Jewish DNC staffer, 27, killed near his home

A young Jewish staffer for the Democratic National Committee was shot dead in an apparent robbery near his home in Washington, D.C.

Seth Conrad Rich, 27, was shot early Sunday morning in the Bloomingdale neighborhood, near the Capitol, about a block from his home.

Police in announcing the killing did not ascribe a motive, but his father, Joel, told the Washington Post that the police believe his son may have been the victim of a botched robbery.

“He wanted to make a difference,” Joel Rich told the newspaper.

Seth Rich, the voter expansion data director for the DNC, worked on databases to help voters identify polling stations, the Washington Post reported. Colleagues told JTA that he was also engaged in Jewish outreach.

“Our hearts are broken with the loss of one of our DNC family members over the weekend,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the DNC chairwoman, said in a statement. “Seth Rich was a dedicated, selfless public servant who worked tirelessly to protect the most sacred right we share as Americans – the right to vote. He saw the great potential of our nation and believed that, together, we can make the world a better place.”

Rich, a native of Omaha, Nebraska, was the boating education director and staff programming director at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin in 2011, according to his LinkedIn profile.

“Seth communicated proactively to facilitate the success of the campers with special needs who were in his class and went above and beyond to provide opportunities for all of my campers to participate successfully in the boating program,” said a reference on the LinkedIn site from the camp’s special needs head, Talia Kravitz.

A colleague and friend, speaking anonymously, said Rich was proud of his Jewish upbringing in Omaha.

Jewish Insider hosts wine-tasting event in D.C.

SCENE LAST WEEK: On Monday March 21st, Jewish Insider hosted a late night wine tasting with Congressman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-California) at Rep. Turner’s condo building in downtown D.C. The 150 attendees, many of whom were in town for AIPAC's Policy Conference, enjoyed upscale Israeli wine courtesy of our weekly wine columnist Yitz Applbaum, along with kosher short ribs from LambBaacon.

SPOTTED: Sen. Norm Coleman, Hillary's foreign policy advisor Laura Rosenberger, Rep. Jeff Denham, State's Ira Forman and Chanan Weissman, Majida Mourad, Rabbi Jack Moline, Cruz National Finance Co-Chair Edward & Elissa Czuker, former AIPAC President Howard Friedman, CSPAN’s Howard Mortman, Adam Howard, Ari Mittleman, Singer Foundation’s Daniel Bonner, Jordan Hirsch, AIPAC’s Tara Brown, OU’s Nathan Diament, JFNA’s William Daroff, Hudson Institute CEO Ken Weinstein, Senior Advisor to Israeli Amb. Yarden Golan, former Bush 43 staffer Scott Arogeti, Tribe Media’s David Suissa, Leora Levy, Kahal's Alex Jakubowski, Rep. Bob Dold, Miranda May, Nathaniel Rosen, CoP’s Sam Schear, Rabbi Steve Wernick, Noah Pollak, Rep. Kevin Yoder, Aaron Keyak, Steve Rabinowitz, Jacob Kornbluh, Jared Sichel, Josh Lauder, Glass-U’s Daniel Fine, Homrun Group's Dan Smith, United Hatzalah founder Eli Beer, IAC’s Miri Belsky, Arab-Christian Israeli diplomat George Deek, NEA’s Andrew Schoen, Suzy Appelbaum, B’nai B’rith’s Dan Mariaschin, Loop88’s Dave Weinberg, Rachel Glazer, Laura Adkins, and Alex Friedman.

All photos by Ron Sachs from CNP

Netanyahu’s office says White House knew meeting might not take place

The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected an Obama administration official’s statement that the White House was “surprised” to learn that Netanyahu decided not to meet with the president in Washington, D.C., later this month.

“Last Friday, during a meeting in the White House, Israel’s envoy to Washington, Ron Dermer, expressed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s appreciation for Obama’s offer to meet with him should he visit Washington,” according to a statement issued Tuesday by the Prime Minister’s Office “With that, Dermer also informed them that there was a high chance that the prime minister won’t go to Washington, and that a final answer would be given Monday after he spoke with him.”

The statement from Netanyahu’s office said that reports in Israeli media saying that President Barack Obama was unwilling to meet with Netanyahu were “erroneous.”

“The prime minister’s office immediately corrected the erroneous news reports and officially informed the administration that the prime minister would not be coming to Washington,” said the statement, emailed to JTA by Israel’s embassy in Washington.

An Obama administration spokesman said Monday that the White House had learned that an offered March 18 meeting between Obama and Netanyahu in Washington would not take place.

“The Israeli government requested a meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu on March 17 or 18,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in an email to JTA.

“Two weeks ago, the White House offered the Prime Minister a meeting on March 18th. We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting, and we were surprised to first learn via media reports that the Prime Minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee had invited Netanyahu to address its annual conference March 20-22 in Washington, but Netanyahu turned down the invitation, according to the statement from Netanyahu’s office. He will deliver a speech via satellite.

Israeli media and CNN reported Monday evening that Netanyahu’s true motive for not visiting the U.S. capital now is that he is wary of being caught up in an especially bitter election year contest, one in which support for Israel has been a contentious issue. The reports cite anonymous sources with knowledge of Netanyahu’s thinking.

AIPAC is expected to invite some or all of the presidential candidates to its conference, and several could have requested a meeting with Netanyahu.

Vice President Joe Biden arrives  in Israel Tuesday evening for an official visit that includes a meeting with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu spoke at last year’s AIPAC conference in Washington. Obama declined to meet with Netanyahu at that time, since it was just two weeks before national elections in Israel. Netanyahu spoke at a joint meeting of Congress, however, angering the White House because it had not been made aware of the address.

Obama-Netanyahu meeting in DC to discuss post-deal environment

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will discuss post-Iran nuclear deal strategies when they meet Nov. 9 in Washington, D.C.

