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Chicago’s Innovative Approach to Engaging Young Families

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 09:54

by Nancy Manewith

It all began with an amazing meeting – a discussion, really – with Susan Zukrow, the URJ’s project director for the Chicago Early Engagement Leadership Initiative (CEELI). This new program, funded by the Crown Family Philanthropies and facilitated by the URJ, brings together 12 cross-denominational Jewish early childhood centers from the Chicago area to strengthen their work of engaging young children and their families through program excellence, while building and sustaining meaningful relationships. Though not an educator herself, Susan painstakingly took the time to learn the history and workings of the Chicago Metro area’s Jewish early childhood community, in order to lead this groundbreaking early engagement leadership initiative.

From the moment I met Susan, I was determined that the Board of Jewish Education Early Childhood Centers (BJE-ECC), where I serve as director of preschools, should be part of this exciting adventure. I knew that participation in the cohort would introduce us to the latest in educational, technological, and Judaic ideas within the early childhood and business worlds, and would thus foster our mission statement: “to stay at the cutting edge of early childhood developmental practice.” I sensed that by building relationships with other Jewish educators, we could research together as partners. This would further our desire to learn, adapt our school, and stay current and progressive, all while meeting the needs of our children and their families.

As part of the CEELI cohort, we at BJE-ECC have now begun an inspiring journey that encompasses our entire professional staff and will benefit the families in our four schools, as well as the entire young Jewish community. Since our acceptance into the CEELI program, our leadership group – consisting of our assistant director, a board member and myself – has thrown itself into studying who we are, where we’re going, and who is on this journey with us. We’ve formulated and thoroughly discussed school goals, and created an action plan to take us forward. This is a two-year journey that will stimulate our thinking and help our school and community to grow.

In October, our broader collaborative work began when the total CEELI cohort gathered at Chicago Sinai Congregation. Our afternoon began with a tour of their early childhood center and was followed by a dynamic workshop by Pam Gassel of the Chicago Tribune Media Group on building relationships and viewing them as the core of our success. Of course, it wasn’t a new topic: Every educator and participant in the room had discussed the meaning of relationships at some point beforehand, in some workshop or meeting. For me, though, it was a new, fresh chance to rethink my definition of relationships and how to enter into them in the context of my work as an educator. Each piece of the workshop had value, but what struck me as most impressive was the overall sense of working together with educated, experienced, and motivated people. I left feeling moved and inspired.

The BJE-ECC has a working group of professional study groups. Each staff member sits on two different groups, working on areas important to their professional growth. One of our most recent groups is focused on working with parents. How did we begin? With a discussion about relationships: what they are, why they matter, and who are the parents our community serves. It was exciting for me to cite what I learned from Pam Gassel and my CEELI colleagues, including Pam’s stories about working with “customers,” how to personalize our encounters, and how to truly listen to others.

All of these topics were so relevant to our BJE-ECC discussion on building relationships with our peers and parents – and I know that in our future BJE-ECC meetings, what I learn from my work with the CEELI cohort will continue to add fuel to our discussions.

Each of us strives to make our classrooms, congregations, and professional lives a success, and we seek innovative means to help us to achieve this goal. Joining CEELI has added a dimension to my thinking, forcing me to dig deeper. It has permitted me to help young Jewish families engage in our Jewish community – and it has allowed me to think about how we can better our total Jewish early childhood community.

Nancy Manewith is the director of preschools at the Board of Jewish Education of Metropolitan Chicago (BJE-ECC). Nancy joined the staff in 1983 and has served as a teacher, as on-site coordinator at one of the largest centers, and as assistant director overseeing all four centers. In 2002, Nancy became director of the four facilities that comprise the BJE Early Childhood Centers. With a leadership team from BJE-ECC, Nancy is currently participating in the URJ’s Chicago Early Engagement Leadership Initiative (CEELI), which brings together 12 cross-denominational Jewish Early Childhood Centers from the Chicago area.

Non-Jews Play Growing Role in American Synagogues, Researcher Says

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 06:55

Non-Jews have assumed prominent roles in American Conservative and Reform synagogues, in some cases accounting for a large share of congregation membership.

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Rabbis on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 05:00

With scandals mushrooming, Jay Michaelson wonders if Rabbi Barry Freundel was such an exception. He asks: Are we stressing out our rabbis to the breaking point?

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Republican Jewish Coalition opens Chicago office

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 16:59

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Republican Jewish Coalition opened its sixth office, in Chicago.

The office, which opened Monday, is headed by Jeremy Wynes, formerly the Midwest political director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and represents the RJC in eight states.

