From matzo balls to footballs, two Jewish brothers recall their journey to the NFL


At 6-foot-6 and 340 pounds, veteran NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz isn’t just a force of nature, but a product of good ol’ Jewish nurture.

“My size comes from a childhood that included an excess of matzo ball soup, latkes, and tons of white rice,” the 30-year-old jokes. “But of course my brother’s similar physique suggests that genetics had plenty to do with it.”

That would be his (only relatively) little brother, Mitch, 27, the Kansas City Chiefs’ newest starting right tackle, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs in at 320 pounds.

As it happens, Geoff and Mitch Schwartz aren’t the first pair of Jewish brothers to play in the National Football League — they’re just the first to do so since 1923.

“Once we heard the stat, we realized just how rare this really is,” said Mitch, standing at the edge of the Chief’s indoor practice field after morning drills. “So we both thought it was important to share our story — for Jewish kids, and in general, about how we both wound up where we are.”

Indeed, the story of how two nice Jewish boys grew up to be a couple of “hogs” (an endearing and decidedly non-kosher nickname for offensive linemen) could fill a book.

Now it does.

Eat My Schwartz: Our Story of NFL Football, Food, Family, and Faith” lands in stores and online September 6. Co-written by the brothers, with novelist and humorist Seth Kaufman, it’s a lighthearted memoir about all the topics in the subtitle and how often they intersect. Sports fans will find plenty of insider info on the NFL and major-college football (Geoff and Mitch played for Pac-12 contenders Oregon and Cal, respectively). But from the opening pages — a scene of the brothers frying up latkes on the first night of Hanukkah, following their bubbe’s recipe — their Jewishness is front and center.

“The people who know us know that’s a big part of our identity, but I think it was important to share as much as possible in the book,” Geoff Schwartz told JTA from Detroit, where he spent the preseason as a member of the Lions. “I mean, my whole family — we’re proud to be Jewish and to be raised in the tradition and going to temple.”

Growing up in West Los Angeles — and attending Adat Shalom, a Conservative congregation — the brothers were always involved in sports. But neither started playing football until high school, in part because their parents didn’t want practices and games to interfere too much with Hebrew school.

In the book, the brothers quote their mother, attorney Olivia Goodkin, on her eventual acceptance of her sons’ football fate, given that each stood well over six feet tall at his bar mitzvah.“‘I started out worrying that they were going to get hurt — but then I realized it was the other players I should be worrying about,” she said. “‘They were like trucks hitting small cars. And I started to kind of feel like maybe this was their destiny.’”

As for their father, Lee Schwartz, a business consultant: “I just kvell,” he told Los Angeles’s Jewish Journal in 2012, on the eve of that year’s NFL Draft, in which Mitch would join his brother in the league when theCleveland Browns took him early in the second round. “It’s a surreal experience to see my kids on the field, on TV.”

Mitch credits his (slightly) bigger brother for paving his way on the field, in the kitchen and in life. Geoff was a seventh-round pick in 2008, and he’s a study of resilience: He’s endured multiple injuries and various ups and downs, from getting relegated to a practice squad, to getting cut, to getting signed to a big contract, to getting released again just before this season starts.

Meanwhile, after the Browns selected him with the 37th overall pick, Mitch started every game over four seasons in Cleveland. This spring, free agency landed him a five-year, $33-million deal with the Chiefs, making him one of the highest-paid right tackles in the league.

Whether tackling football, their faith or food, the Schwartzes write with the interested but uninitiated in mind — readers will learn the finer points of proper blocking in one chapter, find a primer on the lunar Hebrew calendar in the next. And if you’re hungry, just refer to the appendix of family recipes for step-by-step instructions on applying the perfect schmear (“Don’t overdo it; too much cream cheese will melt and run on a just-toasted bagel”).

The conversational memoir flows from one milestone to the next — personal, professional or often both. There’s October 27, 2013: “The Schwartz Bowl,” the brothers’ first and so far only on-field meeting when Geoff, then with the Chiefs, faced Mitch and the Browns in Kansas City. Then there is the weekend in 2014 when two life-changing moments coincided: Geoff’s wedding — a traditional Jewish affair on the beach at Santa Monica — happened at the height of NFL free agency frenzy.

Only hours after signing his ketubah, Geoff would sign the largest contract of his career.

The brothers also grapple with some of the compromises they’ve had to make in pursuit of their careers. “I’m very clear that when I have to, I choose football over the [high] holidays,” Geoff said. “Some people have a hard time with that concept. I don’t.”

But he does fast on Yom Kippur whenever possible, an act of atonement to which he devotes several paragraphs in the book. “Toward the end of a fast I usually feel great, like I’ve achieved something,” he writes. “I feel lighter, not physically, but mentally. I’ve endured, and I feel energized and clear.”

In the book, Mitch recalls a visit he made in the first weeks of his rookie year to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He encountered a group of Orthodox teens who, upon learning he was a Jewish football player, started peppering him with questions and begging for autographs. “I think it takes experiences like that to make you realize just how much bigger it is than you think it is,” he said of being one of a handful of Jewish players in the NFL.

Of course, the brothers understand the special appeal they have to Jewish fans — after all, they’re Jewish fans themselves. The book traces their own family’s fascination with Jews in sports, from Hank Greenberg andSandy Koufax to Mark Spitz and Dolph Schayes.

Mitch delves into the lesser-known history of brothers Ralph and Arnold Horween, the Harvard All-Americans and stars of the Chicago Cardinals backfield, in whose NFL footsteps the Schwartzes eventually followed. He learned that the Horweens actually played under an assumed name — McMahon — which raises questions as to whether they were guarding against anti-Semitism in football, or perhaps feared disapproval from other Jews for playing football.

Though Geoff recounts a few blatantly anti-Semitic comments, many players they meet simply don’t understand, or misunderstand, what it means to be Jewish, he said. “People think it’s more complicated than it really is,” Geoff explained. “So we let them know how not-complicated it is.”

When trying to explain their traditions to teammates who might have “never been around a Jew before,” they find that food — like latkes and matzo balls — can be a good access point, Mitch said, “especially for linemen.”

Part of the motivation for the writing the book, according to Geoff, is  for the brothers to, well, start writing their own next chapters. “You don’t know how long you’re going to play — certainly not forever,” he said shortly before the latest cut. “And there’s a lot we want to do after football.”

For Geoff, that could be a career in media or writing —  this book is only his latest foray in communications. He co-hosts his own podcast, “Block ’Em Up,” and this summer guest-wrote the popular Monday Morning Quarterback” column on SI.com that’s usually penned by National Sportswriter of the Year Peter King.

Yet, the ultimate ambition is for the Schwartz brothers is to finally team up — as co-hosts of their own cooking show.

“Cooking has become a creative outlet for both of us, something we enjoy exploring and experimenting with. We love the improvisational element of cooking, and the social element, too,” Geoff writes. “Food, which is so important to us as athletes — it fuels our work — provides the forum for us to create meals that look good and taste fantastic.”

The brothers already prepped a “sizzle reel” of them interviewing a Beverly Hills chef  and then whipping up some saffron seafood risotto at home. The book details early talks with TV execs — it’s unclear whether the Food Network or the NFL Network were more interested — but “we’re definitely still working on it,” Geoff confirmed.

Two Jewish brothers in the NFL makes for a great story. But two Jewish brothers in the NFL with their own cooking show? That’s never happened before.

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.”

U.S. Supreme Court toughens gun ban for domestic violence


The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday expanded the types of domestic violence convictions that can trigger the loss of gun ownership rights in a ruling issued amid fierce debate about reducing firearms violence in America.

The justices, in a 6-2 ruling, rejected arguments that a gun-ownership prohibition should apply only to knowing or intentional, rather than reckless, conduct.

In dispute was a U.S. law passed two decades ago preventing people convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” from owning a firearm. Writing for the court, liberal Justice Elena Kagan said the law was enacted “to close a dangerous loophole” because many perpetrators of domestic violence were charged with misdemeanors rather than felonies.

Kagan said the U.S. Congress was targeting domestic abusers convicted under run-of-the-mill misdemeanor assault and battery laws, and that “reckless assaults” would be covered.

The issues of gun rights and gun control have been high in the national debate since 49 people were killed by a gunman on June 12 at an Orlando gay nightclub in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Following the incident, gun control legislation was voted upon and defeated in the U.S. Senate, while House of Representatives Democrats staged a sit-in demanding action on gun control.

The latest gun case was brought to the Supreme Court from Maine by two men who, separately, pleaded guilty to domestic assault and then years later were charged with illegally possessing firearms. Both men had argued that they should not be subject to the gun prohibition because their prior convictions were based on reckless, rather than knowing or intentional, conduct.

Justice Clarence Thomas, a supporter of gun rights, wrote a dissent criticizing the ruling for blithely trampling on gun rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment.

“This decision leaves the right to keep and bear arms up to the discretion of federal, state and local prosecutors,” Thomas wrote. “We treat no other constitutional right so cavalierly.”

Thomas wrote that during oral arguments in the case, “the government could not identify any other fundamental constitutional right that a person could lose forever by a single conviction for an infraction punishable only by a fine.”

