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entries tagged with: Jewish Federations Of North America


Yemen operation is happily out in open

NEW YORK – After months of stressing the need for silence, two major Jewish organizations and a former Bush administration official are embracing publicity about their roles in bringing Yemenite Jews to the United States.

More than 60 Jews, who were among the last few hundred living in Yemen, have been resettled in the New York suburbs, according to representatives of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Jewish Federations of North America.

Word leaked in the Israeli media in March that the two groups were working with the U.S. State Department and the government of Yemen to help Jews leave the country after a spike in intimidation and violence against the Jews, including the murder of a communal leader.

The stories appeared to be fueled by complaints from the Jewish Agency for Israel that some of the Yemenites were taken to the United States instead of Israel.

Jewish Agency officials were particularly upset over what they described as HIAS and the Jewish Federations, then known as the United Jewish Communities, working with the Satmar chasidic sect. The Satmar community is anti-Zionist and reportedly has been on the ground in Yemen urging the Jews there not to go to Israel.

Officials at HIAS and the Jewish Federations countered that they simply had acted in accordance with the wishes of the Yemenites and disputed claims that they were working with the Satmars. The officials also asserted that public discussion of the operation could prompt the government in Yemen to stop it and end up endangering Jews who remained there.

Such concerns were echoed by Gregg Rickman, who worked for the Bush administration as the State Department official in charge of combating anti-Semitism, and went on to serve as a consultant for a segment of the Satmar community.

But last week The Wall Street Journal published a lengthy article on the operation, and now those who had counseled silence appear to be embracing the publicity.

Rickman was quoted in the article and subsequently wrote his own piece for the news Website The Cutting Edge. Officials at HIAS and the Jewish Federations sent out multiple media alerts about The Wall Street Journal story.

A Yemenite woman brought to the United States by Jewish groups and the U.S. State Department arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. HIAS

“We were very concerned and our State Department partners were very concerned about the press coverage at the time,” the president and CEO of HIAS, Gideon Aronoff, told JTA Monday. “We disagreed with those in the Jewish Agency who spoke publicly about the migration, and we were grateful that the process was able to move along and hope those remaining are able to continue the movement without negative repercussions.”

Though a few hundred Jews still remain in Yemen, a HIAS spokeswoman said that those who had originally registered to leave the country had done so.

“Our sense is now that the story is out,” Aronoff said, “we should talk about the collaborative effort for a good humanitarian cause.”

The Jewish Federations raised more than $700,000 from local Jewish federations and HIAS to help resettle the Yemenites in the United States.

“The Wall Street Journal published a story on Saturday, but we still remain circumspect about what is going on and so does the State Department,” said Barry Swartz, the vice president of consulting of the Jewish Federations, who oversaw the mission.

Still, Jewish Federations spokesman Joe Berkofsky said, the organization has a responsibility to update supporters about the operations.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to tell our stakeholders about this and to update them on what is happening, in addition to quietly holding behind-the-scenes briefings with leadership,” he said. “We had to tell them in a broader sense that this is happening and these are the details.”



Federations look to the future

JCorps founder wins first Jewish Community Heroes award

After weeks of deliberation and the tally of more than 600,000 online votes, the Jewish Federations of North America has named its first Jewish Community Hero — Teaneck native Ari Teman, the founder of JCorps.
A panel of judges from outside the federation system chose Teman, 27, for the $25,000 Jewish Community Heroes prize after whittling down a list of more than 400 nominees, which also included Rabbi Ephraim Simon, director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County in Teaneck. Simon, who was nominated because of his donation of a kidney to a stranger, garnered 8,210 votes to make it into the list of top 20 semifinalists but was not chosen to be among the top five.

The Jewish Federations announced the winner Tuesday at the closing plenary session of its General Assembly in Washington. The contest was part of the federation system’s new multimillion-dollar marketing and rebranding strategy to broaden its base of support.

Ari Teman

Teman’s organization sets up young Jews with volunteer opportunities in nine cities over three continents — all while working on virtually no budget.

“We’re all a product of a community,” Teman, a graduate of Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, said during a press conference after he was declared the winner. “I was raised in Teaneck and I benefited a lot from the education system in Teaneck.”

Noting that Chabad had a large share of nominees in the general pool and in the top 20, Teman credited the organization for its work and for pulling him back to Judaism after he wandered away during college. The outreach group, he added, has also had an influence on JCorps.

“Chabad is way ahead of us,” he said. “If you’re traveling somewhere in the world, in some far remote village there’s a Chabad guy willing to let you in no matter what. We’ve been able to borrow from them [the philosophy of] ‘a Jew is a Jew’ and not get into the conversation of what kind of Jew are you. We got that from Chabad.”

