Why Presbyterian Divestment Feels Like Anti-Semitism


From the Pews: The Presbyterian divestment votes doesn’t look like harmless nonviolent protest from Israel.

This article originally appeared in the Forward, June 25, 2014. Reproduced from there by permission of the Forward.

— by Jane Eisner

In a hotel ballroom in Jerusalem jammed with journalists from all over the Jewish world, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a rambling speech that covered everything from Iran’s nuclear ambitions to an Israeli cow that he claims produces more milk than any other cow in the world. Really.

But I want to focus on his riff about the Presbyterians.

[Read more…]

Administration Addresses Jewish Community Security Issues


Senator Charles Schumer addresses Agudath Israel’s Legislative Breakfast

— by Boruch Shubert

A number of officials representing the United States government at key levels of influence addressed several hundred communal leaders at the Second Annual Legislative Breakfast of Agudath Israel of America earlier today at the Down Town Association in Lower Manhattan. Speaking to the event’s theme of “Safety and Security in Our Communities,” the officials outlined a variety of areas in which government agencies are acting vigorously to ensure the physical well-being of the greater Jewish community both domestically and overseas.

Delivering the Keynote Address, Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, noted that – with New York City continuing to be a major target for potential terrorists – her office has expanded its focus from the aggressive pursuit of terrorist prosecutions to include an emphasis on the prevention of terrorist acts. “We work closely with the FBI and the New York Police Department to immediately investigate any threats of terrorism,” Lynch asserted, highlighting multiple recent cases wherein potential attacks on public transportation and other largely populated areas were thwarted. Detailing specific concerns in this regard, the US Attorney informed the audience that the authorities are on the lookout for Al-Qaeda-mobilized single, “lone-wolf” individuals who may attempt to commit acts of terror on their own; homegrown United States-based terrorists; and global terror cells that gain strength and adherents through strategic communications via the Internet. Noting that more than 400 terrorists have been convicted in this country over the decade since the 9/11 attacks, Lynch strongly stated her belief that “our federal court system is a proven and effective method for prosecuting terrorists.” Ms. Lynch was joined at the breakfast by Marshall Miller, who has served as the deputy chief of the criminal unit and today was named criminal division chief.

More after the jump.


Jarrod Bernstein, President Obama’s Director of Jewish Outreach delivers Special Greetings at Agudath Israel’s Legislative Breakfast

The audience was also treated to Special Greetings from Jarrod Bernstein, President Obama’s recently appointed Director of Jewish Outreach, who was making his first public appearance in his new role. Bernstein was introduced by Rabbi David Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel, who recounted how – just two days before this past Yom Kippur – he received word that a large shipment of lulavim was being held up at the airport due to security-related bureaucratic red tape, thereby causing numerous Jews to potentially be unable to fulfill the vital mitzvah of arba minim on the impending Sukkos holiday. After a quick phone call to Bernstein – who was then an official at the Department of Homeland Security – the lulavim were released in a few hours.

Speaking on behalf of the president, Bernstein stated that the administration is “working daily to ensure Israel’s security.” Elaborating on this point, he noted that President Obama has requested from Congress “the largest-ever amount of funding for military assistance for Israel”; spoke at the United Nations resolutely on behalf of the vitality of Israel; and spends a significant amount of time advocating for increased sanctions against Iran.


A partial view of the crowd at Agudath Israel’s Legislative Breakfast

Reprising his appearance at last year’s Legislative Breakfast, Senator Charles Schumer reiterated Congress’ firm support for the security of Israel, specifically with regard to planned attempts to further cut off Iran’s banking powers and to fully fund Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. Turning to the domestic front, Schumer stated that “Agudath Israel does an amazing job caring for people in need with its social services,” and he asserted that – particularly with regard to education and job training programs – “we must cut our budgets carefully” so as not to endanger these vital services. “I have obtained many grants for the security of the community’s shuls and yeshivas,” the senator concluded, reaffirming his continuing close relationship with Agudath Israel.


Rabbi David Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America, speaking at the Agudath Israel of
America Legislative Breakfast.

