Eleven Forward Stories That Shone

You never know when to expect them, or where the biggest stories are going to come from.

That’s a truism of journalism, but the F11, our first annual selection of the most important Forward stories of the year, proves it in spades.

These 11 top stories for 2011 were born in lecture rooms and U.N. meeting halls, outside strip malls and in the White House, in the U.S., Israel and beyond.

Some of them were ferretted out by Forward reporters; others were headline-grabbers that echoed around the world. All of them helped us tell the Jewish story this year.

It was just eight days into 2011 that Gabby Giffords, Arizona’s first and only Jewish congresswoman, went to a Tucson shopping center to answer questions from constituents. A crazed gunman opened fire, nearly killing her and setting off a debate about our political culture.

Forward reporter Paul Berger was sitting in a lecture when the speaker mentioned the famed letter that George Washington wrote to the Jews, guaranteeing religious freedom in our young nation. It led Berger on remarkable investigation into the whereabouts of the letter, which has inexplicably been hidden from view for a decade.

Another reporter, Josh Nathan-Kazis, investigated the finances of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto’s charity.

The garish details of the summer texting scandal that brought down New York congressman Anthony Weiner produced plentiful tabloid puns — and led to a congressional campaign that became a referendum on Obama’s Israel policies.

Haredi fundamentalists stepped up their efforts to impose gender segregation on buses and in public spaces in Israel. An 8-year-old girl named Na’ama Margolese shocked the nation with her story of being spit on and cursed by self-appointed guardians of “modesty.” In 2011, the Forward also reported on a New York commuter bus in which men and women are expected to sit separately

No one knew Leiby Kletzky when he went missing on his way home from day camp in Brooklyn. When a fellow member of the Jewish community admitted kidnapping and dismembering the little boy, the brutal murder sparked a powerful debate about how parents can keep their kids safe.

Back in September, no one thought much of the ragtag group of protesters who gathered in a Lower Manhattan plaza to protest wealth inequality. Weeks later, their enduring social justice movement, and the one that swept Israel before it, looked like a new generation of political activism.

For five years, Jews across the world marched and held vigils for Gilad Shalit, the kidnapped Israeli soldier languishing in a Hamas prison. When a rail-thin Shalit was released in October, in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, it reminded us of the value of even one human life.

All summer long, Ryan Braun hit the cover off the baseball. He did it so well that he became the first Jew in 50 years to win the National League’s Most Valuable Player award. Then he failed a drug test.

The stolid halls of the U.N. are usually not associated with the biggest stories of the year. This year, it’s where the Palestinians made a high-profile statehood bid, but the move is unlikely to change much for either side of the conflict.

There are still 10-plus long months before America delivers its verdict on Barack Obama’s presidency. Some say he has alienated too many Jews one way or another, but others warn not to count out the man who won 78% of Jewish votes in 2008.

So what can we learn from our best and biggest stories of the year?

With just hours to go before 2012, we at the Forward had better be ready. The first of the F12 could be coming at us sooner than any of us expect.

  1. Giffords Tries To Heal, With Nation

    “My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now,” tweeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on the morning of January 8. “Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later.”

    Minutes later, what should have been an ordinary event in the life of a popular lawmaker turned into a moment of bloody carnage under the bright Arizona winter sun.

    A young man with a strange grudge against Giffords mixed in with the crowd at the meet-and-greet at a suburban strip mall, then opened fire. By the time a congressional aide and others tackled Jared Lee Loughner to the ground, six people were dead, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

    Giffords, 40, Arizona’s first Jewish congresswoman was left in critical condition after being shot in the head.

    The deadly attack took place at a time when American political discourse seemed more polarized than ever, and the mass shooting sparked a national conversation about the point at which fiery rhetoric and violent metaphors cross over into incitement.

    President Obama, speaking in Tucson four days after the shooting, urged Americans “to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

    Nearly a year later, Loughner has yet to stand trial, and recovery remains Giffords’s focus. In August, the three-term congresswoman surprised her colleagues by returning to Washington to cast a vote in favor of raising the debt ceiling. And for a moment, a deeply divided Congress came together to welcome her with a rousing applause.

    When Giffords sat down for her first televised interview since the shooting, the congresswoman appeared to understand the questions being posed. But she searched for words and struggled to string together short sentences.

    Can Giffords return to public life, perhaps serving as a unifying symbol to Americans disgusted by the bad blood that runs so deep in our political system?

    For now, Giffords’s political future, she managed to express, depends on her getting “better.” — Gabrielle Birkner

  2. Finding Famous Letter of Tolerance

    George Washington’s famous letter to the Jews of Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., ended the year right where it began — in solitary confinement at a suburban Maryland storage facility.

    The historic letter, which set the young nation firmly on a course to religious tolerance, has languished in that warehouse for 10 years, ever since the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, where the letter was previously displayed, relocated to smaller premises.

    Washington’s immortal words, in which he lauded an American government “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” have remained out of sight. But they have not been out of our readers’ minds.

    In 2011, the Forward broke the story of the letter’s inexplicable imprisonment and launched a growing editorial campaign for its liberation.

    We tracked down the New Jersey furniture salesman, Howard Milkman Sr., who owned the letter during the 1940s. And we traced Milkman’s family tree back to Moses Seixas, who met President Washington in 1790.

    We cataloged the tales of New York financier Morris Morgenstern, who bought the letter from Milkman. We also discovered the secret meetings 60 years ago, when congregants considered suing to win back the letter.

    We profiled Morris’s grandson, Richard Morgenstern, the California businessman who today has final say over whether the letter can return to public display.

    The $10 million Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. Visitors Center, in Newport, and the National Museum of American Jewish History, in Philadelphia, are among the museums that have asked to display the document on loan. Morgenstern turned them both down.

    Though Morgenstern has declined repeated interview requests, our campaign to liberate the letter appears to be making progress. In November, the Forward discovered that the Library of Congress may have entered into negotiations with Morgenstern.

    That’s enough to whet our appetite. Could 2012 be the year in which American Jewry’s most important document may, once again, be free? —Paul Berger

  3. Seeking Answers About Rabbi Pinto

    When Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto walks through the doors of his Manhattan yeshiva, scores of followers push toward him, grasping and kissing his hand. Though Pinto often arrives late, his followers show up on time, unwilling to risk missing a moment in his presence.

    The Forward first wrote about Pinto in June 2010, noting his growing ties to Israel’s business and political elite and describing him as a mysterious kabbalist to the stars.

    After months of digging, the Forward launched a three-part series, brushing away some of that mystery. In March, the Forward reported that the $6.5 million Manhattan townhouse where the rabbi lived was facing foreclosure, and that the top financial officer of Pinto’s New York organization could not say how many employees worked there. In April, the Forward reported that Pinto’s top American aide, who bought property with the rabbi’s wife, formerly ran a wholesale business specializing in pornographic DVDs. And in December, the Forward reported that Pinto’s New York organization has spent heavily on luxury travel and jewels.