The RJC recently campaigned heavily for Robert Dold, the former congressman who earlier this month unseated Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) in the Chicago area’s 10th District. Two years earlier, Schneider had unseated Dold in the heavily Jewish district.

Jews nationwide voted 2-1 for Democrats in last week’s elections, following similar results in 2010 and 2012 — down from the 3-1 and 4-1 ratios of elections in the 1990s and 2000s.

Saying there are “significant differences” between Republicans and Democrats on issues including support for Israel, Wynes said, “It is important for Jewish Republicans to speak out and be heard by elected officials and by the Jewish community on these issues.”

In addition to its national office in Washington, the RJC has regional offices in California, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.

Abe Foxman Slams Sheldon Adelson for 'Disturbing' Remark on Israel Democracy

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 16:18

Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman slammed casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson for his “disturbing” dismissal of democracy in Israel.

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Op-Ed: Voyeurism is a form of sexual assault

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 15:14

Sexual assault encompasses a range of unwanted sexual behaviors, including voyeurism. (Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — With all the conversations surrounding the allegations against my congregation’s former rabbi, Barry Freundel, no one is saying what desperately needs to be said — that voyeurism is sexual assault and that eliminating sexual assault in our communities should be the direction of our next steps.

In emails, blogs and articles, the reaction to allegations that Freundel installed hidden cameras in order to view women in the mikvah has focused repeatedly on the specific location of the crime, the importance of making mikvahs safer and the abuse of rabbinic authority. But deciding to change who controls the mikvah is a narrow perspective on the wider issue of violence against women, and addressing this as an isolated incident would be a mistake. Although considering policies to make our religious spaces safer is certainly worthwhile, it is important that we recognize voyeurism as a form of sexual assault, with its own place on the spectrum of violence against women.

Sexual assault is often thought to be synonymous with rape. But according to the National Institute of Justice, sexual assault encompasses a range of unwanted sexual behaviors, including voyeurism. Whether the perpetrator is peeping through a window, hiding video cameras in locker rooms, posting illegally obtained intimate photographs or forwarding explicit private photographs intended for one viewer only, he is committing sexual assault.

The true nature of the crime is masked by the use of the word “voyeurism,” which makes it seem as if there were no victim. This is an issue of substance and not merely semantics.

Think about it. When a robbery occurs, there is a victim — someone is robbed. When a murder occurs, someone is killed. But voyeurism? Someone is “voyeured”? It’s as if there is no victim, only a perpetrator. The victim is the object — the thing that is watched. But women are not objects. This is not a victimless crime. And that’s the point.

Women know, whether consciously or not, that voyeurism is part of the continuum of violence against women, a continuum with catcalling on the less severe end and violent rape on the most severe end. Hypersexualization and objectification of women devalues women. When we see women as objects — when we dehumanize women — we enable violence.

With this understanding, our response to a high school student who forwards explicit pictures of his girlfriend to his teammates should not be “boys will be boys.” Nor should we dismiss concerns about websites that publish private, naked photos of celebrities as “the cost of fame.” Actress Jennifer Lawrence named it correctly when hackers stole and posted her images online. This wasn’t about theft or pirating; this was a “sex crime.”

Only when we place voyeurism in the mikvah in this larger context — not as a one off, but as one more example of what is becoming normalized behavior in our society — can we ask and begin to find answers to how to end gender-based violence.

To accomplish this, I suggest that we start by asking three questions in each of our communities:

* Does the environment allow all community members, even and especially the most vulnerable, to feel respected and valued?

* Is there a way for any individual who feels devalued to communicate that safely to the leadership, and is the communication taken seriously?

* Are checks and balances in place to assure that authority figures (both clergy and lay leaders) are held accountable for their words, their time and their actions?

Let’s use this opportunity to minimize the possibility of sexual assault, and then let’s turn to questions about rabbinic authority and women.

(Deborah Rosenbloom is a member of Kesher Israel and vice president of programs and new initiatives for Jewish Women International, a Jewish organization working to end violence against women and girls.)

Nicki Minaj’s Nazi-esque video

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 13:58

The Holocaust is a sensitive subject.  Some people, however — like rapper and songwriter Nicki Minaj — still don’t seem to get it.

Minaj’s new music video for her song “Only” is coming under fire for seemingly glorifying Nazism and appropriating Nazi imagery. In it, the New York-raised star is re-imagined as a powerful Hitler-like dictator, marching through scores of deferential soldiers outfitted in black uniforms and red armbands. It’s shot mostly in black and white, evoking the style of Nazi propaganda films, and the only color comes from red banners with a black “YM” insignia (representing Minaj’s label, Young Money) imposed over a white circle. Similarities to banners bearing swastikas are not in the least bit subtle.

