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Does Carrying a Gun to Synagogue Make It Safer or More Dangerous?

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 05:00

Most synagogues hire extra security for the High Holidays. But some congregants are taking their safety into their own hands — by bringing concealed guns to services.

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At private funeral for Joan Rivers, celebrities inside and fans outside N.Y. temple

Sun, 09/07/2014 - 15:08

(JTA) — Howard Stern offered a eulogy and Hugh Jackman provided a musical interlude at the celebrity-studded funeral for comedian Joan Rivers.

Hundreds of mourners attended the private service on Sunday at Temple Emanu-El in New York City. The temple’s rabbi, Joshua Davidson, offered the opening prayer at the funeral, which was closed to the media.

Fans and paparazzi also gathered outside the synagogue to pay their respects.

Television host Charlie Rose called the funeral “moving, funny, loving,” and said Rivers “would have liked it,” The New York Times reported.

Rose was among the television personalities, journalists and entertainment stars who came to remember Rivers, 81, the trailblazing comic who died Thursday, a week after being rushed to Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital after her heart stopped during throat surgery at a clinic. Doctors at the hospital put her in an induced coma.

Her daughter, Melissa, with whom the late comic appeared on a reality television show, also spoke at the funeral. The New York City Gay Men’s Chorus performed show tunes and Broadway actress Audra McDonald sang “Smile,” according to the Times.

In a statement on the Joan Rivers website, Melissa Rivers wrote last week, “My mother’s greatest joy in life was to make people laugh. Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon.”

In her 2012 book, “I Hate Everyone … Starting With Me,” Rivers described her funeral.

“When I die (and, yes, Melissa, that day will come; and, yes, Melissa, everything’s in your name), I want my funeral to be a huge showbiz affair with lights, cameras, action … I want Craft services, I want paparazzi and I want publicists making a scene! I want it to be Hollywood all the way,” she wrote, adding, “I want Meryl Streep crying, in five different accents … I want a wind machine so that even in the casket my hair is blowing just like Beyonce’s.”

Celebrities Remember Joan Rivers at Invitation-Only Service in Manhattan

Sun, 09/07/2014 - 12:37

Celebrities ranging from Barbara Walters to Sarah Jessica Parker flooded Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El to mourn Joan Rivers at an invitation-only ceremony on Sunday.

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Brant Rosen Resigns From His Pulpit, Citing Divisions Over Israel

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 16:24

Brant Rosen, a prominent rabbi whose outspoken criticism of Israel become too divisive for his congregation announced this week that he is resigning his pulpit.

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Citing divisions over Israel, Rabbi Brant Rosen quits congregation

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 15:15

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators protest across the street from a pro-Israel rally in Chicago, Ill., July 28, 2014.  Rabbi Brant Rosen marched in pro-Palestinian rallies in Chicago this summer. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(JTA) – A prominent rabbi whose outspoken criticism of Israel became too divisive for his congregation announced this week that he is resigning his pulpit.

Brant Rosen, rabbi at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Ill., made the announcement Tuesday. Aside from his pulpit position, which he has held for 17 years, Rosen is also the founder and co-chair of the rabbinical council of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that promotes boycotts of Israel and has been listed by the Anti-Defamation League as one of the top 10 anti-Israel organizations in the United States.

Rosen said the synagogue board did not force him to step down; rather, the decision was driven by his concern for his own and the congregation’s well-being.

“It’s become clear to me very recently that the atmosphere in the congregation is becoming more divisive,” Rosen told JTA this week. “It’s clear that I am the lightning rod for that division, so I made the decision about 10 days ago to step down.”

Rosen’s departure, and the turmoil that led to it, highlight the deep and emotional fissures in the American Jewish community over Israel and its conflict over the Palestinians. The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation highlights diversity and progressive values, and its board consistently had backed Rosen’s right to speak his mind on the Middle East, according to Rosen and board president David Tabak.

But Rosen’s controversial outspokenness began to destroy the community.

Frustrated by Israel’s Gaza campaign in 2008, Operation Cast Lead, Rosen began publicizing his strident criticism of Israel and strong support for the Palestinians in late 2008 on his personal blog, Shalom Rav.

“We good liberal Jews are ready to protest oppression and human-rights abuse anywhere in the world, but are all too willing to give Israel a pass,” he wrote. “What Israel has been doing to the people of Gaza is an outrage.”

Rosen subsequently became co-chair of the rabbinical council of Jewish Voice for Peace. The organization has made strident criticism of Israel its focus, promoting the BDS campaign to use boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel; heckling Israeli officials in public speeches and organizing anti-Israel demonstrations in numerous U.S. cities during this summer’s Gaza war.

