No Confidence in Media

The media, including Jewish newspapers, have published many articles about the alleged anti-Semitism of Stephen Bannon, President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist, but are silent about the checkered history of Keith Ellison, the leading candidate for the Democratic National Committee chair (“A Divisive Result,” Nov. 18):

> that he was a defender of Farrakhan and his spokesperson’s anti-Semitic remarks;

> that he received contributions from the Council of on American Islamic Relations, which has ties to the terrorist organization Hamas;

> that he has put forth a conspiracy theory about President George W. Bush and 9/11;

> that he believes Israel is an apartheid nation;

> that he has appeared on platforms with those vocal in their opposition to Israel.

Why would Sens. Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders, both Jews, endorse Ellison? That answer is obvious: for political purposes, such as pushing a progressive agenda.

Why would the media and Jewish publications be silent about the history of Keith Ellison?

If the answer is a political bias toward the left, then you will understand why readers like me have lost confidence in the media.

Democrats and Palestinians

When you vote for a presidential candidate, you also vote for his or her party (“A Divisive Result,” Nov. 18). Many influential leaders in the Democratic Party support the Palestinians and want to push Israel back to the pre-1967 borders. Many want to prosecute Israelis for war crimes. Many support the boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. To be fair, some Democrats oppose those positions. Republicans support Israel.

People forget that the Palestinians are led by Hamas, a vicious, radical Islamic terrorist organization no different from ISIS. They are committed to the destruction of Israel and do not want peace. It’s even in the Hamas Charter. People forget that on 9/11 Palestinians danced in the street and gave candy to their children. Palestinians burn the American flag almost as often as they burn the Israeli flag. They are not our friends. And they continue their terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians and continue building infiltration tunnels under the border.

The Jews have always voted for the Democrats, so much so that in this election, they didn’t even bother pandering to us, like they did to other minorities. They just assumed we would be one more monolithic identity voting block for them.

There will be other elections for presidents, senators, congressmen and governors. Your vote counts.

Bannon and Breitbart: Friends of Israel

In his inspiring book “Words That Hurt, Words that Heal,” Rabbi Joseph Telushkin wrote, “Because words can be used to inflict devastating and irrevocable suffering, Jewish teachings go so far as to compare cruel words to murder.”

Thus it is painful to see the malicious character assassination and false accusations of anti-Semitism being hurled against President-elect Donald Trump’s appointee Stephen Bannon and Bannon’s company, Breitbart Media.

In fact, as pro-Israel writer and Breitbart senior editor Joel B. Pollak wrote, Bannon is “an American patriot who defends Israel and has deep empathy for the Jewish people.” Pollak is an Orthodox Jew. Would an Orthodox Jew praise Bannon and tolerate spending six years working with Bannon if he were an ugly Jew hater and Israel basher?

ZOA’s own experience and analysis of Breitbart articles confirms Bannon’s and Breitbart’s friendship and fair-mindedness toward the Jewish people and Israel. To accuse Bannon and Breitbart of anti-Semitism is Orwellian. In fact, Breitbart bravely fights against anti-Semitism.

Bannon joined my organization, the Zionist Organization of America, in fighting against anti-Semitic rallies at the City University of New York. He required his Breitbart reporters to repeatedly call CUNY officials and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s aides, urging them to do something to curb these vicious anti-Semitic demonstrations.

Breitbart courageously publishes articles reporting that the Palestinian Authority defames Israel with blatant falsehoods, and Breitbart bravely publicizes Iran’s violations of the nuclear rollback deal that pose an existential threat to Israel.

On behalf of myself and the ZOA, I thus welcome the appointment of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist to the incoming Trump-Pence administration.

I also have to ask: Would President-elect Trump’s extraordinarily pro-Israel advisers such as Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Pence, Mike Huckabee, Sheldon Adelson and Orthodox Jews Jared Kushner, David Friedman and Jason Greenblatt ever allow an anti-Semite/Israel hater to work with them? Would Trump’s Orthodox Jewish daughter and adviser Ivanka, whose children attend an Orthodox day school, ever allow an anti-Semite to work with her father?

And given that the president-elect’s platform on Israel is the strongest pro-Israel platform ever, would an anti-Semite be appointed to implement that platform?

Of course not.

Morton A. Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America.

