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Theater J's Ari Roth Knew Days Were Numbered After Feuds Over Israel

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 20:27

Ari Roth knew he wouldn’t stay as director of Washington’s acclaimed Theater J after a series of disputes, many over Israel. But he was still shocked at how suddenly the ax fell.

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For Older Cuban Jews, Opening To Havana Is Bad Idea

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 13:03

For many Cuban Jews – the majority of whom now live in the United States – it has been a bittersweet week.

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Messiah Sing-Along

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 12:01

At Fairlington United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, the congregation invites the surrounding community to participate in an annual sing-along of Handel’s Messiah. Fairlington choir member Kenneth E. Chadwick has been singing Messiah for decades, and it has become a family tradition, he says, first with his mother and now with his children.

The post Messiah Sing-Along appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Theater J Fires Outspoken Director Ari Roth

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 07:25

Ari Roth, the longtime director at Theater J, is leaving the theater after a period of tension over plays dealing with Israel’s history.

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Director of DC’s Theater J fired, ostensibly over controversial Israel plays

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 06:52

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Ari Roth, the longtime director at Theater J, is leaving the theater after a period of tension over plays dealing with Israel’s history.

The Washington Post and the Washington Jewish Week each reported late Thursday that Roth is saying the Washington DC Jewish Community Center, which oversees the theater, fired him after he refused to leave under terms that would have made it appear he left amicably and the decision was mutual.

Roth and the theater drew controversy in recent years over plays dealing with Israel’s founding that treated issues such as the allegations of massacres of Palestinians and their displacement.

Roth told the Post that the specific reason of his firing was his refusal to adhere to a “communications protocol” over the JCC’s recent decision to cancel an annual “Voices from a Changing Middle East” plays festival.

Theater J in an email to JTA late Thursday depicted the parting as amicable.

“Ari Roth has had an incredible 18-year tenure leading Theater J, and we know there will be great opportunities ahead for him,” the release quoted the JCC CEO, Carole Zawatsky, as saying.

Theater J under Roth earned critical acclaim and a national reputation for workshopping plays that went on to garner widespread attention.

According to the Post, Roth plans to start a new theater company, Mosaic, that will launch next fall.

Orthodox Rabbinic Group Sued in Barry Freundel Mikveh Peeping Case

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 21:31

A lawsuit arising out of allegations of voyeurism at a Washington D.C. ritual bath added the Rabbinical Council of America as a defendant.

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Freundel-related lawsuit adds RCA as defendant

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 17:35

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A lawsuit arising out of allegations of voyeurism at a Washington D.C. ritual bath added the Rabbinical Council of America as a defendant.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this month by a third-year student at Georgetown University’s law school, initially named as defendants Rabbi Barry Freundel’s Washington synagogue, Kesher Israel, the adjacent mikvah and her own law school for allowing Freundel’s alleged misdeeds to go unchecked.

At a press conference on Thursday, the law firm representing her — Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin and White — added the RCA as a defendant and added two additional plaintiffs in a class action, WJLA, the local ABC affiliate, reported.

Calls to the law firm were unanswered, and Rabbi Mark Dratch, the RCA’s executive vice president, said the organization had not yet been officially notified of the suit.

RCA suspended Freundel in October and instituted reforms to prevent similar abuses.

The student in the original lawsuit took a class taught by Freundel and immersed at the mikvah while researching her paper.

She named Georgetown for failing to adequately check into Freundel’s background when hiring him.

“This case involves an unfathomable breach of trust by a Georgetown professor and religious leader and defendants’ utter failure to prevent and/or stop it,” the original lawsuit stated.

One of the new plaintiffs is Emma Shulevitz, who approached Freundel in order to convert and who has written about her experiences with Freundel and the ostracism she has suffered since speaking out.

The ABC report did not name the other defendant, but suggested the lawsuit could expand to include students of Freundel at another university, Towson, in Maryland.

