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A Leader Looks Back

Tue, 01/06/2015 - 05:00

By Rabbi Allan Smith

Rabbi Allan Smith, affectionately known as “Smitty” by NFTYites, is a great figure in the history of NFTY. He created the NFTY Leadership Academy at Kutz Camp in 1972, expanded the number of URJ Camps during his tenure, raised millions of dollars for the purchase of new camps and the improvement of others, and overall expanded the population capacity of URJ camps by 300%. Smitty is known for his total commitment to young people, and his insistence that all people, especially young people, be treated with dignity and respect.

I am not sure if NFTY, the North American youth movement, had another name at the start. After all, National Federation of Temple Youth does not seem to reflect the fact that the first members of the organization were college students or individuals preparing to go to war.

It is the fact of World War II that stole the youth from so many of our young people. In fact, so many were off to war that in order for the organization to have a significant number of members, the age requirements were lowered, first opened to high schoolers and then to post-confirmation kids.

We were a national organization at the start. During my time with the Youth Division (1971- 2001) the contribution made by the Canadian affiliates, which had been attached to what was then NELFTY (Northeast Lakes), centered around metropolitan Toronto. Eventually, members came from the Montreal area, Vancouver, and Calgary as well. Thus, the new acronym expanded its meaning to include Canada, redefining the “N” in NFTY from National to North American.

The program of NFTY throughout its 75 years was a function of the political realities of America and Judaism as a whole. NFTY flourished in the days of the Civil Rights Movement. We were social action-based; raising the awareness of the social issues of a particular moment in history. NFTY focused on the rights of minorities, the fight for women’s rights, the question of justice for all. NFTYites raised money, marched, carried banners, and sang freedom’s songs when the issues of the day were protesting the Viet Nam War, fighting for Affirmative Action, and today, fighting for immigration reform. The young people of NFTY were the voices of conscience led by the spokespersons of the Movement, Rabbis Maurice Eisendrath and Alexander Schindler, Al Vorspan, Rabbi Balfour Brickner, and many others. The torch was passed to notable rabbinic leaders like Rabbis Eric Yoffie and David Saperstein who had both grown up in the NFTY movement. NFTY’s leaders had an enthusiastic and loyal following in their membership, but it was always the voice of NFTY’s young people that dictated the character of the movement as a whole.

Another revolution began to form when the Reform Movement began to look more closely at the question of spirituality. Creativity became the rule of the day and the Hebrew language took on a special meaning. When NFTY’s influence began to spread through the URJ’s camping movement, worship services began to change. When I began my tenure at the URJ we didn’t sing in Hebrew. But along came personalities like Debbie Friedman and a whole generation of song leaders and liturgists who led NFTY’s revolution in Reform liturgy. Hebrew became more and more the language of our prayer and the expression of the mystery of spirituality.

As we have done since NFTY’s beginning, may we continue to hear the voices of our young people who step up to lead NFTY into the future, walking in the footsteps of the dedicated NFTY leaders of the past.

Rabbi Allan Smith was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York in 1967, and served as rabbi in Gastonia, North Carolina, from 1967 until 1971. He served as director of the URJ Camping Program beginning in 1971, and then as director of the URJ Youth Division from 1985 – 2001.

Moshe Feiglin leaving Likud

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 16:01

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Moshe Feiglin said he is quitting the Likud Party after failing to secure a realistic spot on the candidates’ list for the March elections.

Feiglin, a Likud member since 2005 and a Knesset lawmaker since 2013, finished 36th on the Likud list in voting held by party members last week. The latest polls show the party earning some 25 slots in the revamped Knesset. Likud now has 18 spots in a combined list with Yisrael Beiteinu.

He reportedly was pushed out by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads Likud, and his supporters.

“Netanyahu targeted me, but I do not harbor any resentment towards the prime minister,” Feiglin said Monday evening at a meeting of his Jewish Leadership faction.

Feiglin, a major supporter of building in Jewish settlements and Jews praying on the Temple Mount, said he will form a political movement that “aligns itself with Jewish ideals, and hopefully lead.” The new party likely will not run in the March national elections.

Several other political parties have offered spots, he told his supporters, which would enable him to run for the new Knesset. Feiglin said he was “considering all options.”

Also on Monday night at a meeting to present the Likud slate, Netanyahu said that if he is reelected as prime minister, he will propose legislation within the first 100 days of his new term that would require the head of the largest party to form the new government. Under the current system, the party head who has the most recommendations from other party chiefs to form the government gets the nod.

Observers say the proposal could lead to more stable governments that would serve out their full terms.

“Gonna Light The Lights Tonight”: A Holiday Message and A Musical...

