A 19th century parochet, or ark cover, originally from a Czech synagogue was returned to the Prague Jewish Museum.Click here for the rest of the article...
Phil Baum, the former executive director at the American Jewish Congress, died at home in Riverdale, N.Y.Click here for the rest of the article...
From the music to the editing to the way the host paces himself and interrupts his guests, “Pedestrians In Bars Eating Toffee” (featured on CollegeHumor and Laughing Squid) is very much a spot-on spoof of Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”
Oh, and this parody, featuring Gabe Oppenheim and Samuel Goldberg, also has that underlying New York Jew-y thing going on.
Our favorite moment: Mid-toffee munching, Jerry stand-in Gabe begins flossing. Samuel, this episode’s guest, doesn’t like flossing. It makes his gums bleed.
“What kind of torturous exercise do you think flossing is?” Gabe asks, after pointing out that gums bleed when they are unhealthy, not because flossing is bad.
“I’m Jewish.” Samuel offers up as a response.
Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Russia, criticized Ukrainian Jewish leaders for condemning Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.Click here for the rest of the article...
A rabbi performs a controversial circumcision rite, then proudly tells the Forward that he routinely ignores New York City’s law requiring parental consent.Click here for the rest of the article...
Join author Russell Shorto and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik for a discussion of Mr. Shorto's new book, "Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City," as part of The Anne Frank...
(PRWeb March 12, 2014)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/03/prweb11646822.htm
The parent organization of "Save America Gathering" and "555 Days of Prayer to Save America" is joyful at the release of the Greek Orthodox nuns who were abducted by Al-Qaeda...
(PRWeb March 11, 2014)
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Why do kids and adults dress up in costume and what goes on during the Jewish Festival of Purim? Find out at Sim Shalom's Online Synagogue on Saturday Night March 15th at 7PM EST.
(PRWeb March 07, 2014)
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Sinai Temple and The Pico Union Project are hosting the ultimate Purim Masquerade.
(PRWeb March 06, 2014)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/03/prweb11639310.htm
WorldReligionNews.com officially launched its "Featured Contributor" program today with three articles: the first, written by Babu Gogineni, the International Director of the International...
(PRWeb March 05, 2014)
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Rabbi Andy Bachman announced that he will step down as senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood.Click here for the rest of the article...
(JTA) — Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Russia, criticized Ukrainian Jewish leaders for condemning Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
“The Jewish community should not be the one sending messages to President Barack Obama about his policy or to President Putin or to any other leader,” Lazar said Monday during a joint interview with JTA and The Jewish Chronicle of London. “I think it’s the wrong attitude.”
Lazar, Chabad’s top figure in Russia, was responding to a question about a March 5 letter to the Russian president from the Association of Jewish Communities and Organizations of Ukraine, or VAAD, following the incursion of Russian troops into the the Crimean peninsula.
“Your policy of inciting separatism and crude pressure placed on Ukraine threatens us and all Ukrainian people,” the letter said.
Lazar criticized the Ukrainians for involving themselves in issues that don’t directly concern the Jewish community. At the same time, Lazar said he was concerned about anti-Semitism in Ukraine under its interim government, which was one of the reasons Putin gave as justification for the troop mobilization.
Many Ukrainian Jews and several Ukrainian Jewish leaders supported the revolution that ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych despite the prominent role played in the uprising by leaders of the ultranationalist Svoboda party. Svoboda’s leader and other prominent party figures have a history of making anti-Semitic statements. Other Ukrainian Jews saw the revolution as dangerous.
Several anti-Semitic attacks occurred during the unrest, including two stabbings in Kiev, a few assaults of religious Jews, an act of vandalism at a Crimean synagogue and the attempted torching of another synagogue. Anti-Semitic violence is typically rare in Ukraine.
On March 3, Putin said the revolution was being led by “anti-Semites and neo-Nazis on a rampage.”
No suspects have been arrested in connection with the attacks, but Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, a chief Ukrainian rabbi, said pro-Russian provocateurs may have staged them.
