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Today on Tablet

Unbuilt synagogues, a gay-friendly Orthodox rabbi, and more

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On Tablet Magazine today, Diana Muir Appelbaum takes a look at grand plans for 1920s synagogues, left unfulfilled thanks to the 1929 stock-market crash. James Kirchick profiles Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, the gay-friendly Orthodox clergyman in Washington, D.C. Contributing editor Eddy Portnoy considers the gruesome 1871 death of a young girl at the hands of a immigrant from Plotsk masquerading as a doctor. And art critic Jeannie Rosenfeld examines the work of artist Ron Arad, the subject of a retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. There will be more throughout the day, plus regular updates here on The Scroll.

Daybreak: Madoff Charities Face Further Trouble

Passport stamps, tales of two birthrights, and more in the news

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• Charities that lost money to Bernard Madoff could be subject to “clawback,” under which they will be required to return money they withdrew from their accounts with the financier even before his fraud became apparent. [Forward]
• The United States sharply criticized Israel’s practice of frequently not permitting tourists who enter the Palestinian territories to return to Israel or board flights at Ben-Gurion Airport. [JPost]
• The Taglit-Birthright Israel program hired a U.S. PR firm that has represented Girls Gone Wild and Fannie Mae, as well as several groups with right-wing views on Israel. [Forward]
• Meanwhile, the “Birthright Replugged” program, which is funded in part by the Carter Center, takes Palestinian children into Israel on tours of their ancestors’ old villages. [Haaretz]
• Israeli Arabs’ death rate is 1.5 times that of Israeli Jews, with cardiovascular disease a particularly disproportionate killer. [JPost]

Sundown: The Loneliest Congregant

‘Six Feet Under’ is in, day school’s out, and kashrut’s on the rise

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• A synagogue in Maryland canceled High Holiday services because it’s down to one remaining member. “Most of our funds are donations (in memory) of people who have died. When that’s your biggest fundraiser, that’s not a good thing,” he says. [AP]
• As the cost of sending kids to Jewish day school grows, a drop in enrollment could be “an important wake-up call” about the “culture of affluence that somehow got tangled up with American Jewish identity.” [Jewish Week]
• The rabbi of the ultra-Orthodox Lithuanian community in Israel cautions not to visit Jerusalem’s Western Wall on the Sabbath, when security cameras there violate the law against using electricity. [Ynet]
• But while the Kotel may be compromising its kashrut, supermarkets in Moscow are increasingly carrying kosher products. [FJC]
• A writer explains how a class on Judaism, death, and HBO’s Six Feet Under changed her perception of television as an “ethical wasteland.” [Forward]

Don Hewitt on His Judaism

The ‘60 Minutes’ creator died today at 86. For the book ‘Stars of David,’ he talked about his religion.

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Hewitt and his wife, Marilyn Berger, at CBS’s 75th anniversary celebration in 2003.(Matthew Peyton/Getty Images)

To work for 60 Minutes creator and executive producer Don Hewitt, which I did for six years as a producer, was to work alongside an inimitable character who seemed quintessentially Jewish. Don’s manic energy—his hopping up and down about stories that grabbed him, his undisguised dismay at stories that didn’t, the way he’d yell “Hi honey!” when he charged by you, or repeat the same joke he’d heard to every person he encountered in the hallway, the way he’d exhort you to get an interview or give you a wink when you “did good”; his Brooklyn lilt, his histrionics, his dated fashion sense, his unflashy routine—made him feel familial to me despite his eminence within CBS. He was a cheerleading but demanding Jewish uncle.

