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Earlier this winter, my synagogue played host to NFTY-NAR’s Winter Kallah. Because we’re of the “go big or go home” belief, our cantor arranged for Jewish musician Dan Nichols to be our artist-in-residence the same weekend. Ever a consummate mensch, Dan participated the entire weekend in activities with NFTY, the religious school, and programs for our adult congregants.
Beginning Thursday evening, Dan rehearsed with our adult, teen, and youth choirs for our Friday night service. On Friday evening just before Shabbat, more than 130 teens and their NFTY-NAR advisors started to arrive by car, by minivan, and by bus. As months of tireless and careful planning came into play, the weekend began to take on a life of its own. There are not enough words to express the gratitude to these dedicated people who do so much for our youth beyond planning such kallot.
The weekend was, in a word, awesome. It began Friday night, with Dan leading our congregation in a musical Shabbat service. I have been going through some soul-searching recently, and Dan’s music, paired with the NFTYites’ reactions to it, gave me reason to take a step back and feel as though I might have found some of what I’d been looking for.
After Friday night service, host families waited patiently in the social hall to receive the names of our teen guests and to pick them up for the start of the event. You’d think we were expecting the arrival of our firstborn children! “Did you get boys or girls?” “How many are you hosting?” “What are you feeding them on Saturday night?” Among the host families were the usual suspects – those who currently have teenagers in the youth group. There were also a large number of hosts whose children were long gone from youth group, as well as families with no youth group members past or present – and even a single, senior member of our congregation who took on 10 teen boys, God bless her! (My son was in her house, and by Saturday morning, I already received a phone call yelling me how wonderful the boys were. Upon arriving home on Sunday, my son told me she was a terrific hostess. What a match!).
My family learned we’d be hosting six 9th-grade girls. My son had given my wife and me specific instructions about what to expect for the weekend and from the teenage houseguests we hosted. His advice? Give them wifi and plenty of junk food, but most of all, leave them alone to enjoy their time together. He was right on target.
By Saturday morning, I felt a little like Tevye, only I had six daughters plus my own. By Sunday, I didn’t want them to leave! The girls were polite, and each brought our family a gift of thanks. After feeding “my girls” breakfast, my daughter and I drove them to the temple for morning worship with Dan and a day of activities created by the NFTY board. I spent the day prepping allergy-sensitive dinner, and as we ate together that night, they relayed their opinions on the day. After dinner, we headed back to temple for Dan Nichols and Eighteen in concert. As soon as Havdalah was over and Dan hit the first chord, I felt like I was at a Springsteen concert. The NFTYites stood, danced in the aisles, and never sat down.
On Sunday, I said a quick goodbye to my new daughters when I dropped them off at temple for the end of their weekend. My wife and I picked up our exhausted-yet-enthusiastic son, who, after showering, filled out an application to work at URJ Eisner Camp this summer. He refuses to let go of the ruach, spirit, that powers NFTY events.
For the past four-plus years, I only got as close to NFTY as listening to my son’s stories. This year, I got a little closer. I have so many fond memories: catching our guests laughing as they took photos of my son as a young boy, to being comfortable enough in our home to popcorn in the microwave, to taking over my living room and making it their temporary dorm room. Is there such thing as a NFTY Kallah for adults? The love these teens have for Judaism is contagious!
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Israeli police launched an investigation into a well-known haredi Orthodox rabbi’s statement that Finance Minister Yair Lapid could be assassinated in the same way as Yitzhak Rabin.Click here for the rest of the article...
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli police launched an investigation into a well-known haredi Orthodox rabbi’s statement that Finance Minister Yair Lapid could be assassinated in the same way as Yitzhak Rabin.
Rabbi Dov Halbertal made his remarks in an interview this week on Galei Israel Radio.
“I had a guest over on Shabbat, an important scholar, and he told me something astounding that I think had a lot of truth to it,” Halbertal said. “He told me, ‘Listen, there’s going to be a new Rabin assassination; Lapid will be killed by a haredi.’”
Along with questioning Halbertal, police said they are considering tightening security around Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party, the Times of Israel reported.
According to Israeli media reports, Halbertal explained that he was repeating someone else’s comment and issuing a warning, not making a threat.
