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Why Rabbis and Shuls Shouldn’t “Get Political”

politics

There’s a relatively new trend in American society that I think is doing us great harm. Everything is becoming political.

We’ve seen it with Nike weighing in on the kneeling debate, Grubhub’s CEO telling his employees that Trump voters should resign, [solidcore]’s owner speaking out about Ivanka Trump, restaurants refusing to serve various politicians, and more. Companies and groups whose missions have absolutely nothing to do with politics are increasingly beginning to publicly endorse (or reject) political parties and candidates. These actions are accelerating the already brutal polarization in this country by denying people respite from politics and the daily dysfunction in Washington. There is, however, one place that I strongly feel should remain apolitical and sacred (pun-intended): synagogue.

Don’t Get Political

What do I mean by “get political”? Increasingly, I’ve noticed a pattern in which rabbis will reference and implicitly endorse or reject certain political candidates, or disparagingly reference a political party using sweeping generalization. Before the 2016 election, some rabbis even had the gall to say “and that’s why it’s so important that we go to the polls to ensure that [x] candidate is elected!” Worse yet, I know a number of people who – in the fallout from the 2016 election – argued that their shul shouldn’t allow members of certain political parties or supporters of certain candidates to even attend the shul.

This, to me, is a complete and utter catastrophe, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, our country is currently bitterly divided across a variety of lines, arguably more so than at any time since the Civil War. Intentionally fracturing ourselves further – not just by denomination, but additionally by political affiliation – is a truly awful idea. Shul should be, and indeed needs to be, a place where Jews can come together and pray, regardless of how they look, where they come from, or who they vote for.

In addition, rabbis are, in many ways, the original teachers and therapists. As any good teacher knows, you’re supposed to teach your students how to think, not what to think. Explicitly telling congregants who to vote for or what policies to endorse completely flies in the face of this basic principle. Relatedly, how could any congregant feel comfortable seeking religious or personal advice from a rabbi who consistently bashes their party or views? This type of proselytization is very likely to unnecessarily alienate certain members of the congregation.

Finally, synagogues have the potential to serve as one of the few places where people of differing ideologies can still come together and engage in productive discussions around important issues. In today’s society, there are precious few opportunities for us to actually do this; debates and discussions – whether they take place in person or on social media – quickly turn to vitriol and ad hominems, instead of respectful dialogue. It would truly be a shame for synagogues to squander such potential by further atomizing themselves in an already tiny and heterogeneous community.

The Counterpoints

I know that this is not a popular argument, especially among my age group. Therefore, I want to take a moment to address some potential objections:

Some people will undoubtedly make the seemingly-reasonable argument that “if 90% of a shul votes a certain way or belongs to a certain party, doesn’t the rabbi have not only a right, but in fact a responsibility to cater to their stances and views?” While this seems logical on the surface, the answer is a resounding “no”. Jews have always been the “stranger in a strange land.” Even in this country today – which arguably offers the most tolerant environment for Jews in history outside the state of Israel – Jews comprise less than 2% of the population. We know what it’s like to be the minority in the room, the country, and the world. It would show a remarkable lack of self-awareness to submit the minorities in our own community to that same treatment.

Worse yet, some people might actually believe that their rabbis hold the Objective Right Answer to various moral and political questions, giving that rabbi license to pontificate. It would take immense hubris and shortsightedness to believe that there are objective Jewish “right answers” to most modern elections and policy issues. Part of what makes Judaism unique from most other religions is that Jews have been arguing about the meaning of the Torah and how best to apply it to their everyday lives for centuries. There’s a rich history in Judaism of chavruta study – being paired with someone with whom you disagree on almost every issue. This is done not to torment people, but because any question with a clear and easy answer isn’t really worth discussing. Important issues, especially political ones, are almost never clear-cut, and to believe the opposite shows a genuine lack of nuance and historical perspective.

