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How Much Should Non-Members Pay for A Plot in Synagogue Cemetery?

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 06:00

Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery? One family’s dilemma raises questions about compassion —  and the economics of the modern shul.

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Sing Unto God, Sing a New Song! A Reflection from the Kutz Songleading Major

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 05:00

By Eva Turner

This summer at URJ’s Kutz Camp was the second year I chose the Songleading Major. Many people asked, “why do the same major again?” to which I always responded, “I need new music.” In truth, I decided to participate in songleading for a second time because I believe you can never learn everything and there is always room for improvement. And I was completely right. The most important lesson I’ve learned in my two years as a songleader I learned this past summer. That lesson is as follows: The most important part of songleading is education.

When our teachers Spike (Jacob Kraus) and Ryan Leszner first said that, it took a minute to sink in. Before that I believed that the most important thing in the songleading universe was to be a regional songleader. I realized I was wrong after I thought about what Spike and Ryan had said. The most important application of the skills and techniques that I had spent four weeks learning is to teach the next generation of committed Jews — to teach them how to pray, how to celebrate in song, and how to engage in the text of our heritage.

I remember taking a moment to center my thoughts before preparing a rebuttal for Spike and Ryan. Then it hit me. How have our customs, culture, and traditions survived for so long? How have stories been told? What is the single common thread that has connected us to Torah, prayer, and each other? Music.

As a songleader, my job is not just to lead and engage others, but to educate and pass on the thread of music l’dor vador, from generation to generation. This, in turn, made me realize that songleaders don’t only teach. In order to be the best songleader you can be, you must be open to learning — from others and yourself. I debated with myself over whether learning or teaching is more important, since it is hard to have one without the other. My thoughts circled around and back, and it took me a bit too long to realize that the idea of having one without the other is the point of the lesson.

On the last day of the session, as I stared out over a steam-covered Lake Rolyn, the yellow sun started to peek out from behind the blanket of trees in a grand entrance of pinks, purples, oranges, and blues, and it hit me square in the face. There isn’t a right answer. There is no right or wrong way to be a songleader. There are no strict guidelines or rules as to how to be the “best.” The “right way” is your own way. And, I think, it’s that way with anything you are passionate about. The only right way is your way. And as I watched the sun rise and the geese swim in their uniform V-shape, I knew I had learned what I was supposed to. I am songleading my own way and I couldn’t be more proud of where this discovery will take me!


Eva Turner is an active member of NFTY-Southwest and resides in Scottsdale, Arizona where she attends Temple Emanu-el. Eva is a two-time Kutz alum and a committed song leader for NFTY, the Reform Jewish Teen Movement.


Rabbi David Saperstein Named U.S. Religious Freedom Envoy

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 14:57

Rabbi David Saperstein will be named the next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, the first non-Christian to hold the job since it was created in 1998.

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Miami Beach Shul Hit With 'Hamas' Graffiti

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 14:39

A synagogue in North Miami Beach was vandalized with spray painted swastikas and the word “Hamas.”

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Synagogue, cars in North Miami vandalized with ‘Hamas’

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 12:02

(JTA) — A synagogue in North Miami Beach was vandalized with spray painted swastikas and the word “Hamas.”

The attack on Congregation Torah V’Emunah reportedly came early Monday morning, according to local reports.

The epithets were discovered slightly more than a day after cars owned by a Jewish family in Miami Beach were egged and smeared with cream cheese while the family attended Shabbat services at their local synagogue.

The vandals wrote “Jew” and “Hamas” on the back of the cars, parked in front of their home in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Miami Beach, according to the local CBS affiliate.

The family whose cars were attacked immigrated to the United States from Iran 25 years ago.

“Everyone was shocked,” said daughter Rachel Shakib.  “No one knew what was going on, we’re like this is America, this is Miami. Why would we be targeted here? We’re supposed to be safe, free from anti-Semitism.


