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.

Paul Ryan, out of the running for president, asks to be seen as foreign policy maven


Paul Ryan wants you to know he’s not running for president, he’s no fan of the Obama doctrine and he’s not a neoconservative.

What the Wisconsin congressman wants to be, he suggested at an April 14 breakfast in his Capitol Hill offices with foreign policy reporters, is the leader of the Republican Party, especially when it comes to corralling seemingly incompatible foreign policy visions that have in this wild election year threatened to rip his party to shreds.

Ryan expounded on his vision a week after his first visit to the Middle East as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. There he met with leaders of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Ryan sounded familiar notes on Israel, saying the United States must frustrate any Palestinian attempt to obtain statehood through the United Nations. He backs extending and expanding the defense assistance agreement with Israel, but said that was a matter right now for negotiations between the Obama administration and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. He has tasked top members of Congress with smoothing defense assistance to Israel and other allies, calling the process right now “sclerotic.”

The main concerns of the leaders he met were Iran’s post-nuclear deal behavior and the threat to the region posed by the Syrian civil war.

“Everybody talks about the Iran deal, of course, there’s a lot of concern about backsliding on sanctions,” he said. He was referring to reports that the Obama administration planned to make it easier for Iran to trade in dollars. Obama administration officials have denied the reports.

He also said there were concerns about how Iran would use the money to expand its influence in the region.

“Most people are concerned about the cash they’re going to get perhaps in dollar-denominated forms and how that will fund their ambitions in a way that will come at the expense of our allies in the region,” he said.

His main theme, however, was that America is waning in power and influence.

“Who else is going to lead the world?” Ryan asked.

His principle target was President Barack Obama, but he took aim at the Republican presidential front-runner, Donald Trump,  and implicitly criticized Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is gaining on Trump. He also rejected the neoconservative doctrines that guided the first term of President George W. Bush.

Ryan has emphatically ruled out being drafted to be the Republican candidate in November at his divided party’s nominating convention. But in the interview, the speaker made clear that he wants to fill a vacuum created by the primaries season, which likely will see no clear winner emerge at the Cleveland convention in July.

He struck a middle ground between the sharp isolationism emerging from the Cruz and Trump campaigns and the robust interventionism of the Bush administration.

“I’m not a neocon,” Ryan said, unprompted. “Now neocon is simply seen as AEI,” the American Enterprise Institute, a notably dismissive reference to the think tank that long embodied and defended Bush administration policies.

Those remarks were evidence that the notion that the Bush’s Iraq War was misbegotten, until last year confined to the margins of the party associated with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and his congressman father, Ron, is now ensconced in the establishment.

“I believe we need to be consistent in expressing our values, we always need to be consistent so there’s no ambiguity about who we are, but we have to be realistic about how far those values can be pushed,” Ryan said. “The No. 1 primary objective is national security.”

That meant sustaining alliances with strongmen like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi while seeking to influence democratization through the projection of “soft power,” like trade agreements and promoting democracy projects, a posture that Cruz has rejected.

Ryan faulted Obama for what he said was a reduction of the U.S. defense profile overseas.

“The U.S. has an important role to play in help keeping the global commons safe,” he said.

Ryan said his role as chairman of the Budget Committee had precluded him from joining committees that dealt with foreign policy that he otherwise would have enjoyed, including Intelligence and Foreign Affairs.

“One of the most exciting parts of this new job I wasn’t planning on taking was being involved in foreign policy,” said Ryan, who was cajoled last year into the speakership after Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, stepped down, frustrated at trying to keep the party’s conservative wing from shutting down the government.

Ryan also made it clear that he had presented himself to Middle East leaders as an alternative to the vacuum he posited that was being left by the Obama administration and to Trump’s disdain for traditional alliances, including with NATO.

“Our allies are concerned that America is experiencing lethargy, fatigue,” he said. “My goal was to reassure them how important our strategic alliances are.”

He also sounded a warning suggesting that defense assistance to allies could be susceptible to budget restrictions. Ryan is seeking rollbacks on entitlement funding as a means, in part, of maintaining a robust U.S. defense profile.

“Our budget is constrained because we’re not dealing with mandatory spending,” he said. “We have shrinking space for discretionary spending.”

Regarding Syria, Ryan said Obama’s extensive interview in this month’s Atlantic Monthly with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg set off alarm bells. The speaker said leaders recited passages of the piece back to him verbatim.

Without providing details, Obama in the piece defends a policy that he has defined as “don’t do stupid stuff,” particularly regarding his decision in 2013 not to strike Syria for its use of chemical weapons, despite having pledged to do so.

“Our allies needed a reassurance that we value these friendships and these partnerships,” Ryan said.

Ryan said Trump’s broadsides against Muslims also concerned foreign leaders, including in Israel, and he spoke out at the time to tamp down the fires the remarks were stoking in the Muslim world.

“Everybody pays attention to our politics,” he said. “When he proposed the Muslim immigration ban, that really got under my skin.”

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

Bernie Sanders wins Alaska, Washington caucuses


Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders easily won nominating contests in Alaska and Washington on Saturday, chipping away at front-runner Hillary Clinton's commanding lead in the race to pick the party's candidate for the White House.

Sanders was aiming for a sweep of three Western states – Hawaii also was holding a contest – that would generate more momentum in his bid to overtake Clinton and help stave off calls from Democratic leaders that he should wrap up his bid in the name of party unity.

“We are making significant inroads in Secretary Clinton's lead and … we have a path to victory,” Sanders told cheering, chanting supporters in Madison, Wisconsin. “It is hard for anybody to deny that our campaign has the momentum.”

Clinton, the former secretary of state, has increasingly turned her attention toward a potential Nov. 8 general election showdown against Republican front-runner Donald Trump, claiming she is on the path to wrapping up the nomination.

Heading into Saturday's voting, she led Sanders by about 300 pledged delegates in the race for the 2,382 delegates needed to be nominated at the July convention. Adding in the support of superdelegates – party leaders who are free to back any candidate – she has 1,690 delegates to 946 for Sanders.

Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, needs to win up to two-thirds of the remaining delegates to catch Clinton, who will keep piling up delegates even when she loses under a Democratic Party system that awards them proportionally in all states.

“These wins will help him raise more funds for the next few weeks but I don't think it changes the overall equation,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, a Clinton supporter. “Hillary Clinton has too big a lead. It's all over but the shouting.”

But Sanders has repeatedly said he is staying in the race until the convention, pointing to big crowds at his rallies and high voter turnout among young and first-time voters as proof of his viability. After raising $140 million, he has the money to fight on as long as he wants.

Sanders has energized the party's liberal base and young voters with his calls to rein in Wall Street and fight income inequality, a message that played well in liberal Washington and the other Western states. Sanders won in Utah and Idaho earlier this week.

All three contests on Saturday were caucuses, a format that has favored Sanders because it requires more commitment from voters, and were in states with fewer of the black and Hispanic voters who have helped fuel Clinton's lead.

“He was just more aligned with my values. I am young and I never knew there could be someone like him in politics,” said Samantha Burton of Seattle, who said Sanders was the first candidate who had inspired her to make a donation.

Jocelyn Alt, a birthing assistant at a Seattle hospital, said she backed Clinton because she believed the times called for someone who could get things done.

“She knows how to make things happen,” she said. “I think Hillary is more likely to win against a Republican.”

The Democratic race now moves to contests in Wisconsin on April 5 and in New York on April 19. There were no contests on Saturday in the Republican race featuring Trump and rivals U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

On Saturday, the New York Times published a lengthy foreign policy-focused interview with Trump. The New York billionaire told the newspaper he might stop oil purchases from Saudi Arabia unless they provide troops to fight the Islamic State.

Trump also told the Times he was willing to rethink traditional U.S. alliances should he become president.

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.

Barry Freundel’s former DC synagogue trying to move past mikvah trauma


Though it’s been more than a year since Rabbi Barry Freundel was hauled away in handcuffs for installing secret cameras at his synagogue’s mikvah, his crime still casts a shadow over his longtime Orthodox congregation, Kesher Israel.

Three civil lawsuits are pending against Kesher by women who presumably used the ritual bath adjacent to his Washington synagogue and were filmed by the rabbi while undressing (the women are identified as Jane Does in the lawsuits). The congregation, which is struggling financially, has yet to begin a search for Freundel’s permanent replacement. And many congregants are still grappling with a range of complicated feelings related to the betrayal by their rabbinic leader.

“It’s like the person you put on a pedestal urinated on you,” said one longtime congregant who asked not to be named. “I don’t think the effects are done. These effects go through the generations.”

Despite Kesher’s challenges, many community members and leaders say the congregation turned a corner with Freundel’s sentencing in May to 6 1/2 years in prison – 45 days for each of the 52 voyeurism counts.

“There was a tremendous sense of dread before the sentencing – What if he only gets a year? What if he doesn’t get anything?” recalled Elanit Jakabovics, Kesher’s president.

“It seemed like a fair sentencing,” she said. “People were ready to move on, and that helped.”

A few weeks later, the synagogue hired Avidan Milevsky, a clinical psychologist from Baltimore who is also an ordained rabbi, to be its interim, part-time clergyman. He still lives in Baltimore but spends every other Shabbat in Washington and comes twice during the week.

“I was warned by so many people, even on my [trial] weekend there: Don’t do this. It’s so complicated. In so many different areas there were difficulties and pain,” Milevsky told JTA. “But I realized they needed someone really unique who can infuse both the background in rabbinics and in mental health. Sometimes God sends us messages. In some ways it was a bit of a calling. My experiences really coalesced to be able to assist the community.”

Milevsky, who started at Kesher in late July, would not offer any details about what kinds of conversations he has had with congregants still struggling with Freundel’s betrayal. But he said his main strategy has been to listen, give them what they need and try to disentangle Orthodox Judaism from the troubled character of Freundel.

“Highlighting and conveying the beauty of Torah Judaism and completely detaching that from the image of what this former leader engaged in – that’s really a big part of the work,” Milevsky said. “It’s not a specific moment that’s going to create that. It’s not one event or sermon or email. It’s a long, long process. That’s how trauma works.”

Congregant David Barak said people have warmed to Milevsky, who is “very different in tone and substance” from Freundel.

Even before the voyeurism was discovered, Freundel had been a divisive figure. He could be gruff, feuded with other rabbis and was more focused on national issues than his own congregation, critics in the congregation have said.

“People were not happy with him,” Jakabovics said bluntly, noting his vocal opposition to a nearby “partnership minyan,” Rosh Pina, in which women lead some prayers and which drew some Kesher congregants. “That partnership minyan was a splinter from Kesher. He took a very hard line against it, and that caused issues. It pitted friends against friends.”

After Freundel’s arrest, there were women who stopped going to the mikvah, Jakabovics said, and the congregation lost a few members.

But because Kesher regularly experiences extremely high turnover – owing to the area’s high proportion of transient students and young people and the expense of nearby housing – Jakabovics said it’s not clear how many, if any, quit out of principle. (There is no other Orthodox synagogue within walking distance.)

“People experienced a whole host of emotions and went through different crises, but I think it was more a crisis between them and the office of the rabbi, not necessarily about shul,” Jakabovics said. “A lot of people come to shul for the social-communal aspect of it. That was a very big thing that helped us through the last year.”

Alyza Lewin, a trustee of the mikvah and a Kesher congregant, said mikvah attendance has held steady at 30-40 women per month.

Lisette Garcia, a Washington attorney who has been a regular at Kesher since late 2013, said the greatest sign of recovery was a congregational baby boom of five to seven newborns in the space of about two weeks nine months after the Freundel guilty plea in February.

“I look at it as a reward for people who even in the face of this kept ‘taharat hamishpacha,'” Garcia said, referring to mikvah observance. Under the Jewish laws of taharat hamishpacha (Hebrew for “family purity”), married couples abstain from sex during the wife’s period of menstruation and until her immersion in the mikvah.

