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Taking a Stand Against Anti-Muslim Hate Online

Fri, 05/16/2014 - 14:00

Last week, Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy and educational organization dedicated to civil rights for Americans of all faiths, released a report called “Click Here to End Hate: Anti-Muslim Bigotry Online & How to Take Action.”  The report exposes the amount of anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred towards American Muslims online, and explains the laws and policies that regulate content online.  In addition, the report gives readers the tools to effectively respond to hate online.  You can view the report in its entirety here.

As Jews, we know the importance of standing up for the right of everyone to be free from bigotry and injustice. Online hate is never acceptable and we stand firm in our support of our Muslim friends and neighbors, online and offline.  The Torah teaches: “You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart…Love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:17-18).

To learn more about the Religious Action Center’s work on interreligious affairs and interfaith issues, visit the RAC’s issue page on Interfaith Affairs.  You can also learn more about the Reform Movement’s education materials and programs about Muslim-Jewish dialogue here.

Canada To Extradite Suspected Synagogue Arsonist to France

Fri, 05/16/2014 - 08:16

A Canadian court upheld a ruling ordering the extradition of an Ottawa professor to France, where he is suspected of taking part in a 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue that killed four people.

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Top 5 Highlights of the URJ Board Leadership Mission to Israel

Wed, 05/14/2014 - 14:57

Earlier this month, I joined URJ president Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Director of Israel Engagement Rabbi Yehudit Werchow, and nearly 50 URJ leaders for an incredible four days in Israel on the URJ Board Leadership Mission. It was a working visit, and it’s difficult to boil down such an intense trip into five highlights moments, but here goes:

  1. Spending Shabbat in Israel is always meaningful, but on this trip, we could truly feel the impact of the Reform Movement. Friday night we attended services at IMPJ communities across the country, and during a Shabbat lunch with HUC-JIR students. Meeting dynamic, indigenous leaders we experience the strength of the Reform Movement in Israel – and could see it is growing stronger.
  1. Throughout the trip, Israeli leaders affirmed the importance of Reform Judaism. It was clear through our meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, and Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit that the Reform Movement is taken seriously and greatly respected in the halls of government in Israel.

  1. It was incredibly important for us to see the connection between the North American Reform Movement and our brothers and sisters in the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. Our conversations with IMPJ leadership at Beit Daniel, IMPJ Director Rabbi Gilad Kariv, and IRAC Director Anat Hoffman were deep and thoughtful. We discussed new ways to work together to advance progressive Judaism across our communities.
  1. We discussed the peace process with leaders across the political spectrum. We also had critical conversations in Ramallah with business leaders Azzam Shawwa and Huda El Jack, as well settlement leaders in Gush Etzion like Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. It seemed that no matter where we went, everyone with whom we met had the same goal: to bring about a smart and lasting peace.
  1. As we stood together – men and women – at the Kotel for a Rosh Chodesh celebration with Anat Hoffman and the Women of the Wall, we were reminded of the need to keep fighting for religious pluralism in Israel. We have made great strides together, but we still have much work to do.

All in all, it was an affirmation that ahavat Yisrael – the love of Israel – is a central pillar of Reform Judaism.

See more photos of the URJ Board mission to Israel in our photo album on Facebook. 

Touro University Worldwide Launches the "Save Now"...

Wed, 05/14/2014 - 08:50

Opportunity Aimed at Making Higher Education More Affordable and Accessible for New Students Seeking Select Online Degree Programs

(PRWeb April 15, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/04/prweb11763914.htm

The state of Israel in America (Part 1 of 3)

Wed, 05/14/2014 - 05:00

By Rabbi Josh Weinberg

My heart is in the East
by Yehuda HaLevy (Toledo, Spain  1085 – 1140)
My heart is in the East, and I am at the ends of the West;
How can I taste what I eat and how could it be pleasing to me?
How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet
Zion lies beneath the fetter of Edom, and I am in the chains of Arabia?
It would be easy for me to leave all the bounty of Spain –
As it is precious for me to behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary.