The large audience – which included such dignitaries as NYC Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, NY State Senator Daniel Squadron, NY State Assemblymen Alec Brook-Krasny and Rory Lancman, and New York City Councilmen Lew Fidler and Brad Lander – heard important remarks from several members of Congress with close ties to the Jewish community. Newly elected Congressman Robert (Bob) Turner spoke about his appointments to the crucial Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security Committees, and criticized both the United Nations and Iran for their anti-Israel stances. “We have to work hard to get regime change in Iran,” Turner declared. Avowing Congress’ strong backing of Israel, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney recalled the unusually enthusiastic response from the entire membership of Congress when it was addressed by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Commenting on the dismal economy, Congressman Jerrold Nadler spoke against the idea of massive spending cuts by the government, noting that “the community needs housing and food assistance now more than ever.” Separately, Nadler called on President Obama to criticize Palestinian President Abbas for refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and insisted that “there is no greater danger in the world today than Iran” due to its nuclear intentions, Nadler concluded.


Jarrod Bernstein, White House Jewish Liaison, addressing the Agudath Israel of America Legislative Breakfast.

The audience also heard from community activist Abe Eisner, who read a message of support for Agudath Israel from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo; Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer; New York City Controller John Liu; and Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Community Services, who highlighted the organization’s many valuable social programs. “Agudath Israel of America sponsors a broad range of communal social services affecting the lives of young and old throughout the New York City metropolitan area,” he explained. “Agudath Israel of America’s projects include job placement, vocational training and counseling services, housing and neighborhood preservation initiatives, as well as a host of senior citizen and children’s welfare projects – including a variety of initiatives specifically directed toward enhancing security and safety.” The Legislative Breakfast was chaired by Joseph Zelmanovitz, Esq, Partner in Stahl and Zelmanovitz, and was graciously sponsored by Health Plus, and Med Review and coordinated by the Friedlander group.

Many participants expressed positive sentiments on the very high level of discussion and the broad range of issues the various speakers broached. A venerable Who’s Who of influential legislative leaders made the effort on an early Monday morning to affirm the prominent role and political position the Orthodox Jewish community and Agudath Israel holds in the halls of government. One respected community leader seemed to sum up the feelings of those in attendance. “It is important to interact and dialogue with our government officials. That they clearly recognize and admire the importance of our community and Agudath Israel’s wide reach is even more impressive.”


Ezra Friedlander CEO of the Friedlander Group, Chaskel Bennett Board of Trustees of Agudath Israel of America, Jarrod Bernstein White House Jewish Liaison, Rabbi David Zwiebel, ESQ. Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America, Joseph B. Stamm President and CEO of Med Review, Event Sponsor, Jospeh Zelmanovitz Breakfast Chairman and Partner at Stahl & Zelmanovitz, Congressman Bob Turner, Abe Eisner, Mr. Leon Goldenberg, and Shlomo Werdiger who are members of the Agudath Israel of America leadership.

-U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer addressing the Agudath Israel of America Legislative Breakfast. Left to Right: Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz Agudath Israel of America’s Vice President for Community Services, Rabbi David Zwiebel, ESQ. Executive Vice President, Mr. Gedaliah Weinberger Chairman of the Board, Jospeh Zelmanovitz Breakfast Chairman and Partner at Stahl & Zelmanovitz, Joseph B. Stamm President and CEO of Med Review, Event Sponsor, Jonathan Zalisky, Senior Community Relations Coordinator of Health Plus, Event Sponsor, Chaskel Bennett Board of Trustees of Agudath Israel of America.




Congressman Bob Turner addressing the Agudath Israel of America Legislative Breakfast

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates Awarded Liberty Medal


Liberty Medal award-winner Secretary Robert Gates and David Eisner, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center

Presenting the Liberty Medal to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were SFC Dana Graham of the Liberty USO, Anthony Odierno, representing the Wounded Warrior Project, and David Eisner, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center.

After a lifetme of public service, in the CIA, and ending with serving as Secretary of Defense, the Honorable Robert Gates was awarded the Liberty Medal on September 22 at the National Constitution Center.  The word “liberty” took on added meaning as David Eisner, the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, had invited Iraq war veteran Anthony Odierno, representing the Wounded Warrior Project, and SFC Dana Graham of the Pennsyvalnia Army National Guard, representing the USO of Pennslvania and Southern New Jersey (Liberty USO), to present the actual Liberty Medal to Dr. Gates.

More after the jump.


Jim Gardner, of Channel 6 ABC, hosted the television broadcast of the Liberty Medal ceremony.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was one of the dignitaries who appeared by video to congratulate Secretary Gates and sing his praises.

With Governor Tom Corbett and Mrs. Lisa Nutter joining other diginitaries on stage, the program included video tributes from Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mayor Michael Nutter.  Gates is unique in having served under both Republican and Democratic administrations, which made his remarks of concern for the condition of public discourse in the country and in the nation’s capital today even more pertinent.

The VIP audience included a representation of the area’s Jewish community, some of which are pictured here.