Overall, congregational membership is up slightly from last year, to 250 from 225, and about 25 percent of current regular synagogue-goers are fresh faces who came after Freundel left, according to Jakabovics. Over the last year, the congregation has mended fences with other Washington institutions with which Freundel feuded, several congregants noted, including the Rosh Pina partnership minyan, the local Chabad, the egalitarian DC Minyan and the “Open Orthodox” Ohev Sholom-National Synagogue seven miles away.

On a visit to Kesher for a Shabbat in late December, the sanctuary pews were filled with young people, and there were two services each on Saturday morning and Friday night. The only hints of the scandal were the absence of Freundel’s photograph from the congregation’s wall of rabbis and an empty chair on the pulpit. With Milevsky off that Shabbat, a congregant delivered the sermon. Kesher calls it the People’s Pulpit.

Kesher isn’t quite ready to hire a new permanent rabbi. Over the next six months, the congregation first must figure out “what we’re looking for, who we are and what we stand for,” Jakabovics said. The plan is to launch a search in the summer and find someone to start by the summer of 2017. (One condition of Milevsky’s contract is that he is ineligible for the permanent position.)

Aside from the emotional baggage, Kesher has a few other challenges. The congregation doesn’t have much cash or moneyed donors, and hundreds of thousands of dollars are needed to renovate the rabbinic residence, which Freundel and his family occupied for 25 years and left in a state of disarray. After Freundel finally vacated the house, it took five or six truckloads to cart out all the junk.

And with the three lawsuits still hovering over the congregation, Kesher can’t rule out the possibility of having to pay a big legal settlement. The National Capital Mikvah, which is also named in the lawsuits, is a separate legal entity that is controlled by its own board of directors.

A few weeks ago, the mikvah held a celebration to mark its 10-year anniversary. Lewin, the mikvah trustee, spoke at the event but didn’t mention the elephant in the room. She talked instead about how the mitzvah of mikvah is an opportunity to put one’s busy life on hold and remember the blessing of family.

The way the Kesher community has come together as a family in the wake of the Freundel event has been a blessing, too, Lewin said.

“The community shared a difficult experience and then emotionally bonded over it,” she said. “Our mikvah, in ways we never could have anticipated, has brought our community much closer together as a family.”

U.S. ‘shocked’ at Hungarian plans to honor WW2 anti-Semite


A U.S. envoy said on Sunday Washington was shocked by plans to erect a statue of Balint Homan, who contributed to murderous anti-Semitism in Hungary in the 1930s and 40s.

“From the U.S. government perspective we feel very strongly that history and the damage that this man did to Hungarian citizens who happened to be Jewish cannot be ignored, and to put up that statue seems incomprehensible,” Ira Forman, special envoy against anti-Semitism, told Reuters.

Hungary's Jewish community has called on the right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party to block the statue.

The private Balint Homan Foundation in Szekesfehervar, west of Budapest, wants to honor a man who was an eminent historian and minister of religion and education before and during World War Two.

Homan was a proponent of anti-Jewish laws and a Nazi supporter to the end of the war. After it he was jailed and died in prison in 1951.

The central European nation still grapples with its past, including its active role in deporting half a million Jews.

Reuters could not reach the foundation for comment.

Forman has traveled to Hungary to discuss Homan's wartime role at a conference next week. On Sunday he attended a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the small square in Szekesfehervar where the statue could stand.

“We think its important to know what this man did to Hungarian citizens in the 1930s and 40s, taking away their citizenship rights and then arguing for them to be deported, which eventually meant going to Auschwitz,” Forman said. 

“Honoring a man like that – we're shocked by it. It's not our decision but we're here to say we are shocked by it and we think the world should know about who this person (was) and that people are considering putting a statue up.”

Forman was joined in lighting the eight Hanukkah candles by top Israeli and Canadian diplomats in Hungary, as well as leaders of the Hungarian Jewish community.

“Tonight we celebrate the last candle of Hanukkah,” Israeli Ambassador Ilan Mor said.

“Let us hope that the light of the candle we will chase away darkness, that the light of these candles will show the way to the people of Szekesfehervar, the leaders of the city, to the right decision, not to erect this statue.”

Szekesfehervar's Mayor Andras Cser-Palkovics, a Fidesz member, on Friday appeared to retreat from his earlier support for the statue, saying external pressure was so high that the foundation behind the project should “reconsider” its plans.

“If the Balint Homan Foundation decides to erect the planned statue anyway – which it is entitled to in a democracy – then the City Council of Szekesfehervar asks them to repay funds it has received from the city and the state,” he added.

Several government members have said they disagree with the statue and considered it ill-conceived.

Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi, whose predecessor granted 15 million forints ($52,000) towards the statue, said the ministry faced a “technical necessity” to execute an earlier decision. He did not elaborate.

Islamic State threatens attack on Washington, other countries


Islamic State warned in a new video on Monday that countries taking part in air strikes against Syria would suffer the same fate as France, and threatened to attack in Washington.

The video, which appeared on a website used by Islamic State to post its messages, begins with news footage of the aftermath of Friday's Paris shootings in which at least 129 people were killed.

The message to countries involved in what it called the “crusader campaign” was delivered by a man dressed in fatigues and a turban, and identified in subtitles as Al Ghareeb the Algerian.

“We say to the states that take part in the crusader campaign that, by God, you will have a day, God willing, like France's and by God, as we struck France in the center of its abode in Paris, then we swear that we will strike America at its center in Washington,” the man said.

It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the video, which purports to be the work of Islamic State fighters in the Iraqi province of Salahuddine, north of Baghdad. 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security would not comment on the video but said it has not received information indicating a potential attack.

“While we take all threats seriously, we do not have specific credible information of an attack on the U.S. homeland,” a DHS official said on condition of anonymity. 

The French government has called the Paris attacks an act of war and said it would not end its air strikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. 

French fighter jets launched their biggest raids in Syria to date on Sunday, targeting the Islamic State's stronghold in the city of Raqqa, in coordination with U.S. forces.

Police raided homes of suspected Islamist militants across France overnight following the Paris attacks.

“Al Ghareeb the Algerian” also warned Europe in the video that more attacks were coming.

“I say to the European countries that we are coming, coming with booby traps and explosives, coming with explosive belts and (gun) silencers and you will be unable to stop us because today we are much stronger than before,” he said. 

Apparently referring to international talks to end the Syrian war, another man identified in the video as Al Karrar the Iraqi tells French President Francois Hollande “we have decided to negotiate with you in the trenches and not in the hotels.”

NYT ad highlights Rabin’s quest for peace


The S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, launched a new campaign in support of the two-state solution with an ad in The New York Times and other targeted outlets. 

The campaign, “Israel and the Palestinians: One State or Two?,” recalls former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s legacy in military heroism and in fighting for lasting peace and security for Israel and the Jewish people. The ad highlights comments made by Rabin to the Knesset as he introduced the Israeli- Palestinian Interim Agreement. “We chose a Jewish state because we are convinced that a binational state with millions of Palestinian Arabs will not be able to fulfill the Jewish role of the State of Israel, which is the state of the Jews,” Rabin stressed.

The launch coincided with the November 4 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination. 

“Israelis, Palestinians, and the international community are all in desperate need of a two-state solution. We know that we can only reach a lasting deal through international and regional cooperation, as well as direct negotiations,” S. Daniel Abraham, chairperson of the Center, said in a statement. “It is because of our love for Israel that we must understand the grave demographic threat to the Jewish, democratic state of Israel and realize that we have a choice to make — one state or two? The time to act is now.”

Former Congressman Robert Wexler, who serves as president of the Center, added: “Here is the inescapable truth – the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state is not a gift to the Palestinians. Rather, a two-state outcome is the only way to ensure a Jewish, democratic and secure state of Israel.”

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that while Rabin is gone, “his legacy endures as a challenge and an inspiration to us all. Recent events and violence in the region underscore the urgency of advancing Rabin’s vision: a two-state solution that provides the security for Israelis and Palestinians to live their lives in peace, dignity and prosperity.”

“Today, we honor the memory of a great prime minister, a brave man, a valiant soldier, and a wise leader who understood what was necessary for two peoples to live as neighbors. In his memory, let us recommit to use our words and our actions to advance the cause of peace,” he added.

Going to bat for every Jew


Last week, I traveled to Washington DC to join with a couple thousand pro-Israel activists to voice our deep concerns about the nuclear agreement with Iran. A few dozen of us met with our local Congressman Ted Lieu and were excited to hear that our calls and letters made a difference as he announced that he would “vote his conscience” and oppose the deal. After the meeting, I ran over to the big lawn in front of the Russell building for a rabbi’s rally during which we voiced our protest and prayed to Gd to protect the US and Israel. As our rally was concluding, a group of Jews suddenly appeared, holding big signs and chanting anti Israel slogans. These were the extreme Jews of the neturei Karta who are opposed to the creation of the State of Israel and see it as an obstacle to the Divine redemption. When we saw them coming towards us—we were taken aback but our response was that we spontaneously burst out into the singing of Hatikvah, and then Am Yisrael chai, Am Yisrael Chai!

This personal experience reminded me of the account in the book “Prime Ministers” of PM Menachem Begin’s meeting with his good friend Rabbi Alexander Schindler, the head of the conference of American rabbis. It was 1980, in NYC, soon after Israel's peace treaty with Egypt, and Schindler was interviewing Begin for a documentary about Begin's life and times.

As they were about to begin, noise outside caught their attention. Down below on Park Avenue, guess who it was, it was the Jews of the neturei karta who had gathered for a demonstration against Begin and the Israeli govt. Some of them may have been the parents or even the same people who were protesting last week in DC. There in NY 1980, they were protesting the fact that the government had allowed an archeological dig in Jerusalem. Human bones has allegedly been uncovered at the site which rendered the ground hallow. When Begin was told what the commotion was about, his response was “nu nu, thank Gd America is a free country where Jews can demonstrate without fear.”

Schindler then began the interview by asking him about his early trials as a commander of the Irgun underground, his frustrations and aspirations as a politician, and then asked him the most personal, difficult question about the effect the shoah had on Begin as a man and as a Jew. As Begin began to explain the meaning of kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of the Almighty even in the horror of the H-caust, the sound system from the demonstration was suddenly turned up full blast. A speaker was heard cursing Begin and calling upon the UN to dismantle the Jewish state. Begin was unfazed and continued talking about his credo of ani maamim and why he remained a believing Jew. But then the noise below became even louder. The one voice became a chorus. The Jews below were yelling in unison, in chilling terms, Begin, you’re a Nazi. Begin, yimach shimcha, Begin yemach shimcha, Begin, may your name be wiped out which is the jarring expression reserved for our worst enemies.

Begin paused and then he said in a whisper staring straight into the camera, “after the Holocaust, there is no command more supreme than that a jew should never abuse another Jew, should never lift a finger against another Jew, should never delegitimize another Jew, rather should care for every other jew in the spirit of veahavta lreaccha kamocha–to love his neighbor as himself.”

Hayom Harat Olam- Today RH is the conception of the world. Today, we're at a juncture where we need to hear that lesson of Menachem Begin and reconceive our relationship with the greater Jewish world.  The question we have to ask ourselves is How much do we care about other Jews? Do we sufficiently respect and love and include other Jews OR do we delegitimize, look down upon or ignore our fellow Jew?

My friends, we're living at a time when there are more Jews outside our walls then inside our walls. We're excited to see one another today and the seats are full but how many Jews, perhaps even members of our family, are not in shul even today on RH.

There has been much discussion recently about the Nones. I’m not referring to Christian nuns, but rather (spell out) NONEs who have no religious affiliation. In the late 50's–only 3% of Jews described themselves as Jewish but having no religious affiliation at all. In 2009–we shot up to 17% without any religious affiliation. For the ages of 20's and 30's–30-40% describe themselves as none of the above. Since 2000 through 2014, there is an intermarriage rate of 60%. In 2014, only 26% of American Jews say that religion is very important in their lives.

Now I understand that I’m speaking to a diverse audience here but each of you knows Jews more connected and knows Jews less connected, less observant or completely unaffiliated. Actually, I would prefer not to call them unaffiliated but uninspired. Because the word unaffiliated–means it's their problem. Uninspired–that means it’s our problem. If they're uninspired, it means that the Torah Jew has failed to meaningfully engage the broad spectrum of American Jewry. It means that we in our shuls have not worked hard enough or thought creatively enough to make our sanctuaries welcoming and inviting. It means that we too often shrug with disinterest. But we have to care, because what happens to Jews across America matters to us because we are connected to them. We are part of one global body. We are one people.

