Reject Iran Deal

The Iranian nuclear agreement is dangerous and should be rejected (“End Run around Congress,” July 24). It leaves Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure that openly or secretly permits weapons production. Other nations fearing Iran’s radical Shiite regime will race to get their own nuclear weapons. Moreover, ending sanctions will release $150 billion, allowing the mullahs to better finance their revolutionary and terrorist policies.

As Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei said on July 18: “The Islamic Republic of Iran will not give up support of its friends in the region — the oppressed people of Palestine, of Yemen, the Syrian and Iraqi governments, the oppressed people of Bahrain and sincere resistance fighters in Lebanon and Palestine. Our policy will not change with regards to the arrogant U.S. government.”

Before talks began in 2013, sanc-tions were working. The Iranian economy was contracting at a rate of 6.8 percent, and inflation was over 40 percent, according to President Hassan Rohani’s victory speech July 14. Yet, rather than press Iran, the Obama administration bribed it to negotiate by easing sanctions. Their economy stabilized, allowing Iran to bargain for nearly two years until it won this diplomatic triumph, which includes phasing out conventional weapon and ICBM embargoes, a completely unnecessary gift to Tehran.

Congress should reject this agreement and restore the original sanctions, which in time will lead to a better deal. There is precedent for Congress fixing executive branch foreign policy errors.  In 1986, because of apartheid, Congress overrode President Ronald Reagan’s veto of a bill imposing sanctions on South Africa. Reagan was wrong then, and Obama is wrong now.

The Deal With Iran: Peace In Our Time?

After years of negotiations, Europe and America have seemingly come to terms with the following fact: Iran is the devil who will have to be dealt with on terms that will possibly limit her threatening nuclear capabilities at least for now. After lauding the deal as an option that is better than war, President Barack Obama seems to have presented the American people, if not the world, with a result that seemingly only postpones the inevitable.

Give the negotiators credit: They stuck with a vision that they believed would make the world a safer place by placing a number of restrictions and limitations on Iran’s nuclear-making capabilities. However, the whole deal is subject to verification, not trust, through the International Atomic Energy Agency, a castrated arm of the United Nations, which has no power and has been constantly fooled, limited and taken for excessive rides by an Iran, which has become a master of deception and constant mistrust.

And after all the expected reactions from the right and left were announced, the question is: Why did Obama and Europe pursue this deal with Iran? If you look at the larger, more grandiose picture of the president’s foreign policy, you will see a very interesting revolution having taken place: He has opened up and tried to turn the tables back with countries traditionally seen as America’s enemies.

The legacy Obama wishes to leave with less than two years to go of his second term has allowed him to shift policy regarding his original declared intentions with Iran. Remember, he had first stated to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program entirely. That did not happen, and, in fact, after 10 years, Iran will have the option to become a major nuclear power in the Middle East. If we were talking about Switzerland or Finland, that would not be so much a world issue. But we are talking about a country that is seeking to dominate the entire area through its use of terrorism cohorts who are fighting in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, and, of course, always threatening Israel.

Despite vocal opposition from certain parts of Congress,  at the end of the day, Obama will have his way, because Congress may have a loud decibel level of protest, but its members will never want to embarrass their president on such a foreign policy foundation such as this. They may not like the president, but they are American patriots, and to have the President internationally humiliated by failing to approve this treaty would be disastrous: America would be seen to be untrustworthy, weak, hand-bound and politically straight-jacketed, and no American politician would want that vision to be realized.

The truth is that when you are dealing with Iran and its mullahs, the only country that can now sigh with delighted relief is Iran itself, as it laughs its way to the bank. Note, however, that the deal has not yet been signed and awaits signatures. Should we hope that all the papers of the deal suddenly disappear only to be found in a time capsule 300 years hence?

Pollution from Pets: A Serious Concern

Baltimore County is cracking down on pet pollution. Robert E. Lee Park at Lake Roland is known for its dog-walking fun and stream wading in the tributaries of the Jones Falls. With the recent environmental restoration of the park’s trails and dog park, signage went up and regulations enforced to keep pets leashed and out of the streams.

