This past Friday night, our Deputy Director Rachel Laser gave a D’var Torah at the Temple in Atlanta about the story of Juan Martinez. Juan was born in Cieudad Hidalgo, Mexico, and when the factory in his hometown closed, Juan crossed the Mexican-American border without papers in search of a job and a better life. He came to a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia to live with his brother, where he has lived for the past 14 years. All that time, he has worked diligently as a painter.
In July 2012, Juan was pulled over by a Georgia police officer for allegedly failing to stop at a red light and arrested for driving without a license. Although these were his only charges, he was placed in detention and deportation proceedings began. Juan was released from detention in response to community pressure, but at his court date in July 2014 he received an order of removal. That order of removal is still active. Now more than ever, wonders whether he will be forced to leave the life he has worked hard to make for himself and his wife.
Juan, and many people like him, would be granted legal status under Senate bill 744, Congress’ best attempt at Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Yet, we have been extremely frustrated by Congress’ inability to pass this bill, and we are morally outraged by the continued deportations of hard-working people like Juan. Instead of sitting idly by, the Religious Action Center has been working for months with Rabbis Organizing Rabbis lift up our collective voices to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and ask ICE to stay the removal order. We do not offer legal assistance, but we do call ICE and let them know that we think these individuals should be allowed to stay in our country.
Already, we’ve helped Yestel Velasquez, a member of the New Orleans community who helped to rebuild the city after Hurricane Katrina. In May, he was caught in an immigration raid, and by August he was told he would be deported within a week. Under the direction of Rabbis Organizing Rabbis’ lead organizer, Joy Friedman, our rabbis placed almost two dozen calls into two different ICE offices, and Yestel was granted a year-long stay of his deportation. We met a similar situation with Catalino Guerrero, a Newark resident who had suffered a stroke in 2011, but who was recently ordered to self-deport. Rabbis placed numerous calls, and Catalino received a year-long stay of his order of removal. We have a similar ongoing case in Arizona with a father of two children named Luis Lopez-Acabal.
These were great successes, and so Rachel’s D’var Torah last week marked a new approach for our efforts to fight unfair deportations. Previously, we have worked with only rabbis from many different states to show a national priority for stopping unjust deportations. In Juan’s case, however, we’ve been working with members of local congregations to call on behalf of someone in their area. With these calls, we can make real differences to right injustices in people’s lives, and by harnessing the power of our congregants as well as our rabbis we can give relief to even more people who are under the threat of unfair deportation. Now, you can be a part of righting this injustice! Take action and call ICE on behalf of Luis and Juan, and ask for a stay to their order of removal.
French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia made an urgent plea to Europe to defend non-Muslims in the Middle East, whom he likened to Holocaust victims.Click here for the rest of the article...
The parliament in Lithuania passed a law permitting ritual slaughter in the country, spurring a protest by animal rights activists.Click here for the rest of the article...
In his annual Rosh Hashanah call with American rabbis, President Obama focused on crises in the Middle East.Click here for the rest of the article...
Synagogues in rural Iowa are few and far between. But if you happen to stumble upon one, you might be surprised at what you find.Click here for the rest of the article...
As the year ends, former British chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks looks back at twelve months of fear and death — and finds hope in Judaism’s essential love of life.Click here for the rest of the article...
by Rabbi Ramie Arian
Throughout the nearly four decades of my career, I’ve been privileged to serve the Jewish people in a variety of non-congregational rabbinic roles – national director of NFTY, the Reform Jewish youth movement for most of the 1980s, as well as vice president of the Wexner Heritage Foundation, national director of Young Judaea, and founding executive director of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. The Jewish journey of my life has been shaped and molded by many influences; NFTY was among the most important.
I joined our temple’s youth group in 10th grade, and went on my first NFTY regional event that winter. I was hooked; NFTY changed the direction of my life.
As a teen, I was drawn to the compelling discussions NFTY inspired about Judaism’s interactions with the great issues of the day. How could Jews help in the civil rights struggle? Was there a Jewish position on the Vietnam War? The nuclear arms race? The draft?
Even more, I was attracted by the sense of encompassing community NFTY engendered. This special sense of group bonding was particularly evident in — and clearly created through — the group singing we did in NFTY. Every day, we sang after each meal, and twice more during services. We sang at campfires, and at friendship circles when an event ended, and every time we could find an excuse to do so. Singing with those groups was a powerful experience.
