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Cantor Pomerantz-Boro to join Los Angeles area cantors in concert tonight

January 2, 2010 Leave a comment

PASADENA, California—Cantor Alisa Pomerantz Boro, former cantor at Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego, will be back in California tonight to participate in a benefit concert for the Cantors Assembly.

The concert is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, 1434 North Altadena Drive.  It will include Jewish music in solo, ensemble and choral configuration. There will also be performances by other cantors, mainly from the Los Angeles area.   They include:

Paul Buch, Pomona, CA

Eva Robbins, Los Angles, CA

Ken Cohen, Santa Monica, CA

Richard Schwartz, Temple City, CA

Joseph Gole, Los Angeles, CA

Mike Stein, Woodland Hills, CA

Mimi Haselkorn, Woodland Hills, CA

Faith Steinsnyder, NJ

Nathan Lam, Bel Air, CA

Judy Sofer, Pasadena, CA

Alberto Mizrahi, Chicago, IL

Cory Winter, Lakewood, CA

Alison Wissot, Tarzana, CA

David Propis, Houston, TX

The other participants in this grand evening of music will include featured accompanists Aryell Cohen and Cantor Jay Harwitt; musician Leeav Sofer; and the combined choirs of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, Temple Beth Israel of Pomona, Temple Aliyah of Woodland Hills, Temple Beth David of Temple City, Beth Shir Shalom of Santa Monica, and Kol HaEmek (the San Gabriel Valley Jewish Chorale). 

Proceeds from the concert will benefit the H. L. Miller Cantorial School Scholarship Funds of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Reserved seating tickets are $50, General admission tickets are $25.00, Seniors and Student tickets are $18 and may be bought in advance.  There are also Patron opportunities available for $180.

For more information, please call (626) 798-1161 or  click here

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National Intelligence Director Blair vows agencies will ‘close the gap’

January 2, 2010 Leave a comment


WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release)–Following is the text of a “dear colleague” letter National Intelligence Agency director Dennis Blair sent to members of the intelligence community in the wake of the attempted Christmas bombing of an airliner by a Nigerian man believed to be an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist:

It has been an especially challenging week for the Intelligence Community and the nation. The attemptedterrorist attack on Christmas Day did not succeed, but, as one of several recent attacks against the U.S. inspiredby jihadist ideology or directed by al Qa’ida and its affiliates, it reminds us that our mission to protect Americans is unending.

The President was direct in his assessment that intelligence failures were a contributing factor in the escalation of this threat. This is a tough message for us to receive. But we have received it, and now we must move forward and respond as a team.

In coming days we will review what information was available to whom, determine what mistakes were made in assessing or sharing that information, commend those who did their jobs well, and hold accountable those who did not. I have no doubt in our ability to close the gaps that these attacks exposed.

Whatever shortcomings emerge in these investigations should not obscure the progress the Intelligence Community has made in developing collection and analysis capabilities, in improving collaboration, and insharing information, both against al Qa’ida and against the many other threats to our national security. The Intelligence Community should be proud of its role in weakening al Qa’ida’s ability to plan, organize, finance,and carry out highly orchestrated attacks conducted by well trained teams, like those on 9/11. Al Qa’ida is diminished as evidenced by the fact they are sending inexperienced individuals without long association with al Qa’ida, but susceptible to jihadist ideology. Unfortunately, even unsophisticated terrorists can kill many Americans.

What concerns me most now is not only stopping the types of attacks of the past, but also anticipating and stopping the different, more cunning attacks of the future. Al Qa’ida and its affiliate organizations, as well as individual suicide terrorists, have observed our defenses and are designing future attacks to circumvent them.

They are doing so right now, as you are reading this message. These attacks will be even harder to uncover,interpret, and stop. We must anticipate other types of attacks that are within the capability of these individuals and groups, and improve our defense to stay ahead of them.

We are an adaptive, learning organization. We can and must outthink, outwork, and defeat the enemy’s new ideas. Our Intelligence Community is now more collaborative than ever before, knows how to operate as a team, and can adjust to conditions on the ground. In the immediate term we have a challenging job of selfexamination, and we will do it as a community. As we face the continuing threat of jihadist terror attacks in thefuture, we will work together to understand, anticipate, and act against our enemies.