“The president looks forward to discussing with the prime minister regional security issues, including implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to peacefully and verifiably prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and countering Tehran’s destabilizing activities,” the White House said Wednesday in a statement.

The JCPOA is the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached in July between Iran and six major powers.

Netanyahu adamantly opposes the deal and cut off security talks with the United States until he was certain Congress would not kill it. The Israeli leader feared that such talks would imply his approval of the agreement.

This week, Democrats for the second time blocked a filibuster a bid by Senate Republicans to stop the deal. Republicans may attempt to get another vote through before Congress’ window to kill the deal expires Thursday, but in any case, Obama has pledged to veto any law should it pass.

Obama has said that the United States will enhance its security cooperation with Israel and other allies in the wake of the deal as a means of containing Iranian ambitions.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit is a demonstration of the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel as well as the unprecedented security cooperation, including our close consultations to further enhance Israel’s security,” the White House statement said.

The statement also said that Obama at the White House meeting hoped to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and “the need for the genuine advancement of a two-state solution.” Netanyahu has said that he is ready to resume such talks, which collapsed in 2014, without preconditions.

Widespread power outages hit White House, Washington area

A power outage hit the White House and much of the Washington area on Tuesday, snarling trains, emptying museums and cutting electricity to government buildings and the U.S. Capitol.

The Justice Department and State Department were also affected, along with the University of Maryland. Power company Pepco Holdings Inc said the outage stemmed from a dip in voltage because of transmission line trouble.

Power was briefly knocked out to the White House, delaying the daily press briefing.

The “power outage (is) affecting many parts of the city, and it affected the White House complex. We were on a backup generator and now we are back on normal power,” a White House spokesman said.

The State Department's daily briefing also was suspended after power was lost. An official at the Department of Homeland Security said in an email, “At this time, there is no indication that this outage is the result of any malicious activity.”

The U.S. Capitol complex operated using a backup generator before power was restored. Power also went out as media tycoon Oprah Winfrey was speaking at a U.S. Postal Service ceremony marking the issuance of a stamp honoring poet Maya Angelou.

Some subway stations in the United States' second-busiest transit system were running on backup power, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

The Smithsonian Institution said four museums, including the National Air and Space Museum, had been evacuated.

Pepco said its crews were repairing transmission equipment in Charles County, Maryland, south of Washington. The company's website showed about 1,400 customers without power, with most clustered in the District of Columbia.

The Washington Post quoted a District of Columbia homeland security official as saying an explosion at a plant operated by the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative had caused a power surge that cut electricity to much of the capital area.

The power company did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Its website said about 1,700 customers, most of them southeast of Washington, were without power.

Wallace Loh, president of the University of Maryland, tweeted that power had been cut to the campus and Pepco was working to restore it.

Israelis in the U.S.A.

When your ancestors yearned for 19 centuries to return to their homeland of Israel, and you were fortunate enough to be born there but still decide to move to America, it’s natural that somewhere deep inside, you might feel a little guilty. How could you not? Regardless of how happy or comfortable you might be in America, how could you not miss the Israeli streets that make you feel so at home, the country you fought to defend, the place that moves your spirit like no other?

It would be an insult to Israel for Israelis to feel perfectly OK about not living there.

This emotional dynamic has contributed to a complicated relationship between Israeli-Americans and their adopted country. Traditionally, the rap against Israeli-Americans is that they have been reluctant to fully engage and integrate with the local community — and I can understand this reluctance.

Many Israelis cope with the guilt of not living in Israel by telling themselves they’re in America only “temporarily.” Fully engaging with the local established community would only make their decision to live in America feel more permanent. It would be like making yourself feel at home in a place that deep inside your soul doesn’t really feel like home.

That’s why I felt something very poignant when I attended the inaugural national conference of the Israeli-American Council (IAC) last weekend in Washington, D.C. This was the big coming-out party for the IAC, which was founded seven years ago by a small group of successful Israeli-American entrepreneurs living in Los Angeles. The conference attracted prominent speakers from across the political, diplomatic, academic, media and philanthropic worlds, as well as more than 700 Israeli-Americans from across the country.

There was plenty of buzz at the conference, which meant the Twitter world had a field day. Two-time presidential candidate Mitt Romney blasted President Barack Obama on his approach toward Iran. Mega machers Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson shared the stage with IAC Chairman Shawn Evenhaim and tried to out-hawk each other on Israel. Politicians such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reminded an adoring crowd of America’s undying support for Israel. Actress Noa Tishby and other entertainers added some glitter.

Beneath all the buzz, however, there was some serious business. The IAC’s mission, as stated in its program, is to “build an engaged and united Israeli-American community that strengthens our next generations, the American Jewish community, and the State of Israel.”

We were offered a Limmud-like smorgasbord of sessions led by scholars, experts and community leaders, dealing with issues such as: “Israeli-American Double Identity: Comfort vs. Conscience?”; “Models of Israeli-American Communities: What Works?”; “Our Stand Against BDS”; “What Is Our Role in the Future Leadership of the Jewish-American Community?”; “How Can Israeli-Americans Strengthen the U.S.-Israel Bond?”; “Social Media: The Ultimate Force Multiplier”; “What Can Israeli-Americans Learn From the American-Jewish Community?” and “Israel in 2048: How Can Israel’s Economy Become One of the World’s Top 10?”

As you can imagine, there were plenty of heated discussions. If Jews in general like to argue and debate, then Israeli Jews take it to the next level. At several sessions I attended, when it came time for questions and answers, all we got from the audience were answers — and nobody complained. Usually, an audience is reminded: “Please, no speeches, just questions.” Here, it was more like: “OK, go ahead and make your speech. We know we can’t stop you anyway.”

But after all the buzz, debates and big statements of the conference, it was a statement that no one uttered that had the most impact on me.

