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Join Rabbis Organizing Rabbis at CCAR Convention

Fri, 03/13/2015 - 12:19

by Rabbi Rachel Timoner

“Who knows whether you have come to your position for such a time as this?”

Last week we told the story of Mordechai calling Esther to action for her people just days before our country commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Alabama. We honored Esther and Mordechai, who risked their lives to rid their community of the injustice Haman intended to perpetrate, and then we honored Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Joshua Heschel, John Lewis and many others who risked their lives to rid our country of the injustice perpetuated by structural racial inequality.

Mordechai called Esther to approach Achashverosh. Rev. Dr. MLK Jr called clergy to join him in Selma. Today, a new, yet familiar, call is sounding. We hear it echoing in newspaper articles and protests all across our country. We hear it in the absence of indictments for police officers at whose hands black men and boys’ lives were lost. We hear it in the statistics comparing the number of black men under some form of correctional control (1.7 million) to the number of black men who were enslaved in 1850 (870,000). Those of us attending CCAR convention will hear it in the words of Rev. William Barber II, who launched the Moral Movement in his home state of North Carolina, during his keynote address. What are we called to do? In his speech in Selma this past Shabbat, President Obama said:

“If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination. All of us will need to feel, as they did, the fierce urgency of now. All of us need to recognize, as they did, that change depends on our actions, on our attitudes, the things we teach our children. And if we make such an effort, no matter how hard it may sometimes seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.”

I want to honor the courage of Queen Esther and those who marched in Selma 50 years ago. I want to respond to the cries of outrage about the racial and economic inequality that plagues America to this day – cries from others and from my own heart. I want to heal and transform the structural inequalities that break on race and class lines in this country. I want to join with rabbinic colleagues to exercise our moral imagination, feel the urgency of now, and take action together.

At CCAR Convention next week, Rabbis Organizing Rabbis will begin harnessing the power of the Reform rabbinate to deepen and develop relationships across lines of race, class and faith to dismantle racial and economic inequality. Join me at the ROR workshop on Tuesday, March 17 from 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. to discuss structural inequality – how we as rabbis are affected by it, how rabbis across the country are working on it in their communities, and how we might address it together. Because, perhaps, we have come to our positions for such a time as this.

The Power of Prophetic Rage

Fri, 03/13/2015 - 11:30

This past weekend I had the great privilege of being a part of the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, AL. Along with my roommate and four of other legislative assistants (and we later joined up with RAC Director Rabbi Jonah Pesner and Deputy Director Rachel Laser), I headed south to honor the work of those who risked and gave their lives for the Civil Rights Movement and to rededicate myself to continuing their work today. While I expected the weekend to be meaningful, I didn’t understand the full power of participating in the anniversary commemorations until I actually arrived in Selma and was able to hear the stories and wisdom of those around me.

On Sunday morning, we arrived at Temple Mishkan Israel, a beautiful synagogue in Selma whose membership is dwindling, where Rabbi Fred Guttman from Greensboro, North Carolina had organized a phenomenal program. First to speak was Reverend Dr. William Barber II, an NAACP Board Member and leader of the North Carolina Moral Mondays Movement. He proclaimed to the packed synagogue that “the work of moral dissent is never done” and that as people of faith, we must work to move forward together – as a united front – fighting for true equal protection of all people under the law.

He encouraged us to channel our prophetic rage—our righteous anger that comes from our refusal to accept the structural injustices of the world around us. Throughout our religious tradition, we have seen many, like Moses and Isaiah, channel this prophetic rage to bring about justice. The ability to connect the injustices we see in the world to our most fundamental moral values, as Rev. Barber so eloquently did during his speech, makes the argument for justice much deeper and allows for much needed subversive hope. Rev. Barber didn’t come to Selma for a celebration or a party, he came for a recommitment and a holy convocation. He came because our country is once again in need of the audacious courage of prophetic rage and subversive hope.

