The JW Q&A

A weekly interview with notable figures and names in the news.

Spreading ‘The Truth’ About The Jewish State

The problem in Europe is that people don't know the 'facts,' says Ofir Akunis, an Israeli politician.

06/01/2015 - 20:00
Staff Writer

Ofir Akunis was recently appointed to a ministerial post in Israel’s communications ministry. A former deputy speaker of the Knesset to which he was elected in February 2009 and a former spokesman of the Likud Party, Akunis, 42, had served as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. He was in the city as a representative of the Israeli government at Sunday’s Celebrate Israel Parade.

Israeli minister Ofir Akunis: “People in Europe don’t know the facts” about Israel.

Poland’s Jewish Revival Seen Continuing Apace

Sebastian Rejak has a role that's rare in Europe; he's an envoy of the Polish government to the Jewish diaspora.

05/25/2015 - 20:00
Staff Writer

Raised a Catholic in Lublin, Sebastian Rejak has served for the last year and a half as the special envoy for Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs for relations with the Jewish diaspora, one of a few nations in Eastern Europe with such a diplomatic position. He has a working knowledge of Hebrew, Jewish history and aspects of Jewish culture and history. He was here last week as part of a brief mission introducing himself to leaders of the American Jewish community. This is an edited transcript of the interview.

Polish special envoy Sebastian Rejak: The revival “is not only about Orthodox minyans.”

A Military Man Leaves The Theater

Born in a displaced person camp in Paris, Rabbi Jacob Goldstein retired as an Army chaplain after 38 years.

05/19/2015 - 20:00
Staff Writer

Rabbi Jacob Goldstein retired last month after 38 years as a U.S. Army chaplain having reached the mandatory retirement age of 68. He held the rank of colonel and was the longest serving Jewish chaplain in the U.S. military.

Rabbi Goldstein, who was born in a displaced persons camp in Paris after World War II, immigrated with his family to the United States shortly after his birth. He graduated from the Lubavitch Rabbinical Seminary, where he was ordained. He currently serves as an assistant commissioner of housing for New York State, as a chaplain with the U.S. Secret Service, and as chairman of Community Board 9 in the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn. The Jewish Week spoke with him last week by telephone. This is an edited transcript.

Col. Jacob Goldstein: Spent nearly 40 years as an Army chaplain.

Change And Continuity In Reconstructionist Movement

Rabbi Nina Mandel is the new president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Assembly.

05/11/2015 - 20:00
Staff Writer

As the Reconstructionist movement is considering ordaining intermarried students for the first time at its rabbinical school, its rabbinical association has a new leader. Rabbi Nina Mandel, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth El in Sunbury, Pa., was announced last week as the new president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. The rabbi, who was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2003, also has a master’s degree in anthropology from New York University and teaches classes in Jewish philosophy and culture, film and women’s studies at Susquehanna University.

The Jewish Week interviewed Rabbi Mandel by email. This is an edited transcript.

Rabbi Nina Mandel: Reconstructionist movement faces many issues besides intermarriage.

Fighting To Keep Yiddish Culture Alive

Eddy Portnoy has created a new exhibit about Jewish boxers and wrestlers at YIVO Institute of Jewish Research in Manhattan.

05/04/2015 - 20:00
Staff Writer

An exhibition on the “Yiddish Fight Club,” about Jewish boxers and wrestlers, opened this week at the YIVO Institute of Jewish Research in Manhattan. It was created by Eddy Portnoy, who teaches in the Judaic Studies Program at Rutgers University and serves as academic advisor at YIVO’s Max Weinrich Center for Advanced Jewish Studies. The Jewish Week interviewed Portnoy by email; this is an edited transcript.

Eddy Portnoy: Yiddish infused the society from which Jewish boxers and wrestlers emerged. Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University

Stav Shaffir: The Voice Of Youth Steps Up

The youngest-ever MK was re-elected in March.

04/27/2015 - 20:00
Editor And Publisher

Stav Shaffir, who will turn 30 this month, is the youngest-ever female member of the Knesset, first elected two years ago on the Labor Party slate and re-elected in March. She was one of the leaders of the social justice protest in Tel Aviv that attracted huge crowds, many sleeping in tents, during the summer of 2011. Her youth, outgoing personality and eloquence made her a natural to be the group’s spokesperson, which in turn attracted the Labor Party to recruit her. During her first term in the Knesset, Shaffir focused on affordable housing, especially for young people, and other issues related to social justice, from gender equality to Women of the Wall. She made headlines for assuring that Knesset budget allocations are made  transparent. Our interview took place at The Jewish Week offices shortly after the March elections.

Labor’s Stav Shaffir: Younger Israelis tired of living with a sense of fear. Gary Rosenblatt/JW

Meet The New ‘Jewish Oprah’

Naomi Firestone-Teeter is the new executive director of the Jewish Book Council.

04/20/2015 - 20:00

On April 1, Naomi Firestone-Teeter became executive director of the Jewish Book Council, which promotes the reading, writing, publishing and distribution of English-language Jewish books. Firestone-Teeter, whose predecessor Carolyn Hessel has been called “the Jewish Oprah” for her success at promoting books, has been working her way up in the organization since graduating from Emory University in 2006, serving most recently as its associate director. JTA recently caught up by email with the 31-year-old exec. The interview has been condensed and edited.

Naomi Firestone-Teeter is new exec at Jewish Book Council.  JTA

Presenting Israel In Film, Warts And All

We think of the JCC as our living room, a place to watch and discuss, says film festival director Isaac Zablocki.

04/13/2015 - 20:00
Editor And Publisher

Isaac Zablocki, 38, plays a key role in determining which Israeli films, and others dealing with the Mideast conflict, are shown in New York. As a result his choices are the subject of praise and criticism, often based more on a viewer’s politics than sense of aesthetics. Born in New York and raised in Israel before settling here, he is director of film programs at the JCC in Manhattan; director and co-founder of the ReelAbilities: NY Disabilities Film Festival, which had a successful run last month; founder and director of the Israel Film Center; and executive director of The Other Israel Film Festival, which seeks to bridge the Arab-Israeli cultural divide through film. Zablocki was interviewed at the JCC. This is an edited transcript.

Isaac Zablocki: Quality of a film, not its political message, is the main criterion.

American Jewry, If The Shoah Never Happened

Yeshiva University professor Jeffrey Gurock’s “The Holocaust Averted” imagines an American Jewish community without the Shoah.

04/05/2015 - 20:00
Managing Editor

The genre of alternative or counter history — where historians pose tantalizing ‘what if’ questions — is an increasingly fertile one. The Pulitzer-winning author MacKinlay Kantor’s “If the South Had Won the Civil War” (MacMillan) and Jeff Greenfield’s “If Kennedy Lived” (Penguin Group) are two prime examples. Now, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, comes Yeshiva University professor Jeffrey Gurock’s “The Holocaust Averted” (Rutgers), which imagines an American Jewish community without the Shoah. The Jewish Week spoke with Gurock via email.

Jeff Gurock: “What if” scenario.

Digging Into The Exodus Story

03/30/2015 - 20:00
Staff Writer

Galit Dayan, who teaches at IDC Herzliya in Israel, has a Ph.D. in Egyptology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is a frequent writer and lecturer on anthropological proof that Israelite slaves lived and worked in ancient Egypt — a relevant topic with the approach of Passover. The Jewish Week interviewed her by email. This is an edited transcript.

Galit Dayan: At family seder, the Israeli Egyptologist tells the Egyptian side of the Exodus story.
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