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Belfast Synagogue Vandalized Twice in One Weekend

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 17:57

A window was smashed on successive days at a synagogue in Belfast, Ireland.

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The Moral Imperative of Non-Discrimination

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 17:39

Amidst the suffering and conflict occurring in too many parts of the world, the White House delivered good news and something to celebrate today.  Rabbi David Saperstein and I were privileged to be in the East Room of the White House this morning to watch President Obama sign an Executive Order prohibiting all companies that receive a contract from the federal government from discriminating against LGBT employees and adding gender identity to federal government’s current prohibition of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Read the RAC’s press release praising this action where Rabbi Saperstein noted: “It is our moral imperative to build a fair society where all people are judged by the merit of their work and not by their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

In fact, Rabbi Saperstein was right next to the President as he signed, a spot well deserved given his counsel to the White House and key groups pushing this Executive Order and the RAC’s leadership in the faith community on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) (which is still stalled in the House after passing the Senate for the first time ever last November).

Sometimes Congress or the White House makes law that is more symbolic than practical in advancing social justice. Today, however, was an undeniably concrete step towards LGBT equality, as it means that lesbian and gay employees of federal contractors in 29 states—and transgender employees of federal contractors in 32 states—now have workplace protection that was sorely lacking.

Last week I was in Paris, France meeting with Stéphane Beder of the French Federation of Liberal Judaism to discuss the recent events of violence towards synagogues and Jews in Paris. One question he asked me stood out- “How do you stay motivated to work on social justice issues when progress is so slow?”

Moments like today’s signing ceremony are those that inspire and motivate me. I will never forget the joy I felt this morning as I listened to the President of the United States state these words:

“We’ve got an obligation to make sure that the country we love remains a place where no matter who you are, or what you look like, or where you come from, or how you started out, or what your last name is, or who you love – no matter what, you can make it in this country.”


Belfast synagogue vandalized on back-to-back days

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 16:08

(JTA) — A window was smashed on successive days at a synagogue in Belfast, Ireland.

The vandalism at the Belfast Hebrew Congregation took place on Friday night and the following day, the BBC reported. In the latter incident, the replacement window was shattered.

Police are treating the vandalism as a religious hate crime.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said it was “totally unacceptable” for places of worship to be targeted, the BBC reported.

Gerry Kelly, a member of the legislative assembly, condemned the attack.

“There can be no place for attacks on any place of worship, regardless of the religion or denomination,” Kelly said, according to Belfast’s News Letter. “The local Jewish community makes a valuable contribution to our society and there is no justification for hate crimes.”

It was not clear whether the attack was related to Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip.

An Update on “Stop the Sirens”

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 20:23

As you know, the conflict in Gaza has intensified. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the Israeli soldiers killed in action, with our brothers and sisters in Israeli, and with all who are in danger.

When the conflict began, the Reform Movement made a decision to join Stop the Sirens, a community-wide campaign, coordinated by Jewish Federations of North American (JFNA), to provide relief and support to the most heavily impacted Israeli communities. We did this rather than creating our own campaign to support our Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) congregations and the vital work the IMPJ itself is doing because we thought it was important to show support for the larger communal effort.

The campaign has already allocated $8 million for “respite and relief.”

ARZA Chair Rabbi Bennett Miller is doing a great job representing our Movement on the JFNA Allocations Committee, assuring that the allocation reflect Reform Jewish values as well as Reform Movement interests.

We could not be more pleased with the partnership we have seen from JFNA and others this week. Moving forward, we expect that the emergency campaign will also help the partners facilitate long term responses to the emergency.

To date, the Allocations Committee has approved requests for funding from the IMPJ for more than $180,000. That has allowed the IMPJ to do the following:

  1. Providing respite for children and families through programming outside of missile range:
  • This past Thursday, a group of 70 (about 50 children and some adults) were hosted by the IMPJ in Haifa through the Leo Baeck School. Due to the immense pressure they were under, the full group continued on Friday to the Lavie Forest where they were hosted by IMPJ volunteers for a weekend of programing.
  • By this Thursday, the Leo Baeck School will have hosted more than 400 people from Yerucham and other cities in the South. Today alone they hosted a group of 70 Bedouin children and their mothers. Next week both Beit Shmuel (Jerusalem) and Beit Daniel (Tel Aviv) will begin hosting as well.
  1. Emergency respite to institutionalized people with emotional challenges:
  • This past weekend Kibbutz Yahel hosted three families who are “emotionally challenged,” and this coming Wednesday and Thursday 10 families will be hosted at Kibbutz Lotan.
  • IMPJ professionals have teamed up with song leaders and cultural directors, providing activities in hostels and group homes throughout the south including in Beer Sheva, Ashkelon, Kiryat Gat, and Sederot.
  1. Emergency aid packages:
  • IMPJ has prepared 800 packages and distributed 300 of them that include toys, activity books, games, and in cases where needed basic food items. IMPJ volunteers have handed these packages out and carried out activities in shelters in Sederot, Beer Sheva, Ashkelon, Asdod, and Gedera, and in the Sha’ar HaNegev region. They expect to distribute an additional 800 packages in the coming week.

It is also important to remember that three IMPJ congregations continue to face the challenge of operating under fire. All three remain open, had services this past Shabbat, and continue to serve both their members and the larger community.

We encourage all members of Reform congregations to continue to provide funds and donations to their local Jewish Federations to assure that continued funding will be available in the coming weeks as it is likely that the current crisis will not end in the next few days. Our ongoing support for Israel and its citizens will continue to be desperately needed. More information about Stop the Sirens and how to support this vital campaign is available at www.urj.org/israel.

Let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem, all of Israel, and wherever there is suffering.

Anti-Israel Rioters Torch Cars, Throw Firebomb at Paris Synagogue

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 15:53

Anti-Israel protesters hurled a firebomb at a synagogue during an unauthorized demonstration in a heavily Jewish suburb of Paris.

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Clashes Erupt in Paris as Thousands Rally To Denounce Israel Attack on Gaza

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 12:42

Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters marched in French cities on Saturday to condemn violence in Gaza, defying a ban imposed after demonstrators marched on two synagogues in Paris last weekend and clashed with riot police.

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French Jews Fight Back Against Anti-Israel Mobs at Synagogues

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 07:40

French Jews were stunned when an anti-Israel mob besieged a synagogue outside Paris. What happened next may turn out to be a historic turning point.

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Modern Music With Minimalist Roots

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 17:35

Bang on a Can’s performance at the Jewish Museum is a reminder that Minimalism influenced music just as much as it influenced visual art.

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Colleagues, friends and family gather to remember Rabbi David J. Forman

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 13:54

By Terry Hendin

Some 65 people ranging in age from a few months to 95 years old gathered in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood on Monday, May 19, 2014 at the Kehilat HaDror Community Garden.  The Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood was the home to our colleague, mentor, teacher and friend, the late Rabbi David J. Forman. Rabbi Forman was the long time Director of NFTY in Israel programs who passed away in May, 2010.  A human rights activist, author, lecturer and gifted teacher, David’s memory is cherished not only by his loving extended family, including his wife Judy and daughters Tamar, Liat, Shira and Orly, but also by a devoted group of former classmates, colleagues and friends.

Rabbi Shaul Feinberg, Terry Hendin, and Rabbi Stuart Gellar join together for work in the garden.

The occasion was the 3rd Annual Activity Day organized by the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund based in Jerusalem.  The multi-generation friendly project included work at the garden, clearing the ground to lay a path, pruning trees, weeding, planting flowers and creating mosaic markers naming the various species growing in the garden. Rabbi Ezzie Ende, a former NFTY in Israel group leader and educator who now serves Kehilat HaDror lead us in a brief study related to the counting of the Omer, tying this in to the history of the Kiryat HaYovel neighborhood and Rabbi Forman’s deep commitment to human rights, tolerance, democratic and Jewish values, youth and the nurturing of pluralistic communities. Some of those present briefly spoke about social justice projects they are involved in.  This was very much in the spirit of Rabbi Forman who always was involved in social justice and human rights initiatives.

Throughout the year, this area is used by the school and general community and particularly by members of Kiryat Hayovel’s fledgling Reform congregation, Kehilat HaDror which began as an offshoot of the veteran congregation, Kehilat Kol HaNeshama.  Kabbalat Shabbat, holiday services and activities take place here during mild weather.  Summertime movie nights, children’s birthday parties and hands on environmental education all occur in this charming ‘pocket’ garden in a neighborhood whose population is for the most part invested in preserving a balanced well-integrated pluralistic community.

Four generations of the Forman-Haberman family were present and 3 generations of Rabbi Forman’s friends and colleagues many of whom had been or continue to be professionally affiliated with NFTY and NFTY in Israel.

