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The Great Food Fight of 1883

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 06:00

The ordination of America’s first class of Reform rabbis was celebrated with a — yes, you guessed it — ‘trefa banquet.’ Was the non-kosher menu an accident?

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Women of the Wall snuffed out in request for Hanukkah candle-lighting

Sun, 12/14/2014 - 18:30

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A request by Women of the Wall to hold a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony in the women’s section of the holy site was denied.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbinic authority of the Western Wall and holy places, denied its request, Women of the Wall said in a statement Sunday. According to the group, Rabinowitz said the menorah lit on the men’s side can be seen by all.

“It is difficult not to suspect that Women of the Wall’s real intention is not prayer but rather their determination to change the customs at the Western Wall at any cost, while offending many of the masses of those who pray at the Western Wall and the traditions developed there over hundreds of years of prayer,” Rabinowitz wrote in his denial letter.

In its statement, Women of the Wall said its members will bring their own menorahs to the wall on Thursday evening and light them together in the women’s section. The group meets at the Western Wall once a month for prayers for the new month.

Women have the same obligation as men to light a Hanukkah menorah, the organization pointed out.

“Unfortunately, Rabinowitz does not recognize the genuine intention and right that Jewish women have to heartfelt prayer at the Kotel,” Women of the Wall wrote. “He has chosen to respond negatively to such a basic request for Women of the Wall and many other women to hold a Jewish ritual at the Kotel, which is permissible and required of us according to Jewish law.”

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu declined to respond to the denial, Women of the Wall said in its statement. Writing to Netanyahu last month, the group asked that a large menorah equivalent to the one lit 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.

Female rabbis at forefront of pioneering prayer communities

Sun, 12/14/2014 - 17:19

Clockwise from top left, Rabbi Lori Shapiro of Open Temple, Rabbi Lizzie Heydemann of Mishkan Chicago, Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar, Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum of the Kavana Cooperative, Rabbi Noa Kushner of the Kitchen and Rabbi Naomi Levy of Nashuva. (Photos courtesy of the congregations)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — A decade ago in Los Angeles, two organizations opened their doors with a call to prayer — or they would have if they had any doors to open.

Ikar, led by Rabbi Sharon Brous, and Nashuva, led by Rabbi Naomi Levy, were conceived separately. But when they launched in 2004, both offered a novel, and in many ways similar, approach to Jewish spirituality and community — regularly scheduled, rabbi-led services that were not affiliated with any movement or institution, that met in rented space, and that were avowedly not synagogues.

“We were trying to walk into the conversation about Jewish identity and community and ritual without preconceived ideas about where we would land,” Brous told JTA, describing the beginnings of Ikar. “What we were trying to do didn’t follow any model that already existed.”

Since then, however, the format pioneered by Nashuva and Ikar has become its own recognizable model, and similar spiritual communities with a noticeably common style have sprung up in a number of other cities across the country.

Prayer is designed to be heartfelt and arouse the spirit. Often there is clapping, dancing and singing without words. Worshipers tend to skew young, informal and hip. The groups don’t own buildings; typically they meet in up-and-coming or already desirable neighborhoods.

The communities are led by charismatic rabbis who stress innovation and outreach to Jews who feel alienated from existing Jewish institutions. They are nondenominational. They often don’t know exactly how to describe themselves.

And most, but not all, have one more common element: They were founded, and are still being led by, female rabbis.

In 2006, Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum launched The Kavana Cooperative in Seattle. In 2011, Rabbi Noa Kushner opened The Kitchen in San Francisco and Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann initiated Mishkan Chicago in the Windy City. In 2012, Rabbi Lori Shapiro started Open Temple in the West Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice.

The celebratory mood at Mishkan Chicago services. (Courtesy of Mishkan)

This new paradigm represented a sharp break with the past and has found a receptive audience among a younger cohort.

As noted by David Myers, the chair of the history department at the University of California Los Angeles, 20th-century American Judaism was defined in large part by building brick-and-mortar institutions. But the new rabbi-led communities are part of a 21st century spate of innovation outside the the established boundaries of Jewish institutional life.