    Meanwhile, Pinto and his associates have said in media reports in November and December that the rabbi is a victim of blackmail, and that funds have been embezzled from his organization. A New York Times story in December cited unnamed federal officials stating that law enforcement was carrying out an inquiry into two former Pinto associates over money allegedly missing from his organization, Mosdot Shuva Israel. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the FBI had no comment for the Forward.

    Throughout, Pinto has proven to be exceptionally influential, particularly in Israel. As the Forward prepared its March report, Israel’s consul general in Boston called the newspaper, and the executive director of the Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center flew to the United States, both to lobby for the rabbi. — Josh Nathan-Kazis

  4. Weiner Texts Self Out of Congress

    When Anthony Weiner, an up-and-coming liberal congressman from New York, posted and then quickly deleted a crotch shot of himself on Twitter last summer, he could hardly have guessed that it would end up being a shot that echoed across the Jewish political world. Not only did Weiner’s e-misfire cause his own political demise (and toss late-night comics a summer gift that kept giving), it improbably led to an electoral earthquake that resonated throughout the Jewish community.

    Weiner, a married Jewish Democrat considered a front-runner for New York City mayor in 2013, initially claimed that his Twitter account had been hacked. “These are the kind of things that happen when your name is ‘Weiner,’” he said.

    Then, as the Tweets kept on surfacing, he admitted the truth: He’d exchanged suggestive messages with at least half a dozen women in recent years. After two weeks of gut-busting headlines from New York’s tabloids (“Battle of the Bulge: Weiner Exposed”), Weiner’s goose was cooked.

    But his resignation wasn’t the end of the story. Pundits predicted a ho-hum special election in which a no-name Democrat would take his seat.

    The race unexpectedly became an electric referendum on President Obama’s policy on Israel. Republican Bob Turner urged Jews to “send a message.” Turner bested David Weprin in September and took his place as a congressional darling of the pro-Israel right.

    Weiner, for his part, is a new father. Just before Christmas, Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, gave birth to a boy, Jordan Zain Weiner.

    Mazel tov, Anthony. — Naomi Zeveloff

  5. Fight for Right To Sit in Front of Bus

    Citizens forced to sit in the back of a bus, restricted to separate walkways and barred from public gatherings. These images, bringing back memories of the civil rights battle here in America, are increasingly pervasive in Israel today.

    The dividing line in today’s struggle is gender, not race, with segments of the ultra-Orthodox community pushing extreme segregation of men and women in the public sphere.

    An Israeli burial society prevented a woman from giving a eulogy at her father’s funeral. Ads featuring women were defaced, or torn down altogether. Schoolgirls were cursed at and spat on by ultra-Orthodox neighbors as they walked to and from school, not dressed to the strictest of “modesty” standards.

    Israel’s High Court ruled in January that men and women could not be forcibly separated on public buses. As for the women who refused to give up their up-front seats on public buses that travel through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, many reported being harassed.

    The Forward revealed that even in the U.S., some public buses connecting ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods adhere to separate seating arrangements.

    The battle against restrictions on where women can walk and sit and sing and pray has been raging for years. Before now, it was fought primarily by a small group of progressive organizations and women’s rights advocates. But mainstream politicians and religious leaders began to speak out in 2011. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet that Israel is “a Western, liberal democracy,” that its public space would remain open and safe for women. Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said gender separation should not be enforced in the public arena.

    Ultimately, though, it was 8-year-old Na’ama Margolese who would crystallize the dangers of Jewish fundamentalism. Days after Israeli TV showed her poignant struggle — she braved a gantlet of ultra-Orthodox taunts just to get to school — thousands gathered in her hometown to protest the treatment of women and girls.

    As 2012 looms, will little Na’ama go down in history as the poster child of Jewish women’s struggle for equal treatment? — Gabrielle Birkner

  6. A Boy Is Killed, We All Tremble

    The little boy with an angel’s face left day camp on July 11 and headed home, walking by himself for the first time through the deceptively familiar streets of Brooklyn’s Boro Park.

    Leiby Kletzky made one wrong turn and found himself face to face with Levi Aron. The hardware store clerk promised to help him get home, or maybe to the Judaica store that the boy’s mother had drilled into him as a landmark.

    Within hours, scores of black-coated Hasidim were scouring the streets. Leiby’s pale, ringlet-framed face stared plaintively from the pages of the newspapers. A couple of days later, parts of his body were found in the trash bin in which Aron told police he dumped them, and inside Aron’s freezer.

    Aron, 35, who lived nearby, confessed to sedating the 8-year-old boy with prescription drugs and smothering him.

    Grief instantly convulsed the close-knit community. An overflow crowd of thousands spilled out of a synagogue and onto the steamy summer streets for the boy’s funeral.

    Months later, Aron’s lawyer planned an insanity defense. He claimed that “inbreeding” in the insular Orthodox community might have caused Aron’s supposed mental illness or excused his alleged crime.

    Lurid headlines and impending court drama aside, what lesson should we take from the shocking murder?

    Fear being the powerful emotion that it is, millions of parents no doubt read Leiby’s story as a cautionary tale about the dangers lurking around every corner.

    Some might read it the opposite way, that a child more familiar with the ways of the outside world might be more cautious about trusting a stranger, even one who looked and sounded like a respected member of the community.

    Others would say no lesson at all can be learned from a 1-in-8-million tragedy. All we can do is wipe away our collective tears, and keep living our lives as we did before one madman snatched one little boy off one street corner one summer day in Brooklyn. — Dave Goldiner

  7. Taking to Streets, From Israel to U.S.

    In its earliest days in September, the Occupy Wall Street anti-corporate encampment in Lower Manhattan was hard to take seriously. In between speeches, activists talked tough about disrupting business as usual. Business as usual didn’t even seem to notice them.

    But one veteran of the Israeli protest movement, who visited Zuccotti Park with a Forward reporter, saw the potential where few others did.

    “It’s very easy to come here and be cynical — a bunch of white kids with laptops playing revolution,” Israeli activist Ronen Eidelman said. Eidelman referred to the so-called tent protests and to the massive social justice occupations and rallies that rocked Israeli society over the summer. From its starting point on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, the movement expanded across Israel, culminating in some of the largest demonstrations in the nation’s history.

    As the Israeli protests faded, the protests in New York were growing far beyond what most observers thought possible. Hundreds grew into thousands. Copycat OWS protests spread to cities across the country.

    Perhaps even more important, the OWS vision, which pitted a self-proclaimed “99%” against a selfish minority of the super-rich, took hold in the national political dialogue.

    As it happened, OWS gained traction at the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days. Jewish activists were quick to latch on, dubbing their movement Occupy Judaism.

