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The Disappearing Places of Our Jewish Past in the Old Country

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 07:00

The old Jewish quarters are disappearing in Slovakia, and across eastern Europe. With people long since gone, only these places can tell the story of a once-vibrant life.

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Economic Struggles Reinforce Need for Prayers in America

Sun, 02/23/2014 - 18:00

"Save America Gathering" calls for prayers asking for economic healing, as well as intensified intercessory prayers for the sins of the United States of America, while the 100-day...

(PRWeb January 28, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/01/prweb11481336.htm

Maria Von Trapp Who Escaped Nazis and Inspired 'The Sound of Music' Dies at 99

Sun, 02/23/2014 - 10:41

Maria von Trapp, who escaped from Nazi Germany and went on inspire the ‘The Sound of Music,’ has died at the age of 99. We wish her a so long and farewell.

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Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto Ordered NYPD Detective to Arrest Aide's Rival: Lawsuit

Fri, 02/21/2014 - 18:19

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto ordered a New York City police officer to arrest his top aide’s business rival, according to allegations in a civil suit.

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Connecting a 100-year-old woman and her father’s 300-year-old violin

Fri, 02/21/2014 - 14:58

With all the recent news in Germany about the search for heirs to art taken during the Nazi era, a recent announcement about a 300-year-old violin caught my eye.

A Nuremberg-based foundation for music students was hoping to find descendants of Felix Hildesheimer of Speyer — a musical instrument dealer who bought the violin in 1938 and took his own life the following year, when he was unable to follow his wife and daughters to safety abroad.

At present, the violin — made in 1706 by Italian master craftsman Giuseppe Guarneri — belongs to the Franz Hofmann and Sophie Hagemann Foundation, having been purchased in 1974 by the late Nuremberg virtuoso Sophie Hagemann.

But to find potential heirs, it turns out it helps to look for them. Which I did. Within three days of my first inquiry, I managed to reach the grandson of Hildesheimer in the United States and put him in touch with the foundation. There was delight and gratitude all around.

I wondered why the foundation failed to find the relatives themselves. It was almost embarrassingly easy. All it took was a little Internet research and a few emails.

Foundation board member Fabian Kern told me that it was obviously easier for an American and a journalist to figure things out.

The foundation and family are now planning to discuss what should be done with the instrument.

Kern said the foundation would like to restore it and turn it into a “Violin of Reconciliation,” to be used by students at the Nuremberg Conservatory with the caveat that they learn the story of the Hildesheimer family.

All the foundation knew at first was that Hildesheimer had bought the instrument in 1938. The foundation later found out he had bought it from a known Nazi dealer, Fridolin Hammer. So far no one knows how Hammer got it himself — and no one knows what happened after Hildesheimer bought it.

It’s always possible that descendants of other past owners could come forward. But for now, Kern told me he’s pleased to have found descendants of Hildesheimer.

Fixed up, this instrument could be worth nearly $1 million. But at present, it’s a shadow of its former self.

A journalist who saw the instrument recently told me it has a golden, warm tone that could be magnificent if the violin is properly restored.

Amazingly, Hildesheimer’s daughter, Martha, celebrated her 100th birthday last November. And she is doing extremely well in her D.C.-area independent living community, her son, Sidney Strauss, told me.

I had tracked them down through a 2012 article about Martha on the website of her senior community. A link to the article was included in the original notice on Germany’s lost art website (now replaced by a new notice announcing that the foundation has been in touch with Hildesheimer’s descendants). The foundation said its efforts to get in touch through a third party failed.

In a curious twist, Strauss told me his mother had received a query last year from a Berlin-based provenance researcher claiming to have found out about the violin while researching lost instruments and offering to help recover the instrument in return for a fee.

The same researcher had offered to help the foundation find the heirs, for a fee, Kern told me.

Finding the family took me less than three days. And the reward is pure and simple — the kick out of doing a good deed, even if it was handed to me on a platter.

But the case of this Guarneri violin certainly does leave me wondering about why it sometimes takes longer than it should to resolve such cases. Every story has its own twists. In this case, it seems all the information was out there for at least a year. Yet no one brought the parties together. That has now been remedied.