An attorney by profession, Halbertal was known as an associate of the late haredi authority Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.
Many in the haredi world are upset with Lapid because of his push for a universal draft law that would see most haredi yeshiva students drafted into Israel’s military.
Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a right-wing extremist opposed to the prime minister’s signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords.
NEW YORK (JTA) — The authors of the Newsweek/The Daily Beast “Top 50 Rabbis” list said they are ending the annual feature.
Gary Ginsberg, Michael Lynton and Abigail Pogrebin explained the decision, first reported in the Forward, in an article published Wednesday by The Daily Beast titled “Why We’re Not Ranking Rabbis.” They wrote that the list, which was launched in 2007, “started to carry too much weight for too many people.”
“Some rabbis felt personally wounded when they weren’t mentioned,” they wrote. “Others told us it adversely affected their career opportunities. We started receiving emphatic pleas from certain rabbis to add them to the roster (or move them higher in the rankings). Some of those rabbis enlisted friends or colleagues to lobby us insistently. Some even came to our offices with personal pleas to be included, others to offer prayers for our souls.”
The authors said they had been “queasy about ranking rabbis,” yet followed the advice of magazine editors who told them that “rankings matter: if you want people to pay attention, you need a scorecard.”
While the list “offered a valuable, unusual snapshot of the Jewish landscape,” they wrote, it “has been misconfigured into an unhealthy contest which outweighs its potential contribution.”
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jordan’s parliament voted to expel Israel’s ambassador to Amman and recall its envoy following a Knesset debate about Israel regaining sovereignty over the Temple Mount.
The vote on Wednesday is not binding on the Jordanian Cabinet, which has the final decision. The government is unlikely to approve the measure, according to reports.
A day earlier, 47 Jordanian lawmakers signed a statement calling for the 1994 peace treaty with Israel to be rescinded. Under the treaty, Jordan was given special jurisdiction over the Temple Mount and other Muslim holy sites.
The Temple Mount is overseen by the Muslim Wakf, the religious administration charged with managing the Temple Mount site, which is holy to Jews and Muslims. Jews generally are not permitted by the Wakf to pray or bring any ritual objects to the Temple Mount.
In the Knesset debate on Tuesday night, Moshe Feiglin of the Likud party called on the Israeli government “to apply the full sovereignty of the State of Israel in the entire Temple Mount. I call on the Israeli government to allow free access to any Jew to the Temple Mount through any gate, and allow them to pray.”
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Jews should be allowed to pray at the Temple Mount, Likud party members said at a volatile Knesset debate on the right of non-Muslims to pray at the holy site.Click here for the rest of the article...
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jews should be allowed to pray at the Temple Mount, Likud party members said at a volatile Knesset debate on the right of non-Muslims to pray at the holy site.
More than 30 Israeli lawmakers, from the right and left wings, asked to speak at the special session on Tuesday. Most of the Arab-Israeli lawmakers protested the debate by not attending the session.
“I call on the government to apply the full sovereignty of the State of Israel in the entire Temple Mount,” said the Likud’s Moshe Feiglin, who requested the debate. “I call on the Israeli government to allow free access to any Jew to the Temple Mount through any gate, and allow them to pray.”
Feiglin had made monthly visits to the Temple Mount before being prevented by police. He visited the Temple Mount earlier this week with a police escort, however.
Zahava Gal-on, head of the Meretz party, said that while she believes Jews have a right to pray on the Temple Mount, it must be done in consultation with the agreement of the Arab world, the Times of Israel reported. She called Feiglin’s proposal “a match that could ignite the powder keg on which the Middle East rests,” and said extending Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount would harm the peace process.
The site is overseen by the Muslim Wakf, the Muslim religious administration charged with managing the Temple Mount site, which is holy to Jews and Muslims. Jews generally are not permitted by the Wakf to pray or bring any ritual objects to the Temple Mount.
Earlier Tuesday, Palestinian youths rioted on the Temple Mount in response to the session, resulting in three arrests and injuries to two Israeli police officers.