    Months later, the protests are all but over, routed by police who forcibly evacuated camps across the country, including the one at Zuccotti Park. The question remains: Will this mean anything for 2012 and beyond, other than a few congressional candidates with “99%”-themed slogans? — Josh Nathan-Kazis

  8. 1,000-for-1 Swap Sets Shalit Free

    Squinting in the blazing Israeli desert sun, Gilad Shalit nervously saluted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on an air base tarmac as the IDF soldier was released after five years in captivity.

    Shalit, dubbed “every Israeli mother’s son,” looked even skinnier and paler than he had in family snapshots published worldwide after his capture by Hamas in a cross-border raid in 2006.

    The soldier’s dramatic release in October was a cathartic moment for Israel. After years of hoping for the best and half-expecting the worst, the nation could hardly believe its eyes. Spontaneous celebrations broke out, and crowds lined the streets to welcome back home Shalit and his parents, who had tirelessly pressed for negotiations to win his freedom.

    In the West Bank and Gaza, even larger crowds greeted the hundreds of released Palestinian prisoners. These included many convicted terrorists, who were among some 1,000 prisoners set free in exchange for Shalit’s release.

    Despite his scarecrow physique, Shalit, 25, looked better than many expected, yet he still has a long and tough road ahead. Other Israeli prisoners of war told the Forward that it took them years to come to grips with the trauma of captivity. Some say they never fully put it behind them. Israel itself has some soul-searching to do, too.

    Even before the cheering died down, some were asking whether it was a good idea to trade so many terrorists for one Israeli soldier, no matter how endearing he might be.

    Some suggested that the deal might only encourage Hamas or others to snatch more Israelis in hopes of winning a similar ransom package.

    Relatives of the freed terrorists’ victims asked an even thornier question: What message did Israel send by letting their loved ones’ killers go free?

    There are, of course, no easy answers. What we know is this: One Israeli family is whole again, its lost son returned to them squinting in the desert sun. And a nation will have to do its best to learn from the long ordeal. — Dave Goldiner

  9. Ryan Braun: MVP. Role Model, Maybe.

    When Ryan Braun was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player, it sounded like a fairy-tale ending to a dream season. He became the first Jewish baseball player in 50 years to win the honor.

    “It sounds cliché to say that I’m living the dream,” the Milwaukee Brewers’ slugger told MLB.com. “But this really is a dream.”

    In a flash, Braun, 28, joined the pantheon of Jewish baseball stars, including such revered figures as Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg and Al Rosen. Indeed, Braun’s career, and especially his breakout 2011 season, recalls a nostalgic era when Jewish baseball players were heroes of the game. He batted .332, hit 33 home runs and crushed a 450-foot home run that helped his team win the Central Division and make the playoffs.

    The MVP award put Braun on the front pages.

    Less than a month later, however, his feel-good story was starting to sound a bit more like a cautionary tale.

    In December, baseball authorities announced that Braun tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. Facing suspension, Braun is appealing the findings. His prospects for success look slim. No player has ever won an appeal after testing positive.

    How the drug test will affect Braun’s standing among Jewish fans remains to be seen.

    Braun’s mother is Catholic, and he was not raised in a Jewish home, yet he has proudly embraced his Jewish heritage and has spoken about the fact that his father’s family was mostly wiped out in the Holocaust.

    With his accomplishments on the baseball diamond in question, it’s unclear what sort of example he will be in 2012 and beyond. — Nate Lavey

  10. Woes or No, Don’t Count Out Obama

    Is President Obama losing the Jews?

    So hope the Republicans, who aim to cut into the 78% of the Jewish vote Obama won in 2008. The GOP also wants to shake the longtime alliance between Jews and the Democratic Party.

    Obama’s critics and the chattering class say he has fumbled his grip on the Jewish vote following a few major foreign policy run-ins with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the past year.

    In May, Netayahu objected after Obama called on the Israelis to return to pre-1967 borders. The language didn’t seem to stray much from long-held American positions, but the prime minister snapped back. And then there was the November “hot mike” gaffe, when French President Nicolas Sarkozy was overheard telling Obama that he thought Netanyahu was a “liar.” Obama didn’t exactly rush to correct him.

    Will such evidence of a less-than-warm relationship between Obama and the Israeli leader be enough to turn off Jewish voters?

    It’s too early to say which way the 2012 vote will go. But Jewish support also matters because of the money it brings to campaign coffers, and so far, Obama seems to be holding up just fine. As the Forward reported in December, Obama has lost none of the prominent Jews who raised the most money for him in 2008, even though there are anecdotal reports that some of Obama’s Jewish fundraisers are having trouble raising money.

    Many Democrats and plenty of independent analysts suspect the Jewish vote will end up where it started, in Obama’s corner. — Josh Nathan-Kazis

  11. U.N. Noise, But No Change in Sight

    It was the game changer that brought about no change, the diplomatic tsunami that never hit the shore.

    After years of wrangling, Palestinian leaders decided to try to end years of stalemate with a bold move aimed at asking the United Nations to recognize Palestine as an independent state. Though the Palestinians acknowledged that it wouldn’t change life on the ground in Ramallah or Nablus, they hoped it would force Israel and the United States to take them more seriously, to understand that Palestinians, too, have options beyond waiting for Israel to make concessions.

    For Israelis, the Palestinian drive for statehood became the purported No. 1 threat facing the Jewish state. Task forces were assembled, military planners prepared for worst-case scenarios and legal experts warned of the implications a U.N. resolution could have on Israeli settlers and soldiers.

    On September 23, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took to the podium at the U.N. General Assembly and stated, in front of a cheering audience of heads of state and senior delegates, that “the time has come for Palestinian independence.”

    That was about as far as the Palestinian bid for statehood went.

    The United States did the heavy lifting behind the scenes, which eventually killed the Palestinian bid. The Obama administration used its diplomatic pressure to block the move without the United States even having to use its veto at the Security Council.

    Adding to the pressure was a tough reaction by Congress that hit the Palestinians with a freeze on American aid money and threatened to cut assistance even further if Palestinians try taking the U.N. course again.

    By the year’s end, the Palestinians’ attempt to change the rules of the game was all but over and the peace process was back to square one. Congress is gradually releasing funds for the P.A. Israel, which approved additional settlements as a punitive measure, shows no signs of changing its overall attitude.

    The U.S. is continuing its low-level engagement with both sides. It says it is open to peace talks but there is very little hope of a breakthrough in this upcoming election year. — Nathan Guttman

  12. Giffords Tries To Heal, With Nation

    “My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now,” tweeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on the morning of January 8. “Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later.”

    Minutes later, what should have been an ordinary event in the life of a popular lawmaker turned into a moment of bloody carnage under the bright Arizona winter sun.