Rabbi's Sex Abuse Talk to 9-Year-Old Girls Sends Savannah Into Turmoil

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 06:00

A Savannah rabbi made a serious lapse in judgment when he darkened the lights in a classroom of 9-year-old children and proceeded to talk to them about child sexual abuse. Now, the community is divided.

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Extremist Settlers Clash With Rabbis Over Palestinian Olive Groves on West Bank

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 18:39

Jewish settlers clashed with activists of the Rabbis for Human Rights movement near the West Bank city of Hebron on Friday as they protected Palestinians beginning the annual olive harvest.

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Carrie Newcomer

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 12:02

Singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer’s music is rooted in her Quaker faith, and it often emphasizes the sacred in the ordinary. “Some of my best language has come out of the silence” of Quaker meetings, she says, “when I’ve taken the time to listen to something beyond myself.” Her songs as well as her social activism try to fulfill the old Quaker saying to “let your life speak.”

The post Carrie Newcomer appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

First Woman Rabbi Recalled at Terezin Camp

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 06:30

A memorial plaque to Regina Jonas, the first female rabbi, was unveiled at the former Nazi concentration camp Terezin in the Czech Republic.

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Shalom, Cooperstown! Jewish Mayor Welcomes World to Baseball Hall of Fame

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 06:00

Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.

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Almost 80 years after ordination, the first woman rabbi finally gets her due

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 22:47

Rabbis Jacqueline Tabick, Amy Eilberg, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and Sally Priesand stand with a photo of Rabbi Regina Jonas at Centrum Judaicum Archive in Berlin, July 22, 2014. (Toby Axelrod)


Ask most Jews where and when the world’s first female rabbi was ordained, and they’ll likely guess 1970s America.

But they’d be off by four decades and a continent.

The first woman rabbi was not Sally Priesand, ordained by the Reform movement in 1972, but Regina Jonas, who earned the title in 1935 in Berlin.

This week, Priesand — along with other pioneering women rabbis from various movements and countries — is in Berlin and Prague trying to bring some belated recognition to Jonas, who perished in Auschwitz in 1944.

Highlights of their five-day tour, organized by the Jewish Women’s Archive and the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives to honor Jonas, included installing a plaque in Jonas’ memory at the Terezin concentration camp, where she was initially deported, and visiting Centrum Judaicum Archive, where Jonas’ personal papers were stored for safekeeping on the eve of her deportation.

“They came out with this little box,” said Priesand, who said she had been expecting a much bigger trove. “Her whole life was in this little box. And it reminded me of how important it is to tell the story. I wonder how many other stories were there” and never told.

Born in 1902 in Berlin, Jonas studied at the city’s Liberal Hochschule fur die Wissenschaft des Judentums (Higher Institute for Jewish Studies) and was ordained by Rabbi Max Dienmann. Leo Baeck also signed the ordination papers.

But after her death, she was largely forgotten until after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when her papers were rediscovered.

In a Tuesday evening program honoring Jonas, the rabbis discussed the challenges facing female rabbis today and shared stories about inspiration and obstacles.

Panelists included Amy Eilberg, who in 1985 became the first woman ordained by the Conservative movement; Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, who became the first woman Reconstructionist rabbi in 1974; Jaqueline Tabick, who in 1975 became the first female rabbi ordained in the United Kingdom and today is convener of the Rabbinic Court of the British Reform movement; and Alina Treiger, who in 2010 became the second woman rabbi ordained in Germany.

The program’s one Orthodox woman rabbi — Sara Hurwitz, who was ordained with the title of rabba in 2009 by Rabbis Avi Weiss and Daniel Sperber — was unable to reach Berlin due to the temporary closure of Ben Gurion Airport.

“Although [Regina Jonas'] voice was silenced,” said Hurwitz, speaking to the group via cell phone, “it is thanks to her courage [that] we are guaranteeing that [Jewish learning for women] not only survives but also thrives.”

