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Barack Obama Says Israel Criticism Is Tough Love

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 15:21
In his first visit to a synagogue, Barack Obama sought to explain, not retract, his criticism of Israeli policies. He seemed to pass the test with flying colors.

Israel's 'Golden Boy' Makes Eurovision Finals

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 10:16
For the first time in five years, Israel has made it to the Eurovision finals. 16-year-old Nadav Guedj will be up 19 other finalists in the music contest in Vienna.

Rabbis Warned Over Bias Against Ethiopians

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 07:59
Israel’s newly-appointed Religious Services Minister said he would void the marriage authority of municipal rabbinates if they are found to be discriminating against Ethiopian Jews.

Faith Leaders Urge Action on Humanitarian Crisis Facing Rohingya Community

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 16:01

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center, today joined with a diverse group of faith leaders calling on President Obama to take immediate action to address the Rohingan humanitarian crisis in Southeast Asia. The well-documented persecution of the Rohingya minority community in western Burma and the resulting refugee crisis in the region is deeply concerning to us as a people who throughout history have been victims of ethnic and religious persecution and the experience of being forced to flee even as other nations closed their doors. The letter sent today by Rabbi Pesner and others calls for the U.S. government to address the root cause of this crisis and assist with the rescue of refugees.

The text of the letter is below:

The Honorable Mr. Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

We write to you as Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith leaders in the United States to urge that immediate action be taken to save the lives of thousands stranded at sea in Southeast Asia. It is a moral imperative that the United States do everything in its power to implore and support Southeast Asian governments to launch an immediate search and rescue mission to prevent an impending mass atrocity at sea.  It is also crucial that the U.S. government address the root cause of this crisis, the policies of persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority by the government of Burma.

While we are heartened by the announcement that Indonesia and Malaysia are now willing to accept victims on their shores, the fact remains that without immediate search and rescue efforts thousands will continue to face death at sea. We call upon the United States to use all of its influence to ensure that Southeast Asian governments assist those in need to reach the safety of their shores. This should include an immediate search and rescue operation that utilizes U.S. resources to save imperiled lives. Several thousand Rohingya asylum seekers and Bangladeshi migrants, perhaps more, are stranded on rickety boats in the Andaman Sea.

The United States must also address the source of this crisis, the systematic abuse and persecution of the Rohingya minority by the government of Burma. The Rohingya are fleeing persecution and violence that has left more than 140,000 displaced in western Burma in camps that have been described as open air prisons. Several independent groups including Fortify Rights, Human Rights Watch, United to End Genocide, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum have documented the policies of persecution in Burma and the high risk of atrocities, even genocide, faced by the Rohingya minority in western Burma.

We urge you to appeal to the government of Burma to live up to its commitment to address the humanitarian crisis in western Burma by allowing unfettered humanitarian access, the opening of a UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, accountability through an independent international investigation into serious human rights abuses, and equal access to citizenship. Failure of the government of Burma to end the persecution of the Rohingya should result in consequences such as suspension of diplomatic and military exchanges, targeted sanctions on individuals responsible for abuses, and consideration of renewal of broad sanctions.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has designated Burma as a “country of particular concern”. Your Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, David Saperstein, recently visited Burma noting “serious challenges” in the areas of “religious freedom, of religious tensions, of minority religions not having equal rights”. We are also concerned that four “religious protection laws” being considered would add further restrictions on rights to marry, have children, and choose one’s religion, particularly affecting minority Muslims. The failure of the government of Burma to speak out against such persecution is feeding the current crisis and threatening further tragedy.

As you have admirably stated, preventing atrocities is both a moral imperative and a national security priority. The United States cannot respond to every crisis, but when thousands of lives are in danger and the United States has a unique capability to avert a mass atrocity, it should do so. Last year, the United States acted to save the Yazidi, a persecuted religious minority, from imminent mass death at the top of a mountain in Iraq. The imperative to act is no less urgent for the thousands now trapped at sea.