You have my unequivocal support and engagement as we move through this challenging process and continue to progress. I could not be more proud of this community, of all we have accomplished together, and of your willingness to sacrifice for the country. We have more to do, and we will do it as a mutually supporting team, with our eye on the goal of keeping Americans safe.

Dennis C. Blair

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Preceding provided by National Intelligence Agency

Constitutional Rights advocacy group says attempted airline bombing should not delay closure of Guantanamo

January 2, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release) — In the wake of the recent attempted attack on Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight 253, several elected officials have renewed their politicized claims that closing the prison at Guantánamo would be dangerous and premature. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) urges the President to reject the use of this incident as fodder to further delay the closure of the prison and justice for the men detained there.

It is crucial to remember that the vast majority of the men at Guantánamo should never have been detained in the first place and that over 550 have been released and are peacefully rebuilding their lives. Most of the nearly 800 men who were brought to Guantánamo were not captured by the American military on any battlefield, but seized in broad sweeps during the chaos of the Afghan war and sold to the U.S. in exchange for substantial bounties. We know from the military’s own records that most of the detainees at Guantánamo have no link to terrorism. CIA and military sources have repeatedly told reporters that most detainees “don’t have anything to do with” terrorism, “didn’t belong there,” and “weren’t fighting.” (For some of their personal stories, visit the Guantánamo Justice Center’s website. GJC is a CCR partner organization founded by men formerly detained at Guantánamo.) 

CCR has always maintained that the men at Guantánamo should either be charged with a crime or released. Today, more than half of the men who remain at Guantánamo have been cleared for release after scrutiny by the Obama Administration’s year-old Guantánamo Review Task Force, including many men from Yemen. It is therefore particularly troubling that several senators have pressed President Obama to stop transfers of all Yemenis, citing a report that alleges two Saudi men formerly detained at Guantánamo joined the Al Qaeda branch in Yemen which claims responsibility for plotting the failed airplane bombing.

As some politicians have opportunistically seized this latest crisis to justify further delaying the closure of Guantánamo, it is worth recalling that the two former detainees allegedly linked to Al Qaeda in Yemen were released from Guantánamo by the Bush administration, not set free by court order or after the sort of cautious, formal assessment process that the Task Force is undertaking now, but based on purely political calculations.

Halting the repatriation of Yemeni men cleared by the Task Force after months of careful review is unconscionable. It will also effectively prevent any meaningful progress towards closing Guantanamo — a goal strongly advocated by both presidential candidates, and one that, as President Obama has repeatedly argued, will make our nation safer. Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2008 that “there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U. S. combat deaths in Iraq — as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat — are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.” Opportunistic calls to keep Guantanamo open into its ninth year will do nothing to make America safer.

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Preceding provided by

The Bella Family Circle – from 67 to 120

January 2, 2010 Leave a comment

 

By Sheila Orysiek

SAN DIEGO–For the past two years I have enjoyed writing a series of articles about the Bella Family Circle which was comprised of the descendants of the family matriarch, Bella, and the people who married them.  The original Founding Members were Bella’s children:  Sam, Israel, Ralph, Al, Willie and Sarah (my grandmother).

When I was a child I assumed that all families were organized and met once a month.  I thought it was the norm to have a Seder for 70-75 family members and to rehearse for months in advance under the tutelage of our Patriarch Uncles.  Didn’t all families give out copies with the words to dozens of Passover songs?  (I still have my copy – 1954 – which is very faded now.)

 Nor did I realize that most families don’t go on a picnic with dozens of relatives in a flat bed truck, with heaps of food, bringing their own musical instruments.  I also thought that picnics always ended in the evening with singing, holding hands and line dancing around the tables. 

I didn’t know that other families don’t have door prizes at meetings, elect officers, take minutes, collect dues, read a treasurer’s report, send out monthly bulletins and pay attention to the rulings of a parliamentarian. Nor do most families have available an emergency fund or buy shares in their own private corporation to act as a lending entity. 

