Category Archives: Jewish World

My AIPAC Experience: Ellen Lewis Rice


I confess I decided to go to the 2014 AIPAC Policy Conference with some apprehension and a bit of reluctance. My husband Jay has attended the Conference for the past four years and always returned full of enthusiasm, energy and inspiration. While he continually encouraged me to go with him, I continually hesitated and put it off. You see, I view myself as a mainstream progressive liberal and my perception of AIPAC was that of an organization based on and fueled by hard right ideas.

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Jay and I are like souls in many ways. While most of the time our views on politics and social justice are very much in synch, occasionally we do, however, disagree on some issues about Israel. I kept my distance from AIPAC because, as I have so often told Jay, while I support Israel, I do not support everything Israel does. After spending two days with AIPAC in Washington, D.C., I feel the same about Israel in that I wholeheartedly support her, but not everything she does. On the other hand, my feeling about AIPAC has shifted dramatically.

The AIPAC Conference celebrated the State of Israel by showing the conferees Israel’s diversity, core humanitarianism, and innovative spirit. These essentials not only live within Israel herself, but also extend out from her borders to Africa, Asia, Europe, the U.S. and, indeed, the rest of the world. Here are some examples of how these attributes were brought to life at the Conference.

We heard from a young black refugee from Ethiopia, who, as a child, fled to Israel. She is now an Israeli citizen and a member of the Knesset;

We saw a film about a girls’ soccer league that brings together Israeli and Palestinian teens to play, learn, and hopefully gain a better understanding of one another. At the end of the film, two girls – two friends appeared on stage holding hands – a Palestinian Moslem and Israeli Jew;

We listened to the experiences of American doctors, nurses, and EMTs who volunteered and worked with Israeli medical personnel to treat and care for victims of disaster in the U.S., in Israel, in Haiti, in the Philipines, and other parts of the world;

We were moved by the stories from an Arab Christian physician who works at an Israeli hospital in the Galilee where Muslim and Christian refugees from the violence in Syria are welcomed and treated;

We marveled at the technological innovations Israel has developed and shares with the world – a drip irrigation system that conserves water and has helped to end Israel’s perpetual drought; a mobile device that reads text and identifies objects for blind individuals; a radar scan that can detect movement and objects through solid walls and under the rubble of earthquakes;

During the breakout sessions we attended, we also heard from panelists who talked about Israel’s unequivocal acceptance of the LGBT community as well as other instances in which Israel fosters diversity and inclusion.

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The Conference itself also promoted a strong current of diverse views and people. Political leaders from the right side of the aisle to the left side of the aisle addressed the participants. We heard from Senator Charles Schumer, Senator John McCain, Senator Robert Menendez, Representative Eric Cantor, Representative Stenny Hoyer, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Representative Chris Coons, Representative Gerald Nadel, Secretary of State John Kerry, Isaac Herzog, leader of Israel’s Labor Party, Tipi Livni, Israeli Minister of Justice, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The reception given to this wide array of luminaries and their viewpoints was usually enthusiastic and always respectful. During the breakout sessions, open discussion and questions were invited and encouraged.

It was abundantly clear that AIPAC has devoted enormous efforts and considerable resources to engage with communities outside the Jewish community.
We heard from African American students and leaders, from Latino leaders and professionals, and from persons of the Christian faith, all who expressed their deep support for Israel. What I found most compelling was that members of these disparate groups support Israel because of her importance in history and to all religious faiths, because the struggles of the Jewish People and Israel’s struggles mirror the struggles these groups have endured, and because they view Israel as a model of a democracy at work in the face of a region in constant turmoil.

The evident thrust of the Conference was to show to the participants and ultimately to the world, the positives of the State of Israel as a free, thriving country and a hopeful guidepost in a region beset by conflict, violence and even oppression. Part of that thrust included an examination of the BDS movement , which attempts to de-legitimize Israel by calls for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. In his speech on the last day of the Conference, Prime Minister Netanyahu described BDS proponents and those who side with them as perpetuating the age-old scourge of anti-semitism by dressing it in a new, but equally frightening cloak.