But in the strict sense, Don couldn’t have been less of a Jew. He observed no holidays (one could always find him at work on Yom Kippur), and he demonstrated zero emotional connection to Jewish identity. “I’ve always felt more American than Jewish,” he says, sitting behind his desk in his trademark camel turtleneck, snug tweed blazer—handkerchief peeking from the pocket. “Let me put it this way: Am I proud to be Jewish? Not particularly Am I happy to be Jewish? Yes! Because I think somewhere somehow it gave me the impetus to be ambitious. I’m proud of what I did at 60 Minutes, but I’m not proud of being Jewish. I’m happy about it. I think being Jewish is nifty. And mostly I’m Jewish by temperament” What does he mean by that? (I have my own ideas.) “I like Jewish food, I like Jewish humor, I like Jewish people. But I’m more at home with nonbelieving anybody; including nonbelieving Jews. I’ve always taken to the nonbelievers”

He grew up in New Rochelle, the child of Frieda, a German Jew, and Ely, a Russian Jew. “I stayed home from school Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but at Christmas I got Christmas presents. I was confirmed at a Reform temple called Temple Israel mostly because that was the social thing to do in that town.”

He goes on: “My grandfather changed his name from Hurwitz to Hewitt long before I was born. In fact, we used to kid around in the family because they said my grandfather wanted to change his name to Hurley, which is Irish. My aunt tells this great story of being at my confirmation with all the kids’ names printed in the program, and overhearing one woman say, ‘Donald Shepherd Hewitt? How did he get in here?’”

Does he think he brings any of his Jewishness to his news judgment? “Yeah, but not consciously. I think what I bring Jewish is called seckel [a Yiddishism for “brains, savvy”]. Jews have got seckel. I think that’s what I bring.”

Hewitt’s Jewish credentials were harshly called into question when 60 Minutes did several stories in the seventies and eighties that were perceived as overly sympathetic to the Arab point of view. There was a deluge of protest in 1975, for example, when Mike Wallace reported that Syrian Jews weren’t as oppressed as had been previously believed. The criticism from some in the Jewish community culminated in Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, then president of the American Jewish Congress, requesting a face-to-face meeting with Hewitt and Wallace in their CBS offices. Hewitt says Hertzberg went after him subtly but personally. “The son of a bitch,” Hewitt recalls, “he came over here to see me and he sat in my office and he said, ‘Hewitt… Hewitt…; there’s got to be a Horowitz under there somewhere.’” Hewitt smiles. “I said to myself, ‘You son of a bitch; you come here for a peace meeting and you make trouble.’

“Now the other hysteria was when we did the Temple Mount massacre.” He’s referring to Wallace’s 1990 story recounting the killing and wounding of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers at Jerusalem’s sacred Temple Mount. The Anti-Defamation League was up in arms, charging that the broadcast “failed to meet acceptable journalistic standards” and that Wallace “gave the false impression that Israel is engaged in a deliberate coverup.” Then-CBS president Larry Tisch, a prominent Jewish figure in New York society, got involved. “Larry went ape about this story,” Hewitt says. “I was portrayed as a self-hating Jew and I said to him, ‘You’ve never met a more self-loving Jew in your life! I don’t hate myself! Secondly, if I did, it would not be because I was Jewish.’” But the personal attacks clearly left their mark. “I remembered that for a long time,” Hewitt says.

Another snub: “I went to a party once at Werner LeRoy’s [the flamboyant restaurateur], and I got attacked by Mort Zuckerman [real estate and publishing magnate] and Barbara Walters, who said, ‘How could you do that story at this terrible time in Israel’s history?’ And I said, ‘How about the stories we did at the terrible time in America’s history in Vietnam? Were you worried about that?’ I was shocked. And I said, ‘I get accused of being a self-hating Jew because I’m critical of Menachem Begin. Nobody ever called me a self-hating American because I was critical of Richard Nixon.’ There’s a thing about Jewishness….” He trails off. “Right now the Jews are too big and too smart to cave in to this feeling that we are victims in the Middle East. They’re not really victims in the Middle East.”

Hewitt heralds the fact that Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, ultimately wrote him a letter apologizing for the ADL’s outcry over the Temple Mount story. “He said—I’m just paraphrasing here—‘Now the verdict is in: It looks like it happened a lot closer to the way you guys said it happened than the government said it happened, and we owe you an apology and I invite you to use this letter any way you want.’”

