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3 Palestinians Sorry for Torching German Synagogue

Sat, 01/17/2015 - 08:03

Three defendants on trial for an arson attack on the Wuppertal Synagogue last July have apologized in court.

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Muslims and the Paris Attacks

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 17:46

Muslims around the world are “the only ones that can actually win this battle because it is about an extremist ideology that they are going to have to stand up against,” says Haris Tarin, director of the Washington office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

The post Muslims and the Paris Attacks appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

From litigating cases to lighting campfires

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 13:44

Isaac Mamaysky and his wife, Lisa, at Camp Zeke. (Courtesy of Camp Zeke)

NEW YORK (JTA) — “You worked in camp!?” My professor was befuddled. Admittedly, it’s a strange way to spend the summer after your first year in law school. Most of my classmates accepted summer associate and law clerk positions at various firms – that’s what you’re supposed to do.

As a college student, I had told friends and family that I wanted to make camp into a career. After all, I had made my closest friends and formed many of my warmest memories as a camper and staff member of Camp Jori in Rhode Island, one of the oldest Jewish camps in the United States.

When I began thinking about what to do after college, camp was the natural choice. But this aspiration was frequently met with the same advice: “It’s time to grow up and get a real job. You can’t work in camp your whole life.” After hearing that refrain so often, I decided to apply to law school.

Three years later, in September of 2008, I started my legal career on a beautiful summery day. Upon arriving at a new lawyers’ training session in the Manhattan skyscraper where the firm was located, I found myself wondering how I had ended up in such a decidedly un-camp-like environment.

Initial reservations aside, lawyering was actually quite enjoyable. The cases were interesting, the associates had an active social scene, the salary left little to be desired and, at least compared to other law firms, the hours were relatively reasonable. I even got used to the suits.

But there were frequent reminders about the career that might have been. I remember my heart sinking when I walked past a sign, made by New York street artist James de la Vega, that said, “Become your dream.” Why wasn’t I working in camp? On some nights I would literally dream about camp – the smell of hot chocolate in the dining hall on cold mornings, the silly tunes of our camp songs, the day when campers arrive.

It went on like this for a couple of years, until January of 2011, when my wife, Lisa, and I took a vacation to the Adirondack Mountains. While scaling a frozen waterfall, we started talking about careers with our guide, a former pharmaceutical researcher who now owns an outdoor adventure store. When he asked what I had always wanted to do, my answer was a no-brainer: “Camp.” When he asked, “Why don’t you start a camp?” a flame was ignited.

Of course, I could have worked at an existing camp, but Lisa and I had a unique vision for what the ideal camp would look like. In our personal lives, we cook healthy, organic foods, go hiking and cycling, and relish our involvement in the Jewish community, so we wanted to create an overnight camp that reflected what we see as a recipe for healthy living.

For two years, while Lisa worked in finance and I worked in law, we pursued funding to launch a camp that celebrates food, fitness and joyful Judaism. My legal training turned out to be helpful in drafting the 65-page grant application that got us accepted into the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Specialty Camp Incubator II, the program that enabled Camp Zeke to open its doors last summer.

Isaac Mamaysky during his brief career as a lawyer. (Courtesy of Isaac Mamaysky)

When I was still at the law firm, one of the titans of the camping industry told me that he’d met countless lawyers who wanted to become camp directors, but not a single camp director who wanted to become a lawyer. Now I understand why, and it’s not for the reasons I initially thought.

Contemplating this career years ago, I envisioned carefree strolls and long coffee breaks to catch up on the news. In my mind, running a camp was going to be fun and relaxing, just like being a camper.

I have come to realize that doing something you love is really hard – precisely because you love it so much. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “How Hard Do Company Founders Really Work?”, the author, a company founder herself, observes that “nobody else [is] as concerned with solving my company’s problems as [me].” She goes on to discuss 12-hour days and the perceived inability to take personal time due to a total commitment to the enterprise. “Check, check, and check,” I thought, reading.

Let me give an example. After postponing time off for the first few weeks of camp last summer, I finally found a good day to take a few hours to myself. It was supposed to be simple: I would drop off some staff members to pick up rental vans – the first-session kids were going home the next day – and then I would spend a leisurely few hours off site.

