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entries tagged with: Josh Lipowsky

 

Sderot is still a priority

Josh LipowskyEditorial
Published: 14 August 2009
 
 

A roadblock bigger than any settlement

 

Language matters

 

Campaign seeks to raise monument in Arlington to Jewish chaplains

After the Nazis torpedoed the U.S. transport ship Dorchester in February 1943, Rabbi Alexander Goode and the three Christian chaplains on board gave up their own life preservers to help other servicemen to escape.

As a result of their heroic acts, Goode, Methodist Rev. George L. Fox, the Roman Catholic Priest John P. Washington, and the Reformed Church in America Rev. Clark V. Poling drowned as the ship sank.

All four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross, and Congress created The Four Chaplains’ Medal in 1960. At Arlington National Cemetery, however, where three memorials stand in honor of military chaplains, Goode’s name is not to be found, nor has any memorial been erected for this country’s Jewish chaplains.

Sol Moglen of Caldwell is working to change that.

The monuments at Arlington are in a section called Chaplains Hill. The first monument was created on May 5, 1926, by a group of chaplains who served in World War I, and dedicated to 23 chaplains who died in that war. In 1981, a memorial to 134 Protestant chaplains was dedicated, and in 1989, a monument to 83 Catholic chaplains who died in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam was created.

Moglen learned of the missing Jewish memorial last year from Ken Kraetzer, a Westchester resident who is a member of the Sons of the American Legion. Now the pair are spearheading a fund-raising effort through The Association of Jewish Chaplains of the Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs to create a memorial, designed by Moglen and Brooklyn artist Debora Jackson, to the Jewish chaplains who died in World War II and Vietnam. (No Jewish chaplains’ deaths in other wars have been recorded.)

“This way the whole country knows about what we’re doing,” Moglen said. “It’s the cemetery of our presidents. It’s the cemetery of so many special people and now we have a chance to put something special there to honor our chaplains.”

They have collected more than $17,000 of their $30,000 goal and plan to erect a monument at Chaplains Hill in the fall. The response, according to fund-raisers, has been tremendous.

“It’s in our tradition to give,” said Richard Manberg of Hackensack, who has been helping Moglen publicize the project locally. “When people hear about a noble cause like this, they give.”

Manberg has been making contacts with synagogues and Jewish War Veterans groups because Moglen, he said, wants to focus on individuals and small groups, rather than go to large foundations for help.

“What’s very noble about this is he doesn’t want any big donors,” Manberg said. “He wants small donations so everybody feels a part of it. We want to give back and that’s what Sol’s trying to do. Those people dedicated their lives to other people.”

Moglen, who served in the U.S. Army in the late 1950s, recalled meeting a Jewish chaplain while stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. It was just before Rosh HaShanah, and the chaplain arranged dinners for Moglen.

“It was a wonderful experience for somebody 18 years old,” Moglen said. “It was a wonderful thing how the chaplains took care of us. It’s not just the Jewish chaplains, but all the chaplains are there to help.”

Sy Lazar, a member of Jewish War Veterans Lt. James Platt Post 651 in Fair Lawn, was shocked when he learned from Manberg that there was no memorial at Arlington for Jewish chaplains. He intends to present the project to his JWV chapter and propose that it make a donation.

“This is like an oversight,” Lazar said. “We had no idea about this. It’s a shanda.”

Lazar had never noticed that a memorial was missing during his visits to Arlington, and, he said, he was sure other Jewish veterans were unaware of the lack as well.

“I consider this personally a very, very worthwhile charity,” he said. “I hope to spread the word as much as I can about it.”

The response to the project, according to Rear Adm. Rabbi Harold Robinson, director of the Association of Jewish Chaplains of the Armed Forces and Veterans Administration, has been “overwhelming.”

How to help
For more information about or to contribute to the memorial fund, call Sol Moglen at (201) 415-1141 or write to The Association of Jewish Chaplains of the Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs, 520 Eighth Ave., 4th floor. New York, N.Y. 10018.