This was the collective statement that seemed to hover above the conference and that no one needed to spell out: “We are madly in love with Israel, and we miss it terribly. Yes, we still feel a little guilty that we left. But let’s stop pretending that we’re going back tomorrow. We’re not. We’re here in America, and we’re not leaving anytime soon. That stings a little, but let’s make peace with that and fully engage with our adopted country. Above all, let’s be grateful we’re still able to do so much to help the Jewish world and Israel — and we can do it in our own Israeli way.”

As much as anything, the IAC conference was a statement on the greatness of America — a country that allows its citizens the full freedom to promote the cause of their choice, even when that cause includes helping another nation.

That is also worth waiting 19 centuries for.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

L.A. rabbi says mikveh at AJU is secure, calls Freundel scandal a ‘unique case’

In the wake of a scandal in which a Washington, D.C. Orthodox rabbi was arrested on Tuesday, Oct. 14, for allegedly spying on women undressing at a mikveh connected to his synagogue, Rabbi Richard A. Flom, a Los Angeles authority on the mikveh [ritual bathhouse] and a member of the Rabbinical Assembly executive committee, said the mikveh at American Jewish University [AJU], a community resource of the Rabbinical Assembly, is secure enough that people who use it for conversion, taharat hamishpacha [family purity] and other reasons, need not worry about someone illicitly watching them while they undress and immerse themselves in the mikveh pool.

[Related: Rabbi Barry Freundel arrested, charged with voyeurism]

Flom spoke to the Journal after the arrest of Rabbi Barry Freundel, 62, who has denied allegations filed Wednesday, Oct. 15, that he recorded at least six women showering at the mikveh at his synagogue. Freundel pleaded not guilty to a charge of voyeurism, a misdemeanor and was released without bond. Freundel “allegedly placed a hidden camera and recorder … inside…the changing-preparation area,” the website Failed Messiah reported, saying that he reportedly hid the recording device inside a digital clock.

During a phone interview on Oct. 15, L.A.’s Rabbi Flom addressed Freundel’s actions. “We don’t see how anything like that would be possible, or why anyone would want to do it.”

“We don’t want anyone to be turned off from utilizing this [the AJU mikveh] or any other mikveh because of these allegations. It’s probably a unique case that this story is about. At least I hope so,” Flom said.

“We don’t think anything like that could happen here, because we have multiple supervisors here, checking everything,” he added.

Freundel’s actions occurred at the Georgetown-based modern Orthodox community, Kesher Israel Congregation, where Freundel is the spiritual leader. The synagogue has posted a statement on its website that strongly denounces Freundel’s behavior.

“This is a painful moment for Kesher Israel Congregation and the entire Jewish community,” the statement from the synagogue’s board of directors reads.

Flom, a leader in the Conservative movement – the Rabbinical Assembly is the denomination’s rabbinical arm – said mikvaot are a place where women and men willingly undress fully under the assumption that no one is watching, and he therefore described Freundel’s alleged actions as “unfortunate.”

Flom did not want to speak further about Freundel out of respect for Lashon harah [gossip] laws.

“I have to tell you in all honesty I suspect there have been questions about this kind of thing for decades in regards to mikvaot,” Flom said.The utilization of it is a private and personal experience and people are vulnerable when they do it. Anybody who takes their clothes off and goes into a pool is vulnerable to the extent that they have taken their clothes off and are in a pool and not in their home – they are someplace else.”

The mikveh at AJU is one of several in Los Angeles. Others include the Mikvah Society of Los Angeles on Pico Boulevard and Chabad of Brentwood’s Brentwood Mikvah for women.

D.C. rabbi Barry Freundel arrested, charged with voyeurism

Rabbi Barry Freundel, the longtime spiritual leader at Kesher Israel in Washington, D.C., was arrested and charged with voyeurism after the synagogue board alerted the authorities.

Freundel, 62, was taken away Tuesday in handcuffs after uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department searched his home in the Georgetown section of Washington, Washingtonian magazine reported.

Reportedly the rabbi is accused of surreptitiously filming women showering in the synagogue’s mikveh. However, the police declined to confirm this detail.

A statement from the board of directors emailed to congregants said it had suspended Freundel without pay.

“Upon receiving information regarding potentially inappropriate activity, the Board of Directors quickly alerted the appropriate officials,” said the statement. “Throughout the investigation, we cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so.”

The D.C. police declined to provide further details beyond the charge. “We had an arrest of a Bernard Freundel, a 62 year old male who was arrested for voyeurism,” a police spokesman said.

Freundel, who is in police custody, is expected to have an initial appearance in D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday.

Freundel has led Kesher Israel, a modern Orthodox synagogue, for more than two decades. The congregation’s members include Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and former Sen. Joseph Lieberman.

The rabbi also serves on the executive council of centrist Orthodoxy’s Rabbinical Council of America.

Related: Rabbi in voyeurism case seen as distant and — until now — morally strict

Opinion: Mission impossible

After spending three days at the J Street conference in Washington, D.C., and hearing one speaker after another talk about the importance of a two-state solution, I’ve come to the conclusion that Jews are blessed with two attributes: one, an unlimited capacity to tolerate the tedious repetition of the obvious, and two, an extraordinary ability to work on improving ourselves and taking responsibility for what happens to us.

It is this second impulse that I want to focus on. Throughout the conference — from Amos Oz declaring the urgent imperative to “divorce” our Palestinian neighbors, to Peter Beinart reaffirming his call for a boycott of settlements, to countless speakers exhorting us to aim for the highest ideals of Judaism and Zionism — the implication was clear that, somehow, everything is in our hands.

The shadow of the high-achieving Jewish parent hovered above the conference — the parent who always told us: If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.

After all, we’re the Jews, right? We’re the people of the miracles, of the seas that split wide open, of the enemy armies that bow to our will, of the Nobel Prize winners who are the wonders of the world.

If we, the great chosen people, can’t take responsibility for bringing peace to the Middle East, then who can?

