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Baruch Lebovits, Brooklyn Rabbi Charged With Sex Abuse, Gets Plea Deal

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 18:55

Baruch Lebovits, a Brooklyn rabbi convicted of sex abuse in 2010 only to have the conviction overturned on appeal, was sentenced to two years in prison as part of a plea deal.

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Why an Orthodox rabbi is fasting this Ramadan

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 17:40

A few hours into the 10th day of Ramadan, Rabbi Natan Levy was swapping fasting tips with a Muslim fellow passenger aboard the London Northern train line.

Specifically, they were debating the merits of having a very large meal before sunrise — a technique adopted by many observant Muslims who are trying to cope with a whole month of daytime fasts on a continent whose summers afford more than 14 hours of sunlight every day.

“We agreed better to eat less,” said Levy, 40, who is the interfaith and social action consultant of Britain’s Jewish Board of Deputies.

Like the Muslim passenger, Levy was speaking out of experience: This year, Levy joined Muslims around the world in their fast.

Levy told JTA that he decided to “engage Ramadan as a committed Jew” to promote “a deeper conversation  within the Jewish community on how we move beyond demonization of Islam.”

The decision to fast, he said, was partly born of frustration at how “the Anglo-Jewish community appears to  live in a state I could only call deeply distrustful of anything Islamic.”

Last week, a congregant in Levy’s local shul ran home in fear because she found herself sitting next to a Muslim guest for the Kabbalat Shabbat service, he recalled.

“This  was a shameful moment for us, but not a surprising one,” he said. “My daughter has not been taught a single fact about Ramadan at her Jewish School.  The fasting is simply a touchstone toward a deeper conversation.”

But at a time when Islamist militants are emerging as a serious threat to the physical safety of European Jews, Levy says that he does not want to appear naïve.

“There are elephants in the room between Jews and Muslim, scary ones,” he said. “But I don’t think that we can start discussing  elephants, until we realize there is more that unites Jews and Muslims than divides us.”

Some of the fear, however, is rooted in reality, Levy wrote in an email answering JTA’s questions.

“Rockets are now  falling upon my family in Israel as I write this, launched by  a terrorist organization whose manifesto justifies its actions with hateful and violent quotes from the Quran,” Levy wrote. “But the more time I spend in conversation with Muslims, and the deeper I engage with Ramadan,  the clearer it becomes that Islam cannot be reduced to the twisted form espoused by Hamas: That it contains a deeper truth and  a grander vision of compassion and peace.”

Still, in  immigrant neighborhoods across Europe, Ramadan is an especially tense period in summer, when the heat compounds some fasters’ general irritability and resentment toward the establishment.

On the sixth day of Ramadan, dozens of Muslims gathered in the Schilderswijk, one of Holland’s largest immigrant neighborhoods in The Hague, to chant menacing cries about Jews and rail against police’s crackdown on Islamists — part of an annual increase in confrontations between Muslim youths and police during Ramadan.

Aware of this volatility, police in cities from Bradford, England, to Amsterdam increase patrols and train their officers on how to diffuse conflicts.

Levy says he gained some personal insight as to the process that leads to these confrontations.

“Fasting seems to  strip out a lot of the extraneous elements of my daily routine, leaving a certain focus, a certain single-minded quality of thought,” he said.

And while the Muslims Levy knows are “using it towards wise and compassionate action,” he speculates that “perhaps,  if someone who was fasting honed in on anger, resentment, righteous injustice,” then fasting could reduce these feelings “into a singular, white hot beam of reactive force.”

“Ramadan, like any religious practice is a powerful and effective tool, but what we do with such a tool lies entirely in our hands,” Levy said.

Baruch Lebovits, Brooklyn rabbi charged with sex abuse, gets plea deal

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 17:29

NEW YORK (JTA) – Baruch Lebovits, a Brooklyn rabbi convicted of sex abuse in 2010 only to have the conviction overturned on appeal, was sentenced to two years in prison as part of a plea deal.

The deal was approved Wednesday. Lebovits is expected to serve less than a year of additional jail time because he will receive credit for the 13 months he spent in prison for his initial conviction on charges of molesting a boy, according to The New York Times. That conviction on eight counts of child molestation, which carried a 10-year prison sentence, was overturned due to a procedural snafu. Lebovits was then released from prison.

