by Rabbi Eve Rudin
CAFTY, CFTY, CNYFTY, CRaFTY, JFTY, LIFTY, MAFTY, MoVFTY, MSTY, NEFTY, NELFTY, NOFTY, OVFTY, PAFTY, SCFTY, SEFTY, SOFTY, SWFTY, TOFTY, WEFTY, WESTY.
Those are the names of the 21 NFTY Regions I grew up with in the 80s. And, yes, we used to have contests to see who could recite them the fastest. When I was active on the North American level, I knew what each “–FTY” stood for.
But there was a problem. There’s a saying in Hebrew, hu meiveen yaveen (he who understands understands), and in this case, only an elite few knew that all 21 regions were actually all part of one organization―a Movement. Stories would pour into the NFTY office about people who would meet on college campuses and say, for example, “I grew up in MSTY” or “I grew up in CRaFTY.” While they would “kinda sorta” figure out that they were similar groups, it was never explicitly clear that they were, in fact, part of the same Youth Movement, one with a shared mission, vision, and set of core values.
In 1994, NFTY President Jeff Berger and his officers decided that it was time to unify NFTY. They understood the importance of every single NFTYite feeling connected to something much larger than themselves. As a result, at the February, 1994 NFTY Board meeting, the NFTY Board lobbied for a shift in name for all regions to “NFTY (name).” The resolution passed, which explains the regional names we use today. Jeff Berger’s hope that every Temple Youth Group (TYG) would adopt the NFTY name in front of its own resulted in a greater sense of cohesiveness―of being part of a Movement and its mission.
As the mid-90s introduced email, IMing, and the internet (it was still pre-Facebook), the sense of NFTY as a Movement was boosted by NFTYites’ new capabilities to communicate with one another, and en masse. Today, it’s hard to imagine NFTY (and the world) without it, but in “days of yore,” NFTY communicated via snail mail, paper newsletters, and the occasional telephone call. New communication technologies accelerated the pace of NFTY activity and gave TYGs direct access to additional resources. Most importantly, advanced communication offered NFTYites more time to connect with one another.
It’s no surprise that just five years after the unifying name change and the advent of email, attendance at the NFTY Convention jumped dramatically ― from 800 NFTYites in 1999, to more than 1,500 in the following years. The numbers have remained at that level ever since.
Popular songs in the early 90s included Ace of Base’s “I Saw the Sign” and En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind.” Bookshelves were filled with spiritual guides and self-help titles. Like much of America, NFTYites experienced a turn inward and often focused on issues of spirituality and religious meaning, with study themes such as “Tifllah: An Exploration of Our Jewish Identity.” URJ Kutz Camp campers learned from Mishnah B’rachot 5:1 about the rabbis not praying until they were fully ready in their hearts and minds. This lead to the (still popular) practice at NFTY services of singing Craig Taubman’s Adonai S’Fatai Tiftach nigun and waiting for the entire NFTY community to be ready to pray. This religious turn was officially marked through the addition of the Religious and Cultural Vice President (RCVP) position on the North American, Regional, and TYG levels. And while Christian rock was already immensely popular amongst Christian youth, it was at a 1999 NFTY Southeast Event that I first saw Dan Nichols, who brought new and updated religious Jewish music to the NFTY scene.
The 90s also witnessed a renewed interest in Israel. In 1993, NFTY became the official youth arm of ARZA. EIE Semester in Israel numbers rose, and NFTY in Israel numbers rose to 1,400 in 1999 and 2000.
NFTY has a lot to be proud of from its work in the 1990s, which helped set the stage for the continually vibrant NFTY of today!
Rabbi Eve Rudin is the Director of the Congregational School at the Park Avenue Synagogue. She previously served as the Director of the URJ Kutz Camp, the Director of NFTY, and the Executive Vice President of NFTY in 1988-1989. She hails from CRaFTY, the NFTY Region formerly known as City Region, a Federation of Temple Youth.
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Supreme Court nullified a rabbinical court ruling that required a mother to circumcise her son.
In a 6-1 vote, the high court on Sunday decided to move the case involving divorcing parents to family court, saying that only a civil court can impose such an action.
The father told Israeli media that he would file the case in an Israeli family court.
The Netanya rabbinical court, which is handling the divorce, ruled last October that the mother must have her son circumcised within a week. A month later, a Jerusalem rabbinical court upheld the ruling and ordered her to pay a fine of $140 a day that it is not done.
The boy was not circumcised on the eighth day, as per Jewish custom, due to medical problems, according to reports. He is now more than a year old.
“I started reading about what actually happens in circumcision, and I realized that I couldn’t do that to my son,” the mother, identified as Elinor, told Haaretz last November. “He’s perfect just as he is.”
