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Updated: 39 min 52 sec ago

Why Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway' Is a Bright Shining Lie

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 06:00

Woody Allen’s musical adaptation of ‘Bullets Over Broadway’ is glitzy, thrilling and splendidly acted. It’s also a cynical, pandering sell-out, as Joshua Furst explains.

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Council of Europe executives advise inaction on male circumcision

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 15:14

(JTA) — European rabbis praised the Council of Europe’s leadership for advising against further attempts by members to target ritual circumcision.

The advice appeared in a letter issued by the governing body of the council — an intergovernment al organization with no executive powers — to its parliament.

The protection of children “is provided by existing international instruments,” according to the letter sent last month. It also disputed a past resolution by the parliament that equated mutilation of female genitals and non-medical circumcision of boys for religious purposes, calling them “by no means comparable.”

Rabbi Mendel Samama of the Conference of European Rabbis said the letter was a “sign of real progress on the issue of religious circumcision in Europe.”

The letter was in reaction to a controversial resolution passed by the council’s parliament last year that said the circumcision of boys was a “violation of the physical integrity of children.”

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, called the letter a “significant step” that he said is “particularly pleasing in light of a worrying trend across Europe where liberal extremes have taken precedence over the basic human right of religious practice.”


Hungary Jewish Leader Gusztav Zoltai Quits

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 13:41

Gusztav Zoltai, the director of Hungary’s federation of Jewish communities, or Mazsihisz, resigned in what community leaders said was a protest against the government over Holocaust commemorations.

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Polish Museum Director Stresses 1,000-Year Jewish History

Wed, 04/09/2014 - 21:01

The new director of the Jewish history museum in Warsaw says it aims to show off the richness of Polish Jewry’s 1,000-year history, not just the devastation of the Holocaust.

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Teetering on the Edge of the Mikveh

Wed, 04/09/2014 - 06:00

A soon-to-be-married woman tells the Seesaw she’s excited to take part in his Jewish life — synagogue, Yom Kippur fasts and all. But go to the mikveh and convert — why should she?

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Observant Women Make Tzitzit — and Stir Controversy

Wed, 04/09/2014 - 06:00

More women are seeking an equal role in Jewish ritual by making and tying tzitzit. A Princeton University student has formed a group to lead the push into this once-male realm.

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A Fifth Cup – Going Beyond What is Required

Wed, 04/09/2014 - 05:00

By Joshua Weinberg

Growing up, I struggled with the impression that being a Reform Jew meant that we did less. Fewer mitzvot, shorter holiday observance, and less time spent in Jewish education. It was a stigma that I carried with me as I wrestled with and contemplated my own Jewish identity. This lead me to a realm of experimentation with halachah (Jewish law) – pushing and pulling my ‘red lines’ as I grew and learned more.

Today, as many of us are busy preparing for Passover, I find myself less occupied by the meticulous aspect of the holiday’s demanded mitzvot, but searching instead for ways to supplement the narrative and to find meaning in a modern context. I commend those who find deep meaning in cleaning out their kitchens and sterilizing their homes, making sure that all leavening ceases at the 18-minute mark and [in the Ashkenazi tradition] nothing that could resemble wheat flour – such as legumes – will be consumed during Passover. However, I would like to offer an additional perspective on Passover by suggesting some meaningful ways to supplement the seder.

Zionism and living in Israel were the answers to my search for Jewish identity, and to me, Passover became a holiday of peoplehood. The central narrative became the one that we clearly state after we sing Dayenu,that B’khol Dor VaDor: “In every generation we must see ourselves as if we went out from Egypt.” In the traditional Haggadah this statement is followed by a biblical and liturgical reading.

In the recently published Israeli Reform Haggadah, A Haggadah for Our Day, each page is supplemented with modern readings and interpretations. It includes a wonderful poem by Amir Gilboa (who many of us will recognize from the music set by Shlomo Artzi) entitled Shir Baboker BaBoker(Song of the Morning). In his interpretation of history, Gilboa talks about a man who “suddenly wakes up in the morning, feels that he is a nation and begins to walk. And everyone who he meets on his way he calls out to them ‘Shalom.’” The poem ends with the same narrative — that this man has woken with the newfound revelation of nationhood — and he sees that the spring has returned and the tree is turning green since last fall’s tree-shedding of leaves.” There’s no more appropriate metaphor for Passover in my mind than the Spring being a time for awakening, discovery, and the realization that we are indeed a people and have the opportunity to come out of “Egypt” (literally ‘out of narrow places’) and enter the Land of Israel as a nation.