I do not doubt the problems facing Israel are extraordinarily complex and will be difficult to resolve. I do not doubt that there is and will continue to be strong debate and disagreements both inside and outside Israel on how to resolve those problems. But for now, I also have no doubt that AIPAC is playing a key role in fostering that debate by bringing it to a wider and wider audience on the world stage and in doing so, championing Israel as a democratic Jewish State.

TSTI In Israel Day 1

TSTI in Israel December 22, 2013 Group Day 1

Our TSTI Day was full Sunday December 22, 2013. Our overnight flight landed at 9am. We got our bags and hit the ground running. We…

  • took a stroll through Neve Zedek, one of the first neighborhoods of Tel Aviv and saw some of the meticulously restored historic homes.
  • moved on to Independence Hall where Ben Gurion declared the establishment of Israel on May 14, 1948 and sat in the very same room where our founding fathers sat on that historic day!
  • travelled down Rothschild Boulevard and saw some excellent examples of Bauhaus Architecture from the 1930’s.

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After some free time at the hotel we drove to ‘Kerem Hateymanim’ (the Yemenite Vineyard) of Tel Aviv for a welcome dinner at the Maganda Restaurant.

TSTI in Israel December 22, 2013 Maganda

Overnight at the Dan Panorama was a welcome chance to get some sleep before our first full day began.

Share our trip on FaceBook and Twitter by checking for hashtag #TSTIinIsrael2013

What Are We Doing About… Economic Justice

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The Farm Bill, which determines most U.S. food and agriculture policy, is making its way through Congress. A current version of the bill proposes $21 million of cuts to vital anti-hunger programs such as SNAP benefits, free school lunches for kids from low-income families, and nutrition assistance programs.

Read more:
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TSTI in the News- Granddad’s story earns audience in Israel

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From the New Jersey Jewish News: Read Original

July 10, 2013

Jessie Rievman’s grandfather Henry Freier died long before she was born, in fact while her mom was a teenager. But the 10-year-old from Short Hills has grown up hearing from her mother Randi about how playing soccer, as a little kid in what was then Czechoslovakia, helped him survive the Holocaust.

Some 70 years after that incident, his story helped his granddaughter reach her own goal: Jessie, who is passionate about both sports and art, created a display depicting his experiences, and it won her a trip to Israel — her first.

Jessie’s project was one of 35 finalists in the annual My Family Story-Manuel Hirsch Grosskopf International Competition organized by Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People, in Tel Aviv. On June 13, Jessie and her grandmother Judy Freier joined a group of participants from around the world — most of them two or three years older than Jessie — at all-day celebrations held at the museum in Tel Aviv.

Around 80 fourth-graders in her religious school class at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange took part in the My Family Story program.

With the help of her parents, Randi and Josh, who helped her assemble information and get art supplies, and from her mother’s sister Ilene Brookler, who had done extensive research into the family history, Jessie put together a display giving their background and relating her grandfather’s story. She told how five-year-old Henry and his brothers, in what was then Czechoslovakia, got soldiers guarding a bridge to play soccer with them for three days — and then managed to cross that bridge to reach at least temporary safety.

“Jessie’s very creative and she’s competitive and goal-oriented,” her mother said. “She won’t settle for anything that isn’t perfection.”

Rabbi Ellie Miller, Senior Rabbi Daniel Cohen, and Mindy Schreff, the director of Linda and Rudy Slucker Religious School at the temple, ultimately chose two of the class’s entries to send to the museum — Jessie’s and a project by fellow fourth-grader Abbey Wish. Jessie’s was chosen as one of the 20 winners from abroad, and with that came a round-trip ticket to Israel, sponsored by the Grosskopf family.

“It was an amazing journey for all of our families,” said Miller. “We had so many outstanding and moving projects, it was hard to select just two that would be entered in the competition.”

