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Jewish, Arab Youths Promote Harmony in Israel Through Music

Fri, 05/29/2015 - 07:40
Arab and Jewish students in Israel are trying to bridge the gap between their two communities one note at a time through classical music programs that bring together some of the country’s best musicians.

Shlomo Riskin Controversy Bares New Feud for Israel Rabbinate

Thu, 05/28/2015 - 13:59
There’s no shortage of Israelis who want to reform the office of the Chief Rabbinate.

Dutch Government Denounces Anti-Israel Textbook

Thu, 05/28/2015 - 06:57
The Dutch education ministry distanced itself from a textbook that contained statements deemed anti-Israeli.

Synagogues Fight Over for Whom the Bells Toll

Thu, 05/28/2015 - 05:00
Two of America’s most venerable synagogues are set for a courtroom battle over a pair of silver Torah bells valued at $7 million. The nasty fight could determine whether one of the congregations survives.

Floods Ravage Jewish Houston Neighborhoods and Synagogues

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 19:00
Two synagogues and the homes of countless Jewish residents were damaged in the floods that swept through Houston on Monday and into Tuesday, inundating homes and businesses, sweeping away cars and leaving at least five people dead.

Jean Zay, Resistance Fighter and Cannes Founder, Enters the Pantheon

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 17:00
France only very rarely adds another tomb to its national temple, the Pantheon. But, as Robert Zaretsky tells us, it just honored Jean Zay, whose founded the Cannes film festival and joined the World War II resistance.

Insulting Shlomo Riskin Insults Israelis — and American Jews

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 10:47
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is under attack from the Chief Rabbinate. That’s an insult not just to Israelis, but to American Jews, Avi Weiss and Shmuel Herzfeld argue.

Byron Sherwin, Noted Chicago Rabbi, Dies at 69

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 10:25
Rabbi Byron Sherwin, a Jewish scholar and ethicist who served on the faculty of Chicago’s Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership for more than 40 years, has died.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner at the Center for American Progress Today!

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 09:46

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the RAC, will be speaking at a panel today at the Center for American Progress called “Harnessing Faith to Work for Justice.” Rabbi Pesner will be joined on the panel by Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III,  Senior Pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, IL, and it will be moderated by Jocelyn Frye, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

During the panel, Rabbi Pesner and Rev. Moss will discuss how their faith inspires their work on key social justice issues, and how they overcome challenges in their work. They will also focus on issues such as economic inequality, racial justice, work-family policies and more.

Read more about the event and watch the livestream at 12PM ET today here.

Strategies for Success: Reviewing Membership Materials

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 09:00

by Janet Buckstein

Most membership-based organizations, including congregations and temple sisterhoods, use a variety of methods to communicate with current and prospective members. These may include printed and online material, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and even phone calls, presentations, and personal meetings. However, the standard material typically includes brochures/pamphlets, letters, membership forms and applications, fact sheets, program and event flyers, and postcards, posters, and volunteer opportunities. Even if you already have developed this material, is it as effective as it could be? Consider the following in reviewing and creating material. 


What is the purpose of the piece? If you are simply providing information, your content should be clear and concise. Bullets and lists work well. However, if you are seeking to persuade your audience, such as in attracting program attendees, recruiting new members or creating a specific image of your group, you will need to effectively communicate the benefits to them.

The easiest way to define benefits is to ask yourself why the reader would care about your message. For example, your “mission statement” is not necessarily important to prospective members, but learning that they will make new friends, have fun, make a difference in the community, or learn new skills could be.

Ask yourself: Who do you want to reach? Existing members, prospective members, temple congregants and leaders, and the local community may all be groups you choose to communicate with, but they also will have different information needs for different benefits. Even within these groups you can find differences. For example, you may serve different membership groups (e.g. parents with young children, empty nesters, or seniors) and they will have different needs and preferences.


Is it visually stimulating? You may have the best text in the world, but the piece needs to draw in the reader. Flyers, postcards, posters, and brochures should be colorful, but not cluttered. White space (open area) improves readability. Use photos and graphics to make your point. Instead of talking about a meeting, show a picture of it.

Create a consistent look. Do you have a logo or brand/design for your sisterhood or specific campaigns? If so, use it consistently. The beauty of a brand is that it creates understanding and familiarity with no explanation.