But when we arrived at the rental pickup place, it turned out that the rental company had made a mistake, and only three of the seven vans we had reserved were available. Needless to say, the idea of taking a few hours off went out the window.

On the plus side, however, our leadership team resolved the issue in less than 40 minutes, contacting a bus company and booking drivers for the next day. The kids would get home, they assured me. I breathed a long sigh of relief. By that evening, the whole situation was already a humorous story among the staff.

This is why camp differs from starting another kind of company. While it often feels like I own every challenge, in actuality the entire Camp Zeke family — the staff, parents, campers, and funders — has become as concerned with camp’s challenges as me. After all, it’s their camp too.

I still have garment bags full of suits and ties from my days at the law firm. They hang neatly next to my preferred attire, a growing collection of camp T-shirts that Lisa and I had a lot of fun designing. In more ways than one, the T-shirts are so much more comfortable.

Isaac Mamaysky is the co-founder and executive director of Camp Zeke, which is funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, AVI CHAI Foundation, the Foundation for Jewish Camp and UJA-Federation of New York.


SPONSORED MESSAGE: Jewish camp is worth it! Discover first-time camper opportunities with One Happy Camper (up to $1,000 off) and BunkConnect.org (special rates 40-60% off).

Duke Scraps Muslim Call to Prayer From Chapel Belltower

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 12:44

Duke University announced and then quickly reversed a decision this week to allow Muslim students to use the chapel belltower to broadcast a weekly call to prayer.

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Duke cancels plans to allow Muslim call to prayer from campus belltower

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 10:39

(JTA) – Duke University announced and then quickly reversed a decision this week to allow Muslim students to use the chapel belltower to broadcast a weekly call to prayer.

The reversal came Thursday, just two days after the North Carolina university first announced would allow the call to prayer, called the adhan, from its iconic belltower. The change was attributed to external threats to student safety.

The initial announcement angered various constituencies, with the son of one prominent evangelical Christian calling on Duke donors and alumni to boycott the university until the policy was reversed.

“Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students,” Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, said in a statement Thursday. “However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.”

As a compromise, the university said the call to prayer instead would be held at the chapel quadrangle. Duke’s Muslim Students Association has been holding services in the chapel basement for several years, according to The Chronicle, Duke’s student-run newspaper.

Muslim students expressed dismay at the university’s about-face.

“I didn’t expect this of Duke,” sophomore Sophia Aliza Jamal, who is Muslim, told The Chronicle. “I was really shocked.”

Muslim junior Nourhan Elsayed told the newspaper: “I really hope that we as an academic community … can reflect on how to eliminate Islamophobia and all types of racism from our time at Duke and ultimately from our lives. ”

Duke officials said the policy reversal was the result of credible security concerns.

“The university was made aware of serious and credible safety concerns and has increased security to address those concerns and protect students and the campus,” Schoenfeld wrote in an email Thursday, according to the newspaper.

The adhan is a standard part of daily Muslim ritual and usually is broadcast five times a day from mosque minarets using loudspeakers. In Jerusalem, the adhan is loud enough to be heard for miles around, including in Jewish communities.

The most prominent critic of Duke’s short-lived policy was Franklin Graham, the son of the Rev. Billy Graham and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. After the policy was announced on Tuesday, he launched a social media campaign for donors to withhold support from the university.

Some 700 of Duke’s 15,000 students are Muslim, according to figures provided by Duke News and cited in The Chronicle.

Why 'Honeymoon in Vegas' Is Quintessential Jewish Mother Story

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 10:29

The new Broadway musical ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’ is goofy and slight, but enormously entertaining. It’s also an overtly Jewish musical in the Woody Allen mold, Jesse Oxfeld writes.

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Polish Catholics hold annual Day of Judaism

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 10:20

WARSAW (JTA) — Polish bishops called for the honoring of Jews killed in the Holocaust in their annual Day of Judaism commemoration.

“The history of Polish Jews is an integral part of the heritage of Poland, which was a common home for the representatives of different faiths, religions and nations,” said an appeal read in churches across the country on Jan. 15.

