The Forward is a non-profit news organization and as such is barred from telling you whom to vote for. There’s also this little thing called journalistic integrity. But we have decided to toss both policies out the window — just this once.
Vote for Titi! There, we said it. Let the IRS do what it may.
Israel’s reigning beauty queen, Ethiopian-born Titi Aynaw needs your support.
Aynaw, 22, is in Moscow to compete for the 2013 Miss Universe title. If she gets the most votes in an online public poll, she will automatically have a guaranteed place in the semi-final level of the competition.
The Forward is partnering with other Jewish newspapers to offer our readers a peek at some of the best stories from around the country, as selected by the editors at those papers. We will offer a selection of unedited links with brief introductions from the editors of the papers.
By Melissa Gerr
Students at Mount Hebron High School are working to collect six million stamps in commemoration of the six million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. Said teacher Cyndie Fagan, “Each of those postage stamps tells a story, just like each person who died had a story.”
Read the full story at the Baltimore Jewish Times.
In Israel over the last few months, the religious-Zionist right wing has been buoyant.
Its political party, Jewish Home, reached an all time low in the 2009 general election, winning just 3 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, but then in this year’s election won a remarkable 12 seats. It had finally managed to galvanize the support of the non-Orthodox right wing.
Since the election, as the other big election winner, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, has very quickly ended its honeymoon and seen its support drop, Jewish Home has only got stronger. In recent weeks its strength in the polls peaked at 15 seats. But it seems that the party may have pushed its luck over the last few day
It hoped to be the political star this week. It bitterly criticized the release of Palestinian prisoners yesterday, expressing fury over the move and making disparaging comments about Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, who also serves as Justice Minister. It was very strong stuff given that Jewish Home actually sits in the government that is freeing the prisoners.
And there lies the conundrum of Jewish Home. It sits in the government that is negotiating with the Palestinians even though it objects to everything involved in doing so — giving status to the Palestinian Authority, talking about evacuating settlements, and considering establishing a Palestinian state. Its awkward decision is to participate fully in the coalition, but distance itself from hard decisions related to the Palestinians.
This strategy seemed to be working. The party tried to present itself, during discussions about the prisoner release, as the only faction with the courage to speak out. But it seems that the public didn’t see it like this.
A new poll puts its support at 13-seats, which may be more than its 12 seats in Knesset, but is real dip from previous polling in September. Instead of boosting its support, the attempt to show indignation while remaining in the government has chipped away at its support. This shows the weakness in its balancing act and raises the question: at what point may its obligations to the coalition and to its supporters cause a crisis for the party?
At this time of year I feel like a Jewish Halloween Grinch. My children, 4, 8 and 10, are old enough to know that their mother takes no joy in Halloween.
My four year old asked me, upon walking up to someoneʼs house in town, why our house isnʼt decorated for Halloween. I explain, again, for the umpteenth time, that Halloween is not an important holiday, itʼs not a Jewish holiday. And unlike Thanksgiving, a national holiday with meaning, Halloween has no meaning, itʼs a pagan holiday. Of course, her next question for me: “Whatʼs ‘pagan’”?
I know many feel that Halloween has been secularized enough that itʼs moved beyond its pagan roots, and yes, I can sound like a sour woman with no sense of fun. But the older I get, or the older my children get and the more conscious I am of trying to ensure that we celebrate all the Jewish holidays meaningfully, including every Shabbat, the more Halloween rubs me the wrong way.
When my children were toddlers the holiday didnʼt bother me as much. They attended Jewish preschool and the preschool made a point of not mentioning Halloween, which was fine by me. I sometimes took them to the town trick or treat where they could dress up and get some treats. Now my older two attend public school and every year it seems that Halloween is the one holiday that the whole school gets behind. The children are encouraged to dress up or bring their costumes; thereʼs a parade parents can attend and a class party. In the afternoon and evenings the children dress up and go trick or treating.
Iʼm all for children having fun. But why does Halloween have to be the biggest of all the holidays? Iʼd much prefer if the neighborhood and the schools made a big fuss about Thanksgiving. Surely thatʼs a holiday that is more meaningful, and encourages the values of being grateful for what we have, and coming together as a community that would be good to inculcate in our children and celebrate.
What does Halloween celebrate? The chance to beg our neighbors for candy — and to display a preoccupation with the undead. Itʼs not as if we let our children then revel in all the candy and sugar that on all other days we consciously limit their intake of. Wisely, in our community the schools accept leftover Halloween candy donations. This year in our town they are going to use the candy to include in gift bags for a charity that fights leukemia. I think thatʼs great. But it goes to show the meaningless of the act of running around ringing doorbells and begging for candy that you wonʼt get to eat.
(JTA) — Lou Reed’s death on Sunday has made me think not just of his music but of his life, and specifically about when his life and mine briefly intersected, back when my brother Frank and I entertained him at our parents’ Philadelphia home, unbeknownst to mom and dad.
