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Germany’s Stephan Kramer to run AJC’s new European Office on Anti-Semitism

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 16:20

BERLIN (JTA) — Stephan Kramer, a Jewish leader in Germany, was named director of the American Jewish Committee’s new European Office on Anti-Semitism.

Kramer, the general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany for 10 years, will head an initiative that aims to raise awareness about and help combat anti-Semitism. Concerns about the problem in Europe are particularly high now.

In a statement released Wednesday, AJC’s executive director, David Harris, said “the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe … demands an enhanced AJC response.” Harris lauded Kramer’s experience and vision, and
ability “to make a difference.”

Kramer told JTA, “It’s not just about complaining about the situation … about raising my eyebrows and pointing my finger. It’s about working together with local initiatives and implementing programs to fight anti-Semitism.”

He added, “There is not one country that does not have a problem with anti-Semitism, but this is also about fighting racism and other forms of stereotypes and xenophobia.”

 

Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ Letter to Delegates at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 13:09

Copies of this letter are being given to delegates at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly in Detroit, MI, who will be voting this week on several Israel-focused resolutions related to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). Tonight, Rabbi Rick Jacobs will address the assembly. His message: Vote for partnership and against divestment. Watch his address live this evening, starting around 7:25pm EDT.

Dear Friend,

As the president of America’s largest Jewish denomination, representing 1.5 million North American Jews, it is my honor to join you at your General Assembly.

I have come here to Detroit with an important message about strengthening our alliance. I look forward to discussing this matter with you in person, but it is of such heartfelt concern to me, and so many millions of American Jews, that I am taking the extra step to write you a detailed letter.

Like yours, our community yearns for peace and justice for all peoples. Like you, we pride ourselves on our social justice work and interfaith relations. Your creation-care and social service projects throughout the world are nothing short of exemplary. We have worked closely with your Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. for more than 50 years, and partnered with clergy from your churches in interfaith coalitions and dialogue programs. These collaborations are based on mutual respect and understanding – and, at their best, are grounded in the core rule of coalitional relationships. In order to have a friend, you must be a friend and seek common ground. That is especially true when a partner’s survival is at stake.

As you know, our love for Israel is paramount to our identity and our faith. We appreciate and share deeply your constant concern for the vulnerable across the globe, including in Palestine. It is a source of pain to us that you fail to show that same consistent, sensitive and passionate concern for our Israeli civilian brothers, sisters and children (Jewish and Arab alike) in your statements and actions. Israeli civilians also face genuine existential threats and are so often the target of violence and terrorism. This harsh reality betrayed itself just this week when three Jewish students were kidnapped by terrorists while walking home from school. And, rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas continue to cause fear in southern Israel.

I am proud to say that our Reform Movement has a long-standing policy of opposition to the Israeli settlements. We stand firmly on this—and for two states–and want to partner with you, but your support for BDS will make this much harder.

We firmly believe that our Zionism, exemplified in our support for the Jewish people’s liberation movement as realized in the state of Israel, should not come at the expense of the Palestinian people who deserve freedom and dignity, in an independent state.

Every day the occupation causes pain and hardship to too many Palestinians. Only two states for two peoples living side by side in peace will allow this tragic conflict to end, giving way to coexistence in this blood-soaked patch of land. We truly yearn for the day when the swords of all nations will melt into plough shares and when the lives of all the children of the region, of Iraq and Syria, of Palestine and Israel, marred by fear and hate, will be mended by tranquility and laughter.

Israel is an imperfect democracy, as is the United States. Israel is not immune from criticism, and we hold Israel to the same standards of justice and equality of all democratic nations. In order to bring about desired change, it is imperative that the actions taken help fulfill the goal at hand. If the desire is, as I believe it must be, two states for two peoples, these divestment moves are not the answer. That’s because, thus far, support for divestment from Israel has only proven to harden the positions of those who least desire justice for the Palestinians. The resolutions you will consider may be aimed at specific companies, but the headlines around the world will be “Presbyterians Endorse BDS,” and will further strengthen hardliners on both sides.

