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What's an Angel of Rain Doing in a Jewish Sukkot Prayer?

Sun, 10/12/2014 - 05:00

At the heart of the Shemini Atzeret rain prayer, there is a reference to ‘the angel of rain.’ Philologos investigates how it wound up in the Sukkot celebration.

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Create the LGBT-Inclusive Jewish Community I Didn’t Have Growing Up

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 16:00

“I wouldn’t want my child’s rabbi to be gay—it might turn him gay.” This was just one of the many homophobic remarks I heard in my Jewish day school as a closeted gay teen. In my high school, homophobic statements often went unchallenged and the phrase “that’s so gay” was thrown around often. My day school wasn’t exactly a model of inclusion: there was no Gay Straight Alliance during my time there and although one student who had transferred to the school in the middle of high school was out, no one had actually come out during my entire four years there.

The homophobia in my school not only kept me in the closet throughout high school, but also made me question whether there was a place for me in Judaism as a queer man. Fortunately, things changed when I entered college. At Tufts University, I found a welcoming and accepting community at our Hillel, where sexual diversity wasn’t just welcomed but celebrated.

After four years of being a part of a welcoming and inclusive Jewish community at Tufts, I feel lucky to have joined another LGBT-inclusive Jewish community. In fact, the Reform Movement and the RAC not only welcome LGBT Jews, but they have also been actively advocating for and fighting for the rights of LGBT individuals for decades.

Tomorrow is National Coming Out Day and in honor of this important day, I urge you to have a hand in building the inclusive Jewish institutions that I did not have growing up. The Union for Reform Judaism offers a variety of resources on LGBT Inclusion, and  if you are interested in transforming your Jewish community from one that welcomes LGBT Jews to one that actively fights for the rights of LGBT Jews, I encourage you to check out the RAC’s LGBT Equality Resources for Reform Congregations and LGBT Rights issue page. In addition, Keshet, a national grassroots organization working for the full inclusion of LGBT Jews in Jewish life, offers a variety of resources for Jewish institutions, including a list of resources for National Coming Out Day, and trainings for Jewish professionals.

This year’s National Coming Out Day is arriving on the heels of a Supreme Court action which may lead to marriage equality in a majority of states. As our secular laws become more LGBT-inclusive with each coming year, let us resolve to make our Jewish communities even more inclusive and welcoming.

Reform Rabbis Seek To Aid Immigrants Facing Deportation

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 11:34

Reform rabbis are contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in an attempt to delay the deportation of undocumented workers.

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Joshua Bell

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 11:02

A world-famous violinist, Joshua Bell is the son of a mother who is Jewish and a father who was an Episcopal priest. But Bell says the emphasis on great classical music in their household was “the common denominator” and “the spiritual force.”

The post Joshua Bell appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.


Fri, 10/10/2014 - 11:01

Rabbi James Michaels of the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington explains the significance of building sukkahs or temporary shelters for eating and worshipping during Sukkot, a harvest festival when Jews recall their ancestors’ forty years of wandering in the desert after their escape from slavery in Egypt.

/wnet/religionandethics/files/2012/09/thumb01-sukkot.jpg Rabbi James Michaels of the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington, DC says Sukkot reminds Jews of the experience of wandering in the desert, open to the elements, and of simply “being alive.”

The post Sukkot appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Israel Police restrict Muslim worshippers on Temple Mount following riots

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 06:00

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel Police restricted entry of Muslim men to the Temple Mount to those over the age of 50 in response to riots at the holy site two days ago.

The police also dispatched extra police units throughout the old city of Jerusalem on Friday morning.

Hamas reportedly called on Muslims to assemble Friday at the Al-Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount to “defend it.”

“We will fight till the last drop of blood,” Hamas reportedly said.

Masked Palesitnian rioters on Wedsnesday threw rocks, concrete blocks and firebombs at police at the Mughrabi Gate entrance. Four policemen were injured during the violence and at least five protesters were arrested, according to Israel Police.

What Does This Photo of Tashlikh Say About the Evolution of Jewish Life?

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 05:00

A single 1909 photo of tashlikh on the Williamsburg Bridge speaks volume about the evolution of the ancient Jewish ritual —  and its evolution in the modernity of the New World.

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Reform rabbis nudge ICE on deportations

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 03:58

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Reform rabbis are contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in an attempt to delay the deportation of undocumented workers.

Rabbis Organizing Rabbis partnered with immigration advocacy organizations to ask the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to exercise discretion when deciding whether or not to deport anyone, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center.

