Listening to a bridge-builder
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Listening to a bridge-builder

‘Beltway insider’ Jeff Mendelsohn to talk about what this awful election will mean to Israel

Jeff Mendelsohn
Jeff Mendelsohn

Okay, so the election finally is over.

Now what? How do we pick up the pieces? How do we move on from here?

Those are questions that face all Americans, of either party or no party. And then all sorts of demographic subgroups have to do a tally of the effects this election did to each of them.

We Jews are no different.

How did this insane, unpredictable, wild election season affect our community? What will the new president, senators, representatives, and officials at every level mean for us? What will it mean for our relationship with other groups? And what about Israel?

Jeff Mendelsohn, the CEO of Israel Seminary USA, was AIPAC’s national outreach director for more than ten years, and worked on Capitol Hill before that. He’ll be at Temple Emeth in Teaneck, a guest of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Jewish Community Relations Council and the National Council of Jewish Women, discussing the election but focusing more on what will follow it in this brave new world.

“I’m going to take a look at who ended up coming out to vote, and who ended up voting for which of the candidates, and I will compare it to the last election,” Mr. Mendelsohn said. “And I will try to come to some conclusions, both about what it means for the United States generally, but more particularly what it says about the American Jewish community, and about America’s relationship with Israel.”

Mr. Mendelsohn will talk a bit about Donald Trump’s supporters’ use of anti-Semitic tropes and dog whistles, but “I will not focus on the nastiness of the election,” he said. “Obviously, the expressions of anti-Semitism are very troubling, and something that everyone should take very seriously.”

And we shouldn’t worry only about anti-Semitism, he stressed. “There have been a lot of negative things said about a lot of ethnic and religious groups. We need to be concerned about the health of our democracy.”

Still, Mr. Mendelsohn’s main focus at Emeth will be an analysis of exit polls, and what they say about the state of the nation. “I also want to talk about what this election means about the importance of our relationship with Israel,” he said. “I want to talk about the importance of engaging non-Jewish communities, in educating them about Israel, about Israel’s value to the United States, and to the world. I want to promote the idea of coalition-building between pro-Israel Jews and pro-Israel non-Jews, and to talk a little about why I think that it is so important.

“Obviously, nothing provides a better education about Israel for anybody than actually visiting Israel, experiencing it, and learning its realities firsthand. If you’ve been there, you know that.

“For most people, visiting Israel for the first time is enlightening, in the sense that it is not what they expected. If you have only heard about Israel — if you’ve only experienced it in your peripheral vision, but it’s not been something you’ve ever really focused on — and then you go there, you see a completely different picture. You see a picture that is beautiful and exciting and engaging.”

Suddenly, you don’t see the black and white you’ve been primed to expect. “You see the diversity of Israeli politics,” Mr. Mendelsohn said. “It’s multitoned.

“It also doesn’t break down in the same way as American issues do. The political dynamic there is different. Israel is a thriving democracy, but Israeli democracy is not American democracy. It is important to understand that.

“I want to stress the value of coalition-building,” he continued. “That is part of the JCRC’s mission, and from my own experience I know how valuable it is. I want to connect that need with the results of the election by seeing where the parties are going, and what that means for organizations like the JCRC, and for its work.”

In other words, there are three dots — the American election, coalition-building, and support for Israel. “I want to connect those dots,” Mr. Mendelsohn said.

“We wanted to have a speaker who could really help the community understand this election, which has been very unusual,” Lori Fein, the JCRC’s director, said. “Jeff is a true Beltway insider. He went to Harvard and Harvard Law, and then he spent his entire career in Washington. He is incredibly smart, warm, funny, and personable, and he has great stories to tell.”

He’s also nonpartisan, she added, and that is a wonderful thing at any time, but particularly now. “He has very close ties in the African American and Hispanic communities, and with various Christian groups, and he has initiated work with progressive communities that have been very vulnerable to anti-Israel feelings by giving them real information and experiences,” Ms. Fein said. “He has a really fresh perspective on what this presidential election means, what policies might be coming, and where the Jewish community needs to focus its attention.

“He is perfect for the JCRC because he has been building bridges to various communities while maintaining a very strong pro-Israel message, and that’s what the JCRC — and the federation — are all about,” she said.


Who: Jeff Mendelsohn

What: Will preside at a post-election forum: “It’s Over. Now What? — Interpreting the Election Results”

Where: At Temple Emeth, 1666 Windsor Road, Teaneck

When: On Wednesday, November 16, at 7:30 p.m.

Why: For the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and the National Council of Jewish Women

Who’s invited: The whole community

How: Preregister at jfnnj.org/itsover

For more information: Call Natalya Taleysnik at (201) 820-3944 or email her at natalyat@jfnnj.org

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