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January 2, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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January 2, 2009
 

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__..__ _ .... ,--.u  ,!mR gum ammae|HNi|illllliBll|li|mi . . PAGE 8A By Grant Siater MOSCOW (JTA)--For Jews near the border with South Ossetia. only the smallest gap exists between normalcy and hardship. The unemployment rate i.n the area has always been high, hovering at about 60 percent. and there is a disproportion- ate amount of at-risk Jews. elderly and young. As Russian tanks and soldiers poured through the capital of Ossetia and onward into Gori in north- ern Georgia in August, the Jews dislodged from their homes and forced to flee were pushed over the edge. Now, with a helping hand from the West. it seems that any of those displaced in eorgia have traveled the short distance back--to their homes and to some semblance of normalcy. "People are living the usual life," said Vissarion Manasherov. a leader in the local Jewish community, from his home in Gori. "It seems that little has changed except the bit of fear that follows people around." Of the 65,000 people displaced by the conflict in Georgia, some 400 were Jews. Butwhile many Geor- gians spentweeks in refugee camps, and some still live there, the country's Jews had one of the strongest support networks behind them. They were divvied up among rela- tives, placed in hotel rooms or given apartments. The HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 2, 2009 Georgian seek return to normalcy vast majority of Georgia's estimated 12.000 Jews live in the capital of Tbilisi, and the war did not force them to flee. Most of the displaced came from Gori some 200 to 300-z-but others fled the port town of Poti and ;illages along the main highway taken by the Russians during the conflict. While a handful fled to Israel. Manasherov said that nearly everyone from Gori has returned to the city. On the Ossetian side. fewer than two dozen Jews lived in the disputed capital of Tgkhinvali before the war: now there are almost none. Aid workers scouring Tskh- invali found only one elderly woman, and those who have visited the bombed-out Jew- ish quarter since say that Jewish life there may now be over. In Georgia, Manasherov spent the early days of the conflict frantically trying to extract his community members from the path of war that trailed directly through the central square of his city. Then his voice was tense. Now he speaks calmly as he describes the new blocks of government housing and small cottages that have sprung up along the edges of the city. For those who could not return to their bombed-out homes, the Georgian government has been racing to build tempo- rary housing. B'not Mitzva ] J6>a 00ge/o00 "Kira Alvo Abelow. daughter of Roxane Alvo Abelow and Daniel Abelow of Longwood. Fla.. will be called to the Torah as a Bat Mitzvah on Saturday, Jan. 10. 2009 at Congre- gation Ohev Shalom in Orlando. Kira is in the seventh- grade gifted program at Rock Lake Middle School and plays the tenor saxo- phone in the school band. An avid musician, with eclectic taste in music. Kira also plays guitar and bass guitar. She loves to create her own songs and stories and joke along with her improvisation comedy friends at SAK TeenProv comedy school. Kira enjoys Kadima and is thankful to all of her teachers for making Hebrew School a wonderful experience. Sharing in the family's simchawill be her sister, Alicia; grandparents Ike and Elaine Alvo from Boca Raton, Fla.; and other family and friends who will converge from all points of the compass to celebrate. 00araA Sarah Goldman. daugh- ter of Monica Goldman of Lake Mary, Fla., will be called to the Torah as a bat mitzvah on Saturday, Jan. 10.2009 at Temple Israel. Winter Springs. Sarah attends Green- wood Lakes Middle School where she is on the stu- dent council and plays basketball, soccer and volleyball. She also is ac- tive in Kadima and plays basketball at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Orlando. Sharing in the family's simchawill be Sarah's brother, Benjamin; uncle Avraham Lavander of Miami; and other family and friends. "The Jews that live in Tbilisi and in Gori are the poorest that I saw. in really poor condition, the worst I've seen." said Amir Ben Zvi. a member of the crisis team for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee that was flown in Immediately after .the conflict began. "It was easy for them to lose everything, and we had to make an ef- fort to put them back on the standing where they were before." In the weeks after the conflict, local JDC workers shifted their focus from rescue to rehabilitation. They created a bevy of new programs targeted at the most at-risk populations. The amount spent per child doubled under a chil- dren's initiative, funded by the International FelIowship of Christians and Jews. The JDC also hired a psychologist to help the community and the children deal with the emotional fallout and feel- ings of insecurity spurred by the conflict. Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. the fellowship president, told JTA that he gve the funding and asked JDC workers on the ground to find the best ways to spend it. "We had to open an alter- native framework for these children." Ben Zvi said. "Their parents and the public schools were not ready." Georgian public schools have struggled to operate normally because many kin- dergartens were converted into refugee shelters. Ben Zvi said the JDC has committed some resources to furnishing and rebuilding homes that were bombed during the conflict. It also has provided workspace at home for those studying under the children's initia- tive. Both during the conflict and in the months after, both the victims and aid workers have said that the support structure provided by Jew- ish organizations has made the difference for this small community. Visiting the rundown homes in Gori can be a