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December 19, 2014 / 27 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘American Jewish Congress’

Jewish Leaders Praise New Pope

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Jewish leaders praised the new Pope Francis, Argentinean Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and expressed optimism for an improvement of Vatican-Jewish relations after he was elected Wednesday night to replace Pope Benedict XVI.

“We have every reason to be confident Pope Francis I will be a staunch defender of the historic Nostra Aetate, the declaration on the relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council, which forever changed the relationship of the Catholic Church and the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Bergoglio, 76, a Jesuit, was the choice of the College of Cardinals following two days of voting in Vatican City. He is the first pope to come from outside Europe in more than a millennium; reflecting the changing demographics of Catholics, he comes from Latin America.

Rabbi David Rosen, the director of interfaith affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told JTA that the new pope is a “warm and sweet and modest man” known in Buenos Aires for doing his own cooking and personally answering his phone.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio attended Rosh Hashanah services at the Bnei Tikva Slijot synagogue in September 2007.  Bergoglio told the congregation that he was there to examine his heart “like a pilgrim, together with you, my elder brothers,” according to the Catholic Zenit news agency.

After the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in 1994, he “showed solidarity with the Jewish community,” Rosen said.

In 2005, Bergoglio was the first public personality to sign a petition for justice in the AMIA bombing and was one of the signatories on a document called “85 victims, 85 signatures” as part of the bombing’s 11th anniversary. In June 2010, he visited the rebuilt AMIA building to talk with Jewish leaders.

Israel Singer, former head of the World Jewish Congress, said he spent time working with Bergoglio when the two were distributing aid to the poor in Buenos Aires in the early 2000s, part of a joint Jewish-Catholic program called Tzedaka.

“We went out to the barrios where Jews and Catholics were suffering together,” Singer told JTA. “If everyone sat in chairs with handles, he would sit in the one without. He was always looking to be more modest. He’s going to find it hard to wear all these uniforms.”

Bergoglio also wrote the forward of a book by Rabbi Sergio Bergman and referred to him as “one of my teachers.”

Last November, Bergoglio hosted a Kristallnacht memorial event at the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral with Rabbi Alejandro Avruj from the NCI-Emanuel World Masorti congregation.

He also has worked with the Latin American Jewish Congress and held meetings with Jewish youth who participate in its New Generations program.

“The Latin American Jewish Congress has had a close relationship with Jorge Bergoglio for several years,” Claudio Epelman, executive director of the Latin American Jewish Congress, told JTA. “We know his values and strengths. We have no doubt he will do a great job leading the Catholic Church.”

Today in 1934 – Brooklyn Jewish Women Help Refugees from Nazi Germany

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

SEPTEMBER 5, 1934 - Mrs. Stephen S. Wise, president of the Women’s Association of the American Jewish Congress, who has just returned from a visit to the German refugee centers in Europe, will be hostess this afternoon to 500 Brooklyn women who have pledged to support the establishment of a center in New York City for refugees from Nazi Germany.

The center, to be known as Congress House, is now being established at 50 West Sixty-eighth street, under the supervision of the Women’s Association of the American Jewish Congress.

This afternoon’s reception will take the form of a linen shower for the benefit of Congress House. Those who attend represent the Brooklyn division of the Women’s Association which has undertaken to supply all linens for the establishment. The affair is also in the nature of a preview to an invited list of guests, prior to the formal opening of Congress House later this month.

Mrs. Charles J. Turow, acting chairman of the Brooklyn Division, will lead the Brooklyn delegation. Mrs. Wise, who returned to the United States on Saturday, following a two-months trip abroad, will describe conditions among the refugees and relate the decisions of the Geneva world Jewish conference.

Congress House is designed to provide recreational, shelter and food facilities gratis for refugees from Germany. The institution is designed to ease the process of reorientation for German refugees.

Facilities for the establishment of Congress House were made available through the courtesy of the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Institute of Religion, which turned over the West Sixty-eighth street building to the Women’s Association for this purpose.

Madoff Sentencing Offers Little Solace To Victims

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009


Bernard Madoff was sentenced Monday to 150 years in jail, the maximum allowed for his crimes.


U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin during the sentencing called Madoff’s crimes “staggering.”


Madoff, 71, confessed to bilking investors of up to $65 billion in his Ponzi scheme.


Prosecutors had sought the 150-year sentence. Madoff’s lawyers had asked for leniency and a 12-year sentence.


For Belle Faber, the sentencing of Madoff felt surreal.


Television coverage of Monday’s event was being projected on a screen in the conference room of the American Jewish Congress, one of the Jewish nonprofits hit hardest by Madoff’s thievery. Faber, the organization’s development director for nearly 25 years, had retreated into her office to watch CNN by herself.