The Talmud Shabbat (89b) relates that latid lavo, in the future, Gd is going to come to Avraham and charge that your children, your fellow Jews have sinned. Avraham responds “yimachu al kedushat shimcha” wipe them out and punish them. Gd then goes to Yaakov and says “Yaakov, your children, the Jews have sinned.” Yaakov responds the same way—“wipe them out, rub them out, they deserve to be punished.” Gd says “ok, I’m 0 for 2, let me go to Yitzchak.” Gd says Yitzchak, your children have sinned. Yitzchak responds—“they’re only my children and not your children?!?! Gd you’ve described them in the Torah as your children (banim atem lashem elokechem). Moreover, how much have they really sinned? The average lifespan is 70 years. The first 20 years, any sins committed are not punishable. That brings us down to 50. Half of that time is during the night when people go to sleep (and can’t sin)—which means we’re down to 25 years. Half of the daytime hours are spent eating, drinking and bathing, which means people are not sinning then (assuming they’re eating kosher!) so we’re down to 12 and a half years. Gd, let’s go 50/50 on those 12.5 years. And if you’re not willing to cover that half, I was willing to give my life (during the akeidah, as we read today) and I’m willing to give my life and legacy to save the Jews.” Amazing passage. Yitzchak is going toe-to-toe with Gd! Yitzchak says I'm going to fight for my fellow Jews. I'm not going to let them slip away from Jewish destiny. Jewish Lives Matter. I'm not going to let this happen!

How did Yitzchak learn that you can negotiate with Gd? He learned it from his father Avraham who fought for the people of Sedom, if there are 50 righteous, 40 righteous, 10 righteous. But Avraham was fighting for the people as a group. He was playing a numbers game in Sedom. Yitzchak learns from his father but has a very different approach. Yitzhak is not interested in statistics. He's not interested in a numbers game. Y is interested in the life of the yachid–each individual Jew. Once he’s talking about individuals, then he negotiates the numbers down from 70 to 50 to 12.5. But for Yitzchak, the person, the jew, each and every Jew is irreducibly important.

What’s going on in Yitzchak’s mind? Yitzchak is perhaps thinking about the trauma of the akeidah, wondering in his mind–Abba, why didn't you do for me what you did for the strangers? Why didn't you protest when Gd asked you to put me on the mizbeach–on the altar? Yitzchak says I have a responsibility to fight for every one of my children. None of my children will be put on the mizbeach! Perhaps the numbers game works for Sedom, but for the Jewish people every single person counts. Never give up on any single jew. Never give up on your child. Never give up on your brothers and sisters and we’re all brothers and sisters. None of our children should be allowed to go on the mizbeach.

Hayom Harat olam. Today is the conception of the world and the time to reconceive our responsibility to the Jewish world. We need to reconceptualize, reimagine, reboot our sense of responsibility towards fellow Jews. To be inspired by Yitzchak—who is our central figure today– to respect others even if they may think differently, to be inclusive of others even if they may live differently, to take that chibah and reut—loving kindness that I spoke about yesterday for loved ones and spread it to those beyond our circle, and to fight for the welfare of every Jew. To even be willing to go toe to toe with Gd to not abandon a single Jew.  

The time is now. The need is urgent. We are one people. We shouldn't wait for war or crisis to band together. So what can we do to reach out to those less connected, to include the completely uninspired Jew and make sure he or she feels comfortable in our Shul? Three suggestions: One good idea is to resolve for this year to make it your practice to invite a friend or co-worker to your Shabbat table. It’s the right thing to do and the nice thing to do as a way to connect to others. By opening up our homes and our hearts, we can share the beauty and meaning and warmth of Judaism to others and they can share that beauty and warmth with us. Another suggestion is to deemphasize interdenominational competition and minimize our usage of labels because they divide and stigmatize. Third: We should resolve to always give the benefit of the doubt to our fellow Jews and see the potential in them.

In the prayer “lakel orech din,” one line we recite is “Lkoneh avadav badin” –Gd acquires his servants in judgement. What is the meaning of this prayer? The legend is told about Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev who ascended to heaven to attend the judgement of the Jewish people on Rosh Hashanah. Rav Levi Yitzchak sees a small pile of mitzvoth and big piles upon piles of sins. The heavenly accuser (the satan) is piling it on! Rav Levi Yitzchak realizes the situation is bleak and he needs to act fast. When the accuser leaves the room, he creeps up and snatches the bags of sins off the scales and throws them in the fires of gehenom. The accuser returns and is outraged that a year of merchandise is gone. All his investigative work has gone to waste. He grabs Rav Levi Yitzchok by the collar to the heavenly court and charges him with first degree theft. It’s an open-and-shut case. He’s found guilty with the ruling issued that he has to be sold as a slave to the highest bidder. Auction begins and great tumult. Avraham bids but accuser outbids him, Yitzchaks bids but in this case, even he couldn’t help because the accuser outbids him…..Finally Hashem says I am the owner of heaven and earth, I bid the highest possible price. Gd wins the auction and Rav Levi Yitzchak becomes his servant and the Jewish people are judged favorably for a good year! This is the meaning of “lkoneh avadav badin”, that Gd acquires his servants in judgement!

Rav Levi Yitzchok is modeling for us the importance of always judging other Jews favorably and seeing the good in every single Jew and every single human being. If we see the potential in others and we treat others favorably, if we take those sins of others and throw them in the fire, Gd will judge us all of us favorably and that’s how we become true servants of Gd.

From Yitzchak Avinu, to Rav Levi Yizchak to PM Begin, these role models compel each of us to ask ourselves: Do I also care as they did? Do I care about other Jews? Do I sufficiently respect and love and include other Jews OR do I consciously or subconsciously delegitimize, look down upon or ignore our fellow Jew? Let us reassert our commitment so we can answer yes to this most supreme command. Inspire yourself to reach out and inspire others. Value your Judaism, and share it kindly and respectfully with others. Resolve to make it your practice to invite a friend or neighbor or co-worker to my shabbat table and be willing if necessary to even go toe to toe with Gd to fight for every single Jew. Because we are all part of one global body. And if we’re united we can withstand and overcome our external threats.

If we all do this, if we look upon all other Jews favorably, if we increase our loving kindness, we will become true servants of Gd. And then we can turn to Gd and ask Him to look favorably upon all of us and bless us all with loving kindness, for a year of good health, happiness and stronger bonds of friendship for you, your family, the entire Jewish people and the world. Hayom Harat Olam—that will indeed be the conception of a new world!

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.

On Iran deal, Biden tells Jews, ‘I promise you it will be enforced’


If the Jewish community can’t find a way to heal its wounds after the bruising Iran deal battle, it’s not because Joe Biden didn’t try.

On Wednesday night, Sept. 9, the vice president and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, hosted a reception for the Jewish community at their residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.

A quick scan of the 100 or so guests included some who opposed the deal and some who supported it.  

Among the guests: Democratic Reps. Nita Lowey (New York), Brad Sherman (Sherman Oaks) and Steve Israel (New York), who voted against it; and Reps. Sander Levin (Michigan) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Florida), who voted for it. 

Among the Jewish organizational leaders, there was Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, which took a nuanced stance against the deal, Ameinu president, Kenneth Bob, who organized petitions to support it, and Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, which managed to walk the middle path.

Another very notable guest: Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, who has been at the forefront of the Israeli government’s opposition to the deal.

Among those who supported it, it’s fair to say the atmosphere was of a quiet, nongloating victory party — it would have been hard to imagine a similar party atmosphere had the administration’s signature foreign policy effort gone down to defeat.

They packed into the foyer of the stately mansion, and spilled into a dining room and a sitting room, where a Navy quartet performed.  

Outside, as the guests entered, a limousine and black SUV pulled up. Secretary of State John Kerry got out, waved and walked to the porch, where he fell into a conversation with Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.

Biden took the microphone in front of the staircase, just behind the vice presidential seal.  He welcomed everyone, then said he wanted to begin by introducing “the mishpacha”— using a Hebrew word for family.

He pointed out Joan and Ron Olivere, whose daughter Hallie is the widow of Beau Biden, the vice president’s son, who died May 30 of brain cancer at 46.

Biden said he and Joan knew each other back in high school.

“I was the Catholic kid, “ he said. “She was the Jewish girl. I still tried. I didn’t get anywhere.”

Biden pointed to Ron Olivere. “He would go through a wall for my son,” Biden said.

Then Biden introduced his other in-laws, Bunny and Stanley Krein, parents of Biden’s son-in-law, Dr. Howard Krein. The Kreins, like the Oliveres, are also Jewish. 

“Our kids signed the ketubah in the rectory,” Biden recounted.   

“Everyone talks about this being an Irish-Catholic family,” Biden said. “I don’t think so.”

The introductions set the personal tone.  The message was: This is not about politics but family.

Then Biden turned to politics.

Launching into a defense of the Iran deal, he acknowledged that many people he respected — many of them in the room — disagreed with him about the deal.  Biden said he was willing to talk through people’s concerns at any point.

“I promise you it will be enforced,” Biden said. “Israel is more secure with this deal than without it.”

Biden said that no president has done more to help keep Israel safe than Barack Obama. 

“Twenty percent of Israel’s defense budget is paid for by the American taxpayer,” he said, adding that the enormous expenditures are to the president’s credit. 

And if Israel wanted more, it could get more, he added.

“We are fully prepared to sit down with the Israeli defense leadership with a menu and say, ‘What do you need?’  We are prepared to do a 10-year MOU [memorandum of understanding] for Israel’s defense.”

The vice president’s Iran-related remarks received appreciative, if not rousing, applause.  The wounds may still be too raw for that.

But after he concluded his Iran comments, Biden returned to addressing the Jewish community as a community.

“You’re the most incredible community I’ve ever dealt with,” he said. “ You’re the only outfit that looks out not only for every Jew in the nation and the world, but everyone else.” 

 He said that, looking out in the audience, he could see so many people who stuck with him when things got really bad. Then the vice president choked up.

“The degree of compassion and understanding that so many of you expressed … you guys get it,” Biden said. “You understand the ineffable things we can’t explain. It’s baked into your DNA.  It really matters.  Those of you who have been through what we’ve been through, you get it.”

Biden apologized for getting too serious.  “We are here to celebrate,” he said. “What I really wanted to say is … Happy New Year.”

Pumped back up, Biden shmoozed the crowd before posing for pictures with the guests.  

At one point, Dermer approached, and the two fell into a hug.

The wine and kosher hors d’oeuvres were passed — little hot dogs with deli mustard, fried eggplant batons, tuna tartare on cucumber rounds, mini burgers — and an atmosphere of community and good will returned, for now.

[You can read more about the night from Jewish Insider.]

How Moishe House is helping turn social lives into Jewish life


“Are you all from Moishe House?” Ben Zauzmer asked as he approached a circle of about 15 young adults, all in their early to mid-20s, who were eating sandwiches on the lawn of the Silver Lake Recreation Center on a recent Saturday morning. They were, so he joined the group, appearing a bit nervous doing so. 

Andrew Cohen, 23, immediately and warmly introduced himself, and asked how Zauzmer had heard about the “Shabbat Picnic in the Park” event. 

“My sister was a resident of the Moishe House in Washington, D.C., and since I just moved to L.A., she suggested I check it out,” Zauzmer said, adding he had recently graduated from college and has a job doing data analytics for the Dodgers. 

“Cool!” nearly everyone responded in unison, noticeably easing Zauzmer’s demeanor. People introduced themselves, and Carmel Diamant, 22, offered food to Zauzmer and some other new arrivals. 

From across the circle, Ben Feldman, 23, explained that he, Cohen and Diamant are the three residents of the newly opened Moishe House Silver Lake, and this was their second event. 