In 1815, Mordecai Manuel Noah was removed from his position as American Ambassador to Tunis by then Secretary of State James Monroe, citing Noah’s religion as “an obstacle to the exercise of [his] Consular function.” In 1825, with little support from even his fellow Jews, and as a precursor to modern Zionism, Noah tried to found a Jewish “refuge” or sovereign entity at Grand Island in the Niagara River. It was to be called “Ararat,” after Mount Ararat, the Biblical resting place of Noah’s Ark (all narcissism aside). He purchased land for $4.38 per acre to be used as a refuge for Jews of all nations. A cornerstone was placed there, which read, “Ararat, a City of Refuge for the Jews, founded by Mordecai M. Noah in the Month of Tishri, 5586 (September, 1825) and in the Fiftieth Year of American Independence.”

Needless to say, Noah’s radical reactionary vision never took and we are all left to wonder ‘what if…’? Sadly, this precursor to the Territorialist camp of political Zionism never made it onto the short list of other ideas floated for Jewish sovereignty, including Argentina, Madagascar, Birobidzhan, and Uganda. Noah’s pipe dream of founding a Jewish State near Niagara never came to fruition, and the Jews of [North] America pledge allegiance to either her majesty’s branch (in the North) or to any one of the 50 United States of America. Just a century and a quarter after Noah’s failed attempt at Jewish political sovereignty, the family of nations was blessed with a Jewish State.

Fast forward 66 years. The United States houses the second largest Jewish community in the world. Many of its members do not aggressively seek to live in a Jewish society. Even more Jews find their connection to the Jewish State a source of controversy and divisiveness. Some have taken the extreme measure of sidelining and silencing all debate and discussion on Israel in order to stave off any potential uncomfortable confrontation, while others search for new and creative ways to engage, educate, and advocate for Israel.

The fact of the matter is that when living in the United States (or anywhere outside Israel), one is not faced with having to constantly think about and contemplate the issues facing the Jewish State. However, for a loud and present group, one’s stance on Israel and its issues serves as a litmus test for belonging to and remaining an active member of the Jewish community. Let us take, as a case study, the recent vote for J Street’s admission into the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. The secret ballot has now been outed and we know who voted and how. My thoughts on this are that we, as Zionists, need to do all that we can to include those who care about Israel – not alienate them. It occurs to me that we should all worry far less about how others engage with Israel, and confront the more daunting issue of the great masses of American Jewry who simply don’t engage at all.

This is a precious moment and an unparalleled opportunity to step up and be proud that we have diverse opinions (as we always have), and to say that part of being a Reform Jew is to care deeply and passionately about what happens in the Jewish State. Perspective never hurts either, and we must take into consideration that few Israelis have heard of this past fortnight’s vote, and don’t really put all that much stock into what appears to be much ado about nothing.

In terms of Israel activity on our side of the pond, I think that many Israelis are asking the following questions: Do American Jews care about us here in Israel? Are all American Jews going to come on aliyah to Israel or are they at least wrestling with the idea (even though when all is said and done they may not)? Do we [Israelis] have anything to gain by viewing the American Jewish community as more than one large ATM? What would it look like to separate religion from State, and what if our existential threats were slightly diminished, allowing us to worry about other matters?

While some of the answers to these questions are complicated and some are straightforward, Zionism, right now, has to be about getting our two heads (Israel and North America) onto one body and working together. While I look up from Haaretz or YNet sometimes, I gaze dreamily, wishing that Manuel Noah had been successful, saving us all a lot of tsuris (troubles, suffering). Then I hum a few bars of Ehud Manor’s classic “Ein Li Eretz Acheret” (I have no Other Country), and realize that despite what some of the classical Reformers believed, America is not the Promised Land. It is upon us to be thoughtful Zionists, engaged and willing to put in some work so that we can firmly state that the Jewish State is for us and all Jews.