Robert E. Lee Park used to be known for large numbers of unleashed dogs, but happily, after more strict enforcement these past few years, the violators have noticeably decreased.  As a runner, I applaud Baltimore County’s efforts.  And not just because I don’t like unleashed dogs running after and jumping on me. This along with other improvements within the park to restore and protect the many natural, yet sensitive ecosystems have increased the amount of nature and recreational enthusiasts to the area.
What the public may not be aware of is how much pet pollution ends up in our waterways.

Baltimore County’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (EPS) has been working on educating the public on responsible behaviors that will result in improved water quality, including managing pet waste.  According to its website, Americans own 77.5 million dogs (2010), and an average of 41 percent of Chesapeake Bay-area dog owners rarely or never clean up after their dogs.  Just 12,000 dogs living in a 19-square-mile watershed leave 5,000 pounds of “solid” waste daily.

Dogs also generate disease-causing bacteria that can make people sick.  Studies conducted for over a decade across the state have shown that one-third of bacterial pollution, and in some areas such as the Severn River watershed as high as 68 percent, can be traced back to pet waste.  Leaving pet waste means that it will be carried off on the bottom of someone’s shoe or washed directly into waterways by storm water, adding nitrogen and depleting oxygen in the water, killing aquatic life.

Keeping animals and their feces out of waterways is, in fact, one of several major strategies to improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay.  Recent efforts to bring about this reform on a broad scale include a recent agreement between the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency, providing greater assurances to the adherence of the multistate Chesapeake Bay Program and the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint to restore the Bay, which involves large, industrial animal feeding operations called AFOs.  On a smaller scale and at the local level, many municipalities are enforcing leash laws already on the books to contribute to watershed improvement plans.

It is because of the high bacterial contamination that most waterways in Maryland have a no-swimming or water-contact advisory for two days after heavy rainfall.  Two days!  Considering how much rain we’ve had this summer, that adds up to a large number of days to stay away from natural waterways, which are often destinations for many during summer outings or vacations.

While fines and enforcement of leash laws may vary between counties (in Baltimore first offenders are fined $40, repeat offenders may net up to $150), don’t wait for the law to catch up with you.  Do your part to curb poop pollution of our waterways so that we can all benefit from our natural resources.

Getting Boots on the Ground

Sheldon Adelson’s goal to “put more boots on the ground” to fight BDS on college campuses is right on, and his recommendation to form an army of college students, dubbed “Campus Maccabees”, is essential.  However, the only way to rapidly recruit and train an army of Campus Maccabees is for Birthright Israel to lower the age of eligibility to 16, thereby attracting teens, en masse, to go to Israel.

Just as an army needs boot camp to prepare for active duty, so, too will Adelson’s Campus Maccabees.  Providing teens with an Israel experience and Israel advocacy training before they go to college is essential for Campus Maccabees to be prepared to fight BDS on campus.

Fighting BDS on campus is of little interest to Jewish students who have not had an Israel experience.  Thus, Birthright Israel’s role is critical in the anti-BDS fight. When Birthright Israel lowers its age of eligibility to 16, Adelson’s Campus Maccabees idea will flourish. Tens of thousands of Jewish boots on the ground will arrive on college campuses prepared, equipped and willing to fight BDS.

The plan is simple to implement.  Birthright Israel can serve as the funding source for Jewish communities to organize 10 to 12-day teen trips to Israel and for vouchers for the equivalent of the 10 to 12-day day trip for longer Israel experiences run by Jewish youth groups, camps, synagogues and schools, making longer trips more affordable.  When tens of thousands of pre-college-age teens return from Israel every year, Jewish communities can provide Israel advocacy training, using any of the high-quality curricula produced by Jerusalem U, Stand With Us, CAMERA, Honest Reporting, The David Project and others, as we are doing in our community with great success.