There was something flattering, even oddly reassuring, about this level of self-confidence. It’s nice to know there are Jews who still have faith in our ability to accomplish the impossible. But while I appreciated their enthusiasm and confidence, it unsettled me.

Where J Street people saw a pathway to a two-state solution, all I saw was the brick wall of Arab rejectionism. Where they saw the need to pressure Israel, all I saw was the wrong target.

After I spoke on a panel, someone stood up and complained that her “right-wing friends” call her “anti-Israel” because she’s a member of J Street. I responded that labels like “pro-Israel” and “anti-Israel” are not useful because they describe people rather than action.

For example, J Street promotes putting most of the pressure on Israel to make peace. I believe that’s wrong and misguided. But instead of calling its members “pro-Israel” or “anti-Israel,” I prefer to call them “pro-pressure-Israel.” It’s more accurate.

From that perspective, they are “pro-pressure-Israel” and I am “pro-pressure-Palestinians.” I am that way not because I think Israel is blame-free or makes no mistakes, but because I believe we will get closer to peace by pressuring the Palestinians than by pressuring Israel.

I can come to that conclusion because I don’t think “it’s all about us.”

To the credit of the organizers, they invited a speaker who made that same point loud and clear: Rabbi Donniel Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute. Hartman spoke of balancing power with humility, “contracting ourselves” to allow for differing views and acknowledging that “it’s not always about us.”

It’s a sign of how firmly J Street sits on the “pro-pressure-Israel” side that when Deputy Israel Ambassador Barukh Binah made a rousing defense of Israel at the closing gala, he was hit with a sudden burst of indifference.

It’s clear that J Street is trying to reach out and broaden its movement. To that end, I would make two suggestions for next year:

One, if you really want to promote peace, broaden your targets of criticism. Put as much pressure on the Palestinians as you do on Israel. Show more sensitivity to the fear many Israelis have that a two-state solution will create another Jew-hating terror state — on top of a nuclear Iran. Defend Israel as much as you criticize it.

Two, if you really want to empower Israel, broaden your mission. Don’t put all your eggs on the Palestinian conflict. No matter how much you hate the occupation, Israelis won’t vote to end it if they see withdrawal as suicidal. (Even Leon Wieseltier, the self-described “hawkish dove,” told me he doesn’t expect to see a two-state solution in his lifetime.)

So, while you will surely continue to work for a two-state solution, broaden your mission to include a “22-state solution.”

Show the world that Jews care about all Arabs, not just the Palestinians who can give us a two-state solution. Jews also care about the Palestinians suffering in the squalid refugee camps of Jordan and Lebanon. We also care about the plight of women and other oppressed and poor people throughout the Middle East.

Yes, Israel is an imperfect democracy that needs a lot of improving, and we should continue to help it improve. But let’s be real: It would be extraordinary if every country in the Middle East had the same opportunities, freedoms and human rights that this flawed and imperfect Jewish nation already provides.

Israel has learned an enormous amount in its 64 years of existence that also can benefit the countries in its neighborhood. As Jennifer Laszlo Mizrachi of The Israel Project pointed out at the conference, there is an opportunity now to start a “people-to-people” movement using social networks that can plant the seeds for economic partnerships and peaceful co-existence.

The way I see it, reaching out for a 22-state solution will improve the prospects for a two-state solution, not the other way around.

Think of how empowering and ennobling it would be for Israel to be seen as a model and active participant in a new Middle East Spring. Of course, there is so much animosity toward the Jews and Israel that this would be a monumental task.

But we’re Jews, remember? If we put our minds to it, we can do the impossible. Just look at that little miracle country we built.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Larry Greenfield to head JINSA

Larry Greenfield, a Los Angeles-area native, has been named national executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs in Washington, D.C., JINSA president David Ganz has announced.

JINSA was founded in 1976 as a non-partisan and non-sectarian think tank and its motto calls for “Securing America and Strengthening Israel.” Its major emphasis is on the importance of a strong U.S. defense capability and on close military ties between Israel and the United States.

Greenfield, 50, was born in Long Beach and grew up in Encino and has worked in the fields of law, business, philanthropy, politics, Jewish organizational life and academe.

Looking at one of the early challenges in his new job, Greenfield said, “I take my appointment as underscoring JINSA’s advocacy to the rising threats from Iran with sanctions that do not leak or waiver, and in a strong military alliance with our close ally, Israel.”

JINSA’s Ganz commented, “We are thrilled to have Larry Greenfield join JINSA as the new executive director. Larry’s dynamic leadership and vision will lift JINSA to even greater heights as the leading organization supporting a strong U.S. military and a strong American security relationship with Israel.”

Among JINSA’s key annual programs are study missions to Israel for retired U.S. flag and general officers, and separately for cadets and midshipmen from America’s three military academies.

A graduate of UC Berkeley and the Georgetown University law school, Greenfield has been active in the California Jewish community as regional director of the Republican Jewish Coalition and of the Israel Cancer Research Fund.

He has also served as vice president of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, and on the board of the Endowment for Middle East Truth and of the Israel-Christian Nexus.

Greenfield was the founding executive director of the Reagan Legacy Foundation and is a Fellow in American Studies of the Claremont Institute and a Senior Fellow of the American Freedom Alliance. He has also served in the U.S. Naval Intelligence Reserve.

Peres reportedly to unveil Bibi peace plan on D.C. visit

Israeli President Shimon Peres is visiting Washington.

Peres will be in Washington next week, the Israeli embassy said in a release Thursday, and arrangements for meetings with “government leaders” are underway.

Israeli media have reported that Peres will meet with President Obama and present the outlines of a peace plan Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to unveil in May, when he addresses the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy forum.

The White House had no comment.

Peres’ only firm date so far is a dinner Tuesday night hosted by the Center for Middle East Peace, a think tank with close Obama administration ties.

Answering the call to greatness

On the 25th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, 35 volunteers and 15 Teach For America teachers joined our team in Washington, D.C., to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King through a day of service. Together they created thousands of study materials for hundreds of students in struggling schools across the District of Columbia.