To be continued…

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

Rabbi, 3 Others Indicted in $12.4 million Theft of N.Y. Special Ed Funds

Tue, 05/13/2014 - 18:19

Rabbi Samuel Hiller, 56, of Far Rockaway in the borough of Queens, was indicted on grand larceny and other charges, according to a news release issued Tuesday by Queens County District Attorney Richard Brown.

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Women Move Towards Approval as First Israel Kosher Supervisors

Tue, 05/13/2014 - 09:37

In a step that further expands the opportunities for women to serve as recognized authorities in Jewish law, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate for the first time is allowing women to serve as kosher supervisors.

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Holocaust Education Center Opens in Elie Wiesel's Romanian Hometown

Tue, 05/13/2014 - 08:01

A Holocaust education center will open in the childhood home of Nobel Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in the Romanian town of Sighet.

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Holocaust Education Center Opens in Elie Wiesel's Romanian Hometown

Tue, 05/13/2014 - 08:01

A Holocaust education center will open in the childhood home of Nobel Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in the Romanian town of Sighet.

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Holocaust Education Center Opens in Elie Wiesel's Romanian Hometown

Tue, 05/13/2014 - 08:01

A Holocaust education center will open in the childhood home of Nobel Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in the Romanian town of Sighet.

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Holocaust education center to open in Elie Wiesel’s childhood home

Tue, 05/13/2014 - 05:24

(JTA) — A Holocaust education center will open in the childhood home of Nobel Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in the Romanian town of Sighet.

The “Holocaust Cellar” is scheduled to open on May 18, as part of the Holocaust museum located in Wiesel’s pre-World War II home, which sits in the old Jewish Ghetto of Sighet in Maramures County.

The learning center will be dedicated to the 13,000 local Holocaust victims.

The opening is sponsored by the Government of Romania, the City of Sighet, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the Romanian Jewish Federation and Limmud FSU and is the first in a series of events to mark 70 years since the expulsion of the last Jews of northern Transylvania to Auschwitz.

“I am honored and deeply moved that my cherished home in Sighet has become a place Romanians and others can learn about the crimes of the Holocaust, and how the Jewish community was wiped out,” Wiesel said in a statement. “The opening of the Holocaust Cellar supports my life’s efforts to ensure that humanity never forgets the evil that took place there and throughout Europe.”

In 1944, the Jews of Maramures County in northern Transylvania were rounded up and forced into 13 ghettos. Eventually, 131,639 Jews from Marmures County were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and most were exterminated. Between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were murdered or died during the Holocaust in Romania and the territories under its control. An additional 135,000 Romanian Jews living under Hungarian control in Northern Transylvania also died during the Holocaust, as did some 5,000 Romanian Jews in other countries.


Attend the Teva Seminar on Jewish Environmentalism!

Mon, 05/12/2014 - 14:00

Are you interested in heightening your synagogue’s efforts in greening and environmentalism? Do you want to learn more and acquire the necessary skills and tools to educate your congregation about recycling, conserving energy and gardening? Mark your calendar and register for…

The Teva Seminar on Jewish Outdoor, Food and Environmental Education
June 9-13 at the
Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center

The Teva Seminar is the premier annual professional development opportunity in the field of JOFEE: Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education. Now in its 20th year, this four-day, hands-on training program is designed for educators, camp counselors, community leaders, and anyone who is seeking training in the emerging field of Jewish experiential, environmental education. Participation in the Teva Seminar will help you enhance your work in this field, whether you are a looking to build a garden and gardening curriculum in your congregation or heightened your community’s environmental advocacy efforts.

  • Learn to infuse environmental activities and programming into camp, Hebrew school or your synagogue’s Green Team;
  • Build skills in teaching about environmentalism from a Jewish prospective;
  • Learn to lead hikes and outdoor games within a Jewish context; and
  • Take home resources and learn about organizations leading in the field of Jewish environmentalism.

