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Updated: 54 min 52 sec ago

Tragic Deaths Highlight Need for Nation to Address Core Issues of Racial Justice

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 11:01
Rabbi Jacobs: While the legal process has played itself out and resulted in the grand jury's decision not to indict the officer, the underlying issues -- including police practices, racial divides within the community and economic and social inequality -- must be addressed head on.

Ukraine Jews Wait in Cold for Aid Packages

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 10:30

Several hundred Jews braved sub-freezing temperatures to receive aid packages at the synagogue of the besieged city of Lugansk.

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Holocaust Museum Gets Biggest-Ever $25M Gift

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 07:39

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum will increase its educational programming in the U.S. and abroad with a $25 million gift, the largest in the museum’s history.

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Jewish Student Sues Barry Freundel Synagogue Over Mikveh Peeping

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 06:32

A third-year student at Georgetown University’s law school is suing Rabbi Barry Freundel, his Washington synagogue, the adjacent mikvah and her own law school for allowing Freundel’s alleged misdeeds to go unchecked.

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Hasidic Enclave Keeps Its Secrets Amid Elusive Rebbe's Tight Control

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 05:00

Grand Rabbi David Twersky enjoys near-divine status among his devotees. But some report being rebuffed when seeking help in sex abuse cases.

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Law student sues Freundel’s synagogue for turning blind eye

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 17:03

(JTA) – A third-year student at Georgetown University’s law school is suing Rabbi Barry Freundel, his Washington synagogue, the adjacent mikvah and her own law school for allowing Freundel’s alleged misdeeds to go unchecked.

The unidentified student’s suit was filed Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court by attorney Steven Silverman of Baltimore. She said she was lured to the mikvah by Freundel, who was arrested Oct. 14 on voyeurism charges for allegedly installing a secret camera in the ritual bath.

“This case involves an unfathomable breach of trust by a Georgetown professor and religious leader and defendants’ utter failure to prevent and/or stop it,” the lawsuit says, according to The Washington Post. “Defendants turned a blind eye to obvious signs of Freundel’s increasingly bizarre behavior, ignoring the bright red flags that Freundel was acting inappropriately with women subjected to his authority.”

The student, who is Jewish, said she visited the mikvah twice while researching a paper for a class at the law school taught by Freundel and believes the rabbi watched her disrobe at the ritual bath.

The paper, “The Mikvah: Expanding the Ritual for Jewish Women,” received an A grade from Freundel, the lawsuit says. The rabbi co-taught a law seminar at Georgetown as recently as this spring, according to the university.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status and does not identify the plaintiff by name, according to the Post.

On Sunday, Kesher Israel, the synagogue led by Freundel, announced that it had fired the rabbi, who had been on unpaid suspension since his arrest.

The lawsuit charges that Kesher Israel was aware of inappropriate behavior by the rabbi, including his treatment of women, but did nothing about it other than convey concerns to the Rabbinical Council of America. Similarly, the lawsuit accused Georgetown of “willful blindness” because it “undertook no investigation into Freundel’s background prior to hiring him,” according to the report in the Post.

Also named in the suit was the National Capital Mikvah, where the alleged peeping took place.

On Giving Tuesday, remembering one of its champions

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 17:02

Today is the third annual Giving Tuesday, the day when Americans are urged to make charitable contributions — and when many philanthropies encourage them with matching campaigns.

It’s also the first since Sol Adler, one of the initiative’s key champions, committed suicide.

As the longtime executive director of New York’s 92nd Street Y , which in 2012 co-created Giving Tuesday in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, Adler was active in promoting the project.

His numerous media appearances on behalf of Giving Tuesday include the below video on 3200 Stories, the “digital venue” of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

Yet the first Giving Tuesday was the only one in which he played a public role: In July 2013, after 25 years on the job, he was fired by the venerable Manhattan Jewish cultural center. His termination followed revelations that he’d had a long affair with his assistant, whose son-in-law — the Y’s former director of facilities — was implicated in a kickback scheme involving the Y’s vendors.

Less than a year later, Adler hung himself in his Brooklyn home. His widow, Debbie Adler, is suing the Y, alleging contract violations and employment discrimination. Her lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan in September, claims the Y “turned its back on Mr. Adler immediately upon learning that he had been diagnosed with depression,” and that its handling of his dismissal “served only to exacerbate Mr. Adler’s depression, which led to multiple suicide attempts.”

