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Tears and Calls for Peace at Overland Park Service

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 13:45

The scene of what authorities say was a hate crime just days ago became the setting for tears, prayers and calls for peace as religious leaders gathered at a Kansas Jewish community center for a memorial service in honor of three people shot dead on Sunday.

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"Save America Gathering" and "One Church // One...

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:17

The organizers of "555 Days of Prayer to Save America" and the approaching, September 11, 2014 "Great Wave Offering" are asking the participants in the 555-day-long prayer...

(PRWeb March 26, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/03/prweb11697727.htm

URJ Books and Music Releases the Ultimate Debbie Friedman Anthology

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 11:39

URJ Books and Music is proud to release the ultimate anthology of the musical works of Debbie Friedman, z”l (1951 – 2011). Regarded as one of the most influential Jewish singer-songwriters in history, Debbie is known for her timeless Jewish folk music, filled with peaceful and universal messages, which have been adopted by Jewish congregations and summer camps around the world. Now, for the first time, that music has been gathered together in one definitive, comprehensive collection – Debbie’s original works, preserved just as she created them.

Sing Unto God: The Debbie Friedman Anthology is a tribute to Debbie’s life and music, featuring every song she wrote and recorded (plus more than 30 songs previously unavailable) in lead sheet format, with complete lyrics, melody line, guitar chords, Hebrew lyrics, transliteration, and English translation. This incredible collection of more than 215 songs was meticulously edited by composer and publisher Joel N. Eglash, formerly managing director of Transcontinental Music Publications and URJ Press, with assistance from Debbie’s sister Cheryl Friedman and other family, friends, and lifelong colleagues. The book includes more than 400 pages of music, photographs, biographical information, memories of Debbie, and tributes to her legacy.

Says Rabbi Daniel Freelander, URJ senior vice president and a close friend of Debbie’s,

Part of the Jewish revolution of the late 1960′s and 70′s was a return to Hebrew as the primary language of Jewish singing. But Debbie’s unique contribution was the courage to blend Hebrew and English in the same song, using spiritually clear and poetic English to bring meaning to a Hebrew text or concept. Debbie’s reclamation of the vernacular to express our deepest aspirations was a tipping point in contemporary Jewish music, a profound change that has created the sound and substance of American Judaism today. My life – our lives – have been spiritually enriched by her contributions, which will continue to bless as future generations sing her songs.

Debbie once stated, “My work is my joy. It is what drives me and keeps me alive.” This collection is Debbie’s final gift to song leaders, cantors, choir directors, musicians – all who breathe new life into her music, keeping her legacy alive as they “sing unto God.”

Learn more about the anthology in this press release from the URJ and order the anthology now from URJ Books and Music.

Temple Mount Closed as Passover Violence Flares

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 08:20

Israeli riot police entered one of Jerusalem’s most revered and politically sensitive religious compounds on Wednesday to disperse rock-throwing Palestinians opposed to any Jewish attempts to pray there.

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Temple Mount closed to Jewish visitors following Arab rioting

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 06:54

The Temple Mount was closed to Jewish visitors on the second day of Passover following rioting at the site by dozens of Arab youth.

The Arab youth, many wearing masks, threw rocks and firecrackers at Israeli security forces on the Temple Mount Wednesday morning, shortly after it opened for Jewish visitors. Many Jewish visitors come to visit the site, which is holy to both Muslims and Jews, during the Passover holiday.

Israeli security forces used stun grenades to quell the rioting, according to police. The French news agency AFP reported that the security forces also used rubber-coated bullets, which wounded dozens of Palestinian rioters. It also reported that many Palestinian rioters remained in the Al Aksa Mosque for fear of arrest.

Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said early Wednesday afternoon that no police forces remained on the Temple Mount.

Temple Mount closed to visitors after disturbances this morning. Situation calm again. Police units not on Temple Mount

— Micky Rosenfeld (@MickyRosenfeld) April 16, 2014

Arab protesters also threw rocks at police officers in an alley in the Old City of Jerusalem, with one policeman being injured. Rosenfeld said police were assessing security in the area.

Police assessing security in the old city, Jerusalem. Units in and around area to prevent any further disturbances throughout the day

— Micky Rosenfeld (@MickyRosenfeld) April 16, 2014

The Temple Mount also had been closed to visitors on Sunday due to Arab rioting and violence against Israeli security forces.

On Monday, police prevented five Jewish Israeli activists from performing a live animal sacrifice at the site to commemorate Passover.

"Save America Gathering" Planning Participation in 11/11/14...