“[Younger] people feel that it’s much more important to find their spiritual voice than to build up an institution for the institution’s sake,” Myers told JTA.

Thus, these communities founded by women are part of a much broader landscape.

A number of male rabbis also have formed and led innovative spiritual communities. Two are in New York: Rabbi Andy Bachmann founded Brooklyn Jews in 2003 and later folded it into the borough’s Temple Beth Elohim, and Rabbi David Ingber started Manhattan’s Romemu, a Jewish Renewal shul, in 2006.

Other models have proliferated, too.

Kehillat Hadar, founded in 2001, helped launch a movement of independent, lay-led minyanim that formed in cities throughout the country to pray without clergy or professional staff. The 6th & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, restored and relaunched in 2004, is now among several organizations housed in former synagogue buildings that host a combination of prayer services and community events.

Well-established synagogues also have experimented with prayer services featuring nontraditional music, looser structures and an emphasis on a warmer, more communal feel. In Denver, for example, Rabbi Bruce Dollin of the Hebrew Educational Alliance synagogue instituted a second service — with drumming and a “davening team” to help lead — that took a page from independent spiritual communities.

But rabbi-led spiritual communities, unaffiliated with a movement and untethered to a single home building, has become one part of the Jewish world where female rabbis have not only found a foothold but have taken the lead as pioneers and innovators.

Rabbi Naomi Levy and the Nashuva band drum playing on the beach. (Phyllis Osman)

It hasn’t been easy. The women who founded these communities have struggled to build organizational structures from scratch, to scrape together funds to rent space and pay salaries, and to connect with a target audience that often is disconnected from the normal channels of the Jewish communities.

Some have even had to bypass roadblocks set up by existing Jewish institutions and colleagues who have seen them as rivals.

“It’s a double-edged sword because on the one hand, the excitement of creating something from nothing is that you don’t have to deal with, ‘Well, we’ve always done it this way,’ ” Levy told JTA.  “The frightening part is not having any structure. When we started Nashuva, we had no money, we had no staff, we had no people. There was no community.”

Yet the enormous challenges also provide the opportunity for women to revolutionize spiritual and institutional life.

“Many women aspire to leadership, but they also aspire to change how leadership is offered,” said Shifra Bronznik, founding president of Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting female professionals in the Jewish world. “That’s actually easier to do if you’re building from the ground up.”

As noted by a number of the rabbis, as well as a number of Jewish communal professionals, traditional Jewish institutions — and the lead roles in them — have been shaped largely by men. Thus, the increasing prevalence of female rabbis opens up the space to rethink certain patterns.

“By definition, having a woman rabbi in your community means you’re not going to do things the way they’ve been done for the last 2,000 years,” Ikar’s Brous, 41, told JTA. “That creates a space for fluidity in organizational life.”

The Kitchen celebrating Sukkot at the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco. (Elizabeth Waller)

Some of those changes involve aspects of organizational life with a gendered component to them — for example, the role of a rabbi as the traditional male “breadwinner,” with a wife to take care of the family.

“There’s an old-school model where the rabbi is married to the congregation,” said Nussbaum, 38, of Kavana. “That’s the rabbi’s first priority, and the role is sort of boundless around that.”

In other ways, that sense of reimagining can also penetrate approaches to the religious texts as well.

“Women need to reinvent Judaism in order to see themselves reflected in the Jewish narrative,” said Bronznick, who has worked with several of these rabbis on issues related to women’s organizational leadership.

“They’re creating something that never was, which is a Jewish narrative authored in the voice of woman,” she said.

Strikingly, many of the innovative female rabbis come from the Conservative movement, the most recent of the denominations to ordain female rabbis, in 1985. Levy, Brous and Nussbaum all were ordained by Conservative Judaism’s flagship Jewish Theological Seminary, while Heydemann, 33, attended the movement’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

Kushner, 44, ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, is a Reform rabbi like her father, Lawrence Kushner, who is also an author, while Shapiro, 43, was ordained at the nondenominational Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles.

