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Praying With Our Feet: America’s Journey for Justice

Fri, 07/24/2015 - 15:28

Beginning in August, the Reform Movement will join the NAACP on America’s Journey for Justice—an  historic 860—mile march from Selma, Alabama, to Washington, D.C. The Religious Action Center is supporting the mobilization of hundreds of Rabbis in partnership with the NAACP for the Journey, which will mobilize activists and advance a focused advocacy agenda that protects the right of every American to a fair criminal justice system, uncorrupted and unfettered access to the ballot box, sustainable jobs with a living wage, and equitable public education. The Journey for Justice partnership between the Reform Movement and the NAACP reflects the long history of collaboration between our communities.

Our Movement, through the work of the Religious Action Center and the Rabbis Organizing Rabbis initiative, will be vocal leaders: more than 100 rabbis will coordinate walking the distance of the journey. Congregations will come together not just to walk, but to educate and mobilize participants in the many rally days to be held in multiple cities along the way. These marching rabbis will carry the sacred scroll of our Torah, carrying thus the Jewish values that compel us to stand with our neighbors and to fight for racial justice and equality.

Participate in the March: State Rallies for Social Justice
Reform Jews are joining with NAACP chapters and others in state rallies along the route for these touchstone events demanding justice. The rallies will take place in each anchor city along the route. If you choose to join, look for the Reform Movement leaders and Rabbis at the rally site. More details are forthcoming as they are finalized, and we will update this post as that information is released.

August 3: State Rally for Economic Equality
Montgomery, Alabama

August 13: State Rally for Education Reform
Atlanta, Georgia

August 20: State Rally for Criminal Justice
Greenville, South Carolina

August 26: State Rally for Voting Rights
Charlotte, North Carolina

September 16: Final Rally for Justice and Equality
Washington, DC

Do you want to join the March along its 860-mile route?
Click here to learn more about the Journey for Justice, and to register yourself or your community to march.

Raise your Voice to Support Voting Rights Today
Whether or not you’re able to join on the Journey for Justice, you can raise your voice today by urging your Senators and Representative to support robust voter protections. We must ensure that all voices in our democracy are heard and the vital protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—drafted in the historic conference room at the Religious Action Center—are restored.

The post Praying With Our Feet: America’s Journey for Justice appeared first on Fresh Updates from RAC.


Fri, 07/24/2015 - 09:30

We visited a Hindu religious coming-of-age ceremony for nine-year-old Rushil Ramakrishnan at the Hindu Temple in Adelphi, Maryland. Also known as the “sacred thread” ceremony, it is typically performed for boys between the ages of 8 and 16 and traditionally marks the start of their formal education. Dr. Siva Subramanian, a neonatologist at Georgetown University Hospital and a founder of Sri Siva Vishnu Temple as well as other Hindu associations in the metropolitan Washington, DC area, presided over the two-day ceremony. He explains the meaning and significance of its elaborate rituals and Sanskrit chants.

View more pictures by photographer Sam Pinczuk:

The post Upanayanam appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Amy Schumer's Childhood Rabbi Enjoyed 'Trainwreck'

Wed, 07/22/2015 - 10:50
Salkin was Amy Schumer’s rabbi at Central Synagogue of Nassau County in Rockville Centre, New York and shares details of Amy’s time in religious school.

Orthodox Rabbi Agrees To Join Reuven Rivlin Unity Session

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 12:17
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will host a study session with rabbis from various streams of Judaism in a unity-building effort.

Live Jazz High Holiday CD Released From Sim Shalom

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 05:04

Sim Shalom, the online synagogue, and founder, Rabbi Steve 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 June 19, 2015)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/06/prweb12797015.htm

Sacred Giving: How Reform Congregations are Reimagining Financial Support

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 04:00

Nearly every congregation today faces the challenge of trying to increase or stabilize revenue, so it’s no surprise that in the last few weeks alone, the Jewish press published three separate pieces on the subject:

And that’s not all. In February, SYNERGY, a partnership that “seeks to strengthen synagogues as vital centers of caring, learning, and spiritual renewal,” published a report titled “Are Voluntary Dues Right for Your Congregation?” With more than 1,250 downloads, it’s clear that congregational leaders are in search of reliable resources to help them explore these issues within their own unique communities.

