Calif. Democratic Party chair rues any offense with Goebbels analogy


John Burton, the chairman of the Democratic Party in California, apologized to those who took offense at his remarks comparing Republican statements to Nazi propaganda.

Following an uproar over the remarks, which were condemned by Democrats and Republicans, Burton issued a statement on Monday.

“To correct press reports of my recent comments about Republican lies, I did not call Republicans Nazis nor would I ever. In fact, I didn't even use the word,” the statement said. “If Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, or the Republicans are insulted by my describing their campaign tactic as the big lie — I most humbly apologize to them or anyone who might have been offended by that comment.”

Speaking earlier in the day to a California radio station, Burton had said of Republicans in general and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan more specifically, “They lie, and they don’t care if people think they lie.” He also said, “As long as you lie, Joseph Goebbels, the big lie, you keep repeating it, you know.”

Goebbels was minister of propaganda for the Nazi Party and was a close associate of Adolf Hitler.

Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, criticized Burton for his comments.

“John Burton ought to know better than to bring the Nazis and their victims into our current political debates, but apparently the offense such remarks cause to Holocaust survivors and their families are of less concern to him than the prospect of political gain.”

Also condemning Burton was Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, who said, “That obviously doesn't represent the views of the campaign,” adding, “There's no place for that in the political discourse.”

Late last year, U.S. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) also had likened Democrats to Goebbels, noting, “If Joseph Goebbels was around, he'd be very proud of the Democrat Party because they have an incredible propaganda machine.”

A host of Democrats condemned West's remarks at the time.

New Orleans’ Other Lesson


Except for one unfortunate metaphor, it was a brilliant idea to host the annual meetings of the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans.

Here’s the metaphor: My cab driver from the airport told me how he will often pick up revelers in the French Quarter so drunk they can’t remember what hotel they’re staying at. One man, a doctor, gave the driver his driver’s license, then fell asleep. The license said Illinois.

Save that thought.

In New Orleans, you can witness firsthand the power of collective action merged to an ethic of giving. On the second day of the General Assembly (G.A.), as the conference is called, the organizers piled us journalists onto a bus and drove us to see the effects of the almost $30 million raised and distributed through the Federation system for Hurricane Katrina relief (Los Angeles accounted for $2 million of that). We stopped at the home of Thelma Lewis in St. Bernard Parish in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward. Federation dollars and waves of volunteers had rebuilt the place for the astonishingly tough 78-year-old and the four grandchildren in her care.

“We know that it’s a mitzvah what we do here,” said Sister Judith Zynda, the nun in charge of the St. Bernard Project, an ongoing rebuilding effort that still needs money and volunteers “But we can’t do it alone.”

Dollars and volunteers from the national Jewish community are continuing to provide post-traumatic psychological counseling, helping to rebuild both Jewish and non-Jewish lives and restoring a Jewish community infrastructure that is depleted but growing.

“When we first got involved,” Carol Smokler, the past chair of the national Federation Emergency Committee, said, “the experts told us, ‘A lot of groups are here in the days after, but very few are here for years after.’ We’re here for the long run.”

It is hard not to be moved.

Of course, the post-Katrina efforts weren’t what made headlines;  two other events grabbed those.

On Nov. 7, Vice President Joe Biden stood before the 3,000 G.A. delegates and declared — again — there is “no daylight” between the United States and Israel.

Just one day later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government announced that Israel would build 1,300 housing units in the hotly disputed East Jerusalem. President Barack Obama, Biden’s boss, greeted the news with a chilly public scolding, saying such moves are “unhelpful” to a peace process in which he has so much time and prestige invested.

While in New Orleans, Biden had spent an hour at the Roosevelt Hotel in conversation with Netanyahu, so it’s hard to imagine Israel’s plans were a surprise to him, or the rest of the Obama administration — so why the official public thumb in the eye, the real, or feigned, outrage, the fuel for a longer delay to negotiations?

It was hard to read that news and not be confounded, dispirited by the displays — on both sides — to not have a sense that all the speeches and posturing add up to what a former New Orleansian would have called a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The other news story was the heckling.

As Netanyahu addressed the same packed ballroom on Nov. 8, a protester started shouting, forcing the prime minister to stop talking. Security personnel quickly grabbed the protester and bum-rushed him out of the room.

If the protester had come to delegitimize Israel, Netanyahu said, he’d come to the wrong address. The crowd erupted in applause.

The heckling continued in well-coordinated waves. Netanyahu was stopped four more times in the course of his half-hour speech. Each time he returned to the rhythm of his annual address to North American Jewry, another single protester stood up and shouted. Security rushed each of the obstructionists out as the crowd clapped and chanted “Bibi, Bibi” in support of the leader.

Story continues after the jump.

These persistent interruptions followed the same tactic anti-Israel protesters used last February against Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren during a speech at the University of California, Irvine. There, constant shouts and catcalls eventually drove Oren’s remarks to a stop.

But there was a marked difference in the protesters at the General Assembly: In Irvine, the disruptions came largely from Muslim students. These protesters were young Jewish college students who see themselves as representing the best interests of Israel.

“What were they shouting against?” one Israeli journalist in the audience asked rhetorically. “The loyalty oath. The occupation. Gaza. Most Jews would agree with them.”

For many, the drama echoed the General Assembly that took place in Boston in 1969, when Jewish college students held a sit-in that actually shut down G.A. business. The New Orleans protest was just the second time the G.A. had faced that level of dissent.

In comments to the press, this week’s ejected protesters sounded like a new generation of Jewish activists, rather than the often anti-Semitic protesters who make up left-wing anti-Israel movement.

They had worked their way into the G.A. by virtue of being Jewish college students — the G.A.’s organizers have boasted of the 700 college students participating in what is usually a generally older-skewing conclave. Among them are students who are not so much questioning Israel’s legitimacy, but rather specific policies. They see a moral urgency in questions of Israeli policy that mainstream American Jewry is content to see worked out at a pace of the Israeli government’s own choosing.

“Hey, we talk about getting the younger generation involved in Israel,” one G.A. attendee said. “Here they are.”

At the G.A., the Federation system announced it would be spending $6 million to build an Israel Action Network to counter efforts to delegitimize Israel, and to confront the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which the protesters represented.

It’s probably money well-spent, though God knows St. Bernard Parish could use it more. It’s clear that American Jewry understands that we have to fight the network of delegitimizers, many of them funded and prompted by radical Islam. But we cannot continue to do so as if the occupation were not an issue.

What institutional Jewry seems resistant to grasping is that we must fight the occupation as if there is no delegitimization, and fight delegitimization as if there is no occupation.

Otherwise the thing we don’t talk about becomes the central topic. The problem we avoid is the problem that overtakes us.

To not do both is to engage in a willful moral blindness, and here’s where that metaphor comes in. We must not allow ourselves to get so drunk that we forget who we are, what we stand for, and where we, as a people, are headed.

Post-Palin Depression


A therapist I know — OK, since you dragged it out of me, my therapist — told me that I’d be astonished if I knew how many emergency calls she got the night that Sarah Palin gave her convention speech.

Actually, I wasn’t that surprised. Judging from the number of unnerved post-Palin phone calls and e-mails that I got, I wonder why I didn’t think of calling her myself.

Why was it such a psychic downer? Movement conservatives might gloat that it was because Palin kicked Los Angeles liberals in the kishkas, made unanswerable arguments, strutted her Super Woman stuff, and — worst of all — signaled their inevitable defeat come November.

I don’t think so. For one thing, we all know that Election Day comes after the High Holy Days, which means there’s plenty of time before the book on McCain/Palin — the Book of Life, that is — gets written. Who shall win, and who shall lose is still (theologically speaking, anyway) up for grabs.

For another, there’s no evidence that the independents who were the key targets of her speech are buying what Palin is selling.

I don’t doubt that some people experience a presidential campaign as one long audition for the show that will be playing on their television sets these next four years. But I’m hoping that the 5 percent to 10 percent of undecideds in the 18 battleground states who will swing the Electoral College more resemble the savvy mass audiences of “Seinfeld” and “The Simpsons” than voters for the next “American Idol” or the mob in “Coriolanus.” Why should a single performance by the governor of Alaska, or even several of them, bedazzle millions of otherwise skeptical Americans into throwing away their bull—t detectors? The historic disapproval ratings of the incumbent president are continuing evidence that the American mainstream has soured on the culture wars’ politics of group against group and the rest of the ressentiment at the heart of Palin’s message. So what accounts for the panic Palin provoked?

Part of it, I think, is that we catastrophize. By “we,” I don’t mean liberals. I mean the many functioning neurotics among us who think that a doctor’s every “hmmm” during a physical is a portent of tragic doom; who mentally extrapolate from routine family conflicts to irreparable ruptures; and whose pessimism is relentlessly fed by cable news, which — in order to hang on to our attention — portrays every freeway car chase as a potential shootout; depicts every global brushfire as the start of World War III; and shouts, “Breaking news!” so frequently that the scary music that accompanies it is itself enough to spike the nation’s blood pressure.

This is not just a Jewish phenomenon, though a few thousand years of expecting to be scapegoated, persecuted, exiled or killed certainly contributes to the melancholic gene Jews are known for carrying, the optimism of a Ben-Gurion or Sandy Koufax notwithstanding. No, this gloominess is a nonethnic worrywartism, arising from the fear and sensationalism fanned by politicians and news media alike.

This is not to say that putting Sarah Palin one melanoma from the presidency would mean good times. It would be more like James Dobson with nuclear weapons. But while her Rovian apparatchiks are stoking the worst among us with passionate intensity, it’s not inevitable that the best will lose all conviction in the voting booth.

When a political candidate convinces half a country to hope again, it’s a double-edged sword. The endorphins and neurotransmitters that wash our brains when we welcome the future instead of dreading it are as powerful as any drug. It’s like love. Unless you let your guard down, unless you permit vulnerability to trump cynicism, you rarely can get what you want. That’s why Howard Dean or John Edwards or Hillary Clinton were, for many people, so thrilling to support. That’s why hardened political operatives call that kind of enthusiasm “drinking the Kool-Aid.” That’s why, when the fall comes, it’s so painful.

But my therapist, if I understand her, has another take on this. She thinks that people identify too much with candidates. Their ups have become our ups; their downs, ours as well. And by identifying with them so closely, we inevitably make ourselves vulnerable to outside factors, to forces we can’t control. And the more political media we consume — on cable, online, on e-mail, on radio, in print — the more we cultivate the illusion that we ourselves are actual political players, that our advice is urgently needed, that everything depends on our counsel.

I’m totally guilty on this charge. “Go negative!” I yell to Obama and Biden when I see them on my screen. “Put McCain on the defensive! Go after his strength! Make the POW thing irrelevant to the presidency! Destroy the ‘maverick’ charade! Call their lies lies!” But my tirades, instead of making me feel better, only underline my powerlessness to second guess the campaign’s strategy or reshape its tone and message.

I don’t mean to diminish the importance of every single citizen in a democracy. Registering to vote, giving money, going door-to-door, expressing our opinions: there is plenty that each of us can do, and the collective action that comes from that commitment can move mountains and make history.

But there is a difference between pitching in and hitching our psyches to the day-to-day vicissitudes of campaignland or to the news media’s breathless “narrative” of the horse race. One is about us, and it is within our power to control what we ourselves do. The other is about them, and it is a kind of annihilation to cede our identity and our well-being to people outside ourselves, whether those people be candidates and commentators — or audiences, critics, velvet-rope guardians, fashionistas, studio executives, admissions committees or that hottie over there at the bar.

As for me, I’m trying to unplug. I’m still reading the papers, but I’ve gone cold turkey — well, room-temperature turkey — on cable (except for C-SPAN and “The Daily Show”), blogs (except for a few), radio (except for NPR) and every other source of political news that I thought I was obligated to mainline in real time 24/7. If I fall off the wagon, maybe there’s some 12-step group for media addicts I can join, or a 1-800-TVDETOX hotline I can call. All this may make me a lesser media yakker, I know, but think of the dough I’ll be saving on therapy.

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear Chair in Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. His column appears here weekly, and his

McCain accepts nomination, offers little new on Israel, Iran


ST. PAUL, Minn. (JTA)—John McCain used his convention speech Thursday to unveil his game plan for claiming the mantle of real change: Shore up support among conservatives by touting traditional Republican positions while appealing to undecided voters by criticizing his party’s actual performance and promising to work across party lines.

In the process, he offered little new on Israel and Iran—possibly because of Republican confidence that the party has the upper hand over Democrats on those issues.

Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.) accepted the Republican Party’s nomination on the final night of the convention in St. Paul with a speech that promised a Washington shake-up.

“Let me just offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first-country-second, Washington crowd: Change is coming,” McCain said to cheers.

