Republican Jews: Beware of Trump

As Donald Trump continues to call for banning all Muslims and walling off Mexicans from entering our country (“Trump’s Reality Candidacy,” March 11), I am reminded of a memorial I saw at the Immigration Museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was called the “Wheel of Conscience” by Daniel Libeskind and commemorated the refusal of a safe haven to the ship St. Louis, which was transporting 1,000 European Jews fleeing the Nazis. It had already been turned away by Cuba and the United States. Canada was its last hope, and it too said no.

The memorial is a large clockwork figure on which the main gear “hatred” turns the other gears labeled “racism,” “xenophobia,” and “anti-Semitism.” The Canadians commissioned this memorial to express their regret and shame for the decision they had made, which sent desperate people back to Europe, where 250 of them were killed in concentration camps.

There is no such expression of regret in the United States. Donald Trump and his fellow nominees, in varying degrees, are pandering to a large group of Americans who are akin to  European nativists who spawned Hitler and his regime. I fear  that a similar phenomenon is  happening here in the U.S.

Whether the eventual  Republican nominee is Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, the message is the same: Restrict immigration; stop refuges from entering the US; fear anyone who is not like I am, and call that person un-American.

Passover will soon be here. At Seders everywhere we will be saying some variation of “Remember the Stranger for we were strangers in the land of Egypt.” This appears throughout our Torah; we are meant to take it seriously. It has been our history to wander through the world, seeking acceptance, shelter and support. How can we refuse that to others?

I urge all of those Jewish people who are Republicans to give deep thought before pulling the lever. Is the Republican platform of exclusion,  rejection and fear of the other congruent with your values?  I hope not.

Where Was BJC?

The Maryland Senate voted on March 17 to remove references to the Confederacy from Maryland’s official state song.  No thanks to the Baltimore Jewish Council (“It’s Not ‘My Maryland,’ Your Say, March 4).

Series Didn’t Mention Chizuk Amuno Congregation

While I enjoyed reading the two-part series on Baltimore’s Jewish architecture (March 11 and March 18), a glaring omission was Chizuk Amuno Congregation and the ultra-modern design of its building on Stevenson Road.

Completed in the late 1950s, the original building was  designed by noted New York architect Daniel Schwartzman, who served on the board of  architectural advisers for the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. The cost of construction at that time (1957) was an astonishing $2 million.

Meyer and Ayers Designed Bnos Yisrael

In “Baltimore’s Jewish Architecture Testament to Character, Conviction, Mobility of Its  People” (March 18), the photo of Bnos Yisroel, formerly Har Sinai Congregation, credits Erich Mendelsohn as its architect.

Mendelsohn died in 1953, and the building was dedicated in 1959. This building was in actuality a copy of Mendelsohn’s Park Synagogue in Cleveland, which was  dedicated in 1950 and finally completed in 1953 — the year of Mendelshon’s death.

The architect of Har Sinai Congregation was Meyer and Ayers of Baltimore. I believe that Julius Meyer, one of the firm’s principals, was a member of the congregation at that time.

‘More Torah for More Jews in More Places’

When I think about the bright future I believe is ahead for the Conservative movement, I often frame it through a phrase that Rabbi Julie Schonfeld of the Rabbinical Assembly uses often in her conversations with colleagues. Our goal is to spread “More Torah to More Jews in More places.”

Those places include synagogues and camps, alternative minyanim and Renewal congregations, minyanim at home, on a mountaintop, in the forest or on the beach — anywhere Jews are looking to create a meaningful Shabbat or holiday prayer experience that is relevant, celebratory and spiritual.

As our Conservative movement evolves, we’re finding new ways to meet the diversity of today’s Jewish community, from those who read Hebrew fluently to those haven’t  encountered Hebrew since their bar or bat mitzvah; from those who grew up immersed in Jewish life to those exploring it for the first time; and from singles to marrieds, young adults to seniors, those who are straight to those in the LGBT community.