At his shul Rosen was careful mostly to separate his activism on Israel from his role as the congregation’s rabbi, according to Tabak, rarely speaking about the issue from the pulpit.

But his advocacy polarized many members, with some openly hostile to Rosen’s point of view and others vigorously supportive of it. That polarization and the arguments that grew out of it began to destroy the community’s cohesion, Tabak said.

“The dichotomy of opinion did not bother me — even the strenuous adherence to these beliefs did not bother me,” Tabak told JTA. “What I found really disturbing is that a very warm and welcoming and accepting congregation really did have schisms developing.”

The congregation struggled to bridge the divides by encouraging members to organize events, but those, too, quickly broke down into a left-right divide. Some 20 members of the congregation accompanied Rosen on a trip to visit Palestinian activists in the West Bank. Others, including longtime members, began to circulate letters and emails criticizing Rosen. Some left the congregation altogether, citing Rosen’s views on Israel as the cause.

Throughout, the board stood behind Rosen.

Then, in June, Rosen traveled to Detroit with members of Jewish Voice for Peace to encourage the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to pass a resolution on divesting from three companies that do business with Israeli security services in the West Bank. When the conflict in Gaza began, he marched in pro-Palestinian solidarity rallies in Chicago.

Those were, Rosen says, “the final straws.” Yet another letter circulated, this one accusing Rosen of neglecting his duties to the congregation. Rosen said the emotional toll, and the awareness of the pain his views were causing members, became too much.

“I didn’t feel I could give my all to my job anymore,” he said.

“I don’t know that he would have lasted anywhere near as long as he did at any other congregation,” said Joseph Aaron, editor and publisher of the Chicago Jewish News. “I think it says something good about the synagogue, because for a very long time they allowed him to espouse points of view that most synagogues wouldn’t have tolerated.”

Rosen will remain at his congregation for another six months. He said he plans to move professionally into activism rather than seeking another pulpit. The congregation is searching for another rabbi and relaunching its Israel programming with a greater emphasis on balance, Tabak said. It will take a wider view of Israel beyond politics to include culture, history and face-to-face interaction.

The rabbi’s departure is both painful and therapeutic, Tabak added.

“For the congregation, in some ways it is good in the sense that it gives us a chance to repair some of the relationships that have split here in the past,” Tabak said. “In other ways, he’s been with us for 17 years. He bat-mitzvahed my eldest daughter, but he won’t be available for the youngest. He’s been a fixture of our lives.”

Russian Officials Order Deportation of Chief Rabbi of Omsk

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 17:03

The chief rabbi of Omsk in southern Siberia, Asher Krichevsky, was ordered deported by Russian officials, according to Russian media reports.

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Benjamin Netanyahu Orders Bridge to Temple Mount Dismantled

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 16:58

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly ordered the dismantling of a wooden bridge built from the Western Wall plaza to the Temple Mount.

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How Kosher Food Came To Montana

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 05:00

The Jewish population of Montana may be tiny — but the kosher food industry isn’t. That’s thanks to one ambitious Chabad rabbi, who brought a vision to Big Sky country.

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Manhattan's Ramaz School Clarifies Advice on Concealing Kippahs

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 16:16

When Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the principal of Ramaz, an Orthodox day school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, first heard about last week’s attack in the neighborhood on a Jewish couple by a mob bearing Palestinian flags, he had an instinctual response.

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Polish City Marks First Rabbinical Ordination Since World War II

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 15:36

In the city’s first rabbinic ordination since before World War II, four rabbis and three cantors were ordained at a ceremony in the White Stork synagogue in Wroclaw, Poland.

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Eric Cantor Joining Wall Street Investment Bank

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 07:27

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is joining a Wall Street investment bank as vice-chairman and managing director.

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Eric Cantor joins Wall Street investment bank

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 06:19

(JTA) — Former U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is joining a Wall Street investment bank as vice-chairman and managing director.

Cantor, 51, who served as the Republican congressman for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, also will be elected to the board of directors of the global investment bank, Moelis & Company, the bank announced Tuesday.

Cantor will be based in the bank’s New York office and is scheduled to open an office in Washington.

“Eric has proven himself to be a pro-business advocate and one who will enhance our boardroom discussions with CEOs and senior management as we help them navigate their most important strategic decisions,” Ken Moelis, chairman and CEO of Moelis & Company, said in a statement.

After a career in the Virginia legislature, Cantor was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000 and was made chief deputy whip just two years later, before his 40th birthday.

