A look at some of the national and international stories that made the headlines in the Jewish world this year.
• Israel – in collaboration with the U.S. – successfully tested the Arrow 3 missile interceptor system, meant to defend the country against long-range missiles, on Jan. 3.
• Ariel Sharon, 11th prime minster of the State of Israel, died Jan. 11. Sharon served as prime minster from 2001 until 2006, when a massive stroke left him in a comatose state until his death.
• French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, who has been accused of anti-Semitism in connection with his Nazi-style “quenelle” salute, canceled his planned nationwide “The Wall” tour after several cities banned his show.
• SodaStream, the popular Israeli carbonated drinks company, announced that Jewish-American actress Scarlett Johansson would be its “global brand ambassador.” Oxfam International, a human rights group that Johansson was involved with, took issue with her deal due to its opposition to “all trade from Israeli settlements.” Undeterred, Johansson resigned from Oxfam and kicked off the new partnership by appearing in SodaStream’s $4 million Super Bowl ad.
• The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) pulled “People, Book, Land –The 3,500-Year Relationship of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel,” a Simon Wiesenthal Center exhibit after the Arab League objected to the display.
• A Polish municipal prosecutor ruled that chants by Polish League soccer fans calling for Jews to be sent to gas chambers were not criminally racist. Fans of the Lech Poznan soccer club shouted “move on Jews,” “your home is at Auschwitz,” and “send you to the gas [chamber]” in a match in September 2013.
• The Taglit-Birthright Israel program expanded eligibility for its free 10-day trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18-26. According to the change, teenagers who went on an educational trip to Israel during high school can now go on Birthright after previously being ineligible.
• January saw an increase in Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza. The IDF said Gaza terrorists launched 28 rockets at Israel, starting at the beginning of 2014. Of the 28 rockets, 14 landed in southern Israel and five were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, said the IDF.
• Abraham H. Foxman announced on Feb. 10 that he would step down from his position as national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on July 20, 2015, bringing to a close a 50-year career in Jewish communal service.
• Google purchased its fifth Israeli company, the Tel Aviv-based start-up SlickLogin, whose technology verifies and authenticates user identity (when logging onto a website) by using an audio signal sent through a smartphone app.
• Four Korean tourists and their Egyptian driver were killed on a bus that arrived in Taba after touring the St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox monastery in the central Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptian Interior Ministry said. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis – an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group – claimed responsibility for the bus attack.
• Kosher slaughter became illegal in Denmark on Feb. 17. “Animal rights precede religious rights, I am for religious slaughter, but it must be done in a way that does not bring pain to the animal. This can be accomplished only by stunning,” Danish Food and Agriculture Minister Dan Jorgensen told reporters.
• Hundreds of copies of the Diary of Anne Frank, along with other books on the Holocaust, were found vandalized in libraries across Japan. According to reports, 31 municipal libraries across Japan had found at least 265 copies of the diary with pages torn or ripped out.
• Hundreds of people demonstrated outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, calling on the U.S. to release imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. The demonstrators held signs reading “Free Pollard” and “29 years, that’s enough.” A number of Knesset members took part in the demonstration.
• Jewish organizations set up emergency assistance for Ukraine’s roughly 200,000-member Jewish community amid ongoing political unrest there. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) provided assistance in areas of Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, to ensure that elderly Jews and people with disabilities receive essential supplies at home.
• Brooklyn College President Karen Gould apologized for the school’s forcible ejection of four pro-Israel Jewish students at an anti-Israel event hosted by the college last year.
• Saudi Arabia declared Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, Al-Arabiya reported. The move came amid a growing dispute in the Gulf as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors to Qatar over their support for the Muslim Brotherhood.
• The Egyptian army said it had destroyed 1,370 smuggling tunnels underneath the border between Egypt and Gaza. Egyptian authorities have accused Hamas of supporting jihadists in the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptian army has launched a massive military operation in the Sinai to target terror groups there.
• The Equal Sharing of the Burden Bill, which applies Israel’s mandatory national service requirement to haredim, was passed with an overwhelming majority in the Knesset. Under the newly passed law, a rising number of haredim would have to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces or carry out national service starting in 2017.
• Cornelius Gurlitt, who hoarded billions of dollars worth of Nazi-looted art, agreed to return all the works to their original owners or their descendants, many of whom were Jewish. The art works were discovered in February 2012 when German police raided Gurlitt’s Munich apartment as part of an investigation into possible tax evasion. Gurlitt got the art from his father, who had been a buyer and seller of the so-called “degenerate art” on Hitler’s orders during the Nazi era.
