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Will Rebel Rabbis' Conversion Court Spark Orthodox Civil War?

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 06:00
Six minors were converted to Judaism by a rebel religious court on Monday. The small group of Orthodox rabbis who sat on the beit din and supported the act, led by rabbis David Stav and Nahum Rabinowitz, are all veteran pulpit rabbis and the heads of respected yeshivas. Their defiance of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and the entire Orthodox rabbinical hierarchy could signal the most significant split in Orthodox Jewry in centuries.

How We’re Creating Vibrant Jewish Life in Israel and Around the World

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 05:00

by Rabbi Nir Barkin

The Book of Deuteronomy, my favorite, begins with this passage as the Israelites prepare to enter the Promised Land:

These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan. – Through the wilderness, in the Arabah (desert)…in accordance with the instructions that God had given him for them, Moses undertook to expound this Teaching…

What is it about this opening statement that allows me to connect to it as a 21st-century Reform Jew, for whom the fate of the Jewish people is crucially important?

It is significant – and beautiful – that these opening words were spoken to all of Israel. Each person, regardless of background, age, gender, or outlook, was an active partner in the moment. These words offer no exclusions, outliers, arrogant remarks, or private ownership. We understand that the people present were not all the same, and accordingly, we must view all tribes, shades, and nuances as a whole from which multiple approaches and viewpoints can grow, nurturing the social fabric of society.

The same is true today.

Several weeks ago, at the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism’s annual summer conference, I led a session designed to help lay and professional leaders deal with the reality of a Jewish nation that is present both inside and outside the land of Israel.

I asked participants to imagine themselves standing on the brink of the Jordan River preparing to enter Canaan, and to describe their feelings as Jews living outside the Promised Land. The range of emotions was fascinating – from longing to tears, from anger to suspicion, from dreams to reality – and varied based on birthplace. Most of those born in the Diaspora were considerably more critical of their expectations; the sabras (those born in Israel) tended to justify their utopic vision of the country.

This exercise demonstrates liberal Jews’ dissonance around the paradigm of Israel as the Promised Land for all Jews, wherever they live. To help address this conflict, a new initiative, “Domim-aLike,” seeks to build a widespread network of relationships – all under one umbrella — among Reform and Progressive rabbis and congregational leaders in Israel and around the world. Through study sessions and online seminars focused on Jewish community and educational content, leaders will address issues of concern and develop new joint programming – all while forging new relationships and strengthening existing ones.

“I am not able to bear you myself alone,” says Moses, “[s]o I took the heads of your tribes, wise men, and full of knowledge, and made them heads over you…”

It may be these words that led Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, to conclude that,

…the division between religious and secular must be replaced by a new model. The Jewish population (in Israel) is made up of six continuous sub-cultures, each…has a narrative, an ideology and a lifestyle of its own. These six tribes can easily be counted as 12 or 18, for each and every one of them contains within it many possibilities for sub-divisions…

Indeed, the work of those who have set roots in Israel and those who continue their endeavors overseas has yet to cease. Their springs of creativity and renewal still flow, and those who are wise and full of knowledge remain among us, continuing to lead the Jewish people toward a covenant of shared purpose and destiny.

That shared future is in our hands – and it is the challenge of our lives: to balance progress on one hand with a connection to our ancient heritage on the other.

This moment connects Israeli Jews with our partners overseas, compelling us together to create a living, vibrant liberal Jewish reality in Israel and the Diaspora. As they have done for millennia, our biblical sources continue to inspire, serving as a blueprint for our actions: in order to ensure that “…the land which God gave You for an inheritance…” will be worthy of us and that we shall be worthy of it.

If we are wise, we will come together to turn the wilderness, the Arabah (desert), and our Jewish lives into a fruit-bearing grove and a flower-filled field.

Rabbi Nir Barkin is the director of the Israel-Diaspora department at the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) and heads the “Domim-aLike” initiative, strengthening ties and developing meaningful and mutual relationships among Israeli and Diaspora Reform leaders.

Orthodox Shul Opens Near Brazil's Iconic Ipanema Beach

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 10:46
An Orthodox synagogue was opened officially a few blocks from the iconic Ipanema Beach in Brazil.

Controversial Study Claims Israel Spends Twice As Much on West Bank Students

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 17:06
A new study, which the Israeli Education Ministry has claimed is inaccurate, has found that the government spends nearly twice as much per Jewish student in isolated West Bank settlements as on the average Israeli pupil.

