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"555 Days of Prayer to Save America" Sees 2014 as Goal...

Sun, 02/02/2014 - 03:11

September 11, 2014 will conclude the 555-day-long prayer event; the goal of which is spiritual restoration of The United States of America. The prayer initiative reaches day 303, while the current...

(PRWeb January 01, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/01/prweb11456365.htm

"555 Days of Prayer to Save America" Organizers Review Year...

Sun, 02/02/2014 - 03:11

The 2013 activities of "Save America Gathering's" parent organizations, including "555 Days of Prayer to Save America," are summarized. New Year's Eve brings the...

(PRWeb December 31, 2013)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/01/prweb11454599.htm

It Happened After Two Full Years (Genesis 41:1)

Fri, 01/31/2014 - 19:34

The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

By Rabbi Jack P. Paskoff

(While this article reflects the experience of my congregation, proper credit should be given to Rabbi Bennett Miller at the Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple. The model my congregation uses is based on what I learned as Rabbi Miller’s assistant and associate from 1988-1993.)

“I’m not sure I see myself being involved Jewishly in college.”

“I’m not sure I believe in God.”

“Should I have children when I get older, I know I’ll raise them as Jews.”

“The first time I left for Camp Harlam/went to Israel/went to a NFTY event/attended a L’Taken seminar/confronted anti-Semitism/dealt with the death of a peer, I felt a deeper attachment to my faith.”

The first time I suggested changing Confirmation to 12th grade, it seemed as if I had thrown down the first set of tablets received at Sinai. There were those concerned about my tampering with tradition and others who were convinced that we would see a huge drop off in enrollment after Bar/Bat Mitzvah. At the beginning of 12th grade Confirmation, I ask our students to write an essay addressing two basic questions:

  1. What have been the most meaningful milestones in your Jewish life to date?
  2. What exactly are you “confirming” for your Jewish future?

The students spend the better part of the year thinking about those questions, writing essays based on them, discussing their work with me, and re-writing until we are all satisfied. Those essays, as excerpted above, become the essence of the Confirmation service at Congregation Shaarai Shomayim.  The answers are profound and thoughtful, sometimes troubling, and always meaningful. Students can write anything they want, much of which will be shared from the bimah, as long as it is stated respectfully. Our congregation turns out in large numbers to honor our students on the occasion of their Confirmation.

Even in our Reform Movement that prides itself on adaptability and innovation, certain elements of our tradition have been treated as if they were handed down from Mt. Sinai. One of those is Confirmation in 10th grade. While informal educational opportunities such as youth group and camp are available for young people through high school graduation, formal educational opportunities disappear in many congregations at precisely the time when students are thinking about the rest of their lives in a different way. We know that the combination of formal and informal education produce the best results, yet we remove the formal from the menu of options. For over 10 years, with compelling results, our congregation has combined the two to make the opportunities more varied for our students. In Lancaster, the addition of two years of formal educational programming has made a profound difference in our young people and in our congregation.

Shaarai Shomayim was one of those places with a history of over 100 years of 10th grade Confirmation. Many current congregants identified themselves by the others with whom they were confirmed. The first time I suggested changing Confirmation to 12th grade, it seemed as if I had thrown down the first set of tablets received at Sinai. There were those concerned about my tampering with tradition and others who were convinced that we would see a huge drop off in enrollment after Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Initially, we kept Confirmation in 10th grade, but I started an 11th and 12th grade class in addition. Interestingly, while enrollment was good, the students were not motivated to participate in any kind of service in their honor upon graduation, which seemed anti-climactic after the existing Confirmation service. If participation was good, why bother officially moving Confirmation? As it was, the addition of an 11th and 12th grade program afforded us several new opportunities:

  • We affirmed the expectation that our students would continue through 12th grade.
  • It allowed us to say that our Brotherhood and Sisterhood, both of which provide significant incentive and need-based scholarships for participation in NFTY events and summer programs, would only do so for students enrolled in our Confirmation program, with the pledge that the students would continue through Confirmation.
  • It allowed us to honor the word, Confirmation, as a culminating educational event for our young people.

