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What the Day of Atonement Meant to One Hasidic Woman

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 11:00

For married women belonging to the Satmar Hasidic sect, getting ready for Yom Kippur means a special visit to the ritual bath — and wearing white.

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The Days of Awe, Community, and “Relational Judaism”

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 08:00

Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, a distinguished Hasid, told a parable about the Days of Awe of a man who is lost in the woods. Just when he is losing hope, he runs into another person and is filed with joy, exclaiming “Brother, tell me which is the right way. I have been wandering for days.” His fellow responds by saying that he, too, has been wandering, and is sure that his way is also the wrong way. He reassures, him however, that working with each other, they can find a new way out – together.

This story underscores a core principle of the Days of Awe: They are inherently relational. The word “relational” is in danger of becoming so overused as to become meaningless, but it is critical – and during these days of teshuvah (return, repentance) and s’licha (forgiveness), the central role of relationship in Judaism comes even more into focus. These are the very days in which we reflect deeply on our relationships to others; who have we slighted? With whom must we repair? The focus of these High Holidays is actually a reminder that Judaism calls individuals into relationship all year round.

Ron Wolfson has given the Jewish community a great gift in his book, Relational Judaism. He has sparked a conversation and challenged our Jewish congregations and institutions to ask a fundamental question: Are we bureaucratic organizations that offer programs? Or are we communities of people, in meaningful relationship, bound by common purpose?

Most of us have experienced institutions and congregations as bureaucracies that relate to us through programs. We are billed for services, attend events, etc. Too often, after an event or a program, we are no less connected to others in our midst. Yet, most of us have also experienced powerful, sustainable Jewish communal engagement. Thankfully, many of us have shared authentic learning, profound spirituality, and meaningful work for social justice, in the context of relationships with others with whom we grew and learned. The other women, men and children with whom we shared these sacred experiences become the ones in whom we confide, to whom we turn, with whom we rejoice.

The challenge to all our congregations is how? How do we focus on fostering sustainable relationships, rather than simply running more events and activities? So many synagogues get caught on a programmatic treadmill. In their desire to reach more people, they offer more and more programs. But what their constituents yearn for is true connection; what they seek is, indeed, “relational Judaism.”

One critical first step is to change our definition of success. To what extent are we measuring our constituents’ deepening connections to one another? As we challenge our communities to deepen peoples’ engagement with meaningful Jewish experiences, we should also be focusing on the extent to which we are strengthening their social networks within our communities.

The High Holidays give us a profound opportunity to examine our own communities and ask how “relational” they really are. Are we participating in experiences of tefila (prayer) that bind us to others? Or are we sitting anonymously in a pew? Are we attending activities or are we sharing profound experiences of meaning and purpose that not only enrich our lives, but actually connect us more deeply to one another? These are the kind of difficult questions a “relational” Jewish community asks itself.

Another Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov famously pointed out that the miracle of living is that a person reaches out simultaneously in three directions at once: inward toward self, upward toward God, and outward toward others. These Days of Awe challenge us to ask: Do our communities succeed in fostering such a miraculous way of living?

See also: “There is Still Time! Preparing for the Days of Awe for Real” from the Wexner Foundation

8 Facts About Jewish Indiana

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 05:00

8 Facts About Jewish Indiana

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What Has Become of the Historic Synagogues of Indiana?

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 05:00

Here is the history behind four of Indiana’s historic synagogues.

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A Rude Awakening in Indiana's Marshmallow Country

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 05:00

A synagogue in an Indiana town that once produced mountains of kosher marshmallows is marking its 125th anniversary. Even though the shul is long shut, that’s reason enough to celebrate.

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Belgian far-right party to push for ritual slaughter ban

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 16:03

(JTA) – Belgium’s far-right Vlaams Belang party said it will submit a bill proposing a blanket ban on ritual slaughter.

The Vlaams Belang made the statement Monday in reaction to a Cabinet minister’s announcement on forbidding the slaughter of animals in temporary slaughterhouses as of next year throughout most of the federal monarchy.

The new regulation announced on Sunday by Ben Weyts, Belgium’s minister for animal welfare, was disappointing and insufficient, the party said.

In a statement on its bid to ban ritual slaughter, Vlaams Belang wrote, “If the minister won’t take the initiative on this matter, Vlaams Belang will.”