Israel’s Supreme Court has overturned a ruling by a court of rabbis that would have forced a mother to have her son circumcised under the terms her divorce.Click here for the rest of the article...
Israeli Education Minister Shai Piron apologized for saying that same-sex couples are not a family.Click here for the rest of the article...
By Rabbi Fred Guttman and Rabbi Andy Koren
If the road to lifelong Jewish learning begins with religious school, then the widespread practice of ending formal Jewish education with tenth-grade Confirmation is a dead end. 10th-grade Confirmation prevents our teens from integrating their religious schooling with other key Jewish teenage experiences including local Tikkun Olam efforts and serving as religious school Madrichim or counselors at a URJ camp.
It gives our youth license not to be Jewishly engaged in synagogue activities during their last two years of high school. Roughly 80% choose to drop out. Two years later, when they enter college, the vast majority are not interested in Hillel and Kesher because their congregations “dismissed” them too early. In short, we’ve consigned our teens to a wilderness of alienation from which few will return, threatening the long-term continuity of our movement.
At Temple Emanuel, we have been doing 12th-grade Confirmation since 2001. In our experience, meaningful learning, compelling trips, and community service, when combined with socializing, keep most students involved with Temple for the entirety of high school. We retain around 80% of our B’nai Mitzvah students though the end of 12th grade. Of those retained, some 75% will travel to Israel prior to graduation.
The solution is readily apparent: move Confirmation to the same year as high school graduation!
It is true that working intensely with teens for another two years means more work for staff and lay leadership. Yet, by doing this we have many more opportunities to interact and build relationships. At Temple Emanuel, the biggest changes we’ve made center around how we as educators and parents look at our teens as learners. We no longer view them as larger, older versions of seventh-graders; rather, they are first-stage adult learners. This has demanded a deeper knowledge of what resonates for maturing teens. For example, teens in our area are interested in service to others. We made the RAC’s L’Taken Social Justice Seminar a yearly event open to all high school students. We also created our own service learning trip to New Orleans. We heard from our teens that they want to connect to Jews worldwide so Israel trips are a big part of our approach, and we fundraise to make these trips accessible to everyone.
Our Confirmation service occurs on a Friday night near high school graduation. As such, it has become somewhat of a Jewish “Baccalaureate” service. There is a Torah processional during which the Torah is passed to the eleventh-grade class. The eleventh-grade families also sponsor the Oneg Shabbat that evening. Many high school students from all grades attend, allowing our seniors to model that teen Jewish involvement in our Temple continues through the end of high school.
By the end of high school, our teens are truly young adults. Intellectually, their Confirmation speeches on “What Being Jewish Means to Me” demonstrate a deeper level of connection than their tenth-grade counterparts can even imagine. As graduating seniors, they intertwine what it means to come of age both as Jews and as young adults—the emotional touchstones of graduation and leaving home for college.
As a congregational staff, we have stopped talking about curriculum and instead use the words “engagement” and “learning.” Every month, someone contacts us asking what our curriculum is. This is the wrong question! There is no magical one-size-fits-all traditional curriculum. Moreover, when we are asked about who is eligible for our 12th-grade Confirmation, the only criteria of importance is whether or not that student has remained engaged and involved throughout the years since his or her Bar/Bat Mitzvah. We’ve learned that punitive approaches don’t get us very far. Only those who have dropped out or have disengaged completely from Jewish life are not eligible for Confirmation.
The bottom line is this: psychological research has shown that the last two years of high school and the first two years of college are prime for adult identity development. The unintended consequence of Confirmation at any point before the end of high school is dismissal at precisely the time when teens need the benefits of Jewish community most. Our overall curricular goal must be meaningful engagement throughout high school and not some preconceived idea by adults as to what kids need to learn. Lists of well-intentioned requirements often serve as obstacles that weed out all but the most committed. Our “curriculum” is that, through a variety of activities including learning, we aim to keep our teens involved in congregational and Jewish life though the end of 12th grade. We hope that more Reform congregations will recognize the profound benefits of dovetailing Confirmation with high school graduation. Doing so will go a long way in ensuring the future of Reform Judaism in North America.
Rabbi Fred Guttman and Rabbi Andy Koren serve Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, NC. They both have expansive backgrounds in the field of teen education and engagement.
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The leader of Norway’s Jewish community praised his country’s parliament for passing an act regulating ritual circumcision for boys.Click here for the rest of the article...