The case was part of ex-district attorney Charles Hynes’ controversial drive to address sex abuse in the haredi Orthodox community.

It riveted Brooklyn’s haredi Orthodox community in part because Lebovits also was accused of molesting the teenage son of Sam Kellner, a fellow haredi who helped prosecutors build a case against Lebovits. In a twist, prosecutors later charged Kellner for bribing a third person to testify against Lebovits — an accusation Kellner said was a lie concocted by Lebovits supporters. In March, the district attorney’s office dropped the charges against Kellner.

This week, Kellner denounced the plea deal as insufficient punishment, saying it sent a dangerous message to child molesters.

“What is the thing that we’re going to tell them?” Kellner said, according to the Times. “Go to the police and, what — how do we safeguard these kids?”

When Lebovits’ original conviction was voided in 2012, the court said that while there was enough evidence to prove his guilt, Lebovits was deprived of the right to a fair trial because prosecutors did not hand over until the middle of the trial a detective’s notes about one of the witnesses that the defense was expected to call.

First glimpse of Ridley Scott’s new ‘Exodus’ movie

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 13:44

The first trailer for Ridley Scott’s upcoming take on Exodus is out, and JTA is here to obsessively parse its 97 seconds so you don’t have to.

With “Exodus: Gods and Kings” following closely on the heels of Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” we appear to be experiencing at least a mild renaissance of biblical epics — and by epics, do we ever mean epics. Unless the trailer for “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is wildly misleading, Scott seems to have gone hard in the swords-and-sandals direction, with a major emphasis on spectacle.

The core of the movie, penned by “Schindler’s List” scribe Steve Zaillian, seems to be rooted in a fraternal love-hate relationship between Moses (Christian Bale) and the Pharaoh, Ramses (Joel Edgerton), with the Almighty (oodles of CGI) serving as tiebreaker.

While the expected 10 plagues appear to be intact, the trailer also suggests that the movie takes more than a few liberties with the story from the Torah. Pyramids seem to make frequent appearances (in the biblical original, the Israelites build brick storehouses), any preexisting relationship between Moses and Pharaoh is speculatively based on the Bible’s riverside adoption of Moses by (the previous?) Pharoah’s daughter (and Moses’ obvious mastery of court politics), and the identification of the Pharaoh as Ramses is historical guesswork. All of which is fine.

What’s more disheartening is that the trailer just isn’t all that tempting. There’s not much sign of the visual wit of Scott’s “Alien” or “Blade Runner,” or the intimacy of “Thelma and Louise.” Mostly, it just seems epically, well, big. (And it doesn’t help that the title makes the whole thing sound like a video game.)

But hey, it’s just a trailer. Perhaps, when the movie comes out this December, we’ll discover that Scott still has a few more miracles up his sleeve.

Rabbis Lauded by Vladimir Putin for Fight Against Neo-Nazis

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 06:28

Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked senior rabbis from Israel and Europe for what he called their help in Russia’s fight against the revival of Nazism.

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Putin thanks rabbis for communities’ fight against ‘Nazi revival’

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 04:47

MOSCOW (JTA) — Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked senior rabbis from Israel and Europe for what he called their help in Russia’s fight against the revival of Nazism.

Putin made the statement on Wednesday during a meeting in the Russian capital with over one dozen prominent rabbis, including Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Moscow, and Yitzchak Yosef and Israel Meir Lau, Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi and former Ashkenazi chief rabbi, respectively.

“Of particular concern is the revival of Nazi ideas,” Putin told the delegation of rabbis, which included also Binyominn Jacobs, the chief inter-provincial rabbi of the Netherlands, and David Moshe Lieberman of Antwerp. “I want to thank the Jewish community, non-governmental organizations that are both active and courageous; we see it in today’s world – how a struggle is being uncompromisingly waged against all manifestations of the Nazi ideology and any attempts to revive it,” said Putin.

A Kremlin transcript of Putin’s address at the meeting did not specify where he saw Nazism being revived.

