Italy’s Only Female Rabbi Digs Up Hidden Jewish Roots

February 2014

aielloWhen Rabbi Barbara Aiello founded the synagogue Ner Tamid del Sud six years ago in Serrastretta, a mountain town of 3,600 in Italy’s Calabria region, there weren’t many self-identified Jews around. The closest congregation was in Naples, a four-hour drive away.

But Aiello—an Italian-American whose father was born in Serrastretta, and who moved from Florida back to her ancestral village in 2006—suspected many locals had Jewish roots, even if they didn’t know it.

“When I first got here, I would ask people, ‘Do you think you’re Jewish?’ and they would say ‘No,’ ” Aiello said recently, recalling her conversations with locals in Serrastretta and neighboring Calabrian towns. “Then I realized I was asking the wrong question. What I needed to ask was, ‘What did your family do when a baby was born? What did they do when a boy or a girl reached 13 years old? What did you do for mourning?’ Then people started to open up.”
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Obama Appeals to Skeptical Russians

Associated Press

Russia_ObamaMOSCOW – Barack Obama dolls have hit Moscow shelves and a bar is handing out half-price cocktails to anyone who says the magic words “Yes we can” in anticipation of the American president’s arrival here Monday for a summit.

“Obama has a wonderful smile, a face showing his self-confidence and clarity of mind,” says Tatyana Verkhova, who has reproduced Obama’s megawatt grin on a growing army of wooden Matryoshka nesting dolls.

But while Obama’s star power is generating buzz here, the enthusiasm doesn’t extend to Russian feelings about how he’s doing as president: In fact, a series of recent polls here show that most Russians are skeptical of the new U.S. leader and remain wary of his country. Read the story.

One Factory Russian Towns Clinging to Life

Associated Press

YASNOGORSK, Russia – Three decades ago, the Yasnogorsk Machine-Building Factory stamped out thousands of pounds of steel and iron into parts for wagons, pumps and locomotives for Russia’s mining industry.

Now two-thirds of its stamping and welding machines have been shut down. The old Soviet-era equipment is rusting, and fewer than 280 employees clock in every day — from a peak of 7,000. The factory that kept this town alive since the days of the czar is on its last breath, the victim of a global recession that has shaken Russia to the core. Read the story.

Russia’s Obama: No He Can’t, At Least Not Now

Associated Press

Russias ObamaSREDNYAYA AKHTUBA, Russia — An African-born farmer is making an improbable run for office in Russia, inspired by President Barack Obama and undaunted by racial attitudes that have changed little in decades.

Joaquim Crima, a 37-year-old native of Guinea Bissau who settled in southern Russia after earning a degree at a local university, is promising to battle corruption and bring development to his district on the Volga River.

In Russia, a black man running for office is so unusual that Crima is being called “the Russian Obama.”

“I like Obama as a person and as a politician because he proved to the world what everyone thought was impossible. I think I can learn some things from him,” Crima said, sitting on his shady verandah in this town of 11,000, where he lives with his wife Anait, their 10-year-old son and an extended clan of ethnic Armenian relatives.
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Closure of Europe’s Largest Market Viewed as Attack on Foreigners

Huffington Post

chirkMOSCOW–In one of the most expensive cities in the world, Chirkizovsky market was still a place where the everyman could go shopping.

Located in northeast Moscow, it was a sprawling compound of stalls, restaurants and small shops, where Chinese, Vietnamese and other immigrant vendors sold clothes, household goods and just about anything else for rock bottom prices. Until one day in late June, the metal gates of the 740 acre bazaar– the largest in Europe– slammed shut, leaving an estimated 100,000 people without work.

Authorities cited a slew of reasons, including the sale of contraband goods and the fact that Chirkizovsky vendors did not pay taxes. But the real motivation may be revenge by the Kremlin and Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov against the owner of the market, the Azerbajani-born Telman Ismailov who got too big for his britches and boasted about a new hotel he was building in Turkey.

Whatever, the reason, vendors had exactly two days to pack up their wares and shove out. Those who didn’t, lost thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, some of which is still being kept at the market. Read the story.


Russian Jews Find Their Niche as Country Seeks to Become World Player

Huffington Post

Kids at Nikitsaya Jewish Cultural Center celebrate Hannukah. Photo courtesy of Nikitskaya JCC.

Kids celebrate Hannukah at Nikitsaya Jewish Cultural Center in Moscow. Photo courtesy of Nikitskaya JCC.

MOSCOW–During the Gaza war this winter, 26-year-old Olga Dukor made a couple of posters, put on her Star of David necklace and organized a group of friends on the streets of Moscow. This kind of display of Jewish pride would have been unimaginable under Communism, but nearly 20 years later, it’s thriving.

At the Nikitskaya Jewish Cultural Center in central Moscow, both preschoolers and pensioners learn Hebrew, and there are lectures, book readings and classes that fill the entire spectrum of Jewish life. Interest is so high, there’s even a waiting list for the center’s services, says director Regina Yoffe.

More than three million Jews left the Soviet Union starting in the late ’70s. But another 400,000 stayed (some say the number is as high as 2 million because of intermarriage) and many threw themselves into the Jewish community, especially after the collapse of the USSR.Read the story.

Russia Firing 200K Military Officers

Associated Press

kubinka2KUBINKA, Russia — Nikolai Kulikov, a 51-year-old Army officer, says bitterly that he gave his best years to the Russian Army.

Kulikov did a series of assignments across the Soviet Union and spent the past 10 years as head of security at the Air Force base in Kubinka, 40 miles west of Moscow.

But today, he is one of 200,000 military officers who face early retirement, as Russia conducts a sweeping reform that will eliminate the jobs of six out of every 10 members of its top-heavy officer corps. Read the story.

Cuban Youth’s Quiet Dissent

As Castro’s new crackdown throws opponents in jail for up to 27 years, many young people are protesting Cuban life their own way:  operating illegal living-room businesses to coveting forbidden videos and magazines.

cubaHAVANA–Standing on his balcony in the bustling Vedado neighborhood in the heart of Havana, 25-year-old Richard watches the world go by. He hasn’t left the house in two months and even then it was just for a few hours to attend an annual book fair. He doesn’t study and works only occasionally, when he helps out his father at a local TV station. He seems to have withdrawn from the world.

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