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Rabbi Pinchas Punturello Is Shavei Israel’s Emissary to Southern Italy and Sicily

Rabbi Pinchas Punturello, 36, has been appointed to serve as the new emissary for the Shavei Israel organization in southern Italy and Sicily.  He will serve as the area’s chief rabbi and will work to strengthen the local Jewish community, while also reaching out to the Bnei Anousim (whom historians refer to by the derogatory term Marranos) throughout the area, many of whom are looking to reconnect with the Jewish people.

Shavei Israel is undertaking this project in conjunction with the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, the official umbrella organization of Italian Jewry.  This is the first time that a rabbi has been appointed to work specifically with the Bnei Anousim of southern Italy and Sicily.

“This is a direct result of the expansion of our activity throughout southern Italy in light of the growing desire of Bnei Anousim to reconnect with Jewish life,” said Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund.  “In recent years, a growing number of Bnei Anousim in southern Italy have begun rediscovering their Jewish roots and expressing a desire to draw closer to Israel and the Jewish people.  It is incumbent upon us to reach out to them and help them to do so.”

“The Bnei Anousim in southern Italy need to be helped from a cultural point of view, as well as in a spiritual way, and we are here to guide them in this journey”, said Rabbi Punterello.  “After all, to come home after 500 or 600 years is not easy, but it’s wonderful.”

Rabbi Punturello was born in Naples in 1977 and first studied with his teacher Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, president of the Assembly of Italian Rabbis and Av Bet Din (head of the rabbinical court) of northern Italy.  Subsequently, he studied at various yeshivot in Jerusalem, including Bet Midrash Sephardi in Jerusalem, and completed his rabbinical studies at Yeshivat HaMivtar of Efrat, Gush Etzion.  He served as rabbi of the Jewish Community of Naples, Italy, from 2004 to 2010 and was the small congregations activities coordinator for the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI).  Rabbi Punterello was also a lecturer at Universita’ Degli Studi “Federico II”, Facolta’ Di Lettere E Filosofia, Naples, as well as at Universita’ Degli Studi Di Salerno, Facolta’ Di Giurisprudenza.  He received his Masters in Political Science from Universita “L’Orientale,” Naples, Italy.  He is fluent in Italian, Hebrew and English, and conversant in French, and Spanish.  Rabbi Punterello currently lives in Jerusalem with his wife, Giulia Gallichi, and their 4 children.

Rabbi Punterello will work to expand Shavei Israel’s activities throughout Italy, which will include: convening seminars and symposiums for the Bnei Anousim, organizing prayer services and regular classes on Jewish subjects, publishing newsletters and other Italian-language material on Jewish topics and distributing them among various communities in southern Italy; as well as providing assistance with the aliyah, conversion and absorption processes for those members of the community who choose to immigrate to Israel.

He will also head the “SUD ITALIA” project organized by Shavei Israel and UCEI, Union of Italian Jewish Communities, aims to recover traditional, spiritual and religious rights of all groups, families and individuals, in Puglia, Sicily, Calabria and Campania who are rediscovering their origins and need help.

Southern Italy, much like Spain and South America, cries out for its Jewish past. After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, many of them sought refuge in Naples, Puglia, Sicily and Calabria.  They included Don Isaac Abarbanel, the great Torah scholar and Biblical commentator who also served as finance minister to Spanish King Ferdinand, along with his family.  But when the Spanish monarchs captured the region in 1510, a series of further persecutions began, which included forced conversions and expulsions.

The Inquisition was active in the area for centuries and burned Marranos and conversos until 1700 and possibly later.  But the Bnei Anousim of the area clung to their Jewish identity handing it down from one generation to the next, and nowadays it is their descendants who are beginning to return.

The Jewish presence in Sicily dates back some two thousand years.  Some historians say the first Jews were brought there as slaves by the victorious Roman legions during the Second Temple period.  The community steadily grew in the ensuing centuries despite various periods of persecution, and produced an array of great scholars and rabbis.  Towards the end of the 14th century, Sicily’s Jews were confined to ghettos and faced increasingly harsh decrees as well as massacres and forced conversions to Catholicism.  At the time, Sicily was under the control of the Spanish crown and in 1492, the anti-Semitic measures reached their peak with the Edict of Expulsion, which ordered the remaining Jews to leave.

