Slain U.S. Ambassador Stevens helped nurture Libyan democracy

Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya killed in the Libyan city Benghazi, was deeply involved in the transition of the North African state and had been U.S. envoy to the rebels who overthrew strongman Muammar Gadhafi last year.

Stevens, 52, who had been ambassador to Libya since May, was one of four Americans who died when Islamist gunmen stormed the Benghazi consulate and another safe house refuge on Tuesday night.

The California-born veteran diplomat, an Arabic and French speaker, served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Tripoli between 2007 and 2009, in the waning years of Gadhafi's mercurial and brutal rule in the oil-rich country.

As the country dissolved into civil war, he was appointed the U.S. envoy to the Transitional National Council, which was coordinating the revolt against Gadhafi, and returned aboard a Greek cargo freighter that docked in Benghazi in April, 2011.

President Barack Obama, who vowed to bring the killers to justice, stressed Stevens's deep ties to Libya and his commitment to helping Libyans build a nascent democracy out of the chaos of war.

“It is especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi because it is a city that he helped save,” Obama said Wednesday. Benghazi had been the cradle of the anti-Gadhafi revolt.

“He risked his own life to lend the Libyan people a helping hand to build the foundation for a new, free nation,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

Stevens graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1982, taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, and earned a law degree in 1989.

He joined the foreign service in 1991 and had posting in Cairo, Damascus, Riyadh, and Jerusalem, before working in Libya.

“The death of Chris Stevens is a travesty,” said friend Robin Wright, a journalist who worked extensively in the Middle East who is now a scholar at the United State Institute of Peace.

“He represented the very best of American diplomacy. He knew the streets, not the just the elites. He had an infection enthusiasm about the extraordinary history playing out across the Middle East, which he witnessed up close,” she said in a statement.

A letter to Ambassadors Kaskarelis and Mitsialis

Below is a letter sent from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs to Ambassador Vassilis Kaskarelis (Greek Embassy in Washington) andAmbassador Anastassis Mitsialis (Greek Permanent Mission to the United Nation):

Dear Ambassadors Kaskarelis and Mitsialis,

On behalf of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, we would like to thank the Greek government for its decision to prohibit the departure of ships to the maritime area of Gaza. By taking this course of action your government not only displayed great leadership, but a genuine commitment towards achieving a peaceful solution that meets the needs of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

The JCPA is the American Jewish community’s umbrella agency for multi-issue organizations engaged in public policy and community relations.  Our membership includes 14 national organizations and 125 local affiliates.  We work with government representatives, the media, and a wide array of religious, ethnic, and civic organizations to address a broad range of public policy concerns and share the Jewish community’s consensus perspectives.  We are deeply committed to a permanent settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: one that establishes two prosperous and secure states for two peoples. 
Your government has demonstrated, as has also been recently stated by the Quartet, that flotillas are not helpful for resolving the situation and will only escalate tensions. Indeed, the Israeli government has repeatedly said it is willing to transport all genuine humanitarian aid to Gaza, but the flotilla organizers refuse to cooperate.

We commend you for recognizing that Israel’s effort to examine the cargoes on these ships is legal under international law and necessitated by legitimate security concerns over the continuing transportation of weapons to the Gaza Strip. Your offer to transport humanitarian aid from these boats through legitimate channels also testifies to your willingness to be a friend to all the parties involved.

Thank you again for your courageous decision.


Dr. Conrad Giles
Chair, Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Rabbi Steve Gutow
President, Jewish Council for Public Affairs

The Rebbe’s army soldiers on


Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, the Chabad emissaries brutally murdered last week in Mumbai, ran the Jewish center they established in that Indian city on their own. But the young Israeli American couple were part of a worldwide network of Chabad-Lubavitch shluchim — more than 7,000 men and women who devote their lives to doing Jewish outreach in more than 73 countries.

The outreach effort has become the hallmark of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, set in motion 55 years ago by their late rebbe, Menachem Mendel Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackSchneerson. In the 15 years since his death, “going on shlichus,” or becoming Chabad emissaries, has been a point of pride with young Lubavitchers — the best and the brightest, they say, become the rebbe’s emissaries.

Chabad has become so ubiquitous that Jewish travelers around the world, no matter how far they stray, have come to expect a Shabbat meal, a holiday celebration and a warm welcome from one of these Chasidic couples, no questions asked. All that’s required is a knock on the door.

