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New anti-Semitism monitor sees role as reactive, proactive

 
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WASHINGTON – Hannah Rosenthal knows her new position fighting anti-Semitism will include responding to anti-Jewish attacks and rhetoric, but she also figures to be heavily involved in outreach, too.

“I expect there will be some reactive things when hate rears its ugly head,” said Rosenthal, who started work Monday as the State Department’s new special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. “But I see some of this as proactive, being an ambassador and educator to organizations, to activists, to people in various parts of the world, on the importance of viewing anti-Semitism as a human rights issue.”

Acknowledging it may sound a little “hokey,” she said it’s about “participating in some strategies that will build tolerance and make the world a better place.”

Following a stint in the Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration, Rosenthal served from 2000 to 2005 as executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group comprised of the major synagogue movements, national organizations, and local Jewish communities across North America.

Most recently she was the vice president for community relations for the not-for-profit WPS Health Insurance Co. in Madison, Wis.

Rosenthal, 58, a former rabbinical student, is the daughter of a rabbi who was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. She says she comes from a family that “believed in relationship-building and that the worst danger Jews face is isolation,” so her personal and professional lives have been devoted to “enlarging the tent and enlarging the table.”

Conservative bloggers have criticized the nomination, noting that Rosenthal served on the advisory board of J Street, an organization that has called repeatedly for robust debate about Israel-Palestinian issues while backing U.S. pressure on Israel and the Palestinians in pursuit of a two-state solution, criticizing Israel’s invasion of Gaza, and opposing new anti-Iranian sanctions at this time.

Critics also point to an opinion piece that she wrote in The New York Jewish Week in which she asserted that pro-Israel events were being “dominated by narrow, ultra-conservative views of what it means to be pro-Israel.”

Conservative bloggers also noted that Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, issued an open letter criticizing Rosenthal’s claims.

Foxman could not be reached, but the ADL did issue a statement quoting him as saying that “this appointment signals the continued seriousness of America’s resolve to fight anti-Semitism.”

Rosenthal said that she has served as a member of J Street’s advisory council because “there’s genuine concern about how we proceed in the Middle East and I happen to believe that the status quo is unacceptable.”

She believes that some of the controversy over J Street can be attributed to generational issues.

“If the older generation doesn’t look to the younger generation for ideas and support,” she said, “we’re going to be isolated and so will Israel.”

Rosenthal said the Middle East will be one of the areas with which she’ll be dealing in her new job.

“Some of the criticism Israel sees and its isolation in the United Nations clearly comes from a place of anti-Semitism, but not all of it does,” she said. “We need to call out anti-Semitism when it’s there.”

Rosenthal said she also is concerned about the increase in Holocaust denial around the world, especially from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well as reports of recent upsurges in anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Holocaust denial “is despicable,” she said. “Anyone who denies the Holocaust happened must be confronted immediately.”

Rosenthal said she didn’t seek the anti-Semitism position — she actually was advocating for someone else in the role — when Obama administration official Michael Posner suggested she might be the right person for the job.

Rosenthal knew Posner, now the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, from her time at JCPA.

“I was comfortable in Madison, Wis.,” she said. “But he was very insistent.”

Rabbi Steve Gutow, who succeeded Rosenthal at the helm of JCPA and has known her since the early 1990s, said he thinks Rosenthal is “ideal for this position” because not only is she a committed Jew, but she has a talent for “seeing under the surface” and a “disarming way about her.”

Rosenthal has that “sort of let’s have a conversation” type of personality, Gutow said, in which she can sit down with those who claim they are not anti-Semitic and “help them be able to see it.”

JTA

 
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Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.

 

Shabbat in the White City

Fair Lawn man aims for Guinness-record dinner in Tel Aviv

Jay Shultz is determined to set a new world record while promoting Tel Aviv — usually cited for its nightlife and startup culture — as a great place to spend Shabbat.

The 37-year-old Fair Lawn native, who has lived in Israel since 2006, has earned a reputation as the “International Mayor of Tel Aviv” after a series of grand-scale initiatives geared at positioning his adopted city as welcoming haven for young professional immigrants.

His latest exploit: Through his popular White City Shabbat program, which offers communal meals for young Israelis and immigrants at local synagogues, Mr. Shultz launched an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign to sponsor the world’s largest Shabbat dinner.

 

Lighting up Africa

Frisch raises money for solar technology with fashion show

What do the students at a New Jersey Jewish high school and 450,000 residents of rural African villages have in common?

Since 2008, the nonprofit agency called Innovation: Africa — iA — has brought Israeli solar technology to provide clean water, drip irrigation, and refrigeration to villagers in Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia. And for the last three years, this UN-award winning program has been a focal point for the Frisch School in Paramus.

An African Encounter Night and Africa-themed fashion show held last month exposed students and parents to iA’s work and raised another $3,300 toward Frisch’s goal of contributing $10,000 to light up a sister school in East Africa using solar panels.

“The fact that Frisch has decided to educate children on wider global issues is remarkable and demonstrates a break from the norm,” said Emma Goldman, Innovation: Africa’s outreach coordinator.

 

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WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would launch an international campaign to cancel the Goldstone Report after its author, ex-South African Judge Richard Goldstone, wrote in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that Israel did not intentionally target civilians as a policy during the Gaza War, withdrawing a critical allegation in the report.

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According to the Facebook page, “Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews.” The page had more than 340,000 fans. However, even while the page was removed, a new page now exists in its place with the same name,  “Third Palestinian Intifada.”

 

Did heated rhetoric play role in shooting of Giffords?

WASHINGTON – The 8th District in southern Arizona represented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comprises liberal Tucson and its rural hinterlands, which means moderation is a must. But it also means that spirits and tensions run high.

Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

 
 
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