These recent articles are representative of the discussions happening on an organic, grassroots level, too. In fact, a search of the word “dues” in The Tent, the Reform Movement’s online forum for congregational leaders, results in 124 conversations, two dedicated groups, and 151 files on the topic. (We hope you will join these robust and ongoing conversations.)

It’s inspiring to see so many Jewish communities engaging in conversation, experimenting, and trying new strategies. To further the conversation and provide congregations with a tangible resource, the Union for Reform Judaism is proud to publish Reimagining Financial Support for Your 21st-Century Congregation: A Report from the 2013-2015 Community of Practice. This new, interactive resource provides tools for congregations to begin this work by codifying the findings of our pilot Community of Practice (CoP) on Re-Imagining Financial Support for your Congregation. Launched in early 2013, the CoP engaged 17 congregations in conversation and innovation in their dues structures. Some communities tried voluntary dues structures, while others took varying approaches to revenue collection.

Reimagining Financial Support details 10 of the best principles derived from these congregations and research into alternative revenue collection. These 10 concepts, which any congregation should consider when reimagining financial support, include such tactics as focusing on engagement, recognizing distinct segments of the population, removing barriers to entry, and aligning any new financial model with the congregation’s vision and values.

Though no one best principle dictates the right approach for any one congregation, thinking through the implications of each will help determine a starting point. Three very different examples illustrate this point:

  1. The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah in Overland Park, KS, focused on reducing as many barriers to entry to congregational engagement as possible. The proceeds from selling the congregation’s urban synagogue building and instead making its suburban location the congregation’s permanent home made it possible to do away with its customary upfront building fund. In addition, members who now request dues relief will no longer be required to submit their tax information (which don’t give any indication of fixed expenses) or fill out a myriad of forms; instead, they have a friendly conversation with the executive director or a member of the board, who expresses how important the member is to the community and asks what they can do to make membership affordable for them.
  1. Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, CA, realized that their problem was not their financial model but the way they talked about it – so they changed course. To top donors, they expressed appreciation and then, after reviewing the congregant’s giving history and the impact it made on the congregation, offered the opportunity to make a single annual commitment rather than receiving multiple appeals throughout the year. The majority of top donors took advantage of the opportunity, and total commitments increased by 20% from the previous year. The congregation also targeted a middle tier by identifying their “sustaining amount,” dividing their total operating budget by the total number of members, and encouraging those whose past contributions were near that amount to increase to that level. Finally, recognizing that not everyone can give at the same level, they implemented an “every dollar counts” approach to acknowledging that, as long as a congregant makes a gift that is meaningful to themselves, it is meaningful to the congregation, as well.
  1. As part of their communication strategy, Congregation Shir Hadash also revealed to congregants that the synagogue was paying $25,000 per year in credit card fees, and then urged members to begin paying by check rather credit card. Making financial matters of the congregation more transparent to everyone in the community helps establish a foundation of trust. When the congregational budget and major financial decisions are visible to everyone, congregants gain a better sense of how their dues or philanthropic gift makes a difference to the health and sustainability of the congregational community. It can also lend credibility both to specific requests for support and to the case that leaders make for changing the financial support system.

The URJ is now in the process of launching a second Community of Practice on this topic with a new cohort of congregations. We look forward to sharing the results of their learning and experimentation with all congregations who are considering changes to the way they collect revenue.

Workshop sessions related to this topic will also be offered at the URJ Biennial 2015, taking place November 4-8 in Orlando, FL. In the meantime, we encourage you to add your questions, comments, and experiences either in the comments below, or join the discussion in the Finances group in The Tent, the URJ’s online platform for congregational leaders.

Reimagining Financial Support for Your 21st Century Congregation is one in a series of three publications that helps leaders strengthen their congregations by offering best principles and a range of resources. The others are Paving the Road to Meaningful Young Adult Engagement and Engaging Families with Young Children.

Jessica Ingram, manager of the URJ’s Communities of Practice, also contributed significantly to this post, as well as to the creation of Reimagining Financial Support for your 21st-Century Congregation: A Report from the 2013-2015 Community of Practice.