NEW YORK (JTA) — The Jewish world has been shaken by the decision of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest from three companies that it claims “further the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”
The denomination has placed itself squarely on the side of the divestment movement that seeks to hold Israel solely to blame for the plight of the Palestinian people. It did so, furthermore, over the opposition of many Presbyterian pastors and lay leaders.
Despite protests to the contrary by the denomination’s leaders, the church’s embrace of divestment is an affront to the Jewish community.
The insult is made worse by the release earlier this year by the church’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network of a vehemently anti-Zionist congregational study guide, “Zionism Unsettled.” This ahistorical and wildly biased broadside impugned the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel and the very legitimacy of this core element of Jewish identity. While the church’s recent General Assembly did pass a resolution stating that “Zionism Unsettled” does not represent the denomination’s views, the study guide remains for sale on the church’s website.
Regrettably, the church — which often has been a partner of the Jewish community on critical social justice issues — has been on a 10-year road to this moment. At the Presbyterians’ 2004 General Assembly, the church’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee called for a “phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.” Since then, within the church, Israel has often been compared to South Africa’s nefarious apartheid regime.
Even worse, these ostensibly political actions are part of a warped theological framework that delegitimizes any Jewish attachment to the land of Israel. This theological structure represents a wholesale denial of Jewish history, Jewish experience and Jewish religious strivings to live in covenant with God.
Irrespective of repeated statements by the denomination’s leaders that the church loves its Jewish friends, the real problem is what the church thinks about Judaism. The truth is that the denomination is theologically unreconciled with the Jewish community.
Whereas many other Christian denominations have grappled seriously with anti-Jewish theological traditions, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has failed to do so.
In the late 1950’s, Pope John XXIII contemplated how the Catholic Church might have contributed to an atmosphere that produced the Holocaust. He reevaluated the history of church-based anti-Judaism: the historical Christian belief that the Jewish covenant with God had been broken by perfidy, and that God had chosen a new covenantal partner, the church.
The process initiated by John XXIII led to the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate, which made four remarkable claims: 1) that Jews are not now –and never were – collectively responsible for the death of Jesus, 2) that God’s covenant with the Jews is eternally valid, (3) that Jews should never be treated as if God had abandoned or cursed them, and (4) that anti-Semitism has no place whatsoever in Christianity.
Today, Jews and Catholics continue to work at deepening understanding and cooperation. Even when Jews have had political differences with the church, these were discussed with an attitude of respect for the fundamentals of Jewish identity — a level playing field for dialogue.
Many Protestant denominations took up the same process of theological soul-searching. The Episcopal Church dealt with the issue of with the issue of supersessionism and the validity of the Jewish covenant in a resolution in 1988; the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in 1994; the United Methodist Church in 1996. These other mainline Protestant denominations have wrestled with their theological relationship to Judaism. They have developed a language of understanding and respect upon which to respectfully engage with Jews on political questions.
The Presbyterians have not done this.
True, a white paper on these questions has been circulating around the Presbyterian church since the mid-1980s, but it was never acted upon. The Presbyterian church has not resolved the question of supersessionism. It has not resolved how it teaches about the Jewish covenantal relationship with God and the biblical roots of the Jewish people’s attachment to the land of our heritage. And by denying our essential identity, the Presbyterians have now ceased to understand us as we know ourselves.
All of this became very clear when the Presbyterians’ 2014 General Assembly debated whether the church should emend those prayers and hymns that refer to Israel, or at least to footnote that the Israel of the hymn does not refer to the modern land of Israel and that Zion only refers to the “City of God,” not a physical place. True, this resolution was rejected, but an atmosphere of anti-Judaism created the opportunity for it to be debated seriously.
The Presbyterian church’s actions have not only called into question its relationship with Jews. They have highlighted a glaring issue: the church’s relationship to Judaism. Until the official church body is willing to wrestle with this theological question, we can only expect expanded efforts within the church targeting Israel and a further tearing asunder of a Jewish-Presbyterian relationship that was built upon a shared vision for a just society.
Much work lies ahead if the Presbyterians wish to repair this breach. Jews are an eternally hopeful people, and we stand ready to work with them. But to mend ties, the church must affirm our identity as a people still in covenant with God and with a legitimate attachment to both our history and our ancestral homeland.
(Rabbi Gary M. Bretton-Granatoor is a vice president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.)
(JTA) — The leader of Norway’s Jewish community praised his country’s parliament for passing an act regulating ritual circumcision for boys.
“The act changes the paradigm of the debate about ritual circumcision in Norway in a very positive way and is therefore very significant,” Ervin Kohn, president of the Jewish Community in Oslo, told JTA Friday. “I am proud of my parliament and country for making the right decision, that will put Norway on the path to becoming a place where neonatal circumcision is a common practice, like in the United States.”
