How To Speak for the President Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer on identity politics, the Middle East and Jewish-American pride


(Courtesy of The Associated)

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer is proud to be a Jew.

While giving the address at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s Keynote Event on Thursday, Dec. 8 to a packed room in the lavish Hyatt Regency Baltimore Inner Harbor ballroom, Fleischer declared that he’s also proud to be an American.

He additionally takes great pride in having been the voice of President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003 — an especially tumultuous time in the nation’s history.

This after having spent a year in Austin, Texas as spokesman for Bush’s initial presidential campaign and being asked  by one local if his name is “R-period, E-period.” And the gentle ribbing by Bush, who Fleischer acknowledged “occasionally has some trouble with the English language,” (endearingly) dubbing his press secretary “Ari Bob.”

Fleischer illuminated what it was to be tied to his own heritage — as the son of a Hungarian immigrant mother who was one of the last Jews to  escape Europe during the Holocaust — in Bush’s White House, which was largely “Evangelical Christian.”

The challenge was that it is essential for the press secretary to leave aside his or her own perspective when presenting daily briefings to the world press, Fleischer said. It is his or her job to speak on behalf of the president and express those views only with fervent, heartfelt pragmatism.

And yet, Fleischer is proudest still that a person with a Hebrew name — Jewish-American and child of an  immigrant — spoke for the president in this way during the time he was at the White House, be it for the nation’s media or broadcast via outlets such as (he was sure to note) Al Jazeera.

Fleischer wears no rosy-colored glasses when it comes to the “rapidly deteriorating” state of the Middle East, as he put it, vying as he does for the  protection the Jewish people in Israel.

“These are tough times in the Middle East,” Fleischer said. “When is it not?”

Fleischer was pessimistic about the notion for peace  between Israel and the Palestinians, which he referred to as “a quaint and nostalgic thing.”

He is disheartened by the prospect that whereas “every nation that ever sought to make peace with Israel found a willing, ready and able partner for peace” — citing the ilk  of Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat and Jordan’s King  Hussein bin Talal — there is, in Fleischer’s opinion, currently an alarming lack of such a partner for Israel in a peaceful resolution with the Palestinians.

For context, Fleischer pointed out that there are roads, schools summer camps and other memorials in the Palestinian city of Ramallah — where there was joyous dancing on 9/11, he reminded the audience — named after the most destructive suicide bombers or “martyrs” that ever struck at Israel and the U.S.

It was a sobering, latter half of his speech in which Fleischer said, “There’s no higher call for the Jewish people than a call for peace … but Israel can’t negotiate with ‘no one’ … and so far, the Palestinians have been unable to deliver such a person.”

A reality, Fleischer fears, that was laid bare after Israel pulled out of Gaza. With full sovereignty over their land, one of the first acts by the Palestinians in that area was to destroy the area synagogues.

There is some flicker of light at the end of the dark tunnel for Fleischer, who revealed a “movement” happening “behind the scenes” in the Middle East, as various nations such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are beginning to focus their hostility less on Israel and more on Iran as the potential threat to regional solidarity.

Fleischer’s wish is that “President-elect Trump will recognize that we are on the verge of an unusual strategic realignment and that the United States should actively work for this realignment and support it.

“It’s in Israel’s interest, it’s in America’s interest and it’s in the interest of the Arab moderates for whom we have to place hope for the future in the Middle East.”

When asked by the JT about his thoughts on so-called “identity politics,” the notion that a person’s association with a larger group (race/religion/ gender/sexuality) profoundly informs his or her worldview, the high-profile policy wonk and media consultant was characteristically self-assured in responding.

“I’m tremendously proud of what this country has done in terms of its melting pot,” Fleischer said. “That we can love our heritage, be true to our heritage … I love that part of the United States. It’s who we are.”

Where Fleischer is concerned is when identity politics becomes more important than an individual’s connection to the nation in which she or he lives.

