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Boteach tries to claim a ‘pro-Arab’ mantle

Chides Pascrell for not fighting for human rights

 
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If Rabbi Shmuley Boteach were Rep. Rabbi Boteach (R-9th Dist.), he would be denouncing Syrian President Bashir Assad from the House floor every day.

And he would call on Congress to place a $25 million price on Assad’s head.

His desire to put human rights front and center makes him the real pro-Arab candidate, Boteach says.

“There is this wide perception that Bill Pascrell is a champion of his Arab constituents,” Boteach said. “What I am saying is that he is utterly unworthy and undeserving of that support. He is not the pro Arab candidate — he is the anti-Arab candidate.”

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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach contends Rep. Bill Pascrell has not been vigorous on human rights initiatives.

What makes Pascrell anti-Arab for Boteach?

“He has steadfastly refused to use his position as the member of the most powerful legislative body on earth to protect and defend human life.

“Over the past few years, Congressman Pascrell has found the time to sponsor legislation on recycling plastic, to reduce tax on pickled pepper, and to commend the New Jersey Devils’ goalie with an official Congressional proclamation. But in all that time, he has not found even a moment to address, from the floor of the House where he is an elected representative, the bombings of Arab civilians under Kaddafi in Libya, the murder of unarmed protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, or the shooting of children in the head at point-blank range in Syria.”

The Pascrell campaign declined to address Boteach’s claims directly.

“Congressman Pascrell represents one of the most diverse districts in the country and has a proven track record of fighting on behalf of all of his constituents, no matter their race or religion,” campaign spokesman Keith Furlong said. “He continues to work to build bridges in both New Jersey and Washington, where he is focused on bringing Democrats and Republicans together to help middle class taxpayers, especially on building support for his Bring Jobs Home Act to insource jobs back to the United States.”

While Boteach appears to be correct when he says that Pascrell has not taken to the floor to denounce human rights violations in the Arab world on a daily basis, the incumbent Democrat does seem to have supported moderately activist American intervention in the civil struggles in the Arab world.

Pascrell was a co-sponsor in July 2011 of House Resolution 296, which expressed support “for peaceful demonstration and universal freedoms” in Syria and condemned “the human rights violations by the Assad regime.” The following month, he was among the many co-signers of a letter to President Obama urging that sanctions against Syria be tightened, and then he issued a statement praising Obama for urging that Assad step down.

And he supported American military intervention in Libya in a series of votes.

The Arab American Institute, a Washington-based advocacy organization, rated Pascrell positively for votes on resolutions about democratic aspirations in Egypt and in favor of penalizing the Bahraini government. It gave him generally negative ratings on the Israel-Palestinian conflict — he was too pro-Israel for its taste — and mixed ratings on immigration-related votes.

Boteach did find support for his broadside against Pascrell from one Arab American Institute board member. Sherine El-Abd, who also serves as president of the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women, joined Boteach at a Paterson press conference last week.

“Bill Pascrell is a nice man, he has attended events of the Arab Americans, he has befriended them, but his voting record is not that good,” she said.

“He hasn’t even made the statement on anything of relevance pertaining to the Arab Spring, to what’s going on in Syria, Egypt, and Libya. Nothing,” she said.

She said that two other New Jersey representatives, Republicans Chris Smith and Scott Garrett, had made better statements about the upheavals in the Arab world. And she was sharply critical of the foreign policy of the Democratic Obama administration when it came to Egypt.

Would she vote for Pascrell if he were a Republican?

“I am a very loyal Republican, but I don’t give unconditional support to anybody just because they have an ‘R’ next to their name,” she said.

But one observer and member of the New Jersey Arab American community scoffed at the notion that Boteach’s critique of Pascrell would resonate — and earn votes — in the Arab community.

“He needs a lot of education about the Arab community and the issues that matter to them,” Aref Assaf, president of the Arab American Forum, a Paterson-based public policy organization, said. “I think he is trying desperately for attention.”

As for Pascrell not speaking out on Syria this year, “It’s not unusual. He is right now focused on his election, which is primarily domestic based.”

Assaf said that foreign policy issues were a secondary concern for the Arab American and Muslim American communities.

“Primarily we care about safety and security and civil rights, which have been infringed upon after 9/11,” he said. “We are held suspect simply because of our race and ethnicity. To be a Muslim or Arab is to be considered a target for law enforcement — it’s an uncomfortable place to be.

“Pascrell has spoken to these issues, and has denounced attempts to consider our community a fifth column.”

Assaf said that Boteach’s pride that his daughter is serving in the Israeli army will not endear him to the Palestinian community, which Assaf said is the largest group of Arabs in Paterson proper.

“In 1967 I lost a brother of mine who was 11 years old,” Assaf said, explaining his own anti-Israel animus. “It was an Israeli soldier who shot my brother. He was killed by an M-16.”

Assaf said that in the primary race between Pascrell and Congressman Steve Rothman, attacks on Pascrell for his association with Muslims — including Assaf himself, who was criticized for his criticism of an Orthodox Jewish effort to re-register Republicans as Democrats to vote for Rothman in the primary — ended up backfiring, leading to the high turnout and 96 percent support for Pascrell that prompted Arab American Institute President James Zogby to hail Pascrell’s primary victory as a turning point for Arab American political activism.