I had taught myself to play guitar, and had heard about the URJ (then UAHC) summer camps. I applied to be a songleader at the URJ’s Eisner Camp, and, despite an extreme lack of competence and experience at that early stage of my life, I got the job. I was lucky and blessed to work with an experienced and talented head songleader, Hank Sawitz, who was a great teacher and a patient mentor.
I learned a lot that summer. I learned dozens of songs, and how to teach a song. I learned that I was comfortable and capable in front of a group. I learned how to choose the music in order to advance the program and to reflect the group’s mood.
During my four years at college, I had many invitations to serve as songleader at NFTY synagogue and regional events. Once or twice a month, I went to a NFTY conclave, kallah, or institute, and got my Jewish “fix.”
I was invited back to camp, this time as head songleader. I returned every summer, until I had been a camp songleader for seven seasons. Each time, it was a powerful learning experience.
I learned to take responsibility. I learned to supervise others. I learned to make Jewish liturgy come alive through music. During my years as a songleader, I played a role in transitioning NFTY music from the songs of Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary to songs in Hebrew. Most of the new Hebrew music used melodies written by my contemporaries: Debbie Friedman, Cantor Jeff Klepper, Rabbi Dan Freelander, composer and conductor Michael Isaacson and others. Most of it used texts from our tradition, including liturgical passages or texts from Pirkei Avot.
I learned how powerful the music could be, not only in building community, but also as a teaching tool. I learned that music could help us learn Hebrew, could help us learn the prayers, could help us master traditional texts. As a leader of the music, I was forced to think deeply and carefully about how and when to apply the power of the musical tools I found at my disposal.
Slowly, it dawned on me how little I really knew and understood about Jewish tradition. Fortunately, in the URJ camp setting, there were always rabbis and cantors at hand to whom I could turn for guidance. But as I advanced through college, I came to understand that I wanted to have a great deal more knowledge, background and skill in things Jewish. Little by little, it occurred to me that I wanted to become a rabbi.
I have dedicated my rabbinate to those aspects of Jewish life that I found powerfully present in NFTY: to building Jewish spirituality through community, to deepening Jewish education, to the influence of experiential learning, and to the extraordinary power of Jewish camp.
Looking back, I am grateful to NFTY, and especially to the music of NFTY, for providing the spark that set me forth on this life’s journey.
Rabbi Ramie Arian is a consultant working with Jewish camps and other groups that build Jewish identity through experiential education.
In advance of the UN Climate Summit beginning tomorrow, Barbara Weinstein, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Director of the Commission on Social Action, issued the following statement:
“We are pleased to join with others in the environmental, scientific and faith communities in urging our domestic and international leaders this week to make a strong commitment to curbing climate change and its effects. This past weekend, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis were proud to partner with HUC-JIR and Reform congregants and congregations from the greater New York area and beyond to be part of the 300,000-plus who participated in the People’s Climate March to express our shared commitment to achieving a solution to the current climate crisis.
As people of faith, blessed to live in a nation with the resources and ability to be a climate leader, we have a moral obligation to address the devastation of climate change that is already wreaking havoc on the air we breathe, water we drink and earth that sustains us. Yet only with a concerted international commitment to tackling this challenge can we ensure that we pass on a healthy earth as we pass on our sacred traditions l’dor v’dor, from one generation to the next. We must act in particular for the sake of the most vulnerable – the sick, children, the elderly and others living in communities ill-equipped to respond to the increasing instances of flooding, drought, food shortages, and disease associated with climate change.
We look forward to this week’s summit renewing the global commitment to stemming climate change and to meaningful engagement from individuals, corporations, communities, and nations.”
In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama announced the Promise Zones Initiative: the federal government partnering with and investing in a number of high-poverty urban, rural, and tribal communities to create jobs, expand educational opportunities, improve public safety, increase economic activity, and leverage private investment. These partnerships serve as future pathways to the middle class for high-poverty communities throughout the country.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, September 23, at 12:00 PM ET, the White House will be hosting a conference call to learn more about the next round of applications for communities to participate in the Promises Initiative. The call will be off the record and for non-press purposes. Register for the call here and feel free to share this information with your community contacts who may be interested in this initiative.
