May: Celebrating our Jewish American Heritage

Proclamation on Jewish American Heritage Month 2014
— President of the United States of America Barack Obama

For thousands of years, the Jewish people have sustained their identity and traditions, persevering in the face of persecution. Through generations of enslavement and years of wandering, through forced segregation and the horrors of the Holocaust, they have maintained their holy covenant and lived according to the Torah. Their pursuit of freedom brought multitudes to our shores, and today our country is the proud home to millions of Jewish Americans. This month, let us honor their tremendous contributions-as scientists and artists, as activists and entrepreneurs. And let all of us find inspiration in a story that speaks to the universal human experience, with all of its suffering and all of its salvation.

Proclamation continues after the jump.
This history led many Jewish Americans to find common cause with the Civil Rights Movement. African Americans and Jewish Americans marched side-by-side in Selma and Montgomery. They boarded buses for Freedom Rides together, united in their support of liberty and human dignity. These causes remain just as urgent today. Jewish communities continue to confront Antisemitism — both around the world and, as tragic events mere weeks ago in Kansas reminded us, here in the United States. Following in the footsteps of Jewish civil rights leaders, we must come together across all faiths, reject ignorance and intolerance, and root out hatred wherever it exists.

In celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month, we also renew our unbreakable bond with the nation of Israel. It is a bond that transcends politics, a partnership built on mutual interests and shared ideals. Our two countries are enriched by diversity and faith, fueled by innovation, and ruled not only by men and women, but also by laws. As we continue working in concert to build a safer, more prosperous, more tolerant world, may our friendship only deepen in the years to come.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2014 as Jewish American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to visit JewishHeritageMonth.gov to learn more about the heritage and contributions of Jewish Americans and to observe this month, the theme of which is healing the world, with appropriate programs, activities, and ceremonies.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of April, in the year two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

Iyar: A Free People In Its Land and The Land of the Free

— by Elanna Cahn

The Jewish month of Iyar is a time of pride for American Jews. We take special satisfaction in the remarkable endeavor that is the State of Israel, this year celebrating its sixty-sixth Independence Day. And we are grateful to be acknowledged by Jewish American Heritage Month, lifting up the role that our community has played in the history and success of the United States.

The United States and Israel are the only two countries that have been democracies without interruption from their inception. It’s not an easy record to maintain given the challenges from without and within that have plagued every nation in the world, particularly in the last half-century. As Jews, we have thrived in genuine democracies. But there are two different kinds of democracies in which we thrive.

More after the jump.
The invitation of the United States to all who embrace it is to become a full participant in the Land of the Free. Both the native-born and the immigrant are guaranteed the self-evident rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as well as the freedoms in the Constitution. The price of those freedoms is civic engagement — the very reason the National Jewish Democratic Council exists — to ensure a body politic that recognizes that our rights and privileges as Americans are continually refined to be ever more inclusive.

Of course, it is necessary for every group of people — family, ethnic group, people with common cause — to address its own interests. Jewish history reminds us constantly of the hazards of relying entirely on others for our own well-being. After two thousand years of minority status, we experienced the renewal of being a free people in its land, able to shape our own destiny and protect our particular interests and the greater good of a just society.

Our detractors demand that we choose between the two. That demand is as nonsensical as it is narrow-minded. Instead, the ability to hold two complementary ideals in our hearts simultaneously is a hallmark of wisdom. Hillel said it two thousand years ago when he acknowledged that he needed always to be for himself, but that being for himself alone fell short of a greater potential.

As Democrats, we celebrate the ongoing success of the State of Israel and the flourishing of the United States, each on its own terms and each with special resonance for us as Jews. We also understand the contributions these two lights among nations provide to each other as inseparable allies and as laboratories of progressive values.

We are most fortunate to live at a time when the land of the free is complemented by a free people in its own land. May we never lose sight of that blessing.

Department of Defense photo of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates arriving in Israel on April 18, 2007.

Women’s History Month: The First Female Chair of the Fed

Janet Yellen (center) watching a welding student yesterday as she toured City Colleges of Chicago, College to Careers Program in Advanced Manufacturing. (John Gress/Reuters)

And she is Jewish too!

