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Officials, Jewish Leaders Discuss Durban II

February 19, 2009 | 1:54 am

Officials, Jewish Leaders Discuss Durban II
Obama administration officials explained to U.S. Jewish leaders why the administration decided to participate in planning discussions for the Durban II conference.

Jewish leaders participating in Monday’s conference call with White House and State Department officials, the content of which was off the record, said the session provided an opportunity for the administration to detail its policy, and for Jewish leaders to ask questions, about the decision to attend this week’s consultations in preparation for the April United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Geneva.

The conference is referred to as Durban II in reference to the 2001 conference in South Africa that served primarily as a vehicle to attack Israel and which the United States walked out on before its conclusion.

A State Department news release Feb. 14 said the administration was participating in the preparatory talks in order to “change the direction” in which the conference is heading. The release said it was not an indication that the United States would participate in the actual conference.

“It was an opportunity for Jewish leaders to share our feelings and concerns,” said Hadar Susskind, Washington director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

“The purpose was to have a dialogue with American Jewish leaders in order to keep us abreast of where the administration stands,” said William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of the United Jewish Communities office in Washington.


Buffalo-Area Crash Claims 2 Israelis, Cantor
Two Israelis and a cantor reportedly were aboard a plane that crashed near Buffalo, N.Y.

The Continental commuter aircraft crashed into a house in the city’s suburbs while landing late Feb. 12, killing 50 people — all 49 aboard the plane and one inside the house. Israeli media reported that two of the passengers on the flight from Newark, N.J., were Israelis; their families have been notified but their names were not released.

Susan Wehle, a cantor at Temple Beth Am in Williamsville, N.Y., also was among the dead. Wehle was a graduate of ALEPH — the Movement for Jewish Renewal and the mother of two sons, according to the synagogue’s Web site.


Reform Rabbis Tap New Leader
Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus was named the new president of the Reform rabbinical association.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) announced Feb. 11 that Dreyfus would be installed Feb. 28 at its 120th convention in Jerusalem. The organization represents some 2,000 Reform rabbis.

Dreyfus, 57, the rabbi at B’nai Yehuda Beth Sholom in Homewood, Ill., is the second woman to assume the presidency of the CCAR. She succeeds Rabbi Peter Knobel, who is completing his two-year term.

With Dreyfus’s assumption of the CCAR presidency, three of the four main associations of American rabbis will have women in top leadership roles.

In October, the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly named Rabbi Julie Schonfeld its new executive vice president, replacing Rabbi Joel Meyers, who will step down this summer. Rabbi Toba Spitzer is the president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.


Jewish Congressman Assails Settlements, Israeli Attitudes
Settler “pogroms,” settlement building and Israeli intransigence are joined with Palestinian terrorism in a “downward spiral,” a top U.S. Jewish congressman said.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House of Representatives Middle East subcommittee, made clear in a subcommittee hearing Feb. 12 that he was not trying to draw a moral equivalence between Israeli hard-liners and Palestinian terrorists, “but they are all part of the same destructive dynamic.”

In his opening statement, Ackerman described “downward pressure” that “comes from terrorism and the march of settlements. It comes from the firing of rockets and the perpetration of settler pogroms. It comes in daily images of destruction and the constant reiteration that ‘they only understand the language of force.’”

The “settler pogroms” apparently are a reference to attacks by Hebron settlers on Arabs in December after Israel evacuated settlers from a building.

Ackerman went on to say, “It comes from tunnels in Gaza and, yes, from digging in Jerusalem as well.”

Hamas uses tunnels beneath the Gaza Strip-Egypt border to smuggle in rockets it has fired on Israel. Palestinians have complained that a number of building projects in Jerusalem encroach on Arab neighborhoods.


Conservatives Call for Privatization of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate
The Conservative rabbinical association called for the privatization of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.

In a resolution adopted Feb. 12 at the Rabbinical Assembly’s annual convention in Jerusalem, the group called upon “the State of Israel to privatize the Chief Rabbinate and dissolve it as a governmental organization.”

An earlier draft had called for the general “dissolution” of the Rabbinate and accused it of “corruption, favoritism and cronyism.”


In Portugal, the Kosher Cheese Stands Alone
For the first time in more than 500 years, a dairy product has been granted kosher certification in Portugal.

A well-known local cheese, supervised by the chief rabbi of the city of Porto in northern Portugal, is the first dairy product that has been granted kosher certification in Portugal since the expulsion of the country’s Jews in 1497.

The production of Serra de Estrala cheese is supervised by Rabbi Daniel Litvak, an emissary for the Israel-based Shavei Israel organization, ministering to the descendants of the Anousim, Jews who converted hundreds of years ago against their will.

The owner of the cheese factory who approached Litvak to supervise all of his cheese products is a descendant of Anousim, according to a news release from Shavei Israel.

Litvak said the owner contacted him because of “his desire to renew his connection with Judaism and express his Jewish identity on the packaging of the cheese that is so closely associated with him.”

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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