Treiger noted that while Jonas had to do her studying at home, she herself was able to study alongside male rabbinical students at the Abraham Geiger College at the University of Potsdam.

“It was my motto: If she can do it, I will do it also,” she said.


Extremist Rabbi Issues Ruling Saying Jewish Law Permits Destruction of Gaza

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 19:11

Rabbi Dov Lior, a leading West Bank rabbi who endorsed a book justifying the killing of non-Jews, issued a religious ruling saying that Jewish law permits the destruction of Gaza to keep southern Israel safe.

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First female rabbi, Regina Jonas, commemorated at Terezin site

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 18:15

PRAGUE (JTA) — A memorial plaque to Regina Jonas, the first female rabbi, was unveiled at the former Nazi concentration camp Terezin in the Czech Republic.

Several female rabbis from Jonas’ native Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States — notably Sally Priesand, who in 1972 became the first American female rabbi — attended Thursday’s ceremony in the camp’s former columbarium.

Jonas, a Berlin native, was ordained in 1935 and served the Jewish community in the German capital until her deportation to Terezin in 1942. Two years later she was murdered in Auschwitz at 42.

“Rabbi Jonas’ unique genius and perseverance allowed her to overcome the prejudices of the past, an achievement that continues to serve as a model,” said Lesley Weiss, head of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, which organized the ceremony.

During her internment in Terezin, Jonas continued to lecture, preach and provide pastoral care to fellow inmates. She also worked for a crisis intervention service set up by the prisoners.

“Her particular job was to meet those who just arrived at the station and help them cope with shock and disorientation,” said Jan Munk, the director of the Terezin Memorial.

Jonas’ life and work was largely forgotten until the 1990s when her personal archive was rediscovered in Berlin.

“I did not know about Regina Jonas, and I only discovered her as everyone else has,” Priesand, 68, told JTA. “I feel like we are almost kindred spirits, and I’m glad we came to dedicate her plaque in order to restore her story.”

San Franciso Jewish Film Fest Directors Call For Peace in Gaza

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 18:00

The directors involved in the 34th edition of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival issued a statement today calling for peace in Gaza and Israel.

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West Bank Rabbi Dov Lior: Jewish law permits destruction of Gaza

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 17:07

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Rabbi Dov Lior, a leading West Bank rabbi who endorsed a book justifying the killing of non-Jews, issued a religious ruling saying that Jewish law permits the destruction of Gaza to keep southern Israel safe.

Lior, chief rabbi of the Kiryat Arba settlement, issued the opinion after receiving questions about Jewish law’s position on harming civilians during wartime.

“At a time of war, the nation under attack is allowed to punish the enemy population with measures it finds suitable, such as blocking supplies or electricity, as well as shelling the entire area according to the army minister’s judgment, and not to needlessly endanger soldiers but rather to take crushing deterring steps to exterminate the enemy,” Lior said in his opinion.

“The defense minister may even order the destruction of Gaza so that the south should no longer suffer, and to prevent harm to members of our people who have long been suffering from the enemies surrounding us,” he wrote.

The opinion cited the Maharal, an important 16th-century rabbi, Talmudic scholar and philosopher.

Lior was arrested in 2011 after months of refusing to appear for questioning for his endorsement of the book “Torat Hamelech,” or “The King’s Torah,” by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, which justifies killing non-Jews.

Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-On asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to launch an investigation against Lior for incitement.

Another West Bank rabbi, Yitzchak Ginsburgh, dean of the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva in Yitzhar, said in a post on his Twitter account, “In time of war, it is unethical for a nation to endanger the lives of its own soldiers in order to ensure the safety of inhabitants in enemy territory, after having been warned to evacuate.”

Reform Rabbis Travel to Israel in Show of Solidarity

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 12:52

On July 27th, a group Reform Rabbis from throughout North America representing the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) plan to begin a mission to Israel in an expression of solidarity and support.

