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French Jews elect new chief rabbi

Sun, 06/22/2014 - 15:14

(JTA) — The Jewish community of France elected Rabbi Haim Korsia, the French army’s Jewish chaplain, as its new chief rabbi.

Korsia, 51, defeated Rabbi Olivier Kaufmann, an interim chief rabbi, in a 131-97 vote on Sunday to win the seven-year term, the French news agency AFP reported.

Kaufmann, the head of a French rabbinical school, was one of two rabbis who filled in for Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim following his resignation in April. Bernheim admitted that he had plagiarized in two books and an essay as well as claimed unearned academic titles.

The vote by a committee of the Consistoire — the French Jewish institution responsible for providing religious services — comes amid a spate of anti-Semitic attacks against French Jews.

105-Year-Old Chinese Synagogue Reopens After Renovations

Sat, 06/21/2014 - 07:46

The Chinese city of Harbin reopened a 105-year-old synagogue to the public after an extensive restoration.

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105-year-old synagogue restored in China

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 17:24

(JTA) — The Chinese city of Harbin reopened a 105-year-old synagogue to the public after an extensive restoration.

The Main Synagogue on Harbin’s Tongjiang Street was reopened last week after 12 months of renovations at a festive ceremony featuring a performance by the String Quartet of the State Glazunovs Conservatory from the city of Petrozavodsk in Russia, the Xinhua news agency reported.

In 19th and 20th centuries, thousands of Jews immigrated to the northeastern city of Harbin to escape persecution in Europe and Czarist Russia, establishing there one of the largest Jewish communities in the Far East.

The Chinese government conducted the restoration project with help from Dan Ben-Canaan, an Israeli scholar who has lived in Harbin for more than decade and works there as director of Heilongjiang University’s Sino-Israel Research and Study Center.

The restored synagogue, he told Xinhua, “looks exactly the same as when the synagogue first opened in 1909, making this a unique location.”

Once an Orthodox synagogue seating up to 450 people, the building’s exterior boasts a Star of David sitting atop the rooftop dome.

Inside, the women’s gallery on the second floor, the men’s prayer hall and rabbi’s bimah platform have all been restored, complete with safety rails featuring elaborate decorations that combine Jewish and Chinese symbols.

However, the reopened synagogue is not meant to function as a place of worship but as a concert theater, according to Xinhua.

The synagogue was damaged in 1931 by a fire that, according to Ben-Canaan, was started by gangs of anti-Communist Russians. It was renovated after the fire and closed down in 1963. It was converted into a hospital and a hostel, leaving its interior badly damaged, the report said.

Divestment Vote Undermines Presbyterian-Jewish Relations

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 17:06
Rabbi Jacobs: "We need to be working together on this vital issue and there cannot be a true partnership when one side endorses positions that delegitimize the other's rights and core values"

Endangered Churches

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 12:01

Across the nation, declining church membership is taking its toll on the physical state of houses of worship. In Philadelphia, churches are venturing into new partnerships to try and preserve their historic buildings. “Congregations have shrunk so much and budgets have shrunk so much that it’s hard for congregations to keep up with their buildings,” observes Bob Jaeger, president of Partners for Sacred Places, who calls the neglect of houses of worship a national crisis. “Unless they do something creative and bold, many of them will close or merge in the next ten, twenty years,” he adds.

The post Endangered Churches appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Endangered Churches

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 12:01

Across the nation, declining church membership is taking its toll on the physical state of houses of worship. In Philadelphia, churches are venturing into new partnerships to try and preserve their historic buildings. “Congregations have shrunk so much and budgets have shrunk so much that it’s hard for congregations to keep up with their buildings,” observes Bob Jaeger, president of Partners for Sacred Places, who calls the neglect of houses of worship a national crisis. “Unless they do something creative and bold, many of them will close or merge in the next ten, twenty years,” he adds.

The post Endangered Churches appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

What Does Korach Teach Us?

