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JFNA launches second annual Jewish Community Hero Awards

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

 

NEW YORK (Press Release)— The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) launched on Thursday the Second Annual Jewish Community Hero Awards, aimed at connecting people through social media to recognize the selflessness and courage of those who are helping their communities through volunteer service.

The Jewish Community Heroes initiative is part of a broad effort by JFNA to promote public service in communities across the United States and Canada. To build on the success of last year’s inaugural program, the largest Jewish social-networking campaign to-date, JFNA is planning a massive online campaign in conjunction with Blue State Digital, the online strategy firm that helped the Obama campaign raise more than $500 million and engage millions of volunteers.

“The Jewish Federation movement is the world’s largest Jewish philanthropic collective, and has raised billions of dollars for life-saving programs and services in North America, Israel, and around the globe,” said Jerry Silverman, JFNA’s President and CEO. 

“But for all those resources, we and the overall Jewish community rely on the efforts and creativity of local activists who see needs and step up to fill them. This is especially true during today’s challenging economic climate, where resources are strained and the needs of community members continue to grow. These local Heroes deserve our attention and our support.”

More than 65 organizations are supporting the initiative, which will honor one Jewish Community Hero of the Year and four additional finalists. Each finalist will receive a Heroes grant—$25,000 for the winner—to support their projects, which can range from running charity bake sales or low-income literacy projects to helping neighborhood development programs or mobilizing people around a good cause. Any Canadian or American resident at least 13 years of age is eligible to be nominated through Oct. 8.

The Jewish Federations of North America will recognize the five 2010 honorees and unveil the Jewish Community Hero of the Year at JFNA’s General Assembly (GA), which takes place in New Orleans this year from Nov. 7-9. A panel of judges, heroes in their own right, will select the Jewish Community Hero of the Year from among the 20 nominees who receive the most online support.

This year’s judges include scientist Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway and other innovations); filmmaker Tiffany Schlain (The Tribe); actor Elliot Gould (M*A*S*H, Friends); screenwriter and director Etan Cohen (King of the Hill, Idiocracy, Tropic Thunder); four-time Olympic gold medal swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg; and last year’s national honorees, including Ari Teman, 2009’s Jewish Community Hero of the year and founder of JCorps, a program that connects young people to volunteer opportunities around the world.

“Winning the Jewish Community Hero Award gave me the ability to grow JCorps without having to worry that we would not be able to afford bringing in new people,” Teman said. “We started the program with just $300 in the first year and this award gave us a major opportunity to grow and get many more people involved in service projects around the world.”

During the 2009 campaign, Jewish Community Heroes attracted well over a half-million online votes for several hundred worthy nominees. Website traffic for Heroes was just over two million page views.

Heroes’ Web-based platform creates an interactive forum that brings community together around a common purpose: recognizing the invaluable contributions of committed problem-solvers and advocates. Jewish Community Heroes makes use of social media and other online tools to engage people through the nomination and voting process. Not only does the Heroes program highlight the important work of volunteers, it provides an opportunity for people to connect with their community online in a meaningful way.

Jewish Community Heroes is sponsored in part by Tulong llc, makers of Repair The World® apparel (www.repairtheworldnow.com); a portion of the proceeds from Repair the World® clothing supports global, sustainable development through livelihood training, by creating employment opportunities, and by improving underdeveloped community infrastructure.

To learn more and to nominate and vote for your Jewish Community Hero for 2010, visit the Jewish Community Heroes WebsiteClick here to watch videos from the 2009 Jewish Community Hero Awards.

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Preceding provided by Jewish Federations of North America

Commentary: Opposition to NYC mosque not ‘Islamaphobia’

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

By Morton A. Klein and Dr. Daniel Mandel

NEW YORK–In the debate surrounding the Cordoba mosque planned for a site near Ground Zero, one canard should be immediately knocked down: the idea that opposing this it is the result of ‘Islamophobia.’

