Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi to step down as Israel Project head


Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the founder and president of The Israel Project, said she will leave the advocacy group by July 1.

In statements Wednesday, the 10-year-old group and Mizrahi said reorganization and management training helped set the stage for her departure. The Israel Project is seeking a CEO to replace her.

Mizrahi had announced in 2007 that she would step down for family reasons, but rescinded the decision within months after the board said it could not find an adequate replacement.

The Israel Project seeks to garner fairer and more positive coverage of Israel through non-confrontational outreach to journalists.

Since 2007, the group has expanded considerably and now employs 75 people worldwide, with outreach to Europe, Latin America and the Arab world as well as the United States.

Among its initiatives, The Israel Project has become well known for its TV ads on cable news networks during political conventions emphasizing Israeli peace efforts and projects.

The Israel Project statement said Mizrahi “plans to establish a communications consultancy focusing on advocating for the rights and needs of special needs children.” She will retain an advisory role.

Trip highlights our duty to help worldwide


Having grown up in and around Los Angeles my entire life, I am awe-stricken by the thriving Jewish community and the venerable reputation it has made for itself.

Considering our history, the present situation of Jews in America is one that would have been coveted by any Jew from almost any other time period. And if, God forbid, any Jew is to forget the adversity through which we have suffered and endured throughout the ages, I would expect it to occur now more than ever.

These thoughts became very clear to me after a recent visit to the Philippine Islands, where I found myself exposed to a situation that I will value forever.

Filipino streets are crawling with beggars who are able to survive only because food and shelter cost almost a tenth of what Americans pay. These people are subject to the generosity of people who would also be considered destitute if compared to Los Angeles’ neediest.

I came equipped with a stack of 2,000 pisos, equaling $50, which I planned to distribute as charity whenever it was solicited. My eyes were opened when I visited a tourist town popular among beggars. A small boy accosted me with an extended palm, and I handed him a 20-piso bill. Only later did I become aware that this was an enormous amount for beggars to receive, despite its U.S.-value of only 50 cents, and that so many other indigent people who witnessed my generosity were willing to employ almost any means to take advantage of it.

Within seconds I was swarmed by a mob of the most impecunious people I have ever seen. I was met with appeals ranging from sobs of supplication from elderly women to snarls of desperation from struggling mothers to the aggressive attempts of children to wrest the money from my grip. My attempts to form a line to hasten the fulfillment of their pleas were fruitless. They did not relent.

Never having experienced anything like this in my life, I am almost embarrassed to admit that though I felt an emotional connection to their desperation, I laughed, not knowing how to outwardly express my emotions in such a sudden and tumultuous shock. I am still haunted by the possibility that they suspected me of teasing them with the hope of receiving charity. I also wonder what they might have thought when they saw me laughing had they known I was a Jew. I suspect that they would have expected a certain sensitivity from a Jew — a member of a nation that has overcome trials far more daunting than theirs and which now has the resources to alleviate the hardships of others.

It is not my goal to persuade people to give charity to Filipino beggars; it was just the event that opened my eyes to the needs of other people in the world. There is another issue toward which I expect Jews should feel more sensitive — the crisis in Darfur. I am not discounting the steps already taken by Jews to aid the victims of one of this century’s most devastating acts of man against his fellow. However, I do mean to bring to attention to what I perceive as deficiencies in the reactions of Orthodox Jews around me.

Though I would never advise Jews to replace Orthodox tradition with humanitarianism, I have always felt that the Darfur issue is one in which I would expect more Orthodox Jews to be active in resolving. Our inability to react now strongly resembles America’s self-imposed ignorance during the Holocaust. America and its Jews should redeem themselves now by contributing whatever they can to humanitarian aid to those suffering in refugee camps and in homes on the brink of destruction. It is also our responsibility to avoid the hypocrisy of not working to alleviate the pain of a people who are subject to the genocidal whim of an oppressive government. What will the world say when the Jewish people or the State of Israel solicit anyone’s assistance in a life-threatening situation? It has been established that the Jewish people possess an indestructible conviction to survive and prosper, but how many enslavements, expulsions, pogroms, and genocides must we endure, and witness others endure, before we live up to our God-given name of a “light unto the nations”?