Teman, a standup comedian by day, runs JCorps as a volunteer on a budget that is probably less than the award he will take home. Yet the organization has enlisted some 10,000 volunteers for local community service projects in the United States, Canada, and Israel.

“This will enable us to take in a lot more volunteers rapidly without having to worry, ‘Do we have to slow it down because we can’t afford to bring more people in?’” Teman said.

He started JCorps in 2007 on something of a late-night whim, he said, about how he could meet more Jewish people.

The money will help the program expand and perhaps allow Teman to hire his first professional staff member.

“The first year we started with $300,” he said. “We like to say that if we had no money we could still keep running, which is great, because it means the money we put in is for growth.

JTA/Jewish Standard


Federations look to the future

Sharansky: Israel needs the diaspora

Natan Sharansky, right, new head of the Jewish Agency for Israel and a former prisoner in the Soviet Union, chats with two active members of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, Eva and Leo Gans. Josh Lipowsky

Israel may need the diaspora just as much as the diaspora needs Israel, Natan Sharansky, the newly appointed head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, told members of the GA delegation from UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey during a private meeting on Tuesday.

Sharansky, a former minister of diaspora Affairs and a former prisoner of Zion in the Soviet Union, took over JAFI earlier this year.

“I am trying now to refocus the Jewish Agency, a huge organization with a lot of idealistic people,” Sharansky told the group. Echoing what he said at the plenary session on Monday, he said, “I believe that [Jewish] identity has to be put in the center.”

Responding to a question from UJA-NNJ executive vice president Howard Charish on the role of Israelis in diaspora communities and an unspoken directive not to engage them in local affairs, Sharansky said he was never one to follow instructions. The model where the diaspora looks to Israel for a Jewish connection but not vice versa, which he said was likely directed by Israel itself, is outdated.

“We are one people,” he said. “We’re a global world. I think you have to do your best [for] Russian speakers and Spanish speakers and Hebrew speakers.”

Many Israelis who leave Israel often leave behind their connections to the Jewish people — until they realize that their children are growing up without that connection, and then they begin to engage, Sharansky continued.

“Israelis are also discovering for their own interests they need the diaspora, to connect to Jewish history and tradition,” he said. “It’s less about how one helps the other but how you’re helping yourself.”

Turning toward JAFI’s role as a facilitator of aliyah, Sharansky said that though the decision today is mostly aliyah by choice, the Jewish world must be prepared in case aliyah becomes a rescue option.

Program such as MASA, which enables young Jews to study in Israel, provide professional development and connect Jews around the world to the Israel experience, he said.

North American aliyah, he added, has increased to some 4,000 a year and JAFI has dreams of it soon reaching 7,000.

“That will come only if we continue building strong Jewish communities,” he said. “It’s challenging times but I think we will succeed.”

Sharansky shared a story that when the Soviet Union prepared its case against him, prosecutors had amassed 15,000 pages of documents, listing every Jewish and anti-Soviet organization he was affiliated with. These organizations did not communicate well with each other, he said, but there they were, all listed together.

“For our enemies we are all on the same page,” he said.

UJA-NNJ makes it a point to schedule private meetings like these at the GA, Charish said afterward. Past meetings have included former UJC executive committee chairs Kathy Manning and Joe Tauber and former JAFI head Ze’ev Bielski. Some members of the local delegation told Charish that the Sharansky meeting was the best session they had attended that week.

“We felt privileged to be in his company given the fact that he’s a hero of our time and has a distinguished record of service since coming to Israel,” Charish said. “It’s good to have that small group discussion to get clarifications and understandings of positions.”


Federations look to the future

Kehillah Partnership: ‘Doing together what no agency can do alone’

Many came to the GA looking for ways to re-energize their communities and bring new and younger people into the fold. UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and the YJCC of Bergen County came to Washington with their solution: the Kehillah Partnership.

The program, created in 2006, links the YJCC, UJA-NNJ, synagogues, and other communal organizations through cost- and resource-sharing. Rabbi Noam Marans, associate director of Contemporary Jewish Life at the American Jewish Committee, presented the program during a panel on Monday called “You Had Me at Shalom,” exploring new methods to engage young families.