The act was adopted last week in a vote by the Standing Committee on Health and Care Services of the Stortig, the Norwegian parliament. Submitted by Health Minister Bent Hoie amid a polarizing debate about the legal status of non-medical circumcision of boys under 18, the draft act was aimed at establishing practices that would settle the legal question around the custom, Hoie said.
The Act on Ritual Circumcision of Boys does, however, places limitations on the custom, which is known among Jews as brit milah and is performed on Jewish babies at the age of eight days. It stipulates that the procedure must be performed under the supervision and in the presence of a licensed physician, but it may be physically carried out by other persons.
Only two of the committee’s 20 members opposed passing the act, said Kohn, whose community has several hundred members.
Sweden, where some 20,000 Jews live, passed similar legislation in 2001.
The passage of the act comes amid a campaign by secularists and other activists in Scandinavia — including the children welfare ombudsmen of all Nordic countries — to ban ritual circumcision because they say it violates children’s rights to physical integrity and is comparable to female genital mutilation.
Far-right groups in Norway and elsewhere in Scandinavia, meanwhile, oppose the custom also on the grounds that they regard it as a foreign element in Nordic societies, which they say are under threat from immigration from Muslim countries.
The Coalition for a Democratic Syria, a coalition of groups representing over 100,000 Syrian-Americans, decries and mourns the Assad regime's destruction of Eliyahu Hanabi Synagogue on Monday.
(PRWeb May 27, 2014)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/05/prweb11888785.htm
Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, met with the daughter and other descendants of Poland’s iconic interwar leader Marshal Jozef Pilsudski.Click here for the rest of the article...
By Cantor Chanin Becker, Rabbi Jeffrey Brown and Rabbi Wendy Pein
The community we are privileged to serve, Scarsdale Synagogue Temples Tremont and Emanu-El (SSTTE), is in a time of transition. In 2012, our longtime Senior Rabbi became Rabbi Emeritus and in 2013, our longtime temple Educator retired. As a new clergy team, we have spent the last year listening to laypeople and collaborating on values-based goal-setting as we plan for our future.
One area that has emerged as a priority is Shabbat worship.
SSTTE has a long history of strong and creative worship services on Friday nights. But Shabbat morning has never been given the same “attention” by all of the different stakeholders of our community.
In response, we have experimented this year with a new model that we call Shabbat BaBoker (Shabbat In the Morning). We pray together from 10-11, have brunch until 11:30, and learn in a clergy-led Torah study until 12:30. The entire enterprise has been a big success for us: attendees come early and stay late! Much of the positive feedback we have heard has revolved around the casual but spiritually rich vibe (focused around the engaging music), and the longer opportunity to study and discuss the weekly parsha with our clergy. We are already making plans to continue the model next year.
After the enthusiastic response of Shabbat BaBoker, we took the opportunity to reflect and determine how to continue growing upon the success. We asked ourselves two questions.
First: could we imagine typical SSTTE families participating in this sort of experience?
We did not know the answer. Anecdotally, we were told that we’d never be able to get younger families’ attention on Shabbat morning as most of the younger temple families do not attend Shabbat morning services regularly. We sought to test this assumption.
The second question centered on a related issue. Although we are not formally part of the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution (BMR), we are wrestling with many of the same questions and issues as the congregations participating in the project. At the core of our work we are wondering: to what degree can we transform our B’nai Mitzvah services into a more authentic communal worship experience?
To be sure, this is a question that we do not ask lightly in our community. Shifting the nature of the B’nai Mitzvah service and experience entails a dramatic sense of transition for our B’nai Mitzvah families.
With these question in mind, we decided to experiment. In early May we invited our 5th and 6th grade families to join a regularly-scheduled Shabbat BaBoker experience to introduce them to an alternative communal prayer and study experience. As these families are not our regular worshippers, one of our primary goals was to create a welcoming atmosphere.
We invited the 5th and 6th grade families to come half an hour before our service so that we could welcome them and they would have the chance to get to know each other better. A mixer and refreshments lightened the mood and attendees went into the service comfortable and connected.
During the service, we acknowledged that the content and melodies might be new for many of those in attendance. We stopped the service mid-way and invited attendees to ask questions about our t’filah (prayer). We were delighted that several students were comfortable raising questions!
For the Torah study our goal was to empower all of the adults who were with us (5th and 6th grade parents, plus our adult “regulars”) to do the teaching for the kids.
We split the group and one of us worked with the adults to prepare them to facilitate the conversation with the kids.* We introduced the theme of our conversation: what does it mean to create an inclusive community, in response to Leviticus 21:16-23 and reviewed a daf (handout) with traditional and contemporary sources along with several age-appropriate discussion prompts for our adults and kids to look at together.