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 09:35

By Leah Citrin

When “Ken” grew up in northern Kenya, he faced many hardships. In a part of the country that is not agriculturally productive, the people in this region often felt neglected by the government. As a society of nomadic pastoralists, Ken’s community lived without internet, phones, or access to education. The culture around him viewed LGBT issues as “western” and individuals who came out as gay were met with violence and discrimination. As an LGBT activist, “Ken” must mask his name and the name of his organization to avoid imprisonment or even death. In order to express one part of his identity, he must hide a different part of it.

Like “Ken,” Korach, the main character of this week’s Torah portion, sees an injustice and calls the people to action: “All the community—all of them—are holy,” Korach challenges Moses and Aaron, “and God is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the congregation of God?” Korach’s challenge, that each person has value and holiness, resonates with us today. We, as American Reform Jews, value each individual and his or her abilities and contributions. We believe that there are different kinds of leaders and we fight for justice in the form of equality. In living out these beliefs, we eliminated the ritual hierarchy in Judaism by erasing the distinctions between Priests, Levites, and Israelites. So we can empathize with Korach.

Moses also saw value in Korach’s argument. In response to the challenge that Korach poses, Moses falls on his face (Lev. 16:4). This sign of humility gives credence to the challenge Korach voiced. Yet, based on the consequences Korach endures (i.e. being swallowed by the earth), we learn that he did something wrong. Where did he err? Many suggest that Korach was not truly seeking the democratic society that he described in his initial challenge. Rather, Korach wanted to be the top of the hierarchy and his vision for change was motivated by personal interest and a quest for power.

What we learn from Korach, then, is that we must raise our voice in the fight against injustice. However, we must also be conscious of how we participate in the fight. “Ken” emphasized the importance of making decisions about policies in Washington, D.C., in consultation with individuals on the ground and pointed to the International Human Rights Defense Act (S. 2472) as an important example of impactful legislation. Introduced by Senator Markey (D-MA), this bill directs the Department of State to make preventing and responding to discrimination and violence against the LGBT community around the globe a foreign policy priority. With 24 original co-sponsors, the IHRDA is an important step towards ending discrimination and violence against the LGBT community worldwide.

“Ken” seeks to change perception in Africa about LGBT issues. In partnership with people like “Ken,” we too can make a difference. We can channel the positive aspects of Korach’s challenge. And we can act with respect for the rights and needs of others.

 

Leah Citrin will begin her 5th year as a rabbinical student this fall at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati.  This summer, Leah is proud to be a Summer Legislative Assistant/Rabbinic Intern at the RAC.

How Prayer Can #BringBackOurBoys

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 15:00

Critics say prayer won’t bring the in the three kidnapped Israeli boys home. But Avi Shafran turns to Jewish tradition — and declares that every plea to God makes a difference.

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After Scandal, Should Claims Conference Shift Focus to Holocaust Education?

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 14:26

A special panel tasked with examining the governance and strategic vision of the Claims Conference is recommending that the organization shift its long-term focus to Holocaust education and remembrance, JTA has learned.

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The Orthodox Monopoly on Marriage in Israel

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 14:00

I was not at my son’s official wedding.  Ariel and his wife got married in Cyprus. They made this choice not because of the country’s wonderful sights and romantic scenery, but because they wanted to be able to marry outside of the framework of the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.

The Chief Rabbinate holds a monopoly on all Jewish marriages in Israel. There is no civil marriage, which leaves an Orthodox marriage as the only option for Jewish couples in Israel.  This means that the ceremony is often performed by a rabbi who does not know the couple personally. It means stringent gender roles including pre-marital classes for women, and no option for LGBT marriages.

Ariel’s marriage is part of a shift we are seeing in Israeli society of thousands of Jews who choose to be married outside of this system.  “I was born in Israel, and fulfilled my obligations –I served in the Israeli army and paid my taxes. Why was I not given the right to decide how to get married in Israel? Why do I need to lie about our lifestyle and about something as intimate as the first day of my wife’s period to get married?”