Asked about the possibility of provocations, Lazar told JTA he was uncertain, but added: “In the last 15 years I’ve never seen in Russia anything similar. And sadly, in Ukraine and in certain parts of Ukraine especially, there is a history of anti-Semitism.”
Lazar suggested Ukrainian Jewish leaders did not feel free to decry anti-Semitic acts there. But Vyacheslav Likhachev, a VAAD spokesperson, said it was Lazar who could not speak freely.
“When Lazar speaks, it is as a person holding an official position, that of a religious leader in contemporary Russia and as such, it is impossible for him or any other person in his position to express views that do not align with the Kremlin’s official line and propaganda,” Likhachev said.
By Rabbi Doug Sagal
Last year, my synagogue hosted a forum on gun violence prevention. The forum was presented by a local advocacy group that had been founded in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Amongst the speakers were former Governor Jim Florio, who had worked to strengthen gun safety legislation, a dad whose son was killed at Virginia Tech, and several members of the clergy. Also in attendance was a large group from the “New Jersey Second Amendment Society,” an organization of gun advocates who travel to meetings to show their opposition to any further gun safety legislation. Because there had been some unpleasantness at a previous meeting in the community, there were several local and county police officers in attendance to ensure a peaceful meeting.
The dad of the Virginia Tech victim was particularly moving. He was an ordinary “Jersey Guy” who was eating lunch in an “Applebees” when he saw a news broadcast of the shooting. He got into his car and drove non-stop to West Virginia, only to discover that his son was among the dead. He told of how he has tried, in vain, to persuade our local congressman to support even modest gun legislation. I watched the “Second Amendment” folks carefully during his presentation. They sat stony-faced and unmoving, their arms crossed, their expressions blank.
When it was my turn, I rose and spoke of the familiar story of Cain and Abel. I shared that in the Hebrew text, we are taught that the Hebrew reads “And Cain said to Abel…” but no speech is recorded. I repeated a teaching I learned from Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger that the reason the text is silent is because Cain is indeed silent. He said nothing to his brother Abel, he spoke no words, he simply slew him in his anger. Rabbi Neuberger, I explained, taught me that when people have nothing more to say to one another, tragedy results. Is it possible, I asked, that those who enjoy gun ownership and the shooting sports and those who want to enhance gun safety have nothing left to say to one another? Can we not engage in dialogue and discussion? I concluded by reminding everyone that indeed, we are our brother’s keeper.
As the meeting broke up, I spotted the leader of the second amendment group. He was wearing a ball cap and a t-shirt emblazoned with guns. I approached him with my hand outstretched. He looked at me for a long moment, and then turned away. “Wait a minute,” I said, “Don’t do this—there has to be some way we can speak to each other.” He turned to face me, and for the first time in my life I witnessed someone literally shake in anger. “It’s your fault,” he hissed, “All those dead kids-your fault. You and the other sheep in this room going to the slaughter by taking away our guns, leaving us all defenseless, just like those kids. But be warned-we are going to defeat you all”. With that, he walked away.
For the first time, I realized that it might be possible that we have nothing left to say to one another, that there is no common ground upon which we can all walk. As my teacher Rabbi Neuberger taught me years ago-when we no longer have anything to say to one another, then tragedy results.
Rabbi Doug Sagal and Temple Emanu-El, Westfield NJ, along with nearly 1,000 places of worship and many Reform synagogues, participated in the 2014 Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend two weeks ago. This is a reflection on gun violence prevention by Rabbi Sagal. You can read his sermon here.
A prayer book developed for use by Jews in the U.S. military will be released this week.Click here for the rest of the article...
NEW YORK (JTA) – Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Even if you converted to Judaism under Orthodox auspices, your conversion may be called into question by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbinical Council of America, the main centrist Orthodox rabbinical group in the United States.
If you live in Israel, this means your ability to marry a Jew is in jeopardy.