While “deportation is an important part of border enforcement, we have learned that too many innocent people are caught in the system,” said Rabbi Peter Berg of Atlanta. “The good news is that ICE legally has the right to use discretion about whom to deport and actually will exercise that discretion – if they hear from enough people.”

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, more than 60 Reform rabbis called or wrote on behalf of Luis Lopez-Acabal, who is facing deportation back to Guatemala following his involvement in a traffic accident.

Rabbi John Linder of Temple Solel in Paradise Valley, Ariz., met Lopez at the church where he has taken sanctuary. If deported, Lopez would have to leave behind his wife, a legal resident of the United States, and two young children including one with autism.

“We are called as a faith community to stand against injustice,” Linder said, according to the Religious Action Center release. “The family is a sacred institution that is being violated by tragic separation throughout the country, while desperately needed immigration reform is stalled on Capitol Hill. These families should not continue to be victims due to a lack of political resolve.”

How Gil Steinlauf Chose 'Personal Torah' Over One True One

Wed, 10/08/2014 - 16:00

Gil Steinlauf says he has struggled with his sexual identity for 20 years. Avi Shafran says a respected rabbi should keep fighting to live a life consistent with the Torah.

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Restored 19th-Century Lithuania Shuls Open

Wed, 10/08/2014 - 11:55

After seven years of renovations, a unique complex made up of two 19th-century synagogues opened to the public in the Lithuanian town of Joniskis.

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The Tent: Helping Jewish Leaders Look Through New Prisms

Wed, 10/08/2014 - 08:00

Leading a congregation can be a daunting task. Whether you lead your congregation as clergy, professional staff, or lay leadership, we all do our sacred work through different prisms.

We work through the prism of spirituality. The Torah and other teachings of our ancestors guide our communities with holiness and wisdom.

We work through the prism of the history of our congregations. Every congregation has experienced its own victories and challenges, and those experiences often inform how the congregation is led today.

We work through the prism of expertise and best practices. We bring information from our “day jobs,” and we learn from others who do the same work we do. What fresh ideas do they have? What do they do that has worked or failed?

These are all prisms I have looked through repeatedly, first as a synagogue youth group advisor for 10 years, and then an executive director for another 10 years. They are vitally important prisms, and they lend color and perspective to everything we do. Ideally – and hopefully – they result in robust, vibrant temple communities.

Yet with all these prisms, with all of this information to help us in our sacred work, we often fall into the trap of insular behavior. We sincerely believe we know our communities, and we know what will work and will not work. We know the messages of Torah that will resonate with our members, and we know what will be misunderstood or ignored. We know what has worked at our congregation in the past, and we know what has not. We’ve all said, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it.”

But since the introduction of The Tent, the Reform Movement’s new communication and collaboration platform website, we’ve seen these prisms expand. We’ve seen light touch all corners of our movement as Jewish leaders go beyond the insular world of their congregations and communities to connect with leaders throughout the entire North American Movement.

The user experience of The Tent feels familiar to the experience of using sites like Facebook or LinkedIn, but unlike those sites, The Tent is dedicated only to the work of leading our sacred communities. Lay and professional leaders can connect and have conversations with each other, sharing valuable resources and forging vital connections. Through a simple search, users can find the exact people and information that will help them the most.

In The Tent, assistance can come from unexpected places – and new information can help change long-held beliefs and practices. The president of a small congregation in Georgia and the president of a large congregation in Toronto face similar struggles. A new congregational finance chair in Chicago has information from her professional career that will help a youth group advisor in Houston. In The Tent, these leaders can find one another and have conversations that transform their sacred work. Being connected to the larger Reform community reminds us that we are not alone in the work we do and that there is comfort, strength, and support to be found in the experience and expertise of others.

Already, we see that conversations in The Tent are changing the way our congregational leaders do their work. Consider the following examples:

  • The audit chair of a small Midwestern congregation asked if anyone had experience with creating an endowment fund foundation, separate from their board of trustees. In less than a day, he heard back from temple administrators and URJ staff offering direction, support, and insight regarding his question.
  • A temple educator wanted to know if any congregations live-stream High Holidays worship with sign language. She was able to connect with congregational leaders across North America who are already engaging in this inclusive practice and who may be able to guide her congregation in doing the same.
  • With an hour, a URJ resource posted to The Tent about the legalities surrounding video streaming and copyright clearance was viewed and downloaded by dozens of leaders at congregations both large and small.
  • A woman who will be the next president of her congregation wanted to know whether other congregations encourage their members to wear nametags to services. More than a dozen leaders responded to share insights and experiences from their own congregations – and even pictures of how their nametags look.