For these reasons I urge all Jewish institutions to educate their students and congregants in atrocities committed against mankind throughout the world. Our schools’ students yearn to contribute what they can to worthy causes, but no outlets are provided by their educators. Orthodox synagogues seem to always have tikkun olam on their agendas, but the most significant differences they can make are being forgotten.

In 1927, before the Holocaust, Edmund Fleg said, “I am a Jew because in every place where suffering weeps, the Jew weeps. I am a Jew because at every time when despair cries out, the Jew hopes.”

Our Jewish communities now have the resources they never had before. We have a certain influence over everything in which we become involved. Let us now employ the hope that defines us as Jews and ameliorate the world’s conditions for ourselves and for whomever else we can before our entrenchment in despair becomes possible again.

Jacob Goldberg is in 11th grade at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High School for Boys.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the February issue is Jan. 15; deadline for the March issue is Feb. 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

StandWithUs offers Israel 101 guide to help students confront anti-Zionist rhetoric


Roz Rothstein wanted nothing more than to relax after a long flight from Los Angeles to New York. Instead, the head of StandWithUs, a Los Angeles-based Israel advocacy group, found herself face to face with the anti-Zionist attitudes she and her organization work to eradicate.

During the cab ride to her hotel, Rothstein asked her driver about former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, to make small talk. The Salvadorian-born man grew agitated, she said, talking about why Americans needed a Democratic president; how the Republicans had lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; and how, in the Gulf War, the Americans had overreacted to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Rothstein said the driver wrapped up with: “People always steal land from each other, just as the Jews stole land from the Arabs in 1948. No Jews lived in Israel before then.”

At a red light, Rothstein reached into her briefcase and fished out a copy of “Israel 101,” a new 44-page glossy booklet on the Israel-Arab conflict published by StandWithUs. She opened to a map of the Middle East, which depicts a tiny Israel surrounded by much larger Arab neighbors. Echoing themes found in “Israel 101,” Rothstein told the driver that Jews have lived in the land of Israel continuously for 3,000 years and that, by as early as the 1870s, Jews made up the majority population in Jerusalem.

“Thanks, I need to know these things,” the driver told the StandWithUs executive director.

Rothstein plans to follow up by mailing him his own copy of “Israel 101,” one of 1 million StandWithUs expects to distribute around the world to Jewish high school and college students, pro-Israel activists, journalists and politicians, among others.

“We hope to raise the level of debate,” she said. “When people who care about Israel have the facts to back up their statements, their writings and conversations are much, much richer.”

More than a year in the making, “Israel 101” offers a short but comprehensive primer on Israel, addressing such subjects as the recent war in Lebanon, terrorism and the modern Zionist movement, said StandWithUs education research director Roberta Seid, who helped oversee the project. Featuring maps, splashy graphics and more than 100 footnotes, “Israel 101” expands on a 2002 StandWithUs pro-Israel brochure, and provides an easily digestible tool to combat anti-Zionism, said Seid, who holds a doctorate in history from UC Berkeley and once taught social history at USC.

Within “Israel 101,” Seid said, readers will learn that Palestinian terrorism began not after Israel’s capture of the disputed West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, as some of Israel’s detractors claim, but more than a half century earlier, in 1920, when Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini incited riots in the land that would become Israel, leaving six Jews dead and 200 wounded.

Another example: Israel’s War of Independence created not just Palestinian refugees, but 850,000 Jews who fled rising persecution or were expelled from Arab countries in subsequent years, Seid added.

By taking a “historically factual and balanced approach” to Israel, past and present, “Israel 101” is of considerable value, said Michael Waterman, a teacher of current events and contemporary Israel at the Los Angeles Hebrew High School, an after-school program for Jewish teenagers.