Fleischer envisions a stronger “national unity,” which he  believes can lead to more  national policies that might  alleviate terra firma problems that affect us all, regardless of personal affiliation, such as “doing the most we can to lift people out of poverty, which is really what we need.”

The confusion many are  experiencing in reconciling their individual, diverse heritage with that of a unified community is something Fleischer  understands all too well.

“What I’ve learned through my government service, particularly at the White House, is how the fabric of the nation still so deeply connects all of us,” he said.

Fleischer recounted a harrowing story in which, three days after 9/11, he faced the decision of whether to go to work that day and speak to the nation for the president … or observe Rosh Hashanah.

After consulting with his staff and rabbi, he decided to attend services in the morning and work the rest of the day. But at a briefing with the press later that day, he was asked a question about a meeting in the oval office that had earlier taken place and was able to  respond that he was unable to answer, as he was in synagogue that morning.

“It felt so good to say that on national television,” Fleischer beamed.

Pearlstone Receives National Honor

 Jakir Manela, executive director of Pearlstone Center (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Jakir Manela, executive director of Pearlstone Center (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Pearlstone Retreat & Conference Center, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, was the recipient of the Lippman Kanfer Prize for Applied Jewish Wisdom in the “Local” category on Wednesday, Dec. 14.

As one of 200 applicants  nationwide, the honor was  bestowed upon representatives of Pearlstone at the Jewish  Futures Conference in New York City.

A component of its celebratory 50th anniversary, this was the first time the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah presented its auspicious new award that included an $18,000 prize for its winners in each of six categories.

The foundation supports and promotes “Judaism as a powerful, evolving wellspring of accumulating wisdom and sensibilities that enriches people’s lives and helps create a better world,” according to its news release.

It has worked toward this goal by means of “a strategic portfolio of grantmaking, thought-partnerships and other collaborative actions.”

Pearlstone executive director Jakir Manela and board president Rachel Steinberg Warschawski received the award on behalf of the center that has existed as a bucolic conference/retreat haven on the outskirts of Baltimore for the past 15 years and as an organic farm for the past 10.

“We really bring to life the Jewish calendar and Jewish ethics around land stewardship,” Manela said, “How we treat animals, how we treat the earth in a very tactile way.”

Manela believes that Pearlstone’s experiential education programs — a means of teaching about harvesting, tithing and what he calls “food justice” in giving back both to the land harvested and to needful charities in the community — is “an application of Jewish wisdom that’s unfortunately very rare but really important to help us understand the depth, power and relevance of our heritage.”

Revealing that the prize money will largely go toward continuing to “bring the message of Jewish education to the community in a more public and accessible way,” Manela said he hopes that Pearlstone will also be able to bolster its invitation toward all members of the area, Jew or gentile, to experience the 165-acre estate’s bounties.

“We’re just getting started, and we have a lot more to come,” Manela said. “We’re really excited to continue this great work.”

Perry Leaving Sinai, Interim President Named

Amy Perry named new Sinai president. Photo Provided

Amy Perry
(Photo Provided)

Sinai Hospital president Amy Perry is leaving her post in January after nearly four years to take an executive position with a New Jersey health company.

Perry, who is also executive vice president of LifeBridge Health, the parent company of Sinai, will become CEO of the hospital division and senior vice president of integrated care delivery at Atlantic Health. Her last day with Sinai will be Jan. 20.

Dr. Jonathan Ringo, LifeBridge Health’s chief medical information officer and vice president of clinical transformation, will lead Sinai on an interim basis until a permanent successor is named.

“Amy Perry has accomplished much during her time with us,” LifeBridge Health CEO Neil Meltzer said in a prepared statement. “Amy has overseen many advances in the recent history of our system’s oldest hospital and championed our mission to improve health in the communities we serve. We wish her well in her new role.”

During her tenure as president, Perry helped to promote partnerships with many community organizations such as Park Heights Renaissance and the Safe Streets Program.

