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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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The converso’s dilemma

Local group goes to New Mexico to learn about crypto-Jews

Imagine that you were raised as a Catholic. Then one day — perhaps as a beloved parent or grandparent lay dying and leaned over to whisper something in your ear — you learned that your family once was Jewish. Your ancestors were converted forcibly some 500 years ago.

For those people all over the world who have had that experience, the next step is not entirely clear. Do they jump in with both feet and vigorously pursue their new Jewish identities, or do they simply go about their business, choosing to do nothing with this new information? These dilemmas, and more, were the subject of a recent Road Scholar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The topic — “New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews” — continues to fascinate both Jews and non-Jews, as evidenced by the religious identity of the attendees. Among those participating in this month’s session — there are 10 such programs held each year — were five residents from our area, including this author.

 

Hanging out together

Young Israeli and local young leaders meet through federation

“I expected everything in America to be big, but not that big,” said Yuval Calderone, 17, one of the 10 Israeli members of the young leadership delegation that recently met with peers in North Jersey through the NNJ Federation-sponsored Partnership2Gether, a people-to-people exchange with the northern Israeli city of Nahariya.

“The buildings and the food — it was all very big,” said the awed first-time visitor. “It was so much fun, and I got to know a new culture. You can see the teenagers there are so much like us — they love music and hanging out.”

From May 2 to May 8, the young ambassadors — hosted by local families — made presentations to students at the Gerrard Berman Day School in Oakland, New Milford High School, the Frisch School, the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies, Paramus High School, and the Paramus Jewish Community Center. They participated in Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut events and met with U.N. Deputy Ambassador from Israel David Roet, representatives from the Israel advocacy group Stand With Us, and community leaders.

 

Keeping the malls safe?

Young Israelis denied U.S. tourist visas; local relatives react with disbelief

Geoffrey Lewis’s son is getting married this weekend.

The South African-born Mr. Lewis and his wife, Karen, live in Tenafly, where his three children, Larry, Kira, and Amy, grew up; but his family, dispersed by the Holocaust and freed to follow opportunities where they led, sprawls across four continents.

Because a wedding is a celebration not only of romantic love but also of family, it’s not just about the couple, but about their roots, and about the hope for the eventual flowering of their love into more branches on the family tree.

That means that it’s also a reunion. Everyone is invited, and everyone who can travel makes the pilgrimage; the chuppah is symbolic not only of the home the couple will create but also of the extended family itself.

 

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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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