As I wrote I remembered the natural dignity of each of the Founding Uncles and Aunts and the respect we accorded them, the brief Revolt of the First Cousins, a Halloween Party which morphed into a Jewish Biblical costume party and a short lived attempt to limit the enormous amount of food set out for each meeting. 

I recalled the endearing qualities and foibles of the First Cousins. The cousin who couldn’t park her car and the willingness of other cousins to do it for her without a quibble.  Another cousin who loved to knit but couldn’t figure out whether to knit to the left or right.  The Aunt Parliamentarian who knew when to “call for the question” at the critical point in a group discussion and kept us from procedural chaos.  The Annual Parade of the Grandparents showing off the beauties of the bevy of grandchildren during “intermission” at the family Seder. 

I can still hear First Cousin Annie’s beautiful voice singing Glee Shtaindeleh at the Seder and I smile inwardly at the cousin who never bought a raffle ticket because she never won.  Then there was the bus we had chartered filled with sleepy people after a day at the Atlantic City sea shore, except for the Uncles playing pinochle in the back with the aid of flashlights. And, of course, my grandfather, Morris Vernick, who broke through all tension with a song and a smile.  While writing about these memories, there has often been a CD with Klezmer playing in the background– my grandfather would have approved of that.

Despite the usual contretemps that all families experience, they managed to overcome or work around the problems and kept in mind the higher goal of remaining intact as a group.  It was more important to maintain cohesion; love and respect trumped temporary differences.  This was exemplified by the situation in which Aunt Bessia – the first of the Aunts to attain the presidency (after each Uncle had served several times) was without any hesitation allowed to also remain the Parliamentarian.  She was thus able to rule on the validity of her own decisions.  She never overplayed her hand, and we never thought she would.  And then there was the time when she made a purchase at the BFC White Elephant Sale.  The package (rolls of toilet paper) she bought was within the rules set forth for the sale but below the belt (literally) of acceptability.  The solution was to buy a tree in Israel to rectify the affront to her dignity. 

As the series of articles progressed, I’ve heard from a number of my cousins and they have told me of their enjoyment in reading about the BFC.  All the Founding Members – the Aunts and Uncles – are gone now – blessings on their memories.  Some of their children (the First Cousins) are still alive and their grandchildren – the Second Cousins (my generation) – are now grandparents.  The BFC still continues meeting – planning events – and is still deciding what comes under “new business” versus “old business.”  (The mazel tov for a new car comes under “new business” – the mazel tov for a used car comes under “old business.”) 

I hope as the latest batch of children attends the meetings they absorb and appreciate – even as they run about chattering and playing – the unique gift as I did.  And that some day, one of them will look back and write about the BFC – with a smile.

The Bella Family Circle is now 67 years old – may it live to 120. 

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Orysiek is a freelance writer based in San Diego

Obama stresses Yemen’s importance in fight against al Qaeda

January 2, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release)–Following is the transcript of President Barack Obama’s regular Saturday morning radio address dealing this week with his administration’s efforts to fight terrorism:

THE PRESIDENT: It has now been more than a week since the attempted act of terrorism aboard that flight to Detroit on Christmas Day. On Thursday, I received the preliminary findings of the reviews that I ordered into our terrorist watchlist system and air travel screening. I’ve directed my counterterrorism and homeland security advisor at the White House, John Brennan, to lead these reviews going forward and to present the final results and recommendations to me in the days to come.

As I said this week, I will do everything in my power to make sure our hard-working men and women in our intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security communities have the tools and resources they need to keep America safe. This includes making sure these communities-and the people in them-are coordinating effectively and are held accountable at every level. And as President, that is what I will do.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the Christmas Day incident continues, and we’re learning more about the suspect. We know that he traveled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies. It appears that he joined an affiliate of al Qaeda, and that this group-al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America.

This is not the first time this group has targeted us. In recent years, they have bombed Yemeni government facilities and Western hotels, restaurants and embassies-including our embassy in 2008, killing one American. So, as President, I’ve made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with the Yemeni government-training and equipping their security forces, sharing intelligence and working with them to strike al Qaeda terrorists.