The first round of Promise Zones (communities participating in this initiative) were announced in January 2014 and include San Antonio, TX, Los Angeles, CA, Philadelphia, PA, Southeastern Kentucky, and Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Each designees has shown that it takes collaborative efforts – between private business and federal, state, tribal and local officials; faith-based and non-profit organizations; children and parents – to ensure that hard work can lead to a decent living in every community, for any American.
Our Jewish values instruct us to partner with others to help them help themselves as well as to work in collaboration with others. We are taught that “you are commanded to provide the needy with whatever they lack … You are commanded to fulfill all of their needs, though not required to make them wealthy.” (Mishneh Torah, Laws Concerning Gifts to the Poor, 7:3) We look forward to hearing about the existing and future efforts to partner with local communities and businesses to decrease income inequality and to promote justice.
The former executive director of a synagogue in La Jolla, Calif., was sentenced to 18 months in prison for embezzlement.Click here for the rest of the article...
(JTA) — The former executive director of a synagogue in La Jolla, Calif., was sentenced to 18 months in prison for embezzlement.
Eric Levine, 37, was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court in San Diego after pleading guilty in April to embezzling more than $540,000 from Congregation Beth El over five years. He also was ordered to provide restitution to the synagogue and given three years of supervised release following his prison stint.
Levine was in charge of the Conservative synagogue’s bank account and credit card from 2008 to 2013, according to the Los Angeles Times. The synagogue has an annual budget of nearly $2 million.
According to federal documents, he used the money for trips to Las Vegas, Mexico, Hawaii, Canada and the La Costa Resort and Spa; bought expensive furniture and jewelry; and paid to send his children to private school. Levine hid the expenses under such headings as Ritual Fund, Rabbi Emeritus, High Holidays and Purim Baskets.
The Southern California congregation reportedly laid off employees during the time period due to a lack of funds.
“Our diminished staff spends much more time on accounting than on our mission of creating a lively Jewish community in San Diego,” Rabbi Philip Graubart told the judge, according to the Los Angeles Times. “It’s hard to know if we’ll ever be the same.”
In December, before the embezzlement was found, Levine left Beth El for another executive director’s job at a congregation in the Washington, D.C., area. He was later fired by that congregation.
(JTA) — I recently attended a farewell party for someone switching jobs from one Jewish organization to another. Among many accolades, one person giving a toast said, “While we are sorry to lose him, at least he is still committed to working in the Jewish world.”
While I appreciate this sentiment — and believe the Jewish community stands to benefit from this person’s many talents — it points to a common assumption that Jewish professionals should hold lifelong employment in the Jewish sector. Yet for the next generation of professionals, signs suggest it won’t be the case.
Data consistently show that employees spend less time in any given position, changing jobs every three to five years, with over 40 percent of those changes to completely different sectors. The rates are even higher for younger talent.
After years of work and research in talent development in and out of the Jewish community, I have come to realize that we can leverage how people actually build their careers in order to strengthen the Jewish professional sector and continue to grow the quantity and quality of our talent.
It starts with embracing the concept of permeability. We talk today about working in the “Jewish world” as if it is an independent celestial body full of J-infused acronyms, hard-to-penetrate borders and scorn if you consider leaving. As a result, great people who don’t see a permanent place for themselves in the sector are inclined to leave and never return, while others don’t even consider becoming Jewish professionals in the first place.
In reality, the Jewish sector could be just as fluid and dynamic as some of the most competitive sectors in the world.
Take the high-tech sector, for example. Companies like LinkedIn offer great models for how to navigate and ultimately benefit from the transient nature of employment. LinkedIn’s approach is explained in “The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age,” a book written by its chairman, Reid Hoffman, along with Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh.
The professional networking platform hires people for “tours of duty” — two- to 10-year engagements with specific missions that meet company objectives and the employee’s personal development goals. Employees talk openly with their managers about leaving to do tours at other companies, but many also talk about coming back to LinkedIn when their needs align in the future.
This example shows that in order to fully leverage our porous structure, we need to communicate our understanding of our own permeability.
Indeed, instead of battening down the hatches, clinging to our employees and turning our backs to “outsiders,” we should send the message that while you are working in a Jewish organization, however long that may be, you will have an unparalleled opportunity to learn, grow and lay the groundwork for the career you envision.
Moving forward requires structural changes that embrace flexibility and promote the opportunities inherent in our sector. It requires ongoing and open conversations with rising talent about where they will go, and it requires us talking about the valuable skills and networks one can build working in Jewish organizational life.
Moreover, instead of denigrating people who choose to switch from the Jewish sector to a secular job, it means that we celebrate the fact that a non-Jewish organization recognizes the value of the skills gained in this sector.
It means that even as we bid farewell to staff members, we continue meaningful relationships with them, helping them find new opportunities, engaging their help in recruiting for our organizations, inspiring them and helping them to become key lay leaders for Jewish organizations. And finally, it means that we welcome those whose previous work experience is from outside the Jewish community.
By empowering individuals to spend a few years in the Jewish community building skills and networks, enhancing their professional and personal trajectories, and investing in a long-term relationship with them, we will attract and retain better talent to do this holy work.
Indeed, the more open and supportive the Jewish community becomes of individuals who embody the practice of moving between jobs and sectors, we will actually — perhaps counter-intuitively — create a more durable and attractive sector.
(Adam Simon is the director of Leadership Initiatives for the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.)
For every Jew who goes to synagogue only on the High Holidays, there’s a rabbi keenly aware of that fact. Sometimes even ‘stressed’ and ‘frustrated’ over that fact.Click here for the rest of the article...
The Jewish High Holidays begin at sundown on Wednesday, September 24. Rabbi Mark Borovitz, spiritual leader of residential treatment center Beit T’Shuvah, the House of Return, in Los Angeles, speaks about this period of reflection and prayer. A former addict who spent time in prison, Borovitz sees addiction as a spiritual illness and the act of repenting, or doing teshuvah, as central to the recovery process.
A tribunal fined and handed a suspended sentence to a man who made the quenelle gesture in front of a French synagogue’s Holocaust memorial plaque.Click here for the rest of the article...
(JTA) — A tribunal fined and handed a suspended sentence to a man who made the quenelle gesture in front of a French synagogue’s Holocaust memorial plaque.
The Correctional Tribunal of Colmar in northeastern France last week sentenced the 42-year-old man, who was not named in media reports, to three months in jail, to become effective if he is convicted of a similar offense. He was also made to pay $1,300, the L’Alsace daily reported.
The defendant posted on social networks a picture of himself posing with his son while making the quenelle in front of a commemorative plaque for Jewish victims of the Holocaust located at the entrance to the synagogue of Colmar.
The quenelle, folding one arm over one’s chest while pointing downward with the other arm, is identified with the comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, who has several convictions for inciting hatred against Jews.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the quenelle “an anti-Semitic gesture of hate” and Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella group of Jewish communities, said it was an “inverted Nazi salute,” though he added it carried an anti-Semitic message only when performed in a Jewish context.
Dieudonné maintains the quenelle is a gesture of defiance against the system and does not signal anti-Semitism.
Separately, the deputy mayor of Drancy near Paris, Christophe Lagarde, filed a complaint with police against another man who posed with his family while performing the quenelle in front of the Parisian suburb’s Holocaust memorial site, according to a report by the BNVCA watchdog on anti-Semitism.
Several people have been convicted of inciting racial hatred for disseminating pictures of themselves making the quenelle.
A Jewish prayer book believed to be the world’s oldest will be exhibited in Jerusalem for one month.Click here for the rest of the article...
(JTA) — A Jewish prayer book believed to be the world’s oldest will be exhibited in Jerusalem for one month.
The 1,200-year-old siddur was unveiled Thursday at a ceremony at the Bible Lands Museum. In a news release, the museum described it as the oldest Jewish prayer book.
Steve Green, the museum’s chairman, purchased the book for his personal collection a year ago.
The prayer book will be displayed in the museum’s Book of Books exhibit, a collection of important biblical tests. On display are original fragments from the Septuagint, the earliest New Testament Scriptures, illuminated manuscripts, rare fragments from the Cairo Geniza and original pages from the Gutenberg Bible.
Written in Hebrew and still in its original binding, the book originates from the Middle East. It contains the morning service, liturgical poems and the Passover Haggadah.
Ten organizations have announced a coordinated effort to convince Congress to reform the Higher Education Act to prevent federal funding of anti-American and anti-Israel activity.Click here for the rest of the article...