The McCain campaign has striven to undercut claims by the Democratic candidate, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), to real change—a tough proposition given his advantage of being a Democrat after eight years of Bush administration rule, including six years when Republicans controlled Congress. Making the challenge even tougher is McCain’s commitment to a long string of conventional Republican domestic and foreign-policy staples.

Stll, McCain offered a clear break from the increasingly bitter mood in Washington: He pledged to work with Democrats and independents once elected.

“Instead of rejecting good ideas because we didn’t think of them first, let’s use the best ideas from both sides,” McCain said.

The nominee already has made clear his most senior adviser on foreign policy—and on some areas of domestic policy—will be Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the former Democrat who became the first Jew to make a national ticket when he was tapped as the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000.

Not much in terms of policy appeared to distinguish McCain from Bush, whose unpopularity ratings are at about 65 percent, according to polls.

This is partly because, in one critical area, dealing with Iraq, Bush in recent years has caught up with McCain: Bush has increased troops, a policy that has gone some way toward stemming the chaos that ensued in that country after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

On education, taxes, trade and immigration, McCain appears to be on the same page as Bush. If there was a difference between the two that came out in the speech Thursday, it was one of emphasis: In his speech, McCain barely mentioned the social conservatism that characterized much of the Bush administration. He included one passing mention to a “culture of life,” a code for opposition to abortion.

McCain opposes abortion, but has shown little taste for legislating it out of existence; additionally, unlike many Christian conservatives, he supports embryonic stem-cell research.

Israel did not get a mention in McCain’s speech, but McCain alluded to Israel’s concerns at two points.

First, when he outlined unfinished foreign policy business: “Iran remains the chief state sponsor of terrorism, and is on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons,” McCain said. The other reference was in outlining a pledge to promote energy independence—one Obama also has adopted but without going as far as McCain in pushing for more drilling in the United States.

“We’re going to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don’t like us very much,” McCain said. The world’s major oil producers include such countries as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Russia.

When the Middle East came up during the Republican convention, it often did so in conjunction with hopes for energy independence. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain’s vice presidential pick, also linked the two in her speech Wednesday night.

Republicans’ confidence that McCain will claim a greater share of the Jewish vote this November compared to recent presidential elections was evident on the margins of the convention.

Polls have shown McCain claiming at least 32 percent in November, a leap from the 25 percent Bush won in 2004. This, despite the Obama campaign’s efforts in recent months to stress its support for Israel and its commitment to tougher action against Iran.

Lawmakers attending a Republican Jewish Coalition event on Thursday returned constantly to the theme of McCain being a more proven friend of Israel than Obama.

“If you care about the United States of America, if you care about Israel, this election is absolutely critical,” said Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.). Nevada is in play this election and its growing Jewish population could prove critical in November.

At the same event, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to imply that the Democratic Party isn’t pro-Israel.

“There’s an important and fundamental difference between the two parties in Washington, and I know you’re not going to be fooled by Democrats claiming that just because they’re for foreign assistance to Israel that they’re pro-Israel,” McConnell said. “Israel’s security and U.S. security are inextricably intertwined and they involve… having an assertive, aggressive proactive approach to danger.”

Such harsh rhetoric echoed the sharp attacks against Obama delivered by Palin and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in their speeches the night before.

On McCain’s night, however, the nominee ultimately appeared to take his cues from Lieberman, who in his speech Tuesday night painted the GOP nominee as a maverick willing to buck his own party and work with Democrats when the national interest required it.

Convention Notes: Hadassah Lieberman — ‘I’m not a Republican’


ST. PAUL (JTA) — Like her husband, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Hadassah Lieberman is backing John McCain for president. On Monday afternoon, she was the featured speaker at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s (RJC) National Women’s Committee fundraiser and fashion show in Minneapolis.

But, Lieberman insisted that doesn’t mean she’s become a Republican.

A global ambassador for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Lieberman said she attended Monday’s event at the Neiman Marcus store because the RJC women’s committee was raising money for the organization. Because of Hurricane Gustav, proceeds from the fundraiser will go to the American Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund, but Linda Law, women’s committee chair, said she would match the total raised Monday and donate it to the breast cancer organization.

Lieberman told reporters after the event that she had been a registered independent until she married her husband, and she was advised to become a Democrat. When Sen. Lieberman was defeated in the Democratic primary in 2006 and then won as an independent, she returned to political independence — and has no plans to change.

As for the presidential race, she said, “I love John … I hope he wins,” but she said she wasn’t officially endorsing anyone. When asked about the presumptive Republican nominee’s opposition to reproductive rights, she acknowledged that there were differences between some of her views and McCain’s.

In her speech to the 200 at the RJC event, which was pegged to the Republican convention, Lieberman alluded to the support her husband received from Republican Jews in his 2006 Senate win.

“When [Joe] decided to run as an independent, a lot of you were out there, and we did not forget that,” she said.

Lieberman lost in the Democratic primary to challenger Ned Lamont but then beat Lamont in the general election.

Among the other luminaries in attendance Monday afternoon were Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Florida state Rep. Adam Hasner, former Massachusetts Lt. Gov Kerry Healey, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Texas state Sen. Florence Shapiro, radio talk show host Dennis Prager and NBC newswoman Norah O’Donnell.

Paula Waterfield wears three items around her neck: a Star of David for her religion, a flag for her country and a silver star for her son James, who is on his sixth tour of duty in Iraq.

Waterfield is a member of Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission, which was in Minneapolis for a Support Our Troops rally on Monday to coincide with the Republican National Convention. On Sunday afternoon, the Nebraska City, Neb., resident and other members of the organization were invited guests to the film premiere of “An American Carol.” The movie was directed by “Airplane!” director David Zucker, who just happened to be a Sunday school classmate of Waterfield’s when they both were growing up in a suburb of Milwaukee.

Waterfield said she doesn’t often talk to her son, 41, about being Jewish in the military — although she said he does wonder if wearing a Star of David around his neck is a good idea — but did say that he does get to attend religious services on holidays “once in a while.”

The chair of Families United, Merrilee Carlson, was in Denver last week outside the Democratic National Convention. Carlson said she had been “underwhelmed by the strength of the anti-war protesters,” feeling that the “wind has been pulled out of their sails” by the success of the surge in Iraq.

When film director Zucker was first told there was a RJC, he replied, “That’s like Indians for Custer!” But it turned out that the RJC was how Zucker, co-creator of “Airplane!” met Myrna Sokoloff, co-writer for his latest film, “An American Carol.”

Both Sokoloff and Zucker were “9/11 Republicans.” Larry Greenfield of the RJC’s Los Angeles chapter introduced Zucker to Sokoloff because the filmmaker wanted to write a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), whom he had previously supported, telling her he now supported President Bush.

“We never wrote the letter,” recalled Sokoloff, who had been a campaign operative for Democrats, including Boxer, in the 1980s and 1990s, has a master’s degree in Jewish education from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and was an aspiring screenwriter.

They teamed up to make an anti-Kerry ad for the 2004 presidential race and partnered to make “An American Carol,” a spin on the classic “A Christmas Carol,” in which a documentary filmmaker with a remarkable resemblance to Michael Moore is taught to love America. Kevin Farley, brother of the late comedian Chris Farley, plays “Michael Malone,” and Leslie Nielsen, Kelsey Grammer and Jon Voight are among the stars who appear in the film.

The movie was previewed in Minneapolis Sunday before the Republican National Convention. After the film received a standing ovation, Zucker pointed out to the crowd that the producer of his movie, Stephen McEveety, also produced Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ.”

Zucker joked that since McEveety had been so successful with a film that consisted mostly of “Jews beating up God,” he had urged Zucker to insert scenes of “Jews beating up the pope or Gandhi.”

As for the film, there is some of the slapstick and classic sight gags that Zucker’s films are known for — at an anti-war protest, the back of one protester’s sign reads, “See Other Side.” And there are a few uproarious scenes, particularly a training film early in the movie showing the right and wrong ways to carry out a suicide bombing: Ahmad finds his target, while Ahman doesn’t have the proper directions and blows up before he gets there.

However, as the film goes along, the humor seems to give way to the political message, which gets very heavy-handed at times. The filmmakers seem to really dislike Moore — the character is even called unprintable names by his niece. It will open nationally on Oct. 8.

Allies and foes scrape through Palin bio for Jewish material


ST. PAUL (JTA)—A small Israeli flag propped up on a window frame. A Pat Buchanan button sported briefly as a courtesy. A prospective son-in-law with a biblical name.

Little about the Frozen North is Jewish outside the realm of fiction (see Mordechai Richler, Michael Chabon, “Northern Exposure”), so when Republicans pitch Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain’s vice presidential pick, to the Jews and Democrats try to undermine her, both sides tend to reach.

Picking through the trivia and smears for substance, there’s this: Palin, 44, has genuinely warm relations with her Jewish constituents—6,000 or so—and appears to have a fondness for Israel. She also comes down on the strongly conservative side on social issues where Jews tend to trend liberal.

“Governor Palin has established a great relationship with the Jewish community over the years and has attended several of our Jewish cultural gala events,” Rabbi Yosef Greenberg, the director of Chabad-Lubavitch in Anchorage, wrote in an e-mail after McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee and longtime Arizona senator, announced that she was joining his ticket.

“Governor Palin also had plans to visit Israel with members of the Jewish community, however, for technical reasons, the visit has not occurred yet.”

Palin is likeable enough that she got props from Ethan Berkowitz, the Jewish former minority leader in the Alaska House of Representatives who appears poised to become the first Democrat to represent Alaska in the U.S. House of Representatives since Nick Begich disappeared in a snowstorm in 1972.

“I like her and this is an exciting day for Alaska,” Berkowitz told JTA.

Republicans have been scouring the archives to uncover evidence of Palin’s outreach to Jews and to Israel.

Her single substantive act is signing a resolution in June marking 60 years of Alaska-Israel relations, launched improbably in 1948 when Alaska Airlines helped shepherd thousands of Yemeni Jews to Israel. However, she did not initiate the legislation: Its major mover was John Harris, the speaker of the Alaska House.

The paucity of material led the Republican Jewish Coalition to tout the appearance of a small Israeli flag propped against a window of the state Capitol in an online video in which Palin touts the virtues of hiking Juneau.

In an e-mail blast, RJC executive director Matt Brooks offered the screengrab as an answer for “those of you who have had questions regarding Sarah Palin and her views on Israel.”

In a seemingly equal bit of stretching in the other direction, some Democrats played up an Associated Press report that Palin—then the mayor of the small Alaska town of Wasilla—had sported a Buchanan button in 1999 when the Reform Party candidate visited there.

“John McCain’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate that endorsed Pat Buchanan for President in 2000 is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans,” said an e-mail blast from the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the Democratic nominee for president, quoting U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Obama’s top Jewish surrogate. “Pat Buchanan is a Nazi sympathizer with a uniquely atrocious record on Israel, even going as far as to denounce bringing former Nazi soldiers to justice and praising Adolf Hitler for his ‘great courage.’ ”

The problem was that Palin had corrected the record as soon as the AP report appeared, noting in a letter to a local newspaper that had published the account that she wore the button as a courtesy. In fact, in the 2000 election, during the GOP primaries, she was an official of the Steve Forbes campaign.

The hunger for Palin-Jewish news extended beyond partisan politics. Pulses quickened among some in the Israeli media when the McCain campaign revealed Monday that Palin’s 17-year old unmarried daughter, Bristol, is pregnant and that her fiance’s name is Levi. (It was revealed later that his last name is Johnston, so no seders in the immediate Palin family future.)

The National Jewish Democratic Council focused on a more substantive difference between Palin and the U.S. Jewish community: her staunch social conservatism.

“For a party which claims it is trying to reach out to the Jewish community, McCain’s pick is particularly strange,” NJDC director Ira Forman said in a statement. “On a broad range of issues, most strikingly on the issue of women’s reproductive freedom, she is totally out of step with Jewish public opinion. The gulf between Palin’s public policy positions and the American Jewish community is best illustrated by the fact that the Christian Coalition of America was one of the strongest advocates of her selection.”

Palin backs abortion only in cases where a woman’s life is at risk, opposes stem cell research and believes creationism should be taught in schools alongside evolution.

Perhaps the most damning feature of her resume on Jewish issues is its thinness—her broader problem as well. Berkowitz, the Jewish congressional candidate, poked a little fun at the resume by citing Palin’s enthusiasm for guns and hunting.

“As far as Republican vice presidents go, she will be a much better shot than Dick Cheney,” he said. “But this is John McCain’s choice and an insight in terms of his judgment.”