    A young man with a strange grudge against Giffords mixed in with the crowd at the meet-and-greet at a suburban strip mall, then opened fire. By the time a congressional aide and others tackled Jared Lee Loughner to the ground, six people were dead, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

    Giffords, 40, Arizona’s first Jewish congresswoman was left in critical condition after being shot in the head.

    The deadly attack took place at a time when American political discourse seemed more polarized than ever, and the mass shooting sparked a national conversation about the point at which fiery rhetoric and violent metaphors cross over into incitement.

    President Obama, speaking in Tucson four days after the shooting, urged Americans “to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

    Nearly a year later, Loughner has yet to stand trial, and recovery remains Giffords’s focus. In August, the three-term congresswoman surprised her colleagues by returning to Washington to cast a vote in favor of raising the debt ceiling. And for a moment, a deeply divided Congress came together to welcome her with a rousing applause.

    When Giffords sat down for her first televised interview since the shooting, the congresswoman appeared to understand the questions being posed. But she searched for words and struggled to string together short sentences.

    Can Giffords return to public life, perhaps serving as a unifying symbol to Americans disgusted by the bad blood that runs so deep in our political system?

    For now, Giffords’s political future, she managed to express, depends on her getting “better.” — Gabrielle Birkner

  13. Finding Famous Letter of Tolerance

    George Washington’s famous letter to the Jews of Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., ended the year right where it began — in solitary confinement at a suburban Maryland storage facility.

    The historic letter, which set the young nation firmly on a course to religious tolerance, has languished in that warehouse for 10 years, ever since the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, where the letter was previously displayed, relocated to smaller premises.

    Washington’s immortal words, in which he lauded an American government “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” have remained out of sight. But they have not been out of our readers’ minds.

    In 2011, the Forward broke the story of the letter’s inexplicable imprisonment and launched a growing editorial campaign for its liberation.

    We tracked down the New Jersey furniture salesman, Howard Milkman Sr., who owned the letter during the 1940s. And we traced Milkman’s family tree back to Moses Seixas, who met President Washington in 1790.

    We cataloged the tales of New York financier Morris Morgenstern, who bought the letter from Milkman. We also discovered the secret meetings 60 years ago, when congregants considered suing to win back the letter.

    We profiled Morris’s grandson, Richard Morgenstern, the California businessman who today has final say over whether the letter can return to public display.

    The $10 million Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. Visitors Center, in Newport, and the National Museum of American Jewish History, in Philadelphia, are among the museums that have asked to display the document on loan. Morgenstern turned them both down.

    Though Morgenstern has declined repeated interview requests, our campaign to liberate the letter appears to be making progress. In November, the Forward discovered that the Library of Congress may have entered into negotiations with Morgenstern.

    That’s enough to whet our appetite. Could 2012 be the year in which American Jewry’s most important document may, once again, be free? —Paul Berger

  14. Seeking Answers About Rabbi Pinto

    When Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto walks through the doors of his Manhattan yeshiva, scores of followers push toward him, grasping and kissing his hand. Though Pinto often arrives late, his followers show up on time, unwilling to risk missing a moment in his presence.

    The Forward first wrote about Pinto in June 2010, noting his growing ties to Israel’s business and political elite and describing him as a mysterious kabbalist to the stars.

    After months of digging, the Forward launched a three-part series, brushing away some of that mystery. In March, the Forward reported that the $6.5 million Manhattan townhouse where the rabbi lived was facing foreclosure, and that the top financial officer of Pinto’s New York organization could not say how many employees worked there. In April, the Forward reported that Pinto’s top American aide, who bought property with the rabbi’s wife, formerly ran a wholesale business specializing in pornographic DVDs. And in December, the Forward reported that Pinto’s New York organization has spent heavily on luxury travel and jewels.

    Meanwhile, Pinto and his associates have said in media reports in November and December that the rabbi is a victim of blackmail, and that funds have been embezzled from his organization. A New York Times story in December cited unnamed federal officials stating that law enforcement was carrying out an inquiry into two former Pinto associates over money allegedly missing from his organization, Mosdot Shuva Israel. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the FBI had no comment for the Forward.

    Throughout, Pinto has proven to be exceptionally influential, particularly in Israel. As the Forward prepared its March report, Israel’s consul general in Boston called the newspaper, and the executive director of the Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center flew to the United States, both to lobby for the rabbi. — Josh Nathan-Kazis

  15. Weiner Texts Self Out of Congress

    When Anthony Weiner, an up-and-coming liberal congressman from New York, posted and then quickly deleted a crotch shot of himself on Twitter last summer, he could hardly have guessed that it would end up being a shot that echoed across the Jewish political world. Not only did Weiner’s e-misfire cause his own political demise (and toss late-night comics a summer gift that kept giving), it improbably led to an electoral earthquake that resonated throughout the Jewish community.

    Weiner, a married Jewish Democrat considered a front-runner for New York City mayor in 2013, initially claimed that his Twitter account had been hacked. “These are the kind of things that happen when your name is ‘Weiner,’” he said.

    Then, as the Tweets kept on surfacing, he admitted the truth: He’d exchanged suggestive messages with at least half a dozen women in recent years. After two weeks of gut-busting headlines from New York’s tabloids (“Battle of the Bulge: Weiner Exposed”), Weiner’s goose was cooked.

    But his resignation wasn’t the end of the story. Pundits predicted a ho-hum special election in which a no-name Democrat would take his seat.

    The race unexpectedly became an electric referendum on President Obama’s policy on Israel. Republican Bob Turner urged Jews to “send a message.” Turner bested David Weprin in September and took his place as a congressional darling of the pro-Israel right.

    Weiner, for his part, is a new father. Just before Christmas, Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, gave birth to a boy, Jordan Zain Weiner.

    Mazel tov, Anthony. — Naomi Zeveloff

  16. Fight for Right To Sit in Front of Bus

    Citizens forced to sit in the back of a bus, restricted to separate walkways and barred from public gatherings. These images, bringing back memories of the civil rights battle here in America, are increasingly pervasive in Israel today.

    The dividing line in today’s struggle is gender, not race, with segments of the ultra-Orthodox community pushing extreme segregation of men and women in the public sphere.

    An Israeli burial society prevented a woman from giving a eulogy at her father’s funeral. Ads featuring women were defaced, or torn down altogether. Schoolgirls were cursed at and spat on by ultra-Orthodox neighbors as they walked to and from school, not dressed to the strictest of “modesty” standards.

    Israel’s High Court ruled in January that men and women could not be forcibly separated on public buses. As for the women who refused to give up their up-front seats on public buses that travel through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, many reported being harassed.

    The Forward revealed that even in the U.S., some public buses connecting ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods adhere to separate seating arrangements.

    The battle against restrictions on where women can walk and sit and sing and pray has been raging for years. Before now, it was fought primarily by a small group of progressive organizations and women’s rights advocates. But mainstream politicians and religious leaders began to speak out in 2011. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet that Israel is “a Western, liberal democracy,” that its public space would remain open and safe for women. Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said gender separation should not be enforced in the public arena.