The story was recently featured in a lengthy article in New York Magazine.


Pope Francis Meets Turkey Chief Rabbi

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 06:46

Turkish Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva met with Pope Francis on the Catholic spiritual leader’s first official visit to Turkey.

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Pope meets chief rabbi during official visit to Turkey

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 06:31

(JTA) — Turkish Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva met with Pope Francis on the Catholic spiritual leader’s first official visit to Turkey.

Francis, who was born in Argentina, and Haleva met privately for about 15 minutes on Sunday, Vatican Radio reported. The two conversed in Spanish, which is Haleva’s maternal language as a Sephardic Jew of Spanish descent.

The Pope met Haleva in the final hours of his two-day trip to Turkey. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesperson, told reporters that the two men would have met Saturday if not for the Jewish Sabbath. He added the conversation was “very friendly and cordial.”

“Pope Francis came here on a bridge-building mission within the Christian world,” said Cefi Kamhi, a prominent member of Turkey’s Jewish community of 25,000, a member of the European Jewish Parliament and a former lawmaker. “It’s natural that he should also reach out to strengthen ties to other faith groups, and I think he succeeded in doing this.”

Haleva met the previous pope, Benedict XVI, on his visit to Turkey in 2006.

One of the key elements of the Pope’s visit was his meeting with the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. The two met on Sunday and demanded an end to the persecution of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq and called for a “constructive dialogue” with Muslims.

Francis’ visit was also seen as outreach to Muslims in the Muslim nation. He visited Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmet mosque, where he paused for a moment of reflection. The grand mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran, who received Francis at the mosque, said he hoped that Francis’ visit would “contribute to the world getting along well and living in peace.”

Hasidic musician Lazer Lloyd sings the black hat blues

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 16:16

Lazer Lloyd performs at The Mint, Los Angeles, Nov. 24, 2014. (Yocheved Seidman)

If it hadn’t been for Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Lazer Lloyd thinks he would’ve been famous by now. On the other hand, he figures that by now, he’d probably also be dead.

Back in 1994, Lloyd was a rising young blues musician with a deal at Atlantic Records when he met the famed songwriter and spiritualist, who invited to join a musical tour in Israel.

“I was a really crazy blues rock’n’roller,” he recalls. “I had a lot of light, but my personality was like fire. I would go into a bar to play a show, and I could light the whole place up, but it would never end.”

Instead, his tour with Carlebach set him on a journey that led him to embrace Hasidism and move to Israel. It also brought him to the green room of The Mint, a small music club in Los Angeles where he is about to close out a West Coast tour that ran from Nov. 15 to Nov. 24. A well-established blues guitarist in Israel, Lloyd, 48, has been actively touring in Europe and the United States for the past year and a half, trying to build an audience. He mixes gigs at synagogues and Jewish community centers with shows at mainstream music clubs, like the Mint.

Lounging in jeans, a purple shirt and a black felt hat, sporting glasses and a bushy brown beard edged with gray, Lloyd (born Lloyd Paul Blumen) makes the merger of Hasidism and the blues sound perfectly natural. For him, it all came down to the flat five.

The flat five refers to the taking the fifth note in an eight-note scale and flattening it by a half-tone, creating a distinctively mournful sound. It’s a sound that appears prominently both in the blues and in European Jewish music. When Lloyd first heard Carlebach play a song with that flat five, he demanded to know why Carlebach was playing the blues. Carlebach explained that in fact it was a song by the Baal Shem Tov, and Lloyd was hooked.

“[Carlebach] was giving over the hasidut, and the hasidut was all about connecting through music and how to connect to people, and really was how to connect to the blues — how to heal a broken heart,” says Lloyd, using the Hebrew term for Hasidism. “Everyone has their own blues, and everyone’s heart is broken.”

He adds, “In this life, you got God and you got women. King David, he’s writing the same thing.”

As Lloyd speaks, his bassist for the evening rolls in, slit-eyed and reeking of marijuana. Lloyd greets him warmly. Although this evening he is content to stick with water, Lloyd is not generally a teetotaler.