Ben Chouake, who heads NORPAC, a New Jersey-based pro-Israel political action committee and one who is close to the McCain campaign, says he learned that McCain favored Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the one-time Democrat and Al Gore’s vice-presidential pick in 2000, until the last minute but caved to arguments that Lieberman would alienate the Republican Party’s conservative base.

“I don’t know anything about her, but I’m not concerned because she is the governor, who is someone with executive experience,” Chouake told JTA.

Palin has served less than two years as governor and, as NJDC noted, has “zero foreign policy experience.”

Greenberg, the Chabad rabbi who has not endorsed a candidate, suggests that she makes up in soul what she lacks in experience, referring to her fifth child, Trig, a Down syndrome baby born just four months ago.

“I was personally impressed by Governor Palin’s remarks of hope and faith when she gave birth to a child with special needs,” he said. “We all feel that the Governor is a remarkable, energetic, and good person.”

(JTA staff writer Jacob Berkman contributed to this report from New   York.)

VIDEO: Blacks and Jews are back together and working side by side for an Obama victory


JTA’s Eric Fingerhut and Ron Kampeas on Thursday’s events at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.  With a focus on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, they explore a new emphasis on rebuilding the Civil Rights-era alliance of Jews and Blacks.  Included—Rev. Al Sharpton, Rep. John Lewis.

Obama says GOP ‘tough talk’ doesn’t help Israel; Transcript of speech


DENVER (JTA) — Barack Obama said Republican “tough talk” was not protecting Israel.

In his speech accepting the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination Thursday night, Sen. Obama (D-Ill.) derided the Bush administration and his Republican rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for failing to contain terrorism.

“You don’t defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq,” he said, in a speech to an estimated 75,000 people at Invesco Field in Denver. “You don’t protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can’t truly stand up for Georgia when you’ve strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice – but it is not the change we need.”

Obama has accused Bush and McCain of undermining alliances through unilateralism. He favors intensifying diplomacy as well as sanctions in a bid to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Earlier in the evening, Rabbi David Saperstein, who heads the Reform movement’s Washington public policy office, the Religious Action Center, delivered the invocation at the opening of the Thursday session of the convention. Saperstein asked for God’s blessing “on all the leaders of our nation,” but he singled out by name Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is suffering from terminal brain cancer, as well as Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

“May your name be invoked only to inspire and unify our nation, but never to divide it,” Saperstein said.



Following is prepared text of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech

To Chairman Dean and my great friend Dick Durbin; and to all my fellow citizens of this great nation;

With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.

Let me express my thanks to the historic slate of candidates who accompanied me on this journey, and especially the one who traveled the farthest – a champion for working Americans and an inspiration to my daughters and to yours — Hillary Rodham Clinton. To President Clinton, who last night made the case for change as only he can make it; to Ted Kennedy, who embodies the spirit of service; and to the next Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, I thank you. I am grateful to finish this journey with one of the finest statesmen of our time, a man at ease with everyone from world leaders to the conductors on the Amtrak train he still takes home every night.

To the love of my life, our next First Lady, Michelle Obama, and to Sasha and Malia – I love you so much, and I’m so proud of all of you.

Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story – of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren’t well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to.

It is that promise that has always set this country apart – that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well.

That’s why I stand here tonight. Because for two hundred and thirty two years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women – students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors — found the courage to keep it alive.

We meet at one of those defining moments – a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.

Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can’t afford to drive, credit card bills you can’t afford to pay, and tuition that’s beyond your reach.

These challenges are not all of government’s making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.

America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.

This country is more decent than one where a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement, finds herself one illness away from disaster after a lifetime of hard work.

This country is more generous than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment he’s worked on for twenty years and watch it shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.

We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.

Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land – enough! This moment – this election – is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive. Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: “Eight is enough.”

Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. And next week, we’ll also hear about those occasions when he’s broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

But the record’s clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time? I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to take a ten percent chance on change.

The truth is, on issue after issue that would make a difference in your lives – on health care and education and the economy – Senator McCain has been anything but independent. He said that our economy has made “great progress” under this President. He said that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. And when one of his chief advisors – the man who wrote his economic plan – was talking about the anxiety Americans are feeling, he said that we were just suffering from a “mental recession,” and that we’ve become, and I quote, “a nation of whiners.”

A nation of whiners? Tell that to the proud auto workers at a Michigan plant who, after they found out it was closing, kept showing up every day and working as hard as ever, because they knew there were people who counted on the brakes that they made. Tell that to the military families who shoulder their burdens silently as they watch their loved ones leave for their third or fourth or fifth tour of duty. These are not whiners. They work hard and give back and keep going without complaint. These are the Americans that I know.

Now, I don’t believe that Senator McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn’t know. Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans? How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people’s benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?

It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care. It’s because John McCain doesn’t get it.

For over two decades, he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy – give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is – you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps – even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.

Well it’s time for them to own their failure. It’s time for us to change America.

You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.

We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President – when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush.

We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job – an economy that honors the dignity of work.

The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great – a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight.

Because in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton’s Army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.

In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships.

When I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by and fought for two decades ago after the local steel plant closed.

And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle-management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She’s the one who taught me about hard work. She’s the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she’s watching tonight, and that tonight is her night as well.

I don’t know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as President of the United States.

What is that promise?

It’s a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.

It’s a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves – protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.

Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who’s willing to work.

That’s the promise of America – the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper.

That’s the promise we need to keep. That’s the change we need right now. So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am President.

Change means a tax code that doesn’t reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.

Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.

I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

I will cut taxes – cut taxes – for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

Washington’s been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years, and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them. In that time, he’s said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I’ll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I’ll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I’ll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy – wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can’t ever be outsourced.

America, now is not the time for small plans.

Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don’t have that chance. I’ll invest in early childhood education. I’ll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I’ll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American – if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don’t, you’ll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.

Now is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family leave, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick child or ailing parent.

Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses; and the time to protect Social Security for future generations.

And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day’s work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons.

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I’ve laid out how I’ll pay for every dime – by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don’t help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less – because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy.

And Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America’s promise will require more than just money. It will require a renewed sense of responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called our “intellectual and moral strength.” Yes, government must lead on energy independence, but each of us must do our part to make our homes and businesses more efficient. Yes, we must provide more ladders to success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can’t replace parents; that government can’t turn off the television and make a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility for providing the love and guidance their children need.

Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility – that’s the essence of America’s promise.

And just as we keep our keep our promise to the next generation here at home, so must we keep America’s promise abroad. If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that’s a debate I’m ready to have.

For while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats we face. When John McCain said we could just “muddle through” in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights. John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell – but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.

And today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush Administration, even after we learned that Iraq has a $79 billion surplus while we’re wallowing in deficits, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war.

That’s not the judgment we need. That won’t keep America safe. We need a President who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past.

You don’t defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq. You don’t protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can’t truly stand up for Georgia when you’ve strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice – but it is not the change we need.

We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country. Don’t tell me that Democrats won’t keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans — Democrats and Republicans – have built, and we are here to restore that legacy.

As Commander-in-Chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm’s way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

These are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain.

But what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other’s character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America – they have served the United States of America.

So I’ve got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past. For part of what has been lost these past eight years can’t just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose – our sense of higher purpose. And that’s what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America’s promise – the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that’s to be expected. Because if you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

And you know what – it’s worked before. Because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn’t work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it’s best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know.

I get it. I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. I don’t fit the typical pedigree, and I haven’t spent my career in the halls of Washington.

But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the nay-sayers don’t understand is that this election has never been about me. It’s been about you.

For eighteen long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us – that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it – because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.

America, this is one of those moments.

I believe that as hard as it will be, the change we need is coming. Because I’ve seen it. Because I’ve lived it. I’ve seen it in Illinois, when we provided health care to more children and moved more families from welfare to work. I’ve seen it in Washington, when we worked across party lines to open up government and hold lobbyists more accountable, to give better care for our veterans and keep nuclear weapons out of terrorist hands.

And I’ve seen it in this campaign. In the young people who voted for the first time, and in those who got involved again after a very long time. In the Republicans who never thought they’d pick up a Democratic ballot, but did. I’ve seen it in the workers who would rather cut their hours back a day than see their friends lose their jobs, in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb, in the good neighbors who take a stranger in when a hurricane strikes and the floodwaters rise.

This country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

Instead, it is that American spirit – that American promise – that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It’s a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours – a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could’ve heard many things. They could’ve heard words of anger and discord. They could’ve been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead – people of every creed and color, from every walk of life – is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.

“We cannot walk alone,” the preacher cried. “And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise – that American promise – and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.

Dems use speeches to hit GOP on Israel


DENVER (JTA)—President Bush and John McCain backed policies that have endangered Israel, Democrats argued during their convention speeches Wednesday night.

In a night dedicated largely to foreign policy and national security issues, several speakers at the Pepsi Center argued that Israel’s enemies have been emboldened by Republican mishaps. The strategy reflected an increased willingness of Democrats to go on the attack against the Bush administration over Israel, after years of simply insisting both sides of the aisle were equally supportive of the Jewish state.

Alan Solomont, a top fund raiser for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) this time around, told JTA that four years ago it was the “belief of the Kerry campaign that [Israel] was not a point of differentiation therefore the campaign did focus on other issues.”

Not this year. Among those who used their speeches to hammer home the new talking points were:

* Kerry: “George Bush, with John McCain at his side, promised to spread freedom but delivered the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. They misread the threat and misled the country. Instead of freedom, it’s Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban and dictators everywhere that are on the march. North Korea has more bombs, and Iran is defiantly chasing one.”

* Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.): “Under George Bush, the Middle East has become more troubled. That hurts America and endangers our ally, Israel, which has been forced to confront a resurgent Hamas, an emboldened Hezbollah and an Iran determined to get nuclear weapons. That is not the change we need.”

* Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.): “We entered into an unnecessary war and remain bogged down in Iraq as Afghanistan backslides and the architects of Sept. 11 remain free. On Bush and McCain’s watch, we have witnessed the growing influence of a belligerent Iran that has destabilized the Middle East and threatens our ally, Israel.”

During their respective speeches, President Clinton and Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), focused on the harm done by what they described as the Bush administration’s failure to utilize diplomacy.

Clinton argued that America’s “position in the world has been weakened by,” among other things, a failure to consistently use the power of diplomacy, from the Middle East to Africa to Latin America to Center and Eastern Europe.” As for Biden, he pointed to Iran as a hot spot where the United States has failed diplomatically.

“Should we trust John McCain’s judgment when he rejected talking with Iran and then asked: What is there to talk about? Or Barack Obama, who said we must talk and make it clear to Iran that its conduct must change,” Biden said. “Now, after seven years of denial, even the Bush administration recognizes that we should talk to Iran, because that’s the best way to advance our security. Again, John McCain was wrong. Barack Obama was right.”

Obama drew criticism from his onetime primary opponent Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and from Republicans for his statement last year that he would be willing to meet with the president of Iran; he and Biden were two of just two dozen senators to oppose an amendment urging the declaration of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist group.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has since said that he supported the Bush administration’s ultimate decision to take such a step, but objected to the amendment out of fear that the Bush administration would unduly treat it as an approval for attacking Iran. In general, the Obama campaign has argued that its ticket would adopt a tougher and smarter approach to isolating Iran in an effort to short circuit its nuclear pursuits.

Republicans, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani earlier this week, have been painting Obama as naive and undependable when it comes to safeguarding Israel. And, in recent days, they have also attempted to challenge Biden’s pro-Israel bona fides. The Republican Jewish Coalition issued a statement Wednesday citing a 1982 clash that Biden had with Israel’s then-prime minister, Menachem Begin, in which the Delaware senator criticized Israeli settlement expansion and reportedly raised the possibility of cutting U.S. aid to Israel over the issue. In addition, the RJC cited several pro-Israel congressional letters and resolution that Biden did not sign on to.

Biden, who has worked closely with Israel and Jewish groups on many issues, was praised by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee upon being tapped by Obama.

During his speech, Wexler—who boasts of being the first Jewish congressman to back Obama’s presidential bid—described the nominee as a staunch supporter of Israel.

“In his heart, in his gut, Barack Obama stands with Israel,” Wexler said, adding that the candidate “understands the threats Israel faces from Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. And as President, Barack Obama will strongly support Israel’s right and capability to defend itself, and finally make progress toward the goal of a two-state solution that preserves Israel’s security as a Jewish state.”

VIDEO: JTA’s Wednesday Convention Summary


Eric Fingerhut and Ron Kampeas summarize the jewish events of the day at the election, while attending a jstreet function in downtown Denver.

 

Yes, we Cain


Let the games begin: GOP plays ‘Iran card’ against Democrats Obama and Biden


DENVER (JTA)—A year ago, the push for a congressional amendment that urged the declaration of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist group was signature legislation for much of the pro-Israel lobby. Only two dozen U.S. senators out of 100 opposed it.

