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Eric Cantor Loss Plunges Jewish Republicans Into Despair

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 18:45

Eric Cantor’s shocking defeat left Jewish Republicans speechless. But what does his demise say about the future of the party — and its always tenuous tie to the Tribe?

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Cantor resigning House leadership post

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 17:28

(JTA) — U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor said he will resign as House majority leader a day after losing a Republican congressional primary in Virginia.

Cantor made the announcement late Wednesday afternoon at a meeting with House Republicans and later at a news conference, the Hill reported.

The resignation will take effect by the end of July. Elections for majority leader and whip will be held June 19, the Hill reported.

Cantor, 51, the only Republican Jewish lawmaker in the House of Representatives since 2009, lost in his Richmond district to Tea Party challenger Dave Brat in a major upset.

After a career in the Virginia legislature, Cantor was elected to the House in 2000 and was made chief deputy whip just two years later. He rode the Tea Party wave to majority leader after the 2010 elections.

Peace, Love and Understanding: David Broza Talks about Peace and Music at the Commission on Social Action Meeting

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 15:00

At the recent Commission on Social Action (CSA) meeting, CSA members and those participating in the Social Action Skills Training Seminar had the opportunity to hear David Broza perform songs from his latest album, a collaborative project in which music is used as a conduit to discuss peace.  Broza’s newest album, called “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem,” is an effort to bridge the Jewish-Arab divide in Israel. 

Broza describes his album and the efforts behind its creation: “It’s better than talking.  A lot of people dream and say, ‘I want to do, I want to do, I want to do.’  The interesting thing is to do and stop talking.”  The album is a compilation of coexistence anthems by Israeli, Palestinian and American musicians.  In his presentation as the keynote speaker on the Monday night of the conference, Broza talked about the relationship with Palestinian musicians he has built over the years, which you can read more about in a New York Times article called “Seeking to Bridge the Arab-Jewish Divide With Music.”

In addition to speaking about both his own and his family’s experiences as Israelis, his musical background, and his most recent project, David Broza also sang several titles from his new album.  One song that struck a chord with attendees is called “The Lion’s Den.”  The song is based on a poem written by Judea Pearl, the father of Daniel Pearl, a journalist who was killed in Pakistan in February of 2002.

Broza also spoke about the song “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” On the album, the song is sung by David Broza and the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, an ensemble of high school students from East and West Jerusalem who sing together and engage in dialogue.  The last song of the evening was his most famous song, “Yehiye Tov,” which translates to “it will be all right.”  Broza explained how he wrote the song based on a poem by Yonatan Geffen in 1977 on the eve of Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Israel.  The emotion in the room was palpable as Broza talked about the expectancy and hope of Sadat’s visit and what this might’ve meant for peace in the Middle East.  Broza explained that since the initial song had been written, he’s written several new verses as different events have taken place in Israel.

We are grateful to have had David Broza share his commitment to music as a conduit for peace. To learn more about David Broza’s most recent project, and hear samples of the songs on the album, visit his website.

Cantor Sings Sad Song – in Virginia

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 13:36
U.S. Congressman Eric I. Cantor, the majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives was surprisingly defeated by a Tea Party affiliated candidate who challenged Cantor in a Republican primary election in Virginia. Cantor, who is the highest ranking elected Jewish Republican in the U.S. (the only one in Congress), and one of the most […]

Republicans Scramble After Stunning Eric Cantor Loss

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 12:42

Republican lawmakers are scrambling to identify the party’s future leaders after the shock primary election defeat of Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, by an upstart candidate from the Tea Party movement.

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Cantor’s loss leaves Jewish Republicans bereft

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 12:15

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor at a news conference in the Capitol, Oct. 5, 2013. (Chris Maddaloni/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Eric Cantor’s defeat in one constituency, Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, triggered mourning among another: Republican Jews.

Since 2009, Rep. Cantor (R-Va.) has been the only Jewish Republican in Congress. After the 2010 GOP takeover of the House, he became the majority leader. He is the highest-ranking Jewish lawmaker in congressional history.

