them show support for Israel through their contributions to Jewish causes. Throughout his career, Eckstein helped the IFCJ raise more than $1.4 billion. Among the causes Eckstein devoted special attention to were Holocaust survivors, impoverished seniors, orphans, IDF soldiers, and new immigrants to Israel. The IFCJ remains instrumental in providing food packages to these demographics during holiday times, in addition to funding bomb shelters near the Gaza and Lebanon borders and providing critical medical equipment to Israeli hospitals. Notwithstanding the over $1.4 billion he raised for various causes, Eckstein faced criticism from certain figures within the Jewish community who were uncomfortable with forming close ties with Evangelicals.

Survey: Israeli Couples Have a Lot of Sex

By the Jerusalem Post
Israeli couples have a lot of sex, according to a new survey by the Adler Institute in Kfar Saba. The annual survey of more than 500 married couples with at least one child was released on Tuesday. The survey shows that close to half (47%) of couples have relations at least once a week, more than couples in most of the Western world. A study of more than 20,000 US couples by Dr. David Schnarch found that only 26% are hitting the once-a-week mark, with most of the respondents reporting having sex only once or twice a month. Other studies, however – such as one done in 2008 by the University of Chicago Press – showed that married couples are having sex about seven times a month, which is a little less than twice a week. According to the Adler study, around one-third of couples (34.4%) have intercourse once or twice per week, 8.8% three to five times per week and 4% do it daily. Some 18% have sex less than once weekly. Does all this sex help Israeli couples fight less? Not according to the statistics. More than a fifth (21.3%) of couples said that they fight at least once or twice per week and 15.1% said they fight at least once a month. Couples, according to the study, quarrel largely over balancing work and home activities (32.1%) and over issues with their children (25.5%). Some 14% say they fight about finances. Despite the fighting, the study found that four-fifths (80%) of Israeli couples are very satisfied with their relationships and enjoy spending time together. Some 22.7% go out together at least once a week, 31.1% go out less than once a week but more than once a month, and 24.5% go out together up to once per month. However, Israeli couples say they rarely speak to each other face-to-face – presumably outside of their outings and sexual encounters. Regarding their preferred means of communication, more than three-fifths (60.8%) of Israeli couples say they do not communicate directly but rather via WhatsApp or phone calling (33.3% WhatsApp, 25.1% mobile calls, 2.4% landline calls and 38.4% face-to-face). And nearly all Israelis (90%) perceive themselves as being good or very good parents. Institute director-general Osnat Harel said Adler conducts a survey annually to understand parents' attitudes about their relationships better. "The home is the training ground for life – and the children absorb the atmosphere, values and beliefs, and from this develop their own style," Harel said. "The surveys we conduct each year enable us to build programs… to help people improve and grow in their relationships." The survey included a representative sample of the adult, Hebrew-speaking population ages 18 and over.

I was Barred from Becoming a Foster Parent Because I am Jewish

By Lydia Currie (JTA Commentary)

GREENVILLE, S.C. — When my father was 7 years old, he was placed in an orphanage. His own father had died and his mother's mental illness prevented her from caring for him. Growing up, I heard his stories of "kid prison," as he called it, and I dreamed of someday becoming a foster parent able to take children out of an institution and offer them a family. In the spring of 2010, my husband and I were raising our three young biological children when we decided we were ready to foster. We had so much abundance and capacity: room in our house, enough money, a very stable relationship, supportive extended family and plenty of love. I also was inspired by the core Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. We knew that the number of children needing care had become a crisis in our state, South Carolina and that older children were being warehoused in modern-day orphanages. Boys with a history in the system are hard to place in families because of the assumption that they might be violent, and we decided that we wanted to give one of them a home. My husband and I initially reached out to the adoptions division of the state Department of Social Services office in Greenville County. However, the agency was backlogged, with expected wait times of about a year for a foster-adoptive license. The director suggested that we work with a private agency, Miracle Hill, which had an orphanage full of school-aged boys and would be able to move forward right away. But when I requested Miracle Hill's application, I learned that we were barred because of our religion. The agency only accepts Protestant Christian families. This publicly subsidized foster program is unwilling to place children with Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist and agnostic would-be parents. Their initial screening form, now available online, asks for the contact information of your pastor and that you testify to your salvation in the text box provided. Miracle Hill, which licenses foster families in 11 counties, is denying children access to loving families despite the fact that the state is paying the agency to find families for children who desperately need them – and our president has decided that's perfectly fine. On Jan. 24, the Trump administration granted a request by the governor of South Carolina to issue a waiver of federal regulations that prohibit federal funding for agencies that discriminate based on faith requirements. This means that agencies like Miracle Hill will be allowed to continue rejecting families – and they're not alone. Some eight states have passed laws that permit state-contracted, taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies to use religious criteria to exclude prospective foster and adoptive parents. Other states are now considering similar measures. In Philadelphia, a government-contracted foster care agency sued the city, claiming a constitutional right to exclude families that don't meet their religious criteria – specifically, same-sex couples. The district court rejected that claim, but the case is pending before a federal appeals court. There are thousands of children in foster care across our country who are and will be affected by the exclusion of good families based on religious requirements. For them, the time lost to an institution instead of spent with a loving family could alter the course of their lives. In 2012 – two years after deciding to foster – my husband and I were finally able to welcome an older child to our family through Greenville County's partnership with another private agency. We brought home a 9-year-old boy who had been living in an institution. In 2017, we began fostering a daughter, who also came from an institution. Even the best institution leaves marks. When he first came to us, our son would scrunch up into a tiny ball or chew his fist when presented with a routine sibling conflict. Our daughter would smack kids who were nearby when she was passed a plate of snacks and then gorge herself until her stomach hurt. In South Carolina, orphanages and foster parents have tremendous authority over the religious lives of the children placed with them. Foster children are expected to attend religious services and celebrate holidays according to the custom of the adults who are caring for them. For us, this simply meant that the children in our care attended our synagogue's Sunday school rather than the Christian equivalent. They were not expected to become Jewish, only to participate fully in the life of their Jewish foster mom and siblings. Our daughter, who had been baptized Catholic in her infancy, was forcibly converted to the Baptist faith at age 7 and was sent to an evangelical orphanage. While she was living there, many special treats (McDonald's, Easter baskets, Christmas parties, and field trips) were provided only for the kids who agreed to attend "optional" church services and vacation Bible camps. Our daughter is now at the age where she enjoys fantasy-planning her bat mitzvah party, but we still have not formally converted her to Judaism. She has been coerced so much in her short life by adults who thought that they knew God's will for her. We would rather have a child who is not Jewish than a child who became Jewish as some bargain – her soul for our love and protection. Our love and protection are freely given, no strings attached. All children in foster care deserve that same gift. Children are resilient – it's amazing what a stable, loving home can do. Our son is now 15 and thriving; he loves sci-fi and video games and is training to become a professional dancer. Our family recently moved to Philadelphia so he could live with us while he attends the prestigious Rock School for Dance Education. After some homeschooling, our daughter has returned to public school and is making good progress. Slowly, with our consistent love and discipline, she is learning to trust. We have adopted both children. Unfortunately, Greenville County's partnership with the agency we used did not last, and Miracle Hill is now the only private agency in the Greenville area to serve children without special needs. I adore my children and wouldn't alter the path that brought them to us. But I often think about the other older children who were waiting for families, the ones in Miracle Hill institutions whom we could have loved if we had not been rejected because of our faith. I wonder what happened to them — and whether they are still waiting. (Lydia Currie spent a decade living in South Carolina, where she served as a foster parent. She now lives in Philadelphia, where she is a member of Congregation Kol Tzedek.)

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