On Saturday, The Jewish Daily Forward's Nathan Guttman published an article on Samantha Power, President Obama's nominee for U.N. Ambassador, and her commitment to Israel. Guttman's piece opened with a story from 2009 in which Power is meeting with Israeli officials. In the middle of their discussion, she pulled out a picture of her son and described how her husband Cass Sustein is a descendent of the, "Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman Kremer, the 18th-century Jewish sage who is considered the greatest talmudic scholar of his time."
Guttman concluded that while this might partially explain Power's commitment to Israel, it is not the only reason. Former Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. Dan Arbel explains that for as long as he has known Power, her strong sentiment towards Israel has always been second nature. He states, "Her starting point has always been, 'How do we work together to overcome obstacles and to ensure that both the United States and Israel get out of these U.N. situations with the least damage?"
Guttman also discussed how Power dealt with almost every Israel-related issue at the U.N. during Ambassador Susan Rice's tenure. According to an Administration official, "She was involved in any brush fire at the United Nations. After [U.N. Ambassador] Susan Rice, she was the most influential person on U.N. issues."
I and other residents of the Main Line have been in lack of books since the bankruptcy of the Borders bookstore chain in July 2011, and the renovations of the Ludington and Bala Cynwyd branch libraries, the latter closing in December 2011. For a few months, we were bereft of all three resources, until Ludington reopened last September, and Bala Cynwyd reopened last month. Another pleasure awaits us at the newly opened Main Point Books, an independent bookstore in Bryn Mawr, run by local resident Cathy Fiebach.
Main Point Books stocks a broad range of books, with a particular emphasis on literary fiction. Fiebach is eager to hear from customers about the kinds of books they like, and especially about books they do not, because it helps her develop her inventory. (When was the last time you had fun chatting books with the staff at a chain store?)
One of the charming books available in the store is My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop, a collection of essays by writers on their favorite bookstores. Some of those stores are in the writers' communities, and others are their stops along a book tour. I have my own copy, and I told Fiebach that it is "armchair traveling" for me to read about lovely bookstores across the country. Her store could easily join their ranks.
Once in a while, a politician or two tries living on the budget of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for a day, or maybe a week. This week, 26 members of the Congress will do it, in reaction to the Senate's Farm Bill, that would once again cut the SNAP recipient budgets. The current amount that the average recipient can eat on is $4.50 a day.
I was struck by Congresswoman Barbara Lee's (D-CA) blog post on her shopping trip:
Getting your budget down to $4.50 a day is complicated. You need to try to make sure you have enough protein, limit your sodium, and find good vegetables. If you have special dietary needs, like diabetes or an allergy, there's even more to think about.
Congresswoman Lee's heart (and those of the other 25 members of Congress who took on the challenge) is in the right place, but she forgot something: She made a tuna noodle casserole part of her week's meal plan. She noted that she found a box that only required water, since milk and butter were not on her budget. Some SNAP recipients also don't have electricity or gas. Therefore, they can not cook.
Last year, local talent Michael Bihovsky knocked our hypoallergenic socks off with his music parody video One Grain More. Now, he is launching a "fresh" new project.
Bihovsky is putting his collegiate experiences to music into "Fresh!" This musical follows Michael from the suburbs of Philadelphia to his new life as a freshman in New York City. Michael sings about his challenges and struggles, and shares the transformation he experiences.
This is a show everyone can relate to, as it empathizes with the daily struggles many of us endure. In the end, both Michael and we emerge stronger.
Theological inquiry and Jewish learning are traditionally embedded like subtle gems in the Chelm genre, and Schuman has not missed a beat on this score either. The illustrations, by Kevin Kuhne, are so clever and lively that one can also get drawn into the story through them. The pacing and parsing of the narrative has the tone of a great storyteller. Good fun and solid musing, all in one.
Yesterday, B'nai B'rith International spoke before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva during the anti-Israel "agenda item 7" session. B'nai B'rith addressed UNHRC special rapporteur Richard Falk's appalling recent comments blaming the Boston Marathon bombings on the United States' foreign policy, and urged his removal.
Klaus Netter, B'nai B'rith representative to the U.N. in Geneva, said:
Just a few weeks ago, the entire world was shocked to hear and see the bombing that occurred at the end of the Boston Marathon, resulting in the death of three and the injury of hundreds of innocent bystanders. Yet, there were a few contrary reactions, such as the one expressed by the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories... In the Foreign Policy Journal dated 21 April 2013, he wrote: 'The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance... the United States has been fortunate not to experience worse blowbacks.'
