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For Minnesotans with ties to Israel and Gaza, feelings of fear, devastation and anger

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Ari Parritz spent Friday evening at a joyous place: his cousin’s wedding in Caesarea, Israel, a historic seaside town 30 miles north of Tel Aviv.

By the time the St. Paul real estate developer and father of two awoke the next morning in his Tel Aviv hotel, his family’s joy had turned to terror. Air-raid sirens blared, but it wasn’t until later that morning when Parritz realized the scale of what was going on.

Israel had been attacked by militants from Hamas, the Palestinian political organization that rules Gaza. Hundreds of Israelis were dead, both civilians and military, with 150 more held hostage. An Israeli counterattack would kill hundreds more Palestinians. Overnight, Israelis’ tenuous feeling of security evaporated, the fragile Middle East upended.

As rockets rained down, and as the scope of Hamas’ attack came into focus, Parritz said he felt emotions similar to those he felt on Sept. 11, 2001, when he was a ninth-grader at Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights, now known as Two Rivers High School.

“When the rockets started, it was almost pro forma: ‘Hamas shoots rockets at us, it happens.’ That initial hour or so, that was the assumption,” Parritz told the Star Tribune on Monday evening from Barcelona, where he had evacuated on a last-minute flight that morning.

But with such a large-scale attack, he said, “we’re in new territory. This hasn’t happened before. Your tolerance and your compassion and your balance all goes out the window when the strike is so barbaric, with machine guns and gunning down civilians.”

As Israel and Hamas erupted into full-blown war, Minnesotans with deep connections to the region reacted with fear for the future.

Sami Rahamim, director of communications and community affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, as well as the son of an Israeli, worried about his grandmother. She’s in her 90s and lives in an old Tel Aviv apartment building with no bomb shelter. She’s too frail to be moved to a community bomb shelter, so family helped move her bed away from the window.

“Just such a sad situation — this is a nation born out of trauma with refugees from the Holocaust,” Rahamim said. “My grandma has dementia. It’s almost a sick blessing to be unaware of this horrible thing that’s happening.”

Aaron Weininger, senior rabbi at Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, has plenty of deep connections to Israel. His congregation helped a synagogue in Be’er Sheva, 30 miles from Gaza, to build a bomb shelter. He visited Israel this year for a celebration marking 75 years since Israel’s founding.

And Weininger’s brother, Daniel, a rabbi in Jerusalem, was called up as an Israeli military reservist just hours after Saturday’s attack. It was one day before his baby daughter turned 6 months old.

“Many families are sitting with the uncertainty of loved ones going to serve and not knowing what comes next,” Weininger said. “That’s the hardest part.”

Minnesotans with familial connections to Gaza are experiencing similar emotions — fear, uncertainty, anger — but from a diametrically opposed viewpoint.

Taher Herzallah, a graduate student in American Studies at the University of Minnesota, serves as national grassroots organizer for American Muslims for Palestine, an organization that lobbies for Palestinian rights. Both his parents are from Gaza. His dad’s side of the family still lives there.

He called Hamas’ attack “a shaking off of decades of oppression and brutality and violence.” But he immediately feared what the Israeli response will mean for his extended family.

“Palestinians felt a sense of surprise — not at the idea of resistance, but surprise at the scale of the resistance and the tenacity of it,” Herzallah said. “We were already dying. People arguing Palestinians brought this upon themselves don’t understand that the conditions of life we’ve been placed under are the conditions of slow death.”

About 300 people marched in solidarity with Palestine in downtown Minneapolis on Monday night after a rally outside Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office.

Protesters held signs reading “No more aid for Israel’s crimes” and “Divest Minnesota from apartheid Israel.”

Nesma, 20, a student at the University of Minnesota who didn’t want her last name used, said her family in Gaza are not allowed to leave and have no option to flee like many Israelis.

“They have nothing to defend themselves with; there’s no way for them to fight back,” she said. “They are waiting to die.”

On Monday evening, Parritz wandered the streets of Barcelona in a daze. An unexpected trip to a great European city should have been a blessing, but Parritz felt like a zombie, helpless, unsure what to do or what to think as he waited for a flight home to Minnesota later this week.

He was sickened by moral equivalencies on social media that framed Hamas’ attack as just deserts for Israel: “‘This is what you get for occupying’ — it’s so disgusting, I can’t even say it out loud.”

He thought about the booms from Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system downing Hamas’ rockets, how he felt those explosions in his bones. He thought about his fear Monday morning when his cousin drove him to Tel Aviv’s airport, reportedly a Hamas target.

And he thought about Israelis who filled his flight to Spain.