She was also instrumental in Sinai maintaining its place among some of the top hospitals on both the local and national scale. U.S. News & World Report currently ranks Sinai as the No. 3 hospital in Maryland, and this year, the magazine rated Sinai’s neurology and neurosurgery programs No. 36 nationally.

Perry came to Sinai in March 2013 from Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Fla., where she served as senior vice president and chief operating officer.

Kamenetz Elected MACo President

Kevin Kamenetz

Kevin Kamenetz

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz will become the longest-serving member of the Maryland Association of Counties when he assumes the association’s presidency next year.

Kamenetz, a Democrat, was elected president during MACo’s winter conference in Cambridge on Dec. 8 after serving as second vice president in 2016. He will succeed Washington County commissioner John Barr.

In a prepared statement, Kamenetz said he would spend his one-year term promoting education, infrastructure, public health, the environment, workforce development and fiscal responsibility.

“I am both proud and humbled to become president of MACo,” Kamenetz said. “MACo also provides a productive forum to exchange best-practice ideas.”

Kamenetz has been a member of MACo since 1994, when he was first voted to the Baltimore County Council.

As president, Kamenetz will represent leaders from the state’s 23 counties and Baltimore City during the 90-day Maryland General Assembly session, advocating key issues on their behalf.

Kamenetz is the fifth Baltimore County Executive to serve as MACo president, following Christian Kahl (1962), Dale Anderson (1970), Dutch Ruppersberger (1996) and Jim Smith (2008).

In addition, this role puts Kamenetz at the forefront in Annapolis, as he prepares for a potential gubernatorial run in 2018 against incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan.

Goldberg’s Sees Drop in Business Following Trump Outrage


Two Trump supporters make their case outside of Goldberg’s Bagels in October.

The recent backlash against Goldberg’s New York Bagels owner Stanley Drebin’s support of President-elect Donald Trump has shown that political allegiances can come with costs.

Drebin said his business is down 15 percent and has seen a 20 percent dip in foot traffic.

It all started in late October, one week before Trump’s upset victory over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, when a pickup truck decorated with several Trump signs and signs of other Republican candidates parked outside the Pikesville establishment.

Six people dressed in Trump masks scattered around the vehicle and allegedly made their way into the shop, where Noah Bers previously told the JT that one of the supporters said, “Wouldn’t it be great if nobody was on welfare?” to a black woman.

At around the same time, a woman from inside the store allegedly went outside to confront some of the Trump supporters, shouting that Trump was a “racist” and “Nazi.”

That incident sparked patrons on both sides of the political aisle to show their support and displeasure with Drebin, a Trump supporter.

Drebin recently told the JT emphatically that neither he nor his employees saw the masked Trump supporters enter the store, and one of the masked supporters told the JT she also didn’t see them enter the store.

In a previous interview with the JT, however, Drebin said he was “in the store, walking around the front, in [his] office in the back and many other places” at the time of the alleged activities.

On Nov. 16, Goldberg’s took to Facebook to clear the air, writing, “There are so many people [who] can hate just because a person supports a candidate [Trump] they did not vote for. … Now that my political feelings have been revealed that I supported Trump, I am being attacked by the left with reviews that have nothing to do with the quality of my bagel and my store.”

Goldberg’s also pleaded to customers “who truly enjoy my bagels to review Goldberg’s on Facebook, Google and Yelp to counteract the negative reviews we are getting due to nothing that has anything to do with Goldberg’s.”

Rumors on Facebook of Goldberg’s employees offering discounts to those who voted for Trump also have been a point of contention because federal law prohibits businesses from offering election-day deals.

Some concerned individuals flooded the Goldberg’s Facebook page in search of answers from Goldberg’s on the matter.

“By the way, it was reported that Goldberg’s was giving discounts to customers who supported Trump,” Jack Zagger wrote on the Goldberg’s Facebook post thread. “Is that true?”