“What a wonderful idea,” he said. It is “long overdue. Let’s get this done.”

Robinson credited Kraetzer of the Sons of the American Legion, who, he said, pulled together “an ad hoc group” of Jewish War Veterans, chaplains’ organizations, and rabbis. In addition to serving as the treasurer for the monument effort, the Association of Jewish Chaplains has also been coordinating with Arlington National Cemetery, which Robinson said has been very helpful in moving along the approval process.

“I agreed that this was an appropriate addition to Chaplains Hill at Arlington and we have been working to assist [the group] with this request,” said John Metzler, superintendent of the cemetery, in an e-mail to The Jewish Standard on Wednesday.

Jews have a long history of military service in this country, dating back to the Civil War. According to the Association of Jewish Chaplains, 8,500 Jews out of a population of 150,000 fought in the Civil War. More than 250,000 signed up to serve during World War I, and more than 550,000 served in World War II. More than 300 rabbis volunteered during World War II and worked with survivors in the Nazi concentration camps.

“Chaplains are doing wonderful mitzvahs that should not be forgotten,” Moglen said. “If we don’t [put up this monument] in our generation now it’ll never get done.”

 
 

Environmental leaders roiled by oil plan

President Obama’s announcement last week that he intends to allow drilling for oil off the Atlantic Coast drew swift condemnation from area political, environmental, and Jewish communal leaders.

Oil is “like coal, it’s not good from square one,” said Rabbi Lawrence Troster, a Teaneck resident who has worked with a number of Jewish environmental organizations. “They can’t guarantee there aren’t going to be oil spills and other things that won’t devastate the shore.”

Obama’s energy strategy called for the exploration off the Atlantic coastline from the coast of Florida up to Delaware. Obama also announced a series of car and truck fuel and emissions standards, and the purchase of 100 plug-in electric cars for federal agencies.

Troster called the oil exploration announcement “a calculated move,” a concession, to create leverage for Obama to tackle larger issues such as climate change.

The president “has some Democrats who are not on board on some of the climate change issues; this is a way of balancing some of the interests,” Troster said. “On environmental issues this particular administration is doing a much better job than the previous administration.”

He noted that it would be several years before offshore drilling became operational and even if the U.S. were to drill all of its domestic oil resources, it still would not be enough.

U.S. energy independence, he said, would not come from domestic oil drilling, but rather from pursuing sustainable alternative sources such as wind and solar energy.

“It’s really important in the 21st century and today’s economy to focus on modern techniques,” said Sybil Sanchez, director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

COEJL condemned Obama’s drilling announcement but praised other parts of the president’s strategy, such as improving fuel efficiency standards and regulating automobile greenhouse gas emissions.

“This administration is looking to take a comprehensive approach and we hope it will accomplish that,” Sanchez told the Standard. “We’re concerned when we see offshore exploration for oil drilling. We want to see more of a focus on clean technology.”

Reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil is a matter of national security, Sanchez continued, but reducing fossil fuel dependence in general is also a national concern.

Obama emphasized in his speech that the emissions caps and domestic exploration are “part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies on homegrown fuels and clean energy.”

The Gulf of Mexico contains 36 billion to 41.5 billion barrels of undiscovered, recoverable oil and 161 trillion to 207 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, recoverable natural gas, according to the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service.

The Interior Department intends to hold two lease sales — one 50 miles off the coast of Virginia and the other in Alaska — by 2012. It is the Virginia plan that has drawn the ire of New Jersey’s politicians from within the president’s own Democratic party and the Republican party, despite its past support for domestic oil exploration.

“Even though the president’s draft plan does not propose drilling off the Jersey shore, it does allow oil and gas exploration just south of Cape May. That concerns me a great deal,” said Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) in a statement to the Standard. “Furthermore, any oil spills resulting from drilling operations further south could easily follow northerly currents and end up washing onto our beaches.”

