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--- __ j HERITAG E FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS JULY 31, 2009 For the love of Huma PAGE 21A By Adam Dickter New York Jewish Week In the course of his long po- litical career, AnthonyWeiner became accustomed to eager inquiries when he walked into a Jewish senior center without a wedding ring. "They all want me to meet their granddaughters." the rail-thin, youth(ul politician told me as we walked into one such senior center on Brook- lyn's Ocean Avenue years ago. "And, they want to know what I've eaten today." At the time, Weiner was running for Congress with posters that read Anthony David Weiner, lest the man with the Italian given name be perceived as a non-Jew and lose advantage to any of his three rivals, Noach Dear, Melinda Katz and Daniel Feldman. The unusual moniker and his reluctance to meet those granddaughters or to put on a few pounds have never stood in the way of Anthony Weiner becoming a darling in his own religious community, muster- ing both political support and serious financial backing in a district that includes some of the most heavily Jewish neigh- borhoods in the country. They include Forest Hills in Queens and Flatbush in Brooklyn. But now Weiner. 44. a six- term Democrat with staunch pro-Israel leanings, is enter- ing uncharted waters with his announcement that he'll soon be married. To a Musiim. "Oy," commented one read- er on the blog Yeshiva World News in reaction to the news. "Hashem Yeracham [May God have mercy]," wrote another. "Never liked that. bum," wrote a third. At a time when Jews and Muslims in America are searching for better ties, Weiner has announced he'll tie the knot with Huma Abe- din, a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton. No wedding date has been set. Born in Michigan to an Indian father and Pakistani mother, Abedin, 33, grew up in Saudi Arabia. where her father founded an institute on interfaith understanding and her mother taught sociology. She returned to the U.S. to study at George Washington University. An internship at the White House in 1996 led to a job with the then-first lady, and she has remained at Clinton's side through eight years in the Senate and now at the State Department. Fluent in Arabic, she is consideredone of Clinton's top advisers on the Middle East. She is also known for her flawless appearance in a life filledwith grueling schedules. "She is timeless, her combi- nation of poise, kindness and intelligence are matchless," Clinton told Vogue of her aide in 2007. The following year Abedin served as traveling Chief of staff in Clinton's presidential campaign, during which she reportedly began dating Weiner. who was a key sup- porter. Some right-wing backlash is probably inevitable, and some may wonder if his choice is any of our business. But this is an age when politi- cians' careers and love lives are becoming increasingly seamless. "It's an oxymoron to say you have a private life when you're a public official," says William Helmreich, a CUNY Graduate Center sociology professor and author of books on New York life. "If that's what you want. choose another profes- sion." Perhaps feeling otherwise. Weiner did not return a call seeking comment. In a 1998 interview he said he belonged to Beth Sholom of Kings Bay in Brooklyn, which describes itself as liberal Orthodox. but he has since moved to Forest Hills. Like many New York politicians, Weiner has been known to appear with a yarmulke at Jewish events and sprinkle terms like Eretz Yisrael into his speeches, but has never presented himself as obser- vant. So it shouldn't surprise that he is joining the legion of prominent Jews who love gentiles. Public figures like former Comptroller Alan Hevesi, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Mayor Michael Bloomberg lost no discernible Jewish support for marrying or dating outside the faith. Even in heavily chasidic Williamsburg David Yassky's intermarriage hasn't cost him that voting bloc. in his two successful City Council campaigns. But the volatile tension between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East, and the spread of Islamic fundamen- talism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, gives this latest love story involving one of the mostpro-Israel pols on Capitol Hill a sense of awkwardness, even at a time when the first U.S. president with Muslim ancestry (albeit, a practicing Christian) sits in the Oval Office. The media has tread care- fully on the Jewish-Muslim angle, more seduced by the political-powerhouse factor. 'Another .C. Power Couple Moment." was the headline of a Washington Post story. Some might see the two as a new James Carville-Mary Matalin. if you cross out party affiliation and add religion as the potentially divisive force their love overcame. But if there are any ques- tions about Abedin's impact on Weiner's foreign policy, they may have more to do with her loyalty to Clinton who, in the eyes of many, has morphed from Arafat fan as first lady to Zionist as senator. and is now seen by many to be Beyond the prom By SteVe Lipman New York Jewish Week HOUSTON--The sanctu- ary-multiuse room of Con- gregation Beth El, a Reform synagogue in Sugar Land, a bedroom community near here, was converted one re- cent spring afternoon into a one-day-a-year use: an enor- mous dressing room. Amid racks holding more than 500 chic gowns, with bima and Israeli flag in the background, two dozen teen- age girls tried on the dresses behind makeshift barricades. and browsed at tables piled with jewelry and other ac- cessories. The fashion items, all donated, were for the high school seniors during the end- of-school-year prom season. None of the students were Jewish. The girls and a few guys, who go to prom this year in free-for-rent tuxedos are mostly Hispanic and African American, participants in the Cinderella-Cinderfella Project. an independent, humanitarian initiative. The project, which has received support from the local Mazal chapter of Hadassah and the Exxon Mobil Chemical-Co., during its first decade, is planning its first fundraising event later this year. It accepts a limited number of students recommended annually by local guidance counselors and offers extensive mentor- ing and college admission advise, i n addition to the prom necessities. While organizations across the country assist students in attending the popular dress- up dances, The Cinderella- Cinderfella Project is the only one under exclusively Jewish auspices, the only one that helps guys too, and the only one that gives such long-term moral support, says Eva Lacs Fackeldey, a Beth El member who founded the project with her husband Henry. With some 100 volunteers from the Jewish and general community, the project offers limited college scholarship aid to the students. Christians and Hindus. 