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Cantor cites pre-WWII isolation in pressing for greater U.S. engagement

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 17:37

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, cited the lateness of American actions against the Nazis in critiquing President Obama’s foreign policy.

In a speech Monday to the Virginia Military Institute, Cantor (R-Va.), who is Jewish, described leading a congressional delegation recently to Auschwitz to mark the 69th anniversary of the Nazi death camp’s liberation.

“Standing there as the frigid wind swept through the eerily quiet ruins of the camp, I could not help but regret that American action in World War II came too late to save countless millions of innocent lives,” he said.

“Hitler’s rise and conquest of Europe did not come as a surprise. We must not repeat the same mistake by reducing our preparedness, accepting the notion that we are one of many or ceding global leadership to others.”

Cantor said that “evil and hateful ideologies still exist in the world,” citing as perhaps the most evident Iran’s “determined march” to produce nuclear weapons.

“I can imagine few more destabilizing moments in world history than Iran on the threshold of being a nuclear power,” he said.

Cantor called on the United States to prepare for additional sanctions to counter what he said was the erosion of Iran’s isolation through its participation in international talks aimed at keeping it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“An America that leads is an America that must work to restore the badly eroded international pressure on Tehran,” he said. “We should lay the groundwork now for additional sanctions in the event Iran violates the terms of the interim agreement.”

The Obama administration has said that the removal of a number of sanctions ahead of the talks has not diminished a tough sanctions regime. It has opposed new sanctions while talks are underway, saying that unilateral U.S. sanctions could fracture the international alliance that has nudged Iran to the talks.

Conversion reform bill advances in Knesset

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 17:29

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A bill that would allow more rabbis to conduct conversions in Israel advanced in the Knesset.

The coalition government-backed bill passed its first reading by a vote of 28 to 16 in the Knesset plenum on Monday night.

Under the measure, as many as 30 courts made up of municipal rabbis would be allowed for the purpose of conversion. Currently there are four state rabbinic courts with the authority to conduct conversions.

The Chief Rabbinate, which would see its power reduced under the measure, said it will stop cooperating with the Knesset if the bill is approved, the Times of Israel reported Monday. The Rabbinate, which reportedly is working on a compromise bill, is concerned the measure will lead to a deterioration of conversion standards.

Sponsored by lawmaker Elazar Stern of the Hatnua party, the bill passed the Knesset Law Committee earlier on Monday.

Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM Jewish Advocacy Center, who has worked to bring the bill to the Knesset floor, said his organization was pleased with the bill’s advance but that gaps must be addressed before it moves to the second and third readings.

“Though the bill is meant to provide local rabbis with autonomy to perform conversions, something we believe will enable more people to convert, the chief rabbis continue to insist on controlling all aspects of the process of conversion, something we are opposed to in principle,” Farber told JTA.

Farber said that by the final readings, it should be made clear that those who undergo conversions by the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel will be recognized as Jewish in the national population registry. He said the current wording in the bill makes this ambiguous.

 

Double Booked: A Rabbi’s Balancing Act

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 12:00

By Rabbi Larry Sernovitz

Daddy. You don’t have to go back to the synagogue.”

I can’t possibly count how many times I have heard this from my five year old son Sammy. He loves the synagogue. He was born into a synagogue family. At his Bar Mitzvah, many people will be able to say they attended his bris, which was also at the synagogue and was open to all members. He went to preschool in the synagogue and now he attends religious school. But, when Sammy looks at me and pleads with me not to go back, it always has the same effect on me. Am I being a neglectful father? Will he grow up one day and say that I was never there for him when he was young? And now, my 22 month old daughter has learned the language from my son, albeit in different words. She says to my wife, “Daddy home?”

At Temple Emanuel, I am appreciative to work in an environment that understands the importance of family time and that encourages me to be home for dinner, to spend the time I need with my family. But, at the same time, being a congregational rabbi is demanding and there are many nights my wife calls me at the synagogue to sing the Shema with my son as he is going to bed. These are the moments I crave to be there with him, holding him tight and kissing him goodnight. But, the reality is that there are many times this is simply not possible. I hope in my heart of hearts that Sammy, along with my daughter Daniella, understand.