An online tribute to the Holtzbergs posted recently at is filled with postings from American, British and Israeli travelers who passed through the Mumbai Chabad center the couple established in 2003.

People recall 29-year-old Gabi’s broad smile and 28-year-old Rivkah’s efforts to make every guest feel at home. Some write of playing with the couple’s 2-year-old son, Moshe, and wondering who will raise him now. One traveler called the Holtzbergs “a beacon of Judaism” in a world that often made him feel alone and alien.

Over the past decade, both during and after my research for “The Rebbe’s Army,” my 2003 book about Lubavitch shluchim, I have heard similar stories from countless American Jews. They talk of spending Shabbat with Chabad in Venice, Hong Kong, Anchorage, Bangkok. They marvel at the fortitude and commitment of these young couples who leave comfortable lives in New York, London or Jerusalem to take up residence in Russia, Brazil, Zambia and, yes, India — countries where they live to serve their fellow Jews, where they raise their children in a language and culture not their own.

Often I meet these Jews at fundraisers for other Jewish organizations. As we munch on hors d’oeuvres and sip wine in fancy banquet halls from Los Angeles to Miami, those who relate these stories don’t seem to realize that the Chabad centers they have come to expect around the world don’t pop up by themselves, and certainly they don’t continue to function without the tireless work and endless fundraising by the emissaries who run them.

At the Passover seder I spent in Bangkok in April 2001, the Chabad center on Khao San Road had been completed just hours before the dinner began; the rafters were still unpainted. Nearly 300 tickets at $15 a pop had been presold to Israeli backpackers who filled the nearby guesthouses.

Some 700 young travelers tromped happily up the stairs to the seder, more than half brushing past the Lubavitch yeshiva students who were quietly collecting tickets and smiling at every arrival, whether they had paid or not.

A free dinner! Of course, it’s Chabad. It’s always free. It’s always there.

During my visit with the Chabad emissaries in Salt Lake City, I listened as Sharonne Zippel spoke of the sadness she felt as she and her husband prepared to send their 11-year-old son off to Montreal for yeshiva, in accordance with Lubavitch custom. When the couple, as young marrieds, decided to spend their lives as shluchim, Sharonne told me, they hadn’t realized it meant dragging their future children into the same lifelong commitment.

Did Rivkah and Gavriel Holtzberg think about that when they decided to move to India? As her three children were born — one died young, a second was in Israel with Rivkah’s parents last week — did Rivkah look into their tiny, perfect faces and wonder whether they might have been happier growing up in Brooklyn or Israel? When the gunmen burst into the Mumbai Jewish center on Nov. 26, did Rivkah or Gabi waver in their resolve to see it through to the end?

The weekend before the attack, 3,000 Chabad emissaries gathered in New York for their annual convention. They danced, they networked, they took their famous roll call during the closing-night banquet, standing up country by country to celebrate the movement’s continued growth.

The number of Chabad institutions has doubled in the past decade from 745 to 1,326. According to a 2001 survey by the American Jewish Committee, one-tenth of the synagogues in the United States are Chabad congregations. The movement’s Web site receives 75,000 unique visitors every day.

The growth is qualitative, too. More sophisticated adult educational programs have been created and emissaries have become involved in a wider range of activities, from prisoner rehabilitation to new media development.

New emissary couples are taking up postings around the world in ever more remote locations. Chabad centers were established last year in South Korea, Serbia and northern Cyprus. Four new Lubavitch couples every week, on average, set out to somewhere around the globe, intent on spreading their rebbe’s message to do good, study hard and love one’s fellows.

The word from Lubavitch global headquarters in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn is that the Mumbai tragedy will not slow down the movement, nor deter new emissaries from taking up their postings.

Next week, Rabbi David Slavin, 27, and his wife, Chani, 26, head to Yassi, Romania, a city with 7,000 Jewish families on the Ukrainian border.

Speaking by phone from their current home in Kiryat Malachi in Israel, David said the news from Mumbai has not affected their plans.

“We are not afraid at all,” he said. “We can’t understand why this happened to the Holtzbergs; it’s very hard, of course. But we are sure this is the right path for us.”

Like other emissaries, the Slavins will bring their children with them: 2-year-old Dovi and 2-month-old Chaya Mushka.

