On a recent Friday night inside this city’s Beth Shalom synagogue, Aliet Ashkenazi, 25, stood draped in a blue-and-white prayer shawl leading prayers in a mix of Spanish and near-perfect Hebrew.Click here for the rest of the article...
Religious reaction to the State of the Union speech; a historic Eastern Orthodox seminary in Turkey that religious freedom activists want reopened; singer, songwriter, and spiritual seeker Bruce Cockburn
The post State of the Union and News of the Week; Halki Seminary; Bruce Cockburn appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.
Two of Istanbul’s top tourist destinations are also two of the city’s most important religious monuments: Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Watch scenes of both as author and Ottoman scholar Scott Rank discusses their historic spiritual and political significance for Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople.
Over his long career, 69-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn says he was continually reaching for God’s presence, a connection he often feels while performing. His spiritual journey has now been chronicled in his book “Rumors of Glory.”
Leaders of 11 Jewish communities in Europe lambasted the director of a Brussels-based lobby group who after the Paris attacks called for some Jews to carry guns.Click here for the rest of the article...
On Sunday, June 6, 1915, Sylvester Marx was confirmed at The Temple–Tifereth Israel in Cleveland, OH, marking the culmination of the young man’s Jewish education. A special reception followed, and the entire congregation joined in celebrating Sylvester and his fellow confirmands on that beautiful spring day.
Soon afterward, Sylvester’s parents resigned as members of The Temple and joined a local Christian Science church. Many of their friends already belonged to the church, choosing church affiliation – as Jewish families of the time often did – as a way to assimilate into American culture.
But Sylvester, having just celebrated a major milestone in his Jewish journey, considered himself a full, adult member of the Jewish community. Therefore, he requested a meeting with Moses Gries, The Temple’s rabbi, to see if he could retain membership in the congregation without his parents. Sitting together in the rabbi’s dark, book-lined study, the two of them worked out an arrangement so that Sylvester could remain a member on his own. Maybe he needed to pay a few dollars a year, maybe not.
Since Sylvester’s confirmation in 1915, Reform congregations have grown. They have added staff, purchased insurance policies, adopted by-laws, and approved policies and procedures to support the daily management of thriving houses of worship. Adding this sometimes-complicated infrastructure has been necessary to support the business of our sacred institutions. As members of our congregations pay more and more to belong, it is important that they know their money is being handled responsibly, and that their synagogue is being managed competently, legally, and according to best practices.
However, the policies and procedures our leaders worked so hard to create can prevent them from doing the right things for the right reasons.
Suppose Sylvester Marx had been confirmed in 2015 instead of 1915.
In today’s world, his request to meet with the rabbi might land him with a referral to the membership committee chair. She, in turn, adhering to a policy that individual members must be at least 18 years old, would tell Sylvester that if he wants to join the congregation, he can, but only if his parents – who clearly have no interest in synagogue life – become members.
Worried that Sylvester’s parents may be trying to get an inexpensive family membership through their son, she might refer the boy to the congregation’s president. With the High Holidays approaching, the president may have little time to deal with the matter, referring it to the executive director.
The executive director, unfamiliar with the situation, might want to meet with the boy and his parents, but because, per temple policies, he is limited in what he can do independently, he is forced to refer the matter to the rabbi and the membership vice president. With this referral, it lands on October’s board meeting agenda, but once the rabbi and president realized the cantor’s contract was up for negotiation, they tabled everything else until the November board meeting.
It’s now been six weeks since Sylvester’s first call to the rabbi, and he’s just learned that it will be another four weeks before the board will discuss his request. Needless to say, the young man feels increasingly ignored and discouraged.
Today’s synagogues’ policies are important, but back in 1915, Rabbi Gries could more easily do the right thing for the right reasons: Sylvester Marx joined The Temple and maintained his membership for nearly seven decades. During those years, he got married, raised three children in the congregation, served on the board, and was an usher on the High Holidays every year until his death at age 84.
Sylvester’s eldest son, Rabbi Robert Marx, founded the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and served as the spiritual leader of two Chicago-area congregations: Congregation Solel in Highland Park and Congregation Hakafa in Glencoe. Don Marx, Sylvester’s younger son, settled in Fort Wayne, IN, where he and his family were, for many years, active members and leaders of Congregation Achduth Vesholom.