It was 1969 and Frank, then in high school, was covering rock music for a local underground paper, The Distant Drummer, a paper that I, too, used to write for. The Velvet Underground used to play fairly regularly — every six weeks or so, Frank says — at a club called the Second Fret. Frank was friendly with the house band and its manager and got to know Lou Reed and the rest of the Velvets.
So much so that twice Frank brought Reed over to our parents’ Center City brownstone after their gig to party. I don’t recall anything raucous on either occasion. In fact, the first time our parents slept through the whole thing.
It was the end of the summer and I had just returned to Philadelphia after a cross-country drive. Some friends I had traveled with were staying at our house before moving on. I’m not even sure that I went to the Velvets’ gig that night, but Frank was there. Afterward he turned up at home with Lou Reed and (I think) Doug Yule, another member of the band. Frank still can’t figure out why they came.
“I have no idea how that even happened,” he told me. “Why go over to this high school kid’s place were there was no dope and not much to do?“
Our youngest grandson will turn one year old this month. He was born last October as Hurricane Sandy swept up the East Coast.
He arrived in the world during a time of uncertainty, when the limits of human ingenuity were starkly visible. As his birthday approaches, I think back over the year. Despite the fact that his development mirrors that of millions of others who have come before him, it is still awe-inspiring to ponder his growth, from tiny newborn to delightful toddler, now able to walk and laugh and create his own havoc.
I have always loved birthdays, and look forward to celebrating Jordan Micah’s first year. Surprisingly, in the Torah, the only birthday recounted is that of the Pharoah, the Egyptian monarch. In fact, birthdays aren’t particularly ritualized events in our Jewish tradition.
Instead, we are encouraged to commemorate the yahrzeit, the date of death of an individual, rather than their date of birth. We are taught to respect and aspire to what a person has done with their life, the sum and substance of what they accomplished over the course of their years here on earth.
Lou Reed, exposed! Leonard Bernstein, less so! And Hitler? He’s hiding in plain sight in this week’s Jewish news quiz, which also touches upon twerking and Billy Crystal. (But not Billy Crystal twerking.)
During a recent visit to the Forward’s newsroom, Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, was brimming with enthusiasm for the upcoming annual gathering of local Jewish charity federations nationwide, known as the General Assembly, which will take place this year not in the United States, but in Jerusalem.
The GA’s 2013 program, he stressed, will emphasize the group’s openness to “dialogue” and “questions,” particularly from young Jews, with no holds barred.
“We need new thinking, new minds around the table,” emphasized Silverman, a former senior executive with the Stride Rite Corp. and Levi Strauss & Co.
But asked if the confab — one of the most important on the Jewish calendar — would include any discussion of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Silverman vigorously shook his head. His body language told a story of its own as he held his hands out in front of him as if pushing something away.
“I don’t use the word ‘occupation,’” he said. “We as an organization don’t get into the political arena.”
Yet on its website devoted exclusively to the GA, JFNA boasts that the gathering “tackles the most critical issues of the day” and brings together Jews “from North America and Israelis from across the political spectrum to discuss issues facing Israel.”
One such session advertised on the GA website promises to address one of Israel’s most sensitive political issues: the question, as JFNA puts it, of the Israeli rabbinate’s “absolute control over marriage and divorce in Israel.”
The JFNA summary of the session asks: “Should the Orthodox establishment continue to have exclusive authority over marriage and divorce in the Jewish State?” and details a panel consisting of feminists, civil libertarians, business people and a representative of the Reform Judaism movement — but no representative of Israel’s Orthodox establishment.
We have some bright ideas about what he should do with all that cash.
The million bucks, chump change for the richest man in New York City, came along with the Genesis Prize, bestowed by a committee dominated by right-leaning Israeli political figures. Bloomberg said he would spend the money on an as-yet-to-be-determined cause in the Middle East.
Below, six causes that we think might pique his interest.
STOP AND FRISK, SABRA-STYLE
Bloomberg is all for New York police’s stop-and-frisk policies aimed at rooting out crime. Support the ultimate stop-and-friskers — guys who make the NYPD look like the assistant principal for community outreach at a Montessori pre-school.
The Forward is partnering with other Jewish newspapers to offer our readers a peek at some of the best stories from around the country, as selected by the editors at those papers. We will offer a selection of unedited links with brief introductions from the editors of the papers.
Between Victim And Perpetrator
By Maayan Jaffe
Some 23 years after Rebecca Pastor was raped in her Baltimore apartment, she has named her alleged rapist and turned to the police. What many people don’t realize is there is no statute of limitation for rape in Maryland.