As we have collectively left Egypt and entered the Land of Israel, as Reform Jews who increase our observance as we adapt to our modern circumstances, we now need a fifth cup at our s’darim (plural of seder). There are many interpretations to the additional fifth cup, including Happiness Inside the State: Toward a Liberal Theology of Israel, by Rabbi Michael Marmur.

Rabbi Marmur suggests that the fifth cup is the “Cup of Confidence,” an understanding that comes from needing “the confidence to appreciate all that has been achieved so far, and the confidence to acknowledge that which is still at fault.” I suggest that we adopt a fifth cup for the fifth “verb” of redemption, which revolves around two verses in Exodus (6:6-7) commonly referred to as “The Four Expressions of Redemption”:

Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am the Eternal. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God. . .

However, in verse 8 there is a fifth verb used: “I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession, I the Eternal.”

As Reform Jews and as Zionists let us use this verse as a way of saying that our fifth cup is the cup of peoplehood and our people are connected to the Land. This Passover, while we sit at our seder tables surrounded by family and friends, let us affirm that this is the time to remind each other that it is our obligation to go beyond our own families and communities and connect to our people and our land. And as the Haggadah says, “Next year in Jerusalem!”

Chag Pesach Kasher V’Samei-ach!

Joshua Weinberg is the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA).

A Bubble Not Burst

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 12:06

Martin Buber tells the story of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev. Before Passover, the great rabbi was inspecting the local matzo factory to make sure it was kosher. Afterward, he said, ”This factory is not kosher.” When the shocked factory owner said, “We have followed all of the laws of kashrut,” the rabbi explained: “The women in this factory work from early morning until late at night. They are laboring too long and too hard. They are not being paid fairly for their labors.”

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How the Son of German and Polish Jews Became the 'Starchild' of KISS

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 06:00

With the band KISS, Paul Stanley gleefully zigzagged between soulfulness and crassness. But the musician’s new memoir reveals the heartbreak beneath the face paint.

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The Ukrainian Revolution’s Unlikely Street-Fighting Rabbi

Mon, 04/07/2014 - 06:00

Natan Khazin led a Jewish squadron of fighters in the revolution that rocked Kiev’s central square. Meet the yarmulke-wearing IDF veteran and ordained rabbi.

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Chabad Rabbi Accused of Child Sex Abuse Settles Defamation Suit

Sun, 04/06/2014 - 09:31

A defamation suit launched by a senior Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi has been settled following a public apology by the founder of a victims’ advocate group.

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This Oped Will Not Tell You How Great We Are

Sun, 04/06/2014 - 06:00

The public communication of most Jewish organizations is all about naked self-promotion, writes Ken Gordon. But what if those organizations changed their approach to education?

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The Syrupy Tale of How Jews Invented Kedem and Modern America

Sun, 04/06/2014 - 06:00

How did that sugary Manischewitz get to your table? It started 100 years ago with Kedem in New York. Or maybe with Thoreau or Sonic Youth. Here’s the secret history of the sweet stuff.

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Passover-Minded Synagogue Prepares To Sweep All Hametz From Its Inboxes

Sun, 04/06/2014 - 06:00

When Romemu announced it would ban email — or ‘life-hametz’ — on Passover, many fell in love with the Manhattan synagogue’s idea. Will ‘de-emailing’ become a holiday trend?

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Tiny Greek Community of Ioannina Struggles To Keep Romaniote Traditions Alive

Sat, 04/05/2014 - 06:00

When the Jews of Ioannina gathered in their whitewashed-stone synagogue over the weekend, it was to commemorate 70 years since the Nazis destroyed their community.

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Reflections on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage

Fri, 04/04/2014 - 14:00

By Rabbi Fred Guttman

In the beginning of March, I, along with some thirty Congressmen and Senators, was privileged to be a participant in the Congressional Faith and Politics Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Mississippi and Alabama. Beginning in Jackson Mississippi, we commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the “Freedom Summer,” a summer when more than 900 Caucasians joined African Americans from all over the United States to come to Mississippi and Alabama in order to register African American voters. The Pilgrimage would end in Selma Alabama with a recreation of the famous voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. This march took place forty nine years ago.

In Jackson, we went to the home of the assassinated civil rights hero, Medgar Evers, and heard remembrance from his widow, Myrlie. On the trip, I also met David Goodman, whose brother Andrew was killed in 1964 along with another Jew, Michael Schwerner and an African American, James Earl Chaney. In the chapel at Tougaloo College, I chanted the El Male Rachameem prayer for the four murdered activists which was quite a moving experience!