Not all of the female-led communities have broken the mold in the same way. Thus, for example, Ikar and Nashuva, the two early innovators in the field, have taken somewhat different paths.

Levy, 52, describes Nashuva as “a spiritual outreach community” aimed squarely at Jews who feel disconnected from Jewish life. Nashuva operates on a shoestring budget, with a payroll consisting only of Levy and the members of its eight-piece band, and most of the year meets just twice a month — for Friday-night services at the Brentwood Presbyterian Church and on a Sunday for a community service event.

This is precisely as Levy wants it — she says she has no desire to open a religious school, expand her staff or institute any kind of membership model. Instead, Nashuva raises money only through voluntary contributions, including a suggested donation of $350 for the High Holidays.

A Kavana Cooperative neighborhood meet-up. (Courtesy of Kavana)

Although Nashuva remains nondenominational, Levy has retained close ties to the Conservative movement. A member of the first class of women admitted to the Jewish Theological Seminary’s rabbinic program, she served on the executive council of the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, and she travels regularly to speak at synagogues about how they incorporate some of Nashuva’s innovations into congregational life.

Ikar, by contrast, has expanded rapidly. Brous is now one of two full-time congregational rabbis, along with a permanent staff of 14, plus seasonal and teaching staff, and Ikar operates a preschool and religious school. It offers tiered membership plans and charges non-members for High Holidays tickets. (This reporter has been a member of Ikar since 2009.)

In certain ways, Ikar also has served as the mother ship of the rabbi-led spiritual community movement and helped create a mentoring network among several of the congregations.

When Nussbaum left her suburban Seattle congregation to start Kavanah, she sought out Brous for advice. And when Kushner decided to start The Kitchen, she spoke to Nussbaum and Brous. Heydemann, in turn, served as a rabbinic fellow under Brous at Ikar, and already had known Kushner at Stanford University while she was an undergraduate and Kushner was the Hillel rabbi.

Each of these communities, in turn, has developed its own distinctive shape and culture.

Kavana is based on a cooperative model in which members are expected to take an active volunteer role in helping to put together and run events, and are encouraged to attend at least one community event per month.

The Kitchen has embraced an experimental, start-up ethos. The founders partnered with a design firm, IDEO, to help think through not only a design aesthetic for the community’s materials (modern typefaces, no Judaica motifs), but also the service itself from the ground up. As befits its name (chosen to suggest an open, familiar place to experiment and try things out), The Kitchen has also made a point of partnering with trendy local restaurants for Shabbat meals.

Mishkan Chicago has established itself as a younger-skewing congregation particularly focused on singing and prayer.

Open Temple holding its family Rosh Hashanah service. (Jordan Teller)

Several of the communities are moving toward affiliating with one another in a more formal way.

In May, Brous, Kushner, Nussbaum and Heydemann — along with Romemu’s Ingber, Amichai Lau-Levie of Lab/Shul in Manhattan and Rabbi Scott Perlo (a former rabbinic intern at Ikar) from Sixth & I Historic Synagogue — met at the Leichtag Ranch north of San Diego to discuss ways to work together more closely and potentially articulate a common vision. The group’s participants, who jokingly call themselves the G7, said the discussions had not yet turned into anything concrete, but suggested that something more definite would be forthcoming in the coming weeks and months.

They all stressed that they were not looking to form any sort of movement.

The innovative communities and their rabbis are increasingly being cited as models for the Jewish future. Several were honored in the Slingshot Fund’s newly issued directory of innovative Jewish organizations, and Levy says she travels on a monthly basis to speak to synagogues about spiritual outreach and creativity.

How precisely these communities will evolve remains an open question. And in certain ways, they already have — adding new services as the congregations grow and as members’ needs and desires change. Kavana has created a Hebrew immersion preschool and religious school, and has added adult education programs as its cohort of older congregants grows. The Kitchen’s “Shabbatify” program organizes Shabbat dinners of 12 to 20 people in participants’ homes, and the community is in the process of opening a store to sell its self-designed prayer books and a Passover game.