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 05:35

The organizers of "555 days of Prayer to Save America" are eager to join with the California -based planners of the upcoming solemn assembly, in Anaheim, on November 11, 2014. Today marks...

(PRWeb March 23, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/03/prweb11693060.htm

“We Must Live for Today; We Must Build for Tomorrow”: Social Action in NFTY

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 05:00

By Sophie Foxman

The concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) was introduced into Judaism in the early rabbinic period. It was introduced to me — and has shaped my life in astonishing ways since then — when I entered NFTY.

Growing up, I idealistically believed I could do anything and help everyone, a concept understood by my friends, counselors, and others at URJ Camp George, where I spent my summers.  That’s where the seeds of my desire to be part of something bigger than myself initially were planted.

Those seeds blossomed during many summers at Camp George.  By the time I was in high school, I was nearly bursting with a desire to inspire change. The only thing missing was a place where I felt comfortable enough to speak my mind. I desperately needed a community that shared my commitment to and excitement about tikkun olam.

Lucky for me, one of my best friends from Camp George reached out to me with a line I will never forget:  “Hey Sophie, you should come to NFTY.  Trust me, you’ll love it!”

To say that line was an understatement would be one itself. I dove headfirst into the NFTY community, learning, growing, and being guided by the same principles that I had been trying to incorporate into my own life.

Among NFTY’s 13 principles, three in particular stood out to me.  The first two, tikkun olam and kehilah (community) were right up my alley!  What could be better than a community dedicated to repairing the world?   The third principle that excited me was tikkun middot, which emphasizes the importance of creating an environment in which individuals can improve themselves, as well as meet and exceed their potential as Jews and citizens.

Only when saw someone with the title of Social Action Vice President at my first NFTY regional event did I realize the potential of this amazing organization. Through meaningful programming, exciting fundraisers and hands-on community service, NFTY was able to help me shift my mindset from “Wow, I want to make a difference” to “Wow, I can make a difference.”

Feeling so empowered led me to explore NFTY’s social action history.

Through my research, I learned that NFTY has always been at the forefront in supporting human rights and justice for all, and that our work in this area is inspired by the teaching in Genesis that all people are created b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God).  NFTY was at the March on Washington, supporting Martin Luther King Jr. in his quest for equality and civil rights. NFTY also supported Ethiopian Jews making aliyah to Israel by establishing Project REAP (Reform Movement’s Ethiopian Jewry Assistance Program).  NFTY always has been — and will continue to be — a beacon of hope, help, and understanding for those in the world who struggle for equality, for freedom, for survival.  Knowing how much of NFTY’s rich history is immersed in social action, I was thrilled to be a part of this active youth movement.

In Genesis 3:9, God asks Adam and Eve, “Ayeka?” (“Where are you?”)

Heinini!” (“Here I am.”) Adam replies.

This simple interaction encapsulates NFTY.

Where are we?

Here we are, moving forward to change the world.

Inspired by the work of NFTY and the confidence it gives its members, I decided to run for Social Action Vice President of the Northeast Lakes Region. When my peers elected me, I had yet another shift in perspective when I realized, “Wow, I am making a difference.”

Singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman, z”l, in her song “And the Youth Shall See Visions,” wrote these lyrics: “We must live for today; we must build for tomorrow.” Indeed, NFTY sees a vision for a brighter future, and just as Debbie’s lyrics ring out, so too do we strive to live for today and build for tomorrow.

With my time in NFTY ending soon, I am especially thankful for what it has given me, and for the tremendous impact it is making — and will continues to make — on the world. When asked, I still tell people that when I grow up, I want to change the world. Thanks to NFTY I have the foundation and the confidence to step up and say “Heinini!” (“Here I am to help.”)

Sophie Foxman, a senior at TanenbaumCHAT in Thornhill, Ontario, is the 2013-14 NFTY-NEL Social Action Vice President. She also is a dreamer, a mover, a shaker, and a world-changer.

We are grateful to Women of Reform Judaism who have supported NFTY for 75 years and continue their generosity as Inaugural Donors to the Campaign for Youth Engagement.

President Obama Slams 'Terrible' Overland Park Rampage at Easter Event

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 12:23

President Barack Obama on Monday deplored the shootings at Kansas City-area Jewish centers, saying at an Easter season prayer breakfast there was no place for anti-Semitism or other religious-based hatred.