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 13:14

Rabbi Steven Blane has a deft touch at synthesizing various spiritual elements, and that skill illuminates his delightful new holiday song: “Gonna Light The Lights Tonight”...

(PRWeb December 01, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/12/prweb12360753.htm

Teens Shot After Party at Suburban Washington D.C. Synagogue

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 11:38

Two teenagers were shot outside a Maryland synagogue after attending a party there.

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Driver Who Killed Princeton Rabbi James Diamond Acquitted in Crash

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 10:18

The driver of the car that killed Rabbi James Diamond, the retired director of Princeton University’s Center for Jewish Life, was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

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From the Archive: Black Hebrews, from Chicago to Dimona

Sun, 01/04/2015 - 12:57

Members of the Black Hebrews community dancing during festivities marking Shavuot in the southern Israeli town of Dimona, May 26, 2013. The group’s spiritual leader, Chicago native Ben Ammi Ben-Israel, died Dec. 27, 2014, in Dimona. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ben Ammi Ben-Israel, the spiritual leader of the African Hebrew Israelites, a group of African-Americans who, believing they were descendants of the biblical tribe of Judah, settled in Israel in the 1960s and ’70s, died last week. He was 75.

Ben-Israel’s community now numbers about 3,000, with most living in the Negev town of Dimona. While not officially recognized as Jewish, the Black Hebrews, as they are commonly known, make up a small subculture in Israel. Their history there has been somewhat turbulent.

Three weeks after the group’s first immigrants arrived in Israel from Chicago by way of Liberia, JTA reported that the community was “apparently getting along very well in their new environment,” although “their eventual status as immigrants remains undecided.” The report went on:

Within three days of their arrival at Dimona all families found work at the nearby textile plants and in local shops and factories, according to the Jewish Agency. Their children are already attending school. All of them have Hebrew names and have some knowledge of the Hebrew language.

The group arrived penniless at Lydda Airport from Liberia. They told Israeli officials they had tried to set up a Jewish communal settlement in the West African country but were made to feel “unwanted” and decided to go to Israel “where we belong.”

But tensions increased as more Black Hebrews came. Twenty arriving in October 1971 were denied entry because Israeli authorities “said they had one-way tickets and insufficient funds to stay in Israel as tourists.” Black Hebrews who had come to the airport to greet the new arrivals “protested vigorously” and “claimed that they were the true Hebrews, ‘sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ and that the country of Israel was promised them by God and belongs only to them.”

Over the next few years, the Israeli government and the Black Hebrews clashed over whether they should be eligible for citizenship or deported. The government deported some, while other deportation efforts were successfully appealed to the Supreme Court.

In 1979, a special Knesset committee recommended establishing an agricultural village in the Negev for the Black Hebrews “and providing them with the means to construct their own community.” The recommendations followed complaints by several Dimona residents who had appealed to the government, claiming the Black Hebrews “were having an adverse effect” on city and that they “were conducting services and carrying on practices similar to that of the notorious People’s Temple in Jones-town, Guyana.”

In 2003, when Israel granted 2,500 Black Hebrews “permanent resident” status, JTA gave an overview of the group’s history in the country to date:

… The Black Hebrews’ path toward Israeli citizenship has been long and arduous.

Originally offered citizenship under the Law of Return in 1969, the community’s status later was challenged and revoked.

From 1973 through the early 1990s, the community had no legal status, and many members of the group — who had renounced their U.S. citizenship — were left stateless.

As a result, Black Hebrews could not hold legal jobs, send their children to Israeli schools or utilize national health care services.

The Black Hebrews’ cause was not helped by their insistence that they were the true Jews and that the Israelis were usurpers. As their case made its was through Israeli courts, they mounted a campaign against the state that many saw as vitriolic and anti-Semitic.

The community’s newspapers compared Israelis to Nazis and included images of money-grubbing Jews.

Despite their struggles for acceptance, the Black Hebrews established a fast growing community. Members say it is deeply rooted in Biblical teachings, though they reject latter-day interpretations of the Bible, including such injunctions as the rabbinic prohibition against polygamy.

Adherents follow a strictly vegan diet; eschew caffeine, alcohol, drugs and cigarettes; and experiment with no-salt days, sugar-free weeks and raw-food weeks …

In 1980, the community moved from overcrowded housing in Dimona to an abandoned absorption center nearby, which they cleaned and beautified.

The call their current environs the Village of Peace or the Island of Sanity, and it includes a vegan restaurant that is open to the public.

Community members say they welcome Israeli visitors and are involved in Dimona civic life.

Also in 2003, the community hosted pop star Whitney Houston and her then-husband, Bobby Brown, on their tour of Israel.