But Myers, an Ikar member from its early days, says that as the communities grow and evolve, those that wish to survive in the long term will inevitably need to develop their institutional forms and find new ways to generate and harness energy.

Ikar celebrating Havdalah to close out Yom Kippur. (Courtesy of Ikar)

“Ironically, the way to marshal and galvanize that new energy is probably to get a building,” he said.

Indeed, Ikar for the past several years has been looking into buying or constructing its own building. That would represent a profound symbolic move from its early days.

“Ikar,” Myers says, “was the anti-building form of spiritual community.”

But ultimately, the rabbis argue, the measure of their success or failure has nothing to do with buildings, denominations or labels. Rather, staying true to their mission involves not differentiating themselves but staying relevant.

“I don’t think I’m re-creating Jewish world,” Kushner told JTA. “I’m doing my part for my generation. These ideas of trying to bring immediacy, relevancy, meaning — these are not brand new ideas. They’re ideas that every good rabbi struggles with.”

David Saperstein Wins Confirmation to Religious Freedom Post by 61-35 Senate Vote

Sun, 12/14/2014 - 09:12

The U.S. Senate approved Reform movement leader Rabbi David Saperstein as Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department.

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Learning To Wear Shlomo Carlebach's Vest

Sat, 12/13/2014 - 08:04

For Josh Nelson, playing Shlomo Carlebach in a production of ‘Soul Doctor’ has been a life-changing experience. He explains what it means to play a spiritual icon.

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Rabbi David Saperstein confirmed as Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 18:55

Today, the Senate voted to confirm Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center to the post of Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom. Since his nomination in late July, Rabbi Saperstein has continued to represent the Reform Jewish community, and celebrated 40 years of service in September.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued a statement in response, excerpted here: “There is no more lasting a legacy than what David has built: the Religious Action Center is a firmly established leader in Washington, D.C. pursuing justice, in our prophetic tradition, on a range of crucial public policies. It is the centerpiece of our Movement’s commitment to tikkun olam, and our dedication to moral advocacy and activism. As a Reform Jew and as a citizen: David, b’hatzlacha (good luck) and while we will miss your devotion, intelligence and passion – we know you will bring these same qualities to your government service.”

Rabbi Steve Fox, CEO of the Central Conference of American Rabbis concurred:

“Rabbi David Saperstein’s appointment is a tribute to him as a person and as a leading Reform Rabbi in the United States and throughout the world. In this new role, Rabbi Saperstein can be expected to amplify America’s voice forcefully on behalf of men, women, and children across the globe who face discrimination, degradation, and violence because of their religious beliefs and practices. While he will be sorely missed in our own institutional leadership, we are delighted that Rabbi Saperstein is Reform Judaism’s gift to those around the world who need him most.”

'Sephardic Vogue' Drives Revival of Spanish Jewry

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 16:52

While setting up a synagogue at the American naval base where she volunteers, Ahuvah (Amanda) Gipson made something of a bitter-sweet discovery.

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Met Council official steps down

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 14:12

NEW YORK (JTA) — The chief financial officer of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty has resigned after two years with the organization.

Melvin Zachter, a former partner at the accounting firm Loeb & Tropper who had been the Met Council’s CFO since 2012, stepped down in late November, the Forward reported.

The Met Council, which offers support for poor New Yorkers, is still recovering from a large embezzlement scandal that led to the arrest of its former executive director William Rapfogel in September 2013. Rapfogel, another former executive director, David Cohen, and former chief financial officer Herb Friedman all pled guilty to stealing more than $9 million in from the charity. In July, Rapfogel was sentenced to 3 1/3 to 10 years in prison.

Zachter’s resignation comes less than four months after the announcement that current Met Council CEO David Frankel will resign as soon as the organization finds a replacement for him. Frankel’s replacement has still not been named.