Two of those opposed—Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.)—make up the Democratic Party ticket for president.

Republicans are hoping to score points on the issue, building on their criticisms of Obama for saying he would be willing to meet with the head of Iran without preconditions.

In a bit of political jujitsu, however, the Democrats are trying to turn the candidates’ opposition to the amendment into an asset.

Jewish Democrats rolled out the strategy this week on the first day of the Democratic convention here, saying the amendment sponsored by U.S. Sens. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) wasn’t serious. Obama and Biden, the Democrats say, have a better plan to secure Israel from attack.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) told a roomful of Colorado Jews on Sunday that Obama’s sponsorship of legislation that would facilitate sanctions against Iran until it proves it is not developing nuclear weapons was the substantive way to go.

“This is not some fluffy sense of Congress resolution,” Wasserman Schultz said in an apparent allusion to the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which was nonbinding. “This is a resolution with real teeth.”

Wasserman Schultz—whose preference in the Democratic primaries, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, was criticized by Obama supporters for backing the Kyl-Lieberman amendment—elaborated later in an interview with JTA.

“Barack Obama backs up his words with action,” she said, adding that nonbinding resolutions “are great, but they don’t empower.”

Democrats are vying to maintain the traditional 3-to-1 Jewish split in favor of Democrats, particularly in swing states such as Colorado and Florida.
The theme, repeated throughout the day at Jewish events: Obama’s coupling of tough sanctions with diplomacy and building alliances is likelier to face down the Iranians.

“We need allies in that war,” U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Sunday evening at a National Jewish Democratic Council gathering outside the modest brick Denver home that housed former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir when she was a teenager. “This administration has pushed off the people we need. We’re going to reach out to those people and pull in allies.”

Republicans made an issue of the vote within hours of Obama’s announcement of Biden as his running mate on Saturday.

“Biden has failed to recognize the serious threat that Iran poses to Israel and the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East,” the Republican Jewish Coalition said in a statement. “In 1998, Sen. Biden was one of only four senators to vote against the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act, a bill that punished foreign companies or other entities that sent Iran sensitive missile technology or expertise. Biden was one of the few senators to oppose the bipartisan 2007 Kyl-Lieberman Amendment labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.”

Lieberman, the one-time Democrat turned Independent who is backing U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, already has made an issue of the votes in pitches to pro-Israel arguments.

The attacks already were discomfiting Democrats.

“It will be an issue only to an extent that the Republicans try to misrepresent and distort the nature of that vote,” said Alan Solomont, the Boston philanthropist who was one of Obama’s earliest backers and is one of his leading fund-raisers.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee strongly backed the Iran measures opposed by Biden. But any disagreement over the issue appeared to be history for AIPAC when it came to weighing in on the selection of the veteran senator for vice president.

“Sen. Biden is a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship and he has longstanding ties to AIPAC and the pro-Israel community,” spokesman Josh Block said in a statement, echoing similar praise it has lavished on Obama and McCain. “Throughout his career in the Senate, Joe Biden has been to Israel numerous times and has gotten to know many of Israel’s most important leaders.”

Biden cast one of the four “no” votes in 1998 against the sanctions bill, which was vetoed by President Clinton, arguing that it could undermine U.S. progress in convincing Russia to curb arms sales to Iran.

“The administration had made significant progress over the six months with the threat of this bill in place,” said Biden, according to a report from the time in The New York Times. “I’m trying to approach this from a practical point of view: How do we insure this doesn’t continue?”

As for opposing the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, Obama, Biden and U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.)—all candidates competing in the Democratic primaries at the time – have said they did not oppose the step of labeling the Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist group. They had backed similar language in separate legislation, and an executive order by President Bush designating the corps as terrorist within weeks of the amendment’s passage caused barely a murmur.

Instead, according to the candidates, they objected to language tying efforts to contain Iran to American actions in Iraq. That, they said, would be handing Bush an excuse to intensify American involvement in an unpopular war.

Dodd, Biden and Obama used Clinton’s vote for the amendment as a cudgel to batter their rival among the party base—a turn of events leading some critics to accuse them of putting politics ahead of the effort to pressure Iran.

Water under the bridge, said Steve Grossman, a former AIPAC president and a leading Clinton backer.

“If there’s one area where Barack Obama has taken a leadership role, it’s on legislation on Iran,” Grossman said, citing the sanctions-enabling act the Democratic candidate is pushing.

The act is stuck in the Senate; an anonymous Republican senator has placed a hold on it.

Grossman didn’t think the Kyl-Lieberman votes would have an effect.

“Will it ultimately determine Jewish votes? I don’t think so,” he said.

In its criticisms of Obama’s choice of running mate, the Republican Jewish Coalition noted that during a debate last December, Biden said “Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United States of America” and told MSNBC that he “never believed” Iran had a weapon system under production.

Biden, who has said that a nuclear Iran is an “unacceptable” danger, made the comments following the release of a U.S. intelligence report concluding that Iran has likely halted its nuclear weapons program. The senator used the news to paint the Bush administration as having further damaged America’s credibility and hurt its efforts to isolate Iran.

“It was like watching a rerun of his statements on Iraq five years earlier,” Biden said during the 2007 debate, sponsored in Des Moines by National Public Radio. “Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United States of America. Iran should be dealt with directly, with the rest of the world at our side. But we’ve made it more difficult now because who is going to trust us?”

But he’s a Muslim!


It made me think of my own family.

Having coined “O’Bama” for the Irish working-class values that Joe Biden brings to the Democratic ticket, MSNBC motormouth Chris Matthews called his family in Pennsylvania — where Scranton-born Biden is known as the state’s “third senator” in some quarters — to ask whether now they’d be voting for Obama.

“But he’s a Muslim!” That’s the reply Matthews told his viewers he got.

The Matthews clan is not alone. Going into the Democratic National Convention, depending on which poll you read, somewhere between 10 percent and 15 percent of American voters thought that Obama is a Muslim. A Newsweek poll found that 26 percent thought he was raised as a Muslim (untrue), and 39 percent thought he grew up going to an Islamic school in Indonesia (also untrue).

I’m not shocked by Americans’ ability to think untrue things. After all, under the relentless tutelage of the Bush Administration and its media enablers, nearly 70 percent of the country thought that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in planning the Sept. 11 attack.

In fact, if you told me that double-digit percentages of voters believe that Jewish workers were warned to stay home on Sept. 11, or that the American landing on the moon was faked, or that every one of the words of the Bible is literally and absolutely true, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. It might make me think about the downsides of universal suffrage, the challenges facing public education, the limitations of “fact-checking” as a corrective to Swiftboating, the coarsening of public discourse, the devolution of news into entertainment, the risks to democracy of Rovian demagoguery — stuff like that — but it wouldn’t make me question the methodology of the polls.

On the other hand, “But-he’s-a-Muslim!” does raise the issue of whether people lie to pollsters when they’re embarrassed to say what they really think. This argument — called “the Bradley effect,” after the Election Day disappearance of the lead that Los Angeles’ African-American mayor, Tom Bradley, had held until then in the gubernatorial campaign — says that the percentages that black candidates get in polls should be discounted by the reluctance of no small number of white voters to admit that race is a factor in their choice.

Race, of course, is already an issue in this presidential election, though it has largely been discussed via the proxy issue of ideology — black ideology, and ’60s black ideology in particular. It’s way more comfortable to ask whether the Obamas’ membership in Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church, and whether the thinking in Michelle Obama’s senior-year college thesis, “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community,” are evidence of their now-concealed belief in black separatism, black power and black liberation theology, than it is to interrogate our nation’s melting-pot self-image, or to figure out why our prison population and our intractable economic underclass are overwhelmingly African-American.

The Muslim issue is a way to talk about race without talking about race, and without having to squirm about saying that race is not an issue. To enough voters that it matters for the outcome of this election, Muslims are as other, if not more so, as blacks. A Muslim running for president of the United States may just as well be the Manchurian Candidate, with al-Qaeda, the Palestinians, the Saudis, your-Islamic-bad-guys’-name-here, playing the role of the brainwashing North Koreans nefariously plotting to plant one of their own in the White House.

It’s entirely conceivable that the McCain campaign’s harping on Obama’s alleged “elitism,” his popularity in foreign crowds, is their way of hitting low notes meant to resonate with his otherness. They can’t very well come out and call him a Muslim or directly question his patriotism in their ads, but when they charge that his foreign policy is a gift to the Iranians, the Russians or the terrorists, they are deploying the same tactic that labeled John Kerry as “French” — that is, as a national of the weasel country that opposed the pre-emptive war in Iraq.

I don’t know whether the family that Chris Matthews comes from, despite their kinship with kitchen-table Catholic Joe Biden, is fastening on “But-he’s-a-Muslim!” as a surrogate for their discomfort with his race; in their case, maybe race plays no part at all. But it does make me wonder what my own parents, may they rest in peace, might be thinking about this election.

Though lifelong Democrats, they were not among the Jews who joined arms with the civil rights movement. Though their relatives were killed by Cossacks just because they were Jews, they saw no irony in judging others just because of their religion or their race. Philip Roth, another kid from the Weequahic section of Newark where I grew up, was reviled for telling goyim about some of the values held in our ‘hood that our clan thought best kept private, so it will come as no surprise, though it is no less discomfiting to recall, that in the four-family houses on the block where I was raised, the word shvartze was not used merely to name a color.

I wonder how my parents would be dealing today with the dilemma I imagine Obama would pose for them. I suspect that the Muslim thing would be weighing as much in their thinking as the black thing. I suspect that my protestations — it is factually untrue that Obama is or was a Muslim — would be met with clucking condescension toward my naivete. For them, in the contest between voting for a Democrat and voting for Obama, I’m pretty sure it would come down to the Is-he-good-for-Israel? thing. And I can’t imagine that the secret-Muslim belief I posthumously, perhaps unfairly, impute to them would make it a no-brainer for them to vote, as they always had done before, a straight Democratic ticket.

If this election remains as tight as it is today, its outcome will once again turn on how the undecideds break. (Yes, there is a chance that an unprecedented youth turnout, or an unprecedented black turnout, or an unprecedented formerly-nonvoter turnout, will change that calculation, but that would be, well, unprecedented.) That same Newsweek poll saying four out of 10 voters believe Obama went to a madrassa also said that 85 percent of undecided voters are non-Hispanic whites and that nearly 80 percent of those undecideds do not have a four-year college degree. In other words, demographically, they’re like my parents. I would like to think that the free press is equal to taking the “But-he’s-a-Muslim!” urban legend off the table for those voters. But if Chris Matthews can’t do that for his own parents, I don’t yet see how that’s going to happen for anyone else.


Marty Kaplan, who worked for several Democratic presidential campaigns, now holds the Norman Lear endowed professorship at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. He blogs @

VIDEO: Jewish Dems nosh and schmooze at Zaydees Deli in Denver


Jewish Democratic event at Zaydees in downtown Denver.

From JTA’s Election Blog:

By Eric Fingerhut on Aug 24, 2008

They didn’t get a chance to sample the corned beef sandwiches, but more than a couple hundred people, Jews and non-Jews, came out to Zaidy’s Deli in Denver Sunday afternoon for a “Nosh and Shmooze.” That was what Democratic National Committee vice chair Susan Turnbull called the welcome party she hosted for her friends from her home state of Maryland and from around the country. Among those noshing on cheese, crackers, brownies, lemon bars and other desserts were Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), American Jewish Congress president Richard Gordon and American Israel Public Affairs Committee chairman of the board Howard Friedman.

Turnbull noted that when she first talking about hosting the event last winter, some of her colleagues didn’t know what a “nosh” was. So her invitations to the event provided definitions for both “nosh” (to snack) and “shmooze” (to stand around and talk). And Turnbull pointed out that’s what everyone did.

 

Conservatives Focus on Intermarrieds


Stephen Lachter didn’t know what to expect when a friend dragged him to a men’s club meeting at his Conservative synagogue five years ago.

“My father was in a men’s club, and to me, it was guys sitting around playing pinochle and volunteer ushering,” he admitted.

Instead, Lachter was surprised to see “interesting people having serious discussions,” and he “fell into a session on kiruv,” or outreach, to intermarried families. “I said to myself, this is something shuls need to be talking about.”

Today, Lachter is a kiruv consultant, a lay leader trained to reach out to intermarried families in his Washington congregation. He’s part of a nationwide program run by the Conservative movement’s Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, which is aimed at making Conservative synagogues more welcoming to their non-Jewish members.

The initiative comes at a time when the Conservative movement is concerned about declining numbers. The Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs has consistently been ahead of the Conservative movement in reaching out to the intermarried.