The church’s Day of Judaism commemoration has been held annually since 1997.

The bishops emphasized that Jewish history is a common element of both Polish and Jewish memory and that Christians and Jews are the children of one God.

Bishops urged Catholics to care for old Jewish cemeteries, synagogues and graves of victims of the Holocaust, calling it a “duty of conscience.”

“In Poland, there are 1,200 Jewish cemeteries that are in various conditions. In a few cases there is great cooperation with local communities. Thanks to the appeal of the bishops maybe there will be more such cases,” Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, told JTA.

How Germany Is Attempting To De-Radicalize Muslim Extremists

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 05:00

There has been a steep rise in people from Europe who travel abroad to fight for jihad. In Germany, a grassroots group is trying to change that.

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Selma and the Jews

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 17:00

By Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz

By all means, go see Selma. See it this weekend, when we remember the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a powerful movie that manages to feel epic and intimate at the same time; no easy feat. It is heroic yet nuanced; laudable for Hollywood.

Yet Selma is not without issues. One that has already been raised in the media, and by historians, is the portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Another, less noticed, is the role of Jews in the famous march. One critic accuses the film of “airbrushing” the Jewish presence out of the movie. If one watches closely, two figures can be seen wearing yarmulkes. What is lamentable, however, is the absence of a striking figure with flowing white hair and beard. In an iconic photo from the march, he is one person away from Dr. King. He is Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, renowned philosopher, author and activist.

While it is well-known that Rabbi Heschel, along with several other rabbis, marched with Dr. King in Selma, the extent of Rabbi Heschel’s involvement is much less appreciated. Before going to Selma, Rabbi Heschel helped organize a demonstration at the FBI headquarters in New York protesting the treatment of participants in the previous “Bloody Sunday” Selma march. Eight hundred demonstrators converged; only Rabbi Heschel was allowed in to the building to present a petition.

Two years earlier, Rabbi Heschel and Dr. King met for the first time at a national conference of Christians and Jews meeting in Chicago, where Rabbi Heschel memorably said that “it was easier for the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea than for a Negro to cross certain university campuses.” Fourteen months later, the two again shared a podium at the biannual convention of the Conservative Jewish Movement, and a day later at a similar gathering of the Reform Jewish Movement. Both spoke not only of the civil rights struggle but of the plight of Soviet Jewry.

In 1968, shortly before his death, Dr. King lauded Rabbi Heschel at a gathering of Conservative rabbis, saying, “He has been with us in many of our struggles. I remember marching from Selma to Montgomery; how he stood at my side and with us as we faced that crisis situation.”

It was not only Rabbi Heschel’s activism that won over Dr. King, but the depth of his religious conviction. Dr. King most identified with Rabbi Heschel’s profound insights into the thinking and relevance of the Hebrew prophets. In the January 2015 issue of Smithsonian magazine, biographer Taylor Branch mentions the weighty influence that one book of Rabbi Heschel’s in particular had on Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement.  After commenting on how Dr. King drew inspiration from the Hebrew Bible, he adds that “…all those guys used to carry around Rabbi Heschel’s book The Prophets. They really identified with the prophets.” (As the head of The Jewish Publication Society I am proud to say that we published that book in 1962!)

Rabbi Heschel was asked to speak at Dr. King’s funeral; he was the only rabbi to do so. It was fitting for the man whom King’s supporters often called “Father Abraham” and who Dr. King himself was known to refer to as “my rabbi.”


Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz is the director of the Jewish Publication Society in Philadelphia, PA.

N.Y. rabbi pleads guilty in divorce extortion scheme

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 16:36

NEW YORK (JTA) — Rabbi Martin Wolmark pleaded guilty to conspiring to extort a Jewish man who was refusing to give his wife a religious writ of divorce.

The Orthodox rabbi from Monsey, N.Y., offered his plea in a New Jersey federal court on Wednesday. Wolmark is facing up five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

He was accused of being part of a gang of eight that used violence to coerce recalcitrant husbands into granting the religious writs of divorce. Under Orthodox Jewish law, a wife cannot divorce without obtaining the writ, known as a get, from her husband.