What I’ve Learned from the Election Process

view1_friedman-reutThe biggest gift I got moving to the U.S. was the gift of listening.

When you are new to a place, language and culture, you have to start listening, and it is not an easy task for a native Israeli.

When the election season started, I decided to stick to the listening strategy. I was eager to learn how the system works here. I wondered if it would be any different from the process I was used to in Israel. I wondered if there is a real gap between Democrats and Republicans and if people on both sides would really share their views with me.

To my surprise, people were happy to share their thoughts with me as if I were a neutral and safe island. They assumed that I would not make them feel uncomfortable or apologetic for their beliefs.

But even with a front-row seat, I understood that there is still much I need to learn, and listening to WYPR is not enough. The one big lesson I have learned: The need to listen doesn’t belong exclusively to me or to Israeli politics.

Much like Israel, both sides feel like they have not been heard, that people make assumptions about who they are because of the party they belong to, and eventually they stop communicating with each other, which is a big loss for us all.

At my job, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with Jewish teens, and speaking with them is fascinating. We talk about identity, what it feels like to be a minority — I’m the only Israeli in the room — and the obvious assumptions people make about me because I’m Israeli.

Being a critical reader, I enjoy hearing their thoughts and opinions, especially since they are a step away from college, and it feels as if this might be our last opportunity to engage them as an organic group.

I’m happy to share that our teens get it. But it’s our obligation to provide them with the important tools for effective listening and for not being intimidated because they belong to a specific group. When they vote in four years, we need to know that we have provided them with the best possible tools.

As my 93-year-old Holocaust survivor grandmother regularly tells me: “Reut, always remember it’s never too late to start again. I had to begin again more times than you can imagine. But while doing so look around you, listen, learn and voice your opinion.” She lives that way in Tel Aviv, and I can only hope to do so in Baltimore.

Reut Friedman is Israel education associate at the Macks Center for Jewish Education. 

Settlements Again

Donald Trump’s win in the presidential race, and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, have signaled to some members of Israel’s government that hard times are over with regard to American disapproval of settlement building in the West Bank. In their euphoria, pro-settler party leaders have pursued two very different approaches to moving forward with the settlement effort.

One leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Orthodox Jewish Home party, declared that Trump’s victory was “an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the center of the country” and that it signaled that the “era of a Palestinian state is over.”

In pursuit of that goal, a government ministerial committee on Nov. 13 unanimously passed a bill designed to retroactively legalize outposts that sit far from established settlements. The bill, which was approved despite the objections of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and significant legal concerns raised by his attorney general, would effectively enlarge Israeli-controlled areas throughout the West Bank. It would create a situation that diplomats fear would make a contiguous Palestinian state all but impossible.

Another pro-settler leader, however, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman — head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party — counseled caution in fulfilling the dream to settle all of the historic Land of Israel. Lieberman proposed a deal in which Israel would not build on the Palestinian side of Israel’s security fence, in exchange for the right to unrestrained building in the settlement blocs along the Green Line. “In the messages we received from the Trump team, they asked us to act modestly. We will wait and we won’t establish facts on the ground,” Lieberman said.

We welcome Lieberman’s recognition that provocative actions regarding settlements will not build trust. That was part of what soured Netanyahu’s relationship with President Barack Obama. Any activity that closes off the possibility of a two-state solution is likely to engender strong international opposition and would not appear to be in the longer term interests of the Palestinians or Israel.

Lieberman’s proposal is consistent with his goal of carving out a Palestinian state through land swaps. In the past, he has favored Israel annexing the Israeli settlement blocs on the West Bank and then ceding heavily Arab populated areas of Israel proper — specifically in the Galilee — to the Palestinians. However, he hasn’t explained how he proposes to get Israeli citizens to agree to become part of another country.

Notwithstanding some bravado, both Lieberman and Bennett understand that the Palestinians exist and that they cannot be wished away. Whether they are willing to acknowledge that settlements and land swaps are the stuff of negotiations, and that the Palestinians need to be a part of that effort, is another story. We hope that sensibility and sensitivity to these issues will prevail under a Trump administration as efforts move forward with respect to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian puzzle.

Focus on the Future

Editorial Director

You don’t need to go far to find troubling news about American synagogues, whether it’s their decreasing memberships, decreasing attendance or financial instability.