The United States cannot drill its way out of its foreign oil dependence, Rothman said. The country needs to focus on the development of new, alternative energy and on conservation.

“Drilling off the Virginia coast would endanger many of New Jersey’s beaches and vibrant coastal economies,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) in a statement sent to this paper. “Giving Big Oil more access to our nation’s waters is really a Kill, Baby, Kill policy: it threatens to kill jobs, kill marine life, and kill coastal economies that generate billions of dollars. Offshore drilling isn’t the solution to our energy problems.”

The Garden State’s new Republican governor, Chris Christie, also condemned the plan.

“I oppose the idea of drilling off the coast of New Jersey,” Christie said in a statement. “New Jersey’s coastline is one of our economic engines and I would have to be really convinced of both the economic viability and environmental safety of oil and gas exploration off our coast. At this point, I’m not convinced of either.’’

According to Christie, Obama’s proposal so far includes areas off Virginia and the northern tip of Delaware near Cape May in the Delaware Bay. Though New Jersey’s coast is not included in the plan, an oil spill could have serious ramifications for the Jersey shore.

“That’s a reasonable fear,” Troster said. “When I hear there’s going to be more environmentally sensitive oil drilling, [I consider it] an oxymoron. It’s a very dirty form of energy production and I don’t think you can change that in any significant way.”

 
 

Petition calls for equal justice for Rubashkin

Area Chabad and Young Israel synagogues are encouraging their members to sign a petition imploring the U.S. Justice Department to show evenhandedness with Sholom Rubashkin, the former CEO of the Agriprocessors plant in Iowa that was the site of a massive immigration raid two years ago.

The petition, hosted at www.justiceforsholom.org and addressed to U.S. Attorney Stephanie Rose in the Northern District of Iowa, states that “Sholom Rubashkin has been treated harshly and vindictively in a prosecution that is likely to go down in history as a shameful permanent stain on American Justice. You have an opportunity today to correct the course that this case has taken by directing that Mr. Rubashkin be treated no differently in the Northern District of Iowa than similar defendants have been treated in other federal jurisdictions.”

The petition had garnered more than 24,000 signatures as of Wednesday.

Rubashkin was convicted in November on 86 out of 91 fraud charges and awaits sentencing. The petition, organized by a committee including members of Rubashkin’s family, alleges that Rubashkin has been singled out for unfair treatment that includes the denial of bail while awaiting sentencing and a harsher sentencing request from the prosecution than for those convicted of similar crimes.

Prosecutors have asked for a life sentence, according to Nathan Lewin, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer representing Rubashkin who is not connected to the petition. Agreeing with the petition’s claim, Lewin said his client is being treated differently from any other defendant in these circumstances.

“The prosecutors in Iowa see this as a high-profile case and they can make a career out of it,” Lewin said.

The petition has drawn support from a number of Jewish organizations, including Agudath Israel of America, National Council of Young Israel, Rabbinical Council of America, and Chabad.

Rabbi Ephraim Simon, director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County, forwarded an e-mail to his membership during Pesach, shortly after receiving a request from Chabad’s main office in Brooklyn. Despite some misconceptions, Simon said, the petition does not argue Rubashkin’s innocence or plead for leniency or to have his conviction overturned.

“It’s saying he should be punished according to the law of the land,” Simon said. “Let him be punished but let him be punished the same as others have been punished.”

That Rubashkin has been denied bail because he’s considered a flight risk to Israel is disconcerting, according to Simon.

“To say that somebody should deserve a different standard of justice because he is a Jew is something we should be concerned about,” he said.

Rabbi Michel Gurkov of Chabad of Wayne said that his members’ response to the petition has been generally positive. A number of people are upset about the circumstances surrounding the case, he said.

“It’s beyond our understanding why the prosecution is demanding such stringent punishment,” he said.