“The plane was filled with kids,” he said. “I was sitting next to a father with his wife and two very young kids. They live in Tel Aviv in an old building that doesn’t have a bomb shelter. They had to leave. They weren’t safe there. And they were concerned: What if another front opens, a northern front, with missiles more powerful and dangerous than the rockets from Gaza?”

Staff writer Zoë Jackson contributed to this report.



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Trump, GOP weaponize Minnesota Freedom Fund in attacks on Kamala Harris

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What began as a small charitable nonprofit founded by a University of Minnesota business school student has again become ammunition for attacks against Kamala Harris’s record on crime.

A day after Joe Biden bowed out from the presidential race, as Donald Trump’s campaign recalibrated its attacks on Harris as the Democrat frontrunner, Minnesota Trump Campaign Chair and U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer posted on X that Harris once supported “a bail fund for Minnesota criminals who should have stayed behind bars. One convict she sprung from prison killed a man after Kamala helped release him.”

Fox News followed with a headline saying the “Kamala Harris-backed” organization has “put murderers, rapists back on streets.”

And on Tuesday, Trump’s official war room account posted a photo of Harris to X alongside a mugshot of Jaleel Stallings, a Minneapolis man the account describes as being “charged with the attempted murder of two police officers” in 2020.

“[Harris] raised money to bail Stallings out of jail,” read the caption. “Kamala Harris is radically liberal and dangerously incompetent.”

The post fails to mention Stallings was found not guilty by a jury — or that one of the arresting officers was convicted of assault for beating him up.

These political attacks—some misleading or false—stem from a Harris social media post four years ago. After George Floyd’s murder, the Vice President encouraged her followers to help arrested protestors by donating to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, a Minneapolis-based non-profit that pays criminal and immigration bonds for people in Twin Cities jails and detention facilities.

The Freedom Fund was started in fall 2016 by Simon Cecil, then a graduate student completing dual master’s degrees in business and public policy. In the beginning, Cecil had a meager $10,000, half from a University of Minnesota grant program and the rest from an ideas competition. Cecil paid bails capped at $1,000 in the early days—some as low as $50—for people accused of committing low-level crimes.

The fund has since ballooned into a multi-million-dollar organization, largely after a deluge of donations in 2020, and become perennial fodder for attacks on Harris and other Democrats.

Since its inception, the Freedom Fund has posted criminal bail for 2,537 people who were charged and awaiting trial in jail, and another 463 immigration bonds, according to data provided by organization as of May 2024. The bail fund’s staff describe its mission as a way to level the playing field in the system of cash bail in America, where impoverished people sit in jail when they are presumed innocent because they can’t pay nominal fees.

“That’s one of our core beliefs that motivates our work: everyone, regardless of wealth, is entitled to this presumption of innocence,” said Freedom Fund spokesperson Noble Frank.

Harris’s tweet from 2020 is the extent of her support for the organization, said Frank. “We’ve had no connection with her other than that.”

Some of the people bailed out by the Freedom Fund have gone on to commit violent crimes while on release, such as George Howard, who was convicted in a deadly road rage shooting after the organization helped secure his release.

Frank said these cases are rare, and critics mischaracterize the bail fund’s role in the system to link it to Harris. Contrary to Emmer’s tweet, the Freedom Fund does not—and could not—arrange the release of people who have been found guilty of a crime and are serving prison sentences. Bail is only available to people who are awaiting trial for pending charges, and who have been granted the opportunity for bail by a judge.

Emmer did not respond to a request for an interview about his remarks.

Frank said the organization now places limits on who it will bail out, such as not paying for the same person in a year period. Staff also evaluates court appearance history, criminal past and factors like mental illness or risk of losing employment and housing in determining whether to post a person’s bond.

Frank said about one-third of the people bailed out by the Freedom Fund have ultimately been exonerated. That includes Stallings.

In 2020, a jury exonerated Stallings after body-camera video showed Minneapolis officers firing projectiles at him without warning from an unmarked vehicle five days after Floyd’s murder. Stallings, who was standing in a parking lot, returned fire with a licensed gun in what he later described as an act of self defense. The officers brutally beat and arrested him.

Then-Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said later that police “grossly misled” his office on the evidence. The city paid $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit with Stallings.

Bail in the United States dates back the nation’s founding, and so do bail funds.

The first was started by Declaration of Independence-signer Benjamin Rush, who helped people navigate the bail system so they didn’t have to linger in jail awaiting trial, said Kellen Funk, a legal historian who teaches a seminar on bail at Columbia Law School.

Throughout the 19th Century, charitable groups often raised money to pay bail for what they believed were unjust charges. Funk cited examples of abolitionists collecting funds to bail out an operator of the Underground Railroad in Maryland. After the Civil War, he said, a group raised $100,000 to bail out Confederate leader Jefferson Davis.