“The Partnership is a place where local community agencies and institutions … work together to foster innovation and connectedness, doing together what no agency can do alone,” he told the standing room-only session. “Institutions maintain individual identities and allegiances but embrace the benefit of working together with others.”
During a Kehillah Partnership-sponsored reception later that evening, Marans, who lives in Teaneck, said the program had been well received at the conference, which made him optimistic that it could be replicated nationally.
“The greatest accomplishment is that thoughtful people in Jewish education and in institution-building have recognized the Kehillah Partnership as a national model that can be implemented locally,” he said. “We hope to enable other communities to apply the lessons we’ve learned to the specific circumstances of their communities.”

Rabbi Noam Marans talks about the Kehillah Partnership. Josh Lipowsky

Evie Rotstein, program consultant for the Partnership, said organizers have been able to capitalize on a grant they received last year from the Covenant Foundation to develop a new curriculum for sixth-grade Hebrew school teachers that integrates the arts.

“This is a very special kind of professional development for teachers,” she said. “It’s infusing arts into the curriculum and nowhere else is that happening in the U.S. Teachers are learning to utilize videography, art, dance, photography, airplane-making, jewelry-making…. They’re using the skills of the artists in bringing that back to the classroom.”

The Partnership recently brought the national PJ Library, geared toward getting young children and their families to read Jewish books, to the area. That program crosses all denominations, but for the most part, the Partnership has focused on Conservative and Reform synagogues. That, said YJCC director Harold Benus, is only because the partnership has concentrated on congregational Hebrew schools. Programs such as a planned cost-sharing initiative will reach across the Jewish community, he said.

“It’s a matter of the stage of life that we’re at,” he said. “When we can start other programs through adult programming, with broader appeal, we’ll be more successful at reaching other synagogue communities. We are in a pilot stage right now.”

The 10 congregations involved in the pilot program all agreed that the congregational schools should be the first step, Marans said. Eventually, the program will expand to include not only more synagogues, but more Jewish institutions. This will help build community “from the bottom up,” he said.

“We have learned,” Marans added, “that if one creates an environment of trust between institutions, the institutions and their lead players will work together on projects for the betterment of the entire community.”


Federations look to the future

GA shows ‘collective will’ to build and rebuild

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. Robert Cumins/Jewish Federations of North America

A delegation from UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey joined some 3,000 Jewish professionals and lay leaders from around the world in Washington this week for the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, formerly the United Jewish Communities.

Traveling with UJA-NNJ executive vice president Howard Charish was a mix of seasoned and new leaders, 36 in all, looking for new ideas and to see how their colleagues were facing the recession that has hurt campaigns across the board.

“There’s no question times are difficult,” Charish said at the end of the confab, “but also I believe there is a collective will to get through it and focus on building and rebuilding.”

He noted that at one session he attended, Steve Shrager, head of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, reported that it is expecting an $8 million shortfall this year. The organization borrowed 10 percent from its endowment last year and is taking another 11 percent this year.

“The facts of the downturn are ever-present,” Charish said. “They of course condition yearly operations. However, there have been hard times before, and one of the things that we consistently have noted is the resilience of the Jewish people and the fact that we have a history of meeting challenges.”

Meeting challenges and looking toward the future was a theme the leadership of JFNA kept touching on. “We’re going to have to stop making Shabbat separately and start making Shabbat together,” said Jerry Silverman, JFNA’s new president and CEO, during a press conference on Sunday, the opening day of the meeting. “We need to think boldly,” he continued, “and generate an abundance of ideas and engage … new consumers and lapsed users to connect with new ideas.”

UJC’s rebranding and the appointment of its new CEO point to the need to update the federation system to maintain relevance in the changing world, said Alan Scharfstein, UJA-NNJ president.

“This was a very positive meeting in terms of understanding how all the federations are looking to change the nature of the federation system and focus on problems [whose solutions would] really make a difference,” Scharfstein continued. “There seems to be a realization across the federation system that these changes we’ve been talking about are essential to keep federation relevant and move it forward.”

This was the second GA for Alan Gallatin of Wyckoff, a member of the National Young Leadership Cabinet, and despite the faltering economy, he noted a sense of optimism among participants. “The programs themselves have been painted that way,” he said. “It’s clearly a message they’re trying to get out there, but it’s a theme that’s caught on.”

The conference also included panels led by members of the UJA-NNJ delegation. Rabbi Noam Marans of Teaneck gave a presentation on the Kehillah Partnership, a project of the YJCC of Bergen County, UJA-NNJ, and other community organizations. Leonard Cole of Ridgewood introduced a panel called “Birthright: Paradigm or party,” which explored the relationships forged between the Jewish communal world and the alumni of the popular free trip to Israel. With more than 200,000 participants since the program’s inception in 1999, it has directly or indirectly affected more than one million people, Cole said, adding, “I’ve met many people inspired to take trips because of the experiences of their kids.”