There were 52 Jewish communities spread out across Sicily, numbering at least 37,000 people.  Many left by December 31, 1492, but large numbers of forcibly-converted Jews were compelled to remain behind, where they suffered under the heavy hand of the Inquisition.  The first auto-da-fe in Sicily took place in Palermo in June 1511, when the Inquisitors executed nine Sicilian Bnei Anousim for secretly practicing Judaism.

Shavei Israel is a non-profit organization founded by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the aim of strengthening ties between the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world.  The organization is currently active in nine countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India; the Bnai Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South America; the Subbotnik Jews of Russia; the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China; the “Hidden Jews” of Poland from the Holocaust era and others. For more information visit: www.shavei.org

“Six Million Coins” Initiative Aids Holocuast Survivors in Need

Once imprisoned in concentration camps across Eastern Europe, thousands of Holocaust survivors are again struggling day to day – except now it’s against the grim reality of economics.  For these survivors, as well as some rescuers, Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles are jointly launching an initiative, Six Million Coins™, to raise critical funds for those in need and, concurrently, to educate young people about genocide and to honor the six million lives lost in the Holocaust.

Launching April 7, 2013, on Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah), and continuing until the next commemoration on April 27, 2014, the Six Million Coins™ initiative will see the distribution of more than 25,000 tzedakah boxes throughout Southern California, with the goal of collecting six million coins.  Participants can deposit coins they collect into a special, 8-foot-high tzedakah box located at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Simi Valley.  All proceeds will be distributed to six charities assisting survivors and rescuers in need of basic necessities, such as food and rent; they are Beit Tzedek, Bikur Cholim’s Holocaust Survivors Program (HSAP), Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, Survivors of the Holocaust Program, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, the Survivor Mitzvah Project and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Vulnerable Survivor Support Fund.

The initiative launches with a Yom HaShoah Memorial Service at Mount Sinai Simi Valley, at 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 7, where names of the six million will start to be read.  Following the service, there will be a panel of survivors and distinguished Holocaust educators moderated by Steven Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, discussing worldwide tolerance.  For two weeks after Yom HaShoah 2013, names will also be read by children and family members at local Los Angeles schools and synagogues.  The reading of the names will be streamed live through a dedicated website, www.sixmillioncoins.org, where visitors can obtain more information and request a tzedakah box.

The Six Million Coins™ initiative is supported through alliances with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, USC Shoah Foundation –The Institute for Visual History and Education, local synagogues, schools and other organizations.

Meet Famous Rebbitzen at the Mikveh

“Making a Good Relationship Magical” is the title of the Irvine Community Mikveh Fundraiser with Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, author of The Committed Life and The Committed Marriage. Area women are invited to hear a talk by Rebiitzen Jungreis, have sushi and buy a copy of the books on April 21 at 6:30 p.m.

Rebbitzen Jungreis is the founder of the international Hineni movement in America.  A Holocaust survivor, she has made it her life’s mission to bring back Jews to traditional Judaism.

The event – which is $54 per person, $108 for silver sponsors, $180 for gold sponsors and $540 for platinum sponsors (for two) – will be at Congregation Beth Jacob, 3900 Michelson Drive, Irvine.  For information or reservations, contact the congregation at (949) 786-5230 or bethjacobirvine.org.

Billy Elliot Comes to Segerstrom

Universal Pictures Stage Productions, Working Title Films, Old Vic Productions and

NETworks Presentations, LLC bring the multi-award-winning Billy Elliot the Musical to Segerstrom Center for the Arts from April 16 to 28. Based on the international smash-hit film and featuring music by Elton John, book and lyrics by Lee Hall, choreography by Peter Darling and direction by Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot the Musical has earned critical acclaim around the world and was the winner of ten 2009 Tony Awards including Best Musical.

Two of the boys who star as Billy are Jewish as is the actress who portrays Debbie.  They include:

NOAH PARETS (Billy), 13, hails from Massachusetts and started dancing at age 7.  He studied ballet, tap, jazz and modern at The Gold School, Brockton, Massachusetts, where he danced with Project Moves Dance Company.  Parets has received many accolades including American Dance Awards’ Junior Male Dancer of the Year 2011.

MITCHELL TOBIN (Billy), 12, is from Boca Raton, Florida. He began dancing at 3 and has since received numerous accolades and won several national titles.  He is very honored for the opportunity to play Billy Elliot, his dream role.

