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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 17, 2014 Bend the Arc's new leader is a black belt with a radical streak By Julie Wiener NEW YORK (JTA)--When Stosh Cotler takes over as CEO of Bend the Arc, a Jewish group that fights for immigra- tion reform, workers' rights and other domestic liberal causes, she will be one of the few women leading a national Jewish group of its size. But Cotler's gender is not the only thing that sets her apart. It's not just that she only connected with Judaism as an adult or that her appearance during an interview in her Manhattan office--all-black clothes, dark red lipstick, pale blue fingernail polish and a visible tattoo on her arm--is more Goth than corporate. How many Jewish communal CEOs have a black belt in kung fu, trained women in self- defense, danced at a sex club or protested Israel's treatment of Palestinians during the second intifada? Custom Pdnt g Invitations  ts Distal & Offset Printing Brodaures & Booklets Direct Mail Services Forms & E,-,s 407-767-7110 ,c, 205 North Street. Longwood, FL 2,2750 -. ._ MentionThis Ad and Receive 18% Discount 4 college degrees and more than 30 years of teaching experience work one-on-one with your child. Dr. Betty Arsenault Member of IECA Study Skills, Elementary and Middle School Math, Pre-Algebra, Algebra, Geometry, Reading Comprehension, Language Arts SAT [ ACT I FCAT I TOEF/I GED .My Students Experience Success 409 Montgomery Road, Suite 165 [ Altamonte Springs, FL 32714 I I 407-869-8444 The 45-year-old Olympia, Wash., native declined to discuss her past or present views on Israel, which she said are not relevant to her work at Bend the Arc. But she describes her unconventional background as an advantage in reaching out to Jews on the margins of the community. "If we are successful in reaching more Jews who have little or no or an ambivalent connection to being Jewish, if they come to us, we will be transformed because of that infusion of very different perspectives," Cotler said. Bend the Arc was formed from the 2011 merger of the New York-based Jewish Funds for Justice and the West Coast-based Progressive Jewish Alliance. It has billed itself as "the nation's leading progressive Jewish voice solely dedicated to mobilizing Jew- ish Americans to advocate for the nation's most vulnerable." In addition to its policy advo- cacy, Bend the Arc collects funds for community invest- ing in disadvantaged areas, makes grants to grassroots activist groups and conducts leadership training. The orga- nization had a budget of $5.7 million last year. Cotler has been with the organization since 2005, for the past three years serving as its executive vice president. She is replacing Alan van Capelle, who spent two years at Bend the Arc's helm and is leaving to become CEO of the EducationalAlliance, avener- able Jewish institution on New York's Lower East Side. JOIN00 IN CELEBRATION O,t00 A Simcha To Rememb,'00'. SPECIAL CELEBRATION ISSUE JANUARY 31, 2014 Hundreds of different parties will be held in the Jewish community throughout the coming year. HERITAGE readers will be in need of a variety of products and services, including hotels, hair salons, clothing stores, jewelers, printers, florists, restaurants and many others. You can reach this exclusive buying market by placing your advertising message in the HERITAGE Special Celebration Issue. Don't let those weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and other simchas pass you by. Make sure your business is included on our readers' shopping lists. For More Information, Call: 407-834-8787 Cotler's colleagues at Bend the Arc and liberal Jewish groups give her high marks for her strategic planning skills and collaborative approach. She has led Bend the Arc's Selah Leadership Program, which has trained more than 300 Jewish activists working for a mix of Jewish and secular organizations. Cotler said that she was drawn to Jewish communal work by her growing aware- ness of American Jewish power. "We have responsibility to leverage our financial resources, intellectual heft, cultural capital, to leverage our deep organization, to leverage the positions of influ- ence and power that Jews have attained in politics, business, finance and education" to as- sist "other communities that are still facing discrimination, that are still disenfranchised, who are not experiencing the kinds of opportunities Jews experience on a daily basis," she said. Prior to her Jewish com- munal career in New York, Cotler--who previously went by the name Staci; Stosh was her family's nickname for her--was an activist in Portland, Ore. She founded Open Hand, a local organi- zation that trained women in self-defense and provided violence prevention and girls' empowerment programming in local schools. In her mid-20s, Cotler had what she describes as a spiritual crisis, but since none of her friends or family were active in Jewish life, it did not occur to her that Judaism could be a resource. A few years later, however, she had a transformative experience that she wrote about in the "Love & Justice in Times of War Haggadah." In her essay for the 2003 'zine-style, ac- tivist Haggadah, Cotler, who identifies as queer, recounted how a lesbian couple invited her to their Passover seder after she did a table dance for them at what she refers to as a "sex club." Cotler declined to com- ment on her work at the club beyond saying that she was a dancer for a