Hanukkah Reignited at Jewish Theological Seminary

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 13:01

Hanukkah, the Jewish eight-day festival of lights, begins next Tuesday night (December 16). It remembers the time long ago when Jews wanted to purify their reclaimed temple in Jerusalem by burning ritual oil. They only had enough oil for one day, but miraculously that small amount lasted for eight. Earlier this month, the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York assembled prominent scholars and others to explore new themes for the Hanukkah celebration.

The post Hanukkah Reignited at Jewish Theological Seminary appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

What makes Hanukkah great in America

Thu, 12/11/2014 - 18:17

The sights of Hanukkah, a special time for Jewish-Americans. (Shutterstock)

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (JTA) – As Hanukkah nears, let the grousing begin.

Too much is made of a holiday that Judaism ranks as a minor festival — one whose rite takes no more than five minutes to complete each night — some American Jews will say. Some will complain about the season’s excessive commercialism or materialism.

Yet most Jews will also participate in at least one of the many customs developed by American Jews to augment the holiday’s simple rite and express the enhanced place of Hanukkah, which this year falls on Dec. 16, on the American Jewish liturgical calendar.

In addition to exchanging gifts (or giving them to children), they will decorate their homes, eat fried foods, sing songs, listen to holiday music and attend one or more of the many holiday festivities held at Jewish community centers, synagogues, Jewish-themed museums and Jewish schools.

At these and other venues, they will join in more elaborate versions of the domestic customs. They will light holiday candles or watch them be kindled, sing more songs than they do at home, snack on potato pancakes or jelly donuts, chat with their friends and neighbors, watch or participate in amateur theatricals on the holiday’s theme — generally have a good time.

Beneath the lighthearted celebrating, however, more serious meanings are often conveyed through the holiday’s songs.

The word Hanukkah means dedication, and the holiday has always highlighted occasions when Jews overcame challenges to their continued religious commitment. Hanukkah commemorates the rededicating of the Jerusalem Temple in 165 BCE after a band of Jews led by the Maccabees retook it from the Syrians, who had conquered Judea.

Generations of Jews retold that story at Hanukkah and thanked God for helping their ancestors to prevail. American Jews found additional reasons to reaffirm their dedication at Hanukkah and often voiced those reasons in original songs.

Since 1842, American Jews have been singing Hanukkah songs that expressed the complicated experience of being Jewish in the United States. That year, a new hymnal for Congregation Beth Elohim in Charleston, S.C., included a special hymn for Hanukkah that reassured congregants that the God to whom they prayed forgave their sins and continued to stand by them. The hymn countered the energetic effort by local Christian evangelicals to convince them to worship Jesus.

Yet because it reassured Jews living anywhere in a largely Protestant America, the song appeared in hymnals used by both the Reform and Conservative movements as late as 1959.

In the 1890s, two American Reform rabbis, in New York City and Philadelphia, wrote a new English version of “Maoz Tsur,” a song that Jews have sung at Hanukkah since the 13th century. Titled “Rock of Ages,” the new song kept the melody of its predecessor, which thanked God for saving Jews in the past, but in its shortened version substituted a homey image of domesticity bright with lights and joy and promised a future that would see “tyrants disappearing.”

“Rock of Ages” offered Jews an emotional link to past traditions through its melody while reminding them of the tyranny currently besetting their coreligionists in Eastern Europe. As 2.3 million new Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe came to America over the next 30 years, the song grew popular. It became a fixture at American Hanukkah celebrations following the rise of Nazism in 1933, when the hope for a world free of tyranny seemed even more desperate.

Rewrites of older prayers or songs often appeared in the first half of the 20th century. One Hanukkah rewrite published during World War II offered a new version of an older prayer that described God’s saving power. The rewrite, offered in Hebrew as “Mi Yimalel?” and in English as “Who Can Retell?,” has a lively melody that fits its lyric, which aims to rouse Jews to act politically, militarily and philanthropically.

Although a “hero or sage” always came to the aid of needy Jews in the past, it says, the current problems facing Jewry require more. Now “all Israel must arise” and “redeem itself through deed and sacrifice.” The crises facing Jews during those years influenced the ideas and emotions that they expressed in this Hanukkah song.

