By Shira and friend of the RAC, Ronit Zemel, incoming Assistant Director of Harlam Day Camp
In the front hallway of our home growing up was a picture of our great grandfather, Rabbi Solomon Goldman, standing next to Chaim Weizmann at one of the gatherings of the World Zionist Congress in the late 1930s. This picture is a hallmark of our upbringing as liberal Zionist Jews. We heard lore of our grandmother’s grade school education at the Riali school in Haifa. Our dad told us stories of his first time in Israel as a thirteen year old, peering out into the still forbidden Old City from a lookout tower in Jerusalem. Then we had the opportunity to see Israel for ourselves; to see the vibrant Jewish life in cafes and the shuk, on buses and in kibbutz fields. Israel is a part of the fabric of our family.
Our father tells stories about singing songs of the yeshuv in his Jewish day school when he was growing up. As children, each summer at Camp Harlam we would sing the same songs and look forward to befriending our Israeli counselors. Through family trips to Israel, NFTY EIE, a gap year for Ronit spent in Tel Aviv, and conversations around our family dinner table, we have learned to push, scrutinize and consider our complex relationship with Israel.
Is it enough to feel that Israel is a homeland, or must we actively support Israel as a modern Jewish State? And as Americans, where does our fundamental belief in democracy factor in to our attitudes? As Reform Zionists, we consider these questions and more, so that we can love Israel as sincerely as possible: when we were young we sang songs and ate chocolate and learned to love the land, and as we grew older we were taught to look honestly at the land we had grown to love.
During this WZO election season, we are reminded of Herzl’s famous words: Im Tirzu Ein Zo Aggadah– if you will it, it is no dream. It was the will of our founding Zionist forefathers to build a state of our own upon Jewish and democratic values. We have fallen in love with their dream– the modern, thriving Jewish state of Israel. But the dream is far from complete. We play a part as Israel’s story continues to unfold. This is why we are on the ARZA slate and encourage everyone to vote for ARZA in the World Zionist Congress elections: A vote for ARZA is a vote for our shared dream of a pluralistic, egalitarian and democratic Israel– it’s a vote for a progressive Zionism of which we can be proud.
Vote now! www.reformjews4israel.org/
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein are the Jewish kings of the American musical. How could they have been so shockingly insensitive — even racist — in their epic ‘The King and I’?Click here for the rest of the article...
To save money, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York wants to close several dozen of its churches, including the Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary in New York City known for its 35-year-old ministry to the deaf. But the deaf parishioners are determined to oppose the plan, even appealing to the Pope and arguing that no other church can provide for their needs like St. Elizabeth.
Rabbis from the Reform movement of Great Britain are launching an online matchmaking service with the intent of making it easier for gay and lesbian Jews to find Jewish partners.Click here for the rest of the article...
We mourn the tragic death of Walter Scott this past weekend in North Charleston, South Carolina and send our thoughts and prayers to his family and community. Over the past year, our nation’s consciousness has been raised as we have watched Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and so many more tragically and unnecessarily lose their lives. We hope that the charges brought against the police officer indicate the seriousness with which this situation will be handled.
We acknowledge and appreciate the challenging work of law enforcement officers who risk their lives each day to ensure public safety and are often posed with difficult decisions. Though videos do not always bring about the justice we hope to see, we will continue to advocate for the use of technology, such as body cameras, to be used by law enforcement to protect police officers as well as citizens and increase transparency and accountability. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey told reporters on Wednesday that the city has ordered 150 body cameras, in addition to the 101 already ordered, “so every officer on the street” will have one.
While the announcement of more body cameras is encouraging, the shooting raises anew concerns about the structural inequality and racism that persists in our country. We must recommit ourselves to working to ensure that police units and command staffs, to the greatest extent possible, reflect the racial and ethnic make-up of the communities they serve.
While we work to bring about reform in our police departments, we also take this moment to reflect on the work that needs to be done in our criminal justice system. Today, more than 60% of the people in prison are racial and ethnic minorities. A 2010 report in Michigan showed that blacks were arrested for marijuana possession at 3.3 times the rate of whites, despite comparable rates of marijuana usage. Therefore, we must continue to advocate for an end to the use of racial profiling and work to mitigate these racial disparities that we see in traffic stops, arrests, prosecutions, sentencing, and use of the death penalty at federal, state and local levels.
