EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR UPDATE
December 2005
By Aliza Becker

National News: DC Office Chalks Up Legislative Success in First Weeks and San Francisco to Launch Regional Conference Series
Chapter News: Advocacy Comes Home for the Holidays; Brit Tzedek Welcomes Cleveland Chapter, Young Rhode Island Chapter Makes a Splash; Diane Balser Tours Midwest, Northeast; and Los Angeles Chapter Welcomes Just Vision
Committee News: Rabbinic Cabinet Takes Off and Calling All Students!
Staff News: Washington Representative Appointed to Coordinate Advocacy Efforts
Brit Tzedek in the News

NATIONAL NEWS

New DC Office Chalks Up Legislative Success in its First Weeks
As our esteemed president, Marcia Freedman, likes to tell people, "Brit Tzedek is always running to catch up with itself." True to form, Brit Tzedek's new Washington office opened its doors on December 5th amidst a major push on Capitol Hill to gather support for an all-too-rare pro-peace Congressional initiative, in the form of a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The letter to Secretary Rice [Read], sponsored by Reps. Henry Hyde (R-IL) and Lois Capps (D-CA.) and signed by 108 Members of Congress, commended her role in brokering an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on the Rafah border crossing and encouraged her to stay personally involved in the peace process. The letter notes that Rice's leadership "helps reassure Israel and her people of the United States's enduring commitment to Israel's welfare and security, as Israel takes risks for the sake of peace."

Rob Levy [Bio], who leads the new Brit Tzedek office's efforts to bring the voice of our 30,000-strong network to Capitol Hill, hit the ground running by spearheading a mass mobilization in support of the Hyde-Capps letter. An action alert to Brit Tzedek's listserv rallied supporters to call, email, and meet with their congressional representatives to urge them  to sign the letter.  Every member of Congress then received a letter from the new office in support of this legislative initiative, followed by personal emails and phone calls to targeted congressional staff. [Read media coverage of our mobilization]
 
Next, the Washington office guided a national grassroots effort in which Brit Tzedek members contacted 181 different congressional offices across the country. Many received personal notes or calls from congressional staff acknowledging the impact of these calls. In Washington state, where Brit Tzedek has two chapters, 5 of the 9 members of the congressional delegation added their names to the letter, with Rep. Richard Larsen's office confirming that contact with Brit Tzedek members was a key factor in his last-minute decision to back the effort. Similarly, in Kansas, board member and Kansas City chapter leader Allan Abrams successfully solicited the support of Rep. Dennis Moore when the congressman spoke at Abrams' synagogue. In Massachusetts, where Brit Tzedek has three chapters, 8 of the 10 members of the congressional delegation signed on.
 
As demonstrated by this legislative success, the opening of a Washington office represents a major step forward for Brit Tzedek's advocacy efforts.  The new office will continue to develop relationships with members of Congress, the Bush administration, and their respective staff and serve as an onsite resource on pending legislation.  It will also coordinate grassroots advocacy in Brit Tzedek chapters across the country--providing legislative updates, talking points, advocacy strategies, and follow-up with congressional offices in the capital.

"Polls over the years have consistently shown that the majority of American Jews support active US engagement in the peace process, and so it is very encouraging to see Congress follow suit," noted Brit Tzedek CEO Diane Balser. "We are delighted by the new opportunities created by the establishment of our Washington office to bring a pro-Israel, pro-peace voice to Capitol Hill."

San Francisco to Launch Regional Conference Series
Preparations are under way for Brit Tzedek's first regional conference, "FROM THE GROUND UP: Building an American Jewish Movement to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," which will be held in the San Francisco Bay area during President's Day weekend, February 18-19th 2006 [Register today]. Regional conferences will also be held this year in Washington, DC, in the summer and in Chicago in the fall.

The one-and-a-half-day conference will feature Stephen P. Cohen, founder and director of the Institute of Middle East Peace and Economic Development, as the keynote speaker and will offer 20 workshops and plenaries with other leading scholars and activists, many of them from the western United States. [Agenda]

"As the saying goes,'All politics are local,' and we wanted our conference to reflect that idea," observes Carinne Luck, Brit Tzedek's national chapter organizer, who is working closely with chapter leaders in the western states in planning the conference. "This conference aims to combine opportunities for skill building and connecting with other activists in the region with issue-based programming, so that we can move forward together in building a movement reflective of both our unique status as American Jews and our deep commitment to Israel's well-being," she adds.

CHAPTER NEWS

Advocacy Comes Home for the Holidays
As congressional representatives return to their home districts for the winter recess, Brit Tzedek chapters are taking advantage of this opportunity to hold personal meetings with elected representatives and their staff. The New York chapter kicked off  these efforts earlier in the month, meeting with Congressman Rangel and representatives from the offices of Congressman Nadler, while the Los Angeles chapters met with Rep. Henry Waxman. Following their meeting with Rep. Rangel, the New York chapter representatives recieved a personal letter from the Congressman that reads "Active negotiation with the help of the United States, as the Hyde-Capps letter calls for, is the only way to resolve it [the conflict]. Both sides will have to make difficult consessions but I am confident that a solution will be reached, especially with the help of informed advocates such as yourselves." Other chapters will conduct their home district advocacy meetings in January.