That groundwork is bearing fruit. Last December at its biennial convention, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism announced its own kiruv initiative, advocating a more open attitude toward members’ non-Jewish spouses, while still holding conversion as the preferred goal.

The document, which has been distributed to Conservative congregations around the country, doesn’t go as far as the Men’s Club kiruv initiative, but it’s a big step in the right direction, said Rabbi Chuck Simon, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.

“Four years ago, we set our goal to put kiruv on the Conservative movement agenda within five years. We did it in three and a half,” he said.

In the past three years, the Men’s Club organization has held seven training seminars for lay leaders and now has close to 40 kiruv consultants working in Conservative congregations around the country. The consultants set up kiruv committees at their synagogues and organize discussion groups with intermarried couples, their parents and grandparents.

At Kiruv consultant Lachter’s congregation, “people have come out of the woodwork,” he said. “How do you talk to your child who is interdating? We don’t have that language. How do grandparents deal with their grandchildren, teaching them what Judaism is without treading on toes?”

The Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs also has organized rabbinic seminars for interested Conservative rabbis on the assumption that kiruv consultants have to work closely with their rabbis to be effective. More than 120 rabbis have taken part in such seminars, including about 30 at a gathering held recently at Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom.

In its April 2006 edition, the federation’s Kiruv Initiative states its position as “in favor of conversion if possible,” while recognizing that many non-Jewish spouses “lead Jewish lives and raise Jewish families” even if they don’t convert themselves.

“The [federation] favors meeting these people where they are and assisting them in making Jewish choices,” the document concludes.

That’s a subtle distinction from the United Synagogue position. Rabbi Jerome Epstein, the United Synagogue’s executive vice president, spoke diplomatically about the federation approach.

“Anything one can do to encourage people to identify more clearly as Jews is good,” he said. “It’s not the approach we’re using, but it’s hard to be against an attempt to reach out to people.”

Rabbinic and lay training seminars are planned for Cincinnati and Anaheim in November, with more to follow next spring. This winter, the federation will begin an online evaluation of cultural change in the congregations taking part in the program.

At the Berkeley gathering, some of the rabbis, including Netivot Shalom’s Rabbi Stuart Kelman, were part of the Tiferet Project, a four-year effort that culminated with last year’s publication of “A Place in the Tent,” a booklet that urges the Conservative movement to adopt a more welcoming attitude toward intermarried families.

“For me, it’s not even a question,” Kelman said of the kiruv consultant idea. “One of the reasons there’s no bimah in my congregation is I’m trying to create a congregation that is accessible. I don’t think the rabbis can do it themselves; the best way to create cultural change is to empower lay people.”

Many of the rabbis have practical concerns: Their members are intermarrying, and they don’t want to lose them.

Rabbi Chai Levy of Marin County’s Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon noted that the most recent statistics in the county show that 90 percent of children ages 2-5 in families that identify as Jewish have a non-Jewish parent.

“The future of my congregation is, obviously, intermarried couples,” she said. “I have to think seriously about these people.”

 

Israel Taps Into Interfaith Tourism


 

As Israeli tourism officials focus on their main demographic with seven new tourism DVDs targeting Christian churches, 233 people will travel to Israel on Dec. 20 for the Los Angeles Jewish community’s 10-day, post-Chanukah Mega-Mission. The number falls short of the 400 Jewish tourists who were expected to go, with the drop-off partly due to the Orthodox Union’s (OU) convention last month in Israel.

“There were many conflicts that ran into it; the OU conference certainly was one of them,” said Young Israel of Century City Rabbi Elazar Muskin, a Mega-Mission co-chair. “Nobody’s blaming anybody as long as they’re going to Israel.”

The Mega-Mission is part of an up tick; tourism ministry statistics show that the 2003-2004 level of Jews visiting Israel did increase after several years of stagnant or decreasing Jewish tourism due to terrorism and the ongoing intifada. But a bulwark of Israeli tourism remains visits and pilgrimages by Christians.

Synagogues participating in the Mega-Mission include Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, Muskin’s Orthodox Young Israel congregation, the Conservative Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge, Temple Beth El of South Orange County, Mission Viejo’s Temple Elat, Arcadia’s Congregation Shaarei Torah, Congregation Ha-Makom in Northern California and Adat Shalom and Temple Beth Am, both in West Los Angeles. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Southern California Board of Rabbis endorsed the mission, which was coordinated by Israel Tour Connection..

The Mega-Mission will have Jewish Angelenos meeting with Israel’s tourism minister plus opening and closing trip dinners.

“From the first stage I believed in this project,” said Noam Matas, the tourism ministry’s departing Western U.S. director, who noted that the average tourist spends about $1,000-$1,500 per day in Israel. “People want to go to Israel; the only thing that they were lacking was the leadership to take them.”

Individual synagogues running their own tour groups to Israel this year cut interest in the $2,300-person Mega-Mission. Reform congregation Temple Israel of Hollywood ran a 10-day study mission in mid-October, including a visit to help its sister shul near Jerusalem. Muskin’s own synagogue saw 65 of its members travel to Israel over Thanksgiving weekend for a bar mitzvah.

“So they turned it into a mission, which is great, but they’re not going with me in December,” the rabbi said. “Did as many rabbis and synagogues get behind it they should have? No. This is a big Jewish community; there is a sense of community but it’s not as strong as it should be because of its size. There’s nothing to criticize when you get 200-plus going to Israel; it’s fine, it’s a wonderful opportunity for the L.A. community to promote tourism.”

Matas also is working with Rabbi David Wolpe of Westwood’s Conservative Sinai Temple for plans to lead 100-200 Jewish tourists to Israel next May, plus a different trip for all the Chabads of Southern California. From Dec. 30-Jan. 6, Seattle-based Jewish talk show host Michael Medved plans a West Coast interfaith trip.

With Tourism Ministry budget cuts creating a leaner U.S. marketing staff, Matas has been leading the outreach to evangelical and fundamentalist Christian churches. After a three-year tour working from his base at the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles, Matas left his director’s post on Dec. 7 as part of his normal ministry rotation. His successor has not been named, and Matas will remain in Los Angeles for the next few months working on ministry projects, including a stronger push into Latin America.

In 2005, evangelical Christian churches will start receiving customized tourism ministry DVDs, hosted by prominent Christian pastors, including the Rev. Jack Hayford of the Church on the Way in Van Nuys. The ministry’s Hayford-hosted “Destiny & Desire” DVD has been sent to about 38,500 pastors.

The other DVDs in the seven-DVD set will target Latino tourists with Spanish-speaking pastors, plus individual English-language DVDs for Calvary Chapel, Southern Baptist, Assembly of God and Nazarene congregations. Ministers from each of those faiths will talk to their own congregations about Israel.

“The message is different from DVD to DVD,” Matas said. “And the whole thing comes together as an online DVD library.”

The Tourism Ministry also is producing a tourism DVD for Christian women, showcasing sites relevant to the stories of biblical figures such as Rachel and Esther. While all the DVDs are hosted by prominent Christians, the final productions are edited by Israeli tourism officials.

Distribution of the 2,500 copies of the Christian women’s DVD will begin in January, when about 600 DVDs will be given to ministers’ wives at a Christian convention in Palm Beach, Fla. Separately, the leadership of the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention has given Matas a pledge to put the Baptist-specific tourism DVD into all Southern Baptist churches nationwide.

 

JEWS DECIDE: 2004


Republicans promise that a substantive, tough party platform this year will present Jewish voters with a sharp contrast from the relatively scrawny Democratic document — but they may find that delving into details could prove devilish.

The Bush campaign is emphasizing its adherence to old-fashioned platform-writing techniques, going into particulars, yet leaving open an element of surprise by allowing a platform committee to hash through the proposed document on the eve of the convention next week.

That means the platform is more likely to approach the 100-some pages of the GOP’s 2000 version than the svelte 37 pages of the Democrats’ 2004 platform, said Ginny Wolfe, one of the senior Republican platform staffers.

Going into such detail will help reinforce Bush’s reputation as a friend to Israel, but it carries risks for the president on domestic issues, where Republican views are less in line with those of many U.S. Jews.

Wolfe said she could not go into specifics before the delegates get the draft platform but offered some guidance based on the 2000 platform.

"There will be an extensive section on foreign policy and our commitments around the world and strong support for our friends around the world, including the State of Israel," she said. "The difference between the Republican platform and Democratic platform is that ours is both broad and substantive. It reflects the principles and policies; it will very much reflect our party and presidential candidate."

Democrats, stung in the past by Republican accusations that the party is divided and weak, wanted to avoid the raucousness often associated with platform drafting. They therefore sought to avoid issues that divide the party base, focusing instead on unifying issues such as job creation, health care and promotion of alternative forms of energy.

The result is that the Democrats devoted just 223 words to the Middle East, against the thousand-plus words the Republicans gave the issue in 2000 — and which Wolfe suggested the GOP will match this year.

"This section of the document will reflect a deep understanding of world realities today," Wolfe said. "There are many friends around the world, and there are those who are not so friendly. It will reflect that understanding and will again make clear the president’s accomplishments in these areas."

Wolfe said the platform likely would reflect Bush’s historic recognition in April of some Israeli claims to the West Bank and rejection of any "right of return" for Palestinian refugees to Israel. The Democratic platform echoed those assurances.

Also likely to make an appearance, Wolfe said, is Bush’s goal of a Palestinian state, the first such explicit call by a U.S. president.

"All of these issues that he has made public will be reflected in the draft working document that delegates receive," Wolfe said.

Such detail is likely to work for Bush in areas where his administration is in accord with Jewish voters. For example, the length of the 2000 platform allowed Republicans to slam not only Iranian extremism but the persecution of Iranian Jews. That document also repeated three times the party’s commitment to maintaining Israel’s military edge over its Arab neighbors.

On the other hand, where Bush’s record is less popular in the Jewish community, there’s likely to be some concern. For instance, the 2004 Democratic platform mentions abortion only once, saying that "abortion should be safe, legal and rare."

By contrast, the Republicans’ 2000 platform mentions the topic eight times, using words like "infanticide" and "shocking." If this year’s platform repeats that language, it’s unlikely to attract the vast majority of Jewish voters who consistently say they favor reproductive choice.

Wolfe complained that the Democratic platform tries to be all things to all people.

"Lay them side by side; you’ll see a huge difference," she said.

Still, meeting some issues head-on could alienate Jewish voters. In the 2000 platform, for example, Republicans call embryonic stem-cell research — endorsed by the Democrats and by all Jewish religious streams — an "abuse."

Berman ‘Rocks’ Boston


At French Connection on Boston’s fashionable Newberry Street this past Tuesday evening, L.A. native Lindsey Berman is juggling. A song by the band Journey blares out of her satchel shaped like a guitar each time her cell phone rings. People are calling — friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends. Everyone wants a ticket to the Black Eyed Peas concert that evening, the hot after-party sponsored by the organization Rock the Vote at the Democratic National Convention. Inside French Connection, vendors are hawking their black T-shirts that read, "FCUK you! I’m voting," referring to the brand French Connection United Kingdom. Art Alexakis, the lead singer of the pop band Everclear, is singing. Berman is making sure everything goes smoothly, firing up the volunteers on the street, and figuring out how she’ll get credentials for young people so they can get on the floor for the convention’s speeches that evening.

Berman, spunky with deep ties to Judaism (she went to Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu and participated in the Brandeis Collegiate Institute program in Simi Valley), only graduated from Brown University last year. But she is already a political force nationally — literally. She is the tour manager of the Rock the Vote bus, which, since its send-off from Los Angeles on June 16, has made 53 stops across the country, registering young people to vote. It is a nonpartisan effort aimed at ending political apathy among MTV watchers (the network is a partner in the effort). The bus, which was parked outside the Fleet Center this week, will travel to New York for the Republican Convention in late August. It was at a Bush rally in York, Penn., recently, and in Detroit John Kerry paid a visit. (Berman says she hopes Bush will come take a tour, too.)

So far, Berman says, they have registered 3,000 at the bus stops, and 400,000 have registered online at www.rockthevote.com. Berman herself is no stranger to politics — her father is Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys). She says her job is not only to persuade young people to register, but to get people excited about the political process and their ability to effect change.

"This is the most important job I’ve ever had," Berman said.

Conservative Cantors Converge


Several hundred cantors associated with the Conservative movement will be making beautiful music together in Los Angeles this week, even as they examine the roles of the cantor beyond that of liturgical jukebox.

The Cantors Assembly will base its annual national convention at the Universal Hilton May 11-15, with public concerts offered at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air on Monday, May 12, and Sinai Temple in Westwood on Tuesday, May 13. Scores of local chazzanim and other musicians will participate.

While the convention will include numerous presentations on traditional and contemporary synagogue music, during the week several of the highlighted speakers will address broader issues facing congregations and the Jewish community as a whole.

