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Schechter School Closing Adds to Boston Anguish Over Rabbi Barry Starr Scandal

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 07:39

It’s been a rough few weeks for Conservative Jews in the Boston suburbs. First, a prominent rabbi was caught in a scandal. And their day school is closing.

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Storybook Boston Suburb of Sharon Shaken by Rabbi Barry Starr Hush Money Sex Scandal

Wed, 05/28/2014 - 13:29

Even the Hebrew school students know the lurid details of the scandal that has engulfed Rabbi Barry Starr and Temple Israel, a Conservative pillar in the Boston suburb of Sharon.

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A Formula for Engaging Jewish Teenagers

Wed, 05/28/2014 - 09:00

Working with teenagers is simply heartwarming. We experienced this yet again at our recent Havdala Under the Stars, Congregation Or Ami’s year-end gathering of our Triple T (Tracks for Temple Teens) youth program.

Picture this: a large group of teens, 7th to 12th grades, sitting around a campfire, singing songs, playing games, and grouping and regrouping in ever changing configurations of young people. Bucking trends in Jewish life – where so many teens drop out soon after b’nai mitzvah – these teens showed up smiling. (Thanks to the URJ’s Campaign for Youth Engagement, we rethought our entire youth program.)

Rabbi Julie Weisz, the energetic visionary behind Congregation Or Ami’s Campaign for Youth Engagement, invited the teens to reflect upon what made their Triple T time so meaningful. The responses were heartwarming:

  • Making new friends
  • Being a madrich (counselor) at the 4th-6th grade retreat
  • Creating a movie short with my JEWTube track
  • Working with the younger students as a MIT (Madricha-in-training)
  • Leading sports days for the at risk kids in Future Coaches
  • Creating social action projects with VolunTEENS
  • Being part of LoMPTY
  • Going to regional NFTY SoCal events
  • Bonding with everyone here

It seems that our faculty and rabbis have hit upon what we believe is a formula for continued youth engagement:

  • Relationship building.
  • Leadership development.
  • Multiple pathways (we call them “tracks”) to participation.
  • Confirmation as the culmination for all tracks (including youth group)
  • Choices

And lots of listening, loving and patience.

Youth work is incredibly exciting, deeply rewarding, intensely frustrating, and ultimately so incredibly important. Just as teens are coming into themselves, we youth professionals get to love them, accept them unconditionally, and present Judaism to them as a healthy pathway to finding oneself. There are moments, so many moments, when the neural connections are fired up just right, and through their time in temple, they find the acceptance and love that they deeply crave.

Of course along the way they go through all the same struggles as everywhere else. And so they experience social anxiety, face cliquishness, lose elections, and feel slighted. Because it is all real life. Being a teen is frustrating and often painful. Being a teen’s parent is a lesson in powerlessness and oftentimes frustration as we sit on the sidelines unable to fix it all.

That’s why youth professionals often make a real difference. When we do it right – listen, love, eschew simple problem solving in favor of long-term growth and compassionate struggle – the synagogue becomes a safe place for young people to learn and grow.

As our teen songleader led us to close the evening with a sweet havdala ceremony, the teens enjoyed a group hug, evidencing with their physical closeness the reality that permeates their hearts. This diverse group of kids are finding a path forward – past B’nai Mitzvah and into young adulthood. The path is not always straight. The temple cannot shield them (or their parents) from heartache, but there is no question that the combined efforts of caring, engaging faculty and available, committed rabbis can provide a safe loving space for our teens.

Lo alecha ham’lacha ligmor – the work with teens is a continuous, never-ending process. But when approached with an open mind and an open heart, it is even the exhaustion is exhilarating.

Israel Minister Calls for One-State Solution on Jerusalem Day

Wed, 05/28/2014 - 08:45

An Israeli minister marked Jerusalem Day by calling for a one-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians — as the Temple Mount was closed following clashes between Muslim worshippers and police.

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Orthodox Rabbi Stuns Agudath Gala With 'Heresy' Attack on Open Orthodoxy

Wed, 05/28/2014 - 06:52

A top Orthodox rabbi condemned other streams of Judaism and called the religiously progressive Open Orthodox movement heretical at the Agudath Israel gala.

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Temple Mount closed after Arab rioting on Jerusalem Day

Wed, 05/28/2014 - 06:51

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Temple Mount was closed following clashes between Muslim worshippers and Israeli police amid Jerusalem Day celebrations.

Four Palestinians and an Israeli police officer were reported injured in the Wednesday morning clashes.