Training pre-college-age students to fight BDS is an effective strategy because waiting until students arrive on campus to recruit and train them is too late. Recent social scientific studies conducted by Steven M. Cohen, including one of alumni of Lappin Foundation’s Youth to Israel Adventure, prove the effectiveness of the teen Israel experience. My community is proof that the teen trip to Israel followed by Israel advocacy training is working.

The funding infrastructure is in place, using Birthright Israel, to attract teens en masse to go to Israel.  High-quality Israel advocacy programs for high school students are ready to go. All that is needed is for Sheldon Adelson and other funders, who attended the Campus Maccabees Summit, to see what is readily available and to persuade Birthright Israel to lower the age of eligibility to 16.

A Sense of Proportion

“I find it difficult to visit Germany. I’m uncomfortable with the sound of the language, the police uniforms, the large industrial buildings. When I was first invited to participate as a golfer in this summer’s Jewish Olympics, the Maccabiah Games in Berlin, I declined.  Then I learned that the Opening Ceremonies for the Games would be held in the stadium used by Hitler to stage the 1936 Berlin Olympics and that thousands of Jewish athletes, coaches, family members and spectators would sing Israel’s national anthem “Hatikvah” in memory of the six million who perished in the Holocaust.  When I heard this, I knew I had to go to Berlin.”

This quote is from my friend, Jeremy Freedman, who was selected to be Canada’s flagbearer at the Berlin Maccabiah, when, on June 28, I was the first passenger to check in on El Al’s maiden flight from Boston to Israel.

Before the flight there was a flag-raising ceremony at Logan Airport. To the sounds of “Hatikvah” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the Israeli flag was raised proudly alongside the flags of the other countries that fly directly from Boston.  At the ceremony were leaders of the Boston Jewish community, state dignitaries and Israeli diplomats.

A feeling of celebration was in the air, as Boston was added to El Al’s three other North American destinations.  Was this “just business”?  It is always easy to be cynical, but I felt there was more than business.  It was sort of modern Zionism.  Blazing a new trail in the air.

We live in a challenging time for Israel. Despite the Jewish New Year blessing, our enemies have not been uprooted.  Not every day and not in every place the Israeli flag is raised and the national carrier opens its counters at a new airport. Opening a direct route from Boston is a significant contribution to commercial relations, investments, academic research and connecting Israelis and local Jews to Israel.

While waiting for the flight I told some El Al people that on my previous flight, I sat next to a friendly businessman who bemoaned the comfort level of the El Al seats compared with those of competing airlines. I said that choosing to fly El Al has a Zionist consideration. I still remember last summer when several airlines stopped flying to Israel because of rocket fire from Gaza, reminding us once again that at the moment of truth, we can rely only on ourselves.

On the Sabbath evening prior to the flight I was invited to the Harvard Chabad House.  After the meal, Rabbi Zarchi asked me to speak on the weekly Torah portion.  I shared some thoughts about a sense of proportion.  “In the Torah portion”, I suggested, “the Israelites complain of unquenched thirst and Moses strikes the rock to produce water.  Imagine that the Israelites had remembered how, just a short time earlier, they had been slaves in Egypt, where they were beaten, humiliated, their firstborn murdered. Remembering that terrible period would have put their thirst into proportion and perhaps reduced some of their complaints.”

A sense of proportion could be useful today also.  With a worrying increase in boycotts against Israel, the fact that less than a century ago the Jewish people were almost wiped out by the scourge in Berlin, we should be thankful for the Maccabiah Games in Berlin, the aviation pioneering from Boston and, hopefully, for a quiet, relaxing summer in Israel.

Discovering Selflessness in a ‘Selfish Gap-Year’

I had looked forward to my year in seminary with great anticipation. Everyone I encountered informed me that my “gap year” would consist of one life-altering experience after another and that I had to make the most of every opportunity. But I was a little anxious about my ability to truly maximize the year.

After all, I had only a few short months to achieve so many important things. In addition to increasing my Torah knowledge and enhancing my spirituality, I wanted to volunteer, to give of myself and make an impact on others.  And even though an incredible opportunity to volunteer with special needs children fell into my lap, I wasn’t sure if I could juggle everything.

