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Why Doesn’t Federation Blush Anymore?

JFNA would honor several unsavory folks, if they pass political litmus test

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Three years ago, in the midst of a large-scale rebranding and efforts to get hip with Facebook, the Jewish Federations of North America launched a national online campaign to solicit nominations for a new Jewish Community Hero award, which came with a $25,000 cash prize and a shout-out at the annual Federation convention. As one of the 2009 semifinalists enthused, “This project has only winners.”

Well, that was then. Last week, just before Yom Kippur, the organization quietly removed one of the top ten vote-getters, Cecilie Surasky, the deputy director of the provocative Bay Area group Jewish Voice for Peace, from the ranks of eligible competitors. Federation spokesman Joe Berkofsky told JTA that Surasky was deemed ineligible because of her group’s support for the Israel boycott, sanctions and divestment movement (BDS), which Federation has invested heavily in countering. JVP countered that Federation changed its eligibility rules specifically to disqualify Surasky—and pointed out that the leader board currently includes Manis Friedman at number four, and that Friedman, a Chabad rabbi from Minnesota, made news in 2009 when, in response to a question about how Jews should treat Arabs, he told Moment:

I don’t believe in Western morality, i.e., don’t kill civilians or children, don’t destroy holy sites, don’t fight during holiday seasons, don’t bomb cemeteries, don’t shoot until they shoot first because it is immoral. The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle). The first Israeli prime minister who declares that he will follow the Old Testament will finally bring peace to the Middle East.

At the time, Friedman walked his comments back, saying they were “irresponsible.” His nomination statement doesn’t mention the brouhaha, focusing instead on a blurb Bob Dylan gave Friedman’s 1990 book on kosher sex, Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore?

Meanwhile, JVP is getting its own kind of award: a concrete example of the Jewish Establishment’s willingness to upset the apple cart when it comes to left-wing groups but not right-wing ones.

Here’s the thing: we all know that Americans generally, and Jews specifically, are splintering into ever-smaller interest and affinity groups. Instead of finding a way to make the case to younger, unaffiliated Jews for sustaining a single umbrella group that can claim to represent the broad interests of American Jewry, whatever they may be, Federation has instead, and with the best of intentions, succeeded in building a terrific soapbox ready for exploitation by the best-mobilized voices out there, however marginal or objectionable they may be to the vast majority of their fellow Jews.

Just look at the current top vote-getter in the volunteer category: Leah Rubashkin, who happens to be the wife of Sholom Rubashkin, who is currently serving a 27-year federal prison term for financial fraud in the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking scandal. Rubashkin has become a cause célèbre among Orthodox Lubavitchers, who believe he was unfairly sentenced, and it seems his wife’s nomination is entirely about getting some mainstream publicity: her brief nomination statement says she is a hero for staying positive through her husband’s incarceration, and adds that “we pray with Leah for the day when she will truly rejoice alongside her husband Reb Sholom Mordechai.”

This is not a way to increase Federation’s relevance to mainstream, maybe-observant Jews under 50—the people who the Facebook contest were presumably supposed to attract in the first place. Worse, it demeans the very real and very important accomplishments of other nominees, like Randy Gold, an Atlanta father who began advocating for more thorough genetic screening of Jewish couples after his daughter was born with a preventable genetic disorder. But, never mind, Federation has an app for that, too: the final winners won’t be picked by open online voting, but by a panel of judges that includes Tablet Magazine contributor Mayim Bialik and sister-of-Facebook Randi Zuckerberg.

JFNA Bumps BDS Backer from Heroes Contest [JTA]
Jewish Community Heroes
Related: Tribal Allegiance [Tablet Magazine]

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Sing it, sister.

(And Randy Gold is a true hero — he’s someone working for a cause bigger than himself. He used personal tragedy to do a huge mitzvah for the wider world. The word “hero” has become so debased in our culture — it now seems to mean “anyone I think is awesome!” Let’s restore the original meaning.)

Once the Jewish Federations were mobilized to support Zionism and the State of Israel, the peccadilloes of Sholom Rubashkin seem quite insignificant. Manis Friedman simply articulates the true nature of Zionism and the State of Israel.

Eric F. says:

This does show that using Internet voting to decide any kind of contest is kind of useless and an invitation to trouble.

Bill Pearlman says:

Martillo, the internet neo-nazi chips in.

David Eliezrie says:

The Jewish Federations should be commended for their courage and conviction. The views of the so called Jewish Voice for Peace are radical and beyond the communal consensus. Their support of groups that seek to boycott Israel are extreme and undermine the basic belief of Israel as a Jewish homeland.