Weyts’ ban was seen as designed to stop the killing of thousands of sheep in provisionary slaughterhouses that Muslims operate annually for other Muslims ahead of the Eid al Fitr holiday.

Some members of Belgium’s Jewish community said it would not affect Jewish slaughter, or shechitah, which is performed at licensed and permanent abattoirs.

Religious laws in Islam and Judaism require that animals be conscious when their necks are cut. Throughout Europe, the practice is under attack from animal rights activists who find it cruel and far-right movements that view it as an unwelcome foreign custom.

In addition to seeking to curb immigration into Belgium, Vlaams Belang is also a supporter of independence for the Flemish Region, one of the three autonomous parts that comprise Belgium.

The party won 3.7 percent of the vote in the federal elections earlier this year and 5.9 percent of the vote in the elections for the Flemish parliament. But in 2007, Vlaams Belang emerged as the country’s third largest party with nearly 12 percent of the vote in federal elections.

Virtually all other Belgian political parties consider Vlaams Belang a pariah movement and will not enter in power-sharing agreements with it, making it impossible for the party to enter the government.

Political analysts say the party has lost many votes to the center-right movement of Weyts, the New Flemish Alliance.

Kiev's Oldest Synagogue Hit by Firebomb

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 14:32

Kiev’s oldest synagogue was the target of a firebomb that burst into flames outside the building.

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Muslim Sheep Killing Endangers Kosher Slaughter

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 11:42

The Muslim custom of killing sheep at temporary slaughterhouses jeopardizes all ritual slaughter in Belgium, a Cabinet minister there warned.

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Muslim custom puts all ritual slaughter at risk, Belgium official says

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 09:54

(JTA) — The Muslim custom of killing sheep at temporary slaughterhouses jeopardizes all ritual slaughter in Belgium, a Cabinet minister there warned.

Ben Weyts, Belgium’s minister for animal welfare, made the warning Sunday during an interview with the VRT broadcaster about a ban that will go into effect next year throughout most of Belgium on the slaughter of conscious animals at improvised abattoirs.

The ban is believed to be designed to prevent the slaughtering of some 20,000 sheep annually at impromptu slaughterhouses operated by Muslims for their coreligionists ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

The practice, Weyts said, violates European Union legislation “which permits the slaughter of conscious animals only for religious reasons and in authorized slaughterhouses,” and therefore could jeopardize all slaughter of conscious animals.

“Because of motions by animal welfare organizations that hang over our heads, there is uncertainty,” Weyts said. “If they go to court, they will win right away and that will be a total situation of chaos because then only stunned animals may be slaughtered.”

Muslim and Jewish religious law both require animals be conscious when their necks are cut, a practice animal rights activists describe as being cruel.

The ban announced by Weyts is expected to have no effect on the Jewish community, which performs kosher slaughter, or shechitah, “only in permanent and licensed slaughterhouses,” Michael Freilich, editor in chief of the Flemish-language Jewish monthly Joods Actueel, told JTA.

Still, Rabbi Menachem Margolin of the European Jewish Association, a Brussels-based lobby group, vowed to fight to repeal the ban because it “endangers freedom of worship in Belgium,” he wrote in a statement.

A spokesman for the European Jewish Association told JTA, “Most of the proposed laws against ritual slaughter are usually proposed against Muslim slaughter as there are a lot more of them. But issues such as these have a tendency to turn into laws against kosher slaughter as well.”

Man Fires BB Gun at Baltimore Jews Leaving Synagogue

Sun, 09/28/2014 - 09:01

A man fired a BB gun and shouted ‘Jews, Jews, Jews’ at three teens leaving a Baltimore synagogue in what police are investigating as a possible hate crime.

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October 6 – GreenFaith Certification Learning Session

Sun, 09/28/2014 - 08:00

Transformation. New members. Cost savings. Relevancy. Spiritual growth. Culture shift.

When GreenFaith recently interviewed 15 graduates of the Certification Program, these words were echoed again and again.

“The thing about GreenFaith is that it works. There a lot of programs that are a mile high and an inch deep, but this is a mile high and a mile deep. After having gone through it, you’ll see a tangible difference: improvement and growth in your faith community, more credibility in this work, and the ability to lead more confidently.” – Margy Clarson, Green Team member at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Triangle, VA

Join us for a webinar on October 6th at 8:00 p.m. ET to learn more about the GreenFaith Certification Program!

