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Updated: 28 min 37 sec ago

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).

 

Adina Bar Shalom, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's Daughter, Weighs Israel Presidential Run

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 06:00

EXCLUSIVE: It wasn’t just a rumor. Adina Bar Shalom, the ultra-Orthodox daughter of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, is seriously considering a run for the Israeli presidency.

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Let's Bet on Peace in Middle East — for Sake of Israel

Tue, 02/11/2014 - 19:02

John Kerry told Rabbi Sharon Brous that at some point all sides in the Middle East conflict have to “bet on peace.” She agrees — and so do a majority of American Jews.

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NFTY’s Early Years: A Snapshot of the 1940s

Tue, 02/11/2014 - 06:00

By Andrew Keene

Generational Leadership (Hanhagah L’dorot) is the notion that a leader cannot be successful without a true appreciation and understanding of its organization’s past leadership as well as its future generations of leaders; or as the North American Federation of Temple Youth’s (NFTY) homepage states, having “a panoramic view of leadership, learning from those who came before us, and making choices to ensure the existence of the next generation.” While it is hard to predict the future of NFTY, our current leaders have the unique opportunity to learn from and be mentored by NFTY leaders of past generations. Kathryn Kohn Beckman, active in NFTY during the movement’s formative years, provided local NFTYites with a glimpse into the NFTY of the 1940s. Sharing her insights with today’s NFTY leaders is an example of the power of practicing Generational Leadership.

In 1940, after the completion of her post-b’nai mitzvah Confirmation classes, Kathryn joined Ohev Shalom’s Young People’s Temple League in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She quickly moved into a leadership role — the first of many that she held in the fledgling Reform youth movement.

At the time, local rabbis, including Rabbi Samuel Cook (who became the NFTY director in 1946 and led it until retiring in 1967), were encouraging synagogues in Pennsylvania to plan intercity programs where Jewish teenagers like Kathryn could meet one another. In 1942, Kathryn attended a convention in Philadelphia to represent what was then the Pennsylvania Federation of Temple Youth (PAFTY). One of the important items of business was a discussion about inviting synagogues in the nearby cities located outside of Pennsylvania to join PAFTY. This was the catalyst for the name change to the Middle Atlantic Federation of Temple Youth (MAFTY). Baltimore and Washington, D.C. were the first non-Pennsylvania cities to send delegates to the 1942 Labor Day Conclave.

Intercity programming was a great success, hosting events that attracted participants from Lancaster, Harrisburg, York, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Atlantic City. In the ensuing years, western Pennsylvanian cities also joined MAFTY, which engaged teens from Altoona, Johnstown, Pittsburg, and select parts of West Virginia.

MAFTY communities and synagogues were exemplars for the rest of the country, and as a result, intercity programs were initiated in several cities nationwide. The organization then became known as the National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) to represent the growing popularity of Reform Jewish youth gatherings. Kathryn was elected to serve as an officer of MAFTY, and subsequently the newly formed NFTY when she attended the first NFTY Convention.

As part of her national leadership role and at the request of Rabbi Samuel Cook, Kathryn traveled to different parts of the country to help organize new NFTY member groups, including the Ohio and Southern Federations. She was also charged with the task of finding a site for a permanent NFTY camp.

Kathryn found land to purchase in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, which is now the site of the Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI). Kathryn served as the first chairperson at the first Leadership Institute at the newly established camp. For over 60 years OSRUI has served as a center for Reform Jewish life, with people of all ages engaging in camp, NFTY, and other interest-based events.

Another noteworthy piece of Kathryn’s NFTY leadership came at a pivotal point in U.S. history — World War II. Many rabbis who were part of NFTY communities across the country were called to service in a variety of capacities, often to serve as chaplains. Kathryn, along with other NFTY members, corresponded with those serving overseas and participated in Shabbat services at military locales within the U.S. When NFTYites were the recipients of unfortunate news from the frontlines, leaders like Kathryn served as information stewards for families and teens.

Kathryn’s leadership in the early days of NFTY helped to build a foundation for the new organization that was rooted in Jewish values, friendship, and camaraderie, and which has allowed the movement to flourish in its 75-year history. In a community that holds Generational Leadership in high esteem, it is an honor to have individuals like Kathryn who provide the context to the holy work we continue to do.

Andrew Keene served as NFTY President from 2013-2014. He based this essay on written narrative, personal accounts, and many inspiring conversations with Kathryn in the last few years.

Kathryn Kohn Beckman has been a resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin for over 50 years. She has also lived in Morton Grove, Illinois, where she was an active member of a Reform synagogue. She has four sons, four grandchildren, one great-grandson, and is eagerly awaiting the arrival of identical twin granddaughters. She often embraces Reform Judaism at the Chai Point Independent Living Center in Milwaukee.

7 Secrets of Highly Successful Synagogues — and Churches

Tue, 02/11/2014 - 06:00

Christian megachurches are experts at filling the pews. Lenore Skenazy finds their methods of success translate better than you might think to the Jewish world.

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URJ President Rabbi Jacobs Responds to MK Rotem's Apology

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 19:12
Rabbi Jacobs: "We trust, moving forward, that we will all be able to work together to ensure that Israel and its laws represent the full spectrum of Jewry."

