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From bat mitzvah guest to backer of Israel in Congress: Nancy Pelosi’s Jewish journey

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(JTA) — Five days after Nancy Pelosi made history in 2007 as the first woman elected to be speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, she held an event at her alma mater, the private Roman Catholic university, Trinity Washington.

She asked a rabbi, the Reform movement’s David Saperstein, to headline the event because she saw the movement as taking the lead on a crisis that deeply concerned her, in Darfur. “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” Saperstein said, quoting Leviticus.

Pelosi was so pleased with Saperstein’s remarks that afterwards she pulled him into a family photo.

“I want you in this,” she told Saperstein as she grabbed his arm.

American Jews have been in the picture for Pelosi since she was born, when her father helped lead the movement in the United States to garner government support for the establishment of a Jewish state, and through her close relationship with Jewish Democrats whom she promoted to leadership roles in Congress.

Pelosi, who is 82, said Thursday she would step down as leader of the Democrats in the House, after her party lost the chamber to Republicans, albeit by a much smaller margin than anyone expected.

Here are some Jewish highlights from Pelosi’s career.

Following in her father’s footsteps

Pelosi was born into a family of prominent and powerful Baltimore Democrats.

As a congressman in the 1940s, her father, Thomas D’Alesandro, was outspoken in his criticism of the Roosevelt administration for not doing enough to stop the carnage in Europe and he was an early advocate of Jewish statehood. (Pelosi loves to tell people that there’s a soccer stadium named for him north of Haifa.)

After his congressional gig, D’Alesandro became Baltimore’s mayor, and forged a close relationship with the city’s Jewish community. “She likes to say that, growing up in Baltimore, she went to a bar or bat mitzvah every Saturday,” Amy Friedkin, a past president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Pelosi has at least two Jewish grandchildren. In 2003, she told AIPAC, “Last week I celebrated my birthday and my grandchildren — ages 4 and 6 — called to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ And the surprise, the real gift, was that they sang it in Hebrew.”

Carrying Israel close to her heart

Pelosi has visited Israel multiple times and has hosted Israeli leaders in Washington. One of her closest relationships was with Dalia Itzik, the Labor Party member of Knesset with whom Pelosi formed a bond because they both made history around the same time, as the first women speakers in their parliaments.

United States House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, holds the military identity disc of kidnapped Israeli soldiers during a ceremony at the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, on April 1, 2007. (Michal Fattal/Flash90)

Itzik was a leading advocate in Israel for the families of Israelis held captive in Arab lands. She gave Pelosi the dogtags of three Israelis who were missing in the 1982-1986 Lebanon war (they were eventually confirmed dead). Pelosi brought the dogtags to her meetings with Arab officials she believed might be able to help bring about resolution for the families — including on a 2007 mission to Syria that infuriated the Bush administration.

She promoted Jewish members of her caucus

A number of Jewish Democrats filled top positions under Pelosi’s two stints as House speaker, from 2007 to 2011, and since 2019.

In 2004, Pelosi saw a glittering future in a young woman just elected from South Florida, and two years later named Debbie Wasserman Schultz chief deputy whip, launching a leadership trajectory that would take Wasserman Schultz to the chairmanship of the Democratic Party.

Top Jewish committee chairs under Pelosi have included the late Tom Lantos of California (Foreign Affairs); Eliot Engel of New York (Foreign Affairs); Adam Schiff of California (Intelligence); Ted Deutch of Florida (Ethics); Susan Wild of Pennsylvania (Ethics); and Jerry Nadler of New York (Judiciary). Jewish members such as Schiff, Nadler, Engel and Jamie Raskin of Maryland took leading roles in impeachment hearings.

Raskin and Eliane Luria of Virginia have been prominent on the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection spurred by former President Sonald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing

Just because Pelosi was close to the pro-Israel community did not mean she assumed its every policy or political position.

She got scattered boos in 2007 at an AIPAC conference when she announced plans to press for the downsizing of U.S. troops in Iraq, in part because then-Vice President Dick Cheney told the same conference that reducing a U.S. presence in Iraq would embolden Iran and make Israel vulnerable.

In 2008, when it looked like Barack Obama would overtake Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, Pelosi opposed a procedural measure that might have checked Obama’s ascent. Twenty prominent Jewish Democrats, spearheaded by Israeli-American entertainment mogul and megadonor Haim Saban wrote Pelosi to tell her to keep out of the presidential stakes, allowing “superdelegates” to contradict the will of the people. She replied, more or less, thanks but no thanks.

A year later, she was clashing with Saban again when he sought to keep his friend Jane Harman, a California Jewish Democrat, in the top spot on the intelligence committee. Pelosi had her way and reportedly “went ballistic” at Saban for interfering.

Pelosi also spearheaded the successful effort in 2015 to keep Congress from nixing Obama’s Iran nuclear deal once he was president, as the pro-Israel community wanted her to do.

An Israeli poem remains her lodestone in times of crisis

Pelosi has taken in recent years to quoting Ehud Manor’s song, “I Have No Other Country,” most recently when she delivered her first remarks after her husband was grievously wounded by a home invader spurred in part by Trump’s election lies and antisemitic conspiracy theories.

At first, the assumption was that a smart Jewish aide fed her the line to use at Jewish appearances, but the story was quite different. Isaac Herzog, then Israel’s opposition leader, consoled Pelosi in 2016 when they met at a Saban-underwritten dinner in Washington. Pelosi was mourning Trump’s presidential victory a month earlier.

JTA uncovered that story after Pelosi cited her favorite line in the poem on the House floor in the aftermath of the deadly Jan. 6 riots.

“I will not be silent now that my country has changed her face, I will not refrain from reminding her and singing here in her ear, until she opens her eyes,” she said.


The post From bat mitzvah guest to backer of Israel in Congress: Nancy Pelosi’s Jewish journey appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Obituaries

PHYLLIS POLLOCK

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary

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By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre


Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station

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This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.


The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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