My wife works for a major global consulting firm and has the luxury from working at home. Over the years, she has transitioned to a position where there is less travelling but the job is still demanding. However, her company allows her to work from home, which gives her the flexibility to attend to the needs of our kids when there is a snow day or when one of them, or both of them, is sick. But, the job still needs to be done and she feels the stress of making sure it does. There are many nights, and weekends, when she is working late after the kids are in bed because she, in many respects, operates as many one-parent homes do when I am at the synagogue. Weekends are not normal by any stretch of the imagination. And, on top of all this, my son has Familial Dysautonomia, one of the 19 Jewish Genetic Diseases. There is much to do on a regular basis to keep him healthy and Becky takes the majority of the burden on her shoulders. Unfortunately, there are many days when he is not well and that just adds to all that needs to be done.

At the end of the day, family time is extremely precious and sacred as well. We believe that we do our best to make it work and we share many moments of pure joy. But, this is from our perspective. I can only hope that one day my kids will look back at us as parents and say that we did a good job balancing our personal and professional lives and that they appreciate the life we were able to create for them. Isn’t that what we all want? Only time will tell.

Rabbi Larry Sernovitz is a Rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, NJ. He is a member of the Rabbinic Leadership Council of ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America) and represents them as a member of the board of the American Zionist Movement.

Comments are an important part of the conversation. Share your thoughts in the comments sectionThis blog is part of a special RACBlog series, “Double Booked: A Conversation about Working Families in the 21st Century,” dealing with the many issues that affect working families, and featuring everything from personal stories to policy analysis. Visit the Double Booked portal to read more posts, or join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #doublebooked.

Naftali Bennett Stakes Israel's Claim to Temple Mount

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 09:39

Right wing leader Naftali Bennett reportedly told American Jewish leaders Monday that Israel wants more control over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a holy site that has long been long a contentious point with the Muslim world.

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Hungarian Nationalists Hold Rally in Former Synagogue, Despite Protests

Sun, 02/16/2014 - 09:37

Hungary’s far-right Jobbik Party held a political rally in a former synagogue, despite protests.

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Cosmic Companionship: Spirit Stories by Martin Luther King Jr.

Sat, 02/15/2014 - 09:58

New publication is a narrative anthology of Dr. King's spiritual teachings with words of inspiration by Coretta Scott King and Howard Thurman.

(PRWeb January 15, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/01/prweb11490579.htm

For Tu B’shvat, Ethiopian Immigrants Plant Roots in Israel --...

Sat, 02/15/2014 - 09:58

Tree planting ritual symbolizes a secure Jewish future as Jewish Agency, Jewish National Fund - Keren Kayemet LeYisrael and Israel's Ministries of Environmental Protection and Education help new...

(PRWeb January 14, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/01/prweb11489080.htm

Filmmaker Adam Ellick Shares His Firsthand Stories of Malala...

Sat, 02/15/2014 - 09:58

Malala Yousafzai’s commitment to pursue her education in the Taliban controlled area of Pakistan’s Swat Valley became the inspiration behind New York Times journalist Adam Ellick’s documentary,...

(PRWeb January 14, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/01/prweb11486601.htm

Is Valentine's Day Kosher?

Thu, 02/13/2014 - 08:44

Valentine’s Day involves plenty of worshipping of idols — or at least chocolates and flowers. So could it be considered kosher to celebrate day of love?

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Polish Rabbi Fired Over Kosher Slaughter Scandal

Thu, 02/13/2014 - 08:00

Amid reports that kosher slaughter is continuing in Poland in the face of a law prohibiting it, the country’s chief rabbi suspended an aide who appears to have misrepresented the practice to government inspectors.

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Poland’s chief rabbi suspends aide amid kosher slaughter controversy

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 22:40

Rabbi Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

(JTA) — Amid reports that kosher slaughter is continuing in Poland in the face of a law prohibiting it, the country’s chief rabbi suspended an aide who appears to have misrepresented the practice to government inspectors.

The aide, Michael Alper, wrote a letter to Polish veterinarians in which he asked for permission to slaughter 250 cows after stunning them with electricity, in accordance with Polish law. The November 2013 letter, which was obtained by JTA, carried Alper’s title of “Rabbinate coordinator for Kosher production in Poland.”

