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October 9, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER 9, 2009 PAGE 5A By Gary Rosenblatt Jewish Week NEW YORK--There is much I admire about Barack Obama, including his intel- lect, vision and ability to connect with people, per- sonally and globally. Rarely have I seen a public figure so comfortable within his own skin, regardless of its color. But in his ninth month -as president, I am deeply disappointed in, and frankly baffled by, his dealings with the Mideast in general and Israel in particular, from his focus on Jewish settlements as seemingly the key to re- newing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, to his most recent conclusion that the best way to achieve peace in the region is to jump to final-status negotiations, a potentially fatal miscalcula- tion. I write out of frustration, painfully aware that the first months of the Obama administration's efforts to achieve progress in the Mid- east largely have been awaste,. if not a setback. And that's especially true because, real- istically, a president only has the first two years in office to initiate bold initiatives before focusing on re-election. I am certainly not alone in this assessment. Gidi Grinstein. the founder and head of Re'ut, a Tel Aviv -based independent think tank that offers strategic advice to the Israeli government, told me the other day that "the only attainable" positive result from U. S.-Israel-Palestinian Authority talks at this point could be through "baby steps," establishing a West Bank state for the Palestin- ians. And even that would be very difficult because it requires support from a right- wing Israeli coalition and ap- proval by a fragile Palestinian Authority two bodies that are "weak on their best days," Grinstein observed. But by adopting what he called an "all-or-nothing approach" now, which would include discussions of the fate of Jerusalem and that of Palestinian refugees, the administration is losing touch with reality, "moving away from the achievable to the desirable." Grinstein pointed out that such efforts have failed since 1949, and that the result could well be the collapse of the fragile Palestinian Authority, leading to the in- herent Israeli control of the Palestinian population and a recipe for more violence. Moving away from the focus on establishing a Pal- estinian state is especially troubling, Grinstein said. because he believes the PA has made great progress in the last three years in improv- ing law "and )rder (with the help of U. S.-trained security forces), reducing corruption and building up the infra- structure needed for a more open society. But those achievements "seem to have zero effect on the design of the process," Grinstein said. "That's why I'm so worried." There was a time when Israel thought that time was on its side, that maintaining the status quo with the Pal- estinians was an acceptable strategy. The Palestinians believe that time is on their side. that if a two-state solu- tion fails, the inevitable result will be one state, meaning that demographics will play the deciding factor and even- tually Israeli Arabs will out- number Jews. A democratic election in Israel wouldthen result in an Arab victory and - the end of the Jewish state, without a shot being fired. The alternative would be a Jewish apartheid state, which the world would not tolerate. In the end, time is on no one's side in this conflict; lack of progress is a step backward toward potential violence and chaos all the more reason why the Obama administra- tion's lack of insight and ingenuity up to now has been so frustrating. That is not to take the Netanyahu government off the hook. either. Prime Minister Netanyahu's Bar- Ilan University speech last June, delivered in response to Obama's Cairo address to the Arab world, said the right things acceptanceofatwo- state solution and calling for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state but it seemed too little, too late. It looked defensive and would have had greater impact and acceptance had it been given before the Obama talk. What's more, while it was wrong for Washington to publicly demand an Israeli settlement freeze not the way to treat your most loyal ally, and misguided Ne- tanyahu would have been wise to accept it. In so do- ing, he would have called the Palestinians' bluff and put the onus on them, since they have never been willing to make compromises for negotiations. Instead, thanks to the U.S. blunder, the Palestinians are now insisting on a settlement freeze before negotiations, something they have not done since the Oslo talks more than 16 years ago. (It should be noted thatwhen the U.S. called for such a freeze, it defined neither "settle- ment" nor "freeze," perhaps not realizing that to the Palestinians, a freeze means, says Grinstein. "no building cranes in [the] French Hill [neighborhood of Jerusa- lem]." He pointed this out as an example of Washington's lack of preparation.) On the positive side, it ap- pears that Netanyahu, and Iranian intransigence, finally have helped convince Obama that a nuclear Iran, not Jew- ish settlements in the West Bank, represents the greatest danger to Mideast stability. But after witnessing the spectacle of the United Na- tions General Assembly in action last month, from the ramblings of Libya's Kaddafi to the haughty lies of Iran's Ahmadinejad--and sadness in seeing Netanyahu feel the need to read from the podium Jewish names of Nazi victims to prove the historical real- ity of the Holocaust--one concludes, yet again, that this once-noble institution is more than a mockery; it is a threat to a peace when it comes to Israel. All the more reason why the U.S. can and should play a critical role instabilizing the Mideast and protecting the region's only democracy. The Obama administration needs to jettison its grand plan for a swift and dramatic resolution to the Mideast impasse and go back to basics; the clock is ticking and the stakes are dangerously high. Gary Rosenblatt is editor andpub'lisher of the New York Jewish Week, from which this column is reprinted with permission, t r~o blogs at http:// S SU By Sandy Cardin TULSA. Okla. (JTA)--For millennia, the month of Elul has been a time for contem- plation for many Jews. The waning of the prior year and the promise of a new beginning offer the perfect opportunity to take stock of where we have traveled andthe road that lies ahead. It was against this back- ground of odr tradition that I recently traveled to Kiev and, on my way home, found myself reflecting on the mi- raculous revival of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union, a transformation I have had the privilege of witnessing firsthand during the past two decades. Fifteen years ago, the Jews of the former Soviet Union were just awakening from 70 years of oppression. The Communist regime prohib- ited the practice of Judaism, and those synagogues that were neither destroyed nor allowed to fall into ruin were put to use by the state for non-religious purposes. Other than the JDC and Chabad. very few Jewish groups had any meaningful By Andrew Silow. Carroll New Jersey Jewish News PARSIPPANY, N.J.