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August 27, 2010

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PAGE 16A m mosque By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Nancy Pelosi agreed with an ADL call for transparency in the funding of the mosque and interfaith center near Ground Zero, but said its opponents should also make their funding transparent. The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Weighed in Aug. 18 on the controversy, and echoed statements from President Obama that freedom of religion is paramount, but that the decision about the planned mosque is a local matter. "The freedom of religion is a Constitutional right." Pelosi said in a statement. "Where a place of worship is located is a local decision." New York authorities. including Mayor Michael Btoomberg, have supported the mosque and commu- nity center, planned for a run-down areawithin three blocks of the World Trade Center felled in the SepL 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Polling shows most Americans oppose the planned mosque, which also will serve as an in: terfaith center, and a vo- cal opposition group has garnered the support of much of the Republican leadership, who have made the mosque an issue in the November midterm elections. The Anti-Defamation League earlier this month issued a statement decry- ing~bigoted opposition to the mosque, but also calling for the center's organizers to respect the sensibilities of Sept. 11 vic- tims and build it elsewhere. The ADL also called for transparency in the funding of the mosque, apparently heeding reports that its organizers have in the past consorted with Islamic radicals. Pelosi in her statement said she agreed with a statement on the ADL call from the Interfaith Alliance. a religious free- dom group that includes a number of prominent rabbis on its board: The entire Alliance statement expressed disappointment in the ADL: "It is unfair to prejudge the impact this center can have on reconciliation before it is even built." it said. "And we must remember that just because someone prays in a mosque, that does not make them any less of a citizen than you or me." Pelosi, howe~er, singled out for agreement only one sentence in the statement: "We agree with the ADL that there is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center. At the same time. we should also ask who is funding the at- tacks against the construc- tion of the center." Abraham Foxman. the ADL's national director, said he appreciated Pelosi's support for transparency, but regretted fhe politici- zation of the issue. Ron Kampeas is JTA's Washington bureau chief. By Aaron Passman Jewish Exponent~ While many of his peers were heading to traditional spring-break venues in Florida, 20-year-old Jacob Arem wasn't having any of that. Sure. he was looking for some sand and sun. but he was focusing on something a bit more off the beaten path. Hello, Syria. The Akiba Hebrew Acad- emy graduate and Cornell University senior said that despite some initial fears about visiting the Arab nation, he and four other student traveling compan- ions found warm hospital- ity. "People just wanted to help us the entire time and show us around, and not expect anything in return." Arem's time in the Middle Eastern country was just one component of a study- abroad program he under- took this past spring. He spent the semester taking classes and learning Arabic at a university in Zarqua, Jordan, outside of Amman. Arem was one of about a dozen American students on the program, four of whom, he said, were Jews. Arem spent this sum- mer in Egypt participating in an immersive Arabic- Jacob Arem spent a semester studying near Amman, Jordan, shown here. language program, with a Critical Language Scholar- ship issued from the State Department. When the academic year begins in a few weeks, he'll go back to Cornell to finish his de- gree in government, with a minor in city planning. He said that he is c~bnsidering applying to law school upon graduation. Even though safety was always a concern, he said, it was important to him to learn Arabic firsthand, not only because "it seemed like a cool language, but it's politically relevant." He said that although his family supported him traveling to a place not always considered friendly toward Jews. Part of their comfort level, he added, came from the fact that "l wasn't the first one going," and that "I wouldn't be on my own. I'm sure if I went by myself it would have been a differ- ent story." Still, he knew he would have to be careful. He said that during his stint in Jor- dan, he didn't broadcast his Judaism to those around him. When he was offered meat, he told people he was a vegetarian, rather than say he keeps kosher; and if people asked his religion, he did whatever he could to change the subject, includ- ing discussing the roots of his name. Arem said that he some- times felt alienated when he heard people say disparag- ing things about Jews or Israel. or when he realized that he couldn't be com- pletely honest with people. even those he has known' for months. Roger Allen. a longtime ~rofessor of Arabic at the University of Pennsylva- nia, said that enrollment in Arabic courses nea?ly quadrupled after the Sept. 11 attacks. Since the fall of 2002, said Allen, the num- ber has hovered between 80 and 90 students. He said that Jewish stu- dents comprise one of the largest groups studying the language at Penn: "Most of them have particular goals in mind for studying Arabic; I don't think they take it on a whim." Many of them "have no- tions of solving the Middle East conflict somehow, or wanting to be involved in discussions doing that," he said, but an equal number seem to beinterested in the close relationship between Jewish and Arabic history, especially their languages and culture. One of Allen's students who has been abroad re- cently is Seattle native Eli- sheva Goldberg, a 22-year- old studying Near Eastern Languages and Civiliza- tions at Penn. Much of her time |ately has been spent in locales like Alexandria, Egypt, and Rabat. Morocco. Some of her travels have been facilitated through America-Mideast Educa- tional and Training S.ervic- es (Amideast), a nonprofit organization that seeks to develop cooperation between the areas. Under its auspices, she spent part of the 2009-10 academic year studying in Morocco and living with a Jewish host family in the city's Old City. Prior to that, she spent two months in Alexandria on the same Arabic-immersion program that Arem took part in. "For anything to happen in the Mideast, people need to be able to talk to one another," said Goldberg. "I want them to feel comfort- able talking to me in their own tongue." Although Goldberg said that she isn't entirely sure yet what she wants to do professionally, she hopes it will involve writing about the Middle East. Rabbi Howard Alpert, executive director of Hillel of 'Greater Philadelphia, said that while "there has always been a small trickle of students" interested in spending semesters in such locales, it seems to be more common now than a decade ago. "This is part of a major at- titudinal change that we see among committed Jewish students today over their older cousins from eight or 10 years ago," he said. He pointed out that much of that change relates to a desire to understand the Arab and Muslim worlds, "and perhaps even accept it. without moving away from the Jewish narrative on.the Middle East." Still. it's one thing for a new generation to learn about Arab lands: it's an- other to change the percep- tions of those nations. But Arem responded :positively. The number of American Jews studying in such places, he said. "is pretty significant at this point, and I think the num- ber of problems is pretty low. So I think that, more than any of my personal experiences, may change people's minds." Aaron Passman is a staff writer for the (Phila- delphia) Jewish Exponent from which this article was reprinted by permission. By Steve Lipman New York Jewish Week Tony Judt, a British social historian who was an avid Zionist as a teenager and an outspoken critic of Israel as an adult, died Aug. 6 in his Manhattan home of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. He was 62. Dr. Judt, the Erich Maria Remarque professor in Eu- ropean studies at New York University, helped promote the migration of British EXCELLENCE IN ELDER CARE PROGRAMS AND SERVICES River Garden Hebrew Home- Traditional Long-Term Care, Short Stay Rehabilitation, Alzheimer's and Dementia Care The Coves- Independent Living Retirement Community at River Garden The Therapy Center- 7 days a week R.IVEK GARDEN Excellence in Adult Care and Services Jews to Israel in 1966 and worked as a volunteer in Israel before and after the Six-Day War the following year, butsaid his belief in a Jewish state he called it "an anachronism"--began to diminish in the aftermath of the war when Israel took control of the Arab territo- ries it had conquered. "I went with this ideal- istic fantasy of creating a socialist, communitarian country through work," he said, calling this view "remarkably unconscious of the people"--Palestin- ian Arabs "who had been kicked out of the country and were suffering in refu- gee camps." A frequent contrib utor to The New York Review of Books, he used his essays as a forum for attacking policies of the Israeli gov- ernment. Israel, he wrote in 2003, was turning into a "belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno state." He called for the conver- sion of Israel "from a Jewish state to a binational one." In a 2006 op-ed piece for The New York Times, he predicted that "it will not be self-evident to future generations of American Jews" of why the interests the United States "are so closely aligned with one small, controversial Medi- terranean client state." In late 2006, Judt and his supporters accused the Anti-Defamation League of trying to silence his criti- cism of Israel by pressur- ing the Polish Consulate to cancel a discussion there about the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S:, a charge the ADL vehemently denied in a controversy that lasted weeks. Judt earlier this year de- clared that the Israeli Navy's fatal interception of-the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara ship as part of a relief flotilla would seriously jeopardize U.S.-Turkish relations. "I think intellectuals have a primary duty to dissent not from the conventional wisdom of the age (though that too). but, and above all, from the community of their own community," Judt said in an interview earlier this year. A Jerusalem Post editorial this week attacked Judt's comments on Turkish-Israel relations. "As if the gradual process of Islamic extrem- ism that has gripped Turkey since the rise to power of the AKP [political party] had nothing to do with that country's changing orienta- tion," the paper wrote. Judt's frequent criticism of Isra_ei placed him among "other contemporary Jewish intellectuals of the Dias- pora.., who have chosen to single out Israel for oppro- brium that is rarely, if ever, directed at other countries that chose to adopt unique religious or cultural-based nationalities," an editorial in The Jerusalem Post last week stated. "At the center of JudUs attacks on Israel was a stubborn refusal to ac- cept the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in a distinctly Jewish state. For Judt, European particu- larism as an undeniable fact, but the Jewish variety was outdated." The Jerusalem Post called Judt's 2003 essay in The New York Review of Books, which called for Israel's replace- ment with "a single, inte- grated, bi-national state" between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea "a recipe for national suicide for the sovereign Jewish entity." "Today I'm regarded out- side New York University as a looney-tunes leftie self- hating Jewish communist," he told The Guardian of London this year. "Inside the university I'm regarded as typical old-fashioned white male liberal elitist. I like that. I'm on the edge of both, it makes me feel comfortable." Diagnosed two years ago with ALS, a debilitating motor neuron disease, he became paralyzed from'his neck down within months, breathing with the aid of a respirator, Steve Lipman is a staff writer for the New York Jewish Week from which this article was reprinted by permission.