It’s not just about print anymore. Today email is a widely accepted, if not preferred, form of communication. Even if you mail a yearly letter for things like membership renewal, you should also consider email distribution and a webpage. Being able to join and pay online is a definite plus. If you do not have a dedicated website, your congregation’s site might allow this.

More IS Better! Your material should be available wherever your target audience is. This could include lobby posters, bulletin boards, in new member packets, sent home with religious school students, in temple newsletters and emails, and in the gift shop and temple office.


Finally, remember that your material is a reflection of your organization. Just as you change, so should your pieces. Letters and forms probably require a yearly update to reflect correct dates, dues, and volunteer opportunities. However, even brochures and pamphlets could probably be enhanced with review by a new board member or committee chair who was not involved in developing the existing piece.

For examples of membership materials or to share your own, check out the Union for Reform Judaism’s Membership or Communications groups on Yammer.

Janet Buckstein is the WRJ Midwest District 1st Vice President & a WRJ Board Member. This piece originally appeared in Women of Reform Judaism‘s email blast on May 22, 2015.

British Chief Rabbi Urges Sexual Abuse Reporting

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 08:37
British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis called on the Jewish community to report allegations of sexual abuse “without delay.” The statement was issued on Wednesday by the Office of the Chief Rabbi in the wake of the conviction last week of a well-known teacher at several Jewish schools for the sexual assault of two girls in the 1990s that only came forward in 2013. “Perpetrators of these crimes destroy lives and every one of us shares in the responsibility to protect victims and potential victims. As such, we must not only ensure that all incidents are reported to the police without delay, but that we must do everything in our power to promote a culture whereby reporting such crimes to the relevant statutory authorities is supported and encouraged,” the rabbi said in his statement. “I would like to commend the victims and others who withstood tremendous pressure and gave evidence. I hope that their courage will inspire others to come forward in the future,” Mirvis also said. Mirvis called on Jewish communities across the country to review its policies and procedures for allegations of sexual abuse and to have in place “robust” child protection policies. He said he was organizing a “mandatory, dedicated seminar” for community rabbis to better prepare them to identify and respond to incidents of child abuse.”

New York Tax Credit Could Help Orthodox Schools

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 06:43
New York, which has more Jewish day school and yeshiva students, some 150,000, than all other states combined, has a chance of getting an education tax credit program that could deliver millions of dollars per year to cash-strapped Jewish day school families.

From Memphis to Baltimore in a Few Short Weeks

Tue, 05/26/2015 - 17:00

By Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen

Four weeks ago, I walked along a street in Memphis with 11 teens from my congregation, a chaperone and our educator, Brad Cohen. The day before, we had volunteered at the Dorothy Day House, cleaning a basement, spreading mulch and helping three young boys make birthday cards and a cake to surprise their mom. Now we walked via Beale Street (Birthplace of the Blues) to the National Civil Rights Museum housed in the Loraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. On the way, we passed a mural depicting a black man holding a sign that read: I AM A MAN. My teens wondered aloud what it could mean. One said, “Of course he’s a man, what else would he be?”

At the museum we came upon an exhibit that explained the campaign in April of 1968, the fateful reason Dr. King was in Memphis. He had come to join the striking sanitation workers protesting unsafe and degrading working conditions; they were protesting the inhumanity of a city government that not only mistreated them when they were alive, but barely flinched at the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker. As black men, Cole and Walker were not allowed to seek cover from the rain except in the back of the truck with the garbage. When the truck mechanism misfired, they were crushed to death. In the protests that followed, I AM A MAN affirmed that they and their mostly black fellow workers were not garbage; they were people.

As we walked away from the museum, one of my teens said, “You probably feel this way too, but I keep wondering what will be MY generation’s fight.” I told her that I often wonder the same thing.

Two weeks later, I found myself watching as my own city of Baltimore erupted in violent echoes of the history we had just studied in Memphis. I stood in the hotel lobby where I was attending the RAC’s Consultation on Conscience and realized that the words on the protestors’ signs, #BlackLivesMatter, were simply a millennial way of saying I AM A MAN. In the 1960’s, Echol Cole and Robert Walker were MEN. In 2015, Freddie Gray and Michael Brown and Tamir Rice’s LivesMatter.

This time, it wasn’t a worker crushed in the back of a garbage truck, but a young man who died pleading for help in the back of a police van. This time, instead of Memphis, a city that was only a few years past the end of Jim Crow and legally enforced segregation, it is Baltimore, a city that remains largely segregated not by law but by economics, racial politics and the War on Drugs.

