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Worship Without Music?!

Tue, 01/28/2014 - 06:00

By Jerry Kaye

Can you imagine a worship service these days without a cantor, a song leader, or even a band? There is nowhere in the liberal Jewish community where music isn’t an integral and heartening part of worship. Today, Jewish music is readily available on CDs and MP3s, and even on YouTube, which hosts thousands of new Jewish music recordings as well as the classics.

Were worship and music always intertwined? Is music as important in the traditional community? Can you pray without a guitar or keyboard? As far back as biblical times, Psalms describes praising God with the harp, lute and timbrel, thus giving us a great musical inheritance. However, we don’t know the melodies that David sang or the songs that surrounded Solomon.

Debbie Friedman, of blessed memory, transformed the music of the bimah and Jewish camps. There were many before her – including Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and a group of United Synagogue Youth grads called Arba Kolot (Four Voices)-who took language from the prayer book and generated it into music. Theo Bikel, Geula Gil, and Chava Alberstam made “Israeli music” feel like the ‘new’ Jewish music. But Israeli music, engaging as it is, really never took the bimah like Debbie Friedman.

Musical change was in the air when Debbie Friedman, Jeff Klepper, and Rabbi Dan Freelander joined liturgy with melody. Debbie may have been the first to bring Hebrew and English together in her songs, which made her music accessible whether you spoke Hebrew or not. Danny, Jeff and the entire NFTY community imprinted the new music first on records, then on cassettes, and ultimately as downloads.

Today, the list of Jewish composers, performers, and service leaders has grown long, and includes notables like Josh Nelson, Rabbi Ken Chasen, Cantors Rosalie Boxt, Arik Luck, Ellen Dreskin, and Shira Klein.

The bedrock of Jewish music can be found in the musical history of our URJ camps. Since our camps don’t have pipe organs, the front lines of Jewish folk music were acoustic guitar. Campers – teens and tweens – could pick up guitars and learn the minor chords of Jewish melodies. Even those who weren’t good pickers found that it sure was fun to sing along. Scores of kids who resisted piano lessons at home were excited to enthusiastically sing after camp lunch, and many signed up for guitar chug (club) before they even got off the camp bus.

As a result, Hebrew music and Jewish themes became embedded in the culture of Jewish camp. Camp services evolved from being peppered with Hebrew words here and there, to being imbued with Hebrew. This musical sea change at camps led to the cantorial resistance of the 60s and early 70s, when campers returned home and wondered why temple services weren’t as friendly as their camp services had been.

Although that generation of chazanim can’t be held responsible for what they were taught and what their congregations accepted as familiar, those young camp song leaders redirected their focus to become cantors and music directors themselves, and the change transformed Reform congregations everywhere. So it is that the music of Jeff and Danny and Debbie and so many more have made camp come alive with the strings, the flute and the timbrel.

Jerry Kaye is the Director of the URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin and was one of just 30 people from around the world invited to join the International Task Force on Jewish Peoplehood, under the auspices of the Jewish Agency. This past year he was appointed to a prestigious national panel on Jewish Educational Leadership as the only camp director among university professors and other practitioners of work in Jewish life.

"555 Days of Prayer to Save America" Planners Say "We...

Tue, 01/28/2014 - 03:36

As Their Intercessory Prayer for the United States Reaches Day 40, Christian Non-Profit, "Save America Gathering," Explains That Their 555 Day "Monument in Prayer to God is Designed to...

(PRWeb December 24, 2013)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/12/prweb11439804.htm

N.Y. State Bill Would End Funding to Schools With BDS Ties

Mon, 01/27/2014 - 19:44

A bill introduced in the New York State Assembly would suspend funding to educational institutions which fund groups that boycott Israel.

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Helena Bonham Carter, Ephraim Mirvis Named to British Holocaust Commission

Mon, 01/27/2014 - 19:39

Actress Helena Bonham Carter and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis were among those chosen for the new British Holocaust Commission.

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Women of the Wall Nearing Agreement With Israeli Government After Months of Negotiations

Mon, 01/27/2014 - 19:30

Women of the Wall is close to approving an agreement with the Israeli government to move the group’s monthly prayer service to a new egalitarian area.

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N.Y. State bill ends funding to schools linked to boycott groups

Mon, 01/27/2014 - 17:33

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A bill introduced in the New York State Assembly would suspend funding to educational institutions which fund groups that boycott Israel.