Dr. Jack Kornfield
Founder, Spirit Rock Buddhist Center

Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley
General Secretary, American Baptist Churches USA
Chairperson, National Council of Churches of Christ, USA

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner
Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed
National Director, Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances, Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)

Dr. Wakar Uddin
Director General, Arakan Rohingya Union
Chairman and Founder, The Burmese Rohingya Association of North America

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

For more information on the RAC’s work on international religious freedom, check out our website.

Watch Frum March To Protest Sabbath-Violating Teens in Lakewood

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 13:23
Lakewood, New Jersey, is a bustling Haredi town organized around its grand yeshiva and dominated by strict rabbinic authority. Watch what happened when a few teenage rebels decided to hang out at a lake on Shabbat.

Meet the Rapping Rabbi of Seattle

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 13:00
Simon Benzaquen, a Seattle rabbi, wants to preserve old Sephardic songs. He’s hoping to produce the first ever Ladino rap music album.

'Extreme' Kosher Feast Sickens Some at Prominent Manhattan Synagogue

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 12:47
Adventurous eaters paid up to $140 to feast on exotic — but kosher — feast including locusts and goat testicles at an Upper West Side synagogue. But the health department is looking into the event after some were sickened after the eclectic event.

'Extreme' Kosher Feast Sickens Some at Prominent Manhattan Synagogue

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 12:40
Adventurous eaters paid up to $140 to feast on exotic — but kosher — feast including locusts and goat testicles at an Upper West Side synagogue. But the health department is looking into the event after some were sickened after the eclectic event.

Pulpit Plus One: Being Part of the Team

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 12:00
‘Pulpit Plus One’ interviews Malya, the wife of an an assistant rabbi at a Reform congregation, on being caught eating pepperoni pizza at IKEA and becoming a partner in serving the congregation.

URJ Biennial 2015: NBC News’ Chuck Todd to Host 2016 Presidential Candidates

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 10:15

Today, the Union for Reform Judaism announced that Chuck Todd, moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press and NBC News political director, will host leading 2016 presidential candidates in a forum in Orlando, FL, at the URJ Biennial 2015. Todd will interview each candidate one-on-one and will cover a wide range of topics, including both domestic and foreign policy. Candidates will also respond to questions from URJ leadership and Biennial delegates.

The URJ Biennial 2015 will bring together 5,000 Reform Jews to strengthen congregational life, celebrate with friends, and explore the most pressing issues of the day. The URJ Biennial will be held at the Orlando World Center Marriott from November 4 – 8. The presidential candidates’ forum with Chuck Todd will take place November 7 at 8:30 pm at the same location. It is open to working, credentialed press and coverage is invited.

Said Todd,

“URJ’s Biennial, because of its timing, location and audience, will be a must-attend event for the top presidential candidates. Florida has long been a key state in presidential elections, and I am very much looking forward to this unique presidential forum.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the URJ, said,

“When it comes to interviewing people vying for the most powerful office in the world, we are very excited to have Chuck Todd at our 73rd Biennial, the largest gathering of its kind. The Reform Movement has a deep history in political engagement and we are eager to hear from the leading presidential candidates from both parties. Invitations will be extended shortly and we look forward to the candidates’ positive responses.”

Beyond the candidates’ forum, Biennial programming will be tailored to congregational leadership (lay, professional, clergy, and up-and-coming leaders), and will feature learning sessions, networking opportunities, and plenaries, bookended by worship and evening entertainment. Four intensive tracks will focus on strengthening congregations, audacious hospitality, tikkun olam (repairing the world), and Jewish learning. Biennial registration will open in early June; for more information please visit: www.urj.org/biennial.

For press credentials, please email either Steve Rabinowitz, Bluelight Strategy, or Lauren Theodore, Union for Reform Judaism.

40 Rabbis Plan Shavuot Vigil for Detained Africans

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 09:08
More than 40 rabbis from all streams of Judaism will hold a prayer vigil and pre-Shavuot study session at the Holot detention center for African immigrants.

