Steve Hunegs

Steve Hunegs was named Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) in November of 2006. Hunegs has a long association with the JCRC. He served on the Board of Directors from 1993 to 2002 and served as Board President from 1998 to 2000. Read more about Steve Hunegs.

Above and Beyond

Posted by: Steve Hunegs Updated: November 26, 2014 - 5:12 PM

Producer Nancy Spielberg premiered the documentary “Above and Beyond” for the Twin Cities in October at the Riverview Theater – in conjunction with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) and the Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival.  The documentary is receiving strongly positive reviews (See TC Jewfolk, 20th Century Aviation Magazine, and SSN reviews).  The Riverview Theater screening was sold out with 700 people in attendance.

B'shert – “fated” – is a word which Leon Frankel uses in the documentary “Above and Beyond” to describe the remarkable set of circumstances which brought him to Israel during its War of Independence.

Indeed, Leon’s journey to the 101 Squadron in 1948 began with a chance meeting with his friend “Red” Fogerty at Bilbo’s Pool Hall in St. Paul who convinced him to enlist in the Navy instead of the Army Air Corps in the summer of 1942.

Even the venue for the Twin Cities premiere of “Above and Beyond” – the Riverview Theater (hard by the grain silos and spur lines of an earlier south Minneapolis era) – sounded in a certain “kizmetry.”

The architects of the Riverview – Liebenberg and Kaplan – were Jewish and known, among other things, for their designing of movie theaters.  The Riverview opened December 30, 1948.  This date corresponded with the IDF's “Operation Horev” (also known as “Operation Ayin”) offensive which was the last phase of the 1948 war.  This operation, which drove the Egyptian forces from the Negev desert, was notable for the effective integration of the Israel Air Force (IAF) bombers and fighters with the ground offensive of the Israeli Army.  Indeed, according to Shlomo Aloni's “101 – Israeli Air Force First Fighter Squadron” (a picture of Leon appears on page 18 of the book), the IAF shot down two Egyptian planes on December 30, 1948.  As “Above and Beyond” relates, six months earlier the IAF and the 101 Squadron had been nothing more than the Haganah Air Service with a few Piper Cubs and a small number of (Yishuv) Palestinians who were veterans of the Royal Air Force.

Marquee at Riverview Theater (Photo: Erin Smith Photography)

This b’shert quality was also seen in the presence of three Machalniks (“volunteers from abroad”) at the screening of “Above and Beyond” – a remarkable “concentration” given the passage of 66 years and a relatively modest (in numbers) Twin Cities Jewish population.  Joining Leon Frankel were Bucky Bacaner, an Aliyah Bet sailor and World War II merchant marine; and Jason Fenton, the youngest Machalnik who came from Britain at age 16 to join an IDF anti-tank unit.  It was a great honor, in the presence of Nancy Spielberg, to introduce all three to the sold out audience of 700 for the kavod (honor) they richly deserve.  If nothing else, premiering “Above and Beyond” for the Twin Cities provided an opportunity for the photographing of an indelible portrait: Leon, Bucky and Jason with Nancy Spielberg – three heroes and the cinematic immortalizer of the Machalniks of the 101 Squadron whose cinematic mitzvah will carry forward to all of the Machalniks, whether air, sea, or land.

From L to R: Bucky Bacaner, Nancy Spielberg (standing), Leon Frankel (seated), and Jason Fenton (Photo: Erin Smith Photography)

Great thanks, of course, are owed to Nancy Spielberg for bringing forth this wonderful documentary.  Her original connection to the 101 Squadron was b’shert in the sense that the obituary of Al Schwimmer – which described the founder of Israel Aerospace Industries also as the father of the Israel Air Force – happened to catch her eye.

The imagination, verve, energy, and determination of Nancy Spielberg to make “Above and Beyond” are only part of the story.  The other part is Nancy's unalloyed graciousness.  She made it her business to attend the Twin Cities premiere in the midst of a national and international tour of the premieres of “Above and Beyond” which is an exhausting schedule.  Ms. Spielberg was unfailingly accommodating, friendly, flexible, and grateful for the support she was receiving in Minnesota which brought her to tears.  (Who didn’t love Ms. Spielberg filming the audience at the premiere to show her mother and father?)