Courtesy of the family of Rabbi David Forman

The Rabbi David J. Forman Fund was established to perpetuate the legacy of David’s Jewish social activism, leadership in Jewish education, promotion of justice as a rabbinical vision, and the need to work indefatigably and without illusion for peace, justice, and human rights.  The Fund is devoted to activities that demonstrate a passion for the Zionist enterprise, helping to build a more just Israeli society, and the enhancement of Jewish Peoplehood.   The annual Activity Day, Human Rights Awards and Scholarships are some of the areas sponsored by the fund. For more information about the Rabbi David J. Forman Fund email: rabbiformanfund@gmail.com

Black Hats and Wigs Do Not an Orthodox Jew Make

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 20:00

Why do some Orthodox Jews do things that seem so un-Jewish? Avi Shafran has an answer — they go through the motions of ritual without embodying true belief.

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Stones Thrown at Dutch Chief Rabbi's Home

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 13:37

A chief rabbi of the Netherlands said unidentified individuals hurled stones at his home in what he said was the second anti-Semitic attack on him in a week.

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Home of Netherlands chief rabbi attacked

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 11:20

(JTA) – A chief rabbi of the Netherlands said unidentified individuals hurled stones at his home in what he said was the second anti-Semitic attack on him in a week.

Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs said the latest attack took place at 5 a.m. Thursday, when two stones were hurled through a window of his home in Amersfoort.


An earlier incident outside his home on July 10 ended without damage, he said. Jacobs’ home has been targeted five times in recent years, he told JTA.

“The fact that these attacks are recurrent shows the depth of hatred that exists against Jews,” he added.

On Thursday, the pro-Israel organization CIDI prepared for a support rally to express solidarity with Israel for its military operation against Hamas and other terrorists in Gaza. Israel launched the operation last week amid ongoing rocket fire on Israeli cities and towns.

One Israeli and more than 200 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, which triggered a wave of anti-Semitic incidents across Western Europe and especially France.

Anti-Israel protesters said they would hold a counterdemonstration opposite the CIDI rally at Amsterdam’s Dam Square.

Khalid Sinouh, a goalkeeper for Rotterdam’s Sparta soccer team, called CIDI “a criminal organization” and a “pro-apartheid organization” on Twitter on Thursday, the Telegraaf daily reported.

The Walkman Generation – NFTY in the ‘80s

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 05:00

By Rabbi Roxanne J. Schneider Shapiro

More than the Jewish people have kept the Sabbath; the Sabbath has kept the Jewish people. – Ahad Ha’am

When I reflect on NFTY in the ‘80s, I would revise Ha’am’s quote to:

More than Reform Jewish teenagers have kept NFTY; NFTY has kept Reform Jewish teenagers.

I cannot speak for all who were involved in NFTY in the ‘80s, but for me, NFTY was a holy sanctuary – it was what I would refer to as a beit midrash (house of study), beit t’filah (house of prayer), and a beit k’neset (house of meeting), all in one.

Teens in the ‘80s were learning about Judaism ‘on the go.’ We were the “Walkman generation.” Finally, we could take music with us. This represented more than just music on the go ― for us it was the beginning of portable Judaism. I practiced for my bat mitzvah service with a cassette tape in my Walkman. I could play my tapes of NFTY I, II, III, IV, V, and my MoVFTY mix tapes over and over in the car, on a walk, and at NFTY events. Our music and our experiences were not limited to places where a music box could be plugged in; rather, they were everywhere. We were learning that Judaism was not limited to our homes and synagogues―it could be taken with us.

In high school, we learned English, science, and history, but NFTY was where we went to really learn about the world around us. We explored social justice issues that were in our own backyards, not just talk about them. NFTY was a safe space where we could ask questions, be vulnerable, and learn. We explored gender issues, the nuclear arms race, Black-Jewish relations, AIDS, and hunger. We craved the lessons and the chance to learn more―to uncover the truths that the world was not yet speaking about openly. We wrestled over the fact that we used the term “J.A.P” with our Jewish friends, but cringed when we heard others refer to us that way. We were introduced to and inspired by Anselm Rothschild, a young Jewish composer who served as faculty at Kutz, and for many of us, our first connection to someone who would die of AIDS. These discussions and these interactions brought us out of our secular worlds of avoidance of sensitive topics, and helped us to become the shapers of our world.