The efforts of Allison Hoffman in this piece to equate a statement taken out of context by a noted teacher and theologian Manis Friedman is disgraceful. Friedman decades of commitment to Jewish life are legendary. The distortion of the few words by the liberal Magazine Moment was a journalistic high-jacking. To even suggest that a man noted for his learning and conviction is somewhat similar to those who advocate positions that seek to undermine the legitimacy of Israel is deeply troubling. His decades of teaching, caring and compassion to others has become besmirched by one sentence uttered in hast to a reporter with an agenda and taken out of context.

JFNA has had the courage to draw an important line in the sand. There are diverse views in the Jewish community. The so called Jewish Voice for Peace that allies itself with elements that seek the undermine the very existence of Israel are outside the communal consensus. They have the right to assert their views, but the Jewish community has no obligation to include at the communal table.

Young Jews will not be turned off by JFNA positions. Those who care about Israel will respect the Federations for having the courage to take a stand, one that respects dissent, but at the same time is not willing to allow groups whose positions are radical, and support groups whose goals are will place millions of Jews at risk.

Dani ben Leb says:

JVP is a joke. And the voting structure clearly favors well organized clubs, like JVP. You could put someone up for a vote who has say, Chinese connections and their vote will blow all others out of the water.
Like MECA’s Lubin in the East Bay, JVP and their people are trying to manipulate where they can. Be it in a friggin’ children’s Museum or on something as petty as this PR move gone wrong.
When will we learn more nuance and less crap from the far left or the far right.
Of course no one from JVP will win this vote. These guys are against everything Israel and Zionism stands for.

Thank you for pointing out this hypocrisy, none of which should surprise Tablet’s readers.

Downtown Ronny says:

This is understandable But, some of us American Jews still want and need a connection and what can we do if Chabad is the only choice?

@ David Eliezrie

“Young Jews will not be turned off by JFNA positions. Those who care about Israel will respect the Federations for having the courage to take a stand, one that respects dissent, but at the same time is not willing to allow groups whose positions are radical, and support groups whose goals are will place millions of Jews at risk.”

If you expect a Democracy to thrive, you must be willing to accept an incredible unpopular opinion such as theirs. And even if their opinion is unpopular, it comes from a place of compassion. The organization’s values, and the people behind it, feel that a human rights violation is occurring, and that anything within viable political/economic means must be taken to ensure that Israel doesn’t continue to do these actions.

Most young Jews feel uncomfortable talking about Israel because most older Jews make excuses for a lot of Israel’s actions.

Myrna Sternberg says:

I am one of thousands of women whose life has been redirected by Rabbi Manis Friedman and will forever be grateful to him.
While other rabbis have been dismissive of women, he held out compassion, respect and wisdom, giving generously and kindly of his time to help people, especially women on the margins of the Jewish community.
Yes, his comments were most unfortunate. They do not, however, diminish from his lifelong track record of humility, and kindness. He is a hero to thousands. Hoffman’s article shows a judgmental, unforgiving, attitude, dare I say, because the subject of her scrutiny is a Chabad rabbi.
Kudos to the Federation for appreciating this man’s contribution to Jewish life.
Allison Hoffman should read this, and then apologize for her short-sighted, predictable article. http://lubavitch.com/news/article/2033129/Chabad-of-Cannes-Greet-Jewish-G20-Guests.html

Myrna Sternberg says:

I am one of thousands of women whose life has been redirected by Rabbi Manis Friedman and will forever be grateful to him.
While other rabbis have been dismissive of women, he held out compassion, respect and wisdom, giving generously and kindly of his time to help people, especially women on the margins of the Jewish community.
Yes, his comments were most unfortunate. They do not, however, diminish from his lifelong track record of humility, and kindness. He is a hero to thousands. Hoffman’s article shows a judgmental, unforgiving, attitude, dare I say, because the subject of her scrutiny is a Chabad rabbi.
Kudos to the Federation for appreciating this man’s contribution to Jewish life.
Allison Hoffman should read this, and then apologize for her short-sighted, predictable article. http://lubavitch.com/news/article/2033121/Reaching-Souls-Empowering-Women-Rabbi-Manis-Friedman.html

Myrna Sternberg says:

link in my first comment was a mistake.

I’ve said that least 4530659 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

2000

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Why Doesn’t Federation Blush Anymore?

JFNA would honor several unsavory folks, if they pass political litmus test

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