Obama: ‘I Will Veto Any New Sanctions’ on Iran

In his State of the Union address (Video and transcript below.), President Obama said that he will veto any new sanctions on Iran passed by Congress before the end of March — the U.S. deadline for reaching an agreement on a framework to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program:

Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran, secures America and our allies — including Israel, while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.  There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.

But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies; making it harder to maintain sanctions; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again.  It doesn’t make sense. And that’s why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.

flotus_sotu_suite_roc_AlanGross[1]Alan Gross, who was released last month from Cuban prison after five years, was among the audience.
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Obama on Alan Gross: ‘Freedom Is Possible’

President Obama dedicated a large part of his speech at this year’s Hanukkah party to Alan Gross, who was released from Cuban prison after five years as part of the country’s renewal of diplomatic relations with the U.S.:

He’s back where he belongs — in America, with his family, home for Hanukkah. And I can’t think of a better way to mark this holiday, with its message that freedom is possible, than with the historic changes that I announced today in our Cuba policy. These are changes that are rooted in America’s commitment to freedom and democracy for all the Cuban people, including its small but proud Jewish community.

Gross was arrested in 2009 while working to set up Internet access for the Cuban-Jewish community as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Gross’s sister-in-law, Gwen Zuares, thanked Obama personally for her brother-in-law’s release at the party.

B’nai B’rith International said that it “warmly welcomes, and is relieved by the news”:

B’nai B’rith is grateful for the efforts of the Administration and all those who assisted in facilitating the high-level discussions leading to Gross’ release. We are thinking of Gross, his family and his friends

The Republican Jewish Coalition, which called the normalization of relations with Cuba “unwise”, welcomed Gross’s release:

On the first day of Hanukkah, Alan Gross was granted light, freedom, and the long-awaited reunion with his family. The RJC joins the entire Jewish community in celebrating his redemption.

Agudath Israel of America issued a statement on the subject:

The release and return of Alan Gross from Cuban incarceration is truly a modern day Chanukah miracle, and it fills us with deep gratitude to, in the words of the Amidah, “He Who frees captives.” Mr. Gross’ expedited liberation seemed a distant dream, and now it is a dream come true.

We express our heartfelt thanks to President Obama, whose dedicated and determined efforts led to Mr. Gross’ release. And we pray that Mr. Gross will adjust to his return to freedom enveloped in the love and support of his family and friends.

A Study Break Like No Other

By Hannah Lee

In 1923, Rabbi Meir Shapiro proposed to the First World Congress of the World Agudath Israel in Vienna that Jews around the world bond over a daily study of the books of the Talmud, the code of rabbinic law. The six orders of the Talmud (or Gemarah), known as sedarim, are divided into 60 or 63 tractates, masekhtot. Clocking in over 6,200 pages long, it’s written in Aramaic and quotes from the Hebrew Bible.  Today, August 1, is a grand celebration of the completion of the 12th cycle of study, the Siyum HaShas of Daf Yomi.  It’s being held at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ and approximately 90,000 men, women, and children are expected to attend.

The six local teachers who’ve faithfully lead the daily study sessions year-round are: Rabbi Yechiel Biberfeld of Bala Cynwyd; Rabbi Dov Aaron Brisman of Philadelphia; Rabbi Yonah Gross of Wynnewood; Rabbi Sruli Schwartz of Merion Station; Rabbi Avraham Shmidman of Bala Cynwyd; and Rabbi Mordechai Terbelo of Philadelphia.  Yishar kochachem to these dedicated individuals and to their students for the commitment to sustaining Jewish scholarship!

Note: This list excludes some other local Daf Yomi teachers, such as Rabbi Jonathan Levene of Bala Cynwyd, but this was a siyum organized by the Agudath Israel of America, and I consulted their memorial book,which is a hefty volume 1/2-inch thick.

In Memoriam: Maurice Sendak

— by Hannah Lee

What is the measure of a man’s worth?  If it’s durable accomplishments, then Maurice Sendak has left a whoppingly large body of work: author of 18 books/anthologies, illustrator of 78 books by others (if I counted correctly); set designer of more than five ballets and operas, and author of one opera.  However, if we were to include the generations of children whose memories have been indelibly influenced by Sendak, then we’re heading into the stratosphere.

More after the jump.

Our family’s favorite was not Where the Wild Things Are, which won the Caldecott Medal in 1964, nor In the Night Kitchen, his 1970 book of a naked young boy playing in his family’s kitchen after bedtime that has been banned in several states (including Illinois, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Texas).  In fact, our copy had a distinctively bad odor that everyone of us still recalls.  No, our favorite was Nutshell Library (Caldecott Collection) which included Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup with Rice, and Pierre. The oft-stated line by the rebellious Pierre was bandied about in our house, because “he didn’t care.”  Later, we were charmed by the animated televised production combining “The Nutshell Library” with “The Sign on Rosie’s Door,” titled, Really Rosie, featuring the singing voice of Carole King.  My sister’s three boys also loved Sendak’s books, identifying with “what sometimes seemed like the hidden message in his books (when so many children’s books are saccharine sweet).”

Born in Brooklyn in 1928 to Polish Jewish immigrants, Sendak grew up in a sad, grim household, shadowed by the tragedy of World War II.  In one interview with Terry Gross of NPR, Sendak recalled often dropping in on his best-friend, Carmine, who lived in the apartment across the hall, because Carmine’s family featured laughter, hugs, and kisses.  And pasta!  He nurtured his love of books when confined to his bed during a childhood illness.  He’d said that he decided to become an illustrator after viewing Walt Disney’s film Fantasia at the age of twelve.

In another interview with Terry Gross, he stated that he never wrote for children, but we readers knew that he understood the complexities of childhood, with its attendant fears, anxieties, and jealousies.  Toward the end of his life, he declined all invitations to school assemblies, because he was appalled that the protocols and instructions by the adults in charge — teachers and principals — had turned him into the children’s enemies — “Behave or else!”  “Ask good questions!”  Sendak preferred that children come to his books on their own, asking their own “terrible” questions.

Sendak died on Tuesday morning from complications of a stroke.  His final book, Bumble-Ardy, was published last September.