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Hollande to Jews: Schools and synagogues will be protected

Sun, 01/11/2015 - 07:26

(JTA) — French President Francois Hollande promised French Jewish leaders that Jewish schools and synagogues will be protected.

“He told us that all the schools, all the synagogues will be protected, if necessary, on top of the police, by the army,” Roger Cukierman, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, or CRIF, said Sunday morning after a meeting with Hollande at the Elysee Palace.

“We’re wounded, we’re angry. We think substantial, urgent and serious measures need to be taken,” Cukierman told reporters before the meeting.

Hollande also said he would visit the Grand Synagogue of Paris after a solidarity march on Sunday to mark the terror attacks in France last week. He will be joined at the synagogue by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a national address Friday evening, Hollande called an attack on Friday at a kosher supermarket near Paris a “dreadful anti-Semitic attack.” The U.S. State Department also labeled the attack anti-Semitic.

“We condemn in the strongest terms ‎yesterday’s cowardly anti-Semitic assault against the innocent people in the kosher supermarket,” Chanan Weissman, a spokesman for the State Department, told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday.

Amedy Coulibaly, a 32-year-old Islamist who was part of the cell of brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, who perpetrated the Charlie Hebdo attack on Jan. 7, told a Paris television station during the hostage crisis that he attacked the supermarket because he wanted to target Jews.

Chabad of Melbourne CBD to light Menorah at Parliament House of...

Sun, 01/11/2015 - 02:23

Special Guests to include Victorian Premiere The Hon. Daniel Andrews, Graham Smorgon AM and Rabbi Joseph Gutnick

(PRWeb December 10, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/12/prweb12385447.htm

Paris Grand Synagogue Shuts on Shabbat for First Time Since World War II

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 22:32

The Grand Synagogue of Paris was closed during Friday’s terror attacks and did not reopen for Shabbat services, marking the first time the synagogue has not held services since World War II.

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For first time since WWI, Paris’ Grand Synagogue closed on Shabbat

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 20:23

Paris’ Grand Synagogue on Rue de la Victoire (paris-en-photos.fr)

(JTA) — The Grand Synagogue of Paris was closed during Friday’s terror attacks and did not reopen for Shabbat services, marking the first time the synagogue has not held services since World War II.

The synagogue, situated on Rue de la Victoire in the 9th arrondissement, was closed by French police during the hostage standoff at the Hyper Cache kosher supermarket, according to USA Today, despite being far from the site of the siege, which took place in eastern Paris.

The police also closed the Rue des Rosiers shopping street in the historically Jewish neighborhood of the Marais.

The Orthodox Union told the Jerusalem Post that the synagogue had not been closed for Shabbat since World War II.

Paris’ Grand Synagogue was built in 1874 by the city’s chief architect,  Alfred-Philibert Aldrophe.

“Come to Selma”

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 19:11

As the movie opens today (January 9) in theaters around the country amidst controversy over its portrayal of former president Lyndon Johnson, we speak with director Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo, the actor who portrays Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., about what it means to them to tell the story of the historic 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, This weekend the film is also up for four Golden Globe awards (best picture, best director, best actor, and best original song.)

The post “Come to Selma” appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

David Cohen, Expert on Financial Intelligence, Named Deputy Head of CIA

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 14:18

President Barack Obama has chosen David Cohen, a top Treasury official specializing in terrorism and financial intelligence, to be the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the White House said on Friday.

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Rowdy Israelis Force Closing of Amsterdam Synagogue

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 07:57

The Jewish Community of Amsterdam temporarily shuttered one of its synagogues, citing misconduct, including security breaches, by followers of an Israeli rabbi.

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Amsterdam shul shuttered after rowdy conduct by Israeli worshippers

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 07:50

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — The Jewish Community of Amsterdam temporarily shuttered one of its synagogues, citing misconduct, including security breaches, by followers of an Israeli rabbi.

The Jewish Community of Amsterdam, or NIHS, on Wednesday said on its Facebook page that the closure of the synagogue on Lek Street in the south of the Dutch capital was effective Friday and that the synagogue may reopen on Jan. 23.

“Following a number of security incidents concerning the Lek Street synagogue in recent months, the board of the NIHS has decided to close the shul temporarily for security reasons,” the statement said.