It was in this case that Thomas ended his self-imposed decade of silence from the bench on Feb. 29, asking a question during an oral argument for the first time since Feb. 22, 2006.

At that time, he pressed an Obama administration lawyer with the question, “Can you give me another area where a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right?” 

Donald Trump says he would remove ban on religious nonprofits endorsing candidates


Donald Trump told conservative Christians he would work to remove restrictions on churches endorsing political candidates.

“I think maybe that will be my greatest contribution to Christianity — and other religions — is to allow you, when you talk religious liberty, to go and speak openly, and if you like somebody or want somebody to represent you, you should have the right to do it,” Trump told the group of conservative Christian leaders on Tuesday.

Speaking at his corporate headquarters in New York, the real estate magnate and presumptive Republican presidential nominee told the group that restrictions placed in the 1960s on explicit political endorsement by tax-exempt groups inhibited free speech.

“It’s taken a lot of power away from Christianity and other religions,” he said in an audio recording obtainedby the Washington Post.

A number of major Jewish groups, led particularly by the Reform movement, oppose direct political participation in the political process, arguing that it breaches church-state separation. Conservatives deride the restrictions, saying they are more often ignored than observed, noting as an example get-out-the-vote drives in black churches, where Democrats are favored.

At the same meeting, Trump said he would protect Israel should he be elected.

“I can’t imagine that Bibi likes Obama so much,” Breitbart News quoted him as saying, referring to tense relations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.

Trump said that Obama’s actions, including a retreat from involvement in Iraq, had empowered Iran. Trump has said separately that he opposes U.S. intervention in the Middle East, especially in Iraq.

Also Tuesday, Jewish Insider reported that Trump blasted the Obama administration for allowing Boeing to sell parts to Iran for civilian aircraft. The Obama administration argues that the sale is permissible under the sanctions relief for nuclear rollback deal between six major world powers and Iran. The deal’s critics say it is a violation.

“Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, would not have been allowed to enter into these negotiations with Boeing without Clinton’s disastrous Iran nuclear deal,” Jewish Insider quoted the Trump campaign as saying, referring to the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, Obama’s first secretary of state. The Trump statement noted past Boeing contributions to Clinton campaigns.

The newsletter noted that Trump has previously argued that the Iran deal should have allowed U.S. companies, like Boeing, to trade with Iran.

Both Jewish 25-year-olds bidding to be youngest member of Congress come up short


Erin Schrode and Alex Law, Jewish 25-year-olds running to become the youngest lawmakers in Congress, both lost to incumbents in their respective Democratic primary races Tuesday for a House of Representatives seat.

Schrode, an environmentalist and entrepreneur, garnered 7 percent of the vote in Northern California’s 2nd District in falling to two-term incumbent Jared Huffman, who had nearly 75 percent.

Days before the election, Schrode was flooded with anti-Semitic social media and cellphone messages. The progressive activist called the messages “pure evil” and told Buzzfeed that people contacted the FBI on her behalf.

Law, a former IBM consultant, won 30 percent of the vote in Southern New Jersey’s 1st district in his loss to Donald Norcross, who had 70 percent.

Both of the young candidates — who each told JTA they support Bernie Sanders — had made national headlines for their upstart efforts but were projected as heavy underdogs.

Schrode entered the race on March 29.

Law, who earned an endorsement from the Philadelphia Inquirer, faced an opponent supported by what is widely acknowledged as the most powerful political network in New Jersey. Norcross, 57, was a longtime union leader before being elected to his House seat in 2014 after former Rep. Robert Andrews, also a Democrat, resigned in the wake of an ethics probe.

Why Shelly Silver won’t be sharing a prison cell with Willie Rapfogel


The two men used to share the same synagogue pew. One’s wife was the other’s chief of staff. Now both share an ignoble distinction: guilty of accepting millions through illegal kickback schemes.

There is one thing Sheldon Silver and William Rapfogel won’t share, however: a jail cell.

Within the space of less than a week, Silver, the former New York Assembly speaker, was found guilty on seven counts of corruption charges, while his old pal Rapfogel, the disgraced former CEO of New York’s Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, was released from prison.

On Monday, a jury found Silver, 71, guilty of honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering for obtaining nearly $4 million in kickbacks in exchange for using his position to benefit a cancer researcher and two real estate developers. Each of the seven charges carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Rapfogel, now 60, pleaded guilty in April 2014 to stealing $9 million from the taxpayer-funded Met Council, including more than $1 million for himself, in a grand larceny and kickback scheme spanning two decades.

Sentenced in July 2014 to 3 1/3 to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay $3 million in restitution, Rapfogel was transferred last week to a minimum-security work release prison in Manhattan across the street from Central Park. By next week, Rapfogel will be allowed to leave during the day to go to work, according to a prison spokesman cited by the New York Daily News. The ex-charity head reportedly was offered a job at a real estate company.

Silver, long one of the state’s three most powerful politicians – along with the governor and the State Senate majority leader – also was one of New York’s most visible Orthodox Jews. Rapfogel, who unlike Silver always wore his kippah, was another.

Rapfogel’s wife, Judy, was the chief of staff for Silver. After her husband was arrested, Judy Rapfogel claimed she had no knowledge of her husband’s criminal malfeasance and she remained on Silver’s staff.

The arrests of Silver and Rapfogel each sent shock waves through New York’s Jewish establishment, where the two were well known and generally highly regarded. Silver received an honorary degree from Yeshiva University, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1965. He also was honored in the past by Jewish federations, feted by the Council of Jewish Organizations and was a mainstay of New York legislative missions to Israel.

Rapfogel’s scheme devastated Met Council and, along with the collapse a year ago of the Jewish social service agency FEGS, raised questions about UJA-Federation of New York’s oversight of its main network agencies. But Silver’s guilty verdict will reverberate far beyond the Jewish community.

Silver had been in the Assembly for nearly 40 years. He was arrested in January, and resigned as speaker early the following month, though he maintained his seat. Already the verdict is being seen as the latest of many indictments of the political culture in Albany, the state’s notoriously corrupt capital. The verdict also means Silver must resign his Assembly seat.

In the close-knit Orthodox community on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the ignominious fates of the two men known affectionately as Shelly and Willie are also a personal blow. Silver and Rapfogel were among the most prominent members of their Orthodox shul, the Bialystoker Synagogue, and they often sat together in the sanctuary on Shabbat morning. Rapfogel wore a knit yarmulke and always had a ready smile. Silver, who wore a black skullcap atop his salt-and-pepper hair, was quieter, and in recent years had taken to going to the no-frills early minyan on Shabbat mornings.

Until a few years ago, Silver could be found Sunday mornings on the basketball court at a local Jewish community building, the Educational Alliance, where insiders remember him having a nice shot. On the hardwood, Silver cut a very different figure from the man better known in the state capital for his dark suits, heavy jowls, deep baritone, laconic speech and hard stares.

But Silver’s personal and professional lives were deeply intertwined — illegally so, according to the guilty verdict reached Monday. Silver had two real estate development firms, Glenwood Management and the Witkoff Group, move tax business to a law firm, Goldberg & Iryami, that secretly paid fees to Silver, who in exchange supported rent legislation championed by Glenwood and met with lobbyists for the company.

By “deliberately keeping secret from the public any information about this lucrative side-deal,” prosecutors said, Silver broke the law.

He also steered two grants from the state Health Department totaling $500,000 to Dr. Robert Taub of Columbia University for mesothelioma research, while Taub sent mesothelioma patients to Silver’s personal injury law firm Weitz & Luxenberg. Silver’s lawyers maintained there was no quid pro quo, but the jury determined otherwise.

In all, Silver netted nearly $4 million from his illegal schemes, prosecutors said.

(Some of this material previously appeared in a JTA story in January 2015, published at the time of Silver’s arrest.)

Jewish leaders welcome Ryan as House Speaker


U.S Jewish leaders welcomed the newly elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan as he took over the gavel from outgoing speaker John Boehner by congressional vote Thursday morning.

Speaking of Boehner’s contribution to the welfare of the Jewish-American community during his 25 years of public service, Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, told Jewish Insider: “John Boehner was a great legislator and leader to work with, as we did over the years, especially on issues the OU cares most about – the security of Israel and educational opportunity and choice.”

“The good news is that Paul Ryan is committed to these policies and values as well, and we look forward to working with him,” Diament added.

In a conversation with Jewish Insider on Thursday, William Daroff, vice president for public policy for the Jewish Federations of North America, said, Paul Ryan and I both started our political careers working for the late Jack Kemp.”

Kemp served nine terms as a congressman for New York’s 31st congressional district (1971-1989). Ryan began working for the former congressman in 1993 as a policy aide.

“I am hopeful that Speaker Ryan will lead House Republicans in returning to Kemp’s founding philosophy of “compassionate conservatism” and recognizing the importance of caring for the vulnerable,” said Daroff. “I am certain that the new Speaker’s longstanding support for a strong US-Israel relationship will continue to strengthen the bipartisan support for Israel that already permeates both parties in the House and Senate.”

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who’s poised to become the Democratic Senate Leader in 2017, hailed the new Republican Speaker as “a smart, well-prepared, and honorable man.”