Joshua Greenberg, Grooveshark Founder, Dies at 28

Mon, 07/20/2015 - 20:48
Joshua Greenberg, the 28-year-old co-founder of the music streaming website Grooveshark, was found dead in his home in Gainesville, Florida, over the weekend, police said on Monday.

On My Last Day as ADL Director, I'm Worried About Iran

Mon, 07/20/2015 - 16:30
It’s Abe Foxman’s last day as director of the Anti-Defamation League, and his mind is not at rest. The Iran deal continues to trouble him — here’s why.

More Revealtions Regarding Israeli Rabbis Accused of Sexual Abuse

Mon, 07/20/2015 - 09:17
Over the past week, two men heading Orthodox institutions in Israel—including Rabbi Ezra Scheinberg of Safed—have been added to the roster of suspected sex predators in the religious Jewish world.

50 Years After Dylan Went Electric, George Wein Remembers

Mon, 07/20/2015 - 05:00
He was in Newport in 1965 when Dylan went electric and has presided over two of the most successful music festivals in the world. Now 89, George Wein shows little sign of slowing down.

Jerusalem Rabbinical Court Officials Accused of Taking Bribes in Custody Case

Sun, 07/19/2015 - 22:16
Two Jerusalem Rabbinical Court officials are under investigation for allegedly asking for and receiving bribes from a father in a custody case.

Israeli NGO Asks Supreme Court To Protect Women’s Rights at Mikveh

Sun, 07/19/2015 - 22:14
An Israeli advocacy NGO has asked Israel’s Supreme Court to protect women’s rights at the mikvah, or ritual bath.

Jewish Argentine Director Wins Iberoamerica ‘Oscar’

Sun, 07/19/2015 - 09:01
“Wild Tales” by Jewish Argentinian director Damian Szifron won Best Movie at the second annual “Premios Platino,” the equivalent of the Oscars for Iberoamerica, made up of Spain, Portugal and Latin America.

Congress Bill Offers Disaster Relief to Houses of Worship

Sat, 07/18/2015 - 07:56
A bipartisan trio of northeastern members of the U.S. House of Representatives reintroduced legislation that would provide direct relief to synagogues and churches damaged by natural disaster.

A Different Islamic School; Singing in a Chorus; Eid al-Fitr

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 18:21

A madrasa in Pakistan is proving that an Islamic school can offer a useful education while avoiding politics and extremism; members of the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York say singing as a group feeds their souls and creates community; and after a month of fasting, Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with a three-day festival of food and friendship.

The post A Different Islamic School; Singing in a Chorus; Eid al-Fitr appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Singing in a Chorus

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 14:00

Volunteers in the Choral Society at New York’s Grace Church say that choral singing feeds the soul, brings joy, and creates community. “To me, the choir is really a microcosm of what a community ought to be. People are not worried about status within their social position or their family hierarchy. What they are worried about is all together singing D major,” says music director John Maclay.

Read an excerpt from Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others by Stacy Horn, who sings in the Choral Society:

“I believe that all the arts, and especially music, are necessary to a full life,” Ralph Vaughn Williams said. Music will show you what to do with your life.” I’ll take it even further. Music, this choir, in some ways is my life. We all need a way off the couch or the floor; a way to embrace the fall or whatever else life brings. When I joined the choir I was only looking to soothe a broken heart. Instead I found something that invariably transcends every misfortune I’ve faced and makes me happy. Every week, music dependably and effectively silences my roulette wheel of worry and self-doubt, and that is not a small thing. Nor is it the only thing.

“When I think about who my closest friends are,” my fellow soprano Lucia Rivieccio told me, “they are all people I’ve met in choir or met through people in choir…just the opportunity to meet so many different kinds of people. It can be a bit of a ragtag group, some people can be really annoying, others I don’t know very well but like very much, and some I just adore. But I wouldn’t want to lose even one.”

“Ordinary human beings can do extraordinary things,” [Choral Society of Grace Church conductor John Maclay] once e-mailed us. “Belief is necessary—not in any one creed or religion, or in religion at all—but belief in yourself and in each other.”