Hewitt is even prouder of another letter—one that used to sit framed on his office bookshelf. “It’s wrapped up somewhere—I can’t find it,” Hewitt apologizes as he hastily leafs through his memoir, Tell Me a Story: Fifty Years and 60 Minutes in Television, looking for the place where he quotes the letter, sent in honor of his seventieth birthday. Hewitt reads part of it aloud, in a hushed tone. It’s perhaps his most compelling piece of evidence that he wasn’t such a skimpy Jew after all:

“… As you know, your program is critically acclaimed throughout the world and is held in high esteem by many of us in Israel. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my personal gratitude to you for dedicating one of your 60 Minutes segments— the tragic story of our Israeli Air Force navigator, Ron Arad. Both as a Jew and a human being, I was touched by your coverage of his plight. I am deeply grateful to you and 60 Minutes for all your efforts. As you enter your 25th year at 60 Minutes, I wish you the best of luck and continued success in the future. Sincerely, Yitzhak Rabin; Prime Minister of Israel.”

Hewitt reads the signature with solemnity. “That letter is one of the proudest things I’ve got,” he says. “I think the terrorist who did the most harm in this world—more than Al Qaeda—was the Jewish terrorist who killed Rabin.”

More on Israel: “I always admired Israelis. They were the gunslingers. They were great! Before it was politically incorrect to think about it that way, it was like the cowboys and Indians—Israel were the cowboys and the Arabs were the Indians and it was simplistic; I never knew anybody who rooted for the Indians. I always thought the Israelis were arrogant as hell, but I admired them. But I never understood why the smartest people on earth plunked themselves down in the most hostile place on earth. They could have found a better place. They could have gone to Madagascar or something. But they say, ‘It’s the land that God gave them.’ Who the heck knows what God gave anybody?! How do they know that? I think it would be a big loss to civilization if Israel disappeared. I just wish they’d get off all this jazz about ‘God gave us this land’; God didn’t give you the land—you took the land and you made it great! And I love you for doing that, but don’t tell me that God gave you this land and he doesn’t want anybody else here.

“I’ll tell you my favorite phone call: One time, a woman called after we aired a story on Israel. And she said, ‘I’m getting sick and tired of you people.’ I said, ‘Okay lady, what now?’ She said, ‘You’re all pro-Israel, and you’re all a bunch of kikes.’ I said, ‘On your first point, you couldn’t be more wrong; on your second point, you could be right.’ And I hung up on her.”

Excerpted from Stars of David by Abigail Pogrebin. Copyright 2005 by Abigail Pogrebin. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Jacob Two-Two

Makes a comeback, courtesy of another Canadian

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Though he’s been dead for eight years, Canadian writer Mordecai Richler is coming back to life—sort of—this fall. Jacob Two-Two on the High Seas, the fourth installment in Richler’s wildly successful kids’ series about a boy who has to repeat himself in order to be heard above the din of his large family, hits bookstores in September. The catch? Richler didn’t write it. Novelist Cary Fagan did.

According to Publishers Weekly, Richler, the author of such adult classics as The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, started thinking about a fourth adventure in the series before he fell ill in 2001 (his initial idea for the fourth book, revolving around a stolen Stanley Cup, was nixed for its unlikely appeal beyond hockey-mad Canada). After his death, his family told his publisher, Tundra, they wanted the series to continue and Tundra set out to find a suitable writer. Fagan, who similarly writes fiction for adults and children said at first he “was a bit flabbergasted by the proposal, and unnerved and excited.… Richler is, in Canada, a very big figure. And for a writer who is Jewish, like me, he looms even larger.”

Meantime, filming has begun on an adaptation of Barney’s Version, Richler’s final novel, about a man with Alzheimer’s; it stars Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman.

Jacob Two-Two Returns [PW]

Evidence of Iran Nuclear Program?