WASHINGTON (JTA) — When Rep. Eric Cantor took the stage last week at the Virginia Military Institute to deliver a wide-ranging foreign policy address, Auschwitz was on the House majority leader’s mind — and so, observers suggest, was the state of his party.
In his speech, the Virginia Republican cited his recent visit — his first — to the Nazi death camp, connecting past horrors to the present-day danger of retreating into isolationism.
“Standing there as the frigid wind swept through the eerily quiet ruins of the camp, I could not help but regret that American action in World War II came too late to save countless millions of innocent lives,” Cantor said.
While the bulk of his Feb. 17 speech was a critique of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, Cantor also seemed to take aim at anti-interventionists within the GOP.
“Many Americans, and politicians from both parties, want to believe the tide of war has receded,” he said. “As was the case in the wake of World War I, many want to believe the costly foreign interventions of recent years can simply be put behind us.”
An influential Republican congressional staffer suggested that the speech was a rejoinder to anti-interventionists in Congress and to those who allowed military spending to be cut as a result of sequestration.
“This is Cantor trying to reorient the party,” said the staffer, who was not authorized to speak on the record.
Frank Luntz, a top Republican political consultant, said Cantor was ”making a statement that the isolationists in the GOP are acting in a destructive way, that there’s one thing that unites both those on the right and those in the center — a strong America and a peaceful America.”
The GOP is heading into this midterm election year in a state of turmoil, deeply divided between Tea Party-aligned right-wingers and establishment Republicans. Those on the right who advocate shifting toward an anti-interventionist foreign policy — a small minority among congressional Republicans — have grown louder, with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) featuring prominently among the party’s presumed 2016 presidential contenders.
The Virginia Military Institute speech is one of the ways in which Cantor — sometimes mentioned as a future House speaker or possible vice-presidential pick — has tried in recent weeks to shape his party’s agenda on both foreign and domestic policy. Earlier this month he penned an article for the venerable conservative magazine National Review outlining the House Republicans’ vision for economic and jobs growth.
But while Cantor is asserting his leadership within the party more broadly, sources who have spoken to him suggest his foreign policy address was shaped specifically by profound feelings aroused by his visit to Auschwitz.
Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, had visited Auschwitz with other members of Congress to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the camp’s liberation. He was there at the same time as a historic delegation that included nearly half the members of the Israeli Knesset.
“I saw him after he returned from his visit to Auschwitz, and he came over to me and he was still stunned 36 hours after he had been there,” Luntz said. “I could feel his emotional reaction five feet from him.”
William Daroff, a former Republican operative who now directs the Washington office of Jewish Federations of North America, said he had a similar conversation with Cantor a day after his return.
“He was profoundly impacted by what he had seen,” Daroff said of their phone conversation. “He’d never been to Auschwitz before. It really brings home the impact of inaction in the world scene.”
Cantor’s office did not reply to requests for an interview.
In his VMI speech, Cantor invoked his Jewish identity in discussing his pride in America’s role in defeating Hitler and ending the Holocaust, as well as his regret that America had not acted sooner because of the strength of isolationism. He referred to this history in calling for reasserting American leadership in the world, which he argued had been undermined by President Obama.
“This isolationist sentiment lasted years, until the bombing of Pearl Harbor woke the American people from their slumber,” he said. “We must not repeat the same mistake by reducing our preparedness, accepting the notion that we are one of many or ceding global leadership to others.”
In 45 minutes, Cantor swept through what he described as an Obama administration foreign policy characterized by “hollow rhetoric, unwise or elastic timelines, and unenforced red lines” vis-a-vis repressive regimes in Iran, North Korea and Syria, as well as failings in dealing with Russia, China and extremism in post-Gadhafi Libya.
Iran was a major focus of the speech, with Cantor alluding to calls by past Iranian leaders for Israel’s disappearance and saying that the interim nuclear deal that set the stage for talks now underway between the major powers and Iran had given away too much for too little.
“Like all Americans, I hope to see Iran abandon its nuclear aspirations through peaceful negotiations, but hope is not a strategy,” he said.
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By Cantor Wally Schachet-Briskin
I found myself (quite literally) at Reform Jewish summer camp. More than anything, it was the music that drew me into experiencing Jewish life with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my might. How did music in youth grouping touch something Jewish so deep inside me? The experience was more than nifty . . . it was NFTY.