• The release of jailed Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard is now “out of the mix” as a measure to extend the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, a senior U.S. official told The Washington Post on April 2.
• An Israeli-Arab microbiologist and mother of three won the fourth season of Israel’s most popular reality TV show, “MasterChef.” Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, 32, who holds a PhD in microbiology and is from the Israeli-Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, said she plans to use the prize money to open up an Arab-Jewish cooking school.
• After facing growing pressure from faculty members, students, and an outside Muslim advocacy group, Brandeis University rescinded its decision to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women’s rights activist and critic of Islam. In light of the school’s past decisions to honor playwright/screenwriter Tony Kushner and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, who have both made anti-Israel or anti-Semitic remarks, some accused Brandeis of applying a double standard by rescinding Hirsi Ali’s honor for her remarks on Islam.
• American-Jewish prisoner Alan Gross, who had been held in Cuba since late 2009, went on a hunger strike to protest his treatment by both the Cuban and American governments. Gross, whose work as a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development entailed helping the Cuban Jewish community access the Internet, was given a 15-year prison term for what Cuba called “crimes against the state.”
• On Erev Passover, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City was the site of a shooting spree by Frazier Glenn Cross, a self-proclaimed anti-Semite. Three Christians were murdered.
• The Jewish mayor of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, was shot in the back by an unidentified gunman on April 26. Gennady Kernes, 54, was going for his morning swim when he was shot and was immediately rushed to a local hospital where doctors fought to save his life.
• Pink Floyd frontman and anti-Israel activist Roger Waters continued his campaign to encourage artists to boycott Israel, urging – unsuccessfully – the Rolling Stones to cancel a planned performance in Tel Aviv this past summer.
• Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented former N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg with the inaugural Genesis Prize on May 22, at a ceremony held at the Jerusalem Theatre, emceed by comedian Jay Leno and attended by international dignitaries, Nobel laureates and business leaders from around the globe.
• Figures released by the Jewish Agency for Israel on May 12 showed that French immigration to Israel has quadrupled in the first quarter of 2014. “This phenomenon is speeding up,” said Ariel Kandel, head of the Jewish Agency’s French chapter, AFP reported. Kandel said anti-Semitism and the tough economic situation in France are driving the increase in emigration. Similarly, immigration to Israel from Ukraine, a country ravaged by political instability and fear of growing anti-Semitism, have risen nearly 142 percent in 2014 over 2013 numbers.
• An Israel divestment bill failed in the student senate of the University of California, Davis. The vote ended in a 5-5 tie with two abstentions. The student governments of San Diego State University and UC Barbara defeated similar bills. But the student government at UC Riverside narrowly voted in favor of divestment.
• Youngsters from the Ilan Ramon Youth Physics Center in Beersheba, Israel won yet another prize in the “First Step to Nobel Prize in Physics” annual competition, widely considered the world’s most prestigious science prize for high school students.
• Israeli underdog Maccabi Tel Aviv won its sixth European basketball title on May 18, with a 98-86 victory over Real Madrid in Milan.
• “Paris on the Water,” the final project by Tel Aviv University Master’s degree film student Hadas Ayalon, was named one of three winners in the foreign film category of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 41st Student Academy Awards competition.
• A gunman shot and killed four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels in May in a likely terrorist attack.
• On May 26, the final day of Pope Francis’ Mideast trip, the Pontiff visited the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, among other major sites in Jerusalem.
• Hamas terrorists kidnapped Israeli teenagers Gilad Shaar, 16, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, June 12, while they were hitchhiking home from school. After a three-week long search, their bodies were found in a field near Hebron. Their funerals were held July 1. Hamas terrorists Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh – who kidnapped and murdered the teens were killed Sept. 22, in a joint Israel Defense Forces, Israeli Police, and Shin Bet security agency operation in Hebron.
• As a sign of respect for observant Jews, the start time of the Rolling Stones June 4 concert in Tel Aviv was pushed back by half an hour to allow those observing the Shavuot holiday to arrive at the event comfortably after the holiday ended that evening.
• Israeli authorities arrested six Jewish suspects in the abduction and murder of Palestinian youth Mohammad Abu Khudair, in an attack thought to be in retribution for the murders of three Israeli teenagers in June.
• On July 8, rockets rained down on many communities across Israel, hours after the IDF called up 40,000 reservists and launched Operation Protective Edge to counter the rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.