L’Taken Participant Speaks Out for Voting Rights

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 17:00

This past weekend at L’Taken, Ben from Beth Sholom Temple in Fredericksburg, Virginia spoke to Senator Mark Warner’s staff about voting rights. Since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, it has become harder for many minority and vulnerable populations to obtain fair access to the voting booths. Ben gave his speech about voting rights because he cares about eliminating discrimination and protecting our democracy. A portion of his speech is below:

“The Talmud, a Jewish religious text containing commentaries on the Torah, teaches us “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (B’rachot 55a).  If the entire community is not included in the decision to elect a new leader, then the leader cannot work towards the interests of the entire community. Another quote from the Talmud that speaks to me on this topic is, “Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirkei Avot 2:4).  As Jews, we are obligated to participate in matters that affect the community as a whole.  Ignoring these quotes would be defying my Jewish values and would be a disservice to my community.  As I stated before, Judaism supports equality among all people.  However, we also support the right of full participation in democracy.  Democracy is one of America’s key principles, so why should we deny others their right to be a participant?  Reform Judaism has taught me many important values, but I must say that full equality is the most important one.

Throughout the history of the United States, soldiers have fought and died to protect our rights, one of those rights is the right for everybody to vote.  However, civilians have had to fight their own battle for rights too.  I come from a multi-cultural background and for years, my ancestors have struggled through slavery and escaped oppressive governments.  To escape those atrocities they have come to America, fought for America or waited for freedom, to gain their rights as citizens of the United States.  My Great Great Grandmother taught her children how to read and write in secret because back in the times of slavery, it was illegal for slaves to become literate.  My Great Grandfather came here from the Ukraine with $10 in his pocket, and then had to raise money to bring his wife, kids, mother, and three siblings over later. Both of these stories are very close to my heart and represent only part of the huge struggle my family has gone through trying to get rights as United States citizens.  Being citizens of the United States guarantees their right to vote, and I believe that not passing this bill will make their struggle go down in vain.  There are many other families, that have done the same and they deserve the right to vote just as much as my family does.

The reason I am here today is to ask you to cosponsor and vote for H.R. 3899/S. 1945, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, when it is reintroduced in the upcoming Congress.  This amendment would guarantee the protection of the right to vote for American citizens of this great country today and in the future.  Thank you for your time and consideration of this important topic.”

To learn more about our work on Black-Jewish relations, click here, or to learn more about our work on voting rights and civil rights, check out our issue page. If you want to take action, remind your legislators how important it is to protect voting rights.

Causing stir, prominent Conservative rabbi considers breaking intermarriage ban

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 16:44

Rabbi Wesley Gardenswartz of Temple Emanuel in Newton, Mass., told his congregation he’d like to change synagogue policy so that interfaith couples are treated the same as all-Jewish couples. (Courtesy Temple Emanuel)

NEW YORK (JTA) – For a few days at least, Rabbi Wesley Gardenswartz appeared ready to become the first prominent Conservative clergyman to break with the movement’s ironclad rule against rabbis performing intermarriages. But shortly after floating the idea to his congregants  at Temple Emanuel in Newton, Mass., one of the nation’s largest Conservative synagogues, he reversed course.

First Gardenswartz sent am email to congregants asking them to support a proposal for a new shul policy that would enable him to officiate at interfaith weddings in cases where the couple commits to a “Covenant to Raise Jewish Children.”

“Conservative clergy cannot officiate at or attend an interfaith wedding. But we welcome the interfaith family to our shul,” Gardenswartz wrote. “But I am worrying whether that response has grown stale, and whether a new response would better serve the needs of our families and of our congregation.”

Among the high-powered members of Temple Emanuel’s board of trustees are NFL owner Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, Massachusetts state treasurer Steven Grossman and Michael Bohnen, the president of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s family foundation.

The rabbi is also said to have sent his proposal to the Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinic group that sets Conservative policies and standards.

But just days after Gardenswartz floated the idea, he abruptly backed down from its most controversial element: that he be permitted to perform interfaith weddings.

“The Covenant to Raise Jewish Children will not work,” Gardenswartz said in a subsequent email sent to congregants this week and shared with JTA. “In my initial proposal, I had written that I would perform an intermarriage if the interfaith couple would, by signing a written Covenant, affirm that, if God blessed them with children, they would raise their children exclusively as Jews. This idea received many negative reviews, especially from our interfaith families whom we were trying to reach by it.”

According to Gardenswartz, who has been at Temple Emanuel since 1997, congregants said such a covenant would be “asking too much, too soon.” They also said it did not account for those unable to have children or past child-bearing age, would be unfair to require only of interfaith couples, and would be unenforceable and therefore a mere formality.

“These objections persuaded me that the Covenant is not workable,” Gardenswartz wrote.

In the email, the rabbi also reassured congregants that he would not take renegade actions that would sever the congregation’s affiliation with the Conservative movement.

But Gardenswartz said the congregation would explore ways to be more welcoming to interfaith families both before and after the wedding and treat interfaith couples exactly the same as all-Jewish couples — with the exception of wedding officiation.

