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Updated: 15 weeks 1 hour ago

Chief Rabbi Declares War on Orthodox Conversion Rebels

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 06:15
Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi accused the founders of a private conversion court of “fighting against the Torah.”

For Orthodox, Addiction Is Unspoken Problem

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 11:00
Education about substance abuse doesn’t really exist for a large population of Jews at risk. Orthodox teens say they face a stigma against talking about risk and getting help.

The Loss of “Matterness” in Synagogue Life: An Interview with Allison Fine

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 08:00

Allison Fine, past president of Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, N.Y., is the co-author of The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change (with Beth Kanter); author of Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age; and, most recently, author of Matterness: Fearless Leadership for a Social World.

You have said that synagogues need to do things differently than in the past in order to retain and attract members.

Congregational leaders need to rethink the decades-old model of synagogues as top-down hierarchies churning out life-cycle events and programs for their membership. Synagogues are overflowing with wonderful people, but the structure – and, therefore by definition the processes and systems – demand caution and control. In this risk aversive environment, congregations suffocate creativity and lose opportunities to experiment with new ways to engage their communities.

Synagogues also tend to be very busy places, with people rushing around to get out the newsletter, organize the next event, and send donation thank-you letters. But in all this busyness, congregants become little more than dues-paying, High Holiday-going, b’nai mitzvah-getting consumers. In this model, leaders lose sight of the passions, fears, struggles, and gifts of each individual congregant.

I call this the loss of “matterness.” When people feel like they are just one more of anything in a system, it is personally devastating. That is not a sustainable model for a synagogue.

How did “loss of matterness” manifest itself when you were a temple president?

Beneath every complaint I received – “No one called when I was sick,” “My bill is wrong,” “The event I organized wasn’t listed in the announcements” – was the individual’s sense that he or she didn’t matter to the synagogue, that if they disappeared from the temple today, no one would care.

How can synagogues make people feel they matter?

They need to move to a networked model to create a more authentic and fulfilling engagement between leaders and congregants – as well as between congregants. Networks are flat and open. Information flows freely, and people do what they do best, which is to talk, share, and connect with like-minded people. In this environment, individuals self-organize, shape their situations, and give generously of both their time and money. When they believe they matter, they also will be openhearted in contributing their artistry.

In short, networks are the opposite of top-down hierarchical institutions.

You have said that all social networks are powered by conversation. How so?

If you think about it, all social media tools are vehicles for conversations. That’s how humans have always connected, shared, and built relationships. Videos that go viral are stories that strike us as particularly funny or sad or moving. Facebook and Twitter messages are parts of larger, ongoing conversations about what matters to us. Sometimes they are poignant, such as a friend’s announcement on Facebook that she just completed her last chemotherapy treatment. Sometimes they are inane – but, then, sometimes life is inane too.

This conversational way of working should be a natural for synagogues – we like talking a lot! To succeed, however, organizational leaders need to give up control of the message and get over the assumption that they are supposed to have answers.

Congregants are our best problem solvers. They know far better than staff, clergy, or lay leadership what they want and why. The job of leadership is to be “in conversation” with as many congregants as possible, engaging them in discussions about “where we want and need to go as a community.” Once leaders are listening to what really matters to people, then they can create new programs together as experiments, and provide a running commentary on how things are going.

The goal isn’t to create a complete consensus on an issue (We are Jews after all!); it is to make sure people feel that the process was thoughtful and transparent.

What are the greatest threats to the synagogue survival today?

Today’s threats are not from the outside, but from within – from existing members who feel anonymous and overlooked, as well as from potential members who have so many other ways to express and practice their Jewish faith and identity. That is why it is so terribly important that synagogues become easier to enter from the outside and easier for congregants to understand and help shape on the inside.

I can tell you from personal experience as a temple president that synagogue transformation can take years – all the more reason not to delay even a day.

Want to hear Allison Fine speak about matterness and congregational life? She’ll be a featured speaker at the URJ Biennial 2015, taking place Nov. 4-8 in Orlando, FL. Register now at urj.org/biennial.

Will Rebel Rabbis' Conversion Court Spark Orthodox Civil War?

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 05:00
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 - 04:00

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 - 09:46
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 - 16:06
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 - 12:10
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 - 05:58
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 - 07:48
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 - 04:00
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 - 18:40
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 - 15:38

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 - 15:38

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 - 15:00

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 - 11:00

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 - 10:00

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 - 10:00

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 - 09:30

“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 - 09:30

“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.