How Jewish Family Values Keep Ivanka Trump Classy

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 13:10
A dishy dispatch in Vanity Fair has taken careful note of the skillful way that Ivanka Trump is supporting the scorched-earth presidential campaign of her father, Donald Trump, while avoiding any tinge to her own reputation. The answer, it appears, lies in a careful combination of Jewish family values, hard work and a culture of reality-star worship.

Reform Rabbis Join NAACP March from Selma to Washington

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 06:58
More than 150 Reform Jewish rabbis are marching with the NAACP from the Deep South to the U.S. capital to promote social justice.

Dutch Chief Rabbi Wants Apology for Kingdom’s Holocaust Complicity

Sun, 08/09/2015 - 08:48
Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs called on the prime minister of the Netherlands to apologize officially for authorities’ collaboration with Nazi Germany in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.

Welcome to Fire Island, Fantasy of Jewish Paradise

Sat, 08/08/2015 - 05:00
At Fire Island Synagogue, cantor Basya Schechter has turned summer-season congregation into a vibrant community. Her secret? Drum beats, tambourines and a little tribal spirituality.

Reform Leaders OK Boy Scouts After 14-Year Ban

Fri, 08/07/2015 - 19:40
Reform Jewish leaders have lifted a 14-year prohibition against synagogues having Boy Scouts troops.

Evangelicals and LGBT; Rabbi Jonathan Sacks; Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica

Fri, 08/07/2015 - 16:38

Growing social acceptance of same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues poses new challenges for evangelicals; Britain’s former chief rabbi leads a global effort against religious extremism and violence; an ancient vision in Mexico of the Virgin Mary inspires millions of religious pilgrims.

The post Evangelicals and LGBT; Rabbi Jonathan Sacks; Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Evangelicals and LGBT; Rabbi Jonathan Sacks; Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica

Fri, 08/07/2015 - 16:38

Growing social acceptance of same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues poses new challenges for evangelicals; Britain’s former chief rabbi leads a global effort against religious extremism and violence; an ancient vision in Mexico of the Virgin Mary inspires millions of religious pilgrims.

The post Evangelicals and LGBT; Rabbi Jonathan Sacks; Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Weather or Not: Here Climate Change Comes

Fri, 08/07/2015 - 16:00

Part of our job as legislative assistants, in addition to staying on top of policy and doing direct lobby visits, is to help Reform Jews – from high school students with us for the L’Taken Social Justice Seminars to rabbis and congregational lay leaders attending Consultation on Conscience – speak to the offices of their elected officials.

Recently, I accompanied two incredibly talented and well-spoken high school students here with Mitzvah Corps DC to a Senate office to talk about climate change. One of the students gave an impassioned speech about how climate change has impacted her life through the increased severity and frequency of extreme weather events. After listening to the speech, the Senate legislative staffer we were meeting with challenged her, telling her that extreme weather was not a result of climate change.

There are those – even some who agree that climate change is real, happening now, and caused by humans—who fail to recognize the connections between climate disruption and extreme weather like floods, storms and droughts. However, there is in fact a strong and clear correlation. In the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration’s 2011 State of Climate report, top experts could already see that the increase in global temperatures caused by carbon emissions was upsetting normal weather patterns across the world and causing extreme and unusual weather events.

Examples of these extreme weather events include things very familiar to most Americans, like Super-storm Sandy, which impacted the entire Northeastern seaboard, particularly New York and New Jersey. Hurricane Katrina, whose effects poor communities and people of color in Louisiana still feel today, is another case of extreme weather disrupting the lives of whole communities in the United States. The National Wildlife Federation has published research on how hurricanes, droughts, heat waves, floods, wildfire and intense winter weather are all effects of climate change.

Climate change is a structural issue that has uniquely global impacts. On many social justice issues we can speak to our elected officials and draw clear links between a problematic cause and effect, and how legislation can be a key step to ameliorating that problem. However, because the impacts of climate change are so large and multi-pronged, we know that carbon emissions from a power plant effect those in Alaska who are seeing their entire communities sink and those in California who are struggling with drought at the same time.

As Reform Jews, it is our obligation to pursue justice, champion the poor and needy in our communities, and act as environmental stewards in partnership with God protecting creation. We do this in many ways, and one of the most important and impactful is addressing our elected officials, whether they be local, state, or national, directly and armed with information. You can let your Members of Congress know today that you care about the environment by filling out this action alert in support of the Green Climate Fund.

The post Weather or Not: Here Climate Change Comes appeared first on Fresh Updates from RAC.

From the Equality Act of 1974 to the Equality Act of 2015: Protecting LGBT People from Discrimination

Fri, 08/07/2015 - 12:00

On July 23, 2015, I had the opportunity to join the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Deputy Director, Rachel Laser, at the Capitol Building for a press conference for the introduction of the Equality Act.