It’s not clear what role fear that he or his congregation would be ousted by the Conservative movement played in Gardenswartz’s change of heart. He declined JTA’s requests for an interview.

“There is a range of opinions with our congregation,” synagogue board member Joanne Linowes Alinsky told JTA. “Some people are thinking this is exciting, groundbreaking stuff, and others are thinking it is too far from tradition.”

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, declined to discuss any details of her conversations with Gardenswartz. But she confirmed that R.A. rules mandate the expulsion of any member who violates the rule against officiating at intermarriages.

“What I see in our members is very consistent reaffirmation of this standard,” Schonfeld told JTA. “It’s not just that we won’t; we can’t. We don’t see the performance of intermarriage as something rabbis can do.”

She also noted that synagogues affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism cannot retain rabbis who perform such weddings.

The angst surrounding intermarriage and the mixed reactions from congregants to Gardenswartz’s proposal are a reflection of the struggles of a movement with declining numbers that frowns upon intermarriage but in which nearly four in 10 members marry outside the faith, according to the 2013 Pew Research Center’s survey of U.S. Jews.

“The reality of modern-day Judaism is that almost all of us are touched by this,” Lisa Hills, Temple Emanuel’s president, said of intermarriage. “If it’s not in our nuclear family, it’s somewhere in our extended family.”

The response within the movement generally has been to discourage interfaith unions yet welcome such couples once they are married. But many are worried that this approach alienates Conservative Jews and their non-Jewish partners, driving them away from Jewish tradition entirely or into the arms of alternative rabbis and movements that allow intermarriage, prompting them to abandon the Conservative movement.

“I think our movement in terms of colleagues is tremendously divided between doing what we’ve been told — by the R.A. 45 years ago in establishing standards of practice — and serving our members and creating Jewish families,” said Rabbi Charles Simon, who is executive director of the movement’s Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs and helps Conservative synagogues be more inclusive of non-Jews.

Simon said the move by someone of Gardenswartz’s stature to review policy on interfaith unions could be a game changer for the movement.

“I think this is the beginning of a huge paradigm shift,” Simon said. “By writing a paper and sending it to the R.A., this changes the playing field.

“In terms of congregational rabbis, Wes is unique. I can’t think of anybody else who is out there in the same way. I’m very excited because this can potentially create tremendous opportunities in the movement for growth, for attracting families.”

For now, Gardenswartz’s redrawing of the proposal to his congregation precludes his officiating at interfaith weddings. But he has made clear that he will not frown upon interfaith unions.

“Temple Emanuel will treat an interfaith couple as a Jewish-Jewish couple except that its clergy cannot officiate at the interfaith wedding,” he wrote in his email this week.

In this regard, Gardenswartz is not alone in his movement. Other Conservative rabbis struggling with the movement’s ban on intermarriage have found their own ways of welcoming interfaith couples – and even blessing their unions.

At Congregation Kneses Tifereth Israel in Port Chester, N.Y., for example, Rabbi Jaymee Alpert offers a public blessing to interfaith couples right before their wedding in an adaptation of the traditional pre-wedding Shabbat “aufruf” celebration. Alpert also presents interfaith couples with the same synagogue gift bestowed upon Jewish couples.

At Temple Aliyah in Los Angeles, Rabbi Stewart Vogel celebrates interfaith couples, acknowledging them on “anniversary Shabbats” along with the Jewish couples.

And Conservative synagogues all over the country are adapting rituals, loosening restrictions that had kept non-Jews from being full-fledged members and trying new outreach approaches in an effort to make non-Jewish family members feel part of the synagogue community.

Hills says crossing the Rubicon by sanctioning intermarriages feels like the next logical step for the Conservative movement.

“We welcome interfaith families as members in our Conservative synagogues,” she said. “We should be welcoming at the point of weddings as well.”

For now, however, that’s off the table for Gardenswartz. But it remains a subject of deep debate within Temple Emanuel, where many members are seeing their children pair off with non-Jewish spouses and leave the fold.

“It’s huge in our community as our children are getting married,” board member Alinsky said.

“Do you welcome an interfaith couple before the wedding or wait until they are married by somebody else and then say now that you are married we want you to come into our faith and our synagogue? The question is: Do you dilute what’s important about Conservative Judaism or do you move with the trends? There’s no easy answer to that.”

