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The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Micha Feldmann with Ethiopian children
Micha Feldmann with Ethiopian children
Last week, we had the privilege of hosting Micha Feldmann in our community. Micha is the hero of Ethiopian Jewish aliyah. He recounted the story by which world Jewry was asked to provide $35 million in emergency funds to facilitate the rescue of Ethiopian Jewry to Israel, all over a very fast-moving 48-hour period.


The leadership of Jewish federations immediately agreed to transfer the funds for this purpose. We made this decision not only because of the urgency of the situation but also because the unrestricted resources we raised through the United Jewish Appeal provided us with the ability to advance the funds for this purpose. I was then the executive in Minneapolis, and we borrowed $500,000 to cover this advance, a sum we gladly repaid over the following two years.


A year ago, when Super Storm Sandy hit New Jersey, our agencies - led by the Jewish Family Services of Central and MetroWest- provided emergency assistance, medical transportation, recruitment of volunteers, and other necessary interventions to assist our community. Once again, our UJA unrestricted dollars helped to provide the funding of the infrastructure for our delivery system. Through Federation, we recruited over 500 volunteers and solicited for building construction materials to assist the battered town of Union Beach.


These examples highlight the importance of having unrestricted funds available to respond to emergency and rapidly changing needs. This is why the United Jewish Appeal Campaign is the most responsive fundraising campaign in the Jewish world — it can adapt to changing circumstances, literally on the dime, including raising the resources to complete the final leg of the Ethiopian journey last year. We now have 130,000 Ethiopian Jews living in the State of Israel.


Thankfully, we have many loyal donors.  Over the years, many of them have recognized the importance of the UJA Campaign and have also made provisions in their wills that will allow their support to continue beyond their lifetimes. Over the past several years, we have highlighted several major endowments that have been established in our community by leading philanthropists.


However, beyond these majors givers, there are a number of donors who made relatively modest but consistent contributions to UJA over the years, year in and year out, who also chose to provide for the future of our community. When they considered their mortality, and the future of their Jewish community, they had the foresight to make provisions to their estate plans to help sustain our community. 


One recent example is that of Dinah Selvin (z’l), who recently passed away. Dinah served as First Lieutenant during World War II, helping wounding soldiers as a physical therapist. Subsequently, she obtained a law degree, after which she worked for a number of years worked as public defender with the Juvenile Section of the Essex County Public Defender’s office. The executor of her will, Norman Friedman, noted that she will be remembered for her lifetime of public service. When asked what prompted her to leave a substantial part of her estate to United Jewish Appeal of MetroWest and Jewish National Fund, he noted that she wanted to advance and help the Jewish people. 


Dinah left close to $600,000 to UJA, an extraordinary gift that will generate annual contributions to UJA of close to $30,000 per year.             


Another example is Lotty and Joseph Stein. While they were not major donors to UJA during their lifetimes, they left a bequest of $2.2 million because they recognized the great work that UJA did, and they wanted to be sure they could help to sustain after their passing.


There are countless other stories of individuals who have left bequests to benefit UJA. The Lester Society and Lion of Jewish Endowment (LOJE), which recognize permanent commitments of $100,000 or more, have over 300 members with commitments already received and or pledged, the total value of which is well over $100 million. 


Every year our UJA Annual Campaign acknowledges those donors, of blessed memory, who remembered their Jewish community and cared about its future by leaving a bequest or endowment for the UJA. They made the gifts that keep on giving. Perhaps you can, too.

Posted by: admin (November 27, 2013 at 7:50 AM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Alone? Part II: Iran Must Not Be Trusted on Nukes

I’m pleased to report that my blog for this week appeared as an op-ed in the November 19 edition of the Star Ledger.

The Western world was euphoric after British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich waving the treaty that secured “peace for our time.” The media frenzy and public exhilaration betrayed the fact that the treaty was a complete fraud.

This should not have been surprising, because Adolf Hitler ignored the other provisions of the Versailles Treaty since his selection as chancellor in 1933. He grew the German army beyond the prohibited level of 100,000. He militarized the Rhineland, effected the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria, disenfranchised the Jews as citizens and launched Kristallnacht (the Night of the Broken Glass, widely considered to be the first official act of the Holocaust) less than six weeks after signing the agreement in Munich.

A minority of politicians led by Winston Churchill knew this treaty was disastrous, but the weariness after the first World War and the frightening military gap between the Western powers and Germany propelled diplomats to make a treaty at almost any price.

Critic Leo Amery said it well in Parliament: “Somehow or other, we must get into the government men who can match our enemies in fighting spirit, in daring, in resolution and in thirst for victory.” He and others realized that if only the Western powers, particularly the French, with the largest army in Europe, had acted when Germany began violating the terms of the treaty, Hitler might have been stopped.

Seventy-five years later in Iran, we have another fanatical power, which this time seeks to dominate the Middle East in a messianic quest to restore the caliphate and control the region by pursuing nuclear weapons. Iran violated the charter of the United Nations by publicly calling for the elimination of member state Israel.