Aside from the exposure to new music and techniques and the camaraderie of being with peers, one purpose of the convention is to explore the role of cantor as klei kodesh (literally, holy vessel), or clergy member, a position that transcends music-making, said Joseph Gole, senior cantor of Sinai Temple, a local co-chair of the convention.

“The cantorate today is expanding beyond music and pastoral counseling,” said convention co-chair Nathan Lam, senior cantor of Stephen S. Wise. “There’s an outside world that’s impacting on Jews, and we cantors have to be ready to deal with that world.”

Speakers include Venice-based rabbi and author Naomi Levy, whose latest book focuses on creating one’s own prayers, and Rabbi Elliot Dorff of the University of Judaism (UJ), who will discuss the upcoming debate within the Committee on Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly, the Conservative rabbis’ organization, over whether openly gay and lesbian individuals can be admitted to Conservative seminaries and clergy groups; currently, they are barred.

The subject of homosexuals being accepted as students and clergy is relevant to cantors, as any decision involving rabbis covers cantorial students and cantors as well, Dorff told The Journal.

Beyond that, he said, “Cantors have gays and lesbians as members of their extended families and sometimes not-so-extended families,” and they encounter gay men and lesbians in their congregations.

Levy, who encourages readers to bring prayer into their lives in her book “Talking to God: Personal Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle and Celebration,” told The Journal she hopes cantors at the convention will “take the idea back that prayers doesn’t just exist in the siddur…. If we can empower our congregations to create personal prayer, it would be the greatest service we can give.”

Cantors are as important as rabbis in the formation of congregants’ prayer lives, Levy added, “since they’re the ones who express the liturgy; their impact is even greater, so it’s important to talk with them about personal prayer.”

Other prominent Los Angeles-based speakers are Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the UJ, pundit Dennis Prager and Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe. In addition, commentator and political adviser Steven Emerson will address the convention on global terrorism.

The convention will also include a presentation by the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation and a preview of the ambitious Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, which are both locally based, and it will kick off with a program on the image of the cantor in film, which includes screenings of the original 1927 “The Jazz Singer” and the 1937 Yiddish film “The Cantor’s Son.”

Holding the convention in Los Angeles allows a greater representation of West Coast cantors than an Eastern location does, indicated convention co-chair Chayim Frenkel, cantor at Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades.

“It used to be that the ‘great cantors’ were back East,” Frenkel said. “I think Los Angeles has a rich history of chazzanut, a heritage of unbelievable cantors that goes back decades.”

The first of the two public concerts sponsored by the convention will be an extravaganza celebrating American Jewish music and music makers, with Lam as narrator. Employing a light show and video projections along with a 13-piece band and a 100-voice choir, the show will present Yiddish favorites, synagogue art music and theater pieces.

The Tuesday night concert at Sinai Temple, featuring the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale along with soloists, will focus on masterpieces of the cantorial literature. Frenkel said the assembly hopes to raise $250,000 to help fund scholarships at the Jewish Theological Seminary cantorial school.

For more information about the public concerts, call
Debbie Gordon at (310) 476-8561 ext. 2228 for the May 12 event or Maureen
Rosenberg at (310) 481-3235 for the May 13 concert. For information on the
convention, log on to www.cantors.org .

Not a Day Over 39


In one of his most famous bits, comic Jack Benny was held upby a thug who demanded, “Your money or your life.” His response was silence.And more silence. Then, desperately, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking!”

The fiddle-playing Jewish comedian (1894-1974) dominatedradio and TV for decades with his persona of a put-upon, miserly fellow whoinsisted he was 39. He’ll be honored this weekend at a convention, “39Forever,” sponsored by the International Jack Benny Fan Club and the NationalComedy Hall of Fame. Events will include Museum of TV and Radio screenings,trivia games, a Friars Club banquet and panel discussions with experts such asBenny’s daughter, Joan; his manager, Irving Fein; satirist Harry Shearer; andEddie Carroll of the Benny tribute “Laughter in Bloom.”

If the comic was America’s best-known cheapskate, he avoidedthe anti-Semitic stereotype.

“Benny secularized cheapness,” cultural historian NealGabler told The Forward in 1999. “People didn’t go around saying, ‘Boy, thatcheap Jew, Benny.'”

Despite his riffs on stinginess, most listeners never knewthe Midwesterner (ne Benjamin Kubelsky) was Jewish. Unlike comics such as EddieCantor and George Jessel, he sounded less “like a Catskill refugee” than a”middle American, middle-class everyman,” Gerald Nachman wrote in his book,”Raised on Radio” (Pantheon, 1998).

Yet by creating his lovable cheapskate character during theDepression, this son of a Russian immigrant drew “on the Eastern EuropeanJewish condition and [applied] it to his American audiences,” Lawrence Epsteinwrote in “The Haunted Smile” (PublicAffairs, 2002), his book on Jews andcomedy.

In Benny’s private life, the tightwad image came with aprice.

 “He’d always tip extra, just to prove he wasn’t cheap,”Fein told The Journal.

At her Beverly Hills home on a recent Friday afternoon, JoanBenny, who is in her 60s, sat in a book-lined living room decorated with herfather’s memorabilia and described how dad grew up in an Orthodox home inWaukegan, Ill., the son of a haberdasher. When he was 8, his father gave him a$100 violin; his parents were appalled when he asked to take his fiddle on thevaudeville circuit a decade later. Permission came only when his pianistpromised to shield him from treif and loose women.

According to Benny’s unpublished autobiography, he met hisfuture wife, Sadie Marks, when fellow vaudevillian Zeppo Marx took him to adistant relative’s Passover seder around 1921. After Benny broke into radio 11years later, Marks eventually joined the cast as his on-again, off-againgirlfriend, Mary Livingstone (thereafter, Marks used that name in her privatelife).

By the time the Bennys segued into television in 1950, theyhad adopted Joan from a Jewish agency and moved into a Beverly Hills two-storywhite brick Georgian next door to Lucy and Desi. Their lavish Hollywood partiesincluded guests such as Frank Sinatra and Barbara Stanwyck, Joan said.

She described her father as an irreligious man who attendedHillcrest country club and had a Canter’s sandwich named for him, but rarelyset foot in synagogue. Each December, a 10-foot-tall Christmas tree graced thebay window in their first-floor library, where dad presided over scriptwritingsessions in his Queen Anne winged leather chair. On Friday nights, the familyate gribenes and other Jewish delicacies at the grandparents’ duplex on ThirdStreet near Fairfax Avenue, “which was about as religious as we got,” she said.

She felt the butler needed roller skates when the familydined at the home of dad’s best friend, Jewish comic George Burns.

“The two of them ate so fast, I think, because of theiryears in vaudeville trying to wolf down meals in between eight shows a day,”she said.

Her father’s relationship with Burns revealed much aboutBenny’s on-air persona. “Minus the stinginess, he was exactly like hischaracter,” she said. “He played a kind of mild-mannered patsy, the butt of thejoke, and he was like that with George and in real life. For example, my fathercould never make George laugh, but all George had to do was lift a finger andmy father would fall down on the floor.”

Joan recalled her dad wearing crazy outfits when greetingthe cigar-puffing Burns (Burns didn’t crack a smile) and his mock exasperationwhen his pal hung up on him in the middle of a telephone conversation.

“At dinner with the two of them, you were just waiting forsomething to happen,” she said.

The American public did the same throughout Benny’s weeklyradio and TV shows.

Fan club President Laura Leff, 33, hopes the convention willintroduce a whole new generation to his work. Leff, who founded the club at age10 after viewing Benny reruns, isn’t alone.

“It’s meaningful to me that younger people will discoverJack,” Fein said.

For information about the convention, which runs fromFeb. 14-16,  visit www.jackbenny.org.

Light and Thanks


I spent most of this past week at the United Jewish Communities (UJC) General Assembly (GA), the annual gathering which, this year, brought nearly 4,000 Jewish communal representatives (and journalists) from North America, Israel and elsewhere overseas.

The GA is part sales seminar, part pep rally, part continuing education, and major schmoozefest. This year, it was also something else: befuddling. Spend a half-hour in the hallways between sessions and you get a sense of the intensity and vigor of contemporary Jewish life. A charged-up communal leader from Knoxville, Tenn., told me the Jewish community there is strong and active. The rabbi from Austin, Texas boasted of a beautiful, multimillion dollar new Jewish Community Center campus. The lay leader from Tulsa, Okla., said Jews there were active and involved, and activists from Boston, Chicago and New York talked a mile a minute about new projects, new organizations, new ventures.

But then there are the actual, big lectures, the plenary sessions that are meant to rally and inspire the troops. They are lugubrious: anti-Semitism in Europe, on campus, in Canada. Terror here and abroad. Crisis in Israel, in Argentina, in the economy. Outside the meeting rooms, strength and vigor; inside, doom and gloom. Outside, Candide; inside, Cassandra.

As one speaker went on (and on) about the tragedies confronting the Jews, I ducked into the hallway, where I bumped into Mort Klein, the head of the Zionist Organization of America. "What is this guy talking about?" said Klein. "On and on and on, all these tales of woe." He wasn’t being callous — he’s as aware of the tragedies as we all are — he just wanted to hear a call to action. Ease up on the hysteria and give it a little inspiration — and a little reality check.

The very people listening to the tales of woe are the very same lay and staff leaders whose fundraising efforts place UJC as the highest-ranking Jewish philanthropic organization in the United States, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. They have access to the worlds of media, government and business unprecedented in the history of the Jewish people. They are, by almost any measure, stronger and more vibrant than at any other time in their history. As I write this it’s past midnight on the third day of the convention, the hotel lobby is still noisy with animated GA conversation, and a giant electronic scroll board over Center City reads, "WELCOME UNITED JEWISH COMMUNITIES!" Hardly the signposts of imminent doom.

Events are terrible, as the brutal Jerusalem bus bombing that Thursday morning showed. Israelis suffer daily under the fear and the reality of terror.

But even that reality doesn’t begin to describe the remarkable fact of Israel, its resilience and the daily achievements of its people. To cement Israelis in the American Jewish mind as nothing but victims-in-waiting is to demean the country and its people. To worry ourselves silly about media bias when the vast majority of news outlets editorialize in favor of Israel is almost indecently ignorant. To demand Jewry uncritically support Israel in these times, as some speakers did, negates Jewish and Zionist history. After all, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon couldn’t address the GA in person not because of pressing security concerns but because he is locked in a fierce election battle.

My sense is that most of the participants gathered information in the meeting rooms — and some of it was hopeful and upbeat — but a sense of perspective in the hallways.

The Thanksgiving/Chanukah doubleheader arrives then just in time. "Judaism is the religion of optimism," Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, author and spiritual leader of The Temple in Atlanta, told our contributing writer Rahel Musleah. "It’s about increasing the light." He reminds us that we’ve fashioned a holiday in which each night, we bring more light into the world. "The light gets stronger and serves as a weapon against the darkness," he said.

It demeans no one’s suffering — and there has been too much this past year — to also count our blessings. Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Chanukah.

The Way of the Samurai


You couldn’t miss animation director Genndy Tartakovsky at last week’s San Diego Comic-Con International.

Like Secret Service agents blanketing a presidential gala, Cartoon Network operatives plastered posters everywhere, spreading the word of "Samurai Jack," Tartakovsky’s new series debuting Aug. 10. (Tartakovsky directed episodes of "Powerpuff Girls" and his own "Dexter’s Laboratory"). Not bad for a 31-year-old who arrived as a Russian immigrant speaking little English.

Tartakovsky will be among the hot names attending next week’s Eighth Annual World Animation Celebration. Co-sponsored by Animation Magazine and Variety, the Hollywood festival will kick-start a week of symposiums addressing cartoon industry issues.

Tartakovsky was 7 years old when he arrived in Chicago from Russia.

"The kids at school grip onto the easiest stereotype," Tartakovsky told The Journal, referring to the days when he was branded a Communist. "My parents never tried to hide the fact that we were Jewish."

The future animator learned English watching Warner Bros. cartoons and reading Marvel Comics (which inspired his "Justice Friends" superhero parody). "Dexter’s Lab" came about serendipitously after Tartakovsky was storyboarding Hanna-Barbara’s "Two Stupid Dogs," and a producer saw the young artist’s pencil test for a "Dexter’s" short. Instead of working his way up the animation ladder, Tartakovsky received his own series, Emmy nominations and commercial success. The popularity of "Dexter’s" and "Powerpuff" helped expand Cartoon Network’s viewership from 12 to 72 million. Tartakovsky called the experience "the most unrealistic thing you could think of."