Finally, some might argue that it is a rabbi’s prerogative to discuss and endorse whatever they want; if you don’t like it, you can find another shul. While rabbis should indeed enjoy wide leeway in what they discuss in their drashes (speeches), this is a remarkably cold and unwelcoming stance to take. Of course rabbis will inevitably infuse their own views on Judaism and society into their speeches; that is what gives each drash its unique flavor. If you strongly disagree with a rabbi or shul’s approach to Judaism, it may indeed make sense for you to think about switching to another one. But I fear the day when congregants will have to additionally weigh the politics of the shul, even if they agree with the shul’s approach to Judaism itself. This is particularly problematic in more rural areas, where shuls don’t grow on trees. It is profoundly unfair to the members of those communities to add yet another barrier to attending.

The Better Approach

What, then, should shuls and rabbis preach? Am I arguing that they should create a moratorium on discussing politics and current events? Absolutely not. Some of the best drashes I can remember discussed modern issues from a Jewish perspective, which is part of what made them fascinating and relevant. The crux of the issue – which is admittedly a fine line to walk – is that rabbis should teach the principles, history, and ethics of Judaism, without explicitly telling congregants what to do (or – in this case – how to vote).

As educators, rabbis should follow the etymological and historical traditions of the word “education” itself. Education comes from the Latin ducere (to lead) and ex (out), because the idea of education is to help lead out the thoughtfulness and creativity that students are capable of. This is exactly what rabbis should be aiming to do for their congregants: they should provide a solid grounding in the Jewish tradition and Jewish ethics, but allow their congregants to use that background to interpret the choices and dilemmas that their personal lives will inevitably bring. They should lay out the ingredients, but not “bake the cake,” so to speak. If rabbis can do this, they can create a more productive, inclusive environment for people of various ideological backgrounds, one that can serve as an example to the rest of the country and the world. Jews lead the country and the world in so many respects. I would love to see us start doing so in the realm of political tolerance.

————

eliAbout the Author: Eli  Feldman is the Research Associate to the President at The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-partisan non-profit that defends student and faculty rights on college campuses. Eli graduated from Yale in 2016 with a degree in psychology.  Eli is an alumni of GatherDC’s Open Doors Fellowship, from which he launched the Jewish Monthly Article Club (JMAC), a club for Jewish 20s/30s to discuss articles about a range of important topics. He is passionate about sports, music, coding, politics, free speech, Marvel movies, and tech.

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Alexa: Jewish Committeewoman of the Week!

Want to nominate your amazing Jewish friend to be featured on GatherDC? Send his/her name, brief blurb, and contact info to info@gatherdc.org.

 

alexa

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Alexa: I came to DC for college at GW. After college, I knew there would be a lot of opportunities to get politically involved, and many of my friends were staying here. I love that DC is a melting pot of so many people from around the country.

Allie: How did you meet your husband, Josh?

Alexa: We met our freshman year of college at GW and he became one of my closest friends at college. Then, we went on an Israel trip together with Meor. Three years later he asked me out on a date to Vapiano. I didn’t realize it was a date, though, and just thought we were hanging out as friends – so it was a failed attempt. He asked me out again and made dinner in his dorm room. Five years later he proposed back at Vapiano!

Allie: If you could choose only 3 DC restaurants to eat at for the rest of your life, what would you pick?

Alexa: 1) BLT Steak – their popovers are the exclusive reason why we go there. 2) Le Diplomate – they have the best bread baskets. 3) Momiji for sushi. Also, Josh and I got engaged at Vapiano at Chinatown – so I have to add that.

Allie: Do you have a favorite Jewish food?

Alexa: You can’t go wrong with a solid brisket. My grandpa makes the best brisket. His recipe has been passed on to my dad who now in turn makes the best brisket.

Allie: Who is the coolest Jew you know?

Alexa: I don’t know RBG, but I’ll say her because she’s a bad***. She’s one of the most influential, yet respected and strongest women I know. That woman can do 20 push ups in her mid 80s! The coolest Jew I actually know is my dog George. He recently converted to Judaism. We’re giving him a bark-mitzvah soon. There’s no one who enjoys Jewish culture as much as he does.