(photos by Bonnie Squires)


Harold and Lynn Honickman

Joan Specter awaits Senator Arlen Specter, who was teaching a class before attending the Liberty Medal event.

Eugene and Roz Chaikin

A new twist on this year’s Liberty Medal ceremony was the introduction of the official timepiece by Hublot, presented to Secretary Gates at the gala which followed  the award ceremony.

Steve and Sandy Sheller

Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Grey


To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the National Museum of American Jewish History presented Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray,  a first-of-its-kind documentary that reveals the little-known struggles that faced Jewish-Americans both in battle and on the home front during the Civil War. This film reveals an unknown chapter in American history when allegiances during the War Between the States deeply split the Jewish community. It examines a time when approximately 10,000 Jewish soldiers fought on both sides; 7,000 Union and 3,000 Confederate. It exposes General Ulysses Grant’s controversial decision to expel all Jews from his territory, and tells the stories of President Lincoln’s Jewish doctor who serve as a spy in the South and how five Union Jewish soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor. It features commentary by noted historians, with Sam Waterston as the voice of Abraham Lincoln and narration by Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Milius (Apocalypse Now).

This moving film allowed me to discover many surprising facts about American Jews during the Civil War.

More after the jump.
Various rabbis argued both for and against slavery. Rabbi David Einhorn of Baltimore wrote in support of abolitionism in his German-language newspaper “Sinai”. In 1861, he was run out of town by the local pro-slavery community. Imagine how differently the Civil War would have played out had Gov. Thomas Hicks allowed Maryland to join the Confederacy.

The word Jew was used mostly as a verb with a negative connotation at that time, so the Jews in the film mostly referred to themselves as following the Mosaic tradition, as Israelites or as Hebrews. This latent anti-Semitism was probably a factor in Jews being excluded from the Chaplaincy in the Army and Gen. Grant’s infamous General Order 11 which expelled all Jews from the Tennessee Territory – the only expulsion of Jews in American history.

Jews were loyal patriots and began to expect fair treatment in return. The Jewish community directly petitioned President Lincoln in both of these cases, and Lincoln was quite understanding. Lincoln appointed our countries first Jewish chaplain, setting the stage for Jewish observances during all future U.S. conflicts. Lincoln also reversed General Order 11. During the 1868 Presidential election, the question of General Order 11 was raised by the secular press; Grant repudiated the controversial order, asserting it had been drafted by a subordinate and he signed the document without reading. Grant won the election, receiving the majority of the Jewish vote. In fact, Grant participated in the dedication of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC becoming the first American President to attend a synagogue service.

Civil War historian Gregory J. W. Urwin, professor of history at Temple University, moderated the post-film discussion with Jonathan Gruber, the film’s director, producer and writer, and Rabbi Lance Sussman, Ph.D. and senior rabbi at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, a lecturer and author on Jewish history.      

For a list of showings of to order the DVD, please visit the National Center for Jewish Film website.

National Constitution Center, Ken Burns and PBS Partner to Support “Civility and Democracy”

Joint Initiative Launch Tied to National Constitution Center’s

“Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America”

Saturday, March 26 – Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bonnie Squires

David Eisner, President and CEO of the National Constitution Center (NCC), today joined filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and Corporation for Public Broadcasting President Patricia Harrison to announce collaboration to foster a national conversation about “Civility and Democracy.”  

More after the jump.

The National Constitution Center hosted a kick-off press conference, featuring filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, prior to their weekend of national speakers and panelists, dedicated to “A conversation about Civility and Democracy in America.”
Seen here in the Annenberg Center are (left to right) David Eisner, CEO of the National Constitution Center; Ken Burns; Patricia Harrison, president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; Tom Phelps, of the National Endowment for the Humanities; Ken Burns, whose new documentary, “Prohibition,” was highlighted over the weekend;  and Lynn Novick, Burns’ partner in filmmaking.

As part of the project, NCC and PBS station WETA Washington, DC will work together to develop educational materials and Web content connected to Burns’s and Novick’s upcoming film, PROHIBITION, which is scheduled to air this coming fall on PBS.  The film takes viewers beyond the oft-told tales of gangsters, flappers and speakeasies to experience the rise, rule and fall of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Burns and Novick will work with WETA, PBS and the National Constitution Center to create station and public engagement tools around the theme of “Civility and Democracy,” and lead conversations about the issue in a multi-city tour that will take place this spring, summer and fall.

The announcement was made on the eve of “Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America” at the National Constitution Center on March 26th and 27th.  The conference is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Bridging Cultures program.

