If you’ve read a letter to the editor correcting a false or misleading article about Israel in the newspaper, you might have seen CAMERA at work.
If you’ve attended a program featuring a panel of high-powered Middle East experts; or viewed a video detailing global attempts to delegitimize Israel; if your college student has turned to a more knowledgeable student on campus to counter anti-Israel bias there, you’ve undoubtedly come into the lens of CAMERA.
And if you live in the Chicago area and have seen CAMERA at work, you’ve seen Fern Baker at work — even if you didn’t know it.
Baker is the energetic Midwest regional director of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting. The 30-year-old national organization, with headquarters in Boston and regional offices in several other cities, monitors media of all types for biased or false reporting about Israel and seeks to educate the public about Middle East issues.
Baker explains the mission in a few succinct sentences. “We have a thread,” she says. “We deal in media, in journalism that is false or omits important facts – anything that has bias against Israel and the Middle East. We try to enlighten people.”
Actually CAMERA does much more on its way to promoting such enlightenment. On a given day, Baker, who has been on the job for 14 months, might be on the phone to Jerusalem to entice an expert to come to Chicago to speak, or planning an event in tandem with another Jewish organization, or working with a local university in hopes of placing a CAMERA “fellow” on campus – or, of course, raising funds for the organization’s work to continue.
For Baker, the job is new but the passion for Israel isn’t.
Originally from Montreal, she earned an undergraduate degree in Jewish studies and a graduate degree in Jewish education from McGill University. She also studied theater, worked for a while in Toronto, then came to Chicago to work in that business. Soon she was finding success as a professional model and appearing in commercials – “running around the country doing shoots,” as she describes it.
“I learned my best salesmanship and performance skills in the business,” she says, skills she draws on in her work with CAMERA. Eventually she went into fashion and opened her own small business. (She’s currently studying for a master’s degree in professional Jewish Studies at Spertus Institute.)
At the same time, she kept up the involvement in the Jewish world that she had begun in Canada – where, she says, more than 70 percent of the country’s Jews have visited Israel, a figure that puts the American Jewish community to shame.
She’s a longtime member of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, where her children attended day school (Baker has been married for 26 years – her husband is a general contractor – and has two sons, one in college and one who has recently graduated). She became friendly with Anshe Emet’s Rabbi Michael Siegel, a tireless booster and defender of Israel. She was involved with the Hartman Institute, a Jerusalem-based research and education institute, and served as a volunteer with AIPAC and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and eventually with CAMERA.
“I was pretty caught up in their conferences, the level of their speakers,” Baker says during a recent interview, where she arrives not only flawlessly and stylishly dressed and coiffed, but armed with some of the plentiful material – books, pamphlets, videos – that the organization puts out. “That was of particular interest to me – they brought in stars. If you look at other organizations, there aren’t too many any more that bring in really cutting-edge speakers, and the funding is part of it,” she says.
For CAMERA, she says, bringing in high-level speakers is not meant to raise money but rather to educate the public.
When the position at CAMERA, where Baker was a member, became available, “I jumped at the opportunity to apply for the job,” she says. “Many people knew of my passion for Israel and my desire to get involved, to connect. They jumped on the horn and I was hired.”
Among the strengths she brings to the position, she says: “I cross a lot of different areas. I’m a good networker and I know a lot of people. I cross over many places, I know a lot of clergy in the city and have good relationships with them, and that helps.”
After getting the job, “I rolled my sleeves up,” she says. “I have really tried this past year to do an enormous amount of events and programming – sometimes three or four a month. It’s about getting the word out there, making it an interesting social and educational experience, crossing streams. I would bring (Israeli radio and TV broadcaster) Yishai Fleisher into a Reform synagogue, trying to open up doors.”