Other men involved in the gang were charged with beating a recalcitrant husband and using a stun gun on his fingers and genitals in November 2009.

Wolmark, who uses the first name Mordechai, was caught in an FBI sting operation in October 2013 in which federal agents posing as a Jewish woman and her brother sought the gang’s services. The “husband” was to be assaulted at a warehouse in Edison, N.J. When Wolmark and the other men arrived at the warehouse wearing masks and carrying rope, surgical knives and a screwdriver, they were arrested.

In all, eight men were arrested in connection with the scheme, including four rabbis. Seven have pleaded guilty, according to the office of the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Reuters reported.

Wolmark will be sentenced on May 18.

Adena Rochelson stocks shelters and pantries with needed toiletries

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 12:34

The Teen Heroes column is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit http://dillerteenawards.org.

WASHINGTON (JTA) — With her $4.50 weekly allowance, Adena Rochelson wanted to fill an empty shelf at a local food pantry near her upstate New York home with toiletries and cleaning supplies.

Adena Rochelson with toiletries she collected for local shelters and food pantries. (Courtesy of Adena Rochelson)

After soon realizing that she would need more funds and supplies, Rochelson — then a fourth-grader — launched a social action project that would raise awareness of the shortage and provide much-needed toothbrushes, shampoo, toothpaste and soap to nearby shelters and food pantries.

“I realized that involving other people was the way to go,” said Rochelson, now 15.

Operation Soap Dish, which she dubbed her project, has been growing steadily since its inception in 2009. It now partners with supermarkets, toiletry manufacturers, synagogues, churches and fraternities at Syracuse University, near her Fayetteville home, to collect and distribute more than 28,000 items.

For her work with Operation Soap Dish, Rochelson, a 10th-grader at Fayetteville-Manlius High School, was awarded a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award in 2014. She donated part of the $36,000 prize to her organization and plans to save the rest to help fund her college education.

“The biggest lesson for me has been learning that even the smallest efforts can matter the most,” Rochelson said. “Just the act of using my $4.50 allowance was really the biggest thing that I could have done.”

She spoke recently to JTA about her favorite Jewish experience, what she would like to say to President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress, and her advice to other social action-minded teens.

JTA: What do you think are the important qualities of a hero?

Rochelson: A hero is someone who sees the problems in his or her community and is inspired but not overwhelmed. They realize the power that they have to change those problems.

Can you share with us a meaningful Jewish experience that you’ve had?

I go to Camp Ramah in New England, and just having Shabbat, especially Havdalah — which is my favorite service — standing in a circle with my friends with the light of the candles is very memorable and meaningful.

What kind of things do you like to do for fun?

I like to ice skate and hang out with my friends. I like to bake. Cupcakes are my new thing right now. And I like to play with my dog, Max.

What do you think you want to be when you grow up?

I definitely want to stay in the nonprofit world or maybe social entrepreneurship or business. I’m not sure yet, but I have some time to figure it out.

If you could have lunch or coffee with anyone and tell him or her about Operation Soap Dish, who would it be?

Either President Obama or members of Congress. I’d want to talk about changing the food stamps program or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) policy that says people can purchase a soda but not soap. I think that’s kind of ridiculous.

What advice would you give to other teens interested in starting a social action project?

Definitely go for it. Tell yourself that the worst thing that can happen is someone says no, and then you are no worse off than you were before. Be willing to try new things and find your passion.

Please tell us about teens who deserve attention by sending an email to teens@jta.org.

Building a New Model of Political Leadership: How Rabbi Stephanie Kolin Changed Our Community

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 12:00

by Steven Windmueller

With the announcement this week of the appointment of Rabbi Stephanie Kolin to the position of Associate Rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York City, the progressive Jewish community has the opportunity to celebrate the evolution of Just Congregations, including its creation of Reform California, and the defining role played by its extraordinary leader, Rabbi Kolin.

The storyline here is not only about how one person can affect change but also of how a movement can be created, nurtured, and led by an inspiring leader.