Another critical part of the story of the premiere of “Above and Beyond” was the opportunity for collaboration with the Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival to bring the documentary to the Twin Cities.  The film festival is itself, a collaboration of the Jewish Community Center of the Greater St. Paul Area and the Sabes (Minneapolis) Jewish Community Center.  That is a collaboration within a collaboration – resoundingly “Better Together” – for two outstanding community agencies and the astonishing range of “Big Screen” Jewish content brought home to us – and thanks to the film festival for partnering with the JCRC for the “Above and Beyond” component.

700 in attendance at the regional premiere of “Above and Beyond” (Photo: Erin Smith Photography)

2014 Night to Honor Israel

Posted by: Steve Hunegs Updated: September 19, 2014 - 3:48 PM

The Living Word Christian Center and Christians United for Israel hosted their fifth Night to Honor Israel on September 14th. 

It was a night of extraordinary interfaith partnership (Christians and Jews); solidarity (United States and Israel); covenantal affirmation (by Pastor Mac Hammond); tribute to survival and redemption of the Holocaust (Professor Irving Roth—he exclaimed that “the American soldiers who liberated him from Buchenwald looked to him like the moshiac—messiah); international musical tour-de-force (Dudu Fisher); personal friendship (Rabbi Norman Cohen of Bet Shalom Congregation, who provided the benediction, and Pastor Hammond have been friends for thirty years when both were leading their nascent congregations and shared adjacent office space) and thousands of people participating in gemulat chasidim – the act of loving kindness between neighbors, friends, colleagues or even strangers – of celebrating and contemplating the sacred relationship between Christians and Jews.

Professor Irving Roth

Dudu Fisher

It wasn't always so – particularly in the upper Midwest – which makes the Night to Honor Israel all the more uplifting and profoundly important.  And often it isn't so as a present survey of Europe and the Middle East will show. (Which includes the persecution of Christians in the cradle of Christianity – the Middle East.) And so it is wonderful to bend the arc of history towards justice (repudiating anti-Judaism by embracing the common heritage of Judaism and Christianity) from Brooklyn Center projected to the rest of the world.

Pastor Mac Hammond – as he has for years – forthrightly addressed the issue of Christian anti-Judaism by way of the reason for the Living Word Christian Center’s bringing to life the Night to Honor Israel. 

Succinctly, he identified three major points:

  1. Biblically, Genesis 12 teaches: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  From this precept flows the necessity of honoring Jewish friends and Israel, which is God’s heart, as critically important for the Christian psyche.  The foundation, in turn, for Christian-Jewish interfaith relations is the “everlasting” Jewish covenantal relationship with God. As Pastor Mac Hammond noted: “It is impossible to honor God and ignore his heart.”
  1. Honoring the spiritual heritage of Christianity which is embedded in the Torah and recognizing this as the essence of the Judeo-Christian tradition.  This truth relates back to the birth of Christianity with Church fathers who were all Jews – including Jesus.  As Pastor Mac Hammond emphasized: as the Ten Commandments teach – honoring your parents (in this case spiritual parents) is necessary to preserve spiritual heritage.
  1. The dangers of Christian anti-Semitism and the necessity of loving and respecting the history and spiritual journeys of Jews and Christians as a countervailing force.  To his great credit and not without some controversy from certain Christian circles, Pastor Mac Hammond decries the dangers of Replacement Theology. That is, the millennia old belief that resurrection of Jesus marked the replacement of the Jewish covenantal relationship with the Christian relationship with God.  Pastor Hammond pointed out that millions of Christians persist in this belief.  Pastor Hammond advised and urged that is the obligation of Christians to “purge [this] poison of anti-Semitism from the body of Christ” or Christians risk losing their spiritual identity. 