Moishe House is a well-subsidized experiment whose goal is to ensure the future of Jewish engagement among young adults through interpersonal — not virtual — social networking. The organization offers housing subsidies and grants to groups of young adults, who agree to turn their homes into centers of Jewish life.

Founded in 2006, the nonprofit Moishe House organization currently subsidizes 77 such residences in 18 countries, including seven in Los Angeles. By the end of 2015, Moishe House plans to have 85 houses operating globally, with the goal of doubling its reach in the next three years. The Silver Lake house, a three-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath house tucked away in the hills above one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods, is the most recent to launch.

A simple idea

For recent college graduates, life’s lack of structure can feel overwhelming and alienating. To keep them engaged on campuses, Jewish students are offered an array of options spanning the religious and cultural spectrum — Hillel, Chabad, AEPi, AEPhi, Challah for Hunger bake-ins and much more. After they graduate, however, that’s all gone, yet the traditional next step of joining a synagogue can seem too grown-up or culturally removed, and marriage and family life are usually years away. At the same time, they face new stresses: employment, housing, independence. 

Even within this period, there is an incredible diversity of experience and maturing, and each life decision can feel deeply consequential and formative. The social and spiritual needs of a 25-year-old, too, can differ greatly from those of a 22-year-old. 

David Cygielman, the founder and CEO of Moishe House, served as Hillel student president at UC Santa Barbara, graduating in 2003, and later as executive director of the Santa Barbara-based Forest Foundation, which helps high school and college students to grow as leaders while pursing their individual passions. He originally conceived Moishe House as a project of the Forest Foundation but turned it into an independent nonprofit in 2008. 

“Moishe House started when four Jewish 20-somethings began hosting Shabbat dinners in Oakland, Calif., for their friends and networks,” Cygielman said. 

At the time, Cygielman saw very few organizations built to serve this population on a national or international level. 

“I think the reason for this is that most of what exists is staff-driven … an expensive model that is difficult to grow or scale,” he said. “Moishe House focuses on a peer-to-peer model that uses an existing home, so it is able to both create a warm atmosphere and bring down costs.”

From left: The three residents of the new Moishe House Silver Lake are Carmel Diamant, Ben Feldman and Andrew Cohen. Photo by Andrew Cohen

Organizationally, Moishe House is designed to fill the void of post-college life while enabling participants to have as much flexibility as possible to design their lifestyle and programs. The nonprofit subsidizes housing and events but allows participants to actively recruit and shape their communities, and to learn from other like-minded communities. 

The idea caught on quickly: In 2006 alone, houses opened in San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Los Angeles, Oakland, Washington, D.C., Uruguay and Nigeria. By the end of 2007, 20 houses were operating globally. Today, Moishe Houses across the globe host more than 5,000 programs annually, reaching an estimated 90,000 participants, at a cost of $6.1 million to the organization.

Unlike most Jewish institutions that function on a hierarchical leadership model, Moishe House empowers individuals to build community but does not employ them. One house might dedicate itself to social-justice issues, while another might have a weekly Torah study group. And because Moishe House works outside the traditions of Jewish life, even when participants celebrate Shabbat and traditional holidays, they are free to do so from a consciously “nondenominational, pluralistic Jewish” point of view.

“Being Jewish means something different for everyone. To some it is a religious focus, for others a cultural one and, for most, it is some combination,” Cygielman said. “We are providing a space, people and programs to explore and experience both. Our focus is on creating Jewish community; the residents are defining that for themselves and providing a space for others to join them in participating in it.”

Finding new meaning in old connections

All the residents of the Silver Lake house were raised in Jewish families in the western San Fernando Valley: Diamant in Tarzana by Israeli émigré parents; Cohen in Agoura Hills in a Conservative household; and Feldman in Woodland Hills by parents active in the Union for Reform Judaism. They grew up learning about their heritage, but, like many young Jews, they didn’t always feel personal connections to it.

“We grew up in families where it is expected of you to be engaged and participate in community, and have leadership roles,” Feldman said during the first of a series of interviews throughout July and August. Feldman embraced those opportunities at the time, and they imbued him with a strong Jewish identity. But as he got older, Feldman said, he wanted to explore other interests outside of the Jewish world.

The three are very different from one another. Feldman is the most introspective, quiet but rarely shy, and when he speaks, his thoughts seem fully formed. Cohen — who, at 6 feet 4 inches, towers above the others — is casual and jovial. His bedroom, a loft-like space down a spiral-staircase from the kitchen, allows him little privacy — something of which, his roommates pointed out, few people would be so accepting. 

Diamant is the most direct and assertive of the three. Although outwardly warm, her go-getter attitude at times borders on impatience. “Abrasive, some might say,” she said of herself, before adding, “but I’ve been working on my abrasiveness.”

The three friends also know when to laugh at one another’s eccentricities. During a recent trip to Target, Diamant sarcastically poked fun at Feldman as he made an ironic but impassioned speech on the merits of one spatula over another, before turning his attention to a countertop composter, which he criticized for not being airtight. 

A few weeks later, asked how the house was coming along, Feldman responded, “Good, except for Andrew [Cohen].” Cohen chuckled.

In high school, Feldman was co-founder of a campus chapter of the BBYO youth movement, named Kavod, which Cohen joined soon after. Both served terms as president of the organization. 

“Until I went to college, everything I did except for soccer was in the Jewish community: the camp I went to; the extracurriculars that I did; the school that I went to; and most of my friends were Jewish,” Feldman said. “That’s just how it worked.” 

Diamant said the opposite was true for her; she never sought out the Jewish community because it was already intrinsic to her life. “When I was in high school, the only Jewish thing that I did was go to Jewish school. I never went to temple; I never was part of any BBYO thing. It was soccer and school, and that was it,” she said. 

But because she went to a Jewish school, most of Diamant’s friends were Jewish, and she often traveled to Israel to visit family. She also participated in and then coached soccer in the JCC Maccabi Games.


Organizationally, Moishe House is designed to fill the void of post-college life while enabling participants to have as much flexibility as possible to design their lifestyle and programs.

In college at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Cohen joined and later served as president of AEPi and majored in film studies. (Full disclosure: This writer was in the same class as Cohen at Wesleyan, although not a close friend.) Diamant attended UC Santa Barbara and was part of a loosely formed Jewish community. She studied cell and developmental biology, and for two of her four years, she lived in an off-campus home with 15 women, many of them Jews from Los Angeles. They celebrated Shabbat together and attended events at the campus Hillel. 

Feldman, however, consciously sought to distance himself from being a leader in Jewish life while studying philosophy and public affairs at Claremont McKenna College. “I really wanted to step out of that role,” he said.

Feldman founded his school’s garden, spent a semester studying in Washington, D.C., and did summer research in India and Bangladesh. The only Jewish program he participated in was Urban Adamah in Berkeley, spending a summer working on an organic farm.

All three graduated in 2014 and moved back into their parents’ homes. While Diamant found an interim job assisting in clinical research in the oncology department at UCLA, she immediately began applying to medical school. Cohen sought and struggled to find work that merged film with Jewish leadership, but has since found employment as a publicist, which he said he is enjoying. Feldman turned from the global to the local, volunteering, and later working for pay, on a Los Angeles City Council campaign. He is currently looking for employment.

During their difficult first post-college year, all three missed the communities they’d known in high school and college, and in particular, the Jewish community. 

“The thing that I really missed the most about Wesleyan was those regular communities that you have, whether it’s seeing those same people in your class, or a club, or a lunch group, whatever it is — that is something that is difficult to experience in the post-college world,” Cohen said. 

“All my friends were Jewish in high school because I went to a Jewish private school, and then all my friends were Jewish in college,” Diamant said. “So it was weird coming back to L.A. When I was working during my year off, I was one of the only Jewish people in my whole office. I really enjoyed that, and I want to keep those connections.”

After college, Feldman asked himself, “What do I really miss?” He had two clear answers: “One was soccer, which I had stopped in college, and the other was my Jewish life.” 

Cohen and Feldman, in particular, wrestled with how to balance professional ambitions with the desire to move out of their parents’ homes — and with the cost of independence.

It is an increasingly common narrative. The percentage of young adults living with their parents in the United States has increased rapidly in recent years, with more than 19 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds living at home in 2012, as compared to slightly above 11 percent in 2001, according to a recent study by the National Association of Home Builders. 

Additionally, 2014 study by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs found that Los Angeles is the least affordable housing market in the country. 

After learning about Moishe House from Cohen’s mom (who had heard about it at a Federation conference), Cohen and Feldman attended a few Moishe House events in West L.A. and the Valley. They enjoyed themselves, and so about six months ago, they put in an application, with a different friend, to live in Moishe House Venice Beach, which at the time was just opening and was seeking three residents.

“We were talking about moving out together, and we each had what we considered a well-touted Jewish resume,” Feldman said. “That, coupled with the fact that we also wanted, professionally, the leeway to explore what we want to do, and we knew that that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to an early large sum of money. So we thought, this is a way where we can do what we want to do socially and Jewishly, as well as being able to pursue our professional interest without having to live at home forever, which I think made our parents very happy.”

That first application was denied, however. In retrospect, Feldman thinks that was fortunate, because they probably weren’t ready yet to take on the responsibilities of the program. “I think we had a lot in theory down, but we didn’t really know what we wanted to be and what that would look like,” he said. 

“But we still had the idea that we really wanted to do Moishe House,” Feldman said. “When we started looking at the areas where we could do it, it was about the time I was working for the campaign. I was hanging out in Silver Lake a lot, and it fit us a little bit more.”

The pair’s initial third roommate went on to find a different living situation, but Diamant, who had committed to attending medical school at USC, signed on to the idea. They applied to open a new house in Silver Lake.

“At that point, Andrew [Cohen] was pretty much leading the charge,” Feldman said, before adding in a joking tone typical of the trio’s rapport: “I’ll give him that credit, but don’t expect me to give him more credit than that.”

This time they were accepted. Moishe House had not planned financially on opening another house in Los Angeles, but the organizers were won over by the trio’s application and decided they would make it work. The organization has set the goal of funding between 70 percent and 80 percent of the costs of each house from each local Jewish community, although it often uses nonlocal funding to expedite getting a house up and running before looking for additional local backers. Moishe House Silver Lake is in this situation, so Cohen, Feldman and Diamant were asked to help fundraise, using their networks in order to try to draw in more money from the L.A. area.

In all, Moishe House spends between $50,000 and $65,000 annually on each house. To do so, it receives significant funding from the Schusterman Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, the Jewish Federations of New York and Greater Los Angeles, and the Leichtag Foundation, as well as many other organizations and individuals. 

If residents of a house commit to throwing five to six events each month, Moishe House pays 50 percent of their rent and provides $375 per month for event expenses. If residents commit to six to seven events per month, they receive a 75 percent rent subsidy and $500 monthly. The Silver Lake house is on the lesser plan.

In addition, the Silver Lake residents receive $300 per year for cleaning supplies and are eligible to apply for numerous holiday-specific grants, including $180 per Shabbat up to twice a month, and $100 for different celebrations throughout the High Holy Days — all from the larger Moishe House organization.

Upon moving in, the Silver Lake house also received a $3,000 “beautification” grant through The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to assist in furnishing the residence for daily life and events. 

In addition to grants and subsidies, the international organization stages an annual conference and monthly retreats for residents, paying room and board and providing as-needed travel assistance. This September’s retreat, titled “Living Lifecycles,” will take place in Boston; in December, Moishe House community members can travel to Los Angeles for a weeklong retreat on “Jewish Mindfulness.”

Although the organization requires residents to plan one program every three months in each of five categories — one social; one in partnership with another local organization; one Jewish learning program; one community-service program; and one Jewish culture and holiday program — the guidelines are minimal. House members can organize whatever kinds of programming appeals to them.

Moishe House’s funders say they appreciate that the program’s adaptability has proven well-suited to the needs of young adults. 

“I was very impressed by the fact that the young adults themselves were coming up with the programs,” said Simone Friedman, executive director of Emanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies and a member of Moishe House’s board of directors. “It wasn’t a top-down approach. It wasn’t people telling the residents what they should be doing. It was really a perfect match for the millennial generation.”

