Full Text JBuzz Transcripts September 23, 2014: President Barack Obama Wishes The American Jewish Community a Sweet, Happy, and Healthy New Year




Wishing You a Sweet, Happy, and Healthy New Year

Shanah Tovah from the White House! On Wednesday evening, Jews in the United States and around the world will begin celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

The High Holidays offer the Jewish community a moment of pause, a time to reflect on the previous year and recommit to the unending task of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. Together, working with people of all faiths, we can bring greater peace and prosperity to the world in 5775.

In his 2014 video message for the High Holidays, President Obama extends his wishes for a sweet new year and discusses why this time of year is so significant.

Watch on YouTube

Read the remarks:

Hello. As Jews across America, Israel, and the world gather together for the High Holidays, Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes to you and your families for a sweet and happy new year.

My good friend Elie Wiesel once said that God gave human beings a secret, and that secret was not how to begin but how to begin again. These days of awe are a chance to celebrate that gift, to give thanks for the secret, the miracle of renewal.

In synagogues and homes over the coming days, Jews will reflect on a year that carried its shares of challenges. We’ve been reminded many times that our world still needs repair. So here at home we continue the hard work of rebuilding our economy and restoring our American dream of opportunity for all. Around the world, we continue to stand for the dignity of every human being, and against the scourge of anti-Semitism, and we reaffirm the friendships and bonds that keep us strong, including our unshakeable alliance with the State of Israel.

So let’s approach this new year with new confidence and new hope. Let’s recommit ourselves to living out the values we share as individuals and as a country. Above all, let’s embrace this God-given miracle of renewal, this extraordinary opportunity to begin again in pursuit of justice, prosperity, and peace. From my family to yours, shanah tovah.

JBuzz Musings February 8, 2014: After survey of American Jews Pew Research Center plans one for Israeli Jews




Speaking at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) annual conference on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, philanthropist Joseph Neubauer announced that he has partnered again with the Pew Research Center to fund this time a survey…READ MORE

JBuzz Politics November 27, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Statement on Hanukkah




Statement by the President on Hanukkah

Source: WH, 11-27-13 

Michelle and I send warm wishes to all those celebrating Hanukkah.

For the first time since the late 1800s – and for the last time until some 70,000 years from now – the first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving.  It’s an event so rare some have even coined it “Thanksgivukkah.”  As we gather with loved ones around the turkey, the menorah, or both, we celebrate some fortunate timing and give thanks for miracles both great and small.

Like the Pilgrims, the Maccabees at the center of the Hanukkah story made tremendous sacrifices so they could practice their religion in peace.  In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, they reclaimed their historic homeland.  But the true miracle of Hanukkah was what came after those victories almost 2200 years ago – the Jewish Temple was cleansed and consecrated, and the oil that was sufficient for only one day lasted for eight.  As the first Hanukkah candle is lit, we are reminded that our task is not only to secure the blessing of freedom, but to make the most of that blessing once it is secure.

In that spirit Michelle and I look forward to joining members of the Jewish community in America, in the State of Israel, and around the world as we work together to build a future that is bright and full of hope.  From my family to yours, Chag Sameach.

JBuzz Musings October 23, 2013: American Jewish views of Israel, its government becoming more liberal, critical




American Jewish views of Israel, its government becoming more liberal, critical

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Two surveys recently released in early October 2013 looked at the views of American Jews on Israel; one poll looked at the average Jewish Americans position, and the other looks at the position American rabbis take towards Israel. The first…


JBuzz Musings October 23, 2013: High Intermarriage numbers reveals troubling future for Judaism in the US




High Intermarriage numbers reveals troubling future for Judaism in the US

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Earlier this month, on Oct. 1, 2013 the Pew Research Center released their new poll entitled “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” showing a growing a trend of American Jews identifying only culturally as Jews, but not religiously. What…READ MORE

JBuzz News June 13, 2013: Evelyn Kozak: World’s Oldest Jew Dies At 113




Evelyn Kozak Dead: World’s Oldest Jewish Person Dies At 113

Source: AP, 6-13-13
Evelyn Kozak

The world’s oldest Jewish person, Evelyn Kozak, whose family fled Russia to escape anti-Semitism in the 1880s, has died at age 113….