Through its proxies, Iran is responsible for the deaths of more than 280 U.S. Marines in Lebanon and thousands of American troops in Iraq through its supply of IEDs to surrogates. Iran has thousands of political prisoners and executes an average of 100 of them monthly, even since President Hassan Rouhani was installed.

In fact, this “moderate” was at the lectern at a Tehran parade showing off Iran’s missiles, and one sign draped across a military truck called for a stop to Israel’s existence. This was just a few days before his appearance at the U.N.

We must continue to exert maximum pressure on Iran.He also bragged on Iranian state television in May of how he duped the West during previous nuclear negotiations. Iran is the major exporter of terrorism in five continents and is propping up Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, whose reign has resulted in more than 120,000 war fatalities.

Despite this, the media frantically speculated as to whether President Obama would shake the hand of Rouhani when he was at the U.N., and was disappointed when this did not happen. But there was the “magical” phone call — though no call to avenge Iran’s history of global atrocities.

Now that the Obama administration has so successfully put together a regime of economic sanctions that Iran had no choice but to negotiate, why consider relaxing some of these sanctions, worth billions, when Iran did not roll back any of its nuclear program? It was only because of France’s objections that this “deal” wasn’t signed.

We seem to be more anxious to have a treaty with Iran than the Iranians themselves do, which puts us at a major disadvantage in negotiations. This is ironic when we finally have the upper hand because Iran’s economy is near collapse. As stated by many legislators, led by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), we must continue to exert maximum pressure on Iran, including the passage of additional sanctions by Congress, to be used as an additional tool if Iran does not give up its nuclear quest.

Let us learn the lessons of Munich. Peace can come only if we have the fortitude to make the hard decisions that will take the long-term view rather than settling for a temporary expedient, masked as the illusion of peace.

Posted by: admin (November 19, 2013 at 8:03 AM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Alone? Part I

Next year we will be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the first World War. Already, there have been two books published on the outset of this war, one by Max Hastings, one of the preeminent military historians of our time, and the other by Margaret MacMillan, the author of the noteworthy book on the Versailles Treaty titled, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World.

This war, and particularly its aftermath, set the course of much of world history thereafter, up to and including our own time. As World War I displaced many Jews in Central Europe, the need for refugee relief was paramount and led to the establishment of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which will be celebrating its centennial next year. JDC is a Federation overseas partner agency and we will be working with it to appropriately mark this historic milestone.

The first World War was the most insidious example of how technology replaced the military tactics of earlier wars. “Military advances” gained perhaps 1,000 yards at the cost of thousands of casualties as machine gunners destroyed the hordes attacking them. Trench warfare and attrition was the “military strategy” by both sides. The élan displayed in prior wars by acts of conspicuous courage was relegated to the shadows as the bureaucracy of war prevailed. 

So at the end of the war, a whole generation of youth was destroyed on all sides. This senseless slaughter was captured in the poetry of Wilfred Owen, who wrote “my subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity…All one can do today is warn.” 

Owen’s poetry was even more poignant as he was killed in battle one week before the Armistice in 1918. Below is his anthem:

Anthem For Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs.
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds.

One of the best sellers after World War I was Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, which was captured on film, winning the Academy Award for best picture. So war weariness was ingrained in the culture of the populace. which had provided the human cannon fodder for the war and served as a guidepost for their political and diplomatic leaders.

When coupled with the terms of the Versailles Treaty, which drew maps in the Middle East by colonial powers that in their quest to carve up their own spheres of influences from the vanquished Ottoman Empire, ignored tribal rivalries and aspirations. The seeds for future conflict were sown. Add to this the Balfour Declaration promising a Jewish homeland, and the stage was set for events unfolding before our contemporary eyes.

I will further develop these themes in a future blog.

Posted by: admin (November 04, 2013 at 3:27 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Victory Amid Defeat

Maccabi Haifa players on the court
Maccabi Haifa players on the court
The final score of 116 for the Memphis Grizzlies versus 70 for Maccabi Haifa would normally be considered a blowout, with a top NBA team in last year’s Western Conference finals simply overpowering their shorter and less talented Israeli opponents. Memphis All-Stars Mark Gasol and Zach Randolph played over 30 minutes each in this easy win, which was largely competitive only through the middle of the first half. 

But the final score was really beside the point. There was no expectation that the Maccabi Haifa basketball team would win any of the exhibition games they previously played with the Phoenix Suns and the Detroit Pistons either.

What they did do is give this Israeli Basketball League team exposure and valuable playing experience with top flight teams. Equally as important, Maccabi Haifa is really an effective vehicle to talk about Israel, instill pride within the Jewish community in which they play, and foster hasbara (good will). That is one of the reasons why Opher Aviran, Consul General of Israel to the Southeastern United States, attended the game. 

FedEx Arena, the site of the game, had an announced crowd of 11, 532, who heard Hatikvah sung by a young woman from the Memphis Jewish community and the Star Spangled Banner sung by four cantors. A team of youngsters from the Memphis Jewish Community Center played during half time to the delight of the crowd and the players’ parents. And the Israeli players were embraced by members of the Jewish community with great pride. You can read more about it here.