We are inspired by the poetry of the prophets, but we live in the prose of a daily struggle to create a better world through the difficult, sometimes relentless work of compromise. Indeed, compromise is a rare and precious commodity between the people of Israel and the people of a future state of Palestine, but it is essential and we must work hard to achieve it.

Much of the rhetoric and the materials produced for the Church around this debate have been profoundly troubling. In particular,I have been terribly saddened, even horrified, by the document Zionism Unsettled, which is being sold as a teaching guide on the Presbyterian Church USA website. It is one of the most biased and ahistorical documents I have read. There is no way to sugarcoat it: this document is a vicious attack on Judaism, the Jewish people and the state of Israel, negating the very theological legitimacy of the Jewish religion.

How should Jews react in the face of efforts to equate Israel or Zionism with apartheid? Comparing apartheid to the situation of Israel, a democracy that, with all its flaws, grants fundamental rights and due process to all its citizens is deeply troubling. In Israel, Arabs and Jews sit side by side in restaurants, are treated in the same hospitals by Arab and Jewish doctors and nurses, and study at the same universities in courses taught by Arab and Jewish professors. There is an Arab Christian Israeli, Justice Salim Joubran, serving on Israel’s Supreme Court. To compare the horror, brutality and pervasive systematic racism of apartheid that permeated every sphere of South African life with the ills of Israel’s policy is not only unfair to Israel, but also dilutes the horror of apartheid and demeans the struggle of those who heroically defeated it.

The terminology and imagery of apartheid and Nazism conveys that one side of an argument is so intrinsically evil, so illegitimate that it has no place in the discussion and its proponents have no place at the table. Such language suggests that the Jewish yearning for our own homeland is somehow theologically and morally abhorrent, denying Jews their own identity as a people. A sweeping indictment of Zionism amounts to a blanket condemnation of the vast majority of Jews in the world.

Over the past century, we Jews and Presbyterians have become more loving brothers and sisters, but we are at a crucial junction in our relationship. I pray that the decisions of this General Assembly will bring us closer, so that we, in the words of Isaiah, can be “restorers of the breach” that threatens to divide us from each other and from the backbreaking work God commands of us to shape a world of reason and justice, of compassion and peace.

I pray that God’s blessing will rest upon you and guide you in your challenging deliberations.

Shalom, Salaam, Peace,
Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Move To Ban Kosher Slaughter Really Not About the Animals

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 06:00

As a vegan, Jacob Ari Labendz would normally be in favor of moves to fight animal cruelty, like the push to outlaw ritual slaughter in Europe. But he sees something else at work.

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Move To Ban Kosher Slaughter Really Not About the Animals

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 06:00

As a vegan, Jacob Ari Labendz would normally be in favor of moves to fight animal cruelty, like the push to outlaw ritual slaughter in Europe. But he sees something else at work.

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The Secret Jewish History of Tupac Shakur

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 06:00

Tupac Shakur, who was gunned down in 1996, led a life of turmoil. But a new Broadway musical makes Seth Rogovoy wonder if the brilliant rapper was really just a nice Jewish boy.

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The Secret Jewish History of Tupac Shakur

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 06:00

Tupac Shakur, who was gunned down in 1996, led a life of turmoil. But a new Broadway musical makes Seth Rogovoy wonder if the brilliant rapper was really just a nice Jewish boy.

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Do I Really Have To Act All Jewish for His Mother?

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 06:00

Dressing modestly and reciting Jewish prayers isn’t for everyone. A woman asks the Seesaw about managing expectations at the Modern Orthodox home of her boyfriend’s mother.