The volunteers came together as a diverse group, from big cities and small towns, a range of professions and varying degrees of Jewish connection. But for those five hours on Jan. 17 they were a community united in answering Dr. King’s call to greatness.

In fitting testament, each wore a shirt proclaiming that “Everybody can be GREAT because everybody can SERVE.”

These plain-spoken words, delivered by the inimitable Dr. King in Atlanta in 1968, remind us that we do not have to be wealthy or powerful, intelligent or well read, popular or good looking to serve. We just have to have the desire in our heart to meet the need in our world.

Indeed, in the aftermath of yet another human tragedy—the Jan. 8 shooting in Arizona—at a time of divisiveness and partisanship, we are reminded of the urgency of Dr. King’s call to greatness through service, an act upon which we can begin to build mutual understanding and to see that what unites us in our humanity is far greater than what divides us.

Service, after all, is the true equal opportunity employer—we all have both the privilege to engage in it and the responsibility to do so. I like to believe that Rabbi Tarfon, the great Jewish sage, had “tikkun olam” (repair of the world) in mind when he issued his call to all of humanity and declared that “While no one person is obligated to complete the task, neither is anyone free to desist from it.”

This is what makes service so unique, what gives it four intrinsic qualities not seen in virtually any other human endeavor:

* It is something everyone can do. Anyone can spend a few hours serving in a soup kitchen or a spring break rebuilding New Orleans. Anyone can give a year teaching in inner city schools, developing community projects in India or teaching English in Israel’s periphery. No contribution is too big or too small when it is in service of a better tomorrow.

* It provides a level playing field. Service is not cost prohibitive nor location specific; need exists everywhere. It is blind to age, race, religion, creed and sexual orientation. When done with grace and love, service is magnanimous in its celebration of our shared humanity and in its embrace of our humble differences.

* It strengthens local communities. Service has long been documented for its ability to create strong ties between volunteers and communities served. Despite concerns that short-term immersive service experiences leave the door open to incomplete projects, a recent study by Repair the World shows that the local impact can be immensely beneficial, both for completing concrete tasks, such as renovating classrooms, as well as for expanding capacity to address ongoing needs.

* It fosters global community. Also among the primary benefits host communities report? The rich cultural exchange that takes place between community members and volunteers.

Today, we are citizens of the world. Whether serving in Israel, the former Soviet Union, Ghana or Ecuador, our sense of community has expanded from one defined solely by geography to one also rooted in shared interests, common experiences and deep-seated passions. In giving of ourselves, we indicate a willingness to listen and to learn—the foundation for building mutual understanding and respect for all.

These four qualities are vitally important to us as Jews and as human beings. They make service among the most powerful human connectors that exist. Service is a tie that binds us together—volunteers to volunteers, those served to those serving—creating bonds among people who might otherwise never have felt part of the same community.

Indeed, clergy and congregants who cannot pray together can step across denominational lines to serve together. Politicians who cannot vote together can step across party lines to give back together. And young Jews committed
to service can know what it means to belong to a diverse, pluralistic, global Jewish people that hold as a core value a responsibility to repair the world.

We saw this happen during the tragedy of the Carmel fire—the worst fire in Israel’s history—when Jews everywhere joined together to give their time, money and voice to those in Israel who had lost everything. Among the most
touching efforts took place in the former Soviet Union, where struggling students reached deep into their pockets to start a fund for four siblings who had lost their father in the blaze. For me, this effort was less about the dollars raised and more about the willingness showed by these young Russian Jews to give of themselves for their Jewish brothers and sisters, and their Jewish homeland.

This is why I am so committed to the effort to build a Jewish community fully engaged in service, tzedakah and tikkun olam. This is why I hope to see a term of service become a rite of passage in which young Jews live out their deepest values. And this is why I hope to see a commitment across our global community to inspire, empower and celebrate those who serve.

Because, in serving, we not only positively impact communities and individuals in need, we also unite our tradition as Jews with our universal values and realize the full extent of our humanity.

So this year, I challenge you to step up and to announce proudly, “I am here and I am ready to serve.” I challenge you to inspire your family, friends and colleagues to join you by asking them, “Will you serve with me?”

And I challenge you to back up your commitment with action and, to paraphrase another great leader and advocate of service, President John F. Kennedy, to think less about what the world can do for you and more about what you can
do for the world.

Only then will we all be able to say that we have truly answered both Rabbi Tarfon’s imperative and Dr. King’s call to greatness.

(Lynn Schusterman is chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.)

PA, Israeli officials in D.C., but not in talks

Palestinian and Israeli leaders will not meet for negotiations although they will be in Washington this weekend, the U.S. State Department said.

“Right now, I’m not anticipating that we would have Israelis and the Palestinians in the same room at this time,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday.

The United States this week abandoned efforts to persuade Israel into extending a moratorium on settlement building as a means of pulling the Palestinians back into direct talks. Crowley’s remark suggested that the Obama administration for the time being was giving up on direct talks.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will be in Washington this weekend to address the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

At the same event, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton willl outline U.S. plans for the talks going forward. George Mitchell, Clinton’s top envoy to the talks, will be in the region next week.

In a separate interview with Israeli media, Crowley said the U.S. posture opposing settlements remained the same.

“The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements, and we will continue to express that position,” he was quoted by Haaretz as saying.

AIPAC gets ripped from both sides as it navigates Bibi-Obama gaps

Days after AIPAC’s apparent success navigating the churning waters between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations, the pro-Israel lobby is being criticized by Jewish groups on both sides of the political spectrum.

Pro-Israel groups on the right and left have assailed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee because of elements of its agenda that emerged from its annual policy conference this week.