Says Rabbi Richard Block, senior rabbi of the Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood, Ohio, who is president of the CCAR and a leader of the trip,

We know that the timing of this mission may not be convenient. But we also know this: Our presence in Israel, at this critical juncture, as North American Reform Rabbis, especially our interaction with some of those most directly impacted by recent events, will demonstrate more eloquently to the people of Israel than anything else we could say or do that they are not alone in this struggle, that the Central Conference of American Rabbis stands with the State of Israel and all its citizens in good times and bad.

This group of Reform Movement leaders plans to meet with influential members of the Knesset, senior government officials, and local leaders to discuss pressing issues related to the conflict with Gaza. CCAR Chief Executive Rabbi Steven A. Fox says of the trip,

Providing support for the State of Israel at this difficult time is critical to our organizational mission. This trip will also enable us to bring new insights and understanding home to the members of our communities here in North America.

Delegates will engage in dialogue with Col. (Ret.) Miri Eisin, former advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Media; Dr. Tali Levanon, the director of Sderot’s Mental Health Center; Prof. Moshe Halbertal, Professor of Jewish Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Noa Sattath Director and Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center; representatives of Tag Meir, a coalition of organizations working on issues of tolerance and coexistence, and local colleagues. The delegation will pay special visits to Reform communities in Southern Israel.

These rabbis seek to gain insight on the situation in order to help the congregations and organizations they lead in North America understand the complexities of the current situation. If the security situation permits, they will visit Moshav Netiv Ha’asarah and Kibbutz Kfar Aza, located on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, for insight into the current conflict and to meet those living under the everyday threat of violence. The rabbis will visit the border city of Sderot, a city that has been under the constant barrage of rocket attacks since 2001.  The Sderot city tour will include seeing protected playgrounds and schools and the bomb shelter residential project – the first of its kind in the world.

The rabbis will also engage in firsthand support work in a number of ways. Through the Lone Soldier Center, they will deliver care packages of toiletries, energy bars, and other items that the soldiers have requested. They will also shop for the needy as part of a program run by Keren B’Kavod, the humanitarian aid program run by the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and the Israel Religious Action Center of emergency assistance for families in the Western Negev.

Rabbi Hara Person, publisher and director of the CCAR Press and director of strategic communications for the CCAR, who is one of the leaders of the trip, explains,

As Reform Rabbis, we want to show our support for our friends, family, and colleagues in Israel, and to gain a more nuanced sense of the situation than we can glean from North America.

'Fake Charity' Rabbi Ordered To Repay $522K

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 16:20

A Brooklyn rabbi who collected hundreds of thousands of dollars for fake charities and used the money to pay his electric bill has agreed to pay restitution of $500,000 in a settlement reached today with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

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NFTY Alumni Profile: Jason Cohen

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 14:37

If you watched the Academy Awards this year, the film title Facing Fear may sound familiar. If you were in JFTY in the late 1980’s, the film’s producer/director’s name – Jason Cohen – may sound familiar. Either way we caught up with Jason (JFTY ’90) to chat about his work as a filmmaker, his exciting release of this powerful piece, and how his time in NFTY continues to influence his work.

A New Jersey native, Cohen shared that growing up his Jewish community was NFTY. Regional conclaves opened his eyes to a bigger world and his role in making a difference.  NFTY was the place where he was introduced to and felt compelled towards social action. This new perspective remained at the forefront of his mind through college at University of Wisconsin and into his professional career. Through his career, Jason has been traveling the world uncovering stories and helping to open others’ eyes to new issues.

Now, partnering with the Fetzer Institute, Jason has released a film full of references to his Jewish background. Facing Fear is a story of a chance meeting of a victim of a gay hate crime and his neo-Nazi attacker 25 years after the attack. Both lives have been shaped by the event and the meeting sparks a journey of forgiveness, collaboration, and eventually (and surprisingly) friendship. Facing Fear is screening at film festivals and select theaters/events across the country.