To my great surprise, however, the volunteering opportunity was actually the best thing that could have happened to my year. It opened my eyes to the depth and beauty of life.

So, what was this transformative volunteering program?

While serving as a counselor at Camp Migdal, a camp for children and teenagers with special needs, last summer, I was approached by the assistant director, Perri Binet, with a request. During her gap year many years earlier, Perri had started a unique volunteering initiative with ALEH, Israel’s largest network of facilities for children with severe physical and cognitive disabilities, whereby seminary students would visit ALEH’s Jerusalem facility every night to say Shema with the kids and put them to bed (like all other Jewish children). Perri was hoping that I would take over the Sweet Dreams program for the year.

At first, I didn’t know what to say.  I was concerned about how I could possibly fit this into my already packed schedule, and the added responsibility made me anxious.  But the program touched my heart, and I happily agreed.

Thanks to my friends in different schools around Jerusalem it didn’t take too long to complete the weekly roster.  Every night, the designated group of girls would spend 45 minutes going from room to room singing Shema and other lullabies and dispensing countless hugs and kisses.

Though our weekly visits were short, my interactions with the ALEH kids and staff impacted me tremendously.  It was amazing to be surrounded by such warmth, to realize that every person who entered ALEH Jerusalem would be praised and appreciated both as individuals and for the great value that they added to the group, even if that value added was seemingly unconventional.  Additionally, it was inspiring to see that every accomplishment, no matter how small, would be celebrated as a major milestone.

All too often, it is the fear of failure that prevents us from accomplishing our goals.

In my case, a step toward the unknown allowed me to impact the lives of so many beautiful Jewish children and, in turn, provided me with the tools to not only maximize my year but elevate my outlook on life. A cause for celebration, indeed.

Powerful Lessons Well Learned

Debra S. Weinberg

Debra S. Weinberg

Benjamin Franklin famously stated, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I will learn.” Franklin’s wise observation certainly supports the truism that experience is the best teacher.

Rolling up your sleeves and immersing yourself with all senses engaged can have a much more profound impact than merely hearing or reading about an experience. Learning by doing is the best way to retain acquired knowledge.

There is much evidence to support the power of hands-on Jewish learning and its far-reaching impact. Because of this, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore invests in programs that bring Judaism alive. Whether by creating innovative programs or supporting cutting-edge initiatives at its local agencies, The Associated is committed to enriching Jewish life for our community.

The summer offers the perfect opportunity for experiential learning in the informal setting of camp. There are thousands of children from our community embracing a meaningful Shabbat experience and connecting to Jewish values and traditions in the dining halls of overnight Jewish camps this summer.

The Associated’s Center for Jewish Camping helps families select the right camp for their children, ensuring a lifetime of lasting memories. Research shows that attending Jewish camp influences campers’ connections to community and observance of Jewish traditions well into adulthood.

While camp may be the first place that a child encounters Israeli culture, even that cannot compete with the thrill of visiting the Jewish homeland. The sights, sounds and smells of Israel have the power to seep into your soul and leave a deep and lasting imprint.

The Associated is committed to connecting Jews from our community to Israel in meaningful ways. The programs, many of which are geared to teens and young adults, such as Birthright Israel, Onward Israel and Masa, offer opportunities of various lengths and themes. The Associated’s Israel Engagement Center helps participants find the right setting in which to explore Israel.

Closer to home, families are connecting to each other and to the beauty of Judaism through the Macks Center for Jewish Education and its team of Community Connectors. The volunteer connectors serve as ambassadors to introduce young families to the myriad Jewish activities available to them in our community.

Likewise,  individuals interested in exploring the burgeoning Jewish outdoor food and environmental education (JOFEE) movement are immersing themselves in meaningful experiences at the Pearlstone Center, one of a handful of organizations nationally that are part of the JOFEE movement.