“When you find out that Israel is a full democracy and that Arabs sit in the Knesset, that Arabs have full voting rights … it makes you suspect of a lot of things you hear on the news,” said Waterman, who uses “Israel 101” as a teaching tool and plans to distribute 100 copies to students.

Rabbi Ely Allen, director of Hillel of Northern New Jersey, said he likes “Israel 101” so much that he expects to disseminate 500 copies to area college and high school students.

“In my estimation, this is easily the best Israel PR out there today,” said Allen, who also serves as the director of Teen Connections, which offers Israel advocacy and other programming to Jewish high school students.

Munira Syeda, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Southern California chapter, called “Israel 101” “one-sided” for its failure to fully address the “occupation” of Palestinian territories, the “illegal” construction of settlements and Israel’s “apartheid” policies.

The widespread distribution of such “propaganda,” Syeda said, “puts up roadblocks in the way of a just peace.”

StandWithUs’ “Israel 101” is but a part of the widespread Israel advocacy efforts undertaken by American Jewish groups to counter what they see as rampant anti-Israel bias in media, on campus and elsewhere.

At universities, the 31-member Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) — which includes such groups as StandWithUs, the American Jewish Committee and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life — have banded together to better “communicate and collaborate” in the battle against campus anti-Zionism, ICC Executive Director David Harris said.

Those efforts notwithstanding, many campuses remain hotbeds of anti-Israel sentiment because of the decades-long “leftward trend of the university, from a liberal institution to a radical one,” Middle East policy expert Daniel Pipes said.

UC Irvine, Columbia University and Wayne State University are often cited among the most virulently anti-Zionist college campuses, featuring visits by anti-Israel speakers and many faculty members holding views critical of the Jewish state.

To prepare Jewish students for such environments, some Jewish groups now reach out to high school students. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations publishes an online newsletter for high school students called the Israel HighWay. Some Jewish high schools now offer courses on Israel advocacy.

Much is at stake, said Gary Ratner, executive director for the American Jewish Congress, Western Region. Young Jews who are fuzzy on their Middle East history are susceptible to becoming “allies of our enemies,” which, he said, gives credibility to anti-Zionist organizations. Such alienated Jews might opt out of the community entirely, Ratner added.

“If you’re a liberal kid and think Israel is like South Africa, why would you want to be Jewish?” he asked. “Why would you care?”
While Ratner calls “Israel 101” “super,” some supporters of the Jewish state are less enthusiastic.

Alex Baum: Wheels of a Dream


‘>Alex Baum

‘>Eve Marcus

‘>Marilyn Harran

‘>Rebecca Levinson

‘>Yoram Hassid

Alex Baum, who will be celebrating his 84th birthday on Dec. 30, fought in the French Resistance, survived two and a half years in the concentration camps, and has since dedicated his life to performing good deeds, most notably in his advocacy of amateur athletics.

Yet, when asked if he is a mensch, he says, “You never know.”

Baum is of French Jewish ancestry, but he speaks with a German accent, befitting one who was born in a small town in Lorraine, which along with the province of Alsace was frequently the subject of territorial disputes between the French and the Germans. Concerning the war, he says without embellishment, “We fought the Germans in any possible way we could.”

Although he was caught by the Nazis, he convinced them that he was a resistance fighter, not a Jew. Due to his Algerian passport (his mother was from the North African country), he was treated as a political prisoner in the camps. The Nazis did not question why he was circumcised, because Algerians, being desert dwellers, practiced circumcision for hygienic reasons.

After surviving the Holocaust, Baum vowed that he would be a good role model, like his grandparents and uncles: “I felt a need to do that.”

He moved to the United States shortly after the war and settled in Chicago, where he played semipro soccer for the Chicago Kickers. A center-forward on the team, he scored his share of goals, but his greatest goal has been developing cycling programs and recreational facilities for inner-city kids in Los Angeles.

When not working as a caterer, his living for 30 years, he has been an adviser to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the previous three Los Angeles mayors, but Baum is not simply a cycling enthusiast and fitness fanatic — he has also shown the vision of an urban planner and the determination of a mensch in implementing the now-ubiquitous bike paths throughout the city of Los Angeles, pioneering the Tour of California bike race and building velodromes in Dominguez Hills and Encino.

