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Updated: 1 hour 32 min ago

Israeli rabbi demanding apology after group prevented from singing at Auschwitz

Mon, 08/04/2014 - 11:09

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Israeli rabbi is demanding an apology from the administration of the Auschwitz memorial after he was detained while leading a group of Jewish teenagers.

Rabbi Rafi Ostroff said he was threatened with arrest if his group of Australian and South African boys did not stop singing Jewish songs while visiting the site.

Ostroff, the head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, was detained Friday and ordered to submit to 24 hours in jail or pay a $350 fine. He said he paid the fine since it was two hours before Shabbat.

The rabbi was leading a delegation from the Bnei Akiva youth group on a pilgrimage to the concentration camp.

Ostroff wrote on Facebook that “the guards of the camp hounded us all the time, shouting at us not to sing” as they prayed during the visit.

Ostroff said that in a “secluded part” of the Birkenau camp, the “boys spontaneously started singing ‘Ani Maamin.’ This was the song that prisoners sang on the way to be murdered there. A guard drove after us with his car and demanded that they be silent. I told him that I don’t have control over this as they are singing from their hearts. He then threatened to arrest me and called the police.”

The rabbi called on the memorial site guards to “be considerate and compassionate to Jewish groups. We are not visiting there out of curiosity. It is a journey to the depths of our souls.”

The memorial’s management told NRG, the website of the Maariv daily newspaper, that the behavior of the group was “disruptive” and “unacceptable.”

“The noise bothered instructors and other visitors who were there at the time. They also interfered with other visitors in sensitive places such as the crematorium building,” the camp administration said in a statement, according to NRG.

The management stressed that the incident was not related to the “Israeli origin” of the rabbi.

“There are different ways to remember,” its statement said, “but do not let that disturb others during their visit there.”

Malmo Rabbi Attacked as Anti-Semitism Surges

Mon, 08/04/2014 - 09:19

A rabbi from the Swedish city of Malmo was attacked by men who hurled objects at him from a car and used anti-Semitic pejoratives.

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Rabbi, congregant attacked in Malmo days after synagogue vandalized

Mon, 08/04/2014 - 07:28

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — A rabbi from the Swedish city of Malmo was attacked by men who hurled objects at him from a car and used anti-Semitic pejoratives.

Rabbi Shneur Kesselman was assaulted on Saturday night along with a member of his congregation, the Sydsvenskan daily reported Sunday.

The attack, which resulted in no physical injuries, came two days after the southern city’s main synagogue was vandalized, when unidentified individuals smashed three of the building’s windows by hurling objects at them.

The assault against Kesselman, who has been the subject of dozens of similar attacks in Malmo over the past decade, happened as he and congregant Hugo Klein were walking away from the synagogue at 9 p.m.

According to the Sydvenskan report, a car approached them with several men inside who called out “f***ing Jews” and hurled a glass bottle at Klein and Kesselman. The bottle shattered on a wall behind them.

Earlier that evening, a lighter was thrown at the men from a passing car.

Malmo, a city of 300,000, is home to a few hundred Jews. One-third of the city’s population are immigrants from Muslim countries or their descendants.

Dozens of anti-Semitic crimes are reported annually in Malmo. Last month, a man was beaten there for displaying an Israeli flag in his window.

On April 16, the district of Skane, where Malmo is located, declined the Jewish community’s request to increase the number of security cameras around Jewish buildings, according to Michael Gelvan, chairman of the Nordic Jewish Security Council, and Per-Erik Ebbestahl, director of safety and security in the City of Malmo.

The municipality supported the request, Ebbestahl said.

District officials did not reply to request for further information by JTA.

Muslims, police clash on Temple Mount

Mon, 08/04/2014 - 06:31

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Hundreds of Muslims wearing masks clashed with police on the Temple Mount.

The rioting began Monday morning when the site opened to Jewish and Christian visitors. The demonstrators threw rocks and firecrackers at officers, injuring at least five of them, according to reports.

The demonstrators retreated to the al-Aksa Mosque, where several were arrested, Ynet reported.

The site later opened to visitors.

The rioting occurred on the eve of Tisha b’Av, a 25-hour fast that marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of visitors visit the Western Wall during special prayer services for the day.