humbling experience that drives home the connec- tion between Jews around the world, says William Bernstein. the president and CEO of the Jewi.sh Federation of South Palm Beach County. The Florida federation sent a delega- tion last month to visit the Jewish communities of both Tblisi.and Gori. Its fact-finding mission sought to determine the needs and the opportunities for aid from the federation. "We spent time with people whose apartments were de- stroyed during the conflict." - Bernstein told JTA. "They lost everything their pa- pers, their personal artifacts. their legal documents." Along with the loss came a new sense of community, as displaced Jews from Gori steeled themselves against the conflict and worked with the community in Tbilisi. "I was also very impressed by conversations I had with young people, both in high school and college, who are committed to maintaining a Jewish identity and the extent to which they could build a community for themselves there." Bern- stein said. Dour,. driven, dedicated to the Prez? This may be for you By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA) Seeking well-heeled profes- sionals to contemplate one of the grimmest episodes in hu- man history. Requirements include lots of time on your hands and an ability to cull meaning from savagery. And it helps to be on a first-name basis with the most powerful person on earth. -Far below the strato- spheric rivals who now oc- cupy President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet-select, the Chicago machine cogs who will move and shake his White House, the big-name donors who will win prized ambassadorships, even the second-tier assistant depu- ties to the deputy assistants. are those backers of the president who seek place- ment on one of an array of" honorary committees. And no committee's work is more somber and less given to the cocktail party cirouit than the 55-member governing council of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. There's no rush for the positions, unlike the socialites who hanker for spots on the high-profile. high-prestige arts and cul- ture boards. Each year the president appoints 11 council mem- bers to five-year terms; the 55 appointees serve along- side 10 representatives from the U. S. Congress and a representative each from the state, interior and education departments. Noam-Neusner. a White House liaison to the Jewish community in President Bush's first term, said it was more of a matter of the Bush administration reaching out to people in a position to con- tribute to the museum than a rush of applications. "I can't recall people be- ing aggressive," Neusner said. "As far as I know. only a handful of people" coveted a council seat above all other possible appointments. Those who wanted a coun- cil seat were likely to get it just by expressing interest. as long as they had the requisite relationship with the president, said Michael Gelman. a Washington-area accountant who served two terms from 1993-2003 and backed former President Bill Clinton in his first presiden- tial run. "I made it known I was interested and I got the ap- pointment." Gelman said. "I was interested because the Holocaust museum was just starting up and itwas an important institution." In addition to the sobriety of the museum's mission, a disincentive is the relatively long term. As a result, coun- cil members were cultivated from disciplines that could promote the museum and its educational mission. "Members were chosen because the council needs a variety of viewpoints," Neusner said. "You've had good communicators in the public sphere, radio, TV and film, people who have had political roles, like ]former New York Mayor] Ed Koch and ]former Massachusetts] Gov. William Weld, who are familiar with how govern- ment works." Add to the list "people with skill sets in the business world who have to oversee a large institution," Neusner said. "Like any corporate board you want multiple types of people. It helps to have independent people, people who are not deeply ingrained in the Holocaust academic and survivor com- munities, with fresh eyes" although survivors also must be represented. That was the philosophy that led Bush to appoint Fred Zeidman. a successful Houston-area lawyer and longtime backer, to chair the governing body, officially known as the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Council. His sta- tus as an outsider from a community that was deeply committed to remembrance helped shape Bush's determi- nation to make the institu- tion relevant to present-day genocide, Neusner said. The museum has taken the lead in exposing the genocide in Darfur engi- neered by allies of the Su- danese government. "The president has always had a very strong commit- mtnt to Holocaust memory, what it teaches free nations about protecting the inno- cent," Neusner said. Gelman said he wouldn't exchange the experience for anything; the depth of his learning about the Holocaust and about World War !I Europe has enriched him. "I made a lot of friends I became very close to," he said. "I gained a lot of respect for those who committed their lives to Holocaust education." Gelman recommends the experience for those will- ing to serve. "Some you only saw when they came to board meet- ings," a handful of times a year. he recalled. "Some you never saw at all." Gelman is deeply involved in pro-Israel activism and Washington-area Jewish good works, but he says he misses his days on the mu- seum council. "! would go back on the board in a minute." he said. ".That says it more than anything else.'" Paws for a cause The women of the Red Hat Society came bearing gifts to the holiday Bingo party Dec. 22 at the Veterans Administration nursing home in Orlando. Hold- ing anArmg bear and an Air Force bear aye Red Hat president Virginia Polvertino and Post 759 CO Larry Wartell. The women created uniformed Teddy Bears and donated them to the attending veterans. The party was sponsored by the Jewish War Veterans Posts 475 and 759.