Kozak, who was one of nine children, was born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side on Aug. 14, 1899. Her family had moved from Russia to escape organized anti-Semitic attacks….READ MORE

JBuzz News May 28, 2013: Funeral held in New York for Torah scrolls ruined by Hurricane Sandy




Funeral held in N.Y. for Torah scrolls ruined by Sandy

Source: JTA, 5-28-13

A funeral was held in New York for 12 Torah scrolls that were destroyed in superstorm Sandy….READ MORE


JBuzz News May 26, 2013: Naomi Schaefer Riley: Why do Jews intermarry, and who’d marry a Jew anyway?




Why do Jews intermarry, and who’d marry a Jew anyway?

In her new book, Naomi Schaefer Riley takes a look at why so many in the American Jewish community are marrying out of the faith.

Jewish wedding

Jewish wedding Photo: Thinkstock
Over the past half century, intermarriage has become increasingly common in the United States among all religions – but among Jews at the highest rate.

Why that is the case is one of the questions Naomi Schaefer Riley probes in her new book, “‘Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America” (Oxford University Press).

One of the main reasons, Riley finds, is that the older people get, the more likely they are to intermarry….READ MORE

JBuzz News May 21, 2013: Barbra Streisand to receive honorary PhD at Hebrew Universty in Jerusalem




Barbra Streisand to receive honorary PHD in Jerusalem

Source: BBC News, 5-21-13

The award is in recognition for her human rights work and dedication to Israel and the Jewish people. Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson, president of the Hebrew University, said they were “deeply proud” to honour her….READ MORE

JBuzz News May 1, 2013: No White House party? What’s a Jew to do during Jewish American Heritage Month




No White House party? What’s a Jew to do during Jewish American Heritage Month

Source: Jewish Telegraphic Agency (blog), 5-1-13

May is Jewish American Heritage Month, a commemoration first recognized by President George W. Bush in 2006. Since then, hundreds of programs have taken place nationwide annually to honor the rich contributions of Jews to American culture and society….READ MORE

JBuzz News November 10, 2012: Steven Windmueller: Ira Sheskin: Republicans make inroads, but most Jewish voters stay with Democrats




Republicans make inroads, but most Jewish voters stay with Democrats

Source: Broward Politics (blog), 11-10-12

The vote shift from 2008 to 2012 was “nothing huge and dramatic,” said Ira Sheskin, of Cooper City, a geography professor at the University of Miami where he’s also director of the Jewish Demography Project….READ MORE

JBuzz News November 8, 2012: Steven Windmueller: Do we matter? Jewish Voters & US Presidential Elections




Do we matter?

Source: thejewishchronicle.net, 11-8-12

Steven Windmueller, professor emeritus of American Jewish affairs at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, told the Chronicle that Jews, as a voting bloc, are becoming increasingly diffused….READ MORE

JBuzz News October 31, 2012: Yehuda Kurtzer: US Jews: Ashamed of Israel, proud to be Jewish




US Jews: Ashamed of Israel, proud to be Jewish

Source: YNet News, 10-31-12

They are politically involved, have high voter turnout rate and are no longer purely Democratic. Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer seeks to strengthen American Jewry’s connection to Israel, but clarifies that Jewish vote has nothing to do with Israeli issue

“Statistically, Jews in the United States have a particularly high voter turnout rate and are very politically involved,” he tells Ynet. “They are always ‘more,’ perhaps because they are relatively educated or feel committed to the democratic idea of voting and making a difference.”

“Israelis are always surprised when they discover that despite all the talk about Israel within the communities – and there is always a lot of talk about Israel – most of the population does not vote for a president based on his foreign policy in the Middle East.