"It's almost too hot to eat anything at all!" I exclaimed to my friend, Anna Gombai. It was a humid day in Philadelphia, with temperatures in the nineties. "You need something light and healthy," she told me. "Cold Russian borscht, like we used to make in Moscow." I had never tasted borscht, but I was ready to try. Borscht is a Russian peasant beet soup that is traditionally served chilled. It is garnished with chopped eggs, radishes and herbs. To me, the most important requirement was to cook it outside, on the grill, so the house would remain cool.
The United States called for the resignation of Richard Falk, U.N. special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, following his statements against the pro-Israel group UN Watch. Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council, said:
The United States completely rejects and condemns the irresponsible call by Mr. Richard Falk, U.N. Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories, to investigate a legitimate and U.N.-accredited NGO, UN Watch. His statement and recommendation, if given credibility, would threaten the independent voice of civil society at the United Nations.
The current cuisine of any people is the result of many causes: tradition, culture, customs, native products, and the influences of different cultures that have been present at some point in history nearby that nation. In the current Catalan cuisine we can find conspicuous traces of inheritance from the Sephardic cuisine. They have undergone the typical evolution of time, and adapted to local products.
Sephardic Jews from Spain brought to the cities of the Ottoman Empire and North Africa a taste for olive oil, almonds, citrus, saffron, and sweets made with eggs and egg yolks. They brought with them the expertise of using spices, and flower essences, such as rose water or orange blossom water.
Arafat (right) signed the accord without the PLO's sanction
— by David Bedein
Recently, US Secretary of State John Kerry passionately called for the renewal of talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Former President Bill Clinton, who hosted the PLO-Israel ceremonies on the White House lawn twenty years ago, is on his way to Jerusalem for high profile lectures, where he will also call for renewal of negotiations. And Shimon Peres, Israel's president, who served as Israel's foreign minister at the outset of negotiations with the PLO two decades ago, is about to convene thousands of dignitaries at a conference at the President's mansion, that will call to expedite negotiations with the PLO.
Veteran observers of middle east politics may ask: what is there to negotiate about?
In our conversation, she rejected utterly the notion that she had any animus toward Israel. She acknowledged that she had erred significantly in offering hypothetical comments that did not reflect how she felt. She said that opponents of President Obama had unfairly taken her disorganized comments further and characterized them as 'invade Israel' talk. She said that if she really believed that Israel could even be remotely accused of practicing genocide against the Palestinians, then the correct forum for her to express that view would have been somewhere in the 664 pages of her book, A Problem From Hell, wherein she details all the genocides of the twentieth century. She never even hints that Israel is guilty of such atrocity. She explained that the only time she has written about Israel was in a later book, Chasing the Flame, on slain UN Diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello. There she described his time in UNIFIL, and included a discussion of the Government of Israel's own findings on Sabra and Shatila.
To bolster her argument, she mentioned that her former Professor at Harvard, Alan Dershowitz, whom I consider to be Israel's most eloquent global champion, called her after A Problem from Hell was published, to applaud her for not remotely associating Israel with genocide, the way so many academic enemies had. I checked with my old friend, Professor Dershowitz, and he confirmed that he has warm feelings toward his former student, and considers her a moderate on Israel.
Listening to Power face-to-face and hearing her clarification set, amidst the visible hurt of being grouped together with Israel's detractors, I found her argument convincing. Power, the world's leading chronicler of genocide, is being dismissed as an enemy of the Jewish state based almost entirely on a fragment of a single interview lasting about two-and-a-half minutes. Most significantly, however we understand the meaning of her words in the unfortunate interview, they are utterly belied by her actions. She would later indeed become a senior adviser to the president of the United States, and not only would she never even remotely identify Israel as a genocidal power that needed to be stopped, but to the contrary, she would utilize her influence to advocate for military action against a genocidal Arab dictator, who is not only killing innocent Arab protestors, but is, along with Iran, one of Israel's most outspoken enemies.
Yesterday, President Obama announced that after more than four years overseeing the work of the National Security Council, Tom Donilon will depart in July as National Security Advisor and will be succeeded by Susan Rice. Ambassador Rice will be succeeded by Samantha Power as the next U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, pending Senate confirmation.
Reactions from BBI, NJDC and JCPA follow the the jump.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg's funeral was held yesterday at the Park Avenue Synagogue. Among the speakers were Vice President Joe Biden, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). 41 Senators, Gov. Chris Christie and six members of the House of Representatives attended the event.