Interested in boosting your environmental advocacy efforts, but not sure how? Come to a session taught by me, Sophie Golomb, Legislative Assistant at the RAC, about integrating environmental advocacy into your current Jewish communities’ programming and becoming an effective advocate. In this session, we will explore the importance of being a strong Jewish voice for the environment and practice advocating for public policy that reflects our values in the areas of climate change, energy and clean air. Join me to learn more!

The Teva Seminar is a program of Hazon, Adamah and the Jewish Farm School, and in partnership with the Green Hevra.

Register today! Visit the Teva Seminar page or contact me for more information.

Cruel and Unusual Punishment? Not on Our Watch

Mon, 05/12/2014 - 14:00

By Rabbi Yair Robinson

Clayton Lockett went to his death knowing it was inevitable, an act of vengeance for the brutal murder of Stephanie Neiman in 1999.He had no final words before they filled his bloodstream with poison. Nothing to say about how they shot and buried Stephanie alive, nothing to say to her family, or his, or the media.

But he did speak. To alert the officials that he wasn’t unconscious. To writhe and groan in pain as the poison, rather than sending him off to a relatively painless death, one theoretically free of unnecessary cruelty. To cause the prison officials to lower the blinds from the viewing gallery so they couldn’t see his final moments.

There has been much ink spilled over the secrecy and lack of transparency involved in Clayton Lockett’s execution, over technical issues surrounding the drug cocktail used, over whether there is better technology “out there” that would allow us to maintain the canard of a painless, effortless death penalty that washes our hands clean.

These are good questions, not because they will lead us to a better execution methodology, but because it forces us to confront the reality of the death penalty. It is expensive. It is unjust. It runs contrary to our values as a civilized country, and as Jews.   As Charlie Arnowitz pointed out in his blog post, Oklahoma essentially tortured Lockett to death. True, the death penalty is present in Torah and the Talmud, but always as a tool of last resort, frequently disavowed or marginalized by the rabbis, with as many opportunities to commute or overturn the sentence as possible. The Reform Movement especially has opposed the death penalty for many years, and with good reason; while it may slake our thirst for vengeance, it does nothing to restore justice, fails to act as a deterrent or bring healing to a broken family.

Is our desire for retribution enough reason to risk cruel and inhuman torture? There are those, I’m sure, who feel that Lockett got what he deserved, and are quick to point out that his death was merciful compared to the suffering Neiman experienced. Without a doubt, his crime is beyond comprehension, but the horrific murder of a woman, and the sadistic behavior by the perpetrator, do not give us license to slide into brutality. And it especially doesn’t give us permission to hide or mislead the public about whether the punishment is cruel and unusual or not. We must be better than that.

Many states are considering death penalty limitations or abolitions, including Delaware. Lockett’s death provides an opportunity to ask tough questions and look at our choices in the execution of justice. Leviticus 19 compels us to not stand on the blood of our neighbor; may this be the catalyst for such change in our justice system.

Rabbi Yair Robinson is the senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Emeth in Wilmington, DE and a Brickner Fellow with the Religious Action Center.

4 Top Rabbis Scoop Katz Award

Mon, 05/12/2014 - 12:54

Four leading rabbis will be honored for their work in applying halachah, or Jewish law, to modern life.

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Sol Adler, fired head of 92nd St. Y, hangs himself

Mon, 05/12/2014 - 09:43

(JTA) — Sol Adler, the longtime executive director of New York’s 92nd Street Y who was fired after revelations that he had a long-term affair with his assistant, hanged himself.

Adler’s body was discovered by his wife in their Brooklyn home on Friday, the New York Post reported Sunday.

His suspected suicide came two weeks after the 92Y announced that it had hired Henry Timms, the Y’s deputy executive director, to succeed Adler. Timms had served as interim director since Adler’s firing last July.

Adler was executive director of the Y since 1988; he had started working there in 1978.

He reportedly had an extramarital affair with Catherine Marto, the Manhattan Jewish cultural center’s liaison for board and donor relations.

Marto also was fired after the Y deemed that she provided unsatisfactory answers to an investigation of her son-in-law, Sal Taddeo, a former Y employee who allegedly received kickbacks from Y vendors while working there.