Friedman’s foundation first funded houses in the Washington, D.C., area, where its offices are based, but has since become one of Moishe House’s core groups of funders, assisting in paying costs for opening new houses around the world. Freidman Philanthropies is one of the out-of-town funders supporting the new Silver Lake house. 

Guests relax on a deck overlooking the nearby hills at a welcome barbecue at the new Silver Lake Moishe House.  Photo by Andrew Cohen

Among Moishe House residents, Friedman said, “There is a willingness to sort of explore and make connections between different types of programs, different types of activities, that older people might not think are Jewish. There is more of a willingness to experiment, and less desire to deal with organizations that have more bureaucracy. Also, there is a desire to take leadership roles. And a lot of the older Jewish world doesn’t create those opportunities for millennials.”

Lisa Fields of the Fields Family Foundation, a local funder of the Silver Lake house, echoed that idea, and said she thinks that the autonomy Moishe House gives its residents and participants — those who attend Moishe House events but are not residents — enables the houses to be tolerant and inclusive environments — both things, she said, that older Jewish institutions should strive for.

And it appears to be working. Two separate independent evaluations, in 2011 and 2015, concluded that Moishe House was largely achieving key goals: The 2015 evaluation found, in part, that “almost two-thirds (65 percent) of residents have adopted new Jewish practices since getting involved with Moishe House.” Almost one-third of participants reported the same. More than 75 percent of residents and participants said they viewed Moishe House as a hub for young adult Jewish life, and 45 percent of all respondents reported an increased connection to the global Jewish community. 

The 2015 report concluded, “Moishe House is helping young adults become stronger leaders in the Jewish community, particularly for house residents.”

Planting the seeds of interest

On a recent Tuesday evening, a board game night co-hosted with East Side Jews at the Silverlake Independent JCC was winding down, and about 15 people were milling around, chatting, snacking on chips and drinking beer. The various conversation groups had divided by age. Three women in their early 30s were filling in one another on their lives; Cohen and Feldman were explaining Moishe House to a pair of women in their early 20s. Diamant sat off to one side, taking a break from conversation, visibly tired after a long day. 

“What are your phone numbers?” Cohen asked the women. “We have a Facebook page and an email listserv where we announce events. We are having something before Echo Park Rising this weekend, actually, and a lot more after that.” The women, who are roommates, happily handed over the information. 

Although genuinely enthusiastic, Cohen’s open invitation sounded a bit like he was reading off a script. All three roommates had repeated the invitation, or something like it, countless times over the past few weeks. Recruiting new participants into their community is part of their charge; they aren’t supposed to just entertain friends.

Of the game night’s 15 attendees, only five — two if you don’t include the residents themselves — had come via Moishe House. But given that this was only the trio’s third event (and one was on a Tuesday evening), Diamant and Feldman thought the turnout was pretty good.

The main problem they are working through is, “How do we get people to come? How do we get people to come regularly? And how do we get people to come that aren’t already our friends?” Cohen said the next day, sitting with his roommates in his large, light-filled bedroom.

Upstairs is Feldman’s bedroom, as well as a joint living room/dining room/kitchen, where, adjacent to a dining room table, two oversized beanbag chairs and a few long couches face a newly mounted television. Diamant’s room is down a short hallway from the kitchen, where a steep spiral staircase descends into Cohen’s loft-like space. Outside a set of French doors, a large hillside deck faces west onto the Silver Lake hills.

“So far it has been our college friends, our high school friends and Carmel’s med school friends at the majority of our events,” Cohen added.

They see their biggest challenge as expanding their network. When they schedule events, “It’s really hard to hit someone up, and then hit someone up again, and then hit them up again that month. And it’s not like you are going to their things,” Feldman said. 

Diamant, who is currently finishing her first month of medical school, is a bit more selective than Cohen about who she gives the Moishe House pitch to. 

“I’ve been trying to limit myself in school, only because I don’t want to be known as the super-Jewish girl of med school,” Diamant said. “People who have come over, I’ve told. Like Jolie, who came to the Shabbat picnic, she expressed interest.”

These days, almost every time Cohen meets a 20-something Jew, he jumps into gear.  “Andrew [Cohen] is the best networker I have ever met,” Feldman said. “He is definitely the most easygoing of the three of us.” 

To that end, Cohen has started devising a small public-relations campaign. He is considering creating business cards with the house’s information on the front and a list of two months’ events on the back. 

Facebook, of course, also plays a role in spreading the word, and Cohen is looking into paying for Facebook advertising to publicize Moishe House Silver Lake to people outside of their social networks — specifically directing ads to young adults in and around Silver Lake who identify as Jewish. He is still trying to convince Feldman and Diamant that paying a little out of pocket for advertising would be worthwhile.

Of all of their events so far, the three roommates say the welcome barbecue was their favorite. More than 50 people attended. Although most were friends from high school, college and Diamant’s medical-school class, a good number of strangers also passed through their doors, many invited by Ashley Sullivan, an outreach coordinator at Wilshire Boulevard Temple who none of the residents had previously met. 

Sullivan, 29, had heard about the Silver Lake open house at an event for Federation’s Next Gen Engagement Initiative, which brings together young Jewish community leaders and organizations that cater to Jews in their 20s and 30s to network; she invited many Jews from the neighborhood — mostly in their late 20s — who she thought should be involved in the new Moishe House.

Sullivan began attending Moishe House events after moving to Los Angeles from Haifa about a year ago. After applying to attend a Moishe House retreat as a nonresident, Sullivan began hosting Shabbat dinners under the umbrella of another program, called Moishe House Without Walls, which enables active participants to host their own events outside of the residences. 

Most of the people she knows who are involved in Moishe House are on the older end of the program’s spectrum and tend to want different things from the events than do younger residents. 

“I’ve noticed that as people get into their later 20s, whereas a spiritual expression of their Jewish identity may not have been important earlier, they start to want that,” Sullivan said. 

But, she added, that’s precisely why the Moishe House model works: A Shabbat dinner or a Seder can be more, or less, religious, depending on the preferences of a house’s residents and active participants.

The Silver Lake residents echoed this sentiment. 

“I am not a really religious person, so for me Judaism is about community, completely,” Diamant said.

The ideal Moishe House community, Cohen said, would be one with a core group of regular participants who, though not residents, feel similarly invested in creating meaningful programs. That passionate, tight-knit group would be a base around which new and occasional participants could circulate. 

Additionally, all three friends stressed that they want their Jewish community to be embracing of their non-Jewish social circles as well. 

Upcoming events at Moishe House Silver Lake reflect its residents: a Shabbat dinner; a Dodger game; in October, during Sukkot, a sushi and sake in the sukkah (which they will build on their deck); taco trivia night at Angel City Brewery; and a charity poker game. 

“We have had all these Jewish communities set up in a way that don’t necessarily allow us to make decisions about how we want to do Jewish things. And now that we are having our own Moishe House, we are able to be in control of those things. We can say we aren’t going to do anything for Rosh Hashanah, because we don’t want to, or it doesn’t work with our schedule,” Cohen said. They will be spending the High Holy Days with their families before hosting the Sukkot event together.

“It is sort of a Jewish community, but it’s also sort of the A-B-C, Andrew-Ben-Carmel community,” Cohen said.

AIPAC to fight White House head to head in battle over Iran deal


Cancel your summer vacations.

That was the order AIPAC’s executive director, Howard Kohr, gave his employees in a staff meeting convened this week at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee after the United States announced the Iran nuclear deal.

With the influential pro-Israel lobby group pushing for Congress to reject the deal negotiated by the Obama administration, it’s all hands on deck. Lay leaders, too, are canceling their summer plans, and AIPAC activists already are calling lawmakers and hitting synagogue listservs with appeals to can the plan.

The two months that Congress has to review the deal will feature a pitched battle pitting the Obama administration and backers of the agreement against opponents and the Israeli government.

“We’ve regularly engaged with the Jewish community in the context of these negotiations,” a senior White House official told JTA on Thursday. “And now that we have a deal, we feel it’s important to continue and even accelerate this engagement.”

Bring it on, deal opponents are saying.

“We are undertaking a major and significant effort to urge Congress to oppose the deal and insist on a better agreement,” an AIPAC source told JTA.

Since the deal was finalized Tuesday, White House officials have blitzed the Jewish community with phone calls and pro-deal talking points. On Thursday, Jewish lawmakers were asked to come to the White House for a briefing.

J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East lobby, which has largely backed President Barack Obama in all his Middle East strategies, raised $2 million to stump for the deal even before it was announced and already has unveiled a TV ad.

The group’s president, Jeremy Ben Ami, who routinely bristles when J Street is likened to AIPAC, insisting that they play different fields, on Wednesday embraced a fight with the older and larger lobby. Asked on MSNBC whether he was going “toe to toe” with AIPAC, he said, “Essentially we are.”

For his part, AIPAC’s Kohr distributed a phone script on Thursday morning to AIPAC’s tens of thousands of activists directed at members of Congress.

“I am calling to urge the senator/representative to oppose the Iran nuclear deal because it will not block Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” the script says.

The Israeli government is sending officials to Washington to campaign against the plan, starting next week with the opposition leader, Zionist Union chief Isaac Herzog – a bid to show the wide breadth of Israeli opposition to the plan.

Additionally, according to multiple sources, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear to his U.S. counterparts that he will reject all U.S. overtures to discuss additional U.S. defense assistance to offset any expansion of regional Iranian influence until he is certain all avenues to killing the deal are unavailable.

Caught in the middle are the 28 Jewish lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Jewish lawmakers usually are AIPAC’s first avenue of access when they take on a major initiative. Yet the lawmakers, all but one of whom caucus with Democrats, also have been under pressure by the administration to back the deal.

Under a law passed earlier this year, Congress must review the deal achieved Tuesday in Vienna between the major powers and Iran, and may disapprove it. If a resolution of disapproval succeeds, Obama has said he will veto it, in which case congressional leaders may submit the deal to an override vote. That would require two-thirds of each chamber to vote no on the deal – a long shot.

On Thursday morning, Ben Rhodes, a deputy U.S. national security adviser, convened a meeting at the White House of Jewish lawmakers in the House of Representatives. About 15 of the 18 attended, and some were uncharacteristically silent about how it went.

“Congressman Israel has said it was a very informative meeting,” was all Caitlin Girouard, spokeswoman for Rep. Steve Israel of New York, would say after the meeting. Israel signs his statements the “highest ranking Jewish Democrat” in the House.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., a hard-liner on Iran who attended the meeting and has yet to decide how he will vote on the deal, said his impression is that the White House is successfully accruing support from Democrats in general and from Jewish Democrats in particular. Without substantial support from Democrats for killing the deal, there is no chance a veto override will happen.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said this week that she was unequivocally in favor of the deal.

Pro-Israel insiders point to what they describe as White House love bombs to Israel: In addition to leaking to Jewish community leaders the Obama administration’s spurned offer to increase defense assistance to Israel, they note statements like that of Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of state, who on Thursday in a phone call with Israeli reporters praised Netanyahu for helping to make the deal tougher on Iran by assuming a bad cop role.

AIPAC is planning on meeting with lawmakers at their district offices during the summer break and bringing in activists to Washington, D.C., when Congress reconvenes in September. Congress has until mid-September to decide whether it will vote the deal down.

Jewish sources close to the White House say the Obama administration is “on fire” and ready for the battle. Tony Blinken, the deputy secretary of state, led a call with Jewish organizations on Tuesday just six hours after the deal was announced. There have been more intimate calls with Jewish supporters of the president.

Also within hours of the deal, the White House distributed talking points arguing that the deal hews to and even improves upon five markers laid down by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an influential think tank that has historic ties to the Jewish community.

AIPAC twice has pulled out all the stops in taking on a president – and lost both times. In the early 1980s, the lobby opposed the Reagan administration’s sale of advanced military aircraft to Saudi Arabia. And a decade later, AIPAC opposed President George H. W. Bush’s linkage of loan guarantees to Israel to restraint on settlement building in disputed areas.