And even before Christmas Day, we had seen the results. Training camps have been struck; leaders eliminated; plots disrupted. And all those involved in the attempted act of terrorism on Christmas must know-you too will be held to account. But these efforts are only part of a wider cause.

It’s been nearly a year since I stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and took the oath of office as your President. And with that oath came the solemn responsibility that I carry with me every moment of every day-the responsibility to protect the safety and security of the American people. On that day I also made it very clear-our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred, and that we will do whatever it takes to defeat them and defend our country, even as we uphold the values that have always distinguished America among nations.

And make no mistake, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing. It’s why I refocused the fight-bringing to a responsible end the war in Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, and dramatically increasing our resources in the region where al Qaeda is actually based, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s why I’ve set a clear and achievable mission-to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies and prevent their return to either country. And it’s why we’ve forged new partnerships, as in Yemen, and put unrelenting pressure on these extremists wherever they plot and train-from East Africa to Southeast Asia, from Europe to the Persian Gulf.

And though often out of sight, our progress has been unmistakable. Along with our partners, we’ve disrupted terrorist financing, cut off recruiting chains, inflicted major losses on al Qaeda’s leadership, thwarted plots here in the United States, and saved countless American lives. Yet as the Christmas Day attempt illustrates, and as we were reminded this week by the sacrifices of more brave Americans in Afghanistan-including those seven dedicated men and women of the CIA-the hard work of protecting our nation is never done.

So as our reviews continue, let us ask the questions that need to be asked. Let us make the changes that need to be made. Let us debate the best way to protect the country we all love. That is the right and responsibility of every American and every elected official.
But as we go forward, let us remember this-our adversaries are those who would attack our country, not our fellow Americans, not each other. Let’s never forget what has always carried us through times of trial, including those attacks eight Septembers ago.

Instead of giving in to fear and cynicism, let’s renew that timeless American spirit of resolve and confidence and optimism.

Instead of succumbing to partisanship and division, let’s summon the unity that this moment demands.

Let’s work together, with a seriousness of purpose, to do what must be done to keep our country safe.

As we begin this New Year, I cannot imagine a more fitting resolution to guide us-as a people and as a nation.

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Preceding provided by the White House

Is there still a market for Conservative Judaism?

January 2, 2010 Leave a comment

 By Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM–Following its very successful exploration of Reform Judaism two years ago, the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem has just held a similar two-day conference on Conservative Judaism. The event was held at a time when the movement is having difficulties, especially in the United States where it’s no longer the dominant force. 

 Conservative Judaism has always seen itself as being in the centre, the authentic exponent of contemporary normative Judaism that affirms Halakhah (Jewish law) while at the same time advocates change as a reflection of the spirit of the time. It distanced itself from ultra-halakhic Orthodoxy that claims that everything new is forbidden by the Torah and from the anti-halakhic “informed choice” of Classical Reform. But this was easier than to find a place in our post-halakhic age that appeals to so many Jews.

As a result, the formula that brought American Jews into the Conservative movement – with its desire to retain tradition yet adapt to their drastically altered social and economic circumstances under the motto, Tradition and Change – doesn’t seem to work anymore.  What set out to be magisterially centrist has ended up sitting uncomfortably in the middle accused of being wishy-washy and moving to the periphery.

To cite all the reasons for the shift offered by the many analysts at the conference would turn this page into a tract, which isn’t the intention. Hence only this:

A term used by several speakers was “branding” with its implied marketing connotations. It suggests that the market in which Conservative Judaism is now competing is less interested in the centre yet doesn’t want to go to the middle. Those who want Halakhah turn to Orthodoxy, which they consider to be more authentic, and those who want change turn to Reform. To paraphrase the terminology of Reginald Bibi (the Canadian sociologist of religion), Jews who want a conventional religious diet turn to Orthodox Judaism; those who want what he calls “religion a la carte” go to Reform.