Perhaps Houston’s visit inspired Ahtaliyah Pierce, a Black Hebrew member who in 2013 achieved a new milestone for the community: At 17 she “reached the semifinals on Israel’s edition of ‘The Voice,’ a reality show in which emerging singers compete.”

Arab-Israeli Lawmaker Ahmed Tibi Raises Palestinian Flag On Temple Mount

Sun, 01/04/2015 - 12:35

Ahmed Tibi, an Arab-Israeli Knesset member, raised the Palestinian flag on the Temple Mount.

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Anti-Semitic graffiti at Venezuelan synagogue

Fri, 01/02/2015 - 13:27

(JTA) — Vandals marked the wall of a synagogue in Venezuela’s capital with a swastika and the number “6,000,000” with question marks.

The black spray-painted graffiti was found at AIV del Este Sephardic synagogue in Caracas on the morning of Tuesday, December 30, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which reported the incident, including a photograph

A number of Jewish organizations have raised alarms about anti-Semitism in Venezuela recently, including the ADL, which has accused Venezuelan leaders for contributing to a climate for anti-Semitism through its harsh criticism of Israel, and the CAIV, the umbrella body for Venezuelan Jewry, which reported over 4000 anti-semitic incidents in Venezuela in 2013.

Israel: ‘Deep disappointment’ in France’s U.N. vote on Palestine

Fri, 01/02/2015 - 08:19

(JTA) — Israel said it was “deeply disappointed” with France’s U.N. Security Council vote for Palestinian statehood.

Aviv Shir-On, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s deputy director for Europe, communicated Israel’s disappointment on Friday in a meeting with Patrick Maisonnave, France’s ambassador to Israel, according to news reports.

A Jordanian bid to pass a resolution on Palestinian statehood failed this week to garner the necessary nine out of 15 votes necessary for adoption. The United States promised it would veto the resolution if it crossed that threshold.

France was among the eight nations voting in favor of the resolution. In the past, European nations abstained from voting for Palestinian statehood.

Haaretz reported said that Maisonnave told Shir-On the French vote was aimed at keeping the Palestinians from joining the International Criminal Court, where they may seek war crimes charges against Israel.

The Palestinians joined the court on Wednesday, a day after the failed U.N. vote.

Saudi Islamic Leader Plans Temple Mount Visit

Fri, 01/02/2015 - 08:12

The secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation plans to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

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British soccer boss suspended for saying Jews chase money

Thu, 01/01/2015 - 11:44

(JTA) — The English Football Association punished the owner of a British soccer club over anti-Semitic and racist slurs.

Dave Whelan, who owns the Wigan Athletic Football Club near Manchester, was banned from all soccer-related activities for six weeks and fined $78,000 in a decision announced on Wednesday. Whelan was also ordered to participate in an educational program run by the Football Association

Whelan has seven days to appeal the penalty, though the Football Association said in a statement that he has accepted the punishment.

In November, Whelan, 78,  told Britain’s Guardian newspaper, “Jewish people chase money more than everybody else.” He also used the term “chink” to describe a foreign businessman.

Whelan was defending his decision to name Malky Mackay as the club’s manager despite a British Football Association inquiry into Mackay for alleged racism and anti-Semitism in email and text exchanges.

Whelan apologized in an interview with the BBC a day after his remarks were published.

The Football Association’s Independent Regulatory Commission acknowledged that: “Mr. Whelan  is not  a  racist as can be seen from his business life as well as his private life including his support of charities.”

He donated nearly $8,000 to the Brookvale organization for the Mentally Handicapped, a Jewish organization which helps with care for the mentally handicapped.





Court Halts Demolition of Yehuda Glick Attacker's Home

Thu, 01/01/2015 - 08:04

Israel’s Supreme Court suspended a demolition order for the home of the Palestinian terrorist who severely injured Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick in an assassination attempt.

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Florida Synagogue Windows Shot Out

Wed, 12/31/2014 - 11:45

Vandals shot out the windows of a Florida synagogue. The attack on Dec. 25 damaged several windows of Temple B’nai Darom in Ocala, Fla.

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Windows shot out in synagogue in Ocala, Fla.

Wed, 12/31/2014 - 11:04

(JTA) — Vandals shot out the windows of a Florida synagogue.

The attack on Dec. 25 damaged several windows of Temple B’nai Darom in Ocala, Fla.

A police investigation is underway. The windows were shot out with a BB gun, according to reports. The building’s security alarm sounded, calling police to the site.

“I think it’s a hate crime,” Robert Levenson, the temple’s president, told the Ocala Star Banner on Monday. “And when things like this happen, it’s hard to keep going.”

It is not the first time that the synagogue has been vandalized, according to the newspaper.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has classified the incident as criminal mischief.