This time last year, for instance, sociologist Steven M. Cohen was bemoaning the contraction of the entire Conservative movement. He wrote that over an almost quarter of a century, the number of those identifying as Conservative and belonging to a synagogue had decreased by 21 percent, from 723,000 adults in 1990 to 570,000 in 2013.

Cohen, however, noted that the “quality” of those remaining Jews had remained strong over the same time span, with more than 90 percent reporting that being Jewish was “very important” and that they had attended a Passover Seder in the past year.

Even with such positive findings, though, it’s hard not to notice the shrinking pool of adherents and the challenges institutions like synagogues face as our community evolves and ever-larger segments assimilate.

That’s why it’s so important to note such a significant milestone as a thriving synagogue’s 60th anniversary, which many in Northwest Baltimore are celebrating at Beth Israel Congregation. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the landmark synagogue in Owings Mills has come a long way since 10 young Jewish families gathered to form their own community. As with its founding, part of the congregation’s continuing success has been in how it caters to young families.

“This is like our second home,” Ellie Cohen, who has belonged to the congregation for about 35 years, told reporter Justin Silberman. “Beth Israel is like our family. It’s had a very special place in my heart for so many years.”

While 60 years is quite an accomplishment, Beth Israel’s history pales in comparison to several older synagogues in Baltimore. But like those institutions with longer roots, Beth Israel has followed the Jewish community in its march from the Randallstown area to the Owings Mills-Reisterstown corridor.

“We’ve always tried to be forward looking and have always had strategic planning going on to try to see where we will be years into the future,” said Howard Gartner, a member of more than 40 years who headed up the committee that identified the synagogue’s current home in 1993.

While there’s nothing radical in Gartner’s statement — businesses have long recognized that if you want to sell something, you have to go to where the customers are — it’s important to note that many an institution has suffered when it failed to adapt. That Beth Israel has been able to continue to draw families in means that it is inherently doing something right.

For Beth Israel, it appears that the preschool and Hebrew school account for much of the draw. And that’s a lesson for all of us: At the end of the day, religion and spirituality amount to little if devoid of education and a focus on the future.

The Need to Move Forward

Last week’s presidential election revealed not so much a nation divided, as it did a society whose residents inhabit two very different realities — with the apparent inability of those who live in one to understand the perceptions and beliefs of those who live in the other.

Which begs the question: How do we move forward in the face of that newly exposed reality?

What can our community, which largely supported Hillary Clinton — reportedly, 70 percent of Jews backed the Democrat for president — learn from the rude awakening early in the morning of Nov. 9 when Donald Trump was declared the winner? And while we understand that half the electorate does not share many of our views, is it really so clear that “the other half of the electorate” is that much different from us?

Post-election polls report surprising statistics regarding many aspects of the vote, including that a majority of college-educated white men and women voted for Trump. And that’s in addition to the blue collar and working middle class vote that most understood to be favoring Trump.

So, how should we react? While street demonstrations against the lawful winner appear to be a waste of time, acceptance of the result doesn’t mean that anyone needs to compromise or abandon core beliefs and moral principles. Rather, even as we accept that the country wants change, we see no reason not to continue to insist that our leaders show the kind of compassion, concern, sensitivity and respect that has been the hallmark of American exceptionalism since the birth of our republic.

But rather than complain, call names, accuse and point fingers, we suggest that the wisest course is to wait and see. Will the president-elect move smoothly from rhetoric to planning to action? That is not going to be easy, even with both houses of Congress and the executive branch in the hands of one party. Indeed, the Republican Party, considered as good as dead a few weeks ago, is very much alive but clearly divided. Nonetheless, the responsibility is now theirs to improve the economy, fix the national infrastructure, improve the health care system, make college affordable, provide retraining for the unemployed Americans whose jobs will not be returning or bring those jobs back, save the social safety net, reduce the debt, keep relations with our allies — including Israel — strong, manage relations with adversaries such as Russia and China, remain involved in the Middle East and lead the way to blunting the environmental catastrophe caused by global warming.

It’s a long list. But no longer than it was during the last eight years. Trump has promised to solve most of these problems. We hope that he can. And it is because of that hope that we pray that Trump and his team will move to heal the fissures of our society as they make the White House theirs. We wish them well, and we are ready to do what we can to help.