That’s the warning that some critics of the RCA are promoting following the airing of one woman’s story whose U.S. conversion as an infant some 35 years ago was questioned recently by the Israeli Rabbinate. When the RCA’s rabbinical court, the Beth Din of America, was asked by the Chief Rabbinate for input on the case involving Karen Brunwasser, it said it could not affirm the validity of her conversion.
The incident — which nearly derailed Brunwasser’s wedding to an Israeli Jew, according to a recent essay she published in the Washington Jewish Week — shows how much sway the RCA has when it comes to deciding the fates of converts, even ex post facto. The case also highlights the dangers of centralizing conversion authority, critics say, because converts who haven’t gone through the RCA’s approved process are unfairly suspect.
“When you’re centralizing authority, to whom are the people you’ve given this power responsible to?” Rabbi Avi Weiss, founder of the liberal Orthodox rabbinical school Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, told JTA. “A convert’s evaluation can continue till the end of their lives.”
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, a Weiss ally who leads a Washington synagogue, argues that Brunwasser’s case has dramatic implications.
“We now know that the RCA is casting aspersions on prior conversions by its own members,” Herzfeld wrote in a March 6 JTA Op-Ed. “Despite what the RCA promised in 2008, it is retroactively negating and rooting out converts who were for decades fully integrated into the Orthodox Jewish community. In doing so, it has set a dangerous precedent that should make every convert afraid and all of us angry and disappointed in its leadership.”
In at least one respect, the RCA’s critics are right: Anyone whose conversion to Judaism predates the establishment in 2008 of RCA conversion guidelines called Geirus Policies and Standards (GPS), or whose conversion took place after 2008 but did not follow the GPS guidelines, may find his or her conversion subject to review. That’s the case even if the rabbi who presided over the conversion was an RCA member.
But while the critics lay blame on the GPS system, the RCA says this practice of review is nothing new: It always has responded to inquiries from the Israeli Rabbinate about conversions, and the review of old cases isn’t proactive but reactive — initiated only in cases where another rabbinate, in Israel or elsewhere, asks about a particular conversion. Furthermore, lack of affirmation of a conversion doesn’t equal annulment, the RCA says.
“The Beth Din of America cannot offer a blanket endorsement of conversions by members of the RCA, nor can it offer a blanket non-endorsement of conversions,” Rabbi Leonard Matanky, the RCA’s president, told JTA. “When asked, each case is reviewed individually.”
Because the RCA doesn’t police its members’ actions, the establishment of the GPS guidelines was an attempt to standardize conversion practices so the RCA could certify those conversions it deems kosher — much like a kashrut organization grants kosher certification. But as with kashrut, lack of certification doesn’t necessarily mean a particular conversion is unkosher.
“When asked to endorse a conversion done outside the GPS policy, whether before GPS or outside of GPS, the Beth Din of America will review each case and make a determination whether it abides by the GPS standards,” Matanky said. “Even when the beit din [religious court that performed the conversion] says it did not abide by GPS standards, it does not mean the conversion has been voided.”
But Weiss, whose own Orthodox rabbinic credentials came under scrutiny several months ago when the Israeli Rabbinate rejected a letter from him affirming the Jewishness of someone seeking to marry in Israel, says the RCA is unfairly applying tough new standards to old conversions.
“There’s no doubt their standards have changed,” Weiss said. “It’s one thing if somebody asks you to make an evaluation. But you’re evaluating conversions that took place 30 years ago, and your evaluation is based on your post-GPS standards. Had the RCA been asked about the conversion 20 or 30 years ago, the RCA would have signed off on it.”
Weiss says the RCA’s bid to centralize conversion authority has made conversion onerous for converts, particularly those who live in cities where religious courts, or beit dins, do not meet regularly.
Though an RCA member, Weiss has been at odds with the association since the early days of the liberal Orthodox rabbinical school he founded in 1999 in Riverdale, N.Y. Other moves by Weiss, to ordain Orthodox clergywomen and launch an alternative rabbinic organization, the International Rabbinic Fellowship, have added to the strain.