As in many congregations, students attend two days of school a week from grades 3-7, move back to one day at 8th grade, and then, for reasons more social than educational, attend a combined 9th and 10th grade class weekly. In 11th grade, the model changes. The students attend just 10 programs during the year. The number of sessions drops back considerably acknowledging the realities of life as a high school junior and senior, and there is great flexibility in how the students meet these requirements. Options include eight Sunday morning combined 11th and 12th grade classes which address topics on the theme of “what we want to make sure you know before you leave our community.” Additionally, students can attend NFTY events, adult education sessions, or do an independent study under my supervision. With this model in place, we have maintained a post b’nai mitzvah retention rate of 80-85%, with almost no decline in participation after 10th grade.

I believe very strongly that for any substantive change to happen in the educational program, the rabbi must not only be on board, but must be setting the agenda and championing the cause in very public ways. The key to youth engagement may be directly tied to rabbi engagement. I waited for the right class before I raised the subject again and asked the congregation to join me in this experiment. By this time, I had 2-3 additional years to gain the trust of the congregation, a significant part of any change. At this point, while there was still some reluctance, the congregation agreed. We haven’t looked back since.

At Confirmation every year, our choir sings Debbie Friedman’s Lechi  Lach as a blessing to our students as they leave our program, and most often leave our community. The students know that they have been valued and supported, and the congregation is confident that these young people will truly be a blessing.

Jack Paskoff is the Rabbi of Congregation Shaarai Shomayim in Lancaster, PA, where, among other things, he teaches 11th and 12th grade. He is also the Rabbinic advisor for NFTY-PAR and serves on the faculty of Camp Harlam. The congregation consistently has one of the highest numbers of participants at PAR events, and over 30 young people (over 25% of the students eligible for such programs ) from the congregation participate in URJ summer programs including Camp Harlam, 6 Points Sports Academy, 6 Points Sci-Tech, Kutz Camp, Mitzvah Corps, and NFTY in Israel.  You can reach him at jpaskoff@shaarai.org.

Far Right Radical Eyed in Rome Pig's Head Attacks

Fri, 01/31/2014 - 16:09

Italian police have identified a far-right radical they suspect of sending pigs heads last week to Rome’s Grand Synagogue, Israeli embassy and a museum with a Holocaust exhibition, authorities said on Friday.

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National Cathedral Music: Part One

Fri, 01/31/2014 - 15:00

For one week in January, the National Cathedral in Washington, DC removed the thousands of chairs normally in the cathedral’s nave and hosted a number of events, including two nights of free choral concerts. Attendees were able to listen to the music while standing, sitting, or roaming through the emptiness of the cathedral. R&E was at the cathedral on January 15 for a concert called “The Spirit in Flight,” performed by Cathedra. Watch excerpts, including our interview with the National Cathedral’s director of music, Michael McCarthy. Interview by Missy Daniel. Edited by Fred Yi and Missy Daniel. Video by Murray Pinczuk, Lauren Talley, and Fred Yi.

The post National Cathedral Music: Part One appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Modern Orthodox congregations host postnup parties

Fri, 01/31/2014 - 12:27

Rabbi Moshe Shulman of Young Israel of St Louis, signs the postnup with his wife, Baila Shulman. (Rori Picker Neiss)

Seeking to prevent Orthodox women from becoming agunot — so-called “chained” women whose husbands deny them a religious writ of divorce — the three Modern Orthodox synagogues in St. Louis collectively hosted a mass post-nuptial agreement signing this weekend.

Spearheaded by Rori Picker Neiss, director of programming, education and community engagement at Bais Abraham Congregation, the event resulted in 31 couples signing post-nuptial agreements. Picker Neiss said several additional couples could not attend the event but signed the document afterwards, bringing the week’s total to over 40.

“The agunah problem is huge and has gotten a lot of attention of late,” said Picker Neiss, who will be ordained as clergy later this year by Yeshivat Maharat in New York. “We did this to show a positive response, rather than complaining or beating people up. If any of the marriages do dissolve, now they have this document that provides protection. We are trying to make this the communal norm.”

Pre- and post-nuptial agreements are available online through the Beit Din of America and the Chicago Rabbinical Council.