Jewish Immigration Advocates Push Eric Cantor To Support Broad Reforms

Fri, 02/21/2014 - 06:00

Activists are trying to convince Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor that immigration reform is a Jewish issue. So far, he seems unswayed.

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Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto Suspected of Bribing Police and Intimidating Witnesses

Thu, 02/20/2014 - 22:10

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto is suspected of bullying and bribing Israeli police officers and witnesses, a 10-page court document reveals.

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Surveilling the Landscape of Privacy Concerns

Thu, 02/20/2014 - 19:00

In a landmark speech this January, President Obama outlined his concerns, goals and plans for reform of the National Security Agency. A month later, there continue to be developments on the right-to-privacy front. On February 6th, the Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, announced two changes the NSA metadata program. Section 215, the “bulk telephony metadata program,” will no longer exist in its current form. It will transition to a new system that addresses national security needs without keep these large amounts of information

“As a first step in that transition, the President directed the Attorney General to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to ensure that, absent a true emergency, the telephony metadata can only be queried after a judicial finding that there is a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the selection term is associated with an approved international terrorist organization.”

Slowly but surely it seems like the momentum towards reform is building, especially considering that some Members of Congress are very engaged with NSA reform. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) filed a lawsuit against President Obama and heads of security agencies challenging the constitutionality of the NSA program that collects data on phone calls of American citizens.

Over the past few months, the courts have come down differently on the constitutionality of the NSA metadata programs and other surveillance activities. In December 2013, a federal judge in New York ruled the program was constitutional. Yet that same month, a judge on the DC Circuit Court ruled that the data-mining of domestic phone calls was unconstitutional. Given the split in lower courts, it is possible the Supreme Court could hear a case on these issues – perhaps next term. Speculation on whether the Court would take such a case or how they would decide has started; and petitions for a writ of certiorari have already started coming in!

There are clearly many prongs for reform: an internal administrative component, a judicial component and possibly a legislative one. Our tradition teaches that privacy is a fundamental aspect of the human condition, the protection of which is a serious societal and individual responsibility. Judaism distinguishes privacy as an essential element of personality, rather than as only a right of property, and considers privacy an aspect of one’s sanctity as a child of God. Without this protection, one is stripped of individuality and selfhood and is effectively dehumanized.

As each of these reform strategies progress, it will be interesting to see how we reshape our attitudes towards privacy rights in the modern technology age.


Philip Caine literally helps teens with broken hearts

Thu, 02/20/2014 - 13:32

Philip Caine co-founded Youth with Heart, a support group for teens with congenital heart defects. (Courtesy Philip Caine)

One evening, during a retreat for his Diller Teen Fellowship, Philip Caine told his fellow teens a truth about himself.

At the age of 17, he had already undergone two open-heart surgeries. To his surprise, another teen told him that she had needed heart surgery as well.

Together they decided to launch “Youth with Heart,” to serve as an educational, mentoring and support group for other teenagers with congenital heart defects.

Modeled after “Moms with Heart,” an American Heart Association support group for families affected by childhood heart disease, the objective of his group, Caine said, is to provide a community specifically for teens with the disease so that they can share their experiences with others in similar circumstances.

Over the past year, he has spoken before thousands of volunteers at a Heart Walk in California, to multiple cardiologists and at a local youth activism showcase, all to raise awareness for “Youth with Heart” and reach out to potential participants. The group is currently working towards organizing monthly meetings and will launch its Facebook page next month, he said.

For Caine, who had his first surgery to repair a hole between his heart chambers when he was just one month old and the second, nearly two years ago, to have a pulmonary valve replaced, the disease “opened my eyes to the world and gave me a greater appreciation for my life and the community around me.”

Now a senior at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, Calif., he plans to attend either George Washington University or Southern Methodist University to study sports management.

He has played baseball, soccer and water polo but tennis and golf are his two passions these days, he said. “Sports have always been a part of my life. I just love watching, playing — even the business side behind it all.”

