Debbie Wasserman Schultz fends off primary challenger


Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., fended off a primary challenger and is likely to return to Congress, salvaging her political career after her ouster as leader of the Democratic Party.

CNN projected Wasserman Schultz’s win Tuesday over Tim Canova, a lawyer who had sought to use her political woes on the national stage against her in the primary. Canova had the backing of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who last month conceded the Democratic presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton.

Sanders had for months accused Wasserman Schultz, as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, of favoring Clinton. Hacked emails released last month on the eve of the Democratic National Convention showed that she and her staff were antagonistic toward the Sanders campaign, leading to her resignation.

Canova capitalized on anger with Wasserman Schultz, and at one point was out-fund-raising her. Wasserman Schultz was well known in her south Florida district since her 2004 election, and pundits predicted longstanding goodwill among her constituents would carry her. Her district, encompassing Miami Beach, leans Democratic and she is likely to win in the Nov. 8 general election.

Wassrman Schultz is one of the best known Jewish Democrats in Congress, and Canova, who is not Jewish but who lived for a time in Israel, tried to use her vote for last year’s Iran nuclear deal – unpopular in the pro-Israel community – against her.

She countered by pointing to Canova’s calls for disarming the Middle East (he denied this included Israel) and his tough criticisms of Israeli settlement policy, which reflected the policies of Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests.

Also in Florida on Tuesday:

Rep. Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, modeled his campaign on Bernie Sanders’ bid for the White House. (Wikimedia Commons)

–Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., backed by the establishment, handily defeated Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., for the Democratic nomination for the Senate. Grayson, who is Jewish, was a firebrand on the party’s left and modeled his bid for the Senate on Sanders’ insurgent campaign. Grayson was afflicted in part by an ethicscomplaint that he continued to run a hedge fund while in office, and also of allegations of spousal abuse leveled by his ex-wife. The race was bitter, and Grayson said Tuesday night that he would not vote for Murphy in November. Grayson’s wife, Dena, failed in her bid to replace him in his central Florida district.

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaking at a press conference at Temple Beth El in West Palm Beach, Fla., March 11, 2016. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

–Murphy will face Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who won the Republican primary on Tuesday. Rubio had run for the presidency but was defeated by Donald Trump. He had said he was quitting politics but Republican Party leaders, fearing a loss of the Senate seat on the coattails of Trump’s unpopularity, talked him into running. Rubio, an outspoken Iran deal opponent, had been a favorite of pro-Israel Republicans for a period during the primaries.

–Also handily fending off a rival on Tuesday was another south Florida congresswoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who is the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Middle East subcommittee. Ros-Lehtinen is one of the leading pro-Israel voices in the House, and has a good relationship with Wasserman Schultz. They joined to advocate for expanding benefits for aging Holocaust survivors.

Florida State Senator Dwight Bullard, attending the Democratic National Convention in July 2016. (Ben Sales)

–Dwight Bullard, a Democratic state senator who prompted a pro-Israel protest over the weekend because of his tour of the West Bank earlier this year sponsored by a pro-BDS group, handily defeated a challenger who had sought to make an issue of the controversy. Bullard, a Black Lives Matter activist whose district is in Miami-Dade County, told JTA recently he is “agnostic” about the boycott, divestment and sanction Israel movement. Andrew Korge, his rival, had told a local CBS affiliate that Bullard’s participation in the trip was “disturbing.”

Why the Republican Party is dying


Last Sunday, 2016 Republican presidential nominee front-runner Donald Trump appeared on CNN with Jake Tapper. Tapper — in the mold of many journalists of leftist persuasion — attempted to smear Trump with those who support him by asking Trump about former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Trump had repeatedly disavowed support from Duke, once in August 2015 and then again on Feb. 26. In 2000, Trump explicitly predicated his abandonment of the Reform Party on Duke joining it; he wrote, “So the Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. [Patrick] Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. [Lenora] Fulani. This is not company I wish to keep.”

So when Tapper asked Trump about Duke and the KKK, Trump’s answer should have been simple: He should have said that he had already repeatedly disavowed any support from Duke and the KKK and told Tapper that he should have asked Barack Obama about support from anti-Semite Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and the Communist Party.

Trump didn’t.

Instead, he equivocated, and pretended ignorance. He said, “I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. … I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I’d have to take a look.”

Trump’s followers defended him — defended the indefensible — vociferously.

All of which raises the question: Why is Donald Trump winning? What is driving millions of Americans into the arms of a personally authoritarian ignoramus, a blustering bully, a policy dilettante, a parodic mashup of Rainn Wilson’s Dwight Schrute from “The Office” and Joe Pesci’s Tommy from “Goodfellas”; a reality television star most famous for his tacky hair, tackier taste in women and tackiest taste in hotel adornments?

It certainly isn’t conservatism.

The left couldn’t be more excited about Trump’s rise — he provides them an easy club with which to beat the conservative movement. But the conservative movement opposes Trump wholesale. Fox News has made clear its disdain for Trump: In the first Republican debate, Megyn Kelly hit him with everything but the kitchen sink for his sexism and corruption. National Review ran an entire issue titled “Against Trump.” I’ve personally cut a video viewed more than a million times in just one day titled “Donald Trump Is a Liar.” This week, the hashtag #NeverTrump took over conservative Twitter, with thousands upon thousands of conservatives vowing never to pull the lever for The Donald. For months, Trump has had the highest negatives in the Republican field.

Conservatism stands for small government, individual liberty, constitutional checks and balances, strong national defense, and social institutions such as churches and synagogues promoting responsibility and virtue. Trump stands for large government (he’s in favor of heavy tariffs as well as government seizures of private property for private use, and he says he’ll maintain all unsustainable entitlement programs), executive authority (he has never spoken of the constitutional limitations of presidential power), and foreign and domestic policy based on personal predilection (he’s friendly to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin because Putin praised him; won’t take sides between democratic Israel and the terrorist Palestinian unity government out of his pathetic, egotistic desire to make a “deal”; and has never held a consistent conservative policy position in his life).

So what the hell is going on? What is driving the Donald Trump phenomenon? Why is it set to destroy the Republican Party?

Anger at ‘the Establishment’

Americans on all sides of the political aisle are angry with the way Washington, D.C., operates. That anger isn’t well defined — it’s not merely a specific anger over failure to negotiate by Republicans and Democrats, or anger over bureaucratic incompetence. It’s a generalized anger that the entire system has failed to operate properly — a feeling that they’ve been lied to about the supposedly booming economy, about the supposedly non-rigged game. A year-end CNN/ORC poll showed that fully three-quarters of Americans said they were dissatisfied “with the way the nation is being governed,” with 69 percent “at least somewhat angry with the way things are going in the U.S.”

Americans on the left believe that Washington, D.C., has climbed into bed with Wall Street and corrupted the political process to the benefit of the few; Americans on the right believe that Washington, D.C., has become a cesspool of government avarice in which those elected to stop the government from usurping power turn on their own constituencies in favor of promoting their personal political interests. In both cases, Americans have turned against the “establishment” — people whom they imagine defend the status quo in Washington, D.C., as not all that bad. If this seems vague, that’s because it is: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are widely perceived to be members of the “establishment,” but they disagree about virtually everything. Everything, that is, except for a generalized belief that it’s better to go along to get along than to stand strong against determined opposition.

On the left, this has resulted in the surprising rise of a 74-year-old socialist senator from Vermont who strongly resembles Larry David. On the right, it has resulted in Trump. Sanders will lose to Clinton on the left — the anger against the Democratic Party isn’t strong enough on the left to destroy the party wholesale for an openly socialist temper tantrum. 

On the right, however, the anger against the Republican Party is palpable. That CNN/ORC poll showed a whopping 90 percent of Republicans dissatisfied with national governance, and 82 percent angry with the way things are going in the country. Among Trump supporters, that number was 97 percent dissatisfied and 91 percent angry. Republicans look at their leadership and see people who lied to them over and over again: lied about how “mainstream” candidates such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would earn the love of the media and sweep to victory; lied about how if Republicans took over Congress in 2010, they’d stop Obamacare dead; lied about how if Republicans took over the Senate in 2014, they’d kill President Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty.

If this is the best the professionals in the establishment could do, many Republicans believed, then it is time for an outsider — someone who can take an ax to the system. Poll after poll for the past year has demonstrated that Republicans prefer an outsider to a candidate with experience in Washington.

Anger at political correctness

That generalized anger at the establishment alone wouldn’t have skyrocketed Trump to the top of the polls. After all, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has spent his entire career in the Senate ticking off the Republican establishment, to the point of calling McConnell a liar on the floor of the chamber. Republican establishment types hate Cruz with the fiery passion of a thousand flaming suns; they despise Cruz so much that former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole said he’d prefer Trump to Cruz, a perspective mirrored by much of the GOP establishment.

So why not Cruz instead of Trump? Because Trump channels a second type of anger better than anyone else in the race: full-scale rage at political correctness. Political correctness is seen — correctly — by non-leftists as a way of silencing debate about vital issues. Political correctness quashes serious discussions with charges of racism, sexism, Islamophobia and homophobia, and in doing so, destroys the possibility of political honesty as well as better solutions. The Obama administration has brought political correctness back from the brink of extinction to place it in the central halls of power: The White House and its media lackeys have suggested that legitimate criticism of Obama’s policies represents bigotry, that serious concerns about radical Islam represent Islamophobia, that real worries about encroachment upon religious liberty represent homophobia, and that honest questions about individual responsibility for crime represent racism. And establishment Republicans, eager to be seen as civil, have acquiesced in the newfound reign of political correctness.

Trump entered the race vowing to bring that reign to an end. Because of his celebrity, he’s been able to say politically incorrect things many Republicans believe must be said: that Muslim refugees to the United States must be treated with more care than non-Muslim refugees thanks to the influence of radical Islam, for example, or that illegal immigration brings with it elevated levels of criminality. He’s slapped the leftist media repeatedly, something that thrills frustrated conservatives.

But Trump has gone further than fighting political correctness: He has engaged in pure boorishness. His fans have lumped that boorishness in with being politically incorrect. That’s foolishness. It’s politically incorrect — and valuable — to point out that single motherhood rates in the Black community contribute to problems of poverty and crime, and that such rates are not the result of white racism but of the problematic values of those involved. It’s simply rude and gauche to mock the disabled, as Trump has, or mock prisoners of war, as Trump has, or mock Megyn Kelly’s period, as Trump has. The list goes on and on.

Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in Houston, Texas, on Feb. 25. Photo by Mike Stone/Reuters

The distinction between being a pig and being politically incorrect is a real one. But Trump and his supporters have obliterated the distinction — and that’s in large part thanks to the pendulum swinging wildly against political correctness.

Anger at anti-Americanism

Even the revolt against political correctness wouldn’t be enough to put Trump in position to break apart the Republican Party, however. Republicans have railed against political correctness for years — Trump isn’t anything new in that, although he’s certainly more vulgar and blunt than others. No, what truly separates Trump from the rest of the Republican crowd is that he’s a European-style nationalist.

Republicans are American exceptionalists. We believe that America is a unique place in human history, founded upon a unique philosophy of government and liberty. That’s why we’re special and why we have succeeded. In his own way, Trump believes in American exceptionalism much like Barack Obama does — as a term to describe parochial patriotism. Obama infamously remarked in 2009, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Obama meant that dismissively — American exceptionalism is just something we do because we’re American, not because we’re actually special. But Trump means it proudly. His nationalism is a reaction to Obama’s anti-nationalism. It says: “Barack Obama may think America isn’t worthy of special protection because we’re not special. Well, we’re America, damn it, even if we don’t know what makes us special.” According to Trump, we ought to operate off of the assumption that Americans deserve better lives not because they live out better principles or represent a better system, but because they’re here.

This sort of nationalism resembles far more the right-wing parties of Europe than the historical Republican Party. The Republican Party has stood for embrace of anyone who will embrace American values; extreme European right-wing parties tend to embrace people out of ethnic allegiance rather than ideological allegiance. Trump uncomfortably straddles that divide. His talk about limiting immigration has little to do with embrace of American values and much more to do with “protecting” Americans from foreigners — even highly educated foreigners willing to work in the United States without taking benefits from the tax system. It’s one thing to object to an influx of people who disagree with basic constitutional values. But Trump doesn’t care about basic constitutional values. He simply opposes people coming in who aren’t us. There’s a reason so many of his supporters occupy the #altright portion of the Internet, which traffics in anti-Semitism and racism.

The rise of ‘The Great Man’

Trump poisons the brew of justified anger at the establishment, justified anger at the political correctness and justified anger at anti-Americanism from the left. People feel victimized by a government that centralizes all power in the back corridors of D.C., a media dedicated to upholding nonsensical sloganeering as opposed to honest discussion, and a president who sees America as a global bully and an international pariah in need of re-education. Trump has channeled that sense of victimization into support. 

But there’s one more spice he adds to that toxic concoction: worship of “The Great Man.”

Republicans have typically been wary of The Great Man. Democrats have not. Woodrow Wilson wrote in 1906, “The president is at liberty both in law and conscience to be as big a man as he can. His capacity will set the limit.” Franklin D. Roosevelt came as close to dictatorship in America as anyone in history. Barack Obama obviously sees little limit to executive authority; he chafes at constitutional restrictions on his power. The presidency, according to Democrats, is a position of elected dictatorship — at least when Democrats run the show.

Conservatives have always believed in the constitutional checks and balances. Republicans have not; there were Republicans who cheered the Bush administration’s abuses of executive power, for example. But as the proxy for the conservative movement, the GOP at least paid lip service to the idea that power resided in the people, then local government, then the states, and last and weakest, the federal government. Republicans supposedly stood for the proposition that the government was the greatest obstacle to freedom.

Trump overthrows all of that. Thanks to Obama’s usurpation of power, many Americans are ready for a Reverse Obama — someone who will use the power of the presidency to “win” for them, as opposed to using a powerful presidency to weaken the country. And that’s what Trump pledges to do. He pledges to singlehandedly make deals — great deals! He promises to make America great again, not through the application of constitutional liberties, but through the power of his persona. He’ll be strong, his supporters believe. When he expresses sympathy for Vladimir Putin and says at least Saddam Hussein killed terrorists and admires the strength of the Chinese government in quashing protest at Tiananmen Square (in a 1990 interview with Playboy), his supporters thrill. Because Trump is a strong leader. He’s no wimp. Give him control, and watch him roll!

Like Obama, Trump has built a cult following on worship of power. Big government has prepared Americans for tyrannical central government for a century. Republicans resisted that call.

Trump does not. 

Is this the end of the Republican Party?

If Trump is nominated, there will be a split in the national GOP. There will be those who hold their noses and vote for him, but who see him as a horrible historical aberration; there will be those who stay home altogether. There may be a third party conservative who decides to provide an alternative to the evils of Trumpism. The Republican Party will remain a major force at the local and state levels regardless; national elections do not reshape parties at these lower levels immediately.

But over time, they can. Is Trumpism temporary, or is it here to stay? The answer to that question may lie with the establishment Republicans, who will have to make peace with actual conservatives if they hope to stanch the rise of populism. Establishment Republicans got behind Jeb Bush in this election cycle, and they stayed behind him even as he flailed; they made clear they’d prefer Trumpism to hard-core conservatism. Now we’re seeing the result. 

The Republican Party can come back, but only if it recognizes that decades of standing for nothing breed reactionary, power-addicted, nationalist populism. That’s a hard realization, but it will have to be made. Otherwise, the Republican Party will, indeed, become the party of Trump rather than the party of Lincoln and Reagan.