Allie: Describe your perfect day in DC.

Alexa: I’d get up, take George (my dog) to the Shaw Dog Park with his dog best friend. I’d grab brunch somewhere on 14th street, and then try to explore a part of the city that I’ve never had the chance to explore –  like The Wharf. I’d probably go kayaking and grab an outdoor concert at night. Somewhere in there I would need to go boxing.

Oh, and Josh would come with me the whole way.

Allie: Boxing sounds awesome! How did you get into that?

Alexa: I started boxing when I was trying to get “wedding ready” last year. I love it. It’s such a great stress reliever.

Allie: I hear you recently ran for and got elected to public office! Tell me about that.

Alexa: Since I was a little kid, I’ve always had an interest in social justice. Growing up, I didn’t know what I wanted to be or do, but I knew I wanted to work to make a positive impact and channel my passion for social justice.

Many years later, I started volunteering on local campaigns. Once I had an understanding of some of the pressing issues going on at the local level, I decided to run for a local position so I could be a part of the change I want to see. I ran for re-election for a city position this year (Committeewoman to the DC Democratic State Committee) because so much is happening with our administration that cannot be ignored. To me, especially as a Latino millennial woman, it’s hard to sit back and watch events unfold without being a part of the change.

alexaAllie: Tell me about your Latino heritage.

Alexa: My mother is from Argentina, born and raised. My grandparents helped raise us and they don’t speak English, so much of the time our house was a Spanish speaking home. My mom always wanted to make sure we have an attachment to our Argentinian heritage.

Allie: What motivates you to keep pursuing your dreams in politics amongst today’s crazy political climate?

Alexa: My grandparents and Josh’s grandfather are Holocaust survivors. They have seen the worst, and – because of this – they have instilled in me the value to take action when I see something going wrong. Also, my parents are the two hardest workers I know. They teach me that you can always do more, and to never fall to the bystander effect. My mom went through medical school with three babies in a language that was not her first. It also helps when your husband is the best cheerleader you can have.

Allie: What’s your favorite quote?

Alexa: You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Even though it’s a cliche, I love it because it’s true – if you don’t try, then you can’t succeed. Don’t let people distract you from your goals.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Alexa: They deck the halls with matzo balls.

alexa josh

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Jewish Politician of the Week: Andrew!

Want to nominate your amazing Jewish friend to be featured on GatherDC? Send his/her name, brief blurb, and contact info to info@gatherdc.org.

Get to know Mr. Andrew Friedson, AKA: beloved Uncle Drew, diehard Caps fan, DC-area native, and future county council member? Only the votes will tell.

andrew friedson

Allie: Is this the first time you’ve run for political office?

Andrew: If you don’t count student government! I was SGA Treasurer, Vice President and then President of Hoover Middle School, and then student body president of Churchill High School and University of Maryland.

Allie: Where does your passion for politics come from?

Andrew: I view public service not as a career choice, but as a calling.

When I was in 5th grade at Wayside Elementary School, I saw an issue with the bus route where there was a blindspot on one of the turns. I tried to tell the school principal, but she wouldn’t meet with me. So, I stopped her  in the hallway and explained it to her on a note pad. She said, “Andrew, the Montgomery County Board of Transportation made these bus routes, and I think they are up to par.” A week later there was a major bus crash at that turn.

An article about this crash was published in the Potomac Almanac. I cut it out and pinned it to my cork-board in my bedroom, and had it there my entire childhood. It became my north star. If you see something, you should say something. If there’s a wrong, you should try to right it. This sense of obligation drove me then, and does still.

friedson and his bro at good deeds day

My brother (and new dad!) Matthew and I at The Jewish Federation’s Good Deeds Day

Allie: What celebrity would you most want to be your campaign manager?

Andrew: Natalie Portman! She’s awesome.

Allie: Did the 2016 presidential election motivate you to run?