The archival footage of Madoff flickering across the screen showed the person who had sat across from Faber numerous times in the offices of AJCongress, which Madoff once served as a board member. Faber even knew Madoff’s wife, Ruth, and recently came across an old note she wrote to the Madoffs wishing them a good trip to Florida.


Still, Faber says, she doesn’t wish vengeance on Madoff, even though he bilked his victims, including Faber’s organization, out of up to $65 billion. The AJCongress lost $21 million – 90 percent of its endowment – in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, forcing the organization to lay off 25 staff members.


“I have left a legacy of shame,” Madoff said in the Manhattan courtroom before his sentencing, according to media reports. “This is something I will live in for the rest of my life.”


Madoff’s shame was little solace for some of those he hurt.


“Mr. Madoff is not going to find any sympathy from us,” said Marc Stern, acting co-executive director of AJCongress.


“There has been a 150-year sentence in the case of a 71-year-old man. It is not in practical terms very great, but in symbolic terms it is very significant.”


“It doesn’t give us our $20 million back,” Stern went on. “That is inherent in these sorts of processes. It is satisfaction mixed with the reality that it does not undo the harm that he did.”


For some charities decimated by Madoff, things will never be the same.


The Robert I. Lappin Foundation’s entire $8 million in assets was wiped out by Madoff’s scheme and was transformed by the loss.


It used to fund programs such as Youth to Israel, which sends kids from Massachusetts on free trips to Israel, out of its own once deep pockets; now the foundation must raise funds to survive.


New programs, like one that would have sent teachers to Israel, have been put on hold, according to Deborah Coltin, the foundation’s executive director.


“If I was to sum it up, justice was served. What else is there to say?” Coltin told JTA. “The Lappin Foundation has been able to pick up and move on. We haven’t been thinking about it.”


One Madoff victim, Carla Hirschhorn, who lost her entire $7 million in savings in Madoff’s scheme, called her life a “living hell.” She said her mother is now dependent on Social Security and her daughter works two jobs to pay tuition.


Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate who saw most of his fortune stolen by Madoff – and who has been stumping across the country talking about it and trying to raise money – declined to comment.


So did Yeshiva University, one of the nonprofits hit hardest by Madoff, having lost $110 million in real and imagined profits.


“It just doesn’t benefit anyone to be associated with this anymore,” said one observer close to the situation.


Faber said she often wondered if a check made out to the AJCongress was among the stack of checks for tens of millions of dollars that investigators found in Madoff’s desk after he was arrested – because maybe, just maybe, Madoff would have wanted to do right by the charities he had devastated.


Watching coverage of the trial, Faber said she felt the charity world she had known was gone.


“We will never see the kind of beneficence we have always seen in the future because of what happened,” Faber said. “He has changed the whole fabric of the Jewish community, especially when it comes to organizations like ours.” (JTA)

Difficult Questions In Polish-Jewish Dialogue

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

       Whenever I meet people, and they find out I write about Jewish life in Poland, invariably they have questions. They ask about the Jewish community that was, the Shoah, or the present situation. On the other hand, whenever I travel to Poland, I meet a certain curiosity from the local population. They ask why I don’t eat their food, can’t do certain things on Saturday, why I wear a yarmulke, and very often the topic of discussion leads to Israel and its politics. This a phenomenon that anyone going to Poland might experience either from friends before and after the trip, and from Poles throughout the country.

 

         There are many other questions that are asked on a regular basis. Then there are silent questions, not brought into the open, but thought about. People are apprehensive that, possibly, the answers might be embarrassing or very obvious. Many times the quiet questions are the hardest, and a person will get different responses depending on whom s/he asks.

 

         The Forum for Dialogue Among the Nations and the American Jewish Congress recently published a new book, entitled Difficult Questions in Polish Jewish Dialogue. The book is in question-and-answer format, with questions taken from surveys of young Poles and Jews who have visited Poland. Historians, rabbis, community leaders and people involved in Polish-Jewish relations, give the answers. Among the contributors are Wladyslaw Bartoszeski, founder of Zegota, Council for Aid to Jews, a Holocaus-era organization set up to save as many Jews as possible from the Germans, and Israel Guttman, born in Warsaw, who survived the Warsaw Ghetto and is now one of the heads of Yad Vashem.

 

         The questions from the Polish side of the coin start with, “Where did the Jews come from in Poland? How did they get there?” They also ask why the Jews did not fight the Germans in World War II. Issues regarding Israeli politics are very much on the minds of young Poles. Because much of the news media in Europe is slanted towards the Palestinians, they ask about treatment of the Arabs by Israel as human rights issues, and naively compare the situation to the Jews under the Germans.

 

         The book also asks about Jewish life in Poland today. “Is it safe to be Jewish in Poland? What about anti-Semitism? How can Jews live in a country where their ancestors were murdered?”