French Chief Rabbi Accused of $120K Orthodox Divorce Shakedown

Mon, 05/12/2014 - 07:26

French Chief Rabbi Michel Gugenheim denied allegations that he had helped extort $120,000 from a woman who needed his signature to get a religious divorce.

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Rabbis honored for applying Jewish law to modern life

Mon, 05/12/2014 - 07:19

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Four eminent rabbis will be honored for their work in applying halachah, or Jewish law, to modern life.

The Katz Award 2014 recipients were announced Sunday.

They are Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Britain; Rabbi Zvi (Herschel) Schachter, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva University; Rabbi Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg, the rosh yeshiva of the Hasidic Yeshiva of Sadigura and the Jerusalem College of Technology, as well as the co-author of the Rabbinical Council of America’s prenuptial agreement; and the late Rabbi Yehoshua Yeshaya Neuwirth, a rabbinic scholar who authored Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchatah, the authoritative work on the laws of Shabbat and Yom Tov.

A committee chaired by Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, a former chief rabbi of Israel, and made up of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and Hebrew University President Menahem Ben-Sasson, selected the winners.

The awards will be presented at a ceremony in Jerusalem on May 27.

The Katz Award was established in 1975 by Marcos and Adina Katz of Mexico and is awarded to individuals and enterprises engaged in the application of halachah — Jewish law in modern life — in the creation of written work and practical applications.

Previous recipients include the late Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Menachem Elon, Nahum Rakover and Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Bar Ilan.


Interim chief rabbi of France denies extortion charges

Mon, 05/12/2014 - 06:17

(JTA) — An interim chief rabbi of France denied allegations that he helped extort $120,000 from a woman who needed his signature to obtain a religious divorce.

The family of the 28-year-old woman, who was not identified, filed a deposition March 18 with the allegation against Rabbi Michel Gugenheim and two members of his rabbinical court at a Paris police station, the L’Express weekly reported last week.

The family had made a secret video recording of their appearance earlier in the day at a Paris rabbinical court presided over by Gugenheim, one of two interim chief rabbis of France, L’Express reported. In the recording, Gugenheim endorsed the ex-husband’s demand that the woman pay him a little over $40,000, according to L’Express, and was heard saying, “This is the price of her freedom.”

One rabbinical judge, or dayan, asked the woman’s family to write a check for $120,000 as a donation to the Sinai religious institution, explaining that the French tax authority would reimburse 66 percent of the donation in keeping with Sinai’s charity status, L’Express reported.

According to the arrangement, Sinai would transfer 30,000 euros, or $41,310, to the husband and keep the remaining amount.

Contacted by L’Express, Gugenheim denied any wrongdoing but, citing confidentiality obligations, declined to elaborate.

“My only error was to not recognize the excessive and provocative attitude of this family. This is a ruse to undermine the Paris Beth Din,” he said, referring to his rabbinical court.

The woman received her get, or religious divorce, but her family threatened to file a criminal complaint for extortion against the rabbinical judges and the ex-husband, and submit the video recording as evidence unless the check was returned, according to L’Express.

But the woman’s brother was quoted as telling L’Express, “Michel Gugenheim authorized this. He favors this extortion of funds.”

Gugenheim, who is also the chief rabbi of Paris, and Olivier Kaufmann have been sharing the duties of the country’s chief rabbi since April 2013, when Rabbi Gilles Bernheim resigned amid revelations that he had used an academic title that he did not really possess.


Maryland Teens Arrested for Anti-Semitic Messages

Sun, 05/11/2014 - 19:20

Two Maryland teens were arrested and charged with painting anti-Semitic messages on a synagogue, a home and buses.

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Sol Adler, Disgraced Former Head of 92nd Street Y, Commits Suicide

Sun, 05/11/2014 - 17:46

Sol Adler, the disgraced former executive director of the 92nd Street Y, has hanged himself in his Brooklyn home — two years after the organization’s corruption scandal.

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