Despite menorah confiscations, women kindle lights at Western Wall

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 16:33

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Security guards at the Western Wall entrance confiscated menorahs from several women, but dozens held a candle-lighting ceremony in the women’s section.

The guards said they were acting on orders from Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbinic authority of the Western Wall and holy places, the Women of the Wall organization said Thursday night in a statement.

Women carrying some 28 Hanukkah menorahs entered the women’s section on Thursday evening and they were lit by 120 women, including Rabbi Susan Silverman and her sister, the Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman. Knesset members Tamar Zandberg and Michal Rozin of the left-wing Meretz party joined the group.

“The Kotel belongs to us all and each of us, men and women, have the right to light Chanukah candles in this public, holy place,” Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall, said in a statement following the candle lighting.

Women of the Wall, which meets at the Western Wall once a month for prayers for the new month, had requested in a letter sent last month to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hold a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony in the women’s section of the holy site. They asked that a large menorah equivalent to the one lit each night of the festival in the men’s section be placed in the women’s section, allowing the women to hold their own public lighting.

Netanyahu transferred the letter to Vice Minister of Religious Affairs Eli Ben Dahan, who passed the letter on to Rabinowitz. According to the group, Rabinowitz said the menorah lit on the men’s side can be seen by all.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis, pathbreaking thinker and activist, dies at 89

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 15:40

Rabbi Harold Schulweis helped found several organizations, including Jewish World Watch. (Courtesy of Valley Beth Shalom)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — As a pathbreaking thinker, innovator and activist, Rabbi Harold Schulweis’ role extended far beyond his base as the spiritual leader of his Los Angeles-area congregation.

“Harold Schulweis was widely regarded as the most successful and influential synagogue leader in his generation, a public intellectual who redefined what it is to be a Jew, an author and passionate orator who met injustices and suffering with action,” said Rabbi Edward Feinstein, his friend and colleague at Valley Beth Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Encino.

Schulweis died Thursday morning following a long struggle with heart disease. He was 89.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said in a statement that Schulweis’ “vast knowledge of Jewish Tradition, combined with his tremendous passion and his palpable gift of empathy, made him a force for American Jewry to reckon with.”

Schulweis fueled a series of innovations, first at Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland and then at Valley Beth Shalom, which he led for nearly 45 years. His pioneering initiatives included establishing “chavurot” whose members formed small groups within the larger congregation for closer personal connections,  a model of lay-clergy cooperation, and a counseling center for congregants and the community.

He opened the synagogue doors to all by actively including children and young adults with disabilities, Jews by choice and unchurched Christians, and by welcoming gay and lesbian Jews.

Together with the late activist Leonard Fein, who died earlier this year, Schulweis founded MAZON, a Jewish Response to Hunger, to help alleviate hunger and poverty in America.

In the 1960s he established the Institute for Righteous Acts, now the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, to recognize the thousands of men and women, predominantly Christians, who aided and rescued Jews during the Holocaust, often risking their own lives.

The creation of the institute and foundation offered an insight into Schulweis’ modus operandi.

Years earlier he had met a young Jewish academic whose family had been saved by German Christians. On inquiry, he learned that these Christians and numerous other rescuers, many now impoverished, had never been recognized or aided by the Jewish community. In response, he founded an organization to help the otherwise forgotten rescuers in practical and concrete ways.

A decade ago Schulweis initiated the Jewish World Watch to fight contemporary genocides and mass atrocities.

He enlisted as co-founder one of his congregants, attorney Janice Kamenir-Resnik, to assume the leadership of the fledgling effort. Jewish World Watch has grown into the largest anti-genocide grassroots organization in the world, with some 30,000 to 40,000 donors.

Kamenir-Resnik recalls the quandary posed by Schulweis when he phoned her in 2004: “We always ask, where were the gentiles when Hitler killed 6 million Jews? … What will you say to your grandchildren when they ask what you did during the genocide in Rwanda.”

In response, Kamenir-Resnik quit her partnership in a law firm and now works full time, without salary, running Jewish World Watch.

The call from Schulweis, and her friendship with him, “has transformed my life and has changed my philosophy of what it means to be a Jew,” she said. “Nothing I have done in my life has been more meaningful and has had a larger impact.”

As a religious thinker, Schulweis developed the concept of “theological humanism” as a middle ground between traditional beliefs in, or denial of, God’s omnipotence.