Pastor Mac Hammond in the presence of Christians and Jews, young and old, veterans of the armed forces of the United States and Israel, and in a congregation full of people which reflected Minnesota’s rich racial diversity affirmed this elemental truth – vibrant Christianity and Judaism relies on the reciprocal acknowledgement of the intertwined fates of Christianity and Judaism.  That is mutual respect is the foundation of Christian-Jewish interfaith relations and all the good which can emerge from it for the benefit of all.

The profoundly serious and heartfelt message of Pastor Mac Hammond is reflected in two stories told over the course of the evening involving “Righteous Gentiles,” which is the name given to non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust often at great personal peril.  Dudu Fischer paid tribute – in song and with video of the reunion – of the Polish family which saved his father's family in the Shoah – 16 souls saved by one family.  For Irving Roth--who survived Auschwitz, the Nazi Death Marches and Buchenwald – he returned to his village to find, a miracle, that his parents had survived the Holocaust in Budapest.  Implicitly, this meant  his parents' survival pivoted on the supreme efforts of Raoul Wallenberg and other diplomats of the neutral nations who prevented Eichmann from deporting to Auschwitz the last surviving Jewish community in occupied Europe: the Jews of Budapest.  This we celebrate.

Rabbi Norman Cohen

Israel wants peace, Hamas doesn’t

Posted by: Steve Hunegs Updated: August 7, 2014 - 4:15 PM

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) applauds Israel’s decision to extend the current 72-hour ceasefire originally set to expire on Friday morning beyond its present deadline.  It comes as no surprise that Hamas has called for a resumption of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians if their demands are not met.  We support lifting the sea blockade of Gaza, but only if Hamas’ weapons are seized and Gaza is demilitarized.

We underscore Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments yesterday when he said, “Israel deeply regrets every civilian casualty, every single one. The people of Gaza are not our enemy.  Our enemy is Hamas.”

There is no question that the loss of life is tragic.  Any feeling person understands that this is a horrific situation for innocent Palestinians and Israelis.  We want an end to terrorism.  We want an end to violence.

Israel takes every measure to avoid civilian casualties, but what should it do when thousands of rockets are being fired by Hamas under the cover of their own people?  What would the United States do in the same situation?

More than 3,000 rockets have been fired by Iran-backed Hamas from Gaza into Israel since July 8th with ranges that place millions of Israelis at risk.  Day and night, Israelis have 15 – 90 second warnings from a siren to run for a bomb shelter.  Mothers, babies, and children in hospitals are sleeping in bomb shelters.  People in the street, walking to work, or going about their daily lives are often left unprotected and with nowhere to run, they lie down in the street and cover their heads.

In Gaza, Iran-backed Hamas is fighting against peace by building a vast network of multi-million dollar lethal terror tunnels, firing thousands of rockets at Israeli mothers and children, and hiding behind their own people.  For years, there have been no Israeli soldiers or settlers in Gaza.  Cement that should have been used to build houses and schools in Gaza was instead used by Iran-backed Hamas to create tunnels of death to attack Israeli civilians, and schools have malevolently been used as storage containers for rockets, turning innocent Palestinians into civilian shields.

The majority of Minnesotans and Americans appreciate the essential moral difference between Israel, a liberal western democracy, and Hamas, a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and internationally recognized terrorist government which seeks the destruction of Israel and all Jews.  With the latest news that Hamas has called for a resumption of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians if their demands are not met, we are not sure what further evidence could convince the blame Israel first/blame Israel only fringe that Israel is fighting a just, defensive war.

In a recent interview, famed Israeli writer, peace advocate, and founder of Peace Now, Amos Oz, posed these questions: “What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?  What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?”

Ultimately, the only possible solution to this conflict is the two-state solution, an independent Palestine living in peace with the Jewish State of Israel.  Israelis and Palestinians deserve peace and security, and lives free from terror and violence.

Hope for and belief in peace are the reasons that Israel gave up all of the Sinai for peace with Egypt, why Israel made peace with Jordan, left Lebanon, and left all of Gaza.  Israel works daily in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank on security issues for both Israelis and Palestinians and to aid in the economic development of Palestinian communities.  All those who hope and pray for a lasting peace should support Israel in its war against Hamas, which not only violently seeks Israel’s destruction, but is callously and cynically indifferent to the welfare of Palestinians.