Our participatory musical style in synagogue services grew out of the creative liturgy of youth camps. The use of folk guitar in religious school, in the youth service, and (more and more) in adult worship can be traced back to NFTY’s roots, which were planted 75 years ago, but which evolved from earlier models.
Jewish camping has its origins in the Talmudic era with semi-annual kallot during the Hebrew months of Adar and Elul, and the Sabbaths of study that preceded the festivals. Modern Jewish camping arose out of the nineteenth-century discovery that a change in environment helps affect behavior, and that adolescence is a distinct period of emotional growth. The songs of any particular era reflected American folk and popular styles, current political sentiment, the latest appealing Jewish music, and whatever were the favorite songs of the previous summer as recalled by returning campers and staff.
Early in the history of music at American camping institutions, singing was strictly for fun, spirit building, and mood setting. At retreats in the Catskills or with the Boy Scouts of America, for instance, songs were performed and sung informally around the table and campfire, or presented with and for the group members. Singing became a natural, integral part of the communal camping experience in general.
After World War II, Rabbi Samuel Cook, then the Director of Youth Activities of NFTY-The Reform Jewish Youth Movement, began to change the youth organization from one in which adults led teen activities to one in which young members led their peers. To help accomplish this goal, Rabbi Cook set up centralized summertime “National Leadership Training Institutes” to prepare teens to be leaders. Music was a big part of the institutes; young people would then lead others in song.
Following the success of several camping models such as Samson Benderly’s Cejwin (Central Jewish Institute) camps, the Jewish Centers camps (with the original goal of Americanizing Jews) and the Ramah camps (from their inception, a recruiting tool for the Jewish Theological Seminary), a group of Reform rabbis sought to establish their own denominational camp.
The first “Union Institute” camp, designed to be a place for Reform teens to “study and pray, work and play,” was established in 1951 in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin as a retreat site for Chicago-area synagogues. One of its goals was to keep youths involved in Judaism after being confirmed at age 13 or 14, and it followed a model set not by previous Jewish camps, but by Christian camps and German Jewish youth groups.
At the time the first Union Institutes for young Reform Jews were set up in the early 1950s, the Weavers, Woody Guthrie, and the Kingston Trio, on steel-stringed acoustic guitars and banjos, were folk idols whose style encouraged participatory singing. While folk music was never the popular music of America, folk singers attracted a large teen and college-aged following, which is the camp demographic. Leaders of singing in the very American Reform camps copied the style and repertoire of folk singers.
Songs were sung a cappella or accompanied by guitars, banjos, and accordions, like the folk-music role models of the time. While not as portable an instrument, some singers led with piano.
In light of the relatively recent birth of the Jewish state, chalutznik songs (music of Israel’s pioneers) became popular in camp. Specifically, “Tzena Tzena” (which was also recorded by The Weavers), “Zum Gali Gali,” and “Ufaratzta” became regular camp favorites. These melodies are still sung in some Reform youth gatherings today.
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 Newman (Swig/Saratoga). 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.”
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(JTA) — Harold Ramis, an actor, writer and director who had a hand in such iconic comedies as “Groundhog Day,” “Ghostbusters” and “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” has died.
Ramis died early Monday morning in Chicago from complications of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that involves swelling of the blood vessels, the Chicago Tribune reported, citing Ramis’ wife, Erica. He was 69.
In addition to directing “Groundhog Day,” Ramis wrote and directed “Caddyshack,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and “Analyze This.” He also directed episodes of NBC’s “The Office.”
As an actor, his best-known film roles came in “Ghostbusters” and “Stripes,” both of which he co-wrote and both with Bill Murray.
Ramis, a Chicago native, graduated from Washington University in St. Louis. He acted in Chicago’s Second City improvisational comedy troupe along with Murray and John Belushi.
He lived in Los Angeles from the late 1970s before returning to Chicago, basing his production company in a Chicago suburb.
Ramis had a Jewish upbringing, and later immersed himself in Zen Buddhism, according to the Chicago Tribune.
He was well known as a Chicago Cubs fan, leading the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field.