The St. Louis event was not the first group signing — others have been held recently in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. — but this was the first time several congregations jointly hosted one, Picker Neiss said.

New York Senate Passes Anti-Israel Boycott Bill

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 21:43

The New York State Senate approved a bill that would suspend funding to educational institutions which fund groups that boycott Israel.

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New York Baby Infected With Herpes After Metzitza B'peh Circumcision Rite

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 17:56

A baby boy has been infected with neonatal herpes following a Jewish ritual circumcision in New York — the third such infection in two years tied to a controversial rite that involves the direct application of the ritual circumciser’s mouth to the baby’s genitals to suction blood from the wound.

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Three Stories: URJ & Ramah Camps Come Together To Learn

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 12:40

The URJ Service Corps program is designed to engage young URJ Camps staff and alumni, who will apply their experience, talents, and skills to create experiential, camp-style programming for families and youth in synagogue communities around the country. Working in partnership with the National Ramah Commission, the program seeks, over three years, to have a total of 80 young adult educators engaged in part-time youth leadership roles in Conservative and Reform communities throughout North America, working actively to recruit for camp and to help reenergize the communities they serve through innovative, inspiring, and immersive Jewish programming.

In early January, Ramah and URJ Service Corps Fellows met in California, where they learned, shared, and explored this new and exciting role in the Jewish community. URJ Service Corps Fellows from three of our camps shared their stories:

MINCHA: Committing to the Whole Teen

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 10:28

The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

By Ellie Klein Goldman

In the fall of 2013 Temple Shalom in Newton, MA launched a new weekly program for 7th and 8th graders called MINCHA.  The evening includes dinner, time with friends, creative Jewish learning and leadership development.   In designing MINCHA we had a number of goals in mind:

  1. Create a safe and supportive environment for teens.
  2. Foster positive connections with one another and with enthusiastic staff.
  3. Introduce teens to Jewish living in creative and active ways.
  4. Develop teens’ skills as leaders.
  5. Convey an appreciation that their schedules are complicated, their interests varied and that every commitment demands to be the top priority.

Reaching this fifth goal has proven to be harder than we expected.  We carefully crafted the marketing message to say – “We want you to be here, you play an important role in what we are doing and when you’re here, we will make sure it’s fantastic.”  There are not rules about attendance or book-reports for missed sessions.  Students sign themselves in when they arrive and sign out when they leave.  Every step of the way we intentionally designed MINCHA to feel comfortable, easy and guilt free. 

We have come to understand that there is just no good reason to waste time and effort trying to compete with extracurricular sports and activities.  The special interests of our young people are what make them more interesting, more valuable to our community and, frankly, more fun to hang out with.  Welcoming well-rounded individuals who have diverse skills and passions will ultimately create a community with vibrancy and depth.   As a synagogue community we have a unique responsibility to our young people to support their exploration of the (whole) world, encourage them as they navigate the path to adulthood and create for them sacred spaces free from rush, worry and failure.

Despite our efforts, parents still often call when their child won’t be with us and the reason is inevitably couched between several apologies and several more explanations about why some other commitment simply wasn’t changeable.  Each time I listen and say, “Thank you for calling to let us know, I hope the (practice/recital/study group) goes well, tell (Josh/Sarah/Ben) that we can’t wait to hear about it when they’re back”.  That’s it. No guilt, no judgment, just understanding and empathy for the complicated logistical dance that we all endure.

There are notes from these phone calls, though, and they go out to our staff saying – “Naomi had a piano recital on Tuesday, be sure to ask her next week how it went.”  Rather than shame our kids and parents when schedule conflicts arise we acknowledge their achievements and encourage all of our participants to share their whole selves with us when they are present.

At MINCHA our goal is not that they come every week, but that when they come we welcome them in to a space where the constant hum of their busy lives is stilled even for a few hours and they are free to think, create and befriend one another. We believe that this will enable their Jewish moments to be imprinted as moments of peace and pondering. We will become the calm in the storm that they seek out when the excitement and demands of adolescent reality becomes too much to bear.  Rather than run from the sanctuary following B’nai Mitzvah we hope that our kids will return to find sanctuary in their synagogue when life is hard or overwhelming and we plan to be there when it happens.