Drawing a Lesson from a Complicated Relationship

101014_riskin_sholmo_rabbiThe Akeida serves as a model for one of the most important questions in contemporary family life: To what extent should a parent continue to influence, direct or channel their adult child’s life? The Torah offers an insight to this question in describing the immediate aftermath of the Akeida, or binding of Isaac.

What happened to Isaac after the harrowing experience with his father on Mount Moriah? Where was he? Didn’t Isaac also descend from the altar and return to Beersheva?

Yonatan Ben Uziel, in his interpretive Aramaic translation, writes that Isaac is not included as having returned home to Beersheva because he went instead to the yeshiva of Shem and Ever. In other words, prior to the Akeida, father and son magnificently joined together — “and they walked, the two of them, together” — but afterward, they had to part ways.

Abraham returns to his household, while Isaac returns to his books, to an academy of solitude and study. In the vocabulary of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Abraham is the outer-directed, extroverted, aggressive Adam I, while Isaac is the more inner-directed, introverted, introspective Adam II.

In the conceptual scheme of the mystical Zohar, Abraham is the outgoing, overflowing symbol of chesed (loving kindness), while Isaac is the disciplined and courageous symbol of gevura (inner fortitude). The Akeida is both the point of unity as well as the point of departure between father and son. Isaac enters the Akeida as Abraham’s son; he emerges from the Akeida as Jacob’s father.

Isaac’s commitment to God is equal to that of his father, but his path is very different. Simultaneously, the Akeida is the point of unity and separation between father and son, for each must respect both the similarities as well as the differences within the parent-child relationship.

From a symbolic perspective, it is the parent’s responsibility to transmit to the children the boundaries of what is permissible and what is not. Nevertheless, despite the fact that every child is a product of the nurture provided by his/her parents — and the Torah teaches that a child must respect and even revere his/her parents — the existential decisions of how to live one’s life can only be made by the adult child himself/ herself.

When a parent enables a child to psychologically separate, the child will ultimately move forward. Our paramount parental responsibility is to allow our children to fulfill their own potential, and our challenge is to learn to respect their individual choices.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is the chief rabbi of Efrat.

Apparently, Decency Is for Losers

In its own way, the 2016 presidential election (“It’s Trump,” Nov. 11) was a referendum on Jewish values, vis-a-vis their compatibility with contemporary American values. If the results of last week’s electile dysfunction (Alan Dershowitz’s term) are any indication, the two are monstrously adversarial.

Hillary Clinton is every Jewish parent’s ideal kid: the well-prepared, hard-working, super-smart, well-mannered best student in the class. Donald Trump is

a crude, bullying, solipsistic, sciolistic, crotch-grabbing, compulsively lying am-ha’eretz. And he won. Bigly.

Personality now trumps character; discipline, experience and decency are for “losers.”

As leader of the free world, the president of the United States serves as a role model and exemplar of the highest level of professional success.

Since the purpose of education is to train children for leadership and accomplishment in 21st-century America, will Jewish educators now be forced to modify — Trumpify — their K-to-12 curricula accordingly?

Dems Ignored Too Many

The Democratic Party has reinvented itself. It was the party of the working poor and middle class. But now it has become the party of the African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, LGBTQs, radical left-wingers, socialists, disenfranchised, anarchists and so on.

The Democratic Party pandered to these groups and recruited them into a rainbow coalition determined to advance their agenda. Along the way, they just wrote off the working poor, the middle class, rural America and everybody else. This has led to a fractured country (“It’s Trump,” Nov. 11).

The Democrats lost on the issues. Nobody wanted another four years of the last eight years. The Republicans won with their message of change and rebuilding the economy and job security. They won on the commitment to defeat our enemies and to protect us against radical Islamic terrorists. They won on addressing the illegal immigrant problem. They won on health care. They won on supporting law and order and rejecting Black Lives Matter and affirming that all lives matter.

The Democrats lost on their attempt to delegitimize Israel and advance the Palestinian agenda. According to some sources, while campaigning, mentioning Israel was discouraged.

The Democratic Party has traditionally been the party of the Jews. But it has veered to the radical left. The Republican Party has become more centrist and may appeal to more people. “To everything there is a season.”

Hopefully, with the new administration, this wounded land will heal.