Highlights from PROHIBITION will be incorporated into some of the Center’s workshops throughout the weekend.  Participants – along with the general public – will be provided an early look at the film the night of Friday, March 25th at the Center.

“The idea for ‘Can We Talk?’ is to engage in a national conversation about the role of civility in our democracy,” said National Constitution Center President and CEO David Eisner.  “There can be no better partner to make this conversation meaningful and broad-based than one of America’s greatest storytellers, Ken Burns.”

“With each Ken Burns film, PBS works with local stations, such as WHYY in Philadelphia, one of our leading stations for civic engagement, and other partners to create a national conversation about issues as diverse as our parks, the experience of war, and America’s love of baseball,” said Paula Kerger, President and CEO of PBS.  “PROHIBITION is a remarkable film that will engage viewers around the country and just as importantly serve as a starting point for conversations in schools and at the dinner table.  This partnership will help us provide even more tools to stations and community groups as Ken and Lynn travel the country over the months ahead.”

“There is no topic more important to the ongoing health of our republic than civility and democracy,” Ken Burns said.  “No period in American history is void of conflict.  There is no idyllic moment in American life.  But civility is essential to our ability as a nation to confront together difficult issues, even when we may disagree, and to continue to improve as a country.”

Patricia Harrison, the President and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has partnered with WETA on station engagement and community outreach, said, “Ken’s films connect us, no matter what our background, heritage or station in life, to our country’s past in a way that provides us with an understanding of the present and the issues shaping our lives today.  Public media is committed to providing, through our content and engagement with community, a safe place where people can debate and disagree in a way that affirms, not diminishes, our civil society.  Through PROHIBITION, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick offer an opportunity to follow the law of unintended consequences through the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  As a result, PROHBITION provides public media stations throughout the country an opportunity to engage with students, parents and partners, such as the National Constitution Center, as we take a thoughtful look at this important time in our country’s history.”

“In many ways, Prohibition is an example of an era when strongly held views by one group led to consequences that no one could have foreseen at the time,” said Lynn Novick.  “Ken and I are very excited about the opportunity to the work with the National Constitution Center, PBS stations and others across the nation to embark on a conversation that we hope results in greater civility and ultimately a stronger democracy.”

“Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America”

An interactive, interdisciplinary forum, “Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America” will bring together the best and brightest from such fields as history, government, communications, and political philosophy.  This renowned group will guide public discussion of the role of dissent and protest throughout American history, and the degree to which dissent can and should be civil.  At the close of the event, participants will present guidance on the tools, systems, and best practices that may contribute to productive social and political movements in the future of our nation.

The forum will feature three main parts specifically designed to foster active public engagement with the topic: an opening keynote address, a set of small group discussions and a large town hall-style exchange that will be taped for broadcast at a later date.  Portions of the conference also will be webcast live at www.constitutioncenter.org.  The Center’s new blog, Constitution Daily, will feature live blogging of the events and ongoing coverage about civility and its connections to the Constitution at http://blog.constitutioncenter…

Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Educational and Web Materials

As part of the partnership, NCC and PBS member station WETA Washington, DC will work together to incorporate themes from “Can We Talk?” into educational and web materials to support the broadcast.  The web site for PROHIBITION will be accessible via pbs.org, one of the most successful .orgs in the world, and will reach millions of people of all ages.  In addition to educational materials, the site will include selections from scripts, outtakes and transcripts from interviews, archival footage and photographs, music, a bibliography, and timelines.

WETA and PBS also will launch a social media campaign designed to engage audiences online in conversations and discussions around the themes in the film.  Video clips from the broadcast also will be posted on the PBS YouTube Channel.  Fans can follow Ken Burns on Twitter @kenburnspbs or on Facebook at facebook.com/kenburnspbs.

Community Engagement

For each Ken Burns film there is a comprehensive national engagement campaign designed to work in conjunction with the broad promotional plans in order to help create a larger discussion around important topics addressed in the film.  For PROHIBITION, WETA will offer grants to stations to help them explore civility and democracy-related themes and issues in their local markets.  Station activities will include screenings and panel discussions, local productions, customized classroom materials, social networking, and online modules and multi-media projects.

It is expected that events will take place in up to 15 markets (including New Orleans, St. Louis, Baltimore, Louisville, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, Columbus, Seattle, Philadelphia and Washington, among others).

When in market, Burns, Novick and others will screen highlights of PROHIBITION and lead discussions about the film and “Civility and Democracy,” as well as visit local schools to discuss these topics with children.