The Equality Act (H.R. 3185/S. 1858) would amend existing civil rights legislation in order to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, federal funding, education, credit, and jury selection based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity and prohibit sex discrimination in public accommodations and federal funding. The bill and its introduction were historic in many ways, especially since the LGBT community has focused on just federal employment non-discrimination protections for the past two decades.

Yet, while the introduction of the Equality Act was historic, it was by no means unprecedented—in fact, forty-one years ago, Representatives Bella Abzug (D-NY), along with Representative Ed Koch (D-NY), introduced a similar piece of legislation, also called the Equality Act, which would have amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in order to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, marital status and sex in employment, public accommodations and housing.

The Equality Act of 1974 was truly historic in every sense of the word—it was the first piece of federal legislation that would have protected people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. Liz Abzug, Representative Abzug’s daughter, recently told the Washington Blade that while “liberal groups” understood why Representative Abzug introduced the Equality Act of 1974, they “still couldn’t believe that she did it.” In addition, Liz explained to the Blade that while the Stonewall riots played a role in her mother’s decision to introduce the bill, the introduction had more to do with “her understanding as a leader, a civil rights leader and someone who broke barriers.”

Forty-one years later, it is time for Congress to fully realize the dream that Representative Abzug put forward when she introduced the Equality Act of 1974. It is time for Congress to pass the Equality Act and ensure that LGBT people are explicitly protected from discrimination based on their identity.  It is time for Congress to listen to the will of the people, who overwhelmingly support non-discrimination protections for LGBT people. It is time for Congress to act.

Take action here to urge your members of Congress to support the Equality Act.

Since 1977, both the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis have been leaders in the faithful call for LGBT equality. As Jews, we are taught that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the Divine image (Genesis 1:27), and therefore deserve to live their lives free of discrimination.  Furthermore, our rabbinic tradition’s emphasis on gender diversity teaches us that all people, regardless of their gender identity, deserve to be treated with respect. As Jews, we have a moral obligation to speak out against injustice, and these core principles have guided our LGBT advocacy over the decades. Take action here to support the Equality Act!

The post From the Equality Act of 1974 to the Equality Act of 2015: Protecting LGBT People from Discrimination appeared first on Fresh Updates from RAC.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Fri, 08/07/2015 - 11:00

He retired after serving 22 years as chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, and this year he taught in the US at New York University and Yeshiva University and began leading a global religious response to religious violence and extremism. Interviewed at Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City.

The post Rabbi Jonathan Sacks appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Fri, 08/07/2015 - 11:00

He retired after serving 22 years as chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, and this year he taught in the US at New York University and Yeshiva University and began leading a global religious response to religious violence and extremism. Interviewed at Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City.

The post Rabbi Jonathan Sacks appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Extended Interview

Fri, 08/07/2015 - 10:30

“We have to go back to the 17th century and ask what healed all that harm? And of course the simple answer is that what wins wars is weapons but what wins peace is ideas.” Watch more of our interview with the former Chief Rabbi for the United Kingdom. Interviewed at Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City.

The post Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Extended Interview appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Extended Interview

Fri, 08/07/2015 - 10:30

“We have to go back to the 17th century and ask what healed all that harm? And of course the simple answer is that what wins wars is weapons but what wins peace is ideas.” Watch more of our interview with the former Chief Rabbi for the United Kingdom. Interviewed at Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City.

The post Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Extended Interview appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

The Ripple Effects of Meaningful Peer-to-Peer Mentorship

Thu, 08/06/2015 - 11:56

By Rabbi Laura Novak Winer

When I recently asked a group of colleagues to help me think about examples from pop culture in which teens mentor other teens, we found it surprisingly difficult to come up with genuine examples.

In the movie Clueless (1995), Cher (Alicia Silverstone) becomes the self-appointed fashion mentor to a new girl at school in order to help propel said new girl up the social ladder. In the Broadway show Wicked, a similar dynamic is at play when Glinda and Elphaba overcome their dislike of each other and Glinda attempts to give Elphaba a makeover. We came up with a few similar examples, but none quite fit the bill.

Where are the examples of true peer-to-peer mentorship – peers helping each other learn and grow into their best selves? Are there times when adolescents can be there for each other to create healthy bonds and build relationships with each other for the sake of positive, worthwhile connections and enrichment?

Yes, there are! We may not see it in pop culture, but it’s happening in our Jewish communities.