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#BringBackOurBoys meets #BringBackOurGirls

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 17:56

Demonstrators rally outside the Israeli consulate in Manhattan to express solidarity with three Israeli teens who were abducted in the West Bank, June 16, 2014. (Miriam Moster/JTA)

Immediately after Monday’s #BringBackOurBoys rally at the Israeli consulate in New York on behalf of the three kidnapped Israeli teens, several participants joined a second rally nearby focused on another kidnapping on a different continent.

The second rally was outside the Nigerian consulate. It was for the more than 200 Nigerian girls whose mass abduction by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram spurred the viral hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, which in turn inspired the campaign on behalf of the abducted Israelis.

At the #BringBackOurBoys rally, the organizer, Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, led the crowd in a chant of “We are with you” in a bid of solidarity with the abducted teens and sang “Am Yisrael Chai” with the crowd.

Not long afterward, Weiss was two blocks away, speaking and singing at a #BringBackOurGirls rally on behalf of the Nigerian girls.

Jordan Soffer, a student of Weiss, had happened upon the Nigerian girls’ rally as he was leaving the Israeli boys’ one. He ran back to notify Weiss, who immediately headed to the Nigeria rally and was invited to speak.

The slogan #BringBackOurBoys has met with some criticism, with a blogger for the Forward arguing that it was wrong to appropriate the language used by those advocating on behalf of the still-captive Nigerian girls. But Weiss told JTA that the participants at the Nigeria rally embraced him.

As Weiss sang Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s “Leman Achai Veraai,” members of both groups put their arms around each other, Weiss said.

“Any missing child in any area of the world is the concern of every citizen of the world,” Ebbe Bassey Manczuk, who spoke at the Nigeria rally and does media work in New York for the #BringBackOurGirls effort, told JTA.

Speaking before the #BringBackOurGirls group, Weiss recalled, he highlighted the commonality of the experiences and losses of the two communities, noting that both had suffered at the hands of terrorists. He said he urged the two communities to stand up for one another.

“It was an experience. Wearing a tallit, I spoke about the commonality of godliness in all people,” Weiss told JTA. “I remarked that just as [President Obama] said ‘These girls are my daughters,’ he should also say, ‘These boys are my sons.’”

South African Rabbi Steps Down Over $4K Blackmail of Other Rabbi

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 16:01

A South African rabbi was jailed and resigned from his synagogue after attempting to blackmail another rabbi.

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S. African rabbi steps down following blackmail attempt on colleague

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 14:34

(JTA) — A South African rabbi was jailed and resigned from his synagogue after attempting to blackmail another rabbi.

Cape Town Rabbi Bryan Opert stepped down from the Milnerton Hebrew Congregation after trying to blackmail Rabbi Ruben Suiza, the longtime head of the city’s Sephardic community, Haaretz reported. Opert was jailed for 48 hours in a case that came to light in late April and was first covered in the Afrikaans-language newspaper Rapport.

Opert, who approached Suiza anonymously via emails to Suiza’s wife, threatened to make public that the rabbi had been consorting with prostitutes if Suiza did not pay 48,000 South African rands, approximately $4,430.

The charges against Opert, who also is the administrative head of conversions at the Union of Orthodox Synagogues, have been suspended in an agreement with the Suizas as they continue talks with the authorities, according to Haaretz.

In a letter to his congregation, Opert blamed his behavior on a struggle with depression.

Paul Simon Escapes Charges in Domestic Spat

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 14:24

Prosecutors have decided not to go forward with charges against Grammy Award-winning musicians Paul Simon and Edie Brickell after the couple had a fight in April at their Connecticut home, a court clerk said on Tuesday.

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Prayer Won't #BringBackOurBoys

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 06:00

The whole Jewish world is praying for the three kidnapped Israeli teens. Leah Bieler writes that such devotion risks taking the focus away from those who are really responsible.

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A Handful of Jewish Republicans Runs Far to the Right

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 06:00

Eric Cantor’s conservatism made him an anomaly among Jews. But a handful of GOP congressional candidates are breaking the mold even more — by embracing the Tea Party.