GreenFaith Certification is a comprehensive environmental program that helps your community be transformed into a religious leader for the environment. With processes that work, over 200 free resources, one-on-one consultation, and networking with other faith communities, the Certification Program offers more than any other program in the country.

During the learning session, We’ll share with you the benefits and results of the program, and you’ll hear from a participant. You’ll also learn of some tuition subsidies that are available to help offset the cost.

Your congregation could be next! Register for the Certification webinar today—even if you can’t make the webinar live, we will send you the recording.

Unidentified man fires BB gun at Baltimore Jews leaving synagogue

Sun, 09/28/2014 - 07:56

(JTA) — A man fired a BB gun and shouted “Jews, Jews, Jews” at three Jewish teens leaving a synagogue in Baltimore in what police are investigating as a possible hate crime.

One of the pellets from the BB gun struck a window of the Bais Hamedrash and Mesivta of Baltimore, a traditional Orthodox institution located in Baltimore County, in Thursday’s incident.

The gunman, described as being “possibly of Middle Eastern descent,” drove away after firing the gun and shouting at the pedestrians on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

“We want to stop that. We want to let people know that’s not going to be tolerated in our communities,” Cpl. John Wachter, Baltimore County Police told the local CBS affiliate WJZ.

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger told WJZ that if the suspect is caught he could be charged with a hate crime in addition to other criminal acts.

Why Rabbi Ysoscher Katz Left Satmars for Progressive Start-Up Synagogue

Sat, 09/27/2014 - 19:17

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz grew up among the ultra-Orthodox Satmar Jews. He now serves as a leader of a progressive synagogue that allows women to lead some prayers.

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ISIS Militant Who Beheaded Steven Sotloff and James Foley Identified

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 15:16

The masked Islamic State militant in the videos depicting the beheading of two Americans has been identified, FBI Director James Comey said on Thursday, but he did not give the person’s name or nationality.

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Faith at the Climate Change March

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 09:00

This week (September 21) in New York City, the United Nations held a summit on climate change. Hundreds of thousands of activists took to the streets urging international leaders to take stronger measures to protect the environment. A wide representation of religious groups participated. Watch scenes from the march and interviews on why people of faith are concerned about climate change, including Rev. Melanie Harris, associate professor at Texas Christian University; Rabbi Lawrence Troster, rabbinic scholar at GreenFaith; Rajwant Singh, president of EcoSikh; Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director of GreenFaith; and Du’aa Moharram with the Islamic Society of Central Jersey.

The post Faith at the Climate Change March appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Register for What Every AHEC Needs To Know About Online Training

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 09:00
CHWTraining.org (a project of Talance) is hosting a free webinar event on October 7 for any AHEC administrator hungry for information about how to expand education and enrollment through e-learning. Directors, program administrators and trainers from AHECs are invited to attend. Introduction to E-learning: What Every AHEC Needs To Know About Online Training is complimentary […]

7 Best Scenes From Three Decades of Coen Brother Films

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 05:00

This year is the 30th anniversary of Joel and Ethan Coen’s first film, ‘Blood Simple.’ Here are seven of the greatest scenes from the Jewish directors’ impressive catalogue.

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Mississippi Rabbi Ordered To Leave Restaurant in 'Jew Size' Flap

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 08:21

A rabbi in Jackson, Miss. said he was thrown out of a local restaurant due to his religion.

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Miss. rabbi says he was booted from restaurant for being Jewish

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 06:18

(JTA) — A rabbi in Jackson, Miss., said he was slurred, sworn at and thrown out of a local restaurant because he was Jewish.

Rabbi Ted Riter of the Beth Israel Congregation told the local media that an employee at the restaurant, Wraps, asked him if he wanted “a full size or a Jewish size” when he ordered a Greek salad. When the rabbi asked the employee what he meant by that, the employee responded, “Small; everybody knows that.”

Riter said the employee asked if he was Jewish and then told him to leave, accompanied by swearing and anti-Semitic slurs.

The restaurant owner, who identified himself as John, said the rabbi “didn’t know exactly what he wanted, and we offered him our services, and that’s the extent of it,” according to the Clarion-Ledger newspaper. He also said the rabbi “disrespected” the business.

Witnesses inside the restaurant verified the rabbi’s version, WAPT News reported.

Riter, the synagogue’s interim rabbi, has lived in Jackson since July and said he has visited the establishment before with no trouble.