“While his views, particularly on Medicare, Social Security, and tax and spending issues, are far removed from where the American people are, he’s the kind of person who realizes that to get anything done in this country, we can’t have a ‘my way or the highway’ approach,” Schumer said in a statement. “I look forward to working with him.”

In an Op-Ed distributed to local media, Ezra Friedlander, CEO of the Friedlander Group, expressed hope that Speaker Ryan “will be instrumental in unifying his own party, and in bringing the Republicans and Democrats together to find solutions to our nation’s problems, even if that means making difficult compromises.”

Ryan got less of a warm reception by two Jewish Democratic groups, as reported by Jewish Insider on Wednesday. Bend the Arc, a Jewish social justice group, and National Jewish Democratic Council blasted Ryan over his promises to the members of the House Freedom Caucus. “Ryan’s voting record and his right-wing politics were already far out of step with the American Jewish community. The Republican-controlled Congress is going to alienate Jewish voters even more under Speaker Ryan,” NJDC’s chairman Greg Rosenbaum told Jewish Insider.

The Republican Jewish Coalition welcomed Ryan’s election with a partisan twist as well. “The Obama administration has been antagonistic and hostile to Israel and the pro-Israel community. We can think of no one better than Paul Ryan to lead the effort to stand up against the dangerous and destructive policies of this White House and truly have Israel’s back,” RJC’s executive director Matt Brooks said in a statement. “As a stalwart ally of the pro-Israel community and a longtime friend of Israel, Paul Ryan will continue the strong support we’ve seen for Israel in Congress.”

Brooklyn man sues police for beating at Chabad center


A Brooklyn man who alleges that he was beaten by New York police officers at a Chabad youth center in Brooklyn filed a civil rights lawsuit.

Ehud Halevy, 21, filed the suit Jan. 22 in Brooklyn federal court over the incident last October at the ALIYA Institute.

Halevy was arrested on assault, resisting arrest and trespassing charges and spent four days in jail before the charges were dropped.

Video captured on a security camera at the institute shows Halevy exchanging words with a male police officer and pushing away his hands after the officer had taken out handcuffs. Shortly after, the officer assumes a fighting stance and punches Halevy several times as he and a female officer wrestle Halevy to the couch where he was found sleeping.

During the two-minute incident, the female officer appears to use a truncheon and pepper spray on Halevy. Eight police officers arrive later to handcuff him.

Halevy reportedly had been sleeping on the institute's couch with permission for about a month. A volunteer security guard who was not aware of the arrangement had called the police upon discovering the man, who was shirtless and sleeping in the lounge, and reportedly appeared to be drunk.

Los Angeles activist attending Obama’s inauguration finds Jewish values in week’s festivities


The chill in the D.C. air never seems to diminish the warmth and excitement from a presidential inauguration. 2013 was no different, but it also felt uniquely Jewish.

As a college student and law student in Washington DC, and later as an activist from California, I’ve attended five inaugurations since 1989.   But this year in particular felt Like a family coming together after feuding, with Republicans and Democrats attending the celebration of American democracy, sitting down and breaking bread together at receptions, dinners, lunches and Inaugural balls and galas.

The 2012 Presidential election was one of the most divisive for the Jewish community in decades, but the clamor did not seem to extend to the week of festivities.  Attempts to partisanize s support for Israel was soundly rebuked this election cycle and such comments were nowhere to be found this week. .

If anything, people seem to be coming together.   The furor over the nomination of former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense seems to have faded with his endorsement by U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and recent meetings with Jewish community leaders at the White House, where he had the chance to explain how the current situation in Iran, Syria , Egypt and Gaza has made his views evolve into more mainstream positions.  

At a breakfast for Jewish women put together by the National Jewish Democratic Council, the focus was on more domestic issues.  Congresswoman Susan Davis of San Diego and former Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Ann Lewis exhorted more women to get involved in politics and take leadership positions to ensure that issues of equality and access to reproductive health care stay at the forefront.  

With the economy still in recovery, the parties were smaller.   There were only two official Inaugural Balls (military and public) instead of the 10 that were in 2009.    The California Democratic Party’s event was held with 500 attendees in a hotel, compared with the thousands that attended the event at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in 2009.   New California members of Congress Jared Huffman, Alan Lowenthal, Ami Bera and Scott Peters  (Peters and Lowenthal are Jewish) and more familiar faces such as Brad Sherman and John Garamendi added to the lineup of politicians in attendance.    There was also a job fair for Obama staff alumni with local non-profits, political consultants and technology companies to help those that put their lives on hold for months to find new opportunities and several small receptions where I saw California Republican Congressman Ed Royce, the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, newly elected California Congresswoman Gloria Negrete McLeod .

Jewish themes ran throughout the weekend.   Saturday was a national day of service, with projects from DC to Los Angeles, helping fix up the community.  President Obama’s inauguration speech also had themes that reflected Jewish values,

President Obama said, “We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.” 

Some may argue that the President’s speech was a defense of liberalism.   To me, I heard in those words a defense of the “Tikkun Olam” concept that when Americans create opportunity for those that don’t have access to such changes, it raises all of us up, and when we deny equality and dignity to one human being, it hurts us all.

He reminded us that our duty was to fight for equality and liberty. While the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness may be self evident, they have rarely been self executing.

I grew up and went to college in the Washington DC area, so it was a great chance to see friends and share pictures of my new daughter, with family and friends who I had not seen since she was born (which also felt very Jewish), but what I saw throughout this week was a very Jewish notion: The start of a natural healing process of every party, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender and ethnicity to come together as an “American family” to face the challenges of the next four years led by President Barack Obama, who is now the President for all of us.


Andrew Lachman is President Emeritus of Democrats for Israel and a member of the Democratic National Committee.

Jewish groups softening resistance on Hagel nomination


Now that Chuck Hagel is officially President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense, Jewish groups concerned about Hagel’s record on Israel and Iran are faced with a choice.

Do they fight hard to derail his nomination, joining common cause with Republican opponents? Or do they temper their fire for a Vietnam War hero who insists that opponents have distorted his views on Israel and has a good chance of securing one of the most sensitive posts in the U.S.-Israel relationship?

So far, it appears to be the latter.

Jewish opponents appear to be toning down the criticism that greeted the news last month that Hagel, a Republican who served as a U.S. senator from Nebraska from 1997 to 2009, likely would be Obama’s defense choice.

The Anti-Defamation League, one of the most outspoken critics of Hagel’s potential candidacy, issued a statement reiterating some of its concerns after Obama made the announcement Monday — but deferred to the president.

“Sen. Hagel would not have been my first choice, but I respect the president’s prerogative,” Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, said in the statement.

In his statement, Foxman alluded to past proposals by Hagel to engage with Iran and with terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah; the nominee's skepticism of sanctions and the efficacy of a military strike on Iran; and his criticism of Israel in how it deals with the Palestinians.

Foxman called on Hagel to address positions that the ADL chief said seem “so out of sync with President Obama’s clear commitment on issues like Iran sanctions, isolating Hamas and Hezbollah and the president’s strong support for a deepening of U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council drew back from the tough criticism it leveled against Hagel in 2007 when he was considering a run as a Republican presidential candidate. NJDC said Monday that it is now “confident” Hagel would follow Obama’s lead on Israel.

Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who has asked to be appointed interim senator should Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) become secretary of state, on Monday softened his opposition to Hagel for his comments on Jews and gays.

The shift on Hagel in some Jewish corners may be enough to give the 11 Jewish senators room to support Hagel, or at least to not oppose him — a significant gain in a body in which senators tend to take their cues on special interests from colleagues who belong to the group in question.

The dimming of the prospect of an all-out lobbying effort by some pro-Israel groups against Hagel’s candidacy appears to be the product of White House outreach to Jewish groups in recent weeks, pushback by Hagel’s supporters and Obama’s own record on Israel.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee was silent on the nomination — and not just as a matter of its traditional reticence to comment on nominations. Capitol Hill and pro-Israel insiders told JTA that AIPAC has not taken a stand in this battle.

Steve Rosen, a former foreign policy director for AIPAC who now consults for a number of pro-Israel groups, said it would not help Israel’s interests to undercut a candidate for this key security post.

“It's about making friends, not getting into fights with people,” Rosen said.

Rabbi Steve Gutow, who directs the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said his public policy umbrella group would not take a position on Hagel but that he looked forward to a thorough vetting process.

In an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star in his home state of Nebraska, Hagel said his record of support for Israel was “unequivocal” and had been subject to “falsehoods and distortions.”

“I have said many times that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism,” he said. “I have also questioned some very cavalier attitudes taken about very complicated issues in the Middle East.”

Hagel suggested that differences on policy were a matter of nuance and tactics, not of goals.

“I have not supported unilateral sanctions” on Iran “because when it is us alone they don't work and they just isolate the United States,” he said. “United Nations sanctions are working. When we just decree something, that doesn't work.”

In the interview, Hagel did not refer to the controversy over his use in 2006 of the term “Jewish lobby” and his assertion when he was a senator that his loyalty was to the United States, not Israel.

Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York and a contributing fellow at the Israel Policy Forum, said Israeli leaders naturally would have concerns about past Hagel statements. But Pinkas said they would deal with Hagel not as the loquacious one-time senator who often was critical of Israeli policy, but as the defense secretary hewing to a policy set by Obama of a close U.S.-Israel security relationship.