The legislation, introduced earlier this month by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and first reported by Mondoweiss, an anti-Zionist news site, would ban state funding to colleges which fund groups that boycott “in countries that host higher education institutions chartered by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York.”

A number of New York-based universities have Israel branches, and Silver made clear in a statement that the target was groups that boycott Israel.

The Democratic lawmaker said he initiated the measure “in response to the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israel and its academic institutions.”

“Colleges should not use funds to support boycotts, resolutions or any similar actions that are discriminatory and limit academic opportunities,” he said in the statement.

The ASA was one of three U.S. academic groupings to boycott Israeli academic institutions last year.

The bill, which currently has 48 sponsors out of 150 members, would cut funding to institutions that pay dues to groups such as the ASA or which subsidize travel to its conferences.

Bonham Carter, Rabbi Mirvis named to British Holocaust panel

Mon, 01/27/2014 - 16:47

(JTA) — Actress Helena Bonham Carter and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis were among those chosen for the new British Holocaust Commission.

Members of the commission, which will investigate ways to educate Britons about the Shoah, were announced Monday by Prime Minister David Cameron, the London Jewish Chronicle reported.

The commission was set to meet on Monday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, with more than 50 Holocaust survivors at a reception at the prime minister’s residence.

Cameron called on the public to provide evidence of Nazi atrocities and survivors’ artifacts to the commission through the end of May.

He announced plans for the commission last September at the Holocaust Educational Trust’s 25th anniversary dinner, according to the Chronicle.

The commission’s findings are expected to be presented to the government in time for the 70th anniversary of the British liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 2015.

Bonham Carter’s grandfather, Eduardo Propper de Callejon, was posthumously recognized for helping to save hundreds of Jews during World War II.

“I am very honored to be asked to join this commission and do so in particular memory of those members of my family who died in the Holocaust and as an inherited responsibility to my grandfather who made a significant personal sacrifice to save hundreds of lives,” the actress said in a statement. “It is our generations’ legacy to create a living memory that will survive the survivors and forever remind future generations of the inhumanity man is capable of committing to its own kind.”

Report: Women of the Wall nearing agreement with Israeli gov’t

Mon, 01/27/2014 - 15:30

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Women of the Wall is close to approving an agreement with the Israeli government to move the group’s monthly prayer service to a new egalitarian area.

The report Monday in Haaretz was corroborated on the organization’s Facebook page.

The agreement comes after months of negotiations between the organization and an Israeli government committee.

In October, the Women of the Wall presented 16 conditions under which the group would move its monthly prayer service to an egalitarian section of the Western Wall’s plaza now under construction.

The conditions pertain to the section’s size, appearance, management, accessibility, budget and name. Taken together, the conditions mandate that the new section be treated as equal to the existing Western Wall plaza.

Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman said in a letter sent to key supporters of the organization that a special government committee headed by Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit had agreed to most of the conditions, reported Haaretz, which obtained a copy of the letter.

The letter reportedly said the committee’s recommendations would be submitted to the Cabinet for approval in the coming weeks and that the egalitarian area would be ready in “a year or more,” Haaretz reported.

The site will have a mobile, temporary mechitzah for the monthly prayer services since some of the members are Orthodox and do not pray with men, according to the letter.

The committee also reportedly agreed to allow group members to jointly oversee administration of the egalitarian space, according to Haaretz.

Hoffman said in the letter that the group will continue to work to gain permission to bring its own Torah scroll to the site once the negotiations are completed. She also said, according to Haaretz, that the group will continue to pray in the women’s section “until the full implementation of the report’s agreed-upon recommendations.”

A group of Women of the Wall supporters, mostly from the United States, have split off over the negotiations. The women have named their splinter organization Original Women of the Wall, or O-WOW, and plan to hold their own services at the Wall.

The Benefits of a Woman's Place

Mon, 01/27/2014 - 14:00

The liberal push to give women more of a role in Jewish ceremony ignores something very important, writes Avi Shafran — the benefits of being able to stay in the background.

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Pig heads sent to synagogue, Israeli embassy and museum in Rome

Sun, 01/26/2014 - 07:56

(JTA) – Boxes containing the head of a pig were sent to Rome’s main synagogue, the Israeli embassy in Rome and a museum showing an exhibition on the Holocaust.

The packages, sent via a courier service, were delivered Friday,  just days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

All three packages were turned over to Italy’s special terrorism and major crime police, who opened an investigation. The packages contained no message and had no information about the sender.