The Zionist Organization of America registered a protest about AIPAC’s backing for Palestinian statehood. Meanwhile, three groups that backed the U.S.-sponsored peace process—Americans for Peace Now, J Street and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom—rallied supporters to help roll back Tuesday afternoon’s Capitol Hill blitz by 7,000 AIPAC delegates, suggesting the organization had failed to fully endorse Obama’s peace moves.

The AIPAC conference suggested a middle road that could reconcile differences between the two young governments over a key issue—whether to press toward Palestinian statehood.

The AIPAC delegates’ wish list included endorsements for two congressional letters that unequivocally support a “viable Palestinian state,” albeit with the usual preconditions about an “absolute” end to Palestinian violence.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to maintain ambiguity over his views on a Palestinian state, but such an endorsement for the concept by AIPAC is unlikely to have come without some sort of nod from Jerusalem: Netanyahu addressed the conference via satellite and sent some of his top advisers.

Having the pro-Israel lobby endorse a Palestinian state now may spare him from having to explicitly endorse the concept himself—and elicit the opprobrium of his coalition’s pro-settler flank—when he meets with President Obama in two weeks.

Good save, Israel-side, but it upset the ZOA—the most prominent American pro-settler group—stateside.

In a statement, the ZOA said it “opposes this move by AIPAC because supporting or promoting a Palestinian Arab state under prevailing conditions is seriously mistaken and because AIPAC is thereby supporting a major policy affecting Israel’s vital interests despite the fact that the Israeli government has not supported such a policy.”

The three groups from the left taking shots across AIPAC’s bow have never had a problem differing with Israeli policy. What was unclear was where they substantively disagreed with AIPAC, at least on the Palestinian front.

Americans for Peace Now encouraged activists to call lawmakers and make the following four points: “I am pro-Israel, and I want you to support the Obama administration’s peace efforts in the Middle East”; “I am pro-Israel, and I want you to support the president’s request for supplemental assistance for the Palestinians”; “I am pro Israel, and I want you to support the president’s effort to open the window for responsible engagement with a Palestinian unity government”; and “I am pro-Israel, and I want you to reject efforts to promote new Iran sanctions legislation, or efforts to impose any artificial deadlines for ending diplomacy with Iran.”

The e-mail blast also stated that AIPAC’s “agenda is often not the same as ours.” Action alerts from Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and J Street to their followers did not explicitly target AIPAC but similarly urged backing for Obama’s peace principles the very week that AIPAC delegates were making their case in Washington.

Yet the congressional letters backed by AIPAC back the first two principles in the Peace Now alert—Obama’s initiative and supplemental assistance.

On the third issue, JTA has learned that AIPAC has signed off quietly on a policy that would involve the United States engaging with a Palestinian national unity government that included individuals approved by Hamas, as long as those individuals explicitly committed to the three principles Hamas abjures: an end to terrorism, recognition of Israel and an agreement to abide by earlier peace agreements. That more or less aligns with the policies outlined in recent week by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On the fourth issue, Iran sanctions, it is true that AIPAC strongly backs the tough sanctions legislation opposed by the three left-wing groups.

An official for one of the three groups acknowledged—and welcomed—AIPAC’s endorsement of the Obama administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives. The official said he now saw the difference as more one of emphasis, arguing that the three groups’ endorsement of support for the Palestinian Authority was much more aggressive.

L.A. brings its clout to AIPAC

David Yahudian endured embarrassment and fear growing up in Teheran. On walks in the market, his father ordered him to tuck the Magen David necklace inside his shirt and — even worse — called him by an alias, Ali, rather than by his overtly Jewish name. Following an Israel-Iran soccer match at the 1974 Asia Games, he saw fans burning Israeli flags in the parking lot.

Little in his native Iran has changed, said Yahudian, who was in Washington, D.C., on Monday. Last summer, the principal of a public high school summoned students to the courtyard for the anti-Israel commemoration known as Jerusalem Day. She taunted the school’s lone Jew to demonstrate animosity toward Israel by dousing a proffered Israeli flag in kerosene and lighting it. Intimidated in public, the boy, Yahudian’s 16-year-old nephew, Jacob, obeyed.

As much to exercise the freedoms he’s enjoyed in the United States for the past 30 years as to support Israel, Yahudian closed his shop in L.A.’s Jewelry District to attend this week’s annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington.

He was hardly alone. California reportedly brought 1,300 attendees, the largest delegation of any state. Southern Californians were noticeable throughout the corridors of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. They came with large synagogue groups, campus organizations, Jewish outreach centers and on their own — although, even then, many in the last group brought along children, grandchildren and friends.

On Sunday, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa delivered the keynote speech at a session where Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) and Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced) also spoke and where Milken Community High School senior Samson Schatz introduced the AIPAC board.

And, perhaps the best tribute of all: On Tuesday, traditionally the morning when attendees lobby their members of Congress, Capitol Hill instead came to the state group, with one forum at the convention center featuring Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, followed by another with Reps. Harman, Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena).

Indeed, a Monday morning session was titled, “Why L.A. Matters: The Intersections of Politics and Lobbying.”

AIPAC spokesman Josh Block called the large, visible L.A. contingent “a real testament to the strength and diversity of the pro-Israel community — to not only have so many activists from Southern California, but also to have Mayor Villaraigosa give such a stirring address.”

Attendees offered several explanations for the strong Los Angeles presence. Some felt a need to become activists against the threat of an imminently nuclear-capable Iran. Others pointed to the condemnation of the Israel Defense Forces’ war last winter to halt Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza.

Even more lauded the recruitment efforts undertaken by rabbis representing a wide range of L.A. synagogues to bring people here. They spoke, too, of the role of synagogues’ Israel committees and of individual congregants in encouraging friends and relatives to attend. Some mentioned a desire to gauge the possible effect on the America-Israel relationship of the recent ascensions to power of President Barack Obama and of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

All said that they’d come to learn, in-depth, about the array of Israel-related geo-political issues both in conference sessions and in informal discussions with fellow delegates.