Of all his projects, he remains most passionate about the creation of bike paths and facilities along the L.A. River. In the next 10 years, he expects to see a 50-mile path bordering the river from the Valley to Long Beach. Speaking with unmistakable enthusiasm, he envisions the following: “You can stop anywhere through the city, enjoy the Sunday or the weekend without using the car; [you can] even ride at night. We have lights and rest stops, parks and a restaurant.”

Although the complete river restoration has not come to fruition yet, Baum says that, due to all the bike paths in recent years, 2.5 percent of people now go to work by bike, as opposed to 0.5 percent in the past.

Despite constant talk of ethanol and hybrid cars, this goodwill ambassador to the city of Los Angeles, who served on the 1984 Olympic host committee, might have the simplest and greenest solution of all for Los Angeles’ gridlock as well as global warming — riding a bike.

Truth More Powerful Than Advocacy


With a copy of “Making the Case for Israel” under one arm and a blue solidarity bracelet on my wrist, I first entered The Media Line’s (TML) Jerusalem bureau seeking an outlet for my pro-Israel passion. I had spent the first part of the summer studying Hebrew, and was looking to round out the remaining weeks working an internship that would allow me to hone my Israel advocacy skills before returning to Los Angeles.

It was unlikely then that I would connect with TML at all, since it is distinctly not an advocacy organization. But I decided to seek an interview with them, and they decided to talk to me, a 22-year-old UCLA graduate with a communications degree.

There I was, speaking with TML founder Felice Friedson, who was challenging my devotion to Israel — at least when it comes to being a journalist. I had never stopped to consider it from Felice’s perspective before, but it made sense: “One cannot be a journalist and an advocate,” she insisted.

Felice explained convincingly that it’s not the role of a journalist to make a case, but rather to present the facts. A true advocate, she continued, must believe that objective listeners, viewers or readers — hearing all the facts — will come to a like understanding. But if you twist, spin, tweak or hold back, the discerning person wants to know what you’re hiding and why you’re hiding it. And then you’ve lost him or her.

What I learned that afternoon made sense, so much so that I agreed to return to TML — an accredited news bureau, working in radio, television, Internet (www.themedialine.org) and print. — as an intern.

From its state-of-the-art Jerusalem facility, it produces and distributes “The International News Hour,” a daily radio program carried by the USA Radio Network; its weekend radio program, “Mideast Sunday”; television content that reaches across America through more than 300 stations; and articles for newspapers and magazines. Its amazingly dedicated staff is multilingual, speaking and writing in the languages of the region.

It has become, in effect, the Jerusalem bureau for many Southern California radio and television affiliates. They say all roads lead to home: As if to illustrate the point, TML provided live, on-air reports for Doug McIntyre’s morning program on KABC radio in Los Angeles every day during my first week there.

Being on the inside, I was able to witness the importance TML attaches to telling the entire story, despite the intense pace. This news service focuses on context, background and perspective.

Within days of my arrival, I had not only met senior officials of the government of Israel, but an official of the Palestinian Legislative Council, as well. I quickly found my greatest fear melting away. Felice’s discourse had left me wondering whether all that scrutiny of Israel would chip away at my passion for the Jewish state.

Ultimately, a willingness to see the faults of Israel with open eyes made the country’s extraordinary qualities also stand out, and made Israel’s survival seem more incredible and entirely worthwhile. Meeting close up with players on both sides of this very real and very scary drama moves the conflict to a level far above the platitudes we reflexively draw upon when describing Israel and the Palestinians.

TML founders, Felice and Michael Friedson, really put their principles to the test when they saw an opportunity to bring Israeli and Palestinian journalists together — as professionals covering two sides of a single conflict. That is why they created the Mideast Press Club.