Meaningful Jewish experiences unfold daily throughout The Associated system from the fields at Pearlstone to the three Jewish Community Center locations to the engaging exhibits at the Jewish Museum of Maryland and everywhere in between.

This area of focus reflects The Associated’s understanding that our diverse community relates to Judaism and each other from a variety of vantage points. By embracing these unique experiences that provide meaningful connections to our community and to Jewish life, The Associated ensures that our community will be strong and vital for future generations too.

It’s Time to Stop Demonizing Michael Oren

Michael Oren is my friend. During his nearly five years as Israel’s ambassador to the United States, we’d speak on an almost daily basis. Often those phone calls would come at 3 or 4 a.m., Washington time, and Oren, enduring another sleepless night, would share his fears about how the Obama administration was compromising Israel’s safety. While too discreet to reveal confidential information, he’d repeatedly say: You won’t believe what the administration is doing. It’s worse than you can possibly imagine. But I can’t talk about it …”

In his new book, “Ally, My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide,” Oren has gone public with his anguish. “Ally” has been burning in him for years. It is an impassioned critique of the Obama administration — including some of the details Oren couldn’t reveal as ambassador, when his job required him to publicly insist that American-Israeli relations were strong and unbreakable.

Oren’s accusations need to be debated. And a few who’ve critiqued the book have engaged with its ideas. Too many others, though, have turned personal and vicious. I have been pained almost physically to read and listen to the ways in which the Michael Oren I know has been distorted beyond recognition by an assault on his integrity, his credibility, even his honesty. Oren has been called everything from a publicity hound to a virtual traitor sacrificing Israel’s relations with its most important ally for the sole purpose of selling books.

Oren, currently a member of the Knesset, is one of the most selfless public servants of the Jewish people I’ve been privileged to know. What impelled Oren to write “Ally” is revealed in what I see as the book’s crucial passage, when Oren learned that America had been secretly negotiating with Iran: “Most disturbing for me personally was that our closest ally had entreated with our deadliest enemy on an existential issue without so much as informing us.” That is the decisive moment when Israel felt betrayed by Obama. The negotiations — in which America deliberately weakened its hand and allowed Iran to dictate terms — were the sin. A deal is merely the consequence.

What’s been overlooked though is that “Ally” also contains criticism of Israeli attitudes toward American Jews and laments the lack of religious pluralism in the Jewish state. Still, “Ally” does offer the harshest critique of American Jewry that any Israeli has offered in a long time. If Oren feels that American Jewry is failing Israel at the most dangerous moment in its history, he has the obligation to say so. Ironically, the Israeli-American Jewish relationship has become the reverse of its old problematic dynamic. Where once it was forbidden for American Jews to criticize Israel, now apparently it is forbidden for an Israeli to criticize American Jewry.

Is Oren wrong in his assessment of American Jewry? Is he wrong about the Iranian deal? By all means, argue with him. But argue the argument, not the person. Stop demonizing a man whose essence is service to Israel and the Jewish people.

Actions Always Speak Louder Than Words

In the very midst of negotiations with Western powers, Iran has stepped up its involvement in regional proxy wars, overtly supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen. It is attempting to open a new terror front in the Golan Heights. It continues to bolster Bashar al-Assad’s regime, spending what some experts estimate to be up to $15 billion a year of its sanctions-strained economic resources to do so. It funnels arms to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip and bankrolls Hezbollah in Lebanon. Imagine what Iran will be able to do if sanctions relief frees up $150 billion for its misuse. If Iran is willing to spend so much on fomenting regional instability while strapped for cash, it is hard to believe that it will direct this windfall toward the betterment of its population as opposed to stepping up its historically aggressive activities.

Iran’s intention to attain regional hegemony neither is coy nor has it abated. Rather, Iran’s notorious rapaciousness for attaining regional footholds, undermining neighboring regimes, and fomenting widespread destabilization appears only emboldened by the nuclear talks. Commander of the Quds force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Suleimani is running rampant through the region, with media reports of him appearing in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq to organize and train local militias and regular armed forces in those countries.