And at his recent check-up, the doctor told Caine, “Everything’s running fine. I’m good as new or close enough.”

JTA spoke to Caine about his biggest influences, his advice for teens with congenital health issues and the movie he could watch over and over again.

Who or what have been the biggest influences in your life?

My sister; she’s a senior at Smith College. She’s someone I can look up to as a role model. Also my parents. They are so supportive and are always there for me, 100 percent.

Can you share with us a meaningful Jewish experience that you’ve had?

Going to Israel for the first time last summer. Just to be in Jerusalem, to see the culture and all the different sects of Judaism left me speechless the entire trip.

What is your favorite Jewish food?

That’s a tough one. I do love challah, and with honey, it’s delicious.

If you could have lunch or coffee with anyone and tell him or her about your group, “Youth with Heart,” who would it be?

Shaun White. He has actually had the same heart defect that I have, and he’s an Olympian and an amazing athlete. That would be an awesome conversation to have!

What advice would you give to other teens with a congenital health issue?

Stay positive; positivity is key. Think on the brighter side because being negative has no benefits.

Do you have a favorite movie?

I’d have to go with “The Rookie.” I always watch it when I’m home sick. I could watch it over and over.

 The Teen Heroes column is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation, which is dedicated to celebrating and supporting teens repairing the world. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit http://dillerteenawards.org. Please tell us about teens who deserve attention by sending an email to teens@jta.org.

The Silence Around Sex in the Haredi World — and Its Unfortunate Consequences

Thu, 02/20/2014 - 06:00

In the ultra-Orthodox world, sex is rarely discussed and young people get no education about their own bodies. Margaux Chetrit says this can lead to improper expressions of sexuality.

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Fear of isolationism cuts across party lines

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 17:48

I wrote yesterday about how a major foreign policy speech on Monday by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the Republican House majority leader, was a shot across the bow at isolationists.

A major focus of Cantor’s speech was on Middle East policy. So it’s notable that within 48 hours, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivered essentially the same warning, at Beth El synagogue in Bethesda, Md.

Both men cite pre-World War II isolationism as the precedent to avoid. Both focus on the Middle East, and both cast it in a Jewish context: Cantor by referring to his recent trip to Auschwitz, Hagel, in a synagogue.

Here’s Cantor, at the Virginia Military Institute:

Many Americans, and politicians from both parties, want to believe the tide of war has receded. As was the case in the wake of World War I, many want to believe the costly foreign interventions of recent years can simply be put behind us. That we can simply choose not to be involved.

However, we mustn’t let ourselves be lulled into complacency again or forget the lessons of history. I recently led a congressional delegation to the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau to commemorate the 69th anniversary of their liberation. As an American and a Jew, I was struck by a torrent of emotions filled with horror, pride and regret.

Here’s Hagel, who was explaining why the United States continues to engage with Egypt, however problematic its government is:

I don’t think it’s particularly beneficial to anybody just to try to — just cut off everything with — with no opportunity or influence. Sometimes, that is probably the only alternative you have.

So, what we were trying to do is work all these different problems and issues, to some extent, on individual basis; but also, with a regional understanding that these are scoped out in, in the entire fabric and they are all — they’re all woven in that — that fabric.

And recognizing one last thing — and I’ll end this way — that each country, each society, each culture, each history, each religion has to be respected. And nations have to have that kind of stability recognizing the — you’re talking about terrorists.

That’s the — that’s obviously an insidious, vile threat to any organized society, because they don’t believe in anything, other than destruction and their own — their own needs.

So, you try to work in the independence of each country’s culture into what you’re trying to do to assist — and USAID, State Department diplomacy — same things I talked about in Asia-Pacific; you use all those things.

So, you know, it is complicated. It’s working. But — but you can’t retreat from it; you — you got to be smart; you have to be wise.

You have to manage it. You have to manage through storms. And — and we do know, through history, when you become isolationists, if you, you know, turn your back on — well, that’s their problem, not ours — there are consequences. There are big-time consequences, which we saw in the first half of the 20th century pretty clearly; and so, we don’t have that option.

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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