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Updated: 38 min 53 sec ago

German Church Transformed Into Synagogue

Tue, 11/04/2014 - 07:00

A former church in the German city of Cottbus is to become Germany’s newest synagogue, and the first since 1938 in the state of Brandenburg.

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Israel moves to ease path to conversion for those not considered Jewish

Mon, 11/03/2014 - 16:33

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, right, and lawmaker Eliezer Stern at a news conference on the government’s conversion reform, Nov. 2, 2014. (Flash90)

TEL AVIV (JTA) – The Israeli government has adopted a major reform expected to ease the path to conversion for hundreds of thousands of Israelis now prohibited from marrying in the Jewish state.

In the most significant response in decades to the estimated 400,000 Israelis who are not considered Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate, the Cabinet expanded authority for conversion beyond a small group of approved haredi Orthodox courts.

Since only Orthodox Jewish marriage is permitted in Israel, such Israelis — the majority of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union — must convert if they wished to be married in Israel.

Under the new law, which was passed Sunday and became effective immediately, the conversion process is expected to get significantly easier.

The measure, which allows any city rabbi in Israel to perform conversions, is expected to pave the way for the elimination of some provisions seen as overly stringent, such as the Chief Rabbinate’s requirement that converts send their children to Orthodox schools.

Currently, only four rabbinic courts appointed by the haredi-dominated Rabbinate are authorized to perform conversions.

“Every rabbi in every city will be able to set up his own tribunal according to Jewish law,” said Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who brought the bill to a Cabinet vote along with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. “It also gives a choice. People will be able to choose the tribunal they want to go to, and warm, friendly tribunals will be used more than others.”

Conversion policy has dogged Israel since the 1990s, when about 1 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union entered the country. The immigrants qualified for citizenship under the Law of Return, which requires immigrants to have just one Jewish grandparent. But hundreds of thousands did not meet the Chief Rabbinate’s stricter standard for Jewishness — either having a Jewish mother or undergoing an Orthodox conversion — and thus could not marry in Israel.

The Chief Rabbinate’s stringencies led many to balk at the process entirely, in many cases choosing instead to marry abroad. Israel recognizes non-Orthodox conversions performed overseas.

The Cabinet vote on Sunday is the latest attempt at a compromise to make the conversion process friendlier.

In 1999, the government established the Joint Institute for Jewish Studies, a body intended to teach potential converts about Judaism from a range of non-Orthodox perspectives in preparation for an eventual Orthodox conversion, but the effort foundered.

In 2010, the issue heated up again after Yisrael Beiteinu became the Knesset’s third-largest party. The party, focused on Russian immigrant interests, proposed a measure similar to the one that just passed, but a provision would have given full control over conversions to the Chief Rabbinate. That provoked the ire of non-Orthodox groups and the law was shelved.

“This government resolution doesn’t give more power to the Chief Rabbinate,” said Seth Farber, the founder of Itim, an organization that aids Israelis with personal status issues. “The hope is that this bill will enable a much more understanding and friendly set of rabbinical courts to emerge without the Chief Rabbinate imposing their monolithic view on every conversion.”

The reform chips away at longstanding haredi Orthodox dominance of conversion policy. Both of Israel’s chief rabbis, who are haredi, oppose the new law. Should the chief rabbis attempt to block the conversions, Farber has pledged to petition the Supreme Court.

The passage of the law marks the end of a lengthy legislative process. Though it passed an initial Knesset vote last year, a ministerial committee vote required to move the measure along was postponed continuously until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu removed it from the legislative agenda entirely two weeks ago, reportedly to appease haredi parties.

A group of ministers led by Bennett and Livni responded by pushing the law through the committee anyway, and a modified version passed in the Cabinet.

While the reform doesn’t go as far as recognizing non-Orthodox conversions — a step many non-Orthodox and Diaspora groups would liked to have seen — those groups nevertheless heralded its arrival. Rabbi Gilad Kariv, CEO of the Israeli Reform movement, said he supports any reform that eases conversion as long as it doesn’t hurt non-Orthodox streams.

“Now there are no more excuses for [Religious] Zionist rabbis,” he said. “Now is the time for them to deliver.”

Introducing the URJ’s 2020 Vision: A Clear View of Our Future

Mon, 11/03/2014 - 13:06

When Rabbi Rick Jacobs assumed the presidency of the Union for Reform Judaism two years ago, the URJ committed to develop more coherent and aligned services that not only would significantly strengthen Reform congregations and the pressing issues they face, but also would advance the mission and ideals of Reform Judaism.