Benjamin Shapiro is editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, senior editor-at-large of Breitbart News, host of “The Ben Shapiro Show” and co-host of “The Morning Answer” on KRLA-AM in Los Angeles and KTIE-AM in the Inland Empire. He is also the author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left's Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America,” Simon *& Schuster (2013).

Israeli couples say ‘I don’t’ to Orthodox Jewish weddings


For most Israelis in the Jewish state, there is one legal way to get married – God's way.

Israeli law empowers only Orthodox rabbis to officiate at Jewish weddings, but popular opposition is growing to this restriction and to what some Israelis see as an Orthodox stranglehold on the most precious moments of their lives.

Some of Israel's most popular TV stars and models have come out this week in an advertisement supporting a new bill allowing civil marriage. A political storm is likely when it eventually comes up for a vote in parliament.

The Rabbinate, the Orthodox religious authority that issues marriage licences in Israel, says it is charged with a task vital for the survival of the Jewish people, and a recent poll showed more Israelis oppose civil unions than support them.

Nevertheless, many Israelis want either a secular wedding or a religious marriage conducted by a non-Orthodox rabbi. Facebook pages have been popping up, with defiant couples calling on others to boycott the Rabbinate.

In September, Stav Sharon, a 30-year-old Pilates instructor, married her husband in an alternative ceremony performed in Israel by a non-Orthodox rabbi.

“We wanted a Jewish wedding despite being secular. We feel connected to our Judaism, even if we are not religious. It is our people, our tradition,” Sharon said.

Weddings such as Sharon's fall into a legal no man's land. They are not against the law, but neither are they recognised as valid by the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for registering marital status on the national identity card every Israeli is required to carry.

In a twist in the law, the ministry will register as married any Israeli couple that weds abroad – even in a non-religious ceremony – outside the purview of the Israeli rabbinate.

Some couples hop on the short flight to Cyprus to marry. The Czech Republic is another popular destination for Israelis wanting a civil wedding.

Sharon and her husband decided against that option. “Marrying abroad means giving in. We wanted to marry in our own country,” she said.

No formal records are kept on the officially invalid alternative ceremonies held in Israel. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, nearly 39,000 Jewish couples married via the Rabbinate in 2011. About 9,000 couples registered that year as having married overseas.

Muslims, Druze and Christians in Israel are also required to marry through their own state-recognised religious authorities, making interfaith weddings possible only overseas.

WHO IS A JEW?

Secular-religious tensions have simmered in Israel, which defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state, since its establishment in 1948.

About 20 percent of Israeli Jews describe themselves as Orthodox while the majority of citizens are only occasional synagogue-goers. There are also non-Orthodox communities such as Reform and Conservative, but these are proportionately smaller than in Jewish populations abroad.

Ultra-Orthodox zealots have drawn anger in recent years for separating men and women on some public buses and harassing women and girls for what they see as immodest dress. Orthodox rabbis insist that brides take ritual baths to purify themselves before marriage, a practice to which some Israeli women object.

Immigrants to Israel, which since its inception has appealed to Jews around the world to live in the Jewish state, can find marriage through its Rabbinate a gruelling process.

Anyone wed by the Rabbinate is required to provide evidence of being Jewish, usually a simple and quick process.

But when it comes to new immigrants, the Rabbinate requires an affidavit, usually from an Orthodox rabbi in their home country, attesting they were born to a Jewish mother – the Orthodox criterion for determining if someone is a Jew.

And, Orthodox authorities in Israel can pile on more problems by digging even deeper into Jewish roots by requiring additional documentation proving that a bride or bridegroom's grandmother was Jewish.

“It took a year,” said a 34-year-old Argentinian immigrant to Israel, who asked not to be identified.

“They said the papers I had were not sufficient. They kept asking for more and more crazy documents. At one point they wanted me to provide a witness, from Argentina, who knew my grandparents and who had seen them, inside their home, celebrating a Jewish holiday,” he said.

His case was ultimately brought before the Chief Rabbi who ruled the man was Jewish and could marry his bride-to-be.

Israel's government is less strict in determining “who is a Jew” and therefore eligible to immigrate to Israel. Under its Law of Return, proof that someone has at least one Jewish grandparent is enough to receive automatic citizenship.

The Rabbinate says it is charged with preventing intermarriage and assimilation with non-Jewish communities which would endanger their people's survival.

Ziv Maor, the Rabbinate's spokesman, said strict adherence to Orthodox ritual law and practices had bonded Jews across the globe and set common rules for all.

“A Moroccan Jew knew he could marry a Jewish woman from Lithuania,” he said. “Rabbinical law guides us in a very clear way on who is Jewish and who is not … and we do not have permission from past or future generations to stray even a hair's breadth from those criteria,” Maor said.

According to the Rabbinate, only two percent of the men and women who apply to it for a marriage licence are turned down because they are found not to be Jewish.

GAY MARRIAGE

There are other groups to whom marriage is forbidden by rabbinical law.

Same-sex marriage, as in other religions, is out of the question as far as the Rabbinate is concerned. Israel's Interior Ministry recognises gay marriage – but only if it is conducted in a foreign country where it is legal.

Margot Madeson-Stern, a business consultant, was wed in Israel by a non-Orthodox rabbi at a celebration attended by more than 300 guests. The ceremony had no legal foundation in Israel.

“The (Rabbinate) would not marry me. The person I fell in love with was a woman,” said Madeson-Stern, 30. “I'm Jewish. I wanted a Jewish wedding. It's my family, my tradition, it's how I grew up.”

She later travelled with her wife to New York for another wedding ceremony. New York recognises gay marriages, so Israel's Interior Ministry did the same, registering them as a couple.

At least two parties in the coalition government are promoting a bill to allow civil marriage in Israel, including for same-sex couples. One of them is Yesh Atid, which tapped into anti-religious sentiment in last January's national election and finished in second place.

“It cannot be that people who do not believe or whose lifestyle does not suit the Rabbinate will be forced to get married by people whose way is not their own,” Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid told Israel Radio this month.

But tradition could die hard in Israel. A poll published in November in the Israeli newspaper, Maariv, showed that while 41 percent of Jewish Israelis supported Yesh Atid's Civil Union bill, 47 percent objected.

Such bills have been floated at Israel's parliament before. But for the first time in years, ultra-Orthodox parties, which oppose civil marriage, are not in the government.

Yesh Atid believes it has enough votes from lawmakers across the board to pass the law in the next few months. The Rabbinate says it will oppose the measure strongly.

“Matters of marriage, divorce and conversion are our most important fortress. It must not be touched and we will defend it fiercely,” said Maor.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller and David Stamp

Will a new generation step up to civic leadership?


At first glance, Jews might appear to be enjoying a renaissance of political influence in Los Angeles. Eric Garcetti is the first elected Jewish mayor and the two other citywide elected officials — City Attorney Mike Feuer and City Controller Ron Galperin — are Jewish, too. So are three City Councilmembers.

But the era is long past when an energized base of African American and Jewish voters could team up to help Mayor Tom Bradley make history. Power in Los Angeles is more diffused, and thanks in part to the Jewish commitment to expanding and leveling the democratic playing field, a wide variety of diverse constituencies are better organized. This is a welcome change that has helped lift the voices of all Angelenos.

“Jewish heritage is American heritage,” Vice President Joe Biden said last May, crediting Jews for America’s progress in women’s rights, civil rights, science, law, and LGBT rights. Yet as Los Angeles political expert Raphael J. Sonenshein noted in his column in the Journal in June, Jewish support is “no longer a necessity for minority access to political leadership at the local level.” In other words, Jewish voters are not the deciding factor they once were in Los Angeles politics. Meanwhile, many of L.A.'s most influential Jewish leaders have turned from political pursuits to philanthropic initiatives.

Now a new generation of Jews is growing up in a new Los Angeles. Our region is more diverse than ever, and while serious inequalities and social divisions persist, many areas are seeing new integration. Jewish Angelenos, having left downtown for the Valley and the Westside, are returning to an increasingly integrated urban core, from the East Side to Pico-Union to Koreatown.

As Biden rightly noted, that spirit of integration pervades contemporary American Jewish identity—and so does civic commitment. Jumpstart’s latest research on charitable giving, Connected to Give, confirms the generosity of American Jews across all causes. The stronger our community connections, it shows, the stronger our commitment to the common good.

Like that of so many others, my own story—a co-chair of the Clinton Foundation Millennium Network leadership council who is the child of a Holocaust survivor, a new County commissioner who is the cofounder of an innovative Jewish nonprofit startup—reflects this synergy. Like so many others, I am inspired by a Jewish tradition that spurs us, indeed demands of us, that we help lead the conversation about where our city and society are heading, and how we all can get there together.

For me, as for a number of other Jewish Angelenos active in civic service, appointed office has offered the opportunity to bring my personal commitments and professional skills to bear for the broader good.  There are myriad city and county commissions that advise government departments and agencies. The City of Los Angeles alone has more than 50 commissions with more than 300 commissioners. They develop policies governing the LAPD and pensions for city workers, ideas for modern city planning, solutions for increasing affordable housing. Commissions are a key mechanism for citizen participation in and oversight of government, and they play a central role shaping the local agenda.

But we are a handful among hundreds. How can we ensure that rising leaders from across the diverse spectrum of the Los Angeles Jewish community have the skills and understanding necessary to earn an appointment and make a sustained positive impact? By making sure we're training the next generation of Jewish civic leaders.

And that’s where the Jewish Federation’s New Leaders Project (NLP) comes in.

For more than 20 years (and currently recruiting for next year’s class), NLP has helped train hundreds of Jewish leaders, many of whom have gone on to serve as elected and appointed officials (including commissioners), nonprofit directors, business executives. NLP helps young Jewish leaders broaden their understanding of the complex issues and diverse communities across the region. Participants meet with innovators both inside the Jewish community and out. And they get to work hands on with elected, civic, community and business leaders, forming crucial relationships and learning the nuances of the city's power structures — all through a lens grounded in Jewish values. NLP has helped inspire similar civic efforts in other minority religious communities, such as the SikhLEAD Leadership Development Program and the American Muslim Civic Leadership Initiative.

The future of our community—both Angeleno and Jewish—depends on creating more opportunities for us to live out our values for the benefit of the broader world. My own training as an NLP fellow in 2012 helped broaden my civic horizons and prepare me to take on the obligation of building a better Los Angeles.

The echoes of the Bradley era still resonate today as Los Angeles’s diversity continues to be a source of our strength. Whether through training programs like NLP or service through commissions, each of us can make a powerful statement that we care deeply about our society and that we will keep fighting to repair the world. Jewish values—American values—call us to act.


NLP is currently recruiting for 2014. For more information, go to www.JewishLA.org/NLP.

Pew finds Jews mostly liberal


One of the most interesting findings of the respected Pew Research Center’s poll of American Jews was the continuing theme of Jewish liberalism and approval of Barack Obama’s performance — a vote of confidence in the president exceeded only by that of African-American Protestants and Hispanic Catholics.

“Jews are among the most strongly liberal, Democratic groups in U.S. politics,” the Pew report said. “There are more than twice as many self-identified Jewish liberals as conservatives, while among the general public, this balance is nearly reversed. In addition, about seven-in-ten Jews identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party. Jews are more supportive of President Barack Obama than are most other religious groups. And about eight-in-ten Jews say homosexuality should be accepted by society.”

The survey is a landmark in research on the Jewish states of mind, the first such major survey since the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-2001. It digs deeply into religious practice, participation in community activities, educational and economic attainment, demographics, and social and political views. It will help shape writing, commentary and research on Jewish American life for years to come.

It was taken between Feb. 20 and June 13 of this year, including a diverse sampling of 3,475 Jews, who are representative of the 6 million-plus American Jews. 

The pollsters were aware of the difficulty of defining who is a Jew. “This is an ancient question with no single, timeless answer,” they said. They divided Jews in two ways. One was by religion — those who “say their religion is Jewish (and who do not profess any other religion).” The other was “Jews of no religion — people who describe themselves … as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, but who have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish and who still consider themselves Jewish in some way.” Interestingly, the survey found that the overwhelming majority of Jews considered themselves Jewish by religion.

The findings on Jewish attitudes toward Obama come at a significant time. While the Pew pollsters were in the field, the president was under fire for his policies on Syria, Iran and Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly didn’t like the way he was going.

In addition, he was headed toward yet another brutal confrontation with Republicans, especially the GOP in the House of Representatives. His approval ratings in national polls had dropped sharply since his 2012 re-election.

That drop wasn’t the case among Jews. A total of 65 percent of those surveyed by Pew said they approved of the way Obama was doing his job. Both women and men felt the same way, by just about the same percentage — a contrast to surveys of the general population, which show Obama more popular among women. The same is also true among age groups — with 64 percent of Jews over 50 approving of him and 66 percent of those under 50 agreeing.

Only African-American Protestants, with 88 percent, and Hispanic Catholics, 76 percent, give the president higher approval ratings.

However, the same percentages of Orthodox Jews do not share these beliefs, particularly the ultra-Orthodox, the survey found. For example, 82 percent of Jews overall feel that homosexuality should be accepted by society, while 58 percent of the Orthodox Jews felt it should be discouraged, with that sentiment reaching 70 percent among the ultra-Orthodox. And just 33 percent of Orthodox Jews gave Obama a favorable job-performance rating, with the number even lower among the ultra-Orthodox, 28 percent.

This minority is growing. The Orthodox Jewish community has double the birthrate of the rest of the Jews, and it is substantially younger. Those trends add up to increased Orthodox influence in the political world if they chose to use it. 

Jewish Republicans have tried to mobilize them in past presidential elections, but, so far, each time the Democratic candidate has received a solid majority, the numbers hardly wavering from one election to the next. 

But in recent weeks, their efforts have been damaged by the cadre of radical Republicans in the House, and by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who closed down the federal government in their effort to kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

You might think the Republicans are on the right track after the Obamacare Web sites’ troubled introduction, and after months of conservative attacks on the ACA, with polls showing that, while negative sentiment is declining, the Affordable Care Act is still unpopular.

But that’s not the case with Jews. They back Obamacare. The American Jewish Committee’s Web site noted that most public opinion polls show a majority of Jews favor the ACA. The Pew survey explains why. 

The poll shows that even among the irreligious, Jewish identity is intertwined with feelings of obligation to society and remembrance of how Jews have been persecuted. Jews worry about the underdogs, who are on the difficult road that they, their parents or grandparents traveled.

The Holocaust is deep in Jewish consciousness. Pew reported that roughly seven in 10 U.S. Jews (73 percent) say remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of what being Jewish means to them. Nearly as many say leading an ethical and moral life is essential to what it means to be Jewish. And a majority of U.S. Jews say working for justice and equality in society is essential to being Jewish.

The hard-hearted Republican conduct of the past weeks, plus the House Republicans’ willingness to shut down badly needed government services run counter to those feelings. That will likely shape how a majority of Jews vote in the 2014 midterm election, as well as in 2016, when the country picks a successor to Barack Obama.


Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

The shandah factor: What makes Jewish sex scandals different?


The guy with the socks up. The guy with the pants down. The guy with the headlocks. The guy who tweets and deletes.

What is it with these male politicos? And why are they all Jewish?

The cloistered community that is Washington’s Jewish elite collectively choked a little Saturday morning as it progressed through a column in which Gail Collins of The New York Times named the protagonists of what she dubbed the “Weiner Spitzer summer.”