One of the ways the Conservative movement is helping to facilitate meaningful prayer experiences that are inspirational, passionate and spirited is through the our new “Siddur Lev Shalem for Shabbat and Festival,” a prayer book that includes diverse readings and liturgical alternatives, Torah teachings on every page and lucid and clear commentaries that give context to each prayer and clear direction to the person praying.

This siddur also brings “Torah” from every period and place in Jewish history. With transliterations for every prayer, the siddur ensures that our synagogue experience will embrace more people — Jews of every background, and people of other faiths and no faith. There are opportunities for varied spiritual expression on every page, helping people pray with a truly “full heart,” a lev shalem.

With people of other faiths or no religious affiliation often attending our services, this siddur is sensitive to the particular sensibilities that sometimes are a part of the traditional liturgy, offering alternative language or helpful explanatory notes, while also opening up the liturgy to more universal concerns such as the need to care for the environment and prayers for peace.

The Conservative movement’s publication of “Lev Shalem,” coming just a few years after its publication of “Mahzor Lev Shalem” for the High Holidays, is another example of its strength. A movement that can produce a prayer book of such quality and ability to inspire, and that embraces both modernity and tradition, is a movement that indeed has a bright future ahead.

Jacob Blumenthal serves as rabbi of Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg, Md.

Mob Mentality Fuels Vassar’s Israel Climate

At many colleges and universities today, Jewish students are often pitted against students of color when it comes to  Israel. In my three years at Vassar College, I have been told — by a Jewish student leader, no less — that supporting Israel is tantamount to supporting oppression. I have watched Jewish friends bullied into silence by aggressive anti-Israel activists who call the Jews racists. Although I have had many good experiences at Vassar and have made many friends, it can be uncomfortable to be Jewish here, especially if one supports Israel.

But nothing prepared me for the mob mentality that prevailed here on March 6, when the Vassar Student  Association voted 15-7 to  endorse the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

Other than members of Vassar’s J Street U chapter, which offered an alternative resolution endorsing a two-state solution and calling for the creation of a student committee to educate the campus about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a resolution overwhelmingly rejected by the student association — few showed up to oppose BDS.

They did not stay away  because they were busy or  because Vassar lacks anti-BDS students. They stayed away  because they were afraid of pro-BDS students who have, over the past two years, pursued  an aggressive campaign of  intimidation at Vassar.

BDS supporters have picketed a class that was to travel to Israel and the West Bank, tweeted  a Nazi cartoon, sold T-shirts celebrating a gun-toting a Palestinian hijacker and sought to deny funding to  J Street U to attend a conference sponsored by Ha’aretz.

The behavior of BDS supporters at the March 6 vote was typical. One after another, members of groups representing students of color stood up to denounce Israel for oppressing people of color. One student from Vassar’s Multiracial/Biracial Student Alliance claimed supporting BDS was necessary to support the “black and Arab population of Gaza.”

Most disturbingly, students who raised concerns about the effects of the unending BDS campaign on Vassar’s Jewish community were heckled and laughed at. One Jewish student talked about how the BDS campaign had invoked every anxiety nightmare she had ever had. She was crying as she spoke. Pro-BDS students laughed at her.

It is time that Vassar students and professors who, one hopes, reject tactics like these, stand up and reject the divisiveness that BDS has brought to Vassar and so many other campuses. Vassar students, particularly its Jewish students who have suffered the most during this debate, deserve to feel safe, and they deserve not to have their identities and their fears dismissed by those with an extreme political  agenda.

Jason Storch is a junior at Vassar  College who serves as co-president  of the local Chabad center and is treasurer of the Vassar Jewish Union.

