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October 10, 2011 2:09 pm

Cantor: Arab Culture Is a Culture of Death

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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A panel discussion at the West Side Institutional Synagogue raised questions about tax cuts, capitalism and philanthropy. Photo: Maxne Dovere.

Under the umbrella of Rabbi “Shmuley” Boteach’s Values Network Eric Cantor, the highest ranking Jewish elected official in American faced off with Michael Steinhardt, founder of the” most successful philanthropic program of all times, and not limited to the Jewish community.”

“I tell it like it is”, said Steinhardt to the Algemeiner, just prior to the formal session. And he did.

Noting that over the last thirty years, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, Steinhardt cautioned that “free society does not endure when that continues.” “We are yet to figure out what to do about it….When I made more money than I knew what to do with,” said the former hedge fund manager, “I felt there was no greater virtue than making money.” He wanted to “do something different…something that would be a greater blessing for me and other rich people to find that magic, that nobility. I decided what I cared about most was the Jewish future.”

Saying “we have a very tough economic picture…not a lot of optimism,” Cantor agreed that “people must feel that they have a fair shot…(we) need a level playing field  – the  ability to know that if you work hard and play by the rules, you get ahead.” He filtered his rainbow view by admitting that there are “too many examples of others having a leg up and an unfair advantage,” noting that “influence” could create an unfair situation.”

“We have to get wealth creation going again,” said the Congressman, and “make sure that wealth is distributed.”  Steinhardt responded that “the capitalist system over the last ‘X’ years has really become ingrown – so unfair to so many people (that) there is a sense that it doesn’t quite work anymore.”

Cantor brought the issues of the discussion to practical application, saying that “at election (2012) we will have to make a choice: are we going to a more European style, a social welfare state with government guarantee, or be the America which is the land where you are the determinate of the outcome – earning your own success without government?”

The question of the responsibility of charity, especially of Jewish charity loomed large. Cantor implied that the needy could be taken care through “private and faith based organizations.” “If the highest mitzvah is to give charity, why should government take the responsibility?”

Let’s “clear away the Jewish myth that we are people of charity,” said Steinhardt.  “Today in America, Jews give no more than the average American   – 2-3 % (of income)….Jewish charity has fallen by the wayside.” He noted that giving to Jewish causes “represents 15% of total Jewish giving – and has declined… Jewish philanthropy is literally in decline.”

Jerry Levin, UJA President, and Micheal Steinhardt, a founder of the Birthright program, following a dialogue exploring philanthropy and politics. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

From the audience, Jerry Levin, Chairman of the United Jewish Appeal – UJA -noted that the organization raises “7 or 8 times” the amount raised by the United Way, and that all people in need were aided, not only Jews.

Said Steinhardt, “that’s called obfuscation.”

Boteach questioned whether philanthropy – or the lack of it – could affect policies of institutions of higher learning. “Philanthropists do not have that voice,” said Steinhardt.

Turning to the street protests in Israel, Steinhardt said “there is something going on” In Israel “a few families control the entire commerce….it is a very small place…We must understand reality of Israel.” Asked if philanthropists make a difference in policy, Steinhardt responded that America is historically about an open voice

Turning to questions of family values, Rabbi Boteach said, while abortion and gay issues so fervently discussed, “this society has a 50% divorce rate. Why does political leadership not raise the institution of marriage in the most direct way – saving marriage?” Cantor used the moment to offer compliments to Boteach for his “make Friday night family night” program.

On the topic of Israel, Cantor recalled his own speech at a recent AIPAC convention, saying his support of Israel is based on his values. “Israel gravitates towards a culture of life; Arab culture is a culture of death.” He asked “what kind of culture breeds a culture of death (with) hatred so unbridled that one would go to any length?” Binding Israel and the United States is a “shared valued system. Israel’s security goes hand in hand with America’s security.”  “Even Israel is questioning America’s direction:” said Cantor, “It goes back to the lack of clarity coming out of Washington.”

Going beyond the politics, Steinhardt called Israel “the single most complete miracle of the 20th Century.” He said his commitment goes beyond the religion. “I care about being Jewish and the Jewish State.”

Asked the rabbi, what is the meaning of being “chosen?”  Cantor responded saying “I believe we are chosen for achievement – (America) can out and over achieve anyone because of our exceptionalism … achievement and success is a good thing.”

Steinhardt’s response was more simple: “I do not believe that America or the Jews are chosen.”

No meeting with Michael Steinhardt could be complete without a discussion of the Birthright program.  Since its founding some ten years ago, over 300,000 young Jews have journeyed to Israel for a ten day, life altering experience.

“How do you measure the success of Birthright’s ability to instill Jewish values?” he asked. Comparing rates of Jew-to-Jew marriage, he noted that a study of 2004 applicants showed that 74% of those who went on a Birthright trip married Jews; of those who did not go, only 44% married Jews. “Creating deeply knowledgeable Jews” said Steinhardt is “my ultimate goal.”

Steinhardt, founding chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, was asked “will more Jews become Republicans?” Jews, he said “are slowly moving to the right – though this is not of major concern.  Of major concern is the future of the non-orthodox diaspora in America.  “Where are we going?  Our Jewishness is not the same of our parents or grandparents. Where is the revival? How are your children going to be more Jewish than you are?”

Jerry Levin, UJA President, and Michael Steinhardt, a founder of the Birthright program, following a dialogue exploring philanthropy and politics. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

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