Goldberg’s replied: “No, it was a bad joke by my cashier. It never happened. … I might have different [beliefs from] some of my customers, but I have always respected them when they don’t offend other customers.”

Regardless of political ties, some have expressed a willingness to look past all those factors in search of what they feel is a quality product.

“The bagels are the best in Baltimore,” a user named Ian B. wrote in a Dec. 4 Yelp review of Goldberg’s. “The store is owned by a Trump supporter who calls people who disagree with his political views racist anti-Americans. Do with those facts what you will.”

Size matters: How a ‘largest menorah’ tiff landed two rabbis in Jewish court

The World's Largest Hanukkah Menorah being lighted by then-New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg with Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman, Director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, in 2013. (PR Newswire)

The World’s Largest Hanukkah Menorah being lighted by then-New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg with Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman, Director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, in 2013. (PR Newswire)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Each year in Brooklyn, Chabad Rabbi Shimon Hecht ascends 33 and a half feet to light the tallest menorah in the world.

But he’s not allowed to call it that anymore.

By decree of a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical court, Hecht must cede the title of “World’s Largest Menorah” to another candelabra, this one also erected by a Chabad rabbi, also in New York. That menorah is, in fact, is six inches shorter than Hecht’s, but because it used the “tallest” moniker first, the court said it owns the title.

“Every Hanukkah operation is meant for publicizing the miracle in a way that sanctifies God’s name and the name of Chabad, and not, God forbid, the opposite,” the judges wrote in the Dec. 1 decision. “So when another organization in the same city uses the same descriptor without permission from the plaintiff, it could cause the opposite of respect to Lubavitch.”

Each Hanukkah since 1984, Hecht’s menorah has stood at Grand Army Plaza, a public plaza at the main entrance to Prospect Park in the upscale Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope. Across the river in Manhattan, the other Chabad menorah, erected by Rabbi Shmuel Butman, stands on Fifth Avenue at the southeastern corner of Central Park.

The bases of both menorahs reach 32 feet, the maximum allowed by Jewish law. But Hecht’s central candle, called the shamash, pokes half a foot higher into the sky than Butman’s.

“The whole spirit of the holiday is to spread the miracle” of Hanukkah, said Rabbi Moshe Hecht, Shimon Hecht’s son. “Putting menorahs out in the public garners attention.”

Both rabbis lead institutions within the vast Chabad infrastructure. Shimon Hecht is rabbi of Chabad of Park Slope and Butman is the director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization.

In the mid-1970s, former Chabad leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson began encouraging his emissaries to build public menorahs to increase awareness of the holiday and to inspire Jews to light their own menorahs. More than two decades after his death, Chabad rabbis put up large menorahs every year in cities around the world — one of the most visible signs of the global Hasidic Jewish outreach movement.

Each New York menorah has staked its claim to being the world’s largest — and each has used that distinction for all the publicity it’s worth.

The Manhattan menorah, first set up about a decade before its Brooklyn rival, stands between the posh Plaza and Pierre Hotels on Fifth Avenue. Designed by Israel artist Yaacov Agam, the menorah’s candlesticks rise from a rectangular base and shoot off diagonally. A string of New York City mayors and New York State governors have ascended in an electrician’s cherry-picker to light the Fifth Avenue menorah — though former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and current Mayor Bill de Blasio have lit candles at both locations.

In 2006, the Fifth Avenue menorah scored a coup —  it got Guinness World Records to certify it as “World’s largest menorah.”

“The prominence of the menorah carries an additional message,” Butman, who wouldn’t comment to JTA, said in a 2014 press release. “The Rebbe teaches that soon there will be another light, an eternal light, the eternal light of Moshiach, the eternal light of the Great Redemption.”

But until the rabbinic ruling on Dec. 1, the Brooklyn menorah hadn’t let go of its claim to the title. Standing opposite a military memorial in the center of Grand Army Plaza, it rises from a single gold-colored stem that widens into an angled candelabra. Last year, Hecht drew 2,000 people to the first candle-lighting and expects a similar turnout this year.