Harriet, Sylvester’s daughter, had three sons of her own – Mark, Jim, and me, Larry. My older brother Mark is the interim rabbi of Congregation Har Hashem in Boulder, CO. My younger brother and our whole family recently celebrated the bar mitzvah of his son. As for me, I worked for a decade as an executive director, most recently at Temple Chai in Long Grove, IL, and now serve the Union for Reform Judaism as director of Network Engagement and Collaboration. Many of Sylvester’s great-grandchildren are involved in temple youth groups and NFTY, and are considering their own careers as Jewish professionals.
Needless to say, my Grandpa Sylvester’s Jewish legacy is a strong one.
Maybe Rabbi Gries bent the rules to welcome my grandfather as a member of The Temple; maybe not. Either way, his actions back in 1915 reverberate through the Jewish community today. I pray that our lay and professional leaders always have strong policies and procedures to guide their sacred work, and that they have the wisdom and freedom to set the rules aside when necessary to welcome the seeker, enrich the community, and perpetuate Reform Judaism for generations to come.
Thanks to Rabbi Mark Glickman for writing about his history several years ago, and to Bob Allenberg, executive director at The Temple, for sharing the confirmation photo of Sylvester Marx.
The mikveh ritual can be traumatic for women, a fact that emerged loud and clear from the Rabbi Barry Freundel scandal. One Orthodox rabbi has a radical solution.Click here for the rest of the article...
Last week, Bailey Roos of Temple Beth El in San Antonio, Texas lobbied her members of Congress in support of the American Anti-Torture Act last introduced in the 112th Congress as part of our L’Taken social justice seminar. In her speech, Bailey talked about her own perception of torture as it related to her Jewish values and her experience visiting Israel last summer:
As I sat talking with my Synagogue Youth Advisor, we discovered that the only thing we really understood from the word “torture” was the implication of fear and abuse. However, as I studied the issue further, I was shocked by the vulgar descriptions of prisoners shackled to the floor, deprived of their most basic needs, dehumanized and debased in attempts to break the inmate. Not only does torture violate one’s human rights, it has also been proven ineffective and often unreliable, seeing that a prisoner will confess to anything to make the pain stop.
This topic is often associated with the balance between citizen’s security and human rights. An interpretation as seen by the Union for Reform Judaism expresses its desire for justice, something that torture does not achieve. The Jewish concern over the treatment of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, for example, is derived from the quote “Justice, justice shall you pursue,” (Deuteronomy 16:20). Justice in this sense is used in the social realm to assure fairness under the law, as well as securing the humane treatment of all people. This verse, coincidentally, was also part of my Torah portion that I read at my Bat Mitzvah three years ago, and is the origin of my interest in ethics and morality. I have always felt strongly about the importance of securing justice, but noted it especially after witnessing the war in Israel this summer, when I was there visiting the country with my peers and seeing first-hand the tension between protecting one’s country and adhering to its moral high-ground.
Bailey’s advocacy on the hill comes at a crucial moment. At the end of last year we saw the release of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s report on torture at Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. We are currently seeing a rise in transfers out of the facility by President Obama’s Administration. If you are interested in learning more about Jewish anti-torture work, take a look at the Religious Action Center’s Torture: Through a Jewish Lens page.
Rabbi Dovid Winiarz, the self-proclaimed “Facebuker Rebbe” for his outreach efforts over Facebook, was killed in a car accident on an icy road in Maryland.Click here for the rest of the article...
NEW YORK (JTA) — The latest strategy being used by those who make a career of assaulting the good name of the State of Israel is to link the issue of full equality for African-Americans, as symbolized by the word “Ferguson,” with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There is a long history of using legitimate American social justice issues to undermine the Jewish state. We saw it during the Vietnam War, where small contingents linked opposition to the war to opposition to Israel. We saw it in protests against the war in Iraq, which some linked to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. We saw it during the Occupy Wall Street movement, when some targeted Israel as well as the financial system.
There is, however, no rational connection between the challenge of racism in America and the situation facing the Palestinians.
In America, the history of racism has been our great sin — whether it was slavery, segregation, lynchings, institutionalized discrimination, racial profiling. The list is painfully long. Of course, we have come a long way, as represented by the commemorations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the march on Selma.
But the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and barometers highlight that we still have a long way to travel on the road to justice in America. Getting there requires much work from all segments of society so we may live up to the ideals of equality that are at the core of this nation’s values.
Israel’s relations with the Palestinians are of a completely different character. The fundamental issues at stake are a product of a history in which two peoples had historic claims to the same land. The conflict is complicated — neither side is 100 percent right — and it begs for a solution to improve the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.