The winners’ displays will be exhibited in the museum through July and are expected to be seen by thousands of visitors.

“To say we are excited is an understatement,” Miller said. “The museum expressed its admiration for the passion exhibited by our community in bringing this program to fruition. Our temple family was blessed to utilize the ‘My Family Story’ curriculum to connect our students to their personal stories, to their family stories, and to the greater story of the Jewish people.”

Jessie is away at camp and wasn’t available for an interview, but through her mother she summed up the whole experience: “My Family Story is a great program, and it gave me an incredible opportunity to visit Israel.”

Her grandmother had more to say. “In Israel and many of the Latin American countries, the students spend the better part of their school year working on this heritage project,” said Judy Freier. “Jessie’s class was introduced to the assignment two weeks before it was submitted to the international committee. It was an honor to be one of the 35 winners.”

Although Jessie’s project wasn’t among the top two winners, “It was highly emotional for me to see Jessie presenting her grandfather’s story and to know that through her project, my husband’s story will be on display at Beit Hatfutsot, for the world to see,” said Freier. “She, who has never met her grandfather, is keeping him alive. I get choked up every time I think about the whole experience. It was a very special day for me on many levels.”

by Elaine Durbach
NJJN Staff Writer

Pro-Israel Activism at TSTI: Two Perspectives

The mission of TSTI’s Israel Involvement Committee states:

The Israel Involvement Committee of TSTI will promote the importance of a pluralistic, democratic State of Israel as a vital component to our identity as American Reform Jews. Our goal is to foster a lifelong commitment to Israel by providing ongoing educational experiences that enrich our knowledge of the history, people, politics and culture of the Jewish state. Furthermore, we strive to inspire our multigenerational membership to form personal connections to Israel by participating in travel, advocacy and cultural programs and activities that promote, build and strengthen relationships between Israel and our community at large.

In one of my sermons during the Holy Days two years ago I stated, “I would like to see 100% of this congregation become members of an organization that supports Israel. I am a member of AIPAC, but I care less about which organization one chooses and more about having as many of us involved as possible. I believe it is one of our responsibilities as members of the Jewish community.”

Along those lines I asked TSTI President Jay Rice and long-time TSTI member Martin J. Levine to share some thoughts about why they have taken the path of Israel involvement they have each chosen. Here’s what they had to say.
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Why I Joined J Street: TSTI Member Martin J. Levine

I am a proud member and supporter of J Street, an organization established to be the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans. Rabbi Cohen has invited me to write this essay to explain why.

I was born only four years after the State of Israel. When I was growing up, Israel seemed so new, so fresh, so exciting, so filled with inventions like kibbutzim and deserts that were made to bloom, so vibrant in its culture and its music, and, of course, as I learned in Hebrew school, it was the fulfillment of an ancient Jewish dream, in the words of HaTikvah, “the hope of two thousand years to be a free people in our land.”

In 1967, I was fifteen years old and, like many American Jews, I was scared. It seemed that Israel’s enemies were closing in on her and were on the verge of crushing her like a grape. Then came the miracle. In six days, Israel triumphed over its enemies, even seizing parts of their territory. At last, no one would be able to bully the still young state and Israel would be in a good position to negotiate a secure arrangement with its neighbors.

However, the triumph also contained the seeds of problems that bedevil Israel to this day. I think that many American Jews shared my expectation that Israel would not hold the territories it had seized indefinitely, but would use them as bargaining chips. That has happened in the case of the Sinai, for which Israel gained a peace treaty that, for all its imperfections, lasts to this day. Israel was also able to negotiate a peace treaty with Jordan, in this case without any territory exchange. The West Bank, on the other hand, remains under Israeli occupation decades later and Gaza, relinquished unilaterally by the Ariel Sharon government, remains a basket case.