But the meteoric rise of Cantor, 51, came to a screeching halt on Tuesday when he was trounced in a major Republican primary upset in his Richmond-area district by a poorly financed Tea Party challenger, Dave Brat, an economics professor.

“Obviously we came up short,” Cantor told his stunned followers in a Richmond hotel ballroom. “Serving as the 7th District congressman and having the privilege of being majority leader has been one of the highest honors of my life.”

The defeat, with Brat garnering 55 percent of the vote to 44 percent for the incumbent, was a shock to Cantor and especially to Republican Jews for whom Cantor was a standard-bearer.

“We’re all processing it,” said Matt Brooks, the president of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “He was an invaluable leader, he was so integral to the promotion of, to congressional support of the pro-Israel agenda. It is a colossal defeat not just for Republicans but for the entire Jewish community.”

Cantor also was a natural ally for socially conservative Orthodox Jews who at times have been at odds with the Obama administration on religion-state issues.

In a statement, Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union, called Cantor a friend who has “been a critical partner for the advocacy work of the Orthodox Jewish community on issues ranging from Israel’s security and the security of Jewish institutions in the United States, to religious liberty to educational reform, and opportunity to defending the needs of the nonprofit sector.”

Cantor was elected to Congress in 2000, at the age of 37, after having served nine years in the Virginia legislature. From the start he made clear that he had three bedrocks: his faith, his state and his conservatism.

His first floor speech, on Jan. 31 2001, was in favor of making the Capitol Rotunda available for Holocaust commemoration, and in two minutes Cantor wove together the importance of Holocaust education — a nod to two Virginia founding fathers and an embrace of the foreign policy interventionism that would guide the George W. Bush administration.

“The remembrance of this dark chapter in human history serves as a reminder of what can happen when the fundamental tenets of democracy are discarded by dictatorial regimes,” a hesitant and nervous Cantor said.

“While we in the United States, the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, have experienced years of peace and prosperity, we must not forget that genocide and human rights abuses continue to occur elsewhere around the world,” he said. “As the leader of the free world, the United States must use its power and influence to bring stability to the world and educate people around the globe about the horrors of the Holocaust to ensure that it must never happen again.”

Cantor’s popularity in his district, his ability to garner supporters in the Republican caucus and his fundraising prowess soon caught the eye of Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who in 2003 was set to become House majority whip. Blunt named Cantor his chief deputy, a stunning rise for a congressional sophomore who had not yet reached 40.

Cantor’s Jewish involvement deepened as his days grew busier. Raised in a Conservative Jewish home, he started to keep kosher and take private classes with Orthodox rabbis. His three children with wife Diana, whom he met at Columbia University, were active in Jewish youth movements.

Confidants say his commitment to Israel intensified after a cousin, Daniel Cantor Wulz, was killed in a 2006 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

For Jewish leaders, Cantor was a critical address within the Republican Party for the Jewish community’s domestic agenda, said William Daroff, the Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“When there was a need for a heavy lift for much of our Jewish federation agenda, we could count on being able to call Eric and have him help us get to the finish line,” Daroff said.

Cantor at first seemed to be riding the Tea Party wave. During the 2010 midterm elections, he joined with Reps. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Kevin McCarthy of California, calling themselves the Republican Party’s “Young Guns”  in setting up a political action committee that championed younger conservatives in a GOP that they said had become too moderate and complacent.

In a book co-written by the three at the time, Cantor welcomed the Tea Party wave.

“They saw that the powers in charge here are ignorant of what the people want and frankly arrogant about it,” Cantor said in the book, referring to the protests against President Obama’s health care plan that had sparked the Tea Party movement.

In the book, he again rooted his conservatism in the South and in his faith.

“I pray on Saturday with a Southern accent and Paul and Kevin go to church on Sunday and talk to God without dropping their ‘G’s,” referring to his colleagues.

At the time, Cantor seemed to think he could harness the Tea Party insurgency.

“Tea Party individuals are focused on three things: One, limited, constitutional government; two, cutting spending, and three, a return to free markets,” he told JTA in an October 2010 interview on the eve of the midterm elections. “Most Americans are about that, and the American Jewish community is like that.”