As Reform Jews, we are guided by our texts that tell us, Tzedek, tzedek tirdof, “Justice, justice you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). We are taught that the word tzedek is not only repeated for emphasis, but also to tell us that we must be just in our pursuit of justice. In partnership with communities of color, we must continue to work for structural reforms and systemic changes that will save lives and protect all people. Please contact Legislative Assistant Claire Shimberg if you want to join our efforts to bring about this world of justice or to share the work you are doing in your own community.
When Rabbi Bruce Dollin first talked to the board at his Conservative synagogue about launching an alternative, singing-centered Shabbat morning service that would use musical instruments, he didn’t encounter much resistance.Click here for the rest of the article...
Vandals in Budapest defaced an exhibition about Holocaust survivors and, in a separate incident, painted a swastika opposite a synagogue.Click here for the rest of the article...
By Rabbi Josh Weinberg
And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering-the day after the Shabbat – you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week – fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Lord. -Leviticus (23:15-16)
This is my favorite time of year. A time of renewal and rebirth. Spring is in the air and as The Song of Songs reminds us, the time of singing has come. It is now just after the beginning of Passover that we begin the count-up to Shavuot, when, according to our Biblical tradition, we bring our first fruits, and according to our Rabbinic tradition, we received Torah at Sinai.
The Kabbalists contributed an additional way to count, citing the great potential for inner growth and to improve one’s own personal character through a system of associating each week with one of the seven [lower] attributes. To the weekly attribute, one of the other six is added each day. The first week of the Omer is Chesed, kindness. So, the first day is Chesed she b’Chesed, Kindness of Kindness. Today is Netzach she b’Chesed — the Eternal or Enduringness of Kindness.
While the counting of the Omer sends much of the Jewish world into a frenzy of marking days and assessing their symbolic importance, we in the Reform Zionist world are counting down the days for a different period. I am referring, of course, to the election period for the World Zionist Congress which has just 22 days left!
Sadly, during this week while we are marking none other than Chesed (Kindness), the Reform Movement was the victim of a Public Relations attack at the hands of another slate. Members of the “Vote Torah” Orthodox slate decided to conjure a false statement about our campaign in order to motivate their members to vote, accusing us of reaching “out to non-Jews to vote in the election and to support ARZA,” which is clearly against the campaign rules. They have since removed the accusation from their article. While I feel bad for the damage done to us, I feel worse for them that they needed to stoop to that level.
With each day that goes by we must stay our course and believe in the strength and purity of our message. We have a deep and durable love for Israel and are eagerly engaged in the work of shaping and building for the future of an Israel that reflects the Jewish values that we hold so dear.
During this week of Chesed let us not only count the days, but make our days count. The Kabbalists recommended that today, Netzach she b’Chesed, on the day of the Enduringness of Kindness, we should do something that fights for or protects a loved one. Today we should fight for something that is worth fighting for: and that is Israel. The soul of the Jewish State is at stake here, and if we don’t fight, if we don’t rise up and make our voices count, a great deal could be lost. Today is about fighting for all those who don’t have a voice ― for asylum seekers, for agunot (married Orthodox women whose husbands will not grant them a divorce), for silenced women, and for those who are victims of slander and libel. And today is about fighting so that tomorrow we can proudly stand together with our Israeli partners, roll up our sleeves, and forge the next chapter of our future in the Jewish State.
Join us by voting for ARZA, in saying that our love for Israel is worth fighting for.
Rabbi Josh Weinberg is president of ARZA.
One man was killed and at least three critically injured during a funeral for a senior haredi rabbi.Click here for the rest of the article...
Some high-tech entrepreneurs and investors want to merge faith with technology; a popular evangelical author describes finding joy in the midst of cancer and Holy Week; and a rabbi and a pastor lead their Jewish and Christian faith communities in celebrating the Passover values of justice and freedom found in the Exodus story.