Gurkov also expressed worry that this case could set a precedent for other high-profile Jewish individuals facing criminal charges.

“The thought itself is very disconcerting,” he said.

Repeated calls to the Justice Department’s Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison — which the petition directs people to call to voice their concern — were met with either a busy signal or a recording that the office is receiving a high volume of calls.

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, cited a handful of immigration raids at Swift & Company meatpacking sites in Colorado that rounded up more than 1,300 illegal immigrants as evidence of the disparity in Rubashkin’s treatment. The leadership of Swift was not treated as harshly as Rubashkin, according to Lerner. None of the company’s leaders was charged and the one union representative convicted of harboring illegal immigrants received a sentence of one year and a day.

“The bottom line is something doesn’t make sense here,” Lerner said. “He committed a crime, we accept that. The issue is the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”

Federal authorities launched investigations into the Agriprocessors plant after a May 2008 immigration raid. After a month-long trial, a jury convicted Rubashkin last year on a range of fraud charges, money laundering, and failing to pay his suppliers. A week later, federal prosecutors dismissed all 72 immigration charges against Rubashkin because he had already been convicted of the more serious fraud charges.

“This is not a Madoff story. It’s not somebody who lined his pockets for wealth,” said Rabbi Neil Winkler of Young Israel of Fort Lee, who has not yet distributed the petition among his congregants but plans to speak about it soon. “It’s proper for every Jew to seek equal justice for Sholom Rubashkin, which is what we’re asking for.”

 
 

Police still investigating graffiti at Wayne school

The discovery of swastikas spray-painted on an elementary public school in Wayne Saturday night, the eve of Yom HaShoah, drew swift condemnation from the township’s Jewish community but its leaders remained unconcerned about a spike in anti-Semitism.

The graffiti — which included the message “I love Hitler,” swastikas, and several sexual messages — were found on playground equipment and a wall at Randall Carter Elementary School. They were cleaned up by the end of the day Sunday. No other incidents were reported across the state during the weekend, according to Etzion Neuer, director of New Jersey’s office of the Anti-Defamation League.

Police were continuing their investigation on Wednesday. Because the swastikas were accompanied by graffiti of a sexual nature, police believe the perpetrator or perpetrators were juveniles, said Det. Sgt. Charles Ahearn. Police do not suspect a larger trend within Wayne.

“As of right now it’s an isolated incident,” Ahearn said. “We’re treating it as that. We are taking it extremely seriously, however.”

Youths, Neuer said, continue to be the No. 1 perpetrators of bias crimes in New Jersey, but he warned against assuming that the perpetrators are connected with the school.

Police routinely patrol the township’s schools, and that led to the discovery of the graffiti. Holocaust education can be a powerful tool but “is no automatic inoculation against bias incidents,” Neuer said. “Incidents like this point to the need for increased attention to youth. With the distance of the Shoah, we worry about the solemnity of [Yom HaShoah] and the cheapening of the meaningfulness of the Holocaust.”

Ahearn said investigators are taking Yom HaShoah into account but added that there is no indication yet of a link between the commemoration and the graffiti. Though the timing may be a coincidence, it is still troubling, according to Neuer.

“For many people, the Holocaust is a distant event and exists only in crumbling yellow newspapers,” he said. “For survivors, memories are vivid. Imagine the pain when they opened the newspaper on Monday morning and saw ‘Hitler’ spray-painted on a school wall.”

Such incidents elicit strong emotional responses from the community, Jews and non-Jews alike, said Rabbi Stephen Wylen of Temple Beth Tikvah. Of greater concern, however, the rabbi said, is subtler demonization of Jews, such as misrepresentations in school textbooks and in anti-Israel letters to area newspapers.

“It’s the subtler but more consistent forms of demonization against the Jews that does us more damage,” he said. “I’m concerned the Jewish community is less reactive toward those things.”