The video has already sparked enormous backlash, ranging from fans on Twitter to the Anti-Defamation League, which is “deeply disturbed.”

“Nicki Minaj’s new video disturbingly evokes Third Reich propaganda and constitutes a new low for pop culture’s exploitation of Nazi symbolism,” the ADL wrote in a press release.

If the video was meant to stoke controversy, Minaj and video director Jeff Osborne are well on their way to a smashing success. As an artistic statement, however, the whole things is rather unintelligible. The song itself is essentially an elongated exercise in braggadocio, where each guest artist (including Chris Brown, Drake and Lil Wayne) imagines what it would be like to sleep with Minaj while detailing his sexual prowess and preferences.  (Minaj reciprocates.) The only time when the video seems to correspond with the lyrics is when singer Chris Brown croons, “Raise every bottle and cup in the sky/Sparks in the air like the fourth of July” over the image of  war missile exploding and sending sparks and rubble into the air.

What’s clear is that the performers are no longer content in their celebrity status. Rather, they wish to usher in a new era, where rappers are also military dictators, or something like that.

(Warning: This video contains explicit language.)

Court upholds ruling for Northwestern U. in Chabad discrimination suit

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 09:04

(JTA) — Northwestern University did not discriminate against a local Chabad house when it cut ties with the religious institution, a federal appeals court ruled.

On Thursday, U.S. Court of Appeals Circuit Judge Richard Posner in Chicago upheld the dismissal of a September 2012 lawsuit alleging that the university had severed relations with the Tannenbaum Chabad House in Evanston, Ill., and its director, Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, for anti-Semitic and religious reasons.

Northwestern had cut ties with the Tannenbaum Chabad House that month following reports that the rabbi had served underage students wine and hard alcohol.

In its lawsuit, Tannenbaum Chabad claimed that the university disaffiliated with it while campus fraternities and sororities also were guilty of underage drinking.

“As far as we’ve been able to determine, plying minors with hard liquor is not required by any Jewish religious observance,” Posner said in his decision, pointing out that alcohol was served regularly to underage students while under Chabad House auspices and that Klein drank with them.

Posner also said Klein was warned repeatedly but did not react.

Rabbi Meir Moscowitz, the director of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois, told the Northwestern Daily that he was disappointed by the ruling and was mulling any further action.

“Rabbi Klein followed Northwestern’s rules and despite that was singled out by the university,” Moscowitz told the Northwestern Daily. “Rabbi Klein remains steadfastly committed to serving the students and faculty of Northwestern University, as he has for close to three decades.”

Klein and Chabad can ask for another hearing before the full panel of appeals court judges. If unsuccessful there, they can take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alan Cubbage, Northwestern’s vice president for university relations, said in a statement that the university is “pleased” with the decision. He said the university has affiliations with several other religious centers on or near the campus, including the Fiedler Hillel Center.

The Chabad House continues to operate in Evanston with Klein as its director.

Dutch Chief Rabbi Says Men Sped Car at Him

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 08:39

Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs filed a complaint with police against two men whom he said tried to intimidate him at a gas station.

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Motorists threaten Dutch chief rabbi

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 08:09

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs filed a complaint with police against two men whom he said tried to intimidate him at a gas station.

Jacobs, chief rabbi of the Interprovincial Rabbinate for The Netherlands, filed the complaint last week after two men on Nov. 5 drove a BMW car in his direction in a sudden manner that Jacobs said was meant to intimidate him.

“I was putting in fuel and noticed two men, who had a Middle Eastern appearance, watching me from their car nearby,” Jacobs told JTA. “When I walked past their car to pay, they started the car and lunged in my direction, laughing. It was clear that they had waited to do this with the intention of at least scaring me, if not worse.”

Jacobs dresses in haredi Orthodox garb, making him identifiable as Jewish.

Jacobs’ home was targeted several times in recent years by individuals who threw stones at its windows. The last attack happened during Israel’s conflict this summer with Hamas in Gaza and prompted police to install security cameras around Jacobs’ home, located 30 miles east of Amsterdam.

“The current government is very clear in speaking against anti-Semitism and this is a good thing,” Jacobs said. “And while panic over anti-Semitism is not called for, we must recognize that there is growing anti-Semitism and report each incident because this is how we can combat the phenomenon.”

Reform Movement Increases Youth Engagement in Pennsylvania

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 06:34
Amanda Wachstein is New Regional Director of Youth Engagement for NFTY Pennsylvania Area Region

Reform Movement Increases Youth Engagement in Pennsylvania

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 06:34
Amanda Wachstein is New Regional Director of Youth Engagement for NFTY Pennsylvania Area Region

Could This Be Year of the Jewish Woman?