Schulweis was born in the Bronx borough of New York City, the son of a ferociously anti-religious editor of the Yiddish daily Forverts and grandson, on his mother’s side, of Rabbi Avraham Resak, a Hasidic Jew who gave the youngster his first Talmud lessons.

His more formal education continued in New York at Yeshiva University, the Jewish Theological Seminary (where he met his future wife, Malkah) and New York University.

In the hours after his death, prominent members of the Los Angeles Jewish community spoke of their deep sense of loss.

Rabbi Uri Herscher, founding president and CEO of the Skirball Cultural Center, said he once introduced Schulweis to an audience, saying in part, “Harold Schulweis is a rabbi. This is a little like saying a Rembrandt is a painting. Or a Stradivarius is a violin.

Schulweis, Herscher said, “is a rabbi of rabbis. … He has, as much as any rabbi in our time, given Judaism meaning, relevance and renewed purpose.”

Gerald Bubis, a scholar and peace activist who knew Schulweis for over six decades, observed that Schulweis could spin out an idea and, “through a process of osmotic absorption,” rabbis and laymen not only accepted the idea, but implemented it in their synagogues and institutions.

Bubis said Schulweis turned down many prestigious positions, notably president of the Jewish Theological Seminary, a major academic and spiritual center of Conservative Judaism in America.

“Harold wanted to be in a setting where he would have an immediate impact,” Bubis said of the rejections.

Schulweis wrote nine books and hundreds of articles. More than 750 audio, video and document copies of his writings, sermons and teachings can be accessed at the Schulweis Institute Library Online.

He is survived by Malkah, his wife of 64 years; three children, Seth Schulweis and Alyssa (Peter) Reich, both of West Los Angeles, and Ethan (Cindy) Schulweis of Beit Hashita, Israel; and 11 grandchildren.

Rabbi Wesley Gardenswartz Backs Off Controversial Plan for Intermarriages

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 14:32

Within days of floating a proposal that woud have allowed Conservative rabbis to perform interfaith marriages, Rabbi Wesley Gardenswartz of Temple Emanuel in Newton, Mass., backed away from the controversial plan.

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Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Pathbreaking Thinker, Dies at 89

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 13:29

Rabbi Harold Schulweis, a longtime Southern California spiritual leader and a national leader in the Conservative movement and beyond, has died.

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The Year Hitler Broke the Internet

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 05:00

From Zara’s ‘Holocaust shirt’ to Nicki Minaj’s music video, 2014 saw an unsettling number of ‘Nazi moments.’ Has the Third Reich gone mainstream?

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ABLE Act’s Senate Passage a Moral Victory for People with Disabilities

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 14:25

In response to Senate passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014, Barbara Weinstein, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

“We applaud the Senate for passing the ABLE Act and look forward to President Obama signing this important disability rights legislation into law. Twenty-four years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ABLE Act builds upon its foundation to enhance the economic security of people with disabilities. The ABLE Act empowers people with disabilities and their families by allowing them to make contributions to tax-exempt accounts, which can build up to $100,000 in savings to help pay for long-term expenses without risking losing government benefits.

Our longstanding advocacy for passage of the ABLE Act is rooted in the words of Leviticus 19:14 that “you shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14). While the passage of this bill represents an important step in the long struggle for disability rights in the United States, there are additional opportunities for the nation to lead on disability rights internationally. We encourage the next U.S. Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to ensure that the protections Americans with disabilities enjoy at home are shared by people with disabilities around the world.”

To learn more about the intersection of Jewish values and disability rights, check out the RAC’s disability rights web page. If you are interested in making your Jewish institution and community more inclusive of people of all abilities, explore the new URJ-Ruderman Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center. In addition, take action now to support the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Australia Commission To Probe Chabad Sex Abuse Scandal

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 10:10

An Australian Royal Commission will investigate how rabbis and senior leaders of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Sydney and Melbourne handled the child sex abuse scandal.

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Australian commission to probe how Chabad handled abuse claims

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 07:59

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – An Australian Royal Commission will investigate how rabbis and senior leaders of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Sydney and Melbourne handled the child sex abuse scandal.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse confirmed this week that Chabad in Sydney and Melbourne will be the focus of a public hearing starting Feb. 2 in Melbourne. Some of Australia’s most senior Orthodox rabbis have already been subpoenaed to supply documents ahead of the hearing.

The hearing, which will be streamed live online from the County Court of Victoria, will examine how rabbis and other senior officials dealt with allegations of sexual abuse against three former employees in Melbourne and one in Sydney.