‘Islamophobia’ is a misleading term. Consider, terrorism carried out by Muslims, acting in the name of Islam, has struck innumerable societies, non-Muslim (Britain, India, Israel, Philippines, Spain, Thailand, U.S.) and Muslim (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey). Those who have knowledge of it – or, in the case of New Yorkers, direct experience – do not suffer from an irrational fear of an imaginary threat, which is what the word ‘phobia’ denotes. The vast majority of global terrorism in the recent years has been carried out by Islamists.

To state that is no insult to law-abiding, peaceful Muslims who abhor the terrorism carried out in their name. Precisely such Muslims in the Middle East are themselves likely to be among the targets and victims of jihadist terror.

If Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the driving force behind the Cordoba mosque, is a moderate Muslim, why is he promoting this idea? How can he have difficulty comprehending that building a 15-story Muslim mosque center 600 feet from the site of 9/11, where nearly 3,000 people were murdered by Islamist terrorists, is insensitive to the grieving families of the victims?

Imagine the insensitivity if one proposed building a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbor. One would automatically wonder at the motives of those proposing the project.

The 9/11 site is not a holy site, but inasmuch as it is mass grave of innocents, it is hallowed ground. As such, special sensitivity is needed.

As an example of latter, Carmelite nuns sought in the 1980s to establish a convent at Auschwitz, a massive cemetery filled overwhelmingly with the remains of Jewish victims of Nazism. Even though Nazism was a profoundly anti-Christian movement, it drew, among other things, on a history of Christian anti-Semitism and its ranks included many professing Christians. The late Pope John Paul II understood that building a Christian institution on a mass Jewish grave would be an unacceptable act of appropriation. He called upon the Carmelite nuns to relocate.

Here, there is an important, relevant history of appropriation. Building mosques adjacent to or upon another group’s sacred and holy sites is a time-honored Muslim supremacist tradition. The Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques, standing today atop Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, where the former Jewish temples once stood, are only two prominent examples among dozens of this historical practice that can be found in many lands from North Africa to Indonesia that fell to Muslim conquest.

Even if such was not the intention of those involved with the Cordoba mosque, its construction near the site of 9/11 may well be interpreted by some Islamists as a victory over non-Muslims, inadvertently encouraging more terrorism.

But in any case, Imam Rauf – who refuses to condemn Hamas, a terrorist organization which has murdered hundreds of Israelis and whose Charter calls for murder of Jews and Israel’s destruction; his calling U.S. policies an “accessory” to Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 horror; and his writing that “Israel will become one more Arab country, in our lifetime, with a Jewish minority” – does not come to this issue with clean hands.

Nor, for that matter, does his wife, Daisy Khan, who described opposition to the mosque to be “like a metastasized anti-Semitism.” With this, Ms. Khan told a double untruth: she used the horror of anti-Semitism to malign legitimate opponents as bigots and perverted the meaning of anti-Semitism beyond recognition.

Anti-Semitism demonizes Jews; it is not mere bigotry or nastiness towards Jews, let alone legitimate criticism of them. It is not based on Jewish conduct. The Nazi extermination was a campaign against defenseless people who posed no threat and had committed no crime. In contrast, Islamism is a standing scourge and threat. Combating it must involve what neither Rauf nor Khan have done: condemning Islamists by name, without equivocation. Honesty demands that it also involve opposing the supremacist tradition of building on the ruins of non-Muslim sites.

9/11 mosque opponents are not dehumanizing Muslims. They are not advocating their forcible suppression or elimination. They are not opposing the construction of mosques and the practice of Muslim worship. Rather, they oppose a deeply suspect and breathtakingly insensitive proposal to build this mosque in this place.

Neither Jews nor Christians have committed any assaults upon Saudis – to the contrary, in 1990, U.S. servicemen came to their defense. Yet Saudi Arabia refuses to permit the building of a single church or synagogue and the practice of Christianity or Judaism anywhere in the country. That is genuine anti-Semitism and anti-Christian bigotry, pure and metastasized. But Ms. Khan has never seen fit to summon up outrage, or even interest, in that subject.