As he later explains to the audience onstage, “I’m used to drinking a little bit of whiskey, but I just toured Russia three weeks ago and my liver is still recovering.” He then recites a bracha into the microphone and sips his water.

Of course, as Lloyd points out backstage, living the blues and living Hasidic both involve alcohol.

“In Hasidism, taking l’chayim, taking a little drink is a thing. You put a little wine in, and the secrets come out. You just have to know not to cross the border.”

For Lloyd, Hasidism and the blues both connect to the same thing — trying to connect to the heart of emotions, to feel and to be present more fully.

“Before going to Israel, I’d have so many thoughts when I’d play, about the notes and everything. When I got to Israel, I’d get on the stage — I’d just close my eyes. I’d say, I’m just dropping the reins, letting the horses go.”

When Lloyd plays the blues onstage, it’s a full body-and-soul experience, as he bounces, bobs, nods and pulses to the music — when he solos, he closes his eyes and lets himself plunge into the music, shaking his head in blissful ecstasy, or grimacing as he shreds a particularly nasty passage.

“Rebbe Nachman” — of Breslov, an old Hasidic leader — “was the master of hitbodedut, which is an art of how to get deep into your heart and how to be in touch with your emotions. When you’re a musician, you have to be able to do this, to connect to people, to heal people.”

That focus on connection, for Lloyd, is paramount. He says he wants his five children to meet all kinds of people, and to make their own decisions about the kind of life they want to live. He professes little interest in tying them to a particular sect or creed.

“I keep away from boxes, sects. I’m a little Sufi, I’m a little apostolic. I connect to good people — there’s good things to learn from good people.”

Rabbi Barry Freundel Fired by Kesher Israel

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 13:43

Rabbi Barry Freundel has officially been fired from his post at Kesher Israel over sensational charges he used a hidden camera to peep on women in the Washington D.C. synagogue’s mikveh.

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Building a Robust, Reform Shabbat Community

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 09:00

by Harry Frischer

Imagine a room filled to capacity each Shabbat with worshippers who derive deep satisfaction from regular communal worship. Imagine the ruach (spirit) of many voices lifted together each week in energetic, musical, participatory prayer. Imagine a community whose members enjoy rich, rewarding spiritual lives, nourished by regular prayer, ritual, and learning.

Imagine a worship community where participants come to know each other and care for each other. Imagine a worship community where members celebrate together in times of joy, take care of each other in times of illness, bereavement, and other times of need. A community where members are welcomed in each other’s homes for Shabbat and other occasions, and where members enjoy each other’s company both inside and outside the synagogue.

Imagine a worship community that values Jewish learning and literacy, and where members find depths of meaning in the regular study of Jewish texts. A community where members are inspired to acquire the skills needed to navigate Hebrew liturgy, and where members regularly chant Torah and haftarah, deliver divrei Torah, and lead in so many other ways.

Imagine a community that celebrates Shabbat as a genuine day of rest: a day of respite from the relentless demands of work. A day to slow down and recharge, and to resist the pressure to run from activity to activity. A day for spending time with family and friends, for leisurely meals, for walks in the park, and afternoon naps.

Imagine a growing, robust and thriving Shabbat community. A community of all ages – from young families with small children to seniors, and everyone in between – who share a common passion for the joyous celebration of Shabbat, which helps meet the deepest longings of the soul.

Imagine a Reform Shabbat community that embraces everything described above and also the inclusiveness and commitment to social justice that are the hallmarks of progressive, liberal Judaism.

Reform Judaism has long valued Shabbat as a time of rest, learning and worship, offering a profound spiritual experience even for Reform Jews. The celebration of Shabbat as described above fits is squarely within our Reform tradition, and is an important part of our liberal heritage, not some artifact best left to other Jewish movements. As Rabbi Eric Yoffie said in his remarks during Kabbalat Shabbat at the Union for Reform Judaism’s 2011 Biennial Convention:

And where did people get the idea that to observe Shabbat means to be Orthodox? Isaac Mayer Wise would turn over in his grave. For him, Shabbat – and this means a Reform Shabbat – was at the very heart of liberal Judaism.