“We are investigating this as we would other crime,” Laurel Lettilier of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office told the local Channel 13 news on Tuesday. “If we find anything that would delineate it a hate crime, we fill find it and track down any motives that might be involved.”

The sheriff’s office has increased patrols in the area, according to the report.

5 Albums To Pick Up in 2015

Wed, 12/31/2014 - 05:00

As the temperatures begin to drop, there’s more time to spend listening. And, fortunately, there’s a profusion of great new music around. Here are 5 great new albums.

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Ben Ammi Ben Israel's Spiritual Journey From Segregated Chicago to Negev Desert

Wed, 12/31/2014 - 05:00

Ben Ammi ben Israel, who died in Israel last week, was very much a product of his upbringing in segregated Chicago. What led the spiritual leader to break with his teachers and found a community in Dimona?

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L’Taken Participant Reflects on Losses Due to Gun Violence

Tue, 12/30/2014 - 12:00

At the last L’Taken seminar, Connecticut students spoke to staff from the offices of Senator Chris Murphy, Senator Richard Blumenthal and Representative Jim Himes to share why gun violence prevention is important to them as Jews, as Americans, and as young people. Lee Winters, who came to L’Taken along with his confirmation class at Temple B’nai Chaim in Georgetown, Connecticut, shared a personal story about the rippling effects of gun violence in his community:

So, fun fact about me: I may be fifteen but I don’t work at a grocery store or a restaurant. I am a professional magician and have been for many years. I must admit though, the most moving experience for me in the entertainment world was December 9, 2012, when I did a show at Adath Israel in Newtown, Connecticut. It was a huge crowd, and one of my first gigs that I was paid for, so I was nervous. Luckily for me though, the show went spectacularly. Children were laughing, parents were smiling, I was happy…

Until five days later. It was December 14, two years ago yesterday, the day 26 people passed away at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the same town. My school, in the neighboring town of Redding, went in lock down, and none of us knew why. But it was terrifying. Texts, calls, emails, all poured in saying “are you okay?” “what happened?” “are you safe?”. I certainly got one from my parents, but none of us knew what was going on.

When I found out about what happened, I immediately thought about that temple, and soon learned about Noah Pozner, a six year old, and one of the twenty six people who passed away that horrific day. He was an Adath Israel member with his family, and he was there the day when I performed. That’s when I lost it.

Two months later, I came back to that temple to put on another show, and I was absolutely paralyzed with terror. I thought I would see gloom, sadness, depression. After a half hour of my show, I was shocked. Everyone was smiling, laughing, louder than before, and it made me happy that I could, at least for the day, give everyone life and hope. It was a truly unforgettable experience. The problem is, the Pozner family was not there, and I wish they were. If Adam Lanza didn’t have access to those firearms, then Noah and the Pozner family could’ve been there for this “joyous” day.

Lee’s story resonates to remind us of the importance of enacting measures to prevent gun violence, regardless of its impetus or source. He and his fellow students urged their Senators and Representative to support the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act (S.1290), which would make it illegal for convicted stalkers to own guns and would extend domestic violence protections against gun possession to include “dating partners” or others “similarly situated to a spouse.”

As we enter the new year, we must continue to take action to prevent gun violence in our communities and across the country. Take action and urge your Members of Congress to support the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act (S.1290).

Shas Leader Aryeh Deri Tries To Quit After Release of Ovadia 'Thief' Tape

Mon, 12/29/2014 - 17:40

The head of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party submitted a resignation letter the day after a video was released showing the party’s former spiritual leader criticizing him and praising his rival.

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Shas leader attempts to resign in aftermath of leaked video

Mon, 12/29/2014 - 16:48

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who died in 2013, criticized Shas leader Aryeh Deri in a leaked video. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90.)

(JTA) — The head of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party submitted a resignation letter the day after a video was released showing the party’s former spiritual leader criticizing him and praising his rival.

Aryeh Deri said Monday that he was retiring from Shas and politics, the Times of Israel reported. However, the party’s council of rabbis rejected his resignation and ordered that he continue in his post.

Deri’s rival Eli Yishai, who headed the party for years, broke away from Shas earlier this month to start his own party, Ha’am Itanu.

In the video, which was filmed in 2008 and believed to be leaked by Yishai, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said he was concerned about the possibility of Deri, who served in prison for two years, returning to party leadership. Deri was convicted of graft in 1999 and stayed out of politics until 2012.

“Thirty, 40 percent will leave [Shas]. Why? Because he was convicted in court. Why take a thief or bribe taker?” the rabbi asked rhetorically in the video.

Yosef, who died in 2013, appointed Deri as sole party chairman that year.


Chicago Synagogue Hit With Graffiti

Mon, 12/29/2014 - 14:59

A Chicago synagogue and more than 10 nearby residential garages were vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti.

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