Meanwhile, overnight Sunday and early Monday morning, police arrested 12 people for rioting in eastern Jerusalem. Police said that some 430 Arabs have been arrested in the last month for rioting in the city.

Unanimous Vote on Iron Dome Funding Vital to Israel’s Security; Hamas Violation of Ceasefire Condemned

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 15:20

In response to the unanimous U.S. Senate vote authorizing emergency aid for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

The news this morning that Hamas violated the agreed upon 72 hour humanitarian cease fire, killed two IDF soldiers, and kidnapped Givati Brigade Officer Hadar Goldin is as outrageous as it is predictable. Our thoughts and prayers are with Officer Goldin and his family, as well as the families of the all the IDF soldiers who have been killed since the start of Operation Protective Edge. We also pray for all the innocents who have suffered throughout the past several weeks of warfare. It is tragic that Hamas’ unwillingness or inability to abide by the terms of the ceasefire to which it agreed has now led directly to renewed bloodshed.

The events of the last twelve hours make clear how vital U.S. support for Israel’s security has been and how critical it remains. That is especially true of the Iron Dome missile defense system, which has played an invaluable role supporting the safety of Israelis. For this reason, we welcome today’s Senate unanimous passage of legislation providing an additional $225 million for Iron Dome. Congressional action to replenish funding for Iron Dome is essential to helping protect Israeli civilians from the rockets Hamas continues to launch from Gaza and we urge the House to swiftly pass this measure.

Above all, we continue to pray for a just resolution to the conflict that so that Israelis and Palestinians alike may soon know lasting peace.

Leonard Bernstein sculpture unveiled at Tanglewood

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 11:55

LENOX, MASS. (JTA) – A bronze sculpture of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), one of the last century’s towering musical figures, was unveiled last week at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO).

The sculpture, by artist Penelope Jencks, is the second in a series planned depicting Tanglewood’s most iconic music figures, according to a statement issued by by the BSO. The first sculpture, also by Jencks, is of Aaron Copland, Bernstein’s teacher and mentor, who in 1940 recommended the young Bernstein for Serge Koussevitzky’s conducting class at Tanglewood.

Over the next 50 years, Bernstein, who went on to lead the New York Philharmonic, and later conducted around the world, frequently in Israel, became a highly-anticipated presence at the renowned music center, known for its pastoral scenery.

“Tanglewood has always been, and will continue to be, the spiritual home of Leonard Bernstein,” said composer and Academy Award winner John Williams, whose donation to the BSO is funding the sculpture series. A courtyard at the music center is named after Bernstein.

The themes of many of Bernstein’s scores, including his Kaddish Symphony and Chichester Psalms, reflected his Jewish roots. The son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrant parents, Bernstein wrote of the early musical influence of Solomon Braslavsky, the European-born and trained vocal director and organist at Boston’s Congregation Mishkan Tefila, the family’s synagogue.

Bernstein, who taught at Brandeis University from 1951 through 1956, launched the school’s Festival of Creative Arts in 1951 and served on the university’s Board of Trustees from 1976 to 81. He performed frequently in Israel, notably during the country’s founding years and during the 1967 Six-Day War. At age 70, Bernstein was named conductor laureate of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Bernstein was also a prolific composer for Broadway, with the musical “West Side Story” his most famous Broadway show.

Eric Cantor Quits Early After Primary Loss

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 10:45

U.S. Representative Eric Cantor said on Friday he will resign his seat effective Aug. 18, months earlier than expected following a stunning defeat in a Republican primary election.

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Indian Shul Wins Protection From Loan Sharks

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 09:05

Officials sought protection for a historic synagogue in the city of Cochin in western India and a nearby Jewish cemetery following the synagogue’s partial demolition.

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Will Rabbi David Saperstein’s Departure Mean Watershed Change at the RAC?

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 06:00

Rabbi David Saperstein is leaving the Religious Action Center to become America’s ambassador for international religious freedom. Can anyone fill his shoes?