But if the animals had undergone kosher slaughter, or shechitah, then they could not have been stunned, because Jewish law requires animals be conscious when they are killed, Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, told JTA Tuesday.

“Stunning cannot be used in shechitah, and saying it was used is a very serious mistake,” Schudrich said.

“What he [Alper] has written is completely unacceptable and he has been suspended from his position pending an investigation,” Schudrich added.

Alper’s letter was leaked to media amid claims that kosher slaughter has continued in Poland despite a 2012 court ruling that went into effect in January 2013 and effectively prohibited Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter. The court ruling nullified a 2004 government directive that had exempted Muslims and Jews from the Polish legal requirement of stunning before slaughter.

Poland’s Channel 1 last month ran promotional videos for a program reporting that kosher slaughter was allegedly continuing in Polish slaughterhouses. The show was supposed to air Feb. 4 but has been postponed.

A source involved in the show’s production told JTA on condition of anonymity that the program involved three slaughterhouses where animals underwent kosher slaughter without stunning but whose slaughter was reported to authorities as having been performed after stunning. Alper did the reporting of the supposed stunning, the source said.

Before his suspension, Alper was Schudrich’s representative to slaughterhouses and the Polish agriculture ministry.

“I am writing to request to carry out the slaughter of 250 heads of cattle on Nov. 23, 2013, with use of electric current to render the animals unconscious,” Alper wrote in the letter obtained by JTA.

Contacted by JTA, Alper declined to answer questions.

Schudrich would neither confirm nor deny claims that commercial kosher slaughter had taken place in Poland after January 2013. But he said that “the court’s ruling in 2012 is not a ban. It is a case of conflicting rulings that is being reviewed by the Constitutional Court.”

JTA has obtained pictures of meat labeled as kosher and produced in Poland after January 2013. One package appeared to carry certification from Rabbi Yehuda Osher Steiner of the Manchester Beth Din in Britain.

The Manchester Beth Din did not answer inquiries from JTA about that certification in time for publication.

Love is Not a Crime

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 19:00

By Rabbi Marla J. Feldman

This piece originally appeared at WRJblog.

Monday mornings are often difficult–especially on a frigid, dreary morning, with snow-covered sidewalks and slushy streets. That was certainly true this week, but for a different reason. I began my work week braving the cold and the wind with a group of other rabbis and activists convened by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) outside of the Ugandan mission. There we sought to deliver a letter signed by hundreds of rabbis urging the Ugandan president to reject legislation that would criminalize homosexuality and threaten gay men and lesbians with prison, torture, or even death.


The brisk air served as a wake-up call, startling us out of our complacency, and reminding us that standing up for our values is not always easy or convenient. Rabbis and others all over North America participated in this Day of Action at Ugandan consulates urging that nation’s leaders to honor the dignity of all people and respect human rights, as we expect all nations to do. Love should never be made a crime.

I was proud to have the opportunity to join in this action–to stand with others of faith to proclaim to the world’s leaders, “We are watching.” Jewish tradition urges us not only to offer prayers and reflections in the face of injustice, but also to take action. As stated in a well-known dictum, we are compelled to pray as if everything depended upon God, but act as if everything depends upon us.

And that is why we stood outside the Ugandan mission on that cold and windy Monday morning. Our prayers are not enough when there is so much more that must be done in the world. We are compelled by our tradition and our heritage to speak out in the face of injustice; to stand up for our values, and to raise our voice before the leaders of the world to move them to action.  You also can join in this action in several ways; click here to find out what you can do.

The societal changes that need to be made in our pursuit of justice will not be made on street corners… they will be made in the halls of power, and that is where we must take our message. We stood before the Ugandan mission as people of faith, raising our voice as one; demanding justice for all. Though we stood in that particular place to urge President Museveni to do the right thing, our message was also for other world leaders–those at the UN just a few blocks away and those in the U.S. mission just down the street–that injustice in one corner of the world diminishes us all and is all of our concern.

We pray that our world leaders will find the wisdom and the compassion to lead us down a righteous path. But for the sake of our legacy, we will not pray in silence. We will raise our voices, we will march, and we will stand. Together, we can bring hope, and salvation, to those who are vulnerable and at risk wherever they may live and whoever they may love.

