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The Bitter End, Iconic Jazz Club, to Host Global Rosh Hashanah Service...

5 hours 42 min ago

World’s Only Purely Virtual Synagogue Melds Jazz with Jewish Holiday Observance

(PRWeb August 25, 2015)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/08/prweb12907391.htm

Sim Shalom Online Synagogue Announces Two New Board of Directors

5 hours 42 min ago

Sim Shalom Announces Daniela Taitel and Heidi Raker Have Joined Its Board of Directors

(PRWeb August 04, 2015)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/07/prweb12847460.htm

Joe Biden Plans Speeches to Jews Amid White House Buzz

14 hours 36 min ago
Vice President Joe Biden will speak at a Jewish community center in south Florida and at an Atlanta synagogue this week.

Australian Chabad Rabbi Resigns Over Sex Abuse Scandal

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 20:26
The chief rabbi at Chabad headquarters in Melbourne resigned, apologizing for his conduct toward victims of child sexual abuse and their families.

What the VMAs Taught Us About Female Friendship

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 07:45
Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards demonstrated that while #girlsquad has gained currency, it is only in proportion to the female feuds it responds to.

When High-Profile Sexual Predators Find High-Profile Support

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 07:00
That Rabbi Rosenblatt’s synagogue continues to support him shouldn’t come as a surprise, writes Elana Sztokman. There is a long history in both the Jewish and secular worlds of supporting high-profile figures accused of sexual misconduct.

Two-Fold High Holiday Prep: Our Congregations and Ourselves

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 04:00

As congregational leaders, you may find that the month of Elul and the High Holidays fly by in a whirl of logistical details – arranging for tickets, ensuring enough chairs, assigning aliyot, planning the community’s break-the-fast – necessary to ensure meaningful worship for members and visitors alike. That is indeed holy work.

In your role, it is all too easy to get caught up in the “to do mode.” Often, we fail to devote adequate time and attention to cheshbon ha’nefesh (accounting of the soul) – the act of taking stock of the spiritual health of both ourselves as individuals and our congregations.

Adult education sessions, board discussions, and/or Selichot programming and worship are among the varied ways you and your fellow lay and professional leaders can perform this communal stock-taking. These practices can help to identify community-wide qualities to celebrate, as well as challenges for which the congregation might wish to explore improvements or solutions to implement in the coming year.

But we must not forget to take care of ourselves spiritually, too, just as we do physically. Undertaking the sacred endeavor to bring yourself to a place of personal spiritual readiness for the High Holidays, as well as to continue that assessment throughout the Days of Awe, is a demanding and equally important task, especially as a congregational leader.

Marge Piercy writes eloquently about cheshbon ha’ nefesh in her poem “Coming up on September,” which says, in part:

The New Year is a great door
that stands across the evening and Yom
Kippur is the second door. Between them
are song and silence, stone and clay pot
to be filled from within myself.

I will find there both ripeness and rot,
what I have done and undone,
what I must let go with the waning days
and what I must take in. With the last
tomatoes, we harvest the fruit of our lives.

Just as ripe tomatoes are associated with late summer, pomegranates – rich in Jewish symbolism – often are linked to Rosh HaShanah, and incorporated into families’ holiday celebrations, particularly among the Sephardim. Images of pomegranates adorned the high priests’ robes in Temple times, as well as columns in King Solomon’s temple. In addition, the Hebrew word for pomegranate is rimon, which is the same as for the crowns that decorate many Torah scrolls, which contain our people’s story and guide our actions throughout the year. Today, the fruit’s many seeds are a sign of our hopes for abundant blessings and mitzvot in our midst during the new year.

As you continue to prepare your congregations and yourselves for the High Holiday season, may you take to heart the words of Rav Abraham Isaac Kook – “The old shall be renewed and the new shall be made holy” – finding meaning, fulfillment, renewal, and holiness in each of the important endeavors associated with the High Holiday season.

Having a pomegranate on our Rosh HaShanah tables might be something brand new for some of us, signaling that our spiritual growth can arise from both ancient and contemporary sources. Inspired by Rav Kook’s teaching will we be ready to consecrate new liturgical practices, new machzorim (High Holiday prayer books), new clergy and new congregational experiments – while at the very same moment finding new meaning in the familiar practices that might otherwise be performed by rote?

Just as the pomegranate overflows with seeds, may 5776, too, find you, your loved ones, and your congregational family overflowing with blessings, mitzvot, and the joys of Jewish living.

Shanah tovah um’tukah!


Three Great Congregational Programs that Tackle the Challenge of Demographic Diversity

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 04:00

Today’s congregations face a wide range of changing demographics. Many communities are experiencing a geographic shift, as older adults age in place, families move into new suburban areas, and younger Jews flock to revitalized downtown areas.