period in her 20s "to make ends meet." But She said going to that seder, her first in many years, set her on a Jewish path. "I realized I have a place in this tradition, that I am not alone, that other people like Sharkansky From page 4A governmental organs based in the countries with which Israel desires good relations. So far, it is doing all right. Israel may not have formal ownership of the Jordan Val- ley, its West Bank settlements, or even Jerusalem, but there are no signs that anyone else is about to take them. Settlements are at the focal point of the Palestinians' anti- Israel campaign, and the issue resonates with American and European governments, as well as leftist activists and non-governmental organiza- tions. To the extent that the issue also includes Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, it lessens the intensity shown by governments inclined to be reasonable. The other courtesy of Bend the Arc Stosh Cotler, right, is taking over as CEO of Bend the Arc from Alan van Capelle, left. They are pictured here outside the White House. me found ways to connect, that this tradition has wisdom to teach," Cotler said. Soon after, Cotler said, she meta rabbi who "literally took me under her wing and said, 'Please come to synagogue, you can sit next to me.'" At age 30, after a few years as a weekday minyan regular, Cot- ler celebrated a bat mitzvah. In Portland, Cotler was involved in activist groups like the Jewish Radical Action Project and Jews for Global Justice, and she demonstrated against Israeli policies. In 2001, she protested a Portland appearance by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The next year, Portland's Willamette Week described her staging a mock Israeli checkpoint in a downtown intersection. "You are now at an Israeli checkpoint. If you protest, you will be killed. Expect to be blindfolded and beaten," she shouted through a mega- phone, according to the paper. Cotler refused to discuss her participation in Israel- related activism, saying that Israel does not factor into Bend the Arc's work. "It's fully outside of our mission. We have a principled approach that we just do not make any commentary on that issue at all," she said. "We feel like by being so clear in this way what we create is a big tent, what we create is an organization where Jews who have a range of opinions feel like they can find a home at Bend the Arc to focus their activist energy on a very progressive domestic agenda." Howard Welinsky, a mem- ber of Bend theArc's executive board who is also active in the American Israel PublicAffairs Committee and chairs Demo- crats for Israel, Los Angeles, said that Cotler's views on Israel are not relevant to her work at Bend the Arc. "I'm personally passion- ately pro-Israel and have been very aggressive in those activities, but when I'm on a [Bend the Arc] call it's about the domestic programs of our country and the progressive Jewish agenda we focus on," Welinsky said. "All the other things we leave at the door. I have never had a conversation with [Cotler] about Israel." Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, which participates with Bend the Arc in the Jew- ish Social Justice Roundtable, praised Cotler for being a "responsive, out-of-the box thinker" and a "real team player." Like several other high-ranking Jewish women professionals interviewed for the article, Messinger praised Bend the Arc not only for hiring a female CEO but for recognizing talent within an organization rather than looking outside. Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T'ruah, formerly the American branch of Rab- bis for Human Rights, said that as recently as five or 10 years ago, "the Jewish social justice world was surpris- ingly male, and now it's really shifting." Jacobs, who previously worked with Cotler at Jewish Funds for Justice, said that Bend the Arc's newly tapped leader is known for being a "strong presence" who is "at- tuned to human dynamics and interpersonal issues." Cotler, Jacobs said, is "not someone out there tooting her own horn, but everyone who's ever worked with her is impressed by her." side of the same issue excites religious nationalists and the entire right wing of Israeli politics. Prime ministers from the 1970s onward have had trouble rejecting their de- mands to expand settlements in the context of Palestinians' thoroughgoing rejection of anything that Israel has of- fered. Israel can hope for wiser leaders than those currently in the White House and State Department, and better teach- ers in the universities that train the next generation of world leaders, but it should not expect miracles. The United States and the major countries of Europe also aspire to maintain a balance of interests. No oc- cupant of the White House or State Department, and no European government has ever given Israel anything like a blank check. The essence of Israeli wis- dom is moderation. An oc- casional threat, such as those of Miri Regev, Avigdor Lieber- man, or Benyamin Netanyahu might be useful reminders to others of what Israel could do. Above all, however, we hope to avoid the point where the de- cision to actually implement such threats becomes more real than theoretical With wisdom and good luck, let's hope we're all here, reading, writing, and other- wise enjoying life throughout 2014 and beyond. Ira Sharkansky is a profes- sor Emeritus in the Depart- ment of Political Science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.