“Ever since the Clinton impeachment crisis, we’ve been discovering how much personal misbehavior we’re prepared to ignore in elected officials,” Collins wrote. “Hypocrisy, for sure. Adultery, definitely. Chronic lying, maybe. Financial skullduggery, possibly.”

Those seeking absolution this month for past misdeeds include Anthony Weiner, now running for New York mayor, who quit Congress in 2011 after he was caught saluting a female Twitter fan in his boxer briefs; Eliot Spitzer, now in a bid to be Gotham’s comptroller, who quit as the state’s governor in 2008 after the revelation that he patronized high-priced call girls — and allegedly kept his knee-highs on while doing so; and Bob Filner, who quit Congress last year to become San Diego’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years and is now facing a welter of sexual harassment claims, including allegations involving something called the “Filner headlock.”

[Related: Weiner acknowledges latest revealed lewd exchange]

Rounding out the sordidness is the baffling case of Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who was caught tweeting and deleting messages to a bikini model during the State of the Union address in February. Turns out she was his recently discovered love child. Then it was discovered she wasn't. Then he commented on the looks of a female reporter who asked him about the situation.

In her column, Collins did not identify the protagonists as Jewish, but their collective appearance in print unsettled Jewish political players who were whispering their names at social gatherings over the weekend.

“If we need a reminder of how Jews are like everyone else, this is a useful one,” said Ann Lewis, who as White House communications director managed the fallout from President Bill Clinton’s sex scandal and whose brother, former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, was caught up in a scandal in the 1980s involving a gay escort. “It does help bring us down to earth.”

Unlike other lawmakers caught in scandal, Lewis said, Jewish politicos are less likely to face the charges of hypocrisy that have afflicted others caught with their pants down.

“Jewish politicians by and large have not been huge advocates of patrolling other people's sex lives,” Lewis said.

The cases all have their own particularities.

Spitzer's lapses were crimes, though he was never prosecuted for them. Filner's might yet land him in court; his former communications director said this week that she was suing the mayor for sexual harassment. And the ones with Weiner and Cohen are just bizarre, though no one has suggested they are criminal.

Filner thus far has rejected calls for his resignation, while Spitzer and Weiner are both trying to rehabilitate their political careers after retreating from the spotlight in the wake of the scandals. On Monday, however, Weiner acknowledged that he had sent more explicit photos and texts to a woman, though the exact date of the exchange was unclear.

The Cohen saga began in February, when reporters noticed his tweet to bikini model Victoria Brink, who had told Cohen via Twitter that she had seen him on TV. “pleased u r watching, ilu,” he replied, using the shorthand for “I love you.”

The unmarried Cohen had a relationship with Brink's mother, who had told the congressman that the model was his daughter. CNN reported last week, however, that a DNA test showed Cohen and Brink are not related.

Asked about the situation by a young female reporter, Cohen said, “You're very attractive, but I'm not talking about it.” Cohen almost immediately sought out the reporter to apologize, saying he had not meant anything untoward.

“Been tough week, then this,” Cohen said in a tweet. “Sad 2 say I'm not perfect.

Political observers attribute the various scandals to the same factors that have led other politicians into the halls of shame: arrogance, insularity and just plain loneliness.

“Anyone who wants to run for Congress has to be a little bit crazy, and that includes Jewish members of Congress,” said a longtime Capitol Hill staffer who has worked for a number of Jewish lawmakers — none tinged by scandal.

The perpetual fundraising, unfettered accolades from supporters and the rarity of staffers who push back when a boss crosses the line insulate lawmakers from reality checks, according to a number of Hill staffers. The rigors of living one's life under the constant glare of media scrutiny may also be a factor.

“When people are separated from their families for a long period of time, things occur that wouldn't necessarily occur if your family was there,” said Robert Wexler, a former congressman who described his first months in Washington as hellish, eventually leading to his decision to move his family north so he could spend more time with them.

The move was not without a price. In 2008, Wexler came under fire when it was revealed he no longer maintained a residence in his Florida constituency.

“Eventually, your political opponent will claim you are of Washington,” he said.

Sex scandals have not always sounded the death knell for political careers.

Frank continued to serve in Congress for more than two decades after revelations that he patronized a male escort and then hired him as a personal aide. Weiner is leading in several recent polls, and has never polled lower than second since declaring his candidacy in May. And Spitzer enjoys a commanding lead over his Democratic primary opponent, Scott Stringer, the Jewish Manhattan borough president.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Lewis said. “They have a lot of work to do, but if I go back and think about Jewish tradition, you are encouraged to give people another chance.”

But the scandals have certainly exacted a price. Barbara Goldberg Goldman, a leading Democratic fundraiser, said the Weiner scandal was a factor in her decision to fundraise for one of his opponents, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

“Because I am Jewish, because I am a Democrat and I am active in that arena, I see it as a tragedy” that Weiner and Spitzer are running again, Goldman said.

“There are many fine qualified candidates out there who do not come with the baggage,” she said. “Find another day job. It’s chutzpah.”

GOP and the Jews, together again and talking


He had them until abortion.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) was addressing the Reform movement's Consultation on Conscience conference about his passion, human rights and success in creating mechanisms to combat human trafficking and shine a light on global anti-Semitism. The crowd gathered in a large Capitol Hill conference room Tuesday afternoon was transfixed, laughing along with Smith's practiced self-deprecation and applauding his commitment.

Until Joanna Blotner, a reproductive rights activist, asked him about his other signature legislation — a bid last year to cut all funding for abortion except in cases of “forcible rape.” Why, Blotner wondered, would Smith seek to limit women's options?

There was a fraught silence. Smith stumbled through a series of non-sequiturs before settling on the classic congressional non-defense defense: The language cited by the woman already appeared in earlier laws.

“We went back to that,” he said, referring to a 1976 law banning funding for abortion overseas.

Forcible rape — the term implies that rape without violence is consensual — became a buzzword last year that helped topple what had been seen as two surefire GOP Senate bids, in Indiana and Missouri, and became a symbol for the party's supposed alienation from growing swaths of the electorate.

In the wake of Mitt Romney's sound defeat in the presidential election, Republican leaders have regularly emphasized the need to reach out to groups among which the GOP made a poor showing — women, minorities and increasingly, Jews.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Republican Conference in the U.S. House of Representatives, hosted a roundtable recently for Jewish leaders that brought together figures who rarely find themselves in the same room together, let alone in dialogue.

Hardcore conservatives such as Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks and Sarah Stern, founder of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, exchanged laughs with liberal counterparts like Rabbis David Saperstein and Jack Moline, both of whom are known in the media for their closeness to the Obama White House.

“In order to be an effective leader, you have to reach out to the whole community,” said Nicolas Muzin, the conference's director of coalitions, who leads outreach to minority communities.

Such GOP-Jewish confabs, while never commonplace, once were at least as frequent as the annual get-together between Senate Democrats and Jewish groups. They stopped soon after the 2000 election of President George W. Bush, whose first term was notorious for its with-us-or-against-us posture toward interest groups, and the ascension of an uncompromising congressional GOP led by hardliners such as Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the former majority leader known for seeking to crush liberal influence in Washington. Leaders of interest groups perceived as liberal — a sobriquet that characterized many of the mainstream Jewish groups — stopped having their calls to Republican leaders returned. Worse, they were told to stop trying.

No longer. After a decade in which Jewish outreach was largely restricted to a small coterie of like-minded conservative groups, Republicans are reaching beyond their comfort zone in an effort to make inroads with the wider Jewish community. Muzin said there are plans to replicate the meeting with other minority communities on the national level and to encourage lawmakers to use the meetings as templates for similar get-togethers in their districts.

Muzin gleefully described the long and effusive “thanks for the invite” voicemail he received from Moline, and how he played it back for his delighted boss, McMorris Rodgers. The congresswoman responded by borrowing the habit cultivated by Democratic politicians of injecting a subsequent speech to a Jewish group with Jewishisms.

“You may not know that much about me, but I grew up in a rural area of eastern Washington where people grow wheat and apples,” she said a few nights later as the lead GOP guest at the Israeli Embassy’s Independence Day celebrations. “We wouldn’t have known a matzah ball from a basketball.”

At the roundtable hosted by McMorris Rodgers, participants focused on shared agendas, in particular getting tough with Iran and keeping the deduction for charitable contributions at 35 percent, as opposed to the 28 percent sought by the Obama administration. Both are softballs when it comes to Jewish-Republican dialogue and have broad community appeal.

But participants on both sides of the table said they anticipate areas of disagreement, like Medicaid and Medicare, two programs popular among Jewish leaders that Republicans hope to restructure.

“On domestic policy there will be differences, and the members were well prepared for that,” Muzin said.

Evidence of the gap between good intentions and working relationships was evident during the Reform confab this week, which was top heavy with Democrats from Congress and the administration. The two Republicans who participated — Smith and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — emphasized their eagerness to work with the other side, something that Democrats never felt the need to do.

Graham, like Smith, earned a warm welcome. He addressed an area of agreement with the Reform movement, immigration reform, and delivered several thinly veiled digs at Romney, whose rhetoric was seen as driving away Hispanics.

“My party has turned a corner,” Graham said. ” 'Self-deportation' is not a good idea.”

At the McMorris Rodgers meeting in her office, some potentially contentious issues such as immigration reform and preserving entitlements came up briefly when the organizational leaders were asked about their priority agendas. Participants, speaking on background because the contents of the meeting were off the record, said even asking such an open-ended question was refreshing and was taken as evidence that the GOP was ready to listen.

Saperstein, the head of the Reform movement's Religious Action Center, said the meeting suggested that the party was ready to listen.

“They could not have been more attentive, more politely responsive at the range of views they heard, more open to engaging with the community,” he said.

The confab included presentations by two top congressmen — Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Pete Roskam (R-Ill.), the chief deputy majority whip.

Royce outlined his bid to expand Iran sanctions beyond those currently targeting its energy sector to encompass virtually anyone doing business with the country — a model he said had helped moderate North Korea's behavior in the past. Roskam discussed the charitable deduction, comprehensive immigration reform and the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Stacy Burdett, the director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington office, was impressed at how the meeting appeared to be more than a polite exchange. Royce and Roskam were well briefed on what interests the Jewish community, she noted, and McMorris Rodgers wrote down every suggestion.

“It’s a renewed effort to regularize contact,” she said. “Meetings like this are a great opportunity to exchange views and for the members to hear what the organizations are focused on, and for the organization to learn what the members are interested in.”

Is God a Democrat or a Republican?


With President Obama having just taken the oath for his second term in office, we can allow ourselves the luxury of thinking about substantive issues in ways that transcend party affiliations and divisions. We no longer have to debate how and for whom Jews should vote, and instead can confront the far more important question of what Jewish values teach us about the nature of a just society and the role and responsibility of the individual in shaping it.

Jewish teaching on this issue begins early in the Bible in Genesis Chapter 4, when we are introduced to the personality of Cain, who personifies injustice and serves as a model for what we must not become. In response to God's query regarding the whereabouts of his brother Abel, Cain offers a response which sets the foundation for Jewish morality: Am I my brother's keeper? (Gen. 4:9) The core of Jewish ethics may be summarized by the answer: “Yes. You are your brother and sister's keeper.” When you walk in the world as a Jew, you relinquish the singular perspective of self-interest and accept that the existence of others breeds responsibility to them. This responsibility is not the mere consequence of a social contract but a core aspect of what it means to be human. Others claim you, and their existence demands of you that you see them and respond to their needs.

In the Jewish tradition this principle gets translated into a Law of Non-Indifference which serves as the foundation for governing the relationships among human beings. “If you see your fellow's ox or sheep gone astray do not remain indifferent. You must take it back to him….you shall do the same with his ass; you shall do the same with his garment; and so too shall you do with anything that your fellow loses and you find: You must not remain indifferent.” (Deuteronomy 22:1-3)

The defining feature of a Jewish public space is that it must be a safe one, safe not merely from harm, safe not merely from a Hobbesian definition of the state of nature as being a state of war of all against all, but safe in the sense that individuals who enter it know that their well-being is a concern of all who share in that space. A space is a safe one when all who inhabit it are “fellow keepers,” a space wherein the individuals recognize their responsibility to override their personal interests and not merely refrain from harming others but actually care for and respond to their needs.

The biblical law of lost property quoted above shapes a mode of behavior and consciousness whereby fellow citizens do not come into the public domain either to merely survive, or conversely, in search of benefiting from others' misfortunes. What could be more natural or simple than “looking the other way” when coming into contact with a lost piece of property. Who needs the hassle of trying to run down the owner? As a busy person, I don’t have time to be my brother's keeper, or more opportunistically, I can view such a moment as a prospect for personal gain. Who knows, I might reason, perhaps it is meant to belong to me. Perhaps it is a gift from God. In both cases the lens is actually a mirror: when I look at someone else's loss, I can only see myself, my needs and interests. Jewish tradition commands, however, that we walk in the public domain in a different way. At the heart of the ethic of non-indifference is the smashing of the mirror of self-interest to do what is just and right.

Jews in America have been blessed with the gift of freedom and equality and given the opportunity to not merely pursue our religious life free of persecution, but also the opportunity of full partnership in shaping the American public sphere. The First Amendment “wall of separation” between Church and State which Jews so judiciously protect, is meant to ensure that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Its aim is to separate Church from State but not religion and religious values from the public discourse.

I don’t know whether God is a Democrat or a Republican, nor do I want to argue that one of them is more conducive to creating a just society. I do want to argue, however, that as Jews we are inheritors of a value system which has much to contribute to a public discourse about the nature of such a just society. As Jews we must be the enemies of indifference and the advocates of a social contract which educates and obligates all to be our brothers' and sisters' keepers.

America is in the midst of a serious discussion about its present and future identity and how the values which it holds dear ought to impact on issues such as universal health care, entitlements, deficits, gun control, and environment, to name just a few. As Jews our role in this discussion should not merely be expressed in the way we vote but in the way we bring the values of our tradition to shape this public discussion.

Israeli parliament set for record influx of Orthodox lawmakers


With Israel's election days away, Orthodox Jews swayed in prayer at a meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, delaying his entrance while politicians waited politely.

The image captured a sea change in Israeli politics.

Orthodox Jews have left niche parties to join Likud and other mainstream factions, challenging the dominance of non-observant politicians and infusing Israeli politics with religious fervor and a harder line on the Palestinian conflict.

Opinion polls predict that religious politicians will end up with a record 40 of parliament's 120 seats after Tuesday's vote, compared with 25 in the outgoing assembly elected in 2009. Two decades ago only a score of lawmakers were religiously Orthodox.

While some Israelis rejoice, some in the secular majority fear the trend may alter the identity of a nation which has never marked out the troublesome boundaries between religion and state – and which also has a substantial Arab Muslim minority.

Many foresee renewed disputes over the “Jewishness” and the conversion of immigrants.

Others fret about further attempts by hardcore members of pro-settler parties such as Likud and the even harder line Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) group to rein in Israel's secular-minded high court, restrict civil liberties and step up monitoring of foreign funding for human rights and other groups.

“In the long run I see a weakening of the foundations of the state's democracy,” said Israeli sociologist Batia Siebzehner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, citing the track record of Orthodox politicians urging the state to embrace religious law.

That prospect horrifies secular Israelis, who do not relish comparisons with Iran, an avowedly Islamic republic, or Arab states where Islamist factions are gaining ground.

“NO THEOCRACY”

David Stav, a moderate Orthodox rabbi running for chief rabbi in a poll later this year, says such fears are overblown.