We are now more than halfway through the inaugural year of MINCHA and so far the attendance numbers are holding strong around 90% each week.  We have seen weeks as low as 70%, particularly during rehearsal week for one of the middle school plays. The highlight of that week happened during our staff meeting when someone suggested that next year we (the staff) all plan ahead and attend the play together to celebrate with them.

The next step in our Strategic Plan for Youth Engagement is the design and launch of a new High School program this Fall called Ma’ARIV.  In the spirit of respect for the whole person, Ma’ARIV participants will be able to engage in community activities when they are available and we will continue to reinforce our support of all the interests in their lives that bring them joy, inspiration and excitement.

Ellie Klein Goldman is the Director of Youth Engagement at Temple Shalom of Newton, MA.  In her work with 7-12 graders, Ellie works to create a vibrant and comprehensive Jewish experience for every young person and takes seriously her role as community builder.   She began her career in Jewish Youth Work as the Regional Director of NFTY Michigan and then went on to complete the Double Master’s program at Hebrew Union College and the University of Southern California in Jewish Communal Service and Social Work. Ellie’s previous congregational experience was at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, CA and Temple Sinai in Denver, CO.

The Music of N’ilah – Part One

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 06:00

By Cantor Barbara R. Finn

Yom Kippur is bookended by music and liturgy that speak to us on an emotional level.  We often cannot explain it; it is simple yet powerfully spiritual, reaching into our souls with a fervor that would leave us empty were we to miss those elements of the service.

In her article about Kol Nidre, Cantor Hayley Kobilinsky says, “There is an intangible, lasting power to the Kol Nidre, and that power does not emanate from its text, but rather its melody.”  Ritual observance or non-observance, belief or non-belief in the Holy One does not affect how the music stirs our souls.  In words from the book, Imperfect Harmony by Stacy Horn, “words that tell an emotional story, set to appropriate music, burn into the soul.”

The N’ilah liturgy begins with a lingering contemplative feeling.  The introspection of the day as well as the transition from the Yizkor service moves slowly and meditatively.

The N’ilah Kaddish sung to the traditional nusach (prayer melody) is both haunting and beautiful, demonstrating in the melody the contemplative and reflective nature of the beginning of the conclusion. LISTEN This transition provides the momentum we need to continue through the last T’filah of the day by sustaining the nusach from the N’ilah Kaddish.  The familiar liturgical text enables us to continue our contemplation and at the same time return to our communal engagement in prayer.

Eil Norah Alilah begins the change in urgency toward the image of closing gates.  The urgency in these musical examples is not shown in increased tempo but rather in the musical motif in relation to the text.  Simon Sargon uses the grandeur of the full choir as well as variations in dynamics to illustrate urgency and reflection in his version of this piece. LISTEN Rabbi Joe Black’s arrangement of this text in his piece, Let God In, combines the communal and personal aspects of finding God in our lives: how we must act and reflect.  Eil Norah Alilah, ham’tzei lanu m’chila, bishat ha’n’ilah; God of awesome deeds, grant us pardon, as the gates begin to close. “Where is God? Whenever we let God in.” LISTEN

The text of Dark’cha is a plea before the ultimate Sovereign for patience with humanity to continue God’s work.  An arrangement of this piece by Max Janowski reflects this simple yet sacred plea with its use of the traditional nusach and very little embellishment.  Max Janowski is the composer of the well-known Avinu Malkeinu melody which has become a Misinai1 tune to this generation. An arrangement by Israel Alter is similar in nature to the Janowski version following the traditional nusach and emphasizing through music our plea to God.  Louis Lewandowski’s arrangement in some ways represents a move away from individuality with the music returning to a feeling of communal prayer through song. LISTEN

With the hunger from fasting beginning to subside, the intensity of the liturgy and music move us toward renewal of spiritual strength. The physical and spiritual surroundings stimulate a greater awareness of community; our attention toward hunger and individuality wanes.  The ark remains open symbolizing our additional personal and communal effort as the music swells within, and without adding a feeling of urgency, transition and transformation.

Sources:
Eil Nora Alilah by Simon Sargon. Transcontinental Music Publishers.