Natalie Portman Back With a Vengeance

Tue, 05/19/2015 - 13:30
Natalie Portman had all but disappeared from the frontlines of popular culture. But now she’s back with major roles looming and her directorial debut at the Cannes Film Festival.

Gene Sosin, Radio Liberty Chief, Dies at 93

Tue, 05/19/2015 - 12:12
Gene Sosin, a former director of broadcasting for Radio Liberty, has died.

The Bitter End will host Sim Shalom's Jazz High Holiday Services:...

Tue, 05/19/2015 - 01:29

The Sim Shalom Online Synagogue will celebrate the High Holidays with a series of sacred and jazz-inflected services at The Bitter End – the iconic music and entertainment venue in Greenwich Village.

(PRWeb April 16, 2015)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/04/prweb12656842.htm

Anshe Emet’s 13th Annual Kaplan Concert Presents Alberto Mizrahi and...

Tue, 05/19/2015 - 01:29

Anshe Emet's annual Kaplan Concert will honor Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi and his 25 years of service to the synagogue. The concert will include performances from world famous Hazzanim who will be in...

(PRWeb April 13, 2015)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/04/prweb12644090.htm

Kavala Mayor – Not as Sweet as Bakavala – Relents on Jewish Star

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 20:00
Dateline Kavala in Northern Greece. On Sunday, May 17, the city was to unveil a monument to honor the 1,484 Greek Jews who were deported from the town by the Nazis. It was to coincide with a conference on May 20 on “Holocaust and Education.” Sadly, the municipal authorities led by Mayor Dimitra Tsanaka decided […]

How Should a Rabbi Talk About Israel?

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 15:00
When rabbis talk about Israel they tend to do so in a political way. But taking a page from Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, David Ackerman thinks it’s time for rabbis to talk about Israel from a theological perspective.

Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 11:15

The Journal of Youth Engagement checks in with Benjamin Singer, who shared his secret for engaging young people in synagogue life: Torah. The article “How to Get Youth Into Your Synagogue” originally appeared in the Journal of Youth Engagement in August 2014. 

In your original article, you cited the central role of Torah in guiding your work with Common Cause of Illinois. What have you been up to since then?

As you read, I’ve long felt that big money in politics corrupts our government, and stands in the way of enacting just policies–whether on taxes, the environment, health care, or foreign policy. I’m now the Campaign Manager of MAYDAY.US. We’re a bipartisan organization supporting candidates for Congress who want to reform the way we fund our elections, in order to empower working Americans. To sloganize it, we are a “SuperPAC to end all SuperPACs.”

When we last checked in, you articulated some big questions for our community of adults working with youth: How do we get millennials to go to Hebrew school? Or go to Hillel in college? Or join a synagogue after graduation.  

Your answer was simple: Torah. Can you share an example of how Torah has guided your justice work in the past year?

We must hear the small just as the great, as we read in D’varim. Following through on those values, I felt a need to help fix our political system because it’s become ruled by big money, instead of by every person’s voice.

And as stated by a group of rabbis in Chicago before the recent election, “A fundamental principle of Judaism is hakras hatov–recognizing benefits afforded us and giving expression to our appreciation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each Jewish citizen to participate in the democratic system which guards the freedom we enjoy. The most fundamental responsibility incumbent on each individual is to…vote.”

So I wanted to be part of this change by actually participating in our democracy. We are a citizens’ movement in every sense of the word. People-powered, people-run, and strategically focused to pursue justice.

You identified as a Jewish young person upset by injustice. What advice do you have for others who identify this way?

Great question. I say look to the root cause of the injustice. Not “how can I give that hungry person food?” but instead, “Why does that hungry person not have food?” I think it’s important to think strategically about what is standing in the way, and seek out the most effective way to create that justice sustainably. Remember, we don’t just say “justice shall you pursue.” The rabbis teach that we say the word “justice” twice to emphasize the importance of just systems in order to achieve just outcomes.

Where can we go if we want to learn more about your work, or find opportunities for tikkun olam in our own communities? 