80 percent of them homeless. "It serves as tikkun olam. one kid at a time," Eva Fack- eldey says, using the Hebrew for repairing the world. "We shower them with gifts and hold their hand from February through their prom day. We don't just dress 'era.'" "Anytime the Jewish corn- munity partners with the wider community, it's a positive." says Rabbi Seth Stander, spiritual leader of the 250 -member-family syna- gogue southwest of Houston. Most of the project's stu- dents are from low-income backgrounds, "The project notices us." says Curtis Bell, 18, who hopes to become a chef and learned about kashrut while helping to prepare the project's recent kosher reception. Babita Upadhyuya, 18, who came here from Nepal two years ago, says the project helped her apply to nearby Wharton County Junior Col- lege. After a decade, many of the high school students who attended prom because of The Cinderella-Cinderfella Project, have gone to college, Fackeldey says. One young woman, who studies for her master's degree, will come to the project's upcoming fundraising event, Fackelday says. "She will talk about her life. She will tell our students they should go to college too." Steve Lipman is a staff writer for the New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission. waffling as secretary of state in an administration hell-bent on a peace agreement that includes squeezing Israel on settlements. "I don't think he'll be one- tenth as influenced by his wife's opinions as a Muslim as he would be by Hillary Clin- ton and [President] Barack Obama's opinions on the Middle East," says Helmreich. "They're the sources of his power [as a Democrat.]" Concerned about a par- ticular Middle East bill or resolution viewed as harm- ful to Obama administration policy, could Clinton call on Abedin to lobby her husband to back down? "She might," says Helm- " riech. "But if she does, you or I will never know it." The mayor of New York has no impact on Middle East policy, and City Hall is where Weiner has set his political sights. To get there he'll need to hold onto and build his Jewish support. Observant Jews view in- termarriage as religious treason. One Yeshiva World commenter. Mastergary, won- dered if "the timing of this news release [was] meant to coincide with the parsha in which some members of Bnei Yisroel sinnedwith midyanite women (in particular Zimri and Kosby) and ' [brought] down a plague?" He was refer- ring to the portion of Balak. in which two Jews suffer foi tak- ing mates outside the tribe. But even those who oppose intermarriage on grounds that it is harmful to Jew- ish continuity and believe that its proliferation among prominent role models exac- erbates that problem--have to weigh a potential protest vote against consideration of who serves their community's best interests. "I don't think anyone fo- cuses or cares or is inter- ested," says Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who shares part of Weiner's district. "No one has really mentioned it. Iwish him luck." Shlomo Perl, an Orthodox Borough Park businessman who held a fundraiser in his home for Weiner's re-election in 2000 and contributed to his mayoral campaign in 2005, said Weiner "has always been- a friend of Israel and admirer. I'm sure now he'll do the same things. I'll support him if he runs for mayor again and also for his re-election to Congress. I'm not one who judges a person's character on his personal choices." There could even be a politi- cal dividend. "It may in fact be good for Weiner in acitywide race for people in Manhattan to see him as more ecumenical. whereas they might have seen him before as an out- er-borough, very parochial candidate," says Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. "Hopefully people won't look at them as a Jew and a Muslim. but as two people who love each other." Imam Shamsi Ali of the Islamic Cultural Cnter on the Upper East Side said he had no opinion about what the union portends."It's aper- sonal choice between those individuals, and I don't think I have anything to say other than, may they be happy." Another imam, Mohamad Al Hussaini of London, an interfaith studies teacher who was visiting New York this week. said that despite strong communal stigma Muslim out-marriage is growing to a larger extent than many peo- ple realize, as popular culture prompts greater engagement with the outside world. "The challenges faced by the Jewish community are followed almost step by step by Muslims," said Imam Hussaini. And so, with Argerica's Jews and Muslims lobbying against each other in Washington, and with recent acts of attempted terrorismagainstJewspromi- nently linked in the media to Muslims, coexistence build- ers in the two communities share some common ground, perhaps in trying not to like each other too much. and not in that way. Secular Jews may soon see marrying Christians as so 2008. And it may not be long before Anthony Weiner is visiting Muslim senior centers, with a ring on his finger, showing pictures of his dual-heritage children, as grandmothers invite him to sit down anti eat something. Adam Dickter is the as- sistant managing editor of the New York Jewish Week from which this article was reprinted by permission.