This situation has resulted in great suffering on the part of both Israelis who live with the threat of terrorist attacks and those innocent Palestinians who have nothing to do with terrorism or aggression against Israel, but merely want to go about their lives in peace. It has also resulted in an Israel that finds itself in the position of an occupying power, a position at odds with Jewish scripture (“You shall not oppress a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”) and the Israeli Declaration of Independence (“[The State of Israel] will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race, or sex”).

Why has this situation continued so long? The Palestinians have certainly stymied attempts to resolve it, but so has the Israeli government. We Americans have not always been as helpful as we could have been. Nor has the world community.

I have always felt free to criticize the Palestinians when I thought they were acting badly, and I certainly have criticized them, but if I ever had a harsh word for Israeli actions, it seemed that the voices of the organized Jewish community were always ready to shout me down. It seemed that it was my job as an American Jew to defend every Israeli policy or practice, to blame every problem on the Palestinians, and at all cost, never to air dirty laundry in public. And that’s where J Street comes in.

J Street was founded to give a voice to that majority of American Jews and of pro-Israel Americans in general, who think that the most important thing we can do for Israel is to work hard for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, even when that means criticizing Israeli government actions. (By the way, J Street doesn’t reserve its criticism for Israel. It doesn’t hesitate to criticize Palestinians or anyone else when they seem to be standing in the way of a peaceful resolution.)

J Street’s view is that the only viable solution is a negotiated two-state solution, that is an agreement resulting in a Palestinian state living alongside Israel, with both states enjoying peace, security, and the opportunity for prosperity. The Palestinian population is growing faster than the Jewish population and before too long, the majority of people living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan will be Palestinians. When that happens, if a two-state solution has not been achieved, Israel will have to choose between being a democratic state that grants full voting rights to the Palestinians or a Jewish state that denies Palestinian rights and can no longer claim to be a democracy. Without a two-state solution, an Israel that is both Jewish and democratic will not be possible.

Of course, achieving a two-state solution is an uphill climb. The obstacles are many and challenging, from the presence of a Hamas government in Gaza, to the aging and political weakening of Palestinian moderates, to the Israeli settlements that threaten to make a viable Palestinian state untenable, to the absence of strong voices in favor of the two-state solution among leading Israeli politicians, to the political pressures brought to bear by some American groups that seek to convince elected officials that Jewish voters will destroy their careers if they do anything the Israeli government doesn’t like. In fact, the great majority of American Jews supports the two-state solution, along with the majority of Americans in general, the majority of Israelis, and the majority of Palestinians. And while the many obstacles make the job difficult, they also make it urgent. Time will not improve the situation, but will only aggravate the difficulties.

Secretary of State Kerry is working hard to revive the move toward a two-state solution,
but if he is to succeed, he will need perseverance, luck, skill, and importantly, our backing and the backing of our representatives in Congress. J Street is doing everything it can to support that effort and to make it clear to our elected officials that American Jews and other supporters of Israel want this effort to succeed.

I believe that many of my fellow congregants are also J Street supporters, although some of them may not yet know it. I think many people who share J Street’s positions either haven’t heard of J Street, have only a vague impression of it, or have heard things about it that are just plain wrong. I hope I have been able to shed some light here.

From September 28 to October 1, J Street will be holding a conference in Washington, D.C. I’ll be there and I’d like to invite you to join me. Last year’s conference had a great turnout and J Street is hoping to do even better this year. It should be a fascinating and inspiring event and will give attendees the opportunity to show their support to members of Congress directly.

I’d also like to see if we can form a group of J Street supporters within TSTI. It would give us the opportunity to share ideas, organize programs, and take action.

If you are interested in doing either or both of these, or if you just want more information, please feel free to contact me at (973)378-9274 or Learn more information about J Street.

Screen Shot 2013 07 10 at 3 13 13 PMWhy I Joined AIPAC: TSTI President Jay Rice

I consider myself a Progressive Reform Jew who believes that the only long term solution for Israel and the middle east is a two state solution: A Jewish Democratic Israel co- existing with an independent Palestine. But this can only happen if Israel continues to exist and it foolish not to recognize that Israel is surrounded by certain neighbors ( Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas) who make no apologies and mince no words in their goal to see Israel wiped off the face of the earth.