AIPAC insiders say they know they might lose this time, too, but say they have little choice given the existential threats they believe the deal poses to Israel. Additionally, they say, galvanizing opposition to the deal now will show the Iranians that the U.S. political establishment remains wary of the agreement, and in the event that it is approved will insist that Iran hew to every one of its provisions.

Bipartisan panel, including onetime Iran deal defenders, urges improvements


A bipartisan panel of former government officials including some of the most steadfast defenders of the Iran-nuclear talks led by the Obama administration say the emerging deal falls short of a satisfactory plan.

“We know much about the emerging agreement,” said the statement, organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank. “Most of us would have preferred a stronger agreement.”

The signatories urge Obama’s negotiators to extend the June 30 deadline to get a better deal. “Stay at the negotiating table until a ‘good’ agreement that includes these features is reached,” the statement says, listing a number of bottom lines the major powers negotiating with Iran should preserve.

Among the bipartisan slate of 18 former officials are a number who have worked for the Obama administration and among these are several who until recently have vigorously defended its Iran strategy:

— Former U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who as chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in 2010 delayed a sanctions bill until the Obama administration had lined up backing for sanctions from other countries;

— Robert Einhorn, a top negotiator in Obama’s first term who has in recent years been a point man defending the Iran strategy in appearances before Jewish and Middle East policy groups;

— Dennis Ross, Obama’s top Iran adviser for much of his first term, who also has had a post-administration role in explaining Obama’s Iran policies;

— Gary Samore, the coordinator for arms control in Obama’s first term, who, like Ross, has been a go-to interviewee to explain Obama’s Iran strategy.

Also signing was Norm Eisen, the ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2011-2014 and a top fundraiser for Obama’s first election campaign; David Makovsky, a member of Obama’s Israeli-Palestinian peace talks team last year; and David Petraeus, the director of the CIA in Obama’s first term.

Also included are former George W. Bush administration officials, including his national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, but the inclusion of figures who helped shaped and who have defended the current strategy could sway congressional Democrats when approval of the deal is considered by Congress.

While saying they “know much” about the emerging deal, the signatories do not directly address its perceived inadequacies. Instead, they list bottom lines that a deal should include, suggesting that these may be absent:

— Nuclear inspectors “must have timely and effective access to any sites in Iran they need to visit in order to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement,” including military sites and sites controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps;

— The ability to review Iran’s past weaponization activity;

— Strict limits on research and development into advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges;

— Sanctions relief based on Iran’s performance, apparently a reference to reports that Iran will get some sanctions relief simply for signing the deal;

— “Serious consequences” should Iran violate terms of the deal.

“Most importantly, it is vital for the United States to affirm that it is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from producing sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon – or otherwise acquiring or building one – both during the agreement and after it expires,” the statement says. Obama administration officials have insisted that a number of key aspects of the agreement will be enforceable long after other provisions expire.

The statement also says there is “much to the argument” that a nuclear agreement would free Iran to expand its “bad behavior” in the region and counsels “doing more” to inhibit Iranian ambitions, including expanding U.S. military influence in the area.

Obama: I have same high expectations of Israel as I do of U.S.


WASHINGTON (JTA) – President Barack Obama has a message for American Jews: I don’t shy away from disagreeing with Israel publicly, because I care about Israel and our shared values.

The president marked Jewish American Heritage Month with a speech Friday at Washington’s oldest Jewish congregation, Adas Israel. His remarks glided from the triumphs of American Jewish accomplishment to Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement.

When it came to Israel, Obama was, as usual, unstinting in his pledge to protect the interests of the Jewish state. He noted that he and Netanyahu still disagree over how best to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He said, “I will not accept a bad deal” in nuclear talks now underway between Iran and the major powers.

It was when Obama addressed Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians that his tone became less effusive and more chastising – a necessity, he said, that arose out of the very values he admires about Israel. Obama spoke about how as a young man he came to know Israel through the images of kibbutzim, the heroes of the 1967 Six-Day War and the ideas of the blooming of the desert and remaking the world.

“And to a young man like me, grappling with his own identity, recognizing the scars of race here in this nation, inspired by the civil rights struggle, the idea that you could be grounded in your history, as Israel was, but not be trapped by it, to be able to repair the world — that idea was liberating. The example of Israel and its values was inspiring,” Obama said.

“So when I hear some people say that disagreements over policy belie a general lack of support of Israel, I must object, and I object forcefully. For us to paper over difficult questions, particularly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or about settlement policy, that’s not a true measure of friendship.”

He noted, “It is precisely because I care so deeply about the State of Israel — it’s precisely because, yes, I have high expectations for Israel the same way I have high expectations for the United States of America —- that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland.”

Most of the audience at the Conservative congregation appeared to applaud and cheer, but a significant minority remained silent.

Obama returned multiple times to the golden age of black-Jewish cooperation, the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, finishing the speech with an anecdote of jailed freedom riders singing “Adon Olam” to the melody of “We Shall Overcome” and blacks joining Jews in wearing what they dubbed “freedom caps,” or yarmulkes. Obama wore a white yarmulke as he delivered his speech from the bimah, and members of the audience appeared visibly moved.

“From Einstein to Brandeis, from Jonas Salk to Betty Friedan, American Jews have made contributions to this country that have shaped it in every aspect,” Obama said, referring respectively to physicist Albert Einstein, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, the creator of the polio vaccine and the pioneering feminist.

“And as a community, American Jews have helped make our union more perfect,” he said. “From the founding members of the NAACP to a Freedom Summer in Mississippi, from women’s rights to gay rights to workers’ rights, Jews took the heart of biblical edict that we must not oppress a stranger, having been strangers once ourselves.”

Obama also argued in his speech that the same values that require speaking out against the “scourge” of anti-Semitism resurfacing in Europe also require speaking out at times on behalf of Palestinians.

“The rights I insist upon and now fight for, for all people here in the United States, compels me then to stand up for Israel and look out for the rights of the Jewish people,” he said. “And the rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity. That’s what Jewish values teach me.”

In an interview this week with journalist (and Adas congregant) Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, Obama said that Netanyahu’s rhetoric before Israel’s election in March and the composition of his new right-wing government were concerning.

“When, going into an election, Prime Minister Netanyahu said a Palestinian state would not happen under his watch, or there [was] discussion in which it appeared that Arab-Israeli citizens were somehow portrayed as an invading force that might vote, and that this should be guarded against — this is contrary to the very language of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which explicitly states that all people regardless of race or religion are full participants in the democracy,” Obama said, according to Goldberg’s transcript. “When something like that happens, that has foreign-policy consequences, and precisely because we’re so close to Israel, for us to simply stand there and say nothing would have meant that this office, the Oval Office, lost credibility when it came to speaking out on these issues.”

In that interview, Obama noted, as he has before, his continued popularity with American Jews, and this was in evidence during the speech. He drew repeated rounds of applause, especially when he spoke of the need to criticize Israel constructively. Obama remains profoundly unpopular in Israel.

Samantha Kreindler, a photographer from Philadelphia who drove in for the speech, said she sought greater debate on Israel within the Jewish community.

“I have so many friends who blindly believe, and I understand that,” she said. “But no one is right all of the time.”

Notably, the White House invited Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer to the speech — an effort, perhaps, to move past hard feelings after Dermer helped orchestrate Netanyahu’s speech in March to Congress focusing on the flaws of Obama’s approach to Iran. But Dermer did not attend. An Israeli official told JTA that Dermer was “out of Washington on a previously scheduled trip.”

Rand Paul promises to ‘take our country back’ in 2016 White House bid


Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) promised to be a different kind of Republican on Tuesday, launching a 2016 White House bid that he said would highlight the conservative principles of reduced government and spending as he vowed to break up “the Washington machine.”

The senator from Kentucky, a libertarian who has built a national reputation for challenging party orthodoxy, criticized Republicans in Congress and recent Republican presidents for helping to drive up the federal debt and reducing personal liberties.

“We have come to take our country back,” he told cheering supporters on a flag-draped stage in Louisville, Kentucky, promising to break up “the Washington machine that gobbles up our freedoms and invades every nook and cranny of our lives.”

With his announcement, Paul becomes the second major Republican to announce presidential ambitions for 2016, after Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. A crowded field is expected, with candidates competing hard for constituencies ranging from the Christian right to traditional Wall Street Republicans.

Paul starts the campaign in the second tier of Republican candidates, drawing the support of 8.4 percent of Republicans, according to a March Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll.

That puts him behind former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is considered a top contender among Republicans although he has not declared himself a presidential candidate; Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker; and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

He is in a statistical tie with four other candidates – Cruz, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Paul, who entered Congress on the Tea Party wave of 2010, has been reaching out in recent months to attract more mainstream voters.

The anti-war agitator who mounted a 13-hour filibuster to call attention to the United States' use of drones recently proposed a boost to military spending. The firebrand who wants to scale back the authority of the Federal Reserve has been quietly courting Wall Street donors.

And the 52-year-old former eye surgeon who harnessed the anti-establishment energy of the Tea Party movement, has been raising money for fellow Republicans, at times upsetting the grassroots activists who have made him a national figure.

Paul told the Louisville crowd he would campaign with “the Constitution in one hand and the Bill of Rights in the other.”

Paul's father, Ron Paul, the libertarian former congressman and failed presidential candidate, attended the announcement but did not speak at the rally.

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.

Freundel set to plead guilty to voyeurism charges


Rabbi Barry Freundel, the former spiritual leader at a prominent Washington synagogue, is expected to plead guilty to as many as 88 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism.

The plea deal was announced in a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia to Freundel’s victims that was obtained by the Washington Jewish Week. A hearing was scheduled for Thursday afternoon; it was delayed from the morning to allow for a larger courtroom that could handle the number of victims.

Freundel’s sentencing hearing is expected to be held two months after the plea agreement is accepted.

Freundel, 63, was arrested last October on six charges of voyeurism after investigators discovered secret cameras installed in the mikvah shower room and additional recording devices in his home. His Orthodox synagogue, Kesher Israel, immediately suspended him and later fired him, ordering him to vacate the shul’s rabbinic residence.

An oral agreement was reached on a plea offer, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The plea offer included one count for every victim recorded during the statute of limitations and identified by a photograph submitted to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“We also did not restrict our ability to seek incarceration or restitution for those victims identified during the statute of limitations in any way,” the letter said.

Prosecutors have told alleged victims that Freundel secretly recorded more than 150 women undressing at the mikvah.

Women who were videotaped as they used The National Capital Mikvah in the Georgetown section may submit a victim impact statement “expressing how this crime has impacted you,” the letter said. They also can give an oral impact hearing during sentencing.

Freundel, who reportedly separated from his wife after his arrest, had refused to leave his synagogue-owned residence, and the congregation has taken the case to the Beth Din of America. WTOP, a local news radio station, reported that he is now planning to vacate the house within two weeks.

Freundel pleads guilty to 52 voyeurism charges


Rabbi Barry Freundel, the former spiritual leader at a prominent Washington synagogue, pleaded guilty to 52 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism.

The plea Thursday means that Freundel could be sentenced to a maximum penalty of 52 years in prison and ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Sentencing was postponed until May 15.

The afternoon hearing was moved to a larger courtroom that could accommodate the number of victims.

During the hearing, Freundel appeared red-faced, kept his head bowed low and made no eye contact with the more than a dozen victims who packed the second-floor courtroom. He wore a black fur hat, a black rumpled and dirty suit, a black-and-gray tie and a black-and-gray kippah.

Freundel, 63, was arrested last October on six charges of voyeurism after investigators discovered secret cameras installed in the mikvah shower room and additional recording devices in his home. His Orthodox synagogue, Kesher Israel, immediately suspended him and later fired him, ordering the rabbi to vacate the shul’s rabbinic residence.

The government requested that Freundel wear an electronic ankle bracelet.

Judge Geoffrey Alprin asked Freundel, “Are you going to make me look stupid and flee the jurisdiction prior to sentencing?” In a loud voice, Freundel responded, “Absolutely not, your honor.”

The judge took him at his word, addressing him as Rabbi Freundel, and released him on his own recognizance until his May sentencing.

