Dermer’s Dance Eyes turn to Israeli ambassador amid firestorm over Netanyahu invite

020615_dermerA week after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) touched off a political and diplomatic firestorm by announcing an invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress, attention turned to Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, and his role in the controversy.

How serious you believe the U.S.-born Dermer’s role is in setting off that firestorm may depend on what you think of him and Netanyahu. But even if the ambassador’s actions balloon into Dermergate, it’s likely that with Israeli elections ahead, Dermer’s job, according to Israel-watchers, is safe — for now.

The controversy has led Boehner take the unusual step of publishing a chronology showing the steps taken that led to Netanyahu’s invitation, in which Boehner took the leading role. It also spurred some House Democrats to urge that Netanyahu’s appearance be postponed until after the Israeli elections and the deadline for negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program has passed. Both issues have become tangled in Netanyahu’s visit.

Dermer came to Washington in 2013 as a close adviser to Netanyahu.

Unlike other Israeli envoys, the ambassador to Washington represents the prime minister and not just the foreign ministry, said Yoram Peri, director of the Joseph B. and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland.

Dermer’s predecessor, Michael Oren, also made it clear that he represented the prime minister, Peri said. “But he didn’t go into confrontations with others. Nor was he seen as preferring one [U.S. political] party over another. Dermer really doesn’t care if he’s seen with one party. That is a major mistake.”

Dermer is Netanyahu’s man, and if the prime minister wins the March election, “Bibi will keep him.” But if criticism of Dermer continues to build, Netanyahu may decide to
replace him, Peri said.

“With bad blood created around this issue, Dermer can’t be a well-functioning ambassador,” said a staffer for a Jewish organization who is knowledgeable about Israeli politics. “But it would really look bad if Netanyahu ejects him now. He won’t pay a
terrible price to have a lame-duck ambassador for a few months.”

Dermer will keep his job, said Josh Block, CEO and president of The Israel Project. “I have no doubt that Ambassador Dermer regrets the way this invitation issue has played out. There are major issues at stake for us and for Israel, and in the sweep of history, this won’t even be a footnote.

“He is a very effective representative of the State of Israel and of his government,” added Block, “and as long as Benjamin Netanyahu is prime minister, I think we’ll be seeing
Ambassador Dermer continue to play that important role here in the United States.”

Oren, now a candidate for the Kulanu party running against Netanyahu’s Likud, called on the prime minister to cancel his address to Congress. Netanyahu “created the impression that this is a cynical political move, and it could hurt our efforts to act against Iran,” the former ambassador said.

Peri put the chances of Netanyahu canceling at 60-40 against.

Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu, made the day after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, caught the White House, congressional Democrats and pro-Israel groups by surprise and, with Israeli national elections scheduled for March, was attacked by Netanyahu’s political opposition.

The Obama administration was reportedly furious at how it was bypassed in the planning. On. Jan. 28, The New York Times cited an unnamed “senior administration official,” who said the view within Obama’s inner circle is that Dermer “had repeatedly placed Mr. Netanyahu’s political fortunes above the relationship between Israel and the United States.”

Two days later, Dermer defended his actions and his boss’ intentions to Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic: “The prime minister has never intentionally treated the president disrespectfully — and if that is what some people felt, it certainly was not the prime minister’s intention,” Dermer said.

“The consensus in the foreign policy community is that the prime minister overreached,” said a senior official in a pro-Israel organization. “But the president blew it out of proportion and is using this as an opportunity to pick a fight.”

Not everyone agrees.

“Dermer seems eager to put all his eggs in the Republican basket. That’s foolish, short-sighted, risky and irresponsible,” Alan Elsner, vice president for communication at J Street, wrote in Ha’aretz.

And JTA quoted a “source close to AIPAC,” the pro-Israel lobby, saying, “The bottom line is, it would have been smarter to consult.”

The invitation to Netanyahu also left congressional Democrats and Jewish Democrats fuming.

The result is that support for Israel and the effort to curb Iran’s nuclear program have become partisan issues, said Greg Rosenbaum, chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “We think this is a bad thing.”

Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress on March 3, when the AIPAC policy conference will be underway nearby. Rosenbaum said Netanyahu should have just planned to make “a fiery policy speech” about Iran at AIPAC rather than have
accepted Boehner’s invitation.

House Democrats Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) are circulating a letter urging Boehner to reschedule Netanyahu’s appearance, JTA reported. “Our relationship with Israel is too important to use as a pawn in political gamesmanship,” it reads.

The backlash from the invitation has created linkage between the prime minister’s visit and proposed legislation to increase sanctions on Iran if talks with the West on its nuclear program fail, Rosenbaum said. “For the NJDC, this has been beneficial,” because the group opposes the legislation, believing Iran might leave the talks if it passes.

Pikesville Middle Designated a Lighthouse

Pikesville Middle School has been chosen as a “Lighthouse” school beginning next fall.

Lighthouse schools are among the first in Baltimore County to put into action the vision of the Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT) program, tagged as “the move to digital learning.” As part of the program, all incoming Pikesville sixth-graders will be given computer tablets, and teachers will receive additional training in how to incorporate technology into the classroom.

Ten elementary schools piloted the new instruction model this academic year.

Baltimore County Public Schools is redesigning its core curriculum to better fit a blended learning environment with an emphasis on critical thinking and analytical skills. By the 2017-18 academic year, BCPS plans to roll out several core STAT components, which include having a digital device for every student and teacher and upgraded wireless and broadband infrastructure in every school.