“The American Jew votes for his president according to the usual measures: Economic policy, or identification with social values. Israel has nothing to do with it.

“On the other hand, there is a lot of talk, especially among certain population groups like Israelis (the American definition for former Israelis), who believe Obama does not sympathize with Israel or even seen him as anti-Israel, and it bothers them. But most Jews see this issue as unrelated.”…READ MORE

JBuzz News October 23, 2012: Susan MacManus: Can Mitt Romney sway Jewish voters with ‘apology tour’ quip?




Can Mitt Romney sway Jewish voters with ‘apology tour’ quip?

Every four years, the Republicans think they will make inroads with Jewish voters in Florida, says Susan MacManus, a professor at the University of South Florida. “And every four years it does not come to fruition.” Democrats have won at least 76 percent….READ MORE

JBuzz News October 17, 2012: Ruth Wisse: Harvard Professor: Jews Should Vote for Romney




Harvard Prof: Jews Should Vote for Romney

American Jews who care about Israel should vote for Mitt Romney, says Ruth Wisse, a Harvard professor of Yiddish and comparative literature….READ MORE

JBuzz Reviews April 20, 2012: Jonathan Sarna: Jewish vote in elections past and present




Jewish vote in elections past and present

Source: Brandeis Hoot, 4-20-12

Professor of American Jewish History Jonathan Sarna (NEJS) recently published his new book “When General Grant Expelled the Jews,” discussing the election of 1868 in comparison to today’s political climate.

During the election of 1868, Jewish voters faced a daunting choice. Republican candidate Ulysses S. Grant was the man who had issued Order 11 on Dec. 17, 1862, expelling the Jewish people from Grant’s war zone. While it was eventually exposed that Grant issued his order for partially personal reasons related to his father, it was still viewed as a harsh act. The order was revoked on Jan. 4, 1863, upon reaching the desk of President Abraham Lincoln. It held consequences for the Jewish people both psychologically and physically, as some of them were mistreated in the process of relocating.

As Sarna argues, the election of 1868 presented a dilemma for Jewish liberals. “Domestic policies of the republicans during that time period were very much to their liking, but how could they vote for a man who had expelled Jews from his far zone, in what was the single most anti-Semitic act in the United States,” Sarna said.

Sarna describes this choice for the Jewish liberals as an internal one, a question of whether a person should “vote for a party bad for the country in order to avoid voting for a man who is bad for the Jews.”

Sarna wants to get across that Jewish liberals at this time were in turmoil, trying to measure out the “percent of yourself as an American and sense of self as a Jew” and which percent would overcome the other.

He draws a direct parallel to the 2012 elections, arguing that today, there is a “sense on the part of many Jews that Obama is not as supportive of Israel as his predecessors.” If Jewish liberals do not wish to vote for Obama because they question the strength of his support for Israel, their other choice is to vote for the Romney, whose platform goes against what many liberals believe politically.

Sarna believes that “lots of Jews in both cases will find their situation very parallel to the election of 1868.”

Like the election of 1868, Jewish voters have to consider their obligations as Americans as well as their obligations to the Jewish community. Sarna discussed whether a person can forget they are Jewish in a voting booth, or whether that is an identity that cannot be left outside the voting polls. Making connections to further back in history, Sarna even related the election of 1868 to the Federalist papers—their “concern over factions” and “putting the needs of country first regardless of group interest.”

Sarna does admit that the impact of the Jewish vote in both the election of 1868 and today may be over-exaggerated. Grant won the election of 1868, yet it may have been more because of black voters who approved of his efforts to improve their lives and grant them rights. Indeed, Sarna believes that the “power of the Jewish vote was exaggerated by four to five times,” and that people believed there were more voters than actually existed.

At the time, the media was concerned with the ramifications of Order 11, so the Jewish vote came to the forefront despite the fact that the number of Jewish voters was not as large as imagined.