Many of our Reform congregations work hard to provide transformative, moving worship and serious Jewish learning, and they succeed in doing so. Each synagogue has its own group of regulars who can be counted on to attend services, adult education programs, and other offerings. But these regulars typically are a small fraction of synagogue membership, and we are a long way from having the thriving, growing and robust worship communities contemplated above. Rabbi Janet Marder has observed that a critical task for Reform Judaism is the “ongoing work of expanding the committed core,” thereby creating a “culture of commitment” that can inspire a Judaism of “passion and devotion.” A robust Shabbat worship community is that “committed core.”

Expanding a Shabbat worship community beyond the group of existing synagogue regulars, to create a thriving, sizable, cross-generational core is not easy work. It is not a matter of merely changing the Shabbat service, adding new music or bringing in interesting speakers, as important as all of those factors may be. It involves the difficult task of inspiring congregants to want Shabbat as part of their lives, and to help them derive meaning and purpose from regular Shabbat worship, study, and rest. This important work requires the combined efforts of both clergy and lay leaders, who inspire through personal relationships, painstakingly cultivated one cup of coffee at a time, and their own Jewish engagement. It requires personal invitations, personal follow-up, and considerable hand-holding. It requires training of lay leaders and clergy, meetings, and discussion, all designed to bring the vision of a committed Shabbat community to the forefront of synagogue consciousness.

This work also cannot be dependent on focus groups or research that seeks to identify what members think they want from their synagogue. Steve Jobs famously said that people don’t know what they want until you show it to them, a quote that is particularly appropriate here. We need to show members a warm, embracing Shabbat-centered community and the observance of a Reform Shabbat that can enrich their lives and enable them to experience a closeness to God that they may never have been able to imagine on their own.

The work of expanding a Shabbat community also complements the other important project of Reform Judaism – engaging the unengaged. Our Reform congregations devote considerable effort to ignite the spark of Jewish engagement where it did not previously exist, and these efforts can be very successful. With appropriate focus and effort, we can be equally successful in inspiring more of the already-engaged to higher and higher levels of engagement, learning and commitment, thereby enhancing their lives immeasurably while also expanding our committed core.

Harry Frischer is an attorney and a vice president and trustee of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City.

Photo by Isti Bardos of Temple Israel in Memphis, TN

Rabbis Face Jail Time for 'Private' Weddings

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 06:34

Israel’s Cabinet has let stand an amendment which would subject to two years in jail a rabbi who performs a private wedding ceremony, as well as the couple who got married.

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Israel’s Cabinet retains amendment to jail rabbis who perform private weddings

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 05:53

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Cabinet has let stand an amendment which would subject to two years in jail a rabbi who performs a private wedding ceremony, as well as the couple who got married.

The Cabinet debated the amendment to legislation passed last year which allows couples to go outside their own communities to find a rabbi certified by the chief rabbinate to marry them.

Dozens of couples marry outside of the rabbinate every year.

“The present law is an outrage,” Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM Advocacy Center, which wrote the proposed amendment, said in a statement. “I am disappointed that the Cabinet couldn’t look beyond petty politics in order to rectify this law which is disproportionately severe and ludicrous.  Israel is now among a few select countries where it is a criminal act to perform a chuppah.”

Farber said his organization will now seek litigation to protect rabbis and couples who seek to be married outside the rabbinate.


Tel Aviv Synagogue Vandalized in 'Jewish State' Protest

Sun, 11/30/2014 - 18:00

A Tel Aviv synagogue apparently was vandalized in protest of Israel’s nation-state bill.

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3 Charged With Plotting Temple Mount Attack

Sun, 11/30/2014 - 13:25

Three Palestinian men were indicted for planning to attack activist Yehuda Glick and right-wing lawmaker Moshe Feiglin during a visit to the Temple Mount.

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Australia Capital Gets First Rabbi

Sun, 11/30/2014 - 11:17

The Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth officiated at the inauguration of the first rabbi officially appointed to lead the Jewish community in Australia’s capital.

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Netanyahu to submit bill to invest in Arab Druze, Circassian communities

Sun, 11/30/2014 - 06:13

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will submit a plan to the Knesset for significant investments in the Arab Druze and Muslim Circassian communities.