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The “Wicked” Child of the Pew Study

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 09:00

by Rabbi Danny Burkeman

Pesach is coming, and at s’darim across the Jewish community we will once again label four children as wise, wicked, simple, and the one who does not know how to ask. I have always struggled with this part of the seder for two reasons. All of my work with young people has taught me that we should avoid labeling children because it gives them a negative message, often encouraging them to live up to the label we ascribe. And on a secondary level, I have always found it hard to understand why the respective questions correspond to the labels that the Hagaddah gives them.

While we could analyze each of the children and their corresponding labels, I would like to devote my focus on the wicked child. He asks: “What does this service mean to you?” The Hagaddah’s preoccupation is on the fact that the question says “you,” suggesting that this child no longer identifies with the Jewish people; he is therefore told, in no uncertain terms, that if he had been there he would not have been saved from Egypt. But in reality, one could see this as a question seeking to understand what is happening by looking at it through another person’s eyes. The “wicked” child might not feel a connection to the seder, but he is still seated around the table trying to understand the relevance and meaning for others.

In light of the recent Pew study, this question and this child have taken on a new significance for me. A great deal of attention was given to the study’s finding that 22% of the American Jewish community today identify as Jews of no religion. The study said of them that they “are not only less religious but also much less connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their children Jewish.” But despite this label, according to the study, 42% of Jews of no religion still attended a seder last year, assuming their place around the table.

With this growing group in the Jewish community, we might reconsider the question of the supposedly wicked child: “What does this service mean to you?” Using the Pew study’s categories, surely this is the question the “Jews of no religion” could conceivably ask the “Jews by religion.” In this context, the “you” in the question does not symbolize that the group no longer identifies as part of the Jewish community. Rather it symbolizes a struggle to find meaning in Jewish religious life. In seeking meaning, they are still seated around our communal table, identifying as Jews, and they ask others to help provide them with an insight into the meaning.

If we offer this group the answer suggested by the Hagaddah, not only do we fail to answer their question, but we further alienate them from Jewish religious life, and by extension the organized Jewish community. The Hagaddah solidifies a “them” and “us” approach by excluding them from the formative experience of Jewish history, our Exodus from Egypt. And once we exclude them from our communal history, what likelihood is there that they will want to be part of our shared future? Their voice will be silenced, but unlike the child who does not know how to ask, who is silent due to an inability to question, their silence will come because they have removed themselves from our communal table.

It is wonderful that in twenty-first century America, people continue to identify as Jews despite feeling no connection to the religion. In this group we can see either a threat or an opportunity. The Hagaddah’s response to the question comes from a place of fear, feeling threatened by this group and trying to coerce them back into the fold. Instead, we can see the opportunity to try and find ways to help this group find meaning in Jewish religious life. It may not have the same focus as the Judaism of our grandparents, but it can still be rooted in Jewish history and tradition, inspiring them to a deeper Jewish connection.

In this way, the question “What does this service mean to you?” is a wonderful one for us to answer. One may find meaning in the story of the Exodus as a way to find a connection to God, through God’s relationship to the Jewish people. Or perhaps the meaning comes from our slavery experience which compels us to be socially active in the world on behalf of others. Or maybe there is meaning in the seder as a chain linking us back through our history, but also forward into the future with the emphasis on teaching our children. We each can share our personal understanding of the seder to offer them a variety of ways to find a connection.

The Hagaddah provides us with just one answer. Today, with so many possible responses to this question, rather than pushing this group away, we instead can find ways to answer this question with meaning and love to deepen their Jewish connection. Then, perhaps at next year’s seder, they will not ask this question but instead answer it for others, sharing the meaning they have found.

Rabbi Danny Burkeman is a spiritual leader at The Community Synagogue in Port Washington, NY. He also serves as a board member of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and a Rabbis Without Borders fellow.

Originally posted at eJewish Philanthropy

South Africa Chief Rabbi Warns Not To Shelter Accused Molester

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 15:08

South Africa’s chief rabbi called on the Jewish community not to shelter or support Rabbi Eliezer Berland, who fled Israel after accusations of sexual assault.

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Reform Leader Responds to Tragic Shooting at Jewish Community Sites

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 11:39

In response to today’s shootings at several Jewish communal institutions in Overland Park, KS, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

We mourn the tragic loss of life in today’s shootings in the Overland Park, Kansas Jewish community. Information about the perpetrator is still being uncovered, but early reports indicate that anti-Semitism may have been a factor. If so, it is a tragic reminder, this day before Jews around the world observe Passover, of the hatred that continues to plague our world. It is also yet another horrific instance of an act of senseless violence involving the use of guns to take innocent lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured in today’s shootings. May the memories of those lost be forever a blessing.