Op-Ed: Boycotting Israeli companies is anti-Israel

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 18:47

Palestinians and Jews work at a SodaStream factory on Feb. 2, 2014 in the Mishor Adumim industrial park in the West Bank. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

NEW YORK (JTA) — The hostile intentions of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement toward Israel are clear. But some believe it is possible to be pro-Israel while supporting just a little BDS — boycotting Israeli businesses located on the West Bank but not those within pre-1967 Israel.

While such a strategy may make people feel good about themselves, it is a distinction without a difference — like being just a little pregnant. More important, by adding to the boycott pressure, it will make resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute harder to achieve.

The issue has attracted international attention because actress Scarlett Johansson, the telegenic public face of SodaStream, refused to bow to pressure from the BDS establishment and sever ties with the West Bank-headquartered Israeli soda company. Its main factory is in Maale Adumim, a community very likely to be allotted to Israel in any potential peace agreement.

SodaStream’s owner disclaims any political motivation and says he would gladly keep the place going under Palestinian rule, and the Palestinian workers tell reporters they are treated well and make three and four times the average salary in the region. But no matter — Oxfam, the well-regarded organization dedicated to fighting poverty around the world, strongly criticized Johansson for her SodaStream connection, leading the award-winning actress to end her role as an international Oxfam “ambassador.”

Oxfam and like-minded groups — some of them Jewish — sincerely but naively believe that boycotting only across the Green Line enables them to issue a moral protest against Israeli settlement policy without being against Israel itself. Some consider their boycott as being in the best interests of the Jewish state. Unfortunately, they seem unaware of whom they are getting into bed with or the consequences of the association.

The BDS movement was founded in 2005 to delegitimize and ultimately destroy the State of Israel by falsely charging it with racism and apartheid, and orchestrating an international economic and cultural boycott against it. BDS finds its model in the campaign that managed to bring down white-supremacist South Africa, where apartheid was real enough.

The official Palestinian call for BDS states that the movement’s goals are ending Israeli “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” — a formulation that tellingly leaves open the possibility that it refers not just to the West Bank but to pre-1967 Israel as well — and “promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees” (including their descendants now numbering in the millions) “to return to their homes and properties.” If carried out, this agenda would mean not just the end of the Jewish state but also an unimaginable bloodbath.

The BDS double standard never lets the facts get in the way of the cause. When the head of the American Studies Association explained the organization’s decision to boycott only Israel’s universities even though other countries have far worse human rights records, he said: “You have to start somewhere.” But why does “somewhere” have to be Israel, unless the aim of BDS is not to protect human rights but to specifically target the Jewish state?

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry has for some time been engaged in difficult negotiations to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for a two-state solution that would see Jewish and Palestinian states living side-by-side in peace. In poll after poll, some two-thirds of Israelis say they favor a pullback from parts of the West Bank and land swaps for those parts that become part of Israel if that would produce an agreement, so long as their security interests are safeguarded and the so-called Palestinian “right of return” does not bring the demise of the Jewish state.

These concerns are exactly what Kerry is now trying to get the Palestinian side to address. On three previous occasions — in 2000 at Camp David, in 2001 at Taba and in 2008 when Ehud Olmert was prime minister of Israel — similar negotiations came very close to success, only to have the Palestinian side walk away from the table.

According to recent reports from Ramallah, the Palestinian leadership, buoyed by the rising BDS tide, is sorely tempted to back out of a deal yet again. An end-run around the negotiation track and an appeal to the United Nations for recognition as a state — and to the international courts in The Hague to put Israel in the dock — would eliminate the need for the Palestinians to make any concessions at all. They would have all their work done for them by the international community, leaving Israel isolated.

That is exactly the kind of international isolation that the BDS movement has advocated from the start — the worldwide demonization of Israel as the new South Africa. And those morally fastidious boycotters of SodaStream and other West Bank companies who consider their version of BDS to be pro-Israel will realize too late that they have been used.

(Lawrence Grossman is the American Jewish Committee’s director of publications.)

Rabbis Join Protest Against Uganda Anti-Gay Laws

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 17:54

Human rights activists were unsuccessful in their attempt to deliver a letter to the Ugandan embassy in Washington signed by more than 400 rabbis protesting that country’s anti-homosexuality policy.

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Abraham Foxman retiring from ADL

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 17:23

Abraham Foxman, the longtime national director of the Anti-Defamation League, says he’ll be stepping down in 2015. (David Karp)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and one of the longest-serving and highest-profile American Jewish organizational leaders, is retiring from his post.

Foxman will step down on July 20, 2015, according to an announcement Monday by the ADL.

“For almost five decades, ADL offered me the perfect vehicle to live a life of purpose both in standing up on behalf of the Jewish people to ensure that what happened during World War II would never happen again and in fighting bigotry and all forms of oppression,” Foxman, 73, said in an ADL news release. “My years at ADL, particularly the 27 spent as National Director, could not have been more rewarding.”

