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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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Israel eases conversion procedures

Orthodox rabbinic group Tzohar claims victory

On Monday morning, Rabbi David Stav’s inbox was overflowing.

During an interview at a Teaneck cafe, he apologized for looking at his phone as the messages came pouring in. (He was in the area after spending Shabbat at Manhattan synagogues; he is scheduled to be scholar in residence at Englewood’s Congregation Ahavath Torah in February.)

But that morning — well, afternoon, Israel time — the Sephardi chief rabbi of the State of Israel — Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef — had denounced Rabbi Stav by name in a radio interview, and his friends were letting him know.

Rabbi Stav heads Tzohar, an organization of Israeli Orthodox rabbis that tries to bridge the gaps between Israel’s established Orthodox rabbinate — which regulates marriage and divorce in the country — and the secular public.

 

Masa-ing English in Israel

Local grads teach and learn from their enthusiastic students

When Benjamin Winik of Haworth finished his bachelor’s degree in political science at McGill University in Montreal, he considered teaching English in France for a year. Then he received an email from Taglit-Birthright Israel — he’d participated in a free Birthright tour of Israel in 2010 — informing him of the possibility of teaching English in Israel through Masa Israel Teaching Fellows.

“I liked how the program in Israel sounded; they give you a lot more support,” said Mr. Winik, now 24. “Moving to a foreign country is never easy, so you need that support system.”

 

NCJW immigration panel decries “broken system”

Participants praise President Obama’s executive action

President Obama’s recent speech on immigration — and his decision not to deport some 5 million people — most likely was driven, at least in part, by the advocacy efforts of groups such as the National Council of Jewish Women.

The Bergen County section, which held a forum on immigration reform last Tuesday, was in the process of sending a letter to the president when his formal statement was issued.

“It was a packed house,” Bea Podorefsky of Teaneck said of the forum, which drew 300 attendees. She and fellow NCJW member Joyce Kalman chaired the event.

“We prepared a letter for attendees to sign urging the president to take some action,” she said, joking that one of the program’s panelists, Rabbi Greg Litcovsky, said she must have had a “connection” to a higher power, given the president’s subsequent action.

Ms. Podorefsky said that the forum’s goals were “to educate ourselves, to educate the community at large, and to work together with our coalition partners.” The coalition, created around last year’s NCJW forum on human trafficking, consists of 24 organizations, ranging from Project Sarah to the Palisades Park Senior Center.

 

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