The quintessential rabbinic text about mentorship is found in Pirke Avot 1:6, “Provide yourself a teacher and get yourself a friend.” In reading this text, we often imagine a teacher who may be older or have much more life experience than ourselves. We imagine a traditional mentor/protégé relationship. Yet, for some communities considering how to revolutionize the b’nai mitzvah experience, the idea of finding teachers from amongst peers is creating significant impacts in their adolescent communities.

The B’nai Mitzvah Revolution is a network of congregational professionals, lay leaders, and educational thought leaders seeking to bring renewed depth and meaning to Jewish learning. Participating congregations experiment with and create new models of preparation and engagement for b’nai mitzvah that are meaningful and relevant to young people and their families.

Peer b’nai mitzvah tutoring is a model of mentorship frequently emerging in congregations.

The Tzofim program at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, CA, is a peer-tutoring program designed to help the congregation’s newest young adults maintain their connection to Judaism and the synagogue after becoming a bar/bat mitzvah. Beginning as soon as the week after their own ceremony, 7th-10th grade students become tutors, guiding their own students through the process of becoming a bar/bat mitzvah. Post-b’nai mitzvah teens experience tangible ways to make an impact on the lives of others, while pre-b’nai mitzvah teens find mentors and role models with whom they can share concerns, ask questions, and gain guidance about the b’nai mitzvah experience.

Temple Beth El in Charlotte, N.C., runs a similar program, B’nai Mitzvah Madrichim, in which 9th-12th grade teens experience the responsibility of a “real job,” earning minimum wage and working two to12 hours per month tutoring pre-b’nai mitzvah teens in prayers, Torah, and Haftarah trope. The program has created a culture in which younger teens are often heard saying, “When I’m a madrich…”

Social justice work is another venue in which peer-to-peer mentorship has great potential. In the Detroit area, families from participating congregations can enroll in the Peer Corps Detroit program as a way of completing their mitzvah project requirement. This paid mentorship program invites Jewish teens (10th-12th grade) and pre-b’nai mitzvah students to work together at a service site in metro-Detroit for three and a half months. Through their mentor relationships, b’nai mitzvah students participate in meaningful mitzvah projects, while older teens learn leadership and mentorship skills. Together, they create genuine and long-term relationships with each other and their service sites.

In each of these instances, the institutions are learning lessons about youth engagement, the value of peer-to-peer relationships, and the subsequent impact these programs can have on adolescents, congregations, and communities. Here are a few of the positive impacts:

  • These programs build a culture in which preteens are able to connect with older teens in order to find guidance, ask questions, and share life experiences together.
  • Older teens find a niche for themselves in their Jewish communities. Whether it’s in teaching, tutoring, social justice work, or other areas, these youth learn that Jewish connections don’t end at 13.
  • Older teens maintain and strengthen relationships with the adults who guide them. In each of these examples, adults supervise the older teens, providing them with training and mentoring them in their own growth as Jewish leaders.
  • Older teens continue to grow and learn. Whether it’s learning additional prayers and trope, teaching skills, or how to mentor, these teens come away with new skills and talents that will serve them into the future.
  • Older teens hold real leadership roles and take responsibility. They are held accountable for their work: Someone is relying on them to show up, prepared and ready to do their job. Again, this life skill is invaluable, especially at this time in their lives.

The wisdom of the passage from Pirke Avot is that it recognizes the bilateral nature of a mentorship relationship. Both parties learn and grow; both are enriched by the relationship. Inspired by this notion, our Jewish communities are seeing that peer-to-peer mentoring programs that connect pre- and post-b’nai mitzvah youth in significant ways have ripple effects in adolescents’ lives and in their communities.

Surely other valuable peer-to-peer mentorship programs exist, so tell us: What is your community doing in this area? What have you learned? Share your experiences in the comments section below so we can all learn and dialogue together.

If you’re interested in learning more about the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution and these innovations and others like them, please visit www.bnaimitzvahrevolution.org.

Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, RJE is an independent Jewish education consultant working with the LA Cohort of the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution and currently serves as the President of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators (formerly NATE). She blogs at www.rabbilnw.com.

A-Wa's Unlikely Journey From Rural Israel to Global Fame

Thu, 08/06/2015 - 11:00
The A-Wa sisters grew up on an Israeli farm. Now, their hip hop beats set to Arabic folk music have them singing from clubs in Tel Aviv to European music festivals.

What 'Wet Hot American Summer' and Jon Stewart Have in Common

Wed, 08/05/2015 - 15:19
As ‘Wet Hot American Summer’ gets its prequel, Jon Stewart prepares to make his exit. But the two have more in common than just timing. Andrew Dubrov takes us down the rabbit hole.