Andrew: I have the same frustration, anger, and disgust as many do about some of the things that are happening as a result of the last presidential election, but I didn’t need Trump to get elected for me to get involved in politics. That election has helped galvanize people to get involved in politics who were not engaged before, and who now finally see just how important it is. Unfortunately, there is a saying in politics that there are two motivators – ambition and fear. We hope we have leaders that are playing more to people’s ambitions for a better world than to people’s fears. But, when there is a fear of our values being threatened, it’s encouraging to know that people are willing to stand up for them.

Allie: What would be your ultimate dream job?

Andrew: When I was little I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist. I realize this is not a totally normal thing for a kid to want to do. It turned out I wasn’t that good at science and wasn’t interested in being in school for that long. But, I was able to speak at the groundbreaking for the Shady Grove Adventist Aquilino Cancer Center. I felt like this was the closest I would ever come to realizing my dream.

I was actually at Shady Grove Medical Center Shady Grove just yesterday because my sister-in-law was having a baby (MAZEL!), and passed by the cancer center.

Right now though, my dream job is to be the Montgomery County Council Member.

Also, in a fantasy world, I’d love to be the General Manager of the Caps, and on Facebook, sometimes I pretend that I am!

Allie: Has your Jewish identity shaped your platform at all?

Andrew: From the time I was really young, I’ve felt a strong obligation to help community. This is a value I learned from my parents growing up in a Jewish household. My focus on making sure we don’t leave anybody behind and having a high quality of education are core Jewish values. I’ve also always had this burning desire to improve the world – tikkun olam. I used to think of this in a much more global sense, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve started to view it in a more Jewish context, that saving just one person is like saving the whole world. That’s why I love state and local politics, where you have the chance to change the world one person, one community, one specific problem at a time.

Allie: Do you have a favorite memory from the campaign trail?

Andrew: I was canvassing, going door-to-door in a neighborhood, and It was really hot. I decided to walk into a nearby market to grab a cold drink. When I was walking in, I saw a piece of campaign literature with my name and face taped to the window, and saw one of my yard signs out front. All of a sudden the store owner looked up at me and he looked at the picture and shouted, “You’re my guy!” His name is Weldon, and I had never met him before that.

taste of bethesda

On the campaign trail

Allie: What are the biggest issues you want to help out with as County Council Member?

Andrew: I’m most focused on education, transportation, and economic development. If we can get these three things right, they’ll have the biggest impact on improving people’s lives.

Allie: What’s the best and worst thing about campaigning?

Andrew: Running a campaign is basically like running a small business that all coalesces on one day, so there is definitely pressure. But, I love campaigning. I enjoy getting up in the morning often, and not going to bed at night. I get energy from meeting people, learning what they care about, and discussing how how address the challenges we face.

Allie: Do you have a favorite quote you like to live by?

Andrew: I have two:

  1. “If I am not for myself, then who will be or me? If I am for myself only, then what am I? And if not now, when?” – Rabbi Hillel
  2. “It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela

Allie: It seems like you keep yourself  VERY busy. When (and if) you have free moments, how do you like to spend them?

Being Uncle Drew

Andrew: I love spending time with my nieces and nephews as their Uncle Drew. I have 8, which includes one who was just born, and they all live in this area.

Allie: Are there any interesting facts that people may not know about you?

Andrew: I cracked my head open twice as a kid when I was asleep, I just rolled over and hit the nightstand! 

Allie: If you had 3 wishes, what would they be?

Andrew: 1) Good health for my family. 2) Every student in Montgomery County is able to show up to kindergarten ready to learn, so they’re not left behind before they even have a chance to start. 3) Every young person who goes to school feels and is safe.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Andrew: Exciting things happen.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Taking the political temperature of our Jewish community

The polls have closed on GTJ’s political survey.

Actually, they closed a while ago, but I needed to set up my new apartment at law school.

But…  Better later than never, so here are the results:

………………….

Over 100 people took the survey.  I dropped the responses that did not belong to Jews between the ages 22 and 39, living in the DC area.   That left us with 86 responses.

