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A New Sound for a New Generation: NFTY’s Music in the 2000s

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 04:00

by Caryn Roman

There was a time when the term “Jewish Rock” might have been considered an oxymoron.

In my own NFTY and camp days in the mid-to-late 90s, most of the music in services and song sessions reflected the Movement’s folk roots and didn’t sound much like what we listened to on the radio or our Sony Discmen. Sure, we all loved Debbie Friedman’s prayer settings and Bob Dylan’s protest songs, but we didn’t have any Jewish music comparable to Green Day or even Dave Matthews. Unlike the generations before us, rabbis and cantors playing guitar and singing ‘camp’ songs on the bimah were common occurrences. But just like our predecessors, we sought a new sound around which to build a Jewish youth community.

The music that emerged at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st began to shrink the gap between ‘Jewish’ and ‘rock.’ Song sessions got louder and rowdier as new artists such as Rick Recht, Dan Nichols, Noam Katz and Josh Nelson introduced songs that combined traditional texts with alternative beats. The meteoric rise of online platforms and the emergence of social media made documenting and sharing music easier than ever, catapulting certain tunes into an enduring NFTY pantheon that transcended regional affiliations. NFTY events and camp sessions now featured full-on rock shows, complete with blaring amps, flashing lights, fog machines, and merchandise.

As a songleader and youth worker during these frenzied days of transition, I often found myself in awe of the intensity and energy produced by NFTYites singing. Where but the NFTY community could one witness Jewish teens dancing in a mosh-pit to Torah text and screaming words like “Baruch atah, Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, shenatan lanu hizdamnut l’taken et haolam” (Praised are you, God, who gives us the opportunity to repair the world) at the top of their lungs? The volume was sometimes overwhelming, but the sheer joy exuding from these gatherings always made me smile.

This era brought another important innovation to NFTY: the musical mash-up. With these creations, modern secular music found a new place in song sessions and worship; hearing the words of “Hinei Mah Tov” layered on top of Dave Matthews’ popular tune “Everyday” encouraged teens to find themes connecting the music in their earbuds with the words of the prayerbook. Mash-ups became outlets for creativity, expressions of personal or group identity, and familiar reference points for new members.

Recognizing the need to catalog the music being produced by many new artists, Transcontinental Music (now URJ Books and Music) resurrected the periodic NFTY album. Produced to coincide with NFTY Convention, the Ruach series showcased a range of tracks reflecting the “new” Jewish sound. Those of us leading and teaching this new music found a wealth of new resources and opportunities for training. Most prominently, Hava Nashira – the songleading institute created by Debbie Friedman, Cantor Jeff Klepper and friends at URJ’s Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute – mushroomed from a small yearly gathering to become the address for professional development, networking and repertoire-sharing, attracting hundreds of people each year. By the mid-2000s, all URJ Camp and Israel songleaders were required to participate, ensuring an infusion of new music into those communities every summer.

Now I see a new generation picking up their guitars (and drums) to create the soundtrack of NFTY’s future. I can’t predict which of their melodies will become as popular as Dan’s “L’takein (Na Na Song)” or Josh’s “Y’hiu L’Ratzon,” but I know that hearing NFTYites singing together will always bring a smile to my face.

Caryn Roman is pursuing a master’s degree in Jewish Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and coordinates the URJ’s newly launched Bonim Kehilah fellowship for young adults. She proudly served as a songleader at URJ Kutz Camp, in NFTY’s Michigan Region, and at congregations around the US.

Are you an aspiring songleader? Join NFTY at NASHIR: Teen Songleading Institute in White Plains, N.Y., Dec 12-14! Learn more and register at .

Orthodox yeshiva argues for greater privacy in conversions

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 19:18

(JTA) — In the wake of voyeurism allegations against a prominent Orthodox rabbi, the head of an Orthodox yeshiva for women is arguing that male rabbis needn’t be present for a female convert’s ritual immersion.

Rabbi Jeffrey Fox, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Maharat in New York, is preparing a teshuva, or Jewish legal opinion, arguing that Jewish law does not require a male rabbi to be present in the room of the ritual bath, or even for the door to be ajar, to witness the immersion of a female convert. Fox expects to publish the teshuva within the next week through Yeshivat Maharat, which focuses on training and ordaining women as Orthodox clergy.