Temple Mount Closed After Violence Flares

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 08:59

The Temple Mount was closed to visitors after Muslim worshippers threw stones and firebombs at police offers guarding the Mughrabi gate near the Western Wall Plaza.

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Quinoa Is More Kosher Than the Labor Practices That Produce It

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 06:00

Rabbi Shoshan Ghoori journeyed to Peru to find out whether quinoa is kosher for Passover. It is — but what about the treatment of farmers who grow it?

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Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an Anti-Semitic Screed?

Sat, 04/12/2014 - 12:00

Music-loving Jews tend to enjoy the German composer Handel’s famous oratorio. That makes new research claiming that the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus is anti-Jewish all the more troublesome.

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The Sarajevo Haggadah

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 16:05

Beginning at sundown on April 14, many Jews will be observing Passover at a Seder, the special meal that commemorates their ancestors’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. The book that guides the ritual is the haggadah. The Sarajevo Haggadah, named for the Bosnian city where it is kept, is a rare, beautifully illustrated manuscript created more than 600 years ago in Spain, and many see its own story as a compelling symbol of the Exodus. “It went through so many different cultures,” observes composer Merima Kljuco, “and so many different people took care of the book and helped it survive.”

The post The Sarajevo Haggadah appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Jacob Birnbaum was the unsung father of Jewish freedom

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 14:06

A rally for Soviet Jewry on Simchat Torah in 1983. (Center for Jewish History)

This May 1 will mark the 50-year anniversary of the first Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ) demonstration on behalf of Soviet Jews. The man who inspired that demonstration and became the father of the movement, Jacob (Yaakov) Birnbaum, died at the age of 87 on April 9.

Birnbaum founded the SSSJ and, together with others including Glenn Richter, developed the first national grassroots Soviet Jewry organization. But Birnbaum’s legacy was much greater than any organizational affiliation.

Birnbaum was a heroic, legendary figure. In certain ways, his life paralleled the biblical story of Jacob the very Jacob about whom the Passover Haggadah declares, arami oved avi – “my father (Jacob) was a wandering Aramean.”

Jacob Birnbaum was also a wanderer. Born in Germany, his family escaped to England when he was a young boy. After World War II, he became involved in resettling the remnants of Eastern European Jewry. Having seen the horrors of the Shoah firsthand, he resolved to do all he could to save Soviet Jewry.

And so, in the early ‘60s, after coming to New York, he continued to wander — wandering from room to room in Yeshiva University dormitories, wandering the halls of Columbia University, searching, searching for students who would join him in a campaign to free the millions of Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain. He was unyielding, uncompromising, relentless, stubborn, steadfast and tenacious – he persevered no matter the obstacles.

After wandering for years, the biblical Jacob proclaims, “I crossed the Jordan with my staff, and now I’m accompanied by two large camps.”

This, too, is the story of Jacob Birnbaum. When he came to these shores he had little. But today, as he leaves this world, one could proclaim loudly and clearly that the camps he accompanied were large, numbering well over a million Soviet Jews. And American Jews, too, are part of his camp, as Jacob Birnbaum inspired us in the West to stand up for our brethren in the East, and identify ourselves proudly and clearly as Jews.

Birnbaum was the first. Inspired by his grandfather, Nathan Birnbaum, who is known to have coined the term “Zionism,” Jacob Birnbaum was the first to sound the alarm in America. He was the first to insist that we must collectively cry out in order to save Soviet Jewry; the first to lead the masses into the streets in front of Soviet missions and embassies around the world; the first to understand the spiritual power of the movement and incorporate religious slogans and songs into it.

Indeed, Birnbaum was the first to recognize that not only did we have a responsibility to direct our protests against the Soviet Union, but, we also had the obligation to insist that our own government, the United States, do more, much more, to press the Soviets to let our people go.

Sadly, Birnbaum would often be peremptorily cut off by establishment figures who understood far less than he about the issue at hand. They eventually co-opted many of his original ideas but accorded him virtually no credit for his pioneering work.

In the early ‘60s, Birnbaum asked Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach to compose a Soviet Jewry theme song. The words go back to the biblical narrative, when Joseph, after 22 years of separation from his father, Jacob, asks his brothers, ha’od avi chai – “is my father still alive?”

And today, all of the Jews from the Soviet Union and all of their descendants can declare, yes, Jacob Birnbaum, our father, the father of the Soviet Jewry movement, lives on. On his shoulders we, his sons and daughters from the former Soviet Union and from the free world sing out as one, Am Yisrael Chai, the people of Israel live.