Rabbi Randall Mark of Cong. Shomrei Torah intends to raise the vandalism issue with the Wayne Clergy Fellowship. Mark, who is president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, does not plan to raise the issue with the board. The incident, he said, can be an opportunity for education. He praised the Wayne schools for past responses to past anti-Semitic incidents after which they brought in the ADL for tolerance curricula.

“Every time something negative happens it’s an opportunity to do something positive with it,” he said.

The Wayne police have asked those who have any information regarding this incident to call them at (973) 633-3549.

 
 

N.J.-Israel Commission funds slashed

The New Jersey-Israel Commission lost its director, Andrea Yonah, to budget cuts last week as it officially became part of a new initiative in the State Department to boost business in New Jersey.

The commission has been rolled into the Partnership for Public Action, which, under the auspices of Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, is charged with attracting new businesses, retaining businesses, and making the state more business-friendly, said Sean Connor, Gov. Chris Christie’s deputy press secretary. Other programs joining the Israel Commission will be announced in coming weeks, he added.

“The New Jersey-Israel Commission will be focusing on how to bring more economic development to the state of New Jersey,” he said. “We are excited about that. The New Jersey-Israel Commission has and will continue to play an important role in helping to attract, retain, and grow our relationships with global businesses.”

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who had chaired the commission, expressed optimism that its focus on business development and cooperation, cultural exchange, and educational exchange would remain

“We’ve been reassured by the lieutenant governor that the commission itself is now a valued part of [her] portfolio,” he said. “We’re going to make this work.”

Kurtzer tendered his resignation after the shake-up announcement just before Passover. The move was a courtesy to Christie who, Kurtzer said, should be allowed to choose his own chair. Kurtzer is hopeful, however, that the governor will see fit to reappoint him as a member of the commission.

Since the commission was already housed within the State Department, it was easier to roll it into the partnership than other programs, Connor said. The changes to the commission, he emphasized, were administrative and there would be no changes to its mission or membership make-up. The commission had been operating with an annual budget of $130,000, almost $120,000 of which went toward salaries for Yonah and another employee, he said.

April 9 marked the last day of Yonah’s eight-year tenure with the commission.

“She’s a powerhouse,” said commission member Howard Charish, executive vice president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. “She has been able to attract excellent leadership on the commission, bring business from Israel to New Jersey, and develop cultural, scientific, and trade relationships that have helped both New Jersey and Israel.”

“We’re not saying goodbye to Andrea,” said commission member Mark Levenson. “She will be working with us on lots of issues and ventures in terms of trying to help Israel and I can’t wait until she lands her next position because she is just a dynamo.”

Yonah remained upbeat during a phone interview with The Jewish Standard on Tuesday.

“To be able to bring the best of Israel and match it with the best of New Jersey was a dream,” Yonah said. “Both of our states have so much in common and so much to collaborate on and so much opportunity for the future.”

Her future remained uncertain, but, she said, she looked forward to spending time in Israel and continuing to help bridge the Jewish state and the Garden State.

As members praised Yonah’s leadership they also expressed outrage at Christie for cutting the commission’s funding.

“This is an affront to the people who volunteered to be on this commission,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), a longtime member. “This is an affront to an employee who had served so well for eight years. It’s an affront to the Jewish community.”

Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) had harsher words for Christie.

“The governor’s budget sold the commission out with any number of other groups,” he said. “The New Jersey-Israel Commission was one of the first of its kind. It has been shown and proven that the commission is instrumental in creating jobs for New Jersey.”

Schaer, a member of the Assembly’s budget committee, also lashed out at Christie’s budget proposals.

“There are so many areas of real concern that so many of us have regarding seniors, education, colleges, and universities,” he said.

Christie has the option to veto any changes the Assembly or Senate budget committees make and, according to Schaer, he has pledged to do so. Despite the Christie administration’s explanations, Schaer doubted the benefits achieved by the change.