In examining the rise of Reform CA as a new political force within this state, we can explore the impact of what religious leadership can mean in a 21st-century context. Rabbi Kolin, with her knowledge of community organizing, her Jewish prophetic passion, and an extraordinary degree of personal energy and integrity, also brought to the table a leadership style that empowered her colleagues and in turn engaged their congregational leaders.

For Rabbi Kolin, this was as much about “team” as it was about mission. From the outset, she framed the entire cause for building a new model of social engagement around the collective will, insights, and commitment of her partners. The team evolved, not only in terms of numbers but through a maturation process of shared learning. Several principles framed this enterprise: to organize, empower, and invest the collective energies and resources of our community in growing our political resources and connections in order to build partnerships and alliances with other state-wide actors. The outcome was to achieve a new vision of what California could be by taking the political steps to change the status quo.

By the end of her tenure, Rabbi Kolin’s will have been on the ground in Los Angeles no more than four years – but there will be a lasting impact for the Reform Movement in California. Her work is evident in helping to construct new relationships for the Jewish community within the political arena and, just as importantly, within our communities. As Rabbi Rick Jacobs noted, “Reform California alone brings together congregational leaders from 120 Reform communities across the state and has celebrated significant legislative victories on immigration and affordable housing.”

It is instructive to understand and appreciate how Rabbi Kolin framed her work, just as we ought to assess the leadership style that she modeled for us:

  • One win at a time: The rabbi spoke consistently about small victories and the creation of large learning curves as a way to grow the organizing process and develop our shared agenda.
  • Take stock: With each action, the team under Rabbi Kolin’s adept leadership created an assessment not only about the elements of its work but what they as partners learned about the experience.
  • Empower your partners: The rabbi’s single greatest achievement was her capacity to raise up her colleagues by empowering them in their work back within the pews and on the street. Her leadership frame was one of zimsum, leading from behind and through the voices of those who surrounded her.
  • Employ the tradition: For Rabbi Kolin, this was about transforming the Jewish imperative from the ideal to the practical. Her rabbinate moved from the pulpit to the street and beyond.
  • Master the organizing principles: Throughout her work as a community organizer, Rabbi Kolin remained engaged with the message and means of incorporating Saul Alinsky’s dictum for managing social and political change. If Torah was her calling, then the framework of her activism has been constructed around the tools of organizing.

In the course of this experience, our community encountered new ways to bring Jewish texts and religious practice into alignment with our political mission. In this endeavor, we learned as much about ourselves as we did about embracing the organizing model she introduced. This road to self-discovery was yet another of Rabbi Kolin’s rich gifts to each of us.

In the end, California’s Reform Jewish community is the beneficiary of a new way to embrace one another and the political arena. Rabbi Kolin gave us the language and the tools to permit our community to grow its political message. As our teacher and our leader, she inspired us to dream about an alternative vision for California, for which we will forever be grateful.

Steven Windmueller Ph.D. is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Studies at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles.

Orthodox Rabbi Martin Wolmark Pleads Guilty in Get Divorce Extortion Scheme

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 18:51

An Orthodox Jewish rabbi pleaded guilty on Wednesday to playing a role in a scheme to kidnap Jewish men and force them to grant divorces to their unhappy wives, said federal authorities in New Jersey.

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Will Spike in French Emigration Decimate Jewish Life?

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 08:34

French Jewish life is robust, and the country has hundreds of Jewish schools. How would the community be affected if large numbers flee to Israel in the face of anti-Semitism?

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Can Going to Synagogue Make You Healthier?

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 06:57

Regular synagogue attendance may make you healthier, a new study indicates.

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Study links synagogue affiliation to better health

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 06:50

(JTA) — Regular synagogue attendance may make you healthier, a new study indicates.

A study of four large American Jewish urban communities by Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion found that “adults who affiliate with a Jewish religious denomination and attend synagogue report significantly better health than secular or non-practicing Jews,” Jeff Levin, director of the institute’s Program on Religion and Population Health, said in a statement issued Tuesday by the Texas university.

“People with a strong sense of religious identity and who participate in their faith seem to do better, on average, than people without an active spiritual life,” added Levin, a professor of epidemiology and population health, who conducted the study.