• Israel launched a new 24-hour internet news channel broadcasting in English (also French and Arabic) from Tel Aviv. The link is: http://www.i24news.tv/en/tv/live.
• Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system became a media darling during the Jewish state’s current conflict with Hamas, with press around the world praising its ability to prevent civilian casualties. The Associated Press called the Iron Dome “a game-changer,” saying that not only does it prevent numerous civilian deaths, but it also provides “a much-needed sense of security on the home front.”
• A senior Israeli official accused the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) of returning 20 rockets discovered at one of the agency’s Gaza schools to Hamas. “The rockets were passed on to the government authorities in Gaza, which is Hamas. In other words, UNRWA handed to Hamas rockets that could well be shot at Israel,” the Israeli official told the Times of Israel.
• Former United States Senator Joseph I. Lieberman was appointed the Joseph Lieberman Chair in Public Policy and Public Service at Yeshiva University (YU) for the 2014-2015 academic year.
• The U.S. Senate on Aug. 1 passed $225 million in emergency funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The Senate initially blocked the funding amid disputes between Republicans and Democrats over the federal budget deficit.
• The British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s apologized for removing kosher food from the shelves of a London store. A manager at the Sainsbury’s Holborn branch in central London initially made the decision out of fear of looting and violence by anti-Israel protesters. But not all of the kosher foods sold at the store were made in Israel, and the decision garnered backlash.
• Time magazine retracted a claim made in a video that the IDF harvests organs of killed Palestinians, an unsubstantiated accusation that was blasted as a “blood libel” against Israel. In the video, which appeared inside a Time piece published online Aug. 23, the narrator stated that the “IDF is not without controversy” because “in 2009 a Swedish report came out exposing some Israeli troops of selling organs of Palestinians who died in their custody.” The Swedish report was published in the tabloid magazine Aftonbladet by reporter Donald Boström, who after being accused of anti-Semitism later said “whether it’s true or not – I have no idea, I have no clue.”
• A group of 187 celebrities – including Bill Maher, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Mayim Bialik, Minnie Driver, Kelsey Grammer, Seth Rogen, Tony Goldwyn, Roseanne Barr, Sarah Silverman, Sherry Lansing, Kathy Ireland and Haim Saban, – signed a letter condemning the “ideologies of hatred and genocide which are reflected in Hamas’s charter.” It comes on the heels of strongly pro-Israel statements by Jon Voight and Hollywood exec Ryan Kavanaugh, in response to anti-Israel statements released by other celebrities, most notably Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz.
• Eleven of 37 U.S. lawmakers who did not vote in favor of emergency aid for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system received a combined $92,387 from J Street’s political action committee (JStreetPAC).
• Jonathan Pollard was turned down for his first application for parole.
• Superstar Lady Gaga performed in front of 20,000 fans in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park, Sept. 13. Later, the singer was joined on stage by Tony Bennett. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists have been calling for entertainers to cancel performances in the country, but Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett went ahead with their performances.
• ReWalk Robotics, the Israeli company that developed an exoskeleton system enabling paralyzed people to walk again announced that it will go public on New York’s NASDAQ stock exchange and hopes to raise $50 million by offering 3.4 million shares in a price range of $14-$16.
• Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow is “quietly converting to Judaism,” The New York Post reported. The outlet’s gossip column, Page Six, reported that Paltrow is converting after following kabbalah for years. Paltrow’s late father, Bruce Paltrow, who died in 2002, was Jewish. Her mother, Blythe Danner, is Christian. The actress has said she was raised with both religions. The actress has reportedly said she wants to raise her two children in a Jewish environment.
• The IDF military court on Thursday, Sept. 4 indicted Hamas mastermind Hussam Kawasme for the kidnapping and murder of Israeli teenagers Gilad Shaar (16), Naftali Frenkel (16), and Eyal Yifrach (19) in June.
• The Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum unveiled a memorial dedicated to the 13,732 Jewish refugees who fled to the Chinese city during World War II.
• Israel signed a memorandum of understanding with Jordan that will make the Jewish state Jordan’s chief natural gas supplier. According to the memorandum, Israel informally agreed to supply the Hashemite Kingdom with $15 billion worth of natural gas over the next 15 years from its Leviathan offshore gas field.
• A new study conducted at Columbia University, based on the genetic sequencing of 128 Ashkenazi Jews, shows that modern Ashkenazi Jews descend from a small group of about 350 individuals who lived between 600 and 800 years ago. Those ancestors of current Ashkenazi Jews were both European and Middle Eastern, said the study, which was published Sept. 9 in the Nature Communications Journal.