At the close of Shabbat on Saturday, Renzo Gattegna, the president of the umbrella Union of Italian Jewish Communities, called the incidents “disturbing threats” that “arouse indignation and dismay.”

The “repugnant action,” Gattegna said in a statement, “recalled typically Mafia methodology.” He declared that whatever the intent of the action, “Italian Jews are not frightened now and will never be so in the future by those who demonstrate, with such blatant evidence, the profound ignorance and barbarism of their own behavior.”

He expressed gratitude for “the immediate and effective action by the forces of order that always, with great professionalism and commitment, ensure the safety of our institutions and communities.”

Daniele Nahum, a spokesman for the Jewish community in Milan, tweeted that the delivery to the synagogue was “an insult to those who identify with the values of our Constitution.” His tweet came before the other two incidents were made public.

Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino condemned what he called a “disgraceful act” and expressed solidarity with the Jewish community. “Whoever sent it,” he said, “committed an offense against the entire city.”

International Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed on January 27, is marked throughout Italy with commemorative ceremonies, educational programs, special broadcasts and publications, and other events, including organized student study and commemoration trips to Auschwitz.

In another development, graffiti declaring that the Holocaust was “a lie” and “’Hanna Frank’ was a liar” were found Saturday on walls in an outlying district of Rome.


David Krakauer Gets 'The Big Picture'

Sun, 01/26/2014 - 06:00

At first, musician David Krakauer was skeptical of the idea of interpreting Jewish-themed music scores. But then, he decided to embark on one of his most adventurous projects yet.

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Pig's Head Dumped at Italian Synagogue, Israeli Embassy in Rome

Sat, 01/25/2014 - 14:41

Offences against Jewish targets in Rome including a pig’s head sent to the city’s main synagogue caused outrage in Italy on Saturday in the run-up to International Holocaust Remembrance Day next week.

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High School Tefillin Debate Just Tip of Iceberg for Orthodox Jewish Women

Thu, 01/23/2014 - 15:11

Orthodox Judaism has — and continues to have — different rituals for men and women. The debate over girls using tefillin shows the divisions are starting to break down — at least a bit.

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Op-Ed: Time to get serious about cybersecurity

Thu, 01/23/2014 - 12:12


NEW YORK (JTA) — The growing risks posed by homegrown terrorism, the rise of European ultranationalist fervor and anti-Israel boycotts, coupled with the likelihood that Mideast tensions may intensify, has given rise to a distinct and unfamiliar threat directly impacting homeland and Jewish communal security.

Groups or individuals wishing to cause harm to Jewish institutions no longer require physical access. A criminal, hacker or terrorist-related group from the other side of the globe can breach an agency or synagogue computer network and silently gather its most vital information.

Hackers and computer criminals now have the capacity to make digital copies of information that once filled floors of locked filing cabinets under the careful watch of staff and volunteers. Most troubling is that a theft of this nature can go undetected for years, if not indefinitely.

As we witnessed during the holiday season, governments, retail establishments, corporations and nonprofit organizations large and small have been the targets of cyberattacks aimed at defacing websites, disrupting networks, stealing information and damaging systems. Earlier this month, several French Jewish communal websites were defaced by sympathizers of the anti-Semitic French comedian Dieudonne, a controversial figure known for his Holocaust denial and admiration for gas chambers.

Many Jewish community institutions maintain some of their most valuable assets in digital form, including the home addresses of their employees, monetary transfers, donor information and other sensitive data. The dangers are further enhanced when one considers our growing reliance on digital networks, Web-based technology and the explosion of smartphones.

This massive dependence on technology provides a perfect platform for those who seek to harm Jewish interests. What’s more, an institution’s private information is threatened with every download, every click on an Internet link and every opened email.

Not one year ago, a server that hosts approximately 50 Jewish congregational websites was attacked by a politically motivated hacker group called the Moroccan Ghosts. The group plastered the targeted websites with their logo and an hourlong video denying the Holocaust. According to cyber experts, it was part of a larger trend of hackings targeting the websites of groups thought to be supporting Israel.

The incident provides just a glimpse into the damage that can result from breaches to an institution’s cybersecurity. Of highest concern is when personal information such as the names, home addresses and schools attended by the children of Jewish leaders and staff become open source posts on anti-Semitic and Islamic extremist websites.