(l-r): Arnon Shiran, vice chairman, Triangle Enterprises (Israel Maccabi Haifa) Ltd; Max Kleinman, Federation executive vp/CEO; Opher Aviran, consul general of Israel to the Southeastern United States; Jeffrey H. Rosen, owner, Maccabi Haifa Professional Baskeball Club

(l-r): Arnon Shiran, vice chairman, Triangle Enterprises (Israel Maccabi Haifa) Ltd; Max Kleinman, Federation executive vice president/CEO; Opher Aviran, consul general of Israel to the Southeastern United States; Jeffrey H. Rosen, owner, Maccabi Haifa Professional Baskeball Club

When Jeffrey Rosen, the New Jersey-bred owner of the Maccabi Haifa team, was asked by a cynical Israeli reporter about why he was still involved in the Israeli Basketball League, he replied that “growing up, the sports hero who instilled tremendous pride in my Jewish identify was Sandy Koufax.” And then, turning to Ido Kozikaro, his giant center and surrounded by young children, he said, “and to them, he’s their modern Jewish hero.” 

The team is multi-ethnic with indigenous Israeli players and others from Nigeria, Venezuela, Germany, Russia, and the USA. The camaraderie displayed by the team before, during, and after the game, when I had the pleasure of having a dinner with them, was exemplary.  

Children from the Memphis Jewish community on the court during half time
Children from the Memphis Jewish community on the court during half time
In addition, substantial dollars were raised from these exhibition games for the Haifa Hoops for Kids, a joint initiative of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and Maccabi Haifa Basketball. This program helps build the self-esteem of disadvantaged children in the Haifa area by holding basketball clinics and providing tickets for games.

A year ago, San Francisco’s mayor, an Asian American, spoke at a Maccabi Haifa event at which he reveled in Israeli’s ethnic diversity. These are not just basketball games. They’re bringing Israel courtside to thousands of fans. During the game, I was approached by many who asked me about where Haifa is, what does Israel look like, and other important questions. When they learned that Haifa is a major port and houses U.S. naval ships, they were extremely impressed.

Any image of Israel as being racist was quickly dispelled by the faces of the Maccabi Haifa. So at the end of day, the Maccabi Haifa team and Israel really won the game, judged by the good-will generated for the Jewish State.

Jewish children from Memphis community with Maccabi Haifa team
Jewish children from Memphis community with Maccabi Haifa team
Posted by: admin (October 21, 2013 at 1:00 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Light within the Darkness

A half hour before the scheduled Senatorial Candidates Forum on October 7, sponsored by the Community Relations Committee of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, the lights went out. We were in the midst of a severe storm and tornado threat, which knocked out the traffic signals and lights for most of the Aidekman campus. Our maintenance staff quickly set up emergency lamps within the Gebroe & Hammer Families Conference Center to create some degree of light amid the darkness.

This did not make much difference for Mayor Steve Lonegan, the Republican candidate, who is legally blind. He told the story about how his disability as a youth qualified him for supplementary Social Security assistance. He could have been a ward of the state for the rest of his life. But instead, he was offered an opportunity to buy a kitchen cabinetry business from a Jewish owner for whom he worked. With this head start, he developed a successful business employing 100 employees. 

This life experience taught him the value of pursuing one’s own dreams unencumbered by governmental regulations or dependence and underpins his libertarian and conservative political philosophy.   

In response to questions related to Iran and support of Israel, he provided assurances that if sanctions and diplomacy don’t work, the military option was the only way to resolve this problem, because a strong military is the final stage of diplomacy. As an advocate for strengthening civil society and lessening government’s role, he fully supports the full charitable deduction. 

Our second candidate, Mayor Cory Booker, very different in personality and temperament, regaled us with quotes from Torah portions and drew lessons from Judaism in pursuing shalom bayit (a peaceful house) and tikkun olam (repairing the world). He noted his record of success in Newark, where over one third of economic development in the state is taking place. He actively pursued philanthropic support of these projects and therefore enthusiastically supports full charitable deductions. 

On Israel he, like Lonegan, expressed very strong support. He also holds similar positions on Iran. He fully supported the implementation of Obamacare, which Lonegan felt should be deferred for one year. Booker praised the role of the American Jewish community in the fight for civil rights and promoting shalom (peace) in our disparate society.

I was impressed with both of their presentations. On the key issues of securing Israel, taking a tough stance on Iran, even as we proceed with difficult negotiations, buttressing the role of philanthropy, and special attention to securing Jewish institutions, they were largely in agreement. This is despite the fact they are obviously polar political opposites, with one a conservative libertarian and the other a full-fledged liberal. 

Voters will have to decide which philosophy as manifested in which individual they endorse to bring to the United States Senate to succeed our beloved Senator Frank E. Lautenberg (z’l).

Although the electricity did not return to the campus, much light was shed on the beliefs and philosophies of these two individuals and their contrasting personalities.

Posted by: rbogart1 (October 08, 2013 at 2:00 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink
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