The panel’s moderator, Leah Stern, an alumna of the first trip who has since made aliyah, said the program “brought abut the rebirth of my life.”

Leonard Cole of Ridgewood praised Birthright, the popular free trip to Israel offered to young Jewish adults. Josh Lipowsky

A recent Brandeis University study examined increased Jewish participation among Birthright alumni. They are 24 percent more likely to feel connected to the Jewish community, said panelist Leonard Saxe, the study’s author. Participants, he continued, are 23 percent more likely to feel connected to Israel, and non-Orthodox participants are 54 percent more likely to marry Jews.

“Birthright proves that a bold and creative and audacious plan can not only be successful but can transform behavioral patterns,” said panelist Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The New York Jewish Week and a Teaneck resident.

President Barack Obama had been scheduled to address the conference, but canceled in order to attend a memorial service at Fort Hood, Texas. After JFNA received word of the cancellation, a group of some 40 federation volunteers and executives were invited to a reception with the president Monday evening at the White House. There, Charish said, Obama apologized for not making it to the GA, but wished the leaders well in their mission. According to Charish, Obama said that he had been trained by the Chicago Jewish federation, knew the meaning of tzedakah, and that the federation system mirrored the American value of serving those in need.

“It was very important to receive the acknowledgment by the president of the role that Jewish federations play in communal life,” Charish said. “It was a geniuine display of friendship with the Jewish community.”

A “special moment” for Charish came when he shook hands with Obama while thanking him for his support of non-profit organizations. “I was very proud to be there,” Charish said.

GA attendees did hear from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as scheduled, about the challenges facing Israel and the peace process.

“He has never given a speech that I haven’t been impressed with,” said Gallatin. He laid out a nice vision. Better than most politicians, I think he’s not afraid to call it as he sees it, and he gives a good rationale for his plan. I hope that others are going to step up to the challenges he put out there.”

The UJA-NNJ delegation relaxes at Eli’s Restaurant. Top right: Malcolm Hoehlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. JOSH LIPOWSKY

Harold Benus, executive director of the YJCC, said he thought Netanyahu was sincere in his calls for peace.

Federations, Benus noted, are beginning to look for new models to attract younger donors, and he said he was pleased with what he saw this week. “The Jewish Federations of North America are currently undergoing a transition to determine a new direction for the future,” he said. “Considering where they are, I was happily surprised about the ability for them to carry [the conference] off.”


Young leaders lauded at GA

As Jewish communal leaders from across the globe met in Washington last week, one theme permeated almost every session: The federation system’s future lies with its young leaders.

The new executive director of the Jewish Federations of North America, Jerry Silverman, told reporters at the group’s General Assembly that he wants to see 10 times as many young adults at next year’s conference. The federation system, he said, is searching for new ways to reach younger donors.

On the second day of the GA, some 200 young leaders gathered at a luncheon honoring people 45 and under who have been active in their communities.

Earlier this year, Lisa Beth Meisel of Tenafly and Michael Starr of Oradell received the Russell Berrie Young Leadership Award at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s annual meeting. Alumni of the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program, they were invited to the reception at the GA to share their successes.

Starr first got active in UJA-NNJ 14 years ago, through the Jewish Community Relations Council, and eventually became chair of the JCRC. He is chair of UJA-NNJ’s strategic planning process and a member of the steering committee of the Kehillah Partnership, which links communal organizations through cost- and revenue-sharing. “It’s a huge honor,” he said of the award. “It’s just a very flattering recognition of doing what I think is important work I wish more people were doing.”

Lisa Beth Meisel

He praised GA organizers for bringing everybody together at the young leadership luncheon, but added that more needs to be done. “The federation needs to do a better job of engaging young leadership,” Starr said. “That’s something the leadership of the federation itself recognizes. When you look at strategic planning, the need to engage younger families and people is critical for federation.”

Starr sees a lot of momentum building for such outreach. “It’s going to take time, but we really need to reach people when they’re first moving to the community and starting families and help them realize federation provides opportunities to make differences in their community’s lives and in their own lives,” he said.

As a past board member of UJA-NNJ’s Women’s Division, Meisel was vice chair of its outreach and education committee and chaired its Lion of Judah campaign. She serves on the board of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, where she chairs the health and recreation department. She is also in her sixth and final year of serving on the national Young Leadership Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“It seems like a small drop of water that ends up filling a pond, then a lake, and then an ocean,” she said of her communal work and the effect it’s had on others.