These have been difficult days for Israel during Operation Protective Edge.  Israel has exercised its sovereign right of self-defense against over 3,000 Hamas rockets aimed at its civilians and it destroyed terror tunnels from Gaza into the heart of Israel intended to perpetrate a mass casualty attack against Israelis.  We owe great thanks to President Barack Obama and Congress, including Senators Klobuchar and Franken from Minnesota; Hoeven and Heitkamp from North Dakota; and Johnson and Thune from South Dakota, as well as Representatives Walz (CD-1), Kline (CD-2), Paulsen (CD-3), McCollum (CD-4), Bachmann (CD-6), Peterson (CD-7), Nolan (CD-8), Cramer (ND), and Noem (SD) for authorizing $225 million in supplemental funding for Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system.  Judging by various opinion polls, the American people are standing with Israel.

We also thank Governor Mark Dayton for standing strong with 1,400 other Minnesotans in late July to express support for Israel.

Israelis and Palestinians deserve peace and security.  The world is crying out for an end to this conflict and to a cessation of the suffering on both sides.

Finally, we take to heart these polling results of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya:

  • 92 % of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are in favor a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas;
  • 72% of Palestinians hope their leaders will work to achieve a lasting peace agreement with the Jewish state; and
  • 68% of Palestinians said they would prefer the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip over the option of rearming the militant factions there

Israel agrees to cease-fire and what does it get…more Hamas rockets

Posted by: Steve Hunegs Updated: July 15, 2014 - 3:43 PM

First, thank you to Senators Klobuchar and Franken as well as Senators Heitkamp (ND) and Thune (SD) for their co-sponsorship of the Senate Resolution defending Israel’s right to self-defense and condemning the unprovoked rocket attacks against innocent Israeli civilians.  The House of Representatives unanimously passed the House version last week.

Earlier today, Israel accepted the Egyptian cease-fire proposal which was also endorsed by both the Palestinian Authority and the Arab League.  Israel halted its targeted airstrikes against Hamas in the Gaza Strip for six hours.  Even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Hamas to end the rocket attacks by asking, “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?

During this period of Israeli restraint, Hamas continued to launch rockets at Israeli civilian populations.  This further underscores Hamas’ true intention of creating terror in Israel and continuing on its path of Israel’s destruction.

Israeli civilians have been besieged by an unprecedented number of terrorist attacks from Hamas and other jihadist operatives in Gaza.  Since the beginning of this conflict, over 1,100 rockets have been launched from Gaza into Israel with the express purpose of killing as many civilians as possible.

While Israel's “Iron Dome” anti-missile system intercepts some of these rockets, many are still hitting some of Israel's most populous cities.  For many Israelis, 15 seconds is all the time they have to seek shelter.

Israel's defensive actions in Gaza to stop the rocket attacks are legitimate and necessary measures to protect its people.  Like all nations, Israel is entitled to self-defense.   A right recognized by the White House ("We strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire inside of Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza.  No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians and we support Israel's right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.") and even the U. N. Secretary General ("These indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas must stop.").

Hamas has been targeting Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians, including hospitals, schools, mosques, and densely populated residential areas.  Israel has made extraordinary efforts to avoid killing innocent Palestinian civilians, including phone calls and the use of effective non-lethal warnings.  In fact, some of Israel's fiercest critics have admitted that "[b]y the standards of war, Israel's efforts to spare civilians have been exemplary."  (Will Saletan, "The Gaza Rules: Israel, unlike Hamas, isn't trying to kill civilians. It's taking pains to spare them," Slate).

Even as the IDF continues to work around these challenges, Hamas officials praise the use of human shields.

If Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota were under constant rocket attack, we would rightfully demand our government do everything possible to end the attacks immediately.  Why shouldn't innocent Israelis currently under siege in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beersheba, and Sderot deserve the same protection?

