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My trip to Washington

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 10:00

This piece was originally published by The Reporter in Vestal, NY by Rabbi Rachel Esserman.

Things really can change in 35 years. That was my reaction to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. I was in the city while participating in the Religious Action Center’s L’Taken Seminar, and we had a free afternoon during which we could visit one of the Smithsonian museums. Rabbi Barbara Goldman-Wartell and Temple Concord had invited me to be one of the chaperones for the synagogue’s confirmation class. I hadn’t been to the Hirshhorn since college and remembered loving it then. Unfortunately, the museum turned out to be a big disappointment. Fortunately, however, that was the only disappointment in this wonderful four-day weekend.

According to the RAC website, the L’Taken Seminar “is designed to expose students to a variety of public policy issues, explore the Jewish values surrounding these issues and teach the skills of an effective advocate.” It certainly does that. The students had the opportunity to explore topics of interest, with each student picking the one that most touched them. Chaperones and members of the RAC staff helped the students refine their thoughts, which were then presented in a short, written speech. On the final day, students met with the staff of their senators and representatives, and presented their thoughts.

This simple description really doesn’t do justice to the seminar, which featured 300 teenagers praying, listening to lectures, role playing and interacting with their fellow students. As a rabbi, I was thrilled to see so many engaged teens. I know some students were there only because it’s a requirement of their confirmation class. However, many exhibited real enthusiasm about what they were learning. The social aspect of the weekend was also important, especially for teenagers coming from small communities: how wonderful for them to be meet and engage with so many other Jews their own age.

In addition to the Sunday museum trip, we also visited the Martin Luther King Jr. monument (where, unfortunately, the sky opened, leaving us cold and wet) and prayed Havdalah on the steps of the Jefferson monument. The most moving part of that day, though, was the tour of the Holocaust Museum. It’s impossible to do justice to what’s offered in just one visit. I did an overview of the floors, noting particular things that spoke to me. However, it didn’t all come together until the end. I originally walked past the Hall of Remembrance, a quiet spot where one can light candles and meditate on what one has seen. Something made me walk back. It was when I lit a candle – a ritual used to remember loved ones who are no longer with us – that the impact of the museum hit me: Lighting that candle acknowledged how so many of our ancestors died in horrendous and horrific circumstances.

The trip to Washington reminded me of why I became a rabbi: seeing Jews gather for the greater good. Watching the teens was a joyous look at the Jewish future. The students worked very hard for very long hours. (My first reaction to the schedule was, “I’m usually in bed by then!”) Racing across Washington to get to our appointments on the Monday left me huffing and puffing, nearly out of breath, but it was worth every minute. I’m grateful to have taken part in this event and thank all those who made it possible.

Rabbi Rachel Esserman is the executive editor and book reviewer for The Reporter Group. Her editorials and reviews have won awards from the American Jewish Press Association and the Syracuse Press Club. She also serves as the Jewish chaplain for Broome Development Disabilities Service Office. Her work has been published in “The Women’s Torah Commentary” and “The Women’s Haftarah Commentary” (both by Jewish Lights Publishing). She has also had a book of poetry, “I Stand By the River,” published by Keshet Press of Temple Concord. A Reconstructionist rabbi whose first love is teaching, she sees her position on the paper as an opportunity to educate the public about Judaism.

Abe Foxman Looks Back at Changing — and Declining — Face of Anti-Semitism

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 20:51

When Abraham Foxman steps down next summer from his longtime post as national director of the Anti-Defamation League, he’ll be leaving his successor with a much brighter picture on anti-Semitism in America than when Foxman joined the organization in 1965.

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100 Torah Scrolls Looted From Hungary in World War II Discovered in Russia

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 18:57

One hundred Torah scrolls that were looted from Hungary during World War II were discovered in Russia by a chief rabbi of Hungary.

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Torahs taken from Hungary in WWII found in Russian library

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 18:20

BUDAPEST, Hungary (JTA) — One hundred Torah scrolls that were looted from Hungary during World War II were discovered in Russia by a chief rabbi of Hungary.