We were all so committed to believing that “Ani v’atah n’shaneh et ha’olam” (You and I can change the world). We sang the song with passion and we believed. We joined hands, studied issues, and we acted. We stood proud for Operation Moses (Ethiopian Jewry) and against apartheid (South Africa), held hands (Hands Across America 1986), and marched on Washington (Soviet Jewry 1987). NFTY resolutions became our mantras. We boycotted grapes and Nestlé products, believing with all our might that if we all joined in, we could make a difference. And when businesses changed their practices for the better, and when people gained their freedoms, we knew that we had played a part.

When I peruse Facebook these days, and consider the lives of all of those who made my NFTY experience what it was, I am impressed by all we have sought to do. From those who now serve their cities and states as elected officials to those who work in social service agencies and as teachers, from those who raise their children to be caring individuals to those running businesses that promote good values and ethics, and, of course, to those who have chosen the Jewish professional world to touch the lives of teens (thanks to those who made a difference in their own lives), I know that it is in no small part due to their experiences with NFTY in the ‘80s.

We thought then that we kept NFTY strong, but really, NFTY made us strong. And I bet, if you ask NFTYites of the 1980s, we will tell you that, despite all the challenges we know we have faced and still will face, ultimately, we believe that together, “you and I can change the world.”

Rabbi Roxanne J. Schneider Shapiro is the rabbi and Director of Life Long Learning at United Hebrew Congregation in St. Louis (the only congregation that can boast having two former NFTY Presidents currently serve as its rabbis). After being a devoted MoVFTYite, serving as Regional President and Regional Secretary, she was NFTY’s North American President (1989-1990). She was YGOR (Rockdale Temple) Advisor in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, and became a NFTY-OV Life Member in 2001. She has been honored to have a true recognition of what l’dor vador (from generation to generation) means as her former congregant, Andrew Keene, was elected NFTY President this past year.

Utah man gets five years in prison for firing on synagogue

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 09:39

(JTA) — A Utah man was sentenced to five years in prison for firing a gun at a Salt Lake City synagogue in 2012.

Macon Openshaw, 22, of Salt Lake City, pleaded guilty on April 16 in U.S. District Court for the District of Utah to firing three rounds from a handgun at Congregation Kol Ami, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice. The shots broke windows and damaged the window casings.

Openshaw admitted to firing at the synagogue because of its Jewish character.

“Religiously motivated violence cannot be tolerated by civil society,” Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels said in a statement. “The department stands ready to combat violence based on a person’s religion and will continue to prosecute these hate crimes vigorously.”

Openshaw also was ordered to pay $1,969 to the synagogue to pay for the damage caused by his attack.

Utah Man Gets 5 Years for Shooting at Salt Lake City Synagogue

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 08:38

A Utah man was sentenced to five years in prison on Tuesday for shooting into an unoccupied synagogue in Salt Lake City in what federal authorities said was an attack motivated by religious bias.

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Saperstein: Recent Spate of Anti-Semitic Incidents Prompts Alarm

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 22:49

In response to recent anti-Semitic episodes in Los Angeles and Paris, as well as incidents across the United States and Europe, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

“We are deeply disturbed by the recent violent anti-Semitic and anti-Israel uprisings. Over the weekend, rioters, wielding bats and chairs, tried to break into the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue in Paris while worshippers were blocked inside. In Los Angeles’ Westwood neighborhood, a peaceful demonstration was violently disrupted by agitators, leading to shots being fired. In Frankfurt, a local synagogue was attacked as an anti-Israel rally turned violent. In Bastille Square, demonstrators held signs that read ‘Death to Jews.’

“The attacks on synagogues and the anti-Israel demonstrations that spill over into violence are part of a series of anti-Semitic incidences in Western Europe coinciding with the recent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These events are painful reminders that anti-Semitism continues to plague too many Jewish communities. Such incidents are alarming indications that the thin line between anti-Semitism and many anti-Israeli activities is evaporating.

“As home to the largest population of Jews outside of the United States and Israel, we often see France as a bell-weather of the situation for Jews and religious minorities in Europe. Especially this week, as the French people celebrate their independence and democratic society, it is a propos that we be reminded that French citizens — of all faiths and of non-faith — have a right to live their lives free from violence and intimidation. Towards that goal, we acknowledge the efforts of the French authorities to address the causes and manifestation of such incidents.