“What a senator says at a three-martini lunch and what a secretary of defense says are two different things,” Pinkas said.

Obama made clear the White House would aggressively tout Hagel’s bona fides as a wounded Vietnam War veteran, twice calling him a “patriot.” There also was a veiled reassurance to Israel in Obama’s remarks.

“Chuck recognizes that American leadership is indispensable in a dangerous world,” Obama said. “I saw this in our travels together across the Middle East. He understands that America stands strongest when we stand with allies and with friends.”

Peter Medding, a political scientist at Hebrew University, said Israel’s leaders understand that the White House shapes the defense relationship and it would be counterproductive to create distance with the U.S. president at a time of increased regional tensions.

“Making policy is a matter for Obama, and the Israelis are not interested in taking on Obama at this time,” Medding said.

Hagel is by no means out of the woods. A number of Republican senators already have pledged to vote against him. His apostasy on President George W. Bush’s Iraq policies — in 2007, Hagel supported Democratic legislation requiring a troop withdrawal from Iraq — is still an open wound in the party. A lone Republican senator could hold the nomination unless the Obama administration is able to muster 60 votes, which could be daunting in a chamber in which Democrats control 55 of the 100 seats.

Support among Democrats and liberal groups also is not assured. Gay groups want to hear more about his apology for opposing a 1998 ambassadorial nomination because the nominee was gay. In the Senate, Hagel was a pronounced conservative on domestic issues, including government spending, abortion and gun control.

Susan Turnbull, a former vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and now chairwoman of Jewish Women International, called Hagel’s views “knee jerk” and “worrisome.”

A range of rightist pro-Israel groups remains committed to upending the nomination, among them the Zionist Organization of America, Christians United for Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Emergency Committee for Israel, which on Monday launched a website headlined “Chuck Hagel is not a responsible option.”

Among centrist Jewish groups, the American Jewish Committee wrote to Democratic senators before the Obama made the nomination formal and urged them to ask him to pick another nominee. Since the nomination was announced, AJC has said it is not opposed but “concerned” about the nomination and wants the Senate to conduct thorough hearings.

“AJC has shared our concerns with members of the U.S. Senate, who have the responsibility to ask the probing questions about Hagel’s record and vision,” AJC said in a statement.

For their part, Hagel’s Jewish allies have pushed back hard. J Street, Americans for Peace Now and Israel Policy Forum all have endorsed him.

“It is particularly troubling that some claiming to represent the pro-Israel community have tried to impugn Sen. Hagel’s commitment to the U.S.-Israel special relationship and our countries’ shared security interests,” J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a letter sent to all senators.

Union workers celebrate at Dodger Stadium


LAX workers were the first to begin the cheers.

“Obama! Obama! Obama!”

It didn’t take long for others to follow when the news broke out at Dodger Stadium on election night that Barack Obama had been re-elected president. That’s where hundreds of supporters gathered as part of a party organized by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

“Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!”

The crowd at the Stadium Club, a bar and dining area that overlooked the lit-up stadium, looked up eagerly at flat-screen TVs to take in the news. Union workers, community leaders and Obama supporters didn’t have to wait long to get worked into a frenzy. News outlets called the election for the incumbent just 15 minutes after the party started at 8 p.m.

Then Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, addressed the group, speaking from a podium and denouncing “the super rich and powerful.”

“Their money is nothing compared to the power of firefighters, teachers … and truck drivers, and nurses,” she said.

What Eric Bauman, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, expected to be a long night ended rather quickly. He tipped his hat to Florida Jews, saying that Obama carried Jewish counties in Florida by huge margins.

“Jewish voters by-and-large stood with the president,” he said. “This is a great victory for us today.”

Still, when Bauman took the stage later he reminded the crowd that the presidency wasn’t the only important contest up for grabs.

He didn’t have to tell Lowell Goodman, director of communications for Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents 80,000 public employees in Southern California, including librarians, nurses, social workers and trash collectors.

Goodman said he had been out since 1 p.m. knocking on doors to mobilize people to vote against Proposition 32, which proposed reforming California’s campaign finance rules and banning the use of employee payroll deductions for political purposes. Union leaders opposed it, arguing it would limit their ability to participate effectively in the political process.

“Yes on 32 silences the voices of our 80,000 members, and what it says is the only ones who should have a voice in politics in California are the 1 percent,” he said.

Goodman, whose children attend preschool at Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, lives near the stadium in Angelino Heights in Echo Park. Asked if he was going to walk home, he answered:

“If it’s a good night, I’ll stumble home.”

Wolpe on Brandon’s Holocaust analogy: ‘It is stupidity on stilts’


Scroll to bottom for video

Every now and then we forbid certain things to certain select individuals: Boxers may not use their fists in casual fights; CIA agents may not write freely of their personal experiences. I think it is time for a new restriction: any mention of Hitler, the Holocaust or gas chambers should be legally forbidden to manifest idiots.

Exhibit A: The Rev. Brad Brandon with Minnesota for Marriage analogizing critics of gay marriage to those silenced by Hitler. This is not stupidity. It is stupidity on stilts.

It is long past time that we stopped belittling the memory of millions who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis by pressing them into service for every political analogy. We hear this ignorant comparison deployed with reference to abortion, gay marriage, offensive art, budget cuts, with virtually any public issue where the speaker feels that his rhetorical jets need rocket fuel.

Stop it. Just stop. Survivors deserve better than to hear their unspeakable suffering turned into a talking point. And the dead, the millions slaughtered on the altar of hatred and savagery, should not have their memory besmirched by the moronic compulsion to invoke the holocaust at every presumed offense.

The attempted destruction of an entire people should be spoken in hushed tones, with the reverence due the victims and the shocked horror at the evil of the perpetrators. Anything else tells us nothing about the issue and everything about the speaker. I read that Pastor Brandon apologized. That is a good start. The next step, to be wished for and emulated, is to just keep quiet.

This piece is first appeared on WashingtonPost.com.


Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, David Wolpe is the author of seven books including “Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times” and his latest, “Why Faith Matters.” Follow him on Facebook.

Convicted of soliciting a minor, rabbi is banned from D.C.-area synagogue


Rabbi David Kaye, who was convicted in 2006 for trying to sexually solicit a minor, was told he could no longer worship in a synagogue in suburban Washington.

The board of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, Md., notified congregants of the decision just before the High Holidays, the Washington Jewish Week reported Wednesday.

In a Sept. 12 note to its membership, the board wrote in part that it spent a “backbreaking amount of time” researching and discussing the legal and ethical dilemmas presented, including the “safety of our children, responsibility, teshuvah (repentance) and the compelling needs of the community at large,” according to the Washington Jewish Week.

Kaye, a former vice president of programming at Panim: The Institute for Jewish Leaders and Values, based in Rockville, Md., was caught in a sting on “To Catch a Predator,” a reality series featuring investigations by the televison newsmagazine “Dateline NBC.”

Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, the spiritual leader at Adat Shalom, spoke at length about the board’s deliberations and decision, which he said was not unanimous, during a Rosh Hashanah sermon, according to the newspaper.

“The process was painful, but it was something to be proud of. We were guided by balancing safety with the respect for individuals,” he told the Washington Jewish Week.

Some congregants supporting the decision said that since Adat Shalom's religious school meets on Shabbat, they were uncomfortable with Kaye’s presence during services, the newspaper reported.

In 2006, Alexandria U.S. District Court Judge James Cacheris convicted Kaye on one count of coercion and enticement, and one count of travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct. Kaye eventually was sentenced to 78 months in prison and 10 years of supervised release.

Last January, he was released from a transitional house in Baltimore. Now 61, Kaye said he is divorced, living in suburban Washington and still wants to pray in a congregation.

“I've done teshuvah,” he told the newspaper. “And I feel that God has forgiven me.”

Kaye had been attending Shabbat services at Adat Shalom since February. He believes that because “Dateline NBC” rebroadcasts “To Catch a Predator” periodically that someone in the congregation may have recognized him, which triggered the congregational debate over his presence.

Dennis Prager: Netanyahu’s U.N. speech


In the eyes of many, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the United Nations General Assembly was a masterful statement of the moral state of the world, not to mention the existential threat Iran poses to Israel.

In the eyes of many others, the speech was gratuitously bellicose and provocative. 

Here are highlights from that speech. You judge.

“Three thousand years ago, King David reigned over the Jewish state in our eternal capital, Jerusalem. I say that to all those who proclaim that the Jewish state has no roots in our region and that it will soon disappear.”

Netanyahu began with a response to Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had said in New York earlier that week that the Jews have no roots in the Middle East. Three thousand years would seem to qualify as “roots.” Indeed, there were two Jewish states in modern Israel 1,500 years before there was one Muslim on earth, let alone in the Middle East.

“Throughout our history, the Jewish people have overcome all the tyrants who have sought our destructionIt’s their ideologies that have been discarded by history.”

Every group and ideology, no matter how powerful, that has sought the Jews’ annihilation has disappeared. It is the Jews who are still around. Something Mr. Ahmadinejad should reflect on.