Brit Tzedek Welcomes Cleveland Chapter
Brit Tzedek supporters in Cleveland, eager to create an alternative Jewish voice in their community, have formed the organization's first Ohio chapter, increasing Brit Tzedek's network to 33 chapters nationwide.

Young Rhode Island Chapter Makes a Splash
December was a busy month for Brit Tzedek's nascent Rhode Island chapter. In addition to hosting its first public event, addressed by Brit Tzedek CEO Diane Balser, the chapter also introduced its members and the national organization to Rhode Island's Board of Rabbis.

Diane Balser Tours Midwest, Northeast
Brit Tzedek CEO Diane Balser traveled to Michigan for a series of events with our Detroit and Ann Arbor chapters, including two well-attended events at Detroit's Birmingham Temple and University of Michigan-Ann Arbor's Hillel. Balser also recently appeared at Temple Emanuel in Worcester, Massachusetts, as part of a weekly speaker's breakfast series and spoke at the Rhode Island chapter's first public event [Read media coverage].

Los Angeles Chapter Welcomes Just Vision
Ronit Avni, Just Vision founder and director, spoke to the Los Angeles chapter in December on the topic of "Peace in Israel/Palestine is possible."  The discussion drew on her experience making the feature-length documentary Encounter Point, which follows ordinary Israelis and Palestinians working for an end to bloodshed and occupation in favor of peace. Just Vision is an organization dedicated to increasing awareness about Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent, civilian-led peace-building initiatives. 

COMMITTEE NEWS

Rabbinic Cabinet Takes Off
The Rabbinic Cabinet now consists of 72 rabbis and cantors from coast to coast.  The council includes a growing number of  both active and retired rabbis from various denominations, large and small congregations, academia, and the chaplaincy. 

Recently Dr. Lewis M. Barth, dean of the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, Rabbi Rachel Cowan, and Rabbis Peter Knobel and David Sandmel of prominent Chicago congregations joined the list.
 
The immediate goal of the cabinet is to reinforce Brit Tzedek's view that its positions are broadly supported by a majority of the American Jewish community. Despite claims that American Jewry is becoming more and more conservative about matters involving Israel, these 72 influential rabbis demonstrate through their support of Brit Tzedek that our pro-peace position is a mainstream Jewish point of view.
 
For more information about the Rabbinic Cabinet or to become a member, please contact rac@btvshalom.org.

Calling All Students!
The Campus Committee, which is charged with building a meaningful pro-Israel, pro-peace presence on college campuses nationwide, is seeking new members. Please contact Ben Murane at campus@btvshalom.org to express your interest in volunteering or to request resources, materials, trainings, and speakers for your campus.

STAFF NEWS

Washington Representative Appointed to Coordinate Advocacy Efforts
Brit Tzedek is pleased to welcome our new Washington representative, Rob Levy, who served as a legislative correspondent in the office of  Senator Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) until the senator was elected governor of New Jersey in fall 2005. Formerly, Levy spent a year as a legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center (RAC), the Reform movement's public policy arm, where he was the key staffer on Israel and helped draft the movement's resolution supporting disengagement from Gaza.

BRIT TZEDEK IN THE NEWS

Iran's president doesn't speak for Palestinians, by Philip Rosen. Providence Journal, December 26, 2005

Iran's Leader not Helping, by David Albert.  Austin American-Statesman, December 19, 2005.

U.S. Initiative, by Diane Balser. Jerusalem Post, December 16, 2005.

Comfort to the Enemy, by Molly Freeman.  San Francisco Chronicle, December 16, 2005.

Reform and Conservative Leaders in U.S. Want Rice Praised as Broker in Middle East, by Ori Nir.  Ha'aretz, December 14, 2005.

Temple Speaker Calls for Peace Talk, by Taryn Plumb.  Worcester Telegram
December 13, 2005.

Reform, Conservative Chiefs Praise Rice, by Ori Nir. Forward, December 9, 2005.

Israel, Palestinians Must Focus on Peace, by Allan Abrams.  Kansas City Star
November 19, 2005.

Brit Tzedek Meets Congressman McNulty, The Jewish World, November 10, 2005.

Work Towards Peace, by Jennifer Bass, Julie Bloom and Bruce Solomon.  The Herald-Times, November 8, 2005.

BBC- The World,[audio link] Athena Desai.  November 4, 2005.

My Words of Tshuvah, by Donna Spiegelman. The Ausblick, Fall 2005.

Former IDF Soldiers Urge Moral Debate, by Deborah Moon Seldner.  Jewish Review, November 1, 2005.

Don't Let Gaza Fail, by Allan Abrams.  Kansas City Jewish Chronicle August 26, 2005.



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Fax: (312) 341-1206
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