1)      Jewish identification:

An Orthodox Jew.  12.8%

A Conservative (religiously) Jew.  29.1%

A Reform Jew.  30.2%

A secular Jew.  8.1%

 

According to Wikipedia (yes, I trust it), 46% of Jews belong to a synagogue.  Of those Jews, 38% are members of a Reform synagogue, 33% Conservative, 22% Orthodox, and 2% Reconstructionist.   Not too terribly different from our results.

2)      Party Identification:

A Democrat  66.3%

A Republican  17.4%

An Independent  16.3%

 

Additionally, three people wrote in, one wrote “Libertarian”, and two wrote “Conservative.”

According to the 2011 statistics of the Jewish Virtual Library, 16% of Jewish American voters identify as Republican, 45% Democrat, 38% Independent.

Our contingent seems to be a little more partisan.  Two thoughts for this:  1) This was a volunteer survey; people more passionate about politics were more likely to spend time taking it (example: I’m guessing Steve Davis did not take it), and people more passionate about politics are more likely to align with a party.  2) We’re in DC, a city where people tend to gravitate toward one party or the other (many people come to DC for partisan reasons!)

The only segment of Jews that tends to be consistently Republican is Orthodox Jews.

For information on the Jewish vote in past presidential elections, I refer you back to this article.

3)      Rank the following political issues in terms of importance to you (1 = Most important; 10 = Least important).

So this yielded quite the data table.  I’m not going to give you the standard deviations or anything fancy like that for the time being, but here’s the mean, median, and most-picked for each:

  • The Economy — Average = 2.42, Median = 2, Most popular = 1 (31 selections)
  • Jobs — Average = 3.76, Median = 3, Most popular = 2 (21)
  • Health Care — Average = 3.92, Median = 4, Most popular = 3 (18)
  • Israel — Average = 5.14, Median = 5, Most popular = 3 (13)
  • Taxation — Average = 5.66, Median = 5, Most popular = 5 (16)
  • Environment — Average = 5.98, Median = 6, Most popular = 9 (14)
  • Abortion — Average = 6.13, Median = 6, Most popular = 8 (14)
  • Gay Rights — Average = 7.00, Median = 7, Most popular = 10 (22)
  • Iraq/Afghanistan — Average = 7.31, Median = 7, Most popular = 8 (17)
  • Immigration — Average = 7.69, Median = 8, Most popular = 9 (19)

Clearly, whichever candidate can prove himself most capable on the economy is going to score major points with our community.  The average American feels pretty similarly.  Here’s this issue ranking from Rasmussen Reports (July, 2012):

Economy 74%
Health Care 67%
Gov’t Ethics and Corruption 64%
Taxes 55%
Energy Policy 44%
Education 55%
Social Security 60%
Immigration 47%
National Security/War on Terror 46%
Afghanistan 30%

 

4)      Rate President Obama on:  (1 = Super Awesome; 2 = Pretty good; 3 = He’s aiite; 4 = Not so great; 5 = Terrible)

  • Health Care — Average = 2.50, Median = 2, Most popular = 2 (32)
  • Foreign Policy — Average = 2.70, Median = 2, Most popular = 2 (40)
  • Israel — Average = 2.94, Median = 2, Most popular = 2 (31)
  • The Economy — Average = 2.94, Median = 2, Most popular = 2 (39)
  • Immigration — Average = 2.98, Median = 3, Most popular = 2 (34)
  • Jobs — Average = 3.07, Median = 3, Most popular = 2 (31)

In summary, our community thinks President Obama is “pretty good.”  It’s perhaps not surprising then that:

5)      I will likely vote for:

Obama  69.8%

Romney  27.9%

I will likely not vote  2.3%

 

And yet, this is well below historical averages for Democratic Presidents.  President Obama won 78% of the Jewish vote in 2008, and the Democrats have won, on average, 78.2% of the Jewish vote since the 1992 election.

 

Other fun info:

6)      Does Judaism influence your politics?

A lot  25.6%

A bit  47.7%

Not much  19.8%

Not at all  7.0%

 

7)      Will your vote be counted in the same/district state you currently live in?