David, whose American-born parents were sent as Chabad emissaries to Israel by Schneerson, noted that Dovi and Chaya Mushka will be third-generation shluchim. That’s quite a responsibility to lay on the shoulders of two toddlers. But it’s the life they have chosen.

Young Ambassadors in Israel Prepare for Return Home

There is unanimity on one point only: Two young Irvine women, who are midway through a 10-month subsidized stay in Israel, will return home next June speaking conversational Hebrew.

But little else is certain as both girls’ parents predict their offspring will return changed by the immersion in voluntary social service, language training and civics lessons.

Naomi Neustaedter, 23, and Elaina Deutsch, 24, left the United States for Israel in August along with 39 other recent college graduates from around the country on a program subsidized by United Jewish Communities (UJC), the parent organization of local federations. The program’s goal is creating informal ambassadors for Israel.

"They consider it a failure if the kids make aliyah," said Elaina’s mother, Margie Deutsch-Lash. "They don’t want them to stay."

"The chances the graduates come back to Orange County aren’t that great, but chances are they’ll be involved in Jewish life," said Ira Karem, a Federation representative in Israel.

Bunnie Mauldin, the Jewish Federation of Orange County’s executive director, said both girls demonstrated their seriousness about Judaism by participating locally in Jewish teen programs and serving as camp councilors.

About 100 young adults took advantage of the program annually in the last decade until 2002 when participation dropped to 12. Yet, the three-year long plague of suicide attacks of Israeli targets did not dissuade Neustaedter or Deutsch, their mothers said, because both women have made previous visits. Each contributed $2,700 toward airfare and daily food.

Named Otzma, Hebrew for strength, the UJC program includes an intensive induction in Ashkelon, a southern town and immigration center. Their days are spent learning Hebrew and civic topics like politics and immigration and serving as a volunteer corps painting houses, for example. The remaining six months the group separates and performs community service elsewhere in the country. Host families take in the visitors on weekends and holidays.

"I do know that the UJC has a motive for our project," Neustaedter said. "But I’ve actually been impressed with the education days they’ve been providing for us.

"I’m not so concerned about being manipulated or brainwashed or anything because I feel like I already have a broad perspective of Israeli culture," she said.

After spending a year attending Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Neustaedter graduated last June with a teaching credential from Cal State University Fullerton. "I’ve already had experiences with most types of Israelis including Zionists, seculars, settlers, anti-Zionists, haredis and Arabs," Neustaedter said.

Both girls, along with others in the group, recently volunteered in Sefaram. In the houses of elderly Arab-Israelis, they wiped grime, killed cockroaches and painted walls.

"I learned so much about these people we met and saw a whole other side of Israel that I have never seen before," Deutsch said in an e-mail note to her parents.

She and Neustaedter are to spend the next three months in another southern town, Qiryat Milakhi. Their duties will include English tutoring of high school students preparing for college entrance tests prior to their military service.

Lydia Neustaedter, a native of Tunisia, met her U.S.-born husband, Craig, in Jerusalem.

"Naomi feels so comfortably in Israel," she said. "I’m scared to go, but she’s not scared," said the mother, noting that so far the southern communities have escaped violence.

The mother of five supported the trip for another reason: it temporarily forestalls her daughter’s having to assume the responsibilities of adulthood.

"She takes a year to do what she wanted before her real life begins," Lydia Neustaedter said.

One of her daughter’s goals, though, was visiting a friend who recently immigrated and lives in a West Bank settlement, her mother said. Otzma officials, who forbid the group from using public transportation, refused.

But the group has not escaped the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entirely. Part of the program includes field trips, such as participating in November in the UJC’s General Assembly in Jerusalem. Another outing in the city Sept. 9 included lunch at Cafe Hillel just hours before it was bombed.

Shaken, both girls called home even before their parents heard about the tragedy.

"It was very frightening, of course," Neustaedter said. "But unfortunately, I’ve been in Israel during the intifada before and I’ve had very similar experiences. The day after the bombings, I stayed home from ulpan [an intensive Hebrew course] because I wanted some time to myself and I knew everyone was just going to talk about it more and more. The truth is it frightens me the more we talk about it. I guess it’s easier just not to listen to the news and live your daily life here. That’s the easiest way for me."