I am proud to know that many of those who came to Mississippi and Alabama during the “Freedom Summer” of 1964 were Jews (including a member of our congregation!). It is estimated that of the 900 who came to Mississippi, some 500 were Jews. I am also proud of the fact that so many rabbis were involved in the Civil Rights movement in those years. One, Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, was severely beaten in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

In Selma on March 7, 1965, some 600 civil rights activists began a march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. At that time, only 2% of the African Americans in Alabama were registered to vote. The march began at Brown Chapel Church. When the marchers arrived at the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River, they were met by Alabama State Troopers who, after telling them to turn back, proceeded to charge the marchers and beat them with clubs. Seventeen were hospitalized including a young (now Congressman) John Lewis who had a concussion. This event became known as “Bloody Sunday” in the annals of American Civil Rights history.

Two weeks later on March 21, a second march took place. President Johnson had federalized the Alabama National Guard which protected the 3,200 marchers. This march was led by Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King had urged faith leaders to come join him in Selma for this march and his friend, Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel, along with other prominent rabbis came. It is estimated that there were 450 clergy in that march. There is a famous picture of Dr. King, Dr. Heschel, Ralph Bunche, Rev. Ralph David Abernathy and John Lewis marching together arm in arm across that bridge.

For the past fourteen years, Congressman John Lewis and the Faith and Politics Institute in Washington DC have organized a symbolic March from Brown Chapel Church to the other side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Forty-nine years after “Bloody Sunday,” I, along with the elected representatives, was privileged to participate in the commemoration of this event.

While there were other clergy on the trip, I was the only rabbi. I am grateful to Senator Kay Hagan for nominating me to be a part of this incredible pilgrimage. While I was the only rabbi on the trip, I was not the only Jew. Accompanying the trip was Congressman Susan Davis (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D – IL) and Eric Cantor (R-VA). While on this incredible trip, I had a chance to speak with these and other Congressmen – including Minority Leader Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Congressman John Lewis (D-GA). I even interviewed Congressman Lewis concerning the March 21 march with Dr. King and Dr. Heschel. The interview may be found on YouTube on our “tegreensboro” channel.

It was indeed a thrill to recreate the march from Brown Chapel Church to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I could not help but notice that many of the Alabama State troopers who were providing security were African Americans. How times have changed!

But then again, maybe not? When we stopped at a rest stop after crossing the Alabama border, we saw racist and anti-Semitic graffiti in the restroom.

As we approach Passover, I am reminded once again that from our perspective as Jews, as long as there are those who lack the freedoms we cherish – as long as there are those who suffer from the “slaveries” of poverty, abuse, lack of healthcare, restricted voting and more – our own freedom is not complete! On Passover, we tell the story of our liberation. In Selma, I felt that I was a part of the recreation of the African American story of liberation. This was an incredible experience and honor!

This year, Passover will have an added meaning for me. When we read, “In every generation, a Jew is required to feel as though he or she was liberated from Egypt,” I will add, “and from Selma!”

A Zissen Pesach – A happy and joyous Passover to all!

Rabbi Fred Guttman is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, NC.

Millions Skimmed From Milan Jewish Community

Fri, 04/04/2014 - 12:55

The Jewish community in Milan is confronting an apparent case of embezzlement in which millions of dollars were removed from the community bank accounts.

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Eric Cantor's Meeting With Jewish Immigration Activists Yields Little

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 20:03

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a descendant of Jewish immigrants to America, told Jewish activists on Thursday he supports fixing the immigration system but will oppose attempts to pass comprehensive reform in the House of Representatives.

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Rabbis Raise Nearly $600,000 in Shave-a-Thon for 'Superman Sam'

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 18:59

This week, 73 North American rabbis will be missing something when they go to Shabbat services: their hair.

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Reform Movement Horrified by Fort Hood Shooting

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 18:27

In response to yesterday’s tragic shooting at Fort Hood in Killeen, TX, Rachel Laser, Deputy Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

We are deeply saddened by the tragedy that occurred yesterday at Fort Hood. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. This horror cannot help but remind us of the 2009 shooting at the same base. Though the details about the perpetrator’s motivation and the means through which he obtained his weapon are still developing, yesterday’s events reinforce the need to ensure that common-sense gun violence prevention laws are in place to help prevent these incidents and others in which guns lead to the loss of innocent lives.

The Talmud teaches us, ‘He who takes one life it is as though he has destroyed the universe.’ The loss of so many lives is not just devastating – it is unacceptable. We call on members of Congress, the President and people committed to the well being of all Americans to find shared values on gun violence prevention measures that will help ensure the safety of us all.