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A Year of Conversation

Gary Wolff

Gary Wolff, Director, UConn Hillel
1/8/10
The most important thing we can give a Jewish student at UConn is an open environment with Jewish culture and identity, the opportunity to practice the way they want to without changing what they’re used to doing. We’re doing more outreach, having students recruit students so that we’re more visible to let students know that they have this opportunity. There is a preconceived idea that Hillel is a religious place on campus. We do do holidays but we also offer professional mentorship, social opportunities, opportunities to connect, programming that students learn about through marketing and their peers.

Dr. Amir Aczel

Dr. Amir Aczel, Author of “Uranium Wars”
1/22/10

The U.S. could easily stop Iran by sending fleets into the Persian Gulf and putting pressure on Iran. Just a nominal threat would go a long way. Bush was immobilized because of Iraq, but Obama has urged Israel, under very strong terms, not to attack Iran but to wait for the political process through the U.N. Obama gave a January 1 deadline to Iran but hasn’t said anything since the deadline passed.

Dr. Joe Olzacki

Dr. Joe Olzacki, Creator and Director of The Identity Project (discussing his trip to Rwanda)
2/5/10
We visited Mirambi, one of the ugliest places on earth. In 1994, the French army had instructed the Tutsis in the area to flee to the campus of a technical school for protection. In a matter of a few hours, 50,000 people were macheted, clubbed, stabbed and beaten to death and their bodies thrown into a mass grave. The site is now a memorial to the genocide victims. The school buildings have been preserved as part of the memorial. Around 30 classrooms were filled with the calcified remains of murdered Tutsis. We moved to the valuables room containing shelves full of cloth and clothing stripped from the bodies before they were thrown into the mass graves. If I didn’t know better, it seemed as if Hitler and his crew had moved their viciousness directly to Rwanda.

Dr. Jay Bergman

Dr. Jay Bergman, CCSU Russian History Professor, Author of “Meeting the Demands of Reason: The Life and Thought of Andrei Sakharov”
2/19/10

Sakharov was not Jewish, but his second wife, Elena Bonner, is Jewish. Through her he met Jewish refuseniks – Soviet Jews who wished to leave the Soviet Union, in many cases to emigrate to Israel – and championed their cause. The most famous refusenik, Anatoli (now Natan) Sharansky, considers Sakharov his intellectual and ethical inspiration. Indeed, one of the human rights Sakharov championed especially energetically was the right of all people, not just the refuseniks or the Soviet people, to choose their country of residence.

Dovid Katz

Dovid Katz, Co-founder of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University in Lithuania
2/26/10
The Holocaust Obfuscation movement, as I’ve called it, is a movement by the governmental, intellectual and media establishments of East European countries, particularly the Baltics, to try to rewrite history, in effect, claiming that there were in fact “two equal genocides,” Nazi and Soviet, and, as far as possible, blaming “the Jews” for Soviet rule and misrule. Without denying a single death – it’s not “Holocaust Denial” – the Obfuscationists explain the history as two equivalent wrongs. This goes hand in hand with a virulent strain of East European antisemitism that literally blames the Jews for communism and uses the canard to in effect explain away the Holocaust.

Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky, NBC financial guru
4/23/10
What I’d like people to do is actually run some numbers – get an estimate of what your benefits are likely to be from the Social Security Administration at www. socialsecurityfsa.gov. Figure out what you already have saved and how much longer you plan on working and then go to a website like www. choosetosave.org and run the retirement calculator and you’ll get a real number. … If you can get yourself to actually take the half hour – really that’s all it takes to run these numbers – then you will be much better off.

Charles London

Charles London, Author of “Far from Zion: In Search of a Global Jewish Community,”
4/30/10

My journey ends with a trip to Israel and I arrived skeptical but fell in love with the country. My politics are left of center and Israel certainly has its problems, but I went from complete apathy to deeply caring about Israel’s relationship with the rest of Jewry and the rest of the world. There is so much complexity among Israelis in their political debate. In America we don’t have that conversation. I always felt that I was an outsider to organized Jewish life and didn’t have a right to an opinion. When I visited all these communities, everyone had a place and was entitled to an opinion. If there was enough room in Judaism for all these different voices, there was room for me. But it was up to me to become part of the conversation, have skin in the game.