Several participants said that coming to Washington helped equip them with the information and strategy needed to discuss the issues effectively back home. Schatz said he learned the importance of sticking with a uniform, pro-Israel message to jar supporters he knows who are apathetic and to respond to detractors.

For example, he said, “there should be no discussion” about the legitimacy of Iran’s gaining a nuclear capability. For another: using what he called the “retail engagement” method of calmly debating topics one-on-one rather than responding publicly to provocative protestors. Schatz said he learned that method here and at two previous AIPAC seminars he’s attended in Washington over the past year.

No one mentioned the recession as a factor in spurring their own participation or in keeping potential delegates away.

“L.A. is such a large Jewish community that we should be bringing such a large delegation,” Schatz said. “We have schools and leaders who are telling us to go, and we have the love for Israel. There’s a great number of involved people. The [Israeli] consul general is very involved.”

Large? How about the approximately 200 members of Sinai Temple, more than 100 each from Valley Beth Shalom and Stephen S. Wise Temple, and 40 each from Temple Beth Am and Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills, which Yahudian attends?

The Jewish outreach group Aish L.A. brought 40 college students and young professionals here, the third straight year it has arranged a group.
Rabbi David Sorani, director of the graduate student division, said that Aish draws young people to Judaism by appealing to their interests and activities.

“When they get back from AIPAC, we try to get them involved in the Jewish community and Israel,” Sorani explained before an Aish L.A. side meeting here Monday.

“It’s been very successful because some students have gone to Israel rallies, gotten involved in other organizations and felt more proud to be associated with Israel. Students will feel that they can stand up to the Palestinians and wear an Israeli T-shirt…. When you have 7,000 people here, it makes you feel supported by the community at large.”

Yoni Dror, an 11th-grader at Mesivta Birkat Yitzchak, mentioned his rabbi’s custom, following Shacharit services, of informing students of overnight news from Israel, even updating the pre-election poll numbers.

Yoni believes he is the first from his school to attend the AIPAC conference. His father Brian, an accountant in the Fairfax District, also an AIPAC first-timer, said that he came, too, because an AIPAC speaker at Birkat Yitzchak had persuaded Yoni to travel to Washington.

No single issue on the pro-Israel agenda motivates Brian now: not the Iranian threat, terrorism or Hamas’ role in Palestinian politics. “I don’t think these issues are unique to Israel,” he said. “Every one of the issues facing Israel’s security is an issue facing, or that will face, the United States. I challenge anyone who feels that Iran or terrorism is a uniquely Israel problem to learn the facts and learn the issues.” 

Asked what he came to learn this week, Brian said, “It’s the political change in both countries — trying to get a handle on what we can do to help.” He added, “I feel that our time, effort and money are my contribution to ensuring Israel’s safety. Thank God the state exists [and] has a good economy; the only thing left is to ensure its security.”

Bringing young Angelenos to the AIPAC conference is an important way for Adam Milstein to support both Israel and Judaism. The Encino commercial real estate developer and his wife, Gila, natives of Haifa, assumed the cost of bringing 150 people here. That includes the Aish L.A. contingent along with groups from StandWithUs, Hillel, AIPAC’s regional group and the Jewish Awareness Movement.
The investment “is a no-brainer,” he said.

“I am a charitable person. My focus is the students. Now is the time to get them educated and involved. The kids are so energetic. They want to be active; they want to create…. I want them to bring their parents. [Parents] listen to the kids. Through the kids, we can reach more people,” Milstein said.

Milstein also has partnered with AIPAC to reach out to non-Jewish college student leaders. Each year since 2006, the couple has sent 50 such students on AIPAC’s Allied Campus Mission to Israel. “We’re getting excellent results from our investment,” he said. “As a businessman, every investment we make, we want to see the highest return. Every dollar we spend, we get huge results.”

The Milsteins’ involvement with AIPAC began modestly. They came to the conference five years ago because they wanted to spur college activism on Israel by their two elder daughters, Wendy and Leerone. Each girl brought a friend. At the 2004 conference’s banquet, Leerone sat next to another Los Angeles participant. The two hit it off. They were married in 2006.

Yahudian, the jeweler, also has his teenage daughter, Hannah, in mind for AIPAC. He was so impressed by his initial experience here that he registered at a kiosk for next year’s conference. He plans to bring his wife and daughter, too, and will raise the idea upon his return to Los Angeles.

Yahudian also is working on some Christian clients in Mississippi whom he knows from trade shows in New Orleans. Already, he said, a preacher there said that he hopes to bring 40 congregants on their first trip to Israel.

“I have to go home and promote [the conference] to family and friends, to see how many I can bring here,” he said. “As I tell my friends: If you love Israel, this [event] is the perfect place to be.”

Hillel Kuttler is a freelance writer in Baltimore. He can be reached at {encode=”” title=””}.

Cherry Blossoms Inspire Capital Walk

As the Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off on March 26, the spring weather descending on Washington, D.C., makes it great for walking among the cherry-inspired events throughout the nation’s capital. And one neighborhood ripe for a stroll during a D.C. weekend getaway is prestigious Georgetown.

Shady tree-lined streets showcase a treasure trove of historic homes that look much the same as they did when George Washington and Thomas Jefferson walked them. Georgetown is a charming, hip mix of Old South and New North. It’s the getaway of choice for savvy tourists and D.C. locals who want to do more than a visit to the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, or a walk along the National Mall to see the Washington Monument or the Capitol Building.

Established in 1751 in honor of King George II, Georgetown was once part of Maryland until it was annexed to Washington, D.C., in 1871. Dotted with Queen Anne “curb-up” row houses, elegant mansions and Federal townhouses, the neighborhood is a quiet residential community that is home to those making history today. Notables include New York Sen. Hillary Clinton (Whitehaven Street), Henry Kissinger (3026 P St.), Watergate reporter Bob Woodward (3027 Q St.) and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (3322 O St.).