In a video posted online, Ryan Imbriale, executive director of innovative learning at BCPS, and his team can be seen bringing celebratory balloons to seven delighted Baltimore County middle school principals and assistant principals to announce their schools’ new Lighthouse status.

Bor Named Pearlstone Professor

Hana Bor, a professor at Towson University’s Department of Family Studies and Community Development, has been selected as the Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone
Professor. It is the first time the professorship has been conferred since the Baltimore Hebrew University was folded into Towson as the Baltimore Hebrew Institute.

With the additional resources of the professorship, Bor hopes to further develop Holocaust education, expand study abroad opportunities — including in Israel for faculty — and host an international conference for Jewish educators at Towson.

“I want to do Holocaust education and research and develop some more new courses in the long run and, hopefully, take a group to Eastern Europe,” she said. “I want to grow and study professionally.”

Bor, director of the Master of Arts in Jewish Education and Jewish Communal Services program, has been involved in Jewish education for more than 30 years. In addition to her background in social work in Israel, she’s worked as a day school teacher, religious school principal and adjunct professor. As a faculty member of Baltimore Hebrew University, Bor joined Towson in 2009 when the merger went into effect.

Karen Eskow, chair of the Department of Family Studies and Community Development, nominated Bor for the professorship because of her “commitment to education and Jewish learning, enthusiasm for her topics and attention to the students at all levels,” she said.

“She’s creative. She is full of ideas and she makes them happen,” Eskow said. “She’s everything that one would want … to have this role at the university.”

Bor launched Towson’s first study abroad trip to Israel. She’s taken students twice and is currently writing a grant for a third trip, which she hopes to lead later this year. She sees a study abroad trip for faculty to Israel to as leading to joint publications between academics in both countries.

From Awareness to Inclusion Quarter century after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, how far have we come?


Disability advocates are pushing for all Jews to be included in all aspects of Jewish life. (Courtesy of RespectAbility)

When he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law 25 years ago this July, President George H.W. Bush aimed to change the lives of millions of Americans living with disabilities. According to Virginia Knowlton Marcus, executive director of the Maryland Disability Law Center, the broad-based law mandated access to governmental services, employment, business and transportation, allowing people to achieve goals and live their lives integrated into a community just like everyone else.

But while the ADA, as the legislation is known, was, in the words of Ruderman Family Foundation president Jay Ruderman, who presides over projects benefiting the disabled in the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, a “landmark statement by the government” in the realm of equality and civil rights, implementation of the law, say critics, has fallen short. Whether in terms of enforcement or the state of economic opportunities for the disabled, many acknowledge that a lot more work is left to be done.

“[The ADA has] been the beginning of a sea change in how people with disabilities are regarded in our society,” said Marcus. “There’s a long history of discrimination and segregation that the ADA provided a legal tool to overcome, and we have made significant progress in the last 25 years.

“Before the ADA, there were hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities shut away in large facilities rather than being included with their families and their communities,” she added. “[The ADA] has begun a shift of resources out of the outmoded way of dealing with people with disabilities.”

Ruderman agreed that the ADA was “significant.”

“Jewish values teach us that every Jewish soul deserves to be included in our community. unfortunately, we don’t live up to those values.”

“It shifted the way people think about disabilities,” he said. “Before the ADA there was a medical approach: ‘Disabled people have problems. We have to cure them.’ What the ADA said was, ‘No, we need to change the environment, make our public institutions accessible institutions.’”

But one of its biggest flaws, he pointed out, was in exempting religious institutions from certain aspects of accommodation.

“I think our Jewish values teach us that every Jewish soul deserves to be included in our community. Unfortunately, we don’t live up to those values in our Jewish communities,” he said. “We tend to focus on the best and the brightest, and we don’t tend to look after the people on the fringes of our community.

“[People say it’s] expensive to include people with disabilities, but that’s a cop-out,” he continued. “There’s enough money in our community to do what we want. Our community is very focused on social justice, on being a light to the world — that’s a very important value; unfortunately, we don’t look at ourselves.”

So many Jewish philanthropies are focused on the continuation of the Jewish people while ignoring a large segment of the population that wants to be connected, he charged. “When I hear philanthropists don’t do disability, to me, that’s an absurd statement. You want to connect the Jewish community, but you’re willing to write off 20 percent of the community and their families? That tells me we need to change attitudes, and part of that is self-advocates standing up and demanding their rights.”

Ben Dubin, a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation who has testified in Annapolis on disabilities and serves as vice chair of the Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities, agrees with Ruderman.

Dubin, whose adult daughter is deaf, sees lack of compliance with the law as a significant barrier to the disabled.

“I guess its unfortunate today that people have to sue [to meet ADA standards],” said Dubin. “I’m really cognizant of venues, facilities when there is not a signer or oral interpreter for the deaf, or captioned for the deaf. When I take my daughter to these places, why do I constantly have to ask in advance [if these services are offered]?”

Answering his own question, Dubin offered that “some of it is still attitudinal. People don’t think people with disabilities can do what people [without] disabilities can do with regard to the job market, but if you hold businesses and government [agencies] to the letter of the ADA, what’s in the law, things would be ideal.”

According to national statistics provided by Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, 70 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities are unemployed. In Maryland, where slightly more than 80 percent of those aged 21 to 64 are employed, only slightly more than 42 percent of people with disabilities in the same age bracket are employed, according to, which is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

In her writings, Mizrahi points out that while other minority groups have made huge gains in employment opportunities, disabled individuals are no more likely to be employed than they were before the ADA was passed.