We hold our prisms in our hands. As we turn them over and over, the light bends and changes, and we see new colors and realize new possibilities. However, sometimes we would be well served to look up from the prisms to which we have become so accustomed. When we do so, we may learn that there are other ways to do things. What has worked in other communities? How can we learn from the experience of others? How can we avoid repeating mistakes? How can we grow and succeed together?

“The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;”
Ecclesiastes 1:9

Please visit www.yammer.com/thetent to see what others have seen, and to hear what others have heard. Join your Reform Movement in The Tent as we all work to support our sacred communities.

Atlanta Rabbi Shalom Lewis Calls for 'Holy Crusade' Against Radical Islam

Wed, 10/08/2014 - 06:00

Rabbi Shalom Lewis spawned global headlines with an incendiary sermon calling for a ‘holy crusade’ on radical Islam. Why did his Atlanta congregation stand and cheer him on?

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Rabbi Who Uses Martial Arts in Cancer Fight Wins CNN Hero Nod

Wed, 10/08/2014 - 05:00

Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg, aka Rabbi G., turned his own daughter’s losing battle with cancer into inspiration to help others. Now he’s a finalist on CNN’s Global Hero competition.

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A Pilgrimage for Our Day

Wed, 10/08/2014 - 04:00

by Rabbi Josh Weinberg

Mark, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of the Eternal [to last] seven days: a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day.

Leviticus 23:39

Walk around Zion, circle it; count its towers, take note of its ramparts; go through its citadels, that you may recount it to a future age.

Psalm 48:13-14

In the olden days, Jews from the Galilee or Ashkelon – or maybe even as far as Alexandria – would come on foot, in a caravan of pilgrims, to Jerusalem. Three times a year Jews would embark on this sacred pilgrimage, reminding them of the centrality of Jerusalem, of the need to offer something of themselves in sacrifice, and of the importance of being part of something much larger than themselves or their own small community. In the days when a lit torch provided the bulk of inter-village communication, the pilgrimage was a source of social interaction, a time to share stories of success and failure, and to see those with whom one did not regularly come into contact. I can only imagine the feelings – physical and emotional – as one approached the foot of the Temple Mount, sacrifice in hand, joining the sea of fellow white-robed pilgrims, all ascending to offer a modest portion to God.

The Torah tells us that this journey should be a chag for God. Although it is generally translated as “festival” or “holy day,” chag also can mean “pilgrimage.” The word comes from the Hebrew root ח-ג-ג which means to go around or to circumambulate. Indeed, during many ancient customs, Jews would walk around the altar as part of the ceremony of sacrifice. Islamic culture picked up this motif, too, using the same word — Hajj (חג’) — to refer to the circumambulations around the Ka’abah in Mecca that is part of a journey known colloquially as a “pilgrimage.”

Tonight begins the holiday of Sukkot, when many of us will shed the comforts of shingled roofs and insulation for our sukkot – temporary outdoor structures where we will eat, socialize, and spend time during the coming week. For many of today’s North American Jews, though, the notion of pilgrimage has fallen by the wayside, left solely to the pages of Torah and history.

For many Israelis, the modern State of Israel afforded the opportunity to reinvent Jewish life as it was known in the Diaspora. The early pioneers and founders of the Jewish State aspired to reintroduce ancient customs, promoting the idea that the modern state is the continuation of the biblical kingdom, and actively renewing the experience of Jewish sovereignty and ownership of the Land of Israel. The three pilgrimage holidays – Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot – took on this altneu (old-new) meaning. Shavuot became a time to bring forth our own bikkurim (first fruits), Passover took on a whole new meaning as a holiday of freedom for the worker, as well as a spring festival, and Sukkot – for some – once again became a chance to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Early in its history, the modern State of Israel reinstated a multi-day march during which military units, youth groups, and citizens from various backgrounds came together and camped in the Judean Hills on the way to Jerusalem. Today, it is a symbolic walk around Jerusalem, largely seen as belonging to the national religious movement, especially those who wish to see the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and a reinstitution of the sacrificial rite. For the rest of us, it is a day on which to avoid driving in Jerusalem to steer clear of the procession that gridlocks the ancient thoroughfares.

This January, Jews throughout the world will have an opportunity to vote to send modern-day pilgrims to Jerusalem as delegates to the 37th World Zionist Congress, the body that convenes every five years to elect officers and develop policies of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and the Jewish Agency. A large delegation of Progressive and Reform Jews in the World Zionist Congress will ensure not only that our values – including gender and religious equality – are represented in the work of the body, but also that such organizations in Israel receive a portion of the funds available from the WZO and the Jewish Agency. It is imperative, therefore, that you pledge now to vote for ARZA (which represents Reform Judaism in the World Zionist Congress) and cast your vote in January’s WZO election. Please join us in supporting this important pilgrimage for our own day.

