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April 13, 2012     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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April 13, 2012
 

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 13, 2012 By Ben Harris NEW YORK (JTA)--Re- gina Spektor has a cold--or as she calls it, "a nondescript New York disease," The singer is onstage at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York headlining a benefit concert for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS, {vhich helped resettle her family in New York more than 20 years ago. Though the crowd, which includes Spektor's par- ents, calls out words of encouragement, Spektor is struggling. She gulps water between songs, suppresses little coughs and-refers more than once to the mysterious Russian health tonic she downed in an effort to ready herself for the performance. "It was one of those things where anyone in their sane mind would have canceled," Spektor says later. "It was just such an important show for me. Everybody had been working on it for so long, all the HIAS people, and all the tickets were sold out. It was just a cause that was so Shervin Lainez Singersongwriter Regina. Spektor has staged closer to her Jewish roots even as she's achieved mainstream success. important to me." A talented pianist and composer known for her playful lyrics and dramatic shock of curls, Spektor start- ed out performing in East Village cafes before gradu- ally finding mainstream success, culminating with the release of her cri[ically acclaimed breakthrough Amid mainstreamsuccess, Spektor stays true to Jewish roots circle kind of thing." Spektor has not been shy about identifying publicly with Jewish causes. In 2008, she performed on the National Mall as part of celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Israel. Two years later she was back in the capital perfori-ning at a White House recep- tion before the Obamas to celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month. She has blown a shofar onstage and performed Hannah Senesh's "Eli, Eli" in Hebrew. On the cover of the "Begin to Hope" CD, she is wearing a visible Star of David pendant. In 2009, in the midst of Israel's Operation Cast Lead, launched in response to Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza, Spektor penned a post on her MySpace page defending the Jewish state and criticizing what she saw as unfair media coverage of its actions. "Israel has been shelled," she wrote. "It has been hit with rockets for years .... There is no government in record, "Begin to Hope," in 2006. Rolling Stone maga- zine named it one of the 50 best albums of the year. Her music has been fea- tured in countless com- mercials and television shows, including "Grey's Anatomy" and "How I Met Your Mother," and Peter Gabriel recorded a cover of her song "Apres Moi." Her next album, "What We Saw From the Cheap Seats," is due May 29. Spektor says her perfor- mance for HIAS set back her recovery a month, but it's not hard to see she why she forged ahead. As a 9-year- old, Spektor emigrated with her family from the Soviet Union and resettled in New York with help from HIAS, the immigrant relief agency founded in 1881 that has helped millions of refugees fleeing deprivation abroad. "I don't think any of us would be in America if it wasn't for them," Spektor says. "They did so much. To get to play a benefit show for them was like--it was just such an amazing like full- Beinart meets the Jewish establishment ground that he covered in his new book, "The Crisis of Zionism," and in his much- .discussed recent New York Times Op-Ed calling on American Jews to boycott West Bank Jewish settle- ments. The audience ran the gamut of Jewish opinion, and both speakers garnered applause. Mitchell Silver, a philoso- phy lecturer at the Univer- sity of Massachusetts Bos- ton, called Beinart "a great Jewish patriot" for speaking up about Palestinian needs. "People who are con- cerned with the welfare of the Jewish people, with the future of Israel as the home- .land of the Jewish people, need to take seriously the needs of the Palestinian people, the need to end the occupation of the West Bank that denies Palestinians rights," Silver said. Others, like Dale Okonow, a member of the board of Jewish Family and Chil- dren's Services and the chair of CJP's 2012 annual campaign, disagreed "ve- hemently" with Beinart's ideas--particularly his contention that young Jews are shunning Zionism. "I think the younger generation of American Jews embraced Israel in a big way," Okonow said. "His message is flawed and not factually correct." Beinart criticized Israeli settlements and an Ameri- can Jewish establishment that he said has "told young American Jews not to ask hard questions, to avoid Palestinians, to start with the assumption everything the Israeli government does is right, and we'll help them reason backwards to figure out why." Shrage praised the Ameri- can Jewish community for supporting Israel's security, as Israelis themselves are conflicted about the best route toward peac e . Beinart said the Israeli government is making a two-state solution more difficult--as are American Jewish supporters of settle- ments. Shrage said that Is- raeli governments for years. -have been willing to take difficult steps for peace-- with enthusiastic support from American Jewry. Shrage said the role of America is to help "make the /verage Israeli feel safe"; Beinart said it is to support a two-state solution. The audience questioned the pair about issues from Jewish apathy to the dif- ficulty for Jewish college students talking about Israel on campus. With an audience that included many Harvard students and young adults, one issue that resonated was the debate over the Birthright Israel program, which sends Jewish young adults on group trips to Israel. Beinart said the problem with Birthright is the same problem