The issue of privacy for female converts has taken on new urgency in the wake of allegations that Rabbi Barry Freundel, a high-profile Washington D.C., rabbi, used hidden cameras to watch female conversion candidates as they immersed themselves in the mikvah.

Fox said that he and others at Yeshivat Maharat would also push to give highly trained women a greater role in preparing and shepherding women through the conversion process, rather than leaving such preparation as the sole province of male rabbis.

While steering clear of the specific allegations against Freundel, Fox said that the accusations in the case highlight the unequal power dynamic between men and women in many areas of Jewish ritual, and potential for abuse raised by those imbalances.

“A power hierarchy exists,” Fox told JTA. “Our goal is to shift that hierarchy.”

Officials from Yeshivat Maharat and sister institution Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a seminary to ordain male rabbis, will host an Open Space community meeting on Thursday to discuss “protecting sacred spaces, clergy boundaries and rabbinic authority.”

No Plans To Change Temple Mount Status Quo

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 15:44

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there are no plans to make changes in the status quo on the Temple Mount.

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No plans to change status quo on Temple Mount, Netanyahu says

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 14:25

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there are no plans to make changes in the status quo on the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu made the statement on Monday during a meeting to discuss the security situation in Jerusalem. His assurances came a day after Jordan warned that its peace treaty with Israel signed 20 years ago could be threatened by continued settlement construction and by any change in the status quo on the Temple Mount, including allowing Jews to pray there.

Several hours after Netanyahu’s statement, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah visited the Al-Aksa Mosque at the Temple Mount.

The meeting and the visit come amid tension in Jerusalem that has increased in recent days due to an attack by a Palestinian driver on a light rail station in Jerusalem and the killing by Israeli soldiers of a Palestinian teen with American citizenship accused of preparing to throw a firebomb into traffic.

Tension on the Temple Mount increased in recent months, coming to a head during the Jewish High Holidays when more Jewish pilgrims visit the site, which is holy to both Muslims and Jews.

Hamdallah visited the Temple Mount with the Palestinian Authority governor of Jerusalem, Adnan al-Husseini, and Palestinian security officials, according to reports. His visit was approved by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon.

During the security meeting, Netanyahu called for draft legislation levying severe punishment for rock throwing be advanced as quickly as possible. The legislation would call for detention and stiffer punishments for rock throwers, including criteria for the possible imposition of economic sanctions on the parents of minors who throw rocks.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen, senior Israel Police officials, the deputy attorney general and military officials attended the meeting.

Meanwhile, also Sunday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent a letter to the Obama administration calling on the U.S. government to “stop Israeli escalation in east Jerusalem, especially raids by settlers and extremists into the Aksa Mosque,” according to a statement released by his office in Ramallah, Israeli media reported.

Abbas threatened that the “dangerous escalation” would lead to  “a wider explosion.”

Conversion Reform Bill Moves Ahead in Israel

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 10:24

A Knesset committee has for the second time approved a bill allowing local rabbis to oversee conversions to Judaism in Israel.

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Man Charged in Vandalism of Suburban Chicago Synagogue

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 06:47

An Illinois man has been charged with a hate crime for allegedly vandalizing a synagogue.

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Religious Activists Challenge the Way Israel Does Kosher

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 05:00

Fed up with the rabbinate’s monopoly over kosher status for restaurants, a group of Jerusalem religious activists has started its own certification project.

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Illinois man charged with hate crime for allegedly vandalizing synagogue

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 15:35

(JTA) — An Illinois man has been charged with a hate crime for allegedly vandalizing a synagogue.

John White, of Westmont, Ill., was charged Friday with a hate crime for allegedly vandalizing Congregation Etz Chaim, in Lombard, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

White, 40, was arrested Oct. 21 and accused of smashing the synagogue’s windows and writing anti-Semitic graffiti on its walls, as well as driving recklessly on its property.

During a search of White’s house following his arrest, police found  thousands of rounds of ammunition, a shotgun, a rifle and four handguns.

He was charged Friday with one count of Hate Crime, one count of Criminal Damage to Property, one count of Possession of a Firearm and one count of Institutional Vandalism.

White was ordered held on $5 million full cash bond, DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said in a statement.