The leaders of Conservative Judaism are now struggling with the dilemma and are seeking to find an ideology that’s sufficiently different from modern Orthodoxy and very distinct, especially in matters of Jewish status, from Reform. Most of them find this very difficult. As a result, those on the “right” have a tendency to flirt with modern Orthodoxy, whereas those on the “left” may end up in Reform or Jewish Renewal congregations.

Conservative Jews are particularly disappointed that they haven’t done better in Israel. Though they have twice as many congregations and many times as many members as Reform, they’re no less shunned by the Orthodox establishment than Reform and  suspect in many “post-secular” circles that aspire toward (often anarchic) observance.  Many Conservative exponents seem to find the rejection visibly painful.

Some say that Israeli men stay away because of the Conservative (and Reform) clearly liberal insistence on gender equality, for Israel remains a macho society.

Given the choice, I surmise, many exponents of Conservative Judaism would be prepared to be adopted by modern Israeli Orthodoxy (such as it is) but they’re not welcome there. Reform, on the other hand, would be happy to make common cause with Conservative Judaism, yet those overtures are being consistently rejected.

Conservative Jews, therefore, might get used to sharing the fate of today’s Jewish liberals and learn to live as a minority, even though they wear kippot and keep kosher.

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Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He now divides his yer between Canada and Israel

Soft-pedalling external opposition to Iran to help the internal opposition

January 2, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM—Perhaps Prime Minister Netanyahu’s stress on the Iranian threat may not only reflect the grim reality of Israel being in the firing line but also a ploy to avoid dealing with the Palestinian issue by arguing that Iran is a more urgent and immediate problem and must be dealt with before other Middle East matters can be addressed.

 In the last few days, however, Netanyahu seems to be talking more about negotiating with Abu Mazen and less about implicitly preparing for war with Ahmadinejad.      Perhaps it’s not so much of a change of heart than a change of tactics. For the most recent actions by the opposition within Iran may inhibit outsiders from speaking out too loudly against its regime lest this will galvanize the population and blunt the challenge from within. For one of the “explanations” by totalitarian regimes of internal opposition – and this one is no exception – is that it’s fuelled by external enemies.

Not to rock the boat President Obama may try to delay the expected further sanctions against Iran. One can only imagine that a lot is going on behind the scenes, but when it comes to open confrontation, Obama may wait and see in the hope that the opposition will achieve what the rest of the world is reluctant or unable to do, namely topple the regime.

This means, of course, that Netanyahu will also wait and see. Israel seems to accept that (a) it cannot or must not deal with Iran on its own and (b) that new threats from Jerusalem may be counterproductive by playing into the hands of the regime.

Hence the current seemingly low Israeli profile. For all my efforts to keep my ears to the ground, I can claim no inside knowledge, which, of course, Israel’s former Mossad head, Ephraim Halevy, has in abundance. And he told a Toronto Jewish audience that Iran does not constitute an existential threat to Israel. The way the report in the Canadian Jewish News has it, he seems to have reassured us – improbably and uncharacteristically for a man who spent his life in intelligence – that Israel is invincible.

Even if that may be true in open combat, we now live in an age when terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas can seriously destabilize the country. They’re financed by Iran and therefore constitute a greater threat even than its missiles.

The only way Halevy’s statement would make sense to me is on the premise that now, when these missiles can reach much further than before, Israel may still be in the line of fire, but it will no longer be alone. Other countries, including the Arab states, also have a need to neutralize Iran. The threat to Israel may not have diminished, but it has been spread around, as it were. Israel’s Arab neighbours know it, too, and may be prepared to make common cause, even though they object to Israel’s way of dealing with the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s visit to Egypt’s President Mubarak earlier this week may be viewed in this context, even if no doubt other issues were also discussed.

The best hope, of course, is that the Iranian regime will implode soon through the relentless activities of the internal opposition, but it’s far too early to celebrate. Without being in a position to disagree either with Halevy or Ehud Barak, whom he cited in his talk, my Jewish instincts tell me to be cautious about claiming invincibility and my no less Jewish pessimism makes me remain worried.

My New Year message is the hope that I’m wrong on both counts.

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Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He now divides his year between Canada and Israel.       

Jerusalem 31.12.09                                                                                     Dow Marmur