“A great battle is being waged between the modern and the medieval. … The medieval forces of radical Islam, whom you just saw storming the American embassies throughout the Middle East … are bent on world conquest. They want to destroy Israel, Europe, America. They want to extinguish freedom. They want to end the modern world.”

Someone has needed to tell the United Nations, an organization of “surpassing … mendacity,” as Charles Krauthammer described it last week, this truth: Islamists represent the most morally backward force on earth today. Leave it to the head of the Jewish state to say the truth that the world is too afraid to say.

“I think the relevant question is this: it’s not whether this fanaticism will be defeated. It’s how many lives will be lost before it’s defeated.”

The importance of this point cannot be overstated. It is true that eventually all evils are overcome (and then replaced by newer ones), but to those who were tortured, raped and murdered, that provides little consolation. Hitler lost, but only after 6 million Jews and 40 milllion to 50 million others were killed in World War II.

“Some 70 years ago, the world saw another fanatic ideology bent on world conquest. It went down in flames. But not before it took millions of people with it. Those who opposed that fanaticism waited too long to act. In the end they triumphed, but at [a] horrific cost. My friends, we cannot let that happen again.”

Exactly.

“To understand what the world would be like with a nuclear-armed Iran, just imagine the world with a nuclear-armed al-Qaeda.”

You cannot get much clearer than that.

“There are those who believe that a nuclear-armed Iran can be deterred like the Soviet Union. That’s a very dangerous assumption. Militant jihadists behave very differently from secular Marxists. There were no Soviet suicide bombers. Yet Iran produces hordes of them.

“Deterrence worked with the Soviets because every time the Soviets faced a choice between their ideology and their survival, they chose their survival. But deterrence may not work with the Iranians once they get nuclear weapons.”

Nazis and communists liked life. Islamists revel in death. An enormous difference. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said that whereas Israel could be destroyed with an Iranian nuclear weapon reinforced by attacks from
Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, Iran and the Muslim world could easily survive an Israeli nuclear reprisal attack. 

“For nearly a decade, the international community has tried to stop the Iranian nuclear program with diplomacy. That hasn’t worked. Iran uses diplomatic negotiations as a means to buy time to advance its nuclear program.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton disagrees. She believes that sanctions will lead to “good-faith negotiations.” To put “good faith” and Ahmadinejad’s Iran in the same sentence takes a Neville Chamberlain-like naiveté.

“At this late hour, there is only one way to peacefully prevent Iran from getting atomic bombs. That’s by placing a clear red line on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Red lines don’t lead to war; red lines prevent war.”

How, exactly, is that wrong? Wouldn’t a red line in the 1930s have stopped Hitler? Didn’t a red line over Cuba end the Cuban missile crisis?

So, dear reader, you judge Netanyahu’s speech. Was it irresponsible or was it as responsible a statement as the leader of the Jewish state could make at this time?

And once you do make your judgment, please bear this in mind: The Wall Street Journal and the country’s conservatives thought the speech masterful. The New York Times and the rest of the left, Jewish and otherwise, thought it bellicose and irresponsible for saying such things during an American presidential election.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Republican Jewish Coalition begins $5 million TV ad campaign


The Republican Jewish Coalition launched a $5 million television advertising campaign aimed at Jewish voters in swing states.

The campaign started Wednesday and runs through Nov. 5 in cable and broadcast TV markets with sizable Jewish populations in Florida, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The first RJC ad is a shortened version of one of the group’s “buyer’s remorse” videos, which featured disillusioned Obama voters.

“This ad highlights the 'buyer's remorse' felt by many in the Jewish community, who voted for Obama four years ago, but are now disillusioned with his economic policies and his policies toward Israel,” the RJC’s executive director, Matt Brooks, said in a statement Wednesday. “These ads, and the stories of the people in them, give voice to the nagging doubts that many Jewish voters feel about President Obama. To underscore that point, numerous polls have shown an erosion in Jewish support for the President.”

Unreleased Gallup survey data found 70 percent of Jewish voters saying they would support Obama to 25 percent for Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The data, which were reported by Buzzfeed, is from Gallup’s daily tracking polls from July 1 through Sept. 10 and is based on a sample size of 828 registered Jewish voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

In July it was reported that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and other RJC board members would be funding a $6.5 million effort by the group to woo Jewish voters, including the TV ad campaign. Earlier this month, the RJC began a voter outreach effort in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and launched a new billboard campaign in South Florida featuring the slogan “Obama … Oy Vey!!”

ZOA’s lost tax-exemption status prompts demand for new leadership


On Sept. 11, the Zionist Organization of America’s (ZOA) board of directors met in New York and overwhelmingly approved a resolution expressing confidence in the organization’s direction and in the leadership of Morton Klein, its president of 19 years.

The vote came less than a day after a news report that ZOA had had its tax-exempt status revoked as far back as May 2011 for failing to file three consecutive years of key financial documents with the Internal Revenue Service.

Only one board member present at the meeting, ZOA National Vice Chair Steven Goldberg, voted against the resolution. Goldberg, a Los Angeles resident, told the Journal that he believes ZOA’s loss of tax-exempt status points to larger problems with the 115-year-old educational and advocacy nonprofit. In an interview on Sept. 12, Goldberg insisted Klein must be replaced for the ZOA to move forward.

“He thinks he is the ZOA, and he isn’t,” Goldberg said of Klein. “He deserves credit for dedicating so many years of his life, but right now he is hurting the ZOA.”

Goldberg said he believes in ZOA and in its mission, but said his fellow board members have been derelict in their duty to exercise independent judgment and oversight over Klein.

“The board is made up of cronies, yes-men and sycophants who will do nothing but approve everything he [Klein] says and kvell [rejoice] about it,” Goldberg said. 

Klein has led the ZOA for the past 19 years, thanks to a pair of amendments to the organization’s constitution allowing him to serve an unlimited number of four-year terms. In an interview on Sept. 13, Klein told the Journal that he believes Goldberg is motivated by a personal vendetta and a desire to take over as president.

“The entire board disagrees with this person and is shocked by his irrational actions,” Klein said.

Over the past two decades, ZOA has been the most prominent and relentless critic of those who would have Israel give up territory as part of a peace deal. Claiming a national membership of 30,000, ZOA lobbies Congress frequently to advance its agenda.

Klein, meanwhile, is the organization’s sole public face and has become known on Capitol Hill and beyond. Speaking to the Journal from his home in Pennsylvania, where he has been recovering since undergoing open-heart surgery six weeks ago, Klein said he had received phone calls from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and more than a dozen members of Congress wishing him well.

Former board members and ex-employees have criticized Klein for his at times tempestuous leadership style in the past, but for Goldberg, an officer on the board, to take Klein — and the rest of the ZOA board — to task in such a public way is highly unusual.

Both Klein and Goldberg said that at one time they had a friendly relationship; according to Goldberg, it was Klein who invited him to join the national board as an officer. But from the time ZOA was informed on Feb. 22 of this year that its tax-exempt status had been revoked, and throughout the months-long debate ever since over whether the organization should make public the revocation, the two men have staked out opposing positions in a dispute that has become very public, after all.

In accordance with a law passed by Congress in 2006, ZOA’s tax-exempt status was revoked because it did not file three consecutive years of 990 forms, in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Most nonprofits are required to file such forms every year; the filings disclose basic information about an organization, including its overall budget and the salaries paid to top officers.

The deadline for submitting the form is four and a half months after the end of an organization’s fiscal year, but the IRS allows three-month extensions to any organization that requests one, and an additional three months for organizations showing good cause.

David Drimer, national executive director of ZOA, said ZOA typically requested and received six-month extensions, filing annual 990s in November, and that the revocation of tax-exempt status was the result of “missing the technical deadline” for submitting the 2008 form. Drimer, who began working at ZOA in August 2011, said the organization sent the 2008 form to the IRS in November 2011, thinking the submission was timely, only to find out in February that the deadline had passed in May 2011.

ZOA, Drimer said, is not the only organization to fall prey to a regulation, which automatically revokes the tax-exempt status of any organization that fails to file forms for three consecutive years.

Most of the organizations that have had their tax-exempt status revoked were agencies that take in less than $50,000 per year. Under the 2006 law, such groups were, for the first time, required to submit short annual filings.

ZOA, however, has always been required to submit standard 990 forms, which in recent years have run more than 35 pages; according to the three most recent ones — 2009, 2010 and 2011 — shared with the Journal by Drimer, ZOA took in an average of more than $3.6 million a year.

Drimer said those forms would be submitted soon to the IRS, along with a request for retroactive reinstatement of ZOA’s tax-exempt status. The reason for the belated filing, Drimer said, had to do with ZOA’s hiring new accountants in early 2009, Loeb & Troper, and that firm’s questions about the accounting done for ZOA before it hired the firm.

Since February, ZOA has designated FJC, a New York-based public charity, to accept donations earmarked for ZOA on its behalf. Those donations, Drimer said, will remain inaccessible to ZOA until its nonprofit status is reinstated.

Drimer added that all Web sites and ZOA materials had been “cleansed” of anything calling the ZOA a 501(c)(3) organization.

“We never kept it a secret,” he said. “Everybody who donated to the ZOA up to Feb. 22 gets their deduction, and everybody who donated to the ZOA after Feb. 22, gets their deduction. The idea that we have somehow done something wrong, unethical or illegal is preposterous.”