In the past, Putin has called the leaders of the revolution that toppled the regime of Ukrainian former president Viktor Yanukovych “Nazis” and “neo-Nazis,” and cited what he said was their anti-Semitism to justify Russia’s actions in Ukraine since March, when it annexed Crimea from its western neighbor.

Many Ukrainian Jewish leaders and the country’s government have dismissed these assertions, saying that the claims about anti-Semitism are being made for political purposes.

Putin also spoke out against Holocaust deniers, calling them “not only stupid, but also shameless.” He added: “Unfortunately, just like 70 years ago, this shamelessness often achieves its purposes. After all, [Joseph] Goebbels had said, ‘The more improbable the lie, the faster people believe it.’ And it worked out; he was a talented man,” Putin said in reference to Nazi Germany’s propaganda chef.

The meeting on Wednesday took place ahead of a Holocaust commemoration event scheduled for Thursday in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, which is organized by the local Jewish community in memory of over 4,000 Jews killed by German troops in July 1942.

The annual commemoration has taken place there since 1992, but this week will be the first time it has been held since the Russian annexation.

Noting that the Kremlin has shown an interest in Holocaust commemorations for the past 15 years, Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a senior aide to Lazar and chair of Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, added that “There’s no denying that President Putin and the Kremlin want to demonstrate that anti-Semitism is not accepted and that everything is alright with the Jews there. And we don’t dispute that. We do our work. If it is used for diplomacy or propaganda — depends whom you ask – we’re not necessarily opposed. We think Jews in Crimea need to feel at ease and safe and stable, and prefer to stay out of politics.”

Lost Tefillin Owner Identified as Israeli Man Whose Bags Were Misplaced

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 13:08

The owner of the last of seven pairs of tefillin discovered by a Florida rabbi at a store that sells the contents of unclaimed airline baggage has been located.

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We’re hiring!

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 09:50
As we announced a few months ago, MyJewishLearning, Inc. and JTA are merging. Now we’re looking to hire a  Director of Audience Development for JTA to join us in our New York City office. The job would entail working across all our sites. We’re a small organization that has a big impact in the Jewish world, […]

Benjamin Netanyahu Warns He Will 'Take Gloves Off' in New Gaza Fight

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 07:48

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli military to “take off the gloves” against Hamas, as Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon prepared the public for a long campaign in Gaza.

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Op-Ed: Anti-gay persecution abroad demands U.S. action

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 14:31

A man holds a sketch showing Russian President Vladimir Putin wearing lipstick during a protest against Russian anti-gay laws outside the Russian embassy in Madrid, Spain, Aug. 23, 2013. (Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

FRANKLIN LAKES, N.J. (JTA) — Every parent imagines and treasures a child’s first words, first steps, first love. Our children will graduate high school and then college, find their passion, marry their sweetheart, have children of their own.

There are also things a parent privately dreads. In 2010, 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, a first-year student at Rutgers University, jumped off the George Washington Bridge after students taunted and bullied him for being gay.

I was shocked by his suicide. Tyler went to high school with my daughter. Yet Tyler’s pain had been invisible to us. How did we fail him?

Tremendous strides have been made in ensuring the dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in our nation in the last two decades. Yet prejudice and hatred still exist. In the United States, much legislation has been written to try to protect the rights of LGBT people, but our laws aren’t comprehensive, and much more needs to be done. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 19 states and counting, but in many places children like Tyler still live in fear and shame.

Internationally, the reality is even bleaker. Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in 77 countries and, shockingly, punishable by death in five of those countries.

Six months after Tyler died, I traveled with American Jewish World Service to Uganda. We had breakfast in Kampala with a man whose name could not be spoken. We were warned not to mention his name in any public forum because he was an LGBT activist. He had been arrested the previous week, and he believed he was under surveillance.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had just signed into law a new Anti-Homosexuality Act that made our new friend’s work illegal. The legislation threatened to imprison those who engage in same-sex relations and the government vowed to shut down any nonprofit organizations working with the LGBT community.

This man was educating the public about LGBT issues and planning outreach meetings to provide legal, medical and psychological support for families afflicted with HIV/AIDS. He was an outspoken opponent of the Anti-Homosexuality Act and feared for his life.

