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November 2, 2011 By:
Adviser Knows Terror Firsthand
As a Jew who grew up Rapid City, S.D., spent two decades as an officer in the U.S. Army and is a member of the Republican Party, Dan Adelstein knows a thing or two about being in the minority.
Yet as an adviser to U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), he's working in an office where Jews constitute about a third of the staff. Still a minority, but perhaps a surprisingly sizable one, considering he's working for a fiscally and socially conservative Republican.
His portfolio includes national security, an issue that hit dangerously close to home on Sept. 11, 2001, when he was stationed in the Pentagon, just 150 yards from where the plane hijacked by terrorists struck.
Growing up in a city with less than a dozen Jewish families, the 57-year-old lieutenant colonel developed a deep appreciation both for Judaism -- practicing the faith took a real effort -- and the protections and opportunities afforded all U.S. citizens.
That sense of patriotism, a word he tosses around proudly, led him to the United States Military Academy, a 24-year-career as an infantry and special forces officer and, finally, to the halls of Congress.
After eight years as an adviser to House Republicans, he switched over to the Senate side in April, joining Toomey's staff as national security policy adviser. In addition to advising Toomey on security and foreign affairs, he focuses on the defense industry and veterans' affairs.
While much of the country remains fixated on the economy and fiscal woes, Adelstein, who has strong ties to Israel, stays focused on security threats facing the country, from rogue states such as North Korea and Iran to home-grown terrorism.
Those threats are never far from his mind, especially after serving his last three years of active duty at the Pentagon. Many of his friends did not survive the Pentagon attack.
"The experience reinforced, very graphically, something I had believed for a long time -- we are a nation that faces very real threats," said the Maryland resident and father of three grown children. "We must not underestimate those threats and be complacent. That's a belief that I have had for decades."
Although Adelstein might not be well-known, his boss, a man many once dismissed as too conservative to win statewide office in Pennsylvania, has certainly made a name for himself, especially in the past year.
In August, the freshman senator was tapped for the 12-member congressional supercommitee charged with cutting more than $1 trillion from the federal deficit over 10 years.
Yet despite his talk about cutting government spending, Toomey doesn't appear to be striking the more isolationist tone of some Republicans.
Since taking office, he has spoken forcefully in support of maintaining American military aid to Israel. He also co-sponsored a new round of proposed sanctions against Iran, arguing that the current measures are insufficient. He did question the wisdom of America's role in Libya.
Adelstein said he couldn't go into details about the advice he gives Toomey, but he said the two share similar views and priorities.
He described Toomey as an extremely detail-oriented boss who rarely expresses a knee-jerk reaction to proposed legislation and often asks for more research before deciding which way he'll vote.
William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America, has known the Adelsteins, a prominent Republican family in South Dakota, since he worked on Jack Kemp's 1988 presidential campaign.
"Dan has a tremendous amount of influence because Sen. Toomey is so interested and so engaged in national security issues," said Daroff.
For his part, Toomey, in an email, said that "Dan's experience in the military, his background in foreign affairs and his extensive knowledge of national defense and veterans' issues make him a tremendous asset."
From a policy perspective, one of Adelstein's biggest concerns is probable spending cuts to the Pentagon. Military spending is already facing $350 billion in cuts and there could be more.
"We need to be very careful that we don't artificially cut defense spending," he said.
Adelstein's interest in the military stems back to his grandfather, who had served in World War I. His father, Stan Adelstein, who was born in Sioux City, Iowa, had also served briefly before returning to South Dakota to run the family business.
Adelstein's father was a Republican activist with a strong interest in Judaism. He served as lay leader for a tiny congregation that met on a U.S. Air Force base outside of Rapid City.
"My dad was very patriotic, he imparted this patriotism on me," said the younger Adelstein.
(Not everyone in the household became a Republican. Younger brother Jonathan Adelstein worked for former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as the administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service. Adelstein said they get along well but don't talk politics.)
His late mother, Ita Korn Adelstein, was born in Lodz, Poland. In 1939, she and her parents fled Poland, going first to Yugoslavia then to Turkey, Iraq, India and Brazil before making their way to New York City in the late 1940s. Feeling they would be safer in the interior of the county, the family moved to Denver. Adelstein's parents met as students at the University of Colorado.
"There are a number of lines that intersect. America was always something very special for me for what it did for my mother and her family," he said.
He first toured Israel at age 13 and later, as a cadet at West Point, returned to visit Israeli military bases. Eventually, he married an Israeli woman, though they later divorced, and he has since remarried.
He and his wife, Judi, belong to a Conservative synagogue in Maryland, though he says he hasn't been much since he took the Senate job.
As a security analyst with deep ties to the Jewish state, what did he make of the decision to free more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit?
"I defer to the Israeli government on that," he said, adding that the Israeli government had considered the pros and cons and came up with "the course of action that was best for Israel."
On the homeland security front, he said the United States is relatively safe, but he still is concerned about the prospect of a terrorist attack. He understands that, after two wars and a recession at home, Americans have grown weary of foreign intervention and are more concerned about pocketbook issues.
"Most Americans are not terribly engaged intellectually and emotionally with our military intervention right now," he said. "Given my line of work, I would prefer that Americans would be more involved and concerned with national security issues. Whatever your point of view, apathy is very dangerous."