To promote the menorah, Hecht runs the website and — until the court decision — advertised it on the Facebook page World’s Largest Menorah. Both the website and Facebook page feature a logo of a menorah rising from a globe.

The dispute, said Schneerson biographer Samuel Heilman, exemplifies Chabad’s dilemma since its leader’s death in 1994. Decades ago, Hecht and Butman would have appealed directly to the rebbe, whose word was final. But now, a variety of sometimes competing Chabad institutions can operate independently of one another.

“Chabad is now no longer led by a single authority, and today is really in a situation where each emissary or each territory is its own independent operator,” said Heilman, who co-wrote the biography “The Rebbe,” published in 2012.

In this case, the court became the acting authority. In the ruling, the judges ordered Hecht to change his promotional materials or surrender them to Butman, and to instead use a descriptor like “The central menorah of Brooklyn.” Moshe Hecht said he and his father are still working on a re-branding.

“We’re Jews, so we have to follow the ruling of the beis din [rabbinic court], and no further comment on that,” he told JTA. “It’s going to be the same menorah it’s been for the last 30 years.”

What Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick as secretary of state, could mean for the Jewish agenda

Rex Tillerson, chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., speaks during the World Gas Conference, in Paris, France, on Tuesday, June 2, 2015. Oil companies that have pumped trillions of barrels of crude from the ground are now saying the future is in their other main product: natural gas, a fuel theyre promoting as the logical successor to coal. Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rex Tillerson, chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., speaks during the World Gas Conference in Paris on June 2, 2015. (Christophe Morin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is the chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil, an energy company large enough to have its own foreign policy.

It is a policy, however, that doesn’t always align with the priorities of Jewish and pro-Israel groups. Oil companies have clashed in the past with the pro-Israel lobby.

“Exxon Mobil has not been a friend to Israel through the years,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League, referring to clashes in the 1970s over the Arab boycott of Israel and in the 1990s over the imposition of sanctions on Iran.

Others suggest, however, that fears that Big Oil will tilt U.S. policy against Israel are a thing of the past.

“There was a time that being associated with oil made you automatically deemed hostile when it comes to Israel,” said David Makovsky, the Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “However, at a time that Israel and Gulf states are quietly pursuing common interests when it comes to enmity toward Iran, the Mideast is no longer zero-sum.  Hopefully, oil executives see this shift as much as the Arabs themselves.”

Makovsky recalled how one of President Ronald Reagan’s secretaries of state also had ties to one of the energy industry’s biggest builders of oil, chemical and natural-gas facilities.

“One should recall that when George Shultz came in, people thought his business connection to Bechtel projects in the Gulf made him hostile to Israel, and this did not prove to be the case,” he said. “I think a question Tillerson will be asked at the hearings beyond the focus on Russia is how does someone whose business background made him a skeptic on economic sanctions [against Iran] now be the one who will have to enforce them and even advocate for more in certain instances?”

That focus on Russia will involve scrutiny of Tillerson’s close ties to President Vladimir Putin. Tillerson led the expansion of Exxon’s joint drilling with Russia in recent years and has objected to sanctions imposed on the country over its invasion of Ukraine.

“We are unfamiliar with his larger geopolitical view of the world and America’s place in it,” the American Jewish Committee said in a statement on Tillerson’s nomination late Tuesday. The statement recommended to senators confirming Tillerson six areas of inquiry, including maintaining U.S.-Israel relations, containing Iran, supporting alliances in Europe and Asia confronting radical extremism and supprting human rights.

Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, said his anxiety was allayed to a degree by what he saw as the friendliness to Israel of Trump and his team.