Rev. Barber’s words brought me to tears. Not only was his message deeply powerful and his delivery impassioned, but he has an incredible ability to truly charge those around him with the fight for justice. As I sat in the pews of this synagogue in Selma, surrounded by almost 200 people of faith who had all traveled to be here, I knew that I wasn’t alone. I felt validated in my decision to spend my career working for social justice. I felt that it was my duty as a citizen, as a Jew and as a young person, to help this country be the best it can be. And most importantly, I felt that I had the support and commitment of everyone else in that building, and of the other 80,000 people who had come to Selma that day, to continue this important work together. Because it is only together that we can address the structural racial and economic inequality that persists in our country.

As the program in the synagogue ended, my fellow legislative assistants and I unrolled the RAC’s banner and joined the tens of thousands of others who came to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. As we slowly made our way through the crowd and across the bridge, I finally understood why 50 years ago, in this exact same place, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that he had been praying with his feet. In coming to Selma, joining the community, bearing witness to the historic event, and calling for voting rights and equality for everyone, we were not only praying with our feet but with our entire bodies. We were using our time, resources, energy and actions to accompany our prayers for equality and justice, and at the end of the day, I believe that is the most powerful prayer of all.

Israel Ex-Generals Challenge Bibi on Security

Thu, 03/12/2015 - 17:41

Against a soundtrack of dramatic music, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lists his government’s security accomplishments, declaring over the shouts of opposition lawmakers that his Likud Party has stopped terrorists, stood up to Iran and secured Israel’s borders.

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French Jewish Teens Beaten Walking From Synagogue

Thu, 03/12/2015 - 13:57

Two Jewish teens in France were robbed and beaten after leaving their Marseille synagogue.

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This Month in The Tent: Useful Mission Statements

Thu, 03/12/2015 - 09:00

A congregation’s mission statement is often one of its founding documents, setting forth a vision for the congregation and serving as a guiding document as leaders manage the sacred. Yet a lot can happen in 15, 50, or even 100 years, and so congregational leaders may wish to periodically revisit the synagogue’s mission statement as a regular part of strategic planning.

When reviewing your congregation’s mission statement, keep in mind that effective mission statements:

  • Express the core values of the synagogue, including who the members are, which member needs the synagogue is attempting to fulfill, and how the synagogue plans to conduct its business
  • Articulate attainable goals
  • Provide a template that leaders and others can use to make decisions

Suggestions like these are available in The Tent, the URJ’s online communication and collaboration forum. In the “Mission Statements: Hints, Tips and Samples” document, you’ll find helpful information as well as mission statements created and used by Reform congregations. While you’re in The Tent, you also can access the URJ publication, “Hear, O Israel: Creating Meaningful Congregational Mission Statements and engage with your fellow leaders to find additional models of mission statements. (Enter the search term “MissionStatement” in the search box on any page of The Tent to find and join ongoing conversations.)

Seasonal Info: This year, Shavuot falls on May 23-24, which coincides with Memorial Day weekend. As you explore The Tent, search “Shavuot” to learn how congregational leaders are preparing for the confluence of the two holidays. You’ll also be able to download the “Shavuot Holiday Happenings” guide.

Tent Tips: The Tent has dozens of groups, from Membership to Facilities, from Recipe Box to Early Childhood. Each group addresses topics and issues within a specific area of interest. When posting a question or an update in The Tent, be sure to post in the appropriate group so your message will be seen by your target audience. For more Tent Tips, visit the Tent Tips group and join us for our March TentTalk webinars.

Join the conversation and access these and other great resources in The Tent.

'Allah Akhbar' Pest Busted for Threatening Miami Beach Synagogue

Wed, 03/11/2015 - 11:26

Miami police arrested a man twice who stood outside a Miami Beach synagogue and allegedly threatened the congregants.

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How Kayaking in Alaska Prepared Me To Be a Rabbi

Wed, 03/11/2015 - 06:00

‘Gonzo Judaism’ Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein opens up how a kayaking trip through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge prepared him for his rabbinate — despite the sensory overload.

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Ramaz Picks Eric Grossman as New Head of School

Tue, 03/10/2015 - 17:05

For the first time in its history, the Ramaz School, an elite modern Orthodox preparatory-style school in Manhattan, is tapping someone from outside its ranks to be its permanent head of school.

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Copenhagen Muslims Get Permission for Peace Ring Around Synagogue

Tue, 03/10/2015 - 16:50

Danish Muslims can create a peace ring around a Copenhagen synagogue that came under a deadly attack, the city’s police said after originally refusing the request.