From the 1930s on, international efforts were made to satisfy each community’s desire for self-determination. The U.N. resolution of 1947, which provided for a Jewish and a Palestinian state, was accepted by the Jewish side but not by the Palestinians.
Had the Palestinians accepted partition, they could have begun to build an independent and free life for their people. Their failure to do so — and their unwillingness to do so now — is the result of a desire to destroy the Jewish state that is greater than their desire to build their own. Israelis then face the dilemma of what to do when Palestinian terrorism and rejectionism continue to threaten them.
Unfortunately, that basic reality continues to this day. Palestinians could have had a state in 2000 under Bill Clinton’s proposal at Camp David. The plan involved Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, and the dismantling of a large number of settlements. When Israel left Gaza in 2005, instead of building a state, Hamas turned on Israel with rockets. And when Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians a state and Israeli withdrawal in exchange for peace and recognition, no Palestinian answer came forth.
Even today, as the Palestinians appeal to the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court, the same dynamic is at work. The Palestinians would like to get a state without ending the conflict with Israel. And so the situation has not changed much. Israel continues to face the dilemma of what to do when Palestinian terrorism and rejectionism continue to threaten them.
Let’s be clear: There can be criticism of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. But it is not a question of institutionalized racism. It is not a matter of Israel wanting to rule over the Palestinians. Israel has tried in various ways to break the deadlock: comprehensive negotiations, partial negotiations, unilateral withdrawal. None have worked.
It is neither helpful in dealing with the racial challenges facing this country nor in solving the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict to conflate two very different issues. It is particularly unfortunate that some have sought to do so on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
King’s message was about building bridges, bringing people together and joining forces to fight hate and oppression. Comparing American racism and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, by contrast, seems driven by individuals more invested in undermining the Jewish state than in furthering race relations in America or working toward a solution to the conflict in the Middle East.
Those of us interested in both improving race relations and resolving the conflict in the Middle East must stand up and reject this cynical strategy.
(Kenneth Jacobson is deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League.)
Outside the Moriah Synagogue in this central Israeli city, boys in ritual fringes and girls in long skirts handed out fliers for the dozens of candidates running in the Jan. 14 primary for the Jewish Home party, a right-wing, modern Orthodox faction. Religious voters trickled in and out of polls in the synagogue lobby.Click here for the rest of the article...
This year, many of the conversations surrounding Martin Luther King, Jr. Day have involved the new movie “Selma,” about he historic marches from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama in 1965.
The film, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture on Thursday, has provoked discussion in some Jewish circles, with some having criticized “Selma” for leaving out mention of Jewish contributions to the civil rights movement and others calling it politically astute and concurring with its focus on African Americans.
Viewers may wish to supplement the film with JTA’s coverage at the time, which, not surprisingly, zoomed in on the Jewish role.
After the “Bloody Sunday” march on March 7, in which many of the 600 protestors were beaten and hit with tear gas, Jews helped ramp up the pressure on President Lyndon Johnson to respond. On March 9, JTA reported that the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (what is now the Jewish Council for Public Affairs) and seven of its affiliate organizations — including the National Council of Jewish Women and the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America — sent Johnson a telegram demanding that he take immediate action on voting rights legislation for African Americans, who JTA, in the style of the time, referred to as “Negroes.” Other Jewish organizations, such as the Association of Reform Rabbis of New York City, joined in over the next couple of days with telegrams of their own.
By the last of the three Selma marches, which took place on Sunday March 21 and into the 22nd and 23rd, it became clear that numerous rabbis and other Jews were not just supporting, but actually participating in, the marches — inspiring some African American marchers to don yarmulkes in appreciation. JTA reported on March 22:
Hundreds of Negro freedom marchers today wore yarmulkes (skullcaps), in respectful emulation of rabbis who participated in demonstrations in Alabama as Jewish participation in the march from Selma to Montgomery.
The Alabama Negroes called the yarmulkes “freedom caps.” The demand for yarmulkes was so great that an order has been wired for delivery of 1,000 when the marchers arrive in Montgomery later this week for a great demonstration at the state capitol…
While not assuming the Jewish faith, many Negroes adopted the yarmulke as a symbol of their movement.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who famously walked with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the front of the march to Montgomery, was not the only rabbi on the march. JTA reported that several rabbis were arrested for their participation:
Rabbis jailed by Selma police during the weekend for participating in demonstrations conducted Friday evening services in the Selma Jail, it was learned. Five rabbis recited Hebrew prayers behind prison bars. They have since been released on bond. An estimated 10 to 12 rabbis took part in the march which began yesterday.