That’s why she wants to see the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which was signed into law in July 2014, succeed. Mizrahi, who is dyslexic and suffered a car accident before the passage of the ADA, testified before the U.S. Department of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities, calling the committee’s attention to the “Disability Employment First Planning Tool” crafted in conjunction with other leading disability advocates.

“We want to see the investment the taxpayer is making [used wisely], giving people with disabilities [a] better future,” said Mizrahi.

Locally, there are a number of organizations that provide vocational training and educational opportunities for the disabled. Among them are the Arc, Chimes and the League for People with Disabilities, Inc., which was co-founded by the Council of Jewish women. The Community College of Baltimore County works in collaboration with these agencies to host classes and provides students with learning differences or cognitive challenges an accessible education through the Single Step Program.

Melanie Hood-Wilson, director of special populations at CCBC, estimates that 90 to 125 students enroll in the noncredit program each semester on campus. There are two types of students at Single Step, she said: the student who wants to go out in the world and have a career and the student who simply wants to have the same college experience as his or her nondisabled peers or siblings who might attend nearby Towson University or UMBC.

Teaching life skills is also part of the experience, as there has been “a growing awareness that self-advocacy and self-determination are essential,” said Hood-Wilson.

While the ADA opened up doors to higher education, accommodations are not guaranteed in the same way the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates for the K-12 population, which can leave disabled adults out in the cold.

“All people want to be as independent as we can be; some of us just need more support,” explained Hood-Wilson. “That’s really what the disability world is all about in the 21st century — helping people with disabilities figure out how to live the lives they want to live and providing them with the resources they need.”

Shelly Christensen, co-founder of Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) — now running for the seventh consecutive February — literally wrote the book on inclusion, titled, “Jewish Community Guide to Inclusion of People with Disabilities.” Her advocacy efforts were inspired by her middle son, Jacob, who has Asperger’s syndrome and was not diagnosed until he was 15.

Jacob Christensen was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was 15. His mother co-founded Jewish Disability Awareness Month. (Provided)

Jacob Christensen was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was 15. His mother co-founded Jewish Disability Awareness Month. (Provided)

“We always saw Jacob as Jacob and if he had a disability going on then we needed to work with him and not marginalize him and not create a persona that was less than,” she said. “And the one place that we did not have problems was at our synagogue and our religious school. Jacob was just Jacob there.”

As inclusive as her home congregation in Minneapolis was, Christensen and other members of the Jewish Special Education International Consortium recognized that inclusion was not on the radar of many educators. They looked to JDAM to move from simply educating disabled Jews to including them in the mainstream community as full participants with whatever supports they needed.

“Think of the variety of ways you participate in the Jewish community,” she wrote in a recent blog post leading up to this year’s JDAM. “You choose how you wish to be involved. So it must be for people with disabilities. The key is supporting each person to determine what is important to them instead of us determining what we think is important for them.

“The whole idea of inclusion isn’t complicated: You treat people with dignity and respect that all people are created in God’s image and it’s not a mitzvah project,” she added. “We have a ways to go.”

Joining Christensen in spreading the message that inclusivity must be an ideal constantly pursued is Lisa Friedman, education co-director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, N.J. She blogs about JDAM at and, and offers her expertise to Jewish communal groups, particularly religious schools and synagogues. This year, she is challenging other disability advocates to think about inspiration, awareness, acceptance and inclusion each week of February.

“[The] tagline of JDAM is from awareness to inclusion,” said Friedman. “Often when I present, there’s this progression: First, you have to make sure people are on board, that they agree [with inclusion], and that’s pretty easy, but a lot of times that’s where it stops. … I went in this direction of, ‘OK, you’re inspired, now learn.’”

Two of the biggest challenges congregations often cite are lack of funds and lack of expertise.

“I’ll [be told], ‘Sure, it’s easy for you to say xyz because you’re an expert in [inclusion], but we’re not experts,’” said Friedman. When it comes to “money, people get scared off. … But there are simple ways to be more inclusive,” like offering large print books or video streaming.

Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, a senior advisor on disability rights for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, experienced exclusion firsthand.

While taking her son to religious school years ago, she was in a car accident that left her in a coma for six weeks; she suffered a traumatic brain injury and needed to relearn how to walk and talk.

She said via email, “To my dismay, many synagogues I visit tell me that their attempts to welcome people with disabilities fall under the purview of their social action committee. We Jews must help our synagogues understand that welcoming people with disabilities is not a social action item. … Social action is teaching every segment of our community about this minority that is seldom acknowledged.”

Self-advocacy, an increasingly popular buzzword, is a movement that Friedman fully supports. The involvement of disabled individuals into how they want to be included in the community and what supports they will need should be an obvious place to start, she contends.

As to how well the Jewish world has done with inclusion, Friedman says it’s a work in progress.

“I think we’ve done well in pockets. I think there are some places … that do some aspect of inclusion well,” she said. “The whole Jewish camping movement isn’t inclusive, but there are exemplary, outstanding examples of inclusion within Jewish camps.”

Exclusionary practices at Jewish camps is something that rings true to Ari Ne’eman, winner of the 2014 Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion and president and co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN).

“The Ramah camps has a policy that each Ramah camp will welcome a camper with a particular disability,” said Ne’eman. In other words, he continued, if you are disabled, you might not be able to go to the same summer camp as all of your friends from home. “Now, if the Jewish camp system were subject to the same requirements under the ADA as secular camps that would be a very questionable arrangement.”

Camp is not the only place Ne’eman has seen or experienced exclusion firsthand. He described having to leave religious school because of his disability.

“To be frank, there are many ways that Jewish communal life is very exclusionary,” he said. “Sometimes that comes in the form of having separate segregated programs instead of being welcomed into the greater community.”