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Rabbi David Saperstein Nominated to Key State Department Post

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 13:00

On Monday, President Obama announced his intent to nominate David to serve as U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. I wrote a letter to the Reform Jewish community about this:

I have long said that Rabbi David Saperstein is a national treasure. I am pleased and proud, but not surprised, that President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have now recognized that as well. It is a fitting role for someone whose life has been dedicated to championing religious liberty at home and abroad. I am confident that, when confirmed, David will represent the United States with the same devotion, intelligence, energy and passion with which he has represented our Movement for the last 40 years.

We – the Reform Movement, certainly, but so many others – owe such a debt to David. He has built the Religious Action Center (RAC) into not just a centerpiece of our Reform Jewish efforts, but also a center for all those who share a commitment to tikkun olam and to our historic Jewish prophetic mission. Under David’s leadership, the RAC has firmly established itself as a key leader on a broad range of issues, including religious liberty, reproductive rights, LGBT equality, disability rights, the environment, economic justice and, of course, international religious freedom.

Indeed, the issue of domestic and international religious freedom has been one of David’s areas of focus throughout his career. He is widely regarded as an expert in this field, having taught church-state law at Georgetown University Law Center for 25 years, long co-chaired the Coalition for Religious Liberty, participated actively in the multi-religious, bipartisan efforts that shaped the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, and was honored by being selected in 1999 as the first chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which was created by a unanimous act of Congress. As we witness the growing religious divides and conflicts around the world, and escalating instances of religious oppression, including the rise of anti-Semitism, it is reassuring to know that David will play a key role in addressing these issues at such a crucial time in world affairs.

David, of course will remain in charge of the RAC until he is confirmed by the Senate and sworn in.

There is no easy way of replacing David Saperstein.   Fortunately, one of David’s gifts has been developing a team at the RAC that is strong from top to bottom. In the near term, we will look to that superb staff – led by Deputy Director Rachel Laser and Commission on Social Action Director Barbara Weinstein – to drive the RAC’s essential work and to oversee daily operations. Rachel and Barb are both outstanding leaders, well known in Washington and respected throughout the Jewish community. The other members of the RAC’s Senior Staff, including Rabbi Michael Namath, Sandi Kleinman, Sean Thibault, Daphne Price, and indeed the entire RAC team, are similarly outstanding.

Given the importance of the RAC’s work, between when David is confirmed and I make final decisions about the RAC’s leadership structure, I will personally serve as Director of the RAC.   Rachel, Barbara and I know that we can continue to count on the advice of experienced URJ leaders: Jennifer Kaufman, Chair of the Commission on Social Action; Mark Pelavin, who serves as my Senior Advisor and who spent 15 years helping lead the RAC; and URJ Senior Vice President Rabbi Jonah Pesner with his long experience in the social justice arena. Since the RAC is a joint entity of the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, we also remain grateful for the ongoing support and guidance of the CCAR leadership.

As David goes from strength to strength, we will do everything we can to build on the tremendous foundation he has established at the RAC.

I’d also like to draw your attention to the Statement of Rabbis Rick Block and Steve Fox on behalf of the CCAR: “We congratulate our esteemed colleague, loyal CCAR member, and dear friend, David Saperstein, upon his nomination as U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. We are grateful for his extraordinary leadership, deep wisdom, and distinguished service over four decades, representing the URJ, CCAR, and our Movement, as Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. We are confident that, upon confirmation, David will be a brilliant, passionate, and effective advocate for religious freedom throughout the world. We pray that his efforts will be crowned with abundant success, fulfillment and blessing.”

'Jews Who Rock' Only Scratches Surface of Fame and Faith

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 06:00

‘Jews Who Rock’ is a new exhibit that takes a one-size-fits all approach to musicians who are members of the tribe. Too bad it barely scratches the surface of their relationships to Judaism.

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Palestinian Teen Charged in Firebombing of German Shul

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 15:54

A suspect has been arrested in an attempted arson attack on a German synagogue.

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8 Reasons Menachem Creditor Is Wrong To Be 'Done Apologizing' for Israel

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 08:08

Rabbi Menachem Creditor says he’s done apologizing for Israel. Jay Michaelson gives 8 reasons why it’s important to tell the truth about the Gaza war — even if it hurts.

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Planning for Third Temple With Help From Web

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 07:43

 An organization based in Jerusalem is working on a detailed architectural blueprint for the Third Jewish Temple on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount — and has turned to the internet for help with the controversial project.