Furthermore, Iran’s track record of adherence to agreements belies the likelihood that we can trust its adherence to any new agreement. Since signing an interim nuclear agreement in 2013, Iran has failed, per the agreement, to convert 3,800 kilos of enriched uranium into an oxide form that cannot easily be converted into weapons-grade material. As we negotiate a new deal, we ignore Iran’s failure to abide by previous agreements and its concurrent active pursuit of a nuclear program.

Most disturbing, however, is the testimony this month before Congress regarding Iran’s burgeoning ballistic missile program. This issue is not part of the current deal framework, and its omission is catastrophic. Intelligence leaders including former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lieutenant General Michael Flynn are openly excoriating the Iran deal for its failure to address Iran’s ballistic missile program, which serves as an unambiguous indication of the ill intent of its nuclear program. Such missiles are intended for delivery of nuclear weapons, and Iran’s arsenal is of increasing quality and number. The links between medium and long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear payloads are known.

Our leaders have taken their eye off the ball. Iran is employing a formula used by both Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad — poor company, at best — of preoccupying the West with negotiations over nonproliferation while simultaneously persecuting the people of the region. And in the end, a deal meant to stymie proliferation in one country is going to spark an arms race in one of the most unstable regions in the world, with Saudi Arabia and other countries seeking at best increased conventional weapons arsenals and at worst nuclear capacity to deter their emboldened main enemy in the region — Iran.

Iran is sending two, incongruous messages: one to negotiators in Switzerland and another through its everyday actions. In deciding whether to approve a final agreement, Congress should be paying attention to Iran’s actions.

Fitness and Family

We all know the health benefits of being active, but life is hectic with work, child care/family responsibilities and a bunch of other demands on our time. Rather than looking at family obligations as an obstacle to exercise, I view it as an opportunity. By exercising with their children, parents not only teach them how to live a healthy lifestyle, they also reinforce family bonds and create wonderful family traditions. As Michelle Obama stated at the Building a Healthier Future Summit in 2013, “We as parents are our children’s first and best role models, and this is particularly true when it comes to their health.” For super-busy parents who can’t get the exercise they need without incorporating their kids in the process, doing something together is fantastic!

One way to get fit and spend more time as a family is to put the two together in a fun and physical activity like a local race, run or walk such as Hadassah’s Check it Out Challenge. On Sunday, July 19 at 8 a.m. at Goucher College, more than 400 participants and 150 volunteers will come together for the 17th annual event, which comprises an 8K race, a 5K run or walk and new this year, a Heart and Sole 1-mile family walk and children’s obstacle course.

In addition to spending quality family time together, a secondary benefit of taking part in the event is
improving your heart health. According to cardiologist Dr. Donna Zfat-Zwas, director of Hadassah Medical Organization’s Linda Joy Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Center for Women in Jerusalem, “simple changes in terms of physical activity can prevent a very large percentage of heart disease.” Research has shown that walking even 10 minutes a day is beneficial for heart health.

Many people use events such as ours as their family’s first step to better health. Some of our participants will also be taking part in Hadassah’s newest national initiative, Every Step Counts. Hadassah has set up an online virtual walk from our national headquarters in Manhattan to Hadassah’s hospitals in Jerusalem. Currently, my virtual walk has me approaching the Bering Strait as I begin to enter Russia before walking across Europe and finally arriving in Israel. Along the way I learned some fascinating information about the cities I’ve “visited” and can compare my progress with other family members and friends “traveling” on the journey. Taking part in this walk has made me feel better, given me more stamina, and I have lost weight and inches. I am also having fun!

Whether you walk or run, hop, skip or jump, the Check it Out Challenge is a terrific opportunity to be with family and friends while getting some exercise and supporting an important community initiative. For more than 20 years, Hadassah Greater Baltimore has been educating high school girls and boys about breast and testicular cancer. This educational program not only provides the latest facts but empowers young men and women to take charge of their health.

I hope to see you and your family on July 19.