A report in the Het Parool daily blamed the closure on Israeli followers of Rabbi Eliezer Berland, the founder of the Shuvu Bonim movement.

The Israelis are not members of the synagogue but received permission to pray there from its board, the newspaper said.

Berland, who fled his native Israel in 2013 amid complaints that he sexually assaulted female followers, is in the Netherlands pending a request by the Israel Police for his extradition.

In the statement, NIHS cited, among other incidents, verbal abuse of volunteers providing security at the synagogue. Additionally, the entrance codes to the synagogue’s electronic lock needed to be changed several times because they “had been given to people who are not members of the community,” the statement read.

The Netherlands is among several Western European countries that saw an increase in anti-Semitic attacks following Israel’s war on Hamas in summer.

Roi Banet, a spokesperson for the community of the Lek Street, last month told Het Parool that allowing the Shuvu Bonim followers to pray at the synagogue was “naïve.” He said the followers did not abide by agreements on conduct and time sharing.

Top PR Firm Red Banyan Group Names Jarad Geldner Principal and...

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 20:58

Leading national public relations firm Red Banyan Group announced today that it has appointed Jarad Geldner Principal and Director of the agency’s Washington, D.C. office. Geldner brings more than a...

(PRWeb December 09, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/12/prweb12379319.htm

Yeshiva student stabbed in Jerusalem’s Old City

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 15:44

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A yeshiva student was stabbed in the back in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The 21-year-old man was stabbed with a screwdriver on Thursday evening near the Damascus Gate, which leads to the Old City’s Muslim Quarter and the popular Arab market. He was taken to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospital.

He was heading to the Western Wall for evening prayers, Israel National News reported.

Israel Police said they are searching for the stabber. Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the police “are looking into this as a terrorist attack.”

Paris Jewish institutions at maximum alert following Charlie Hebdo attack

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 08:33

People circle around the Place de la Republique at midday on Jan. 8 in solidarity with victims of Wednesday’s terrorist attack in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Jewish institutions in the Paris region have upped their level of security to the maximum following the deadly attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices.

More uniformed and non-uniformed police officers will be stationed outside Jewish institutions and in areas with large Jewish populations, according to Chlomik Zenouda of the National Bureau for Vigilance against anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, in response to Wednesday’s slaying of 12 people at the satirical weekly.

Also, Jewish volunteers have been asked to provide security inside the perimeters of synagogues and Jewish schools, Zenouda told JTA on Thursday.

“We are past red alert at this stage, it’s all hands on deck because, sadly, the question is not whether the French Jewish community will be targeted but when,” he said. “There are indications that this may happen in the near future.”

The attack on Charlie Hebdo, which published many satirical cartoons about Islam, was believed to have been carried out by jihadists. In 2012, an Islamist who trained in Pakistan killed four Jews at a Jewish school in Toulouse. Another French Muslim is standing trial in Brussels for the slaying of four last year at the Jewish Museum of Belgium.

Those attacks prompted a major increase in security of Jewish communities across Western Europe, where Israel’s summer conflict with Hamas in Gaza triggered an uptick in anti-Semitic violence.

Zenouda said BNVCA is looking into Thursday’s attack in Montrouge, south of Paris, in which an unidentified man killed a police officer with what witnesses said was an automatic rifle.

“One of the options being investigated is that the assailant was on his way to a nearby Jewish school when police intercepted him,” Zenouda said.

Reform Action Center's Jonah Pesner Faces Tough Task in Polarized Capital

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 06:56

The Religious Action Center has not had an easy time of it in an increasingly polarized Washington. But Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the center’s incoming leader, may have an even tougher row to hoe.

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Rabbi Jonah Pesner to Lead Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 01:01

Rabbi Jonah Pesner will serve as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), the Washington, D.C. advocacy and social justice arm of North America’s largest Jewish Movement. Rabbi Pesner, an accomplished advocate with broad experience leading social justice campaigns, comes to the RAC with a mandate to deepen its advocacy work while mobilizing the Reform Jewish community and its allies.

In announcing the appointment, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, said,

“For more than half a century, the RAC has been a leading voice in Washington, D.C. for social justice. Some of the great advances in civil rights were literally written at our table. Jonah will carry that legacy forward with great distinction starting today. The issues our world faces are far too critical for us to lose any momentum during this transition. From day one, Jonah will be a powerful voice as he leads our work on economic inequality, climate change, U.S./Israel relations, healthcare reform, and more.”