ElBaradei has it but is hiding it, sources tell ‘Haaretz’

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Is the International Atomic Energy Agency hiding evidence of Iran’s nuclear weapons project? According to “senior Western diplomats and Israeli officials” who spoke to Haaretz, the answer is yes. The sources told Haaretz that IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei was the one concealing the goods, withholding information compiled from data his inspectors collected in the field. ElBaradei denies being in possession of any such evidence but that hasn’t stopped the United States, France, Britain, Germany and Israel from pressuring him to release it in a much-anticipated IAEA report due next month.

ElBaradei, a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner, is vacating his position this November, and the Israelis are hoping that his replacement, Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano, will be more forthcoming about how far along Iran’s nuclear program is. The IAEA has in the past referred Iran to the United Nations Security Council for being in breach of various regulations governing uranium enrichment, something Iran officially claims it’s doing for “peaceful” energy-producing purposes.

Sources: UN watchdog hiding evidence on Iran nuclear program [Haaretz]

‘Forward’ Spikes Israelis-as-Chimps Cartoon

Gawker runs it, instead

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A frame from the spike comic.(Gawker.com)

The Forward lets cartoonist Eli Valley get away with a lot in his monthly comic, but the paper’s editor killed his latest contribution, which Gawker instead published yesterday afternoon. It’s got a lot of chutzpah: in its universe, Israelis are portrayed as chimpanzees whose lexicons are limited to “voonga!” and who pick fights with neighboring chimp tribes. The American Jews here are homo sapiens, but the young are taught by their elders that “chimpanzees are your more highly evolved brothers,” that “you should always consider whether your thoughts and words reflect well on the nation of chimpanzees,” and that “the neighboring tribe is chimpanzees who eat brains! Our chimpanzees don’t eat brains!” In the last panel, which takes place “several generations” in the future, American Jewish youth have become chimpanzees themselves.

“If you look at my comics outside the context of what they’re making fun of they might seem even more outrageous, but if you’re familiar with the Jewish community and what I’m making fun of, it’s actually not that great a leap,” Valley told Tablet. He declined to comment on why the Forward killed the comic; Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner said she had no time to speak because of the paper’s impending deadline. So, for now, the answer to why a Jewish newspaper refused to run a comic in which Israelis are depicted as non-brain-eating primates must remain a mystery.

Dawn of the Chimpanzee! (Relax Folks, They’re Just a Metaphor) [Gawker]

Today on Tablet

Cultural dissonance, musical fusion, identity crises, and a look back at tragedy

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Liel Leibovitz marvels at the different way G.I. Joe was presented to Israeli kids. Hadara Graubart talks to Afro-Cuban jazz maestro Arturo O’Farrill about the re-release of an album fusing Yiddish songs with Latin dance melodies. Seth Lipsky takes a look back at the massacre of Jews in Hebron in 1929. Ze’ev Avrahami investigates the questionable Jewish roots of a rabbi and community leader in Hamburg, Germany. And much more, as always, on this, Tablet’s blog, The Scroll.

Barney Frank Swats Down Questioner

For comparing Obama’s health-care plans to Nazis

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Frank arriving at last night’s town hall.(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

There are many reasons we love Barney Frank, the charmingly disheveled, wittily brilliant, gay, Jewish Democrat who represents Boston’s ritzy suburbs in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the latest is this: At a town hall meeting in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, last night, he provided an object lesson in how politicians should react when confronted by nutso constituents making lunatic Nazi comparisons about President Obama’s health-care reform proposals. “Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy?” asked his normal-appearing but apparently deranged interlocutor. His response, if you haven’t already seen or read it:

When you ask me that question, I am going to revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time? … You stand there with a picture of the president defaced to look like Hitler, and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis. My answer to you is, as I said before, it is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated. Ma’am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining-room table; I have no interest in doing it.

Are you listening, Arlen Specter? (Yeah, OK, granted it’s easier to be contemptuously dismissive of your wingnut constituents when you haven’t faced serious—if any—opposition in a quarter-century and won your last election 68 percent. But still.)

