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May 17, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 17, 2013 PAGE 19A Borders From page 1A as president of the JGS Los Angeles (JGSLA) and the International Association of JGS's (IAJGS) as well as a founding member of the JGS of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County (JG- SCV). He currently serves on the JewishGen Board of Governors, chairing its Strategic Planning Com- mittee. He has chaired or served in a leadership role for eight IAJGS confer- ences, is advisor to the 2013 Conference in Boston and is co-chairing the 2014 conference in Salt Lake City. Bookbinder has published numerous articles on re- search techniques, Jewish history, border changes and safe computing. In 2010, he was honored with the IAJGS Lifetime Achieve- ment Award. Bookbinder has identified more than 3,500 relatives in eight lines, taking two of these back into the mid-18th century. His family roots are primarily from the area cur- rently within the Ukraine and adjacent areas of Moldova, Belarus, Russia and Poland. His lecture on "The Chang- ing Borders of Eastern Eu- rope" is fundamental for those researching their Jewish East- ern European family history. The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Orlando (JGSGO) is a not for profit or- ganization dedicated to shar- ing genealogical information, techniques and research tools with anyone interested in Jewish genealogy and fam- ily history. Anyone may join JGSGO. Annual dues are $25 for an individual and $30 for a family. For more information visit our blog at www.jgsgo. and "like" us at greaterorlando. Protest From page 2A throwing cups of water and coffee at police, journalists and--when they could--the women praying. One protester threw a chair. At times, the haredi Ortho- dox crowd broke into song, chanting about the failure of wicked plans and the domin- ion of God. Throughout, Women of the Wall conducted its full prayer service, trying to sing over the screams that rose every time a song began. For the first time in months, men and women mixed at the service with no divider to separate them. "This is an embarrassment and a shame how some people are acting to people who just want to pray," said Bracha, 66, who participated in Women of the Wall's service and also would not give her last name. "There's space for everybody. People need to relate with understanding to those who don't do the same thing as them." For some supporters of Women of the Wall, last Fri- day's conflict was about more than the right to pray freely at Judaism's holiest site. "This is a struggle for de- mocracy in Israel," said Lucas Lejderman, 30, a counselor in the Conservative Jewish youth movement here. Whether protesters will turn out in equal numbers when Women of the Wall meet for next month's Rosh Chodesh service is unclear. As the crowd dispersed, the women sang "Hatikvah," Israel's national anthem. As if on cue, the hand- ful of protesters who remained booed at the top of their lungs. Read Ben Sales'analysis of how haredi Orthodox Israelis are mobilizing in Israel's religious pluralism battles, and JTA's letters blog for first-person accounts of last Friday's Western Wall clashes at Rosen From page 5A in the world of business and politics. But he wouldn't pro- vide me with a full list of their names, and they are not to be found on the group's web- site. Instead, he sent me the names and phone numbers of three board members to contact--Bruce Blakeman, Herb London and Michael Melnicke--which I did. Rosen described them as "good folks with no axe to grind." (An official of the Confer- ence of Presidents said it does not initiate investiga- tions into the workings of its member groups, though complaints brought to the conference from within a group will be followed up.) Rosen said the Congress is in the process of reorganizing its structure and revising its constitution so that it can "move forward and make a difference in Jewish life." He described its activities only in general terms, citing support for Israel and dealing with the Iran crisis, as well as domestic issues, including education. "We weigh in on issues that matter. We want to influence decision makers," Rosen said. "We can make a difference, like other organizations make a difference. We can influence leaders around the world." Indeed, Rosen has a history of dealing with some of the most controversial of world leaders, from Fidel Castro in Cuba to senior officials in Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia and North Korea. He has also been a supporter and fundraiser for Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, hosting a dinner party for Obama his East Side apartment during the campaign last fall. Perhaps most famously he is a friend of Pervez Mush- arraf, the former president of Pakistan, who while in office addressed a large American Jewish Congress dinner in New York in 2005. Long associated with members of the Russian community, Rosen partnered with Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman last winter to invest a reported $1 billion in real estate projects along the East Coast. Rosen was appointed in March as one of the seven members of the selection committee of the Genesis Prize Foundation, funded largely by Fridman. Other members include Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky and British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Ego Trip? Many who have worked closely with Rosen during his on-and-off leadership role with the Congress over the last two decades credit him with stepping in and saving it from closing in the late- 1990s through an infusion of financial support. There are those, like nurs- ing home administrator and current board member Michael Melnicke, who say he is a passionate leader who cares deeply about the Jewish future. "I like his ideas, he's a vi- brant man and I admire him for his dedication to Israel and the Jewish people," he said. Others say Rosen was, and is, an autocratic, ego-driven lay leader with his own agen- da, namely to use the cachet of his title as president of the American Jewish Congress-- as well as chairman of the American Council for World Jewry, anAJCongress spinoff he created in 2003--for his business and social dealings around the world, a persistent charge he objects to vigor- ously, challenging critics to offer tangible proof. Jay Umansky, a St. Louis attorney and lay leader of the local branch of AJCongress who has been involved for more than three decades, says the national organization exists in name only, and he accuses Rosen of maintaining the charade. "His position gains him access to leaders around the world who have no idea the organization is, quite frankly, comatose," says Umansky. "I'd like to see it revived but I'm not confident that's possible." Noting that he had been asked by his independent St. Louis board to speak to me about Rosen, Umansky said his local members were "outraged by what's going on. They want these issues to come to light because