Rabbi Pesner, who founded the URJ’s Just Congregations initiative that has mobilized thousands of social justice advocates, said of his new role,

“Leading one of the most respected religious advocacy organizations in Washington, D.C. into its next chapter is a remarkable blessing, but more importantly, it is an opportunity to positively impact the lives of others by pursuing public policies that reflect our democratic and moral values. The pursuit of social justice has always been at the core of the RAC’s work and I am proud to continue that legacy going forward.”

Rabbi Pesner, who assumes the role as the 114th Congress opens, plans to focus on economic inequality, racial justice and climate change.He added,

“As I look at the tragedies in Ferguson and Staten Island, I fear that they are emblematic of what is happening in too many communities nationwide. Fortunately, I know that the RAC staff is already engaged in this work, alongside our congregations in communities nationwide. Among our top priorities to address the racial disparity all too present in our society will be pushing for action in the new Congress to protect voting rights and to end racial profiling.”

Rabbi Pesner will succeed Rabbi David Saperstein, who served as director of the RAC for 40 years, building it into one of the most influential religious advocacy institutions in Washington, D.C. Rabbi Saperstein stepped down following his confirmation as the U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom. The RAC operates under the joint auspices of The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). Rabbi Pesner will assume the role of Director of the Religious Action Center beginning immediately. He will also continue to serve as Senior Vice President of the URJ, and will play a key role in infusing the work of social justice throughout the Reform Movement.

Rabbi Steve Fox, Chief Executive Officer of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, expressed enthusiastic support for the appointment, noting,

“At this moment in history, when we face renewed challenges in our ongoing work to bring about a just and fair society, Jonah is the right leader for the RAC. We will miss Rabbi Saperstein dearly, but we know that Jonah is a fitting heir to David’s significant legacy. Today, there is no institution more central to our Reform Movement’s pursuit of social justice than the Religious Action Center, and Jonah’s demonstrated ability to unite diverse voices from within our Movement and with others in pursuit of our common purpose will serve him and us well.”

Rabbi Saperstein added,

“Jonah has been a partner in the RAC’s work for many years, and he has become a respected voice among government leaders as well as faith leaders both inside of and beyond the Jewish community. As I move on to my new role, I am heartened to know that Jonah will be here to continue moving our work forward.”

Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman, Chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism said,

“I have had the pleasure of working with Jonah for many years and know that an unyielding commitment to the work of tikkun olam is central to his rabbinate and his character. His leadership of the RAC will allow him to devote himself full time to this task, and we will all be the better for it.”

About Rabbi Jonah Pesner

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, 46, currently serves as Senior Vice President of the Union for Reform Judaism, a position to which he was elected to in 2011. Named one of the most influential rabbis in America by Newsweek magazine, he has been an inspirational leader, creative entrepreneur, and tireless advocate for social justice. In his current position, he has been a principal architect in transforming the URJ and guiding the Reform Movement to become even more impactful as the largest Jewish denomination in the world. Among other initiatives, he is a founder and visionary leader of the Campaign for Youth Engagement, a bold strategy to mobilize tens of thousands of young people in the Jewish community.

Rabbi Pesner’s signature accomplishment has been to encourage Jewish communities in interfaith efforts to reach across lines of race, class and faith in campaigns for social justice. In 2006, he founded Just Congregations, which impacts more than 180 communities in 30 states and engages countless clergy, professional and volunteer leaders in interfaith efforts for the common good. He has led and supported campaigns for economic justice, marriage equality, human rights, and a variety of other causes. He was a primary leader in the successful Massachusetts campaign for health care access that has provided health care coverage to hundreds of thousands and which became a model for national reform.

Rabbi Pesner has trained and mentored students on all four campuses of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and gives speeches in interfaith and secular venues all over the world. He has served as a scholar for the Wexner Foundation, American Jewish World Service, and Combined Jewish Philanthropies, among others.

Ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1997, Rabbi Pesner was a congregational rabbi at Temple Israel in Boston and at Temple Israel in Westport, Conn. A graduate of Wesleyan University and the Bronx High School of Science, Rabbi Pesner is married to Dana S. Gershon, an attorney in Boston. They have four daughters, Juliet, Noa, Bobbie and Cate.