The study, based on data collected throughout the 2000s as part of Jewish community surveys from Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and New York, was published in January’s Journal of Religion and Health.

“While there have been hundreds of studies of physical and mental health among Christians and members of other faiths, Jewish studies have been limited mostly to Israelis and to smaller clinical samples in the U.S. or the United Kingdom,” Levin said.

The results were consistent across denominations. Whether Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist or Reform, affiliated Jews reported better health than secular, non-affiliated Jews. Likewise, Jews who attended synagogue, whether regularly or less frequently, reported better health than those who never went.

Levin suggested following up with a national health survey of the Jewish population.

“This would provide an opportunity to dig a lot deeper than what’s possible using data from existing community surveys, which weren’t really designed to assess health,” he said. “It’s fortunate that a question or two on health was included in these surveys, but we can do a lot better.”

A sophisticated national survey also could serve as a needs assessment that would provide valuable information for Jewish organizations seeking to address the health and life needs of American Jews, Levin said.

Established in August 2004, the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion initiates, supports and conducts research on religion.

Today Matters: Make It Count

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 05:00

By Rabbi Josh Weinberg

“This is the day that the Lord has made – let us exult and rejoice on it.” -Psalms 118:24

During the years I taught Jewish history on our Movement’s NFTY-EIE high school semester abroad program, at the end of each semester I would ask my students this question: “What are the top five most important moments or dates in Jewish history?” With great consistency they would cite similar moments―the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, the unification of Jerusalem as our fledgling nation’s capital under King David, the destruction of the Second Temple on the 9tn of Av 70 CE, and, in a jump to modernity, the outbreak of WWII and the establishment of the State of Israel. Those 10th-12th graders were always eager to “pass the test” and prove that they had a solid grasp on the 4,000 years of history we’d covered in a relatively short period.

While their answers and dates were important and of great significance to our people and our collective narrative, mine was a trick question. The answer is simple: today. Today is the most important day in Jewish history because the important dates in our past are exactly that – in our past. We cannot control or change them. Today is about seeing the unfolding trajectory of our people’s past and using it to impact our future. Today is about taking the triumphs and tribulations, all of our collective suffering, and our remarkable contributions to the world, and making them count.

Today we have a tangible opportunity to make it count. Today, the voting is open for the World Zionist Congress, and today we have a chance to join with every Jew in the United States to make our voices heard. Today, by voting, we as Reform Jews will be able to stand up and be counted and tell the world that we are a strong and vibrant movement, and that we care deeply about shaping the State of Israel to become one that exemplifies our values.

By voting today you are exercising your only democratic opportunity to have a say in what happens in Israel, and you are helping to ensure that our movement is strong and continues to grow. The whole Jewish world is involved in elections this season and that means that the whole world is watching. A tremendous amount is at stake, including political influence, essential funding, and a chance to renew the vision and purpose of our Zionist institutions.

The Talmud cites the following passage: This is the generation and those who seek its welfare.” (Psalms 24:6). Rabbi Judah the Patriarch and the sages differed in this matter. One opinion was that the character of the generation is determined by its leader. According to the other opinion, the character of the leader is determined by the generation. –Talmud, Arachin 17a

Our generation has tremendous power to affect change. We are responsible for standing up as a community and as a Movement to vote in the leadership of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the World Zionist Organization, and the Jewish National Fund. These national institutions provide the essential funding for our Movement and influence policies in Israel. They fund the initiatives that are most important to Reform Jews, Jewish identity and education, and our work towards gender and religious equality. We desperately need to reinvent and re-imagine what Zionism means in today’s reality. This election is our chance to say that it’s possible to both love Israel and be critical of it; to both live in the U.S. and take an active role in shaping and molding the character of the Jewish State. While we are always concerned for the well-being of Israel’s body, this is a vote for her soul.

What we do, or don’t do, from today on will define the character of the Jewish State and will show the world what it means to stand together as a Movement. That is why each individual vote is so important, and each person we reach out to share this important message will help us impact the future.

Today matters: make us count. Vote – www.reformjews4israel.org

Rabbi Josh Weinberg is president of ARZA.