Writing on the Arab American Institute’s website, the group’s communication coordinator, Omar Tewfik, said that Boteach’s Paterson press conference should be seen the same way.

“Now, with Boteach actively courting the [Arab American] community,” he wrote, “the story that should have been written about this race from the beginning is emerging as an uncontested narrative about the importance of the Arab American community: If you want to win New Jersey’s ninth, you have to court Arab American voters.”

How much any of this matters is a different question.

“Except for the relatively small number of true swing districts, and outside of ‘tsunami’ years like 1994, 2006 and 2010, House campaigns rarely move enough votes to turn incumbents out of office,” said Mark Blumenthal, senior polling editor at the Huffington Post.

“Fifty or 60 years of survey research shows us that 80 percent or more of voters identify or lean to a party, and those identifiers will support candidates from that party roughly 90 percent of the time,” he said.

He noted that the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index, which compares a congressional district’s presidential votes to the national results, shows that generally Democrats have a 10-point advantage in New Jersey’s Ninth District, where Boteach and Pascrell are competing.

 
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Reality check

Author to discuss intergenerational ‘experiment’

Katie Hafner began her professional career writing for a small newspaper in Lake Tahoe.

That didn’t last for long, though. “I worked my way up,” said Ms. Hafner, who now writes on health care for the New York Times.

A seasoned journalist, Ms. Hafner was exceptionally well prepared to chronicle an experience in her own life that she calls both an “experiment in intergenerational living” and a “disaster.” Inviting her 77-year-old mother to live with her and her teenage daughter, Zoe, in San Francisco, Ms. Hafner learned that fairy-tale imaginings are no match for emotional truths.

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Self-defense or unnecessary danger?

Armed self-defense is a value strongly supported in Jewish law, according to a statement issued last week by a local Jewish gun club, which is urging two of the largest Orthodox organizations in the country to reconsider their positions on gun control.

On July 16, the Rabbinical Council of America, an organization representing Orthodox rabbis in the United States, issued a statement recognizing the rights of private citizens to own weapons and engage in violence for self-defense, but also calling for the restriction of “easy and unregulated access to weapons and ammunition,” and denounced “recreational activities that desensitize participants … or glorify war, killing, physical violence, and weapons….”

The RCA resolution came just over a year after the Orthodox Union issued a similar resolution citing its longtime commitment to “common sense gun safety legislation” and calling on U.S. senators to pass legislation to ensure “a safer and more secure American society.”

 

She’s a project-based fellow

Tikvah Wiener tapped by Joshua Venture Group

Tikvah Wiener of Teaneck describes herself as “passionate about project-based learning.”

As head of the English department at the Frisch School in Paramus, where she taught for 13 years, Ms. Wiener brought that innovative educational approach into the high school’s curriculum and extracurricular activities. “It’s a pedagogy where students engage in solving a complex real world problem and they create different products as a result of their learning,” she said.

The products could be a multimedia presentation, or a blog displaying students’ interpretations of Shakespeare. But it also could be a class-wide effort to study the problem of snow removal and offer suggestions for improvement — a project that would include math and science as well as civics and English.

This school year, Ms. Wiener has a new job: She is chief academic officer at the Magen David High School in Brooklyn. And she has just received a prestigious — and lucrative — award to help her promote project-based learning in Jewish day schools across the country.

 

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Larry Krule, retiring Jewish Book Council president, talks about literature and Davar

To learn more about the Jewish community in the late 1960s, you could just read “The Chosen” and “Portnoy’s Complaint.”

Chaim Potok’s 1967 novel was sharply drawn, sociologically on point, and deeply moving. Phillip Roth’s 1969 novel was brash, irreverent, shocking, and controversial.

Both were central to mid-20th-century urban Jewish self-understanding (it’s tempting to say they were seminal, but given the specifics of Portnoy’s complaint, that might not be the best choice of words).

Those two books, among others, had such a strong influence on Lawrence Krule, who read them when they were new and he was young, that eventually they led him to a ten-year presidency of the Jewish Book Council. His term is now ending; he and the council’s president, Carolyn Hessel, are retiring, and both will be honored at a gala dinner on November 18.

 

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Community mourns visionary leader and founding patron of Shirah chorus

Some people are irreplaceable, said Matthew (Mati) Lazar, founding director and conductor of Shirah, the Community Chorus at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly.

“Bernie Weinflash was one of them.”

Mr. Weinflash, founding patron of the choral group now celebrating its 21st year, died on November 9 at 94.

Mr. Weinflash was born on the Lower East Side and was a veteran of World War II. Trained as an accountant and lawyer, he was a stockbroker for Oppenheimer and Co.

Shirah was one of Mr Weinflash’s proudest achievements. In a video of his talk at the choral concert that marked his 90th birthday — “Bernie always spoke at our concerts,” Mr. Lazar said — the founder mused that “by creating Shirah, I will have helped perpetuate Jewish survival.”

 

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Yeshivat Noam installs solar panels

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But the roof Yeshivat Noam in Paramus holds 1,500 solar panels.

On Friday, the panels were connected to the school’s electric wiring. When they are switched on — that is expected to happen any day now — they will provide about half the school’s electric needs.

And they will make Noam the first area Jewish day school to have gone solar.

 
 
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