-- Looking for a good role model as you head into the New Year? Try Jane Fonda. Seriously. A few weeks ago, the actress angered many friends of Israel by s i~ning a letter protesting a showcase of Tel Aviv cinema during the Toronto International Film Festival. As I complained in a previous Column. the protest letter questioned the very le- gitimacy of Tel Aviv, accused festival organizers of bowing to Israel's "propaganda ma- representation and pro- grams in the region, and the mix of apprehension and ignorance among the local Jewish population made working there a very difficult task. Despite these obstacles. Charles (z"l) and Lynn Schus- terman considered the lifting of the Iron Curtain awindow of opportunity that they sim- ply could not afford to miss. They also felt there could be significant lessons to be learned about assimilation and the power of the Jewish experience from a people returning to Judaism from a deep, dark, government- imposed slumber. And so, in 1994, our foun- dation joined with Hillel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Commit- tee to open Hillel programs in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kiev. Our goals were to begin to plant the seeds of a vibrant Jewish community in the former Soviet Union and then, if we were successful, to discover what it is aboUt Judaism that kept a yearning alive for so many. We hoped that answer would ultimately hold the key to Jewish re- chine," and reduced Israel's war on Hamas terrorists in Gaza to an act of aggres- sion by a mighty military against a defenseless civilian population. But as criticism of her participation grew, Jane did something unusual for a public figure: She did teshu- va. And not in that begrudg- ing, Serena-like, "I apologize if anybody took offense" kind of way. No, Ms. Fonda issued a thoughtful statement to the Huffington Post admitting she made a mistake. "I signed the letter without reading it carefully enough, without newal in the United States and elsewhere. Today, what we and oth- ers .sowed in the '80s and '90s.have grown into fruit- bearing trees from which the local and global Jewish community will benefit for years to come. In addition to the 26 Hillels in the region," there are synagogues, Jewish community centers, chesed- im (social service/welfare centers), kindergartens, day s hools, camps, youth programs, academic groups, women groups and Taglit/ Birthright Israel. Even local Jewish funders, including the Genesis Philanthropic Group, are supporting a variety of other projects in the region, including Hillel. In short, it is no longer a stretch to talk in terms of Jewish communal life in places such as Kiev and Kharkov, Tashkent and Tblisi, Moscow and Minsk. Thanks to the efforts of many, a strong Jewish in- frastructure now exists to support the Jews of these communities, especially those who still live on mea- ger pensions and require our ongoing assistance: asking myself if some of the wording wouldn't exacerbate the situation rather than bring about constructive dialogue," she writes. She goes on to admit that the letter contained a "simplistic depiction of Tel Aviv" as a city "built on de- stroyed Palestinian villages." And she laments that the letter omitted any mention of Hamas' rocket attacks on Sderot and the western Negev, "to which Israel was responding when it launched its war on Gaza.'" And she evenhses the word teshuva, quoting Los Ange- Of course, our commu- nity-building work in the FSU is far from over. Even in these difficult economic times, we must continue to make long-term investments in the region in addition to meeting individual needs of the elderly and infirm or risk watching our hard- earned gains of the past 20 years slip away. We cannot afford to take an 'either-or" approach; an "and-both" is our only alternative, and we must find ways to muster the resolve and the resources to make that happen. And what of the lessons we hoped to learn? We confirmed our sense that using Hillel to reach out, educate and empower young Jews would be an effective way to identify, recruit, train and engage a new generation of Jewish communal leader- ship, both lay and profes- sional. Throughout the FSU. as well as in organizations in the United States and Israel that serve Russian-speaking populations, there are Jews like Dasha Privalko. who was a teenager when I met her on my first trip to Kiev and today, as an adult, is a les Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, who taught her that teshuva means "to fix things you have done incorrectly, not just by never doing them again but by 'coming with a sincere heart.'" It's a good statement. It shows the possibility that in an increasingly polarized political climate, in which people cling to their opinions and would rather be wrong than admit their critics have a valid point, a thoughtful person is able to change his or her mind. Erred on page 23A senior member of the Hillel Ukraine team. We were introduced to the power of service. Years before it was as fashionable as it is today, dozens of young Jews - from inside and outside the FSU traveled throughout the region each spring to help lead Passover sederim. Jews who thought no one knew or cared about them shared an educational and emotional Jewish experience with young people who. in turn, received at least as much in return as those to whom they brought great joy. We also were exposed to the value of providing young Jews from one region with op- portunities to work alongside their peers from other com- munities and countries. This is a lesson that Taglit now employs so effectively to help strengthen Jewish identity. Finally, the vitally im- portant concept of "meet- ing people where they are" emerged from the earliest days of the FSU Hillel pro- gram and now has become the generally accepted ap- proach to outreach in Amer- ica. It took almost no time at all for us to realize that for Judaism to flourish anew in the FSU, especially among those young Jews for whom the post-Soviet lifestyle is all they have ever experienced. Jewish life in the region must be one of their own making. It is at a time like this, one of reflection and rebirth, that we can draw inspiration from the revival of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union. It is a story that embodies the enduring values of our heritage, the remarkable resilience of our people and the unlimited potential of our future. Sandy Cardin is president of the Schusterman Family Foundation. 51A HAT TORAH I:OR THE ZO CENTLR .