Israel Bans 3 Islamist Groups From Temple Mount

Mon, 01/12/2015 - 15:54

Israel shut down three local Islamist groups on Monday, accusing them of stoking tensions at a contested shrine in occupied East Jerusalem that has seen increased visits by Jews.

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Victims of supermarket attack remembered at Paris synagogue

Sun, 01/11/2015 - 16:09

PARIS (JTA) — Hundreds gathered with the leaders of France and Israel to remember the victims of an attack at a kosher supermarket near Paris.

French President Francois Hollande and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined several hundred members of the Jewish community at the memorial Sunday night at the Grand Synagogue of Paris, also known as the Synagogue de la Victoire. Hollande did not deliver remarks at the synagogue.

The sister of attack victim Yoav Hattab, one of four Jews killed in an attack Friday at the Hyper Cacher market, urged those gathered at the memorial to light four extra candles each Shabbat “so they may remain etched in our hearts.” The sister, who asked not to be named, also played a recording of Hattab singing the Modeh Ani prayer.

Netanyahu called on Europe and the rest of the world to support Israel’s fight against terror as supporters chanted his “Bibi” and “Israel will live, Israel will overcome.”

“Like the civilized world stands united with France, so it needs to stand with Israel in its fight against the same enemy exactly: radical Islam,” Netanyahu said.

“It’s a short distance between the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, to the murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands, to the attacks on Jews in Israel, to the murders at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher,” he added.

The gathering Sunday evening was organized by the Consistoire, the body responsible for religious services for the French Jewish community. It was held immediately after a march in which hundreds of thousands walked through the heart of Paris in support of democratic values.

The march was originally scheduled as an act of public protest following the slaying of 12 people on Jan. 7 by Islamist terrorists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly which published many items lampooning Islam.

But organizers later expanded it to commemorate the victims of attacks at the supermarket and a police officer slain in Paris on Thursday.

Netanyahu commended the “remarkable bravery of French law enforcement” during the terrorist attacks and praised the actions of a Muslim employee of the kosher supermarket who helped several Jews escape into the refrigeration room without the shooter’s knowledge. He also reiterated his call to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

“We need to acknowledge that we are facing a global network of radical Islam of hate. I believe this threat will grow when Europe sees the return of thousands of terrorists from the killing fields of the Middle East, the danger will be graver and it will become a grave threat to humanity if radical Islam gets nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said. “So we need to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. We need to support each other in this fateful struggle against radical Islamic fanatics wherever they are.”

Cherif and Said Kouachi, brothers in their 30s, perpetrated the attack at Charlie Hebdo. They were killed Friday when police overtook the printing shop where they were holed up north of Paris. That same day, Amedy Coulibaly, an associate with whom the brothers had been recruited as jihadists to fight in Syria, took more than 20 people hostage at Hyper Cacher and killed four. Coulibaly was killed when police stormed the shop.

According to some reports, Coulibaly had maps of Jewish schools in his car on Jan. 8, a day before the attack on Hyper Cacher, when he killed a police officer south of the city center.

French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia said the march Sunday shows the French Jewish community “is not as isolated as we thought. For months we have been asking where is France? Today we saw France, and the France we saw was a spitting image of biblical descriptions of Jerusalem, where brothers unite.”

The synagogue rally also featured the singing of Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, followed by the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.

From the Archive: A fatal synagogue bombing in Paris

Sun, 01/11/2015 - 16:08

Rue Copernic Synagogue was the site of a 1980 bombing that killed four and injured 40. (Google Street View)

Paris — and the world — is still reeling from Friday’s attack on a kosher supermarket, which came just days after the same fundamentalist Muslim terrorists murdered 12 people at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satiric magazine.

The fatal hostage crisis at Hypercacher was hardly the first deadly attack at a Jewish venue in the French capital. On Oct. 3, 1980 — which was both Shabbat and Simchat Torah — a bomb blast outside the Rue Copernic Synagogue, a Reform congregation, killed four people and injured more than 40. JTA described the scene:

The synagogue’s front gate was blown off, the ceilings coved in and the windows were shattered. Only a handful of people inside were injured. Most suffered slight wounds from glass shards and wood splinters.