“I had concerns about [Tillerson’s] closeness to Arab countries and to Russia, all of whom have been hostile to Israel,” Klein said. “But then again I wonder because of his close relations and because of President-elect Trump and the pro-Israel people around him, I’m hoping he will use some of these relations and turn their minds around.”

Steve Rosen, the former policy director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, recalled the 1990s battles with oil companies over sanctioning Iran — but said they were not ideological, and that Tillerson could well change his outlook once he changes jobs.

“It would be a little unnatural if a CEO with a company with material interest in the freedom of his company to engage in profit-making behavior” were to favor sanctions, he said. “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

As for Trump, his statement Tuesday morning announcing the nomination emphasized Tillerson’s executive skills.

“Guiding operations around the world that include more than 200 offices, Mr. Tillerson knows how to manage a global organization and successfully navigate the complex architecture of world affairs and diverse foreign leaders,” Trump’s statement said. “As Secretary of State, he will be a forceful and clear-eyed advocate for America’s vital national interests, and help reverse years of misguided foreign policies and actions that have weakened America’s security and standing in the world.”

Nevertheless, Tillerson faces a tough nomination fight. And while Jewish groups have largely hesitated to critique Trump’s appointments, they will quietly be asking more than a few questions about Tillerson and what he signals about the president-elect’s foreign policy.

Russian reset

Trump wants to reset relations with Russia, saying it would be better to have them alongside the U.S. rather than rivals. The president-elect has boasted of his mutual admiration for Putin. What does that mean for Syria?

Like most of the world, Israel wants the carnage to end. Unlike Russia, it does not want the outcome to include the empowerment of Russia’s ally, the Assad regime. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, for one, says Assad must go. Israel also does not want Iran and Hezbollah — Assad’s allies  and, effectively, Russia’s — to come out of the deal strengthened.

Iran sanctions

Tillerson is on the record saying sanctions on Russia were counterproductive. What about Iran?

It’s not clear yet whether Trump is committed to scrapping the Iran nuclear deal or enforcing it more strictly than Obama did. And whatever one’s objections to the pact, which swapped sanctions relief for a nuclear rollback by Iran, the Obama team has enhanced sanctions in other sectors, with a special focus on targeting Iran’s Lebanon proxy, Hezbollah.

Jewish groups will want to know if Tillerson’s opposition to sanctions is a matter of principle, or is he against them because it affects his business now. Had he led Exxon Mobil in the 1990s, would he have joined in the oil industry’s fierce opposition to Iran sanctions introduced at that time?

Two states?

Trump says he wants to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. The Republican Party over the summer, in its convention platform, officially became agnostic about a two-state solution and said it would defer to Israel on whether this is the preferred outcome. Trump’s aides have said the same thing. The mainstream and left-wing pro-Israel communities, meantime, remain committed to a two-state outcome.

“We expect senators to question him vigorously to determine whether his views are consistent with decades of bipartisan U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and with upholding our country’s international commitments, such as the successful nuclear agreement with Iran,” J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, said in a statement.

(The centrist American Jewish Committee became the latest mainstream group to reassert support for the two-state solution, issuing a statement Monday calling it the “only realistic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as established through direct bilateral negotiations between the parties themselves.”)

Through his role at Exxon, Tillerson forged deep and friendly ties in the Arab world. How necessary does he believe a two-state outcome is to a lasting peace? Is he ready to relaunch negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians? The last round, in 2014, ended in a war between Israel and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, and the rumblings of a third intifada in the West Bank.

Netanyahu has said that the common enmity Israel shares with Arab states against Iran has created an opportunity for a simultaneous deal – a broad peace deal with the Arab states that could encompass the Palestinians. Tillerson has had his ear to the ground in that region. Does he agree?

Human rights and climate change

The Trump transition team in its statements Tuesday about the nomination depicted Tillerson as a petroleum executive who worries about climate change and the effect of big business on impoverished nations. It relayed excerpts from an Associated Press profile that dug up a quote in which Tillerson advocates for “sensible strategies that address these risks [of manmade climate change] while not reducing our ability to progress other global priorities such as economic development, poverty eradication and public health.”