Israel can continue to exist only if it maintains military superiority over these neighbors ( an increasingly difficult task) That superiority has existed because of the friendship between Israel and the United States and America’s willingness to provide annually over $ 3 billion in military assistance.
Preserving a strong Israeli- US relationship is the goal of AIPAC and no organization comes close to being as effective as AIPAC. AIPAC reaches out to all 435 United States legislators and helps educate them on each and every issue impacting the Israeli- US relationship. How does a Congressman from North Dakota, where there is no Jewish population to speak of, come to understand the vital issues of the middle east and how the issues impact America. It is because of AIPAC. What organization takes these legislators regularly to Israel to see first hand the issues facing Israel. It is AIPAC. And at what conference does over 2/3 of the Congress come every year to participate and learn. It is AIPAC

AIPAC does not play favorites between political parties. Democrats and Republicans alike are treated with respect and appreciation at every Policy Conference. AIPAC’s mission does not change if Labor or Likud is in power in Israel or whether there is a Democratic or Republican administration in the White House.

Some think AIPAC should be more critical of Israel, but it is not the role of AIPAC to be critical of either Israel or the United States. No one is more critical of Israel than Israelis themselves. That is the nature of a Democracy. And I do not believe we need another organization focused on pointing out perceived flaws in the way Israel reacts to the difficult issues Israel faces every day. The fact is there are plenty of countries, groups and media who are always focused of what they perceive Israel has done wrong… hence the very clear attempt in Europe and elsewhere to delegitimize Israel. What Israel needs is a friend, and a focus on all the many great things Israel is giving to the world, and yes to their Palestinian neighbors. Israel has no better friend than the Unites States and it is AIPAC’s goal to preserve and foster that friendship.

And that is why I am a proud AIPAC member.

Learn more about AIPAC.

In the News: Passover 5773: Why these apps are different from all other apps

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 7.36.34 AMFrom the New Jersey Jewish News

by Rabbi Daniel M. Cohen, March 20, 2013

Passover is upon us and, as with all things Jewish, preparation is a key part of observing the festival.

If you use an iOS or Android tablet or phone, your mobile device can help you get ready to mark the retelling of our people’s seminal tale. Here are a few apps worth checking out.

Haggadah for Passover( Since the very word “Seder” means “order,” it is great to review the order of the Passover meal. This app lets you do just that. Better still, it is simple, accurate, and it doesn’t look like a kid’s app. In fact, this eHaggadah is good enough that one could easily use it as the framework of their seder, adding to it with readings and songs. If you use Android, then you might want to try one of the Haggadot in the Google Play Android store (

Can you name all ten plagues? In order? In Hebrew and English? If you answered “no,” then you’ll want to downloadPassover—The Ten Plagues(, a simple and fun app. It helps you learn (or relearn) the plagues that are said to have struck Egypt as a precursor to yitziat mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt. Instead of being dry and heavy-handed in its approach, this app uses colorful drawings and funny sounds to make learning enjoyable.

According to tradition, the Israelites left Egypt on the 15th of Nissan (the first day of Passover), and arrived at Mount Sinai on the sixth of Sivan. It is now Jewish practice to verbally keep track of the 49 days between the festivals of Passover and Shavuot by “Counting the Omer.” This period of ritual counting was intended to prepare our ancestors, and us, to receive the Torah. If you are anything like me, then you need daily reminders of actions that take place at a specific time each day; that’s whereSefirat HaOmer ( comes in handy. You can set a daily reminder, and when the alarm goes off you’ll even have the appropriate blessing in hand.

It is now tradition to study one chapter of the short Talmudic Text each Shabbat from Pesach to Shavuot. This short work of Pirkei Avot — Ethical Teachings — contains a great deal of wisdom from the early rabbis of our tradition. It is there we learn, “Do not say ‘I will study when I have the time,’ for perhaps you will never have time.”