The controversy over the RCA is limited to the Orthodox community, but the implications of the Israeli Rabbinate’s decisions on converts are not. Non-Orthodox converts who want to marry a Jew-by-birth in Israel are pretty much up the creek: The Israeli Rabbinate, which has a monopoly over Jewish marriage in Israel, does not recognize non-Orthodox conversions at all.
With no civil marriage in the Jewish state, that leaves few options for couples in which one partner is recognized by the Rabbinate as a Jew and the other is not. The non-Jewish partner can undergo an Orthodox conversion, a lengthy process that requires committing to Orthodox Jewish practice. Or the couple can marry overseas, civilly or otherwise, and the marriage will be recognized by the Israeli Interior Ministry.
However, the Israeli Rabbinate won’t recognize the union, and if it’s the woman whose conversion did not pass muster in Israel, the Rabbinate won’t consider the couple’s children Jewish. That means the children will face the same obstacles when it comes time for them to marry.
In her Feb. 19 newspaper essay, Brunwasser highlighted how the RCA’s response to the Israeli Rabbinate’s inquiry about her conversion nearly wrecked her wedding. The RCA official who responded noted that some of the rabbis on the beit din that converted her had served in a synagogue without a mechitzah divider separating men and women.
“We are unable to approve conversion done by a rabbi who serves in a synagogue without a mechitzah even if the rabbi himself observes the Torah and mitzvot, and even if the acceptance of mitzvot by the convert was done appropriately,” Rabbi Michoel Zylberman of the RCA’s Beth Din of America wrote in a late-night email in Hebrew last Aug. 11. “As for this particular conversion, the first two signatories were Orthodox rabbis who served in a synagogue without a mechitzah. Of course, there is standing for a religious authority to differ, and if you’d like to be lenient and rely on other religious authorities, do as seems fit in your eyes.”
Brunwasser says the Rabbinate’s response was to require her to convert again. She refused. Only after intervention by “powerful connections that I unfortunately cannot disclose,” she wrote, did the Rabbinate confirm her original conversion, giving her a green light to marry. That affirmation came the day before her wedding.
Herzfeld argued that the RCA’s approach to Brunwasser’s case reflected a shift toward a more restrictive position, noting that in the past Orthodox rabbis more commonly served in synagogues without mechitzahs.
The RCA has declined to speak about Brunwasser or other specific cases, citing privacy concerns. But in at least one respect, the RCA now appears to be suggesting that Zylberman was not entirely accurate in characterizing the organization’s position on mechitzahs.
“The fact that a rabbi served in a non-mechitzah shul is a factor for consideration in determining the status of conversion but does not automatically invalidate a conversion,” Matanky said. “There are many other considerations that need to be taken into account.”
Despite the criticism, Matanky says the Brunwasser case actually undercuts the argument that the RCA holds too much sway over conversions, or that the RCA’s failure to endorse a conversion equals a repudiation. As trying as Brunwasser’s experience was, he pointed out, in the end her conversion was upheld.
NEW YORK (JTA) — A prayer book developed for use by Jews in the U.S. military will be released this week.
Reform, Orthodox and Conservative rabbis cooperated in creating the prayer book, which was commissioned by the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council. The prayer book is the first of its type published since World War II.
The chaplains council, a program of the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America, which is holding its conference this week, received permission to reprint Hebrew and English texts from other prayer books in the new siddur.
“We had the ability to move freely through their prayer books, allowing us to create a book that each rabbi can use differently,” said retired Rear Adm. Rabbi Harold Robinson, director of the council. “Yet for each soldier, sailor or Marine, it will be the same, no matter where he or she is stationed.”
In recent years, Jewish chaplains and lay leaders leading services have used a variety of books, according to their personal preference, which meant that service personnel had to adapt to a new prayer book when moving to a different base.
The book includes a foreword by President Obama.
Partnership minyanim offer Orthodox women a leading role. Aurora Mendelsohn explores why rabbis are pushing back against these new egalitarian forms of prayer.Click here for the rest of the article...
