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February 15, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 15, 2013 PAGE 5A Play money card to push rights for disabled dollars, or because'we value and really needed help, God's synagogue religious schools, , day schools because of their needs. Their parents' tuition By Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Jewish identity and connec- tion are the birthright of every Jew. So why do so many Jew- ish institutions discriminate against Jews with disabilities? It keeps happening because we let it happen. We make excuses by saying there isn't enough support or enough By Andrew Silow-Carroll New Jersey Jewish News When I went to Hebrew school in the 1970s, we were still using textbooks from the 1950s. The girls in the illus- trations wore short dresses and Mary Janes; the boys wore pie-sized yarmulkes, shorts, and neckties in their homes! Somehow I grew up to live a highly engaged Jewish life, but not until I shook off a perception that Judaism was for, well, prim little girls and nerdy boys with neckties and gigantic yanulkes. Apparently I wasn't the only one. Lately I've noticed a number of Jewish orga- nizations and individuals marketing themselves in part by addressing negative perceptions like mine. An ad promoting Jewish camping, from Greater MetroWest's One Happy Camper pro- gram, features two kids in a sailboat, and the tag line, "Funny, they sure don't look like they're exploring their By Ben Cohen JNS.ORG children going to Harvard over those who won't. With February being Jewish Disability Awareness Month, it's time to ask how long we plan to provide the pearls of our heritage only to those capable of receiving them in the rote methods they are presented? Judaism teaches us that when we were slaves in Egypt instrument was a person with a disability: Moses was "slow of speech and tongue." But with tremendous assistance from Aaron and the proper sup- ports, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and into freedoro and the Promised Land. For how long will the keys to our treasure trove of tradi- tion only be given to those at our Jewish day schools, youth groups and others who can use those keys without adaptation or support? More is being done in some institutions to broaden the tent, and there are pockets of excellence. However, I know more than a hundred parents from across America, includ- ing top Jewish leaders, whose children have been rejected or "counseled out" from Jewish disabilities. I watched in pain recently as a prestigious Jewish day school encouraged three children in a classroom of 16 students to leave Jewish day schools because the schools did not want to accommo- date their special needs, The three went on to non-Jewish schools for children who are college bound but have special 'I can't .believe it's Jewish/' Jewish heritage." The Foundation for Jewish Camp has a similar cam- paign, this one declaring: "They see total blast. You see tradition." And the Forward recently ran an essay by local writer Jordana Horn titled"A Jewish Summer Camp That Doesn't Feel Like One." The approach reminds me of how Richard Joel, former head of the international campus Hillel movement, once described his mission: to transform an organiza- tion that had a reputation for attracting "the nerds, the dweebs and the geeks." It's an interesting selling point--essentially, "I can't believe it's Jewish!" In my teens I worked at a camp that was ostensibly "Jewish" but, except for a Friday night blessing and the preponderance of Lacoste alligators, was indistinguish- able from a nonsectarian camp. That's the old-wave version of"I can't believe it's Jewish!" In the new wave, the point is to offer effective Jewish programming that doesn't remind the kids (and, perhaps more importantly, their par- ents) of synagogue, Hebrew school, or wherever else they had a less-than-ideal Jewish experience. Horn's essay is about Eden Village, a Jewish environmental overnight camp in the Hudson Valley. According to its website, campers focus on farm- ing, food and wilderness to "deepen their sense of per- sonal purpose, contribution and Jewish identity." And it's not just camps. Last week the Times profiled Rabbi Dovi Scheiner and his wife, Esty, a Lubavitch- trained couple who run the non-Lubavitch Soho Synagogue. The Scheiners are known for "hosting buzz- filled downtown parties with- out obvious religious con- tent." The article describes an event at an "art-filled loft on Bond Street in Lower Manhattan" attended by "a stream of stylishly dressed young Jewish professionals: financiers and investors, designers and artists," And yet the approach is not "Jewish-lite" or"Jewishwith- out the Judaism"-- or at least it doesn't have to be. Robert Lichtman, who oversees One Happy Camper as executive director at