Rabbi Marla J. Feldman is the Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism.

Morocco Synagogue Gets Spruce Up

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 18:14

An historic synagogue in Essaouira, Morocco is to be refurbished in a joint project with the German Foreign Ministry.

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Berlin festival to honor director who backs Israel boycott

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 17:13

BERLIN (JTA) – A film director who backs boycotting Israeli artists is to receive the highest honorary award at the International Film Festival in Berlin.

Jewish leaders in Germany have reacted with dismay to the decision to award an honorary Golden Bear to Ken Loach, British director of such films as “My Name Is Joe” (1998) and “Bread And Roses” (2000). He is set to receive the award on Thursday.

“Ken Loach uses his prominence to call for a cultural boycott of Israel, singling out the only democracy in the Middle East where there is complete freedom of expression. It is a disgrace that a prominent German film festival panders to a film producer who has distinguished himself through bigotry and the denial of the right to existence of Israel,” Deidre Berger, head of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committees, said. ”It is not possible to judge his work on the basis of art alone, as he himself judges the work of others solely on the basis of nationality.”

Festival director Dieter Kosslick said in a statement on the festival’s website that he admires Loach for his “profound interest in people and their individual fates, as well as his critical commitment to society.”

According to the online magazine Haolam.de, Loach called for a boycott of the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2009 after he learned that Israeli filmmaker Tali Shalom Ezer had been invited, and that the Israeli government had helped finance her trip. Also in 2009, he canceled plans to attend the Melbourne International Film Festival after learning that the Israeli government had paid for the flight of animation artist Tatia Rosenthal.

In a recent interview with Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper, Loach was asked why he supported boycotting Israel. He responded that “Israel presents itself as a western democracy… and at the same time breaks international agreements, fails to uphold the Geneva Convention, takes land to which it has no right, throws children in prison and lies to the world about its nuclear weapons.”

Loach said he supported an academic and cultural boycott because “it’s the only thing we can do” to accomplish what “neither the U.N. nor Obama has managed to do,” to get Israel to give up what he called occupied land.

He said that he had refused to go to the Teheran Film Festival out of respect for opponents of that regime.

This year’s Berlin Film Festival includes fewer films from Israel than in recent years.

 

Sid Caesar, Brought Jewish Humor to Middle America, Dies at 91

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 16:28

Sid Caesar was more than just a pioneer of TV comedy. The iconic comic seamlessly blended the immigrant Jewish experience, jazz music and the repercussions of the Holocaust.

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German program will restore second Moroccan synagogue

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 15:32

BERLIN (JTA) — A historic synagogue in Morocco will be refurbished in a joint project with the German Foreign Ministry.

The synagogue in Essaouira will be the second to be restored under a special German government program.

Tuesday’s announcement came as the Moroccan ambassador in Berlin, Omar Zniber, launched an exhibit at the embassy’s cultural center of photographs of Moroccan Jews from the 1960s as well as new photos of synagogues in the country, both pre- and post-renovation.

At the time of the photos, there were still tens of thousands of Jews in Morocco. Today the population is estimated at about 2,500.

In addition, a conference on Moroccan Jewish cultural patrimony was hosted at Berlin’s Pergamon Museum this week.

A spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry told JTA that the restoration of the 19th century Simon Attias Synagogue in Essaouira is to be completed in 2015. It is a joint effort with the Foundation of Jewish-Moroccan Cultural Heritage.

“With this project, the Federal Foreign Office supports the preservation of Jewish heritage in Morocco, thereby helping to strengthen the national identity of the country,” he said.

The program already completed the restoration of the 17th century Slat al Fassiyin synagogue in Fez, which had been used as a carpet factory and then a boxing ring. It was rededicated in ceremonies last year.

At that ceremony, Moroccan King Mohammed IV called for the restoration of all synagogues in the country “so that they may serve not only as places of worship, but also as forums for cultural dialogue and for the promotion of our cultural values.”

Among those attending Berlin’s events this week were Jacques Toledano, executive chairman of the Moroccan Foundation of Jewish Cultural Heritage and the Moroccan Jewish Museum in Casablanca; and Serge Berdugo, president of the Union of Moroccan Jews.