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The Evolution of the NFTY Chordster

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 05:00

By Rabbi Lisa Silverstein Tzur

In 1982, a rabbi placed a guitar in my arms, taught me four basic chords, and inspired by Hillel’s famous quote, declared, “With these four chords you can play any Jewish song. The rest is commentary. Go and learn it.” Indeed, in the 1980s, NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, continued to develop and deepen our connection to Judaism through creating and singing new Jewish songs. We learned, we taught, and we sang with enthusiasm and tremendous passion.

Song sessions were about creating sacred community. In the early 80s, microphones were frowned upon by those who felt that the use of electronic equipment would affect the relationship between leader and participant, turning the session into a performance-oriented event. Without the electronic boost, song leaders had to work a bit harder, but the result was the creation of sweet three-part harmonies and a strong emphasis on collective singing.

Pre-internet and long before the ability to digitally distribute, the ubiquitous orange cardboard-covered NFTY Chordster produced in 1981 was our musical bible. The chordster was based primarily on the first three NFTY albums produced in the 1970s, the compositions of Debbie Friedman z”l, and the music of Kol B’seder, with a spattering of other compositions from fledgling songwriters. Included in the NFTY Chordster were the transliterated words and chords to hundreds of songs from Israel and America that lent themselves to group singing and participatory prayer. In an attempt to recognize the ever-expanding repertoire of the movement, the volume was produced as a three-ringed notebook, designed to expand as repertoire emerged from the camps and from NFTYites. Indeed, every few years we produced a semi-official chordster supplement and these packets were shared informally around the movement. In the late 1980s, the chordsters were upgraded from cardboard to plastic covers, but the contents remained unchanged, beloved by songleaders and movement musicians.

In the 1980s, the final three NFTY albums came to fruition, adding a number of significant compositions, each with a distinct sound and production value. As a collection―three albums from the 70s and three from the 80s―it offered a great deal of material to instill into the movement.

In 1980, in celebration of forty years of NFTY, NFTY released “This is Very Good.” Subsequently, in 1984, “Hold Fast To Dreams” was released. Using understated instrumentation and production, with a strong focus on vocals, the songs were easily reproducible by the average songleader, and provided invaluable tools to musicians of all ages in the movement. Finally, in a grand celebration of NFTY at 50, the sixth and final official Songs NFTY Sings album “Fifty Years in the Making 1939-1989”arrived, combining remakes of older songs from previous NFTY recordings as well as new songs from the movement. The final album, with a heavier emphasis on production, became the bridge to the next series of NFTY recordings—the Ruach series. It is interesting to note that there was a significant decrease in the number of Israeli songs on these albums in the 1980s, as more American Jewish songwriters began to find their voices. We embraced writing in the vernacular, although the majority of our repertoire was still liturgy-based and sung in Hebrew.

When I look at the state of music in our movement today, we have much to celebrate. But there is no doubt that those NFTY albums created the foundation for our rich musical contributions.

In February of 2003, many of those involved with the production of those albums, and former NFTYites from the 1980s (i.e., old people with young hearts), gathered in Washington, D.C. for the URJ Youth Workers Convention. Quite unexpectedly, we found ourselves completely snowed in and unable to leave the hotel, nor could our scheduled speakers get to us in order to address the group. Poignantly, in 2003, only days before the convention, the collective Song NFTY Sings collection was released as a digitally remastered collection.

In a desperate attempt to entertain ourselves, an idea emerged. Could we sing through the albums from beginning to end without assistance from the actual recordings? We found a small room (which became even smaller as the number of participants grew) and appropriated guitars from the unsuspecting NFTYites in the next room. For hours, the space vibrated with the sweet sounds of NFTY, from the guitar introduction to “Al Shelosha Dvarim” until the final notes of “Shalom Rav.” With the exception of two songs that no one in the room could remember, we succeeded in our undertaking. Frankly, the emotion of being in a room with the song composers and producers―a good number of whom had recorded vocals―was overwhelming. We were surrounded by our teachers, our students, and generations of song leaders who were ultimately indebted to one another. Four hours later, exhausted and exhilarated, we left the crowded lounge feeling as if we had re-created history.