The experience of unity and strength that is felt in group singing may have assuaged Jews’ fears during those decades of disorientation and anguish. Hanukkah provided an occasion for singing songs that voiced old and new hopes while building new communal alliances and bonds.

And that, perhaps, helps explain the broad and continuing appeal of Hanukkah for American Jews. Hanukkah allows Jews to join in the national merrymaking occasioned by Christmas, but also to rededicate ourselves to Judaism.

In homes, synagogues, museums, community centers and schools, it provides us with an occasion for gathering, singing, eating, lighting candles in the evenings of the shortest days of the year, exchanging gifts, voicing religious commitments and values, and enjoying being Jews.

(Dianne Ashton is the author of “Hanukkah in America: A History,” which was published last year by NYU Press, and a professor of religion studies at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J.)

Stabbed Chabad Rabbinic Student Improves

Thu, 12/11/2014 - 15:22

The condition of the Israeli rabbinical student who was stabbed at Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn was upgraded.

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Will Chabad Rethink Open Door Policy After 'I Will Kill Jews' Attack?

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 13:49

The large synagogue at the heart of the international Lubavitch movement, called 770 after its address on Eastern Parkway, is busy around the clock, with people coming and going to pray and study religious texts. No one was prepared for what happened late Monday night, when a visibly agitated man walked in, reportedly yelled “Kill the Jews!” and immediately stabbed a young student in the head.

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Sacred Partnership: Achieving the Right Balance in Your Congregation

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 10:00

Mazel tov! You’ve just been elected to your first term as a trustee on the temple board. Together with your fellow congregational lay leaders, you struggle with the challenges surrounding member engagement, finances, and sustainable growth. More often than not, a part of each board meeting centers around discussing various creative ideas that you hope will produce meaningful results.

One idea is to ask the rabbi to set aside 20 minutes a day – for however many days it takes – to call every household in the congregation. You and your board colleagues believe that the key to member engagement and giving is the rabbi, a beloved community leader. Through a connection with the rabbi, the thinking goes, members will feel more engaged, they will be more likely to be involved, and they will feel more compelled to give voluntary financial support when asked.

Another is to give the executive director a financial bonus if certain membership goals are met. The temple wants more members, and the executive director wants more salary, so it follows that such an incentive will be a “win-win” situation for all.

Indeed, both ideas are creative, and fully recognize that without strong, capable professional and lay leaders, the congregation will not grow.

However, by placing so much of the responsibility and reward for the success of your congregation on clergy and staff, the board disregards the concept of sacred partnership, which asserts that synagogues – and other Jewish non-profit, member based organizations – are most successful when lay leaders, professional staff, and clergy work together in the spirit of Jewish teachings and traditions to manage day-to-day operations.

Imagine two different membership scenarios:

In the first one, your temple’s membership grows and, as a result, the executive director receives a bonus. But then, the rabbi leaves suddenly, two board colleagues compete publicly for the presidency, dues are raised to fix a leaky roof, and, once again, membership numbers dip.

Should the executive director return the bonus? Should his or her pay be reduced? Of course not. Each of the factors contributing to both the synagogue’s growth – and then its decline – was beyond the control of the executive director and, in fact, beyond the control of any one individual.

In the second scenario, a parent decides to practice guitar in the lobby while he waits for his son in religious school. Hearing him play, another congregant brings her ukulele the next week and plays along with him. Soon, there’s an impromptu jam session at the temple every Thursday night. Word of this organic music fest spreads, and before long, the congregation has acquired not only a reputation for promoting community and music, but new members as well. In this instance, the congregation’s growth evolved in ways that no one person could have planned, and for which no one person can take credit.

If all responsibility and reward for membership growth fall to the executive director or the rabbi, the community-at-large is marginalized and its potential impact on membership is minimal. Although the executive director and the rabbi certainly play a critical role in fostering a welcoming Jewish environment, people join our communities because of many different people – the rabbi, the religious school director, the volunteer who answers the phones on Tuesday mornings, the guitar-playing guy in the lobby, the Saturday morning Torah study “regulars,” and you! Staff, clergy, volunteers, worshipers, seekers, leaders, and learners are all part of the community. Only when everyone works together in the spirit of sacred partnership, can we cultivate healthy, growing and successful congregations.