More than 60 journalists turned out for the inaugural session of the Mideast Press Club at Jerusalem’s American Colony Hotel last March. The kickoff featured heads of Israeli and Palestinian television leading a discussion of “Covering the Other Side of the Story.” Breakout sessions for specific disciplines followed.

At the end of June, more than 100 Israeli and Palestinian journalists returned to the American Colony for what proved to be a decisive event in the Mideast Press Club’s young history. Former Israeli Shin Bet intelligence head Ami Ayalon and Palestinian security chief Jibril Rajoub led the discussion on how each side could help the other in covering the Gaza pullout. A working luncheon saw Israeli and Palestinian professionals interacting as never before.

Just a few weeks ago, the Mideast Press Club brought senior writers and editors from the Israeli newspapers to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) complex in Ramallah, where they joined up with senior editors of the major Palestinian print media in a session hosted by Mahmoud Labadi, PLC’s director general. More than two hours of candid, blunt, gloves-off discussion ensued. The response from participants was overwhelming.

Because of TML’s trustworthiness, credibility and inclusivity, its articles and television content are now replacing — at least in part — newspaper inches and television minutes that have more typically featured anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian media. Felice recently had her first byline in Al Quds, the largest Palestinian newspaper. For many Palestinians, these articles and television segments are the first media glimpses of nondemonized Israelis to which they’ve been exposed.

This was not the internship I had expected. I had not, as it turned out, cocooned myself in an exercise of passion for Israel. I had done something better. I learned that truth — the whole truth — and credibility are more powerful than hype and promotion.

As Felice had counseled, it’s a matter of trust.

Felice and Michael Friedson, will be appearing in Los Angeles Sept. 12-14. For information, e-mail editor@themedialine.org or Rona Ram, ronaram@gmail.com.

Rona Ram, a recent communications graduate from UCLA, is an intern for The Media Line.

 

Brand Israel


 

What do you think about when you hear the word Israel?

Chances are if you’re like most Americans, when you hear Israel, you think war. Ask most Americans to free-word associate with the word “Israel” and they’d probably say: terrorists, Palestinians, danger and conflict.

At best.

At worst, oppression and ethnic cleansing.

But there are people out there who are trying to change that.

One of them is Larry Weinberg, executive vice president of Israel 21c, a California-based media advocacy group that tries to promote Israel “beyond the conflict,” its Web site says. On the site (www.Israel21c.com) are articles primarily about technology, health and business — anything but the conflict.

“Our modern brand is in trouble,” Weinberg told a group of Los Angeles Jewish leaders who gathered last week to discuss branding and advocacy on Israel at the Israeli consulate.

The brand he talks about, of course, is Israel. In America, “Israel is better known than liked,” Weinberg said, referring to a recent Young & Rubicam survey that measured Israel as a brand, to discover people’s emotional attachment to it.

Mainstream Americans — especially college students — have a lot of emotions toward Israel; attachment is another story. Weinberg’s point: Change the subject.

“The ‘Israel-Palestine Conflict’ is a no-win hasbara war,” said businessman Jonathan Medved, the main speaker of the morning. “Whoever sets the terms of the debates wins. If we continue to argue only on this turf, then even the best ‘ambassador’ is doomed to failure.”

This message wasn’t exactly popular with some meeting participants, who spend much of their time on campus battling pro-Palestinian groups and engaged in the hasbara, or advocacy, wars.

But, if you accept Medved and Weinberg’s logic, what is a pro-Israel advocate to do?

They do not advise putting all the advocates out of business. They do believe in changing the mix — taking the focus off the conflict.

Medved is the founder and general partner of Israel Seed Partners, an Israel-focused venture capital fund of $262 million. In 2004, he said, $1.46 billion was invested in Israel (up 45 percent from 2003), with 55 percent of the total dollars invested from outside Israel.

Of course foreign investment is good for Israel; and it also may profit investors, as well. After all, Israel is a hotbed of technology, creating everything from computer chips to voice technology.

But can changing the subject from the conflict to technology really help?

Medved said it reaches out to core constituencies in America.