As a result, members of local Jewish communities are often in completely disparate locations, providing synagogues with both an opportunity and a challenge: With limited resources spread in more directions than ever, how can congregations experiment with new models of engagement to draw in their target audiences?

Three Reform congregations received URJ Belin Awards or honorable mentions for the ways they’re “meeting people where they are” – creatively adapting their engagement strategies in response to local community needs, thereby enabling their congregations to successfully meet and engage people where they live and work.

  1. Targeting young adults in urban areas: Congregation Sinai in Milwaukee, WI, recognized that in their Jewish community, as in so many others, young adults are increasingly moving into downtown areas, geographically removed from suburban synagogues. Through a new initiative, Sinai in the City, the congregation hosts Shabbat and holiday events in various downtown venues, providing a welcoming, low-barrier Jewish experience for city-dwelling young adults under age 40.
  1. Engaging families with young children: North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, IL, created Strollers, Stories, and Celebrations after learning that a critical time to connect families with Jewish networks and organizations is when children are under the age of 2. Seeking to engage both affiliated and unaffiliated families – including grandparents – the congregation began organizing monthly gatherings, both in the synagogue and in other venues families naturally visit, such as a local bookstore. This initiative offers opportunities for families to explore Jewish life through programs around Shabbat and holidays, form friendships with others, and continue learning through books or music they bring home from the event.
  1. Taking on suburban sprawl: Congregation Har HaShem in Boulder, CO, developed Neighborhood Groups to help congregants feel connected within their sprawling congregational community. By training “neighborhood captains” who plan events that bring members together in their local area for shared activities – a Shabbat dinner, a sukkah party, hamantaschen baking, a weekend picnic in a local park, or a social action initiative – the congregation fosters small-group friendships and connections within the large congregational family. Building on these gatherings, the neighborhood groups also come together to support one another in times of both sadness and celebration.

By creatively meeting and engaging people where they are, congregations can foster relationships and connections among people that not only bring meaning to their lives, but also transform the individuals and the community as a whole.

The URJ’s Belin Outreach and Membership Awards – funded through the generosity of David Belin, z”l – are presented to up to 16 congregations for initiatives that demonstrate the concept of audacious hospitality by actively welcoming and integrating those new to Judaism, creating relationship-based engagement models, or engaging and retaining members with innovative practices. This post is one in a series highlighting Belin Award-winning programs and the principles that guided their development.

To learn more about audacious hospitality strategies and tools, attend the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial 2015, from November 4-8 in Orlando, FL. With 5,000 attendees from around the world, the Biennial is the largest Jewish gathering in North America. Learn more and register at urj.org/biennial.

The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure High Holidays Prayer Book

Mon, 08/31/2015 - 14:48
Can you design a prayer book that includes those who are LGBTQ, or intermarried, or disabled, or Jews of color? Sure you can — and hey, why not throw in some Walt Whitman and Grace Paley to boot!

Dutch Chief Rabbi Warned To Avoid Europe Trains

Mon, 08/31/2015 - 06:37
Dutch authorities advised Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs to avoid traveling in international trains.

Environmental Justice in Mossville; Payday Lenders; Terence Blanchard

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 17:08

A small African-American town in Louisiana has been overrun by petrochemical plants and pollution; in Alabama, churches confront predatory short-term loans at exorbitant rates that target and trap the poor; and renowned jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard talks about Hurricane Katrina, music, meditation, race, and excessive police violence.

The post Environmental Justice in Mossville; Payday Lenders; Terence Blanchard appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Yazidis Question Jewish Businessman's ISIS Sex-Slave Rescue Story

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 16:58
A group of Yazidi spiritual leaders, politicians, activists and aid workers have demanded that the Jewish Montreal businessman claiming to have rescued 128 Christian and Yazidi women and children from the Islamic State, or ISIS, provide evidence that he is saving lives.

How Synagogues Can Prioritize Disability Inclusion This High Holiday Season

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 13:02

by Jay Ruderman

With the High Holidays just around the corner, Jews all over the world will be asking themselves how they can lead more meaningful and moral lives. Synagogue communities, too, will be asking themselves how they can become more holy and inclusive communities.

In my years of involvement with disability inclusion, I’ve observed that change often occurs because a rabbi, a professional or a lay leader understands the value of inclusion of all people and makes it a priority. If there ever was a time for leaders to step up to the plate and help their synagogues become more inclusive — to welcome diverse people with varying abilities and find a place for them in the community — it’s during the Days of Awe.

Liz Offen, director of New England Yachad, an Orthodox Union-affiliated organization that works toward the inclusion of people with disabilities in Jewish life, said that the High Holidays seem almost designed to raise awareness of people with disabilities. “Every aspect of the high holiday experience is infused with rituals that draw on the senses,” she said. “From the food we eat, to the sound and vibrations of the shofar, we are reminded of the varied ways people experience life.”