“Cyber threats to Jewish organizations pose significant security risks to their operations and include everything from surveillance and intelligence collection on leaders and members to accessing systems that can disrupt operations or be exploited for conducting a physical attack,” says Mitch Scherr, CEO of the data security firm Encryptics. “The fact that critical information is being transmitted between offices and across the Internet is all the more reason that it must be protected while in transit and at rest.”

Due to the evolving nature of this risk, the question of who is responsible for addressing cybersecurity concerns is somewhat vague. The fiduciary duty of administrators and directors without a doubt extends to the protection of significant digital assets.

What, then, are their specific responsibilities when it comes to cybersecurity? Can an administration or organizations leadership simply rely upon its IT department to address cybersecurity needs, particularly when many are ill equipped to identify, respond to and mitigate such threats?

Leaders of Jewish organizations large and small have an obligation to educate themselves on the nature of their respective agency’s cyber technology and ensure that the threat is treated earnestly. Reach out to state homeland security officials, pursue cyber training, promote cyber hygiene standards for staff and volunteers, conduct vulnerability assessments and, most important, contact local law enforcement partners to request cybersecurity information and resources.

Cybersecurity has become the newest front in homeland security. It is imperative that we apply the same level of awareness and action to this threat as we have to ensuring the physical security of our facilities.

Last year, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a call to arms against cyberattacks, warning that sophisticated attacks against the United States could be America’s “cyber Pearl Harbor.”

The threat of cyberattack is more real than ever. Like the years leading up to 9/11, the clarion call has been sounded and warnings have been made. Are we listening?

(Paul Goldenberg is the national director of the Secure Community Network, an initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America.)

The Gates are Closing, and God’s Hand is Outstretched

Thu, 01/23/2014 - 06:00

By Rabbi Edwin Goldberg

The N’ilah service on late Yom Kippur afternoon is notable for its image of the Gates of Repentance closing their doors.  At this late and hungry hour, for the final time during the Day of Atonement, we are summoned to repentance.  The fact that many Sages argue we can actually delay our atonement to the end of the Sukkot holiday does not lessen the drama of the moment.

At the end of N’ilah, often as the sun has set, we will hear the final blast of the shofar.  We will also declare the most essential teaching of the entire season: God is Merciful!  We actually chant this seven times, just to make sure we get the point.  The Gates are closing, but the mercy of God never ends.

In our creative retrieval of oft-forgotten elements of traditional High Holy Day liturgy, the editorial team for the new machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, have seized on a central image that is suggested by a traditional N’ilah poem: God offers a hand to meet us halfway in our journey towards return.

In our draft version we feature the following version of the traditional prayer:

You hold out Your hand to those who do wrong;
Your right hand opens wise to receive those who return.
You teach us the true purpose of confession:
to turn our hands into instruments of good,
to cause no harm or oppression.
Receive us, as You promised, in the fullness of our heartfelt t’shuvah.

As we note in the draft version, the prayer focuses on God’s constant presence and compassion, even when we have fallen away from God’s expectations for us.  We are never too far from the ability to make peace with God.  The gates do close, the day will end, but the opportunity for return is never taken away from us.

In the first month of the year 5246  (September 10-October 9, 1485), B’nai Soncino (the Sons of Soncino) began the printing of the first Hebrew prayer book, Mahzor Minhag Roma (A Prayer Book of the Roman Rite), in the city of Soncino.  This book’s “You Hold Out Your Hand” is the only prayer printed in large type throughout. Could this have been done with Conversos (also known by the derogatory name, Marranos) in mind, those who had been forcibly converted but retained loyalty to their Jewish faith?  If so, the gesture is a poignant example of the everlasting mercy that God extends to us.

The message is not only reflective of God’s mercy.  It is also a call to us to practice the same mercy with those who have hurt us.  When possible, we hold out our hand to them.  With such a hand, the gates need never close.

The core editorial team of the upcoming machzor include Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, Rabbi Janet Marder, Rabbi Shelly Marder and Rabbi Leon Morris.

Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago and serves as the coordinating editor of Mishkan HaNefesh.

Uruguay Rabbinate Wants Jewish Couples to Sign Rabbinic Prenuptial Agreement

Wed, 01/22/2014 - 15:45

The Rabbinate of Uruguay is requiring Jewish couples marrying under its auspices to sign a rabbinic prenuptial agreement.