To understand the needs of congregations of all sizes and from all over the continent, Rabbi Jacobs and I, as well as other members of the URJ’s senior lay and professional leadership visited with congregations, communities, and key leaders throughout North America, engaging in a comprehensive listening tour. Nearly 80% of the Movement’s congregations weighed in — telling the team about life in your communities, about your creative approaches to challenges, and about your concerns for Jewish life in the future. Using all your input as data, we have formulated the URJ’s 2020 Vision: A Clear View of Our Future, a framework that we believe will help us share your successes, learn from one another, and provide new ideas to solve congregational and Movement-wide challenges.

I am pleased to share with you now an interactive presentation about the 2020 Vision at 2020.urj.org. I hope you will take 15 or 20 minutes to explore the presentation, which delves more deeply into the URJ’s bold and ambitious vision for the future of Reform Judaism and the opportunities for your congregation.

The presentation explains the vision in a linear narrative, and will guide you from page to page. If you are pressed for time, or just want an initial overview, you may want to use the navigation buttons at the bottom to go from section to section instead. And, please note that each page has a “contact us” button in the upper right hand corner. We really do want to hear from you, so when you’ve finished, we hope you will take a moment to share your reactions. Finally, if you would like a member of the URJ’s senior leadership team to join your temple board by video to discuss the vision, please contact Shelley Schweitzer.

I am confident that the 2020 Vision puts the URJ on the path to building a vibrant Reform Movement and bright Jewish future. I hope you agree – and I look forward to hearing from you.

Benjamin Netanyahu Meets Jordan King Abdullah Over Temple Mount

Mon, 11/03/2014 - 09:04

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordanian King Abdullah II reportedly met secretly to discuss tension in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount.

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Abbas sends letter to family of would-be Palestinian assasssin

Mon, 11/03/2014 - 06:52

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister condemned a condolence letter sent by Mahmoud Abbas to the Palestinian man who shot a Temple Mount activist, who Abbas called a “martyr.”

Muataz Hijazi “will go to heaven as a martyr defending the rights of our people and its holy places,” Abbas wrote in the condolence letter sent Saturday to Hijazi’s family.

Hijazi is alleged to have shot activist Yehuda Glick three times in the chest and abdomen outside of the Begin Center in Jerusalem after Glick addressed a conference on Jewish rights on the Temple Mount. Hijazi and an alleged accomplice both worked at the Begin Center’s restaurant.

Glick remains in serious condition and on a respirator at Shaarey Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, where he underwent a third surgery on Monday.

“When we are trying to calm the situation, Abu Mazen sends condolences over the death of one who tried to perpetrate a reprehensible murder. The time has come for the international community to condemn him for such actions,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued Saturday night.

Abbas letter shows he is “a partner for terror, a partner to terrorists, a partner of murderers,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said in a Facebook post.

Abbas’ letter amounts to “open support for terror and encouragement of further murders,” he wrote.

World's largest Yom Kippur Kol Nidre service to stream live on...

Sun, 11/02/2014 - 22:09

Over 100,000 expected to watch the service, led by best selling author Rabbi Naomi Levy.

(PRWeb October 01, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/10/prweb12214778.htm

Celebrate Yom Kippur in Musical Style With Sim Shalom at Zeb's:...

Sun, 11/02/2014 - 22:09

The Sim Shalom Online Synagogue will celebrate Yom Kippur at Zeb’s Sound and Light in Chelsea, following a joyous and well-attended series of Rosh Hashana jazz services in that venue.

(PRWeb October 01, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/09/prweb12205435.htm

Benjamin Netanyahu Calls for Temple Mount Calm

Sat, 11/01/2014 - 16:29

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday urged lawmakers to show restraint over Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, which has been at the heart of rising tension with the Palestinians in recent weeks.

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Kent Nerburn

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 11:01

Kent Nerburn tries to find the spiritual in everything. An award-winning writer and spiritual teacher, he tells the stories of Native Americans so they speak, he says, “from honest emotions.” His job “is to present a truth that you will embrace more fully if your believe it as you read it….Their world and their way of seeing have enriched my world and my way of seeing.”

The post Kent Nerburn appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Yazidi Leaders Seek Help Against ISIS

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 09:00

A delegation of top Yazidi religious and cultural leaders came to the US this week (October 24-31) seeking help for their community in Iraq, which has been devastated by ISIS extremists. ISIS considers the ancient religious minority to be pagan. More than 300,000 Yazidis have been driven from their homes and need humanitarian aid. In addition, the delegation says it has documented nearly 7,000 names of Yazidi girls and young women who have been kidnapped by ISIS and forced into sexual enslavement. The delegation met with a variety of American political and religious leaders. Watch excerpts of interviews about the Yazidi crisis with Matthew Barber, a University of Chicago scholar who recently lived in Iraq, and Murad Ismael, a Yazidi human rights advocate. Managing editor Kim Lawton interviewed them after a meeting organized by the International Association for Human Values, founded by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

The post Yazidi Leaders Seek Help Against ISIS appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Temple Mount Activist Yehuda Glick Recovering After Shooting

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 07:18

Health officials said the condition of Rabbi Yehuda Glick, the activist seriously wounded in a suspected terrorist shooting, is improving.

