Cuba has never been on my list of countries to visit. With the uncertainty regarding individual travel, I have always been concerned that I might be entering a country that I may not be able to exit. In 2014, president Barrack Obama eased restrictions on travel to Cuba for United States citizens. Since his election, president Donald Trump has proposed to reinstate many of these limits. Last week I took advantage of this current window of opportunity and participated in an organized trip to Jewish Cuba. During my time there, I discovered a community that was effectively forbidden to practice communal Judaism for thirty years, much like the community in the former Soviet Union. Now, Judaism is blossoming again in Cuba, and many young Cuban Jews are choosing to make aliyah, Jewish immigration to Israel.
In a letter to the president-elect on behalf of B’nai B’rith International (BBI), the organization’s president, Gary P. Saltzman, and its executive vice president, Daniel S. Mariaschin, congratulate Donald Trump on his “historic victory in the presidential election” and promise their “active support.” The letter continues, “We warmly welcome your election night pledge to help the country ‘bind the wounds of division’ and ‘come together as one people.’”
B’nai B’rith applauds your stated commitment to Israel’s security and your pledge to do everything in your power to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. We recognize that American leadership — and America’s crucial partnership with its democratic ally Israel — are essential to our shared goal of a peaceful and stable Middle East. It greatly reassures us, therefore, to know that Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy and a country that has battled terror and aggression since its independence, will have a staunch ally in the president of the United States.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) also congratulates Donald Trump on his victory, but urges reconciliation for this divided nation.
“We wish President-elect Trump well moving forward,” says David Bernstein, JCPA’s president and CEO. “We commend him on the message of unity he conveyed in his acceptance speech, and urge him to continue to work toward bringing the country together.”
“The American people have spoken,” says Cheryl Fishbein, board chair of JCPA. “And as our great democratic tradition dictates, it’s time for a peaceful transition of power.”
“We call upon the president-elect to continue to assure the nation, particularly constituencies feeling most vulnerable, that the country will live up to its highest ideals and respect the rights of all people,” says Bernstein.
B’nai B’rith International is opening its Disaster Relief Fund to provide aid to the victims of Hurricane Matthew living in the United States, Haiti and Cuba. Hurricane Matthew started as a tropical storm in the mid-Atlantic and quickly rose to hurricane status, traveling up the U.S. coast. [Read more…]
We at The Philadelphia Jewish Voice are profoundly saddened by the recent death of Elie Wiesel. Although Wiesel experienced the worst of mankind during the Holocaust, he transformed his experience into something extraordinary: He became, as President Obama said, “one of the great moral voices of our time, and in many ways, the conscience of the world.” [Read more…]
A former Cambridge University professor refused to help a 13-year-old Israeli student with a research project, hiding behind the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for her decision.
Shachar Rabinovitch, 13, wrote to Professor Marsha Levine, a British-American researcher, requesting information about early horse species, Levine’s area of expertise. According to the girl’s mother, Levine replied: “I’ll answer your questions when there is peace and justice for Palestinians in Palestine.”
According to B’nai B’rith International, The goal of BDS is to isolate Israel to the point of dissolution:
This BDS episode illustrates the senselessness and degree to which BDS followers will go to follow the Palestinian narrative. Levine’s refusal to help a student demonstrates an extreme absurdity, with its total lack of proportion in its response to a student.
B’nai B’rith has long fought the BDS campaign to isolate Israel and its myopic focus on Israel, even as real human rights abusers, like Iran and Syria, escape unscathed.
In the aftermath of the landmark Supreme Court decision granting marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore responded to an Al.com reporter’s question about enforcing the notable decision. He told the reporter that enforcing the Supreme Court ruling is akin to following the immoral orders of the Nazis.
It is disgraceful to use Nazi imagery to invoke a political or social view. Comparing the systemic attempt to annihilate an entire population to a peaceful Supreme Court decision minimizes the very magnitude of the Nazis’ maniacal efforts to murder Jews, gays and others across Europe and eventually, they hoped, the world.
Moore told the reporter: “Could I do this if I were in Nuremberg [at the war crimes trials after World War II], say that I was following the orders of the highest authority to kill Jews? … Could I say I was ordered to do so?”
Told by the reporter that: “killing human beings, not gay marriage,” was the focus of the Nuremberg trials, Moore reportedly asked: “Is there a difference?”
This shameful, inappropriate comparison trivializes both the unique atrocity that was the Holocaust as well as the momentous equality decision by the Supreme Court.