 

         The editors note that young American and Israeli Jews are taught history entirely differently from how the young Poles are taught. The chasm between the two narratives about the past is impossible to bridge without each side understanding the perspectives and concerns of the other.

 

         It is extremely difficult to give complete answers to all the questions, and this book should be looked at as a portal into the arena, a starting point for further exploration and dialogue, at least debate, between two peoples, whose pasts have so much in common.

 

         “Today, Poles and Jews living in Poland, under conditions of freedom and democracy, have the right to expect answers to many apparently straightforward questions about their history,” writes Professor Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, former foreign minister of Poland, in the book’s preface.

 

         David A Harris, director of the American Jewish Congress, said, “It is our earnest hope that this unique volume will contribute to enhanced understanding and thereby strengthen the foundation of friendship and shared commitment between Poland and world Jewry for generations to come.” 

 

         Difficult Questions was made possible with the support of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture; the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Memory, and Research; and the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 

         The book is available in English from AJC; in Polish from the Forum for Dialogue; and a Hebrew edition is expected later this year.

The View From Henry Siegman’s Knees

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

In this week’s Jewish Press front-page essay, Gilead Ini methodically shreds even the slightest pretense of objectivity maintained by Henry Siegman, formerly of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Jewish Congress and a prolific writer on the Middle East.

Ini focuses primarily on Siegman’s writings since the start of the Sept. 2000 intifada, but Siegman’s been remarkably consistent in his pro-Palestinian advocacy, as is immediately apparent from the following Media Monitor column which originally appeared in May 2000 and is reproduced here in its entirety:

Henry Siegman, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, is a prime exemplar of the liberal Jewish mindset that recognizes no enemies other than Jews who stand unapologetically for Jewish causes. As such he has a long history of obligingly – nay, enthusiastically – bending the knee and presenting his posterior for the paddle blows of all manner of Jew haters, an exercise in masochism he prefers to call “constructive dialogue.”

Not that this should come as a shocking revelation to informed readers. The noted attorney Alan Dershowitz, far from anybody’s idea of a right-winger, has labeled Siegman a “frequent Israel basher and apologist for leftist enemies of Israel and the Jews.”

(Dershowitz speaks from personal experience. In 1987 he filed a libel suit against Jozef Glemp, the Polish cardinal who implied that a contingent of American Jews, in Poland to protest the presence of a Carmelite convent on the grounds of Auschwitz, had intended to destroy the convent and kill the nuns inside. On the very day that Glemp was set to sign a statement of retraction, Siegman and his American Jewish Congress colleague Robert Lifton met with the cardinal – and, according to Dershowitz, criticized the Jewish protesters “for contributing to anti-Semitism in Poland.” An emboldened Glemp decided not to sign the retraction.)

And The Jerusalem Post several years ago coined the inspired term “Siegman Syndrome,” which Dershowitz describes as the actions of “unelected and unrepresentative Jewish ‘leaders’ who do considerable harm to the interests of the Jewish community by their repeated appeasement of anti-Semites and apologetic attitude about Jews who fight back.”

More recently, in 1997, on the eve of Madeleine Albright’s first trip to the Middle East as U.S. secretary of state, Siegman and a cohort of like-minded individuals signed an open letter imploring her not to focus her attention on the need to combat Palestinian terrorism. An equally urgent need, insisted Siegman and company, was for the Israelis to renew the then-stalled negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

And just a few weeks ago Siegman once again exposed himself as a serial prostrator, this time in the pages of The Jerusalem Report, the Labor Party pep sheet that masquerades as an objective newsmagazine.

In a column titled “Peace Requires More Than Treaties,” Siegman let loose the following observation, troubling from any Jewish source but chilling when delivered by someone who for years actually led a major American Jewish organization:

“The notion that Palestinians should be grateful for whatever concession Israel makes to them, even if these concessions don’t begin to amount to viable statehood – as so far they clearly do not – defines an Israeli arrogance that is the root cause of Arab hostility toward Israel [italics added].”

There you have it. “The root cause of Arab hostility” – presumably the very hostility behind all the deadly pre-state Arab rioting, the attempt to strangle the new state of Israel at birth, the ensuing decades of war, terrorism and economic and diplomatic blackmail – is, in the warped view of Henry Siegman, “Israeli arrogance,” a term perhaps not coincidentally much beloved by Arab apologists.

While conceding that “the Arab media are full of malevolent and nonsensical accusations against Israel,” Siegman insists that “Israeli treatment of Palestinians … is often shameful” and that “Arab perceptions of a consistent pattern of Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians are, unfortunately, grounded in reality.”

He concludes his lamentation by sobbing, “As long as such Israeli actions and attitudes continue, the peace process is unlikely to succeed.”

