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Will Rabbi David Saperstein’s Departure Mean Watershed Change at the RAC?

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 06:00

Rabbi David Saperstein is leaving the Religious Action Center to become America’s ambassador for international religious freedom. Can anyone fill his shoes?

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Rabbi David Saperstein Nominated to Key State Department Post

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 13:00

On Monday, President Obama announced his intent to nominate David to serve as U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. I wrote a letter to the Reform Jewish community about this:

I have long said that Rabbi David Saperstein is a national treasure. I am pleased and proud, but not surprised, that President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have now recognized that as well. It is a fitting role for someone whose life has been dedicated to championing religious liberty at home and abroad. I am confident that, when confirmed, David will represent the United States with the same devotion, intelligence, energy and passion with which he has represented our Movement for the last 40 years.

We – the Reform Movement, certainly, but so many others – owe such a debt to David. He has built the Religious Action Center (RAC) into not just a centerpiece of our Reform Jewish efforts, but also a center for all those who share a commitment to tikkun olam and to our historic Jewish prophetic mission. Under David’s leadership, the RAC has firmly established itself as a key leader on a broad range of issues, including religious liberty, reproductive rights, LGBT equality, disability rights, the environment, economic justice and, of course, international religious freedom.

Indeed, the issue of domestic and international religious freedom has been one of David’s areas of focus throughout his career. He is widely regarded as an expert in this field, having taught church-state law at Georgetown University Law Center for 25 years, long co-chaired the Coalition for Religious Liberty, participated actively in the multi-religious, bipartisan efforts that shaped the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, and was honored by being selected in 1999 as the first chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which was created by a unanimous act of Congress. As we witness the growing religious divides and conflicts around the world, and escalating instances of religious oppression, including the rise of anti-Semitism, it is reassuring to know that David will play a key role in addressing these issues at such a crucial time in world affairs.

David, of course will remain in charge of the RAC until he is confirmed by the Senate and sworn in.

There is no easy way of replacing David Saperstein.   Fortunately, one of David’s gifts has been developing a team at the RAC that is strong from top to bottom. In the near term, we will look to that superb staff – led by Deputy Director Rachel Laser and Commission on Social Action Director Barbara Weinstein – to drive the RAC’s essential work and to oversee daily operations. Rachel and Barb are both outstanding leaders, well known in Washington and respected throughout the Jewish community. The other members of the RAC’s Senior Staff, including Rabbi Michael Namath, Sandi Kleinman, Sean Thibault, Daphne Price, and indeed the entire RAC team, are similarly outstanding.

Given the importance of the RAC’s work, between when David is confirmed and I make final decisions about the RAC’s leadership structure, I will personally serve as Director of the RAC.   Rachel, Barbara and I know that we can continue to count on the advice of experienced URJ leaders: Jennifer Kaufman, Chair of the Commission on Social Action; Mark Pelavin, who serves as my Senior Advisor and who spent 15 years helping lead the RAC; and URJ Senior Vice President Rabbi Jonah Pesner with his long experience in the social justice arena. Since the RAC is a joint entity of the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, we also remain grateful for the ongoing support and guidance of the CCAR leadership.

As David goes from strength to strength, we will do everything we can to build on the tremendous foundation he has established at the RAC.

I’d also like to draw your attention to the Statement of Rabbis Rick Block and Steve Fox on behalf of the CCAR: “We congratulate our esteemed colleague, loyal CCAR member, and dear friend, David Saperstein, upon his nomination as U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. We are grateful for his extraordinary leadership, deep wisdom, and distinguished service over four decades, representing the URJ, CCAR, and our Movement, as Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. We are confident that, upon confirmation, David will be a brilliant, passionate, and effective advocate for religious freedom throughout the world. We pray that his efforts will be crowned with abundant success, fulfillment and blessing.”

'Jews Who Rock' Only Scratches Surface of Fame and Faith

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 06:00

‘Jews Who Rock’ is a new exhibit that takes a one-size-fits all approach to musicians who are members of the tribe. Too bad it barely scratches the surface of their relationships to Judaism.

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Palestinian Teen Charged in Firebombing of German Shul

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 15:54

A suspect has been arrested in an attempted arson attack on a German synagogue.

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8 Reasons Menachem Creditor Is Wrong To Be 'Done Apologizing' for Israel

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 08:08

Rabbi Menachem Creditor says he’s done apologizing for Israel. Jay Michaelson gives 8 reasons why it’s important to tell the truth about the Gaza war — even if it hurts.

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Planning for Third Temple With Help From Web

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 07:43

 An organization based in Jerusalem is working on a detailed architectural blueprint for the Third Jewish Temple on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount — and has turned to the internet for help with the controversial project.

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How Much Should Non-Members Pay for A Plot in Synagogue Cemetery?

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 06:00

Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery? One family’s dilemma raises questions about compassion —  and the economics of the modern shul.