I believe. I believe in singing. Like [musician and composer] Brian Eno, I believe in singing with other people. I know it won’t last forever. “There are people joining the choir now who were born when we first joined,” Barbara pointed out to me once. One by one we will all be replaced. But I hope that like Frits Menschaar, the bass in our choir who was singing right up until the week he died, I will be able to continue singing until the very end. “How long do you plan to sing with this or other choral groups,” I asked the people in my choir. Nancy Tepper’s simple answer summed it up best. “As long as I can.”

The post Singing in a Chorus appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Eid al-Fitr

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 13:30

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia describes the rituals and spiritual significance of Eid al-Fitr, the three-day festival marking the end of the month-long Ramadan fast.

The post Eid al-Fitr appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Beyond Marriage Equality

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 09:00

On Wednesday night at the ESPY Awards, Caitlyn Jenner accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, named after the African American tennis star who died of AIDS in 1993. In her moving speech, Caitlyn described the struggles trans people face, including bullying, suicide and even murder, and the importance of education and accepting trans people and their identities. Caitlyn’s speech highlighted several of the many issues that the LGBT community and their allies now have to address following the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision.

The Supreme Court’s ruling three weeks ago to overturn marriage bans and establish marriage equality across the United States was an important milestone in the battle for LGBT equality but a lot more needs to be done. As Caitlyn highlighted, trans people face high levels of bullying and are often the victims of violence, including homicides. Transgender people, like their lesbian, gay and bisexual counterparts, lack explicit federal non-discrimination protections and therefore have limited recourse when they face discrimination in areas such as employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, federal funding, education and jury selection.

The fact of the matter is, the Supreme Court’s decision, though important, had a narrow scope and only focused on marriage equality. Earlier this week, we saw in the halls of Congress the legislative barriers that LGBT people still must overcome. When the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) – a bill that would prohibit discrimination in public schools based on students actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or their association with LGBT people – came to a vote as an amendment to a larger bill, it failed to get the 60 votes it needed (52-45).

Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) have announced that they will jointly be introducing legislation that would establish comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBT people, including protections in education. If the SNDA vote is any indicator, this will be an uphill battle.

In addition, LGBT youth throughout the country are still struggling with their identities and often face rejection from their peers and their family. Despite President Obama’s call for states to outlaw “conversion therapy,” it is still legal in most states for conversion therapy providers to offer services that they claim can make LGB people straight and transgender people cisgender. These “therapies,” beyond being ineffective, also lead to negative psychological outcomes among LGBT people.

It is clear that we still have a long way to go to achieve legal equality for LGBT people. But, perhaps the most difficult struggle LGBT people face is achieving lived equality. LGBT people need laws that grant them the same rights and protections as other marginalized groups, but as the experiences of people of color in this country illustrate, legal protections do not necessarily lead to lived equality, though they do get us closer to that place.

As Reform Jews, we have an obligation to play a leading role in fighting for LGBT equality. Our tradition teaches us that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the Divine image (Genesis 1:27) and that there are other genders/sexes beyond male and female. As Jews who are tasked with repairing the world, we cannot stand idly by as LGBT people face discrimination and rejection. That is why our synagogues have taken important steps over the past few decades to welcome LGBT people and why the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis have passed over a dozen resolutions regarding LGBT rights, including the CCAR’s most recent resolution in opposition to conversion therapy and in support of the rights of trans and gender non-conforming people. To learn more about LGBT rights and to contact your elected officials about important LGBT legislation, visit the RAC’s LGBT rights webpage.


The post Beyond Marriage Equality appeared first on Fresh Updates from RAC.

AIPAC Cancels Staff Vacations in Push To Kill Iran Deal

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 06:29
Cancel your summer vacations. That was the order AIPAC’s executive director, Howard Kohr, gave his employees in a staff meeting convened this week at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee after the United States announced the Iran nuclear deal.

Why Israel's Military Supports Iran Deal — Despite Bibi's Bluster

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 21:00
The Israeli security establishment mostly supports the Iran nuclear deal, despite Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition. J.J. Goldberg speaks to a former Shin Bet director who says the prime minister’s biggest mistake was keeping America at arm’s length as the agreement took shape.