Every time I see the orange NFTY Chordster in my office, I think back to the rabbi who told me—‘. . . the rest is commentary.’ For so many of us, the music of NFTY is indeed the ikar—the principal tenet. May we continue to sing from our hearts and from our souls in celebration of NFTY’s sacred community.

Rabbi Lisa Silverstein Tzur was ordained from the HUC-JIR rabbinic program in 1997 and is a veteran songleader of four URJ camps (Kutz, Coleman, Greene and Jacobs), NFTY National Conventions, as well as for the summer NFTY in Israel programs. She currently serves as the chairperson of the URJ Kutz Camp

The Rebbe's Big Idea

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 21:08

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, was inarguably the most well-known rabbi since Moses Maimonides.

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Nachman Sudak, Chabad's Emissary in Britain, Dies at 78

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 17:50

Rabbi Nachman Sudak, the chief emissary for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in the United Kingdom, has died.

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Op-Ed: The Rebbe’s big idea

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 17:47

(Wikimedia Commons)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, was inarguably the most well-known rabbi since Moses Maimonides.

Hundreds of prominent rabbinic figures have lived in the intervening 800 years since Maimonides died. But how many can be named before an audience of Jews from the United States, Israel, France or the former Soviet Union — the four largest Jewish communities in the world today — and be so widely recognized, without the speaker needing to add several sentences explaining who the person was?

The Rebbe died 20 years ago this month, but he remains to this day well-known among Jews of all denominations. And beyond. Visitors to Morocco have long reported seeing two pictures hanging in Moroccan Jewish homes, one of the Moroccan king and one of the Rebbe. Just a few days ago, I saw a picture of the Rebbe in my local barbershop; the owner is from Uzbekistan.

But, of course, the Rebbe’s significance goes well beyond his name being widely known and his face being widely recognized. What matters far more is the influence he continues to exert. Several factors in particular account for the Rebbe’s extraordinary impact: first, his innovative ideas on how to reach Jews (later non-Jews as well), along with the army of emissaries he nurtured to carry out his ideas and his vision, eventually in well over a thousand cities.

In addition to his innovative campaigns to reach out both to communities and to individuals (such as through the tefillin campaign and the Shabbat candle-lighting campaign), perhaps the foremost idea the Rebbe preached was the love of every Jew. This idea may sound neither innovative nor revolutionary. After all, “Love your neighbor as yourself” — the basis of the Golden Rule — is the Torah’s most famous verse (Leviticus 19:18), and two of Judaism’s best-known rabbis, Hillel and Akiva, regarded it as Judaism’s most fundamental law.

With such emphasis on the centrality of love of neighbor, it would seem that interpersonal love was always a uniformly treasured and practiced part of Judaism. Only it wasn’t. The Talmud attributes the first-century Roman destruction of Judea and the Temple in Jerusalem, perhaps the greatest catastrophe in Jewish life prior to the Holocaust, to “sinat chinam,” causeless hatred, inside the Jewish community — a hatred that made it impossible for the Jews to unify and fight as one force against their Roman oppressors. Internal conflicts, often serious, have long characterized Jewish communal life.

The Rebbe intuited that while all Jews are familiar with the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself,” it seems that virtually everyone, even some otherwise very great figures, have reasons and rationales to justify why it doesn’t apply to those with whom they disagree.

The Rebbe therefore modeled a new pattern, one of non-judgmental love for all Jews. Some critics of Chabad suspected that this well-known predilection of the Rebbe was a tactic intended to augment financial support for the movement or to stimulate goodwill for Chabad. But they were wrong. This love represented what the Rebbe really felt.