Gil Hoffman

Gil Hoffman, Chief political correspondent and analyst for The Jerusalem Post
5/7/10

There was a poll reported in Israel last Friday that found that about 16 percent of Israelis blame Netanyahu for the peace talks not moving forward; 58 percent blamed Obama; and 18 percent blamed both. What was interesting is that no one blamed the Palestinians. Because people understand that as long as there is pressure from the United States on Israel, why would they come to the negotiating table? They’ll hold out for more.

Dr. Charles Small

Dr. Charles Small, Director of Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism and founder of the International Association for the Study of Antisemitism
5/28/10
When Ahmadinejad said at Columbia University, “Iran has no gays,” there was laughter and ridicule, but the truth is that we don’t understand his language. What he was saying was that in Iran, if you’re discovered to be gay, you’re killed or forced to engage in a sex-change operation. We need to understand the genocidal antisemitic agenda of Iran, Hamas, and Hizbollah. This is anti-human rights, not just anti-Israel. Iran supports a social movement that is diametrically opposed to human rights. Radical Islam, as expressed by Hamas and Hizbollah, is a social movement inherently reactionary and unaccepting of differences.

Dan Malloy

Governor-elect Dan Malloy, Then a Gubernatorial candidate, speaking about the lawsuit filed against him by Meg Whitnum whom he called an antisemite
6/25/10
There was no doubt in my mind that the rhetoric that she was using was antisemitic. Comparing levels of guilt to the people who actually flew planes into buildings…it was just incredible and I felt that as a human being I couldn’t give witness to that without raising my voice. I wasn’t politically motivated – she was never going to win the primary; she was not a substantial candidate. But if people don’t raise their voice when this kind of rhetoric is being engaged in, then you’re just standing by and letting people get away with it. I didn’t feel that I could morally do that.

Gerry Garcia

Gerry Garcia, Candidate for the Democratic nomination for Secretary of the State in the Nov. 2010 election
7/16/10
When I was an undergrad (at Yale), I won scholarships that enabled me to go to Israel where I studied for a year at Hebrew University. … I didn’t grow up in a family of much means. My father worked in a factory in North Haven until he retired. Israel was the first experience of my life where I got to be whole. I sometimes found myself being the Jew to the Puerto Rican and the Puerto Rican to the Jew. But in Israel you could be a Puerto Rican Jew and they were not at odds with one another. There were Jews from all over the world and it was a fascinating and a phenomenal experience.

Nancy Wyman

Nancy Wyman, Lieut. Governor-elect (then Comptroller)
7/23/10

One of my favorite stories is about the time Dick Blumenthal and I were at a meeting of Hadassah on the Sunday right before Rosh Hashanah… It was my turn to speak and I was talking about the holiday coming up and I said that I had taken a few hours off the day before to make my soup for the holiday — and I realized that a rabbi was standing in back of me and that the day that I cooked it was Saturday. So, I said to the rabbi “Excuse me, I’m really sorry about that.” And everyone laughed and I finished my speech and went back to talk to the rabbi. The rabbi was Rabbi Wolvovsky. And he said, “You know, there are two things that Jewish mothers say you must have: guilt and gelt.” And, he said, “I don’t know about the gelt, but, boy, do you have the guilt.”

Marlene Sanders

Marlene Sanders, Award-winning journalist and producer of the documentary “The Hand that Rocks the Ballot Box”
8/20/10

Women have made a great deal of progress on air as you can see from TV news. But they are not well represented in management, and the glass ceiling is still there. The biggest hurdle is childcare. I wrote a lot about that issue in my book. Women need to focus on making it much more available so they can continue to work. In the developing world, particularly in the Muslim world, with the stonings and attacks on women for “adultery,” and with the veil, challenges for women are still out there.

Michale Oren

Ambassador Michael Orens, Israel Ambassador to the United Nations

There is a spectrum of ideas in the American Jewish community about how we should move forward for peace; and not all of those ideas and positions are exactly consonant with those of the government of Israel. I would ask only one thing: that American Jews, whatever their political orientation, respect Israeli democracy. The people who will bear the most ramifications of the decisions made by the Israeli government will be the people of Israel first and foremost. Respect that. Stick with us; that’s what I ask.