"When I moved to America, I wanted to fit in and be American," said Tartakovsky, now married and expecting his first child in September. "We never tried to be too heavy handed with ‘Dexter’s, but if you look at the underlying themes of the show, it’s about a little kid trying to fit in."

The Studio City resident promises that "Samurai Jack," a valentine to cinematic masters Lean, Kirosawa and Hitchcock, will not resemble anything on television. Cartoon Network is already developing episodes for the third season. "A lot of experimental filmmaking will bring in an energy that we haven’t seen before."

"Dexter’s Laboratory" runs daily on Cartoon Network, which will premiere "Samurai Jack" on Aug. 10, 8 p.m.

The Eighth Annual World Animation Celebration runs Aug. 7-12. For information, call (818) 575-9615; www.wacfest.com.

The Convention Comes to Town


The story goes that a young man gets an entry-level job with the Democratic National Committee in the nation’s capital and for his first assignment is told by his boss to buy Christmas decorations for the upcoming office party.”I’m not sure whether I’m the right person,” protests the young man. “You see, I’m Jewish.”

“So is everybody else,” says the boss. “Get the decorations.”Slightly exaggerated, of course. When the Democrats meet for their national convention Aug. 14-17 at the Staples Center, best guesstimates are that around 10 percent of the delegates will be Jewish, but the curve rises sharply among party leaders, and even more steeply among big financial contributors.

Besides offering party politics and political parties, the convention will serve the useful purpose of bringing together many of America’s most influential Jews for the first time since the unsuccessful Camp David negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. “They’ll have plenty to talk about,” says well-connected activist Donna Bojarsky.

The chain starts with venture capitalist Eli Broad and music mogul David Geffen, two members of the three-man team that brought the Democratic convention to Los Angeles.

Co-chairs of the convention are California’s two Jewish senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Guiding much of the proceedings will be Democratic Party chairman Edward Rendell, the former mayor of Philadelphia.

Among Al Gore’s closest advisors is Leon Fuerth, the presumptive nominee’s longtime national security aide, who is considered a sure bet to fill the post if Gore becomes president.

Influential foreign policy advisors are Los Angeles attorney Mel Levine and Marc Ginsburg, who co-chair Gore’s Middle East advisory committee, and Joan Spero, an expert on international economic policy. Veteran publicist Steve Rabinowitz is a Gore consultant.

Key campaign strategists at the Democratic National Committee in Washington and Gore headquarters in Nashville include general election campaign chairman John Giesser, Josh Wachs, Laurie Moskowitz, Eric Kleinfeld, Debbie Mohile and research director David Ginsberg.Contributing or raising the really big bucks on the West Coast are the DreamWorks trio of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Geffen, ex-MCA chief Lew Wasserman, TV mogul Haim Saban and Westwood One founder Norman Pattiz. On the East Coast, some other heavy hitters are David Steiner of New Jersey, New Yorkers John Tisch and Steve Ratner, and Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress.

Patrolling the Jewish beat for the party is the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), whose executive director, Ira Forman, is sanguine that 75 to 80 percent of Jewish voters will mark their ballots for Gore in November.The council’s deputy executive director, David Harris, sees a Jewish edge for the party on three main issues: Israel (“George W. has no record on Israel, and Dick Cheney has a poor record,” he says), church-state separation, and reproductive rights.

Closer to election time, NJDC plans to mail up to 500,000 voter guides to Jewish households, targeting some 35 districts with competitive House and Senate races.

Jewish activists were also strongly involved in last week’s deliberations of the platform committee in Cleveland, among them Howard Welinsky, chairman of Democrats for Israel. His amendment to the Middle East plank, warning against “a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood,” was adopted.

Parties are a Los Angeles specialty, and Jewish hosts aim to hold their own. The largest blowout will be on Sunday, Aug. 13, the day before the convention opens, when more than 1,000 people will celebrate at Sony Pictures Studios.

In a remarkable display of Jewish unity, the affair will be co-hosted by the NJDC, the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, United Jewish Communities, representing all Jewish federations in the United States, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

“This is the first time we’ve had such across-the-board sponsorship,” says AIPAC spokesman Ken Bricker. “It’s a great way to express Jewish unity on Israel.”

AIPAC will hold other events between Aug. 12 and 16: a private party honoring Los Angeles activist Ruth Singer; a reception for Democratic candidates running for open House seats; a luncheon with the Black Congressional Caucus; a breakfast with the Democratic Leadership Council; a reception for Leon Fuerth, Gore’s national security advisor; a luncheon for Democratic governors; a break-fast with the Hispanic Congres-sional Caucus; and a luncheon with U.S. senators.

In addition, the NJDC will host receptions for Democratic Party chief Edward Rendell and for young leaders, while the American Jewish Committee plans events for Congressional leaders and for heads of ethnic and religious groups. In a tangential event, Dr. Steven Teitelbaum will hold a fundraiser for First Lady Hillary Clinton on Aug. 13 to aid her U.S. Senate race in New York state. Contributions are $1,000 per person. For information, phone Amy Hayes at (917) 613-6419

Speaking of really big parties, the City of Los Angeles, not always treated kindly by the East Coast press, will throw a $1.5 million affair for an expected 15,000 thirsty members of the world media.

The presence of this massive media phalanx, all looking for action as relief from the talking heads at the convention podium, has attracted a variety of protest groups and fringe parties.

Overlapping the Democratic Convention will be the following announced gatherings: People’s Convention (for progressive groups), Reform Party Convention, Mothers’ Convention (welfare reform), North American Anarchist Convention, Homeless Convention, and Youth Convention.Promising the most fun is the Shadow Convention, conceived by feisty columnist Arianna Huffington, which is scheduling interludes for satire and humor at its daily sessions.

The serious part of the agenda, spotlighting “the corrupting influence of money in politics, poverty and growing inequalities between poor and rich, and the failed war on drugs,” is attracting a considerable contingent of liberal Jews.

Stanley Sheinbaum, a longtime Democratic stalwart and financial angel, will bypass his old comrades in favor of the Shadow Convention.

So will progressive activist Rita Lowenthal, who is incensed at the jailing, rather than medical treatment, of nonviolent drug users, and Ralph Fertig, a freedom rider of the 1950s, who is particularly concerned about the widening gap between rich and poor. He will also march in a demonstration drawing attention to the plight of Kurds in the Middle East.

The Arbeter Ring/Workmen’s Circle, the Sholem Community and the Progressive Jewish Alliance will participate in a rally in the garment district to protest worker exploitation in sweatshops, an issue that is drawing heavy Jewish support.

Police and public officials are predicting that some 50,000 protesters will descend on downtown Los Angeles. Spokesmen for the protest movements say these estimates are vastly exaggerated, mainly because organized labor, which provided most of the bodies for the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, is staying on the sidelines in Los Angeles.

The loose coordinating body for the convention protests is D2KLA, whose main march on Aug. 14 will proceed under the slogan “Human Need, Not Corporate Greed,” says spokesperson Margaret Prescod.

Another major protest force will be the Berkeley-based Ruckus Society, which has been training its adherents in civil disobedience tactics and nonviolent resistance.

Prescod and Ruckus program director Han Chan are in close agreement that between 10 to 20 percent of their adherents are Jewish, with a somewhat higher percentage in the leadership ranks.

That’s well below Jewish participation in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war protest movements of the 1950s and ’60s, which frequently ran as high as 30 to 40 percent and considerably higher among the leadership of such organizations as the radical Students for a Democratic Society.

“I think the difference is not that there are fewer Jewish protesters than in the past, but proportionately they are less significant because of the upsurge of other activists, mainly Latinos and Asian-Americans, who were largely absent in the 1960s,” says James Lafferty, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, the legal support group for the Los Angeles protesters.

Tom Hayden, a leader of the street protests that almost paralyzed the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and now a California state senator, detects another difference between Jewish activists then and now.

Hayden, who is of Irish descent, believes that “the Jewish kids active in the 1960s, though they may have been alienated from their parents, were consciously Jewish in their approach to politics, citing Scripture and Jewish social tradition to explain their activism. This kind of underpinning didn’t surface during this year’s Seattle protests, and I see little of it now.”Finally, the Washington-based Arab American Institute will host its traditional public reception on the evening of Aug. 15 at the Figueroa Hotel. The event, this year themed “Meet Us at the Casbah,” generally downplays politics and attracts Jewish, Israeli and other connoisseurs of Middle Eastern cuisine.

Reshaping its Image


Eighty-eight years after Henrietta Szold founded Hadassah in 1912, the 306,000-member Zionist and social service organization will gather in Los Angeles for its first national convention of the 21st century. From July 16-19, more than 2,500 leaders and guests will mingle at the Century Plaza Hotel, where speakers will range from actor Richard Dreyfuss to political commentators Mary Matalin and James Carville. Hadassah is the largest women’s and Jewish group in the U.S., but president Bonnie Lipton admits membership is down from its high of more than 350,000 in the 1980s. More than half of current membership is over 61, so the group is working to reinvent itself and draw younger women. Besides its historic focus on health care in Israel, for example, the organization is now championing women’s health in the U.S, among other issues.

The new direction seems to be working. More than 20 percent of convention attendees will be women under 40, Lipton says; one younger member is comedian Sandra Bernhard. Last week, The Journal caught up with three Southern California members, old and new, to discover what drew them to Hadassah.

Dorraine Gilbert, 54, considers Hadassah her second family. Her connection began in 1968, when her husband went off to serve in Vietnam and she was a lonely, scared newlywed in Phoenix, Ariz. “It was a very difficult year,” recalls Gilbert, who found solace with her new friends and activities in Hadassah. When Gilbert moved to Alhambra the following year, she immediately picked up the telephone to join her local Hadassah group. There she met a number of dynamic, educated homemakers; together they went on to celebrate all of life’s rites of passage. When Gilbert announced at a board meeting that she was pregnant with her eldest son, Aaron, members applauded and planned a baby shower.

Gilbert’s Hadassah friends stayed close through her divorce and remarriage, and when Aaron and his wife moved to Israel in 1997. In the mid-1990s, Gilbert visited the Jewish state for the first time and cried when she set foot in the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Karem. But she never dreamed the medical facility she had supported for three decades would one day save her grandchild’s life.

When Jonathan was born last year, weighing only 4.5 pounds and suffering from a salmonella infection, he was immediately whisked to the neonatal intensive care unit at Hadassah University Hospital on Mount Scopus. Today, he is a healthy 10-month-old. “I consider him my Hadassah baby,” says Gilbert, now the leadership chair of Hadassah Southern Calfornia.

As a girl, Elissa Green-Beals perceived Hadassah as an organization for her grandmother, not for a young woman like herself. The 38-year-old veterinarian, who is fluent in Spanish and Hebrew, attended Yale, where she majored in medieval studies and helped lead a Reform-style chavurah. While attending the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) program in Israel, she worked at an animal refuge geared to reintroducing biblical-era species to the wild. As a vet, she was employed for eight months at a clinic in Jerusalem.

When a cousin asked her to join Hadassah back in the States in the mid-1990s, her reply was succinct. “I said, ‘Hadassah, eewww,'” quips the vet, whose husband is Rabbi Michael Beals of B’nai Tikvah Congregation in Westchester.

One visit to the group changed her mind, however. Green-Beals discovered a cadre of energetic professional women and became the group’s American affairs coordinator, focusing on issues such as domestic violence. Within months of her move back to Southern California in 1997, she had co-founded a new Hadassah group, Chalom, which kicked off in her sukkah.

Not surprisingly, Green-Beals, who makes house calls every day except Shabbat, brings some animal-related activities to Hadassah. During the week of Parshat Noach, Chalom members attend a “Celebration of the Animals” event at her shul, where they read pertinent Jewish texts, play “ask the vet” and share stories about their pets. “People still raise eyebrows when I tell them I belong to Hadassah,” admits Green-Beals, who has a collie named Yofi and a cat named Shovav (little rascal). “But then they come to an event, and they love it.”

Dr. Emelya Moradzadeh grew up in large part in Tehran, where Hadassah was distant and young Jewish women didn’t often aspire to become doctors. It was only after a long, arduous journey that she became a physician and the president of a Hadassah group, Healing Spirits, for young Persians in L.A.

Moradzadeh, who fled the Iranian revolution with her family at age 13, had dreamed of becoming a doctor since graduating summa cum laude from CSUN in the 1980s. But because she comes from a conservative Jewish Persian family, in which daughters do not leave home until they are married, her parents were hesitant about allowing her to go away to medical school.