As majority leader, Cantor stayed to the right of Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), and many believed he would soon challenge Boehner to become the first Jewish House speaker.

Cantor and Obama have not had a good relationship — Cantor has not attended a single Jewish event at the White House during Obama’s two terms, although he has been invited to all of them.

Until two weeks into the October 2013 shutdown of the federal government, Cantor resisted agreeing to a deal, and he conceded only when it became clear that the shutdown was damaging Republican electoral prospects.

Heeding a Republican establishment that believed the Tea Party had gotten out of hand, Cantor more recently tilted toward the center, championing job creation programs, criticizing foreign policy isolationists within the GOP and expressing a willingness to consider elements of the 2013 Senate immigration reform bill, although until now he has resisted bringing it to the House floor.

That tilt and, according to some local news reports, a perception that Cantor was not sufficiently invested in his district helped contribute to his defeat. Brat especially focused on criticizing Cantor’s tentative embrace of a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors.

Hadar Susskind, the director of Bend the Arc, a Jewish group that is a leader on immigration reform, said it was bizarre to accuse Cantor of being overly accommodating on immigration.

“He has been the single largest obstruction in the effort to reform our immigration laws, so those efforts lose nothing with his defeat,” Susskind told JTA.

Democrats immediately seized on Cantor’s loss as evidence that the Republican Party is becoming increasingly extreme.

“When Eric Cantor, who time and again has blocked common sense legislation to grow the middle class, can’t earn the Republican nomination, it’s clear the GOP has redefined ‘far right,’ ” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement.

Steve Rabinowitz, a publicist who represents Jewish groups as well as liberal and Democratic causes, said he was conflicted about Cantor’s departure. On the one hand, he couldn’t help but be amused that Cantor’s flirtation with the Tea Party came back to haunt him. On the other, Rabinowitz suggested that Cantor’s defeat was a minus for the Jewish community.

“Wearing my mainstream Jewish skullcap, it’s clear the community needs people like Eric Cantor,” Rabinowitz said. “This is a loss for the Jewish community. I have my disagreements with him, but he’s been there for the community.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ Open Letter to President-Elect Reuven Rivlin

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 11:07

[Editor's Note: This letter from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform, Judaism, to Reuven Rivlin, Israel's president-elect, originally ran in Haaretz.]

Dear President-elect Rivlin,

I want to offer my warm congratulations to you upon your election as the 10th president of Israel. What a tremendous opportunity you have to serve our beloved Jewish State at this critical time! In your acceptance speech, you immediately signaled that you are resigning from the Likud party to become the president of all Israelis: “Jews, Arabs, Druze, rich, poor, those who are more observant and those who are less.” I was very pleased to read these words which herald a new breadth and depth to your leadership.

I would be less than candid, however, if I did not admit to some concern about your ability and willingness to work with the largest denomination in North American Jewish life, the Reform Movement, and our Israeli counterpart, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. In 1989, you visited Temple Emanu-El, a Reform synagogue in New Jersey. In an interview after your visit you told a reporter from Yedioth Aharonot about your experience, where you disparaged, with stunning insensitivity, the dominant religiosity of North American Jewry, our Reform Movement.

I’m hoping that you’re ready to update your harsh and rather unenlightened views of our dynamic, serious and inspiring expression of Judaism that animates almost 900 congregations representing over a million and a half North American Jews.

Mr. President elect, we are strong, we are proud and we love the Jewish people and the State of Israel. We honor and respect the many different expressions of Judaism – from the ultra-Orthodox to secular Jews. You may not agree with everything we do or how we express our deep Jewish commitment, but please know it is no less than yours, or any of the chief rabbis. The world has too many people who have disdain or antipathy toward our people and our beloved homeland, so please do all you can to model ahavat yisrael, love of your fellow Jews.

Just a few weeks ago, I led a mission of our Union for Reform Judaism leadership. Our 50 lay leaders observed Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) at Mt. Herzl and spent Shabbat with our burgeoning Israeli Reform Movement in thriving congregations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Mevasseret Zion and Gedera. We met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, both of whom addressed our rabbis by the title “Rabbi” that they deserve (as do most Israeli leaders).