“This is not going to be a theocracy,” he told Reuters. Most religious politicians are “committed to a Jewish and democratic state and don't want to see themselves as coercive to others”.

Nevertheless, centrist as well as right-wing parties are fielding religious candidates. Netanyahu has made a point of having himself photographed with skullcap-wearing voters.

A rabbi has joined ex-television star Yair Lapid's centrist list. Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has tapped an ex-general who wears a skullcap for her centrist party as well.

In past elections, Orthodox politicians mainly represented smaller parties focused on religious issues. Their integration into larger parties is helping them to gain more seats in parliament, although Orthodox Israelis are still a minority.

A survey by the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute found last year that 22 percent of Israeli Jews were observant, including the ultra-Orthodox and more moderately Orthodox, far outnumbered by the 78 percent who were non-observant.

Yet they may exert a disproportionate influence.

Religious movements seeking to expand Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and deny the Palestinians a state are supplanting once-powerful kibbutzniks as symbols of Israel's self-declared national mission, many experts say.

The kibbutz, the collective farm movement identified with Israel's early settlement of the land, long dominated military and political leadership, despite its relatively small numbers. Pollsters say the kibbutz movement may win no seats next week.

“The ideological tables have turned and religious Zionists are taking over the national discourse,” said Tamar El Or, a Hebrew University anthropologist, adding that the trend was not new, but was now translating into influence in parliament.

“RISE IN RACISM”

The rise of religiously fired Jewish settlers has coincided with widespread Israeli disillusion with failed negotiations with the Palestinians, compounded in the last two years by Arab uprisings that have brought Islamists to power, especially in Egypt, making its 1979 peace treaty with Israel look fragile.

A more religiously-tinged parliament could lead to a “rise in racism, separatism (and) less democracy,” El Or said.

“It will become more difficult to be a citizen in this country if you're an immigrant, not Jewish and certainly if you're an Arab,” she added, referring to Israeli Arabs who hold citizenship and make up a fifth of the population, but who complain of discrimination.

For now, Orthodox lawmakers may focus more on promoting Jewish settlements than on trying to enforce religious law, an enterprise that might swiftly anger the secular majority.

“If they get drunk on their power or try to push a religious agenda, they may find themselves facing a backlash,” said Gideon Rahat, a political scientist at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Some in the more liberal Orthodox camp want to heal rifts with non-observant Israelis, especially on the conversion issue – the Orthodox rabbinate does not recognize many immigrants as Jews or the right of more liberal rabbis to convert them.

Stav forecast “catastrophe” for Israel if the row dragged on because it would deter immigrants and handicap Jews in any demographic race with Arabs. “We won't survive here,” he said.

Likud lawmaker Tzipi Hotovely, a pro-settler candidate, said her fellow-Orthodox MPs should focus on security issues and on rejecting pressure to relinquish to the Palestinians “Biblical” land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

“Our job is to lead a world view of Jewish identity and to preserve the Land of Israel,” she said. “We need to aim for meaningful influence, and not be content with supervising Jewish dietary laws.”

At Netanyahu's Likud meeting, the Orthodox worshippers in knitted skullcaps and prayer vests with white fringes dangling below their shirts, rocked and muttered their afternoon prayers, as their non-observant colleagues waited in patient silence.

They were putting a new complexion on the expression party faithful – and perhaps on Israeli politics.

Editing by Alistair Lyon

Social protest leaders hope to shake up Israel ballot


They are young and they are driven. They got half a million Israelis out on the streets demanding social justice. Now they want their votes.

The leaders of a grassroots social protest movement that swept Israel in 2011 have shot to the top of a rejuvenated Labor party that polls say will at least double its power in a January 22 general election that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud is forecast to win.

“The next stage is to continue what started in the streets, to bring that to the ballot … so that we can translate it into achievements in budgets, laws and a change of policy,” said 32-year-old Itzik Shmuli, who as head of the student union was one of the most prominent leaders of the protest movement.

It began with a handful of youngsters who pitched tents along Tel Aviv's luxurious Rothschild Avenue to protest against high housing costs. Eventually, hundreds of thousands of Israelis demonstrated weekly across the country.

Inspired also by the Arab Spring that swept the region, the protesters, chanting “the people demand social justice”, dominated headlines in Israel in the summer of 2011, and posed a new challenge to the government.

Political parties soon saw potential vote magnets in the movement's leaders, who were often portrayed in the media as idealists with just the right mix of innocence and savvy to promote a message of hope and change.

Shmuli quit the student union this year to win the number 11 spot on Labor's list of parliamentary candidates, running a distant second to Likud in the upcoming election.

“The answer the government gave was a thin, cosmetic and cynical one. They did not want to truly deal with the problems raised by the protest,” Shmuli said.

Israel has a relatively low unemployment rate of 6.7 percent and a growing economy, but business cartels and wage disparities have kept many from feeling the benefit.

In parliament, Shmuli and his allies hope to push affordable housing, reform the education, welfare and health systems and to narrow the gap between rich and poor in Israel, which the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has said is among the highest in developed countries.

In response to the protest, Netanyahu, a free market champion and fiscal conservative, vowed to revamp the economy and lower living costs. Some of the government's steps have eased the pain for the middle and lower classes.

But other measures are moving slowly or have had no major effect. With rising food and fuel prices, few feel significant change in the cost of living since the protest.

“It means that we were mistaken when, as a young generation, we thought we could avoid sitting in the places where we make the most important decisions,” said Stav Shaffir, 27, another of the movement's leaders.

Shaffir is now eighth on Labor's list. Polls show that like Shmuli, she will be a member of Israel's next parliament, with her party winning about 16 to 20 of the 120 Knesset seats.

“There is something pure and beautiful about a popular protest,” Shaffir told a group of students in December. “But the change it brings comes only after generations … and we don't have that time if we want to change policy.”

UNDER THE TANKS

Shaffir lives with four roommates in a Jaffa apartment. Shmuli moved to the run-down town of Lod last year to set up a student community outreach program. Both say they have no intention of changing their dwellings after becoming lawmakers.

At the protest's peak, Shmuli addressed about half a million people at one of the biggest rallies ever held in Israel. He spoke to the cheering crowd about “The New Israelis”, who will fight for a better future and social equality.

But that was in September 2011. The question now is whether the “New Israelis” who cheered for Shmuli will turn up to vote for him.

The summer of 2011 marked one of the only times that social-economic issues consistently topped the agenda in a country whose population of 7.8 million is usually preoccupied with matters of war and peace.

Yariv Ben-Eliezer, a media expert at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a college near Tel Aviv, says those issues have once more taken a back seat.

In November, Israel carried out an eight-day offensive in Gaza with the declared aim of ending Palestinian rocket fire into its territory. The same month the Palestinians relaunched their statehood bid at the United Nations and won great support.

“Before the (Gaza) operation, Labor was rising in the polls and Likud was sliding. There was a feeling that the social protest should be moved into politics. But the main issue has gone back to being defense,” Ben-Eliezer said.

Shmuli disagrees. Called up to the Gaza border for reserve duty during the offensive, he took shelter with fellow soldiers under their tank when rockets from Gaza hailed down.

“While all these missiles were flying over us, we had to find a way to pass those 10 minutes under the tank – and what did we talk about? About housing and about the high living costs.”

Many of the protesters came from the middle class, which bears a heavy tax burden and sustains the conscript military.

“We will always be there for our country – whenever it needs us, but the big question is, when we are out of our uniforms, will the state be there for us?” Shmuli said.

Tamar Hermann at The Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, said a Netanyahu election win would not spell defeat for the social protest movement.

“Now we see the social-economic issues taking a much more significant role in the discussion over the future of the country,” Hermann said. “All the parties feel obliged to relate to the issues that were raised by the protest movement.”

MAKING POLITICS SEXY

Israel's election had been set for late 2013 but the government failed to agree on a state budget, which it said would require harsh austerity steps.

Netanyahu called an early vote in what commentators said was an attempt by the prime minister and partners in his governing coalition to avoid the risk of going to the polls after imposing unpopular cuts.

Labor has focused its campaign almost entirely on social and economic issues, and its projected gains in parliament are largely attributed to the protest movement.

If Netanyahu, against the odds, chooses to include Labor in his next government, some of the movement's demands will undoubtedly be part of that deal, said Yossi Yonah, a Labor candidate who has advised social protest leaders.

Labor chief Shelly Yachimovich, an advocate of a welfare state, has not ruled out serving in a Netanyahu administration. But the option seems remote given their opposing economic views.

Looking ahead to likely budget cuts after the election, Yonah predicted such steps could revive and bolster the protest movement, if it combines civil action on the streets with a combative parliamentary opposition to Netanyahu.

“The protest's impact cannot be judged after only one year,” Yonah said. “Eventually something must give.”

Both Shaffir and Shmuli hope to draw young people who are disillusioned with politics to come vote.

“Our parents brought us up to believe that if we work hard, study and try then everything will be okay, we will succeed. But when we grew up, when we were released from the army, we looked around and this society we were told about was gone,” Shaffir said.

Instead, she said, they found corrupt politicians who were not looking out for young people's interests.

The tents that Shaffir helped pitch are long gone and life has returned to normal on Rothschild Avenue, which is lined with banks, shops and cafes.

“We need to make politics sexy again,” Shaffir said, sitting on a bench on the trendy avenue filled with people walking their dogs and riding bicycles.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Janet McBride

Four Jewish Dems in top House committee slots


Four Jewish Democrats kept or earned top slots on U.S. House of Representatives committees.

Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) preserved his top slot on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, as did Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on the Energy Committee, after the caucus’ standing committee announced its selections last week.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) ascended to the top slot on the Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) is now the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Lowey replaced Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), who is retiring, and Engel succeeded Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who was defeated in the November election.

Berman is one of two Jewish Democrats relinquishing top committee spots. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is retiring, leaves the top slot on the Finance Committee to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

Jewish women: this one’s for you


Jewish women have a long-standing history of deep involvement in the American feminist movement. Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique,” was Jewish, as is playwright and activist Eve Ensler, current leader of the international movement opposing violence against women. The connection Jewish women have to their “womanhood” is clear, so why aren’t Jewish community institutions engaging in conversations on women’s issues?

Much of the activism for Jewish women revolves around asking them to donate money rather than creating programs to address important topics that have a huge impact on their lives and their children’s lives. In an age when many women are financially independent or sole income-earners facing a challenging economy, women increasingly need and want more information, education, support and mentorship. Jewish women want to learn about women’s issues and women’s issues within Judaism. We want to meet each other. We want to learn, grow and help each other learn and grow. And we need programs to help us do so.

Interestingly, many women have dropped off the “feminist” map, openly expressing their discomfort with this word. This group includes highly successful women such as Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo!, who said, “I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that I certainly believe in equal rights, I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so in a lot of different dimensions, but I don’t, I think, have, sort of, the militant drive and the sort of, the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that.”

Similar to Mayer, many young women today fear being labeled as militant or overly angry. But at the same time, women are still earning only 77 cents to each dollar a man earns. And are we equal when, as I write this on the eve of Election Day, only 17 percent of seats in Congress are held by women, 12 percent of U.S. governors are women, and 23 percent of state legislators are women?

After the first Jewish Women’s Conference in 2011 in Los Angeles, it was clear that Jewish women had been craving programs focusing on them and their needs. Nearly 90 percent of post-conference survey respondents felt that Jewish organizations, centers and synagogues in Southern California do not or rarely create enough dialogue on women’s issues. The same high percentage of women felt that these institutions do not or rarely do a good job of connecting Jewish women to each other.

Women expressed wanting more professional networking with other Jewish women, meaningful connections with organizations participating in tikkun olam, and educational programs about women’s issues. Many expressed fears that younger generations of Jewish women are apathetic about feminism, activism and the history of Jewish women’s involvement in the feminist movement. A conference attendee in her early 20s responded, “One woman expressed her fears about the next generation being too quiet. That really stood out to me. I need to learn to find my voice on the issues that matter to me.”

Living in a far-flung city marked by traffic woes, Southern Californians face challenges finding mentors, establishing communities and making time to listen to women of different generations share their experiences and expertise. The Jewish Women’s Conference of Southern California, which has its second annual meeting on Nov. 11 at UCLA, is dedicated to creating a space for a diverse group of multigenerational women to learn from, mentor and delve into the more difficult issues that we often don’t want to face. Such topics include how we are going to care for ourselves as we age, what we need to know about our health at various periods in our lives, and how can we financially plan for our futures.

Jewish women face many more concerns than are implied by terms such as  “women’s issues” and “feminism.” The 46 speakers at the upcoming Jewish Women’s Conference, all of whom are fully donating their time, are helping to create a more empowered and inspired community of Jewish women in Southern California. It takes a community to empower one individual, and it often takes only one individual to empower an entire community. It’s time to make a collective effort to increase programs and promote topics important to women within the Jewish community.

For more information on the Jewish Women’s Conference, and to register, visit “>jewishjournal.com/womanwrites.

Why I’m switching to Romney this election


I am a former chairperson of Democrats Abroad Israel, and was an official delegate to the 1992 National Democratic Convention. In all of my 80 years, I have never before voted for a Republican for president. But this time around, I am not only proudly voting for Mitt Romney, but feel compelled to encourage others to do the same.

I grew up in a Reform Jewish family in Missouri, and came of age politically as a proud Democrat due to the inspiration of my native-son president, Harry Truman. I have been involved in Democratic Party politics for many years in both America and Israel, including serving as vice chairperson of the Franklin County Democratic Central Committee in Missouri.

It is precisely because of my belief in the longtime ideals of the Democratic Party that I feel the responsibility to speak out now.

Why? First, because we ask in each presidential cycle, “Are we better off now than we were four years ago?” This year, the answer is a resounding “NO!” But even more troubling, in so many ways, President Barack Obama has betrayed the ideals of the great Democratic Party. He is a poor successor to Truman’s legacy.

No Democratic president has ever been so fiscally irresponsible. President Clinton worked together with Congress to balance the budget and erase the deficit; President Obama has run trillion-dollar deficits every year, and we are now $6 trillion deeper in debt than when he was elected. Over 40 cents of every dollar we now spend is borrowed from China.

Future generations are being saddled with this burden.

Past Democratic administrations have records of high economic growth and high employment. Yet, under Obama, millions more Americans are without jobs than before he took office, and half of recent college graduates are unable to find work. Far too many of the jobs that Obama claims to have created or saved are in the public sector, and small businesses, the backbone of our economy, are hurting. Property values have not rebounded, and home foreclosures continue at a frightening pace.

On the international level, President Obama has proven himself to be a weak leader. Where has any of his diplomacy succeeded? Presidents Truman and Kennedy stood strong against the tyrannies of their time; President Obama bows down to the king of Saudi Arabia, and does not stand up to the president of Iran.

DEMOCRATS BELIEVE in furthering human rights and promoting liberty around the world. But Obama completely misreads the international scene. He called Syria’s Assad a “reformer,” yet has remained silent as Assad slaughters his own people. He abandoned president Hosni Mubarak to the Egyptian mobs. In addition, he allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to take control, not only threatening Israel but also terrorizing Egypt’s minorities.

Nowhere has President Obama failed to live up to Democratic ideals more than in his relationship with democratic Israel. From his creation of “daylight” between our countries to constant public criticism of Israeli policy – does Obama do this to any other country? – Obama has allowed severe deterioration of our special relationship just as Israel and the world face extreme danger.