At the end of World War II, an estimated 265,000 Jews lived in Morocco.  By the mid 1960s, more than 200,000 had immigrated, mostly to Israel.

Challenging Impossible: 10,000 Likes for a Baby Goat

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 12:30

by Sarah Moody

Yesterday, my boss asked me to make something go viral. I looked up from my computer. Then he said, smiling, “You know I’m kidding, right? I know that’s impossible.” I laughed.

I started thinking.

As he walked out of my office, I said, “Hey David, if I can get 10,000 likes on a picture, can we get a baby goat for the URJ Camp Kalsman farm?”

This time, he laughed. “Sure, Sarah,” he said, “10,000 likes and I’ll get you a baby goat.”

Impossible challenge accepted.

Why 10,000 likes? It’s not that URJ Camp Kalsman doesn’t have the funds for a baby goat, or even that adding goats to our farm is something Director David Berkman is completely opposed to, instead it is that I believe in challenging the ‘impossible.’ (And if a cute baby goat is the prize for doing so, I think it’s a win-win situation!) Overcoming challenges is a value we teach our campers each summer. We tell them, “I understand that being away from home seems impossible, but think of all the amazing opportunities you have at camp,” or we say, “I know that climbing to the top of the tower feels impossible, but try taking it one step at a time. See where you can get.” We don’t expect every camper to overcome their personal ‘impossible,’ but we encourage them to try. David certainly doesn’t expect me to get 10,000 likes on a picture, but he’s the kind of guy who will pat me on the back and say, “Go for it!” He’ll respond to my updates on my progress with a smile.

I didn’t set up an easy task for myself. I probably could have gotten David to agree to get a goat for 2,000 likes. So why go bigger? As the Assistant Director, I think I owe it to our campers to lead the way in overcoming impossible.

This summer, I want to be able to say to that camper who is missing home and telling me that it is impossible to have fun that I have done the impossible. I have personally looked at something that seemed like it could never be done and I have done it. Is getting 10,000 likes the same as overcoming homesickness? Of course not; it’s nowhere close! However, both impossible situations require personal conviction, grace, and a willingness to look past our own fear of failure.

At URJ Camp Kalsman, we also believe in community, in friends helping friends, and in asking for help. Seeking 10,000 likes for a picture on Facebook requires all three of those things to work perfectly in tandem. It requires me to admit that I can’t do it alone; it requires the Camp Kalsman community to not only click ‘Like’ on a picture, but to also click ‘share’ with their friends and family; and it requires my friends and your friends and their friends to take a moment, laugh a little, and click ‘Like’ to add a happy baby goat to the farm at URJ Camp Kalsman.

Will you help me show our campers that we can challenge the impossible and succeed? Will you help me teach about helping others, cheering your friends on, and facing the possibility of failure head on?

We want a baby goat at Camp Kalsman and we need YOU to help.

Click here to go to our Facebook page and like my photo. Do it for me, for a baby goat, and for that camper standing at the bottom of a tall tower saying, “I can’t do it, it’s impossible.”

Ferdinand and Mordechai want a friend!

Disclaimer: We do know that goats do better in pairs! If we do get enough likes to add a goat to our farm, we will consult with our favorite goat experts at New Moon Farm to make sure we get all the details right!

Schmidt and Nick crash a bar mitzvah on ‘New Girl’

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 12:01

Mazel tov to “New Girl” on their bar mitzvah…scene.

On the latest episode of the Fox comedy, Schmidt (Max Greenfield) Jews it up yet again, this time crashing a bar mitzvah with Nick (Jake Johnson), who he’s enlisted as his wingman. Nick’s job: To distract Schmidt’s rabbi (Jon Lovitz) so Schmidt can hit on his daughter Rachel.

It’s all typical “New Girl” stuff, but with yarmulkes. What could be bad? Here, five highlights from the party:

1. When introduced to an elderly guest, Nick suavely tips his yarmulke. You know, like it’s a regular hat.

2. The sports-themed centerpieces.

3. This joke from the rabbi: “Did you hear the one about the waiter? He walks up to a table of Jewish women and says ‘is anything alright?’”

