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With debt deal, Jews’ fight and worries shift to new ‘super committee’

 
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WASHINGTON – Even before the debt deal was signed Tuesday in Washington, U.S. Jewish groups and recipients of government largesse were asking the same question: Who’s going to get cut?

It’s still too early to say. But the new “super committee” created to hash out the details of $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in spending cuts by the end of the year, and the arguments that surely will arise from the committee’s work, will provide the clearest sign yet of which government grants or programs are on the chopping block.

News Analysis

In the Jewish community, the areas of concern range from funding for elderly care to environmental issues to democracy promotion overseas. Federal funding makes up a significant chunk of the budgets of many of the groups that operate in those fields.

Joyce Garver Keller, the executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities, which lobbies state lawmakers for Ohio’s Jewish federations, said Ohio Jewish service providers already are reeling from cuts mandated last month in the state budget. That included up to 14 percent in cuts for nursing homes and 3 percent cuts for home- and community-based providers.

The largest Jewish facility for the elderly in the state, in the Cleveland area, already is dealing with $2 million in cuts on the state level even without any cuts at the federal level.

Keller said the homes for the elderly were examining solutions including freezing salaries and retirement benefits for staff, and cutting back on utilities such as electricity. Others are considering opening up in-house medical practices to outsiders to create revenue.

“You can maybe make up 1, 2, or if you’re really savvy 3 percent, but we can’t make up 14 percent,” Keller said. “You can’t make up something that large.”

The National Council for Jewish Women expressed concern particularly about cuts that could affect women and children.

“The deal does require deep cuts in government spending, cuts that will likely affect Head Start, K-12 education, Title X family planning, job training, domestic violence prevention, meals on wheels, and other services for vulnerable people,” NCJW said in a statement.

Mark Olshan, the associate executive vice president for B’nai B’rith International, which runs 38 homes for the elderly across the country, said federal cuts would burden a system coping with a growing number of retirement-age baby boomers.

“The reality is we’re probably not going to be building a lot more buildings, but there will be more people who need these kinds of programs,” he said.

Jewish groups are also closely watching cuts in areas where they do not receive direct assistance. Jason Isaacson, the director of governmental and international affairs for the American Jewish Committee, anticipated cuts in programs promoting energy alternatives and democracy overseas.

Isaacson said cuts in democracy promotion would be especially unfortunate just as reform was sweeping the Arab world.

“We need to lower the deficit, but we have big opportunities and responsibilities around the world,” Isaacson said.

The key to preserving funding is to intensify lobbying between now and when the new super committee votes in November on proposed cuts, said William Daroff, the Washington director of the Jewish Federations for North America.

“We will be lobbying heavily to ensure that the $550 billion in immediate discretionary domestic cuts do not come from the programs that fund key Jewish federation services to the vulnerable,” Daroff said. “No decisions have been made yet on the Hill as to where those cuts will come from.”

Under the deal struck over the weekend and passed by both houses of Congress — in the House of Representatives on Monday and the Senate the next day — about half the cuts are to come from the defense sector and the other half from domestic programs, with some cuts designated for foreign assistance.

Funding for Israel is one of the few exemptions; it remains at $3 billion a year.

If the committee cannot reach an agreement — or if the Congress rejects its recommendations — it will trigger automatic across-the-board cuts of at least $1.2 trillion.

The first thing to watch for, said Rachel Goldberg, the director of advocacy for B’nai B’rith International, is whom congressional leaders name to the super committee. That will happen over the next two weeks.

“The composition of the committee will give an indication of what the leadership is expecting and the likelihood of getting a deal or using the trigger,” she said.

Goldberg and other observers say their choices will reveal two things: First, whether the leaders are serious about reaching a deal by the end of the year, and then their priorities. If the lawmakers appointed to the committee are chosen from among the stalwarts in each party who opposed a deal to raise the debt ceiling, it would indicate a lack of seriousness, analysts say. JTA Wire Service

 
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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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Israel launching drive to void Goldstone Report

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.

Netanyahu said he had asked his security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, to establish a committee focused on “minimizing the damage caused” by the report.

 

Facebook and Zuckerberg does an about-face and deletes Palestinian page calling for a Third Intifada

Following widespread criticism, a Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada against Israel was removed on March 29. On the Facebook page, Palestinians were urged to launch street protests following Friday May 15 and begin an uprising as modelled by similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan. Killing Jews en masse was emphasized.

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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