If young people are disillusioned by the political process, it’s for good reason. Luckily, we can be part of disrupting it and making it what it should be, with some fundamental change. Right now we already have 148 allies in Congress, and growing. As I said, we are a citizens’ movement: people-powered and strategically focused to pursue justice. If you want to fix the issue that’s at the root of all other issues, it’s time to start doing something about it. Sign up to be part of the movement at http://MAYDAY.US


Looking for additional resources to pursue justice? Check out these resources from the Reform Movement.

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism – Advocacy & Activism, Teen Seminars, and College Internships

Mitzvah Corps – Hands-on Social Justice Service Programs for Teens

ReformJudaism.org – Resources and Jewish perspectives on issues of justice

Jews, Rock and Roll

Sun, 05/17/2015 - 21:30
Michael Dorf has always been a really big inspiration behind my launching Shemspeed and the Sephardic Music Festival. When I was a DJ at WMUC I would get promo cds of albums he was releasing on his Knitting Factory and Alternative Jewish Music label. Between the releases from his imprint and the work of John […]

Clashes Erupt at Jerusalem Day March

Sun, 05/17/2015 - 13:23
Jerusalem Day will be celebrated Sunday, 48 years after unification of the city. In the afternoon, a flag-bearing march held by national-religious elements will pass through the Muslim quarter of the Old City, after a petition by left-wing groups to change its route was rejected by the High Court of Justice. The last few days have seen a big effort by rabbis, police commanders and organizers of the march to persuade participants to abstain from violence, which characterized such events in previous years. Hundreds of policemen are expected to secure the march, while leftist activists from an organization called “Jerusalem Won’t Tolerate Racism” are planning a demonstration opposing the march of flags. The police announced that it would show “zero tolerance for any exhibition of verbal or physical violence and would use all methods at its disposal against anyone creating a disturbance or breaking the law.” The march will force merchants in the Muslim quarter to close their shops at noon and most residents will have to remain indoors.Traffic disruptions are expected throughout the city. During the afternoon, the light rail train will operate only on a partial basis. Due to a state ceremony on Ammunition Hill, all traffic in that area [around Ramat Eshkol-Ma’alot Dafna] will be blocked. Disruptions are also expected in the Nabi Samuel area, due to festivities around the tomb of the Prophet Samuel. Jerusalem demographic stats released The Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies have published some statistics related to the city, two years ahead of the fiftieth anniversary of its unification. According to the Jerusalem Institute, updated to the end of 2013, Jerusalem has 829,900 inhabitants. Of these, 522,200 (63%) are Jewish and other non-Arabs, whereas 307,600 (37%) are Arabs. Of the Jews, 34% declared themselves to be ultra-Orthodox, 30% are religious, and 36% are secular or ‘traditional’. The municipality noted the gradual increase in the number of pupils in the secular and national-religious school systems for the fourth year in a row, after a decade and a half of decline. The ultra-Orthodox still comprise a large majority (61%) of pupils in the Jewish sector. Last week, Mayor Nir Barkat publicized a five-year plan meant to stimulate economic growth in the city. The plan was developed with the help of a team of American experts which included Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, as well as Prof. Michael Porter and Prof. Richard from Florida. The plan includes investments in film studios, developing an artist quarter in the city’s center and investments in infrastructure. “Jerusalem is in the midst of a renewal process that will peak in 2020 – we’ll continue developing and advancing the capital. Happy Jerusalem Day” said Barkat. In contrast, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel released some harsh figures concerning residents of East Jerusalem. The numbers show a 75% poverty rate among the general population with a 84% rate among children. There is a continuing shortage of a thousand classrooms, with a 33% dropout rate in the final year of high school. Residents of East Jerusalem continue to suffer from a lack of basic infrastructure such as water and sewage and from discrimination in the provision of municipal services. The not-for-profit organization Ir Amim reports that despite declarations by politicians that they are committed to continue building in Jerusalem, the last six months have seen a slowing in construction for Jews in East Jerusalem. Only 133 tenders have been issued since the beginning of this year, most of them having been already issued in previous years. In contrast, the first half of 2014 saw 2,627 such tenders.