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Rabbinate of Uruguay to require rabbinic prenup

Wed, 01/22/2014 - 15:31

(JTA) — The Rabbinate of Uruguay is requiring Jewish couples marrying under its auspices to sign a rabbinic prenuptial agreement.

Under the agreement, in the case of a couple that is divorcing civilly, the husband must give his wife a divorce under Jewish law, or a get, the South American country’s Rabbinate said Wednesday in a statement.

Chief Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz, along with a legal and judicial committee, determined a version that is appropriate under both Jewish and Uruguay laws.

The requirement was initiated by Sara Winkowski, a director of the Jewish Community of Uruguay Kehila. She is also a vice president of the World Jewish Congress and a longtime activist for the rights of women within Jewish law.

Uruguay has seen a growing number of cases of husbands refusing to give their wives a get, leaving them as agunot, or chained wives unable to remarry, Spitz said in the statement.

In addition to not conducting marriages of couples who will not sign the prenuptial agreement, the Montevideo-based Kehila, which keeps the registry of Jewish weddings in the community dating back to 1950, will no longer enter into the registry or issue certificates of Judaism to families who do not sign the agreement.

Blacks and Jews in America: Fifty Years Later

Wed, 01/22/2014 - 13:00

This article by Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson and Reverend Paul S. Briggs originally appeared in the Huffington Post Religion Blog on January 19, 2014

1964 was a significant year in the relationship between Blacks and Jews in America. Black and Jewish lawyers meeting in the conference room of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism helped shape The Civil Rights Act. That Freedom Summer witnessed the arrest of Martin Luther King Jr. and leading American rabbis in St. Augustine, Florida, and days later the brutal murder of three Civil Rights coworkers outside Meridian, Mississippi — James Cheney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner — the first African-American and the others Jewish.

Their martyrdom became another tragic symbol of the racism ingrained in much of America’s Deep South. But their deaths also sent a message that Blacks and Jews — two peoples with historical narratives of persecution and oppression — could make the ultimate sacrifice for one another and their shared ideals.

The last fifty years have not always been kind to our relationship. Polarizing figures occasionally grabbed the spotlight in the African-American and Jewish communities. And the Jewish community, achieving a measure of acceptance, comfort and influence, never fully committed itself to addressing Black poverty, lingering racism and exclusion. Rebuilding the relationship requires deeper sensitivity to one another’s ongoing struggles.

Jews in America need to understand that the ladder of upward mobility, which many of them were able to climb successfully generations ago, has seen its rungs all but collapse. The percentage of Blacks represented among the poor and uninsured in this country is far greater than it has ever been for Jews. The effects of slavery linger, and institutionalized racism and de facto segregation still exist. And the Supreme Court’s recent evisceration of the Voting Rights Act may set progress back decades. Jewish moral outrage, while vocal in some quarters, has been largely missing in action.

Blacks in America need to understand what Israel means to Jews. That having been victims of ethnic hatred for centuries, Jews look at Israel not only as a place of historical and spiritual significance, but as a secure refuge and a living symbol of their survival. When revisionists rewrite the history of the Middle East to deny Jews their right to their own nation in their historic homeland, African Americans need to answer as Dr. King did when he called anti-Zionism “the denial to the Jewish people of a fundamental right that we justly claim for the people of Africa and freely accord all other nations of the Globe.”

Our two communities must do more to speak out for one another. And we must speak out together for our common concerns: poverty, education, gun violence, religious liberty and the environment to name but a few. And we need to lift our voices together in support of those who cannot speak for themselves. Who better than African Americans and Jews in coalition to demand immigration reform? For whether we came here on immigrant ships or slave ships as the Reverend Jesse Jackson said so famously, our peoples have known the obstacles to making it in America.

Fifty years later, a faith-based partnership of Blacks and Jews laboring side by side as Dr. King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched, and as Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner died, could go a long way toward leading America closer to making Dr. King’s dream real for all Americans.

Rabbi Davidson is the Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in New York City. Reverend Briggs is the Pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Bedford Hills, New York. 

11 South African Students Punished for Disrupting Performance by Israeli Pianist

Wed, 01/22/2014 - 12:06

Eleven students at a South Africa university charged with disrupting a concert by an Israeli musician were sentenced to community service.

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Modern Orthodox High School in New York Allows Girls to Wear Tefillin

Mon, 01/20/2014 - 18:11

SAR High School, a Modern Orthodox institution in Riverdale, New York, has allowed girls to wrap tefillin — a ritual that is gaining acceptance for women.

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