The plan will include funds for education, infrastructure, and employment “in order to reduce the existing disparities,” Netanyahu announced Saturday night on his Facebook page, an on Sunday in an official announcement from his office

Netanyahu met last week with leaders of the Druze community, where he told them about plans to submit the bill.

During the meeting, Netanyahu also told the leaders that the nationality, or Israel as a Jewish nation-state, bill set to be voted on next week would not harm their status and would even entrench their equality in Israeli society.

About 130,000 Druze live in northern Israel. There are about 4,000 Israeli Circassians living in two villages in northern Israel.  The Circassians in Israel are Sunni Muslims who were expelled in the late 1800s by the Russians from the Caucasus Mountains.

Teaneck Synagogue Taking Steps To Rein in Rabbi Pruzanksy

Fri, 11/28/2014 - 12:49

The board of directors of Rabbi Pruzansky’s Teaneck synagogue is taking steps to oversee the cleric’s controversial blog posts, which will be submitted to editors prior to publication.

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Teaneck shul taking steps to rein in Rabbi Pruzanksy

Fri, 11/28/2014 - 12:40

NEW YORK (JTA) – The board of directors of Rabbi Steven Pruzansky’s Teaneck synagogue is taking steps to oversee the rabbi’s controversial blog and tighten shul security.

In a letter sent to congregants on Friday, the board of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun said Pruzansky had agreed to submit his writings to editors prior to publication and that the process would be reviewed periodically by the synagogue board.

The shul also said security patrols by Teaneck police have increased in recent days to ensure the safety of the synagogue, its members, and Pruzansky and his family.

The letter was sparked by a Nov. 21 blog post titled “Dealing with Savages” in which Pruzansky called Arabs in the Land of Israel “the enemy,” advocated their emigration or deportation, and suggested that the mosque atop the Temple Mount be moved to Saudi Arabia. JTA first reported the post on Sunday, shortly after the rabbi deleted it due to “unspecified threats,” he said.

“The Executive Board met with the Rabbi earlier this week and has been in communication virtually non-stop since last week. We fully appreciate the gravity of the situation for our Shul and the extended community,” the board said in its letter.

“As the Board of Directors has said in the past, the public writings of Rabbi Pruzansky are his personal thoughts, views and opinions and not those of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, its Executive Board, Board of Directors or members,” the board said in its letter to members. “Bnai Yeshurun is in no way affiliated with the Rabbi’s blog postings and has never had editorial control over them whatsoever.”

The new editorial oversight arrangement for Pruzansky comes in response to the harsh spotlight his recent posts have cast on his 800-member Orthodox shul, Teaneck’s largest.

In his own letter to congregants, Pruzansky expressed regret for writing “in a manner that many deemed harsh” following last week’s deadly terrorist attack at a Jerusalem synagogue that left five dead, including four Jewish worshippers.

“I probably have suffered sporadically over the years from lack of a resource that all other writers have — a good editor,” Pruzansky wrote. “As such, I have agreed (upon recommendation of the shul leadership) to form a panel of people that I trust that will review my writings — not to censor the ideas, but to make certain, when necessary, that they are conveyed in slightly-less colorful ways.”

Pruzansky’s Nov. 21 post was hardly his first foray into controversy. Over the years, he has used his blog and his sermons to castigate those he deems harmful to the Jewish people — not just Arabs, but Israeli leaders, too. In 1995, weeks before the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, Pruzansky called Rabin a Judenrat — the term used to describe the Jewish councils that did the Nazis’ bidding during the Holocaust.

Earlier this month, Pruzanksy got into a public spat with the New York Jewish Week in which he seemingly compared the newspaper to the Nazi publication Der Sturmer.

Pruzansky’s Nov. 21 blog post focused on why and how Israel should deal more harshly with the Arab population living under its control.

“There is a war for the land of Israel that is being waged, and the Arabs who dwell in the land of Israel are the enemy in that war and must be vanquished,” Pruzansky wrote. “Israel has to act, especially as the violence has spiraled out of control … At a certain point, the unrestrained behavior of unruly animals becomes the fault of the zookeeper, not the animals.”

The post prompted a rare statement from the Orthodox Union repudiating rhetoric that resorts to “wholesale demonization, advocates for the collective punishment of Israeli Arabs, or calls for the destruction or dismantling of Muslim holy places.”