— by Elanna Cahn

Janet L. Yellen took office as Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System on February 3, 2014, for a four-year term ending February 3, 2018. Dr. Yellen also serves as Chairman of the Federal Open Market Committee, the System’s principal monetary policy-making body. Prior to her appointment as Chair, Dr. Yellen served as Vice Chair of the Board of Governors, taking office in October 2010, when she simultaneously began a 14-year term as a member of the Board that will expire January 31, 2024.

Dr. Yellen is Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley where she was the Eugene E. and Catherine M. Trefethen Professor of Business and Professor of Economics and has been a faculty member since 1980.

More after the jump.

Chair of the Fed Janet Yellin (center) with Women’s Leadership Network Co-Chairs Rep. Jan Schakowsky (left) and Barbara Goldberg Goldman (right).

Dr. Yellen took leave from Berkeley for five years starting August 1994. She served as a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System through February 1997, and then left the Federal Reserve to become chair of the Council of Economic Advisers through August 1999. She also chaired the Economic Policy Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development from 1997 to 1999. She also served as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco from 2004 to 2010.

Dr. Yellen is a member of both the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has served as President of the Western Economic Association, Vice President of the American Economic Association and a Fellow of the Yale Corporation.

Dr. Yellen graduated summa cum laude from Brown University with a degree in economics in 1967, and received her Ph.D. in Economics from Yale University in 1971. She received the Wilbur Cross Medal from Yale in 1997, an honorary doctor of laws degree from Brown in 1998, and an honorary doctor of humane letters from Bard College in 2000.

An Assistant Professor at Harvard University from 1971 to 1976, Dr. Yellen served as an Economist with the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors in 1977 and 1978, and on the faculty of the London School of Economics and Political Science from 1978 to 1980.

Dr. Yellen has written on a wide variety of macroeconomic issues, while specializing in the causes, mechanisms, and implications of unemployment.

Dr. Yellen is married and has an adult son.

US Delegation Mourns Passing of Ariel Sharon

— by Elanna Cahn

President Obama designated the following presidential delegation to Israel, to attend the state funeral of the former prime minister, Ariel Sharon:

  • Vice-President Joe Biden, leader of the delegation;
  • the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro;
  • Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee;
  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), the Democratic National Committee chairperson; and
  • the former ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer.

Statements by Biden and Engel follow the jump.
Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden:

When a close-knit country like Israel, a country that has been tested as much as Israel, loses a man like Prime Minister Sharon, it doesn’t just feel like the loss of a leader, it feels like a death in the family.  And many of my fellow Americans, some of whom are here, feel that same sense of loss.

I say to Prime Minister Sharon’s beloved and devoted sons, Omri and Gilad, and the entire family, particularly the sons who spent so much time caring for their father in the last few years, it’s a great honor you’ve afforded me on behalf of my country to bring the sympathies of the President of the United States and the American people on this occasion.

To you, to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the government of Israel, to President Peres, and to the grieving men and women of the nation of Israel, but most particularly to his beloved IDF, his fellow warriors, I fear an attempt to capture him and what he stood for is beyond my capabilities. I knew him for over 30 years.  He was not only a powerful man, he was a powerfully built man.  And as a young senator, when you first met him you could not help but understand, as they say in the military, this man had a command presence.  He filled the room.

The first time I was invited to his office, he said to me — and I remember thinking, is he serious? — he said, Senator, you are mostly welcome.  I didn’t know if it was a matter of something being lost in translation or whether he was pulling my leg, as we say in the States, until I spent a few moments with him and realized how incredible his hospitality was.  But when the topic of Israel’s security arose, which it always, always, always did in my many meetings over the years with him, you immediately understood how he acquired, as the speakers referenced, the nickname “Bulldozer.”  He was indomitable.

Like all historic leaders, Prime Minister Sharon was a complex man about whom, as you’ve already heard from his colleagues, who engendered strong opinions from everyone.  But like all historic leaders, all real leaders, he had a North Star that guided him — a North Star from which he never, in my observation, never deviated.  His North Star was the survival of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, wherever they resided.