The American Jewish World Service was not buying, and referred in a statement to Exxon’s alleged role in suppressing scientific evidence of manmade climate change.

“Tillerson’s nomination is deeply disturbing, as he is the leader of one of the world’s largest energy corporations — which has polluted the global environment, developed close relationships with dictators, and used its resources over 40 years to suppress climate science,” said AJWS President Robert Bank.

4 major Jewish groups to skip Presidents Conference Chanukah party at Trump hotel

Four major Jewish organizations will not attend a Hanukkah party co-hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations at a Washington, D.C., hotel owned by President-elect Donald Trump.

The Jewish Federations of North America, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress and Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America will not be on hand for Wednesday’s party at the Trump International Hotel. The absences were first reported by Haaretz.

Earlier, eight liberal Jewish groups had said they would not attend the party, which is being co-hosted by the Embassy of Azerbaijan.

The venue has caused controversy, but none of the four major groups said they would be absent due to concerns about Trump. The ADL told JTA that scheduling conflicts would prevent its attendance and that the organization was not encouraging a boycott of any kind. The AJC told JTA that its absence was not meant as a slight toward Azerbaijan.

JFNA and Hadassah did not comment to JTA, but told Haaretz that scheduling conflicts prevented them from attending.

The liberal Jewish groups, including the Union for Reform Judaism and the National Council of Jewish Women, said they would not attend in protest of Trump’s policies or his conflicts of interest.

When the venue was first announced, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Presidents Conference, told JTA that using a Trump property should not taint anyone who has business with the administration.

“You think that Trump knows who rents a room in his hotel and that influences how we represent to him?” he asked.

A protest of the event organized by IfNotNow, a Jewish group that opposes Trump and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, is expected to draw some 200 people.

Hogan to Double Nonpublic School Scholarship Program Governor makes announcement at Bais Yaakov


Gov. Larry Hogan poses for photos with Bais Yaakov students. (Justin Silberman)

Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday announced the state is doubling down on a program that helps students pay for nonpublic school tuition during a visit to Bais Yaakov School for Girls.

The state-funded program, Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST), would gradually see its funding increase from $5 million to $10 million by 2020 under Hogan’s plan, he told hundreds of students, faculty and parents.

BOOST, which was signed into law by Hogan during the 2016 legislative session, provides scholarships for low-income students to attend nonpublic schools in areas with under-performing public schools.

Hogan said this latest initiative shows that his administration continues to make education a top priority, which drew a standing ovation from the crowd. In his speech, Hogan pointed out that no governor in state history has spent more on K-12 education.

“We’re working hard to ensure every single child in the state of Maryland is given the chance to get a great education regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in,” Hogan said. “We owe it to our children to find new and innovative ways and solutions to make sure everyone gets those opportunities.”

This past year, nearly $5 million in scholarship funds were provided to more than 200 nonpublic and private schools.

In the Jewish community alone, more than 700 students from nine Jewish day schools, including 209 at Bais Yakkov, were awarded scholarships that exceeded $1 million.

Hogan said the Jewish day school community “led a very aggressive campaign, suggesting families take advantage of the opportunity.”

All told, more than 5,000 applications were submitted.

Before making the announcement, Hogan paid a visit to Chana Kagan’s 11th grade Advanced Placement history class to test students on their knowledge of state government-related issues.

Daniella Friedman, 16, posed a question to the governor regarding his decision to push back the start of the public school year to after Labor Day and was left impressed by his candor.

“He showed that he was really passionate about what he was saying,” Friedman said. “He’s a great governor, and it was really nice to have him in our school. He just has a way of bringing everyone together.”

Kagan, meanwhile, prepared her students a week in advance with lessons on the responsibilities of state governors to ensure they were well prepared for anything Hogan threw their way.