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S open hostility to Israel’s prime minister, and his insulting true feelings caught on an open microphone, indicate antipathy towards the citizens of Israel. Obama’s administration does not even maintain symbolic gestures: at the recent opening of the United Nations Assembly, the United States sat and listened to the address by the president of Iran, yet Ambassador Rice was absent during the entire presentation by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. This wasn’t lost on the leaders of Israel’s enemies.

Coming from Missouri, I take immense pride that President Truman had the courage, conviction and moral compass to recognize the nascent state of Israel. By comparison, President Obama has steered our relationship to an abysmal low.

In reviewing the above, I see no choice but to switch sides and cast my vote for the Republican candidate for President Mitt Romney, who better embodies our Democratic ideals. I ask you to join me.


 

Bryna Franklin is the former chair of Democrats Abroad Israel and a lifelong Democrat. She is a Missouri native, and currently lives in Jerusalem.

If Romney wins: Five things every Jew should know about Mormonism


1. Devout Mormons can be found all across the political spectrum.

The Mormon Church doesn’t endorse candidates or political parties, and although most American Mormons are Republicans, a Mormon Democrat has served as the Senate Majority Leader for the last five years. Owing to our history of persecution and emphasis on self-reliance, there is also a noteworthy group of Mormons with libertarian sympathies who do not easily identify with either party.

Mormons can be found on all sides of most issues. On immigration, for example, many Mormons tend to be more liberal than other Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter). Many of us have served missions abroad, and tend not to be too judgmental of people who come here seeking a better life. Although Mormons generally agree on many important moral issues (see below), there is no consensus on economics and the proper role of government. We all agree, for example, that we have an obligation to help the poor. However, the extent to which government should help meet their needs by taxing others is a point of contention among followers of most faiths, including ours.

2. Mormonism is part of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Our church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) bears the name of the Christian Savior, we believe in the God of Israel, we accept the Hebrew Bible and New Testament as Scripture, we worship in chapels and temples, and we consider ourselves to be covenant Israelites. Mormons follow the Ten Commandments and are Noahides. In addition, the Abrahamic Covenant is central to our faith. Like Jews, the family is central to our faith, and our idea of heaven is to live with our spouses and families for eternity.

3. A Mormon president would not take orders from Salt Lake City.

If Mitt Romney wins, he’ll undoubtedly have the same arrangement with top church leaders that other Mormons have with local leaders: They don’t tell us how to do our jobs, and we don’t tell them how to run the church. Even Romney’s most intractable foes haven’t accused LDS church headquarters of drafting Romneycare in Massachusetts, and it’s safe to assume that church leaders aren’t behind Harry Reid’s shameful promotion of Las Vegas gambling interests in Washington. Mormons are used to looking to their leaders for spiritual advice, not professional guidance. While I would certainly expect Romney to consult with Mormon leaders as part of his general outreach efforts to faith communities (including Jewish leaders), I am confident that he will be his own man when it comes to formulating policies for the nation. I am also confident that Mormons will not be overrepresented in his administration, as Romney has a history of hiring capable people from all backgrounds to work for him.

4. On moral issues, Mormons are not extreme right-wingers.

A closer look shows the views of most Mormons on these issues to be much more nuanced. Let’s take abortion, for example. The LDS church is very much against it but does allow for possible exceptions in the case of rape, incest, a threat to the mother’s life or when the baby is not expected to survive childbirth. That’s pretty much Romney’s campaign’s abortion platform.

On gay issues, it is accurate to say that Mormons oppose state-sanctioned, same-sex marriage. However, it is both inaccurate and insulting to say that we are anti-gay. We can and do support many other issues that are important to gays. For example, former LDS Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) introduced a Senate bill that would have added sexual orientation to the list of protected categories for hate crimes. Every Mormon I know is opposed to discrimination against gays in education, employment and housing. We also support rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, probate rights, etc., so long as the integrity of the traditional family is not affected. As for theology, the LDS church teaches that homosexuality is not sinful in and of itself, as long as one remains chaste.

Although Mormons tend to have more children than the national average, our church doesn’t take a position on birth control. In addition, the church takes no position on capital punishment, stem-cell research, evolution or global warming. As a result, faithful Mormons are advocates for positions on all sides of these issues. 

5. Mormons are philo-Semites and pro-Israel. 

One of our basic Articles of Faith affirms: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes.” In 1841, LDS Apostle Orson Hyde offered a prayer on the Mount of Olives dedicating the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jews. Israel went on to receive at least 11 apostolic blessings before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. For more than five decades (1870s-1920s), the church seriously considered establishing a Mormon colony in Palestine. Today, Brigham Young University has a beautiful center on Mount Scopus with the best view of the Old City in Jerusalem.

In the United States, Mormon pioneers arrived in the Utah territory in 1847. The first Jews arrived two years later, in 1849. The first Jewish worship service was held in 1864 in Salt Lake City. Rosh Hashanah was celebrated in Temple Square (the city center) in 1865. Brigham Young donated his personal land for a Jewish cemetery in 1866. In 1903, church President Joseph F. Smith spoke at the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone for the state’s first Orthodox synagogue, which was largely paid for by the church. The second and third Jewish governors in the country were elected in Idaho (1914) and Utah (1916), the two states with the highest percentage of Mormons. Salt Lake City had a Jewish mayor by 1932, more than four decades before New York City.

Most Mormons in this country are very pro-Israel, and Romney is no exception. He has a close, decades-long personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who looks likely to be elected to another term. If Romney is elected, Jews and Israelis can be assured that they will have a true friend in the White House.


Mark Paredes writes the Jews and Mormons blog for the Jewish Journal and is a member of the LDS church's Jewish Relations Committee for Southern California. Read the Jews and Mormons blog at

The American election and Israel


Americans who care deeply about Israel have to make two decisions regarding the upcoming election.

The first decision is whether a candidate’s or a party’s level of support for Israel should be the most important consideration in determining their vote.

If the answer is in the affirmative — or even if support for Israel is but one of a number of important considerations — Americans who care deeply about Israel then need to determine whether there is a significant difference between candidates or parties.

Let me begin with the first question.

From any perspective, an American voter ought to be preoccupied with issues other than, or at least in addition to, Israel. Even the voter for whom Israel is the greatest priority needs to be preoccupied with America. If the United States weakens in any way — economically, militarily, in international stature, morally — it affects its ability and/or its will to support Israel.

So it would seem to be myopic to vote solely based on the question of which candidate or party will more strongly support Israel.

But note that I write “would seem.” Because a legitimate case can be made for seeming to put the cart (support for Israel) before the horse (other American matters).

The reason is this: The attitude of a party or candidate toward Israel tells you more than perhaps any other issue about that party or candidate. Treatment of and attitudes toward the Jews and Israel is an almost perfect indicator of a party’s, a country’s or a candidate’s values.

Support for Israel does not guarantee a person will be a great leader. But apathy, not to mention hostility, toward Israel guarantees a bad leader (of any country). 

As ironic as it may appear, therefore, even an American who is not interested in Israel has every reason to be quite concerned with a party’s and a candidate’s attitude toward Israel. I cannot come up with an example of a great, moral leader anywhere who was weak on Israel.

The Jews and the Jewish state are the world’s canary in the coal mine. This is a role that Jews play in the world. Even miners who have no interest in canaries know that if the canary dies, it is a signal that noxious fumes are present and must be fought — or the miners will die.

This is not a role that Jews or Israel have ever asked for. But it has always been true.

It is therefore very important for voters — again, whether or not they are greatly concerned with Israel — to ascertain which party and candidates are pro-Israel.

Many supporters of Israel in the Jewish community (for the record, most American supporters of Israel are Christians) maintain that there is little that distinguishes the Democratic and Republican parties generally or Mitt Romney and Barack Obama specifically.

If only this were the case. 

While I never believed that Obama was personally hostile to Israel, it takes a willful disregard of inconvenient truths to argue that he and the Democratic Party are as supportive of Israel as are Romney and the Republican Party.

First, virtually every observer of contemporary international relations believes that President Obama dislikes the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Supporters of the president contend that this is Netanyahu’s fault. But fault-finding here is irrelevant. Whatever the cause, this hostility remains a fact. And that is bad for Israel. 

If there is a modern precedent of a president of the United States refusing to meet the prime minister of Israel when the latter was already in the United States, and had requested such a meeting (either in New York or in Washington), I am unaware of it. And this was how Obama treated the Israeli prime minister just weeks before a national election when Jewish votes matter. Imagine how Netanyahu — Israel’s democratically elected leader, let’s remember — will be treated if  Obama is re-elected.

As reported in the Guardian, the major left-of-center newspaper in the United Kingdom: “The chairman of the House of Representatives intelligence committee, Mike Rogers, described attending a ‘very tense’ and argumentative meeting between Netanyahu and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, in late August at which the pair had ‘elevated’ exchanges.
“Rogers described Netanyahu as at his ‘wit’s end’ over Obama’s refusal to set red lines for Iran.

“It was very, very clear that the Israelis had lost their patience with the administration,’ Rogers told a Detroit radio station. ‘We’ve had sharp exchanges with other heads of state and other things, in intelligence services and other things, but nothing at that level that I’ve seen in all my time where people were clearly that agitated, clearly that worked up about a particular issue, where there was a very sharp exchange.’ ”

And as regards the Democratic Party, one need only recall the vote of the Democratic delegates at their national convention in Charlotte, N.C., regarding the omission of any mention of Jerusalem (and God) in the Democratic Party platform. As anyone could hear, there were at least as many votes against mentioning Jerusalem as there were for it, and there was sustained booing after Jerusalem and God were reinserted into the platform.

The fact is that throughout the Western world — take Canada today, for example —  conservative parties and leaders support Israel far more than liberals and leftists do.

When all this is added to President Obama’s goal of sharply reducing American military spending, it should be clear to any honest observer that a Romney and Republican administration would be far more supportive of Israel.

None of this will matter to most American Jews. 

Marine Le Pen: Wearing kipahs should be banned


French right-wing politician Marine Le Pen said she supports a ban on wearing kipahs in public in addition to a ban on Muslim headscarves.

“Obviously, if the veil is banned, the kipah [should be] banned in public as well,” the French daily Le Monde quoted Le Pen, leader of the National Front, as saying in an interview published on Friday.

Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, anti-Islamist party long has supported a ban on Muslim headscarves, niqabs and burkas. France’s minister of education, Vincent Peillon, said Le Pen “was fanning the flames of fundamentalism” with her statements. “She is the main fundamentalist,” he said.

The president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, said Le Pen has, “once again, exposed herself as being unworthy of the mainstream French political space.

“Her suggestion of a ban on wearing a kipah in public takes us straight back to the times of state-sponsored anti-Semitism under the Vichy regime,” he said. “Any sane politician will disqualify these comments as total madness and profoundly insulting to the French ideals of freedom of expression.”

Founded in the 1970s by Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen's father, the National Front has established itself as France's third-largest political party. In 2002, it made it to the second round in the presidential elections, clinching 17 percent of the vote.

Israel trip helps Polish Jews in Jewish rediscovery


After Jerzy heard about frequent vandalism at an old Jewish cemetery in his home city of Gdansk, Poland, he decided to visit the graveyard.

It had fallen into such disrepair that “people would go there to drink beer,” said Jerzy, who gave only his middle name due to fears of anti-Semitism. 

He made a few trips to the cemetery, meeting a member of the local Jewish community who invited him to come to Friday night services and Shabbat dinner. 

“I liked Jews all my life,” said Jerzy, 32, who although not raised Jewish had worn a Star of David as a child. “It was the opposite of all of Poland.” Around Gdansk, he said, he sometimes sees graffiti of a Jewish star hanging from a gallows. 

As he learned more about Poland’s Jews, Jerzy began to research his own family history. He traveled to his father’s birthplace near Lublin to find his father’s birth certificate; soon afterward, he learned that his father and his maternal grandfather were Jewish.

Three years later, Jerzy — whose arms are covered in tattoos — has across the back of his neck a huge Hebrew tattoo that reads “Shema Yisrael.” He is converting to Judaism to gain recognition from traditional denominations.

Jerzy was one of 19 participants to travel to Israel last month on a trip for Poles with newly discovered Jewish roots. The trip, according to Shavei Israel, the group that organized it, aims to teach participants about Judaism and to involve them more in Jewish life and support of Israel.

“The Jewish people are a small people, and there are these communities out there that were once a part of us,” said Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel. “When someone discovers or rediscovers their Jewish roots, it makes them more sympathetic to Israel and Jewish causes, so it’s something we stand to benefit from [regarding] diplomacy and hasbarah,” Israeli public relations.

Based in Israel, Shavei Israel also runs programs for those with Jewish roots in Spain, Portugal, India and Russia.

The two-week August trip took participants throughout Israel. They traveled through Jerusalem, to northern Israel and also to West Bank settlements such as Hebron and Mitzpeh Yericho, where they spent Shabbat. Freund said that the visits to settlements do not indicate that the trip takes political positions.

“We stay completely away from political messaging,” Freund said. “There is no political agenda here. The agenda is to give them an opportunity to see the land of Israel and visit important historical sites.”

The group also visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, to gain an Israeli perspective on a tragedy also etched deep in Polish national memory.

Trip leaders did not discuss politics, participants said. Several said that their favorite part of the journey was the feeling of being in a Jewish society where they were free to wear kippot on the street and to try out their Hebrew. 

After doing advanced coursework in Jewish studies, Gosia Tichoruk, 35, learned two years ago that her maternal great-grandmother was Jewish — and therefore that she, her mother and her grandmother were as well, according to Jewish law. In Israel, “The first thing that struck me was you’re walking down the beach, and you have Jews all around you,” she said. “It’s this safety you have, people greeting you with ‘Shavuah tov’ and ‘Shabbat shalom.’ “

Like a few of the participants, Tichoruk has started keeping kosher, observing Shabbat and learning Hebrew. She said Jewish life is sparse in her hometown of Poznan, but cities such as Krakow and Warsaw have more Jewish resources.

The Krakow Jewish Community Center has been a boon to Jedrek Pitorak, 23, who goes there for Shabbat dinners, holiday celebrations and Hebrew classes. Pitorak, who has known he is Jewish his entire life, was one of the group’s most experienced Israel tourists. Unlike many who were first-time visitors, he came here in 2009 on Taglit-Birthright Israel, which sponsors free trips to Israel for young adults.

Pitorak is heartened by “how many small children we see here. It’s a bright sign.” Although he’s involved in the contemporary Polish Jewish community, he does not think his homeland will become a center of Jewish life, as it was before almost all of its Jews perished in the Holocaust. Approximately 4,000 registered Jews currently live in Poland, although community leaders suspect that tens of thousands of Poles may not have identified as Jewish.

“There are many old people and the community is not growing,” Pitorak said of Krakow’s Jews. “If you come to the JCC, you see more volunteers and sociologists than real Jews.”

Participants said that they enjoyed Israel’s religious options, historical sites, beaches and food. But one of the features of Israeli life that Pitorak likes best may surprise Israelis and American tourists alike. He appreciates “how polite the drivers are to each other and the pedestrians.”

Why Rabbi David Wolpe spoke at the Democratic National Convention


This week David Wolpe, senior rabbi of Sinai Temple, delivered one of the invocations at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Even for someone used to and deserving of such honors, this is a big deal.

Indeed, the majority of the rabbi’s congregants were thrilled when news of the invitation got out. But immediately, some in the community accused him of shilling for the president, or joining forces with Rabbis for Obama — the 613 rabbis who have signed a statement in support of Obama’s reelection.

I asked Rabbi Wolpe, given the inevitable sniping and suspicion, why he did it.