Sun, 11/09/2014 - 17:00

For the first time, women are the majority on our annual list of American Jews. They made history as rabbis and mothers, authors and activists. And we threw in a few important men, too.

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From the Archive: Temple Mount’s cycle of violence

Sun, 11/09/2014 - 16:10

Muslims seen at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on their way to pray on the second day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, June 30, 2014. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)

Jews call it the Temple Mount, and Muslims the Noble Sanctuary. But this heavily guarded piece of Jerusalem real estate — site of Judaism’s First and Second Temples, two of Islam’s holiest mosques and, according to many, Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son, Isaac — has a volatile history to say the least.

In recent weeks, violence and tension in eastern Jerusalem has spurred the Israeli government to temporarily close the area or restrict it to people over the age of 50. And on Oct. 29, Rabbi Yehuda Glick – an activist seeking the Jewish right to pray at the Temple Mount – was shot outside a Jerusalem conference center.

It’s hardly the first time the Temple Mount has played center stage in the ongoing saga that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since the Six-Day War of 1967, when Israel wrested control of the area (as well as the rest of Jerusalem and the West Bank) from Jordan, the Temple Mount has been the setting (and trigger) for numerous violent incidents.

Glick, who is showing signs of improvement (his suspected assailant was later killed), is hardly the first Jew to push for Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount. Attempts began within days after Israel took control of the site, after the government decided to leave management in the hands of the Muslim Wakf while allowing free visitation access to people of all faiths, including Jews.

Sign at entrance to Temple Mount circa 1978 (Wikimedia Commons)

To avoid provoking Muslims, Israel’s leaders specifically forbade Jews from publicly praying there, a policy that dovetailed nicely with the fact that it was already forbidden by Jewish religious law. The religious prohibition, which Israel’s chief rabbinate announced in 1967 and has reaffirmed, is to prevent Jews from inadvertently stepping over the “Holy of Holies,” where the Ark of the Covenant was said to be stored in the First Temple.

In the first few years after 1967, Jewish efforts to pray at the mount — despite being illegal — were generally civil affairs that were broken up by police with little resistance. The tide began to shift in 1976 when eight members of a French Zionist group called Betar were charged with disturbing the public order by praying together at the Temple Mount. In Jerusalem’s Magistrate’s Court, Magistrate Ruth Or acquitted the youth, but her decision, which challenged the 1967 status quo, sparked “stormy protests” in which dozens of Arab students were arrested for throwing stones at police.

The magistrate’s decision would soon be overruled, but Jewish efforts to pray at the mount continued — and continued to enrage Muslims. In 1979, after rumors spread that supporters of Rabbi Meir Kahane (the infamous founder of the ultra-right Jewish Defense League and the now-outlawed Kach party) would attempt to pray on the Temple Mount, some 2,000 Arabs gathered with “staves, rocks and iron bars” and hurled stones at yeshiva students.

The situation spiraled downward. On April 11, 1982, Alan Harry Goodman, a 38-year-old American bachelor and recent Israeli immigrant went on a shooting spree at the Temple Mount, killing two and injuring dozens. In court, Goodman claimed to be the “messiah” and pleaded insanity. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

In the early morning of Oct. 8, 1990 some 3,000 Palestinians gathered at the site after rumors spread that the Temple Mount Faithful, a group promoting Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount, was planning a major event there. Many began throwing stones, and Israeli police officers responded by firing live ammunition into the crowds, killing at least 17 and wounding over 100 others. The event badly hurt Israel’s international image and did nothing — to say the least — to quell the intifada that was raging.

A decade later, when Likud party leader Ariel Sharon toured the site with a party delegation and a large number of riot police, many Palestinians and left-wing Israelis saw it as a deliberate provocation, the spark that ignited the second intifada.

This past Friday, Israel’s chief Sephardic rabbi urged Jews to steer clear of the Temple Mount in order to prevent bloodshed.

If history is any indicator, it likely won’t be the last time such pleas are made. Or ignored.

Venezuela To Give 1,000 Palestinians Free University Education

Sun, 11/09/2014 - 08:30

At least 1,000 Palestinians will receive a free university education in Venezuela.

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Free To Be You and Me and Jonathan Lethem

Sat, 11/08/2014 - 05:00

Who knew that a musical about the friendship between a Jewish kid and the son of a soul singer in Brooklyn could deal with race, class and culture in a meaningful way?