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Shmuley Boteach Says Sorry for 'Genocide' Slur Against Susan Rice

Tue, 03/10/2015 - 15:02

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach apologized to U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice for his organization’s full-page ad in The New York Times accusing Rice of turning a blind eye to the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

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Shmuley Boteach Says Sorry for 'Genocide' Slur Against Susan Rice

Tue, 03/10/2015 - 14:59

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach apologized to U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice for his organization’s full-page ad in The New York Times accusing Rice of turning a blind eye to the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

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L’Taken Student Lobbies to End to Violence Against Women

Tue, 03/10/2015 - 12:00

Over the course of six L’Taken seminars this winter, I had the opportunity to work with inspiring groups of teen advocates dedicated to ending violence against women. At the final seminar of this season, Sasha Halpern, from Temple Brith Achim in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, connected Jewish values to a powerful personal story to implore her Senators and Representatives to support the International Violence Against Women Act:

From Sarah’s hospitality to Miriam’s leadership to Deborah’s intelligence and more, women in the Tanach have always exemplified strength. They are not doormats to be trampled upon and neither are today’s women, but this fact doesn’t stop many violent individuals from trying to steal women’s humanity. A third of the women in the world will experience violence perpetrated against them. This violence puts the victims in a position of inferiority to their abusers, furthering the inequality between man and woman.

Central to Judaism is the principle that all humans are created b’tselem Elohim, in the image of the divine. Every human being is created to reflect God’s power and awe. Theoretically, if we are all created this way, how could any one person be any greater than another? The values of Judaism reject this huge inequality in the world.

In addition, Leviticus 19:16 compels us not to “stand idly by the blood of a neighbor.” As Americans, our neighbors are the people of the world, and their blood is being spilled. We can no longer watch as women of the world are attacked and belittled by men. We, both as Jews and as Americans, must take a stand.

While I have never personally experienced such horrifying violence, a close friend of mine grew up completely immersed in it. From the time she was born, she witnessed her father abuse her mother physically, sexually and emotionally. When she became a teenager, this abuse fell upon her. After struggling with this situation for fifteen years, her family was finally freed when he was arrested for repeated assault. He is currently serving a two-year long sentence in jail.

My friend’s story is a direct result of support instituted by the Violence Against Women Act, passed in 1994 to begin to address gender based violence in the United States. VAWA-funded programs allowed my friend’s family to afford expensive lawyer fees and still keep themselves alive and well. This kind of support is completely absent in many parts of the world. Though organizations exist to fight for victims of violence, many require additional support to increase their impact and to accomplish necessary reforms.

In addition, many international governments turn a blind eye to violence against women, an injustice that I-VAWA strives to address. In many of these places, gender based violence is expected, even considered a cultural norm. Local advocates have been fighting this violence for years, and the United States government could provide much-needed support. I implore you, for families the world around in situation as bad as and worse than that of my friend, to support the International Violence Against Women Act.

This week, in honor of International Women’s Day, Representative Jan Schokowsky (D-IL-9) reintroduced the International Violence Against Women’s Act (H.R. 1340). The bill would provide concrete tools to change the circumstances that lead to gender-based violence, including support for equal economic opportunity, access to education, legal accountability, and public health services for survivors of violence. Urge your Members of Congress to support I-VAWA and to join the fight to end violence against women and girls across the world.

5 Jewish Educators Cited as Young Pioneers

Tue, 03/10/2015 - 10:44

Five Jewish educators under age 36 have been selected for the Young Pioneers Award given by New York’s Jewish Education Project.

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Kindling the Flame of Education in Our Students

Mon, 03/09/2015 - 09:00

by Emily Messinger

Philosophers – Jewish and otherwise – have long shared their individual insights into the philosophy of education. For educators, such insights can teach us about our students, how we relate to them, the challenges we offer them, and the ways we shape them into the best they can be.

From Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue focusing on the I–Thou relationship and the I–It relationship, we learn about the importance of creating holy and authentic relationships. Buber’s I-Thou relationship represents a sacred, respectful, and meaningful dynamic that occurs among and between two people when they are in true dialogue and feel mutual respect, appreciation, and admiration. Both individuals feel as though that have something to add to and learn from an I-Thou relationship. Buber also believes that God’s presence exists and is, in fact, further brought into our world through the interactions that take place in I-Thou relationships.

