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October 11, 2013

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PAGE 2A HERITA,GE FFORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER il, 20i3 For Nairobi Jews, mall attack undermines already fragile sense of security Kenan Presidential Press Service/via Getty Images The remains of cars and other debris at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, following an attack by Islamic militants, Sept. 26, 2013. his wife by text message so she wouldn't be overheard speaking Hebrew. Their Israeli connections were not some- thing the couple was eager to advertise, even in normal circumstances. "I was gravely concerned," Albert Attias told JTA, recall- ing the first hours of the deadly attack and two-day siege carried out by Islamic militants at the upscale shop- ping plaza that began on Sept. 21. "I prayed she'd get out before dark because at night anything could happen." Rina Attias was trapped for six hours before escap- ing. But her ordeal at what was considered a safe area in Nairobi has shaken the brittle sense of security for the approximately 600 members of the Jewish com- munity of Kenya, a country that has strived, not always successfully, to escape the Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA)--When Rina Attias phoned to say that she was trapped with terrorists inside Nairobi's Westgate mall, her husband Albert replied with a short instruction: Hang up right now. Albert Attias, the head of the Jewish community in the Kenyan capital and an Israeli military veteran, wanted to communicate with violence raging just beyond its borders. "We were already careful, but this attack reinforces in us the need to be vigilant," Attias said. Along with Attias, several hundred bystanders fled the mall after a dozen or so armed terrorists stormed the five-story building and holed up there with hostages. The death toll included 61 civil- ians, six security officers and five suspected terrorists. Nine other suspected terrorists are in custody, Kenyan au- thorities have said, but some are believed to have escaped through a sewage canal that security forces discovered 72 hours after the attack began. No Jews were among the victims of the attack, accord- ing to Attias, which occurred as many community members attended the bar mitzvah celebration of an Israeli dip- lomat's son. Opened in 2007, Westgate was a "place of comfort, up- scale luxury, a feeling of some- thing foreign that doesn't exist in too many places here," the Kenyan journalist Jeff Omondi said. Beyond the air-conditioned walls of Westgate lies a crime- infested metropolis of 3.1 million where vultures circle over vast slums and potholed roads in search of a meal in one of the many garbage heaps festering in the tropical sun. The mall is aforeign novelty to Kenyans, but for the tens of thousands of Western Nai- robians, Westgate--with its Israeli-owned brasserie, sushi restaurant and upscale cloth- ing stores--offered access to familiar amenities that are hard to find in this eastern African republic. It was the first place that Rebecca, the wife of Nairobi's newly arrived rabbi, was taken to in Nairobi. On her blog, she described it as a pleasant spot to enjoy a leisurely cup of cof- fee. But in an interview with JTA, she requested that her last name be withheld. "I'm sorry, this whole business has made me a bit paranoid," she acknowledged. Charles 8zlapak, a Iongtime member of the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation, told JTA he be- lieved Westgate was targeted "because it represents the West and the Kenyan govern- ment's pro-Western attitudes," and that he had "no reason to believe it was struck because of anything connected specifi- cally to Jews." Szlapak, a Poland native born in the 1930s, says Jews have lived in Kenya for well over a century. Nowadays, most Jews living in Nairobi are Israeli businessmen and their families, according to Attias. Al-Shebab, the Somalia- based wing of al-Qaida that claimed responsibility for the attack, is presumed to have staged it as revenge for the involvement of Kenyan troops in the quelling of an Islamist insurgency in Somalia. It made no reference to Israel in its statements on the attack. Alex Trachtenberg, an Is- raeli businessman whom media reports have identified as Westgate's owner, did not respond to requests for com- ment from JTA. Westgate was among sever- al business ventures launched by Trachtenberg in Kenya, where a growing middle class, relative stability and government incentives have attracted many foreign inves- tors, Israelis among them. Be- fore Westgate, Trachtenberg started a fishery, among other businesses. While it is still not known whether the mall was selected for its Israeli connection, Is- lamist militants have targeted Israelis in Kenya in the past. In 2002, al-Qaida affiliates blew up the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in the southern coastal city of Mombasa and fired two missiles at a chartered Boeing Nairobi on page 14A Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, founder of Shas and Sephardic sage, dies at 93 By Ben Sales TEL AVIV (JTA)--Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Israeli sage who founded the Sephardic Orthodox Shas political party and exercised major influence on Jewish law, has died. Yosef died Monday at Ha- dassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem. He was 93. He served as Israel's Sep- hardic chief rabbi from 1973 to 1983, and extended his influence over the ensuing decades as the spiritual leader of Shas, which politically galvanized hundreds of thou- sands of Sephardic Israelis, though Yosef himself never served in Knesset. In 1999, at its height, Shas