Leonard Saxe: Study Jewish numbers on rise 6.4 million in the US, Brandeis team estimates




Study: Jewish numbers on rise

6.4 million in the US, Brandeis team estimates

Brandeis Professor Leonard Saxe has some good news for those fearing for the future of Judaism in America. The number of American Jews is actually increasing, not decreasing. A Brandeis team estimates the total US Jewish population at 6.4 million as of 2010, up from 5.7 million in 2000, and 5.5 million in 1990….READ MORE

Israel Political Brief December 20, 2011: President Barack Obama’s Hanukkah Statement



Statement by the President on Hanukkah

Source: WH, 12-20-11

Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to all those celebrating Hanukkah around the world.

This Hanukkah season we remember the powerful story of a band of believers who rose up and freed their people, only to discover that the oil left in their desecrated temple – which should have been enough for only one night – ended up lasting for eight.

It’s a timeless story of right over might and faith over doubt – one that has given hope to Jewish people everywhere for over 2,000 years.  And tonight, as families and friends come together to light the menorah, it is a story that reminds us to count our blessings, to honor the sacrifices of our ancestors, and to believe that through faith and determination, we can work together to build a brighter, better world for generations to come.

From our family to the Jewish Community around the world, Chag Sameach.

Jonathan D. Sarna: American Jewry’s Data Problem





Jonathan D. Sarna: American Jewry’s Data Problem

There’s been no national census of Jews since 2001 and none is planned for the indefinite future.

Source: WSJ, 12-2-11

Do we need a new nationwide count of America’s Jews?

It has been 10 years since anyone conducted a census of American Jewry—and no major organization has plans to conduct another one soon. (The official U.S. Census can’t ask questions about religion.) This means that the Jewish community may indefinitely lack the kind of data required for communal planning—how many Jews there are, where they live, whom they are marrying, what Jewish religious movements they adhere to and so forth.

Gathering such data is no easy task. Whereas many Christian churches calculate membership as the sum of all those they have baptized or who have made public declarations of their faith, Jews see themselves as a people embracing religious and nonreligious members alike. Thus life-cycle ceremonies and synagogue membership are insufficient proxies for membership in the Jewish community.

When the United Jewish Communities (now known as the Jewish Federations of North America) surveyed the nation in 2001, the organization pegged the Jewish population at 5.2 million. But the $6 million effort was fraught with problems: Data were lost, the response rate was low, the design was controversial, and the results contradicted those of other studies. One prominent researcher, the late Gary Tobin, characterized the survey as “utter nonsense,” while some others charged its organizers with manipulating population and intermarriage figures in order to raise more money….READ MORE

Tevi Troy: The White House’s Advice for Your Rabbi




President presses: Preach politics from the pulpit

Source: WSJ, 9-23-11

The Jewish High Holidays are upon us, so naturally it’s time for the White House to feed political talking points to rabbis.

As has become its annual practice, the Obama administration on Thursday convened a conference call with several hundred rabbis and Jewish leaders. According to a participant on the call, President Obama promoted his jobs bill—noting that those who have been more blessed should pay their fair share—and briefed the rabbis on U.S. efforts to counter the push for a declaration of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.

I was on another such call recently, the purpose of which—according to the Jewish rabbinical group that invited me—was to help listeners “understand the current state of the economy; learn about the impact of the proposed budget cuts on the poor and disenfranchised; consider the consequences of the increasing gap between the rich and poor in America; and, glean homiletic and textual background to help prepare their High Holiday sermons on this timely topic.”

The agenda of the call organizers was clear. Two speakers, one of whom was a (non-Jewish) Democratic senator, spoke of our country’s need for “raising revenue,” the new code phrase for tax increases. When I suggested that we separate politics from spirituality, a third participant pushed back, saying “the Torah is a political document.” A curious assertion in a crowd that would quickly denounce any invocation of the Bible in political discussions.