About the Religious Action Center

For over 50 years, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (“the RAC”) has been the hub of Jewish social justice and legislative activity in Washington, D.C. As the DC office of the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the RAC educates and mobilizes the Reform Jewish community on legislative and social concerns, advocating on more than 70 different issues, including economic justice, civil rights, religious liberty, Israel and more. The RAC’s advocacy work is completely non-partisan and pursues public policies that reflect the Jewish values of social justice that form the core of our mandate.

About the Union for Reform Judaism

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is a dynamic network of Reform Jewish congregations, lay leaders, clergy and professionals, which represent the largest and fastest growing constituency of Jews in North America. Our progressive, inclusive approach unites thousands of years of Jewish tradition and values with modern Jewish experience to strengthen Judaism today and for future generations. Through programs, consultations, resources, and networking opportunities provided by the URJ, we seek to help strengthen our nearly 900 member congregations, welcome spiritual seekers through audacious hospitality, engage Jewish youth, deepen Jewish learning, energize worship, pursue tikkun olam (social justice), connect with Israel, and develop inspired leadership.

NOTE: To arrange an interview with Rabbi Pesner, please contact Sean Thibault atsthibault@rac.org, (202) 387-2800 at the Religious Action Center. Rabbi Jacobs, Rabbi Fox and Jennifer Kaufman are available for comment, and hi-res photographs are also available.

Can Reform center’s new director maneuver in polarized D.C.?

Wed, 01/07/2015 - 23:30

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the new director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, says he brings to Washington “the perspective of politics that transcends political parties.” (Courtesy of Religious Action Center)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — With an agenda that has come to match almost perfectly with the priorities of the Democratic Party, the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center has not had an easy time of it in an increasingly polarized Washington.

But Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the center’s incoming leader, may have an even tougher row to hoe.

Just two years ago, Pesner briefly considered running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts vacated by John Kerry after he was named secretary of state. And the legislative priorities he has already identified — climate change, economic inequality and racial justice — are unlikely to win him many supporters on the Republican side of the aisle.

“As I look at the tragedies in Ferguson and Staten Island, I fear that they are emblematic of what is happening in too many communities nationwide,” Pesner said in a news release announcing his appointment, which became official on Thursday. “Among our top priorities to address the racial disparity all too present in our society will be pushing for action in the new Congress to protect voting rights and to end racial profiling.”

Pesner, 46, succeeds Rabbi David Saperstein, who has led the RAC since 1974 and was known for his easy access to the Obama administration. Saperstein was confirmed last month as the State Department’s envoy for religious freedom.

Founded in 1961 amid the turmoil of the civil rights era, the RAC for decades has been the storied entree into the corridors of Washington power for Jewish social justice advocacy. First-time visitors to its 19th century building in downtown Washington are inevitably ushered into its conference room where, in hushed tones, staffers will note that the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act were drafted there — with help from luminaries like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I have known and loved the RAC for 30 years,” Pesner told JTA in an interview. “The leadership in my movement was shaped by the RAC, and I’m in a position to lead the next chapter. It feels very bashert.”

Saperstein’s close identification with Democrats — he delivered the blessing at Obama’s 2008 nomination in Denver — has earned him GOP suspicion at times, but he was adept at building good will across the aisle, for instance by advocating fiercely for Christian communities in peril overseas. More recently he was a key figure in helping the White House overcome resistance among religious groups to Obama’s heath care initiative, helping to shape regulations that allow the groups to delegate birth control coverage to third parties.

“Most Jews and most Reform Jews are comparatively liberal,” Saperstein said in an interview with JTA. “What [Pesner is] good at is recognizing that conservatives can be as devoted to social justice as liberals are. He brings a lot of skills to build consensus where it can be done and to defuse incivility where its not possible.”

Pesner is also close to Democrats in Massachusetts, where he has lived since the 1990s. Gov. Deval Patrick took time off from his last day as governor to shoot an email to JTA describing Pesner as “a passionate advocate for social justice, and a friend.” And Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), also in an email, described Pesner as a “compelling, compassionate, man of faith and integrity.”

“Throughout his life,” Kennedy wrote, “he has been a well-respected advocate for human rights, marriage equality, and social justice and I’m honored to call him a friend.”