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Beth Din of America Adds First Female to Board

Fri, 11/07/2014 - 15:52

One of the the preeminent rabbinic courts of North America is set to add its first female board member.

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Op-Ed: Kristallnacht’s lessons for today

Fri, 11/07/2014 - 15:44

In the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, pro-Palestinian rioters broke shop windows and set fires on July 20, 2014. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Each year on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, we recall the opening salvo of the violent assault on Jews that foreshadowed the Holocaust and ask ourselves what should have been done at that moment.

In thinking about Kristallnacht, we should also consider the outpouring of violence against Jewish communities in Europe this summer and draw the right lessons for today. It is rightly said that the Holocaust began not with gas chambers but with words. The significance of Kristallnacht in the history of the Holocaust is the passage from anti-Jewish legislation and anti-Semitic rhetoric to violence against Jews. And therein lies the lesson for today.

To be clear, in today’s democratic Europe, there is no risk of a new Holocaust. Invoking such a possibility obscures rather than illuminates the serious situation of European Jewry. Comparisons to Kristallnacht, however, are apt.

This summer in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe, we saw anti-Semitic rhetoric followed by assaults on Jews and attacks on synagogues, Jewish-owned shops and other Jewish institutions. The differences with Kristallnacht are stark and significant, but the similarities cannot be ignored. Not on this anniversary — not at a time of great insecurity among Jewish communities in Europe.

Two synagogues in Paris were attacked during anti-Israel demonstrations this summer. In one case, 200 Jews were trapped inside while a mob armed with bats tried to invade the synagogue. Roger Cukierman, the head of the French Jewish community, made the connection explicit: “We’ve never seen anything like that. It resembled Kristallnacht in 1938 in Germany.”

And in Germany, where people chanted “Jews to the gas” at anti-Israel rallies and where Molotov cocktails were thrown at synagogues, Dieter Graumann, the president of the Central Council of Jews of Germany said, “These are the worst times since the Nazi era.”

The British Jewish community’s security agency, CST, said that July had the highest number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in any one month since it began keeping records three decades ago. The highly esteemed former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, hardly an alarmist, wrote at Yom Kippur that the Jewish community suffers “a degree of apprehension I have not known in my lifetime. Anti-Semitism has returned to Europe within living memory of the Holocaust.”

European Jews were terrorized by Kristallnacht, and among elements of society on the continent today they are being terrorized again by anti-Semitic hatred especially, but not only, linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The terror is not from one night but from an accumulation of incidents over the past years.

During the Israeli military’s Operation Protective Edge this summer, and during Operation Cast Lead in 2009, ADL reported on anti-Semitic incidents and rhetoric around the world related to the Israel-Hamas wars. We saw incitement to violence, demonization of Jews and Israel, blood libels and other anti-Semitic vitriol. Too often these words led to assaults and vandalism.

Those attacks have caused vast numbers of European Jews to no longer feel free to live openly as Jews. The European Union’s human rights agency surveyed eight major Jewish communities in Europe in 2012 and found widespread insecurity. One in five Jews had been the victim of an anti-Semitic insult, harassment or assault, and one in three worried about being physically attacked over the next 12 months. Two out of five Jews always or frequently avoided wearing a kippah or Star of David in public.

Anti-Semitism never left the continent, but its recent transformation from rhetoric to violence, including murders at a Jewish school in Toulouse and the Jewish museum in Brussels, has caused a sea change in the confidence of Jewish communities across Europe. Most European political leaders have condemned the anti-Semitic incidents in their countries, but the indifference among the public is shocking and dismaying.

If the hatred espoused and acted out by the anti-Semites and the apathy of European citizens overtake the efforts of the well-intentioned political leaders, European Jewish communities will have a dim future: communal self-segregation, individual withdrawal from Jewish communal life or emigration.

“Never again” stands. There will not be another Holocaust. But Kristallnacht is another story. Let us learn its lessons, not to avoid another Holocaust but to avoid a different disaster — the slow terrorization of Europe’s Jews into permanent fear, faced with the awful choice of abandoning their identity or fleeing.

(Abraham H. Foxman is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor.)

Europe Jews Come to U.S. To Learn Security Best Practices

Fri, 11/07/2014 - 12:40

Attempts to ramp up security at synagogues, day schools, museums and community centers from Paris to Copenhagen have been stymied both by a lingering distrust of the police among some communities and by law enforcement’s reluctance to single out any ethnic minority for special treatment .

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Fri, 11/07/2014 - 12:01

“You had people watching synagogues burn. You had people looting business that had been plundered. You had people joining in on the violence,” says historian Victoria Barnett, who directs the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust.

The post Kristallnacht appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.