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December 14, 2012

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PAGE 16A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 14, 2012 By Helen Chernikoff New York Jewish Week From alte kaker, or old man in Yiddish, to zatar, an Israeli spice, Americans' Jewish identity has long flavored their English. Now a professor has har- nessed the Intemet to collect those heimish (cozyandwarm) expressions that have made their way into the vernacular from sources including, but not limited to, Aramaic, Ladino, Yiddish and Hebrew. The "Jewish English Lexi- con" at grew out of Sarah Benor's "American-Jewish Language and Identity in Historical Con- text" class atthe Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's LosAngeles campus. It's a living demonstration of the diversity of Jewish English. "Certain words identify Jews as being part of certain Jewish subgroups," she said. Jews use these words to "distinguish themselves not just from non- Jews, but from each other." The author of the new book, "Becoming Frum: How New- comers Learn The Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism" (Rutgers University Press) Benor has focused since her undergraduate days at Co- lumbia University on the ways Jews use language to build their identities. As a professor, she put the lexicon on the Internet years ago, but it was in the form of a primitive document that was hard to search. So she secured grants from the American Academy for Jewish Research and the Dorot Foundation to hire a web developer and designer. The lexicon is, of course, filled with Yiddish, the lan- guage of the European Ashke- nazi Jews whose descendants account for most of American Jewry. Benor has an expertise in Yiddish herself, but her dic- tionary draws on several other languages as well. "That's why I needed to make it collaborative," she said. "I don't have the knowledge to incorporate the words Syrians would use." Since the lexicon went live earlier this fall, it's attracted about 50 editorial changes in which visitors corrected small errors or added additional meanings and added some 24 new words. It has 738 entries. Like Wikipedia, the site en- courages users to make correc- tions, disagree with definitions or add notes by clicking on the button of the relevant entry. The comments are reviewed before they are published. One visitor to the site even contributed an expression that Benor had never encountered: bayitsheni. In modem Hebrew, it means second house. It also refers to the Second Temple, the one destroyed by the Romans. But apparently in some ex- Orthodox circles, it also means, according to the site, "A place one repairs to for debauchery after being expelled from one's initial location." Still, the site is "far from complete," Benor said, noting that it doesn't yet include, for example, any contributions from Persian Jews. She hopes it will grow organically as people use the site, and wants individuals to contribute, as did Amy Zabb Amiel, whose husband grew up in the Sephardi community of Seattle, where it's common to hear phrases in Ladino, the language of Sephardi Jews, in everyday conversation, like hij o bueno, literally "good son." The closest Yiddish equiva- lent is mensch, Amiel said, who contributed not only hijo bueno to the lexicon, but also bragas (underwear), kahal (synagogue) and others. "Preserving Jewish say- ings and words is linked to Jewish survival," Amiel said. "The lexicon [Sarah] build is a fascinating study of Jewish life today. What expressions are people using in their homes, at the dinner table, when putting their babies to sleep?" Helen Chernikoff is a staff writer at The New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission. You may reach her at hel- enatjewishweek@gmaiL corn; @thesimplechild. By Phil Jacobs (Washington Jewish Week)--A moment of silence. That's what Jews worldwide were demanding at last summer's London Olympics in memory of the 11 Israeli Olympians killed by Pales- tinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The Obama White House wasted little time releasing a statement supporting the gesture. But Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger, and himself the director of the Salt Lake City Olympics, said virtually nothing. For that he was openly criticized by Barbara Berger, a Maine resident and the sister of the late David Berger, one of the Munich 11. At some time in the top- floor office of the Woodley Park public relations firm of Rabinowitz/Dorf Communi- cations, a detailed research document noting Berger's criticism of Romney was put together and distributed. It would prove to be one of thousands of such docu- ments, news releases, Op-Eds and social network sites that were directed at undecided Jewish voters. And the word "office" in describing the working space is generous. Standing up in what the group called the Jewish Media Hub meant not hitting one's head on a rafter. There, a staff of 10 full- and part-timers generated information. It was done under the radar. There was a battle, if not a war, going on with the Republicans for the undecided Jewish vote. On the floors below, Steve Rabi- nowitz and Matt Dorf were still working independently with their clients, and it was business as usual. On the top floor, though, getting a message to Jewish voters was the priority. That message drove whatever favorable press they could provide concerning the presi- dent's re-election bid and conversely what unfavorable information they could dis- perse regarding Romney. Rabinowitz had to raise halfa million dollars to fund the effort. They were up against the tens of millions of dollars going for the same vote provided by the Shel- don Adelsons of the world. The game breaker could have been Romney's trip to Israel last summer, backing up his rhetoric against Iran. The Obama administration had provided Iron Dome protection to Israel as well as other significant support, yet the street and Shabbos- table word was that it wasn't enough. The Hub was a 501(c)(4), a nonprofit loosely affili- ated with the National Jew- ish Democratic Council. It could send Op-Eds and press memos pointing out positive aspects of Obama and nega- tive points on Romney. To re- main a non-profit, it couldn't urge that a voter choose one candidate over another. Two weeks before Election Day, with the campaigns sprinting toward Nov, 6, the Hub went into overdrive, drafting and/or placing more than 15 Op-Eds, including pieces by former New York Mayor Ed Koch; Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz; former U.N. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg; Stuart Milk, the nephew of the late civil rights leader Harvey Milk; the last three presidents of JCPA; an Israeli and a Pal- estinian writing on Romney and Middle East peace; NJDC leader David Harris; former Rep. Mel Levine; the three Rabbis for Obama co-chairs; and noted attorney and au- thor Alan Dershowitz. That was just in two weeks. The Hub also wrote, ed- ited and publicized a Barbra Streisand video for NJDC that garnered more than 75,000 YouTube views. The Hub promoted a viral email from Michigan Sen. Carl Levin that was sent to more than 150,000 Jews in the battleground states. It also arranged interviews with Jack Lew, the president's chief of staff. The Hub started in early July when Aaron Keyak was hired to be its leader, man- aging more than 10 staffers. Keyak told the Washington Jewish Week that the goal was to "talk to Jews where they live." "We were basically a rapid response media war room," said Keyak, who came to the Hub after serving on the staff of former New Jersey Rep. Steve Rothman. "We were responding at times minute by minute to events of the day. We had all the data and research at our fingertips. If there was an issue on Rom- ney and Iran, we were able to move faster and in a smarter way than anyone else doing media outreach." The Hub had prepared documents such as Op-Eds in anticipation of some subjects that would come up in the media, such as the debates or Romney's trip to Israel or daily issues. "We were also proactive," said Keyak, "because we had a specialty area. We were churning out all of these memos and we were in con- stant contact with reporters." He said the Hub was fluent when it came to issues such as the president's support for Israel. That fluency also covered issues such as Iran and the Middle East, but the Hub knew that Jewish voters also held social issues near and dear. "We knew that 90 percent of Jews are pro-choice," he said. "We knew that 80 percent of Jews were in favor of same-sex marriage, so it wasn't difficult to paint Rom- ney as out of step with the Jewish voters. But we had to get that message out. We were more than happy to engage in issues of Israel and Iran, but the biggest differences between the two were social issues. As the Republicans worked to reach out to its base, it only pushed away Jewish voters in even greater numbers. "This was all about inform- ing the Jewish voters about their choices in this election. With all of the predictions from the right-wing media, Obama got overwhelming support from the Jewish community despite tens of millions of dollars to attempt to smear his record on Israel." Keyak, who also previously worked for the NJDC, had been talking with Rabinowitz for a while about the project. Both knew that the GOP was going to come afterthe Jew- ish vote. "We wanted to make sure we combated their smear campaign against Obama to the best of our ability," Keyak said. "It's something Steve has done for his whole career." The Hub worked with reporters covering the story of the Jewish vote in nation- ally known newspapers such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Aaron Keyak Left to right, RabinowitzlDorf staff Jason Berger, Elizabeth Leibowitz, and Aaron Keyak at their office in Washington, D.C., Oct 2012. Jerusalem Post and others. It also placed articles or Op- Eds in Jewish newspapers reporting on battleground communities. Op-eds in- cluded bylines from former and current members of Congress and other high visibility supporters, includ- ing Sen. Frank Lautenberg (New Jersey), Rep. Adam Schiff (California) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Illinois), and former Reps. Ron Klein (Florida) and Robert Wexler (Florida). Also, former Am- bassador Stuart Eizenstadt, Dr. Zeke Emanuel, former AIPAC President Steve Gross- man, philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg (former president of the Rabbinical Assembly), and former presidents of Hadassah, Jewish Women In- ternational and the National Council of Jewish Women. The Hub also created web- sites such as comparing the Israel records of Presidents Bush, Reagan and Obama with the record of Romney. It created a video of Sderot residents praising the president on the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Sderot is the development town on Israel's border with Gaza and the target of Hamas terrorism. On Facebook, a Hub graph- ic asked Romney what he meant by "doing the op- posite of President Obama" on Israel. There was also the "Jewish Test," a site asking people to respond with their positions on 10 issues. All of this was in addition to sometimes hourly advice to key campaign people, the Democratic National Com- mittee, the White House and other 501(c)(4)s on how to send a message to the Jewish community and remain in touch with the most widely read reporters covering the Jewish vote, as much as the law permitted, said Rabi- nowitz. Rabinowitz said he felt the Obama campaign was taking the challenge seriously, hir- ing Ira Forman a year-and- a-half before the election as a connection to the Jewish community. Somehow, though, Rabi- nowitz and Dorf thought there was a tremendous need for more. "Obamawas under tremen- dous attacks from the right," said Rabinowitz. "There was a lot of money behind the attacks from people who were more concerned about bringing down Obama than keeping Israel as a bipartisan issue. They've spent years at- tacking Obama. And it had to be responded to. We had to do something." That something resulted in the hiring of Keyak, a mem- ber of Georgetown's Kesher Israel. They headed upstairs to the attic of Rabinowitz/ Dorf, where one can only stand up straight between the rafters. "They cranked out con- tent," Rabinowitz said."They talked to reporters all day long. We had rapid response, andwe'd also put out attacks. We'd put out stuff about Romney and Ryan. NJDC got Barbra Streisand to do a video. The Hub wrote the script and helped distribute it to the battleground states." Forman, the Jewish out- reach director for President Obama's re-election staff, told WJW that the Hub "was amazing." Getting back to the Olym- pics' moment of silence, the Hub staff saw an opening. "Romney," said Rabinow- itz, "had been completely silent on it. We thought we could make some hay of it. The White House went ahead and issued a statement in support of the moment of silence. Romney was ham- mered pretty well, including by David Berger's sister. "We could be critical of Romney; we just couldn't say don't vote for him, but we could be hypercritical. Ev- erything else we did, though, was informational." One Obama staffer who re- quested anonymity said "the campaign had a very good communications operation. But on any campaign, you never have enough resources. We would have been at a disad- vantage without these guys. The Hub was just brilliant." Both Rabinowitz and Keyak felt exhilarated and a bit tired when it was all over. "We had a good time, we worked hard, the NJDC did great stuff as did the cam- paign," Rabinowitz said. "We tried to help them along."