Foxman announced his retirement at the ADL’s annual National Executive Committee meeting in Palm Beach, Fla. The organization said its search for Foxman’s successor will be conducted by the executive search firm BoardWalk Consulting and will be guided by ADL leadership.

A lawyer by training, Foxman, a child survivor of the Holocaust, started at the ADL in 1965 and became its national director in 1987. Under his leadership, ADL has expanded to 30 regional offices across the United States and an office in Israel.

In 2011, the last year for which data is available, the ADL reported nearly $54 million in revenue. The organization monitors anti-Semitic activity, offers discrimination-sensitivity training and runs anti-bigotry programs.

But it is Foxman’s personage for which the ADL may best be known. Seen as a spokesman for the Jewish people, Foxman has used his position as a bully pulpit to advocate for Israel, warn against discrimination and, perhaps most often, issue declamations of what does or does not constitute anti-Semitism. Whether they be condemnations of foreign leaders or pardons of celebrities who have made ill-considered utterances, Foxman’s has been the authoritative voice on what is or is not acceptable to Jews.

After he steps down, Foxman will serve as a part-time consultant to ADL and sit on the organization’s national commission and national executive committee, the organization said.

Abraham Foxman To Step Down as Anti-Defamation League Chief

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 16:30

Abraham H. Foxman will step down from his position as National Director of the Anti-Defamation League next year, ending a 50-year career in Jewish communal service.

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Rabbis protest Uganda’s anti-homosexuality policy

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 15:45

Protesters denounce Uganda’s anti-gay policies in front of its embassy in Washington, Feb. 10 2014. (Suzanne Pollak)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Human rights activists were unsuccessful in their attempt to deliver a letter to the Ugandan embassy in Washington signed by more than 400 rabbis protesting that country’s anti-homosexuality policy.

Monday’s protest in Washington coincided with similar events in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and was organized in part by the American Jewish World Service, or AJWS.

The letter urged Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to veto the anti-homosexuality bill that was passed recently in the parliament under which those arrested for same-sex sexual behavior can be sentenced to life in prison.

The bill also criminalizes the promotion of homosexuality, which includes funding organizations that provide health and other services to LGBT people.

“We are called upon to be a voice for the voiceless and not to stand idly by,” said Rabbi Rachel Gartner of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.

Gartner was one of four Washington-area rabbis at the protest who knocked on the embassy door for several minutes but received no response.

“We obviously were refused entry,” said Rabbi Esther Lederman of Temple Micah in Washington. “Our plan is to put that letter in the mail today.”

AJWS President Ruth Messinger attended the New York City protest.

“LGBT Ugandans are ostracized and assaulted on a daily basis just for living their lives, and for recent generations of Jews, the threats facing LGBT people in Uganda are all to hauntingly familiar,” she said.  “We cannot remain silent. We cannot simply stand by.”

Ultra-Orthodox Internet Company Meshimir Blocks WhatsApp Messaging

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 14:23

An ultra-Orthodox web-filtering company will begin blocking photos and videos sent via the WhatsApp system starting today. Some rabbis have denounced the service as a danger to Jewish life.

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Vilna Synagogue Is Rare Gem in Tony Boston Neighborhood

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 06:00

Boston’s Vilna Shul was designed in 1919 by Jewish architect Max Kalman. Now staff at the synagogue are working to restore the building and artwork to its original state.

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Birthright's Second-Time Shift

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 06:00

EDITORIAL: Birthright will allow teens who have already taken education trips to Israel to qualify for free trips. Who made this decision — and where will the cash come from?

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Pollard's Long Imprisonment Could Be Fueled by Anti-Semitism, Ex-CIA Chief Says

Sun, 02/09/2014 - 09:33

Former United States’ CIA Director James Woolsey told an Israeli TV news program that anti-Semitism could be part of the reason the U.S. has refused to release spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard.

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Anti-Semitism could play part in Pollard saga, ex-CIA head Woolsey says

Sun, 02/09/2014 - 07:31

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Former United States’ CIA Director James Woolsey told an Israeli TV news program that anti-Semitism could be part of the reason the U.S. has refused to release spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard.

He pointed out in an interview Saturday night with Israel’s Channel 10 that Americans who spied for other countries were freed after much shorter sentences.

“I certainly don’t think that it is universally true, but in the case of some American individuals, I think there is anti-Semitism at work here,” said Woolsey, who served as head of the CIA during the Clinton administration.

Pollard is in the 29th year of a life sentence in a U.S. prison for spying for Israel while a civilian U.S. Navy analyst.

Woolsey said that most in the American intelligence community consider the Pollard case “ancient history, which is one reason that Pollard ought to be released.”

A week ago, Elliott Abrams, a former U.S. deputy national security advisor, said in an interview with i24 news, an international 24-hour news and current affairs television channel based in Tel Aviv,  that Pollard should be released from prison.

An increasing number of figures involved in government when Pollard was given his life sentence in 1987 now say his sentence should be commuted. The calls to release Pollard have intensified in the last year, with pleas from lawmakers and former top officials of both U.S. political parties.

The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, last month said in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio that the continued imprisonment of Pollard is “on the verge of anti-Semitism.”

Pollard is up for parole in less than two years.