So how can congregations take advantage of this calling to become more inclusive communities?

The obvious answer is that they can implement best practices in making their physical spaces more inclusive for people with disabilities. They can print books with larger text, embrace hearing loop technologies to assist people who are hard of hearing, train ushers to recognize and assist people with disabilities, make every part of the building wheelchair accessible, and establish an inclusion committee to continually expand inclusive practices.

The broader answer is that they can demonstrate leadership and work to create a powerful culture of inclusion among congregants so that inclusion pervades all aspects of congregational life, and thereby change basic attitudes toward people with disabilities.

Ed Frim, an inclusion specialist at United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said that true inclusion goes much deeper than making synagogue life accessible. “Inclusive congregations are mindful of everyone who is part of the community,” he said. “They establish a culture that takes for granted that all, including those with disabilities, have the right to fully participate as part of the congregation.”

“It’s not just about training ushers to be welcoming to people with disabilities and helping them find their way, it’s about turning the entire congregation into ushers, who seek to create a welcoming environment,” he said.

Just as important as building a culture of inclusion is affecting a shift in attitude about how we think of disabilities. Rabbi Noah Cheses of Shaarei Shomayim Congregation in Toronto recalls an aha moment when his perspective on disabilities changed from seeing just the disability to seeing the whole person.

A senior in high school had come to speak at a retreat Cheses was attending. The student had a muscular disorder that required him to be in a wheelchair. It was clear from the moment he began speaking that this charismatic young man was not defined by his disability.

“He asked us to take out a piece of paper and make a list of [perceived] personal shortcomings …,” recounted Rabbi Cheses. “We were then instructed to introduce ourselves to the person next to us in the following way: “Hi, my name is X, and I have such and such ….”

“For a moment, I felt what it was like to be identified by my personal limitations…as if my passions and talents were being overshadowed and pushed aside by something beyond my control.”

It was that realization, among others, that motivated Rabbi Cheses to seek change in his congregation. The congregation made physical changes — among other things, it built an accessible ark — but the rabbi also sought to make spiritual changes and help his congregants experience the same aha moment that he had at the retreat.

Indeed, it is these spiritual changes — viewing all of God’s people as bringing unique contributions to the world — that can turn a congregation from a collection of people to a holy community. This time of reflection and renewal provides the perfect moment for such a shift to take place.

Jay Ruderman is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which focuses on the inclusion of people with disabilities in our society. The foundation is holding the 2015 Ruderman Inclusion Summit Nov. 1-2 in Boston. Registration information is available here. He’s on Twitter @jayruderman.

This piece originally appeared on JTA and is republished with permission.

The Wagner Opera That's OK for Jews To Love

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 05:00
It is no accident that ‘Tristan und Isolde’ was Exhibit A for breaking Israel’s ban on Richard Wagner’s music. A.J. Goldmann writes it’s hard not to like the opera that opened this year’s Bayreuth Festival.

Is the New 'Star Wars' Villain a Nazi?

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 15:42
The Star Wars franchise is chock-full of World War II allusions. Will the upcoming sequel continue in that noble tradition? Director J.J. Abrams hinted at the possibilities in a recent interview.

Matisyahu Plays Show in Synagogue Near Auschwitz

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 14:49
Three days after a performing at a reggae festival in Spain that had previously disinvited him, Matisyahu brought his music to a synagogue near the gates of Auschwitz.

Chris Christie Blasts Iran Deal With Shmuley Boteach

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 19:54
Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie at a news conference alongside Jewish leaders including Rabbi Shmuley Boteach urged Congress to block the Iran nuclear deal.

Matisyahu Flap Shows Europe Jews Are Targeted Over Israel

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 16:48
A Spanish music festival’s recent decision to rescind its invitation to the American reggae singer Matisyahu, after he declined to endorse a Palestinian state, brought international attention to a phenomenon that many European Jews have been feeling for years: that they are being targeted for Israel’s actions.

Hundreds of Rabbis Sign Petition Against Iran Deal

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 06:50
Hundreds of United States rabbis, from all major Jewish streams, signed a letter urging members of Congress to oppose the Iran nuclear deal, writing that the hope for a good deal “is not yet realized.”

Sim Shalom, the Online Synagogue, Releases a Jazz Inspired High...

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 03:09

Sim Shalom, the online synagogue, and founder, Rabbi Steven Blane, announce a new High Holiday CD that fuses the raw emotion of jazz and the traditional liturgy of ancient High Holiday prayer and...

(PRWeb July 22, 2015)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/07/prweb12860191.htm