As Jews begin their eight-day celebration of Passover tonight (April 3), we visit a seder in Washington, D.C. that brought together African Americans and Jews to share the ritual meal. We spoke with clergy from both communities about the shared values of justice and liberation they find in the Exodus story.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella, met the family of a two- year-old Jewish boy killed in the 1982 attack by Palestinian terrorists on the Great Synagogue of Rome.Click here for the rest of the article...
On the first floor of the Pico Union Project, Muslims ready the historic Jewish sanctuary for prayers, placing an open copy of the Koran in the just-vacated Holy Ark.Click here for the rest of the article...
The estranged wife of Rabbi Barry Freundel, who pleaded guilty to secretly videotaping women in his Orthodox synagogue’s mikvah, spoke publicly for the first time since his arrest in October.Click here for the rest of the article...
Smoking is one of those topics that ties rabbis up in knots, and marijuana just clouds the issue even more. And that’s before Passover gets added to the mix.Click here for the rest of the article...
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin reversed his earlier comparison of President Obama to the biblical villain Haman, saying that Iran — not the president — is comparable to the ancient enemy of the Jews.Click here for the rest of the article...
When I left for college my freshman year, I was nervous about exploring a new Jewish community. However, I immediately felt at home as I walked into my university’s Hillel’s Conservative Friday night services and saw the Siddur Sim Shalom, the prayer book that I had grown up with. The siddur offered me a sense of comfort and familiarity in an otherwise completely new setting.
When I began exploring humanistic Judaism, the humanistic Shema, (Shema Yisrael Echad Ameinu, Echad Adam – hear Israel, our people is one, humanity is one) allowed me to connect my humanistic Jewish values in a familiar framework. Similarly, when I first discovered Siddur Sha’ar Zahav, “the first LGBT Prayer Book for every occasion,” it provided me with the opportunity to connect my queer identity with a nuanced prayer book that still contained elements familiar to me from my upbringing. What I’ve learned over the years is that prayer books can be sources of comfort. More importantly, however, they can be tools for change and social justice.
With that in mind, I was excited to learn of the Reform Movement’s new machzor (special siddur or prayer book for holidays), Mishkan HaNefesh. The new machzor for the High Holidays includes a number of inclusive elements, including a gender-neutral blessing for trans individuals; the use of the term couples, instead of bride and groom, to be LGBT-inclusive; and prayers affirming the divine essence in people with disabilities. The prayer book includes passages allowing for doubt, questioning and even anger, a mix of traditional and modern prayers and transliterations for all the Hebrew liturgy so people can follow along, regardless of their knowledge of Hebrew.
Hara Person, Publisher and Director of the CCAR Press and Director of Strategic Communications, explains that this new machzor was written to engage a wide, diverse audience:
“The High Holy Days are the time when we grapple with the big questions about life and death, faith and hope, forgiveness and anger, loss and new beginnings. Our hope was to create many possible doorways into the High Holy Day experience, so that people can find meaning in different ways depending on who they are and what they’re struggling with, what’s on their minds when they walk in. For some people it may be the liturgy itself, for others it may be beautiful translations, or the poetry. For some it may be the intellectual engagement with the commentary on the bottom of the pages, or they may find inspiration in a study text or meditation. And for others, the gorgeous woodblock art by Joel Shapiro may offer a point of connection and meaning. “
Prayer books have the power to change attitudes. The High Holidays are usually the most well-attended services of the Jewish year. Having an inclusive prayer book, like Mishkan HaNefesh, at the service creates a space for people who are too often marginalized in religious settings: LGBT individuals, individuals with disabilities humanists and more. Updated inclusive language challenges us to reflect on our own use of language in our everyday lives and how we can work to be more inclusive in every day in our communities. Most importantly, this new machzor emphasizes a long-standing aim of the Reform Movement: fostering a Jewish community that is welcoming and inclusive of all people, regardless of their identities.
Over the thousands of years of organized religion, prayer has been a key component of most faiths. The words in our prayer books, which are meant to guide our prayers, symbolize the vision we see for the world. And the vision in the Mishkan HaNefesh is a beautiful one: a world that affirms the shared humanity—the divine—in each of us.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a prominent American-Israeli Orthodox rabbi, compared President Barack Obama to Haman, the villain of the Purim story.Click here for the rest of the article...