he has identified with other Jewish organizations--a lack of interaction with Palestinians. "Ethically, how do we explain the fact that we send all of these kids to Israel and pretend as if essentially Palestin- ians don't exist?" Beinart asked. "In terms of a matter of education and educational honesty, to avoid that is intellectually insulting and dishonest." Shrage responded that data on Birthright show its alumni become closer to Israel and Judaism. "Israel is our greatest ally, not our greatest problem, in engaging the next genera- tion of Jews," Shrage said. "It's Israel that brings people closer to the Jewish people, to day school education, to serious adult leaning, closer to their synagogues. That may be problematic for you. But the facts are actually pretty clear." Shrage said that Birth- right is not about Israeli politics but about the ex- perience of meeting an Israeli soldier: "Their next major decision may be what fraternity they're going to join; the Israeli's decision is whether they're going to live or die in a special unit." Harvard student Emily Unger told the panelists that Shrage's comments rang true to her--but not the way Shrage intended. "If that's the attitude of people running Birthright, that the most important thing I'm thinking about is what fraternity to join, that explains why it wasn't a program run as if I could think like an intelligent person," Unger said. Yet after the event Matt Cohn, a 27-year-old Birth- .right alumni working in the music industry, said that he is considering moving to Israel--partly because of his experience on Birthright. By Shira Schoenberg CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (JTA)--Peter Beinart has had some harsh wor'ds for the Jewish establishment. In 2010, he shook up the com- munal debate over Israel with his essay !'The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment." On the night of April 4 Beinart debated a leader of that very Jewish establish- ment--and their exchange was decidedly respectful, even if there were points of significant disagreement. Speaking at Harvard University, Beinart assailed Israel's policies toward the Palestinians, warned that young American Jews were abandoning Zionism and criticized American Jewish leaders for what he depicted as their unquestioning support of the Israeli gov- ernment. Barry Shrage, president of Boston's Combined Jew- ish Philanthropies, smiled at Beinart. "So much of Peter's speech I could give," Shrage responded. Except, that is, Beinart's call for a boycott of West Bank settlements, which Shrage called "abhorrent" to many Jews. Or Beinart's criticism of Birthright Is- rael, the positive impact of which, Shrage said, is "not arguable." Or Beinart's view that the American Jewish community has resisted the Peace process, which Shrage called "absolutely untrue." Beinart and Shrage were speaking before some 275 people at an event titled "Can Israel survive the next generation of American Jews?" The Harvard Hillel, the university's Center for Jewish Studies and the CJP sponsored the evening. Beinart, a columnist for The Daily Beast and former editor of The New Repub- lic, went over much of the the world that would not pro- tect its citizens from attack. That's unlawful. And it's not sticks and stones, as many of tny friends and relatives who live in Israel know. It's rockets .... Are the[e dif- ferent laws and rules for a Jewish government? If you prick us do we not bleed?" Like other Jewish immi- grants who have benefited from HIAS assistance, Spe- ktor has remained close to the organization. She describes her family's move to the United States as part of a promotional video series called "myStory" produced for the 130th anniversary of theorganization's founding. Writers David Bezmozgis and Gary Shteyngart and the boxer Dmitriy Salita also appear in the series. Google co-founder Sergey Brin, another HIAS beneficiary, gave the group $1 million in 2009. Born in Moscow to a musically inclined family, Spektor began studying ch/ssical piano from an early age. Landing in New York without her beloved piano, Spektor found one in the social hall of a synagogue in her new Bronx neighbor- hood. "It was really fun to turn on the lights because they had all these stage lights," Spektor recalls. "It was totally dark, and you make your way in, checking out what lights what. And I HOMES Summer seasonal rentals Rent for the summer, a month, a week Fine dining, shopping, and recreation Great New England town! Why no, come to the mountains this summer/ 1 800 639 1990 stowecountryhomes.com Help Wanted PR 0 OF READER practiced there. And it was great because I had nowhere else to practice at all." Later, on a trip to Israel in 1996, Spektor found her singing voice. A self-de- scribed wimp, she struggled on hikes through the desert in blazing sunshine. Hum- ming helped her develop a rhythm and pass the time. "It sort of kept me a little more sane," Spektor says. "I had some people be like, 'That was really cool what you sang.' No one ever said to me in all my years of hum- ming that I had a good voice. And so I was like, really? OK, I'll try and sing. When I got back to New York from that trip, I sort of had this renewed excitement that maybe I should try singing." The closeness Spektor feels to the Jewish com- munity was evident in her Lincoln Center show on Feb. 23, which often had the feel of an informal performance in a family living room. Spektor bantered casually with fans who called out to her between songs and offered recollections of the assistance afforded her fam- ily by HIAS after their arrival in the United States. " "I'm not a politician, and I would never want to be," she told JTA. "And so I just try to stay true to the causes that I care about without making my songs and my music and my art just be an element of my agenda as well." Flexible schedule. 5-10 hours per week. Contact Jeff Gaeser at 407-834-8787. PAGE 17A