“I see this not as politics but as prayer,” he said. “It’s a chance to present Judaism on a national, if not international, stage. It’s a shame some see it otherwise.”

[David Wolpe: A Benediction for the Democratic National Convention]

Yes, a shame — but a predictable one. Hyper-partisanship has infected the Jewish community, as it has America. Too many of us have bought into the idea that our side has all the answers.

But no party, like no person, is invested with perfect insight and far-seeing wisdom. Fixing Medicare? Boosting unemployment? Defanging Iran? To quote Woody Allen, most of us don’t even know how a can opener works.

So why, come election season, do we pretend otherwise? I can understand why the parties themselves have to do fake omniscience. They are essentially engaged in perpetual branding campaigns for Product Red and Product Blue. Every win for “them” is a loss for “us.” No sane brand manager would ever say, “You know, maybe the other guy’s product really does have better stain-lifters.”

Our parties, combined with our more ideologically driven news outlets, conspire to clamp us into groupthink.

My Democratic friends are convinced Mitt Romney hasn’t paid taxes in 10 years and wants to outlaw all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. My Republican friends are convinced Barack Obama went on an “apology tour” around the world and really does think people don’t build their own businesses.

We have become the willing dupes of misinformation echo chambers. Who’s worse, Product Red or Product Blue? Who cares, really? Take the five latest whoppers from the Republican Convention and stack them against, say, three, from the Democrats — is that the new test of American excellence, whose party lies 20 percent less?

“Both campaigns have decided that deceptiveness carries no penalty,” wrote David Brooks in The New York Times. “I know from conversations I’ve had that both campaigns do rigorous fact checking. When the candidates say something partially or wholly false, they know exactly what they’re doing.”

Unless you aspire to be a robotic ideologue of the Left or Rigiht, the only appropriate resonse to this is to train yourself to take nothing — nothing — at face value.

I do this by turning — first thing each morning — not to the news Web sites or TV, but to the handful of excellent fact-checking and nonpartisan Web sites that now exist. Politifact.com, Factcheck.org and the Washington Post Fact Checker blog — they are what I read first and last each day, and consult again many times each day. Since these often rely on the information at the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, I often check cbo.gov, too. Being a news junkie used to imply you were also a fact junkie — no longer. We have to make a conscious effort to make certain the meat of facts hasn’t touched the milk of spin.

[More from Rabbi David Wolpe here]

Does Romney really say he would make no exception for abortion in the case of rape or incest?

Click over to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact. It fully investigates political statements, then rates them on a scale from True to Pants-on-Fire. One easy search later, I find that there is, “no evidence that Romney explicitly opposed the exception for rape and incest. While he supported the ‘human life amendment,’ there are many versions, and the most recent ones allow abortion after rape or incest. … We rate the claim Pants on Fire.”

Did Obama really begin his presidency with an “apology tour?” Politifact again calls “Pants-on-Fire.” It reports: “While Obama’s speeches contained some criticisms of past U.S. actions, he typically combined those passages with praise for the United States and its ideals. … We found not a single, full-throated apology in the bunch.”

We all moan about the poisonous political atmosphere. Unfortunately, we Jews are just as susceptible as anyone to the narrow partisanship that infects our political discourse.

The best antidote is to not outsource your brain to your party. Argue hard for your cause, but argue from a place of fact. New Year’s is a time for resolutions, to make yourself and the world a little better. Start by checking each morning, and before each argument, with the fact check Web sites and the CBO reports.

A Republican friend of mine heard about Rabbi Wolpe’s convention appearance and said of course, he’s one of those Rabbis for Obama.

“Why didn’t he speak at the Republican convention?” my friend asked.

Aha! Gotcha. I called Rabbi Wolpe back and asked him.

No, he didn’t sign up for Rabbis for Obama — he doesn’t believe rabbis should involve themselves in campaign politics.

“And if they had asked me to speak at the Republican convention, I would have,” Rabbi Wolpe said. “They never asked.”

Put that on Politifact.

Romney blasts Obama on Iran, Israel


President Obama’s approach to Iran has made Americans “less secure,” Mitt Romney said in his speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination.

“Every American was relieved the day President Obama gave the order, and Seal Team Six took out Osama bin Laden,” Romney said Thursday evening at the Republican National Convention. “On another front, every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat.”

He criticized Obama’s strategy of diplomatic engagement with Iran. “In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran,” Romney said. “We’re still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning.”

While the speech was mostly focused on introducing Romney to the nation and to attacking Obama’s economic record, the GOP nominee devoted several paragraphs to foreign policy. He accused Obama of having “thrown allies like Israel under the bus,” echoing language he had previously used in criticizing the president’s approach to the Jewish state.

Romney nodded only briefly toward social issues.

“As president, I will protect the sanctity of life. I will honor the institution of marriage,” Romney said. “And I will guarantee America’s first liberty: the freedom of religion.”

He also disparaged the Obama administration’s emphasis on countering climate change.

“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans,” Romney said, pausing amid laughter from the assembled delegates, “and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”

Amid roasted pigs, country music and rabbinical blessings, Romney seeks to define himself


Whole barbecued pigs, cheerleaders and elegies to skinny-dipping farmers’ daughters.

That was the organized noise Sunday night at the opening bash of the Republican National Convention at Tropicana Field, the home of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg.

For those seeking Jewish content, a noted rabbi was set to kick off the formal proceedings on Tuesday, and scattered through the rain-drenched towns of Tampa Bay were a number of events addressing the pro-Israel community’s foreign policy concerns.

At the opening party, delegates availed themselves of free wine and dug into the roasted pigs, a Cuban delicacy, while watching cheerleaders grind to Rodney Atkins singing “Farmer‘s Daughter“ and “What I Love About the South” (“Hot women skinny swimming, barely belly button deep”).

Other noises reverberating across Tampa Bay: There were the winds roiling the waters that lap the bridge that links Tampa with St. Petersburg, echoes of Tropical Storm Isaac, heading west toward New Orleans. The storm mostly missed the Tampa region, but its threat was potent enough to shut down the convention’s first formal day on Monday.

And there was political noise, too: Tea Partiers met at rallies in the region to protest what they depicted as an attempt by Mitt Romney, the presumptive presidential candidate, to marginalize the hard-line conservatives as he attempts to steer the party toward the center ahead of November’s elections.

“This is what the Tea Party is not: We are not an unwanted second-class political party,” U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), a leader of the movement, was quoted by the Tampa Bay Times as telling a packed church hall on Sunday.

There were reports that small groups of delegates in state delegations would protest either by not voting at the convention or by switching votes to libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), the only contender from the primaries who has not formally relinquished his nomination fight.

Followers of Paul unleashed their anger with the party’s establishment—and particularly its advocacy for a robust U.S. posture overseas—at a packed rally on the University of South Florida campus.

Paul, to cheers, blamed recent wars on “powerful special interests behind a foreign policy of intervention and the military industrial complex” and said “neocons” are “all over the place, and they’re not in one place, they’re in all of the parties.”

The rally was structured as a passing of the torch from Paul, 76, to his son, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), 49. When Rand Paul appeared, the crowd, estimated at 7,000, began chanting “16!”—underscoring the expectation that he would be a contender for the GOP nomination in four years.

The younger Paul has avoided the associations with bigots and the outright hostility to Israel that have frustrated his father’s multiple bids for the presidency. He has, however, embraced Ron Paul’s isolationism, opposing foreign assistance, including to Israel. And at the Sunday rally he posited a new challenge—an audit of the Pentagon—to a Romney campaign that has pledged increased defense spending, in part to make it clear to Iran that it was not reducing its profile in the Middle East.

“Republicans need to acknowledge that not every dollar is sacred or well spent in the military,” Rand Paul said.

There also were remnants of the moderate Republican Party nipping at the edges of the convention. Events were planned for the Log Cabin Republicans, an umbrella for gays in the party, and Republicans for Choice, an abortion rights group.

The convention schedule, constantly shifting because of the weather, was a template of Romney’s struggle to define himself and to accommodate the party’s multiple strands. Organizers pointed reporters particularly to the primetime 10-11 p.m. slot on Tuesday that featured Romney’s wife, Ann, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Both choices were aimed squarely at attempts by Democrats and the Obama campaign to depict Romney as a flip-flopper beholden to ultra-conservatives. Ann Romney, seen as his most appealing surrogate, would once and for all humanize him, and Christie would show how a moderate Republican could prevail in a Democratic state, as Romney had done when he governed Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.

The party’s conservative wing also will be present, with speeches by Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who was Romney’s most pronounced social conservative challenger during the campaign, and Rand Paul. There also will be a video tribute to Ron Paul, an event that Jewish Democrats have derided.

Notably absent as speakers were any remnant of the past decade’s GOP bids for the presidency. Former President George W. Bush is not present or speaking, nor is his vice president, Dick Cheney. Missing also is the 2008 ticket, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor.

Romney has, however, surrounded himself with foreign policy advisers from past presidents. Most notably for the pro-Israel community, his top Middle East adviser is Den Senor, who has close ties with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and was the U.S. spokesman in Iraq in the period following the war that ousted Saddam Hussein.

AIPAC, as it has at past conventions, was running a number of closed events with top campaign advisers in the Tampa area during the convention, and is planning to do the same next week in Charlotte, N.C., when the Democrats meet. On the pro-Israel lobby’s agenda in Tampa is a bid to understand how Romney would distinguish himself from President Obama in confronting Iran and a broader Middle East roiled by change—the principal source of tension between the president and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

One signal of consistency with the Obama presidency emerged last week during platform debate when Romney surrogates, led by Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), pushed back against bids to remove a commitment to eventual Palestinian statehood from the platform. Talent noted at the time that two states remains the official Israeli government position.

Jewish officials, committed to building bipartisan consensus on Israel and other issues, expressed concerns about navigating a polarized Washington. At an American Jewish Committee event on energy policy, Richard Foltin, the AJC’s director of legislative affairs, acknowledged the difficulties of making the case for an AJC energy security policy that strives for a middle ground between exploiting U.S. natural resources, which Republicans favor, and alternatives to fossil fuels, the choice of Democrats.

“It’s our role as advocates to say we are not free to desist, even though we are dealing in a polarized and difficult time to move those agendas,” Foltin said.

The convention schedule also underscored Romney’s bid to make more diverse a party that has become increasingly identified with white Christians. Delivering Tuesday’s opening invocation is Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, the scion of a distinguished rabbinic family who has opined on (small c) conservative issues. He also is the director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and associate rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Also delivering blessings are Hispanic evangelical leader Sammy Rodriguez; Ishwar Singh, a leader in Central Florida’s Sikh community (who approached convention organizers about delivering an invocation in the wake of the recent massacre at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin); Archbishop Demetrios, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America; Ken and Priscilla Hutchins, the president and matron of the Mormon temple in Romney’s home base of Boston; and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the head of New York’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik to offer opening invocation at Republican convention


Rabbi Meir Soloveichik is scheduled to deliver the opening invocation at the Republican National Convention.

“It is an extraordinary privilege to deliver an invocation at a cherished ritual of American democracy,” said Soloveichik of the invocation, which he is scheduled to deliver on Tuesday in Tampa, Fla.

Soloveichik is the director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and associate rabbi at the Kehilath Jeshurun synagogue, both in New York City.

A frequent contributor to several publications, including the politically conservative Commentary magazine, Soloveichik also is a member of a prominent family of American Orthodox rabbis that includes his late uncle, Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, the former head of Yeshiva University.

In July, the Times of Israel reported that Soloveichik was being courted to replace British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks at the conclusion of the latter’s tenure in September 2013.

Yaroslavsky reflects on decision to leave politics


In an interview with The Journal on Thursday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that he hasn’t spent much time yet thinking specifically about what he’s going to devote his time and energy to after he leaves public office at the end of his term in 2014, but he said he will continue to work in the areas that have been priorities for him—especially helping to address the needs of the homeless and providing healthcare to those who cannot afford insurance.

Yaroslavsky, 63, had announced on his Web site Thursday morning that he will not enter next year’s Los Angeles mayoral race, despite having entertained the possibility for many months. He wrote that he will leave politics altogether once his term with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors ends in 2014.

“I have no doubt that, with my expertise and experience, I could help transform L.A.’s fortunes. In the end, however, it is this very length of service that has tipped the scales for me,” Yaroslavsky wrote.

He described the decision as “one of the most difficult … of my political life.”

Yaroslavsky was first elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 1975, at age 26, after being a prominent advocate for the cause of Soviet Jewry. When his current term ends, he will have been in public office for almost 40 years. Yaroslavsky said his plans are to “move on to the other things I’ve longed to do outside the political arena.”

[Related: Video: Yaroslavsky goes out for the count ]

Yaroslavsky said he also planned to write and teach in a part-time capacity, and said he hoped to continue his work overseas monitoring elections and working to advance democratization.

The L.A. native also said he will not be leaving Los Angeles.

“I’m not moving away,” Yaroslavsky said, “I’m going to stay involved in issues that I care about in this city.”

This isn’t the first time that Yaroslavsky has declined to run for mayor after being suggested as a potential candidate, and he had been considering a run to succeed L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa over at least the past two years. He was considered by many to be a serious contender, though he never officially announced a mayoral bid.

A Center for the Study of Los Angeles poll released in April showed Yaroslavsky ranking alongside the two official frontrunner candidates, Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Gruel. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who also is running, was ranked fourth.

An outpouring of praise for Yaroslavsky Thursday, including from those candidates, prompted the County Supervisor to joke that “the praise has been so incredibly effusive that I was reconsidering my decision, and I was going to claim their endorsements.”

In making his announcement on his blog, however, Yaroslavsky was definitive and serious.

“Simply put, it’s time for a new generation of leaders to emerge and guide this region into the future,” he wrote.

Praise for Yaroslavsky came from an intergenerational group of elected officials and community leaders.

“As a councilman and supervisor of Los Angeles, he has a remarkable legacy,” Rep. Henry Waxman said in an interview Thursday, “and it’s a been an honor to work with him on issues such as public health, transportation and veteran’s issues.”

Waxman first met Yaroslavsky when the latter was leading California Students for Soviet Jewry as a student at UCLA.

“He was a voice of conscience for these people who wanted to live a life of freedom in the United States or go to Israel,” Waxman, who has represented West Los Angeles in Congress since 1975, said.

California Assemblyman Mike Feuer, who succeeded Yaroslavsky on the L.A. City Council, called him “an extraordinary public servant,” citing Yaroslavsky’s work on behalf of “seniors, kids, public health, the environment, transportation and more.”

“He’s made an indelible mark on L.A., and it continues to be a privilege to work closely with him,” Feuer said.

The current representative of the fifth council district, Councilman Paul Koretz, was a student when Yaroslavsky first ran for city council in 1975.

“He had a virtually unfunded campaign,” said Koretz, who worked on Yaroslavsky’s campaign over that summer. He was expected to finish “fourth or worse,” Koretz said, but Yaroslavsky managed a narrow second-place finish in the primary, thanks to community support and the willingness to walk door-to-door to meet voters.

“Then it just took on a life of his own,” Koretz said of the 1975 campaign.

Koretz said he was “very disappointed” Yaroslavsky won’t be running for mayor.

“I think he’s probably the best budgeter in L.A. County in any elected office,” Koretz said, “and I think he would’ve been exactly what the City of Los Angeles needs from the next mayor right now.”

“He’s among the most honest, smart and dedicated public servants I’ve ever come across,” Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi of Temple Isarel of Hollywood, said of Yaroslavsky, “and hopefully something big will be named in his honor to recall to the minds and hearts of Angelenos that this was a politician of integrity and a public servant of great import.”