At least my son had a choice. The many restrictions imposed upon marriage and the lack of a civil marriage option in Israel means that hundreds of thousands of Jewish citizens whose Jewish status is not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate are unable to wed legally in their own country. This situation is unparalleled in any other democratic country.

Over 20,000 Israeli couples get married outside of Israel every year.  On their flight to Cyprus, Ariel and his wife observed that the plane was filled with Israelis who were also going there for a civil marriage.  The Israelis waited in line together, took photos of one-another, and sat together at a nearby Haagen-Dazs for celebratory ice cream afterwards.

IRAC knows that Israelis want and deserve control over one of the most important aspects of their life. IRAC has introduced various marriage bills in an effort to permit Israeli couples to marry outside of the religious establishments.  Last night, Einat Hurvitz, the head of our legal department, and Shelly Yechimovitz, the former head of the Labor party, spoke about the necessity of freedom of marriage to young Israelis in Jerusalem.  They need to know; it doesn’t have to be this way.
P.S. I am seeking a large used ship, a captain, and a few willing rabbis to launch a loveboat that will travel in and out of Israeli territorial waters to perform marriage ceremonies until our law passes in Knesset.

Rabbi Rejects Apology From Bleach-Tossing Attacker

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 10:08

A rabbi who advocates against child sex abusers refused to accept an apology from a Hasidic man, the son of an accused abuser, who threw bleach in the rabbis’s face.

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N.Y. rabbi refuses apology from man who threw bleach in his face

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 08:54

(JTA) — A rabbi who advocates against child sex abusers refused to accept an apology from a Hasidic man, the son of an accused abuser, who threw bleach in the rabbis’s face.

Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg told Brooklyn state Supreme Court Judge Joseph Gubbay, who asked Meilech Schnitzler to make the apology in court on Wednesday, that he would not accept the apology because “you didn’t harm me. You harmed all the children I represent,” the New York Post reported.

In December 2012, Rosenberg on his blog for sexual abuse victims accused Schnitzler’s father of being a child sexual molester. As Rosenberg walked past Schnitzler’s Brooklyn fish market, Schnitzler ran toward him with a cup of bleach and threw it in his face. Rosenberg, of the same Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn, was treated for burns on his face, around his eyes and in his left eye.

The incident came a day after Nechemya Weberman, a Satmar Hasidim leader, was convicted on 59 counts of sexual abuse of a then-18-year-old woman when she was between the ages of 12 and 15 and went to Weberman for counseling. Rosenberg supported and assisted the victim throughout the judicial process.

Gubbay on Wednesday sentenced Schnitzler to 5 years’ probation for the attack. Schnitzler had pleaded guilty to the felony charge of “Intent to cause physical injury with a weapon” at a hearing in April.

Rosenberg reportedly read an impact statement in the court but, according to the Failed Messiah blog, was not allowed to read some of the parts that criticized the DA or the plea deal.

According to a copy of the statement obtained by the blog, Rosenberg said that the “plea bargain has compounded the damage of my assault.” He said the day after the plea deal was announced he was pelted with rocks by teenage boys outside of a Satmar synagogue in Williamsburg. One of the teens yelled, “Ha, Ha, Schnitzler is going free!”

“The reign of violence in my community aimed at children and their protectors must be ended. Those of us in the Hasidic community willing to cooperate with the criminal justice system are entitled to protection from violence and intimidation. If not for my sake, for the sake of our children, please let the world know that our children will not be abandoned to those who would abuse them and protect their molesters. Please help make all of Brooklyn a safe place for children and those who fight for them,” he said.

Rosenberg runs a website and telephone hot-line for sex abuse victims.

European rabbis, congregants call for release of abducted teens

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 07:03

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — Dozens of young rabbis serving in Europe gathered at an Amsterdam Holocaust monument to protest the abduction of three Israeli youths.

The rabbis, members of the Young Rabbis Forum of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, gathered on Wednesday at the Hollandsche Schouwburg, a former theater turned commemoration site because the Nazis used it as a central dispatch point of Jews to death camps shortly after their invasion of the Netherlands in 1940.