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Sing Unto God, Sing a New Song! A Reflection from the Kutz Songleading Major

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 05:00

By Eva Turner

This summer at URJ’s Kutz Camp was the second year I chose the Songleading Major. Many people asked, “why do the same major again?” to which I always responded, “I need new music.” In truth, I decided to participate in songleading for a second time because I believe you can never learn everything and there is always room for improvement. And I was completely right. The most important lesson I’ve learned in my two years as a songleader I learned this past summer. That lesson is as follows: The most important part of songleading is education.

When our teachers Spike (Jacob Kraus) and Ryan Leszner first said that, it took a minute to sink in. Before that I believed that the most important thing in the songleading universe was to be a regional songleader. I realized I was wrong after I thought about what Spike and Ryan had said. The most important application of the skills and techniques that I had spent four weeks learning is to teach the next generation of committed Jews — to teach them how to pray, how to celebrate in song, and how to engage in the text of our heritage.

I remember taking a moment to center my thoughts before preparing a rebuttal for Spike and Ryan. Then it hit me. How have our customs, culture, and traditions survived for so long? How have stories been told? What is the single common thread that has connected us to Torah, prayer, and each other? Music.

As a songleader, my job is not just to lead and engage others, but to educate and pass on the thread of music l’dor vador, from generation to generation. This, in turn, made me realize that songleaders don’t only teach. In order to be the best songleader you can be, you must be open to learning — from others and yourself. I debated with myself over whether learning or teaching is more important, since it is hard to have one without the other. My thoughts circled around and back, and it took me a bit too long to realize that the idea of having one without the other is the point of the lesson.

On the last day of the session, as I stared out over a steam-covered Lake Rolyn, the yellow sun started to peek out from behind the blanket of trees in a grand entrance of pinks, purples, oranges, and blues, and it hit me square in the face. There isn’t a right answer. There is no right or wrong way to be a songleader. There are no strict guidelines or rules as to how to be the “best.” The “right way” is your own way. And, I think, it’s that way with anything you are passionate about. The only right way is your way. And as I watched the sun rise and the geese swim in their uniform V-shape, I knew I had learned what I was supposed to. I am songleading my own way and I couldn’t be more proud of where this discovery will take me!


Eva Turner is an active member of NFTY-Southwest and resides in Scottsdale, Arizona where she attends Temple Emanu-el. Eva is a two-time Kutz alum and a committed song leader for NFTY, the Reform Jewish Teen Movement.


Rabbi David Saperstein Named U.S. Religious Freedom Envoy

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 14:57

Rabbi David Saperstein will be named the next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, the first non-Christian to hold the job since it was created in 1998.

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Miami Beach Shul Hit With 'Hamas' Graffiti

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 14:39

A synagogue in North Miami Beach was vandalized with spray painted swastikas and the word “Hamas.”

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Synagogue, cars in North Miami vandalized with ‘Hamas’

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 12:02

(JTA) — A synagogue in North Miami Beach was vandalized with spray painted swastikas and the word “Hamas.”

The attack on Congregation Torah V’Emunah reportedly came early Monday morning, according to local reports.

The epithets were discovered slightly more than a day after cars owned by a Jewish family in Miami Beach were egged and smeared with cream cheese while the family attended Shabbat services at their local synagogue.

The vandals wrote “Jew” and “Hamas” on the back of the cars, parked in front of their home in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Miami Beach, according to the local CBS affiliate.

The family whose cars were attacked immigrated to the United States from Iran 25 years ago.

“Everyone was shocked,” said daughter Rachel Shakib.  “No one knew what was going on, we’re like this is America, this is Miami. Why would we be targeted here? We’re supposed to be safe, free from anti-Semitism.


Rabbi's Sex Abuse Talk to 9-Year-Old Girls Sends Savannah Into Turmoil

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 06:00

A Savannah rabbi made a serious lapse in judgment when he darkened the lights in a classroom of 9-year-old children and proceeded to talk to them about child sexual abuse. Now, the community is divided.

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Extremist Settlers Clash With Rabbis Over Palestinian Olive Groves on West Bank

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 18:39

Jewish settlers clashed with activists of the Rabbis for Human Rights movement near the West Bank city of Hebron on Friday as they protected Palestinians beginning the annual olive harvest.

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Carrie Newcomer

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 12:02

Singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer’s music is rooted in her Quaker faith, and it often emphasizes the sacred in the ordinary. “Some of my best language has come out of the silence” of Quaker meetings, she says, “when I’ve taken the time to listen to something beyond myself.” Her songs as well as her social activism try to fulfill the old Quaker saying to “let your life speak.”

The post Carrie Newcomer appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

First Woman Rabbi Recalled at Terezin Camp

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 06:30

A memorial plaque to Regina Jonas, the first female rabbi, was unveiled at the former Nazi concentration camp Terezin in the Czech Republic.