Such is the shameless cynicism of Muslim supremacists and their fellow travelers, libeling Americans who oppose this project as Islamophobes and metastasized anti-Semites.

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Morton A. Klein is National President of the Zionist Organization of America. Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the ZOA’s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Establishment of Israel: The Undercover Zionist (London: Routledge, 2004).

5770 was a year of alarming–and hopeful–developments for Jews

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

 By Robert G. Sugarman and Abraham H. Foxman

NEW YORK — The start of the New Year offers a chance to reflect on the events of the past year and contemplate what lies ahead for the Jewish people, the State of Israel and the world.
 
Anti-Semitism knows no borders and persistently rears its head in countries around the globe, particularly in Latin America and Europe.
 
In Chile, Jewish community leaders and institutions were targeted with death threats, anti-Jewish vandalism and other anti-Semitic incidents. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez continues to foster an atmosphere of intimidation and fear for the Venezuelan Jewish community.
 
Across the European continent, practitioners of anti-Semitism engaged in varied tactics. In Greece, arsonists attacked a synagogue on Crete; in Poland, spectators of a professional soccer match unfurled a large banner depicting a caricatured hook-nosed Jew; in Romania, the central bank chose to honor a notorious anti-Semite with a commemorative coin; and in Hungary, an openly anti-Semitic political party enjoyed a strong electoral showing.
 
In Scandinavia, vicious anti-Semitism has led to the exodus of many Jewish families from Malmo, Sweden, and anti-Jewish sentiment persists throughout Norway.
 
At the United Nations, the situation was not much better. The international body voted to endorse the biased and flawed Goldstone Commission report on the 2009 conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. And in a shocking speech, a Syrian diplomat referenced the ancient blood libel against Jews – a remark the president of the U.N. Human Rights Council failed to denounce.
 
At home, a number of well-known figures – from Helen Thomas to Oliver Stone to Louis Farrakhan – engaged in blatant anti-Semitism, employing age-old stereotypes and Jewish conspiracy theories. Anti-government hostility and an uncertain economic situation have contributed to an atmosphere of rage, anger and incivility. This not only impacts on Jews and Jewish safety, it is an ill omen for all minorities. In particular, we have seen an unfortunate spike in anti-Muslim activity and rhetoric which we have denounced. 
 
There is reason for cautious optimism in the Middle East, as the resumption of Israel-Palestinian direct talks brings renewed hope for peace.  Though there are many who are preemptively setting up Israel as the party responsible should peace talks collapse, the renewed dialogue is a welcome development and a reason to be hopeful.
 
The Israeli government continues to follow through on its willingness to make significant concessions in the name of peace. But direct talks are nothing without mutual reciprocity, and the Palestinian Authority must also take concrete steps if there is to be a chance for negotiations to succeed.
 
This hopefulness seems a far cry from a few months ago when the international community engaged in a biased rush to judgment against Israel in the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla affair. With lightning speed, many countries reflexively condemned Israel for the incident, barely giving consideration to the underlying circumstances.
 
Once again, those unilaterally opposed to Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against an enemy which seeks its destruction cynically used the innocent people of Gaza to further their goals.
 
Hamas, meanwhile, has tightened its grip on the people and land of Gaza, smuggling in weapons and other contraband to be used against Israel. The recent killing of four Israelis, including a pregnant woman, by Hamas gunmen in the West Bank demonstrates anew the group’s dedication to terrorism and violence, and they continue to hold captive Israeli soldier Cpt. Gilad Shalit.
 
The shadow of Iran looms large as the regime steadfastly marches toward achieving nuclear capability. A nuclear Iran not only presents an existential threat to Israel, it also poses a serious risk to the security of the United States and the entire world. Iran cannot be allowed to go nuclear, and the United States deserves praise for its efforts to impose sanctions and increase pressure on Iran at the United Nations.
 
