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L’Taken Participant Reflects on Losses Due to Gun Violence

Tue, 12/30/2014 - 13:00

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 - 18:40

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 - 17:48

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 - 15:59

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 - 11:36

(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 - 10:04

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 - 10:00

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.

Rebuilt Polish synagogue to become Jewish museum

Mon, 12/29/2014 - 09:41

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — A Polish Jewish foundation is planning to open a revamped Jewish museum in a reconstructed 17th century synagogue.

The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland is aiming to open the museum in the Great Synagogue in Leczna, in Lublin province, in 2016, with a focus on the town’s Jewish community.

The baroque synagogue was mostly destroyed during and after World War II. It was reconstructed in the 1950s and ’60s, retaining the most important architectural elements of the former synagogue, including its wooden ceilings, the bimah and the Torah ark.

Since 1966, the synagogue has housed a regional museum, which has in its collection some valuable Judaica.

In 2013, the synagogue was transferred to the Jewish community and placed under the foundation’s responsibility.

The revamped museum could become part of the Chasidic Route — the project implemented by the foundation tracing the Jewish communities of southeastern Poland. Twenty-eight communities have joined the project.