Masked Palestinians threw rocks and firecrackers at Jewish security forces on the Temple Mount. The attackers barricaded themselves in the Al Aksa Mosque after being pursued by Israeli police, who used rubber bullets to disperse the rioters, according to Palestinian reports.

Muslim worshippers on the Temple Mount also threw rocks Tuesday at a group of Jews visiting the site.

Jerusalem Day marks the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War in 1967. The annual Jerusalem Day flag procession through the Old City of Jerusalem will take place late Wednesday afternoon, with thousands expected to participate.

Meanwhile, at a Tuesday evening program in honor of Jerusalem Day at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, Israeli housing minister Uri Ariel said there would be no more housing freezes in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

“We will not come to terms with the delays and restrictions [on construction] in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and we will continue to build in all parts of our land,” Ariel said. “Jerusalem will never again be divided. Between the Jordan River and the sea, there will be only one state — the State of Israel.”

Yeshiva U. Sheds Burden of Albert Einstein Medical School — But at What Cost?

Tue, 05/27/2014 - 22:00

Yeshiva U. has ceded control of Albert Einstein Medical Center in a ‘historic’ deal. It’s shedding a massive financial burden— but is it giving up a ‘crown jewel’ of Jewish education?

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400-Year-Old Syria Synagogue Destroyed in Civil War

Tue, 05/27/2014 - 18:16

A historic synagogue on the outskirts of Damascus was destroyed amid fighting in Syria’s civil war.

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Dutch Ramp Up Security at Jewish Sites After Brussels Museum Attack

Tue, 05/27/2014 - 11:49

Dutch authorities said on Tuesday they were deploying more police officers at Jewish sites, including cultural centers, schools and synagogues, after three people were shot dead at the Jewish Museum in Brussels this weekend.

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Pope Francis Wraps Up Whirlwind Trip With Benjamin Netanyahu Meeting

Sun, 05/25/2014 - 22:35

Pope Francis completes a tour of the Holy Land on Monday, paying homage to Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust and looking to affirm Christian rights at a disputed place of worship in Jerusalem.

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Two French Jews attacked

Sun, 05/25/2014 - 09:04

(JTA) — Two French Jewish men were attacked while on their way to synagogue.

The men, brothers aged 18 and 21 from the Paris suburb of Creteil, were attacked from behind Sunday by two men on bicycles, according to a statement from the French Jewish organization SPCJ. The attackers, men in their twenties, wore brass knuckles and hit the brothers in the face. The attackers fled after the brothers defended themselves.

A passing car stopped to pick the men up and drove them to the hospital. According to SPCJ, the men’s faces are “heavily injured,” and  will need surgery, but the men are expected to recover.

The attack comes one day after four people died in a shooting at the Jewish Museum of Brussels. Police are still searching for a suspect in the shooting.

Gang of 4 Rabbis Indicted in Orthodox Divorce Torture Extortion Scheme

Sat, 05/24/2014 - 08:49

Four Orthodox rabbis and one of their sons were indicted on charges of conspiring to kidnap and torture Jewish men to force them to grant religious divorces to their wives.

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The pope’s rabbinic travel buddies

Fri, 05/23/2014 - 20:09

Pope Francis, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, presenting the honorary doctorate award of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina to Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Oct. 11, 2012. (Courtesy Universidad Catolica Argentina)

Pope Francis is bringing along not one but two Argentinean rabbis on his trip to the holy land.

The pope’s close friendship with Rabbi Abraham Skorka is well known. Skorka even wrote a book with the then archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Skorka told JTA that he would be with the pope “all the time except, of course, at the private meetings he will hold with the different dignitaries.”

But he will be joining the trip a bit late.

“Since the departure of the Pope from Rome will be close to Shabbat, I will only meet with him on his arrival to Bet Lehem,” Skorka wrote to JTA in an email.

But the other Argentinean rabbi traveling with the pope — Rabbi Alejandro Avruj — will accompany the entire trip, starting in Jordan and then going to areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority and to Israel, though he won’t be as close a papal traveling companion as Skorka.

Avruj will be making the journey with a Catholic priest, Jose Maria “Pepe” di Paola, with whom he has worked closely since the 2001 Argentinean economic crisis. The rabbi and the priest together manage the Shalom charity project, which brings daily meals to hungry children in Buenos Aires.

“I met Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, at a shantytown in Buenos Aires. Bergoglio was the boss of my teammate Pepe and he came with us to bring food and recreational activities to the kids,” Avruj told JTA.