Favorite NFTY memory: NFTY represented some of Jason’s best times in high school. He remembered feeling like he was, at times, living a double life from the guy his high school friends all knew when he would escape for the weekend to catch up with NFTY friends during conclaves. The things he did in NFTY always felt like they had a little more meaning.

Advice to NFTYites and NFTY alumni interested in the film industry: Always look for compelling stories and people. Jason seeks out subjects that he is interested in learning about so that he can learn through the process and along with his viewers. He suggests taking advantage of all of the tools that are out there – and there are many (!) – film making is much more accessible than it was when he first started.

Check out more about Jason’s film including a trailer and screening dates.

An Update on “Stop the Sirens”

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 13:15

This blog originally appeared at ReformJudaism.org on July 20, 2014.

As you know, the conflict in Gaza has intensified. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the Israeli soldiers killed in action, with our brothers and sisters in Israeli, and with all who are in danger.

When the conflict began, the Reform Movement made a decision to join Stop the Sirens, a community-wide campaign, coordinated by Jewish Federations of North American (JFNA), to provide relief and support to the most heavily impacted Israeli communities. We did this rather than creating our own campaign to support our Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) congregations and the vital work the IMPJ itself is doing because we thought it was important to show support for the larger communal effort.

The campaign has already allocated $8 million for “respite and relief.”

ARZA Chair Rabbi Bennett Miller is doing a great job representing our Movement on the JFNA Allocations Committee, assuring that the allocation reflect Reform Jewish values as well as Reform Movement interests.

We could not be more pleased with the partnership we have seen from JFNA and others this week. Moving forward, we expect that the emergency campaign will also help the partners facilitate long term responses to the emergency.

To date, the Allocations Committee has approved requests for funding from the IMPJ for more than $180,000. That has allowed the IMPJ to do the following:

  1. Providing respite for children and families through programming outside of missile range:
  • This past Thursday, a group of 70 (about 50 children and some adults) were hosted by the IMPJ in Haifa through the Leo Baeck School. Due to the immense pressure they were under, the full group continued on Friday to the Lavie Forest where they were hosted by IMPJ volunteers for a weekend of programing.
  • By this Thursday, the Leo Baeck School will have hosted more than 400 people from Yerucham and other cities in the South. Today alone they hosted a group of 70 Bedouin children and their mothers. Next week both Beit Shmuel (Jerusalem) and Beit Daniel (Tel Aviv) will begin hosting as well.
  1. Emergency respite to institutionalized people with emotional challenges:
  • This past weekend Kibbutz Yahel hosted three families who are “emotionally challenged,” and this coming Wednesday and Thursday 10 families will be hosted at Kibbutz Lotan.
  • IMPJ professionals have teamed up with song leaders and cultural directors, providing activities in hostels and group homes throughout the south including in Beer Sheva, Ashkelon, Kiryat Gat, and Sederot.
  1. Emergency aid packages:
  • IMPJ has prepared 800 packages and distributed 300 of them that include toys, activity books, games, and in cases where needed basic food items. IMPJ volunteers have handed these packages out and carried out activities in shelters in Sederot, Beer Sheva, Ashkelon, Asdod, and Gedera, and in the Sha’ar HaNegev region. They expect to distribute an additional 800 packages in the coming week.

It is also important to remember that three IMPJ congregations continue to face the challenge of operating under fire. All three remain open, had services this past Shabbat, and continue to serve both their members and the larger community.

We encourage all members of Reform congregations to continue to provide funds and donations to their local Jewish Federations to assure that continued funding will be available in the coming weeks as it is likely that the current crisis will not end in the next few days. Our ongoing support for Israel and its citizens will continue to be desperately needed. More information about Stop the Sirens and how to support this vital campaign is available at www.urj.org/israel.

Let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem, all of Israel, and wherever there is suffering.

Sid Jacobson JCC Leaders Attend Budapest Leadership Conference

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 09:52

President Debra Buslik and Executive Director David Black meet with leaders from JCC around the world.

(PRWeb June 20, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/06/prweb11957702.htm