We spoke with Israel’s leaders about the many challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people. We renewed our deep commitment to Israel.

We continue to speak out for Israel no matter where we are. In fact, next week I will be addressing the Presbyterian Church’s large general assembly gathering in Detroit, Michigan, as they consider harsh boycott, divestment and sanction resolutions. I am going there to engage with them and to argue against the delegitimization of the State of Israel.

Then, I will travel from Detroit back to Israel just in time to observe Shabbat Korach in the Jerusalem neighborhood where my wife and I purchased a home during the second Intifada. We wanted a place in the holiest of cities to bring our children to and we wanted to express our commitment to Israel especially in the darkest of days.

This summer, thousands of our Reform Movement’s young people and families will be arriving to study, to take part in tikkun olam service programs, for touring, and for Birthright and NFTY (our North American Youth Movement, the North American Federation of Temple Youth) trips. Upon their return they will become some of Israel’s best ambassadors as they spread knowledge, appreciation and support for the Jewish State. I hope they do not hear harsh or delegitimizing words about their Jewish lives from Israeli politicians in the Knesset or in the president’s residence that would have an adverse impact on their growing love for an Israel where they can see their own identity fully realized.

I, and our entire Movement, stand ready to work with you to strengthen our people and our Jewish State. I also hope you will accept my invitation to visit our thriving congregations, our academies of higher Jewish learning, our 14 overnight summer camps, the largest Jewish camp system in the world, teeming with young Jews living exuberant and committed Jewish lives.

President Elect Rivlin, yours is an awesome responsibility to represent the State of Israel to supporters and detractors alike. May the Holy One who blessed and sustained our ancestors bless you, and may you find new room in your heart for our extraordinary Movement which stands ready to partner with you to help Israel be a beacon of tolerance and light to all people.


Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Reform Rabbis Join Push To End North Carolina Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 10:35

The Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis joined a lawsuit against North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriages.

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N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wants Oversight of Orthodox E. Ramapo School Board

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 08:35

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants the state Department of Education to ensure oversight of a troubled school district run by an ultra-Orthodox school board.

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Eric Cantor Loses Republican Primary to Tea Party Challenger by 56%-to-44% Margin

Tue, 06/10/2014 - 21:26

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia lost a Republican primary to a Tea Party challenger on Tuesday in a stunning upset that gave the conservative Tea Party movement the biggest victory in its short four-year history.

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7 Resources That Will Improve Your Training Program’s Accessibility

Tue, 06/10/2014 - 16:54
The following resources will help program directors understand what's so important about making courses available to everyone, along with some tips to improve what you offer.

French Chief Rabbi Rocked by $120K Orthodox Divorce Shakedown Video

Tue, 06/10/2014 - 16:27

A month ago, Michel Gugenheim seemed to have succeeded in helping France’s rabbinate recover from the scandal that ended the tenure of its previous chief rabbi.

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'Fiddler on the Roof' Turns 50 With an All-Star Celebration

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 15:00

The landmark and ground-breaking musical, ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ is commemorating its 50th anniversary — at the same time its lyricist Sheldon Harnick is turning 90.

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Jewish Teens Escape Axe Attack Near Paris

Sun, 06/08/2014 - 18:42

Two Jewish teenagers on their way to a synagogue in France were chased down by a hatchet-wielding man. They escaped — narrowly.

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Rabbi-Produced Ugandan CD Wins Music Award

Sun, 06/08/2014 - 15:44

“Delicious Peace,” a rabbi-produced CD of original Ugandan songs, won best world traditional album at the Independent Music Awards. Watch a video here.

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Is 'Death of Klinghoffer' Opera Really Anti-Semitic?

Sun, 06/08/2014 - 10:31

Some call it a musical masterpiece. Others say it’s appallingly biased. Can ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ show humanity in terrorists without alienating opera-goers?

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Bulgarian Synagogue Hit With Anti-Semitic Vandalism On Shavuot

Sun, 06/08/2014 - 09:44

“Death to Jews” and a swastika were painted on the notice board of the Central Synagogue in Sofia, Bulgaria.