The synagogue’s rabbi, Dr. Michael William on Englishman, asked them to remain calm and to remain indoors. Later he said that he feared a possible ambush outside the synagogue and wanted to send someone out to reconnoiter the area. On the street, eyewitnesses said they first saw a 20-meter high flame leap into the air. Immediately afterwards they heard the blast and saw cars lifted into the air by the force of the blast, windows shatter and flames spreading all over the street.

Most of those killed or injured, among them a visiting Israeli film editor, were not inside the synagogue but ” either passing by the synagogue or milling outside.”

In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, authorities were not certain if the perpetrators were neo-Nazi or pro-Palestinian terrorists, but the years-long investigation, which some feared would be delayed by the sizable presence of neo-Nazis within the police force, ultimately pointed to the Arab world.

A memorial plaque at Rue Copernic Synagogue for the four people killed there on Oct. 3, 1980. (Wikimedia Commons)

Amazingly, more than three decades later, the case is still not resolved. Less than two months ago — a full 34 years after the bombing — France extradited Hassan Diab from Canada, where he had been working as a sociology professor. Diab, a dual Lebanese and Canadian citizen has been charged with participating in the bombing as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, but it is not clear when his trial will take place and whether he will continue, as he did during a six-year legal battle to stop his extradition, to say he is innocent.

Whether or not Diab is culpable, the 1980 bombing — believed to be the first attack on a synagogue since World War II — provoked much discussion and finger-pointing at the time.

Independent presidential John Anderson “blamed the series of attacks … on ‘indifference’ to bigotry and hatred,” JTA reported, while American Jewish organizations “charged the attacks were a result of ‘appeasement’ by France of the terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization.”

In addition to similar statements from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and other nondenominational Jewish groups, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now known as the Union for Reform Judaism), sent a cable to rabbi of the Paris synagogue, criticizing “official laxity and inattention to the violent nature of the anti-Semitic movement in France.” Like other American Jewish leaders, Schindler singled out the French government’s:

… willingness to accept the PLO as a legitimate party in the Middle East political scene, going so far as to urge that this band of assassins be “associated’ in future peace negotiations, must surely have emboldened the French counterparts of the PLO to engage in the same loathsome practices.”

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Jews marched in Paris for three consecutive days, joined by equal numbers of non-Jews:

Tens of thousands of non-Jews, trade unionists, students and politicians representing the entire spectrum of France’s political and social life, joined the Jewish demonstrators. The outpouring of solidarity and the universal rage over the attack prompted many observers to note that the French Jewish community has never been as strong as it is now and the anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi groups as small and as isolated.

In addition to peaceful demonstrations, French Jewish groups reacted by organizing security efforts to supplement the government’s stepped-up policing, while others ominously spoke of plans to “seek revenge.”

The interior of Rue Copernic Synagogue. (Wikimedia Commons)

Four months later such acts of revenge included two powerful rockets fired at the South Yemen Embassy in Paris by a group claiming to represent “The victims of the Rue Copernic Synagogue blast” and numerous vigilante incidents, including an attack on an 84-year-old man who shared the name of a known Nazi collaborator, also were reported.

Before those revenge incidents, in the days immediately following the synagogue bombing, Jewish anger was “so intense that”:

Jewish demonstrators yesterday tried to storm the Presidential residence, the Elysee Palace, and the Ministry of Interior, and came close to clashing with French riot police: Tourists or passersby who seemed to conform to the image of neo-Nazis — those with short-cropped hair and wearing conservative dark suits — were harassed or beaten up. Some were seen fleeing, with blood over their faces …

The demonstrators and almost the entire French Jewish leadership blamed the government, Giscard d’Estaing, Barre and Bonnet for Friday night’s tragedy.

Meanwhile, at the scene of the bombing, the area still looked “as if it had been the target of an air aid attack,” JTA noted.

Burned out cars litter the streets; buildings in a 100 meter area are wrecked, their windows shattered and their walls blackened by smoke. Local residents say that a day after the bombing they could still smell the stench of smoke and burned bodies.