Lawyers and court officials considered when Shabbat begins on May 15. The court was satisfied that the 1 p.m. hearing would be concluded prior to sundown.

The plea deal was announced in a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia to Freundel’s victims that was obtained by the Washington Jewish Week.

An oral agreement was reached on a plea offer, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The plea offer included one count for every victim recorded during the statute of limitations and identified by a photograph submitted to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“We also did not restrict our ability to seek incarceration or restitution for those victims identified during the statute of limitations in any way,” the letter said.

Prosecutors have told alleged victims that Freundel secretly recorded more than 150 women undressing at the mikvah.

Women who were videotaped as they used The National Capital Mikvah in the Georgetown section may submit a victim impact statement “expressing how this crime has impacted you,” the letter said. They also can give an oral impact hearing during sentencing.

“I didn’t expect it to be over. I am glad it is,” said Jeffrey Shulevitz, the husband of Emma Shulevitz, one of Freundel’s victims. “The rabbi was a brilliant man, and he used it to harm people instead of making the world a better place.”

Civil suits have been filed against Freundel, the synagogue, the mikvah and the Rabbinical Council of America.

“Rabbi Freundel’s plea today in Superior Court is the first step in achieving justice for his victims,” said David Haynes, the managing attorney at the Cochran Firm in Washington, one of the firms handling civil litigation.

The plea “will also be an important element in establishing liability in the related civil cases, which will focus on why the synagogue and the other defendants did not prevent or stop Freundel from using their facilities for his illicit purposes for such an extended period of time despite his strange conduct and the many prior complaints about him,” Haynes said in a statement.

Freundel, who reportedly separated from his wife after his arrest, had refused to leave his synagogue-owned residence, and the congregation has taken the case to the Beth Din of America. WTOP, a local news radio station, reported that he is now planning to vacate the house within two weeks.

The synagogue and the mikvah issued statements following the plea hearing.

“Despite this great betrayal by Rabbi Freundel and our communal pain, we have seen a community that has come together and whose members have leaned on one another for support,” Kesher Israel said. “As we move forward, we will continue to grow stronger and are committed to ensuring that our community remains a warm, welcoming, and safe place to gather, worship, and learn.”

The National Capital Mikvah noted in its statement that its staff was the first to alert police to Freundel’s crimes.

“We are grateful that we were able to detect and stop such despicable illegal activity,” it said. “We are saddened to see a Torah scholar cause his own downfall.”

Speaking to American Jewish leaders, Netanyahu holds firm on Congress speech


Speaking to a group of American Jewish leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his intention to address Congress next month, despite calls for him to cancel the speech.

On Monday night, Netanyahu told a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that the March 3 address to a joint session of Congress was a crucial opportunity in the effort to halt Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“I’m going to Washington because as prime minister of Israel, it’s my obligation to do everything in my power to prevent the conclusion of a bad deal that could threaten the survival of the State of Israel,” he said of the speech, which has engendered controversy. “The current proposal to Iran would endanger Israel.”

Netanyahu opposes the agreement being worked out between the world powers, including the United States, and Iran, saying it will not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The speech also comes two weeks before Israeli elections. Also, the invitation to speak from House Speaker John Boehner was kept secret from the White House and Democratic leaders.

On Monday, Netanyahu called Congress the “world’s most important parliament” and said a speech could influence the body, which may be able to block any agreement with Iran. The Israeli leader added that he was making the speech March 3 because the deadline set by the negotiating parties comes three weeks later, on March 24.

“Now, can I guarantee that my speech in Congress will prevent a dangerous deal with Iran from being signed?” he asked. “Honestly, I don’t know. No one knows. But I do know this – it’s my sacred duty as prime minister of Israel to make Israel’s case.”

Earlier Monday, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of the religious Zionist Jewish Home party, received loud applause from the delegation when he vowed to oppose territorial compromise.

“We don’t want war, but the only way to prevent war is to be overwhelmingly strong and to use that power when necessary,” he said. “Never, ever again will we hand over one centimeter of land to our enemies, period.”

The delegation of U.S. leaders is in Israel until Thursday and will also hear from other Israeli politicians, such as the left-wing Zionist Camp’s Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni.

Bibi must stop an Iran bomb even if it offends Obama


There is nothing wrong with an Israeli prime minister doing his utmost to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, even if it offends the sensibilities of the American president. A nation that has experienced the world’s worst genocide just 70 years ago has not just a right but also an obligation to take seriously any existential threats that loom against it.

Iran is a genocidal regime. It has stated on countless occasions that it will destroy and annihilate Israel. And it is now building the doomsday weapons that can translate rhetoric into action.

For years, Iran has been hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons. The Obama administration’s strategy to engage the Islamic tyranny in talks has produced no demonstrable results. Unfreezing Iran’s financial assets has only emboldened the brutal regime in continuing its genocidal rhetoric against Israel and disgusting human-rights abuses.

While the administration indulges Iran’s stalling tactics, Iranian centrifuges continue to spin. And with every minute that Tehran gets closer to realizing its diabolical nuclear dream, the civilized world inches closer to its peril. And this is especially true of Israel, which sits in the crosshairs of Iranian rage.

Iran is running out the clock. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran already has 13,397 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent uranium-235. If they use all 9,000 of their reactors at Natanz, the Iranians could enrich this further, to the weapon-grade level of 90 percent uranium-235 in just over a month and a half. And, if Iran’s close ally North Korea can serve as an example, they absolutely will.

The consequences of Iran obtaining a nuclear bomb are catastrophic — for Israel, the Middle East and the entire freedom-loving world. Israel would be under existential threat and would have its hands tied in any dealings with Iranian proxies such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. The Middle East would be instantly destabilized, with a nuclear arms race certain to take off. And with the rogue state wielding end-of-days capabilities, the entire world would be forced to witness all levels of Iranian belligerence, virtually unable to intervene.

With so much at stake, it seems the last thing we should be concerned about is offending President Barack Obama. The American president is human just like the rest of us. He can be wrong. He can make mistakes, just like the rest of us. He does not enjoy the divine right of kings. He is not infallible. And if he is offended by being second-guessed by the leader of a nation that had more than a million children gassed to death seven decades ago, he’ll get over it.

The implications of a nuclear Iran for the world are far greater than such simple considerations as the wounded ego of the leader of the free world or a breach of diplomatic protocol.

I do not envy the position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He lives every day with the understanding that if he errs in the confrontation with Iran, the consequences for his people are catastrophic, devastating and irreversible. History will hold him completely accountable for his failure to protect Israel.

Now, when it comes to launching a military strike against the Iranian nuclear apparatus, we can argue that perhaps the risks of something going horribly wrong are simply too great. Many already have said so. But can the same argument really be made of a speech delivered to the United States Congress by invitation of the House speaker? What are the terrible consequences that should prevent the prime minister of Israel going before the United States Congress to call for increased sanctions against Iran?

News reports are now saying that Obama administration officials are threatening serious consequences for Israel and the prime minister because of this breach of protocol. In fact, Haaretz just quoted an anonymous U.S. official as saying, “Netanyahu spat in our face … there will be a price.” I had no idea that Al Capone worked in the administration.

Such Mafia language is beneath aides to the president of the United States. I, for one, have become fatigued with the continuous threats issued to the press by “undisclosed sources” in the administration against Israel.

Is it not unseemly for America to continually issue anonymous threats against its staunchest ally, especially when the rest of the world is going to hell in a hand basket?

Perhaps the Obama administration should threaten President Bashar Assad to stop slaughtering his people in Syria and actually, this time, do something about it. Perhaps Obama should threaten devastating and immediate consequences for ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi should he continue to kill Western hostages with impunity, rather than just the airstrikes that have not stopped the vile beheadings. Perhaps officials of the Obama administration can focus their energies on occasionally mentioning the words “Islamic terror” rather than continually threatening the sole democracy in the Middle East with “consequences.”

Israel is not America’s threat. Why Obama despises Netanyahu so deeply is beyond me. Can the explanation really be that Bibi doesn’t accord Obama sufficient respect? Even if that were true, it would explain why Obama dislikes him, but not why he positively despises him, seemingly more than almost every other world leader.

Regardless, the prime minister of Israel is not elected principally to understand the mindset of the American president. He is elected, first and foremost, to defend a nation that has experienced more hatred, more torture, more bloodletting and more wholesale slaughter than any nation on Earth. That prime minister has the responsibility to do everything in his power to protect the Jewish people in Israel from a nuclear annihilation.

One Holocaust is quite enough. 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom Newsweek and The Washington Post call “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of This World: The Values Network, the world’s foremost organization defending Israel in the media. He is the author most recently of “Kosher Lust” and 29 other books. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Invitation to Netanyahu to address U.S. Congress: When bipartisan means partisan


When U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, jolted Washington this week by inviting Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress, his office said it had been done “on behalf of the bipartisan leadership.”

In reality, it was among the most partisan moves so far by America's newly Republican-controlled Congress. Fuming Democratic leaders in Congress have said they were not consulted, raising questions over whether Boehner had accurately characterized the nature of his invitation.

The invitation was worded that way, a Boehner spokesman said on Friday, because “Boehner is the Speaker of the whole House, elected by the whole House.” Boehner was re-elected as the chamber's leader on Jan. 6 with 216 votes, all from Republicans, out of the 435 voting members of the House of Representatives.

Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi, his counterpart in the House, said they had not been told in advance of Boehner's plan to invite Netanyahu. The White House also said that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, had not been told ahead of time.

“The Speaker of the House has awesome power. I know that. I've been there,” Pelosi told her weekly news conference on Thursday. “The fact, though, is that power is not to be squandered.”

In announcing the invitation on Wednesday, Boehner called Netanyahu “a great friend of our country.”

“In this time of challenge, I am asking the Prime Minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life,” he said.

Democratic congressional staffers called Boehner's action a blatant political ploy.

Netanyahu is expected to back Republican moves to pressure Obama to take a tougher line in talks on a nuclear deal with Iran.

The prime minister is due to address Congress two weeks before Israel's general election on March 17 in which he is vying for a fourth term.

The flap added to a growing perception that Netanyahu's government has become a partisan Republican player in U.S. politics, despite historically close ties to lawmakers in both parties.

Republicans were unapologetic.

Arizona Republican John McCain said the party was giving Obama a taste of his own medicine. In a hallway interview at the Capitol, he termed the invitation “a great idea” after Obama's announcement that he would push ahead on policy without waiting to compromise with Congress.

“He basically said, 'I'm going to do my thing, you do your thing.' We got it, we got the message,” McCain said.

Rabbi Barry Freundel fired by his D.C. synagogue, Kesher Israel


The board of Rabbi Barry Freundel’s Washington synagogue, Kesher Israel, fired the rabbi and said he must vacate his residence by Jan. 1.

Freundel had been on suspension without pay since his Oct. 14 arrest on voyeurism charges for allegedly installing secret cameras in the shower room of the mikvah adjacent to the Orthodox shul. Freundel’s residence is owned by the synagogue.

The synagogue board made its decision last week and announced it to the community in an email sent Sunday and in a notice posted on the synagogue website.

“The decision by the Board of Directors was made under extraordinarily difficult and unfortunate circumstances,” the board said in its announcement. “The alleged acts leading to this step were a gross violation of law, privacy, halakha, and trust. They breached the high moral and ethical standards we set for ourselves and for our leadership.”

The ritual bath, known as the National Capital Mikvah, has been scrutinized to make sure no other hidden devices remained. Last week, Freundel also was formally terminated as the mikvah’s supervising rabbi.

Freundel also has been suspended without pay from his position as associate professor at Towson University in suburban Baltimore, where he taught in the philosophy and religious studies department. The rabbi apparently took students on field trips to his synagogue and the mikvah, and university officials said last month they were concerned that some students may have been secretly videotaped at the mikvah in varying states of undress.

The next court date for Freundel, who has pleaded not guilty to six counts of voyeurism, a misdemeanor crime, is Jan. 16. Misdemeanor charges in Washington carry maximum sentences of 12 months. In theory, if found guilty Freundel could be sentenced to six successive yearlong terms.