Dr. Mitchell Bard

Dr. Mitchell Bard, Author of “The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That undermines America’s Interest in the Middle East”
9/17/10

Barack Obama last year on his way to Cairo met with the king of Saudi Arabia and had been under the impression that the Saudis would cooperate in the peace initiative. Because of the tough line that Obama had taken against Israel, he believed the Saudis would make their own positive gestures to show that there would be some reward to Israel for making peace with the Palestinians in terms of broader peace with the Arabs. And the king of Saudi Arabia basically told him to jump in the lake. In the case of both Carter and Obama, the Saudis were ‘rewarded’ with large arms sales.

Dr. Stephen M. Berk

Dr. Stephen M. Berk, Professor of Holocaust and Jewish Studies at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.
9/24/10
The primary reason as to why there has not been peace has to do with the basic fact that, going back to the 1920s, the Arab world in general and the Palestinians in particular were not prepared to agree to a sovereign Jewish state in a truncated part of Palestine. It’s not clear, even in 2010, that there are large numbers of Palestinians prepared to accept Israel as a Jewish state. … The problem is that the Palestinian leadership, even the allegedly moderate leadership of Abbas, … told their people that they’re going home, that all the refugees are going home and reclaiming their land. No Israeli government, no matter how liberal, is going to allow that because it would destroy the state of Israel.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman
10/1/10
If Iran gets nuclear weapons that’s the most significant change in international relations in a long time, because Iran is not only an extremist government, it’s also an expansionist government and a terror sponsoring government that will end President Obama’s desire to limit the spread of nuclear weapons, not just in the Middle East, but throughout the world; it will strengthen terrorists and it will compromise the security of the United States. As I see the U.S. extending defensive capacities to countries in the Middle East, both Israel and our Arab allies, to me that’s not about learning to live with a nuclear Iran, that’s helping those countries be prepared to defend themselves in the event we are forced to take military action against Iran and Iran strikes back.

Prof. Jerry Z. Muller

Prof. Jerry Z. Muller, Author of “Capitalism and the Jews” and chairman of the history dept. at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
10/15/10
On the whole, very few Jews tended to be Communists, but Communists who were of Jewish origin did tend to be disproportionately salient and publicly visible. The Jews who did join tended to be more literate and more in command of multiple languages, and for those reasons above all they tended to rise in the hierarchies of the Communist party, especially in the world of words – ideology and propaganda.

Dr. Richard Rubenstein

Dr. Richard Rubenstein, President emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Religion at the University of Bridgeport and author of “Jihad and Genocide”
10/22/10

When my wife and I went to these conferences, we would gravitate toward [Zaki] Badawi (described by The Guardian as “Britain’s most influential Muslim) and his wife, and would often have dinner with them. On one occasion, while we were discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he opened up and said, “But they really must go.” I said, “Who must go?” and he said, “The Jews.” His wife chimed in and said, “The Crusades, you know, the Crusades.” I got the picture and I realized that their prescription was an Israel completely free of Jews. I’d spent enough time studying the Holocaust to know that the ultimate end to this kind of thinking is genocide, if they have their way. I thought it was fruitless to have further dialog with him, so we stopped having dinner together.

Dr. Wendy Mogul

Dr. Wendy Mogul, Author of “The Blessing of a B Minus, Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers”
11/5/10

There is a beautiful Chasidic teaching that if your child has a talent to be a baker don’t ask that child to be a doctor.

Dr. Jonathan Schneer

Dr. Jonathan Schneer, Author of “The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict” and professor of modern British history at the Georgia Institute of Technology
11/12/10
The British negotiator was empowered by Prime Minister David Lloyd George to tell the Turks that if they got out of the war, they could keep many of their Middle Eastern possessions, including, precisely, Palestine. This Turkish angle is my new contribution to the research. … David Lloyd George told his negotiator to make this offer to the Turks in January 1918, two months after the Balfour Declaration. … All the while, the British were quite determined to keep Palestine for themselves, which is what they did.

Dr. Arnold Dashefsky

Dr. Arnold Dashefsky, Director of Mandell L. Berman Institute North American Jewish Data Bank (NAJDB) at UConn Co-author of a 2010 Jewish population study
11/26/10
What most American Jews don’t appreciate fully is that, while the population of American Jewish communities is relatively stable, the share that Jews represent of the total American population is half what it was at its peak in the 1930s. In the ’30s, the total American population was between 100 million and 150 million, of which Jews represented 3.7 percent. Now, Jews represent between 1.8 and two percent of the total population. That tells us that the rest of the American population is growing at a much faster rate than the Jewish population.

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