Nel Noddings, an American philosopher known for her work in the philosophy of education, teaches us that caring and moral education are as important as – if not more important than – students’ academic studies. Teachers are responsible not only for creating caring relationships in which they are the “carers,” but are also responsible for helping students develop the capacity to care. More than telling students how to care, teachers must model this behavior through their interactions with students and others in the classroom. Only when students feel cared for will they learn to care for themselves and others.

John Dewey, a twentieth-century American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, urged us to make the learning experience personally meaningful and authentic for students. It must be built on prior interactions and knowledge, and be expressed in concert with real life experiences outside one’s learning environment. Dewey also stressed the importance of teaching to the student, acknowledging that there are myriad ways to connect with, educate, and influence our learners.

Finally, we must take into account the teachings of Jewish philosopher and theologian Franz Rosenzweig, who proposed that rather than starting from Torah and leading into life, learning starts “from life, a world that knows nothing of the Law, or pretends to know nothing, back to the Torah.”

Using the teachings of Buber, Noddings, Dewey, and Rosenzweig as a foundation, it is critical that we see our students’ education as did Socrates: “the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” We must create I-Thou relationships that honor their uniqueness and individuality, as well as design lessons that are relevant and meaningful to them and their lives. Even as we hope to teach our students that Judaism is a living, breathing religion with the potential to be a positive, enriching part of their everyday lives, we also must convey how important it is for them to be proud Jews who value, honor, and respect themselves, each other, their community, and the world-at-large. To do so, we must behave not only as committed Jews, but also as caring and loving teachers, friends, and role models.

By extension, our schools and synagogue communities must strive to challenge the intellect of our students while also offering them opportunities to nourish their souls. It is critical that we help students see how Judaism – as a culture, religion, people, and place – can enhance their lives and, we hope, lead to lifelong personal practice and connection with the Jewish community. Unlike secular learning environments, our religious schools can offer students (and their parents) opportunities for spiritual connections – through Mussar, tikkun middot (nurturing character development), tikkun olam (repairing the world), and other avenues. We have the ability – and, indeed, the responsibility – not only to teach Hebrew, holidays, and history, but also to ensure that our students grow into well-adjusted, emotionally developed human beings.

Let us take the teachings of these philosophers to heart so that more than just filling our students’ vessels, we kindle the flame of education in each of them.

Emily Messinger is the director of teen engagement and the co-interim director of congregational learning at Temple Isaiah in Lexington, MA.

Rabbis End Ban on Christmas Trees in Israel Hotels

Mon, 03/09/2015 - 06:31

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel has issued new kashrut regulations to hotels, significantly reducing rabbinic involvement in matters unrelated to the kosher status of food regarding the behavior of hotels on the Jewish Sabbath.

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If Jewish Seminaries Are Empty, Let's Merge Them

Mon, 03/09/2015 - 06:00

Rabbi Andy Bachman has a solution for the dwindling number of non-Orthodox rabbinical students: Combine existing seminaries for different denominations into one school.

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NYPD Investigating Suspicious Activity Outside 2 Brooklyn Synagogues

Sun, 03/08/2015 - 19:12

The New York Police Department is investigating suspicious activity outside of two Brooklyn synagogues.

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Why I Simply Cannot Accept Intermarriage

Sun, 03/08/2015 - 06:00

The Conservative movement is slowly coming around to accepting intermarriage. Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky explains why rabbis must resist the trend for the future of the Jewish people.

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Press Invitation: The Merchant of Venice Presented by Elements Theatre...

Sun, 03/08/2015 - 01:34

Educational touring program features religious leaders, artists, and scholars discussing the impact of persecution and bigotry on “The Other” as it relates to prejudice, injustice and assimilation.

(PRWeb February 04, 2015)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/02/prweb12497304.htm

How Synagogue Music Breaks Down Barriers Between Denominations

Sat, 03/07/2015 - 06:00

Music was once a way Jewish denominations distinguished themselves from one another. Now it is breaking down the walls between them, as Jenna Weissman Joselit explains.

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