Avi Weiss is the senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale-The Bayit. He served as national chairman of the SSSJ from 1983-1991. His memoir on the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” is scheduled for publication this summer. 

This Week in Jewish Farming: The journeyman’s journey

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 10:17

About two weeks ago, I was one of three farmers in the state accepted into the Connecticut chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s Journeyperson Program. Run with help from a United States Department of Agriculture grant, the program aims to help beginning farmers develop their skills by pairing them with a mentor and providing stipends for educational expenses and business planning.

The notion that farmers need formalized training might not seem peculiar, but the growth of such programs — If you don’t believe me, Google “new farmers” — signals a real problem for the organic movement. In addition to the obvious challenges entailed in starting a new farm, things like accessing land and finding start-up capital, is something more fundamental: Beginning farmers have a serious deficit of know-how.

Until relatively recently in the history of agriculture, farmers learned their trade the way most human knowledge was passed along — informally, by doing it, often at the foot of a more experienced practitioner. If you were a farmer, chances are your father was a farmer and his father before him, a multigenerational legacy of practical experience, leavened by memories of crop failures and other disasters, distilled over time and handed down — the kind of knowledge different in quality, not just quantity, from what can be acquired in a classroom. Talk to someone who grew up on a farm and you’ll encounter a wealth of practical wisdom, an amateur’s knack for fixing stuff and an intuitive sense of the land that is not quickly or easily taught.

(Cara Paiuk)

But in the decades of American migration from farm to city, much of that knowledge has been lost. Today, about 2 percent of the U.S. population lives on a farm, and less than 1 percent claim farming or ranching as an occupation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. A century ago, more than half of Americans derived their incomes from farming. That’s a lot of lost knowledge.

The result is that bumbling city folks like myself are scrambling to figure out how to do this thing we believe to be so important. And I’m not just talking about handling plants. Beneath the placid surface of the supposedly bucolic farm life is a welter of highly technical and specialized systems.

Earlier this week, I spent several hours on the phone with an exceedingly patient salesman for an irrigation company in Pennsylvania. Reducing bushings, camlocks, poly nipples, mini wobblers, layflat, goof plugs. Before I knew it, I had racked up a $1,300 order, virtually none of the components of which I can identify. It’s gonna be an interesting day when the UPS truck arrives.

So thank you Connecticut NOFA. I might look like a competent farmer in that highly stylized photo I sent you for my program bio — a bio that looks utterly silly with its list of professional qualifications and degrees from brand-name institutions, all of which are completely useless to my current occupation. Really I’m just another city kid audacious — or foolhardy — enough to think he can do this.

Veteran JTA journalist Ben Harris is chronicling his new life as a Connecticut farmer. Read more of his weekly dispatches here.


From the annals of Jewish farming: In 1933, a JTA correspondent visited a Minnesota “Hachshara” farm that was training pioneers for kibbutzim in Palestine and described how one participant, a former Chicago stenographer named Miriam German, “pledged herself to the ideals of the Chalutz (pioneers) and no amount of milking at dawn or hoeing in the hot sun will shake her faith in them.”

London Orthodox Synagogue Stops Allowing Women To Carry Torah Scroll

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 07:54

Under pressure from the local rabbinical court, a London Orthodox rabbi ended the practice of women carrying a Torah scroll during prayers at his synagogue.

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Why Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway' Is a Bright Shining Lie

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 06:00

Woody Allen’s musical adaptation of ‘Bullets Over Broadway’ is glitzy, thrilling and splendidly acted. It’s also a cynical, pandering sell-out, as Joshua Furst explains.

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Council of Europe executives advise inaction on male circumcision

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 15:14

(JTA) — European rabbis praised the Council of Europe’s leadership for advising against further attempts by members to target ritual circumcision.

The advice appeared in a letter issued by the governing body of the council — an intergovernment al organization with no executive powers — to its parliament.

The protection of children “is provided by existing international instruments,” according to the letter sent last month. It also disputed a past resolution by the parliament that equated mutilation of female genitals and non-medical circumcision of boys for religious purposes, calling them “by no means comparable.”

Rabbi Mendel Samama of the Conference of European Rabbis said the letter was a “sign of real progress on the issue of religious circumcision in Europe.”

The letter was in reaction to a controversial resolution passed by the council’s parliament last year that said the circumcision of boys was a “violation of the physical integrity of children.”

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, called the letter a “significant step” that he said is “particularly pleasing in light of a worrying trend across Europe where liberal extremes have taken precedence over the basic human right of religious practice.”