However, until an article about the ZOA’s loss of tax-exemption appeared in The Forward on Sept. 11, few in the Jewish community knew about ZOA’s change in tax-exempt status. Goldberg said even some board members were unaware until recently.

Goldberg said Larry Hochberg, who is listed as a board member on each of the last three years of ZOA 990 forms, wasn’t aware that the tax-exempt status had been revoked until Goldberg e-mailed the entire board about the matter in late August.

“He quit in disgust,” Goldberg said. “He thought he should’ve known back in February when the ZOA found out.” Reached by phone on Sept. 13, Hochberg declined to comment.

Federations’ Lions of Judah pledge $27 million at conference


Female donors raised $27 million for Jewish federation causes at the biennial Lions of Judah conference.

The Lions, a federation sisterhood of sorts for female donors who give at least $5,000 per year to their federations, pledged the money Wednesday at the close of their three-day conference in New York. The sum represented a $9 million increase over the last Lions of Judah conference, in New Orleans in 2010.

“I have never been more proud to be a Lion of Judah and stand in solidarity with so many incredible, accomplished and generous women,” said Gail Norry, chairwoman of women's philanthropy at the Jewish Federations of North America. “We are stronger as a people because women today are more committed to repairing and sustaining our Jewish community.”

In all, women’s philanthropy comprises roughly 23 percent of federations’ annual campaigns, and women’s campaigns are the fastest-growing type of federation campaigns, according to a spokesman at the Jewish Federations. Lions of Judah has 17,500 members; about 1,700 attended this week’s conference, which was held at a midtown Manhattan hotel.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the group.

“More than just an anniversary, it really attests to a steadily growing, incredibly successful initiative that involves multiple generations of women — sometimes in one family — that raises huge amounts of money for Jews around the world and shows no signs of slowing down,” Jewish Federations spokesman Joe Berkofsky said.

Shapiro at 9/11 ceremony: U.S. won’t allow Iran to have nuclear weapon


U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro said that the United States “would not permit Iran to be armed with a nuclear weapon.”

He made his remarks Tuesday during a ceremony near Jerusalem to remember the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The ceremony by the U.S. Embassy in Israel and the KKL-Jewish National Fund was held at the Living Memorial monument in the Arazim Park outside of Jerusalem. The memorial contains all the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the attack, including the five Israeli victims.

Shapiro called the attacks “a pain that perhaps dulls with time but never truly leaves us.”

“There is no nation that better understands our pain, and there is no nation that better identifies with our experience than Israel,” Shapiro said.

He also said that: “An Iran armed with a nuclear weapon is an unacceptable threat, and we will not permit it to be realized.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a joint press conference Tuesday with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, also marked the Sept. 11 attack.

“Today is Sept. 11th. So we commemorate the greatest terror attack of all time. We know that this malignancy threatens the entire world. And we know that the free countries and the principled countries have to stand together to defeat it. And we know that we have, with you, such a partnership, and I have no doubt that we shall prevail,” he said.

Five Israeli tourists and the tour bus driver were killed on July 18 when a suicide bomber attacked the bus shortly after the group's arrival at the airport in Burgas, Bulgaria.

UPDATE: Amid some boos, Democrats return Jerusalem-as-capital language to party platform [VIDEO]


At President Obama's behest, and to boos from some delegates, Democrats on Wednesday night inserted a few lines into their party platform affirming Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Two of the lines had appeared in the 2008 party platform but had been dropped for some reason when this year’s platform was released Monday night; no one could quite explain the omission.

The removal of the language had prompted a firestorm of criticism from Republicans, including Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and from Democratic lawmakers in Congress, who said the removal of references to Jerusalem had blindsided them. Pro-Israel groups also asked that the language be restored to the party platform.

“Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel,” stated the amendment that passed Wednesday evening when the party's platform committee met in Charlotte, the site of this year's Democratic National Convention. “The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”

[Related: If I forget, thee Jerusalem … Oops! The Democrats just did]

Robert Wexler, a top Jewish surrogate for President Obama's reelection campaign and a drafter of this year's platform, told JTA that Obama played a direct role in Wednesday’s change. “The president directly intervened to make sure this amendment happened,” he said.

The first two sentences appeared in the 2008 platform. The third satisfied longstanding demands from pro-Israel groups that Obama restate the pledge he made at the 2008 American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference that he is committed to an “undivided” Jerusalem.

Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles’ mayor and a chairman of this year's convention, faced a chaotic scene when he brought the committee's reconstituted language to the full floor for a vote. The amendment also restored the word “God” to the platform, following complaints from some religious groups.

It took three voice votes to pass the language, and although Villaraigosa finally declared a two-thirds majority, it was not clear that the amendment got majority support. Boos were audible.

The Republican Jewish Coalition, the Romney campaign and the Arab American Institute suggested that what Democratic opponents at the convention didn’t like was the change made to the Jerusalem language.

Romney's campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, called the approval of the language “begrudging.” Matthew Brooks, RJC’ director, said, “To hear delegates on the floor of the Democratic convention strongly voice their opposition to recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, then boo when the chairman passes the resolution to adopt that language, is a shock.” James Zogby, the Arab American Institute president, expressed his pride “that so many delegates delivered a resounding no.”

C-SPAN video showed delegates in the institute’s “Yallah, Vote” T-shirts voting against. But a report from the floor on the news website BuzzFeed cited myriad reasons by delegates for their opposition. Some objected to the God language; others appeared to resent having the resolution forced past them without consideration.

“I didn't get a chance to read it and there was no discussion,” John Washburn, a delegate from Georgia, told BuzzFeed. “It was up there for 30 seconds and then it was down. I'm upset with the process. That's why I voted no.”

An array of congressional Democrats had complained on Tuesday and Wednesday about the removal of the Jerusalem language from the party platform, saying they were caught unawares.

Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) said he was angry when he learned of the omission. “It's wrong,” he told JTA, although, he added, “these platforms don't have a lot of meaning in terms of the work I do in the U.S. Senate.”

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), who is running for Nevada's U.S. Senate seat and is one of the most steadfastly pro-Israel Democrats in Congress, said that it was an understatement to say she was disappointed.

“I believe with every breath in my body that Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of Israel,” she told JTA. She added that she believes Obama's record on Israel overall is supportive, noting the enhanced U.S.-Israeli security relationship and Obama’s efforts to push back in the United Nations against anti-Israel measures.

Campaign officials had said that the language was removed because the overall platform focused on Obama's achievements — in Israel's case, the enhancement of defense cooperation and the isolation of Iran.

Few Jewish organizations publicly complained, but the groups lobbied behind the scenes. Once the language was changed, AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the Orthodox Union quickly praised the DNC.

“We welcome reinstatement to the Democratic platform of the language affirming Jerusalem as Israel's capital,” AIPAC said in a statement. Of both the Republican and Democratic platforms, the statement said: “Together, these party platforms reflect strong bipartisan support for the US-Israel relationship.

The inclusion of the line about Jerusalem remaining “undivided” actually allowed Democrats to trump Republicans, who removed that word from their own 2012 platform language on Israel and Jerusalem. The RNC did not return requests for comment on why the word was removed.

The Republican Jewish Coalition said Wednesday that it would run ads in Jewish newspapers in swing states noting the omissions; it was not clear if the ads would run now that the language was amended

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who led a training session for elected Jewish Democrats at the Democratic convention, countered that the Democrats should run their own ad noting that the Democratic platform explicitly threatens the use of military force against Iran should it obtain a nuclear weapon, while the Republican platform is less specific, referring only to “all options.”

At Democratic convention, a focus on Jewish swing voters as key to election win


Jewish swing voters could make or break President Obama’s bid for reelection.

At least that’s the case that Democratic Party leaders made in a training session that packed one of the larger halls at the convention center here on Monday, the day before the formal start of the Democratic National Convention.

It came with a message delivered to Jewish volunteers at the convention in Charlotte: Some Jewish voters matter more than others. And when it comes to issues, Israel is especially important — but don’t forget domestic policy.

At the session, Jewish public officials such as Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) shouted out the party’s new Jewish tagline: “I’m here because I’m a Jew and I support the president and I support Israel.”

Both parties are aggressively targeting Jewish voters in swing states. Next week, the Republican Jewish Coalition will conduct a voter outreach drive in South Florida, Cleveland and Philadelphia. The blitz, part of an overall $6.5 million RJC effort to sway Jewish voters, will be based on prior polling that will “micro-target” Jewish undecideds.

Despite their relatively small number in America — approximately 2 percent of the population — Jews remain a key electoral demographic.

Ira Forman, the veteran Jewish Democrat who has been running Obama’s Jewish outreach campaign, listed seven states — Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada and Michigan — where a 10 percent swing among Jewish voters could change the election.

A drop in support for Obama from the approximate 75 percent of the Jewish vote that he received in 2008 to 65 percent this year would cost him 83,500 votes in Florida, 41,500 in Pennsylvania and 19,000 in Ohio, according to Forman. The figures were based on educated guesses about eligibility and voter turnout.

