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“Usually after the first event, it’s like a firestorm,” said Pastor Scott Thomas, the Florida state director for Christians United for Israel (CUFI). “The excitement hits, the understanding settles in.” That, in short, illustrates the process through which CUFI has become America’s largest pro-Israel organization in less than a decade of existence. In January, CUFI announced that its membership surpassed the 2-million mark. But CUFI founder Pastor John Hagee isn’t satisfied. He said the organization hopes to double its membership to 4 million over the next two to three years. CUFI also plans to expand to the United Kingdom to start fighting European anti-Semitism “eye to eye,” Hagee told JNS.org at the Jan. 27 CUFI Leadership Summit in San Antonio. “If you took away the Jewish contribution from Christianity, there would be no Christianity, so fundamentally, Christians owe the Jewish people everything. Period. Once a person sees that, he’s committed to take action in defense of the Jewish people,” Hagee said.

Being anti-Israel is fashionable in academia, and many scholars sincerely worry about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Young and even well-established scholars need courage to stand against the anti-Israel consensus, and can risk losing promotions, career opportunities, and respectability if they speak against this prevailing zeitgeist. But the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel can be halted. Many academics worry about the politicization of their scholarly associations, and most attendees of annual academic conventions are simply not interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, writes Roberta P. Seid, director of research-education for the pro-Israel group StandWithUs.

A popular radio host on Sirius XM’s Symphony Hall channel, Martin Goldsmith tells his family’s Holocaust stories through a different medium. In 2000, he published “The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany,” a book detailing his parents’ experience performing in an all-Jewish orchestra maintained by the Nazis. “Even though I lived with certain aspects of the story my entire life, I did not know many of the details until I was well into my 40s,” Goldsmith tells JNS.org ahead of this year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan. 27). More recently, in April 2014, Goldsmith released another book, “Alex’s Wake: A Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance,” which chronicles a trip he took with his wife to retrace the steps of relatives who were killed by the Nazis.

Standing between a display table full of touchscreen tablets and a colorful spread of Israeli cuisine favorites, World Jewish Heritage Organization (WJH) founder Jack Gottlieb delivers a toast. “Israelis like projects,” he says. “We wanted to create a Jewish UNESCO and Jewish TripAdvisor in a combined application.” Gottlieb’s references to the U.N. agency and the travel website combine to describe a new interactive mobile app being launched by WJH, which is also rolling out an eBook on Jewish and new Israeli cuisine titled, “Israel’s Top 100 Ethnic Restaurants.” On Jan. 14 in New York City, WJH hosted “Celebration of Jewish Ethnic Flavors,” a cocktail hour and dinner event to launch the eBook.

Temimah Zucker, 24, is a modest young woman with an equally modest frame. But her smile, vitality, and drive fill a room. Her message and mission—that eating disorders are an expanding challenge in the Jewish community and need to be tackled head on—is not always a popular one, but it is a fight she knows could save lives. “When I meet people in the Jewish community and tell them I work with eating disorders, they say, ‘Me too! I never stop eating!’ There is an understanding that food plays a central role in Judaism. People overeat, emotionally eat, and it can be life-threatening,” Zucker says.

U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Bob Corker (R-TN) on Friday released a joint statement calling on the U.S. government to defund the Palestinian Authority (PA) over its decision to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). At the same time, three Republican senators who are rumored to be running for president in 2016—Marco Rubio (FL), Rand Paul (KY), and Ted Cruz (TX)—have similar stances on how the ICC bid should affect American funding to the PA, with Paul going as far as initiating a bill to end that funding. 

History has taught us that as Jews, we should be the first to stand up to bigotry wherever it lurks. But at times, we forget that first and foremost, our own community must not be guilty of xenophobia. According to a July 2014 Pew Research Center poll, Jews hold exceptionally negative attitudes about Evangelical Christians, but white Evangelicals hold exceptionally positive attitudes about Jews. In some parts of the Jewish community, anti-Christian prejudice is the last acceptable form of bigotry, writes Ari Morgenstern, communications director for Christians United for Israel.

Leading up to Hanukkah 2014, former Hasbro toy and game company employee Neal Hoffman conducted a successful Kickstarter online crowdfunding campaign that helped him get out his new product, “Mensch on a Bench,” in time for the holiday. At the same time, the Cincinnati, Ohio, resident was readying for an even bigger stage: national television. On the popular ABC program “Shark Tank,” Hoffman accepted an offer of $150,000 for a 30-percent stake in his company from investors Lori Greiner and Robert Herjavec. “I remember smiling ear to ear walking down the hallway and thinking to myself, ‘I did it,’” Hoffman tells JNS.org regarding his entrance into the “Shark Tank” set. “I was starstruck when I walked in the room, but got over it quickly when I started my presentation.”