    Ultimately, though, it was 8-year-old Na’ama Margolese who would crystallize the dangers of Jewish fundamentalism. Days after Israeli TV showed her poignant struggle — she braved a gantlet of ultra-Orthodox taunts just to get to school — thousands gathered in her hometown to protest the treatment of women and girls.

    As 2012 looms, will little Na’ama go down in history as the poster child of Jewish women’s struggle for equal treatment? — Gabrielle Birkner

  17. A Boy Is Killed, We All Tremble

    The little boy with an angel’s face left day camp on July 11 and headed home, walking by himself for the first time through the deceptively familiar streets of Brooklyn’s Boro Park.

    Leiby Kletzky made one wrong turn and found himself face to face with Levi Aron. The hardware store clerk promised to help him get home, or maybe to the Judaica store that the boy’s mother had drilled into him as a landmark.

    Within hours, scores of black-coated Hasidim were scouring the streets. Leiby’s pale, ringlet-framed face stared plaintively from the pages of the newspapers. A couple of days later, parts of his body were found in the trash bin in which Aron told police he dumped them, and inside Aron’s freezer.

    Aron, 35, who lived nearby, confessed to sedating the 8-year-old boy with prescription drugs and smothering him.

    Grief instantly convulsed the close-knit community. An overflow crowd of thousands spilled out of a synagogue and onto the steamy summer streets for the boy’s funeral.

    Months later, Aron’s lawyer planned an insanity defense. He claimed that “inbreeding” in the insular Orthodox community might have caused Aron’s supposed mental illness or excused his alleged crime.

    Lurid headlines and impending court drama aside, what lesson should we take from the shocking murder?

    Fear being the powerful emotion that it is, millions of parents no doubt read Leiby’s story as a cautionary tale about the dangers lurking around every corner.

    Some might read it the opposite way, that a child more familiar with the ways of the outside world might be more cautious about trusting a stranger, even one who looked and sounded like a respected member of the community.

    Others would say no lesson at all can be learned from a 1-in-8-million tragedy. All we can do is wipe away our collective tears, and keep living our lives as we did before one madman snatched one little boy off one street corner one summer day in Brooklyn. — Dave Goldiner

  18. Taking to Streets, From Israel to U.S.

    In its earliest days in September, the Occupy Wall Street anti-corporate encampment in Lower Manhattan was hard to take seriously. In between speeches, activists talked tough about disrupting business as usual. Business as usual didn’t even seem to notice them.

    But one veteran of the Israeli protest movement, who visited Zuccotti Park with a Forward reporter, saw the potential where few others did.

    “It’s very easy to come here and be cynical — a bunch of white kids with laptops playing revolution,” Israeli activist Ronen Eidelman said. Eidelman referred to the so-called tent protests and to the massive social justice occupations and rallies that rocked Israeli society over the summer. From its starting point on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, the movement expanded across Israel, culminating in some of the largest demonstrations in the nation’s history.

    As the Israeli protests faded, the protests in New York were growing far beyond what most observers thought possible. Hundreds grew into thousands. Copycat OWS protests spread to cities across the country.

    Perhaps even more important, the OWS vision, which pitted a self-proclaimed “99%” against a selfish minority of the super-rich, took hold in the national political dialogue.

    As it happened, OWS gained traction at the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days. Jewish activists were quick to latch on, dubbing their movement Occupy Judaism.

    Months later, the protests are all but over, routed by police who forcibly evacuated camps across the country, including the one at Zuccotti Park. The question remains: Will this mean anything for 2012 and beyond, other than a few congressional candidates with “99%”-themed slogans? — Josh Nathan-Kazis

  19. 1,000-for-1 Swap Sets Shalit Free

    Squinting in the blazing Israeli desert sun, Gilad Shalit nervously saluted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on an air base tarmac as the IDF soldier was released after five years in captivity.

    Shalit, dubbed “every Israeli mother’s son,” looked even skinnier and paler than he had in family snapshots published worldwide after his capture by Hamas in a cross-border raid in 2006.

    The soldier’s dramatic release in October was a cathartic moment for Israel. After years of hoping for the best and half-expecting the worst, the nation could hardly believe its eyes. Spontaneous celebrations broke out, and crowds lined the streets to welcome back home Shalit and his parents, who had tirelessly pressed for negotiations to win his freedom.

    In the West Bank and Gaza, even larger crowds greeted the hundreds of released Palestinian prisoners. These included many convicted terrorists, who were among some 1,000 prisoners set free in exchange for Shalit’s release.

    Despite his scarecrow physique, Shalit, 25, looked better than many expected, yet he still has a long and tough road ahead. Other Israeli prisoners of war told the Forward that it took them years to come to grips with the trauma of captivity. Some say they never fully put it behind them. Israel itself has some soul-searching to do, too.

    Even before the cheering died down, some were asking whether it was a good idea to trade so many terrorists for one Israeli soldier, no matter how endearing he might be.

    Some suggested that the deal might only encourage Hamas or others to snatch more Israelis in hopes of winning a similar ransom package.

    Relatives of the freed terrorists’ victims asked an even thornier question: What message did Israel send by letting their loved ones’ killers go free?

    There are, of course, no easy answers. What we know is this: One Israeli family is whole again, its lost son returned to them squinting in the desert sun. And a nation will have to do its best to learn from the long ordeal. — Dave Goldiner

  20. Ryan Braun: MVP. Role Model, Maybe.

    When Ryan Braun was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player, it sounded like a fairy-tale ending to a dream season. He became the first Jewish baseball player in 50 years to win the honor.

    “It sounds cliché to say that I’m living the dream,” the Milwaukee Brewers’ slugger told MLB.com. “But this really is a dream.”

    In a flash, Braun, 28, joined the pantheon of Jewish baseball stars, including such revered figures as Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg and Al Rosen. Indeed, Braun’s career, and especially his breakout 2011 season, recalls a nostalgic era when Jewish baseball players were heroes of the game. He batted .332, hit 33 home runs and crushed a 450-foot home run that helped his team win the Central Division and make the playoffs.

    The MVP award put Braun on the front pages.

    Less than a month later, however, his feel-good story was starting to sound a bit more like a cautionary tale.

    In December, baseball authorities announced that Braun tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. Facing suspension, Braun is appealing the findings. His prospects for success look slim. No player has ever won an appeal after testing positive.

    How the drug test will affect Braun’s standing among Jewish fans remains to be seen.

    Braun’s mother is Catholic, and he was not raised in a Jewish home, yet he has proudly embraced his Jewish heritage and has spoken about the fact that his father’s family was mostly wiped out in the Holocaust.