 

My vote will be counted in the district/state I live in.  62.8%

My vote will be counted elsewhere (absentee).  37.2%

 

I was surprised by this.  I thought everyone in DC voted in another state…

About the survey:

This survey was not perfect.  But hopefully it was still interesting.  Our newsletter is sent to 4,000 people.  Of this group, 102 took the survey, and we used 86 responses.  All answer options were rotated for different users so as to avoid an ordering bias (people favoring answers that come earlier, etc.)

If you have any questions about the survey, or if you want more information about the survey, please email me (Stephen@gatherdc.org)

Thanks for playing!

…………

Stephen Richer is the co-founder and President of Gather the Jews.

 

 

 

Gather the News – Jewish News of the Week – 9/10

We’re big fans of gathering around here.

  • Canada includes Iran’s hostility towards Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric as

    Drake’s Bar Mitzvah

    reasons for severing diplomatic relations.

  •  Jews and Muslims demonstrated in Berlin over a new law that restricts male circumcision. The new law requires the procedure be carried out by a doctor. Traditionally it is performed by a Jewish mohel, most of whom lack the medical training required under the new law. Politicians in Denmark, Norway, and Finland have also called for a ban on circumcision, though so far there has been no legislation.
  • Here’s an interview with Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum who supported gay rights at the recent Democratic National Convention.
  • A new facebook app, called “Jewish Geography,” gives you a Jewish connection score based on your Facebook profile and friends. We’ll let you decide on this one…
  • And in sports news, the Israeli lacrosse team has earned eligibility for the 2014 Lacrosse World Championship. Israel competes in lacrosse? Who knew?
  • Whether or not you’re voting for Romney, this pin is pretty cool.
  • Seinfeld is something every Jew can take pride it. Paste Magazine released a list of the 25 best episodes, do you agree with their rankings? Let us know in the comments!

Does the Jewish vote even matter?

In celebration of the upcoming Presidential election, GTJ is featuring a weekly column on Jewish voters, and something to do with the local Jewish community.   See below for this week’s column, and click here to take a survey so that we can learn more about the politics of our community.

If you have interest in writing this column in coming weeks, please email noa@gatherdc.org

See week 1 of this feature.

……….

Stephen Richer is the President of Gather the Jews.

……….

Does the American Jewish vote even matter in United States Presidential Elections?

As with many Jewish questions, the answer is “maybe.”

The most obvious factor working against the importance of the Jewish vote is simply the small size of the American Jewish population.  Jews account for only 2 percent of the total population of the United States and approximately 3 to 4 percent of the electorate (Haaretz).  Comparatively, the victory margins in presidential elections since 1980 have been 10 percent, 19, 8, 5, 8, 0, 3, and 7 percent (The New York Times).  This means that even if the Jews voted as one block – 100% for one candidate – they could have tipped the popular vote in only potentially 2 of the past 8 elections.

But American elections are not determined by popular vote.  Instead, electoral votes are distributed to each of the states, and the states give the entirety (in almost all cases) of their votes to the candidate that wins the most votes in the state.

This bears on the importance of the Jewish vote.  In New York and New Jersey – the states with the two proportionally largest Jewish populations – the Jewish vote likely doesn’t matter because both states are Democratic bastions where a slight change in a small segment of the population has no chance of tipping the vote.  But in swing states – states that could be won by either the Republican or Democratic candidate – where the Jewish population is particularly large, the Jewish vote could be a deciding factor.

Consider the famous case of Florida in the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.  In that election, 35 percent of Floridian Jews voted for Bush.  Had the Florida Jewish vote reflected the national Jewish vote – in which only 21 percent of Jews voted for Bush – then Bush would have lost Florida and, accordingly, Al Gore would have been the 43rd President of The United States.

This phenomenon is not specific to Florida in 2000.  Jews make up approximately 3 percent of the voting population of Pennsylvania, a state that John Kerry won in 2004 by fewer than 200,000 votes.  The Jewish population of Philadelphia alone is approximately 254,000.   A third state that makes the Jewish vote interesting is Ohio; celebrated Jewish-politics commentator Nathan Guttman agrees by noting in Moment Magazine that, “Ohio is also a state where Jewish voters could play a role in a close race.”