“This political trick has a long history,” said Funk. “But it’s always been the case that the law of bail is rather indifferent to the source.”

Back then, bail usually did not have money attached to it; in most cases, it was simply a pledge to return to court, said Funk. In the 20th Century, courts in the United States began using money more broadly as an incentive for people to appear. If they did return to court, the money was returned in full. This led to the rise of the commercial bondsman, a for-profit enterprise that charges a fee for posting cash bail.

As the criminal justice system has changed over the centuries, this is where bail reformers say it has gone very wrong. The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits “excessive” bail. Yet 34 percent of Americans charged with crimes linger in jail pretrial for no other reason than they can’t afford to pay, according to a 2016 report by the Harvard Law School.

“Many low-level offenders are being held simply because they cannot afford the money amount up front,” Funk said. “They’re presumed innocent. No evidence has come in. Very often the evidence is exonerating when it comes in, but people will even plead guilty for crimes they did not commit just to end their pretrial detention.”

Modern-era bail funds have emerged as a Band-Aid to close this gap, said Funk. Some municipalities, including New York City and the state of New Jersey, have dramatically curtailed the use of cash bail.

In recent years, lack of transparency around Minnesota’s bail system has fueled criticisms across the criminal spectrum.

The Trump campaign first attacked the Freedom Fund in 2020 for its role in bailing out people arrested after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed Floyd, leading to Minnesota Republicans pushing a bill that would require more publicly available information as to who is posting the bond. Months later, when an anonymous benefactor paid Chauvin’s bail, hundreds marched down Minneapolis streets in protest of his release.

This week, MAGA Inc., a Trump super PAC, posted to X that a person arrested for rioting in 2020 was bailed out by the Freedom Fund and charged with murder. The Freedom Fund said they have no record of such a case.

Frank said the Freedom Fund has been inundated with unwanted attention as the attacks are revived on the national stage.

“The work that we do is unpopular,” Frank said, “especially during an election cycle.”



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Rapidan Dam Store to move to new location in downtown Mankato

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The Rapidan Dam Store, a restaurant southwest of Mankato that was demolished after flooding in June overran the nearby dam, may soon have a new home.

The Hruska family that has owned the store since 1972 is in the final stages of talks that would reopen the restaurant temporarily in a location in downtown Mankato, the family and a local realtor said.

The deal is finalized but still needs approvals from the city, said David Hruska, co-owner of the restaurant. The restaurant, known for its burgers and pies, would reopen on South Front Street, at the former location of the Wagon Wheel café.

“It’s close, but it’s got a couple steps to go before that’s done,” said Hruska, who owns the store along with his sister Jenny Barnes.

The Rapidan Dam Store was demolished in June by Blue Earth County officials as a safety measure following flooding on the Blue Earth River. The flooding, the second worst measured on the river, overran the nearby dam and swept away the Hruska family’s home, along with a playground, trees and other debris.

The family received approximately $40,000 for the building and still owns the land, which has shrunk due to the flood scouring away the bedrock near the river.

The final terms for the Rapidan Dam Store to move into the new location have been signed as of Tuesday afternoon, said Dain Fisher, a Mankato realtor and friend of the Hruskas who has been helping them relocate.

“It’s going to be exciting for the Dam Store to be in the heart of Mankato,” Fisher said Tuesday. The remaining steps involve approval by the city, he added.

A spokesman for Mankato city government confirmed the Hruska family is going through approval processes to move their business. The next steps are a planning commission meeting Wednesday and a city council meeting on Aug. 12, said Paul David, communications director for Mankato.

Use of the old Wagon Wheel location would be donated to the family for $1 for four months, said Kyle Smith of the Tailwind Group, which owns the building.

The family would have to pay their own expenses at the space, which has been vacant for several years, Smith said Tuesday.

The Wagon Wheel location will probably need a new floor and replacement ceiling tiles, as well as a professional cleaning, Hruska said.

The Rapidan Dam Store could reopen by the end of August at the earliest, Hruska said, adding that September is more likely.



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Pedestrian struck and killed by Metro Transit train in St. Paul

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A pedestrian was struck and killed by a Metro Transit Green Line light-rail train in St. Paul on Tuesday.

The incident occurred shortly after 3:30 p.m. near the intersection of University Avenue and Syndicate Street N., just east of Hamline Avenue, according to Nikki Muehlhausen, a spokesperson for the Metro Transit Police Department.

The pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene, she said, and an investigation is underway.

No other information was available.

Buses were replacing trains between the Fairview Avenue and Western Avenue stations while the scene was being cleared, Muehlhausen said.



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