Yet there are bright spots to note.
 
Elena Kagan became the eighth Jewish justice and fourth female justice to sit on the United States Supreme Court and the fact that she is Jewish was virtually a non-issue – a demonstration that one’s religion no longer has the significance it once had.
 
European leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel and Lithuania’s Andrius Kubilius have spoken out forcefully against racism and anti-Semitism.
 
The ongoing battle against hate crime gained new momentum with the passage of comprehensive federal hate crimes legislation. It ensures that all bias crime victims are covered under federal law, and that authorities have the necessary tools to prosecute such crimes.
 
In a historic visit to Rome’s main synagogue, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged the validity of Judaism and reaffirmed the Catholic Jewish relationship.
 
Anti-Semitic attitudes in the United States remain at historic lows, with 12 percent of Americans holding anti-Jewish views, matching the lowest figure ever recorded.
 
In January 2010, Israel gained entry into an important political coalition of liberal democracies at the United Nations.
           
Despite being situated in a dangerous neighborhood, the State of Israel remains a light unto the nations, a place where democracy and freedom flourish and a land where economic innovation and entrepreneurship are outdone only by the incredible diversity and spirit of its people.
 
We pray for 5771 to be a year in which the Jewish people continue to thrive and the State of Israel finds lasting peace and security. We hope that the diversity of American society continues to flourish and the forces of anti-Semitism, religious intolerance and extremism are defeated.
 
L’Shana Tovah!
 
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Robert G. Sugarman is National Chair of the Anti-Defamation League.  Abraham H. Foxman is the League’s National Director and author of “The Deadliest Lies: The Jewish Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control” and of the forthcoming “Jews and Money: The Story of a Stereotype” (November 2010).

Natan Sharansky to headline Jewish Federation’s celebration in San Diego

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

 SAN DIEGO (Press Release) — Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet Refusenik who now serves as chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, will headline a community-wide celebration of Jewish Federation’s 75th anniversary of service to the commmunity.

Sharansky will be featured during a free event from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday, October 28, at 2640 Historic Decatur Road on the NTC Promenade of Historic Liberty Station.  Reservations via the Jewish Federation website are required at the evening at which Jewish heroes will be celebrated.

Revolving around the themes “honor, partnership and community,” the community event will celebrate Jewish Americans serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. It will include a  ceremony in support of the “Torahs for Our Troops” program which provides Torah scrolls for use by military chaplains all over the globe, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
 

Sharansky’s appearance will recognize the 20th anniversary of the freeing of Soviet Jewry. Sharansky was the face of the “Refusenik” movement, responsible for the freedom of millions of Soviet Jews, and was the recipient of U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom of Award.
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Attendees of the reception are requested to bring canned foods for contribution to the Hand Up Pantry, which helps to serve needy military and civilian families in San Diego County

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Preceding based on material provided by the Jewish Federation of San Diego

Working the night shift may increase chances of cancer

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

HAIFA (Press Release)–A new study from the Center for Interdisciplinary Chronobiological Research at the University of Haifa has found an additional link between Light At Night (LAN) and cancer.

This research joins a series of earlier studies carried out at the University of Haifa that also established the correlation. “High power light bulbs contribute more to ‘environmental light pollution’, which the study has shown is a carcinogenic pollution,” notes Prof. Abraham Haim, who headed the study.

Earlier studies in which Prof. Haim has participated at the University of Haifa, have shown that people living in areas that have more night-time illumination are more susceptible to prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. The researchers’ hypothesis was that LAN harms production of melatonin, a hormone that is released from the pineal gland during the dark part of the 24h cycle and which is linked to the body’s cyclical night-day activity and seasonality. When this hormone is suppressed, the occurrence of cancer rises.