Ne’eman, who holds a degree in political science from UMBC, co-founded ASAN in 2006 as a response to a “growing discussion on autism, but it was excluding the voice of autistic people.”

ASAN is firmly in the “nothing about us without us” camp and is unafraid of voicing its views — from using identity-first language to opposing autistic individuals being institutionalized or placed in sheltered situations — even when those views garner pushback, even open hostility, from parents and other advocates. Ne’eman wants to see disabled individuals not only brought to the table, but sitting on Federation boards or at the head of Jewish communal institutions.

In terms of local Jewish life, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore has a Caring Commission that works to ensure services for the most vulnerable populations, according to commission member and Jewish Federations of North America’s Disability Committee co-chair Janet Livingston. “I do think we’ve done quite a lot in our community,” she said. “We’ve worked hard to make people with disabilities able to participate and function and give all our families services to be able to participate.”

Another Associated-funded Jewish communal resource Livingston points to is the Baltimore Jewish Abilities Alliance. Its website,, serves as a one-stop shop for Jewish and general services for a wide array of disabilities from early childhood through adulthood.

To mark JDAM, The Associated is partnering with the JCC, Jewish Community Services, the Macks Center for Jewish Education and SHEMESH on a number of workshops and programs. The Associated will be sending representatives to Washington D.C. on Feb. 25 to participate in Jewish Disability Day, organized by the Jewish Disability Network, JFNA and the RAC.

Ohio Rabbi Remains in Jail

New details have emerged in the case of the Ohio rabbi accused of sexually abusing a Baltimore County girl.

Booking photograph of Frederick Martin Karp

Booking photograph of Frederick Martin Karp

Reached at the seminary from which Rabbi Frederick “Ephraim” Karp, who is being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson, graduated in 1998, Rabbi Yaakov Spivak, dean of the Ayshel Avraham Rabbinical Seminary in Spring Valley, N.Y., said that Karp “was a very fine young man.”
“He was very dedicated to rabbinical work,” said Spivak, adding that Karp had a close group of friends at the school and took his studies seriously.
Though Spivak is a graduate of Loyola College and Ner Yisrael Yeshiva in Baltimore, the rabbi said he was unsure of what connection Karp had to the Jewish community in Baltimore. Karp’s wife is a graduate of the University of Maryland.
Karp made his first appearance in Baltimore County court last Thursday for a hearing at which a judge reduced his bail from $5 million to $500,000 and forbid him from any contact with his accusers, witnesses or children under the age of 18.
Karp, 50, a Beechwood, Ohio resident and director of spiritual living at the Menorah Park Center for Senior Living there, was extradited to Maryland on Jan. 28 from New York City, where he was arrested Jan. 15 at the John F. Kennedy International Airport as he awaited a flight to Israel. He is charged with second- and third-degree sex offense, sexual abuse of a minor and perverted practice stemming from an accusation made on New Year’s Eve that Karp had been repeatedly sexually abusing a young girl in Baltimore County over a five-year period.
Before moving to assume his role at Menorah Park, Karp lived in Monmouth, N.J., where he worked as the local federation’s community chaplain from 2001 to 2008.
Karp, who wore an orange jumpsuit and sat quietly during the Towson proceeding, made his appearance via closed circuit television from a holding area.
State prosecutor Lisa Dever, who heads the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s sex offense and child abuse division, detailed some of the allegations against Karp to the judge. The alleged victim, she said, came into contact with Karp through a close relationship between the rabbi and her family. The abuse, the state claims, began when the victim was 7 years old and continued into present day. The girl is now 12. Furthermore, the attorney added, two of the victim’s sisters have since come forward and accused Karp of inappropriately touching them as well. The State’s Attorney’s office would not say whether more charges would be pursued.
Karp’s lawyer, Marc Zayon, told the judge his client was not aware of any investigation surrounding him until Jan. 14, when Baltimore County police came to his home in suburban Cleveland to speak with him. Karp was not trying to flee the country, said Zayon. Rather, he was leaving for a planned vacation he had scheduled in September.
Karp’s wife, Sarah Epstein Karp, was present at the bail hearing, along with Karp’s brother-in-law. Both sat quietly while the judge told Karp and his lawyer that his bail would be reduced in light of what the judged described as evidence that Karp had not been planning to flee the country, as investigators had initially suspected.
Karp’s two adult children were absent at the hearing.
Karp founded Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains and served as its president. He was suspended from that role, as well as his position at the Menorah Park Center, late last month.
“We have no knowledge of any details other than those published in the media,” Neshama said in a statement. “NAJC must trust the legal process of the State of Maryland and, until these charges are either proven or dismissed in a court of law, have suspended his membership in the organization.”
A pretrial hearing was granted but has not yet been scheduled. As of press time, Karp had not posted bail and remained at the county detention center.
Baltimore County Police said last week that there is no evidence that any incidents of abuse occurred at any Baltimore-area Jewish facilities.

The Other Pro-Israel Lobby


“Usually after the first event, it’s like a firestorm,” said Pastor Scott Thomas, the Florida state director for Christians United for Israel (CUFI). “The excitement hits, the understanding settles in.”

That, in short, illustrates the process through which CUFI has become America’s largest pro-Israel organization in less than a decade of existence. In January, CUFI announced that its mem-bership surpassed the 2-million mark. (The organization defines members as email-list subscrib-ers whose addresses do not produce bounce-backs when messaged.)

Since its founding in 2006, CUFI has held more than 2,100 pro-Israel events, sent hundreds of thousands of advocacy emails to government officials, and trained thousands of college students to make the case for Israel across the U.S.