    With his accomplishments on the baseball diamond in question, it’s unclear what sort of example he will be in 2012 and beyond. — Nate Lavey

  21. Woes or No, Don’t Count Out Obama

    Is President Obama losing the Jews?

    So hope the Republicans, who aim to cut into the 78% of the Jewish vote Obama won in 2008. The GOP also wants to shake the longtime alliance between Jews and the Democratic Party.

    Obama’s critics and the chattering class say he has fumbled his grip on the Jewish vote following a few major foreign policy run-ins with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the past year.

    In May, Netayahu objected after Obama called on the Israelis to return to pre-1967 borders. The language didn’t seem to stray much from long-held American positions, but the prime minister snapped back. And then there was the November “hot mike” gaffe, when French President Nicolas Sarkozy was overheard telling Obama that he thought Netanyahu was a “liar.” Obama didn’t exactly rush to correct him.

    Will such evidence of a less-than-warm relationship between Obama and the Israeli leader be enough to turn off Jewish voters?

    It’s too early to say which way the 2012 vote will go. But Jewish support also matters because of the money it brings to campaign coffers, and so far, Obama seems to be holding up just fine. As the Forward reported in December, Obama has lost none of the prominent Jews who raised the most money for him in 2008, even though there are anecdotal reports that some of Obama’s Jewish fundraisers are having trouble raising money.

    Many Democrats and plenty of independent analysts suspect the Jewish vote will end up where it started, in Obama’s corner. — Josh Nathan-Kazis

  22. U.N. Noise, But No Change in Sight

    It was the game changer that brought about no change, the diplomatic tsunami that never hit the shore.

    After years of wrangling, Palestinian leaders decided to try to end years of stalemate with a bold move aimed at asking the United Nations to recognize Palestine as an independent state. Though the Palestinians acknowledged that it wouldn’t change life on the ground in Ramallah or Nablus, they hoped it would force Israel and the United States to take them more seriously, to understand that Palestinians, too, have options beyond waiting for Israel to make concessions.

    For Israelis, the Palestinian drive for statehood became the purported No. 1 threat facing the Jewish state. Task forces were assembled, military planners prepared for worst-case scenarios and legal experts warned of the implications a U.N. resolution could have on Israeli settlers and soldiers.

    On September 23, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took to the podium at the U.N. General Assembly and stated, in front of a cheering audience of heads of state and senior delegates, that “the time has come for Palestinian independence.”

    That was about as far as the Palestinian bid for statehood went.

    The United States did the heavy lifting behind the scenes, which eventually killed the Palestinian bid. The Obama administration used its diplomatic pressure to block the move without the United States even having to use its veto at the Security Council.

    Adding to the pressure was a tough reaction by Congress that hit the Palestinians with a freeze on American aid money and threatened to cut assistance even further if Palestinians try taking the U.N. course again.

    By the year’s end, the Palestinians’ attempt to change the rules of the game was all but over and the peace process was back to square one. Congress is gradually releasing funds for the P.A. Israel, which approved additional settlements as a punitive measure, shows no signs of changing its overall attitude.

    The U.S. is continuing its low-level engagement with both sides. It says it is open to peace talks but there is very little hope of a breakthrough in this upcoming election year. — Nathan Guttman

  23. Giffords Tries To Heal, With Nation

    “My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now,” tweeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on the morning of January 8. “Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later.”

    Minutes later, what should have been an ordinary event in the life of a popular lawmaker turned into a moment of bloody carnage under the bright Arizona winter sun.

    A young man with a strange grudge against Giffords mixed in with the crowd at the meet-and-greet at a suburban strip mall, then opened fire. By the time a congressional aide and others tackled Jared Lee Loughner to the ground, six people were dead, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

    Giffords, 40, Arizona’s first Jewish congresswoman was left in critical condition after being shot in the head.

    The deadly attack took place at a time when American political discourse seemed more polarized than ever, and the mass shooting sparked a national conversation about the point at which fiery rhetoric and violent metaphors cross over into incitement.

    President Obama, speaking in Tucson four days after the shooting, urged Americans “to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

    Nearly a year later, Loughner has yet to stand trial, and recovery remains Giffords’s focus. In August, the three-term congresswoman surprised her colleagues by returning to Washington to cast a vote in favor of raising the debt ceiling. And for a moment, a deeply divided Congress came together to welcome her with a rousing applause.

    When Giffords sat down for her first televised interview since the shooting, the congresswoman appeared to understand the questions being posed. But she searched for words and struggled to string together short sentences.

    Can Giffords return to public life, perhaps serving as a unifying symbol to Americans disgusted by the bad blood that runs so deep in our political system?

    For now, Giffords’s political future, she managed to express, depends on her getting “better.” — Gabrielle Birkner

  24. Finding Famous Letter of Tolerance

    George Washington’s famous letter to the Jews of Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., ended the year right where it began — in solitary confinement at a suburban Maryland storage facility.

    The historic letter, which set the young nation firmly on a course to religious tolerance, has languished in that warehouse for 10 years, ever since the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, where the letter was previously displayed, relocated to smaller premises.

    Washington’s immortal words, in which he lauded an American government “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” have remained out of sight. But they have not been out of our readers’ minds.

    In 2011, the Forward broke the story of the letter’s inexplicable imprisonment and launched a growing editorial campaign for its liberation.

    We tracked down the New Jersey furniture salesman, Howard Milkman Sr., who owned the letter during the 1940s. And we traced Milkman’s family tree back to Moses Seixas, who met President Washington in 1790.

    We cataloged the tales of New York financier Morris Morgenstern, who bought the letter from Milkman. We also discovered the secret meetings 60 years ago, when congregants considered suing to win back the letter.

    We profiled Morris’s grandson, Richard Morgenstern, the California businessman who today has final say over whether the letter can return to public display.

    The $10 million Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. Visitors Center, in Newport, and the National Museum of American Jewish History, in Philadelphia, are among the museums that have asked to display the document on loan. Morgenstern turned them both down.

    Though Morgenstern has declined repeated interview requests, our campaign to liberate the letter appears to be making progress. In November, the Forward discovered that the Library of Congress may have entered into negotiations with Morgenstern.

    That’s enough to whet our appetite. Could 2012 be the year in which American Jewry’s most important document may, once again, be free? —Paul Berger

  25. Seeking Answers About Rabbi Pinto

    When Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto walks through the doors of his Manhattan yeshiva, scores of followers push toward him, grasping and kissing his hand. Though Pinto often arrives late, his followers show up on time, unwilling to risk missing a moment in his presence.

    The Forward first wrote about Pinto in June 2010, noting his growing ties to Israel’s business and political elite and describing him as a mysterious kabbalist to the stars.