“I will miss him in public office,” added Rosove, who called Yaroslavsky a friend., “But I’m sure that he will continue to do great works, because that’s the nature of his heart and mind and soul.”

Yaroslavsky wouldn’t say whether he will endorse any of the other mayoral candidates, making the point that whoever wins will have to deal with what he called the “mess” of the city’s budget.

“Part of having to deal with it is going to be saying ‘no’ to the people who supported them in the election,” Yaroslavsky said, adding that a “bold candidate” might demonstrate during the campaign the capacity to disappoint both business interests and union interests.

Yaroslavsky called all the candidates “good people,” but said he wasn’t hopeful about any of them taking such a potentially unpopular step.

“People aren’t going to want to alienate constituencies,” he said.

Yaroslavsky was born in Boyle Heights and has lived in the Fairfax district since he was a boy. He has long been a strong advocate for Jewish causes, and for Israel, and said he would continue to stay involved in the Jewish community.

“It’s my home,” he said. “It’s who I am.”

Yaroslavsky acknowledged that, as he prepares to step out of politics, there are far fewer Jews holding public office today than in years past, and it’s less clear who in the coming generation of Jewish leaders might take his place.

Compared to the seven Jews serving on the City Council when Yaroslavsky left in 1994, today only three council members are Jewish – Perry, Koretz, and Mitchell Englander.

Yaroslavsky said he hasn’t really analyzed the reasons for the “diminution of Jewish communal interest in the political arena,” but expressed confidence that Jews working in the business, entertainment and nonprofit sectors will step up to take his mantel as future public officials.

Though he confessed that there are some things he will not miss about being in public office, Yaroslavsky called those things “trivial.”

“I’m blessed that I get to get up every morning and do what I love to do,” he said. “I’m just smart enough to know that I don’t think I’d love it as much for 50 years as I’ve loved it for 40 years.”

Adelsons donate to PAC supporting Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s campaign


Casino mogul and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson and his wife have contributed to an independent super PAC to support Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s congressional candidacy.

Adelson and his wife, Miriam, each gave $250,000 to a new independent super political action committee, the Patriot Prosperity PAC, which is supporting Boteach’s New Jersey congressional run in a newly redrawn voting district against Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, an eight-term incumbent, The Wall Street Journal reported late Monday, citing “people close to the Adelsons and the PAC.”

The Adelsons previously have given directly to the Boteach campaign, according to the newspaper. Sheldon Adelson and Boteach are also personal friends, as well as mutual acquaintances with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the newspaper reported.

Through political action committees, Adelson and his wife have funneled $10 million toward presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s election effort, after spending an equal amount on the failed campaign of Newt Gingrich. Adelson has said he’s willing to spend up to $100 million to defeat President Obama.

Adelson has given nearly $100 million to Birthright Israel, the program that brings Jews ages 18-26 to Israel for free. He gave a $25 million gift to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem in 2006. From 2007 to 2009, he funded a $4.5 million strategic studies center in his name at the Shalem Center, a think tank in Jerusalem. His relatively smaller donations have helped bolster groups such as the Zionist Organization of America.

Boteach’s stated platform includes support for school vouchers, a flat tax and making marital counseling tax deductible in an effort to lower the divorce rate. He has criticized what he sees as an excessive Republican focus on sexual issues such as gay marriage.

Boteach, who once was affiliated with the Chabad movement, bills himself as “America’s Rabbi.” He hosts a show on TLC called “Shalom in the Home” and is the author of several books, including “Kosher Sex,” “Kosher Adultery,” “The Kosher Sutra” and, most recently, “Kosher Jesus.”

GOP, Democratic conventions will gain Jewish focus for similarities and gaps


Get set for a political double feature with much of the same plot, but with different outcomes for the issues that tend to preoccupy Jewish voters.

The same key words and themes will bounce around Jewish events at next week’s Republican convention in Tampa, Fla,. and at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., the week after that: “pro-Israel,” “marriage,” “Jewish vote”  and “abortion.”

With the exception of “pro-Israel,” however, the content of the sessions will be as different as, well, Tampa (famed for its beaches and strip joints) and Charlotte (known for its seminaries and colonial history).

There will be telling programmatic differences as well. The National Jewish Democratic Council will maintain a recreational vehicle where convention-goers dropping by any time day or night are likely to run into one of the several dozen Jewish Democrats in the Senate and House. Prominent among those featured will be Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who chairs the Democratic National Committee.

Since Republicans boast only one national Jewish lawmaker, and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, is a busy guy, don’t expect a lot of face time. The paucity of Jewish lawmakers helps explain why the Republican Jewish Coalition tends to dub its events “pro-Israel” receptions and not “Jewish” events.

The presence of national and local Jewish organizations will be felt at both conventions.

The American Jewish Committee is hosting Jewish-Latino events in both cities – Florida’s substantial Cuban American community trends Republican, while the other Latino communities trend Democratic. Notably, however, the AJC’s only Jewish-African American event – aimed at a community that votes overwhelmingly Democratic – is in Charlotte.

This year’s there’s an AJC first for a convention: a Mormon-Jewish get-together cosponsored by the Tampa Jewish Federation, a nod to the interest in the faith of the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

“This is not something we were doing 20 years ago,” Jason Isaacson, the AJC director of government and international affairs, told JTA. “But obviously, it’s a community America is being introduced to in new ways in the course of this election campaign.”

Most of the differences between the conventions have to do with an increasingly polarized polity. RJC and NJDC leaders agree that the overriding issue is one that will play out throughout the convention, not just in the Jewish forums on the sidelines: the economy.

“American Jewish voters first and foremost are Americans,” said David Harris, the NJDC president and CEO. “The things that concern American Jews are primarily the things that concern most Americans, the economy, jobs, everyday kitchen table interests.”

Jobs would also be the core of Romney’s message, said Matt Brooks, the RJC director.

“People are going to be looking to hear about his vision going forward,” he said. “Job creation, getting the economy moving.”

That said, social issues also will feature prominently, particularly among Jews at the conventions.

The Democratic convention platform committee, heeding submissions from a slew of groups that included the Anti-Defamation League and the NJDC, will endorse marriage equality.

The Republican platform frames the concept as an “assault on the foundations of our society”; language that gay Republicans sought that would have urged “respect and dignity” for gays was made vague, recommending instead “respect and dignity” for all Americans.

On abortion, according to the National Journal, the GOP will adhere to its 2008 plank. It declares that the procedure “is a fundamental assault on the sanctity of innocent human life” and has no explicit exemption for rape or incest. Romney has said he favors such exemptions.

The National Council of Jewish Women, which will be present at both events, has reproductive rights high on its agenda and is allying with like-minded members of both parties to promote them.

NCJW also will promote voter registration at both events; it strongly opposes efforts by some Republican legislatures and governors to tighten voter registration, saying that requirements of photo IDs discriminate against minorities and the elderly.

Likewise, both conventions will feature sessions on the perennial question of whether this election will be the one that sees a substantive shift in the Jewish vote.

Brooks, the RJC director, will speak on the topic to reporters. In Charlotte, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) will moderate a panel on the matter; with her will be speakers from J Street, the liberal pro-Israel lobby, NCJW and Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, the latter of which seeks to revitalize neighborhoods.

Republicans have been especially focused this year on moving Jewish votes, with the RJC running TV ads featuring three disaffected Jewish 2008 Obama voters who say they are committed to Romney.

Speaking on background, officials in both parties have said that a showing of less than 70 percent for President Obama at the polls would represent a substantive undercutting of his support among Jews. Obama scored 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008 exit polls, although a deeper analysis of such polls this year by The Solomon Project, which examines the role of Jews in U.S. politics, sets his result at 74 percent.

Not surprisingly, both parties will feature events with “pro-Israel” in the title: The RJC will have a “Salute to Pro-Israel Officials,” and NJDC will have a similar event. (At past conventions, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has co-hosted these events; officials at AIPAC did not return multiple requests for information about what they planned for this year.)

“Pro-Israel” also is likely to be a theme during the prime-time speeches by candidates and other top officials. The differences will not be of substance; both parties and candidates are in virtually identical places when it comes to the Middle East peace process and confronting Iran.

Romney’s surrogates on Tuesday successfully pushed back attempts to introduce language into the GOP platform that would have undercut commitment to a two-state solution, BuzzFeed Politics reported.

Yet, expect each side to depict the other as hapless in defending Israel’s interests. Rep. Paul Ryan (D-Wis.), Romney’s running mate, leveled a typical GOP criticism of Obama at a town hall-type function on Monday in Goffstown, N.H.

“When President Obama made the 1967 borders the precondition for the beginning of negotiations, it undercut our ally,’’ The New York Times quoted Ryan as saying. “It made it harder for the peace process to move forward, and as a result we have no peace process.’’

Obama’s 2011 speech proffering the 1967 lines as the basis for negotiations noted the necessity of land swaps, and included specific security guarantees for Israel.

For its part, the NJDC is running an ad noting Obama’s role in putting in place the Iron Dome anti-missile system, and featuring Israelis expressing their gratitude for its efficacy during a recent spate of rocket attacks launched from the Gaza Strip.

Jimmy Carter, the former president who has angered Israel and some U.S. Jewish groups because of his warnings that Israel’s West Bank policies could culminate in an apartheid state, will have a prime-time speech at the Democratic convention, to be delivered by video. Some groups, including the ADL and the Zionist Organization of America, have criticized the slot, saying Carter is divisive.

Differences of foreign policy emphasis will come up, too. Romney has preserved the two-state option in the platform and some of his surrogates have suggested that he is interested in advancing peace talks should he become president. Still, don’t expect the issue to be front and center.

Expect, instead, to hear a lot about Iran at the GOP event. Both candidates say that an Iran with a nuclear weapon is unacceptable, but the Romney campaign has suggested that Obama has not been assertive enough in making clear to Iran the consequences of not making transparent its nuclear program.

Finally, in Charlotte, J Street will join the Arab American Institute as well as Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) in promoting the two-state solution as a cornerstone of U.S. policy.

How to bring religion into politics


For nearly two millennia politics was poison for the Jewish people.  The principle aim in understanding the machinations of power was to make oppression less onerous.  Great swaths of tradition that spoke to the exercise of power lay mostly unexplored.  Today there is a resurgence of interest and I would like to highlight three crucial lessons from the anomalous historical experience of Judaism.

Vote not veto.  Religious convictions cannot be exiled from the public sphere.  To ask someone to set aside their religion is to exile passion, conviction and principle.  Imagine the analogy; we would say of a candidate, or a voter, “you may enter public life, but whatever you believe deeply you must set aside.”  It is ludicrous.  So a public declaration of faith as a determining factor in a vote on an issue or a candidate is both sensible and inevitable.

At the same time, my religious conviction cannot serve as argument in the public discourse.  Religion is not an irrational belief, but it is an orientation of soul.  To ask you to see with my eyes, or vote with my conscience, is tyrannical.  This is not to discount the ability of religion to persuade; it is a caricature that it relies only on unfounded assertions.  But the argument must follow the same rules as political argument in general and work by persuasion, not prophetic fiat.

Against the tyranny of majority or minority.  The first is clear and arises as a special fear from Judaism as a minority tradition in every land except for modern Israel.  In religion the majority will inevitably set the parameters but precisely because we are dealing with the deepest convictions of a community, special care must be taken to carve out the greatest possible space for the minority. 

These are easier principles to enunciate than to practice.  Is not working on the Sabbath a ‘right’ such that an employee cannot penalize a worker for his refusal?  Does covering one’s face with a veil in public impinge on the public’s right sufficiently to warrant prohibition?  The decision in such cases is of course a balance, but I am arguing for the weightiness of the minority community, whose unusual practices are too often unsupported because unsympathetic.

However we are familiar with the phenomenon of minority groups so passionate that the numbers of the many bow before the frenzy of the few.  Intensity of belief is a delicate calculation in politics because often the indifference of the many is due to failing to envision the consequences of lassitude.  When the law is enacted or fails, suddenly there is recognition of what is at stake. Jews, along with many others, have been as often victimized by a galvanized minority as by a cruel majority. 

Mutability.  The Jews passed through innumerable lands and saw many different political configurations.  Even today in Israel the situation has changed often and is still in flux.  So here is a plea for something in politics that we could use more of in religion as well – epistemological humility.  These are complicated questions and we are unlikely to get them right without many wrong turns. Moreover, they are questions whose surrounding conditions will change, so even if we did get them right, they will not necessarily be right in changing circumstances.  An indulgence that may be permitted a small minority for example (use of a drug in a religious ceremony is one example) may prove impossible if the minority grows larger.

“Teach your tongue to say ‘I don’t know’” is some wise and often unheeded Talmudic advice. 

What is most needed?  Clichéd though it may be, civility and an assumption of goodwill.  Respect for the other is a constant challenge as we encounter the other in an age of immigration and the growth of cities.  We will increasingly jostle up against each other.  The difference with religion is that as it poses the problem it also suggests the solution.  There is nothing in the ideology of nationalism that encourages amity. Different cities or sports teams spur division but do not instruct us on tolerance. But religion, while sometimes serving as a generator of differences, also teaches that all human beings are in God’s image.  So as it divides it provides the impetus for uniting.  It is up to us to be faithful uniters and that begins by making the public sphere open, raucous, opinionated, respectful and kind.

Perspectives: Religion and Public Life is a blog series about the relationship between religion and secularism run by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. The aim is to offer a wide range of opinion and expertise on the subject, drawn from around the world. Rabbi Wolpe’s reflection is part of this series. Find the latest blogs here (http://www.tonyblairfaithfoundation.org/religion-public-life)


David Wolpe is senior rabbi at Sinai Temple. This article is excerpted from a longer essay written for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation as part of its ongoing series, “Perspectives: Religion and Public Life.”

Sheldon Adelson sues Jewish Democratic group


Sheldon Adelson is suing the National Jewish Democratic Council for defamation.

Lawyers for Adelson, the casino magnate and major Republican donor, had sent a warning letter to the NJDC and to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week after each body publicly stated that Adelson had approved of prostitution at his properties in Macau, China. That allegation appeared in a lawsuit file by a former Adelson employee, Steven Jacobs, who had managed Adelson’s Macua business until being fired in 2010.

The DCCC apologized last week for referencing the allegation in press releases sent June 22 and July 2 that called on Republicans not to take Adelson’s money. But NJDC has refused to excise the allegation from an online petition calling on Republicans to stop accepting money from Adelson.

Adelson filed the defamation lawsuit this week; the NJDC shared news of the lawsuit in a statement sent to reporters.

“Referencing mainstream press accounts examining the conduct of a public figure and his business ventures—as we did—is wholly appropriate,” NJDC said in a statement. “Indeed, it is both an American and a Jewish obligation to ask hard questions of powerful individuals like Mr. Adelson, just as it is incumbent upon us to praise his wonderful philanthropic endeavors.”

The statement called Adelson’s lawsuit a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” or SLAPP, a term used for legal maneuvers aimed not at obtaining justice but silence.

“We know that we were well within our rights, and we will defend ourselves against this SLAPP suit as far and as long as necessary,” NJDC said. “We simply will not be bullied, and we will not be silenced.”

Adelson’s publicist, Ron Reese, had no immediate comment.

For Adelson, political and Jewish giving are all of a piece


Call it the Adelson conundrum: What happens when the guy who acts as if he owns the room really does?