4. The spat between Nick and the Rabbi, which includes scathing put-downs such as “You sir are no Sammy Davis Jr.!”

5. Schmidt’s prayer-pick up line hybrid: “Baruch atah adonice dress!”

Amen.

Why We Went, 1964: How 17 Rabbis Took a Stand for Civil Rights in Florida

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 10:00

By Rabbi Merrill Shapiro

Ask 1,000 people around the country “Where was the largest mass arrest of Rabbis in United States history?” and the only answer will be 1,000 blank stares. Ask 1,000 people in St. Augustine, Florida and the result will be the same! The story of June 18, 1964, as 16 Rabbis and one administrator from Judaism’s Reform Movement were arrested for responding to the call of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., is (in the words of Carol Rovinsky, chair of the Justice, Justice 1964 Committee of the St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society) ”Under-told! Not as well-known as it should be!”


For the first time ever, this story is now being shared with the general public. A copy of the original letter written by the arrested Rabbis and administrator from their jail cell has been included in “Journey: 450 Years of the African American Experience,” an exhibit mounted by the City of St. Augustine. The exhibit marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, which eventually led to the U.S. Senate passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. The exhibit is also carefully conscious of the upcoming 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine in 1565 by Pedro Menendez de Aviles, a Spanish admiral and explorer who brought with him as many as 300 enslaved Africans to Florida.

In the spring of 1964, as the nation’s “First City,” St. Augustine was to celebrate the 400th anniversary of its founding, while the United States Senate was considering the Civil Rights Act. With the intent of keeping civil rights on the front page, Reverend Martin Luther King decided to launch a massive campaign to end segregation in the nation’s oldest city.

King, knew that St. Augustine would be a challenge. So, he called the Central Conference of American Rabbis and upon his friend and supporter, Rabbi Israel Dresner, and said “We need you down here with as many Rabbis as you can bring with you!”

Sixteen Rabbis, along with the director of the Commission on Social Action for Reform Judaism, came to St. Augustine. Early on the morning of June 18, 1964, they found themselves sitting in the pews of St. Paul’s AME Church. From the pulpit, Reverend King gave directions to the crowd: march to the waterfront, then north to the Monson Hotel and Chimes Restaurant to integrate lunch counters and the hotel swimming pool.

By early afternoon, the 17 Jews had been placed under arrest and were taken to the St. Johns County Jail, where they were booked and thrown into a cell.

There they spoke of the reasons they had left the comfort of their homes to come to the seething heat of St. Augustine. They came, they said, in a letter composed by the light of the one light bulb burning in the corridor outside their cell, “Because we realized that injustice in St. Augustine, as anywhere else, diminishes the humanity of each of us. We came as Jews who remember the millions of faceless people who stood quietly, watching the smoke rise from Hitler’s crematoria. We came because we know that, second only to silence, the greatest danger to man is loss of faith in man’s capacity to act.”

The St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society has invited those who are still alive among the arrested to return and relive those fateful days half-a-century ago. They have been invited to participate in a Jubilee, leading all in a rededication to the cause so often cited by Reverend King, from the Book of Amos, 5:24, “Let Justice roll on like a river, and Righteousness like a mighty stream!”

The St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society, in part through a grant from the Florida Council on Humanities and the Stetson Kennedy Foundation, invite all those to whom justice matters, to join them to celebrate those arrested 50 years ago and participate in a rededication to the cause of social justice. The celebration, organized in collaboration with the NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the St. Augustine Accord, kicks off in June 2014, with former Commission on Social Action Director Al Vorspan scheduled to attend. (Contact rabbi32164@gmail.com for more information.)

While much has changed, much has not. There are no African-Americans on St. Augustine’s police force and only one firefighter. Barriers continue to be placed in the path of people of color who wish to vote. No African-Americans sit on the city commission, none on the County Board of Commissioners, none on the local school board.

The voices of those arrested can still be heard! “We came to stand with our brothers and in the process have learned more about ourselves and our God. In obeying Him, we become ourselves; in following His will we fulfill ourselves. He has guided, sustained and strengthened us in a way we could not manage on our own.”