The Political Olive Branch

Merrick Garland (The White House/Public Domain)

Merrick Garland (The White House/Public Domain)

In nominating federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, President Barack Obama has met Republican senators at least halfway. The 63-year-old nominee does not appear to present an ideological challenge to the Senate majority, so there appears to be little for them to fear. But even without that, the GOP leadership’s denial of an up or down vote on the nomination — exactly the kind of advice and consent that the Constitution requires — abrogates the Senate’s responsibility and will further diminish Congress’ standing in the eyes of the American public.

A short few hours after Scalia’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky drew his line in the sand on a replacement: “The American people? should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” he  declared. But what McConnell called “a check and a balance” — waiting nearly a year for new elections, a new Congress and a new president — is an abuse of “majority” power and a failure to live up to a constitutional mandate.

McConnell also famously said years ago that he was working to make Obama a one-term president. Look where that strategy got him (and us): a government shutdown, sequestration, failure of commonsense gun control and seemingly endless failed attempts to repeal the  Affordable Care Act. With their stubborn refusal to consider the Garland nomination, Republicans are continuing down the same path of obstruction. And there will, undoubtedly, be consequences.

What is ironic is that not only is Garland considered a moderate, but he  already has received favorable votes from some who would now deny him a hearing. Seven of the Republican senators who confirmed Garland for the federal bench in 1997 are still in office. One of them,  Judiciary Committee member Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah recommended days before Obama made his announcement, “[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man.”

The Garland nomination is what a political olive branch looks like. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have missed the point or are ignoring the proposed compromise. “Under our Constitution, the president has every right to make this nomination, and the Senate has every right not to confirm a nominee,” said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

True enough. But “the right not to confirm” should follow careful consideration of the nominee. The president has exercised his right. Now, it’s the Senate’s  responsibility to vet Garland and, after proper hearings, to approve or disapprove of the nomination. By ignoring the nomination and denying Garland a fair and open hearing, Republicans are living up to their reputation as the party of “No!” It is very hard to respect that.

Is ‘Separation’ a Step toward Peace?

Will a wall around Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem help protect Jewish  Israelis from the violence that has plagued the city since last fall? Haim Ramon, a former government minister who spent much of his career in the Labor Party and later joined the Kadima Party, made that assertion on a tour of the city last week with  several defense officials and politicians.

While not officially sanctioned, Ramon’s initiative dovetails with a proposal by Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog for a unilateral “separation” from the Palestinians until a peace process is possible and the two sides can hammer out the details of a negotiated two-state solution.

In Herzog’s separation plan, which Labor endorsed last month, Israel would retain the settlement blocs close to the Green Line; 28 Palestinian villages on the north and east sides of Jerusalem would be separated “physically and politically” from the city; Israel would stop settlement activities and turn daily control of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority; and a regional conference would bring  Israel together with Arab countries to eventually work on Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Herzog promotes his plan as a way to do something while there is no movement in bilateral peace talks, which he blames on the intransigence of both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But there are elements of Herzog’s plan that make some Israelis nervous. While Israelis have grown tired of peace proposals that bear no fruit, they are also distrustful of unilateral  withdrawals. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 indirectly led to Hamas coming to power in that territory and the rockets that have rained down on Israel in the years since. It is therefore understandable if some look askance at Herzog’s proposal.

Yet, the status quo is not the answer. A binational state with Jews either not in charge of their destiny or being in charge at the expense of the Palestinians is not an acceptable solution. What everyone agrees on is that there must be some confidence-building measures put in place. But there is disagreement on what those measures should be.

Israel could go a long way by stopping settlement expansion. It won’t bring peace the next day. But it will be a big first step.

Bottom Line: Unity



The periphery of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center has always been somewhat of a circus when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee comes to town for its annual policy conference. This year was no different: There was, for instance, the Greek Orthodox-looking guy holding a sign reading,  “Occupy AIPAC with Jesus Christ!” That was on Monday morning just after Democratic president frontrunner Hillary Clinton wrapped up her speech before delegates. The day before saw an army of pro-Palestinian protesters hoisting flags and chanting, keeping attendees inside the Convention Center for several minutes. And, like clockwork, the Neturei Karta pro-Iran, pro-Palestinian Chasidic minority camped out on the lawn outside.

But with the arrival of  Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump Monday night at the event’s other location, the Verizon Center  stadium, it became clear that the circus — at 18,000 delegates, AIPAC’s largest-ever conference — came indoors.

“I didn’t come here tonight to pander to you about Israel,” the billionaire developer said, to a chorus of alternating boos and cheers. “That’s what politicians do. All talk. No action.”

When he took the podium, some attendees kept their promise, despite instructions from officials, and walked out, although outside, the anticipated protesters, whether anti-Trump or anti-AIPAC, didn’t materialize to the levels expected. Still, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, of Ohev Sholom-The National Synagogue, donned a tallit and walked toward the stage only to be ushered out by security. (“I had to declare his wickedness,” the rabbi later told  reporters.)

Trump largely delivered what many in the crowd were expecting and promised to move the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the “eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.” And yet, the standing ovations were fewer and smaller than for Ohio  Gov. John Kasich, another  Republican presidential hopeful.

Looking back, it didn’t take the presence of Trump to demonstrate the divisions within the pro-Israel community. As you’ll read in these pages, just 24 hours before, when Vice President Joe Biden literally ran onto the dais at the Verizon Center, he was hailed as a true friend of Israel. For most of his speech, he enjoyed waves of applause, especially when he roared, “I condemn those who fail to condemn terror,” an obvious dig at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and others in the Arab world.

When the vice president turned to castigating Israel for provocative moves in the area of settlement construction, though, several in the audience told him to shut up. And when he ran a victory lap, as it were, on the successful passage of the Iran nuclear deal and American military support of the Jewish state — claiming that “Israel is stronger today because of the Obama/Biden administration” — many got up from their seats and walked outside in the cold.

Make no mistake, many at AIPAC were still smarting from the Iran deal, which they fought tooth and nail against and spent millions of dollars to defeat. But when a montage of past speakers showed such faces as President Barack Obama’s and former Vice President Al Gore’s — the one the author of the Iran deal, the other an outspoken backer of it — their presence on the Jumbotron elicited some of the loudest applause.

A hallmark of AIPAC has always been its ability to bring disparate factions of the pro-Israel community together: Republicans, Democrats, all of the Jewish denominations, evangelical Christians. But when its army of grassroots lobbyists took to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, their No. 1 issue, according to official talking points, was getting Congress to pass new sanctions on Iran. There was a palpable questioning of that strategy, with many wondering aloud if it was better to move onto other winnable issues, such as securing a new memorandum of understanding between the United States and Israel on military spending, a cause relegated to the No. 3 position on AIPAC’s agenda.

If there’s one clear takeaway from the just-concluded conference, it’s not to marvel at AIPAC’s ability to bring 18,000 supporters of Israel together under one roof. In the light of how different blocs reacted to such different frontrunners as Clinton and Trump, the takeaway must be how despite all of what keeps people in disparate camps, they can all agree on the importance of a strong U.S.-Israel alliance and a Jewish state able to defend itself in a turbulent Middle East.

As the circus moves on,  remembering that point of unity is more important than ever.

No More Donations

The JT’s Feb. 26 story “Morally Bankrupt Climate Spells Campus Trouble” is very troubling.  Universities have become bastions of left-wing radical ideologies, and Israel bashing and Jew bashing are becoming the norm.

It is very upsetting when I talk with alumni and listen to them pooh-pooh these heinous developments and intellectualize them away as many Jews customarily do. We are people of the book, so we talk and talk but do not take action.

If you want to oppose these kinds of developments, you can fight with your checkbook.  If you customarily donate to your alma mater or a university that has gone rogue, think about not donating. Think about calling the university and telling them why they will never see another penny from you. Tell them that you are talking with other alumni about what is going at their alma maters. You better believe that money talks.