In talking about his spiritual attachment to the land of Israel back in an interview in the late ’90s, he said, and I quote, “Before and above all else, I am a Jew.  My thinking is dominated by the Jews’ future in 30 years, in 300 years, in a thousand years.  That’s what preoccupies and interests me first and foremost.”  And because he possessed such incredible physical courage — and I would add political courage — he never, never, never deviated from that preoccupation and interest, as he referred to it.  It was his life’s work that even someone on the shores hundreds of — thousands of miles from here could see, could smell, could taste, could feel, and when you were in his presence there was never, never any doubt about it.

The physical courage he had to lead men straight into enemy lines and deep behind them.  I remember, as a young senator, that iconic picture of him with that bandage around his head, standing there after a decisive victory, which seemed to symbolize, as Bibi — as the Prime Minister said, an Israel that had reclaimed its roots of standing up and fighting, needing no help, standing on its own.  The political courage it took, whether you agreed with him or not, when he told 10,000 Israelis to leave their homes in Gaza in order, from his perspective, to strengthen Israel.  I can’t think of much more controversial; as a student of the Jewish state, I can’t think of a much more difficult and controversial decision that’s been made.  But he believed it and he did it.

The security of his people was always Arik’s unwavering mission, an unbreakable commitment to the future of Jews, whether 30 years or 300 years from now.  We have an expression in the States:  never in doubt.  Arik was never uncertain from my observation.  I don’t know him nearly as well as the Israeli people and his colleagues, but he seemed never in doubt.  But there were times when he acted, and those actions earned him controversy and even condemnation.  And in certain instances, American leaders — American Presidents — had profound differences with him, and they were never shy about stating them nor was he ever shy about stating his position.  As I said, from my observation he was a complex man, but to understand him better I think it’s important history will judge he also lived in complex times, in a very complex neighborhood.

Since he passed away, in the days ahead, there will be much written about the Prime Minister.  And it’s right for the Israeli people to reflect on all aspects of his life — the triumphs as well as the mistakes, taking full measure of the man, the arc of his life.  For I would argue the arc of his life traced the journey of the State of Israel.

And through it all, the United States whether we agreed or disagreed with a specific policy has been unflagging in its commitment to the State of Israel.  We have never stepped away.  We have never diminished our support.  We have never failed to make Israel’s case around the world.  We have never failed to defend Israel’s legitimacy.

And no one in any corner of this world has any doubt about where America stands with regard to Israeli security, the independent State of Israel that is the ultimate refuge for Jews wherever they are in the world.  And that will never change.

As President Obama said when he was here in Jerusalem last year, and I quote, “Those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist, they might as well reject the earth beneath them and the sky above because Israel is not going anywhere.  So long as there is a United States of America, you are not alone.”

For his part, Arik Sharon greatly valued that close friendship between the United States and Israel, and particularly during his years as prime minister, he worked hard to deepen our relationship.

I find it fascinating, maybe it’s I’m getting older — I find it fascinating how some look at Israel today and say its success was inevitable.  Why didn’t everyone understand this was just inevitable?  But at the outset it was anything but inevitable.  It was the opposite of inevitable.  Israel’s very survival was against all odds.  But thankfully Israel was blessed with a founding generation that understood exactly what it took to overcome those odds.  So many of that generation, because of the people of the United States, I have the great honor of personally meeting and getting to know.  I did not know David Ben Gurion, but I knew all but one — every Prime Minister since that time.

President Peres, you and Prime Minister Sharon are part of one of the most remarkable founding generations in the history not of this nation, but of any nation.  Historians will look back and say, but for — but for — the rare and unique men and women at that moment, but for that it’s hard to see how we’d be standing here on this day — leaders like David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, the list goes on, and you, Mr. President, you all had one thing in common from an outside observer’s perspective, despite your political differences, it was that you knew in your bones, as one Israeli Prime Minister told me over 35 years ago when I was opining of the difficulty Israel faced surrounded by hostile neighbors at the time, looked at me and said, Senator, don’t worry.  We Jews have a secret weapon in our struggle in the region.  We have nowhere else to go.

That realization, it seems to me, is what energized your entire generation of leadership.  I believe that’s one of the reasons by Arik Sharon and so many others fought so hard their whole lives.