Of course the Obama administration didn’t invent the politicized sermon. In the Conservative temple in which I was raised, the joke (not an original one) was that the rabbi would take homiletic guidance from the New York Times editorial page. In his memoir, former Nixon speechwriter William Safire told of his displeasure with a Yom Kippur sermon in which the rabbi warned “not to let our country be divided and polarized by those who use the technique of alliteration”—referring to Vice President Spiro Agnew’s critique of “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

Related Video

Tevi Troy on political sermonizing in synagogues.

So President Obama is taking advantage of an existing proclivity toward political sermonizing. Other presidents have acted similarly, hosting calls around holidays or meeting with Jewish leaders before the White House Hanukkah party, as George W. Bush did. But Mr. Obama has innovated, as by focusing on a specific issue or two with rabbis before the High Holidays each year.

In 2010, according to the New York Post, he “asked a conference call of about 600 rabbis to preach his Mideast peace plan from the pulpit.” In 2009, he invited a group of 1,000 rabbis to discuss his health-care plan and then preach about it afterward. Some certainly delivered. Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Va., for example, gave a Yom Kippur sermon that year entitled “The Jewish Understanding of Health Care: A Moral Imperative,” declaring that “working towards health care for all, however that might be accomplished, is a Jewish mandate.”

Political sermonizing is a mistake for many reasons. First, the Holy Days are supposed to bring forth a universal message about the unity of the Jewish people, the importance of our shared religious tradition, and the need to rededicate ourselves to observance of the Torah in the year to come.

Then there’s the risk of alienating part of the congregation. Even if you know that 70%-80% of your synagogue votes one way—and public opinion polls suggest that this may be the case in Conservative and Reform synagogues—why risk alienating the other 20%-30%? In many (or most) communities, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the only time certain congregants set foot in synagogue that year. Why risk driving them away with a message that could offend?

Furthermore, while it may appear easy to find support for left-wing political positions in the Torah and rabbinical sources, the truth is that the Jewish tradition doesn’t give much guidance on the optimum level of marginal tax rates, Medicare restructuring, or food-stamp funding. To claim otherwise is to give false guidance.

The passages read aloud on the High Holidays each year are filled with the most important problems of the human condition, including Jonah’s attempt to shirk his responsibilities, Hannah’s desperate plea for a child, and God’s testing of Abraham’s faith with the binding of Isaac. All of these stories still resonate today, and skillful speakers can use them to guide congregants.

The mandate of religious leaders is to convey to their communities spiritual encouragement and the wisdom of the ages. For the other stuff, there’s cable news.

Mr. Troy, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute and former deputy secretary of health and human services, was a White House Jewish liaison under George W. Bush.

Shuly Rabin Schwartz: More City Bar Mitzvahs Hold the Religion




Source: WSJ, 7-23-11



A small but growing number of families are opting for secular bar mitzvahs, taking the occasion to celebrate personal growth and Jewish culture instead of Jewish faith. Although such celebrations are derided by some religious leaders as little more than birthday parties, participants say they are a thoughtful alternative for those who do not subscribe to religious beliefs.

While secular bar mitzvahs veer away from traditional religious elements, they also tend to forgo the over-the-top celebrations that have become a subject of criticism by Jewish leaders.

“I think a bar mitzvah party that has a six-course meal and a large band, and doesn’t have a spiritual piece except that the food is kosher, is not as holy as one that is trimmed down and includes community service,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University in New York.

The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Manhattan is leading a nationwide movement to create meaningful secular services for Jewish teenagers. Marge Greenberg, whose daughter Rachel Gerber recently completed City Congregation’s 18-month bat mitzvah program, says it’s no accident that parties for participants tend to be small.

“The part that comes beforehand is the important part. The celebration is just the culmination of the study,” Ms. Greenberg said. “The party is incidental. It’s like a social occasion. It’s just not the point.”