Jewish groups have mourned the loss of Nelson Mandela, the former South African president.
Mandela, 95, died after years of failing health. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and was the first democratically elected president in post-apartheid South Africa, holding the position from 1994 to 1999.
In a statement, B’nai B’rith International wrote that Mandela “will be remembered as one of the 20th century’s leading figures and the man who led the transformation of his country from one of apartheid to majority rule.”
As president, Mandela worked to create a multicultural society after years of minority rule. His new government in post-apartheid South African wrote a new constitution, investigated human rights abuses by the previous regime, tackled the issue of racism in his country and focused on helping the poor and disenfranchised.
More after the jump.
The president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), Ronald S. Lauder, has called Mandela “unquestionably the most inspiring human rights advocate of our times”.
Mandela was one of those very rare leaders who were revered not just by their own people but universally, across all political and communal divides. As a builder of bridges, he was second to none, and with his huge charisma, wisdom, democratic convictions and tremendous determination he ensured that the transition of his country from an apartheid state into a free and democratic nation was successful.
In Cape Town, the WJC Policy Council co-chairman Mervyn Smith, who also serves as head of the African Jewish Congress and is a past president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said:
Mandela, from his young days as a lawyers’ clerk in Johannesburg, had a close relationship with South African Jews. During his trial from 1956 to 1961 and thereafter, he was defended by many Jewish lawyers and advocates. After his release from prison, he met with the leadership of the Jewish community frequently and counted many South African Jews as his personal friends.
The president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), Rabbi Steve Gutow, said that, “In his life, Mandela came to embody courage in the face of severe injustice. He stood up against some of the vilest discrimination and inspired all those who share in the belief that every human is created in the image of the Divine.”
The JCPA chair, Larry Gold, said that, “The American Jewish community saw in Mandela and his fight against apartheid the same universal struggle for equality that galvanized us during the American civil rights movement.”
Apartheid will be remembered among human history’s worst crimes. However, instead of violence or hate, that chapter — thanks in large part to Mandela — will be remembered for the peaceful transition away from injustice. He was truly an example for us all and will be deeply missed.
Yesterday, at the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged vigilance in protecting the world from Iran’s nuclear ambitions:
The Jewish people’s odyssey through time has taught us two things: Never give up hope. Always remain vigilant. Hope charts the future. Vigilance protects it. Today, our hope for the future is challenged by a nuclear-armed Iran that seeks our destruction.
In the wake of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s recent campaign to present a moderate face, Netanyahu reminded the world body that the new Iranian president has a long history in his country’s nuclear weapons program.
More after the jump.
Rouhani was also Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005. He masterminded the strategy which enabled Iran to advance its nuclear weapons program behind a smokescreen of diplomatic engagement and very soothing rhetoric. Now I know Rouhani does not sound like Ahmadinejad. But when it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing and Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing — a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community. Like everyone else, I wish we could believe Rouhani’s words. But we must focus on Iran’s actions. And it’s the brazen contrast, this extraordinary contradiction between Rouhani’s words and Iran’s actions that is so startling.
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement in response:
B’nai B’rith would very much like to see the issue of Iran’s nuclear program resolved in a way that puts Iran out of the nuclear weapons business. At the same time, we cannot dismiss 20 years of deception by Iran.
Iran’s centrifuges continue to spin. Tehran has made several feints before while negotiating the nuclear issue, and has continued to hide and build its nuclear program. This is why we must remain skeptical of Iran’s intentions this time.
People killed by a chemical attack in Ghouta last month.
Before Rosh Hashanah, Jewish groups expressed support for President Obama’s plan for a military response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and urged Congress to authorize the action.
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:
B’nai B’rith International supports President Barack Obama’s call for Congressional authorization of military action in response to the Syrian government’s use of nerve gas against civilians last month.
The United States has a moral obligation to enforce a global norm against using chemical weapons. It is in the national security interest of the United States to prevent the use and spread of chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction by Syria, Iran or terrorist organizations that are surely monitoring the situation. A U.S. military response would send a clear message that no one can engage in this depraved activity.
We urge bipartisan Congressional authorization for the White House proposal, sending a message that the immoral use of these chemical weapons of mass destruction will not be tolerated.
More after the jump.