That Friday, before Shabbat, members of my congregation joined me at City Hall in a march for justice. One week later, we came together with members of a primarily African-American church from Baltimore. We studied Psalm 137 and shared some of our fears, our anger, our hopes. We have planned to come together again, to learn about each other, to begin a dialogue that will be real and deep and very difficult. A young woman from my congregation said that her heart had suddenly cracked wide open. She had known about racial inequality and injustice before, she had cared before, but now she could not look away.

I can’t either.

Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen has served for 11 years as one of the rabbis at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. In addition to sharing teaching, pastoral and liturgical responsibilities, she is the Director of BHC Cares, and advises the Social Action Task Force, concentrating in recent years on environmental initiatives, marriage equality and civil rights issues. Rabbi Sachs-Kohen and her wife Missy live in Sudbrook Park with their children Manny and Noa.

How Israel's New Coalition Agreement Effects the Rabbinate

Tue, 05/26/2015 - 11:00
The recent coalition agreements in Israel threaten to return the appointment of rabbinical judges to the hands of ultra-Orthodox politicians.

Shlomo Riskin Vows To Defy Rabbinate

Tue, 05/26/2015 - 07:22
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin said that, should Israel’s Chief Rabbinate dismiss him as chief rabbi of Efrat, he would not accept the decision.

Shlomo Riskin Faces Uncertain Future in Rabbinate Feud

Mon, 05/25/2015 - 17:08
The Chief Rabbinate decided not to automatically extend the tenure of Shlomo Riskin as chief rabbi of Efrat.

Who Should Replace Alan Gilbert at the New York Philharmonic?

Mon, 05/25/2015 - 05:00
In 2017, music director Alan Gilbert will be leaving the New York Philharmonic. So, who should his successor be? Benjamin Ivry indulges in a kind of classical music fantasy football.

Remembering Fallen Jewish Soldiers as Memorial Day and Yizkor Coincide

Mon, 05/25/2015 - 05:00
With Memorial Day coinciding with Shavuot Yizkor observances, the Jewish Chaplains Council is calling on synagogues to mark the occasion by paying tribute to Jews who have fallen in the line of duty.

Barack Obama Says Israel Criticism Is Tough Love

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 15:21
In his first visit to a synagogue, Barack Obama sought to explain, not retract, his criticism of Israeli policies. He seemed to pass the test with flying colors.

Counting Towards Economic Justice

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 12:00

Sincethe second day of Passover, Jews have been participating in the ritual of counting the Omer. As we count the Omer, we look forward to the celebration of receiving the Torah at Sinai and the joyous celebrations of harvest and springtime. .

In Leviticus (23:15-22), Shavuot is linked with the commandments of pei-ah (leaving crops at the corners of the field for the poor) and sh’chicha (leaving the fallen grain for the poor). Even as we celebrate the first fruits and the bounty of the land, we are to remember those in need. On Shavuot, we also read the Book of Ruth, which has many lessons about economic justice. When Ruth went into the fields to glean, she met Boaz, who showed her additional kindness, instructing his workers to drop extra sheaves of grain.

These values of g’milut chasadim (loving-kindness) inform our call of social justice and empowerment to make a difference.  In this way, Shavout is an opportunity to recommit ourselves to economic justice. In the United States, in 2013, over 49 million Americans lived in a household that faced difficulty affording enough food.

Though child nutrition programs like the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, already exist, these programs need to be strengthened. When a child doesn’t have enough food to eat, they cannot focus as well in school, leading to lower performance. Kids experiencing hunger thus are kept in a cycle of poverty, making it hard for them to advance in society. Three out of four public school teachers say that students regularly come to school hungry. Breakfast is connected to benefits in the classroom: a majority of teachers see students paying better attention in class and having improved attendance.

Earlier this week, the House Education and Workforce Committee held a hearing on child nutrition programs and the programs’ effectiveness. This September, Congress will need to address issues regarding reauthorization for child nutrition programs that are crucial to helping kids stay engaged in schools. While the programs are permanently authorized, Congress uses the reauthorization process to reallocate funding when the previous funding stream expires.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – which includes programs such as the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programsthe Summer Food Service Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) – will sunset in September 2015. It is essential that these programs stay funded so that children can get the support that they need.  Urge your Members of Congress to fund important child nutrition programs today!

Check out the RAC’s economic justice page to learn more.