Similar laws criminalize homosexuality around the world. In Russia, about one year ago, President Vladimir Putin signed what has become known as the “LGBT propaganda law” that prevents “distribution of information that is aimed at the formation among minors of nontraditional sexual attitude, attractiveness of non-traditional sexual attitudes.” In nations where Sharia law is honored — including Nigeria, Yemen and Iran — homosexual acts can carry the death penalty.

For the sake of children like Tyler, who are bullied for being gay; for the sake of activists in Uganda, and couples in love in Russia, Nigeria and Yemen, we must prevent global violence against LGBT people.

Today we have an opportunity to do our part to ensure that LGBT people globally can live freely and securely by calling upon the Obama administration and Congress to strengthen international policies on LGBT rights, and to assume a leadership role here and abroad to end hate crimes against LGBT people.

Just last month, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced in Congress the International Human Rights Defense Act. This act would direct the State Department to make international LGBT human rights a foreign policy priority. It would establish a position in the department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor that would be responsible for coordinating that effort.

One year during the High Holidays, I asked congregants to raise their hands if a member of their family or a friend was LGBT. Three-quarters of those present did. LGBT people facing violence, prejudice and fear around the world are not strangers — they are our family, our friends. A sacred society is one in which no one is marginalized or enslaved; no one objectified, or invisible, or oppressed.

With the International Human Rights Defense Act, Congress has the opportunity to do the right thing for all of God’s children. Lives depend on it.

(Rabbi Elyse Frishman is spiritual leader of the Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, N.J. She edited “Mishkan T’filah, A Reform Siddur” and serves on the board of American Jewish World Service.)

Rabbi Finds 7 Tefillin Sets in Lost-Luggage Store

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 12:45

A Florida rabbi discovered seven pairs of tefillin at a store that sells the contents of unclaimed airline baggage.

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For Iranian-born actors, Israel’s first Farsi movie carries echo of lost home

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 12:17

Actor Navid Negahban portraying Yitzchak, the son of an Iranian-Israeli turkey farmer, in the forthcoming Farsi-language film “Baba Joon.” (Osnat Bukofzer)

AYANOT, Israel (JTA) — An Iranian-Israeli director and a group of Iranian-born actors are making a movie in Farsi, the language of Iran.

“Baba Joon,” a story of familial conflict between three generations of Iranian Jewish men set to hit theaters next year, is the first Farsi movie ever to be made in Israel.

Set in an Israeli agricultural village settled by Iranian immigrants, the film tells the story of Yitzchak, a Persian Israeli who, like his father, tends a turkey farm in a rural village in the Negev Desert. Yitzchak’s brother, Daryush, has moved to the United States to live a freer life. Their father, Baba Joon, wants to maintain the family’s traditional values while Yitzchak’s son, Moti, struggles with his family’s religious and patriarchal limitations.

“I hope that people start putting their differences aside and accepting their differences,” said Navid Negahban, the Iranian-born American actor who portrays Yitzchak. “I think the film will help. It’s opening a window into a life that most people are unaware of.”

Director Yuval Delshad said he prioritized authenticity in casting “Baba Joon,” choosing actors whose personal stories mirror those of their characters.

David Diaan, who plays Daryush, is an Iranian-born Jew who lives in Los Angeles. Faraj Aliasi, 73, who plays Baba Joon, is a Persian Israeli who, like his character, has lived much of his life in a small Israeli agricultural village. Asher Avrahami, the 13-year-old who plays Moti, is from the same village, the largely Persian town of Zerahia in southern Israel.

“I looked for actors that would be Iranian and would share something in the characters I created,” said Delshad, who also wrote the film. “The world they come from is the world of the story.”

Diaan and Negahban, who also portrays Abu Nazir in the acclaimed Showtime series “Homeland,” worked together on “The Stoning of Soraya M.,” a 2008 film about a woman stoned to death over allegations of infidelity that turned out to be false. Both actors expressed hope that the Iran-Israel conflict would cool down and emphasized the importance of intercultural reconciliation.

“Israel, Iran, Arabs and Jews, Sunni and Shiite [say,] ‘We don’t get along, let’s fight,’ ” Diaan said. “Today it’s a different time. It’s a different age. I’m a good person, you’re a good person, let’s party.”