For the small group conversation, we intentionally asked parents and their kids to be in separate groups to empower everyone to speak as freely as possible.
The conversations in those small groups exceeded our expectations! Our young people were engaged and the adults, both their parents and our regulars, were equally engaged! It was true intergenerational Torah study. During our “wrap up” we invited a representative from each group to report back on highlights. Our students insisted that they do the reporting themselves which was eloquent and moving.
We imagine an SSTTE of the future that is less “silo-ed”: Sure, there will always be certain spaces in our community that will be reserved for our young people so that we can Jewishly engage them with their peers. But that vision is built on the belief that the life of our community is best lived out together. And what better way is there to live out that value than in the shared space of Shabbat worship and study?
We are still grappling with all of the Big Questions about the future of our B’nai Mitzvah experience here at SSTTE. But our success during this Shabbat experiment has encouraged us to schedule family-integrated Shabbat BaBoker additional times in the year ahead. We are confident that our community is hungry for authentic and meaningful engagement: with Shabbat, with Torah study, and most of all…with each other. We feel blessed and excited about all of the tremendous potential that lies ahead in our future.
* With grateful thanks to our friends and colleagues at Congregational Emanu-El of Westchester for inspiring us with this methodology.
Cantor Chanin Becker has served SSTTE as Cantor since 2005.
Rabbi Jeffrey Brown has served SSTTE as Rabbi since 2012.
Rabbi Wendy Pein has served SSTTE as Director of Congregational Learning since 2013.
Hundreds of Arabs chanting anti-Jewish epithets surrounded a group of Jews who ascended the Temple Mount.Click here for the rest of the article...
A Conservative synagogue in northeast Philadelphia was targeted with anti-Semitic vandalism.Click here for the rest of the article...
(JTA) — A Philadelphia synagogue was targeted with anti-Semitic vandalism.
Members of the Congregations of Ner Zedek discovered two large swastikas spray-painted on the building when they arrived Monday for daily morning prayers, according to the Jewish Exponent.
In recent weeks, a rock was thrown through a glass panel on a synagogue door, the newspaper reported. Swastikas also were spray-painted on the building, located in northeast Philadelphia, a few years ago.
A city clean-up crew washed away the offending images later on Monday.
Three newly installed surveillance cameras captured 14 hours of footage at about the time of the vandalism, according to the news website philly.com.
“As we know, unfortunately, in the world we live in, although we all want to try and get along with each other, it doesn’t always happen that way,” said Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, the Conservative synagogue’s spiritual leader, told myfoxphilly.com. “I have a number of Holocaust survivors here in my congregation, and if they see something like this, of course it brings back all sorts of terrible memories of what they went through.”
The spark that ignited World War I took place a century ago this week. Jews mostly did not support America’s entry into the first modern war — but they were profoundly shaped by it.Click here for the rest of the article...
The new spiritual leader of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas movement said women should not pursue academic studies.Click here for the rest of the article...
The good news is that Sari Laufer‘s congregants have been spared the inconveniences of an absentee clergy member.
The bad news? This New York Reform rabbi’s stint as a “Jeopardy” contestant turned out to be shorter than most Rosh Hashanah sermons: just one half-hour appearance.
In her sole episode, which aired earlier this month, Laufer correctly answered numerous questions — on topics ranging from the Magna Carta to ivory to the band U2. While she was in the lead at the game’s midpoint, in the end, she had only $1,500 to her name.
The 35-year-old, who serves at Congregation Rodeph Sholom on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, correctly answered one Jewish-themed question, about the Golem legend. But a non-rabbinic contestant beat her on the other Jewish questions, including one about Barbra Streisand’s “Yentl” and another about Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland.
Now that we’ve ruined it for you, here’s the full episode:
JERUSALEM (JTA) — A bill to have one chief rabbi in Israel rather than the current two passed its first reading in the Knesset.
On Monday, the bill passed by a vote of 22-14, representing less than a third of the Israeli parliament’s 120 lawmakers. It moves to the Knesset’s Interior Committee for refining before its second and third reading; the measure is expected to pass handily.
If the bill becomes law, it would take effect in 2023, at the end of the 10-year terms of the current Sephardi and Ashkenazi chief rabbis.
The one chief rabbi also would head the Chief Rabbinate Council. The rabbinic courts would become separate from the Chief Rabbinate, with the president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court chosen from among current chief rabbis.
Haredi Orthodox lawmakers decried the bill, saying it was meant to weaken the religious establishment.
Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett and Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, both of the Jewish Home party, and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of Hatnua proposed the measure.