The idea is slowly gaining acceptance, though some rabbis have different views.

“The concept of a ‘secular bar mitzvah’ is of course a bit of an oxymoron since ‘bar mitzvah’ means ‘one who is commanded by God,'” said Daniel Nevins of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. “Without the religious part it is just a birthday party.”

Secular bar mitzvahs continue centuries-old traditions: The emotions and themes common at bar mitzvahs—family history, maturity and hard-won pride—are all present, proponents say.

“This is part of the contemporary world,” said Shuly Rabin Schwartz, a professor of American Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary. “In an odd sort of way the nontraditional ceremonies are affirming the value of the tradition. They’re saying something should happen at this stage. They’re trying to figure out something meaningful for individuals in that community.”

At City Congregation, bar mitzvah candidates spend up to two years preparing for their big day. Students in the program write essays on topics such as family history, community service and role models, and complete a project on a topic in Jewish culture. (One recent project’s title was “Holy Carp: Gefilte Fish, Judaism and Me.”)

“It’s not Judaism lite,” says Rabbi Peter Schweitzer of the City Congregation. He has conducted the bar mitzvah training for more than 50 students… READ MORE

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun Fire: Blaze Shatters a Heart of New York Jewish Life



Source: NYT, 7-13-11

Andrea Morales/The New York

Members of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun gathered outside the synagogue on East 85th Street Tuesday to survey the damage from a fire that destroyed the roof.

The fire that severely damaged Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on Monday night sent ripples of distress across the Modern Orthodox community of Manhattan’s East Side and among Jews around New York familiar with Ramaz, its affiliated school.

Andrea Morales/The New York Times

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein delivered prayers on Tuesday. The congregation was founded in 1872.

Librado Romero/The New York Times

The building had been under renovation when the fire hit on Monday.

The synagogue was where generations of congregants gathered to pray — and schmooze — on the Sabbath, the place where they married their beloved, bar mitzvahed their young, bade farewell to a dead parent.

On Tuesday, dozens of congregants or their friends flocked to 85th Street near Lexington Avenue to view the damage for themselves, and many seemed stunned. Hundreds called and wrote the synagogue and Ramaz with expressions of sorrow and offers of help.

“This building is really the center of my life and my family’s life,” said Gabriella Major, 69, a psychological counselor who has attended the synagogue since she was 14 and sent her four children and nine of her grandchildren to Ramaz. “Everything — all my happiness and all my sadness — has been through this synagogue.”

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the synagogue’s senior rabbi since 1979, broke down and wept during the morning Shacharit service, held across the street at the Ramaz middle school, when he read the psalm that declares: “May God answer you on the day of your travail.” He took some comfort in leading the Kaddish prayer of mourning that follows soon after the psalm.

“It’s a prayer that says God’s will shall triumph, and we have absolute faith in that,” he said in an interview. He sent his community an e-mail that read, “Out of the ashes of destruction will come the seeds of reconstruction.”

The four-alarm fire, which broke out on the upper floors while the 110-year-old building was being renovated, destroyed the roof and punched out large segments of the four stained-glass windows on the limestone neo-Classical facade. Rabbi Lookstein said the collapse of the roof caused the sanctuary’s ceiling to cave in. The Torahs, however, were not inside the sanctuary because services were being held at Ramaz.

Rabbi Lookstein said that it would be difficult to resume services inside the synagogue in time for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when the pews swell with worshipers, and that an alternative space would have to be found….READ MORE

Fire Ravages Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun Prominent N.Y. Synagogue



Source: JTA, 7-12-11

A fire has badly damaged one of New York City’s most prominent synagogues.

The four-alarm fire broke out in Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on Manhattan’s Upper East Side at around 8:30 on Monday night, according to the Associated Press.

The fire caused the synagogue’s roof to collapse and severely damaged the building’s top floors. The New York Fire Department reportedly is concerned about the massive 110-year-old building’s structural integrity.

The fire was brought under control an hour after it began. Four firefighters sustained minor injuries quelling the blaze, The New York Times reported.

The cause of the fire, which fire officials think began on the roof or top floor, has not yet been determined.

The synagogue building had been undergoing renovations. Religious articles had been removed prior to construction, so no Torah scrolls were damaged in the fire.

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun is an Orthodox synagogue and one of the city’s most prominent Jewish congregations. It is led by Rabbi Haskell Lookstein, a leading figure in American Modern Orthodoxy.

In NY-9, Orthodox Jewish Vote Critical To Victory



Source: NY Daily News, 7-12-11

Observers are increasingly saying the battle for control of Anthony Weiner’s former Congressional District, NY-9, will be about winning the hearts and minds of the area’s sizable Orthodox Jewish population.

orthodox.jpgMuch more on this for you in tomorrow’s Daily News, but for now, our Blau, Einhorn and Gendar report:

GOP pollsters have estimated about 100,000 of the district’s roughly 300,000 registered voters are Orthodox Jews. John Mollenkopf, a professor of political science at the CUNY Graduate Center, said the district has a large number of older conservative Jewish voters in their 50s, 60s and 70s.

“I would say that social security and Medicare are probably far more important to them as issues than… following Mayor Koch’s effort to say they should vote for the Republican to protest President Obama’s position on Israel,” Mollenkopf said.

Democratic state Assemblyman David Weprin, who also carries the endorsement of the Independence and Working Families Parties, will face off against Republican Bob Turner, a retired TV exec who’s also the standard-bearer of the Conservative Party.

Weiner, of course, resigned the congressional seat earlier this summer after a sexting scandal.

Democrats argue they outnumber Republicans in New York’s 9th CD, which covers portions of Queens and Brooklyn. And more liberal Democrats have successfully represented heavily Orthodox stretches and ultra-Orthodox Hasidic communities in Congress.

“It is going to come down to turnout,” said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “Turner may have a chance if he can paint Weprin as being chosen by the party bosses and will just be another voice for Obama in Washington. Weprin’s got to get out the vote and tag Turner as a typical Republican who wants to cut Medicare, slash and burn.”

Former Mayor Ed Koch has tapped into the idea of sending a message to Obama by electing a Republican to Weiner’s old district, but Weprin was already collecting top-notch support.

“We’re both from the same part of Queens. We grew up together. I’ve known him for more years than I care to remember,” said Gov. Cuomo of Weprin when asked about the contest at a news conference today. “So any way I can be helpful to him, I will. I don’t know that he needs my help, but if he thinks I can be helpful, I will be.”

Mayor Bloomberg also fielded a question about the Sept. 13 special election at a separate presser: “I probably will not [get involved in the special election] but I haven’t thought about it yet,” he said when queried about Koch’s having stepped in.

Asked if it’s a good strategy on Koch’s part to invoke the president and Israel, the mayor replied:  “You know, let me tell you: Ed Koch has been around a lot longer than I have and had a lot more experience. I would never second-guess his judgment. Some things work, multiple things work — there are a number of ways to express yourself.”…READ MORE

Ron Chernow, Jack Rakove: Liberate George Washington 1790 Letter to RI Jews!



Liberate the Letter!

Source: NY Jewish Week, 7-6-11

When Ron Chernow was travelling the country last year to talk about his new biography of George Washington, he was often asked about Washington’s 1790 letter to the Jews of Newport, R.I. — the one that famously promised that the United States government would give “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

“There were very few speeches that I made where people didn’t ask about that letter,” Chernow recalled. “I can vouch for the fact that there’s tremendous curiosity out there.”

He’s curious, too. Even though Chernow spent six years reading through Washington’s papers to research his book, and was awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for his effort, he’s never seen the original letter. In the last decade, hardly anyone has.