Buy Ethics of the Sages (, $16.99) and set a fixed time between Passover and Shavuot to study. You’ll be amazed at how relevant these teaching are, even 2,000 years later.

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Our ancestors left Egypt and made their way to the land of Israel. Their 40 years of wandering helped insure they would not take their freedom, or their land, for granted. Millennia later we are once again free in the land of our ancestors. Here are two apps for 5773.

The 2013 AIPAC Policy Conference is over, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t learn about the U.S.-Israel relationship! The AIPAC Policy Conference 2013 app (, free) includes photos from the conference as well as videos of many of the talks and demonstrations. Among the speeches you’ll see and hear are Vice President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And because AIPAC is committed to working with any and all Israeli and American administrations, speeches from Representatives Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Eric Cantor (R-Va.) are found back to back.

If you want to learn to speak Hebrew, there are two main approaches you might take. First, you can move to Israel, register for an ulpan, and study for nine hours a day, six days a week, for ten weeks (give or take). It is intense, overwhelming, and a challenge — but it really works. Trust me on all counts!

The second way is through Rosetta Stone. The company’s offerings are pricey, but their approach really works. And with their TOTALe Studio HD system (, you can now access Rosetta Stone’s language acquisition courses on your iPad. I’m planning a congregational trip to Israel next December; I found myself needing a refresher course, so I recently became a subscriber.

An Amazing Moment at the AIPAC Policy Conference 2013

Screen Shot 2013-03-06 at 9.23.55 AMI was thrilled to be in Washington for the AIPAC Policy Conference 2013 with so many members of our TSTI community. I am proud to say that our involvement as a community is growing each year. In the current climate it is more important than ever that we get involved and take action.

While in DC we had the opportunity to hear some amazing speakers. One of the most powerful speeches came from Vice-President Biden. It is worth watching the entire session and speech. If, however, you have time to watch just one thing start the video and jump to 1:35. The story the VP tells is beyond powerful. Click here to watch the speech.

Rabbi Daniel Cohen

AIPAC Policy Conference 2013 Reflections- Roberta Probber

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The 2013 policy conference brought together 13,000 people, all with the common goal of supporting Israel.  While the threat of Iran’s nuclear developments and support of terrorism, instability in the Middle East neighborhood and the importance of establishing relationships and introducing Israel to a wave of new legislators where addressed, these issues shared center stage with the exciting technological advancements that are coming out of Israel.
It was exciting to sit at at small presentation by Brigadier General Danny Gold, to listen to how he bent the rules and put a team together to develop the unbelievable technology behind the Iron Dome.  To sit in the plenary and watch Dr. Boaz Almog from Tel Aviv University “levitate” a superconductor – well, it made my head spin with the possible applications.
The diversity among the 13,000 delegates was inspiring.  Yes, there was an overwhelming majority of people who looked a lot like us, but we shared dinner with pastors from southern states, we listened to a fabulous rendition of the Star Spangled Banner performed by Pastor Christopher T. Harris, Sr.  of the Bright Star Church of God In Christ and heard about his congregations relationship with the Jewish Community in Chicago.  All these people had visited Israel under the auspices of AIPAC, and it was palpable, how much this kind of outreach is broadening the pro-Israel community.
The AIPAC conference is important to me as a pro-Israel supporter.  I really like going with members of our congregation – it provides an opportunity to get to know people on a different level, and, yes, we have already signed on for next year.  

AIPAC Policy Conference 2013- Amazing Morning Panel


We began the day with an amazing panel of leaders speaking about the Socio-Political reality of the day. Senator McCain “The world is more dangerous right now than I have ever seen.”


The Honorable Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Member, Committee on Armed Services
United States Senate

The Honorable John McCain
Ranking Member, Committee on Armed Services
United States Senate

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Amos Yadlin
Institute for National Security Studies
Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Amos Yadlin is director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. He served more than 40 years in the IDF, including 10 as a member of the IDF General Staff.