Pesner told JTA that the same experience that led him to once consider a political career — helping to shepherd health care reforms in Massachusetts during Republican Mitt Romney’s governorship — made him a good candidate for lobbying both sides of the aisle.

“I bring to Washington the perspective of politics that transcends political parties,” Pesner said. “It was a vision of a higher plane of politics to engage people across the aisle.”

Raised in New York, Pesner served as a congregational rabbi in Boston. In 2006, he created Just Congregations, an arm of the Union for Reform Judaism that trains local congregations to join with other faith groups in advocating for social justice issues.

Pesner, who has served as a URJ vice president since 2011, said he sees Reform synagogues as natural locations for regional activism based on the Just Congregations model.

“The RAC will be a partner in the transformation of synagogues to be more impactful in local communities and to engage people in Jewish life,” he said.

Savannah Rabbi Who Gave Sex Abuse Talk to 9-Year-Old Girls Quits Synagogue

Wed, 01/07/2015 - 16:23

A rabbi whose sex abuse lesson to children divided a Savannah community has decided not to pursue a new contract at his synagogue.’

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Car Fire Outside Suburban Paris Synagogue Not Tied to Magazine Terror

Wed, 01/07/2015 - 12:20

A car that caught fire outside a synagogue near the site of the deadly attack on the Paris headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine was not related to the attack, the mayor of a Paris suburb said.

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Morocco Lifts Ban On 'Exodus' After Director Removes 'Offensive Dialogue'

Wed, 01/07/2015 - 10:43

Morocco lifted its ban on the movie “Exodus: Gods and Kings” after Fox Studios and director Ridley Scott took out offensive dialogue.

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Historic Jewish cemetery in northern Greece damaged in storm

Wed, 01/07/2015 - 07:07

ATHENS, Greece (JTA) — A massive winter storm toppled trees and caused significant damage to the historic Jewish cemetery in the northern Greek city of Ioannina.

The storm over the weekend uprooted several trees, crushing about 20 gravestones and destroying the flagstone path that leads into the cemetery, said Allegra Matsa, one of the Ioannina Jewish community leaders.

Three trees also fell on the city’s synagogue, but caused only minor damage, she added.

Ioannina has traditionally been the main center for Greece’s Romaniote Jews, a unique Jewish tradition, whose roots in Greece date back some 2,300 years.

The cemetery was established in the1920’s, but includes gravestones that were transferred there from earlier cemeteries that were destroyed by the Ottomans and the Greeks, some more than 500 years old.

The Jewish community of Ioannina numbered about 4,000 at the start of the 20th century but had dwindled to about 2,000 at the start of World War II.

The Nazis deported the city’s Jews to death camps in 1944 and only 112 survived. Today the Jewish community has fewer than 50 members.

Many of the destroyed gravestones belong to people with no living heirs, requiring the Jewish community to raise funds to repair them, said Matsa.

The Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue in New York, the only Romaniote synagogue in the United States, is raising money to help with the repairs.


Appeals court upholds Westhampton Beach eruv

Tue, 01/06/2015 - 17:18

NEW YORK (JTA) – A federal appeals court upheld the constitutionality of the recently constructed eruv around Westhampton Beach on Long Island.

The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York ruled that the plastic strips placed on utility poles in the village to designate the eruv do not breach the separation of church and state.

“No reasonable observer who notices the strips on LIPA utility poles would draw the conclusion that a state actor is thereby endorsing religion,” the three judges wrote in their ruling.

An eruv, which allows Orthodox Jews to perform certain activities in the public domain during Shabbat, was erected in August.

Since 2008, community members have held a contentious debate on the concept of an eruv, with some saying the ritual boundary is an unfair intrusion of religion into public space. Jon Stewart addressed the debate on “The Daily Show” in 2011.

The case was brought by the Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach — a group of Jews against the eruv — against the Village of Westhampton Beach, the East End Eruv Association, Verizon and the Long Island Lighting Company, or LILCO. Verizon and LILCO were involved in the construction of the eruv.

A lawsuit in connection with the eruv around Westhampton Beach, a tony area approximately 80 miles from Manhattan, was dismissed in 2013.

Fire Started at Paris Synagogue by Hate-Mongers

Tue, 01/06/2015 - 08:03

A fire was set iinside a synagogue near Paris and attackers drew a swastika on its wall.

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