    After months of digging, the Forward launched a three-part series, brushing away some of that mystery. In March, the Forward reported that the $6.5 million Manhattan townhouse where the rabbi lived was facing foreclosure, and that the top financial officer of Pinto’s New York organization could not say how many employees worked there. In April, the Forward reported that Pinto’s top American aide, who bought property with the rabbi’s wife, formerly ran a wholesale business specializing in pornographic DVDs. And in December, the Forward reported that Pinto’s New York organization has spent heavily on luxury travel and jewels.

    Meanwhile, Pinto and his associates have said in media reports in November and December that the rabbi is a victim of blackmail, and that funds have been embezzled from his organization. A New York Times story in December cited unnamed federal officials stating that law enforcement was carrying out an inquiry into two former Pinto associates over money allegedly missing from his organization, Mosdot Shuva Israel. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the FBI had no comment for the Forward.

    Throughout, Pinto has proven to be exceptionally influential, particularly in Israel. As the Forward prepared its March report, Israel’s consul general in Boston called the newspaper, and the executive director of the Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center flew to the United States, both to lobby for the rabbi. — Josh Nathan-Kazis

  26. Weiner Texts Self Out of Congress

    When Anthony Weiner, an up-and-coming liberal congressman from New York, posted and then quickly deleted a crotch shot of himself on Twitter last summer, he could hardly have guessed that it would end up being a shot that echoed across the Jewish political world. Not only did Weiner’s e-misfire cause his own political demise (and toss late-night comics a summer gift that kept giving), it improbably led to an electoral earthquake that resonated throughout the Jewish community.

    Weiner, a married Jewish Democrat considered a front-runner for New York City mayor in 2013, initially claimed that his Twitter account had been hacked. “These are the kind of things that happen when your name is ‘Weiner,’” he said.

    Then, as the Tweets kept on surfacing, he admitted the truth: He’d exchanged suggestive messages with at least half a dozen women in recent years. After two weeks of gut-busting headlines from New York’s tabloids (“Battle of the Bulge: Weiner Exposed”), Weiner’s goose was cooked.

    But his resignation wasn’t the end of the story. Pundits predicted a ho-hum special election in which a no-name Democrat would take his seat.

    The race unexpectedly became an electric referendum on President Obama’s policy on Israel. Republican Bob Turner urged Jews to “send a message.” Turner bested David Weprin in September and took his place as a congressional darling of the pro-Israel right.

    Weiner, for his part, is a new father. Just before Christmas, Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, gave birth to a boy, Jordan Zain Weiner.

    Mazel tov, Anthony. — Naomi Zeveloff

  27. Fight for Right To Sit in Front of Bus

    Citizens forced to sit in the back of a bus, restricted to separate walkways and barred from public gatherings. These images, bringing back memories of the civil rights battle here in America, are increasingly pervasive in Israel today.

    The dividing line in today’s struggle is gender, not race, with segments of the ultra-Orthodox community pushing extreme segregation of men and women in the public sphere.

    An Israeli burial society prevented a woman from giving a eulogy at her father’s funeral. Ads featuring women were defaced, or torn down altogether. Schoolgirls were cursed at and spat on by ultra-Orthodox neighbors as they walked to and from school, not dressed to the strictest of “modesty” standards.

    Israel’s High Court ruled in January that men and women could not be forcibly separated on public buses. As for the women who refused to give up their up-front seats on public buses that travel through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, many reported being harassed.

    The Forward revealed that even in the U.S., some public buses connecting ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods adhere to separate seating arrangements.

    The battle against restrictions on where women can walk and sit and sing and pray has been raging for years. Before now, it was fought primarily by a small group of progressive organizations and women’s rights advocates. But mainstream politicians and religious leaders began to speak out in 2011. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet that Israel is “a Western, liberal democracy,” that its public space would remain open and safe for women. Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said gender separation should not be enforced in the public arena.

    Ultimately, though, it was 8-year-old Na’ama Margolese who would crystallize the dangers of Jewish fundamentalism. Days after Israeli TV showed her poignant struggle — she braved a gantlet of ultra-Orthodox taunts just to get to school — thousands gathered in her hometown to protest the treatment of women and girls.

    As 2012 looms, will little Na’ama go down in history as the poster child of Jewish women’s struggle for equal treatment? — Gabrielle Birkner

  28. A Boy Is Killed, We All Tremble

    The little boy with an angel’s face left day camp on July 11 and headed home, walking by himself for the first time through the deceptively familiar streets of Brooklyn’s Boro Park.

    Leiby Kletzky made one wrong turn and found himself face to face with Levi Aron. The hardware store clerk promised to help him get home, or maybe to the Judaica store that the boy’s mother had drilled into him as a landmark.

    Within hours, scores of black-coated Hasidim were scouring the streets. Leiby’s pale, ringlet-framed face stared plaintively from the pages of the newspapers. A couple of days later, parts of his body were found in the trash bin in which Aron told police he dumped them, and inside Aron’s freezer.

    Aron, 35, who lived nearby, confessed to sedating the 8-year-old boy with prescription drugs and smothering him.

    Grief instantly convulsed the close-knit community. An overflow crowd of thousands spilled out of a synagogue and onto the steamy summer streets for the boy’s funeral.

    Months later, Aron’s lawyer planned an insanity defense. He claimed that “inbreeding” in the insular Orthodox community might have caused Aron’s supposed mental illness or excused his alleged crime.

    Lurid headlines and impending court drama aside, what lesson should we take from the shocking murder?

    Fear being the powerful emotion that it is, millions of parents no doubt read Leiby’s story as a cautionary tale about the dangers lurking around every corner.

    Some might read it the opposite way, that a child more familiar with the ways of the outside world might be more cautious about trusting a stranger, even one who looked and sounded like a respected member of the community.

    Others would say no lesson at all can be learned from a 1-in-8-million tragedy. All we can do is wipe away our collective tears, and keep living our lives as we did before one madman snatched one little boy off one street corner one summer day in Brooklyn. — Dave Goldiner

  29. Taking to Streets, From Israel to U.S.

    In its earliest days in September, the Occupy Wall Street anti-corporate encampment in Lower Manhattan was hard to take seriously. In between speeches, activists talked tough about disrupting business as usual. Business as usual didn’t even seem to notice them.

    But one veteran of the Israeli protest movement, who visited Zuccotti Park with a Forward reporter, saw the potential where few others did.

    “It’s very easy to come here and be cynical — a bunch of white kids with laptops playing revolution,” Israeli activist Ronen Eidelman said. Eidelman referred to the so-called tent protests and to the massive social justice occupations and rallies that rocked Israeli society over the summer. From its starting point on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, the movement expanded across Israel, culminating in some of the largest demonstrations in the nation’s history.

    As the Israeli protests faded, the protests in New York were growing far beyond what most observers thought possible. Hundreds grew into thousands. Copycat OWS protests spread to cities across the country.

    Perhaps even more important, the OWS vision, which pitted a self-proclaimed “99%” against a selfish minority of the super-rich, took hold in the national political dialogue.