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Circumcision Gas Station Mural Sparks Protests in Cleveland

Fri, 06/06/2014 - 14:50

A coalition of Cleveland Jewish leaders are protesting a graphic mural painted on a gas station wall that depicts a rabbi performing a controversial circumcision ritual.

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Reform CA Lobby Day: Do Your Congregations Build Affordable Housing?

Fri, 06/06/2014 - 14:45

By Rabbi Stephanie Kolin

On Monday, June 2, 2014, nearly 30 Reform CA leaders from all across California, descended on the Capitol building in Sacramento. We started our morning at Congregation B’nai Israel for breakfast, lobbying training, and a briefing by coalition leader Shamus Roller, Executive Director of Sacramento Housing Alliance. After our minds, hearts, and bellies were full, we jumped into our cars and headed to the Capitol. Rabbi Jocee Hudson of Temple Israel of Hollywood led us in a powerful prayer and kavvanah on the steps of the Capitol, as we held a tallit, our ritual shelter, above our heads.

Our first meeting was as a group, with Senate President Pro Tempore, Darrell Steinberg. Steinberg, a member of congregation B’nai Israel, noted our deeply impactful work on the TRUST Act last year, and gave us focus for the long day ahead. We shared our gratitude with him for creating the opportunity for using Cap and Trade funding for building affordable homes near transit and then continued on our day.

Throughout Lobby Day, Reform California leaders met with over 25 of our legislators, including Senate Pro Tem Steinberg, the office of Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, the office of Pro Tempore Elect Kevin De Leon, and Governor Brown’s staff members who cover environmental and housing issues. Reform CA leaders asked hard questions, shared why as Jews we are committed to the preservation of our planet as well as those who inhabit it, and urged our state leadership to allocate significant Cap and Trade funds for building affordable housing near transit, not just for this year’s funds, but for the long term.

One of the many stories that emerged from this day encapsulates the power of raising a faith voice in the public square.

The team that met with Assembly Member Riddley-Thomas, Rabbi Rachel Timoner, Rabbi Dara Frimmer, and Rabbi Tamara Eskenazi, reported back that they had a wonderful meeting with him in which they had a lively exchange about Cap and Trade funding, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and building affordable homes near transit. The beginning of the meeting, however, was quite remarkable. After they explained why they were there, Assembly Member Riddley-Thomas asked them: “So, do your congregations build affordable homes or are you involved in construction or development?”

They answered (somewhat confused): “No.” So he inquired about what they were doing there if they were not positioned to gain from the building of these homes. And they told him that they were there because they are Jews. They explained that we are charged with caring for the earth and for the people who inhabit it. They care about people who are suffering and struggling, they shared. Rabbi Eskenazi said: “We have an interest in living in a California that is just and compassionate for all people.” They shared that they were there because it is our job to repair what is broken in our world.

The members of that team reported back to the Lobby Day participants that Assembly Member Riddley-Thomas nodded his head in understanding and then the conversation began in earnest! We will learn again and again that our voice, a moral faith voice, has a different kind of impact in Sacramento. We are not a special interest lobby group – we speak for what is just and right for the most vulnerable in California, for our own families, and for our neighbors across lines of race, class, and faith. We have serious interests in living in an economically and environmentally just state that allows all of its citizens to thrive and grow.

When we take action in the public square, when we enact justice through the lens of Torah, we play a sacred role in creating the California that we dream of.

Rabbi Stephanie Kolin is the Co-Director of Just Congregations. She is the lead organizer of Reform California, a joint campaign of the Peace and Justice Committee of the CCAR, the Religious Action Center, and the URJ’s Just Congregations. You can join the email list and learn more about the upcoming housing campaign at rac.org/reformca  

Reform Movement Reacts to Palestinian "Unity Government"

Thu, 06/05/2014 - 12:26
Rabbi Jacobs: "This much is clear: no one who loves Israel, or cares about the Palestinian people, or both, can afford to close doors right now. However daunting, this must be a moment when all parties stop taking unilateral actions..."