Mazel tov again on joining the leadership ranks of your congregation! May your work as a leader help forge stronger connections, deeper relationships, and robust growth for your congregation and community.

Polish Court Strikes Down Kosher Slaughter Ban

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 08:43

A Polish court ruled that the de-facto ban imposed last year on slaughter without stunning of animals, which includes kosher and halal ritual slaughter, is unconstitutional.

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What’s Jewish About These Laws?

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 06:00

By Rabbi Josh Weinberg

May it be Thy will, my God and the God of my fathers, to protect me against the impudent and against impudence, from bad men and bad companions, from severe sentences and severe plaintiffs, whether a son of the covenant or not.

– The personal prayer of Rabbi Y’hudah HaNasi, BT B’rachot 16b

I. Non-Orthodox Weddings in Israel

Last June, I officiated at a wedding in Israel for close friends, who were subsequently married in a civil union abroad in order to have their marriage recognized in Israel. A pending bill now in the Knesset calls for hundreds of rabbis and officiants like me to be jailed for such offenses. Jewish Home Member of Knesset Eli Ben-Dahan, the bill’s original author, rationalizes this unnerving legislation by explaining its purpose as ‘acting to aid those women who have been refused a get (certificate of divorce) by their husbands and for whom the rabbinate is unable to assist’. The stated goal is also to assist victims of other precarious matrimonial predicaments resulting specifically from outside-the-Rabbinate marriage authorities. (Currently, only the Orthodox Israeli Rabbinate can marry Jewish couples.) Many of us believe that this bill is an attempt to level a blow t0 the growing phenomenon of young Israeli couples who seek their own Jewish religious wedding ceremonies—Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, and the rabbis who accommodate them–threatening the Rabbinate’s control. While this bill is unlikely to pass in the Knesset, it joins a growing list of bills that are of grave concern.

II. The Jewish Nation-State Bill

This much-discussed bill, delayed in the Knesset, seeks to define the identity of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. This is not only superfluous, but seeks to place values of democracy and equality as secondary to those of Jewish nationality. The bill also attempts to establish Jewish law as a source of inspiration for the Knesset–which, in many instances, it already is in the Israeli Supreme Court. As the bill morphs from one version to another, we must watch closely.

III. Rounding up infiltrators or persecuting the strangers in our midst?

The original intent of the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law was to prevent the entry of Palestinian terrorists. The law was never lifted. The third amendment to this law, passed on January 10, 2012, and implemented in June 2013 expanded the definition of “infiltrator” to include Africans entering Israel through the border with Egypt. According to this amendment, infiltrators could be detained up to three years, and those from any country considered a “hostile enemy state” (including those fleeing genocide or oppressive regimes) could be detained indefinitely. A group of asylum seekers and human rights organizations brought charges against the state to the High Court of Justice in response to this amendment. In September 2013 the High Court of Justice voided Amendment 3, stating that the law “disproportionately limits the constitutional right to liberty determined in Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty” (High Court of Justice [Israel], 2013).

The volley between the Parliament and human rights organizations did not stop there. Parliament passed Amendment 4 in December 2013, which determined that “infiltrators” entering Israel after this date could be detained without trial for up to one year. After one year they would be transferred to Holot, an open-detention camp, and held until they could be deported–either as the result of an improvement in the political situation in their country of origin, or until they signed a ‘voluntary’ return agreement. The distinction between full detention and open camps is that those in open camps may leave the premises, but must return three times a day for roll call and must stay overnight in the facility, which is closed from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. In effect, this prevents detainees from working, since the punishment for failing to attend roll call is to be sent back to a full-detention camp. In addition to picking up asylum seekers at the border, the government began to round up asylum seekers who had entered before December 2013, and placing them in Holot, causing panic among the asylum-seeking community.