Even after Moradzadeh was accepted at Stanford and other prestigious schools, life intervened. Her brother-in-law fell into a coma following major cancer surgery, and Emelya moved in with her sister for a time to provide solace. Only several years later was she able to move to Milwaukee to attend the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Hadassah came into her life unexpectedly during her internship in Los Angeles. The president of the Healing Arts group invited her to attend an Israel Independence Day program, and as Moradzadeh sat transfixed in the audience, she experienced a strong sense of connection. “I remembered landing in Israel after I left Iran, with the orange lights [twinkling] below, and feeling that I belonged,” says the doctor, who has just completed her residency in internal medicine.

Moradzadeh immediately decided to join the Zionist organization. “I consider myself fortunate to have become a doctor,” she explains. “Now it’s my turn to give back to the community.”For convention registration information, call (310) 407-3150.

Balancing Acts


When Rabbi Eric Yoffie and other Reform movement leaders walked through the doors of Walt Disney World’s Dolphin Hotel about a week before Christmas last year, they were greeted by a garishly lit, outsized Christmas Tree and the sound of caroling.

When they checked out the meeting rooms that they hoped to book for their convention a year later, they found each festooned with Christmas trees and wreaths.

When some 4,500 Reform Jews gathered in that same hotel last week for their biennial convention, they found the caroling silenced and the Christmas lights turned off. But the darkened 45-foot Christmas tree still stood in the lobby, surrounded by enormous foil-wrapped, fake presents.

That compromise, a result of Yoffie’s negotiations with Disney management, could be seen as a symbol of the movement’s effort to strike a comfortable balance between American values and Jewish tradition.

Reform Jews, led by Yoffie — four years into his presidency of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations — are also grappling with the pull between traditional Judaism, whose foundation is a system of commandments and obligations, and the individual autonomy that is a Reform movement hallmark.

Deeply rooted in general American culture, while at the same time yearning for a more Jewishly authentic spiritual experience, Reform Jews today are on a quest searching to develop their own brand of Judaism for the next century.

Yoffie led the charge for a new Reform movement at the last convention two years ago, when he initiated a movement-wide Jewish literacy program. He continued it in Orlando, with a similar call for “a revolution” in the way Reform Jews worship.

The atmosphere at last week’s convention was different than it has been at past gatherings.

There were no heated controversies and no obvious political battles. Instead, the Reform congregants, rabbis and cantors attending the gathering spent their time in quieter, more reflective sessions considering their religious future.

It was clear that for Reform Jews, it is a time of inquiry and apprehension.

The most popular workshops, filled to overflowing with hundreds of participants, were those that focused on issues such as “God and Theology,” “Reform Worship in the 21st Century,” “Can We Pray What We Don’t Believe?” and “Torah and Observance in the ‘Principles of Reform Judaism,'” referring to the statement of beliefs adopted by the movement’s rabbis in May.

Workshops devoted to issues of social action and Israel, by contrast, had relatively few participants.

At the sessions devoted to spirituality, panel members and attendees voiced a deep desire for more Jewish feeling in their lives but some also expressed hesitation about how much of a commitment they were willing to make to Jewish practice.

In the session titled “Can We Pray What We Don’t Believe?,” panel participant Jean Abarbanel, from Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, said that after a long spiritual search, she began to say the “Shema,” Judaism’s central prayer, upon retiring at night, and upon waking in the morning.

She first experienced praying daily at a Reform retreat, she said, adding, “The repetition gives me a sense of wholeness at the times of day when I feel most vulnerable.”

A man in the audience said he was at the session because “I’d like to have a better understanding of why Judaism is so important to me when I’m not sure what I think about God.”

Evidence of the new direction was visible everywhere.

It was apparent in the fact that as his four-year term as the UAHC’s chairman came to an end, Jerome Somers, for the first time, publicly donned a kippah and tallit, and chanted from the Torah at Sabbath morning services.

It was apparent in the filled to overflowing daily morning prayer services that were held at 7:30 a.m., after people had been up late the previous nights. A wide choice of services was available every morning, each devoted to a different interest, such as men’s concerns, women’s concerns, the choreography of the prayer service and meditation.

It was apparent in the spontaneous late-night singing that broke out in parts of the hotel lobby well after midnight, with Reform congregants sitting around a cantor strumming on a guitar, long after scheduled music performances had ended.

And it was apparent in the speech Yoffie gave on Shabbat morning.

He devoted most of it to calling for “a new Reform revolution” in worship, and also called on new practices in Reform families, asking that every Reform Jewish child read a Jewish story or play a Jewish tape or video or computer game before being put to bed.

“In many of our synagogues the prayers are heartfelt, the music uplifting and the participation enthusiastic,” Yoffie said in his sermon, which was interrupted by frequent applause.

“But that is only part of the story. All of us — rabbis, cantors, lay leaders — seem ready to admit that far too often, our services are tedious, predictable and dull. Far too often, our members pray without fervor or concentration. Far too often, our music is dirge-like and our Torah readings lifeless,” he said.

Amid all the talk of transforming the synagogue is the fact that in many congregations that have already embarked on such a process, the differing needs of congregants has provoked resentment as the temple tries to please everyone.

Cantor Fran Goldman, from Congregation Beth Ahabah in Richmond, Va., helps run a different kind of Sabbath service every Friday night of the month — a family service with a children’s choir, a more classical Reform service with a vocal quartet, a more participatory service with a volunteer choir and a service in which Goldman sings by herself.

On top of the competing interests is the fact that some 40 to 50 percent of her congregants are part of interfaith families, she said.

The overall response to Yoffie’s worship initiatives, and to the shift in focus within the movement, was positive — as long as the new ideas are encouraged, and not required.

The changes “don’t bother me, as long as there is a choice,” Dr. Arthur Lieber, a radiologist who attends Temple Adath Israel in Lexington, Ky., said as he finished up a lunch-time cheeseburger and french fries in a hotel restaurant.

The “Principles of Reform Judaism,” a two-page attempt to elucidate the movement’s core values, created upheaval and brought to light deep dissension over what, exactly, those values are. After two years of heated debate, six drafts and more than 30 amendments, the controversial document was adopted by the movement’s rabbinical arm in May.

This is far from the first time that such efforts have been waged within the Reform movement.

In nearly every generation since its beginnings on American soil in the 1840s, the Reform movement has been conflicted over the tension between tradition and autonomy.

“We’re the only movement in Judaism” that has the practice of teshuvah when things need to change, Rachel Adler said, using the word for repentance.

Adler, a professor of Jewish thought and feminist studies at Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, the movement’s seminary in Los Angeles, said in a panel discussion called “Forecasting the Future,” “The thing that distinguishes us as a movement is the willingness to take risks.”


Condemning the fact that prayer, in many temples, has become “a spectator sport,” Rabbi Eric Yoffie instructed his constituents to no longer leave responsibility for worship in the hands of their clergy. He proposed five concrete steps, asking that:

* Synagogue ritual committees reorganize themselves and begin studying, with rabbi or cantor, the history and theology of Jewish prayer and that they undertake an in-depth self-evaluation of their temple’s worship;

* Each synagogue evaluation team visit at least four other Reform congregations to see what they do in their services;

* A Reform movement-wide on-line dialogue on the topic of worship be started, to involve thousands of participants;

* All the arms of the movement cooperate in sponsoring retr
eats for Reform rabbis and cantors devoted to “worship reform;” and

* All synagogues undertake a serious effort to improve Hebrew literacy among their congregants.

A Psalm for a Singer


It’s tenor time in the Borscht Belt next week. The cantors are coming to the Catskills, close to 400 of them, from Conservative synagogues across the country. With spouses and sundry fans in tow, they’ll be descending on Kutsher’s Country Club, one of the last of the region’s great Jewish watering holes, for three days of music and prayer. It’s the annual convention of the Cantors’ Assembly.

The big news at this year’s convention is not a tenor, though, but a soprano: folk singer Debbie Friedman, the temple troubadour, sweet songstress of the Jewish spirit. Along with seven other composers — all cantors except her — she’s been asked to help compose new musical settings for the Psalms of the Day.

For Friedman, 48, this is a vindication of sorts. She’s never won much respect from cantors before, despite her superstar status among their congregants. Over the last 30 years, she’s sold more than 200,000 albums of her Jewish devotional music. She plays regularly to packed houses from coast to coast. Her songs have become permanent parts of the liturgy in hundreds of synagogues. Yet cantors, the musical directors of the synagogue world, tend to treat her music like a campfire sing-along.

“She writes good music which is memorable, because it’s basically repetitive and very simple,” says Cantor Charles Davidson of Elkins Park, Pa., one of the deans of the Conservative cantorate. “But there are many of us who would prefer it if she would look to the traditional nusach as the source of inspiration.”

The nusach, the classic, minor-key prayer music handed down in synagogues over the centuries, is the nub of the cantors’ beef with Friedman. Tradition requires that prayers be sung to nusach, just so. There’s room for growth and evolution, Davidson says, but “a Jewish composer’s obligation is to find ways to bridge the gap between the past and the present.” Shlomo Carlebach did that, he says. “Debbie doesn’t.”

Friedman makes no apologies. Though she’s been studying traditional modes and uses them in some new songs, her goal is to get Jews singing. That means writing songs in melodies that are accessible, in the mode we’re used to hearing. That minor mode of the nusach is not only difficult; it’s foreign to our ears.

“I’d like to reach the point,” she says, “where everybody is comfortable enough with prayer, where they don’t feel like it’s something so untouchable because they don’t have the skills to embrace it.”

Not all cantors disapprove. Growing numbers — particularly her fellow baby boomers — think that Friedman is on to something. “She understands how the nonmusician responds to music and prayer,” says Cantor Benjie Ellen Schiller, professor of sacred music at Hebrew Union College in New York. “Her melodies are softer, written for the average voice. They come out of the 1960s. They resonate for the baby boomers. And she’s put her finger on some texts that people want to sing over and over.”

But many cantors, particularly older ones, “have a visceral negative reaction to her music because of what it represents to them,” says Rabbi Dan Freelander, program director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. “She represents the victory of American musical idioms over traditional Jewish musical idioms.”

That conflict — cantorial versus popular music — isn’t new. The very first talking picture, the 1927 hit “The Jazz Singer,” told of a cantor’s son who broke his father’s heart by running off to become a pop crooner. The film’s star, Al Jolson, was himself the runaway son of a cantor. So were many pop artists of the Jazz Age.

Cantorial hostility toward popular culture ran deep. America’s first superstar cantor, the legendary Yossele Rosenblatt, actually turned down a 1918 offer to sing opera at $1,000 a night because he feared that it would demean his gift. Nine years later, bankrupt, he let himself be featured in “The Jazz Singer.” It cemented his renown, yet it mortified him. He died penniless and heartbroken a few years later.

For a while after Rosenblatt, American cantors actually became pop stars. Moishe Oysher and Sidor Belarsky toured the Borscht Belt regularly, singing sacred songs and Yiddish pop. Richard Tucker and Jan Peerce became full-time entertainers without losing their religious following.

All that ended two generations ago. With rising assimilation among the laity, most cantors today are hard pressed to build a popular following among their own congregants, much less the broader public.

Debbie Friedman brings the process full circle. In a way, she’s a pop singer who ran off to be a cantor.

She started leading song back in high school, in a Reform temple youth group in St. Paul, Minn. After graduating, she moved briefly to Israel, but returned and threw herself back into Reform youth work.

It was shortly after returning to St. Paul in 1969 that she first tried songwriting, putting new music to “Ve-ahavta,” the prayer that follows the “Sh’ma.” It was a time of spiritual turmoil, she recalls, when Jewish kids would sing James Taylor songs and substitute “Moses” for “Jesus.”

“I taught ‘Ve-ahavta’ to a group of kids on a weekend retreat in Pennsylvania,” she says, “and they put their arms around each other and sang it, and I cried. I realized something important was going on, that this was an important point of connection, that these are our words. And I decided I had to do this.”

She’s been doing it ever since, traveling relentlessly, singing before audiences of 20 or 2,000. She’s cut 17 albums in 27 years, most of them still in print. Five of them are among America’s top 10 best-selling Jewish-theme albums right now, according to the Web site JewishMusic.com. She performs about 60 times a year, largely in synagogues — mainly Reform but increasingly Conservative as well. Lately, she’s been moving to concert halls “because the synagogues aren’t big enough anymore,” says her booking agent, Moishe Rosenfeld.

Her success is finally forcing cantors to take notice, in the Conservative movement, if not in her own Reform movement. Two years ago, the Cantors Assembly invited her to its convention as a guest performer. This year, she’s been given a higher honor, invited to compose for the cantorate. “It would have been silly not to invite Debbie,” says assembly head Henry Rosenblum. “She’s part of the synagogue experience.”

Freelander of the UAHC thinks it’s inevitable, though. “The transition to an American nusach is fully underway,” he says. “In 100 years, American Jewish music will sound nothing like the traditional Jewish music of Eastern Europe.”

What it will sound like, probably, is Debbie Friedman.


J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.