SAMANTHA BLAIRE CUTLER (Debbie) is thrilled to tour withBilly.  Favorite Regional credits: Annie (Molly), Seussical (JoJo), White Christmas (Susan Waverly),Beauty and the Beast (Chip), A Wonderful Life (ZuZu). Film: Mystery at Locust Grove (Lydia).

Single tickets start at $20 and are available online at SCFTA.org, at the Box Office at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa or by calling (714) 556-2787.  For inquiries about group ticket savings for 10 or more, call the Group Services office at (714) 755-0236.  The TTY number is (714) 556-2746. The 2 p.m. performance on Saturday, April 27, will include audio description, open captioning and sign-language interpretation.

ORT Ammerica Elects National President

Linda S. Kirschbaum of Highland Park, Illinois, was elected to a three-year term as national president of ORT America during the organization’s annual meeting on March 10 in Santa Monica.

In her inaugural speech, Kirschbaum said that “The global ORT mission – Educate and Elevate – has never been more relevant.” In Israel alone, she added, “our Science Journey (Kadima Mada) programs have literally turned around school matriculation rates and entire communities in the country’s periphery.  The newly installed ORT America board, Next Generation leadership and leadership around the country are energized to do all we can to assure that this generation of Jewish youngsters around the world will have the 21st century skills they need for a life of dignity and hope.”

Kirschbaum also said she would work closely with the organization’s national executive director, Alan E. Klugman, and newly-elected chair of the executive committee, Larry Kadis (Cleveland, Ohio), to further ORT’s mission.  “The newly installed national board of directors and officers are made up of innovative, creative, forward-thinking individuals who bring a wide variety of skill sets,” Kirschbaum said.  “I look forward to working with them to enhance ORT’s worldwide programs, services and activities and ensure that we always connect with our supporters in creative and meaningful ways.”

A member of Women’s American ORT for nearly 25 years in the Metropolitan Chicago Region, Mrs. Kirschbaum served on the organization’s board of directors and executive committee and has held numerous local and national leadership positions.  She has traveled extensively on missions, visiting ORT schools and programs in Argentina, Cuba, Israel and throughout the United States.  A member of World ORT’s board of representatives, she is also past chair of the Zarem/Golde ORT Technical Institute (Skokie, Illinois).

Kirschbaum served on the restructuring committee, which helped Women’s American ORT (WAO) and American ORT to merge into ORT America.  She was chair of WAO’s Young Leadership and a graduate of its first President’s Young Leadership Council (PYLC).  Today, she is a strong advocate or ORT’s Next Generation program.

A graduate of Northwestern University with a BA in Economics, and the University of Michigan with an MBA in marketing, Kirschbaum has had 10 years of experience as a marketing and strategic planning consultant with Fortune 500 companies in the food industry, before deciding to stay home to raise a family. She and her husband, Howard, have two adult children, Joanna and Brian.

ABOUT ORT AMERICA: ORT America is a Jewish organization committed to strengthening communities throughout the world by educating people against all odds and obstacles.  ORT America supports a global network of schools and training programs that reach throughout the United States, Latin America, Israel, Europe, the Baltic and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Africa, fulfilling the dreams and aspirations of 300,000 young people in 54 countries every day.  For more details visit www.ORTamerica.org, facebook.com/ORTamerica and twitter.com/ORTamerica.

ADL Honors Law Enforcement Personnel

The Anti-Defamation League conferred the “Helene & Joseph Sherwood Family Prize for Combating Hate” to two individuals and three law enforcement units at an awards ceremony on March 12 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.  The Sherwood Prize is awarded to law enforcement personnel who are committed to combating extremism, hatred and bigotry and make a significant difference in their communities.

“This year’s honorees have taken extraordinary steps to improve our communities,” said Melissa Carr, director of ADL’s Orange County/Long Beach Region.  “All three group honorees demonstrate a high level of understanding of the importance of addressing hate crimes aggressively and swiftly.  Both individual honorees have made it their life’s work to become experts in local hate groups and extremists, providing critical evidence to get these vicious haters off the streets.”