Twenty years later, blacks and whites commemorated the events of “Bloody Sunday” by reenacting the momentous protest in Selma (peacefully this time, of course). JTA reported that Rabbi Alvin Sugarman of Atlanta, who had traveled to Alabama that morning on a bus packed to the limit with black and Jewish members of Atlanta’s Black Jewish Coalition, addressed the rally in front of the Brown Chapel church with moving words that symbolized how civil rights intersected with his Jewish life:
[Rabbi Sugarman] related an incident that happened only blocks from the Brown Chapel. “One morning I came in and a buyer phoned in and said he was late. He came in with mud all over his boots and said, ‘I’m sorry son, I was late; I was out in the field beatin’ up a bunch of niggers. ‘And he said that,” Rabbi Sugarman added, “as matter of factly as if he’d had a flat tire. I never walked in that man’s store again, and two years later I left the business world and entered rabbinic school.”
Three defendants on trial for an arson attack on the Wuppertal Synagogue last July have apologized in court.Click here for the rest of the article...
Muslims around the world are “the only ones that can actually win this battle because it is about an extremist ideology that they are going to have to stand up against,” says Haris Tarin, director of the Washington office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
NEW YORK (JTA) — “You worked in camp!?” My professor was befuddled. Admittedly, it’s a strange way to spend the summer after your first year in law school. Most of my classmates accepted summer associate and law clerk positions at various firms – that’s what you’re supposed to do.
As a college student, I had told friends and family that I wanted to make camp into a career. After all, I had made my closest friends and formed many of my warmest memories as a camper and staff member of Camp Jori in Rhode Island, one of the oldest Jewish camps in the United States.
When I began thinking about what to do after college, camp was the natural choice. But this aspiration was frequently met with the same advice: “It’s time to grow up and get a real job. You can’t work in camp your whole life.” After hearing that refrain so often, I decided to apply to law school.
Three years later, in September of 2008, I started my legal career on a beautiful summery day. Upon arriving at a new lawyers’ training session in the Manhattan skyscraper where the firm was located, I found myself wondering how I had ended up in such a decidedly un-camp-like environment.
Initial reservations aside, lawyering was actually quite enjoyable. The cases were interesting, the associates had an active social scene, the salary left little to be desired and, at least compared to other law firms, the hours were relatively reasonable. I even got used to the suits.
But there were frequent reminders about the career that might have been. I remember my heart sinking when I walked past a sign, made by New York street artist James de la Vega, that said, “Become your dream.” Why wasn’t I working in camp? On some nights I would literally dream about camp – the smell of hot chocolate in the dining hall on cold mornings, the silly tunes of our camp songs, the day when campers arrive.
It went on like this for a couple of years, until January of 2011, when my wife, Lisa, and I took a vacation to the Adirondack Mountains. While scaling a frozen waterfall, we started talking about careers with our guide, a former pharmaceutical researcher who now owns an outdoor adventure store. When he asked what I had always wanted to do, my answer was a no-brainer: “Camp.” When he asked, “Why don’t you start a camp?” a flame was ignited.
Of course, I could have worked at an existing camp, but Lisa and I had a unique vision for what the ideal camp would look like. In our personal lives, we cook healthy, organic foods, go hiking and cycling, and relish our involvement in the Jewish community, so we wanted to create an overnight camp that reflected what we see as a recipe for healthy living.
For two years, while Lisa worked in finance and I worked in law, we pursued funding to launch a camp that celebrates food, fitness and joyful Judaism. My legal training turned out to be helpful in drafting the 65-page grant application that got us accepted into the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Specialty Camp Incubator II, the program that enabled Camp Zeke to open its doors last summer.
When I was still at the law firm, one of the titans of the camping industry told me that he’d met countless lawyers who wanted to become camp directors, but not a single camp director who wanted to become a lawyer. Now I understand why, and it’s not for the reasons I initially thought.
Contemplating this career years ago, I envisioned carefree strolls and long coffee breaks to catch up on the news. In my mind, running a camp was going to be fun and relaxing, just like being a camper.
I have come to realize that doing something you love is really hard – precisely because you love it so much. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “How Hard Do Company Founders Really Work?”, the author, a company founder herself, observes that “nobody else [is] as concerned with solving my company’s problems as [me].” She goes on to discuss 12-hour days and the perceived inability to take personal time due to a total commitment to the enterprise. “Check, check, and check,” I thought, reading.