The most recent Gallup tracking polls of Jewish voters, from June and July, had Obama at 68 percent of the vote — ahead of the 61 percent level at which he was polling in July 2008, when he was facing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The speakers at Monday’s event said that swing voters tended to be exercised by concerns about Obama’s Israel policies, though their principal concerns are about the economy, health care and social issues like abortion rights.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the DNC chairwoman and the party’s highest-ranking Jewish member, said Republicans hammer on the Israel issue because the Republican Party has little common ground with Jewish voters on domestic policy.

“The natural political home for Jewish voters in this country is with the Democratic Party,” she said.

Republicans cite changing Jewish demographics and voter patterns — including the increasingly large Orthodox community, which is more politically conservative than other Jewish denominations — as evidence that is changing.

Based on Monday’s training session — similar to a number that Democrats say the party has held throughout the swing states — it’s clear that the campaign waged by Republicans to depict Obama as lacking commitment to Israel has had an impact.

For the Israel argument, Democrats unveiled an eight-minute video titled “Steadfast” that features an array of Israeli leaders, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, extolling what is depicted as an unprecedented level of cooperation on defense and intelligence sharing with the Obama administration.

Also featured in talking points handed out to attendees are the Obama administration’s efforts to isolate Iran in a bid to halt its suspected nuclear weapons program, including intensified sanctions.

Republicans acknowledge the close relationship between the Israeli and U.S. administrations on defense, but say that Obama has undercut its benefits by making public his disagreements with Israel over peacemaking with the Palestinians. They also say that he has not made it sufficiently clear that Iran could face a military strike from Israel or the United States if it does not cooperate.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has suggested that he would not stand in the way of an Israeli strike, while Obama administration officials have spent recent months in intensive talks with Israelis hoping to head off such a strike.

Indeed, Wasserman Schultz, in making the case for Obama’s Iran policy, repeated a talking point that distinguishes the Democratic position, which counsels military force as a last resort: She praised Obama for “making sure that all options are on the table, but making sure that the military option is the last, not the first, one.”

Once the Israel argument is out of the way, Forman counseled volunteers to sway undecided voters by talking about domestic policy, where Democrats believe they have a sharp advantage.

David Simas, the Obama campaign’s director of opinion research, outlined for the session how to incorporate one’s own story into campaigning. Simas, a rising star in the party, spoke of his own background as the child of penniless Portuguese immigrants who may have foundered had it not been for worker protections he suggested that Republicans would remove.

Wasserman Schultz cited her own personal story, noting her struggle with breast cancer a few years ago. Discovering a lump in her breast while showering, she said, “I realized I was one job loss away from being  uninsured and uninsurable.” Now, with the passage of Obama’s health care reforms, she said she need no longer fear the prospect of insurers turning her down because she has a preexisting condition.

Volunteers at the session agreed that the Israel component was critical to swaying the undecideds among their friends.

Cynthia Johnson, 56, a publicist from Portland, Ore., said she attended because she was finding that some of her Jewish friends were wavering, particularly over the Israel issue.

“That was the one concern I wanted to be able to address,” said Johnson, who is not Jewish.

Steve Leibowitz, 55, an information technology professional from Cape Cod, Mass., said the Israel talking points would assist him in his social media interactions with Jewish friends, where he said he was likelier to encounter questions about Obama’s Israel policy than outright hostility.

Ellen Blaine, 52, a public health professional from Charlotte, said she needed tools to counter misconceptions about Obama’s relations with Jews and Israel.

“That’s what’s on top of people’s minds,” she said.

Blaine noted one success so far: Four years ago her mother, then 80, believed a sister in New York who assured her that Obama was a secret Muslim and voted for a Republican for the first time. Blaine said her mother, now disabused of that notion, was ready to vote Obama this year — but marveled at how such rumors spread among Jewish voters.

“My aunt was a schoolteacher!” she said. “We’re supposed to be an educated and engaged people.”

Calif. Democratic Party chair rues any offense with Goebbels analogy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oren ‘categorically denies’ he singled out GOP as taking partisan Israel shots


Israel's ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, “categorically denied”  that he specified the Republican Party when he described as harmful making Israel a partisan issue.

“I categorically deny that I ever characterized Republican policies as harmful to Israel,” Oren said in a statement emailed Tuesday to reporters. “Bipartisan support is a paramount national interest for Israel, and we have great friends on both sides of the aisle.”

Rep. Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), in a training session Monday for Jewish activists at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., said Republican efforts to depict President Obama as insufficiently pro-Israel were a salve to those who longed for a wedge between Israel and its most powerful ally.

“We know, and I’ve heard no less than Ambassador Michael Oren say this, that what the Republicans are doing is dangerous for Israel,” she said.

Oren has repeatedly said attempts to make Israel a partisan issue are detrimental to the bipartisan support the Jewish state has for years enjoyed, but he has never singled out one party as more responsible than the other for promoting such divisions.

Calif. Assembly approves anti-Semitism resolution for colleges


The California State Assembly approved a resolution calling on colleges and universities in the state to combat anti-Semitism.

The symbolic resolution was approved Tuesday with no debate, according to The Associated Press. It also calls on the schools to quash campus demonstrations against Israel.

Pro-Palestinian and free speech activists were angered by the resolution, saying it characterizes pro-Palestinian speech as anti-Jewish.

A University of California spokesman told the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday that it would not support the resolution, saying that it violates the First Amendment.

The resolution was authored by state Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, a Republican from Fresno. Some 66 of the Assembly’s 80 members signed the resolution as co-authors.

Jewish students reportedly have felt under siege at several University of California campuses, where pro-Palestinian demonstrations are a regular occurrence.

In one incident, in February 2010, 11 Muslim students stood one by one and interrupted a speech by Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, at the University of California, Irvine. They also shouted “Mass murderer!” and “War criminal!” before being removed from the room by campus police.

An Orange County jury last September found 10 of the students guilty of two misdemeanor charges for conspiring to disrupt a meeting and then disrupting the speech. They were sentenced to community service and probation. Charges against the 11th student were dropped.

The resolution also noted the annual Apartheid Week events held on UC campuses.

Michigan St. student says attack at party was anti-Semitism


A Jewish student at Michigan State University said he was attacked at an off-campus party in what he is calling a hate crime.

Just before the assault, which broke his jaw, Zach Tennen said his attackers asked him if he was Jewish, according to reports.

Tennen, 19, a resident of suburban Detroit, said he answered in the affirmative. He told WDIV-TV in Detroit that his attackers also “were making Nazi and Hitler symbols and they said they were part of the KKK.”

Tennen was knocked unconscious during the attack, which took place early Sunday morning near MSU’s East Lansing campus. The assailants stapled his mouth shut through his gums.

Others at the party watched as Tennen called a taxi to take him to the hospital. His mouth was surgically wired shut.

His family has called the Anti-Defamation League regarding the assault. Tennen plans to return to classes in a week.

The university in an email statement referred all questions about the police investigation to the East Lansing Police Department, as the incident occurred off campus.

“Michigan State University’s Student Affairs and Services office has reached out to the family of the student who said he was assaulted in East Lansing to provide the academic and other support the student needs,” the statement also said.

Bend the Arc sends activists to push for tax cuts for the wealthy repeal


Nine young political activists have started out on an eight-state tour to push for the repeal of the Pres. George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.

The “If I Were a Rich Man” tour, which started Wednesday, is organized by Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, a non-profit group which formed this summer and is dedicated to using Jewish political clout, access and money for domestic issues only.

The young people are targeting the districts of Congress members who support tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 annually. They group said in a statement that the activists are “standing up to the wealthiest members of Congress who are voting to line their pockets while demanding more of the nation’s most vulnerable to reduce the deficit, balance the budget and protect funding for critical programs and services.”

From now through Sept.7, tour members will make appearances at both the Republican and Democratic conventions and speak with Jewish community leaders, interfaith groups and union organizations along the route.

“Millionaires in Congress trying to force working people to pay more than their fair share in taxes is like a school yard bully stealing lunch money from a kid,” Alan van Capelle, CEO of the Bend the Arc said in a statement. “American Jews have never stood on the sidelines when we have seen injustice and we aren’t going to start now.”

Tour team leader Ellen Axe of Boston told JTA in a statement that “our country is faced with enormous challenges and it is frustrating to see so many of our elected leaders voting against the best interest of their constituents and the long-term economic viability of our country.”

Hip hop artist Sean “Y-Love” Jordan also is on the team.

The tour will target legislators including Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Tex.), Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.), and Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio).

Bill would ban entrance of hostile foreign government officials


Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) has sponsored a bill designed to ban entry into the country by officials of any foreign government complicit in violating the rights of imprisoned Americans.

Nicknamed Jacob’s Law, the bill was written in honor of Jacob Ostreicher, a haredi Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn who has been in prison in Bolivia since June 2011 for allegedly doing business with people in Bolivia who are wanted there for links to drug trafficking and money laundering.

Ostreicher invested millions in a rice-growing venture in eastern Bolivia.

The Justice for Imprisoned Americans Overseas Act, its official name, “is in direct response to several reports about U.S. citizens being held in foreign prisons around the world while their fundamental due process and human rights are being flagrantly violated,” Smith said in a statement to JTA.