“The charges against Mr. White are extremely serious,” Berlin said. “Hate crimes have a devastating effect not only on the victims themselves, but on the entire community. DuPage County is built on the strengths of our communities, and an attack on a religious institution is considered an attack against the entire community. Any such attack based on hatred and prejudice will not be tolerated in DuPage County and will be met with the full force of the law.”

Tiny Cameras Found in Rabbi Freundel’s Towson University Office

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 11:23

Tiny cameras and memory cards capable of holding hundreds of thousands of images were found in the Towson University office of Rabbi Barry Freundel.

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Rabbi Judith Abrams, Founder and Director of MAQOM, Dies at 56

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 14:35

Rabbi Dr. Judith Abrams, the founder and director of the online Talmud learning website, MAQOM, died of a heart attack Wednesday in Houston. She was 56.

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Rabbi Dr. Judith Abrams, pioneering online Talmud teacher, dies at 56

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 12:40

(JTA) — Rabbi Dr. Judith Abrams, the founder and director of the online Talmud learning website, MAQOM, died of a heart attack Wednesday in Houston. She was 56.

Abrams, who made a career of Jewish teaching and learning, was a relative latecomer to Jewish study. Inspired by a semester studying in Soviet-era Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), where she met Jews in synagogue and on the streets, she entered the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion with practically no Jewish education, and quickly excelled in her studies, according to professor Jonathan Sarna, who is a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University and wrote a tribute to her on the H-Judaic e-mail list. Abrams graduated at the top of her class in 1984 and was ordained as a rabbi the following year.

Her rabbinic thesis, on the image of America in the Russian-language Jewish press, was published in the American Jewish History journal in 1986. In 1993 she earned a doctorate in Jewish studies from Baltimore Hebrew University.

Abrams pioneered online teaching of Talmud to adults through her website MAQOM, and authored over 20 books for asults and children. Her most recent book, “The Other Talmud” (Jewish Lights) was published in 2012.

Abrams is survived by her husband, Dr. Steven Abrams, and three children.​

Immigrant Children and the Courts

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 11:03

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America have crossed the US-Mexico border, many being sent by their parents to escape gang violence in their native countries. While the US immigration courts attempt to quickly process them through the legal system, religious groups such as Catholic Charities, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and others are also responding.

The post Immigrant Children and the Courts appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Danish Health Director: No Risks To Justify Banning Non-Medical Circumcision

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 09:52

Denmark’s national health authority sees no risks to justify recommending a ban on the non-medical circumcision of boys, the body’s director said in parliament.

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European Rabbis Seek Laws Against Anti-Semitic Hate Speech

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 09:47

European rabbis called on governments throughout the continent to pass laws that target specifically hate speech against Jews.

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Danish health director: No reason to ban circumcision

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 07:37

(JTA) –Denmark’s national health authority does not think non-medical circumcision is risky enough to justify a ban on it, the body’s director said in parliament.

The Danish Health and Medicines Authority’s director-general, Else Smith, made the statement during her address at a debate in the Danish parliament Wednesday. Two Danish parties and the country’s children’s ombudsman support a ban because they believe circumcision violates children’s rights.

The Politiken daily quoted Smith as saying that while there is insufficient evidence to justify recommending the practice, the risks aren’t serious enough to require a ban.

The debate was organized by the Danish parliament’s group on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Support for a ban was reiterated during the debate by the Red-Green Alliance and the Liberal Alliance, whose combined electoral weight is 11 percent of the Danish parliament’s 179 seats.

Ole Birk Olesen, a lawmaker for Liberal Alliance, responded to Smith’s assertion by comparing circumcision with finger amputation and genital mutilation.

“Doctors can also remove small children’s small fingers without risk if they do it correctly. Should it be allowed to amputate young children’s little fingers without a medical reason?” he demanded.

The debate in parliament comes amid a discussion across northern Europe on the Jewish and Muslim practice. Interest in the topic resurged in 2012, with left-leaning liberals and secularist calling for a ban for humanitarian reasons and nationalist anti-immigration parties supporting a prohibition because they feel the custom is a foreign and barbaric element in Danish society.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the European Conference of Presidents, who visited Denmark last month, told JTA that activists against non-medical circumcision of boys, or brit milah, as it is called in Hebrew, plan to focus their lobbying efforts on Denmark. “The mixture of a secularist society, anti-Israel sentiment, a hostile far-right and threats by radical Muslims make life increasingly difficult for Danish Jews,” he said.

