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Charlie Baker insists vaccine verification system is not a pathway to mandates

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Charlie Baker insists vaccine verification system is not a pathway to mandates

Gov. Charlie Baker wants everyone to know he does not support a vaccine mandate statewide — “period.”

His unequivocal stance comes after he went on radio and said a digital vaccine verification system may soon be coming to Massachusetts. The floodgates opened and he was hit with a barrage of questions about how and why it will be implemented.

Baker emphasized that he has “never supported or agreed to any sort of statewide vaccine mandate program” several times, and added that he doesn’t plan to in the future. He explained that the mandate is only in place for people who “want to go to a wedding or to a church, or to a restaurant where proof of vaccination is required,” he said.

“This isn’t about creating a mandate or a statewide initiative of any kind, we just want to make sure that people have the ability, if they’ve been vaccinated and want to have proof that they’ve been vaccinated, that they can easily download it onto their phone and use it whenever they need to,” Baker said.

Baker also didn’t weigh in on the broader use of the technology, which he said will be rolled out “soon,” throughout an unnamed city, for example. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has recently hinted that she’s considering a “vaccine passport” system similar to the one in New York City, which requires patrons to show their vaccination status before entering venues like gyms, theaters and restaurants.

“We said from the very beginning of the pandemic that we’re going to pursue one set of rules that we consider to be important at the state level, but we’re going to give locals a lot of latitude with respect to how they want to play it at the local level,” Baker said, making no mention of Boston or Wu.

Though the governor touted the ease of verification availability on people’s smartphones, even as the ACLU of Massachusetts has raised concerns.

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Jewish leaders renew antisemitism fight after hostage case

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Jewish leaders renew antisemitism fight after hostage case

By PETER SMITH

Although the FBI initially said the man who held four people hostage at a Texas synagogue was focused on an issue “not specifically related to the Jewish community,” the captor voiced beliefs that Jews controlled the world and had the power to arrange the release of a prisoner, survivors said after their escape.

The gunman’s words were all too familiar to Jewish leaders and terror experts, who saw the attack on Congregation Beth Israel as yet another in the rising number of antisemitic hate crimes, a sign of the continued need of vigilance and interfaith solidarity.

The hostage-taker — identified by authorities as Malik Faisal Akram — “thought he could come into a synagogue, and we could get on the phone with the ‘Chief Rabbi of America’ and he would get what he needed,” Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told the Forward, a Jewish news site.

The hourslong standoff ended after the last hostage ran out of the Colleyville synagogue and an FBI SWAT team rushed in. Akram was killed, though authorities have declined to say who shot him.

The attack recalled recent deadly assaults on synagogues, including Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life in 2018 and California’s Chabad of Poway in 2019. Unlike those attacks, when assailants linked to white nationalist motives went on shooting rampages soon after entering, Akram took hostages to have them to use their influence to obtain the release of Aafia Siddiqui.

Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who is suspected of having ties to al-Qaida and was convicted of trying to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan, is serving a lengthy sentence in a prison in nearby Fort Worth.

Jeffrey Cohen, another of the synagogue hostages, said Akram “did not come there to kill Jews” but tried to use them in the belief they could get Siddiqui released.

Akram “had bought into the extremely dangerous, antisemitic trope that Jews control everything, that we could call President (Joe) Biden and have him release her,” Cohen told the Times of Israel.

Lorenzo Vidino, director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, said that while only Akram himself knew his motives, his words reflect “a misguided and conspiratorial mindset.”

“The idea that Jews are overwhelmingly, disproportionately powerful and control America is completely mainstream” in some politically Islamist factions, similar to tropes among white nationalists, he said.

And he said Siddiqui’s case is a “cause celebre” in those factions. Siddiqui herself voiced “chilling” words at her court proceedings, blaming her conviction on Israel and asking for genetic tests on jurors for possible Jewish connections, he said.

On Saturday, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas field office said the hostage-taker was focused on an issue “not specifically related to the Jewish community.” But on Sunday, the FBI called the ordeal “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted.”

Akram “was looking for a Jewish target,” said Nachman Shai, Israel’s Cabinet minister for diaspora affairs. “If it’s not about Jews, why didn’t he walk into a church, a mosque or a supermarket there?”

The attack resonated in Jewish communities across the country, including those that had been attacked before.