Rabbi Merrill Shapiro is the President of the St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society and chairs the national Board of Trustees of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. For more information on the events marking the 50th anniversary of the rabbis’ arrest in June, contact him at rabbi32164@gmail.com. 

The Politics of Exclusion – An Open Letter to MKs David Rotem and Uri Maklev

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 06:00

By Joshua Weinberg

Ben Zoma was wont to say: “Who is deserving of honor? He who honors other people.” Rabbi Eliezer urged: “Let the honor of your friend be as dear to you as your own.” Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa declared: “He who pleases the spirit of man, will also please the spirit of God; and he who does not please the spirit of his fellowman, will not please the spirit of God either.” Pirkei Avot 1:15, 4:1, 2:15, 3:1

Dear MKs David Rotem and Uri Maklev,

I am writing to you today to share my thoughts and feelings on your latest parliamentary outbursts. I know you have been inundated with letters recently, as the shockwave of your recent statement has thoroughly angered many in the Jewish world, not to speak of the masses of those from our movement who are proudly Jewish, Reform, and Zionist. Speaking from the Knesset floor, your verbal condemnation of Reform Judaism and libelous defaming attacks are going to only hurt you in the end.

This was a week of showing your cards and letting the world know what you think – not that we didn’t know already. Perhaps you were only attempting to position yourself in good historical company. Writing off an entire Jewish movement as not being Jewish is of course nothing new, and from Shammai to Spinoza we, sadly, have a long tradition of telling one another, “We’re in. You’re out!”

In the mid-18th century, a vicious controversy erupted between the famous rabbis Yaakov Emden and Yonatan Eybeschutz, each employing vitriolic and abusive language accusing the latter of being a Sabbatean (a follower of the great 17th-century false messiah Shabbtai Tzvi) and a heretic. They held nothing back in terms of abusive and insulting language, coming up with all kinds of slanderous accusations for the purpose of defamation and deprecation.

A few short years later, in 1772, the Gaon of Vilna dedicated considerable effort to suppress the fledgling Hasidic movement and its leader, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyadi. While not as damaging as Rabbi Emden, the Gaon’s 1796 epistle wrote off this new and interpretive radical movement, deeply criticizing their theoretical understanding of the nature of the divine immanence and leaving tensions high and inter-communal relationships scarred.

Even later throughout the Emancipation and enlightenment, the mud-slinging continued, and in the 20th century, we witnessed one the century’s most revered Torah scholars, Rabbi Elazar Shach, advocate a complete boycott of Chabad, its institutions, and projects. When asked which religion was theologically closest to Judaism, Rabbi Shach responded “Chabad!” – clearly aiming to insult and exclude the growing movement. ‘They may consider themselves Jewish, but we don’t,” was the message.

So when you make such statements as “The Reform movement is not Jewish … they are another religion” (MK Rotem), or “[members of the Reform movement] put pressure on and bribe politicians” (MK Maklev), your echoes of the past play very well into exclusionary politics. Despite our longstanding tradition of deeming our co-religionists unfit for belonging, I am unfazed by your remarks. Like Hasidut, Chabad, and many more “victims” of exclusion only grew in strength, so will we.

What does worry me is that in our current case, the circumstances are different. From your places in the Knesset, you have considerable seats of power and influence. Now that we have our own sovereign state and such laws as the Law of Return, the words “another religion” weigh heavy on the ears of those listening. The coincidence of language used here was, of course, meant to reverberate, loudly sending the message that Reform Jews have no place in Israel – as states the Law of Return. This message poses great danger to the fabric of Israeli society to which you serve.

While you, MK Rotem, have issued an apology, we all heard your inner thoughts come screaming outward like they did during the conversion bill proceedings of 2010. Apologies are an interesting way to save face in politics, yet, as Dov Seidman was quoted in a recent New York Times article, “Apology-washing changes no one, neither the apologizer nor the recipient, because the act regurgitates a social norm rather than launching an emotional process.”

Make no mistake, our Reform Movement in Israel is only growing, strengthening, and reaching Israeli Jews searching for an authentic and inclusive Jewish expression. Hopefully history will not denigrate you to the outskirts of the exclusionists. Just know that you are only hurting your own cause with such statements.

May we all go from strength to strength!

Rabbi Joshua Weinberg is the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA).