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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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Egyptian court cancels annual pilgrimage to rabbi’s grave

Mon, 12/29/2014 - 10:36

(JTA) — An Egyptian court canceled an annual Jewish pilgrimage to the grave of a 19th-century Moroccan rabbi.

The Administrative Court in the coastal city of Alexandria on Monday banned the annual celebration at the grave of Rabbi Yaakov Abu Hasira, whose tomb is in Damanhour, in the Nile Delta, on the anniversary of his death. The court was responding to a lawsuit that said the festival violates local traditions, the Gulf News reported.

Hundreds of Israeli pilgrims annually visit the grave of Abu Hasira, who was on his way to the Holy Land when his ship sank. He survived and made his way to Egypt, where he died in 1880.

The court reportedly also revoked a 2001 decision by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture listing the tomb and its surroundings as heritage sites. It also ruled that the remains of the rabbi should not be transferred to Israel, an unnamed court source told the Egyptian news website Ahram. Israel made the request two years ago via the United Nations cultural arm, UNESCO.

Visits to the site have not been permitted since the 2011 ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Restored Polish Synagogue Will Reopen as Museum

Mon, 12/29/2014 - 09:04

Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland plans to open a new Jewish museum in a preserved baroque synagogue built in the 17th century in eastern Poland.

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Moving Beyond Stones and Concrete to Worship of the Heart

Mon, 12/29/2014 - 09:00

by Beni Wajnberg

A story in Avot de’Rabbi Natan, a midrashic text, illustrates perhaps one of the most important events that determined the future of Judaism following the destruction of the Temple. In it, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai is walking together with Rabbi Yehoshua. When they pass the ruins of the Temple in Jerusalem, Yehoshua exclaims, “Oy to us, whose Temple is destroyed, where our sins were atoned through sacrifices!” Yochanan Ben Zakkai answers, “Don’t worry my son, because we have another way of atoning for our misdeeds: gemilut chassadim (acts of loving-kindness).”

With the loss of the Temple, would the connection between God and humans be gone forever? To ensure that this tragic event did not signal the end of the Jewish spiritual quest, the rabbis got creative, developing the concept of avodah shebalev (worship of the heart) – prayers. According to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, acts of loving-kindness are yet another way to substitute for the sacrifices and the role of the Temple.

Such thinking exemplifies a change in perspective. The Temple was programmatic, offering local services that could not be offered anywhere else. In its absence, the personal search for meaning became central. In their wisdom, the rabbis created rituals, including prayer services, to resemble Temple worship. Instead of merely bringing animals to sacrifice, worshippers became responsible for actively performing rituals and, therefore, had to feel personally compelled to do so. Worship morphed into being about people, not “programs” implemented by clergy; self-awareness, responsibility, and relationship-building, then, became additional ways to worship God.

The same is true today. In our modern communities – just as Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, Rabbi Yehoshua, and all of the sages of their generation did in their day – we, too, ponder how to bring people to synagogue programming and keep our institutions running. We ask endless questions about how to get worshipers through our doors: How can we get twenty- and thirty-something Jews engaged in our congregations? How many happy hours do we need to offer? What does it take to ensure a strong Jewish identity in our children? How much Jewish summer camping is the right amount?

But wait! If the future of our communities depends on people, not on programs, then we are asking the wrong questions.

How different things might be if, instead of asking “how?” and “what?,” we instead focused on building relationships and asking “Why?” In such a scenario, we wouldn’t evaluate success based on how many congregants attend our programs. Instead, we’d judge our success by how deeply we engage with and relate to those whom we meet and serve, working to establish genuine, meaningful partnerships with them.

I believe that programs and buildings play an important role in any community, but we would be well-served to restructure the way we envision these spaces. Rather than creating programs in the hopes that we will establish some relationships along the way, we must begin by developing and nurturing meaningful and deep relationships.

The only way we can protect our institutions and ensure they remain relevant is to engage with others, building strong relationships and fostering sacred partnerships so that each of our temple buildings becomes a true beit ha’knesset (a house of assembly). Only when people come to us because of their connections with others – and stay for the programs – will we have succeeded in our task. Indeed, only through our actions and our relationships will our communities flourish and grow, and only in this way will we be able to engage with the Torah of Rabbi Yohanan be Zakkai – continually reinventing Judaism.

Beni Wajnberg is a fifth-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles. Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he has served congregations in CA, MT, OH, TN, and Argentina as a student rabbi. Beni enjoys cooking with his wife, Miriam, painting, and watching waves break in the ocean.

Photo by Flickr user @anuntrainedeye/CC.