Chag Sukkot Sameach!

Rabbi Josh Weinberg is president of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), which, in 2008, was part of a coalition comprising the largest faction in the World Zionist Congress.



Why Rabbi Gil Steinlauf's Coming Out Is Watershed Moment for Jews

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 20:28

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf told his synagogue he is gay in an eloquent open letter. Menachem Creditor writes that the reaction of the shul’s lay leaders is even more momentous.

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Chief Rabbi's Wife Lashes Out at Australian Sex Abuse Victim

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 06:41

The wife of the Brooklyn-born chief rabbi of Chabad in Sydney apologized unreservedly for offending a child sex abuse victim on the eve of Yom Kippur.

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Rabbi Gil Steinlauf of Adas Israel Comes Out as Gay

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 06:29

Gil Steinlauf, the married senior rabbi at Adas Israel — a large and historic Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C. — has announced that he is gay.

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Adas Israel rabbi: ‘I am a gay man’

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 21:05

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf of Adas Israel in Washington

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf struggled for decades with an identity that he only acknowledged publicly this week.

On the Monday after Yom Kippur, Steinlauf, the married senior rabbi at Adas Israel — a large and historic Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C. — announced that he is gay. In a letter sent to congregants, Steinlauf wrote:

With much pain and tears, together with my beloved wife, I have come to understand that I could walk my path with the greatest strength, with the greatest peace in my heart, with the greatest healing and wholeness, when I finally acknowledged that I am a gay man. Sadly, for us this means that Batya and I can no longer remain married, despite our fidelity throughout our marriage and our abiding friendship and love. As our divorce is not born of rancor, we pray that together with our children we will remain bound by a brit mishpachah, a covenant of family.

Even as a child, Steinlauf recognized a “difference” in himself, he wrote, but never let that difference define him or his choice of a spouse. Steinlauf has been married for 20 years to Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, Director of Social Justice and Interfaith Initiatives at the Jewish Community Relations Council. The Steinlaufs, seen in the video below at a July “Stand Strong With Israel” rally, have three children.

A letter of support from the congregation’s president, Arnie Podgorsky, accompanied Rabbi Gil Steinlauf’s letter. He wrote:

Together with the other officers of Adas Israel, I stand with Rabbi Steinlauf. Our synagogue is strong, large, and inclusive–a big tent with room and respect for all.  Rabbi Steinlauf, along with the rest of the clergy, will continue to advance new paths to Torah, making Judaism and its tools for a beautiful life more accessible for more Jews.  We will continue our diverse approaches to worship, from the traditional to the innovative. At the same time, we understand that Rabbi Steinlauf will be undergoing a challenging personal transition in the coming months, and we extend to him patience and a generous spirit.

Podgorsky said that Rabbi Steinlauf shared his news with the officers of Adas Israel earlier this fall. “We determined together that he would see the congregation through the High Holy Days in the customary way, and then make his news public,” Podgorsky’s letter stated.

Steinlauf has been the senior rabbi at Adas Israel since 2008, having served previously as a rabbi at Temple Israel in Ridgewood, N.J., and Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus, Ohio. He graduated from Princeton, studied at Pardes Institute in Jerusalem and was ordained in 1998 at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Adas Israel counts among its congregants journalists Jeffrey Goldberg and Franklin Foer. In a post Monday on The Atlantic’s website, Goldberg put Steinlauf’s announcement in context:

Rabbi Steinlauf fell into an odd liminal moment in history. If he were a 25-year-old rabbi, there would be no drama here, no nothing, in fact, because he would simply be a rabbi who happens to be gay. The Conservative movement of Judaism has changed over the past decade or two in unimaginable ways. I have trouble picturing a synagogue that wouldn’t hire a gay rabbi. On the other hand, if he were 60 years old now, with the same identity, he most likely would have been able to glide toward retirement, his secret intact.

 Foer, Goldberg wrote, noted that “Rabbi Steinlauf has just discovered the most dramatic possible way to break the Yom Kippur fast.”

A 2006 decision from the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee of Jewish Law and Standards paved the way for the ordination of gay rabbis and the recognition of same-sex unions in the Conservative movement.

Ex-Pal Charged With Stabbing Philadelphia Cantor to Death

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 15:43

A former house guest was charged in the fatal stabbing of Ronald Fischman, an ordained cantor, in Fischman’s Philadelphia home.

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