Let God In by Rabbi Joe Black

N’ilah Kaddish and Dark’cha, by Hazzan Israel Alter. The High Holy Day Service, Cantors Assembly, Inc. 1971. Sung by H. Kobilinsky

  1. Misinai tunes as defined by Cantor Hayley Kobilinsky “are melodies which seem so old, authentic and universal they are attributed to having been given along with the tablets at Mount Sinai.”

Barbara R. Finn, R.J.E. serves as Cantor of Congregation Albert in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a member of the American Conference of Cantors and currently serves as President of the Rabbinical and Cantorial Association of Albuquerque.

Jewish Groups Defend Circumcision at Council of Europe Hearing

Wed, 01/29/2014 - 19:29

Representatives of European Jewish groups defended ritual circumcision at a hearing of the Council of Europe.

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Double Booked: American Families Keep Us Fighting for Equal Pay

Wed, 01/29/2014 - 12:00

By Lilly Ledbetter and Lisa Maatz

A Note from Deputy Director Rachel Laser: On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed the first substantive piece of legislation of his presidency- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. As the National Women’s Law Center explains, the Act restores longstanding law and helps to ensure that individuals subjected to unlawful pay discrimination are able to effectively assert their rights under the federal anti-discrimination laws. Under the Act, each discriminatory paycheck (rather than simply the original decision to discriminate) resets the 180-day limit to file a claim.This landmark legislation is a huge step forward for paycheck fairness and women’s equality.

Five years to the day, we are thrilled that Lilly Ledbetter herself and Lisa Maatz, Vice President for Government Relations at the American Association of University Women, have co-written our launch-day blog! Their reflections and policy goals are the perfect kick off to “Double Booked: A Conversation about 21st Century Working Families.”

When the Supreme Court decided in 2007 that Lilly Ledbetter’s employer had paid her unfairly long enough to make it legal, that could have been the end of Lilly’s fight for fair pay. But Lilly is still fighting almost seven years later because the battle was never about her alone. Pay inequity keeps American families from making ends meet, and together we will fight until equal work is compensated with equal pay.

Lilly started work at Goodyear in 1979 with one child in college and another about to head that way. She persevered through daily harassment at Goodyear because she wanted both of her children to earn a college education and because they had household expenses that her husband’s paycheck didn’t cover. She planned to work at Goodyear until she retired so that she could secure full medical coverage for her and her husband.

These goals – goals shared by most families nationwide – all changed with an anonymous note. After working at Goodyear for almost 20 years, Lilly received a note that said she was making thousands of dollars less than her male counterparts. Shocked and horrified, Lilly thought of how much her family had gone without over the years and how she would never catch up to her male co-workers’ salaries and retirement benefits. With her family’s support, she decided to sue.

Lilly’s court case ended with the Supreme Court’s wrongheaded decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., but our lifelong friendship formed soon after. Lilly joined organizations like the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to lobby Capitol Hill for a legislative fix to the court’s decision. These efforts culminated with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Five years ago today, we watched and cheered as newly elected President Barack Obama signed the bill into law.

Although the bill simply restored the long-standing interpretation of civil rights laws that employees can challenge every discriminatory paycheck, it also gave us hope that greater change was to come with the nation’s leader on our side.

Today, a woman is either the sole or primary earner in 40 percent of families. A 2012 study by AAUW controlled for factors known to affect earnings, such as education, parenthood and hours worked, and found that college-educated women earn 7 percent less than their male peers just one year out of school — even when they have the same major and occupation. This gap grows over a woman’s lifetime, and, as Lilly experienced, affects families’ ability to buy homes and pay for college. In addition, the gender pay gap limits a woman’s total lifetime earnings, thereby reducing retirement savings.

This gap’s effect on American families keeps both of us fighting despite relatively little progress in the last five years. The anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is a chance to make the call for real progress. We urge members of Congress to support the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would help create stronger incentives for employers to pay workers fairly, empower women to negotiate for equal pay and prohibit retaliation against employees who share salary information. President Obama has said he will sign the Paycheck Fairness Act if Congress sends it to his desk, but as we wait for Congress to move past its unprecedented gridlock, the president can act right now. We need him to issue an executive order that would ban federal contractors from retaliating against workers who ask about wage practices or share salary information.