Prime Minister Sharon was not only loved by the Jewish people, he not only loved them — the Jewish people — but he loved the land of Israel.  Not just the idea of it, but the actual land itself.  Born on a farm, about to be buried on a farm, a ranch, I remember one of the meetings I had with him.  It was a somewhat heated, and he had his maps.  And he spread them out in his office again.  And I somewhat irreverently said, Mr. Prime Minister — I said, do you want me to do it, or are you going to do it?  Because I had heard his presentation many times.  And in the midst of it, he looked at me, and he said, let me tell you about the new calf that I just got on my ranch.  And he started talking about a calf.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Book of Genesis says, “Arise and walk the length and breadth of the land.”  Arik Sharon did just that.  He tilled it as a farmer.  He fought for it as a soldier.  He knew every hilltop and valley — every inch of the land.  As I said, he loved his maps.  He used to come to the meetings with maps of the land rolled up under each arm.  They were always maps.

I’m reminded — my mother’s blessed memory, I’m reminded of — if you’ll forgive me — an Irish poet, an Irish writer.  I’m sure Prime Minister Blair will forgive me.  That Irish writer was James Joyce.  And he said, “When I die, Dublin will be written on my heart.”  I am absolutely sure the land of Israel, the Negev is etched in Arik Sharon’s soul as it was written on Joyce’s heart.

And the defining attributes of this great man’s character — passion for the Jewish people, physical and political courage, and love of this land — they have all played out on the canvas of the State of Israel’s historic trajectory.

Arik Sharon’s journey and the journey of the State of Israel are inseparable.  They are woven together, in war, in politics, in diplomacy.

Toward the end of his life, he said, I’ve been everywhere.  I’ve met kings, queens, presidents.  “I’ve been around the world. I have one thing that I would like to do:  to try to reach peace.”  

We’ll never know what the ultimate arc of Arik Sharon’s life would have been had he been physically able to pursue his stated goal.  That will be for historians to speculate and debate.  But we do know this:  As prime minister, he surprised many.  I’ve been told that, in reflecting on the difference between how he viewed things as a general and as prime minister, he would paraphrase an Israeli song lyric that said, things you see from here, look different from over there.  What would have — what would they have looked like had he lived in good health and led those eight years?

He left us too soon, but the work of trying to reach peace continues.  And to quote Shakespeare:  He was a man, take him all in all, we shall not look upon his like again.

May the bond between Israel and the United States never, ever be broken.


Remarks by Rep. Eliot L. Engel:

The world has lost one of the strongest defenders of Israel-a man who fought in nearly every one of Israel’s wars and devoted his public life to ensuring that the Jewish state be able to defend itself against those committed to its destruction.

I was fortunate enough to receive his counsel on a number of occasions regarding our shared goals of strengthening the bonds between the United States and Israel. He was as committed to the U.S.-Israel relationship as he was to promoting Israel’s own security.  His passing marks the end of a unique and important chapter in Israel’s history.

Jack Moline Appointed as New NJDC Executive Director


Rabbi Jack Moline and Rabbi Dara Frimmer at 2011 USDA Seder. Photo: Mike Theiler.

— by Elanna Cahn

Rabbi Jack Moline, 61, was appointed as the new National Jewish Democratic council (NJDC) executive director. Moline replaces David A. Harris, who left last February.

“It’s a great opportunity and a chance to leave my mark in a different way on the American Jewish community,” he said. “My path into Jewish life had as much to do with activism as it did with religious commitment.”

As a religious leader, Moline has been to numerous official White House meetings, mostly as director of public policy for the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, a position he held from 2009 until May. He has met both has met both Former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

Marc Stanley, chair of the NJDC board of directors, said:

Rabbi Moline brings a wide and exciting range of abilities and experience to NJDC. His work as national co-chair of Rabbis for Obama, and coordinator of public policy for the Conservative movement, coupled with his interfaith expertise, and teaching and facilitating skills, make him a terrific leader for the NJDC moving ahead.

More after the jump.

As the spiritual head of his congregation, Moline has been involved in, and spoken out on, numerous social issues in the news, and was the president of the Washington Board of Rabbis. He also has served with the Alexandria Call to Community program, is a board member of the Interfaith Alliance, and is a Capitol Hill reflection group leader for the Faith and Politics Institute.

Moline has been invited to the White House, and even contributed to then-President Bill Clinton’s eulogy for slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Moline, who was named as one of the top rabbis in the country by Newsweek magazine in 2008 and 2010, said that he is excited about entering into the political fray at a time when many people are being “turned off” by politics.