Georgetown is bordered by Rock Creek Park on the east to Georgetown University on the west, and from R Street in the north to the Potomac River Edge in the south, Georgetown is a short walk from D.C.’s “other” trendy neighborhood, Dupont Circle.

Start your stroll by the waterway that defined its prosperity in the early 1800s. Barges pulled by mules floated tons of cargo through the calm and shallow Chesapeake and Ohio Canal until floods sent it into receivership in 1924. Its adjacent towpath is popular with cyclists, joggers, birdwatchers, skateboarders and anyone else who likes to wander through one of the only places you can walk without traffic. In less than 15 minutes on foot, the hustle of the city morphs into the serenity of the countryside. Once you pass under the 34th Street Bridge, vine-covered trees and wildflowers replace the flowerbeds and the bricks. If you’re lucky, you may share the path with wood ducks, beavers, foxes and turtles. It’s particularly busy when the sun sets at 5 p.m.

The oldest-standing building in Washington, D.C., is the Old Stone House (3051 M. St.) that sits incongruously in the middle of the main shopping drag. Built from locally quarried blue granite as a one-room dwelling in 1765, this pre-Revolutionary house has had a few facelifts over the years, including the addition of a second and third floor. Its handsome garden and majestic weeping willows is a patch of tranquility on an otherwise busy street, and an ideal spot to take a load off.

Further down M Street, at Wisconsin, is the gold-domed Riggs National Bank, which dates back to an era when only farmers and mechanics were allowed to use its services. North on Wisconsin to Martins Pub you’ll find the local version of the bar from “Cheers.” Every president from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush has eaten there since it opened 70 years ago. Although discreet about his famous customers, fourth-generation owner Billy Martin may dish a secret or two if you ask nicely.

The Tudor Place House at 1644 31st St. was purchased with an $8,000 legacy from President Washington, and six generations of Martha Washington’s descendants have lived in this manorial mansion since 1805. Perched on an entire city block and overlooking the former wilds of Virginia across the Potomac River, the long-fronted house with its striking white portico and four tall pillars is one of the notable survivals of Georgetown architecture. A sizeable collection of Washington relics remains and trees planted more than 100 years ago still stand on the sloping south lawn.

Also significant but less grandiose is the three-story chocolate-colored stucco house at 1527 35th St. It was home to Dr. Alexander Graham Bell and is believed to be where he contemplated the idea of the telephone. If the walls could talk at the Dumbarton House (2715 Q St.), it would be about that day in 1814 when Dolly Madison took refuge in one of its rooms as the British burned the White House. During World War II, the Red Cross moved in and today it’s a museum owned by the National Society of Colonial Dames.

The first public market in the area stands uptown at 32nd and M streets. Built for butchers, fishmongers and dairy farmers in 1795, the current tenant is quite thematically correct. The gourmet food store, Dean and Deluca, has taken over continuing Georgetown’s love affair with the freshest and the finest.

The Four Seasons Hotel at Pennsylvania and M streets is where people watching is at its finest. Kings, queens, dignitaries, politicos and movie stars pay big bucks for the hotels unrivalled discretion, but if you sit long enough in the lobby there’s a good chance you’ll see a famous face or two.

And then there are those cherry blossoms. If the weather forecasters are right, they should be in bloom by March 26, with celebrations lasting until April 10. This year marks the 93rd celebration of the original gift of the 3,000 Yoshino cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to the people of Washington, D.C.

Highlights include the Cherry Blossom Opening Ceremony (March 26 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel), Smithsonian Kite Festival (April 2, 10 a.m.-4 p.m), Lantern Lighting Festival (April 3. 2:30 p.m. at the Tidal Basin Viewing Area), Cherry Blossom Parade (April 9, 10 a.m. Constitution Avenue from Seventh to 17th Street), Sakura Matsuri-Japanese Street Festival (April 9, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue).

There’s also plenty to do for sports enthusiasts, including Bike the Blossoms tours, Blossoms Secrets Walking Tour, Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Race (April 3), Cherry Blossom Festival Rugby Tournament (April 9 -10) and the George Washington Invitational Crew Classic (April 9).

For more information, visit

Jewish D.C

Kosher Restaurants


• Ben Yehuda Pizza.1370 B Lamberton Drive, Silver Spring, Md. (301) 681-8900.


• Carolyn Cafe at The Holocaust Museum, 100 Raul Wallenberg Plaza SW, Washington, D.C. (202) 488-6151.


• Center City Cafe. 1529 16th St. NW, Washington, D.C. (202) 387-3246.


• Max’s Kosher Café and Market Place, 2319 University Blvd. W., Silver Spring, Md, (301) 949-6297.


• Nuthouse.11419 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, Md. (301) 942-5900


• Pita Plus. 4425-4427 Lehigh Road, College Park, Md. (301) 864-5150.


• Red Heifer Restaurant. 4844 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, Md, (301) 951-5115.


• Royal Dragon Glatt Kosher Restaurant. 4840 Boiling Brook Parkway, Rockville, Md. (301) 468-1922.


•Â Stacks Delicatessen, 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. (202) 628-9700.

Hotels With Kosher Options

(The following hotels offer prepared meals for guests through the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington-Vaad.)

Capital Hilton Hotel

16th and K St. NW
Washington, D.C.
(202) 393-1000

Doubletree Hotel

1750 Rockville Pike
Rockville, Md.
(301) 468-1100

Grand Hyatt Hotel

1000 H St. NW
Washington, D.C.
(202) 582-1234

Holiday Inn Bethesda

8120 Wisconsin Ave.
Bethesda, Md.
(301) 652-2000

Hyatt Dulles

2300 Dulles Corner Blvd.
Herndon, Va.
(703) 834-1234

Park Hyatt Hotel

1201 24th St. NW
Washington, D.C.
(202) 789-1234

Washington Hilton Hotel

1919 Connecticut Ave.
Washington, D.C.
(202) 483-3000