Michael Starr

A friend from the Jersey 2 Jerusalem community mission in 2007 went on to volunteer with Bergen Reads, she noted. And, Meisel said, her dedication to communal work has spread to the rest of her family. Her husband, Greg, was co-chair of J2J, while their children, Jordan and Benjamin, have found their own ways to get involved.

“My son goes to Maccabi games, and there are thousands of kids that participate and do tzedakah projects and are actively involved in being Jewish,” she said. “Young people are engaging in ways that are different … and they’re creating new programs that are beyond what I would have thought of.”


GOP upset in Mass. raises questions for health reform

WASHINGTON – The election of Scott Brown to replace the late Ted Kennedy in the U.S. Senate has thrown the future of health-care reform into doubt.

With the Republican’s upset victory Tuesday in Massachusetts, Jewish groups backing comprehensive reform must figure out how to respond. One organization said that passing the Senate version of the legislation is the best possible outcome at this point, but others are undecided.

Brown has vowed to be the crucial 41st vote against ending the filibuster on any reform of the U.S. health-care system, dimming the prospects for passage of any kind of conference committee deal between the Senate and House of Representatives. That has led some to suggest that the only hope for health-care reform is if the House passes the Senate bill without amendments, so the Senate does not have to take another vote on the issue.

The associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Mark Pelavin, said that such a step would eliminate important provisions that his group backs in the House legislation — such as the “public option” — but “is something we could live with.”

Pelavin said that while it may not be the best possible outcome, considering the political landscape it would be an “incredibly significant step” in expanding the access to and lowering the cost of health care because it would cover two-thirds of those now without insurance.

Pelavin also said the Senate bill’s controversial language restricting the health-insurance coverage of abortion, which a number of Jewish groups have spoken out against, is “troubling.” But, he added, it’s not nearly as restrictive as the provision in the House version that would not allow anyone receiving federal subsidies to buy a plan covering abortion and would not permit plans on the “insurance exchange” formed by the bill to include abortion coverage.

Sammie Moshenberg, the director of Washington operations at the National Council of Jewish Women, said the Senate language on reproductive rights is still “pretty bad” because it would allow states to decide whether abortion is covered in insurance plans and force women to write a separate check for the portion of their health coverage that covered abortion.

As for the overall legislation, Moshenberg said her organization is waiting to see how the negotiations between the House and Senate play out.

“Obviously the political dynamics on the ground have changed” and congressional leadership is “going to have to develop a strategy,” she said. “It wouldn’t make any sense for us to decide right now.

“There are things in the Senate bill that we like, and things that we don’t like.”

B’nai B’rith International also has concerns about the Senate legislation. The organization believes that the subsidies for middle-income Americans are not large enough. Also, the bill allows insurance companies to charge older consumers up to three times as much as younger customers. The House bill’s “age rating” is 2 to 1.

“It would be very difficult for the aging community” if the House decided to pass the Senate bill as is, said B’nai B’rith’s director of aging policy, Rachel Goldberg. She also expressed concern about the independent commission that the Senate bill would establish to have authority over Medicare and Medicaid spending.

William Daroff, vice president for public policy and head of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America, said his organization would continue to work with the Congress and Senate “in favor of the parts of the legislation we’re supportive of and oppose the parts we’re opposed to.”

The umbrella group Jewish Federations of North America has declined to take a position on the legislation as a whole, instead focusing on its priorities, which include the CLASS Act — a government long-term care insurance program that is included in the Senate bill — as well as increasing coverage for the most vulnerable and protecting Medicare and Medicaid.

Daroff was one of a number of Jewish organizational representatives who suggested that Democrats might still be able to sway a liberal Republican — such as Maine’s Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins — to vote to end a Senate filibuster and thus be able to reopen negotiations with the House.

Whatever the case, Pelavin said his Reform movement constituency is still solidly behind comprehensive reform that makes health care more affordable and accessible.

“I don’t think there’s any diminution in the commitment in our community,” he said.

The Republican Jewish Coalition, though, said in a statement that Brown’s election demonstrated the electorate as a whole has “serious concerns” about Obama’s health-care proposals.



Federation moves 2010 GA


Last year, the run-up to the annual conference of Jewish federations saw their umbrella body announce a name change and install a new CEO.

This year, months before the conference, the organization is making a late change to the conference’s venue — to New Orleans from Orlando, Fla. — and unveiling five new priority areas.