Marc Stanley, National Jewish Democratic Council chair, stated:
We need to be clear about what is at stake here. This is not about choosing sides in Syria’s civil war or starting a war with Syria. This is about deterring the Assad regime from using chemical weapons again. The US should send a message to the world that the use of these horrible weapons is unacceptable and that the consequences of using weapons of mass destruction will always outweigh any perceived benefit.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) Chair Larry gold said:
For over two years now, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has proven himself unfit to rule his country, choosing to meet political protest and armed resistance with the massacre of tens of thousands of civilians. Now, with persuasive evidence that he has used large amounts of sarin gas in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), other international treaties and basic human decency, Assad himself has invited retaliation. The President’s plan is a clear message that we will no longer watch on the sidelines as civilians are gassed.
JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow added:
The use of force is never arrived at lightly. But given Assad’s indifference to the worldwide consensus that chemical weapons are too barbaric to use even against combatants, let alone civilians, he must face the consequences. We support President Obama’s decision to launch a targeted and limited military response. It will communicate to Assad and any others tempted to use or acquire weapons of mass destruction that the United States stands by our warnings and our values. The Congress should act quickly to authorize the action. We also strongly urge the United States and international community to enhance humanitarian aid to the millions of refugees fleeing Assad’s reign of terror.
A group of prominent American rabbis and Jewish leaders from the Orthodox, Reform and Conservative denominations of Judaism petitioned Congress last Tuesday. Evoking memories of the Holocaust, the rabbis stated that Congressional approval would deter enablers of atrocity and save thousands of lives.
Signatories to the petition included Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Yosef Blau, a rabbinic leader of Yeshiva University; prominent Jewish history professor Jonathan Sarna; popular Conservative leader Rabbi David Wolpe; lecturer and author Rabbi Joseph Telushkin; Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of America; and Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, who founded the Jewish social justice group Uri L’Tzedek.
“Regardless of politics or denomination, the Jewish community has an instinctive response when we see that hundreds of children have been gassed to death,” said Yanklowitz. “That response is one of sympathy and a desire to protect the innocent. That response is in our DNA.”
The full text of the petition is included below:
Dear Congressional Leaders,
We write you as descendants of Holocaust survivors and refugees, whose ancestors were gassed to death in concentration camps. We write you as a people who have faced persecution for many centuries, and are glad to have found a safe refuge where we can thrive in the United States. We write as a people proud of our religious and historical tradition of helping the needy and defending the weak.
The recent chemical weapons attacks on the Damascus suburbs constitute a serious crime against humanity. These attacks killed upwards of 1400 people, the majority of them innocent women and children. As a people who themselves once faced the horrors of genocide and survived, we had hoped that we would never again open our newspapers to images of mass graves filled with suffocated young children. Now that we have seen such images coming from Syria, we call upon you to act.
Intelligence assessments from the U.S., U.K. France, Israel, Turkey, the Arab League, and many other allies all show conclusively that the Assad regime was responsible for the horrific chemical attacks of August 21st. We fear that if this attack passes without a decisive response, we might open our newspapers to more images of mass graves from Syria – and elsewhere — in the near future. We have learned from our own history that inaction and silence are the greatest enablers of human atrocity.
For this reason, we call upon you with great urgency to authorize the President to use force in Syria “in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction,” as outlined in his August 31st draft legislation. Through this act, Congress has the capacity to save thousands of lives.
These are the Days of Awe for the Jewish people. In one of the climactic moments of our High Holiday prayers, we read “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, who will pass and who will be created, who will live and who will die, who in his time and who before his time.” May this coming year be one of life and creation the world over, in which we cease to witness the deaths of so many innocent human beings.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, Founder & President, Uri L’Tzedek
Rabbi Avi Weiss, President-Emeritus, YCT Rabbinical School (Yeshivat Chovevei Torah)
Rabbi Yosef Blau, Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva University
Professor Jonathan Sarna, Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University
Rabbi David Wolpe, Senior Rabbi, Sinai Temple
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President- Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun (KJ)
Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President, RCA (Rabbinical Council of America)
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
Rabbi Jason Herman, Director, IRF (International Rabbinic Fellowship)
Rabbi Sid Schwarz, Senior Fellow, Clal: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership
Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin, writer, Temple Beth Am, Bayonne, NJ
Rabbi Dr. Yehudah Mirsky
Rabbi Barry Dolinger
Rabbi Andy Koren
Rabbi Richard A. Block, President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
— by Marc R. Stanley
The Senate has taken a huge step toward reforming our immigration system and creating a more just America. Now it is up to the House of Representatives to take immediate action on this important issue. Inaction by Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, and the rest of the GOP leadership will only continue to prove that the Republican Party is tone deaf to the will of the American people — especially when it comes to Jewish Americans and our partners in the Jewish community who worked tirelessly to get this bill passed.
