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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.

Click here for the rest of the article...

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

JSLI Online Rabbinical School Provides Solid Track Toward Ordination,...

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 09:52

The Jewish Spiritual Leadership Institute (JSLI), in association with the Sim Shalom Online Jewish Universalist Synagogue, offers a robust one-year rabbinical study program for committed students....

(PRWeb June 09, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/05/prweb11818874.htm

New Book, “The Inside Story: Biblical Personalities” Claims That Women...

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 09:52

Rabbi explores feministic side of Judaism

(PRWeb June 04, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/06/prweb11911029.htm

Eight Ways Your Congregation Can Be More Welcoming for the High Holidays

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 09:00

The High Holidays are a special time in the Jewish calendar, a time when many unaffiliated Jews (those who are not members of a congregation) may feel the need to connect to the broader Jewish community. Even if they don’t attend synagogue throughout the year, the High Holidays may inspire these individuals and their families to find a congregation where they can attend services or special holiday programming.

There are several ways to leverage your congregation’s communications tools and human resources to make your synagogue more welcoming to unaffiliated Jews, especially leading up to the High Holidays.

  1. Post information about High Holiday opportunities on your homepage.
    While web users’ behaviors are highly variable, most of them are in a hurry. Realistically, users will read about 20% of the text on the average page. Naturally, they’re more likely to view information if it appears on the homepage than if they have to search through your website to find it. Make things easy on them: Let them know, as soon as they arrive at your congregation’s website, that non-members are welcome at services during the High Holidays.
  1. Post information on the website itself, never as an attachment or PDF.
    Users are easily confused when websites link them to documents that offer a significantly different user experience than that of browsing web pagesand most users don’t view a PDF file as being the same environment as a website. To avoid confusion and make sure visitors see details of your High Holidays events, post them as text on your website.
  1. Clearly list all event dates, price ranges, and congregational contacts.
    According to web user behavioral studies, the first 10 seconds of the page visit are critical in users’ decision to stay or leave. If your website lists pertinent information in a clear manner that immediately attracts viewers’ attention, you significantly increase the chances that they will see it. If users need to dig deep to find all these details, they are likely to give up and leave your site. Additionally, individuals and families who are unaffiliated with a synagogue may also feel sensitive about speaking in person about ticket prices and information, especially if they are on a tight budget. Listing event information and pricing clearly on your synagogue’s website will help them understand if your services and events are a potential fit for them.
  1. Website copy should be warm and inviting.
    Those who are not yet members of your community may feel apprehensive and even anxious about approaching a congregation, even if they are looking to belong to a community. Make sure that the language you use makes those visiting your website feel as though they are being welcomed with open arms.
  1. Clearly identify special opportunities for specific target audiences.
    Families with young children, seniors, young adults, and other specific audiences may be more inclined to contact you if they know you offer special events or different pricing options for them. If your congregation doesn’t turn anyone away based on finances, list this information, as well. Unaffiliated individuals may see your ticket prices and assume you would not be able to accommodate them if they cannot afford it. Let them know that they can be welcomed into the Jewish community even if their budget is tight; it may encourage them to pick up the phone and learn about their options.
  1. Ensure that anyone who answers the phone at your congregation knows of opportunities for the unaffiliated and responds to inquiries in a warm, welcoming manner.
    The person responding to phone calls will likely provide the first impression of your congregation for those calling to ask about your services. It’s crucial that this person be welcoming, as his or her tone can create either a gateway into or barrier from your congregation.
  2. On the day of High Holidays programming, appoint volunteers to serve as greeters.
    The High Holidays will likely mark the first time that unaffiliated individuals visit your congregation, and placing greeters at the door will help them with far more than just navigation. A friendly face to greet them creates a personal connection that can help foster a sense of belonging.
  3. Follow up with those who attend your services or programs.
    Some of those who visit your congregation during the High Holidays season won’t be seeking further engagement, but don’t assume this is the case for everyone. Make a list of all non-members who attended your High Holiday events, and assign someone friendly to follow-up with them. You can call them to wish them “Shana Tovah,” ask them about their experience at your synagogue, and invite them to upcoming events and services. Be proactive, and don’t wait for them to contact you!

Are European Rabbis Putting Stamp of Approval on Russian Takeover of Crimea?

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 08:38

Leaders of a prominent Jewish community in Ukraine criticized European rabbis who attended a Kremlin-sponsored Holocaust commemoration ceremony in Crimea.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Ukrainian Jewish leaders slam visit by top European rabbis to Crimea

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 07:22

(JTA) — Leaders of the Dnepropetrovsk Jewish community in Ukraine criticized European rabbis who attended a Kremlin-sponsored Holocaust commemoration ceremony in Crimea.

“Though it was not their intention,  these actions inevitably facilitate and legitimize the seizure and annexation of [Ukrainian] territory,” the community wrote in a July 17 statement  posted on its website in connection with the ceremony a week earlier in Sevastopol.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March following the ouster of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych in a revolution that broke out over his alleged corruption and perceived allegiance to Russia.