No one involved with the production admitted to being concerned that tensions between Israel and Iran might affect the movie. Producer David Silber, who worked on the Oscar-nominated 2007 film “Beaufort,” says the film is meant for a wide audience and could even reach Iranian viewers illegally should the regime ban it.

“Like a Greek myth, it’s relevant to every culture,” Silber said. “Maybe there will be a way for [Iranians] to see it. The second it gets to a streaming site they’ll see it, unless the site is blocked.”

Despite being of different religions, generations and nationalities, the actors said they connected with each other over their common Iranian heritage. When Delshad put on a cassette of an Iranian folk song during filming, actors said several members of the cast began crying.

“There is a deep connection that you don’t lose,” Negahban said. “It’s not that you’re still connected 100 percent to where you came from, but you have the place you came from in your heart.”

Negahban and Diaan appear alongside Aliasi and Avrahami, neither of whom had acted before joining “Baba Joon.” Delshad said neither had trouble on the set because the film is set in a village meant to mirror Zerahia.

Much of the movie is now being filmed at Ayanot, a youth village a half-hour north of Zerahia. It’s a tawdry place, with faded brown stucco buildings and patchy grass. Aliasi said the film gets the details of life in Zerahia “exactly” right.

For the actors, many of whom left Iran at a young age, working on the film has been an opportunity to reconnect to their homeland and portray Iranian culture in a warm, if complex, light.

“I grew up in America, but when I do something in Farsi it’s so natural and so second nature to me,” Diaan said. “I lived in Iran until I was 16. We still keep the language alive. It’s still my first language.”

Florida rabbi finds owners of unclaimed tefillin

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 10:23

(JTA) — A Florida rabbi discovered seven pairs of tefillin at a store that sells the contents of unclaimed airline baggage.

Rabbi Uri Pilichowski was on vacation with his family when he visited the store in Scottsboro, Ala., looking for cheap cell phones, the New York Daily News reported.

The rabbi bought the religious items, worth hundreds of dollars, for $45 each on July 1. He then posted photos of the bags in which they were stored on Facebook in an attempt to find the owners.

Six of the seven pairs were claimed in less than a week, with four of the owners living in the New York area, one in Israel and one in Los Angeles, according to the news website Vos Iz Neis.

One belonged to Noah Jacobson, a singer for The Maccabeats, and another had belonged to David Malka, a former chef for the Lubavitcher rebbe, which he had given to his grandson before his death.



How Liturgy Can Co-Exist With Backstreet Boys and The Wu-Tang Clan

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 06:00

Many Jewish liturgical tunes take melodies from secular music. Did Raphael Magarik go too far by grabbing the melody from rap’s Wu-Tang Clan or a Yom Kippur service?

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Zalman Schachter-Shalomi brought old world gravitas to New Age Judaism

Sun, 07/06/2014 - 15:40

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi pioneered groundbreaking ritual innovations that went mainstream. (Daniel Sieradski)

(JTA) — Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi was one of the world’s most innovative and influential Jewish spiritual leaders.

To his followers, he was their Hasidic rebbe. But what other rebbe had dropped acid with Timothy Leary and dialogued with the Dalai Lama?

Schachter-Shalomi, who died last week at 89, wasn’t the only rabbi who tinkered radically with Jewish tradition. No one else, however, did so with the sense of gravitas and authenticity that came with carrying a living memory of the richness of prewar Jewish Europe.

Though Jewish Renewal, the movement he helped midwife, remains marginal by the standards of the major Jewish denominations, many of the ritual innovations he fostered have long since gone mainstream — from the use of musical instrumentation during services to the incorporation of Eastern meditative practices.

Few Jewish spiritual leaders could match the scope of his erudition, steeped as he was not only in sacred texts and Jewish mysticism but contemporary psychology and Eastern spirituality. He was a Yiddish speaker proficient in the vernacular of modern science and computer technology, an academic capable of creating transformative religious experiences for his followers.

“He was a whole world,” said Rabbi David Ingber, spiritual leader of the Manhattan congregation Romemu and a leading figure among the younger generation of Renewal rabbis. “There was no one like him when he was alive, and now that he’s gone, there will never be anyone like him.”