Speakers at the awards ceremony included victims directly affected by these crimes.  ADL honored the following law enforcement personnel who have gone “above and beyond” in their efforts to combat hate:

2013 Group Award Honorees

Northridge Maple Syrup Swastika Investigation and Prosecution

Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office

Deputy City Attorney Ayelet Feiman

Los Angeles Police Department

Detective Ray Webb

After the Northridge home of a Jewish family was vandalized with human feces, swastikas and the word “Jew” drawn in maple syrup, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles Police Department felt it imperative that the public recognize that such acts would not be tolerated.  While the juvenile perpetrators were sent to a teen court program, the prosecutors could find no basis for criminal charges.  Finally, through diligent investigation and innovative prosecution tactics, LAPD and the City Attorney’s office were able to charge the mother of one of the perpetrators with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.  The defendant was convicted, sentenced and ordered to perform community service in the community she had harmed.

Church of Latter Day Saints Vandalism Investigation

Riverside County Sheriff’s Department – Jurupa Valley Station

Sergeant Samuel Flores;  Investigator Angel Gasparini; Lieutenant Zachary Hall; Deputy Steven Lycopolus; Corporal Christopher Mattson

When a Church of Latter Day Saints in Jurupa Valley was vandalized with swastikas, anarchist and anti-religious epithets, and satanic symbols, the law enforcement professionals at Jurupa Valley Station of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department immediately recognized the severity of the crime and the impact that it had on the Mormon community.  By the day following the crime, officers had a suspect’s confession and had recovered stolen church property from the suspect’s possession.

Cross Burning Investigation and Prosecution

Arroyo Grande Police Department

Detective Erik Jensen

Commander Beau Pryor

San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office

Deputy District Attorney Dave Pomeroy

Assistant Chief Investigator Mark Vallely

After an 11-foot tall wooden cross, stolen from an area church, was burned on a property adjacent to the residence of a mixed race family, the investigation of this incident quickly became a top priority for the Arroyo Grande officers assigned to this case.  As a result of the in-depth investigation, four suspects were identified and felony charges brought by the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office.  During the trial, it was shown the suspects had ties to the white supremacist movement.  The comprehensive investigation and prosecution led to guilty verdicts with hate crime penalty enhancements.

2013 Individual Award Honorees

Deputy Ashraf “Ash” Abdelmuti

Orange County Sheriff’s Department – Gang Enforcement Team

Committed to gaining an unparalleled subject matter expertise on the issue of white racist gangs, Deputy Abdelmuti has built a reputation among his colleagues of selflessness, professionalism and teamwork.  He uses his expertise as Orange County’s leading court expert in prosecutions of white racist street and prison gangs, and has been the driving force in dozens of criminal cases against some of Southern California’s most notorious white racist gangs, including Public Enemy Number One, Orange County Skins and La Mirada Punks.  On many occasions, Deputy Abdelmuti provided essential intelligence during criminal investigations that led to successful prosecutions.

Detective Dan Swanson

Simi Valley Police Department

Going above and beyond the workload of a typical investigator, Major Crimes Detective Swanson has spent many hours of his own time researching various aspects of white supremacist ideology, with a focus on racist skinheads.  This passion has allowed him to not only become an expert witness in criminal cases involving white supremacists, but to impart his knowledge to other law enforcement professionals through classes and seminars.  Detective Swanson is committed to teaching as many law enforcement personnel as possible about this hateful ideology so that they are better equipped to handle cases of bias and bias-related violence.

The honorees were selected from many nominations received from throughout Southern California.  The Sherwood Prize was created in 1996 by Joe and Helene Sherwood, founders of family owned and operated Daniel’s Jewelers, to recognize those in the law enforcement community that go above and beyond their job descriptions in combating extremism, bigotry, and hatred.

The Helene and Joseph Sherwood Family Prize recognizes law enforcement officers, units, agencies or programs that:

  • Demonstrate an outstanding commitment to combating extremism, bigotry and hatred by performing acts outside the normal scope of duties.
  • Make an impact on victims of hate crimes or bias-motivated incidents.
  • Provide opportunities for education to reduce hate crimes and bias motivated activity.
  • Use innovative approaches to enforce or prosecute hate crime laws.
  • Make a significant difference in their community and served as a role model for his or her agency.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is one of the nation’s premier human relations and civil rights organizations, fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry of all kinds.  ADL celebrates its Centennial in 2013 with the theme Imagine a World Without Hate™.  Visit the website www.adl.org.

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