“American citizens on travel anywhere around the world need to know that the United States will go to bat for them when they are being denied fundamental human rights or basic due process rights by foreign government officials who abuse the rule of law,” Smith said.

Ostreicher continues to maintain his innocence. Smith visited him in prison in June and also met with Bolivian officials on behalf of the father of five and grandfather of 11.

According to Smith, Ostreicher is imprisoned on the premise of guilty until proven innocent and has not been shown any evidence against him.  Also, Ostreicher has had almost $50 million worth of agricultural and financial assets stolen from his business.

Jacob’s Law has five cosponsors, including one Democrat and four Republicans.

Diller Foundation takes teen awards nationwide


The California-based Helen Diller Family Foundation has announced it will expand its Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards from a statewide to nationwide program and will double the number of annual awards to 10, with five of the awards reserved exclusively for Californians. The Foundation formally announced the expansion at an Aug. 20 ceremony in San Francisco honoring this year’s recipients, which included three Angelenos — Zak Kukoff, Adam Weinstein and Celine Yousefzadeh.

The Awards recognize teens who perform outstanding volunteer service. Previously, only Jewish California-based students were eligible to apply for the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards. Now in its sixth year, the program has distributed more than $1 million in grants. Each Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award winner, who is generally involved in a large social or community service project, receives a $36,000 grant that can be applied toward college or reinvested in a service project.

Since the awards began, a number of Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards alumni have chosen to remain involved with their projects and, in some cases, even developed new ones.

Fred Scarf, a 2008 recipient, founded No Worries Now, an organization that hosts proms for teenagers with life-threatening illnesses. Scarf, originally from Sherman Oaks, reinvested his grant into the project and was able expand it to include a new initiative called Prom in a Box, which will allow other cities and communities to replicate similar events.

Scarf said the grant he received from the Diller Foundation has enabled him to grow No Worries Now even years after winning the award.

“One of the most amazing things that’s so unique and special about the Diller Foundation is the amount of trust they give to young people to handle a generous amount of money,” Scarf said.

Another 2008 recipient, Shelby Lane, created, collected and sold jewelry to raise money to provide needy refugees in Darfur with solar-powered stoves. After winning the award, Lane was able to expand her initiative to the East Coast and has fundraised over $100,000 to date.

“The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award has allowed me to provide further funding for the Solar Cooker Project, as well as for Jewish World Watch in order to increase student outreach efforts,” Lane said in an e-mail. “[Receiving] the award has inspired me to think about tikkun olam as a life-long journey.”

Aaron Feuer, a Los Angeles native, received the award in 2009 for his involvement with the California Association of Student Councils. As president of the CASC, Feuer helped coordinate and run more than 60 leadership training and activism events for teachers, student leaders and administrators across the state. Now a senior at Yale, Feuer continues to pursue the improvement of education in California and other states with his startup, Panorama Education, which utilizes feedback from parents, students and teachers to determine changes needed for progress.

“It’s easy to embrace the idea of tikkun olam, but being a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award recipient and keeping in touch with the Diller network has challenged me to think about what I want my contribution to be,” Feuer said.

“With the award, Mrs. Diller boldly affirms the power of young people — they can take responsibility, and they can make a difference,”  Feuer said.

Helen Diller, the foundation’s president, said she chose to expand the awards because of the potential to broaden participation in tikkun olam projects.

“My motto is that it’s never too early, late or often to give back and make the world a better place,” Diller said. “It’s exciting for me to be able to give back to teens across the country.”

To nominate a teen for the 2013 Diller Tikkun Olam Awards, visit jewishfed.org/teenawards/process.

Obama campaign launches rabbis list


More than 600 rabbis joined a campaign initiative called Rabbis for Obama.

Obama for America announced Tuesday that Rabbis for Obama is designed to “engage and mobilize grassroots supporters.”

The rabbis represent themselves and not individual synagogues or organizations, according to the news release. The names of all the rabbis can be found on the website barackobama.com/rabbis. Most of the rabbis are Reform or Conservative, although a handful are Orthodox.

“This list of rabbis represents a broad group of respected Jewish leaders from all parts of the country. These rabbis mirror the diversity of American Jewry,” Ira Forman, the Obama campaign’s Jewish outreach director, said in a news release.

“Their ringing endorsement of President Obama speaks volumes about the president’s deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel and his dedication to a policy agenda that represents the values of the overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community,” Forman said.

The number of rabbis signing on is more than double the number who added their names to President Obama’s 2008 campaign at the launch of a similar effort then.

Rabbis Sam Gordon and Steven Bob, both of Illinois, and Burt Visotzky of New York are co-chairs for this initiative. The first two started Rabbis for Obama in 2008.

Romney would support Israel strike on Iran, senior aide says


Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would support an Israeli decision to use military force to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, a senior aide said on Sunday.

Romney met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on the second leg of a trip show display his foreign policy credentials in his race to unseat President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 election.

Shortly before talks with Netanyahu, Romney’s senior national security aide, Dan Senor, told reporters travelling with the candidate:

“If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision.”

The comment seemed to put Romney at odds with Obama’s efforts to press Israel to avoid any preemptive strike before tough Western economic sanctions against Iran run their course.

Senor later expanded on his remarks, saying Romney felt “we should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course”.

It was Romney’s “fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so” and “no option should be excluded”, Senor said, adding that “Romney recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with it”.

Standing beside Netanyahu at the Israeli leader’s office, Romney said only that Iran’s effort to become a nuclear power “is one which I take with great seriousness”.

The failure of talks between Iran and six world powers to secure a breakthrough in curbing what the West fears is a drive to develop nuclear weapons has raised international concern that Israel may opt for a go-it-alone military strike.

Netanyahu issued his customary call for stronger measures behind the sanctions to curb Iran’s programme, which Israel sees as a threat to its existence. Iran says its project is for peaceful purposes.

“STRONG MILITARY THREAT”

“We have to be honest that sanctions have not set back the Tehran program one iota and that a strong military threat coupled with sanctions are needed to have a chance to change the situation,” Netanyahu said.

Israel, widely assumed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed state, has warned it is only a matter of time before Iran’s nuclear programme achieves a “zone of immunity” in which bombs will not be able to effectively strike uranium enrichment facilities buried deep underground.

Though Washington has been pressing Israel not to launch a solo strike on Iran, Obama has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to curb Iran’s nuclear drive.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said on Sunday that Obama’s national security adviser had briefed Netanyahu on a U.S. contingency plan to attack Iran. A senior Israeli official denied the report. [ID: nL6E8IT0P2].

In an effort that appeared timed to upstage Romney’s visit to Israel, Obama signed a measure on Friday to strengthen U.S.-Israeli military ties and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to visit Israel later this week.

Romney’s overseas tour got off to a rocky start, when he angered the British by questioning whether London was ready for the Olympics, a statement he was forced to clarify after a rebuke from Prime Minister David Cameron.

His visit to Israel gives him the opportunity to appeal to both Jewish voters and pro-Israel evangelical voters and contrast himself with Obama, who has a strained relationship with Netanyahu.

Romney has sharply criticised Obama’s handling of Iran as not being tough enough.

According to excepts of a speech Romney was to deliver on Sunday evening, the former Massachusetts governor planned to say that an aggressive approach to Tehran was needed to protect against a threat to the very existence of Israel, the closest U.S. ally in the turbulent Middle East.

“When Iran’s leaders deny the Holocaust or speak of wiping this nation off the map, only the naïve – or worse – will dismiss it as an excess of rhetoric,” the text of the speech included.

“Make no mistake: the ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defences. They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way.”

“My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away; and neither will my country,” the text said.

After his meeting with Netanyahu, Romney met with President Shimon Peres, opposition head Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. He then headed to the Western Wall, Judaism’s most revered site.

Wearing a black Jewish skullcap and surrounded by a determined throng of security personnel who cleared a path for him, Romney carefully navigated his way through hundreds of worshippers, some of whom shouted out cries of support.

Romney ends his trip on Monday with a fundraiser for a crowd of mostly Jewish Americans who live in Israel.

The Romney campaign initially had declared the fundraiser off limits to reporters, but on Sunday said it would allow press coverage after journalists complained the campaign was reneging on a prior agreement to open more of its finance events.

Sacramento approves sister-city relationship with Ashkelon despite opposition


Sacramento City Council voted unanimously to approve a sister-city relationship with Ashkelon, despite opposition from pro-Palestinian organizations.

The Tuesday night vote came after testimony from opponents and supporters, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Some of the 250 spectators crowded into council chambers held Israeli flags; others wore T-shirts reading, “Got human rights? Palestinians don’t,” or carried signs that read that read “I am a Palestinian Sacramentan, therefore I cannot visit Ashkelon on a sister-city delegation.”

The California capital already has a sister-city relationship with nine cities, including what it calls “Bethlehem, Palestine,” and has been discussing adding an Israeli town for several years. The council twinned with Bethlehem in 2009 and at the time agreed to choose a city from Israel as well.

The sister-city program involves cultural, educational and people-to-people exchanges.

Groups that opposed the twinning included No Human Rights, No Sister City; Palestinian Americans for Peace; and the Sacramento Jewish Voice for Peace. Stand With Us and Christians United For Israel circulated letters and petitions in support of the plan.