With only 6.5 million Jews in the United States, the Jewish vote is hardly a dominant factor in U.S. Presidential Elections (perhaps in contrast to Jewish money – see next month’s column!).  But in certain closely contested states, the Jewish vote could be the deciding factor.  I’m certainly not the only one who thinks so – look at this recent campaign launched by the Republican Jewish Coalition centered on Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.  You can be sure President Obama and the Democrats have something similar planned for these critical, and Jewish-heavy, states!

….  Chart below from the Jewish Virtual Library (December, 2011) ….

State

Estimated Jewish Population

Total Population

Jewish Percentage

Alabama

8,850

4,779,736

0.2%

Alaska

6,150

710,231

0.9%

Arizona

106,400

6,392,017

1.7%

Arkansas

1,725

2,915,918

0.1%

California

1,219,740

37,253,956

3.3%

Colorado

91,070

5,029,196

1.8%

Connecticut

116,050

3,574,097

3.2%

Delaware

15,100

897,934

1.7%

District   of Columbia

28,000

601,723

4.7%

Florida

638,635

18,801,310

3.4%

Georgia

127,670

9,687,653

1.3%

Hawaii

7,280

1,360,301

0.5%

Idaho

1,525

1,567,582

0.1%

Illinois

297,935

12,830,632

2.3%

Indiana

17,470

6,483,802

0.3%

Iowa

6,240

3,046,355

0.2%

Kansas

17,775

2,853,118

0.6%

Kentucky

11,300

4,339,367

0.3%

Louisiana

10,675

4,533,372

0.2%

Maine

13,890

1,328,361

1.0%

Maryland

238,000

5,773,552

4.1%

Massachusetts

277,980

6,547,629

4.2%

Michigan

82,270

9,883,640

0.8%

Minnesota

45,635

5,303,925

0.9%

Mississippi

1,575

2,967,297

0.1%

Missouri

59,175

5,988,927

1.0%

Montana

1,350

989,415

0.1%

Nebraska

6,100

1,826,341

0.3%

Nevada

74,400

2,700,551

2.8%

New   Hampshire

10,120

1,316,470

0.8%

New   Jersey

504,450

8,791,894

5.7%

New   Mexico

12,175

2,059,179

0.6%

New York

1,635,020

19,378,102

8.4%

North   Carolina

30,675

9,535,483

0.3%

North   Dakota

400

672,591

0.1%

Ohio

148,380

11,536,504

1.3%

Oklahoma

4,700

3,751,351

0.1%

Oregon

40,650

3,831,074

1.1%

Pennsylvania

294,925

12,702,379

2.3%

Rhode Island

18,750

1,052,567

1.8%

South   Carolina

12,545

4,625,364

0.3%

Is Birthright Israel Biased?

Kiera Feldman set off quite a storm last month when she wrote in The Nation that Birthright Israel has evolved from “an identity booster has become an ideology machine [in the form of an ultra-Zionist bootcamp.]”  Once asserting Birthright’s bias, she then criticizes the organization because this bias allows participants to overlook the fact that Israel is guilty of “forty-four-year[s] [of] illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and the racism and legal discrimination that underpins Israel’s enthocracy.”

Quite the claim.  I responded to Feldman in this article for the Jewish Policy Center (excerpted below); Philip Getz responded at Jewish Ideas Daily; and Gary Rosenblatt responded at The Jewish Week.

But one thing that all authors agree on is the profound impact that Birthright Israel has had on the Jewish American experience.  Since its inception in 1999, more than 260,000 non-Israeli Jews have gone on Birthright –Americans accounting for the vast majority of this number.  Now it seems that one of the most often heard questions between two recently introduced young professional Jews is “Did you go on Birthright?”  If both answer “yes,” then a discussion usually ensues, not about how to best deprive Palestinians of a livelihood as Feldman would have you think, but about a night in a Bedouin tent, climbing Masada, and floating in the Dead Sea.  Jewish bonding at work.