The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, says the goal of its marketing plan is not to water down or disguise the Jewish content of Jewish camps. Rather it is to overcome perceptions of people who, unaware of a revolution-in Jewish camps, still associate them with aging facilities, musty equip- ment, or ladled-on ideology. Today's Jewish camps, said Lichtman, find effective ways of connecting Jewish learning with camp life'."Ifyou have the right informal educators, you can find teachable moments on a sailboat or around a campfire," said Lichtman. Camps can be laboratories for Jewish lessons about nature, community and conduct. But first you have to con- vince the kids and parents, like those who told a market- ing firm hired by the Partner- ship that they don't want a camp that's too religious, or too much like "Hebrew school." Even religious fami- lies are looking for Jewish camps with top-notch athlet- ics or arts. "My colleagues and I are competing with a lot of other entertainment and educational options," says Li- chtman. "Our programs need to compete at the same level of quality and attractiveness." Apparently, it's working. One Happy Camper has given out more than 800 $1,000 "camperships" for first-time campers. Tracey Levine, who manages the program, has had more than 900 consulta- tions with families exploring the idea of a Jewish camp. I have two reactions to the movement to hippify Judaism, ifa movement it is. First, smart marketing doesn't have to come at the cost of tradition. In the competition for hearts and minds, you have to under- stand your audience to remove the obstacles that keep them bills increased from $25,000 a year to $35,000 to $65,000 a year--funds they gladly would have paid to keep their children within the walls of a Jewish school. Instead these families, who needed support from the Jew- ish community as they were dealing with their children's Rights on page 19A from becoming "customers." Chabad has proved this over the years, and One Happy Camper is proving it now. On the other hand, Juda- ism needs its nerds. Jewish life is a counterculture, and thrives when it offers a cri- tique of the mainstream. If you remove everything that makes Judaism distinct--its languages, its rituals, its texts--you're left with a pretty thin gruel. "I can't believe it's Jewish!" marketing promotes Jewish communities to people who could never see themselves as part of a Jewish community. Overdo it, however, and you end up not with a Jewish com- munity but with little more than a place where Jews go. The challenge is to make tradition relevant to folks who may have doubts that it is, and to keep it vital for those who rever had such doubts to begin with. Andrew Silow-Carroll is editor-in-chief of the New Jersey Jewish News. Between columns you can read his writing at the JustASC blog. What (not) to expect from Obama's visit to Israel Sometimes you have to give politicians a little credit. If you heard through the grapevine that two of your friends had been discussing you, with one calling you a "liar" and the other one replying, "I have to deal with him even more often than you," chances are you would cut ties. Andthat's exactly what former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. President Barack Obama said, respectively, about the Is- raeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an unguarded moment at the G20 Summit in France two years ago. Yet, in the aftermath of this exchange, it is the imperatives of statecraft, and not personal antipathies, that have won the day. This spring--the White House has not released the Precise date--the recently re- elected Obamawiil visit Israel to be hosted by the recently re-elected Netanyahu. Doubt- less, every journalist present will be watching both leaders for uneasy body language or facial ticks, as if the entire U.S-Israeli relationship can be interpreted through the fact that Bibi and Barack don't like each other. While it's true that warm personal relationships have enhanced the foreign policies of certain presidents--think of Ronald Reagan and Mar- garet Thatcher, or George W. Bush and Tony Blair--they are not a prerequisite for success. The key issue with ObSma's visit to Israel is not whether the president and Netanyahu can learn to like each other, but whether they can agree on common goals. Obama, in the past, has spoken of the importance of putting more" "daylight" between himself and the Israelis. Perhaps the White House and Jerusalem might jointly decide that it's time to close the gap, now that Obama and Netanyahu will remain in power until the middle of the present decade. Perhaps. There remain im- portant strategic differences between the two .countries which one visit alone is un- likely to resolve' (Obama's decision to thus far avoid a trip to Israel, which outraged sections of the American Jew- ish