That cannot go on. As the Forward has documented in recent weeks, the letter that embedded religious freedom as a core American value has been hidden away in a nondescript arts storage facility in suburban Maryland ever since the museum in which it was housed closed its doors in 2002. The museum was run by B’nai B’rith International, which was lent the letter by its owner, the Morris Morgenstern Foundation, a private foundation based in Ventura, Calif. And neither B’nai B’rith nor the foundation has offered a convincing reason for why this iconic document has not been allowed to be publicly displayed.

So it’s time to persuade them otherwise. Joseph J. Ellis is another Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who has written an acclaimed book about the first president, and he, too, has never seen the letter. “It would be an honor to have it displayed,” Ellis said. “I’d like to see it myself.”

Historians know as well as anyone the deep significance of Washington’s words, the way they branded the new nation with the pledge of pluralism, addressed to “the children of the stock of Abraham” but in reality applicable to all. “It’s the most eloquent statement perhaps in our history of religious tolerance,” Chernow said. “There is a mystique about this letter that is almost unique among Washington’s papers. And there is a warmth to the letter that makes it especially compelling.”

The letter has, in the words of Jack Rakove, another Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, “a talismanic quality.” With the possible exception of President Truman’s declaration in support of the new State of Israel, Rakove said, “it is the most important document in American Jewish history.”

It’s not long — only 337 words — and like all such historical documents, its contents are in the public domain, easily read in print or online, and copies of it are hung in select museums and libraries. But that leaves history to speak in only a whisper. A fascimile fulfills a certain purpose, but it can feel cheap, manufactured. It doesn’t stir the soul, nor conquer doubt, nor make a civic connection. Authentic documents, Chernow reminded, “take us out of the realm of myth and put us into the world of historical events, real people and situations.”

Richard Beeman, a University of Pennsylvania historian, is also a trustee of the National Constitution Center, and is intimately familiar with visitors’ interactions with historical artifacts. “One thing we have learned is that many members of the public experience an important intellectual and emotional response when they see the original document. It brings this moment in the past alive,” he said.

That’s why, Beeman continued, “it is astonishing that there should be any inhibition whatsoever in displaying such an important document. I can see no justification for it.”

But this is not only about how best to display the past; it is also about how honestly and accurately to deal with the present. Understanding the motivations and beliefs of the founding generation is more than an academic exercise, for it gives us a broader persepctive on the America we strive to perfect today.

Washington’s warm and sturdy embrace of religious diversity was in keeping with his egalitarian vision for the new nation that he was asked to lead. It wasn’t a perfect egalitarianism — it’s not likely that he knew many Jews, and he certainly owned black slaves — but scholars say that he was the kind of leader who genuinely was openminded about others. Chernow reported that he did not find any racist comments in all of Washington’s papers, and noted that he was the one founder who arranged, at his death, to free the 125 slaves under his legal control.

As the first president of a nation far more homogenously Christian than it is today, Washington must have known the outsized impact of his statement to Newport’s Jews. He was not speaking only for himself. “Among the founders, there was a pretty clear and deep commitment to the principle of religious freedom and toleration,” Ellis said. “The public [today] needs to know, more than it does, that we are established on a set of principles that doesn’t privilege any one particular faith.”

This is why the Morgenstern Foundation must loosen the reins on Washington’s letter and allow it to be appropriately, carefully displayed in Newport, its historical home, or in the new National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, or in the Library of Congress in Washington — all of which asked, and were denied — or anywhere it sees fit.

In fact, B’nai B’rith had approached the foundation on behalf of the Philadelphia museum to display the letter, but the request was turned down. When asked why B’nai B’rith made the request, spokeswoman Sharon Bender replied: “Because we think NMAJH would be a wonderful venue for this important letter.”

It would be.

The Forward believes so strongly in this cause that we will continue to press for answers and ask readers to send us their comments and support. As Rakove noted, this is probably the most important document in American Jewish history, “and to have it squirreled away seems like an embarrassment.”

Liberate the letter.