The current study, in which Dr. Fuad Fares and Adina Yokler, Orna Harel and Hagit Schwimmer also participated, set out to establish or refute this hypothesis. In order to do so, four groups of lab mice injected with cancerous cells were examined: one group was exposed to “long days” of 16 hours of light and 8 hours of darkness, simulating exposure to artificial light beyond the natural number of light hours in a day; a second group was exposed to the same “long days” but were treated with melatonin; a third group was exposed to “short days” of 8 light hours and 16 dark hours; and a fourth group was exposed to the same “short days” but during the dark hours was exposed to a half-hour interval of light.

The results show once again the clear link between LAN and cancer: the cancerous growths in mice exposed to “short days” were smallest (0.85 cubic cm. average), while those mice exposed to the interval of LAN during dark hours had larger growths (1.84 cubic cm. average) and those exposed to “long days” even larger growths (5.92 cubic cm. average).

The study also discovered that suppression of melatonin definitely influences development of the tumor. The size of tumor in mice exposed to “long days” but treated with melatonin was only 0.62 cubic cm. on average, which is not much different from the size of the growth in mice exposed to “short days”. The study also found that the death rate in mice treated with melatonin was significantly lower than in those not treated.

The researchers say that their study results show that suppression of melatonin due to exposure to LAN is linked to the worrying rise in the number of cancer patients over the past few years. However, it is not yet clear what mechanism causes this.

“Exposure to LAN– disrupts our biological clock and affects the cyclical rhythm that has developed over hundreds of millions of evolutionary years that were devoid of LAN. Light pollution as an environmental problem is gaining awareness around the world, and the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has already classified working the night shift as a higher grade of cancer risk,” the researchers noted.

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Preceding provided by the University of Haifa

Poetry abounds in Jerusalem as Rosh Hashanah approaches

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

By Judy Lash Balint

Judy Lash Balint

JERUSALEM–One of the great things about living in Israel is how easy it is to really “feel” any upcoming holiday. Just take a walk through the shuk and the stacks of honey jars, piles of perfectly ripe pomegranates and barrels of shiny Golan apples all make it easy to anticipate the High Holydays. Radio & TV ads are full of New Year wishes and mailboxes full of heart-wrenching holiday appeals. But paradoxically, all that can be a downside, because it’s just too darn easy to take it all for granted.

In the old country, where you had to finagle time off from classes or work and explain the intricacies of why you were living in a booth for eight days in the chilly autumn rain, getting ready for the high holidays was a more deliberate and serious endeavor. Here in Israel, it’s too easy to take things for granted and can sometimes become just a matter of anticipating a week off work and deciding which trips to take during chol hamoed–the intermediate Sukkot days.

That’s why events like the Festival HaPiyut are just the right antidote.

It’s hard to explain piyutim. Essentially they’re the poetry that adorns various prayers throughout the year. The pre-High Holyday piyutim are the verses Jews recite at this time of year to butter up God. They’ve evolved over the centuries and are generally sung as a community, not by the individual, and for some reason Sephardim have a more finely developed sense of using piyutim than Ashkenazim.

Piyutim are experiencing a revival here in Israel with young paytanim (singers of piyutim) commanding large audiences; a website devoted to the genre as well as a wealth of scholarly research and concert halls filled with devotees.

In the delightful walled courtyard of the Beit Avichai Center on King George Street, several hundred mostly religious people gathered for the opening of last year’s Festival.The event was billed as encompassing three generations of paytanim from Nachlaot, the old Jerusalem neighborhood not more than 7 minutes walk away.

Indeed, the all-male performers range in age from 10 to 80, each one chanting one of the soulful but lively piyutim to the accompaniment of an outstanding group of musicians.

Many of the piyutim are from the 19th and early 20th century–mostly originating in Tunis or Egypt. The music is amazingly complex with changing rhythms and odd beats with darbuka drums, the oud and violins all playing major roles.

The two hour concert draws to a close after two veteran paytanim were honored. One, Rabbi David Raichi, who immigrated from Tunis in 1956, was a long-time piyut practitioner at the renowned Ades synagogue in nearby Nachlaot.