When Israel unilaterally withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005, not a single Israeli soldier or civilian remained behind.  Rather than pursue peace with Israel and prosperity for its people, the Hamas-led government has launched thousands of rockets into Israel and thus necessitated Israel’s current security blockade to prevent Hamas from securing even more lethal weapons.

The only way for true peace and security in the Middle East is for the Palestinians to accept the Jewish State of Israel next to an independent Palestinian state.  So long as Hamas and other jihadi factions continue to reject Israel’s right to exist and acts upon their hatred through terrorism, there will sadly be no peace.

“The Typist” and “Transfer of Memory”

Posted by: Steve Hunegs Updated: March 18, 2014 - 9:49 AM

In June of 2012, I wrote about the remarkable Larry Tillemans and posted an interview with him.

Mr. Tillemans, an Eagle Scout from a family of Eagle Scouts in southwestern Minnesota, was a member of General George S. Patton's Third Army in the European Theater of Operations.

As a member of the Signal Corps, Mr. Tillemans was a clerk-stenographer at the Nuremberg and Dachau war crimes trials in 1945 and 1946. 

Mr. Tillemans has spent much of the last twenty years touring Minnesota – sometimes with his friend Gerry Boe (a guard at the first Nuremberg War Crimes Trial) – telling Minnesotans what he learned at Nuremberg so people will not forget.  (Click here for a story and interview with Gerry Boe.)

Capturing this story has been the equally remarkable documentary of co-producers David Klassen and Chuck Czech entitled "The Typist" for KSMQ public television of Austin Minnesota supported by the Minnesota Legacy’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.  The documentary represents a huge commitment of time, resources and energy to tell a quintessential Minnesota story of one person's dedication and decency.  The documentary also provides the opportunity to hear from renowned historian Deborah Lipstadt; veteran Justice Department prosecutor Eli Rosenbaum; and to see the outstanding and groundbreaking efforts of Holocaust and genocide education at St. Cloud State University with Prof. Daniel Wildeson and his students with whom the JCRC is proud to partner and share time in "The Typist."

David Klassen and Chuck Czech have been graciously partnering with the JCRC and screening the documentary around Minnesota.

On February 11, 2014, the JCRC and Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka screened the documentary before more than a 130 people, followed by a question and answer session with the co-producers and Larry Tillemans.

Click here for photos from the event.  (Thank you to Rabbi Kravitz and Nina Samuels and the synagogue for their partnership.)

On February 24, 2014, the JCRC, St. Cloud State University and KSMQ screened the documentary at the Atwood Memorial Center for 50 students and faculty.

Click here for a photo from the event.  (Thank you to President Earl Potter and Prof. Daniel Wildeson for your partnership.)

Further north and a few days later on February 27, the Transfer of Memory exhibit opened at the Otter Tail County Historical Society.

Transfer of Memory is a joint project of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas and Minneapolis photographer David Sherman.  The exhibit features photographic portraits of Minnesota Holocaust survivors.  The written vignettes below the portraits – by Lili Chester – capture the survivors' lives before, during and after the Shoah (Holocaust).

The portraits and vignettes transform an abstraction into a reality.  The exhibit helps us appreciate the indomitable will of survivors in surviving the Holocaust and then in beginning lives anew in Minnesota and raising families and starting businesses.  Their lives are constant reminders about the value of freedom and the enduring human spirit.

For more information please visit the Transfer of Memory website:

Despite the late February double digit sub-zero temperatures, the opening ceremony was standing-room only.  The gathering heard from our partners whom we deeply thank: Chris Schuelke, Executive Director of Otter Tail County Historical Society; and Erin Smith, Director of Fergus Falls Public Library.  The gathering also heard from me; photographer David Sherman; and Joni Sussman, the daughter of Holocaust survivors.  Joni Sussman screened the documentary "I Was Given Life Twice" about the survival of Joni's mother's family during the Holocaust.  We also thank American Legion Post 30 and the Riverside Lions Club.  The exhibition and its opening ceremony are also supported by the Minnesota Legacy Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Click here for photos from the opening reception.  Photos are courtesy of David Sherman.


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