Amid a growing black-white divide in America resulting from the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, “Soul Doctor”—the off-Broadway musical play on the friendship between Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and black jazz legend Nina Simone—has the power to heal frayed race relations, writes Juda Engelmayer.

In March 2009, President Barack Obama's first reference to Iran as an “Islamic Republic” was a declaration of his doctrine of trust in the Iranian regime. By the close of 2014, it was clear that Obama’s policy had created a dangerous mess, as Iran continues its uranium enrichment program while the International Atomic Energy Agency frets about the likely prospect that Tehran is continuing to operate clandestine nuclear facilities. While Obama seeks a legacy of peace, that legacy can easily be another president’s inheritance of war, writes JNS.org Shillman Analyst Ben Cohen.

Israel’s tumultuous summer and fall tested the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on many fronts. Yet despite the strain of war, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir (Klifi), the recently appointed national executive director of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), maintains that IDF morale is high. FIDF does its part by raising funds from a vast network of international donors to support programming that enhances soldiers’ wellbeing. “For the soldiers,” Klifi tells JNS.org, “it’s not about what’s in the box, or package. It’s about who sends that package. They were in the worst circumstances, under very strong pressure. … Knowing they get support from people all over the world who understand [the IDF’s mission] is very important for their morale.”

Daniel Mael, a Brandeis University student and blogger, is being accused of everything from cyber bullying to harassment for exposing student leader Khadijah Lynch’s raw hatred for the New York Police Department, America, and the “Zionist” institution where she is getting an education. The reaction to Mael's journalism, and the fact that someone like Lynch could emerge as a student leader in the first place, say less about the ideals that once shaped Brandeis and more about what the school has now become, writes Abraham H. Miller, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati.

As 2014 draws to a close, Laura Fein can’t help but reflect on this year’s dramatic increase in anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attacks, and hope that the coming year will see more Jews actively join the fight to reverse these trends. Israel is certainly worth fighting for, whether as a sanctuary and protector of Jews worldwide, a front line in the West’s war against jihadist threats, or a beacon of human rights and pluralism, writes Fein, the executive director of Zionist Organization of America-New Jersey.

 

For local fundraising organizations in a marketplace saturated with similar and competing causes, it can be hard enough to break through the noise leading up to Dec. 31, when donors traditionally make significant philanthropic decisions ahead of the New Year. For those groups looking to raise support for causes abroad—especially for those in Israel, where the political climate could pose additional challenges for American fundraisers—the barriers are steeper. This uncomfortable playing field, however, forces “American Friends” affiliates of Israeli organizations to work smarter and more strategically.

Jewish-American aid worker Alan Gross arrived home to celebrate Hanukkah after five years in a Cuban prison, prompting the Jewish world to celebrate. But analysts say Gross’s humanitarian release and the subsequent U.S.-Cuba prisoner swap have little to do with the prisoners and everything to do with the Obama administration’s final two years—and the reverberations might be felt in the Middle East. “Obama has made clear on several occasions that he is appalled by Israeli policy in the West Bank. But he has not had the guts to impose sanctions on Israel... that might be next,” said Piero Gleijeses, a professor of U.S. foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University.

Theater directors across the country condemned Ari Roth’s ouster as artistic director of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center’s Theater J, calling the move a blow against freedom of expression. In fact, Roth's chronic productions of anti-Israel boilerplate amounted to personal license. Theater J is now free to be broadly creative—and representative—in Jewish-themed programs, writes Eric Rozenman, Washington director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

“There is Judaism, and then there are Jews,” says award-winning author and polio survivor Chava Willig Levy, framing a an ongoing Jewish communal discussion on the inclusion of people with disabilities. On Dec. 17 in New York City, Levy was among at the attendees of the Ruderman Family Foundation’s first conference for Jews with disabilities who are self-advocates. The event brought together distinguished lawyers, rabbis, writers, teachers, and community activists whose successful careers, undaunted energy, and full lives counter longstanding misconceptions about people with disabilities.

The new U.S. policy of rapprochement with Cuba, which was accompanied by the celebrated release of imprisoned Jewish aid worker Alan Gross, probably will give American Jews greater access to a Jewish community with which few are familiar. But visitors will find that the years have not been kind to once-thriving Cuban Jewry, writes historian Rafael Medoff.

Hollywood has had its share of big-budget biblical flops, but until now, the Exodus narrative has not been among them. Studios have brought Moses to the big screen sparingly, but in ways that defined the image and character of Moses for each generation of audiences. Marshall Weiss recaps nine decades of Moses at the movies, including the most recent iteration—Christian Bale in the newly released “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

In “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Ridley Scott’s attempt to reinvent the biblical narrative becomes laughable, namely an awkward experiment with trying to rationalize supernatural events like the Ten Plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. “Exodus” is a competent film with epic intentions and scale, but doesn’t live up to its potential, writes reviewer Jason Stack.