community, is actually the least of these.) To beginwith, there is Iran. The Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has, as expected, rejected the Obama Administration's proposal for direct talks on the mullahs nuclear program- an offer which, depending on your point of view, was either a smart way of outing the Iranians true intentions, or a weak gesture reminiscent of the "reset" policy with Vladimir Putin's Russia. Ad- ditionally, there is a change of leadership to consider: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, is on his way out, with a June election that may well see his hated rival, All Larijani, replace him. Larijani, however, is no reformer. A former nuclear negotiator, he is also, like Ah- madinejad, a Holocaust denier who regularly rants about his desire to destroy Israel. Un- less Obama can conclusively persuade Netanyahu that the sanctions imposed on Iran are working, their conversation on this topic is likely to reach the question of pre-emptive military action much more quickly than either would desire, Then there is the situation in the Arab world. Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad's slaughter of his own popula- tion continues unabated, is the most pressing concern. America's lack of leader- ship over the Syrian crisis, which contrasts markedly with France's intervention against Islamist terrorists in the west African state of Mall, has piled doubt upon the endless predictions that Assad's regime is in its final days. Assad's ire has again turned upon Israel, following an air strike in early February against what was reported to be a military research center negr Damascus. All this has increased the instability on Israel's northern frontier, which exploded into war as recently as 2006, after Hez- bollah, a client of both Syria and Iran, rained missiles on Israeli towns and cities in the region. Nor are any of the post- Assad scenarios particularly comforting, given the rising presence of Islamists in the Syrian resistance. ' As well as'Syria, Egypt and potentially the rest of North Af- ricawill be on the agenda, given .the rise of the Muslim Brother- hood in this part of the world. The Israelis can't be pleased with the continuing provision of more than $1 billion in American aid to Egypt annu- ally, given the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel noises President Muhamed Morsi and his cronies have been At the same time, the Americans can point out that Morsi's control over the Egyptian army is far from complete, and that therefore a strong Egyptian military is a useful counterweight to the Islamists. Finally, there is the Pales- tinian issue. As well as visiting Israel, Obama will visit the Palestinian Authority, which promises to be a far bigger headache. The Palestinian strategy of pursuing unilater- al recognition, and of portray- ing Israel's attempts to secure the integrity of Jerusalem as a devious scheme to deny them a contiguous state, does not comport well with American policy, however big the dis- agreements between Obama and Netanyahu have been. In Ramallah, Obama will face a Palestinian leadership whose current modus operandi is to diplomatically isolate, rather than engage with, Israel. Moreover, it is a leadership that remains divided between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Norshouldwe forget the fact that the backing of Hamas by two key American allies in the region, Turkey and Qatar, threatens to bury the PA's talks with Obama into migraine-inducing com- plexity. Some readers will already be aware that I've "ranked the above topics in order of priority. The Palestinian ques- tion is not, as Chck Hagel, Obama's nominee for defense secretary, believes, the key to stability in the Middle East. Right now, a Palestinian state alongside Israel--the much-vaunted and increas- ingly tired-looking "two state, solution"--will satisfy no one. Arab and Muslim radicals will denounce any hint of a deal as treachery, leaving PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who hasn't exactly established- his credentials as an honest negotiator, with little room for maneuvering. The wisest way of approach- ing Obama's visit, then, is to do so without expectations. If Obama repeats his pledge made during the election campaign to stand by Israel in the event of an attack, that outcome will be satisfying enough. Presidential visits abroad are, in any case, care- fully stage-managed events. The strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship will be tested not while Obama is in the country, but once he is gone. Ben Cohen is the Shill- man Analyst for His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Com- mentary, the New York Post, Ha'aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications. Dry Bones.00A, SINAI ISRAK WILL Be000 A LI6HT ul00rr0 THE NAT00