The delegation of 16 rabbis who visited Sevastopol was made up of senior figures from Chabad, including Binyomin Jacobs, a chief rabbi of the Netherlands; David Moshe Lieberman of Antwerp; Yirmiyahu Cohen of Paris; and Rabbi Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Russia.

The event was organized by the Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia with funding from the Russian state and at the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin, organizers said.

Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a senior associate of Lazar, said the Kremlin has been actively engaged in Holocaust commemoration for the past 15 years, and that Lazar and other Jews firmly support this policy.

“When anti-Semitic acts occur here, we are very vocal,” Gorin said. “But when the government demonstrates that they want to do everything so that Jews will live peacefully — with that we are prepared to cooperate.”

But the Dnepropetrovsk statement read, “Jewish leaders consenting to participate in the actions of the occupation authorities in Crimea and Kremlin political maneuvers is a big mistake that may cause significant damage to the authority of the Jewish voice internationally. Unfortunately, this is not for the first time that European Jewish leaders are deceived by Kremlin propaganda.”

How Orthodox Agudah and Wal-Mart Money United To Back School Vouchers

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 06:00

Guess who is the largest donor to Agudath Israel? The Christian owners of Wal-Mart, who see the Orthodox umbrella group a key ally in their fight for education reforms.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Belfast Synagogue Vandalized Twice in One Weekend

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 17:57

A window was smashed on successive days at a synagogue in Belfast, Ireland.

Click here for the rest of the article...

The Moral Imperative of Non-Discrimination

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 17:39

Amidst the suffering and conflict occurring in too many parts of the world, the White House delivered good news and something to celebrate today.  Rabbi David Saperstein and I were privileged to be in the East Room of the White House this morning to watch President Obama sign an Executive Order prohibiting all companies that receive a contract from the federal government from discriminating against LGBT employees and adding gender identity to federal government’s current prohibition of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Read the RAC’s press release praising this action where Rabbi Saperstein noted: “It is our moral imperative to build a fair society where all people are judged by the merit of their work and not by their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

In fact, Rabbi Saperstein was right next to the President as he signed, a spot well deserved given his counsel to the White House and key groups pushing this Executive Order and the RAC’s leadership in the faith community on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) (which is still stalled in the House after passing the Senate for the first time ever last November).

Sometimes Congress or the White House makes law that is more symbolic than practical in advancing social justice. Today, however, was an undeniably concrete step towards LGBT equality, as it means that lesbian and gay employees of federal contractors in 29 states—and transgender employees of federal contractors in 32 states—now have workplace protection that was sorely lacking.

Last week I was in Paris, France meeting with Stéphane Beder of the French Federation of Liberal Judaism to discuss the recent events of violence towards synagogues and Jews in Paris. One question he asked me stood out- “How do you stay motivated to work on social justice issues when progress is so slow?”

Moments like today’s signing ceremony are those that inspire and motivate me. I will never forget the joy I felt this morning as I listened to the President of the United States state these words:

“We’ve got an obligation to make sure that the country we love remains a place where no matter who you are, or what you look like, or where you come from, or how you started out, or what your last name is, or who you love – no matter what, you can make it in this country.”

Onward!

Belfast synagogue vandalized on back-to-back days

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 16:08

(JTA) — A window was smashed on successive days at a synagogue in Belfast, Ireland.

The vandalism at the Belfast Hebrew Congregation took place on Friday night and the following day, the BBC reported. In the latter incident, the replacement window was shattered.

Police are treating the vandalism as a religious hate crime.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said it was “totally unacceptable” for places of worship to be targeted, the BBC reported.

Gerry Kelly, a member of the legislative assembly, condemned the attack.

“There can be no place for attacks on any place of worship, regardless of the religion or denomination,” Kelly said, according to Belfast’s News Letter. “The local Jewish community makes a valuable contribution to our society and there is no justification for hate crimes.”

It was not clear whether the attack was related to Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip.

An Update on “Stop the Sirens”

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 20:23

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.

Anti-Israel Rioters Torch Cars, Throw Firebomb at Paris Synagogue

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 15:53

Anti-Israel protesters hurled a firebomb at a synagogue during an unauthorized demonstration in a heavily Jewish suburb of Paris.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Clashes Erupt in Paris as Thousands Rally To Denounce Israel Attack on Gaza

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 12:42

Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters marched in French cities on Saturday to condemn violence in Gaza, defying a ban imposed after demonstrators marched on two synagogues in Paris last weekend and clashed with riot police.

Click here for the rest of the article...

French Jews Fight Back Against Anti-Israel Mobs at Synagogues

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 07:40

French Jews were stunned when an anti-Israel mob besieged a synagogue outside Paris. What happened next may turn out to be a historic turning point.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Modern Music With Minimalist Roots

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 17:35

Bang on a Can’s performance at the Jewish Museum is a reminder that Minimalism influenced music just as much as it influenced visual art.

Click here for the rest of the article...