Frank Lautenberg was a man for his time. One of the greatest generation. The last of the Senate to have served in World War II. His story was an American story, but from his heart and for his lifetime, he was a kid from Paterson, New Jersey.
A note from our friends at the Keystone Research Center:
In a closely divided 8 to 6 vote today, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved Senate Bill 975, legalizing payday loans with annual percentage rates of more than 300%. The bill moves to the Senate floor, despite the opposition of veterans, seniors, faith groups, and a majority of Pennsylvanians.
The Keystone Research Center issued the following statement on behalf of the Coalition to Stop Predatory Payday Loans in Pennsylvania:
Senate Bill 975 rolls back the state's longstanding protections against predatory payday loans. Pennsylvania has been recognized by both the Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Defense for having among the strongest laws in the nation to keep out predatory payday lenders. A 2010 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case held that loans made in violation of existing law are illegal, even when made online.
Senate Bill 975 would undo those protections, harming working families across the state. With this bill comes a higher likelihood of bankruptcies in Pennsylvania, and payday lenders gaining direct access to borrowers' bank accounts. These are just some of the reasons that the bill faces opposition from a majority of Pennsylvanians.
The Coalition thanks those senators who stood with Pennsylvanians to oppose this bill: Senators Michael Stack, Lisa Boscola, Larry Farnese, Anthony Williams, Patricia Vance and John Rafferty. Democratic Chairman Stack made a passionate plea for the committee to do what veterans and others have asked: to reject this bill and keep our existing, strong consumer protections in place.
We are disappointed in those senators who stood with payday lenders by voting yes on this bill: Senators Pat Browne, Don White, Mike Brubaker, Kim Ward, Jake Corman, John Eichelberger, Joseph Scarnati and Jim Brewster.
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the last World War II veteran in the Senate, died today at the age of 89. (John Dingell (D-MI) and Ralph M. Hall (R-TX) are the two surviving World War II veterans in the House of Representatives.) He served in the Senate continuously in the years 1982-2001, and again since 2003.
His legislation has also lowered the blood alcohol level threshold for drunk driving to 0.08%.
During the Bush administration, Lautenberger repeatedly introduced legislation to close the terrorist loophole which allowed American companies to set up offices in the Cayman Islands and continue to do business with the National Iranian Oil Company.
A former two-pack-a-day smoker, Lautenberg wrote legislation that banned smoking on airplanes, federal buildings, and federally funded buildings that serviced children. This was one of the first restrictions on smoking in America.
The Senator also sponsored the legislation which bans access to firearms by people convicted of crimes of domestic violence.
After the jump: President Obama and Jewish organizations mourn the loss.
When it is hot and steamy outside, we don't want to have a big heavy meal. On Saturdays we usually have brunch consisting of bread, cheese, a frittata or omelette, and a salad. This Saturday, I finally served two dishes I made from the Plenty cookbook, written by Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi.
The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), representing North America's largest Jewish congregational Movement, and Camp Harlam, the URJ's Philadelphia-based regional overnight camp, announced that they will open the first URJ-affiliated day camp in the summer of 2014.
The URJ's foray into Jewish day camping is a strategic initiative meant to complement the Reform Movement's focus on Youth Engagement and the URJ's North American Camp Committee's strategic plan. The expectation for the day camp is to be the first of its kind and a model, and other day camp initiatives will be considered for various target communities throughout North America in the coming years.
Alicia Keys confirmed that she will perform in Tel Aviv on July 4 as scheduled, despite public pressure to boycott Israel from Alice Walker (who refused to authorize a translation of "The Color Purple" into Hebrew) and Roger Waters. "I look forward to my first visit to Israel. Music is a universal language that is meant to unify audiences in peace and love, and that is the spirit of our show," she said.
Walker called Israel an "apartheid country," said that the Israeli system is "cruel, unjust, and unbelievably evil," and called Israel the cause of "much of the affliction in our suffering world." Walker refused to authorize a new Hebrew translation of "The Color Purple." Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, also urged Keys to cancel. Waters previously convinced Stevie Wonder to cancel an appearance at a Friends of the IDF event in Los Angeles.
More on the anti-Israel BDS movement after the jump.