It remains to be seen whether Birthright will save Jewish identity (as its founders intended).  But we do know that – love it or hate it – Birthright Israel is now a major player in the Jewish world and a formative experience for many young Jews.

 

Excerpt from my article at the Jewish Policy Center.  Click here to read the full article.

On June 15, Kiera Feldman wrote in The Nation that the Jewish Birthright trip is a hawkish, Zionist brainwashing trip. “What began as an identity booster has become an ideology machine.” Israel, it seems, is guilty of “forty-four-year[s] [of] illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and the racism and legal discrimination that underpins Israel’s ethnocracy.” The Birthright trip tries, but fails, to hide these supposed faults; the offered alternative is a Zionism that encourages “pumping out not only Jewish baby-makers but defenders of Israel.” Despite the name of her article – “The Romance of Birthright Israel” – Feldman falls in love with neither this type of Zionism nor the state of Israel, and her article is the ensuing product of her discontent.

The contention that Birthright is a hawkish-Zionist propaganda machine deserves scrutiny on two fronts. First, where is the proof that the trip is ideologically biased? And second, if Feldman is correct in her accusation, why is there not an alternative Birthright trip to advance what Feldman sees as a more accurate, and increasingly popular, view of Israel—that of an illegal occupier with questionable morals?

In addressing the question of proof, Feldman argues that Birthright is no longer “the selling of Jewishness to Jews,” as articulated by Birthright co-founder Charles Bronfman. Instead, the trip now promotes ardent, Israel-can-do-no-wrong Zionism. To substantiate this, Feldman tells her personal story involving an allegedly anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian, bigoted bus guide, and the stories of Birthrighters Max Geller, Jared Malsin, and EllaRose Chary. Four anecdotes. Over 260,000 Diaspora Jews (as I learned from Feldman) have gone on Birthright and four is hardly a statistical representation of Birthrighters. This, of course, does not disprove Feldman’s thesis, but it should shake the certainty of her claim.

Then there are the actual stories presented by the four Birthrighters. Take, for instance, Max Geller’s description:

“Geller’s trip also featured AwesomeSeminar.com’s Neil Lazarus, a pro-Israel advocacy trainer who says he’s delivered presentations since Birthright’s inception. (‘When the Palestinians kill Israeli men, women and children,’ Lazarus says in one online video, ‘they celebrate, and they give out sweets in the streets.’)”

Never mind that Lazarus did not actually say those words to the Birthright travelers (he said them in an online video for a different audience) the truth is that Palestinians have celebrated the death of Israelis on many occasions (see for example the Dalal Mughrabi Square). Pointing that out is not bias; it is fact. As for Lazarus’s other seeming offense—pro-Israel advocacy—this doesn’t qualify him as an extreme Zionist hawk.

Feldman next backs her claim by pointing to some of Birthright’s founders and donors. Charles Bronfman, Michael Steinhardt, Sheldon Adelson, Harold Grinspoon, Susie Gelman, Lynn Schusterman, S. Daniel Abraham, Roger Hertog, and Marc Rich—each has connections to groups like AIPAC, Israel on Campus Coalition, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, or the Manhattan Institute. The assumed argument posits that: The groups named are definitely hawkish Zionist groups; it’s impossible to be connected to these groups without being a hawkish Zionist; Adelson, Grinspoon, Gelman, et al. outweigh the Birthright board members that Feldman does not mention; and any group that is dominated by Zionist hawks must have a hawkish Zionist agenda. This series of assumptions is a bit long to be highly probable. By the same logic, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (which benefits from a number of the same donors and donors with similar backgrounds) is also a hawkish Zionist outfit. It has a more historical, non-ideological focus.

But these concerns aside, assume that Feldman is correct: Birthright does favor a pro-Israel bias of an AIPAC nature. If true, then there should be an alternative trip for those who like Feldman think that the AIPAC-worldview is an inaccurate and harmful portrayal of Israel. … (continue reading)