Rabbi Slomo Koves, executive rabbi of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, or EMIH, discovered the scrolls and other pieces of Judaica in the Lenin Library in the town of Nizhniy Novgorod. Hungary’s artifacts, among them the famous Calvinist library of Sarospatak in eastern Hungary, were taken from the country by the Russian army during the war.

EMIH and the Russian authorities are holding talks on how to restore and return the Torah scrolls to the Jewish community, according to a statement issued Tuesday by EMIH.

“It is my conviction that any help we can offer for their return to Hungary, to their rightful owners and to their proper use is not only our task, but also our duty,” Janos Martonyi, Hungary’s minister of foreign affairs, wrote in a letter to Koves.

The rabbi called on the board of trustees of the Jewish Heritage of Hungary Public Endowment, or Mazsok, to participate in the negotiations and called for the support of the international community to allow the Jewish community of Hungary to recover the scrolls.

Hungary Rabbi Unearths 103 Torahs in Russia

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 12:58

A Hungarian rabbi said on Tuesday he had uncovered 103 Torah scrolls stolen from Hungarian Jews during World War Two and stashed in a Russian library, adding he planned to restore and return them to the Jewish community.

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Shame of Indoor Women's Section at Western Wall

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 10:00

The indoor women’s prayer area at the Western Wall is no more than a tunnel. And good luck to anyone who actually seeks to pray there.

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Eric Cantor Accuses Barack Obama of Appeasement on Iran

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 08:01

Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, cited the lateness of American actions against the Nazis in critiquing President Obama’s foreign policy.

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The Kabbalah of Skiing

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 06:00

Skiing and dog-sledding don’t seem to have much to do with Judaism. Anna Goldenberg gets on a metaphorical chair-lift to investigate combining spirituality with winter sports.

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Conversion Reform Bill Advances in Knesset — Expands Rabbi Pool

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 18:39

A bill that would allow more rabbis to conduct conversions in Israel advanced in the Knesset.

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Cantor cites pre-WWII isolation in pressing for greater U.S. engagement

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 17:37

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, cited the lateness of American actions against the Nazis in critiquing President Obama’s foreign policy.

In a speech Monday to the Virginia Military Institute, Cantor (R-Va.), who is Jewish, described leading a congressional delegation recently to Auschwitz to mark the 69th anniversary of the Nazi death camp’s liberation.

“Standing there as the frigid wind swept through the eerily quiet ruins of the camp, I could not help but regret that American action in World War II came too late to save countless millions of innocent lives,” he said.

“Hitler’s rise and conquest of Europe did not come as a surprise. We must not repeat the same mistake by reducing our preparedness, accepting the notion that we are one of many or ceding global leadership to others.”

Cantor said that “evil and hateful ideologies still exist in the world,” citing as perhaps the most evident Iran’s “determined march” to produce nuclear weapons.

“I can imagine few more destabilizing moments in world history than Iran on the threshold of being a nuclear power,” he said.

Cantor called on the United States to prepare for additional sanctions to counter what he said was the erosion of Iran’s isolation through its participation in international talks aimed at keeping it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“An America that leads is an America that must work to restore the badly eroded international pressure on Tehran,” he said. “We should lay the groundwork now for additional sanctions in the event Iran violates the terms of the interim agreement.”

The Obama administration has said that the removal of a number of sanctions ahead of the talks has not diminished a tough sanctions regime. It has opposed new sanctions while talks are underway, saying that unilateral U.S. sanctions could fracture the international alliance that has nudged Iran to the talks.

Conversion reform bill advances in Knesset

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 17:29

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A bill that would allow more rabbis to conduct conversions in Israel advanced in the Knesset.

The coalition government-backed bill passed its first reading by a vote of 28 to 16 in the Knesset plenum on Monday night.

Under the measure, as many as 30 courts made up of municipal rabbis would be allowed for the purpose of conversion. Currently there are four state rabbinic courts with the authority to conduct conversions.

The Chief Rabbinate, which would see its power reduced under the measure, said it will stop cooperating with the Knesset if the bill is approved, the Times of Israel reported Monday. The Rabbinate, which reportedly is working on a compromise bill, is concerned the measure will lead to a deterioration of conversion standards.