In March at TribeFest, the annual gathering of young adults organized by the Jewish Federations of North America at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, Sheldon Adelson walked in on a surrogate debate between Matt Brooks, who directs the Republican Jewish Coalition, and his counterpart at the National Jewish Democratic Council, David A. Harris.

Adelson, who owns the Venetian, was the first to ask a question. He went on to berate Harris for six minutes, describing President Obama as a “crybaby” who should be in diapers, according to several people in the room, including an organizer.

The organizer, speaking on background, said the time Adelson used and his tone were luxuries that would not have been afforded anyone else. The difference, as the organizer said, is that Adelson “owned the room, literally.”

That same sense of entitlement could be driving the 79-year-old Adelson’s conversations with Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

This week, the Daily Beast/Newsweek reported that Adelson was pressing Romney to speak out publicly in favor of the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, to commit to moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, and to declare the Palestinians as unwilling to make peace. Romney, the report said, is resisting.

Through political action committees, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, have funneled $10 million toward Romney’s election effort. Adelson has said he’s willing to spend up to $100 million to defeat Obama.

Those close to Adelson say politics are a small part of what makes him tick.

“He is passionately committed to Jewish life and living, and to Israel,” said Elliot Karp, the director of the Las Vegas Jewish Federation. “And he is no more or less polarizing than anyone else who gives his opinions.”

Adelson has given nearly $100 million to Birthright Israel, the program that brings Jews ages 18-26 to Israel for free. He revived the fortunes of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem with a $25-million gift in 2006. He has established a $4.5-million Jewish studies center in his name at the Shalem Center, a right-leaning think tank in Jerusalem. His relatively smaller donations have helped bolster groups such as the Zionist Organization of America and the Israel Project.

“The true story is that the amount of money he spends on politics is dwarfed by what he gives to philanthropy,” Brooks said. “They are the single most important philanthropists in the Jewish community, in terms of Birthright, Yad Vashem and medical research,” he said of the Adelsons.

Adelson is the 14th richest man in the world, according to Forbes, with an estimated worth of almost $25 billion.

The confluence of Adelson’s three major interests — Jewish philanthropy, Republican politics and the casino business, which is how Adelson became one of the world’s richest men — has become one of the preeminent narratives of this election campaign.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman slammed Romney in a July 31 column for “abasing” himself before Adelson during a Jerusalem visit last week.

“Since the whole trip was not about learning anything but about how to satisfy the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, why didn’t they just do the whole thing in Las Vegas?” Friedman wrote.

Some frustrated Jewish Democrats believe the Jewish community is unduly influenced by its single largest donor.

“It’s very intimidating,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a leading public relations consultant to Jewish and Democratic causes, speaking of Adelson’s influence. “Where he’s given money, he’s given extraordinary amounts of money, and I’ve seen it firsthand.”

Adelson’s publicist, Ron Reese, did not return multiple requests for comment.

For his part, Adelson is unapologetic about using his money to influence policy. 

“I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections,” he told Forbes in February. “But as long as it’s doable I’m going to do it. Because I know that guys like Soros have been doing it for years, if not decades,” he said, referring to the left-leaning financier George Soros, who also is Jewish.

Democrats scoff at the comparison, noting that Soros in this election cycle has pledged $2 million to help Obama’s re-election — one-50th of the amount that Adelson has said he’s willing to spend.

The admixture of Adelson’s politics and charitable giving is not new. In December, addressing a Chanukah gathering in Israel of hundreds of Birthright participants, Adelson championed Newt Gingrich after the then-Republican candidate for president said the Palestinians were an “invented people.” At the time, Adelson was the single biggest backer of Gingrich; he and his wife gave $16.5 million to the ex-House of Representatives speaker’s effort.

Birthright did not return a request for comment for this story.

In 2007, Adelson broke with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee over its support for a congressional letter calling for a massive increase in funding for the Palestinian Authority. Adelson previously had been one of AIPAC’s major backers, helping to fund its new Washington headquarters.

Fred Zeidman, a major Romney backer in this election and the former chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said Adelson’s objections were par for the course for major donors.

“You don’t just write blank checks,” Zeidman said. “You don’t have to agree, but don’t ask him to give money to something he doesn’t believe in.”

Adelson said in 2009 that his criteria for giving were “whatever is good for the Jewish community and whatever is good for the State of Israel.”

He has a reputation as a nitpicker: The staff of Freedom’s Watch, which Adelson founded before the 2008 election to champion President George W. Bush’s Iraq War policies, said Adelson’s day-to-day micromanaging caused the organization to founder. Freedom’s Watch no longer exists.

And Adelson can also hold a grudge. He fired Shelley Berkley, his legislative director in the 1990s, over keeping the unions he reviles at the casinos. Berkley went on to become one of Israel’s most strident defenders in Congress and the Nevada Democrat is now running for the U.S. Senate, but Adelson’s opposition to her has not waned. He and his wife have maxed out donations to her opponent, incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican.

But Adelson can also be forgiving. Despite repeated clashes with the Las Vegas Jewish Federation in the past decade over what he perceived as its wastefulness, he is now its biggest donor, matching every new donation and every increase over the previous year’s donations.

“The Adelsons are front and center in the community,” said Karp, the federation director.

Zeidman says Adelson is a solid listener but knows when his mind is made up.

“He’s very strong willed,” Zeidman said. “He is truly blunt in terms of articulating his decisions once he’s made them.”

Michele Bachmann endangers religious freedom, claim religious and secular groups


Jewish groups were among the 42 religious and secular organizations that told five members of Congress that their recent allegations of Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the U.S. government was endangering religious freedom.

Last month, five Republican lawmakers wrote to various government agencies and asserted that among others, Huma Abedin, a deputy chief of staff for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and wife of the disgraced former House member from New York Anthony Weiner, was connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Cosigning the letters were Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.),  Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Louie Gohmert, (R-Texas), Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.) and Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.).

“It appears that there has been deep penetration in the halls of our United States government by the Muslim Brotherhood,” Bachmann told the St. Cloud Times, a Minnesota newspaper. “It appears that there are individuals who are associated with the Muslim Brotherhood who have positions, very sensitive positions, in our Department of Justice, our Department of Homeland Security, potentially even in the National Intelligence Agency.”

The letter in response to the allegations was organized by the Interfaith Alliance.

“Those you accuse … have long-standing histories of positive and committed work to strengthen the United States of America. Furthermore, we take offense to the implications of your actions for the American Muslim community as a whole, as you give momentum to `guilt by association’ accusations and betray our foundational religious freedoms,” the letter read. 

The response letter was signed by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Society for Humanistic Judaism. They joined the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the American Civil Liberties Union, American Baptist Churches USA and others.

Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance said that the groups signing this letter have very different ideas about faith and belief, but were united by their commitment to religious freedom.

“I hope that Rep. Bachmann and her colleagues take the time to look at the diverse coalition that has come together to challenge their actions,” Gaddy said in a statement.

A dialogue on Jewish life in America today


Following the publication of the New York Jewish Population Study, Shmuel Rosner interviewed Steven M. Cohen, research professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner. So, how many Jewish people are there exactly?

Dear Steven,

A couple of years ago, you made a name for yourself by provoking the Jewish world to consider the possibility of a growing divide between two kinds of Jewish people — the in-married and the intermarried. Of course, no consensus ever was reached on the matter — yet consensus is hardly a Jewish value. However, your description stuck and is still quoted in articles and discussions.

Enter the latest New York Jewish Population Study (which you authored, together with Jacob Ukeles and Ron Miller) with its many details, and it seems to me that a new Jewish divide should be considered.

On the one side — the progressive and secular Jewish world, with its many components: A community that isn’t always much connected to Jewish identity and practice, but is educated, affluent and quite successful, economically speaking. They have less by way of daily Jewish life, but more resources with which to make Judaism available for all.

On the other side — the Orthodox Jewish world: Fast-growing, vibrant and highly affiliated, Jewishly educated, well-connected to Israel, with a very low rate of assimilation and very high number of children. And it is relatively poor. The more they are affiliated, the less resources they have to support the high cost of Jewish life.

Can this divide be bridged? Can we find a way to somehow overcome the seeming contradiction between affiliation and financial resources?

I’m turning it over to you …

Dear Shmuel,

Your call to focus on the divide and differences between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews is, indeed, well-placed. As our study amply demonstrates — and as your comment underscores — Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews differ on so many dimensions of Jewish engagement, demographic patterns and worldviews.

But I think it would be a mistake to ignore another critical divide (as maybe you are suggesting) among the non-Orthodox: That distinguishing the intermarried or the children of the intermarried from the majority of non-Orthodox Jews who are the children of two Jewish parents and are either non-married or in-married. In other words, rather than divide the world into two (either Orthodox/non-Orthodox or in-married/intermarried), I prefer to divide the world into three (Orthodox; in-married or unmixed ancestry non-Orthodox; intermarried and mixed ancestry). The differences across these boundaries are real, even as the groups do bleed into one another.

In fact, each camp I’m suggesting may itself be divided in two. Among the Orthodox, we found incredibly large differences between the Modern Orthodox and the Charedim, especially with respect to participating in the larger Jewish community. Among the in-married non-Orthodox, we found substantial differences between Conservative and Reform Jews, especially if affiliated, countering the widely held notion that the two venerable denominations are no longer meaningful. And among the intermarried population (be it by ancestry or current circumstance), Jews divide significantly between those who see Judaism as their religion and those who do not.

In short, Orthodox/non-Orthodox obscures and distorts reality too much. It leads you to obliquely characterize the non-Orthodox Jewish world as “progressive and secular” and to speak of the Jewish community within it in the following way: “A community that isn’t always much connected to Jewish identity and practice.” The data that Jack, Ron and I analyzed in depth say otherwise. The (non-Orthodox) Jewish community — those who are engaged in Jewish life but do not identify as Orthodox — is very much “connected to Jewish identity and practice,” sometimes “progressive,” and does not see itself very much as “secular.”

In short, the Orthodox/non-Orthodox divide, when unqualified, leads even some very smart, sympathetic and experienced observers in Jewish life in the United States to a downwardly biased assessment of Jewish life and vitality among the non-Orthodox.

As much as I value the focus on the demographic issues of in-marriage and birthrates for analytic and policy purposes, I believe we need to see Jewish demography and Jewish communal vitality as related but with distinct dimensions. As important as is population growth/decline, it is not the total measure of cultural, communal, and spiritual success (or failure). From a policy point of view, we cannot assume that inspiring communities automatically promote in-marriage, high birthrates and Jews (or non-Jews) choosing Jewish engagement. Just as we need policies and practices that strengthen Jewish communities and life, so, too, do we need separate policies and practices that improve the likelihood of Jews marrying Jews, Jews parenting Jews, as well as Jews and non-Jews engaging in Jewish life.

In short, we need to think of at least three population segments, not two; and two sets of policies, not one. The Orthodox, in-married and intermarried merit our distinctive attention. So, too, does Jewish vitality and Jewish demography.

In a follow-up letter, Rosner asks Cohen: Do you have to have money to be Jewishly engaged?

Dear Steven,

Thank you for your response. I have many follow-up questions but will have to start with the question I’ve already asked. Interestingly, while my original question was a lot about the economics of the Jewish community, your response doesn’t at all deal with it — you highlight the differences among three groups but do not write about Orthodox financial constraints. I guess what I need to know first is if there really is such difference that is affiliation-based. And if there is such difference, what do we do about it?

Dear Shmuel,

In response to your question, “I guess what I need to know first is if there really is such difference that is affiliation-based. And if there is such difference — what do we do about it?”

I offer the following: Some indicators of Jewish engagement are sensitive to income (usually, the ones that cost money), and others are not.

Those measures that are at least moderately related to higher income are a collection of indicators, all reflecting institutional involvement:

  • Going to museums or Jewish cultural events.
  • Going to Jewish community center programs.
  • Attending Jewish educational programs.
  • Accessing Jewish Web sites.
  • Belonging to synagogues.
  • Belonging to Jewish organizations.
  • Giving to Jewish causes, both UJA-Federation and others.
  • Volunteering under Jewish auspices.
  • Celebrating Passover and Chanukah (family-oriented holidays).

Among the items not related to income are:

  • Shabbat-meal frequency.
  • Monthly service attendance.
  • Keeping kosher at home (higher among the poor).
  • Lighting Shabbat candles (higher among the poor).
  • Fasting on Yom Kippur.
  • Having close friends who are Jewish.
  • Feeling attached to Israel.
  • Feeling that being Jewish is very important.
  • Talking with friends about Jewish matters.

Not surprisingly, feelings of being part of a Jewish community in New York rise with household income, from 19 percent of the poor and near-poor who answer “a lot,” to 36 percent of the affluent group.

As compared with the affluent, low- and moderate-income Jewish New Yorkers feel just as Jewishly engaged and act just as Jewishly engaged in their private and social lives. However, financial and social barriers, if not the pressures of daily living, work to restrain and constrain the participation of the less-affluent in Jewish communal life, in matters ranging from belonging, to attending programs, to volunteering.

As to what can be done about financial barriers, a few ideas come to mind:

First, we need to recognize that more committed and connected Jews find more value in acts of Jewish engagement, even when they cost money. Hence, anything that can raise commitment and connection will tend to lower the perceived cost of Jewish involvement.

Second, volunteer efforts by committed Jews with high cultural capital can significantly trim costs. Some Jewish camps, schools, congregations and minyanim can operate with relatively lower budgets than conventional counterparts because they draw upon capable volunteers or semivolunteer low-paid professional staff. But that requires a pool of people with Jewish commitment and cultural capacity. Where such people are plentiful, the cost of Jewish involvement drops. Hence, the Jewish community has an interest in educating young people who, in some time, will go out and volunteer their talents to build and sustain Jewish institutions, especially those engaged in education or prayer.

Third, targeted scholarships and fee reductions can induce some families to engage in Jewish life in various ways. The generic problem with such policies is that, if not targeted, the costs will mount dramatically with little impact on increased participation. All such programs grapple with the question of how to target the funds without insulting or offending families who would otherwise participate in the particular activity or institution.

Jewish reaction mixed to Hollande victory in France


Jewish reaction was mixed to the election of the Socialist Party’s Francois Hollande as the president of France.

The European Jewish Congress congratulated Hollande, who was elected Sunday over Nicolas Sarkozy with 51.7 percent of the vote to 48.3 percent for the incumbent.

“Our recent meeting with Mr. Hollande was very constructive and touched on many areas of concern to the Jewish community,” EJC President Moshe Kantor said in a statement. “I believe we have a sympathetic ear in the new French leadership and we look forward to continuing this relationship with the new president.”

Richard Prasquier, president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewry, told reporters Monday in New York that he was concerned that Hollande’s election would lead to a rise in the anti-Israel left.

“We know that some of the parties who are supposed to be partners of the coalition in favor of Francois Hollande are not friends of Israel. The part they will play we will see,” he said, according to the Jewish Press.

More than 92 percent of French nationals who voted in Sunday’s election at the French Embassy in Tel Aviv cast their ballot for Sarkozy, the center-left candidate, according to reports.

Israeli President Shimon Peres congratulated Hollande on his victory.

“On behalf of the Israeli nation, it is a pleasure for me to send my sincere congratulations on your election to the post of President of France. I am confident that under your leadership, the French people will look to the future with hope, security and a spirit of unity.”

Hollande became the first Socialist president of France in nearly two decades. Sarkozy, of the Union for a Popular Movement party, was considered the favored choice among French Jews.

Sarkozy conceded shortly after the polls closed, wishing his successor luck in handling difficult times in France and in Europe.