American Jewish Population 6.7-6.8 Million, New Reports Say. New reports from the Pew Research Center and Brandeis University’s Steinhardt Social Research Institute (SSRI) peg the Jewish population of the United States at 6.7 million and 6.8 million, respectively.

Pew’s Religion and Public Life Project on Tuesday released “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” based on a survey of 3,475 Jews from Feb. 20 to June 13, 2013. The report estimated that there are 6.7 million Jews in the U.S., and that 78 percent of that population identifies as Jewish by religion, as opposed to by background or by other criteria. A day earlier, SSRI released “American Jewish Population Estimates: 2012,” which concluded that there are 6.8 million American Jews, with about 81 percent identifying as Jewish by religion.

Prof. Leonard Saxe, SSRI’s director and the new report’s co-author, had estimated in December 2011 that the U.S. Jewish population was 6.4 million. Amid the release of the new figures, Saxe said the population increase, as well as the stabilization of the number of those identifying as Jewish by religion (1.8 percent of the total American population), could be interpreted as either a positive or negative narrative, being that synagogue membership and engagement with other Jewish institutions have not risen at the same rate as the Jewish population.

“You can either say, ‘Wow, this is a problem,’ or you can say, ‘This is an opportunity for the Jewish community,’” Saxe told

SSRI’s new data said that 24 percent of American Jews are 65 or older. More than 20 percent live in the state of New York, followed by 14 percent in California, 12 percent in Florida, 8 percent in New Jersey, and 5 percent each in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

Obama Calls Hassan Rouhani in First Direct U.S.-Iran Conversation Since 1979. U.S. President Barack Obama called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Friday before the Iranian leader departed the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. Although Obama and Rouhani did not meet in person, this was the first direct conversation between heads of the two governments since 1979.

Additionally, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met in person on Thursday, CNN reported.

“I reiterated to President Rouhani what I said in New York: While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward, and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive agreement,” Obama said about his call with Rouhani.

A White House official said that a “meaningful, transparent and verifiable” agreement with Iran would be preferable, but acknowledged that the Israeli government “has every right to be skeptical of the Iranian government, given . . . threats toward Israel’s existence,” the Jerusalem Post reported.

Netanyahu to Obama: Pressure on Iran Should Not Be Lessened. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday, raising concerns about Iran’s nuclear program just days after Obama spoke to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the phone, the first such interaction between U.S. and Iranian heads of state in 30 years.

Netanyahu said Iran’s “conciliatory words” have not been matched by “real action.”

“It is Israel’s firm belief that if Iran continues to advance its nuclear program during negotiations, the sanctions [against Iran] should be strengthened,” he said.

Obama stressed that the U.S. is taking “no options off the table, including military,” but needs “to test diplomacy.” Netanyahu said that if diplomacy is to work, “pressures” such as sanctions and the threat of military action “must be kept in place” and “should not be lessened until there is verifiable success.”

Syria Strike by France Put on Hold by Obama, Report Says. (Israel Hayom) French President François Hollande canceled an airstrike against Syrian targets scheduled for Aug. 31 at the last minute following a phone call from U.S. President Barack Obama, the French weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur reported on Sunday.

According to the report, Hollande was “shocked” when Obama informed him that he intended to seek Congressional approval for the strike and requested that Hollande cancel the military campaign only a few hours before French jets were set to take off. The mission was reportedly planned by the French and U.S. presidents immediately following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria.

“Everything led us to believe that the big day had arrived,” a French official told Le Nouvel Observateur.

Yad Vashem Names First Egyptian “Righteous among the Nations.” For the first time, Yad Vashem has honored an Egyptian with the “Righteous Among the Nations” designation, which recognizes non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews.

Physician Dr. Mohamed Helmy, the honoree, was born in Khartoum, Sudan in 1901 to Egyptian parents and later went to Germany in 1922 to study medicine. Due to Nazi racial laws, Helmy was classified as a “Hamit” (after Ham, son of Noah)–a 19th century racial term used to describe Arabs–and was discriminated against. In 1939, he was arrested along with other Egyptians, but was later released due to health problems.

Yad Vashem will honor Helmy posthumously. A vocal critic of Nazi policies, he helped his family friend, 21-year-old Anna Boros (later Gutman), avoid Nazi deportations. Helmy also helped Gutman’s mother, stepfather, and grandmother.

U.N. Inspectors: Nov. 1 Deadline for Ending Syria Chemical Weapons Manufacturing Capacity. United Nations inspectors who will oversee the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons say that their first priority will be ending Syria’s capacity to manufacture weapons by Nov. 1.

On Sept. 27, the U.N. Security Council ordered the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to destroy Syria’s arsenal by mid-2014 by any means possible. But some experts are skeptical that the weapons can be destroyed in accordance with that timetable. Adding to the complications, the Syrian government is responsible for giving U.N. inspectors access to the chemical sites, some of which may be near rebel-held areas.

Palestinian Borders Drawn by “Blood of Martyrs,” Fatah Says on Facebook. During renewed Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations, the Fatah party posted on one of its official Facebook pages that Palestinian borders are drawn by “the blood of martyrs,” referring to suicide bombers whose attacks have killed Israelis, Palestinian Media Watch reported Sept. 29.

“My homeland taught me that it is the blood of martyrs that draws the borders of the homeland,” read the Aug. 26 Facebook post, which included a picture of a man holding a rifle.

Revoke Prisoner Release, 28 MKs Tell Netanyahu

Twenty-eight members of Israeli Knesset, among them seven deputy ministers, last week called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel the planned release of terrorists to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations process.

Habayit Hayehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked spearheaded the request, writing a letter that was signed by MKs from Habayit Hayehudi, deputy ministers and MKs from Likud, and MKs from United Torah Judaism and Shas.

“It doesn’t make sense that a country that sanctifies life would release murderers who, amid negotiations, continue to commit acts of terror,” said the letter, Israel Hayom reported.

The letter refers to the deal Jerusalem signed with the PA in July, which secured the release of 104 Palestinians who were charged with acts of terrorism and sentenced to jail in Israel. Israel has so far released 26 terrorists. v


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