“It speaks to Jews, makes them proud and mobilizes them,” he said, noting that a technology pitch also appeals to Christians, the Asian community and the business community.

The concept, of course, is to appeal to Americans’ self-interest, be it business, health or technology, and have them associate Israel with those concepts.

How will this help, though, on campus, where the battle is about the conflict?

Medved has one word: Divestment. He tells a story about a meeting at Carnegie Mellon University on how to divest from Israel. One student stood up and said something to the effect of, “Wait a minute. Do you mean I have to stop using my computer? My credit card? My voice mail? Forget it!”

The point is: Americans are too invested in Israel to divest. Consider that Teva pharmaceuticals is the largest distributor of generic pills in America, or that most laptops contain a chip produced in Israel — it wouldn’t be easy to boycott Israeli products. (Although, as someone at the meeting pointed out, divestment could target specific industries, like the military. And just targeting tourism could have a devastating effect.)

It’s not only about defending against divestment, Medved said. It’s about encouraging investment before the subject becomes divestment.

Medved advocates hosting investment lectures at business schools, science schools. Forget the social sciences, he said.

Israel certainly is about more than the conflict. It’s about great food, innovative art, cutting-edge music; it has pioneered in fields of democracy, religion and the judicial system (although it certainly has farther to go on all these fronts).

Would an American form a better opinion of Israel after learning that Israeli technology produced his computer chip or provided her affordable medicine or developed their uncle’s artificial heart or manufactured my cheap Gap clothing? (OK that last one’s not technology, but it’s important to me.)

I don’t know.

The truth is — and I suspect Medved and Weinberg would agree — the conflict in Israel is the elephant in the room that must be addressed. And the peace process is the best hope Israel has for improving its image.

On the other hand, people are tired of hearing about the conflict. And Israel is about so much more than the struggle. So a campus event addressing another subject — from Israel’s venture-capital opportunities to Israeli films — might not alter perceptions, but it could inspire a second look or a deeper one. It might make someone willing to listen.

 

Briefs


 

Council Adds Some Fire to Mayoral Race

The Los Angeles City Council is doing a great job of overcompensating for the general public’s lukewarm interest in the upcoming mayoral election. With accusations of electoral politics flying from both sides, six council members left Mayor Jim Hahn shaking with rage during the week of Feb. 6., after blocking his (and Police Chief William Bratton’s) attempt to put a half-cent city sales tax increase on the May 17 ballot to fund 1,200 new police officers.

Some of the councilmembers opposing the city tax measure, like Jack Weiss of the Westside’s 5th District, had just recently supported failed Measure A, a half-cent countywide sales tax increase designed to hire more law enforcement personnel that was defeated in the November general election.

The councilmembers supporting one of Hahn’s mayoral rivals, or who are themselves candidates, are obviously more susceptible to accusations of voting “no” for political reasons. Hahn is running a campaign based in large part on his public safety record, and successfully placing this tax proposal on the May ballot would have given him powerful ammunition were he to find himself in a runoff.

After two votes, Hahn was one council member short of winning approval of the ballot measure. After the failure, he implied that no-voting Councilmen Antonio Villaraigosa and Weiss should be recalled, because a sizable majority in both their districts supported Measure A. Weiss is an avid supporter of Villaraigosa’s mayoral campaign.

“I support raising the sales tax by a half-cent to pay for more cops; that’s not the issue,” Weiss said. “I think the best time to do it is not when there’s a contested mayor’s race, not when major segments of the city are opposed to it, such as the [San Fernando] Valley and many folks in South L.A.”

Weiss called Hahn’s sales tax a “half-baked” measure, because it would not affect other cities in L.A. County. He said voters in the 5th District approved the countywide measure – not this city-only tax – and this is not the right time to ask them about it again.

Weiss even disputed Hahn’s credentials on the issue in general, saying, “Mayor Hahn was AWOL on [county] Measure A. Sheriff [Lee] Baca and Councilman Villaraigosa led that effort.”

“Absolutely false,” said Shannon Murphy, Hahn’s communications director.