The president’s executive order would put in place part of the Paycheck Fairness Act right away for almost a quarter of the nation’s workforce, or 26 million workers. Plus, this executive order gets at the heart of one of Lilly’s biggest problems at Goodyear – not having any idea she was being paid less and not being allowed to discuss salary.

The executive order is the kind of change that all American families need – and the kind that keeps us fighting. We’re still in it for the long haul.

Lilly Ledbetter was the plaintiff in the discrimination case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and the namesake for the first bill President Obama signed into law. She is the honorary public policy chair for AAUW of Alabama.

As AAUW’s vice president of government relations, Lisa Maatz is a sought-after speaker across the nation and on Capitol Hill and has a large and devoted following on Twitter. Maatz also provides leadership to several coalitions working to advance policies for women and girls, including the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education and the Paycheck Fairness Act Coalition. 

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

"555 Days of Prayer to Save America" Says End of 2013 Brings...

Tue, 01/28/2014 - 22:59

Planning now accelerates for the September 11, 2014 "Great Wave Offering," scheduled to conclude "555 Days of Prayer to Save America" "Save America Gathering" and One...

(PRWeb December 29, 2013)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/12/prweb11451610.htm

Pete Seeger Gave Folk Music Life — and So Much More

Tue, 01/28/2014 - 16:35

Pete Seeger gave new life to folk music in this country. And he gave us our heritage, which might well have languished without his dogged energy and endless talent, Leonard Fein writes.

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ADL's Foxman Calls Pollard Incarceration 'On the Verge of Anti-Semitism'

Tue, 01/28/2014 - 14:52

The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, criticized the continued imprisonment of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, calling it “on the verge of anti-Semitism.”

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ADL’s Foxman: Pollard incarceration verges on anti-Semitism

Tue, 01/28/2014 - 13:11

(JTA) — The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, criticized the continued imprisonment of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, calling it “on the verge of anti-Semitism.”

Foxman was quoted on the Pollard case in several Israeli news outlets on Tuesday, and echoed a statement he issued earlier this month.

Someone is trying to teach the American-Jewish community a loyalty lesson, Foxman asserted in an interview Tuesday with Israel’s Army Radio.

“That to me is on the verge of anti-Semitism,” he said.

In a Jan. 16 statement, Foxman said that when Pollard was sentenced in a plea bargain 28 years ago, many claimed that the sentence was anti-Semitic. An ADL investigation concluded, however, that there was no basis for such an accusation.

Still, Foxman said, the fact that Pollard remains in prison despite having spied for an ally shows that there is an “ongoing vendetta” against him.

Foxman added, “If it were only a vendetta against one individual it would be bad enough. But it has now become one against the American Jewish community.”

The statement was in response to an editorial in Tablet Magazine calling for clemency for Pollard.

Foxman called for Pollard’s parole on humanitarian grounds and said his continued imprisonment was “an effort to intimidate American Jews.”

“And it is an intimidation that can only be based on an anti-Semitic stereotype about the Jewish community,” he said, “one that we have seen confirmed in our public opinion polls over the years, the belief that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their own country, the United States.”

An increasing number of figures involved in government when Pollard was given a 1987 life sentence for spying for Israel now believe his sentence should be commuted and have been calling for clemency.

Pete Seeger's 7 Most Jewish Songs

Tue, 01/28/2014 - 13:00

For secular Jewish children, some of us felt most spiritual listening to Pete Seeger. In honor of his memory, Adam Langer offers the legendary folk singer and activist’s 7 most Jewish songs.

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Nearly half the Israeli parliament marks Holocaust remembrance day at Auschwitz

Tue, 01/28/2014 - 12:59

Fifty-eight Israeli lawmakers marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Auschwitz, Jan. 27, 2014. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

OSWIECIM, Poland (JTA) — Watching thousands of Poles dance to Klezmer music just 50 miles from the Auschwitz death camp, Johnny Daniels could feel an ambitious plan taking shape.

The experience last year at Krakow’s annual Jewish Culture Festival prompted Daniels, a 28-year-old Israeli and Holocaust educator, to organize the largest-ever Knesset delegation to Auschwitz.