Israel’s former chief rabbi, Israel Meir Lau, has recalled a meeting he had as a young man with the Rebbe. Lau proudly explained his involvement in “kiruv rechokim,” bringing back to Judaism lost Jews who had strayed far away. The Rebbe immediately corrected this inherently judgmental language: “We cannot label anyone as being ‘far.’ Who are we to determine who is far and who is near? They are all close to God.”

The belief in the brotherhood of all Jews, not just those who live like you, led to another remarkable innovation: the Rebbe’s willingness to send his followers out into the world. For the first time in Jewish history, a campaign was launched to reach every Jewish community and every Jew in the world.

The Lubavitch movement now has Chabad houses in 48 American states (only Mississippi and South Dakota are without permanent Chabad representation) and in some 80 countries, run by over 4,000 Chabad couples. The “shluchim” (emissaries), as these couples are known, go to countries as Jewishly remote as the Congo and Cambodia and to cities with small Jewish communities like Jackson Hole, Wyo. And, of course, there are the Chabad Passover seders, the most famous of which, in Kathmandu, drew 1,100 participants in 2012, the large majority of them young Israeli backpackers trekking through Nepal.

It is for this reasons such as this, I presume, that Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the immediate past president of the Union for Reform Judaism, referring, among other things, to Chabad’s outreach, once declared: “It is hard for me to say this but I will say it nonetheless: We must follow the example of Chabad.” It is the Rebbe’s legacy that today there are few leaders of any Jewish denomination who would disagree with this advice.

(Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of the new book “Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History.”)

Limmud FSU expanding to Australia, Canada

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 16:37

(JTA) — Limmud FSU, a Jewish educational conference aimed at Jews from the former Soviet Union, is expanding to Australia and Canada.

The organization will hold conferences to serve the sizable Russian-speaking Jewish communities in the two countries in October in Canada and in March in Australia, according to a statement issued Monday.

The expansion will be funded in large part by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a non-profit that raises money primarily from evangelical Christians to support Jewish activities around the world, according to the statement.

Russian-speaking Jews comprise nearly 25 percent of the 120,000 Jews living in Australia. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 70,000 Russian Jews live in Canada. Of those, 70 percent live in the greater Toronto area, according to Limmud.

Limmud FSU has held events in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Israel and the United States.

The expansion announcement was made over the weekend in Jerusalem at a Limmud FSU Global Leadership Summit.

Rabbi Nachman Sudak, head of Chabad U.K., dies

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 15:20

(JTA) — Rabbi Nachman Sudak, the chief emissary for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in the United Kingdom, has died.

Sudak died Sunday in London; he was 78.

Directed personally by the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to move to London in 1959, Sudak lived there for the rest of his life, according to Chabad.org, developing and overseeing a network of Chabad-led institutions throughout the country that now includes 11 campus centers, 25 Chabad houses and 14 schools.

“Rabbi Nachman Sudak guided the destiny of Chabad in Britain for more than 50 years, turning it from a marginal presence to one that affected tens of thousands of lives and changed the entire tone of Anglo-Jewry,” said Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

Sudak was born in the USSR band before immigrating with his family to British Mandate Palestine and then in 1954 to Brooklyn, according to Chabad. In 1959, he was married in London to Fradel Shemtov, whose father oversaw the Chabad network in the United Kingdom at the time.

In 2001, Queen Elizabeth conferred on Sudak the Order of the British Empire. Sudak, in turn, presented the queen with a mezuzah.

Sudak also served on the boards of several major governing bodies of Chabad, including its umbrella organization, Agudas Chassidei Chabad, and its educational arm.

Sudak is survived by his wife and nine children, including his son Rabbi Bentzi Suda, the chief executive of Chabad Lubavitch U.K.

2 Men Point 'Gun' at Police Guarding Paris Synagogue

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 09:41

Two men pointed what looked like firearms at police stationed outside a Paris synagogue in part of a weekend string of anti-Semitic incidents in and near the French capital.

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