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Shalom, Cooperstown! Jewish Mayor Welcomes World to Baseball Hall of Fame

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 06:00

Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.

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Almost 80 years after ordination, the first woman rabbi finally gets her due

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 22:47

Rabbis Jacqueline Tabick, Amy Eilberg, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and Sally Priesand stand with a photo of Rabbi Regina Jonas at Centrum Judaicum Archive in Berlin, July 22, 2014. (Toby Axelrod)


Ask most Jews where and when the world’s first female rabbi was ordained, and they’ll likely guess 1970s America.

But they’d be off by four decades and a continent.

The first woman rabbi was not Sally Priesand, ordained by the Reform movement in 1972, but Regina Jonas, who earned the title in 1935 in Berlin.

This week, Priesand — along with other pioneering women rabbis from various movements and countries — is in Berlin and Prague trying to bring some belated recognition to Jonas, who perished in Auschwitz in 1944.

Highlights of their five-day tour, organized by the Jewish Women’s Archive and the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives to honor Jonas, included installing a plaque in Jonas’ memory at the Terezin concentration camp, where she was initially deported, and visiting Centrum Judaicum Archive, where Jonas’ personal papers were stored for safekeeping on the eve of her deportation.

“They came out with this little box,” said Priesand, who said she had been expecting a much bigger trove. “Her whole life was in this little box. And it reminded me of how important it is to tell the story. I wonder how many other stories were there” and never told.

Born in 1902 in Berlin, Jonas studied at the city’s Liberal Hochschule fur die Wissenschaft des Judentums (Higher Institute for Jewish Studies) and was ordained by Rabbi Max Dienmann. Leo Baeck also signed the ordination papers.

But after her death, she was largely forgotten until after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when her papers were rediscovered.

In a Tuesday evening program honoring Jonas, the rabbis discussed the challenges facing female rabbis today and shared stories about inspiration and obstacles.

Panelists included Amy Eilberg, who in 1985 became the first woman ordained by the Conservative movement; Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, who became the first woman Reconstructionist rabbi in 1974; Jaqueline Tabick, who in 1975 became the first female rabbi ordained in the United Kingdom and today is convener of the Rabbinic Court of the British Reform movement; and Alina Treiger, who in 2010 became the second woman rabbi ordained in Germany.

The program’s one Orthodox woman rabbi — Sara Hurwitz, who was ordained with the title of rabba in 2009 by Rabbis Avi Weiss and Daniel Sperber — was unable to reach Berlin due to the temporary closure of Ben Gurion Airport.

“Although [Regina Jonas'] voice was silenced,” said Hurwitz, speaking to the group via cell phone, “it is thanks to her courage [that] we are guaranteeing that [Jewish learning for women] not only survives but also thrives.”

Treiger noted that while Jonas had to do her studying at home, she herself was able to study alongside male rabbinical students at the Abraham Geiger College at the University of Potsdam.

“It was my motto: If she can do it, I will do it also,” she said.


Extremist Rabbi Issues Ruling Saying Jewish Law Permits Destruction of Gaza

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 19:11

Rabbi Dov Lior, a leading West Bank rabbi who endorsed a book justifying the killing of non-Jews, issued a religious ruling saying that Jewish law permits the destruction of Gaza to keep southern Israel safe.

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First female rabbi, Regina Jonas, commemorated at Terezin site

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 18:15

PRAGUE (JTA) — A memorial plaque to Regina Jonas, the first female rabbi, was unveiled at the former Nazi concentration camp Terezin in the Czech Republic.

Several female rabbis from Jonas’ native Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States — notably Sally Priesand, who in 1972 became the first American female rabbi — attended Thursday’s ceremony in the camp’s former columbarium.

Jonas, a Berlin native, was ordained in 1935 and served the Jewish community in the German capital until her deportation to Terezin in 1942. Two years later she was murdered in Auschwitz at 42.

“Rabbi Jonas’ unique genius and perseverance allowed her to overcome the prejudices of the past, an achievement that continues to serve as a model,” said Lesley Weiss, head of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, which organized the ceremony.

During her internment in Terezin, Jonas continued to lecture, preach and provide pastoral care to fellow inmates. She also worked for a crisis intervention service set up by the prisoners.

“Her particular job was to meet those who just arrived at the station and help them cope with shock and disorientation,” said Jan Munk, the director of the Terezin Memorial.

Jonas’ life and work was largely forgotten until the 1990s when her personal archive was rediscovered in Berlin.

“I did not know about Regina Jonas, and I only discovered her as everyone else has,” Priesand, 68, told JTA. “I feel like we are almost kindred spirits, and I’m glad we came to dedicate her plaque in order to restore her story.”

San Franciso Jewish Film Fest Directors Call For Peace in Gaza

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 18:00

The directors involved in the 34th edition of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival issued a statement today calling for peace in Gaza and Israel.

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