Born in Poland in 1924 into an Orthodox family with Belzer Hasidic roots, Schachter-Shalomi was raised in Vienna and arrived in the United States in 1941. He was ordained as a Chabad rabbi but strayed far from his Orthodox roots, eventually helping to found a movement that fused the ancient and postmodern into a kind of liberal Hasidism.

Like the Hasidic masters of Europe, Schachter-Shalomi encouraged his followers to seek a direct experience of the divine through practices inspired by the Jewish mystical tradition. He embraced a decidedly liberal ethos, championing equal roles for men and women in religious life, welcoming gays and lesbians, and promoting doctrines like eco-kashrut that integrated contemporary concerns into Jewish practice.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, which for a time was joined with ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal, recalled a moment in 1971 when Schachter-Shalomi was leading a service in Washington and asked permission to separate the men and women.

Mindful of the feminist critique then gaining currency in progressive circles, Waskow objected. Schachter-Shalomi explained he was seeking to create a polarity between masculine and feminine energies and asked if it would be acceptable to keep the genders physically together but separate their voices. Waskow agreed.

“He was clearly a great and knowledgeable teacher — and he listened when a newbie said ‘No!’” Waskow wrote last week in a remembrance. “That made him a real teacher.”

Schachter-Shalomi pioneered ritual innovations that were groundbreaking at the time, including meditation, ecstatic dance and drums and other musical instruments in religious services. He led prayers in the vernacular, reading Torah from a scroll but translating it into English on the fly while maintaining the traditional cantillation — a feat he could carry off with seeming aplomb well into his ninth decade.

Though he lost family members to the Nazis, Schachter-Shalomi believed it was a mistake to attempt a restoration of the Jewish world destroyed by the Holocaust. Instead, he felt that Jewish traditions needed to be renewed, harmonized with new ways of viewing reality that emerged in the 20th century, much in the way theology had to be reordered following Galileo’s demonstration that the earth was not the center of the universe.

Schachter-Shalomi spoke often of a paradigm shift made necessary by worldview-busting events — the moonwalk, Auschwitz and Hiroshima were favored examples — that were so earth-shattering they rendered traditional Jewish modalities irrelevant. He wanted Jews to get over what he called their “triumphalist” sense that they had a monopoly on religious truth in favor of an “organismic” model that saw Judaism as one of many tributaries of the divine river.

He was a believer in a radical ecumenism, fascinated by the ways other traditions “get it on with God.” During the historic Jewish dialogue with the Dalai Lama in 1990, Schachter-Shalomi captivated the Tibetan leader with a a lengthy presentation on kabbalistic cosmology.

Along with the legendary composer Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Schachter-Shalomi was among the earliest emissaries dispatched by the Lubavitcher rebbe to do outreach on college campuses. But he drifted from the strictures of Orthodoxy, exploring other mystical traditions and immersing himself deeply in the counterculture. His LSD experience, Schachter-Shalomi said later, had confirmed certain “intimations” he had previously about the nature of the spiritual world.

He was a leading figure in the growth of the Havurah movement, the small prayer groups that emerged in the 1960s and rejected institutionalized synagogue Judaism in favor of home-based worship, presaging the rise of today’s independent minyans.

Schachter-Shalomi married four times and fathered 11 children, including one through a sperm donation to a lesbian rabbi.

An inveterate boundary crosser, he declined to choose between the social justice imperatives and progressive politics of Reform Judaism, the spiritual rigor and devotion of traditional Orthodoxy and the mystical impulses of Hasidism. He wanted all of them.

The other Jewish streams “all had their own truths and languages, but they were partial, and Reb Zalman didn’t want a partial expression of religious life,” Ingber said. “He wanted a holistic expression of religious life.”

In the 1990s, Schachter-Shalomi left Philadelphia, where he had held a teaching post at Temple University, to assume the World Wisdom chair at Naropa University, a Buddhist-inspired liberal arts college in Boulder, Colo. There ensconced as the “Boulder rebbe,” Zalman received scores of visitors in his basement study, many of them seeking inspiration and solace on their own journeys away from Orthodoxy.

In his later years, as Schachter-Shalomi began to relinquish many of the leadership responsibilities of the Renewal movement, he came to focus his declining energies on preparing himself and his followers to face his inevitable death. Schachter-Shalomi was driven by a belief that the existing Jewish toolbox was lacking the instruments to navigate the later stages of life — what he came to call the December years.