Let me give an example. After postponing time off for the first few weeks of camp last summer, I finally found a good day to take a few hours to myself. It was supposed to be simple: I would drop off some staff members to pick up rental vans – the first-session kids were going home the next day – and then I would spend a leisurely few hours off site.
But when we arrived at the rental pickup place, it turned out that the rental company had made a mistake, and only three of the seven vans we had reserved were available. Needless to say, the idea of taking a few hours off went out the window.
On the plus side, however, our leadership team resolved the issue in less than 40 minutes, contacting a bus company and booking drivers for the next day. The kids would get home, they assured me. I breathed a long sigh of relief. By that evening, the whole situation was already a humorous story among the staff.
This is why camp differs from starting another kind of company. While it often feels like I own every challenge, in actuality the entire Camp Zeke family — the staff, parents, campers, and funders — has become as concerned with camp’s challenges as me. After all, it’s their camp too.
I still have garment bags full of suits and ties from my days at the law firm. They hang neatly next to my preferred attire, a growing collection of camp T-shirts that Lisa and I had a lot of fun designing. In more ways than one, the T-shirts are so much more comfortable.
Isaac Mamaysky is the co-founder and executive director of Camp Zeke, which is funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, AVI CHAI Foundation, the Foundation for Jewish Camp and UJA-Federation of New York.
Duke University announced and then quickly reversed a decision this week to allow Muslim students to use the chapel belltower to broadcast a weekly call to prayer.Click here for the rest of the article...
(JTA) – Duke University announced and then quickly reversed a decision this week to allow Muslim students to use the chapel belltower to broadcast a weekly call to prayer.
The reversal came Thursday, just two days after the North Carolina university first announced would allow the call to prayer, called the adhan, from its iconic belltower. The change was attributed to external threats to student safety.
The initial announcement angered various constituencies, with the son of one prominent evangelical Christian calling on Duke donors and alumni to boycott the university until the policy was reversed.
“Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students,” Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, said in a statement Thursday. “However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.”
As a compromise, the university said the call to prayer instead would be held at the chapel quadrangle. Duke’s Muslim Students Association has been holding services in the chapel basement for several years, according to The Chronicle, Duke’s student-run newspaper.
Muslim students expressed dismay at the university’s about-face.
“I didn’t expect this of Duke,” sophomore Sophia Aliza Jamal, who is Muslim, told The Chronicle. “I was really shocked.”
Muslim junior Nourhan Elsayed told the newspaper: “I really hope that we as an academic community … can reflect on how to eliminate Islamophobia and all types of racism from our time at Duke and ultimately from our lives. ”
Duke officials said the policy reversal was the result of credible security concerns.
“The university was made aware of serious and credible safety concerns and has increased security to address those concerns and protect students and the campus,” Schoenfeld wrote in an email Thursday, according to the newspaper.
The adhan is a standard part of daily Muslim ritual and usually is broadcast five times a day from mosque minarets using loudspeakers. In Jerusalem, the adhan is loud enough to be heard for miles around, including in Jewish communities.
The most prominent critic of Duke’s short-lived policy was Franklin Graham, the son of the Rev. Billy Graham and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. After the policy was announced on Tuesday, he launched a social media campaign for donors to withhold support from the university.
Some 700 of Duke’s 15,000 students are Muslim, according to figures provided by Duke News and cited in The Chronicle.
The new Broadway musical ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’ is goofy and slight, but enormously entertaining. It’s also an overtly Jewish musical in the Woody Allen mold, Jesse Oxfeld writes.Click here for the rest of the article...
WARSAW (JTA) — Polish bishops called for the honoring of Jews killed in the Holocaust in their annual Day of Judaism commemoration.
“The history of Polish Jews is an integral part of the heritage of Poland, which was a common home for the representatives of different faiths, religions and nations,” said an appeal read in churches across the country on Jan. 15.
The church’s Day of Judaism commemoration has been held annually since 1997.
The bishops emphasized that Jewish history is a common element of both Polish and Jewish memory and that Christians and Jews are the children of one God.
Bishops urged Catholics to care for old Jewish cemeteries, synagogues and graves of victims of the Holocaust, calling it a “duty of conscience.”
“In Poland, there are 1,200 Jewish cemeteries that are in various conditions. In a few cases there is great cooperation with local communities. Thanks to the appeal of the bishops maybe there will be more such cases,” Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, told JTA.