was the third-largest Knesset party, with 17 seats. Though he adhered to a haredi Orthodox ideology, Yosef, a charismatic speaker, published relatively liberal Jewish legal rulings and drew support both from traditional and secular Sephardic Israelis. Known to his followers as Ma- ran, "our master" in Hebrew, Yosef's main Jewish legal goal was to take diverse Jewish practices from the Middle East and North Africa and mold a "united legal system" for Sephardic Jews. As his influence grew, Yo- sef presided over a veritable empire of Sephardi religious services. Shas opened a net- work of schools that now has 40,000 students. Yosef managed a kosher certifica- tion called Beit Yosef that has become the standard for many religious Sephardim. And he was a dominant power broker when it came to elect- ing Sephardic chief rabbis and appointing Sephardic judges in religious courts. This year, Yosef's son--and preferred candidate--won the Israeli Sephardic chief rabbi election. Through his work, Yosef hoped to raise the status of Israel's historically disadvan- taged Sephardic community, both culturally and socioeco- nomically. He dressed in tra- ditional Sephardic religious garb, including a turban and an embroidered robe, even as most of his close followers adopted the Ashkenazi haredi dress ofablack fedoraand suit. As a scholar, Yosef was known for his ability to recite long, complex Jewish tracts from memory. His best- known works, "Yabia Omer," "Yehave Da'at" and "Yalkut Yosef," cover an array of Jewish legal topics. "He was a character that people capitulated in front of, a man of Jewish law that created a political entity with strong influence on Israeli politics and culture," said Me- nachem Friedman, an expert on the haredi community at Bar-Ilan University. "It raised up Middle Eastern Jewish cul- ture, gave legitimacy to Middle Eastern Jewish traditions." Outside the religious com- munity, Yosefwas best known for his sometimes contro- versial political stances. His authority within Shas was virtually absolute, and even in his ninth decade he remained closely involved in the party's decisions. While Yosef favored poli- cies that served the religious community's interests, he also supported peace treaties involving Israeli withdrawal from conquered territory. He argued that such deals were allowed under Jewish law be- cause they saved Jewish lives. In the 1990s and 2000s, Shas joined left-wing govern- ing coalitions multiple times, allowing for the advancement of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process--though Yo- sef opposed the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip because it was done unilaterally. In his later years, Yosef also stirred controversy with a number of inflammatory statements, often made at a weekly Saturday-night sermon. In 2000, he said that Holocaust victims were reincarnated sinners, and in 2005 he said that the victims of Hurricane Katrina deserved the tragedy "because they have no God." In 2010, Yosef said, "The sole purpose of non- Jews is to serve Jews." "Rabbi Ovadia was a giant in Torah and Jewish law and a teacher for tens of thou- sands," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Monday. "He worked greatly to enhance Jewish heritage and at the same time, his rulings took into consideration the times and the realities of renewed life in the State of Israel. He was imbued with love of the Torah and the people." Ovadia Yosef was born Abdullah Yosef in Baghdad, Iraq, on Sept. 23, 1920. Four years later his family moved to Jerusalem, in what was then Palestine, where Yosefstudied at the Porat Yosef yeshiva, a well-regarded Sephardic school. At 20, he received ordination as a rabbinic judge, and at 24 he married Margalit Fattal. She died in 1994. Yosef began serving as a rabbinic judge in 1944, and in 1947 moved to Cairo to head the rabbinic court in the Egyptian capital, returning in 1950. He continued serving as a religious judge until becom- ing Sephardic chief rabbi of Tel Aviv in 1968, a position he held until he was elected Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel in 1973. During that period, he began publishing his well-known works, beginning with his Passover Haggadah, "Hazon Ovadia," in 1952. In 1970, the government awarded him the prestigious Israel Prize in recognition of his books. Yosefdefeated a sitting chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef rabbi in the 1973 election, itself a controversial move. In the wake of the Yom Kip- pur War that year, he ruled that women whose husbands were missing in action could remarry. Later in his term, he endorsed the Ethiopian Jews' claim to Judaism, help- ing them immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. Yosef founded Shas in 1984, one year after finishing his term as chief rabbi. The party now holds 11 Knesset seats. Save for four years, Shas was part of every governing coalition between 1984 and 2013, acting as a kingmaker in Israeli politics. Because the party represents both haredi and poor Sephardim, it advo- cates a unique mix of dovish foreign policy, conservative religious policy and liberal economic policy. Yosef took an active role in shaping Shas through this year's elections, heading a council of rabbis that chose the party's slate and mediating leadership conflicts. What was most impressive about Yosef, says Friedman, was his influence over almost every aspect of Sephardic reli- gious and political life--mak- ing it unlikely that another rabbi will be able to take his place. "He'll create an empty space politically and an empty space religiously," Friedman said. "He was a source of strength and great control in Middle Eastern Jewish religious so- ciety. I don't know what will happen."