Stanley recently authored an op-ed in The Huffington Post on how the current immigration reform proposal reflects Jewish values.
Reaction from the President and Jewish Organizations (NJDC, BBI, JCPA) follow the jump.
President Barack Obama:
Statement by President Obama on Senate Passage of Immigration Reform
Today, with a strong bipartisan vote, the United States Senate delivered for the American people, bringing us a critical step closer to fixing our broken immigration system once and for all.
I thank Majority Leader Reid, Senator Leahy, Senator Schumer, and every member of the ‘Gang of Eight’ for their leadership, and I commend all Senators who worked across party lines to get this done.
The bipartisan bill that passed today was a compromise. By definition, nobody got everything they wanted. Not Democrats. Not Republicans. Not me. But the Senate bill is consistent with the key principles for commonsense reform that I – and many others – have repeatedly laid out.
If enacted, the Senate bill would establish the most aggressive border security plan in our history. It would offer a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million individuals who are in this country illegally – a pathway that includes passing a background check, learning English, paying taxes and a penalty, and then going to the back of the line behind everyone who’s playing by the rules and trying to come here legally. It would modernize the legal immigration system so that it once again reflects our values as a nation and addresses the urgent needs of our time. And it would provide a big boost to our recovery, by shrinking our deficits and growing our economy.
Today, the Senate did its job. It’s now up to the House to do the same.
As this process moves forward, I urge everyone who cares about this issue to keep a watchful eye. Now is the time when opponents will try their hardest to pull this bipartisan effort apart so they can stop commonsense reform from becoming a reality. We cannot let that happen. If you’re among the clear majority of Americans who support reform – from CEOs to labor leaders, law enforcement to clergy – reach out to your Member of Congress. Tell them to do the right thing. Tell them to pass commonsense reform so that our businesses and workers are all playing by the same rules and everyone who’s in this country is paying their fair share in taxes.
We have a unique opportunity to fix our broken system in a way that upholds our traditions as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. We just need Congress to finish the job.
B’nai B’rith International:
B’nai B’rith International welcomes the Senate’s passage of a bill overhauling the nation’s immigration laws.
B’nai B’rith has been a staunch supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. We commend the bipartisan group of senators who worked to form a consensus on a more just and humane immigration policy.
This compromise legislation would strengthen border security and employment verification while creating a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. It would also allow for more legal immigration of low-skilled and high-skilled workers.
Comprehensive immigration reform is a welcome and worthy accomplishment. We urge the House to quickly consider and pass the bill.
National Jewish Democratic Council:
The Jewish community strongly supports immigration reform. According to a recent survey, 70% of American Jews believe that welcoming the stranger and pursuing justice are important political values. Further, a strong majority of Americans are in support of proposals that allow undocumented workers to achieve legal status, increase border security and enforcement, and increase visas for technology and science.
Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) President Rabbi Steve Gutow:
We are an Immigration Nation. For hundreds of years, people from all over the world have traveled to the United States to build better lives. Our national commitment to immigration has been critical to our national prosperity: powering innovation, creativity, and growth. However, over the past decades, our system has become tarnished with an outmoded visa system, long waiting times, harsh detention and deportation policies, and millions of immigrants without a lawful status. Today, the U.S. Senate acted in accordance with our best values: national leaders compromising to expand justice, dignity, and opportunity. In the Torah, we are taught to ‘welcome the stranger.’ Today, the Senate restored our national commitment to immigration and relight the torch of promise that welcomes aspiring Americans through the golden door.
JCPA Chair Larry Gold:
We applaud the leadership and conviction of the bipartisan group of Senators that introduced and guided this bill. That spirit of compromise and cooperation has sadly become a rarity in Washington, but today is a reminder of the important results it can yield. The Senate today has taken an important step towards a more humane system of immigration that reflects our morals while meeting our security and economic needs. However, this bill still needs improvement. We remain concerned about the level of resources being dedicated to the Southern border and how this impact communities. We look forward to working with Congress to refine this legislation. The Senate’s action today was a model of bipartisanship and we encourage the House of Representatives to adopt this spirit and quickly consider this serious bill that would bring our immigration system into the 21st century.