Nearly half the Israeli parliament was in Poland Monday to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 69th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. They also conducted a joint session with counterparts from the Polish parliament.

“At the festival, I realized the Holocaust had a huge impact also on Polish society, and I decided to do something connected to how we relate to each other,” said Daniels, the director of From the Depths, a nongovernmental education organization.

At the camp, the Israeli delegation — which comprised 58 Israeli lawmakers, including several ministers — marched to the Birkenau death complex in formation, flanked by the Knesset guard and flying Israeli flags. Amid the snow-filled crematoria, they stopped to sing the Israeli national anthem in the freezing wind before breaking into smaller groups, many of them praying and remembering murdered relatives.

Unlike during previous Israeli events in Auschwitz — including the 2003 flyover by Israel Air Force fighter jets — the visitors heard family stories from Poles like Piotr van der Coghen, whose father, a resistance fighter and medic, treated his Jewish fellow prisoners as an inmate at the Plaszow camp.

Another Polish lawmaker, Ewa Wolak, spoke at the joint inter-parliamentary session in Krakow about a growing awareness among Polish priests and farmers of the need to demarcate the countless mass graves of Jewish Holocaust victims that dot the Polish countryside.

For Poles, the Knesset delegation arrived as Polish interest in the Holocaust and Jewish culture continues to grow, yielding a slew of recent books and movies and the opening of several Jewish museums and culture festivals. Foremost among the new museums is the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, whose core exhibition is due to open later this year in Warsaw. The number of annual visitors to the Auschwitz museum has more than doubled since 1988, from 600,000 to 1.4 million.

There is a “growing recognition of how the Holocaust was an enormous loss also for Polish society,” said Shevah Weiss, a Poland-born Holocaust survivor and former Israeli ambassador to Warsaw. “Gradually, more and more Poles are discovering the enormity of that loss and are moved to attempt to recover some of it.”

Holocaust studies and interest in Polish Jewry’s heritage is growing in Israel, too. Israel’s education ministry last year announced a new program for teaching first graders about the Holocaust. Currently, the subject is not taught until junior high. Some 25,000 Israeli teenagers are sent to Poland each year, at a cost of $30 million annually.

Joining the Israeli lawmakers was a delegation of 24 Holocaust survivors, including Noah Kliger, who recalled reciting the Kaddish mourning prayer with other Jews while sitting on a heap of corpses in a Nazi railway car. They agreed to pray only after the son of one of the dead agreed to share his bread with them.

“Eating the bread, I asked where his father was,” Kilger said in his speech. “He said, ‘Somewhere under all these corpses.’”

Several U.S. politicians joined the ceremony as well, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who spoke of “a profound emotional experience,” and Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and Republican presidential candidate.

“As we’re standing here in our warm coats and still cold, I can’t imagine the suffering of those who were forced to work here in pajamas,” Huckabee told JTA. “The Knesset stands here as testament that the will of good is better than the will of evil. Their flag signifies how, had there been a Jewish state, there would’ve never been a Holocaust. That’s why there must always be a secure Jewish state.”

Sending the Knesset members cost Israeli taxpayers $130,000, according to The Marker daily. Another $400,000 was raised by From the Depths, Johnny Daniels’ outfit, to cover events surrounding the inter-parliamentary session in Krakow.

A large chunk of the organization’s budget for producing the event came from Stewart Rahr, an American philanthropist who grabbed some tabloid headlines last year after he reportedly sent a video to friends showing him having sex with three women in a limousine. Knesset spokesperson Yotam Yakir and Daniels both denied a New York Post report earlier this week that Rahr had covered the Knesset members’ travel costs as well.

“He’s a good man and a major donor to Jewish causes and also to this organization,” Daniels said.

Elizabeth Banks will direct ‘Pitch Perfect 2’

Tue, 01/28/2014 - 11:32

For her feature directorial debut Elizabeth Banks will take on “Pitch Perfect 2,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. The film is a follow-up to the 2012 musical comedy about a college a capella group. Banks, who co-starred in and produced the original, will once again play commentator Gail. Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson “are likely to return” as well.

Insiders (okay, fine–we) are hoping for a cameo from the Maccabeats.