“In light of these recent events across the globe, we urge law enforcement, political and civic leaders to be even more assertive in efforts to secure the safety of Jewish citizens and institutions. Our hearts go out to the Jewish community of Paris and all the affected communities and we pledge our ongoing support to help ensure the safety of Jews throughout Europe and the world.”

The Women Rabbis Of New Mexico

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 06:00

New Mexico is home to several trailblazing rabbis and has become a breeding ground for female spiritual leaders. We visit as part of Our Promised Land series of all 50 states.

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The Century Ends: NFTY Music of the 90s

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 05:00

by Cantor Rosalie Boxt

Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong decade. I have often wondered what it would have been like to be a songleader with my mentors, my friends, and my “heroes” in the 70s. Yet, as I reflect back on the time when I was a young songleader, during the years when I was in the thick of camp songleading, I see the 90s as the most extraordinary time to have been a part of NFTY – the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, and Jewish music. At Goldman Union Camp I learned everything there was to know about songleading from the greats of community singing ― Dan Nichols, Ken Chasen, Andy Vogel, Dave Snyder. When I left there to join the leadership team of Kutz Camp in 1995, I had no idea of the scope and breadth of Jewish music. In the mid and late 90s, as a songleader at Kutz, I first became aware of the diverse and extensive camp and regional musical traditions. Before that I thought the Midwest was all there was! What became clear to me at Kutz in the 90s was that there was an entire canon of NFTY music ― a repertoire that spanned the miles and borders of state and region, of accent and weather. And yet there was also music that was specific to each region, each songleader, each camp’s particular passion in text or music.

The songleaders who came before me at Kutz had been in Israel and brought us David Broza’s “Mitachat LaShamayim” and Naomi Shemer’s “Lu Y’hi” – the new contemporary Israeli rock of which I had been unaware as a youth in the 80s beyond knowing the Chasidic and Israeli folk festival repertoire of the 70s. We also began to reap the benefits of Debbie Friedman’s new compositions around prayer, women, Torah text, and healing. I remember learning and teaching her “Devorah’s Song,” “Miriam’s Song,” and “Mi Shebeirach” as a 20-year-old, knowing then the power of these songs. I understood, most importantly, their messages of strength and courage, of allowing everyone’s voice to a part of our story, and how they would resonate for years to come.

I was impressed (and startled) by the intensity of singing I experienced at SEFTY (NFTY SE/STR) and the depth of knowledge of prayer and Hebrew of OSRUI teens. The 90s were a pivotal time for NFTY and its music; as it became clear that we needed a new chordster, a new songleading “bible.” The amount of new repertoire which had been written, or discovered and shared, had made the old orange chordster out of date ― not obsolete ― but lacking in the scope which the NFTY and UAHC (now the Union for Reform Judaism) leadership recognized had grown exponentially in the 90s, and now was needed to set the course for the next 20 years.

After college I was honored to become an employee of NFTY in Israel, and the NFTY songleader at Kutz, and to be a part of the editorial team and then co-editor of Shireinu: Our Songs, the chordster published in the year 2000. It was the dynamism of our team, the lists we voted on and culled, the songs retained and songs dropped off, the songs we hoped would last, and others we knew would take off ― that mark the pivotal moments the 90s were to our camp and songleading world.

Over 20 years later, it is thrilling to be invited to be a part of the next stage – Shireinu II – in which we will reflect on how far we’ve come, on how our music has grown deeper and wider, more inclusive of voices from many faiths and backgrounds, and always with text, Torah, humanity, and relationships at the center.

So while I was transformed by the creativity and vision of the 70s, and witnessed the dynamism and boundary-breaking of the 2000s, I was able to share so richly in the music of the right decade, and to reap the benefits of those who came before and sow the seeds for those to come.

Cantor Rosalie Boxt serves Temple Emanuel in Kensington, Maryland and is a member of the URJ Expert Faculty of Worship and Music, and Director of Worship for URJ Biennial.


Russia Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar Brings Riot Police Escort to Crimea Synagogue

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 21:45

Russia’s chief rabbi Berel Lazar brought armed policemen, including riot police, to tour Crimea’s Reform synagogue in Simferopol, according to CCTV footage.

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Couple Charged in Ramadan Threat to Hamptons Synagogue

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 17:28

A divorced couple from Long Island was arrested for allegedly sending threatening emails to a synagogue in the Hamptons.

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