Sponsored by lawmaker Elazar Stern of the Hatnua party, the bill passed the Knesset Law Committee earlier on Monday.

Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM Jewish Advocacy Center, who has worked to bring the bill to the Knesset floor, said his organization was pleased with the bill’s advance but that gaps must be addressed before it moves to the second and third readings.

“Though the bill is meant to provide local rabbis with autonomy to perform conversions, something we believe will enable more people to convert, the chief rabbis continue to insist on controlling all aspects of the process of conversion, something we are opposed to in principle,” Farber told JTA.

Farber said that by the final readings, it should be made clear that those who undergo conversions by the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel will be recognized as Jewish in the national population registry. He said the current wording in the bill makes this ambiguous.


Double Booked: A Rabbi’s Balancing Act

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 12:00

By Rabbi Larry Sernovitz

Daddy. You don’t have to go back to the synagogue.”

I can’t possibly count how many times I have heard this from my five year old son Sammy. He loves the synagogue. He was born into a synagogue family. At his Bar Mitzvah, many people will be able to say they attended his bris, which was also at the synagogue and was open to all members. He went to preschool in the synagogue and now he attends religious school. But, when Sammy looks at me and pleads with me not to go back, it always has the same effect on me. Am I being a neglectful father? Will he grow up one day and say that I was never there for him when he was young? And now, my 22 month old daughter has learned the language from my son, albeit in different words. She says to my wife, “Daddy home?”

At Temple Emanuel, I am appreciative to work in an environment that understands the importance of family time and that encourages me to be home for dinner, to spend the time I need with my family. But, at the same time, being a congregational rabbi is demanding and there are many nights my wife calls me at the synagogue to sing the Shema with my son as he is going to bed. These are the moments I crave to be there with him, holding him tight and kissing him goodnight. But, the reality is that there are many times this is simply not possible. I hope in my heart of hearts that Sammy, along with my daughter Daniella, understand.

My wife works for a major global consulting firm and has the luxury from working at home. Over the years, she has transitioned to a position where there is less travelling but the job is still demanding. However, her company allows her to work from home, which gives her the flexibility to attend to the needs of our kids when there is a snow day or when one of them, or both of them, is sick. But, the job still needs to be done and she feels the stress of making sure it does. There are many nights, and weekends, when she is working late after the kids are in bed because she, in many respects, operates as many one-parent homes do when I am at the synagogue. Weekends are not normal by any stretch of the imagination. And, on top of all this, my son has Familial Dysautonomia, one of the 19 Jewish Genetic Diseases. There is much to do on a regular basis to keep him healthy and Becky takes the majority of the burden on her shoulders. Unfortunately, there are many days when he is not well and that just adds to all that needs to be done.

At the end of the day, family time is extremely precious and sacred as well. We believe that we do our best to make it work and we share many moments of pure joy. But, this is from our perspective. I can only hope that one day my kids will look back at us as parents and say that we did a good job balancing our personal and professional lives and that they appreciate the life we were able to create for them. Isn’t that what we all want? Only time will tell.

Rabbi Larry Sernovitz is a Rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, NJ. He is a member of the Rabbinic Leadership Council of ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America) and represents them as a member of the board of the American Zionist Movement.

Comments are an important part of the conversation. Share your thoughts in the comments sectionThis blog is part of a special RACBlog series, “Double Booked: A Conversation about Working Families in the 21st Century,” dealing with the many issues that affect working families, and featuring everything from personal stories to policy analysis. Visit the Double Booked portal to read more posts, or join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #doublebooked.

Naftali Bennett Stakes Israel's Claim to Temple Mount

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 09:39

Right wing leader Naftali Bennett reportedly told American Jewish leaders Monday that Israel wants more control over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a holy site that has long been long a contentious point with the Muslim world.

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Hungarian Nationalists Hold Rally in Former Synagogue, Despite Protests

Sun, 02/16/2014 - 09:37

Hungary’s far-right Jobbik Party held a political rally in a former synagogue, despite protests.

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Cosmic Companionship: Spirit Stories by Martin Luther King Jr.