Manny Waks, the only Jewish victim in Australia to have gone public with his story, said he would be testifying.

“Many victims from these institutions, myself included, our families and most of the community are looking forward to these institutions being held to full account for their actions and inactions over many years,” he said in a statement.

A spokesman for Chabad in Sydney told JTA, “We’ve been in contact with the Royal Commission and we are cooperating fully with them.”

The Royal Commission began last year. More than 20 cases have been investigated thus far.

 CORRECTION: The original version of this item included paragraphs about the cases of the individual employees. The one on David Cyprys had two errors:  He was sentenced to prison for multiple sex attacks – including several counts of rape on one victim, not one count of rape – and for crimes against nine victims, not more than 12.

The Hanukkah Model of Sustainability

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 09:00

By Rabbi Kevin M. Kleinman

Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights, and yet it takes place during the darkest time of the year. The Hanukkah story told in the Babylonian Talmud and repeated from generation to generation centers on the great miracle of light. The oil used in the menorah to rededicate the Temple after the Maccabbees’ victory was supposed to last for only one night, but instead it lasted for eight nights.  I’ll rephrase it this way: one day’s worth of oil provided eight days of light. Halleluyah!  It was a miracle indeed. A miracle of conservation. Who knew that Hanukkah could provide us with a model of sustainability?  Move over Tu B’shvat, Hanukkah is joining you on the climate justice train.

Jewish environmental leaders have been using this teaching about Hanukkah for several years to encourage households to switch from incandescent to compact florescent light bulbs during Hanukkah. RAC legislative assistant Liya Rechtman wrote about this connection on this blog a few weeks ago. Looking for a last minute holiday gift? How about giving the gift of reducing carbon emissions, in the form of a light bulb?

These same wonderful eco-colleagues of mine, who have been tirelessly leading the Jewish community towards thinking about our individual and collective environmental responsibility, have recently formed a new organization called Shomrei B’reishit: Rabbis and Cantors for the Earth. More than just a Facebook group, Shomrei B’reishit is an international, multi-denominational network of rabbis and cantors providing a Jewish voice on climate change and environmental justice. Shomrei B’reishit members helped to organize the Jewish contingent at The People’s Climate March in New York. We are writing and teaching about our religious mandate to be guardians and stewards of the earth wherever and whenever we can.

And we are leading by example: Each member of Shomrei B’reishit has personally pledged to become carbon neutral over the next two years through conservation, purchasing offsets and seeking to reinvest our own financial portfolios from fossil-fuel investments to sustainable-energy investments. We also pledge to encourage our own Jewish institutions to pursue equivalent actions and to advocate for meaningful climate-change legislation in local and national governments and international bodies. In addition, we are calling on world governments to transition to non-carbon based energy over the next 10 years and to sign and act on a new climate change treaty in 2015.

These are lofty goals, but through our extended networks we believe we move ourselves, our nation, and our world toward carbon neutrality and a more just approach toward resource use and development.  It really can happen one light bulb, one carbon offset at a time. This Hanukkah season, let’s light up the world with our desire to heal our fractured earth. Let’s join our light with environmental leaders from other faiths who share our common goals. Let’s rededicate ourselves and our synagogues to learning about and applying our wise Jewish environmental values that call us to be mindful masters over and sustainable developers of earth’s precious, finite resources.

If you’re interested in doing more for energy efficiency and social justice around Hanukkah, check out Sustaining the Light: A Social Justice Guide for Hanukah. Also, talk to your congregation about enrolling for GreenFaith’s Energy Efficiency Certification and register for the GreenFaith Energy Stewardship webinar series. You can take a look at my Green Tishrei Challenge to stop using plastic bags and Green Cheshvan Challenge to turn down your thermostat for more greening ideas!

To join Shomrei Breishit: Rabbis and Cantors for the earth, click here.

Kevin M. Kleinman is the Associate Rabbi of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, PA. He is a former Greenfaith Fellow and participant in the RAC’s Rabbi Balfour Brickner Rabbinic Seminar.

How an Okie Named Woody Guthrie Became Our Best Hanukkah Tunesmith

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 05:00

An unlikely person is the mastermind behind several beloved Hanukkah songs: folk music icon Woody Guthrie, who was born and raised in Oklahoma.

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For Jews of Lugansk, Empty Schools and Frigid Synagogues as Winter Arrives

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 14:15

In an unheated synagogue with no running water, a dozen Jews are trying to keep warm as temperatures here veer toward the single digits.

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