Israel Set to Unleash New and Improved Iron Dome Battery

— by Gabe Cahn

Ynet, the Jerusalem Post, and JTA all reported over the weekend that Israel’s missile defense systems are undergoing substantial improvements to better ensure the safety of Israelis.

The fifth Iron Dome battery, which features upgraded interception range and response time, successfully passed the testing phase last week. According to the Ynet article:

Since Iron Dome first became operational, in April 2011, the system has intercepted over 100 Grad and Gaza terrorists at Israel’s south.

‘This is another outstanding achievement by all those involved in the system’s upgrade,’ Defense Minister Ehud Barak said…

Iron Dome’s seventh and eights batteries will be funded mostly by US aid funds in 2013. Some $70 million have already been appropriated to the project and an additional, similar, sum is due next year.

More after the jump.
JTA also reported that:

‘The series of trials are designed to expand and improve the operational capabilities as we face an unprecedented array of threats.  The most recent trial – which was completed successfully – marks a significant upgrade in the operational capabilities of the Iron Dome system,’ according to a Defense Department statement.

Another testament to “the depth and ingenuity of the US-Israel military alliance,” is the bilateral development of the Arrow 3 missile defense system. The Jerusalem Post reported that:

Once operational, the Arrow 3 will be the most advanced missile defense system in the world, a powerful example of the fruits of the US-Israel relationship…

The Arrow 3 interceptor missile boasts twice the range of the Arrow 2, despite being significantly smaller and weighing only half as much. Costs have dropped as well, with the Arrow 3 interceptors expected to run $2.2 million a piece, about 20 percent less than the Arrow 2.

Statement by NSC Spokesman Tommy Vietor on National Security Advisor Tom Donilon’s Meetings with Israeli Delegation

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon hosted a delegation of senior Israeli officials on November 12 for consultations on Iran, Syria, and a range of other regional security issues.  The Israeli delegation was headed by Major General (retired) Yaakov Amidror, Chairman of Israel’s National Security Council and National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu.  Today’s meetings were the latest in a series of regular, high-level consultations between the United States and Israel, consistent with our strong bilateral partnership, and part of our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.

Klein: GOP is Twisting the Truth about Obama and Israel

— by Gabe Cahn

Former Representative Ron Klein (D-FL) rebutted the fallacies driving GOP attacks on Obama’s track record of support for Israel in a recent op-ed article for the Sun Sentinal. Klein wrote:

The truth starts where it hurts most for the GOP – in the numbers.

President Obama has maintained his share of the Jewish vote in Florida and across the country. The American Jewish Committee’s latest Florida poll shows that, if the election were held today, the President would win more than 70 percent of the Jewish vote in Florida…

Having represented South Florida in Congress and having served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I know the dangerous threats Israel faces on a daily basis. I have seen up close and have personally talked with President Obama about his deep commitment to ensuring Israel’s safety and security. While Gov. Romney has only made inconsistent promises and reckless rhetoric about Middle East policy, President Obama has a record of statements – and more importantly, actions and results – on behalf and in support of Israel’s security.

Consider the strengthening of the U.S.-Israel relationship since President Obama took office. Record levels of aid for Israel’s security coupled with additional investments in the Iron Dome system to protect Israeli families from rocket attacks. Security and intelligence cooperation are at all-time highs. The largest joint military exercises between our nations in history. And a repeated, consistent, and forceful defense of Israel at the United Nations.

More after the jump.

Then there’s the Iranian nuclear program. President Obama worked with all of us in Congress to enact the most far-reaching and toughest sanctions ever imposed on the Iranian regime. He built an international coalition to punish and sanction Iran for failing to live up to its international obligations.

The results are clear: Iran is more isolated than ever, its economy is faltering, its oil exports are decreasing, its currency is plummeting, and its people are protesting in the streets.

President Obama has said, time and again, that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable; that containment is not his policy; that he will leave every option, including the military option, on the table to confront the Iranian threat.

As Republican donors and campaign operatives disseminate half-truths, it’s time for them to confront some hard facts: the president’s record on Israel meets the highest pro-Israel standard.  He has the toughest record of any President in dealing with Iran and he will do what is necessary to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

President Obama has earned our support by his actions, his values, and his record.

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