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How Much Should Non-Members Pay for A Plot in Synagogue Cemetery?

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 06:00

Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery? One family’s dilemma raises questions about compassion —  and the economics of the modern shul.

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Sing Unto God, Sing a New Song! A Reflection from the Kutz Songleading Major

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 05:00

By Eva Turner

This summer at URJ’s Kutz Camp was the second year I chose the Songleading Major. Many people asked, “why do the same major again?” to which I always responded, “I need new music.” In truth, I decided to participate in songleading for a second time because I believe you can never learn everything and there is always room for improvement. And I was completely right. The most important lesson I’ve learned in my two years as a songleader I learned this past summer. That lesson is as follows: The most important part of songleading is education.

When our teachers Spike (Jacob Kraus) and Ryan Leszner first said that, it took a minute to sink in. Before that I believed that the most important thing in the songleading universe was to be a regional songleader. I realized I was wrong after I thought about what Spike and Ryan had said. The most important application of the skills and techniques that I had spent four weeks learning is to teach the next generation of committed Jews — to teach them how to pray, how to celebrate in song, and how to engage in the text of our heritage.

I remember taking a moment to center my thoughts before preparing a rebuttal for Spike and Ryan. Then it hit me. How have our customs, culture, and traditions survived for so long? How have stories been told? What is the single common thread that has connected us to Torah, prayer, and each other? Music.

As a songleader, my job is not just to lead and engage others, but to educate and pass on the thread of music l’dor vador, from generation to generation. This, in turn, made me realize that songleaders don’t only teach. In order to be the best songleader you can be, you must be open to learning — from others and yourself. I debated with myself over whether learning or teaching is more important, since it is hard to have one without the other. My thoughts circled around and back, and it took me a bit too long to realize that the idea of having one without the other is the point of the lesson.

On the last day of the session, as I stared out over a steam-covered Lake Rolyn, the yellow sun started to peek out from behind the blanket of trees in a grand entrance of pinks, purples, oranges, and blues, and it hit me square in the face. There isn’t a right answer. There is no right or wrong way to be a songleader. There are no strict guidelines or rules as to how to be the “best.” The “right way” is your own way. And, I think, it’s that way with anything you are passionate about. The only right way is your way. And as I watched the sun rise and the geese swim in their uniform V-shape, I knew I had learned what I was supposed to. I am songleading my own way and I couldn’t be more proud of where this discovery will take me!


Eva Turner is an active member of NFTY-Southwest and resides in Scottsdale, Arizona where she attends Temple Emanu-el. Eva is a two-time Kutz alum and a committed song leader for NFTY, the Reform Jewish Teen Movement.


Rabbi David Saperstein Named U.S. Religious Freedom Envoy

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 14:57

Rabbi David Saperstein will be named the next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, the first non-Christian to hold the job since it was created in 1998.

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Miami Beach Shul Hit With 'Hamas' Graffiti

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 14:39

A synagogue in North Miami Beach was vandalized with spray painted swastikas and the word “Hamas.”

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Synagogue, cars in North Miami vandalized with ‘Hamas’

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 12:02

(JTA) — A synagogue in North Miami Beach was vandalized with spray painted swastikas and the word “Hamas.”

The attack on Congregation Torah V’Emunah reportedly came early Monday morning, according to local reports.

The epithets were discovered slightly more than a day after cars owned by a Jewish family in Miami Beach were egged and smeared with cream cheese while the family attended Shabbat services at their local synagogue.

The vandals wrote “Jew” and “Hamas” on the back of the cars, parked in front of their home in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Miami Beach, according to the local CBS affiliate.

The family whose cars were attacked immigrated to the United States from Iran 25 years ago.

“Everyone was shocked,” said daughter Rachel Shakib.  “No one knew what was going on, we’re like this is America, this is Miami. Why would we be targeted here? We’re supposed to be safe, free from anti-Semitism.


Rabbi's Sex Abuse Talk to 9-Year-Old Girls Sends Savannah Into Turmoil

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 06:00

A Savannah rabbi made a serious lapse in judgment when he darkened the lights in a classroom of 9-year-old children and proceeded to talk to them about child sexual abuse. Now, the community is divided.

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