In 1997, he co-authored “From Age-ing to Sage-ing,” an attempt to recast the golden years as something other than a period of decline. And in March, journalist Sara Davidson published the book “The December Project,” the product of nearly two years of weekly meetings the two conducted in Boulder.

“The whole teaching that he wanted to impart to people was that you will come to the end at some point, and at that point the work is letting go — letting go of your ties, letting go of your loved ones, letting go of everything,” Davidson said.

Despite his failing health, Schachter-Shalomi continued to teach until the very end. One month before his death, he led a retreat at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in northwestern Connecticut for Shavuot. His appearance there had been an annual event, though he had missed the year before because he was too unwell to travel.

After the holiday, Schachter-Shalomi fell ill with pneumonia and spent a week in a hospital in Hartford, Conn., before being flown back to Boulder, where he died in his sleep on the morning of July 3.

Czech Jews Slam Honor for Mel Gibson

Sun, 07/06/2014 - 08:55

Leaders of the Czech Jewish community criticized a local film festival’s decision to honor actor and director Mel Gibson. Gibson is due to receive a lifetime achievement award Friday at the Karlovy Vary film festival.

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Algeria Plans To Reopen Shuttered Synagogues

Sat, 07/05/2014 - 08:01

Algeria intends to reopen synagogues that were shuttered in the 1990s for security reasons, an Algerian minister said.

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Algeria to reopen shuttered synagogues, minister says

Fri, 07/04/2014 - 18:31

(JTA) — Algeria intends to reopen synagogues that were shuttered in the 1990s for security reasons, an Algerian minister said.

The statement about Algeria’s synagogues by Religious Affairs Minister Mohamed Aissa was published on Thursday on the online edition of the Algerian daily Liberte.

“There is a Jewish community in Algeria which is greeted in our cities and it has a right to exist,” Aissa is quoted as saying earlier this week at a conference organized in the capital Algiers by Liberte.

Algeria, he added, “is prepared to reopen Jewish places of worship.” But he said that “for the moment the state does not plan to do this right away because of security reasons. We need to first set up security arrangements before we open them up for worshipers.”

Tens of thousands of people died in terrorist attacks and government reprisals in Algeria during the 1990s, during an insurgency by the Armed Islamic Group.

The number of Jews living in Algeria is not known, according to the Jeune Afrique magazine, but historians estimate the country’s Jewish population is made up of a handful of people who practice their faith in secret for fear of being targeted by Islamic extremists.

Algeria used to have more than 100,000 Jews, but the vast majority of them left after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and during the country’s bloody war of independence against France.

Brazil School Forces Jewish Child To Say Lord's Prayer

Fri, 07/04/2014 - 12:27

A Brazilian man accused a teacher of forcing the man’s Jewish son to recite a Christian prayer at a public school.

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Brazilian public school accused of forcing Jew to say Christian prayer

Fri, 07/04/2014 - 08:54

(JTA) — A Brazilian man accused a teacher of forcing the man’s Jewish son to recite a Christian prayer at a public school.

The incident is said to have happened last month at the Ciep Cecilio Barbosa da Paixao school in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro, according to a report earlier this week by the Brazilian daily O Globo.

According to the boy’s father, the 9th-grade boy was instructed by a teacher to say the Lord’s Prayer during a group prayer on June 5 at the school, which is located at the city of Engenheiro Paulo de Frontin north of the city of Rio de Janeiro.

“He left the group and the other students  looked at him critically,”  the father is quoted as saying. “The inspector called him to return and told him that the Lord’s Prayer is a universal prayer even though he told her it was a Christian prayer which does not correspond to his faith.”

The boy told his father of the incident last month, vowing not to return to school, said the father, who added that he had filed a police complaint against the school’s management.

A spokesperson for the school denied that the boy had been forced to pray and said the payer was “a voluntary action by a group of students and faculty.”

The boy’s father filed the complaint based on the Brazilian constitution,  which grants freedom of worship to all.

The case prompted Jayme Salim Salomao, president of the Jewish Federation of Rio de Janeiro, to demand explanations  from the school and from the state secretary of education.