they want to see every effort made to prevent the hijacking of the organization by one individual." He asserted that "no ac- tivities of consequence are taking place on the national level, and I find it all distaste- ful," adding: "I'm just trying to honor the history of this organization." Rosen countered that Umansky and other critics were "bad sports" who did not adapt to a changing world in making the Congress rel- evant, and were bitter after losing out last year in deci- sions on the direction and makeup of the reconstituted national board. "Because of his unhap- piness he levels charges without facts or backup," said Rosen, who said that being upset was"no reason to defame the organization." He also said it would be wrong for The Jewish Week to publish such accusations. Several other individuals who were involved with A J- Congress in the past echoed Umansky's complaints but preferred anonymity, noting that Rosen, as one said, "plays hardball." (After I informed Rosen of the criticisms from Umansky, his attorney sent Umansky a "cease and desist" letter, ac- cusing him of "disseminating false and malicious state- ments concerning Mr. Rosen, as well as his involvement with the American Jewish Congress," and threatening legal action if this conduct continued.) Richard Gordon, the previ- ous president of the Congress and now listed as chair, has had a long and contentious relationship with Rosen, which he declined to discuss. He said his own tenure was taken up with sorting out the aftermath of the organiza- tion's loss of more than 90 percent of its $24 million in the Madoff fiasco, including making sure the 82 employ- ees and former employees entitled to pensions were paid in full, and paying all of the creditors. He believes the Congress is worth reviving, that it could play a vital role in areas like economic equality for wom- en, housing discrimination, and promoting relationships between Arabs and Jews. Others formerly active with the Congress note that it once offered expert testi- mony in the U.S. Congress, held forums, and published journals and position papers. "Why have an organization if it's not helping the com- munity?" one asked. "What has it done since last April?' Changing The Rules It was in April 2012 that the annual convention of the Congress was convened in New York, attended by about half of its remain- ing 250 members--those who paid the then-annual $50 membership fee, plus the $75 convention charge. Richard Gordon had served two terms as president and was ineligible to run again. In an effort to avoid a showdown between the two potential candidates--Rosen's son, Dan, and Jessica Abrahams, an attorney in Washington and chair of the Women's Division of the Congress-- a compromise of sorts was reached prior to the meeting, according to several sources in attendance. Gordon would become chairman; Jack Rosen, the chair, would become interim president until January 2013, at which time a special con- vention would take place to elect new officers, and com- mittees would be selected to revise the constitution, look for an executive director (va- cant since 2008), and set an agenda for the organization. In fact, sources say, while Gordon became chair and Jack Rosen interim president, none of the other issues have been addressed. But Rosen and the govern- ing council bmrd members whose names shared with me have a different version. They said January 2013 was the overly optimistic target date for the changes, which are being addressed actively by the board--especially, re- vising the constitution--but no decisions have been made to date. Bruce Blakgnan, an at- torney and fomer Nassau County Repubican legisla- tor, chaired tte April 2012 convention and recalled that there was nuch discus- sion about reorganization. He said he world like to see AJCongress re ch out to the African American, Hispanic and Asian communities-- "more than other Jewish organizations do now. We will fill a niche," Blakeman, former A J- Congress merrber who be- came less active, as did the organization, said Rosen contacted himseveral years ago and spoke f reinvigorat- ing the organzation so he signed on agail. He defendet Rosen as "someone wiling to take charge. Jack is a owerful and well-known leaer, and that's a good thing. ccessful or- ganizations well-known and powerful hders." Blakeman sal he appreci- ates Rosen's "deotion--and his Rolodex, hisontact list." Herb Londa, chair of the governing ouncil, said Congress is grog through "a significant eolution" and will offer "an ineresting and exciting progran. That's why I'm participatirg." The former president of The Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank of which Rosen is a member, said his personal involvement with the Congress focuses on Mideast education. A number of his presentations at col- leges and elsewhere on the Arab-Israeli conflict college campuses are sponsored by the Congress, he said. London says he has heard the criticism of Rosen, and points out "there are always disgruntled people with complaints, some personal and maybe some fair." But he said the charge that Rosen "hijacked" the Congress is "a distinctly unfair character- ization." The organization is mov- ing in "an appropriate direc- tion," he said, that will be organized "very differently and focus on the board." That's the problem, ac- cording to the critics, who say steps were taken in recent months to exclude all but the new governing council board members chosen by Rosen. The size of the governing council was reduced from 70 to a minimum of three mem- bers. (It has 18 or 19, Rosen said.) Regional chapters-- there are only two--must contribute at least $7,500 annually to be part of the national body. St. Louis will continue to operate independently, said Umansky. And Matthew Weinstein, who chairs the Maryland chapter, said his board feels uncomfortable having to choose sides and is currently evaluating its options. To be an individual na- tional member of the Con- gress now will require paying $1,000 in dues, with only national members eligible to serve as delegates to the national convention. Umansky, who had been a member of the national gov- erning council for a decade, said he was summarily re- moved without notification, indicative of what he called "a fundamental change of a storied, grass-roots member- ship organization to one not simply controlled, but en- tirely constituted by a small band of individuals. Those who were mem- bers-and still believe they are members--did not par- ticipate in the process, he said. "This is not sour grapes" about losing to Rosen, he insisted. "It is a marked and wholesale de- parture from the foundation of the organization." Another former leader put it more bluntly: "The organi- zation as we know it died. If there is anything this new group has actually accom- plished, let them show us." Gary Rosenblatt is editor and publisher of The New York Jewish Week, from which this article was re- printed by permission. 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