As the enrollment level of boys surpasses that of girls for the inaugural summer at the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) has made a $5,000 grant from its YES (Youth, Education, & Special Projects) Fund to provide scholarships for female campers.
The scholarships are meant to encourage and support the participation of girls in science and technology, which have traditionally been male-dominated fields. Each scholarship recipient will receive $500 toward registration at the camp this summer.
To be considered for a scholarship, applicants must be enrolled at the camp between March 1 and April 30, entering grades 5-9 in Fall 2014, and belong to a URJ congregation.
WRJ President Blair C. Marks, who works for a Fortune 500 company and knows firsthand the importance of gender parity in the growing fields of science and technology, said,
I was thrilled when my two worlds, my sci-tech career and my WRJ leadership, collided when WRJ voted to fund these scholarships. As my own experience has taught me, it is so important for girls to feel safe and welcomed into male-dominated professions and to see puzzle- and problem-solving not as insurmountable challenges but rather as opportunities. To me, these scholarships are consistent with WRJ’s tradition of standing up for women and girls, and I am very proud that we have chosen to lead in this manner.
URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, like the URJ 6 Points Sports Academy started in 2010, offers a unique summer camp opportunity designed to meet the particular interests of youth under a Jewish lens. Lisa Jay of Montabello, NY, whose daughter Hannah loves math, science, and engineering, and recently applied for the WRJ scholarship, said,
Finding a camp that will meet my daughter’s needs so perfectly is a blessing that I cannot begin to describe. We were always hoping to find a Jewish sleep away camp experience that would be appropriate for her interests, but never found one that came close until hearing about Sci-Tech. She is not one for new experiences, but she did not hesitate once we found this camp!
WRJ has a well-established relationship of support for and involvement with Jewish camping that goes back many decades. From 1952, when the Chicago-area sisterhoods helped found the first Union camp, URJ Olin Sang Ruby Institute (OSRUI), until the present day, individual sisterhoods, districts, and WRJ as a whole, have consistently supported the Reform Movement’s camps.
The YES Fund, which is funding these scholarships, represents the collective financial efforts of individual donors and WRJ-affiliated sisterhoods to strengthen the Reform Movement and ensure the future of Reform Judaism. YES Fund grants from WRJ provide Reform Jewish institutions and individuals worldwide with the tools necessary for religious, social, and educational growth.
By Cantor Wally Schachet-Briskin
The music and the style of song leading as it has been popularized among Reform youth has moved the Jewish world. Music in NFTY and Reform camps, which began in 1951 in Wisconsin, seems to have been defined by the era in which it was sung, affected greatly by world events, politics, and technology. Camps were where adolescents gathered to form communities: mini-societies. Singing begins as a family activity, and this “family” atmosphere is created in the camp community.
Repertoire at the West Coast’s Camp Saratoga, which was established in 1951 (and later became UAHC Camp Swig and then URJ Camp Newman), was chosen from American folk songs, some Hebrew, a little Yiddish, and hymns from the old Union Songster. The first songleader at Swig in 1955 was Cantor William Sharlin, an accomplished composer in his mid-30s, who had been to the Union Institute in Wisconsin the previous few summers. He was the first staff member with a professional music background, and was hired to take singing to the next level. Since Cantor Sharlin had come from the only other Union Institute, the repertoire of both was virtually the same. The songbook that Camp Saratoga used was from the Jewish Agency from the 1940s. No set curriculum was instituted, although most of the song sessions helped prepare for Shabbat. By the second summer Saratoga was in session, the natural phenomenon of “tradition” had come into play: what was sung the first summer was “how we’ve always done it.” The kavanah [spontaneity] of the first campers had become the keva [fixed] of the second summer. This circumstance has been both a blessing and a curse to the camping movement ever since.