• The Vatican joined 30 other nations in contributing to the historical preservation of Auschwitz. The Vatican said it will donate $127,000 to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, which seeks to raise $152 million to help preserve the remains of the notorious Nazi death camps.
• Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met in New York, marking the first meeting between top leaders of the two countries in more than a decade.
• A Jewish fraternity house at Emory University in Atlanta was targeted with anti-Semitic graffiti on the day after Yom Kippur, as swastikas were found spray-painted on Alpha Epsilon Pi’s walls Sunday morning, Oct. 5.
• Days after new Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven’s controversial declaration that his country would recognize a Palestinian state, Swedish Ambassador to Israel Carl Magnus Nesser said in a statement that there had been a misunderstanding and that such recognition would only follow extensive peace talks, rather than unilateral Palestinian actions.
• The American Jewish Committee (AJC) announced that it is partnering with IsraAID, a leading Israeli humanitarian relief organization, to provide assistance to Ebola victims in West Africa.
• Six Israeli swimmers broke the Guinness World Record for the longest open-water relay distance swim. The six swam 236 miles from Paphos port in Cyprus to Herzliya Marina in Israel. The event – called the Cyprus Israel Swim for Clean Seas – was held in cooperation with Zalul, an Israeli NGO devoted to keeping the sea clean, and was dedicated to raising awareness about marine pollution.
• Stem cell treatment developed by Israeli company BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics was designated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a “fast-track” treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease– is currently undergoing mid-stage clinical trials in Jerusalem and in the U.S.
• Jerusalem police stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque compound early Oct. 13, and prevented dozens of masked assailants from carrying out a planned attack, Israel Hayom reported.
• The new $96 million POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews opened on Oct. 28 on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The opening was attended by Samuel D. Kassow, Charles H. Northam Professor of History at Trinity College in Hartford, who served as a lead scholar on the museum.
• Tel Aviv-Jaffa was declared an international culinary capital in Saveur Magazine’s annual rankings of the world’s best food destinations.
• The Israeli cabinet on Sunday, Nov. 2 approved a law that will allow municipal rabbis to convert people to Judaism. Prospective converts will no longer need to go through Israel’s central rabbinical authority. The law is largely intended to facilitate the conversion of many immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union.
• Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah met secretly in Amman on Nov. 1 in an effort to ease tensions over the Temple Mount. The two leaders agreed to increase coordination between the Israeli government and the Jordanian Waqf, which oversees the Temple Mount site under the terms of the 1995 Israel-Jordan peace treaty.
• A record of more than $33 million was raised at the star-studded annual Friends of the Israel Defense Forces Western Region Gala in Beverly Hills, Calif.
• The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) announced on Nov. 6 that White House aide and social entrepreneur Jonathan Greenblatt will succeed Abraham Foxman as its national director.
• Four Israelis were killed in a terror attack during morning prayers at a Jerusalem synagogue. Two Palestinian assailants entered the synagogue and rabbinical seminary in the Har Nof neighborhood attacked worshippers on Nov. 18 with a gun, axes and knives. Three of those killed in the attack on the Bnei Torah Kehillat Yaakov synagogue were dual American and Israeli citizens. Police killed both assailants.
• The family of Steven Sotloff, the journalist who was beheaded by a member of ISIS, established “2Lives Steven,” a foundation that will provide scholarships for journalism students. The foundation will be managed by the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.
• Two Israeli films made the list of 10 finalists for best short film at next February’s 87th Academy Awards: “Aya” and “Summer Vacation,” or “Chofesh Hagadol” in Hebrew, is about a family who goes on vacation to a beautiful sunny island.
• Jordan’s parliament held a moment of silence for the two Palestinian terrorists who killed five people in a Jerusalem synagogue attack.
• In the wake of news that Jonathan Pollard collapsed in prison and was taken to a hospital, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Secretary of State John Kerry saying “Pollard’s life is in danger…After 30 years in prison, it’s time he should be released and live the rest of his life as a free man.” The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also urged President Obama to release Pollard following news of his collapse.
• Chabad-Lubavitch of California must pay nearly $850,000 in damages for misappropriating federal grant money, a U.S. court ruled.
• The Obama administration announced the release of Alan Gross amid sweeping changes in Cuba-U.S. ties, including a return to full diplomatic relations. Gross, 65, a Jewish-American contractor, was released Dec. 17.