As Rav Raichi drew out his final notes, I couldn’t help thinking of Rev. Samuel Benaroya the late chazan of Sephardic Bikur Holim, my congregation in Seattle, who was a world-renowned expert in every kind of Sephardic makam, and whose personality and ability to pass on those traditions is legendary. His special knowledge of the Ottoman style maftirim would have been a worthy addition to the evening.

Walking home with the melodies and the poetry of the piyutim still in my head, I realize that the journey toward the High Holydays will no longer be so easy to take for granted.

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Balint is a freelance writer based in Jerusalem.  This is reprinted from her website, Jerusalem Diaries:In Tense Times

Commentary: Why does State Department condemn Yosef’s comments but not inflammatory statements by Palestinians?

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “We regret and condemn the inflammatory statements by [Israel’s former Chief] Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. These remarks are not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace.” – State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley.
 
After years of officially sanctioned Palestinian anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement which received only the mildest pro-forma rebuke from official American sources, we are relieved to know that Mr. Crowley can, in fact, be deeply offended. After all, the Hamas Bunny didn’t offend him. The stories of Jews putting Palestinian children in ovens didn’t offend him. The “museum exhibit” of the Sbarro pizzeria bombing that required patrons to step on an Israeli flag to enter didn’t offend him. The naming of a public square in honor of a terrorist who killed 37 Israelis on holiday and an American photographer didn’t offend him. And he appears not to have been offended by Palestinian Authority Minister for Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Karake yesterday awarding a Palestinian woman the “Shield of Resoluteness and Giving” in honor of having four sons serving a total of 18 life sentences in Israeli prisons for killing Israeli civilians in terror attacks.

The difference between the official celebration by Palestinian authorities of defamatory and inflammatory statements (not to mention murder), and the condemnation of Rabbi Yosef by supporters of Israel is not whether the State Department takes note of the former, but that we take note of the latter. The Conservative Movement of the United States released the following statement yesterday:
This past May, the Rabbinical Assembly passed a resolution on civil discourse in our society. It calls for speaking out against demonizing rhetoric and calls upon leaders to “conduct themselves according to the highest standards of civility in all public discourse.”

“Calling for Palestinians “to perish” is unacceptable and intolerable in a civil society. Furthermore, Rabbi Yosef’s words are not acceptable as words of Torah. Our tradition teaches us that the litmus test of authoritative Torah teaching is whether the words are words of “pleasantness and peace.” (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 32a, based on Proverbs 3:17) Torah teachings that are the clear antithesis of “pleasantness and peace,” such as those of Ovadia Yosef, must be categorically rejected.

“As leaders of the Conservative/Masorti movement, we deplore these recent comments of Former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that, like many of his comments over the years, constitute irresponsible incitement to violence. We view with hope the prospects for peace and security for Israel and her neighbors and recognize that such irresponsible and inciting comments harm these prospects at a crucial time.

“As we enter a New Year of renewal and return, we call on the entire House of Israel to embrace a religious vision that is open-minded and pluralistic, respectful and peace-loving. May this year bring Peace to Israel and all the world.”

Signed:
Rabbinical Assembly                                   
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
The Jewish Theological Seminary           
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies           
Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs
Cantors Assembly                                    
Women’s League for Conservative Judaism
Jewish Educators Assembly                       
Masorti Foundation
Masorti Olami                                               
Mercaz Olami
North American Association of Synagogue Executives
Solomon Schechter Day School Association

 
The organizations represent the spiritual leaders, communal leaders and educators of Conservative Jewry in the United States and Masorti Judaism in Israel. This follows the quick and explicit repudiation of the Rabbi’s words by the Government of Israel.
 
A similarly civilized repudiation of Palestinian lies and hateful behavior by Palestinian leadership groups is still awaited. The fact that we are still waiting should be a source of offense to Mr. Crowley on behalf of the State Department.

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.