In her 25-plus years teaching at Bais Yaakov, Kagan said she has had numerous guest speakers for her classes but no one of Hogan’s stature.

“A lot of politicians kiss babies, but there is a feeling I get from him that he really cares,” Kagan said. “He’s a man of principle, and I think other people recognize that. It’s a very attractive quality in a politician and good to know he has it.”

Read next week’s JT for a feature on the BOOST program.

Local Activists Host Day of #JewishResistance

About two dozen people showed up at Red Emma’s on Nov. 30 to write letters to local Jewish organizations, mostly concerning the spike in hate crimes.

About two dozen people showed up at Red Emma’s on Nov. 30 to write letters to local Jewish organizations, mostly concerning the spike in hate crimes.

President Elect Donald Trump has not yet taken office, but he is already stirring discontent — and activist action — among a subset of the local Jewish community.

A group of five friends and organizers, all involved in both local activist groups and the Jewish community, felt they could use an outlet for their concerns regarding the incoming administration. So they set up a Facebook event to coincide with an event on Nov. 30 called Day of #JewishResistance created by the national Jewish activist organization IfNotNow and happening in more than 30 cities across the country. The group does not have a Baltimore chapter.

Because the friends set up the event only a few days before it was set to happen, they originally figured it would be a small group of friends and fellow activists discussing issues and writing letters to local Jewish organizations to ask them to take public stances. In just a couple days, however, the event had garnered nearly 100 interested attendees, many of whom couldn’t come on short notice, but who were interested in future opportunities to be involved.

“I feel like if we’d put [the event] out even a week earlier, we’d have more than 100 people here,” said Jodie Zisow-McClean, one of the organizers of the event, which was hosted at Red Emma’s Bookstore and attracted about two dozen attendees over the course of the night. “People are hungry for spaces to resist and especially Jewish spaces.”

Though both the organizers and attendees were frustrated by the election of Donald Trump in general, their letter-writing energy was mostly focused on asking local Jewish organizations — in particular The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the Baltimore Jewish Council — to speak out against the rise in hate crimes and appointment of Steve Bannon. The recently appointed White House chief strategist is former editor of Brietbart News, a site known for attracting white nationalist supporters. (On Nov. 14, the Baltimore Jewish Council issued a news alert that said the organization is monitoring the recent spike in hate crimes in Maryland and across the country).

“I think the Jewish community should signal early what side it’s on, and I hope it’s the side of support, optimism and hope,” said attendee Sarah Pinsker, 39, who works with people with developmental disabilities.

This was a sentiment shared by many attendees — the idea that the Jewish community understands what it is like to be oppressed and should take a public stand against the oppression of others.

“I also felt it was very important that the Jewish community speak out not just on anti-Semitism, but on other strains of white supremacy,” said 18-year-old attendee Evan Drukker-Schardl.

The crowd skewed young — mostly 20-somethings — but also included a few older adults and even a couple with their baby. Red Emma’s backroom filled up quickly, so some people migrated out into the coffee shop area to continue writing. According to Zisow-McClean, they sent 10 letters the next day, and many others grabbed envelopes and stamps to send themselves once they’d finished their letter.
“I’m one of the co-presidents of the J Street U chapter at Hopkins, and I think our work kind of coincides with actions like this,” said Johns Hopkins University junior Marty Feuerstein-Mendik.
The event ended with both a call to action and ritual of hope, based on Rosh Chodesh. After a few people read aloud short sections of their letters, the organizers gave a shout-out to other organizations such as Jews United for Justice.

To close out the evening, the organizers asked everyone to write down one thing currently giving them hope on a slip of paper. Zisow-McClean mixed up the slips and handed them back out so people could read aloud someone else’s.

There were several variations of “this event of collective action,” along with responses ranging from the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota and looking to Jewish history to the story of Chanukah and everyday thoughtful humans.

“We’re just refusing to stay silent,” said Zisow-McClean.