Cantor, who was the sole Jewish Republican in Congress, was as majority leader the most senior Jewish lawmaker in U.S. history and had ambitions of becoming speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Little-known college professor, David Brat Cantor, who had the national backing of the insurgent Tea Party movement, defeated Cantor in the primary in June.  Brat accused Cantor of betraying conservative principles on spending, debt and immigration.

Cantor stepped down from his position as House majority leader and from his congressional seat on Aug. 18.

A Force to be Reckoned With

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 04:00

by Cantor Ellen Dreskin

I remember the first time I met Debbie Friedman. In the fall of 1974, I was a college freshman. Rabbi Sam Karff from Congregation Beth Israel in Houston (my home) let me know that Debbie would be spending a Shabbat at Beth Israel, presenting her new Hanukkah service, “Not by Might, Not by Power,” complete with youth choir, dancers, and guitar. He wanted to know if I would come home from Austin and play the flute…

Debbie and I spent the entire weekend together, beginning our friendship of 35 years. We sang together at early CAJE (Coalition for Alternatives in Jewish Education) conferences, where I experienced my first all-night kumsitz (song session). Debbie sang at my wedding, and I was honored to be on stage with her at Carnegie Hall – not once, but twice. In 1998, she was responsible for bringing me onto the faculty of Hava Nashira, and I was delighted to teach with her and learn from her every time we were together.

I believe that Debbie’s unique influence on NFTY and camp had as much to do with function as with form. Debbie, whose music was deeply influenced by the Weavers, and Peter, Paul, and Mary, as well as by the religious leanings of Shlomo Carlebach, was among the first to insist (and she did insist) that worship is of no use without worshipers’ very personal connection to the act of prayer. She wanted to know what camp songleaders thought they were doing up there at the front of the room, particularly as it related to worship and creating community. It was not only her compositions, but also her command of the room or the friendship circle or the bimah that drew people in. Both her music and her presence served as a model for all who came after her. To Debbie, singing itself was a means to an end. Community, inclusion, relevance, spirit – these were her goals, and the very same ones that have always been consistent with the vision of NFTY the URJ’s summer camps.

In addition to being a terrific friend, Debbie was a tough mentor along the way. Fluent in Hebrew, she frequently engaged young composers in conversation, making sure they had thought long and hard about the words they were setting to music. She had little tolerance for young songleaders whose egos were evident when they were in front of a group. I think that young people flocked to her because of her rebellious spirit and her strength of character. Even if one was occasionally bruised by her frank evaluation or her honest critique, one could never argue with her ability to make a person reflect on, and refine, compositions and skills. Although Debbie did not need you to live up to her expectations, she did want you to live up to the expectations of the liturgy – and the task at hand. I believe that teenagers and campers were attracted to her high level of integrity, and sought to model it in their own teaching and performances.

Debbie’s strength of character, her genuine concern for the well-being of each individual, and her faith in the ability of Jewish liturgy and ritual to change the world, all made her a force to be reckoned with. Her influence was so much more than her compositions. Her very being changed the face of Judaism forever. To have known her, and to have worked, studied, and prayed together with her always will be a blessing to me and to so many others.

Cantor Ellen Dreskin is the coordinator of the Cantorial Certification Program at the HUC-JIR Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music in New York.

Muslim Girls Arrested for Plotting To Blow Up Synagogue in France

Sun, 08/31/2014 - 10:57

Two teenage Muslim girls were arrested for planning a suicide bomb attack on the Great Synagogue of Lyon in France.

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Investing in Colorado's Youth and Beyond

Sun, 08/31/2014 - 05:00

Five years ago, Colorado native Kendall Weistroffer rarely stepped foot in a synagogue. Now she is involved in her campus Hillel and is minoring in Hebrew.

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Probation for Profit

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 11:04

Many jurisdictions in the United States have turned over their probation procedures to for-profit companies collecting fines and monitoring individuals accused of minor infractions. As small fees and interest charges begin to build, people who already cannot afford their fines can end up in jail owing exorbitant amounts.

The post Probation for Profit appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

The Rebbe’s Legacy

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 11:03

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, also known simply as the Rebbe, was the leader of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement when he died 20 years ago. Today, the movement has tripled in size and the Rebbe’s many followers continue to remember him with visits to his gravesite. The Rebbe’s personality and teachings were well-received by Jews and non-Jews alike, and his followers have established Chabad centers for teaching in over 80 countries around the world.

The post The Rebbe’s Legacy appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Drug Charges Dropped in Philip Seymour Hoffman Case

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 06:44

The Manhattan district attorney has dropped drug-selling charges against a jazz musician and friend of late film star Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died of an accidental drug overdose in February, the New York Times newspaper reported.

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