Rep. Barney Frank Slames Women Comparing Obama To Hitler At Town Hall [YouTube]
Barney Frank Goes Toe to Toe at Health Care Town Hall [CNN]

Eli Roth Excels at Propaganda

If the ‘Inglourious Basterds’ star may say so himself

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Roth at an Inglourious Basterds premiere in New York.(Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Eli Roth, the filmmaker behind the Hostel franchise, spoke to The Onion’s A.V. Club about his role in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Inglourious Basterds—as The Bear Jew, an American Nazi-killer—and about directing the film-within-the-film, called Nation’s Pride, a recreation of Nazi propaganda. Although he acts with “murderous rage,” smashing people’s heads in with baseball bats, says Roth of The Bear, “he’s not someone who would do that to anyone other than the Nazis. He’s not a bully.” More like a vigilante: “He can’t take it that all these Jews are being murdered, and no one’s doing anything about it. It took a long time for the U.S. to get involved in the war, and it drove him crazy that Jews were being exterminated, and no one was fighting it.”

In a way, creating Nation’s Pride, the faux-propaganda mini-film, offered Roth his own chance at renegade justice. He says of Tarantino, “it was perfect that he had the Jewish guy do it, because I knew that the more authentic the movie was, the more ridiculous it would make Hitler and Goebbels look. So I was saying, ‘More swastikas, more swastikas.’” And while he wasn’t quite prepared for the feeling he would get after having birthed such a monstrosity (“the first time we showed it to the audience with 300 extras, when they started screaming ‘Heil Hitler’ and ‘Kill the Jews,’ my stomach turned”), like the horror-directing pro he is, Roth quickly assuaged his nausea with self-congratulation: “You know what? I would have been a great Nazi propaganda filmmaker.”

Eli Roth [A.V. Club]
Previously: You Basterds!

Daybreak: Satisfaction

Give and take on the settlements, the Swedish thing, and more from the news

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• Between his meeting with Egyptian President Mubarak and Israel’s gestures toward a settlement freeze, President Obama sees “movement in the right direction” in the Middle East. [NYT]
• Israelis agree, but for the opposite reason; P.M. Bejamin Netanyahu has garnered support for his refusal to fully go along with Obama’s demands. [WPost]
• Meanwhile, the continuing evacuation of illegal outposts in the West Bank poses a problem for the IDF, as many soldiers have personal or family connections to settlers there. [Haaretz]
• The Swedish journalist who accused Israeli soldiers of harvesting Palestinians’ organs has “no clue” if the story’s true; although the Swedish Embassy has denounced the article, the incident has sparked tensions between the two nations. [JPost]

Sundown: Organs of State

Spanish banned, Oz in Italy, and fruit of the vine

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• A Swedish newspaper accused Israeli soldiers of killing Palestinians in order to harvest their organs; condemnation of this “blood libel” was swift to come from a rival paper and the Israeli Foreign Ministry. [Haaretz]
• In a somewhat brighter story about organs and Israel, an American teenager visiting the country was struck by Wilson’s Disease, a rare genetic disorder that left her desperate for a liver transplant within days. She was flown back to the States, received a new organ, and is doing well. [NYT]
• A fitness instructor in Arizona says she was fired from the local JCC after being reprimanded for speaking Spanish to her clients and told by her boss “the only reason persons of Puerto Rican heritage come to the mainland is to get food stamps and beer.” [Courthouse News Service]
• Israeli wine is making an international splash, proving, says one critic, “there is no contradiction between wines that are kosher and wines that are excellent,” and perhaps helping to dispel the myth that people actually drink Manischewitz. [Reuters]
• Writer Amos Oz is in Italy working on a libretto based on his poetic novel The Same Sea. [JTA]
• Robert Novak—conservative commentator, critic of Israel, and Jew-turned-Catholic—has died of a brain tumor at age 78. [NYT]

‘It’s a Hasidic World’?