Deutsch-Lash, whose daughter, Elaina, graduated last December from San Francisco State University after majoring in art, said, "I like to listen first and not tell kids what to do from a safety and protective point of view."

"As much as I’m concerned about her well-being, I’m also jealous. I’m proud of her that she feels secure enough to do this."

"I try not to think about the safety issues," said Deutsch-Lash. "If she wasn’t sounding good on the phone, I’d have more concerns. But she sounds like she’s experiencing things very positively."

Knowing other young adults who participated in previous year’s trips, Deutsch-Lash feels confidant her daughter’s experience will prove both life-changing as well as cement her Jewish identity.

"It’s a practical education learning about what happens in Israeli life and bringing it back to North America," she said.

StandWithUs Hosts Second Conference

When 14-year-olds Kobi Mandel and Yosef Ishran were found brutally stoned to death by Palestinian terrorists on May 9, 2001, Jews around the world mourned. For L.A. residents Roz and Jerry Rothstein, the tragedy was the last straw.

The husband and wife team gathered nearly 50 Jewish leaders from across the religious and political spectrum together in their living room on May 21, 2001, to discuss the mobilization of the Los Angeles Jewish community in support of Israel. The meeting marked the birth of the grass-roots pro-Israel organization StandWithUs.

“It’s not just about how this intifada affects Israel,” Roz Rothstein said. “It’s about how the intifada has affected Jews around the world.”

On May 4, StandWithUs will host “Can You Defend Israel?” a repeat of the popular Israel advocacy conference held last January at Temple Beth Am, which drew 325 participants from around the country (organizers were forced to turn away more than 100 people). The second conference, also to be held at Temple Beth Am, is expected to attract an equally sizable crowd.

“This is a how-to conference. This is not a briefing conference,” said Roz Rothstein, executive director of StandWithUs. “It’s how to write, how to deal with the media when you’re not happy, how to advocate. It’s the most sophisticated, most up-to-date information available.”

StandWithUs has become one of the most active pro-Israel groups in Los Angeles today. Its efforts include educating on all levels — monitoring media, helping to expose militant Islamic groups and leadership, improving public relations with Israel and promoting Christian-Jewish alliances. The conference is one step in the organization’s effort to give Los Angeles Jews a professional voice.

Sponsored by 13 additional Jewish organizations and six synagogues, the mission of the May 4 conference is to train people to be ambassadors for Israel.

Rothstein said that even though people might know the information, it is the ability to express that information that they are often lacking. “The other conferences are more informational. They give briefings,” Rothstein said.

Workshops at the conference will include practical tips on lobbying for Israel and dealing with the media, techniques in public speaking and history briefings.

“Our intention is to offer a full plate of politically oriented speakers. But we have an agenda to teach people to advocate for Israel — the most effectively and most efficiently,” Rothstein said. “We don’t want people to spin their wheels. We want people to be very sharp.”

Featured speakers will include radio talk show host Dennis Prager; Elliott Brandt, Western States director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; public speaking expert Richard Greene; Dr. Roberta Seid, director of research and education for StandWithUs; Wayne Firestone, director of the Israel on Campus Coalition of Hillel: The Foundation For Jewish Campus Life, and professor and international affairs expert Jonathan Adelman.

The conference will also cater to college students, a segment of the population that has seen some of the fiercest of anti-Israel sentiment. Although it has been quieter on campus recently, Rothstein said that being prepared and proactive is as important now as ever.

“It’s a hidden agenda of the Muslim student associations across the country — the ‘free Palestine’ agenda and making Israel into the famed bad guy,” Rothstein said. “It’s still there … it’s just waiting right now.”

One of the main issues that will be addressed at the StandWithUs conference is incitement.

“Incitement was a word used in Oslo but it was an empty term,” Rothstein said. “Incitement from the cleric speeches must be monitored on the radio, TV programs need to teach peace, textbooks need to be revamped, the teachers need to teach peace, the posters of suicide bombers and making bombers into heroes needs to end.”

Rothstein said that a peaceful resolution is dependent upon incitement being broken down as an accountable issue in the road map language.

“We’re going to spell out incitement as an issue and hope that everyone will be able to lobby on this issue,” she said.

StandWithUs Advocacy Conference II will take place on
Sunday, May 4, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. at Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Register by phone at (310) 836-6145 or online at