It’s all part of the ongoing struggle by the decade-old umbrella organization for federations — now called the Jewish Federations of North America — to prove its value to its 157 Jewish federations and, more specifically, to help the federations cope with the challenging philanthropic landscape brought on by the economic crisis.

The decision to move the 2010 General Assembly and the annual women’s philanthropy conference, the International Lions of Judah Conference, to New Orleans was due to practical considerations, federation officials said: Orlando simply didn’t have the necessary space.

“We needed to re-evaluate the venue,” said Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations. “Unfortunately, the space in Orlando does not meet the needs that would best accommodate both events, and the alternatives in Orlando logistically would have compromised the momentum built from GA 2009.”

New Orleans, for which the federation system raised some $30 million in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, was an attractive substitute.

“In reviewing our options, it became clear that New Orleans was a community where we, as a Jewish community and family, could reflect on our collective responsibility and action together,” Silverman said.

Silverman addressed the other major change at the Jewish Federations — the announcement of its new priority areas — on a conference call Monday from Dallas, where the organization was holding its board meetings.

The five areas of focus that the organization hopes will guide the federation system into the future are financial resource development; positioning for the future; talent; the power of the collective; and Israel and overseas.

In harnessing the power of the collective, the federation system wants to figure out how to use the collective experience of its 157 member federations to do better fund-raising and programming, and share best practices and talent.

The focus areas have been developed over the past several months through discussions with dozens of local federations.

“We know we need to create a pipeline of talent both from within and outside of our federations,” said Kathy Manning, the Jewish Federations’ top lay leader. “We want to make sure we are creating a culture where federations become the place to be in the Jewish community.”

While the details have yet to be worked out, the umbrella body is considering creating a professional training program to help recruit talented recent college graduates into the federation system, Silverman said.

Silverman said he would like the program to be a collaboration of the entire system that could either funnel talent through the national office to local federations or cultivate talent on a local level.

“We have to flesh it out, put it to budget, size it, and see how we can do it — then pilot it,” he said. “We’re getting it ready for recruitment in the fall, when it is ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”

The General Assembly also will take place in the fall, with slightly different dates than originally planned: The GA will be Nov. 7-9, and the Lions of Judah Conference will take place Nov. 8-10.

The concerns with the original venue, Walt Disney World’s Yacht and Beach Club Resort, centered on whether the resort could handle the GA’s dining needs and how much it would cost to shuttle conference participants from location to location at Disney World.

The CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, Hope Kramer, said she found out about the decision within the past two weeks. While her federation is missing out on an opportunity, she said, Kramer believes the umbrella group made a decision that it felt was best for the entire federation system.

Having the GA in town “does invigorate and engage those who have not been involved for a while or are tired or getting stressed. That is a great shot in the arm; that is what I will miss,” Kramer told JTA. “I am concerned about the way it came to me, but it was clear it was just the best decision for the federations.

“Disney can do a lot of things, but we are talking about 6,000 people,” she said. “These hotels get really booked around here.”

The federations had a contract with Disney, and the financial ramifications of canceling were not immediately clear.

“We feel we will be able to work though it with minimal liability,” Silverman said.



Groups pushed health reform, but some keeping quiet on bill

Several Jewish non-profit groups are lauding passage of health-care reform legislation, saying it will benefit the community on a number of levels. Other groups, however, are keeping quiet in what some observers describe as a concentrated effort to keep out of the political crossfire.

Among those declining to comment on the passage of the bill is the Jewish Federations of North America, the North American arm of the country’s largest Jewish charitable network. The JFNA and its Washington office played an active role in advocating for parts of the bill, which Congress approved 219-212 late Sunday night.

According to federation insiders, the JFNA was the non-profit organization that took the lead on pushing for inclusion of two parts of the bill it thinks could create “transformational” change for the Jewish community: The Early Act, which will create more funding for breast cancer research and detection, and The Class Act, which will allow workers to buy into a system — much as they buy into Medicare — that will provide up to $3,000 per month for long-term support and services for the elderly and infirm.

Backers say both programs are important for Jews: The former, because Jewish women of Ashkenazi descent have a higher occurrence of the markers for breast cancer than any other minority; the latter because the Jewish community is aging faster than any other subgroup, as Jews live longer and have fewer children than anyone else.

The long-term funding should also prove a windfall for the 120 Jewish nursing homes, 145 Jewish Family Service agencies, and 15 to 20 Jewish hospitals that the federation system supports.

On Monday, the morning after the U.S. House of Representatives voted along party lines to pass a measure that would create sweeping change in the country’s health-care and insurance system, a slew of Jewish groups issued statements supporting the bill and looking forward to President Obama signing it into law.