“With New Jersey-Israel Commission we see the cost was ridiculously small compared to the deficit and the very real benefit — the close relationship with the State of Israel,” he said. “In that case, the governor’s proposal doesn’t make financial sense and doesn’t make any sense at all.”

The New Jersey-Israel Commission was created in 1989 to foster business ties as part of a sister-state agreement. More than 700 New Jersey companies do business with Israel, 65 Israeli companies maintain operations in New Jersey, and 18 New Jersey companies have operations in Israel.

 
 

Happy birthday, Israel — and many, many more

 

Jersey City welcomes West Point cadets

image
Seniors Kyle Staron, Matt Archuleta, and Porter Smith look on as Rabbi Ken Brickman reads from the Torah in a synagogue in Jersey City. Cadet Ben Salvito

Fifteen West Point cadets spent three days in Jersey City last week getting a taste of the various religious cultures they might encounter when deployed overseas and learning how the different communities get along in Hudson County.

The cadets, mostly seniors, were participants in an elective course at the U.S. Military Academy called “Winning the Peace.” The course, said instructor Maj. Angelica Martinez, is designed to give students different perspectives on how to interact with local populations with unfamiliar cultures, religions, and languages.

“They not only gain a new sense of cultural awareness, new confidence,” Martinez said, “[but] it brings home how challenging their new positions and duties will be when [they] don’t speak the language, don’t know the culture.”

The course, created in 2004, focuses on understanding political, strategic, and ethical implications of military missions; increasing awareness of cadets’ own perceptions of other cultures and how those cultures perceive them; and understanding the complexity of creating sustainable peace and security.

It culminates in the Jersey City trip, planned with the Cultural Coalition of Jersey City for Winning the Peace, an organization of city elected officials and religious leaders. The trip began last Thursday at a place many immigrant communities value in common: Ellis Island. The students spent two nights sleeping in the Islamic Center of Jersey City and three days visiting Islamic, Hindu, and Christian religious sites as well as Temple Beth-El, a Reform synagogue.

“The cadets really have an eye-opening experience,” Martinez said. “They really get a sense of how this community comes together and, despite the differences, works things out.”

At Temple Beth-El, Rabbi Ken Brickman explained the significance of religious items in the sanctuary, including the Torah, and gave some cadets their first introduction to Judaism.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Brickman said of the program.

Brickman pointed out that during the first Iraq war, the military was not familiar with Islamic customs, creating an additional source of tension. The cadets might not encounter Jews as often as practitioners of other religions when they deploy overseas, he said, so he is happy they took this opportunity to meet them now.

“Having Rabbi Brickman walk us through what Sabbath services look like, it really does help us understand a little bit more — not only about what people believe but about larger conflicts” such as the differences between Christianity and Judaism, Martinez said.

The trip “opened my eyes to a variety of topics I didn’t know about,” said senior Porter Smith, who added that he appreciated the lessons in conflict resolution. “It was good to experience different cultures and interact with different community leaders to see what they’re doing to promote religious tolerance and create a cohesive community.”

Jersey City resident Ahmed Shedeed is one of the trip’s main organizers. Jersey City, he said, is a perfect setting to see a blend of diverse cultures.

“Here in this city we have different cultures, different religions, and different languages,” he said. “And everybody lives in peace and harmony.”

This was not always the case, he said, pointing to a 2005 incident that threatened to shatter the delicate balance between Jersey City’s religious communities. The murder of a Coptic Egyptian family of four spread fear and distrust between the city’s Egyptian Christian and Muslim communities, who had until then managed to leave behind the strained relations experienced in their homeland.

Eventually, authorities apprehended the perpetrator — who was not Muslim — and wounds began to heal. According to Shedeed, Jersey City has since become a model for interreligious cooperation.

“If we can do it here in Jersey City, they can do it everywhere,” Shedeed said. “We can all live together, not by fighting but by creating love and harmony.”

 
 
 
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