    As it happened, OWS gained traction at the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days. Jewish activists were quick to latch on, dubbing their movement Occupy Judaism.

    Months later, the protests are all but over, routed by police who forcibly evacuated camps across the country, including the one at Zuccotti Park. The question remains: Will this mean anything for 2012 and beyond, other than a few congressional candidates with “99%”-themed slogans? — Josh Nathan-Kazis

  30. 1,000-for-1 Swap Sets Shalit Free

    Squinting in the blazing Israeli desert sun, Gilad Shalit nervously saluted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on an air base tarmac as the IDF soldier was released after five years in captivity.

    Shalit, dubbed “every Israeli mother’s son,” looked even skinnier and paler than he had in family snapshots published worldwide after his capture by Hamas in a cross-border raid in 2006.

    The soldier’s dramatic release in October was a cathartic moment for Israel. After years of hoping for the best and half-expecting the worst, the nation could hardly believe its eyes. Spontaneous celebrations broke out, and crowds lined the streets to welcome back home Shalit and his parents, who had tirelessly pressed for negotiations to win his freedom.

    In the West Bank and Gaza, even larger crowds greeted the hundreds of released Palestinian prisoners. These included many convicted terrorists, who were among some 1,000 prisoners set free in exchange for Shalit’s release.

    Despite his scarecrow physique, Shalit, 25, looked better than many expected, yet he still has a long and tough road ahead. Other Israeli prisoners of war told the Forward that it took them years to come to grips with the trauma of captivity. Some say they never fully put it behind them. Israel itself has some soul-searching to do, too.

    Even before the cheering died down, some were asking whether it was a good idea to trade so many terrorists for one Israeli soldier, no matter how endearing he might be.

    Some suggested that the deal might only encourage Hamas or others to snatch more Israelis in hopes of winning a similar ransom package.

    Relatives of the freed terrorists’ victims asked an even thornier question: What message did Israel send by letting their loved ones’ killers go free?

    There are, of course, no easy answers. What we know is this: One Israeli family is whole again, its lost son returned to them squinting in the desert sun. And a nation will have to do its best to learn from the long ordeal. — Dave Goldiner

  31. Ryan Braun: MVP. Role Model, Maybe.

    When Ryan Braun was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player, it sounded like a fairy-tale ending to a dream season. He became the first Jewish baseball player in 50 years to win the honor.

    “It sounds cliché to say that I’m living the dream,” the Milwaukee Brewers’ slugger told MLB.com. “But this really is a dream.”

    In a flash, Braun, 28, joined the pantheon of Jewish baseball stars, including such revered figures as Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg and Al Rosen. Indeed, Braun’s career, and especially his breakout 2011 season, recalls a nostalgic era when Jewish baseball players were heroes of the game. He batted .332, hit 33 home runs and crushed a 450-foot home run that helped his team win the Central Division and make the playoffs.

    The MVP award put Braun on the front pages.

    Less than a month later, however, his feel-good story was starting to sound a bit more like a cautionary tale.

    In December, baseball authorities announced that Braun tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. Facing suspension, Braun is appealing the findings. His prospects for success look slim. No player has ever won an appeal after testing positive.

    How the drug test will affect Braun’s standing among Jewish fans remains to be seen.

    Braun’s mother is Catholic, and he was not raised in a Jewish home, yet he has proudly embraced his Jewish heritage and has spoken about the fact that his father’s family was mostly wiped out in the Holocaust.

    With his accomplishments on the baseball diamond in question, it’s unclear what sort of example he will be in 2012 and beyond. — Nate Lavey

  32. Woes or No, Don’t Count Out Obama

    Is President Obama losing the Jews?

    So hope the Republicans, who aim to cut into the 78% of the Jewish vote Obama won in 2008. The GOP also wants to shake the longtime alliance between Jews and the Democratic Party.

    Obama’s critics and the chattering class say he has fumbled his grip on the Jewish vote following a few major foreign policy run-ins with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the past year.

    In May, Netayahu objected after Obama called on the Israelis to return to pre-1967 borders. The language didn’t seem to stray much from long-held American positions, but the prime minister snapped back. And then there was the November “hot mike” gaffe, when French President Nicolas Sarkozy was overheard telling Obama that he thought Netanyahu was a “liar.” Obama didn’t exactly rush to correct him.

    Will such evidence of a less-than-warm relationship between Obama and the Israeli leader be enough to turn off Jewish voters?

    It’s too early to say which way the 2012 vote will go. But Jewish support also matters because of the money it brings to campaign coffers, and so far, Obama seems to be holding up just fine. As the Forward reported in December, Obama has lost none of the prominent Jews who raised the most money for him in 2008, even though there are anecdotal reports that some of Obama’s Jewish fundraisers are having trouble raising money.

    Many Democrats and plenty of independent analysts suspect the Jewish vote will end up where it started, in Obama’s corner. — Josh Nathan-Kazis

  33. U.N. Noise, But No Change in Sight

    It was the game changer that brought about no change, the diplomatic tsunami that never hit the shore.

    After years of wrangling, Palestinian leaders decided to try to end years of stalemate with a bold move aimed at asking the United Nations to recognize Palestine as an independent state. Though the Palestinians acknowledged that it wouldn’t change life on the ground in Ramallah or Nablus, they hoped it would force Israel and the United States to take them more seriously, to understand that Palestinians, too, have options beyond waiting for Israel to make concessions.

    For Israelis, the Palestinian drive for statehood became the purported No. 1 threat facing the Jewish state. Task forces were assembled, military planners prepared for worst-case scenarios and legal experts warned of the implications a U.N. resolution could have on Israeli settlers and soldiers.

    On September 23, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took to the podium at the U.N. General Assembly and stated, in front of a cheering audience of heads of state and senior delegates, that “the time has come for Palestinian independence.”

    That was about as far as the Palestinian bid for statehood went.

    The United States did the heavy lifting behind the scenes, which eventually killed the Palestinian bid. The Obama administration used its diplomatic pressure to block the move without the United States even having to use its veto at the Security Council.

    Adding to the pressure was a tough reaction by Congress that hit the Palestinians with a freeze on American aid money and threatened to cut assistance even further if Palestinians try taking the U.N. course again.

    By the year’s end, the Palestinians’ attempt to change the rules of the game was all but over and the peace process was back to square one. Congress is gradually releasing funds for the P.A. Israel, which approved additional settlements as a punitive measure, shows no signs of changing its overall attitude.

    The U.S. is continuing its low-level engagement with both sides. It says it is open to peace talks but there is very little hope of a breakthrough in this upcoming election year. — Nathan Guttman

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. All readers can browse the comments, and all Forward subscribers can add to the conversation. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters or repeat offenders will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

Eleven Forward Stories That Shone

Thank you!

This article has been sent!

Close