B’nai B’rith International has been closely watching the bill’s evolution over the past year because it operates a network of senior residences, according to Rachel Goldberg, B’nai B’rith’s director of aging policy.

“We have looked at the whole thing because we think access to health care for younger people is going to affect how they age,” Goldberg said. “All of the Jewish organizations have come at this from slightly different angles. Because of our expertise, we are looking at things like access to care for everyone. And healthy aging is not possible without access to health care.... For other Jewish organizations that are responsible for running nursing homes, they are affected in different and more direct ways because they are providers.”

Similarly, the Religious Action Center, the political lobby of the Reform movement, said in a statement that the adopted bill “is not perfect. But it is necessary.”

And while the Jewish Council on Public Affairs did not put out a public statement, its executive director, Rabbi Steve Gutow, endorsed the bill in an interview with JTA Tuesday.

“Knowing our community, we will take advantage of the things in there that apply for us,” said Gutow, whose organization is a public policy umbrella group bringing together the synagogue movements, several national organizations, and more than 100 communities in North America.

The biggest public debate between Jews has emerged between Jewish partisan organizations. On Monday, the National Jewish Democratic Council effusively praised the bill and the president for getting it passed, saying it ranked among “such monumental legislative achievements as the passage of Social Security in the 1930s.”

On the other hand, before the bill was passed into law, the Republican Jewish Coalition called it “deeply flawed” and said, “Substantively, the Obama plan is wrong for America.”

Some supporters of the bill say partisan politics may explain the silence of several large organizations that at various points over the past year have pushed for the bill or portions of it.

The JFNA, which raises close to $2 billion per year through its more than 150 federations — and lobbies the federal government for hundreds of millions more to help care for the elderly — has been silent since the House vote, even though the federations and the Jewish Family Service organizations potentially have much to gain. “We will not be issuing any statements on this issue,” the spokesman for JFNA wrote in an e-mail.

Outside observers are saying that the federations, like some other large organizations, are now stuck in a position where they may be happy that the bill passed but cannot publicly say so for fear of upsetting major donors who side with the Republicans on the issue.

The highly charged, bitterly partisan fight on Capital Hill over the past week has spilled into the board rooms of many Jewish organizations, making it harder for some to take very public stances on the bill, backers said.

“It’s amazing how few Jewish groups got into this fight,” the RAC’s executive director, Rabbi David Saperstein, told JTA. “The Conservative movement and a few others co-sponsored a call with the president in which they brought this up. The Orthodox didn’t do anything. The federation system was nominally supportive of it.”

The JCPA says it supported the bill and was publicly applauding its passage, though it did not issue a press release. Health care is a loaded issue, especially for an umbrella group that has many factions to please. “We supported this,” the JCPA’s Gutow said. “But it became more complicated as the health-care bill became more complicated and partisan.”



Obama spreads the love, keeping Jewish leaders happy — for now

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is projecting a new attitude when it comes to Israel, and is selling it hard: unbreakable, unshakeable bond going forward, whatever happens.

Jewish leaders have kicked the tires and they’re buying — although anxious still at what happens when the rubber hits the road.

News Analysis

“It’s a positive development,” Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said of the recent Jewish outreach blitz by the administration. “There are two questions, though, that will only be answered over time: Will the outreach be sustained, and will the policy be consistent with the positions being expressed in the outreach?”

Tensions between the administration and Israel were sparked in the first week of March, when Israel announced a major new building initiative in eastern Jerusalem during what was meant to be a fence-mending visit by Vice President Joe Biden. Biden’s rebuke of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the trip was followed by a 45-minute phone berating by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and then statements by senior administration officials that the announcement had been an affront.

That in turn spurred howls of protest by top Jewish figures saying that while Netanyahu indeed had blown it, the backlash should have ended with Biden’s rebuke. Worse, opinion-makers in Washington had seized on a paragraph in 56 pages of Senate testimony last month by Gen. David Petraeus in which the Central Command chief said that one of many elements frustrating his mission in the Middle East was the Arab-Israeli peace freeze.

The turning point, Solow said, was the letter he received April 20 from President Obama.

“Let me be very clear: We have a special relationship with Israel that will not be changed,” Obama wrote. “Our countries are bound together by shared values, deep and interwoven connections, and mutual interests. Many of the same forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States and our efforts to secure peace and stability in the Middle East. Our alliance with Israel serves our national security interests.”

Obama suggested that the letter was prompted by the “concerns” Solow had expressed to White House staff. Solow said the letter was a surprise.