Like Skorka, Avruj developed a friendship with Bergoglio. The future pope participated in a 2012 Kristallnacht commemoration ceremony with Avruj, who later invited him to help light the Hannukah candles at the synagogue where he served.

“One day before the ceremony, he called me to confirm his appearance and asked me which subway station was closest to the temple. He arrived very sweaty in a 6 p.m. rush hour from a crowded subway,” Avruj recalled. “He is a very simple person, very focused on the really important things in life — relationships, values, friendship and, of course, God.”

The pope and Skorka will also be traveling with Omar Abboud, who is the Muslim representative at Argentina’s Institute for Interreligious Dialogue and former secretary general of Islamic Center of Buenos Aires.

Skorka has known Abboud for decades.

“He is a person of high values and spirituality. That the Pope travels with a Rabbi and an Islamic leader is a sign that only walking together and through a path of dialogue will we be able to achieve changing the present world reality,” Skorka wrote to JTA.

Skorka expressed hope that the pope will make a contribution to advancing peace in the region.

“My expectations are that Pope Francis could engrave a deep message of peace and spirituality,” Skorka explained. “It is a great opportunity to introduce a pure spiritual dimension in looking for new paths which can lead to an approach to peace.”

Four rabbis indicted on kidnap conspiracy charges

Fri, 05/23/2014 - 17:08

(JTA) — Four Orthodox rabbis and one of their sons were indicted on charges of conspiring to kidnap and torture Jewish men to force them to grant religious divorces to their wives.

Rabbi Mendel Epstein and his son David Epstein, Rabbi Martin Wolmark, Rabbi Jay Goldstein and Rabbi Binyamin Stiller were charged Thursday in New Jersey federal court with participating in a kidnapping ring. According to the indictment, the ring was organized to force reluctant husbands to grant their wives a get, or a Jewish divorce, in exchange for fees running to tens of thousands of dollars.

The ring operated between 2009 and 2013 and employed methods such as beating the victims and shocking them in their genitals with electric cattle prods, the indictment said.

The four rabbis were previously indicted on separate kidnapping-related charges in October of 2013 as part of a larger group, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. That group included two of Goldstein’s sons, both of whom have since pleaded guilty to extortion charges related to that indictment.

Attorneys for Wolmark, Goldstein and Still denied the charges, the Associated Press reported.

According to the indictment, Mendel Epstein stated to an undercover agent that the fee for the kidnapping would be $10,000 for the beth din, or rabbinical court, to issue the divorce, and $50,000 to $60,000 for the “tough guys.”

A sworn statement by FBI agent Bruce Kamerman quoted Epstein as saying that it was essential that the torture of the kidnapped husband not leave a mark so that police would dismiss any allegation as “some Jewish crazy affair.”

The defendants face fines of up to $250,000 for each kidnapping count as well as prison sentences of up to life in prison, according to the U.S. attorney.

Israeli religious court grants divorce to woman with comatose husband

Thu, 05/22/2014 - 11:17

(JTA) — An Israeli government religious court granted a ritual divorce to a woman whose husband is in a coma and cannot consent.

The ruling by the court in Safed took place two months ago but was made public Tuesday.

Jewish law requires the husband to consent in order for the ritual divorce, or get, to be valid. But according to Haaretz, the court used an obscure Jewish legal concept called a “get zikui” to allow the divorce because the husband would have consented if he were conscious.

The ruling can act as precedent for other women with husbands in comas, but the court ruled that it would not apply to women whose husbands intentionally refuse to divorce them.





URJ Announces New Director for Jacobs Camp

Thu, 05/22/2014 - 10:32
Jacobs Alum and Former Assistant Director Anna Blumenfeld Herman to Run Foremost Jewish Summer Camp in Deep South

Alejandro Jodorowsky Goes on a Voyage in Search of Himself

Thu, 05/22/2014 - 10:00

‘The Dance of Reality,’ a new movie by cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky, is a departure for a filmmaker best known for violent imagery and New Age symbolism.

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17th Century Turkish Synagogue Is Refurbished

Thu, 05/22/2014 - 07:39

The Turkish city of Izmir restored a 17th-century synagogue at risk of collapse.

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Jonathan Sacks Warns of Religious Freedom Threat in Right-Wing Law Firm Speech

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 14:24

The former British chief rabbi was being honored by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based public interest law firm that’s been busy representing clients — such as Hobby Lobby — who say their religious freedoms are being trampled by the government.

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