She pointed out that Hahn attended a county supervisors’ meeting (among other events) to support Measure A, before it was placed on the November 2004 ballot, and said that his support for this latest tax fits perfectly with his record.

“The mayor is disappointed that a minority of the council chose not to trust the voters with this crucial decision,” Murphy said.

So was the mayor really pursuing the sales tax as part of his long-standing commitment to public safety and Bratton, or was it just a way to horde political capital ahead of an election? And does Weiss truly believe that the tax must be countywide, or was he simply blocking Hahn to support Villaraigosa?

With an election coming soon, you can bet on all of the above.

Love and Marriage – and Welfare

Far beyond the gravity of local politics, a House of Representatives bill is winding its way through committee in Washington D.C., but it could have a big impact on Los Angeles. H.R. 240 is the latest reauthorization of Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) funds, which are distributed through state welfare programs.

This year, one of President Bush’s pet projects has found its way into TANF: marriage education. The bill would set aside $1.5 billion over the next five years to fund high school education on the “value of marriage,” divorce reduction programs and programs to “reduce the disincentives” (in the bureaucratese of the bill) to getting married among people who receive welfare support from TANF.

Women’s advocacy groups, in particular, have been very skeptical of the premise that government should assume that marriage should always be encouraged. They point out that many couples rightly split up due to abuse.

Paul Castro, Jewish Family Service (JFS) executive director, weighed in on the issue: “We have to look at the broader context. It’s great to have the promotion of formation of healthy families and marriages, but in an environment that doesn’t provide enough child care and where there are not enough jobs, you’re putting a Band-Aid over one thing, while the rest of the body is still bleeding.”

With the amount of federal dollars slated for Medicaid and food stamps (programs to help the poor) decreasing, funding a marriage education program creates some novel dilemmas.

“How do you measure whether a state has been successful in forming healthy marriages?” Castro asked. “Would the state simply count the number of unwed parents?”

With all these caveats in mind, the seemingly arbitrary selection of a marriage education requirement, while other programs go underfunded, makes the plan sound more like a social conservative’s whim and less like good public policy.

Castro said JFS runs its own parenting classes and is convinced of the need for healthy families, but the complexities of why individuals end up on welfare – and why marriages fail – make legislating it in this way a dubious enterprise.

In the meantime, JFS, which provides social services to approximately 60,000 people a year, just lost $87,000 in federal funds for its Gramercy Place homeless shelter.

 

Jews in U. S. Politics


A woman who was the trusted adviser to the governor of New York in the 1920s.

The ambassador to Turkey in 1889.

The attorney general in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

Belle Moskowitz, Solomon Hirsch and Edward Levi were all Jews involved in U.S. political life in different periods. Previously confined to the footnotes of political science textbooks or familiar only to political junkies, these figures and others are part of a new book charting Jews’ impact on American political life.

The book, "Jews in American Politics," (Rowman & Littlefield, $39.95) is not simply a "locate the landsman" exercise but an attempt to address a number of issues — such as Jewish political behavior, Jewish advocacy and the relationship between politics and Jewish identity — along with important demographic information and more than 400 biographical profiles.

Today, as politics is seen as just another profession toward which Jews gravitate, the changes in the level of Jewish political involvement through the decades are interesting to follow. From hiding one’s Judaism in order to enter politics to last year’s watershed event — when Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) became the first Jewish vice presidential candidate for a major party — the leaps make for good reading.

Some of the old challenges Jews faced in politics have not entirely disappeared. While it is possible today to balance one’s Judaism with a political life — and it is much more legitimate for a candidate today to have a strong religious identity — having it all remains a conundrum.

Observant Jews such as Lieberman, Jack Lew — the former director of the Office of Management and Budget — and Stuart Eizenstat, the former deputy treasury secretary, are the models for today’s young Jews, says Ira Forman, co-editor of the book with L. Sandy Maisel.

The Jews’ future in American politics depends on "where as a community we are going to go," Forman says, either toward continued distinctiveness or greater assimilation.