Pastor John Hagee, CUFI’s founder and national chairman, said that when he called 400 Evan-gelical Christian leaders to San Antonio in 2006 to pitch them on the idea of CUFI, he thought his concept of pro-Israel programming that would “not be conversionary in any sense of the word” might deter the leaders. Instead, when he asked them to raise their hands if they accepted his proposal, “400 men raised their hands with an absolute unity that was breathtaking.”

“It was one of those surreal moments that was difficult to believe had happened so effortlessly, and Christians United for Israel took off,” Hagee said at the 10th annual CUFI Leadership Sum-mit in San Antonio on Jan. 27.

While Hagee planned for the initial group of 400 leaders to advocate for Israel on Capitol Hill that summer as a “test group,” the leaders spread the word among their own churches, and CUFI ended up bringing 3,500 people on the mission to Washington, D.C.

CUFI continues to grow exponentially, but Hagee isn’t satisfied. He said the organization hopes to double its membership to 4 million over the next two to three years.

“We are very delighted with our 2 million-plus membership base, but we want it to be many multiples of that,” said Hagee. “We feel that it’s imperative [to understand] that our ability to go to Washington representing 8 to 10 million people would be considerably greater than just 2 mil-lion.”

What’s the secret behind CUFI’s growth?

“It kind of happens organically,” said Thomas, the Florida state director. “It happens from all different angles. We’ll get a phone call from somebody who attends a congregation and says, ‘Hey, I would like for my pastor to receive information about CUFI.’ And so we’ll send out in-formation packets to those pastors to start the conversation. We’ll introduce them to CUFI, tell them what the events are like and what CUFI stands for. And then hopefully beyond that, we’ll be able to generate a follow-up phone call, introduce CUFI [to the pastor] verbally, answer any questions he might have, and find out what his perspective and stance and theology are on Is-rael.”

From there, CUFI offers to host a “Standing with Israel” event at that pastor’s church, an ap-proximately hour-long educational and informational session on the biblical roots of Christian support for Israel as well as current events in the Middle East. Eventually, the goal is to facilitate a larger program called “A Night to Honor Israel” — CUFI’s signature event, which the organi-zation aims to host in every major U.S. city each year.

“A Night to Honor Israel,” however, significantly predates CUFI. Hagee said that in 1981, he sought to organize the event as a one-time gesture to thank Israel for bombing Iraq’s Osirak nu-clear reactor. But then Hagee received death threats, as well as a bomb threat to the venue on the night of the event. His response? More than three decades of Nights to Honor Israel.

“I told my wife, we’re going to do a Night to Honor Israel until these anti-Semitic rednecks get used to it,” Hagee said. “And 34 years later, it has grown all over the nation.”

Pastor Tim Burt, CUFI’s Minnesota state director, recalled that CUFI began to gain momentum in that state after “a very effective and successful Night to Honor Israel.”

“I identified leaders in cities that very much had a passion for the support of Israel, and I began to meet with those leaders, raising up city leaders [for CUFI] throughout Minnesota… and [dis-cussing] how they could have an impact within their city and spheres of influence,” said Burt.

CUFI has now three-dozen city leaders in Minnesota. After CUFI took 16 pastors of African-rooted Minnesota churches on a trip to Israel last year, one of the pastors on that trip organized a trip of his own for 16 more pastors.

“It’s starting to snowball in that respect,” Burt said.

Aiding the “snowball effect” for CUFI is America’s predominantly Christian population. Former Minnesota congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, who attended the CUFI Leadership Summit, noted the “growing market” and “strong foundation” for Christian support of Israel.

“I think in light of the attacks and the aggressiveness that we see against the Jewish state, we’re going to see more and more Christians who are going to see a vehicle wherein they can demon-strate their support for the Jewish state, and I think Christians United for Israel is that obvious vehicle,” said Bachmann.

Before CUFI, despite the presence of a “reservoir of instinctive support for Israel” in America, that base of support “had a hard time finding a way to express itself,” said CUFI board member Gary Bauer, the U.S. Under Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan.

“As CUFI was set up, and Pastor Hagee and [his wife] Diana had this vision, and others joined with them, and then as time passed and people saw us speaking up, whether the president was a Republican or a Democrat, or whether there was Republican Congress or a Democratic Con-gress, I think the word spread,” said Bauer. “If you were pro-Israel, if you care about the alliance between these two great nations, and you want to do something, but you live in Toledo or Knox-ville or Birmingham or Sacramento… this is the organization you can invest in and feel confi-dent that you’re not going to wake up one morning and see an embarrassing story.”

Pastor Victor Styrsky, CUFI’s eastern regional coordinator, echoed Bauer’s sentiment.

“We’d bring Jews and Christians together [before CUFI existed],” said Styrsky. “We didn’t call them Nights to Honor Israel, but we were doing those, and rallies, and we were emptying savings accounts, running full-page ads, and we had no CUFI to keep it going, so we would literally dis-appear for years.”

Styrsky said that now, when he speaks to pastors on behalf of CUFI, “Almost always at the end of 45 minutes to an hour, we see the light bulbs go off, and a new journey has begun. … That’s how we keep going.”

Inclusiveness is also part of growth strategy at CUFI, which is “not targeting a specific demo-graphic in terms of ethnicity,” said Pastor Dumisani Washington, the organization’s diversity outreach coordinator.

“My job is to begin to reach out to everyone, and try our best to let them know that we want them here, and let them know that there’s a home here for whoever they are ethnically, if they are standing with Israel as Christians,” Washington said.