Also attending was executive director of the Netherlands-based organization Christians for Israel, Roger van Oordt.

The rabbis carried a large banner reading “#Bring Back Our Boys” and a Dutch-language translation in reference to Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, who were last seen on Dec. 12 at a hitchhiking post near Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement bloc in the West Bank, and whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said have been kidnapped by terrorists presumed to be Palestinian.

The gathering in Amsterdam was part of a number of activities by Jewish communities in Europe on behalf of the three youths.

France’s Consistore, the Jewish community’s body responsible for religious services, called on congregants to convene at Paris’ Grande Synagogue de la Victoire on Thursday for a mass prayer for the youths’ safe return and instructed synagogue throughout France to say a special prayer for their release.

In Munich, emissaries of the Torah MiTzion movement organized a rally in Munich featuring similar signs at the city’s Marienplatz, the news site nrg.co.il reported.

Stephan Kramer Named Chief of AJC Europe Office on Anti-Semitism

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 17:35

Stephan Kramer, a Jewish leader in Germany, was named director of the American Jewish Committee’s new European Office on Anti-Semitism.

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Germany’s Stephan Kramer to run AJC’s new European Office on Anti-Semitism

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 16:20

BERLIN (JTA) — Stephan Kramer, a Jewish leader in Germany, was named director of the American Jewish Committee’s new European Office on Anti-Semitism.

Kramer, the general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany for 10 years, will head an initiative that aims to raise awareness about and help combat anti-Semitism. Concerns about the problem in Europe are particularly high now.

In a statement released Wednesday, AJC’s executive director, David Harris, said “the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe … demands an enhanced AJC response.” Harris lauded Kramer’s experience and vision, and
ability “to make a difference.”

Kramer told JTA, “It’s not just about complaining about the situation … about raising my eyebrows and pointing my finger. It’s about working together with local initiatives and implementing programs to fight anti-Semitism.”

He added, “There is not one country that does not have a problem with anti-Semitism, but this is also about fighting racism and other forms of stereotypes and xenophobia.”

 

Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ Letter to Delegates at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 13:09

Copies of this letter are being given to delegates at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly in Detroit, MI, who will be voting this week on several Israel-focused resolutions related to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). Tonight, Rabbi Rick Jacobs will address the assembly. His message: Vote for partnership and against divestment. Watch his address live this evening, starting around 7:25pm EDT.

Dear Friend,

As the president of America’s largest Jewish denomination, representing 1.5 million North American Jews, it is my honor to join you at your General Assembly.

I have come here to Detroit with an important message about strengthening our alliance. I look forward to discussing this matter with you in person, but it is of such heartfelt concern to me, and so many millions of American Jews, that I am taking the extra step to write you a detailed letter.

Like yours, our community yearns for peace and justice for all peoples. Like you, we pride ourselves on our social justice work and interfaith relations. Your creation-care and social service projects throughout the world are nothing short of exemplary. We have worked closely with your Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. for more than 50 years, and partnered with clergy from your churches in interfaith coalitions and dialogue programs. These collaborations are based on mutual respect and understanding – and, at their best, are grounded in the core rule of coalitional relationships. In order to have a friend, you must be a friend and seek common ground. That is especially true when a partner’s survival is at stake.

As you know, our love for Israel is paramount to our identity and our faith. We appreciate and share deeply your constant concern for the vulnerable across the globe, including in Palestine. It is a source of pain to us that you fail to show that same consistent, sensitive and passionate concern for our Israeli civilian brothers, sisters and children (Jewish and Arab alike) in your statements and actions. Israeli civilians also face genuine existential threats and are so often the target of violence and terrorism. This harsh reality betrayed itself just this week when three Jewish students were kidnapped by terrorists while walking home from school. And, rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas continue to cause fear in southern Israel.

I am proud to say that our Reform Movement has a long-standing policy of opposition to the Israeli settlements. We stand firmly on this—and for two states–and want to partner with you, but your support for BDS will make this much harder.