After 9/11, Bush made clear that Iran was on his sights
— by Jacob Miller
President Barack Obama's speech last week at the National Defense University has brought the United States' foreign policy and continuing war on terror to the forefront. Bloomberg's Jeffery Goldberg released an opinion piece entitled "Can Obama Clean Up Bush's National Security Mess?" Goldberg highlighted several mistakes and oversights President George W. Bush had on national security:
In the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration made clear to the world that it had the Islamic Republic of Iran in its sights....
So it was with shock (and with something like the opposite of awe) that, seven years later, the newly elected Barack Obama learned that the Bush administration had never even drawn up plans for attacking Iran's nuclear facilities. Obama discovered this when he asked his generals for their plan, and they had none. Bush had never asked for one. The bellicose rhetoric on Iran, in other words, was empty of substance.
Everyone has an opinion about the best type of pizza: Famous Ray's pizza of New York City, sicilian, thin crust, crust with cheese... The list can go on and on. But before you start drooling as you picture a sizzling hot slice of pizza, with the gooey cheese dripping off the sides and a crispy crust that breaks apart in your hands, let me stop you there. I like alternative versions of pizza, i.e. pizza without the typical crust. Last Wednesday was no exception: I was going to make crusted cauliflower pizza.
B'nai B'rith International denounced the United Church of Canada (UCC) for calling upon its two million members to boycott Israeli companies that do business in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Last week, the United Church of Canada's general council approved boycotts of Israeli companies Keter Plastic, SodaStream and Ahava. This is a continuation of a resolution passed by the church in August 2012 to boycott Israeli products exported from the West Bank and east Jerusalem. This time, the UCC has specific targets and plans to dissuade Canadian businesses from selling the products of the targeted businesses. The reasoning behind these actions, the church said, is its view that Israeli settlements are the "principal obstacle to peace in the region."
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (future Pope Francis) agrees Vatican's World War II archives should be opened:
"What you [Rabbi Abraham Skorka] said about opening the archives relating to the Shoah seems perfect to me. They should open them and clarify everything. Then it can be seen if they could have done something, to what extent it could have been done, and if we were wrong in something we will be able to say: 'We were wrong in this.' We do not have to be afraid of that. The objective has to be the truth. When one starts to hide the truth, one eliminates the Bible. One believes God, but only to a point. One is not being fair. We must not forget, we are sinners and unable to stop sinning, even though it is also true that God does not want it like that; He loves us with his mercy, but if I do not recognize that I am a sinner, His mercy does not get to me, it does not reach me. We must know the truth and go to those archives."
— by Jonathan Kremer
Interfaith dialogue is often a challenge. A participant may feel a need to be "politically correct," to pull punches, or to make every effort to present their own religion in the best light possible. True dialogue enables participants to "lower the defenses, to open the doors of one's home and to offer warmth," in the words of Pope Francis, without compromising one's identity.
The book On Heaven and Earth is a collection of uncompromising dialogues between then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a community rabbi and rector of the Conservative Jewish center Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano in Buenos Aires.
The conversations between Cardinal Bergoglio and Rabbi Skorka covered a wide range of subjects, including God, religious leadership, prayer, same-sex marriage, science and Argentine political history. They agreed on much: the arrogance of the atheist and the unquestioning believer, religious leaders as teachers and guides, and the dangers of fundamentalism. They even concurred — after a charged exchange — that the Vatican must open its archives, so that lingering questions about the Church's actions during the Holocaust might be answered.
Some of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's toughest Republican critics have praised his tenure as Secretary of Defense. From Politico:
"I'm very pleased," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who during his confirmation hearing grilled Hagel on controversial remarks he made about Israel. Graham voted against Hagel but now says he's happy with the way Hagel has tackled a flurry of national security challenges in his first three months on the job.
Last week, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley announced the appointment of Roan Garcia-Quintana to her Grassroots Advisory Committee. A report from the Southern Poverty Law center showed that Garcia-Quintana had deep links to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC). CCC is designated as a nationalist hate group. After pressure from the Southern Poverty Law Center and NJDC, Governor Haley announced she was removing Garcia Quintana. Garcia-Quintana's white supremacist statements and actions have also been well documented by the Anti-Defamation League.
Foreign Relations Committee Chair Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) arrived in Israel. Upon his arrival, he published an op-ed in Ha'aretz, detailing his views and opinions on issues most prevalent to the Jewish state.
On the US-Israel Relationship, he wrote:
Some in Washington look at the challenges in the new Middle East and advocate disengagement. I strongly disagree. We cannot stand up for America's interests — or Israel's — from the sidelines. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and engage in support of our ideals, values and interests.
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