Whatever the case, the letter was only one element in a blast of Israel love from the administration, including speeches by David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political adviser, at the Israeli Embassy’s Independence Day festivities, and to the National Jewish Democratic Council; Clinton to the Center for Middle East Peace last week and to the American Jewish Committee this week; Petraeus, keynoting last week’s U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s commemoration at the U.S. Capitol; Rahm Emanuel, the White House Chief of Staff, meeting recently with a group of 20 rabbis; Jim Jones, the national security adviser, last week at the pro-Israel think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Jones’ deputy, Daniel Shapiro, addressing the Anti-Defamation League next month.

The main theme of the remarks is, as Jones put it, “no space — no space — between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.”

Petraeus especially seems to have developed a second career keynoting Jewish events. He also spoke recently at the 92nd Street Y in New York and is addressing a Commentary magazine dinner in June.

Much of his Holocaust address, naturally, concerned itself with events of 65 years ago, but he couldn’t help wrenching the speech back into the present tense to heap praise on Israel.

Speaking of the survivors, he said, “They have, of course, helped build a nation that stands as one of our great allies.”

The blitz also has assumed at times the shape of a call and response. After the initial “crisis,” a number of Jewish groups wondered why the administration was making an issue of Israeli settlement and not of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to renew talks until Israel completely froze settlement-building and of continued incitement under Abbas’ watch.

In fact, the administration repeatedly warns against any preconditions and has made a consistent issue of Palestinian incitement, but Clinton appeared to get the message that the message hasn’t been forceful enough.

“We strongly urge President Abbas and his government to join negotiations with Israel now,” she told the Center for Middle East Peace on April 15. She also called on the Palestinian Authority to “redouble its efforts to put an end to incitement and violence, crack down on corruption, and ingrain a culture of peace and tolerance among Palestinians.”

Jewish leaders also were wounded by what they saw as a dismissive attitude to Israel’s contributions to the alliance.

“It is Israel which serves on the front lines as an outpost of American interests in a dangerous part of the world,” Lee Rosenberg, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee president, said April 14 at Israel’s Independence Day celebrations. “Israel’s military expertise and the intelligence they share with us help the United States remain on the offense against those who seek America’s destruction in some of the darkest and most difficult places on the planet.”

Cue Jim Jones, addressing the Washington Institute exactly a week later.

“I can also say from long experience that our security relationship with Israel is important for America,” Jones said. “Our military benefits from Israeli innovations in technology, from shared intelligence, from exercises that help our readiness and joint training that enhances our capabilities, and from lessons learned in Israel’s own battles against terrorism and asymmetric threats.”

The feel-the-love show extends to Israelis as well, a marked change from the no-photos snub Netanyahu received when he met at the White House with Obama in late March.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates rolled out the red carpet for his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, on Tuesday, a signal that the sides are coordinating closely on Iran containment policy. And when the Israeli defense minister met at the White House with Jones, Obama dropped by Jones’ office to chat informally — a signal that presidents have traditionally used to underscore the closeness of a relationship.

Furthermore, the administration is not limiting its message to Jewish audiences. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, spoke last week to the Arab American Institute and made points that essentially were the same as Clinton’s when she addressed the Center for Middle East Peace.

“Our position remains clear: We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” Rice told the Arab American group. “Israel should also halt evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority should continue to make every effort to ensure security, to reform its institutions of governance, and to take strong, consistent action to end all forms of incitement.”

Differences remain — like Rice, Clinton has emphasized that the Obama administration is not about to let the settlements issue go. More subtly, Obama is not going to concede in his overarching thesis of a “linkage” that has been repudiated by Israel and its defenders here: that Arab-Israeli peace will make it much easier to secure U.S. interests in the region.

“For over 60 years, American presidents have believed that pursuing peace between Arabs and Israelis is in the national security interests of the United States,” Obama said.

That’s essentially true — Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, made the same point multiple times, but not with the doggedness and emphasis of Obama.

Jewish leaders said they would closely watch the aftermath of next month’s visit to Washington by Abbas, when the sides are expected to announce the resumption of talks. The nitty-gritty of the talks may yet derail the new good feelings; how that works depends on communications, said William Daroff, who heads the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“This charm offensive is part of a prefatory way of setting up the communications so that when we get to proximity talks we will all move forward instead,” he said.

Critical to that success was listening, said Nathan Diament, who heads the Orthodox Union’s Washington office.

“Too many of the tensions of the past months have been generated by a lack of communication,” Diament said. “But just as important is for the administration to talk with, not just at, the community. The president benefits from having more input inform his policy choices.”


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