Bauer said CUFI supporters “can come to the table with all kinds of faith perspectives, and in some cases with no faith perspective at all.”

“We take those allies wherever we can get them, but we continue to do our harvesting in the church community, where we know there’s a natural predilection or bias towards standing with Israel based on the teachings of the Christian faith,” he said.

Kasim Hafeez, who addressed the CUFI Leadership Summit crowd on his jihadist-turned-Zionist personal story, offered an outsider’s perspective on both the success of CUFI and why the orga-nization is a frequent target of anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic criticism.

“Here’s why [anti-Semites] hate CUFI, and one simple word explains it all: fear,” Hafeez said.

While anti-Semites believe they can easily bully Jews, he said, CUFI’s mobilization of the much larger Christian community is more imposing.

“What the haters didn’t see was 2015, over 2 million Christians praying for Israel… Mark my words, there is no organization, there are no four letters, that will make an anti-Semite’s blood run cold more than C-U-F-I,” said Hafeez.

Moving forward, how will CUFI meet its aforementioned goal of doubling its membership to 4 million within three years?

“The specific step that we will have to take is to raise the funds to hire more regional directors and state directors,” said Hagee. “We need more people in the field meeting and training pastors and concerned Christians how to become a leader in this organization for the benefit of Israel.”

CUFI is also bolstering its overseas presence, with plans to start a United Kingdom branch. Hagee said that in the U.K., CUFI would combat anti-Semitism by soliciting the help of spiritual and government leaders “to look this evil tidal wave eye to eye and call it what it is, and get peo-ple to admit that a very lackadaisical attitude toward the Jewish people and Israel have created this monster that must be addressed.”

Hagee emphasized the biblical mandate to fight anti-Semitism, quoting the verse from Isaiah 61, “For Zion’s sake, I will not keep quiet, and for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not be silent.”

“The message here is that Christians are to speak out, publicly, in defense of the Jewish people and the state of Israel, that we are authorized to combat anti-Semitism as aggressively as we pos-sibly can,” said Hagee.

He added, “If you took away the Jewish contribution from Christianity, there would be no Chris-tianity, so fundamentally, Christians owe the Jewish people everything. Period. Once a person sees that, he’s committed to take action in defense of the Jewish people.”

A Look Back


WASHINGTON — The opening of an exhibit at the Austrian Embassy in Washington of more than 50 photographs by an 84-year-old Jewish Nobel laureate was something of an amateur hour — twice over.

Both Austria’s ambassador and Martin Karplus, the photographer, referred to the pictures — postcard-style views of Europe in the 1950s and a more recent series on China and India — as hobby rather than high art.

Then at a reception, many of the approximately 250 guests handed their phones to strangers to snap pictures with Karplus — amateur shots of themselves with an amateur photographer.

“I’m not a photographer,” said Karplus, a Harvard professor emeritus who shared the 2013 Nobel in chemistry. “I’m an amateur at this.”

Karplus fled his native Vienna as an 8-year-old with his family. Like many European Jewish refugees, he barely returned to Austria for years. Then everything changed.
“Once I got the Nobel Prize, Austria suddenly realized that I was an interesting person,” said Karplus, who will receive an honorary doctorate in May from the University of Vienna, which will also exhibit his photographs.

The exhibit, which opened Jan. 14 and will run through Feb. 13, comes to Washington from the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York. The photos, which span continents and decades, show people and landscapes that Karplus encountered on his world travels.
One photograph from the 1950s shows Karplus’ parents in Rockport, Mass., standing in front of what appears to be a well-known fishing shack often referred to as the most painted structure in the United States. His father holds his hat in hand while his mother holds her husband’s arm. The work is a study in verticals — a pole behind the father, the wharf pylons and distant telephone lines — balanced by the deep blue of the water visible in the bottom right corner.

A photograph of an Indian boy taken in 2009 fills the composition with the barefoot, crouching boy. The photo is overwhelmingly heavy on cool blues and grays, except for a bright orange bike in the top right corner. The boy’s gaze, intense as he stares at what appears to be rags in his hands, evokes a secular Madonna cradling her child.

Many other photos in the exhibit, such as a picture of boats taken in Hong Kong in the 1960s, offer the sort of pretty colors and composition that one would expect of postcards — or perhaps an Instagram feed. But in this case, the shots are taken by a Nobel Prize winner.

“Now that I have a Nobel Prize, somehow my value as a photographer has increased a little bit,” Karplus said. “When you get a Nobel Prize, you’re supposed to know everything.”

Karplus initially exhibited his photos at a two-month show at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York last year. Angelika Schweiger, the cultural officer at the forum and the curator of the embassy exhibit, heard about Karplus from colleagues in New York and decided to bring his work to Washington.

Though he is now celebrated by Austrian public institutions, Karplus freely acknowledged in an interview how shocked he was to discover on a trip to Austria a decade ago how prevalent anti-Semitic sentiment was in the country.

“Unlike Germany, which basically admitted its guilt, Austria still says to many people, ‘We were invaded by Hitler,’” Karplus said.

Hanno Loewy, director of the Jewish Museum of Hohenems in Austria, agrees that the country was “late in comparison to Germany” with critically examining its past.

“For long, the myth of Austria as the ‘first victim’ of the Nazis prevailed,” he said.
An artist statement on Karplus’ website notes that his parents gave him a Leica camera after he earned his doctorate in 1953 and that he subsequently started photographing his European travels.

“Meeting people and being exposed to their cultures, art, architecture, and cuisines was an incredible experience, which has had a lasting effect on my life,” reads the statement. Karplus only began exhibiting his work in 2005.