Sat, 02/15/2014 - 09:58

New publication is a narrative anthology of Dr. King's spiritual teachings with words of inspiration by Coretta Scott King and Howard Thurman.

(PRWeb January 15, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/01/prweb11490579.htm

For Tu B’shvat, Ethiopian Immigrants Plant Roots in Israel --...

Sat, 02/15/2014 - 09:58

Tree planting ritual symbolizes a secure Jewish future as Jewish Agency, Jewish National Fund - Keren Kayemet LeYisrael and Israel's Ministries of Environmental Protection and Education help new...

(PRWeb January 14, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/01/prweb11489080.htm

Filmmaker Adam Ellick Shares His Firsthand Stories of Malala...

Sat, 02/15/2014 - 09:58

Malala Yousafzai’s commitment to pursue her education in the Taliban controlled area of Pakistan’s Swat Valley became the inspiration behind New York Times journalist Adam Ellick’s documentary,...

(PRWeb January 14, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/01/prweb11486601.htm

Is Valentine's Day Kosher?

Thu, 02/13/2014 - 08:44

Valentine’s Day involves plenty of worshipping of idols — or at least chocolates and flowers. So could it be considered kosher to celebrate day of love?

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Polish Rabbi Fired Over Kosher Slaughter Scandal

Thu, 02/13/2014 - 08:00

Amid reports that kosher slaughter is continuing in Poland in the face of a law prohibiting it, the country’s chief rabbi suspended an aide who appears to have misrepresented the practice to government inspectors.

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Poland’s chief rabbi suspends aide amid kosher slaughter controversy

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 22:40

Rabbi Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

(JTA) — Amid reports that kosher slaughter is continuing in Poland in the face of a law prohibiting it, the country’s chief rabbi suspended an aide who appears to have misrepresented the practice to government inspectors.

The aide, Michael Alper, wrote a letter to Polish veterinarians in which he asked for permission to slaughter 250 cows after stunning them with electricity, in accordance with Polish law. The November 2013 letter, which was obtained by JTA, carried Alper’s title of “Rabbinate coordinator for Kosher production in Poland.”

But if the animals had undergone kosher slaughter, or shechitah, then they could not have been stunned, because Jewish law requires animals be conscious when they are killed, Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, told JTA Tuesday.

“Stunning cannot be used in shechitah, and saying it was used is a very serious mistake,” Schudrich said.

“What he [Alper] has written is completely unacceptable and he has been suspended from his position pending an investigation,” Schudrich added.

Alper’s letter was leaked to media amid claims that kosher slaughter has continued in Poland despite a 2012 court ruling that went into effect in January 2013 and effectively prohibited Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter. The court ruling nullified a 2004 government directive that had exempted Muslims and Jews from the Polish legal requirement of stunning before slaughter.

Poland’s Channel 1 last month ran promotional videos for a program reporting that kosher slaughter was allegedly continuing in Polish slaughterhouses. The show was supposed to air Feb. 4 but has been postponed.

A source involved in the show’s production told JTA on condition of anonymity that the program involved three slaughterhouses where animals underwent kosher slaughter without stunning but whose slaughter was reported to authorities as having been performed after stunning. Alper did the reporting of the supposed stunning, the source said.

Before his suspension, Alper was Schudrich’s representative to slaughterhouses and the Polish agriculture ministry.

“I am writing to request to carry out the slaughter of 250 heads of cattle on Nov. 23, 2013, with use of electric current to render the animals unconscious,” Alper wrote in the letter obtained by JTA.

Contacted by JTA, Alper declined to answer questions.

Schudrich would neither confirm nor deny claims that commercial kosher slaughter had taken place in Poland after January 2013. But he said that “the court’s ruling in 2012 is not a ban. It is a case of conflicting rulings that is being reviewed by the Constitutional Court.”

JTA has obtained pictures of meat labeled as kosher and produced in Poland after January 2013. One package appeared to carry certification from Rabbi Yehuda Osher Steiner of the Manchester Beth Din in Britain.

The Manchester Beth Din did not answer inquiries from JTA about that certification in time for publication.