In a poll released earlier this week, nearly three quarters of 1,000 Danish respondents said they supported fully or partially banning non-medical circumcision of boys.

European rabbis seek laws singling out anti-Semitic hate speech

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 07:33

(JTA) — European rabbis called on governments throughout the continent to pass laws targeting hate speech against Jews.

The call was made in a resolution passed Thursday by the standing committee of the Conference of European Rabbis, or CER, which convened this week in Tbilisi, Georgia.

“We call on additional countries to follow the example set by France and Germany, and devise legislation that targets hate speech against Jews specifically,” CER President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt told JTA Friday.

“It is something that few countries have but is necessary in light of the rise in anti-Semitic violence and hate speech, as we have witnessed this summer,” Goldschmidt said in reference to a surge in anti-Semitic expressions throughout Western Europe that coincided with Israel’s war in Gaza.

The fight against attempts in Europe to ban non-medical circumcision of boys and kosher slaughter of animals was also a high priority for the committee, Goldschmidt said.

A draft resolution calling for the establishment of an inter-European authority that would certify clergy to combat religious hate speech was suggested but was not passed by the committee, which has over 25 members.

The meeting in Tbilisi was the first time that CER held an event in Georgia, and it coincided with government-sponsored celebrations of 2,600 years of coexistence between Jews and non-Jews in Georgia.

“We saw banners in Hebrew and Jewish signs all over the city,” Goldschmidt said.

CER also met with Georgian officials, including Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, who, at 32, is one of the world’s youngest heads of state.

Garibashvili spoke of his high regard for Israel and Jewish culture during the meeting, Glodschmidt said.

Women of Wall Slip Torah Scroll Into Western Wall Bat Mitzvah

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 07:19

Defying regulations by Western Wall rabbinic authorities, members of Women of the Wall smuggled a tiny Torah scroll into the women’s section of the Kotel.

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How a Stunned Synagogue Faces Up to Sins of Rabbi Barry Freundel

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 05:00

How should a Modern Orthodox congregation react when its rabbi is accused of abusing converts? In the case of Barry Freundel, Kesher Israel didn’t hesitate.

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JewliciousPop: KennyG In China

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 17:31
Pop musician Kenny G has caused a stir in China this week, raising the ire of Beijing’s Communist Party leaders and the hearts of Occupy Central students and protesters. Mister G is among the most widely known modern pop musicians, having sold over 75 million recordings of saxophone compositions. In China his “Going Home” song […]

Palestinian-American student alleges anti-Muslim assault at Brooklyn arena

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 16:10

(JTA) — A Palestinian-American student alleged that she was assaulted by a group of Jewish fans at a Brooklyn arena during an exhibition basketball game between the host Nets and Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Nerdeen Kiswani, 20, said that she was punched in the stomach and had a Palestinian flag taken from her hands during the Oct. 7 game at the Barclays Center by a group that included Leonard Petlakh, the executive director of the Kings Bay YM-YWHA, who was punched outside the arena after the game. Kiswani, who wears a hijab, is a student at Hunter College in Manhattan, where Petlakh also teaches.

In a statement to the New York Daily News, Petlakh’s attorney, former City Councilman Lew Fidler, denied that Kiswani was punched by his client or anybody else.

A video taken of the incident shows a flag being taken from Kiswani by a single individual, but does not indicate that she was struck or attacked by a group. Shawn Schraeder, who is accused of assaulting Petlakh and is awaiting arraignment, is seen in the video.

Kiswani’s attorney, Lamis Deek, said the punch occurred but cannot be seen on the video. Deek also is representing Schraeder in his case.

At a news conference Tuesday, Kiswani said that she was assaulted because she was “the only visibly Muslim women in the arena.” She is the founder and editor of the I Stand with Palestine web magazine and president of Hunter College’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

Police said Monday that Schraeder would not be charged with a hate crime because they no longer think bias was involved in the punching of Petlakh.

Kiswani said that when she reported the attack to Barclays Center security staff, the alleged assailants were stopped only briefly before being allowed to proceed; they were later escorted from the arena. NYPD officers also did not act, Kiswani said, and threatened to arrest her friends who alerted them to the incident during the game featuring Maccabi Tel Aviv and the NBA team.

This article has been updated and revised.