But for all his achievements, Hans Peter Manz, Austria’s ambassador to Washington, declined to claim Karplus as his own.

“Remember when the German pope was elected? Suddenly [the Germans] were saying, ‘We are pope,’ which is ridiculous,” Manz said. “The same thing happens when one of these guys wins a Nobel. Suddenly you find out, ‘Ah. He’s Austrian.’ The guy left when he was 8 years old. When I introduced him, I didn’t mention it. He did. To claim any piece of his Nobel as a national success is ridiculous.”

Pikesville High Renovations Scaled Back

013015_pikesvilleThe $44.9 million renovations to Pikesville High School might not include all of the originally proposed improvements due to higher-than-anticipated construction costs.

The renovations, which include a new HVAC system, new roof, accessibility upgrades, new classrooms and technology, now includes a list of “add alternates” — pieces that will get done if money is left after the initial renovations — such as sound and lighting upgrades in the auditorium, a renovated gym, a greenhouse, cafeteria skylights and new kitchen and serving line equipment.

Baltimore County Public Schools spokesman Mychael Dickerson said construction costs appear to be higher than they were when the schematic design for the renovations was made. The funding has not been cut, he added.

“It is quite common that everything that we want we cannot do because the market fluctuates,” said Pete Dixit, executive director of facilities at BCPS, “and sometimes the market is favorable and we are able to do a lot more.”

The school opened in the fall of 1964 to sophomores and juniors. The building did not have an HVAC system, and recent studies determined it would be more efficient to rebuild than to retrofit the existing building with air conditioning. The renovations are slated to be completed in time for the 2016-17 school year.

Councilwoman Vicki Almond (D-District 2), along with state Dels. Dan Morhaim, Dana Stein and Shelly Hettleman and state Sen. Bobby Zirkin, all of the 11th District, wrote a letter to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz asking for the renovations to be completed in full. Almond said the additional pieces may cost around $7 million.

“This happens once every 50 years and we feel like we shouldn’t be skimping on any of the items,” Almond said. “We just feel like after all this time and trouble that we deserve to have the full funding for the full project whether [costs] came in higher or not.”

Because the state had already given what funding it can according to a formula, Almond said, additional funding would have to come from the county. With uncertainty on how much state funding the county will be receiving in the state’s budget, she said the request for additional funding is at a stand-still.

The school community is also rallying to get all pieces of the renovations done. Jill Cohen, vice president of programming for Pikesville’s parent teacher student association, said the most upsetting possible cuts were a sun shade outside of the front entrance and the auditorium upgrades.

“I was on the stage when I was a student there back in the mid-’80s,” she said. “It hasn’t changed.”

She said the PTSA is appealing to the Baltimore County Board of Education. Her son Bradley graduates in May.

As construction trudges along, about 80 percent of the school is now in three modular buildings that hold a total of 34 classrooms. Acting Principal Joy O’Brien-Krack said construction seems to be running on schedule, and is excited about what renovations are sure to get done.

“We’re still gaining classrooms and state of the art equipment,” she said. “I’m grateful that it’s happening and it’s going to be a beautiful building.”

Dixit said there’s little chance that the add alternates will get done with the current funding, or even further down the road, but stressed that the essential improvements are getting done.

“Most of the key instructional spaces and all the code and health license safety requirements, they will be met and it will beautiful building once it’s done,” he said.

For more info on the renovations, visit

Coming Up Short

013015_iranWASHINGTON — For the second year running, a bid to pass a bill intensifying sanctions against Iran appears to be foundering on threat of a presidential veto.

In his State of the Union address Jan. 20, President Obama vowed to veto further sanctions legislation, saying it would “all but guarantee” his efforts to achieved a deal on Iran’s nuclear program would collapse.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) responded by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to address Congress on the subject. Netanyahu, who will address Congress in March, is expected to express full support for new sanctions legislation.

The turbulence this week surrounding the sanctions legislation, authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) with the strong backing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has left the bill in limbo. Netanyahu’s scheduled March 3 address to Congress coincides with AIPAC’s annual policy conference, which he will also address.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader whose position on the bill would be critical to whipping the two-thirds majority to override a veto in the House, said the timing of Netanyahu’s speech was inappropriate, both because of the proximity of the March 17 Israeli elections and because Boehner has cast it as a rebuttal to Obama’s veto threat.

“We cannot have [Iran talks] fail when Congress wants to flex its muscle unnecessarily,” she told reporters Jan. 22 echoing Obama’s argument that new sanctions could scuttle talks with Iran on keeping it from obtaining nuclear weapons. “If that is the purpose of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit two weeks before his own election right in the midst of negotiations, I just don’t think it’s appropriate and helpful.”

Irking Pelosi especially was that Boehner issued the invitation “on behalf of the bipartisan leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate” before consulting with her or Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate minority leader.

“It is out of the ordinary that the speaker would decide that he would be inviting people to a joint session without any bipartisan consultation,” she said.

Boehner’s office did not respond to a query about consulting with Democrats over the invitation.

Senate Democrats who would be key to building a veto-proof majority of 67 votes in the chamber were sounding notes of reluctance.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who backed a similar Kirk-Menendez bill a year ago, seemed to backtrack in an interview Jan. 22.

“I’ve always supported additional sanctions, [but] it’s a matter of timing,” he said. “The administration has pretty strong views about bringing it up for a vote at this particular moment.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the top Democrat on the Senate’s Banking Committee, which must approve the sanctions before they advance to the Senate floor, said he was not ready to endorse them just yet.