‘Haaretz’ writer visits schmaltzy Disney ride, is flummoxed

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Disney’s Israelis.(YourFavoriteMartian’s Flickr)

Haaretz writer Alex Sinclair recently took a fun family trip to Florida’s Walt Disney World—and wound up flummoxed by the representation of Israelis on the “It’s a Small World” ride. Like the dolls representing every other country—Brits get Beefeateers; the Italians gondoliers—the ride’s animatronic singing Israelis are represented with childish but not really offensive caricatures. Except that Israelis are portrayed by a Hasidic bride and groom, which, while recognizably Jewish, aren’t so much representatively Israeli. Sinclar is unamused. “While not every Briton dresses like a Beefeater, not every Italian rides a gondola, and not every Japanese wears a kimono, the activities and costumes of these dolls would probably be seen by Brits, Italians, and Japanese, as an agreeable and consensual symbol of their country,” he says, while “the Jewish dolls represent a highly specific demographic sector that is neither reflective of, nor seen as symbolically representative by, the national collective.” But Sinclair also sees the Disney Imagineers’ trouble: he can’t even think of what a proper costume would be for an Israeli doll. (He proposes, and dismisses, the idea of an IDF soldier as “depressing and pathetic.”) It all brings up an interesting point: Israel’s just too young to be quaint. Its entire history is new enough and unsettled enough to count as contemporary politics. But who knows: if Israel and Disney World are both still around in 200 years, maybe IDF soldiers will seem as quaint as Beefeaters.

‘It’s a Small World’ and the Jewish Problem [Haaretz]

Play It Again, Len

Israel begs Cohen to add one more show

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Cohen at Coachella in April.(Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Israel’s ongoing PR effort, always an embattled enterprise, found a new platform in Leonard Cohen. After his September 24 concert in Tel Aviv sold out in a matter of hours, and after his planned show in Ramallah was cancelled by Palestinian officials objecting to his stop in the Jewish state, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism approached the aging singer with an offer he’s likely to refuse: play one more show, in Nazareth, for Jewish and Arab audiences together.

Citing Cohen’s commitment to donate proceeds of his shows to victims of violence in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Noaz Bar Nir, the ministry’s director-general, called on Cohen to schedule a second gig in Israel and play Jesus’s hometown. Such a concert, he added, would “attract a large and varied audience from all the sectors of Israeli society, as well as tourists, who, together, can listen to moving music, enjoy the beauty of nature that surrounds the amphitheater and can realize the concert slogan” of peace and reconciliation. To which we say: Hallelujah.

Tourism Ministry Chief Urges Leonard Cohen to Perform in Nazareth [JPost]

J-Street Adopts MoveOn Strategy

To be more like AIPAC

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Nearly every David since the actual David has professed, usually loudly, to relish the challenge of playing the scrappy underdog. But, in truth, most Davids secretlyjust want to be a Goliath. To wit: J-Street, the dovish political-action group founded in 2008 to challenge the behemoth American Israel Political Action Committee announced this morning that they intend to invest about $600,000 in launching a field operation that they hope might rival AIPAC’s regional network of “citizen advocates.

Jeremy Ben Ami, J-Street’s executive director, told Tablet that the idea is to apply the strategies developed by liberal activist groups like MoveOn.org and Democracy for America to organize online supporters for real-world campaigns—letter-writing, meetings with local officials, teach-ins—on behalf of President Obama’s peace efforts in the Middle East. “I think we have two years for Obama to do this”—come up with a workable Middle East peace plan—“so this window over the next couple of years is essential,” Ben Ami said. “This is really a campaign atmosphere.” He said J-Street, which has doubled its budget in the last year to $3 million, intends to spend hire a national field director and some local staff to get the program up and running by next March. The lobbying group is also exploring a partnership with the grassroots group Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, which already has chapters affiliated with local JCRCs around the country, though that group’s president, Steve Masters, said it’s still too early to say exactly how they plan to work together. “I have no idea what this will look like,” he acknowledged.

J Street
Brit Tzedek v’Shalom

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