AIPAC holds fire as Iran deadline looms


As the United States and other powers negotiate down to the wire on a nuclear deal with Iran, one voice has been unusually quiet – the main pro-Israel lobby in Washington.

Israel deeply distrusts the attempt to reach a deal at talks in Vienna that would lift harsh international sanctions on Iran in return for limits to its nuclear program, aimed at preventing it from developing an atomic bomb.

But its staunchest U.S. supporters, represented by the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, lobbying group, have been holding back. They failed earlier this year in a full-scale push for further sanctions that the White House said would have derailed the talks.

With growing signs that Monday's deadline for an Iran deal may be extended, AIPAC is looking past these talks and weighing how to respond to the outcome amid a changing political environment in Washington.

“There's nothing to lobby for … until we see what's addressed in Vienna,” said a source close to AIPAC. “But after that, the question is whether you'll see an intense push to engage with Congress. It could be the lull before the storm.”

A Republican sweep in this month's U.S. congressional elections has already spurred new threats from hawkish lawmakers to seek further sanctions against Iran.

AIPAC is likely to find the Republican-led Congress that takes office in January more receptive to tougher measures against Tehran and President Barack Obama less likely to have the votes to sustain a veto against fresh sanctions.

In February, Obama was able to block a campaign backed by AIPAC to get Congress to impose new sanctions, marking the group's biggest political defeat in years.

ARMY OF AIPAC LOBBYISTS

AIPAC, which has about 100,000 members, is widely credited with helping to ensure that Israel remains a top recipient of U.S. foreign aid and is accustomed to seeing most congressional measures it favors pass almost unopposed.

This summer it helped engineer a $225 million funding increase for Israel's Iron Dome defense system to protect against Hamas cross-border rocket fire in the Gaza war.

But the group has kept its army of lobbyists largely on the sidelines during the current Iran talks, a dramatic shift from other times, when it blanketed Congress.

At the same time, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has toned down once-vociferous criticism of Obama's handling of Iran diplomacy, though it remains bitterly opposed to any concessions that would not strip Tehran of all uranium enrichment capability.

The low-key approach may reflect a desire to avoid further antagonizing the U.S. government, Israel's most important ally, at a time of strained relations.

AIPAC is also struggling with internal divisions over what some critics see as a tilt toward the Republican party by the group, which could jeopardize its bipartisan principles.

An AIPAC source dismissed this concern, saying: “Everything we do, we approach in a bipartisan fashion.”

EXTENSION OF NUCLEAR TALKS

If Washington agrees to another extension with Iran, AIPAC and Israel's friends in Congress will face a decision whether to give diplomacy more time or seek new sanctions. Obama has previously insisted that more sanctions would antagonize Iran and collapse the negotiations.

When the talks were extended in July, AIPAC said the United States should “make clear that Iran can expect no further extension.” But officials close to the talks said a new deadline could be set, perhaps in March.

AIPAC has not said how it would respond, but a pro-Israel source said the group's earlier concerns, principally that Iran is trying to buy time for its nuclear advances, “would still apply, even more so.”

Even as it has held fire, AIPAC has maintained lines of communication with lawmakers and the administration on the negotiations.

The West and Israel accuse Tehran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, which it denies. Israel, which sees development of an Iranian bomb as an existential threat, is believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed state.

Like AIPAC, Israeli officials have kept a lower-than-usual profile in Washington during the recent talks, possibly seeking to avoid the impression of meddling in U.S. affairs.

“We are not doing any lobbying at this time,” Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Reuters in Jerusalem.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Louis Charbonneau and Parisa Hafezi in Vienna; Editing by David Storey and Dan Grebler

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 davids@jewishjournal.com.

Israeli-American Council jumps onto national stage with a splash


At the Israeli-American Council’s (IAC) three-day inaugural conference in Washington, D.C., last weekend, nearly 800 attendees and Washington journalists witnessed the high-profile entrance on to the public stage of what was, until recently, a quietly expanding and well-funded Los Angeles group created with the comparably modest vision of providing educational, cultural and religious resources for Southern California’s large Israeli-American community.

The IAC’s first foray into the national spotlight — and its ability to attract top politicians from both parties and their donors — points to a group on its way to becoming the go-to resource for Israeli Americans across the country and their political voice in Washington.

“We will be a growing community in the United States. We will rise to national recognition and will influence the Jewish community,” said Adam Milstein, an Israeli-American businessman and philanthropist, and a founding IAC board member.

Milstein said that the group’s goal in holding its inaugural conference in the heart of the nation’s capital was to make Israeli Americans a “brand name community in the United States and to make sure that Washington notices.” On the latter point, it undoubtedly succeeded: Political correspondents for top news outlets filled the press section to cover the IAC’s prominent speakers, including former (and possibly future) Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and billionaire rival political kingmakers Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson.

Sheldon Adelson, Haim Saban and Israeli American Council Chairman Shawn Evenhaim at the IAC Conference in D.C. Photo by Shahar Azran

That Friday evening, as a packed ballroom at the Washington Hilton enjoyed Shabbat dinner, Romney told his former foreign policy senior adviser Dan Senor, in an onstage discussion, that President Barack Obama has been “divisive and dictatorial and demeaning to our friends,” and also that Democrats were routed in the recent midterm elections partly because voters felt the Democratic candidates had been disingenuous in distancing themselves from Obama’s policies.

Meanwhile, Senor and former Sen. Joseph Lieberman both strongly suggested they would like to see Romney attempt another presidential run: “It would be doubly refreshing to hear your voice in the public debate going forward,” Senor told Romney as he concluded their discussion.

The following night’s plenary, while modest by comparison, saw Graham threaten to cut off funding to the United Nations if it “turns into the most anti-Semitic force on the planet,” and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer — who was a frequent and vocal guest on cable news during the recent Gaza war — joked that the key to a happy marriage between an American and an Israeli is for the American to “preemptively concede the argument to the Israeli spouse.”

“Then you’ll actually have a chance of having your way,” Dermer said to an admiring crowd. “Now what that means for diplomacy and U.S.-Israel [relations], I’ll leave it to all the sharp reporters in the room to figure out.”

The conference’s first two plenaries, though, were only the starter for the weekend’s highlight: the first-ever public discussion between billionaires Saban and Adelson, two of the country’s most sought-after, and generous, political donors for Democratic and Republican politicians, respectively. While their conversation, which was moderated by IAC Chairman Shawn Evenhaim, at times sounded like a debate, Saban stole the spotlight when Evenhaim asked him what he would do if he were in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s shoes and Western powers signed a nuclear agreement with Iran that risked Israel’s security.

“I would bomb the living daylights out of those sons of bitches,” Saban said to thundering applause, striking a tone starkly to the right of Adelson, who only spoke in general terms of Israel needing to “take action” and “not just talk.” Earlier, Saban said that if such a deal is signed, he would come to the “full realization we are screwed, baby.”

Adelson, for his part, provided his own memorable remarks, sharply criticizing journalists in general and particularly The Forward’s Washington correspondent Nathan Guttman. He also cast doubt on the importance of Israel remaining a democracy and called the Palestinians “an invented people.”

Saban, a media mogul, and Adelson, a casino tycoon, then engaged in what sounded like either banter or an impromptu investment strategy session, discussing how to influence mainstream American media outlets when it comes to coverage of Israel, which Saban called “very left-wing” except when it comes to “maybe a bit the Wall Street Journal and definitely Fox News.”

“I wish that [Amazon.com CEO] Jeff Bezos didn’t buy the Washington Post,” Saban said. “It would have been nice if you and I could have bought it, Sheldon.”

“For $250 million — bupkis!” Saban continued, as the audience laughed.

Adelson responded: “I wish I had known it was available,” then asked Saban, again to raucous applause, “Why don’t you and I go after The New York Times?”

Saban said he has tried to purchase the news giant, but that “it’s a family business” and would not sell. Adelson, sharing some corporate takeover advice with the audience, told Saban that the only way to get The New York Times would be to bid more than its worth and count on the family shareholders rejecting the offer, which would give minority, non-family shareholders a right to sue for a sale.

While marquee attractions such as Saban and Adelson provided the bang for IAC’s weekend, mornings and afternoons were filled with speakers from across the Jewish and pro-Israel world who talked about sensitive topics, especially for a group seeking to tow the line between American and Israeli and Jewish identities—such as the dilemmas facing a possible “double identity” and how to integrate Israeli Americans into the American-Jewish community.

Evenhaim, in a telephone interview following the conference, said he wants Israeli Americans to integrate within America’s broader Jewish community, but said that integration has not been a priority of the organized American-Jewish community, in Los Angeles and across the United States.

“If the Jewish-American community put that as a priority for them, there probably wouldn’t be an IAC,” Evenhaim said.

At the same time, though, IAC’s goal is to help foster a unique Israeli identity among not just Israeli expats, but their American-born children and grandchildren, too.

“We don’t want to become just Jewish Americans,” Evenhaim said. “The Israeli message is important to us, and it’s important to give to the next generation.”

To that end, the IAC runs programs including Celebrate Israel festivals across the country every year and Sifriyat Pijama B’America, which sends free Hebrew-language children’s books and music to Israeli-American families.

“Israel is our homeland,” Milstein said, when asked to discuss the vision of IAC in the context of America’s historical success in assimilating immigrants. “Our relationship with Israel is more unique than Italian Americans, Irish Americans, Chinese Americans — we are different.”

He said the IAC plans to become a “catchall” group for Israeli Americans, focusing not just on Israel advocacy, but eventually seeking to influence national policy on things like access to charter schools and Jewish education.

“Our community has issues that are important to them, and it will be our mandate to advocate for those issues in Washington,” Milstein said.

Formed as the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC) in 2007 at the request of Ehud Danoch, the Israeli consul general of Los Angeles at the time, the ILC rebranded itself two years ago as the Israeli-American Council when its leadership realized the need to be viewed not as Israelis or as Americans, but as “Americans of Israeli descent,” as Milstein wrote in the Times of Israel one year ago. Until then, he wrote, “The State of Israel labeled us as yordim [a derisive characterization for Israelis who leave]. Americans saw us as U.S. citizens, and our children definitely didn’t want to be perceived as kids of foreigners.”

Now viewed as a potential asset by top American politicians as well as the Israeli government — as evidenced by the presence last weekend of numerous Israeli politicians and diplomats — the IAC plans to open four to six new regional councils in the next year, in addition to the existing five, and has its eyes on a 2015 conference, which Milstein said will likely again be in Washington, D.C., and, he predicts, will attract two to three times as many people.

Three dead, including gunman, in shooting at Washington high school


UPDATE 10/27: Another victim, 14-year-old Gia Soriano, died on Sunday evening, an area hospital said.


 

A student opened fire at his Washington state high school on Friday, killing one person, wounding at least four others and spreading panic among students who scrambled across fields and parking lots to safety, police and hospital officials said.

The shooter at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, about 30 miles north of Seattle, acted alone and was now dead, Marysville Police Commander Robb Lamoureux told reporters.

“We are confident that there was only one shooter and that the shooter is deceased but we do need to clear each building and make sure that was the case,” Lamoureux said.

Authorities said they did not yet know what may have motivated the assailant and declined to release the suspect's identity.

Local television station KIRO showed images of students running from school buildings, crossing a sports field with their hands in the air as officers with rifles ran across the school yard.

Police and hospital officials said at least four, all “young people,” were wounded, three of them critically and were in surgery.

A spokeswoman for Harborview Medical Center in Seattle said the hospital was expecting to receive one patient from the shooting but had no word on that person's condition.

The school district said students were being sent to a nearby church from where buses would take them home after the school was put on lockdown.

Parent Jerry Holston told CNN that his two children had contacted him by phone following the gunfire and were not wounded.

Holston said son, Adam, called him immediately following the shooting, yelling: “Dad, dad, hurry, someone is shooting. Please come.”

NBC News reported that President Barack Obama had been briefed about of the situation.

“Like all of WA, Trudi and I have everyone at #MPHS in our hearts and prayers. Please take care of each other,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said in a tweet.

Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Mohammad Zargham

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

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.