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In Other Jewish Newspapers: Orthodox ‘Cultism,’ Birthright Overruled, Football to Faith

By Daniel Treiman

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The longtime spiritual leader of North America’s oldest Jewish congregation and former president of the Rabbinical Council of America is warning that Orthodoxy is “slipping over the line to a cultic superstitious kind of religion.” Retiring after 38 years at New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel, Rabbi Marc Angel sounds off in The New York Jewish Week about the state of his denomination, lamenting that Modern Orthodox rabbis increasingly defer to the judgments of right-leaning yeshiva heads. The result, he tells the Jewish Week, is that “people with independent opinions get shut out. When people stop thinking and expressing creatively, then there’s no more intellectual dynamism. Once that intellectual dynamism is gone that’s the beginning of stultification, of cultism.”

A recent trip to Europe has New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind saying “God bless America.” Writing in Brooklyn’s right-wing Jewish Press, the Orthodox political kingmaker offers a grim take on the situation confronting European Jewry: antisemitic attacks on the rise, Jews afraid to wear yarmulkes on the street and Jewish buildings left unmarked for fear of drawing attention. “Speaking with not-so-ordinary citizens in cafes, synagogues and restaurants, and being briefed by security experts, community leaders and professors, I was stunned by the bleak picture they painted,” Hikind writes. The icing on the cake: On a train ride from Belgium to Germany, a group of drunken German businessmen greeted members of Hikind’s party with shouts of “sieg heil.”

Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent reports on Congregation Beth Hamedrosh’s move to the suburbs. The 80-family Orthodox shul was following its congregants, 60% of whom now live across the city line in Wynnewood. The synagogue president admits that a handful of elderly congregants left behind in Philadelphia’s Overbrook Park neighborhood probably won’t be able to make it to the new location. The old building, the Exponent reports, “is now home to Temple Kezarim, a congregation of Hebrew Israelites. The group is comprised of African-Americans who consider themselves descendants of the ancient Israelite tribes, but do not practice normative Judaism, according to Prince Kezaredar Yisrael, religious leader of the congregation.”

The Atlanta Jewish Times gives space to right-wing Israeli extremist Moshe Feiglin, who, according to Ha’aretz, has expressed support for transferring Palestinians and was convicted in Israel of sedition. In his article, Feiglin traces Israel’s woes back to the Jewish state’s 1967 decision to remove its flag from the Temple Mount (where, amid the euphoria of the Six Day War, it was hoisted very briefly atop the Dome of the Rock before clearer Israeli heads prevailed).

Don’t drink and drive. It’s always good advice — especially if your heart is set on going on an upcoming Birthright Israel trip. One 21-year-old recently learned this lesson the hard way, according to the Detroit Jewish News.

The Chicago Jewish News remembers “Shimshon the Strong.” Shimshon Mensher, who recently passed away at the age of 95, had worked for the past decade as a shomer, watching over the bodies of deceased Chicagoans, in accordance with Jewish law, before burial. A Polish-born immigrant, Mensher took on this sacred task, in part, because his entire family was killed in the Holocaust. “I don’t know the date or time or year, so any given date could be the yahrzeit for someone,” Mensher said.

In advance of the American Jewish Press Association’s annual conference, San Francisco’s J. newspaper examines the trials and tribulations of Jewish newspapers in the Internet age. The story is familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the larger newspaper business: disappearing ad revenues and declining readership. “I have a sense the mood is not good in the field,” Brandeis historian Jonathan Sarna tells J. “Within Jewish journalism, we haven’t seen models that have truly captured young Jews. The question is whether Jewish newspapers will be able to survive.”

L.A. Jewish Journal editor Rob Eshman reports being chewed out by an Israeli “diplomat” for being too left-wing. (“Rob, people think you hate Israel. And people think you love Iran.”) After clarifying matters (“here’s the truth: I love Israel; I hate the Iranian regime; I’m not a fan of Hamas; and I’m very, very fond of Judaism and the Jewish people”), Eshman raises a larger question: What do “right” and “left” even mean anymore?

Alan Veingrad was an offensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. Now, he’s gone from practicing football plays to practicing Orthodox Judaism, getting up early every morning before work to pray and study in shul. But, the Texas Jewish Post reports, he still takes road trips: “Sporting a black yarmulke, a lavish beard and a well-cut suit, Veingrad visits cities across the country telling his story of spiritual growth.”

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