“I don’t know how I’m going to vote yet, but I think that we need to slow it down a little bit,” he said. “I talked to a number of our allies. I want to make sure we do this in a way that Iran does not walk away from the negotiations.”

Reid, speaking for the first time to the press after recovering from a serious exercise injury, was noncommittal. “He’s going to come give a speech to a joint session of Congress, and we’re going to listen what he has to say,” he said.

For Menendez, a longtime champion of Iran’s isolation, it was deja vu all over again, and he was furious. A year ago his hallmark legislation foundered under almost identical circumstances: Solid support for the legislation dissipated among Democrats in both chambers after Obama issued a veto threat in his State of the Union.

This time around, though, the calculus was supposed to be different. Reid, as majority leader, used parliamentary maneuvers to scuttle the bill in 2014, but Republicans are in the majority now.

At a hearing Jan. 21 of the Foreign Relations Committee, on which he is the lead Democrat, Menendez accused Obama administration officials of bad faith.

“I have to be honest with you, the more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran,” Menendez said. “And it heeds to the Iranian narrative of victimhood, when they are the ones with original sin: an illicit nuclear weapons program over the course of 20 years that they are unwilling to come clean on.”

Backers of the bill had at first seemed confident of its swift passage, shepherded by the new majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The Banking Committee was due to consider the bill on Jan. 22, and AIPAC sent Senate offices a bill summary on Jan. 12 — unusual for a bill that had yet to be formally launched.

“The agreement clearly complies with the commitment President Obama made that the United States would impose no new sanctions during the course of negotiations with Iran,” AIPAC said.

The Banking Committee subsequently postponed its consideration of the bill until Jan. 29, and a number of alternatives are now under consideration that stop short of introducing new sanctions, including a proposal by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, that would subject any deal with Iran to an up or down congressional vote.

Leading Democrats said they saw sanctions as off the table for now.

“I do not support raising sanctions now,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “If the process fails, that’s another subject, but there’s no question that if we did it now, in my mind, it would bring on failure right away.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), said he opposed new sanctions as well as Corker’s proposal.

“I think this Congress has a pretty miserable record of fairly judging international agreements presented to Congress by this president,” he said. “I think that we should be in the business of approving treaties, [but] I’m not sure if we need to be adding to our workload when we have an agreement that is not technically a treaty under the Constitution.”

Cardin suggested that Menendez would align with his caucus.

“I think Sen. Menendez has a pretty good understanding of the pros and cons here, so we’re all trying to keep the unity and, to me, the more we can work together with the president, the better off we are,” he said.

Ohio Rabbi Apprehended

013015_abuseRabbi Ephraim Karp, director of spiritual living at Menorah Park Center for Senior Living in Beachwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, was arrested in New York Jan. 15 on an active felony warrant from Maryland.

According to the Queens, N.Y., district attorney’s office, Karp has been charged by the state of Maryland with perverted practice, sex offense, sex abuse of a minor and sex abuse. He is listed in court records as Frederick M. Karp, and a release from the Baltimore County Police Department linked the charges to the alleged abuse of a juvenile female over a period of time.

Karp, 50, was arrested at 9:25 p.m. Jan. 15 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York as “a fugitive from justice” on the warrant issued by the District Court of Maryland, Baltimore County, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department.

He was arraigned Jan. 16 in Queens Criminal Court and will likely be extradited to Maryland, said Ikimulisa Livingston, spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney’s office. As of Jan. 21, he was in custody at the Anna M. Kross Correctional Facility in East Elmhurst, N.Y., according to the New York Department of Correction website. Public records were not available from Baltimore County referencing the case.

Karp is president of Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains, formerly known as the National Association of Jewish Chaplains, and was en route to the annual NAJC conference in Jerusalem at the time of his arrest, a spokesperson for Menorah Park said. The conference is set for Jan. 26 to Jan. 29.

In June 2013, the organization’s national board, which includes Karp, was at the Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown for a conference.

In a statement, however, Baltimore County Police said there was no evidence that any incidents of abuse occurred at any local Jewish facilities.

Steven R. Raichilson, executive director at Menorah Park, issued this statement Jan. 21: “[On Jan. 20] we learned that Rabbi Ephraim Karp has been charged in Baltimore County, Md., with a series of offenses accusing him of sex abuse that allegedly took place in Maryland. We do not have further details regarding the charges, but we continue to be assured by local authorities that there is no connection between these charges and Rabbi Karp’s work for Menorah Park.

“We were tremendously saddened by this development. Rabbi Karp joined us seven years ago with solid recommendations,” he continued. “We conducted a thorough background check, and no issues or concerns surfaced during that process.”

Beachwood Police Chief Keith Winebrenner confirmed that police from Baltimore County came to Beachwood on Jan. 15 looking for Karp but said he could not provide any more details.

“I know he was arrested in New York, but I don’t know what he was arrested for or if he has been charged with anything,” Winebrenner said. “It’s still under investigation.”

Karp, of Beachwood, came to Menorah Park in 2008. He is one of two full-time Orthodox rabbis in the nursing home’s spiritual living department.

Before coming to Menorah Park, he was community chaplain for seven years for the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County in New Jersey, where he founded its joint chaplaincy program.

Karp, who grew up on Long Island, N.Y., was ordained at the Ayshel Avraham Rabbinical Seminary in Spring Valley, N.Y., in 1998. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and a master’s degree in social work in international and community development at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J.

Queens County records show that, at the time of his arrest, Karp was aware of the incident in question and had been in contact with a lawyer and the Baltimore police. He awaits extradition to Maryland.
Ed Wittenberg writes for the Cleveland Jewish News.