Campers would sing after every meal, and the most important curriculum component the songleader had to worry about was striking an even balance between two or three English folk and protest songs, (e.g., “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain,” “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd”) and two or three Hebrew songs from liturgy and the modern State of Israel, (e.g., “Hava Netzei B’Machol,” “Atzei Zeitim Omdim,” “Sim Shalom”). Cantor Sharlin said the songs were written on large pieces of butcher paper and posted around the chadar ochel (dining hall) during the week, and by the time they were taken down for Shabbat, the campers had memorized the songs.
For teens in a camp away from parents, singing became a way of expressing emotions, sentiments, and solidarity. The songs that campers were bonding over were songs in English with messages they could stand behind, as well as the songs of the Jewish people. This deepened their connection to the music of the Jews — and to the Jews who were singing it.
Some of the Hebrew songs that found their place in the Reform camps were penned by Orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, whose first recorded album was produced in 1959. Several of his compositions that were brought to camp, such as “Am Yisrael Chai,” “Od Yishama,” and “Esa Einai” are sung among Reform youth to this day.
While much of the early repertoire — Yiddish songs, English brotherhood songs, and hymns — have disappeared, the core of NFTY music, from its roots in the 1940s and ‘50s, remains spirited, communal singing, which speaks to Jewish youth on a deep level.
Cantor Wally Schachet-Briskin serves as Cantor at Ohef Sholom Temple in Norfolk, VA. He was a camper, Head Songleader and Faculty Member at URJ Camp Swig-Newman. He was ordained in 1996 from HUC-JIR’s Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, where his Masters Project covered the “Music of Reform Youth.”
We are grateful to Women of Reform Judaism who have supported NFTY for 75 years and continue their generosity as Inaugural Donors to the Campaign for Youth Engagement.
BUDAPEST, Hungary (JTA) — A representative of Hungarian Jewry criticized the organizers of a rabbinical conference in Budapest for not postponing the forum with national elections nearing.
Andras Heisler, president of the Mazsihisz Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary, leveled his criticism in a statement sent Monday, the opening day of the two-day biannual convention of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe.
“Mazsihisz is looking with concern at the rabbinical conference, which is planned at the peak point of an elections campaign,” Heisler wrote, referencing the April 6 election.
Mazsihisz is embroiled in a dispute over Holocaust commemoration issues with the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose center-right Fidesz party is expected to be reelected easily, according to recent polls.
Mazsihisz boycotted government-led plans to unveil on the 70th anniversary of the Nazi invasion into Hungary a statue that depicts Hungary as an innocent victim on Nazism because the federation said it obfuscated the nation’s Holocaust-era complicity. The monument, described as a tribute to all victims of Nazism, makes no mention of the Hungarian government’s complicity in the murder of 586,000 Jews during the Holocaust.
The rabbinical conference featured a memorial ceremony on Monday on the banks of the Danube River. Hungarian Defense Minister Csaba Hende and Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos, both of the Fidesz party, were among the 1,000 participants but did not speak.
Rabbi Shlomo Koves, a co-organizer of the rabbinical conference, told JTA he believes any concerns that the conference will be used in the campaign is unfounded, since “the event is not aligned with any party and is meant to celebrate Jewish life in Hungary and show solidarity with the local Jewish community.” He also said he supported Mazshihisz’s criticism of the monument, which Koves called “misleading and very problematic.”
The organizers took journalists to meetings with government officials as well as key opposition figures, including Viktor Szigetari of the newly formed Together opposition party. Szigetari accused Fidesz of “mainstreaming radical anti-Semitism notions with projects like the monument.”
But a Mazsihisz spokesman told JTA the organization feared the rabbinical conference, which includes many rabbis from the Chabad movement, would be used by the government as election propaganda to downplay the dispute with Mazsihisz, and that it would also serve the propaganda machine of the xenophobic Jobbik party, whose rhetoric often features negative references to so-called Jewish interests in Hungary.
“Our concerns are connected to inconsistent information and news coming up in the media concerning the rabbinical conference’s goal,” Heisler said in his statement. “We asked organizers to postpone until after the elections but they refused.”