“It’s upsetting to me whenever Jews are under attack, whenever human beings are under attack,” said Beth Kissileff, a Pittsburgh author and member of New Light Congregation. The congregation was one of three meeting in the Tree of Life building that lost members in the Oct. 27, 2018, attack that claimed 11 lives.

She hopes survivors of the Pittsburgh attack — who were consoled in 2018 by Muslim survivors of a deadly mosque attack in Quebec — can offer similar support to those in Colleyville. “People reached out to us, and we want to reach out,” she said.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the denomination Beth Israel is affiliated with, noted that Muslim, Christian and other faith leaders quickly gathered to support the congregants.

“While the uptick of antisemitism is clear, we’ve never lived in a community where there’s more solidarity,” he said.

Anna Eisen, the founding president of Beth Israel, experienced that first-hand, citing support “from neighbors, strangers, churches, the governor” and others.

“I feel safer,” she said. “I know now I’m a part of this community and this country.”

Some advocacy groups and lawmakers have cited the Texas hostage situation in calling on the Senate to take up Biden’s nomination of Deborah Lipstadt to serve as a special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.

The Emory University professor’s nomination languished last year, forcing Biden to resubmit her name two weeks ago. The Anti-Defamation League called on the Senate to “act now” to show the urgency of confronting antisemitism.

“We need to treat antisemitism not as an aberration but an everyday reality,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive officer of the ADL.

Rabbi Noah Farkas, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said he has been speaking with rabbinic colleagues in the wake of the Texas incident and many have trepidations about leading services.

“To be a Jew in America today, to wear Jewish ritual garb like the yarmulke or a Star of David, is an act of courage, and I would say defiance as well,” Farkas said.

The attack underscores how “the Jewish community is an affected and targeted group,” said Bradley Orsini, senior national security advisory for Secure Community Network, which consults with major Jewish organizations on security.

He took part in a weekend webinar that drew about 1,600 Jewish community leaders to update them on the Colleyville situation. “We really need to keep preparedness in front of us,” he said.

___

Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem; Kevin Freking, Mike Balsamo and Colleen Long in Washington; Holly Meyer in Nashville, Tennessee; Mariam Fam in Cairo; and Luis Andres Henao in Princeton, New Jersey, contributed to this report.

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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Fatal overnight shooting in Aurora believed to be connected to crash

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Colorado Springs police involved in fatal shooting, crash overnight

A man was shot at 16th Avenue and Lansing Street in Aurora late Tuesday night, dying hours later at the hospital.

Police do not have suspect descriptions and have limited info on the incident.They are investigating area surveillance footage and witnesses. But authorities do believe a two-vehicle crash at the nearby intersection of Montview Boulevard and Peoria Street was caused by the people involved in the shooting. Those people fled the scene of the shooting and collision.

The Aurora Police Department is asking for those with any information to call 303-627-3100.

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Biden to give away 400 million N95 masks starting next week

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Biden to give away 400 million N95 masks starting next week

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to Americans starting next week, now that federal officials are emphasizing their better protection against the omicron variant of COVID-19 over cloth face coverings.

The White House announced Wednesday that the masks will come from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile, which has more than 750 million of the highly protective masks on hand. The masks will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers across the country. They will begin shipping this week for distribution starting late next week, the White House said.

This will be the largest distribution of free masks by the federal government to the public since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In early 2020, then-President Donald Trump’s administration considered and then shelved plans to send masks to all American at their homes. President Joe Biden embraced the initiative after facing mounting criticism this month over the inaccessibility — both in supply and cost — of N95 masks as the highly transmissible omicron variant swept across the country.

After facing similar criticism over a winter shortage of COVID-19 at-home test kits, Biden this week launched a website for Americans to order four rapid tests to be shipped to their homes for free, with the first tests to ship later this month.

The White House said the masks will be made available at pharmacies and community health centers that have partnered with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday updated its guidance on face coverings to more clearly state that properly fitted N95 and KN95 masks offer the most protection against COVID-19. Still, it didn’t formally recommend N95s over cloth masks.

The best mask “is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long, that you can tolerate in public indoor settings,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last week.

Details were not immediately available on the specifics of the program, including the sort of masks to be provided, whether kid-size ones will be available and whether the masks could be reworn.

The White House said that “to ensure broad access for all Americans, there will be three masks available per person.”

N95 or KN95 masks are more widely available now than at any other time during the pandemic, though they are often more costly than less-protective surgical masks or cloth masks.

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