We firmly believe that our Zionism, exemplified in our support for the Jewish people’s liberation movement as realized in the state of Israel, should not come at the expense of the Palestinian people who deserve freedom and dignity, in an independent state.

Every day the occupation causes pain and hardship to too many Palestinians. Only two states for two peoples living side by side in peace will allow this tragic conflict to end, giving way to coexistence in this blood-soaked patch of land. We truly yearn for the day when the swords of all nations will melt into plough shares and when the lives of all the children of the region, of Iraq and Syria, of Palestine and Israel, marred by fear and hate, will be mended by tranquility and laughter.

Israel is an imperfect democracy, as is the United States. Israel is not immune from criticism, and we hold Israel to the same standards of justice and equality of all democratic nations. In order to bring about desired change, it is imperative that the actions taken help fulfill the goal at hand. If the desire is, as I believe it must be, two states for two peoples, these divestment moves are not the answer. That’s because, thus far, support for divestment from Israel has only proven to harden the positions of those who least desire justice for the Palestinians. The resolutions you will consider may be aimed at specific companies, but the headlines around the world will be “Presbyterians Endorse BDS,” and will further strengthen hardliners on both sides.

We are inspired by the poetry of the prophets, but we live in the prose of a daily struggle to create a better world through the difficult, sometimes relentless work of compromise. Indeed, compromise is a rare and precious commodity between the people of Israel and the people of a future state of Palestine, but it is essential and we must work hard to achieve it.

Much of the rhetoric and the materials produced for the Church around this debate have been profoundly troubling. In particular,I have been terribly saddened, even horrified, by the document Zionism Unsettled, which is being sold as a teaching guide on the Presbyterian Church USA website. It is one of the most biased and ahistorical documents I have read. There is no way to sugarcoat it: this document is a vicious attack on Judaism, the Jewish people and the state of Israel, negating the very theological legitimacy of the Jewish religion.

How should Jews react in the face of efforts to equate Israel or Zionism with apartheid? Comparing apartheid to the situation of Israel, a democracy that, with all its flaws, grants fundamental rights and due process to all its citizens is deeply troubling. In Israel, Arabs and Jews sit side by side in restaurants, are treated in the same hospitals by Arab and Jewish doctors and nurses, and study at the same universities in courses taught by Arab and Jewish professors. There is an Arab Christian Israeli, Justice Salim Joubran, serving on Israel’s Supreme Court. To compare the horror, brutality and pervasive systematic racism of apartheid that permeated every sphere of South African life with the ills of Israel’s policy is not only unfair to Israel, but also dilutes the horror of apartheid and demeans the struggle of those who heroically defeated it.

The terminology and imagery of apartheid and Nazism conveys that one side of an argument is so intrinsically evil, so illegitimate that it has no place in the discussion and its proponents have no place at the table. Such language suggests that the Jewish yearning for our own homeland is somehow theologically and morally abhorrent, denying Jews their own identity as a people. A sweeping indictment of Zionism amounts to a blanket condemnation of the vast majority of Jews in the world.

Over the past century, we Jews and Presbyterians have become more loving brothers and sisters, but we are at a crucial junction in our relationship. I pray that the decisions of this General Assembly will bring us closer, so that we, in the words of Isaiah, can be “restorers of the breach” that threatens to divide us from each other and from the backbreaking work God commands of us to shape a world of reason and justice, of compassion and peace.

I pray that God’s blessing will rest upon you and guide you in your challenging deliberations.

Shalom, Salaam, Peace,
Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Move To Ban Kosher Slaughter Really Not About the Animals

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 06:00

As a vegan, Jacob Ari Labendz would normally be in favor of moves to fight animal cruelty, like the push to outlaw ritual slaughter in Europe. But he sees something else at work.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Move To Ban Kosher Slaughter Really Not About the Animals

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 06:00

As a vegan, Jacob Ari Labendz would normally be in favor of moves to fight animal cruelty, like the push to outlaw ritual slaughter in Europe. But he sees something else at work.

Click here for the rest of the article...