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Muslims Return to Temple Mount for Prayers

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 06:01

Muslim worshippers over the age of 50 returned to pray at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, a day after Israeli authorities shut down all access to the sacred compound following violence in East Jerusalem.

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Temple Mount Reopened for Muslim Worshippers

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 17:33

The Temple Mount will reopen immediately to Muslim worshippers, the Israel Police said following security assessments.

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Jews and Muslims Unite in Outrage as Israel Closes Temple Mount Over Violence Fears

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 16:06

Muslims and Jews united in outrage after Israel closed the holy Temple Mount to all. Naomi Zeveloff reports on fallout from the shooting of a prominent right-wing activist.

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Temple Mount to reopen, but with restrictions

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 14:51

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Temple Mount will reopen immediately to Muslim worshippers, the Israel Police said following security assessments.

The announcement on Thursday evening came soon after the Obama administration called on Israel to reopen the area to Muslim worshippers.

Entrance to Muslims for Friday prayers, however, will be restricted to men over the age of 50.

Israel closed the site on Thursday in the wake of the attempted assassination of an activist who advocates Jewish worship on the mount, the holiest site in Judaism. Also called Haram al-Sharif, the site is considered the third holiest in Islam.

“The continued commitment by Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians to preserve the historic status quo at this holy site is critical; any decisions or actions to change it would be provocative and dangerous,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday, referring to the closure.

Since capturing the holy site during the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel has severely restricted access for Jewish worshippers, in part not to inflame tensions. The status quo continues to restrict Jewish worship on the mount.

Instead, Jewish worshippers continue to pray at the adjacent Western Wall, the most substantial remnant of the Second Temple destroyed in the first century C.E.

Rabbi Yehuda Glick, the activist who is still in serious condition from the shooting on Wednesday, leads a group that advocates for wider Jewish access to the Temple Mount.

Psaki condemned the shooting of Glick, a U.S. citizen, and said Secretary of State John Kerry would contact Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu within the next day in part to address tensions in Jerusalem.

The United States had not changed its support for the status quo, she said.

Channeling Freud To Prevent the Next Barry Freundel

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 13:15

Rabbi Barry Freundel probably never sat down in a non-judgmental atmosphere to talk about the sexual dimension of his work. One shrink says all rabbis should do that.

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Thoughts on the World Zionist Congress Elections from ARZA

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 11:00

By Rabbi Bennett Miller

The next year marks an important time for Zionists around the world, as the first elections to the World Zionist Congress (WZC) in five years will be taking place. The WZC, which has met regularly since the First Zionist Congress in 1897, carries important historical weight and controls funding for projects in Israel, so at this critical juncture in Israeli politics, Reform Zionist voices need to be heard.  ARZA, which represents a strong Reform Jewish voice for Israel and Zionism, has created toolkit for the upcoming elections. Here is a piece from ARZA Chair, Rabbi Bennett Miller, on the importance of voting and how to encourage other to participate.

Earlier this month, Jews the world over poured into synagogues to “afflict our souls” on the holy day of Yom Kippur – to search within ourselves to atone, forgive and ultimately emerge renewed.

K’lal Yisrael is afflicting its own soul right now, too. Both real and existential struggles are being fought on many fronts, and the outcomes will determine much about the future of Israel and the Jewish people. Will gender equality be the norm – where men and women can pray and live as equals? Will our society respect and treat fairly all denominations, regardless of our level of observance? Will we see lasting peace – security and stability for Israel?

Together with our congregations and families, Reform Jews in the United States are all doing everything we can to support our brothers and sisters in Israel. At the same time, we must prepare to return to the daily work of ensuring that the Israel we see on the other side of this conflict is the one that you and I envision – one in which the ideals of pluralism, equality and peace help to secure prosperous, fulfilling Jewish lives for us all.

Just one year from now, the next World Zionist Congress (WZC) will convene in Jerusalem. This “Parliament of the Jewish People” will debate critical issues in helping to fulfill the dreams of the founders of the Zionist Movement—a pluralistic and democratic Jewish State in Eretz Yisrael, our people’s homeland. This debate, too, will be a deciding moment for the shape of Israel’s soul.

Luckily, the democratic process allows each one of us to have a voice in that discussion. ARZA, representing Reform Judaism, selects delegates for the WZC based on the proportional outcome of the WZC elections conducted by the American Zionist Movement (AZM). The composition of the WZC has both financial and policy implications in Israel, as resources are allocated based on the number of seats a party holds and the policy positions of those parties.