In September 2014 Amendment 4 was struck down by the High Court of Justice, ordering the closure of Holot and voiding the one-year mandatory detention period for new entrants. In the decision, Justice Fogelman stated:

Every person, by virtue of being a person, has the right to human dignity…and infiltrators are people. And that needs explanation, let’s say it explicitly: infiltrators do not lose one ounce of their right to human dignity just because they reached the country in this way or another.

The 5th Amendment—passed two days ago—reinstates Holot as an open-detention center, reduces confinement to 20 months (with an evening roll call), and prohibits detainees from working. There is evidence that Likud’s Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, and Knesset Interior Committee Chairwoman Miri Regev are working together to push the amendment through the Knesset before its impending dissolution. On October 26, 2014, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to approve a bill that would allow the Knesset to override rulings by the High Court of Justice. This is seen as a direct response to the High Court of Justice rulings on Amendments to the Prevention of Infiltration Bill. A day later, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice on behalf of 138 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who have been held in Holot for over two years, prior to the High Court’s rejection of the 3rd Amendment, which ordered the release of all detainees.

Earlier this week, outgoing Finance Minister Yair Lapid said, “We have to treat refugees from Darfur as Holocaust survivors.” In that case, let’s not lock them up. The bill, hastily put together before impending Knesset dissolution, passed a key Knesset committee on Monday, paving the way to be voted into law.

While attention will focus on the upcoming Israeli elections of March 17th, we must not ignore what is happening now. These issues touch on the foundation of what it means to have a Jewish State and a Jewish society. Of course we will have our own opportunity to vote and have our voices heard in Israel. This matters, and we must stand up and be counted.

Rabbi Joshua Weinberg is the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA).

Five Arrested For Threats to Attack French Synagogue

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 18:22

French police arrested five men suspected of making threats online to attack a synagogue.

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Security Beefed Up After Fatal Police Shooting of 'Kill the Jew' Attacker at Chabad

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 12:49

New York police fatally shot a man armed with a knife on Tuesday after he stabbed a rabbinical student from Israel in a Brooklyn synagogue, and authorities quickly stepped up security at Jewish houses of worship around the city, police said.

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Israeli student stabbed at Chabad’s N.Y. headquarters, assailant shot dead

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 07:45

(JTA) — An Israeli man studying for the rabbinate in New York was stabbed while praying at Chabad-Lubavitch world headquarters in Brooklyn.

Levi Rosenviat, 22, who lives in the West Bank’s Gush Etzion bloc of settlements, was stabbed at 1:45 a.m. Tuesday in the neck and elsewhere in the synagogue of the building located in the Crown Heights neighborhood, according to reports. Rosenviat is reported to be in stable condition at Kings County Hospital.

He arrived in New York two weeks ago, according to the New York Daily News.

His alleged assailant, Calvin Peters, 51, was shot in the stomach by police and later died in the hospital. He reportedly entered the Chabad building shouting “I will kill the Jew! I want to kill the Jew!” according to the Daily News.

Peters had entered the building an hour earlier saying he was looking for a book, another Israeli student told the newspaper.

Police and security guards reportedly flooded the building moments after the attack. Peters initially put down his knife, but then picked it back up again. Police ordered Peters to drop the knife and shot him when he did not comply. A video of the encounter was posted by the Israeli news website 0404.

Police reportedly are calling the incident criminal, not terror-related, though with elements of a hate crime.

A Chabad spokesman told Israeli media that homeless men sometimes enter the world headquarters, which is open 24 hours a day, in order to get warm.

How 'Aladdin' Became A Hanukkah Musical

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 06:00

Musical theater pantomimes are a well-loved Christmas tradition in England. Can Hanukkah pantos have similar success in Israel?

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Ralph Baer, Inventor of Video Game, Dies at 92

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 21:48

The man credited with inventing the first home video games, Ralph Baer, died on Saturday at age 92 at his home in Manchester, New Hampshire, a director at the Goodwin Funeral Home said on Monday.

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