Would anyone argue the point that when it comes to anti-Israel invective, the crudest Arab propagandists writing or broadcasting from Tehran or Cairo are mere pikers compared with Henry Siegman, all too often referred to as a “Jewish leader” by those who know no better?

Zionism’s Greatest Achievement

Wednesday, April 21st, 2004

In some ways it is a depressing period in Jewish history. The American Jewish Diaspora community, or at least the non-Orthodox bulk therein, is in the process of committing cultural/national/religious suicide. Most American Jews are indifferent to their Jewishness; intermarriage is close to and may be above 50 percent; and the dominant “religion” of the American non-Orthodox Jews is the pseudo-religion of Liberalism-as-Judaism, its chief tenet being that Judaism is nothing more nor less than the political agenda of the American Left, never mind that this agenda is totally bankrupt intellectually on its own demerits.

The Reform movement, the Deconstructionist Reconstructionists and many Conservatives (as in Conservative synagogues) are simply religious liberals, with political liberalism is their dogma.

The “defense” organizations, American Jewish Congress, Bnai Brith, et al, are also largely devoted to the practice of political liberalism as pseudo-religion.

And then we have the chattering classes in Israel - the media and intelligentsia and literati – devoted to seeing Israel weakened and dismembered through the Oslo process of national suicide.

We have even the Likud, first under Netanyahu and then under Sharon, still pursuing the delusion of the “peace process,” still trying to buy Arab toleration through strategic endangerment of Israel’s existence, still thinking that just a few more concessions to the PLO
will nudge the PLO away from terror and its genocidal ambitions and move it to peaceful coexistence. In these days of frustration, I think there is one idea that we should bear in mind. And that is that the Zionist movement has many fantastic accomplishments under its belt, one of the more important of which is that Zionism forced a major change in the nature and expression of anti-Semitism.

Not that anti-Semites are really any different when they hide behind the mask of anti-Zionism. These are the same gutter bigots, the same people who refuse to acknowledge that Jews are humans, that Jews are entitled to rights and equality. But they have been forced to express their bigotry differently.

This should be obvious any time you observe the campus anti-Semites of the Left, the Arab fascists and the self-hating Jewish Uncle Toms demonstrating against Israel.

For centuries, the slogans of the anti-Semites were that Jews were racially inferior, intellectually inferior, cowards, money-grubbers, killers of God, sub-humans. But observe the main slogan of anti-Semites today: The Jews are mean. They are mean to the poor Palestinians.

Ooooh, soooo mean.

What a marvelous transformation! The main calumny thrown at the Jews is that they are bullies, meanies. What greater accomplishment of Zionism could be imagined?

Of course, this does not mean that the anti-Semites really think that the Jews are mean or cruel to the Palestinians. The anti-Zionists do not give a damn about the Palestinians, and the last
thing they care about is Arab human rights. This is why they have absolutely nothing to say about

the treatment of Arabs in Arab countries or by the Palestinian Authority’s Gestapo.

When Saddam Hussein ordered Kuwaiti civilians to be forced to drink gasoline and then had his troops shoot into their bellies to make them explode (to the cheers and laughs of his storm troopers) there was not a single anti-Zionist who expressed disapproval or concern. The anti-Zionists know perfectly well that Arabs are treated a thousand times better in Israel (and this would be so even if one were to believe all their accusations and allegations of mistreatment)
than are Arabs in Arab countries.

The anti-Semites lament supposed Israeli mistreatment of the poor Palestinians because they think this is an effective way to delegitimize and undermine the existence of Israel. In other words, they are motivated by hatred of Jews and not by any compassion for Palestinians. They seek to see Israel destroyed, not the Palestinians enfranchised, or rather their only interest in Palestinian enfranchisement is as a tool to endanger Israel’s existence. Of the enormous territories of the Middle East, larger than the United States, the only place where they suddenly are concerned for the welfare and civil rights of Arabs is in Israel. The other Arabs, as far as they’re concerned, can go to hell.

And if they can accuse Israel of violating these civil rights (never mind that 90 percent of their accusations are invented) then they can pretend to be compassionate and interested in peace, not gutter bigots who hate Jews.

The anti-Semites have lost their ability to march about and accuse the Jews of ritual murders and similar medieval libels (at least outside the Arab media). Such things would make them laughable in the West. No one outside the Arab world takes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as anything other than an embarrassment for anti-Zionists. So they have seized onto a new propaganda tactic, complaining that the Jews are oh, so mean and cruel – and bullies to boot.

At long last – after two millennia of exile – to be accused of being bullies! To leave the anti-Semites with no more effective weapon than heaping invective upon the mean Jews. For this one must say a blessing of thanksgiving, a shecheyanu. And often.

It is Zionism’s greatest achievement.

Steven Plaut is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at steven_plaut@yahoo.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/zionisms-greatest-achievement/2004/04/21/

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