Phil Baum, who died March 27 at age 94, was one of the last of the giants of Jewish public affairs. Permit the overused cliché, but his death truly marks the end of an era. Baum’s work was representative of an approach to public affairs in American Jewish life that characterized an era forgotten by most — to say nothing of the unique organizational structure, the American Jewish Congress, in which Phil spent his entire career.
Twenty-four years ago, in December 1988, a group of us, women from the diaspora, carried a Torah scroll to the women’s side of the Kotel, the Western Wall, in Jerusalem, and began chanting from it. We had been attending a conference about women held by the American Jewish Congress, and represented a cross section of Jewish denominations. Soon after our service began, a haredi woman nearby started shouting that women were not permitted to read from a Torah scroll.
Pope Benedict XVI received a private audience of Latin American Jewish leaders from 12 countries.
The group, which met Thursday with the pope, was led by Latin American Jewish Congress President Jack Terpins.
According to Latin American Jewish Congress, the pope said that "dynamic Jewish communities exist throughout Latin America, especially in Argentina and Brazil, living alongside a large Catholic majority."
’Tis the season for tension over religious displays in public spaces, and the latest flareup was triggered by Santa's appearance at a Hoboken public school. The event triggered bureaucratic maneuvering and a noisy web-based debate edged with hostility toward Jews.
Last week, a parent complained about the longstanding tradition at Hoboken’s Salvatore R. Calabro Elementary School to allow children to pose for Santa photos, said Superintendent Mark Toback, who would not reveal the parent’s name.
Okay, my secret is out: I'm retiring after 24 years on this beat for the Jewish Week (please hold your applause and your decaying vegetables). It seems like the right time to reflect on the changes I've seen in the Jewish world and Jewish politics during that period.
Many of the activists I met way back in the day are still toiling in Washington, and some of the issues that preoccupied them more than two decades ago are still in play, while others are long forgotten. How many remember the Lautenberg Amendment? In 1987, it was on the lips of most Jewish leaders.
The other day I blogged about the sad demise of the American Jewish Congress and laid much of the blame for its protracted demise on its decision to turn away from the progressive domestic focus that was its traditional bread and butter.
A caller with long connections to the group took me to task.
Lay leaders of the American Jewish Congress appear to have one motto: “Never say die.”
Despite closing their offices and discharging 10 staffers last month as part of a reorganization,” the group’s president and at least one board member said they still believe the organization could rebound. But it will have to do it without Marc Stern, its general counsel for 11 years and the man who served as co-executive director for the past two year.
Coming back from an Internet-free vacation, I learned that Marc Stern, the longtime legal guru of of the American Jewish Congress, has signed on to serve as associate general counsel for legal activity of the American Jewish Committee.
That should put a conclusive end to speculation about a merger between the two groups whose similar names have given generations of Jewish journalists fits, for the simple reason that with Stern's defection, the AJ Congress has absolutely nothing the American Jewish Committee could possibly want.
News this week that the American Jewish Congress has suspended activities due to financial problems is depressing, though not unexpected. The once-proud organization, founded in 1918, and long the voice of liberal Jewish activism, lost much of its distinctiveness in recent years. As its membership declined and staff was reduced, it played a diminished role in domestic affairs, though remained known for its expertise on church-state issues.