In short, these elections are the strongest way for U.S. Reform Jews to promote and encourage the progressive ideals of social justice, equality and democracy in Israel itself and help build the kind of Jewish state we all know is possible. A Jewish state that holds true to the ideals of religious pluralism, the growth of Reform Judaism in Israel, women’s equality in all areas of life, democracy, a solution to the ongoing conflict and so much more.

ARZA, representing Reform Judaism, is asking every American Jew who holds these values dear to stand with us. The WZC Elections are vital to the future of Progressive Judaism in Israel and to the relationship between Jews of North America and Israel. Here is what we hope you will do in the coming weeks:

  • Pledge: Take the pledge to vote for ARZA-Representing Reform at reformjews4israel.org. Tell your friends and family to pledge their support as well.
  • Spread the word: Right now, teams are forming in Reform congregations throughout the country to get out the vote. Get in touch with your synagogue campaign team today, or form one if it doesn’t yet exist.
  • Vote: Register with the American Zionist Movement and vote for ARZA-Representing Reform between January 15th and April 30th.

The fate of Israel and the soul of K’lal Yisrael is not yet sealed. Let us join together, and let our voices be heard.

Twenty Becomes One: Seeing Our Congregations as Family, Especially During Hardship

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 08:00

In the fall of 2008, I was the executive director of a 1,000-household synagogue. We had recently finished a major sanctuary renovation, and our membership numbers were on an encouraging upward trend. Our finances were sound, and we had big plans for the year ahead. The new president of our board was writing her first Yom Kippur appeal as I was busily taking care of the last details of our High Holiday preparation.

Then, two weeks before Rosh HaShanah, Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, after which the bank loan market crashed. Banks large and small suffered huge losses, and during the first week of October, the stock market experienced a sharp downward spiral. That week was was Kol Nidre, and our president ascended the bimah (pulpit) to deliver an appeal for donations on the very day on which many in our congregation had lost a significant amount of money – money they were counting on for homes, for retirement, for food.

The president delivered a masterful appeal that evening, and even on that worst of economic days, we collected Yom Kippur appeal monies in excess of what we had collected the previous year. The next day, on Yom Kippur, the stock market fell 700 points, sending the entire country into a recession that, some would argue, continues to this day.

Throughout that fall and into 2009, we came to learn just how much members recognize and appreciate the importance of the synagogue. As the president reminded them during her speech, the synagogue is the center of their community. It is where they find friends and family. It is where they celebrate joy, and support each other through tough times and sorrows. It is where they learn, where they teach, where they reflect.

During this same time, I was re-reading my favorite book, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which I first read during high school and return to every 10 years or so. I absolutely enjoy the beautiful writing and the tragic story of the Joad family.

The book tells of the Joads, an Oklahoma family that loses their farm during the Great Depression. They load the entire family and all their belongings into an old truck, making their way to California in the hopes of finding happiness and prosperity. Along the way, they stop often on the side of the road, along with other families making the same trek, to sleep and eat. During those daily stops, they find the unexpected:

In the evening a strange thing happened; the twenty families become one family, the children were the children of all. The loss of home became one loss, and the golden time in the West was one dream. And it might be that a sick child threw despair into the hearts of twenty families, of a hundred people; that a birth there in a tent kept a hundred people quiet and awestruck through the night and filled a hundred people with the birth-joy in the morning. A family which the night before had been lost and fearful might search its goods to find a present for a new baby. In the evening, sitting about the fires, the twenty were one. They grew to be units of the camps, units of the evenings and the nights. A guitar unwrapped from a blanket and tuned – and the songs, which were all of the people, were sung in the nights. Men sang the words, and women hummed the tunes. (Steinbeck 1939)

Those things, which were intangible and sacred in the makeshift camps on the way to California, are exactly what make our congregational communities so special, and it is those things that inspire involvement and support.

The communities of the migrant camps, of course, were not dues-based. Membership invoices were not sent, collection calls were not made, and appeals for larger donations were not delivered. The people gave what they could because they recognized a need. They had virtually nothing, yet they gave what they had.

Likewise, our congregations are not migrant camps. There are salaries to be paid, and building maintenance expenses and mortgages to be met. But, perhaps there is an important lesson to be learned as well: “…the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all….”

Family. Twenty becomes one. Your family joins a congregation, and that congregation may have 100, 500, or maybe even 1,500 other households. But when we think of those other congregational families as part of our family – when we think of all of the children as our children – financial concerns become secondary to family concerns about our spiritual home.

The fall of 2008 was a difficult time for our country and for our congregations. In many ways, we have been recovering and learning ever since. Perhaps we are out of the recession, perhaps we are not. Regardless, our congregations always will thrive when we see ourselves as a vital part of a larger family, and when we recognize that a gift of any size is vital and important.

URJ Announces New Director for Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI) in Indiana

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 07:13
GUCI Alum Jeremy Klotz Appointed as New Director of Midwest Camp