Read the full story at the Jewish Times
Rabbi Jacob Pressman Turns 94: A Community Treasure
By Michael Berenbaum
For decades now, as Rabbi Jacob (Jack) Pressman celebrated a milestone birthday, there was a gala show and dinner starring Rabbi Jack and his myriad show-biz friends to manifest and celebrate the many talents and achievements of this extraordinary man. Five years ago, Temple Beth Am celebrated his 90th birthday when he turned 89, just in case.
“At my age you don’t buy green bananas,” the rabbi said, quoting his mentor, the late Rabbi Simon Greenberg. But the celebration week will be a quiet one, as Rabbi Jack and Marjorie Pressman’s son, Joel, is gravely ill,as all who read the Jewish Journal this past month learned — gravely, but bravely, ill, still celebrating the glories of life, family and friendship, students and colleagues, the majesty of nature, the joy of song, the gift of love.
Read the full story in the Jewish Journal
One of the most bitterly fought cities in Israel’s local elections held on Tuesday was Beit Shemesh, the flashpoint town near Jerusalem. Now, the government is apparently mulling a plan to prevent passions getting so high in the future.
Beit Shemesh is famous for its deep tensions between Haredi and non-Haredi residents. In fact, since the world’s media focused two years ago on an eight-year-old girl who was spat on by religious zealots on her way to school, the name has become synonymous with sectarian rivalry to most Israelis. And during the election campaign, they surged again.
Supporters of the incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul, who belongs to the Haredi Shas party, used Holocaust imagery to underscore the supposed dangers of challenger Eli Cohen, and presented him as an enemy of the Jewish religion. The campaign grated on the sensitivities of non-Haredi voters — who were left devastated when Abutbul won.
Israeli television has today been buzzing with reports that following all of this the government wants to slice Beit Shemesh in two, making the newer Haredi-dominated neighborhoods into one city and the older neighborhoods, where there are fewer Haredim, a separate city. According to the plan, which is being pushed by non-Haredi Beit Shemesh residents, there would be two mayors and two city councils. So in short, come the next election in five years, there wouldn’t be a battle along religious lines, because the two camps would have largely been separated with a city border between them.
On one level, the initiative is understandable, as the division in the city runs so deep and the agendas of the different populations are so different. But on another level, isn’t the challenge of democracy to mediate this, and find a way of allocating resources and managing the public space that takes the needs of the different populations in to account?
Is there some unspoken rule that democracy can no longer be used to manage differences when Haredim are involved? Does this unspoken rule make gerrymandering, normally viewed with concern, desirable if it seeks to limit the power of Haredim?
And what is the slippery slope that this could lead to — cities where there are tensions between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews splitting? Carving out Jews of Ethiopian origins from cities if they become powerful and want different things from the rest of the local population?
Hanukkah and Thanksgiving occur at the same time this year. This won’t happen again for another 79,043 years, according to calculations by Jonathan Mizrahi, a quantum physicist at the Sandia National Laboratories.
Many are asking what the connection is between these two holidays. Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert even did a spoof on it. On a superficial level both holidays include food. Thanksgiving has turkey and Hanukkah has latkes (hash browns) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts). But there is a much deeper connection when examining the historical contexts of these holidays.
Both the Pilgrims and Maccabees valiantly fought for religious independence, but they also had something less valiant in common. The Pilgrims successors eventually forced assimilation on the indigenous people around them, as did the Maccabees. They both engaged in religious zealotry to destroy cultural differences.
While the Maccabees fought against oppressive laws that outlawed traditional Jewish practices like circumcision and observing the Sabbath, once in power under the Hasmonean dynasty, they forced conversions on and even killed modern Jews known as Hellenists.
Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat, widely credited with shoring up Jerusalem’s secular credentials, has won another five-year term in the local election.
Like other cities across Israel, Jerusalem held local elections yesterday. But while in most other locales the races were mostly about schooling and clean streets, in Jerusalem the race became about deeper issues of identity and religion.
In the last elections, five years ago, the ultra-Orthodox mayor Uri Lupolianski lost power. Haredim felt that they had lost their ability to shape the public space in Jerusalem. In this race, Barkat’s main challenger Moshe Lion was expected to return some of this influence to Haredim if elected.
For example, it was predicted that he would to give the all-important planning portfolio on the council to the Haredi Shas party, which would have meant a spike in provision for synagogues, yeshivot and housing for the Haredi sector.
Barkat won with 51.1% of the vote, while Lion got 45.3%. The Jerusalem result, in part, points to a process of secular and other non-Haredi Jerusalemites reclaiming their city. They see changes that Barkat has made, such as the establishment of a recreation venue that is open on Shabbat, and like his approach. However, there is also another factor that contributed to Barkat’s win.
When it comes to looking for sexy Rabbis, the editors of Jewrotica.com could stand to take their cues from the Talmud. Deep within in the book of Bava Metzia, Rabbi Yochanan, Rabbi Yishmael bar’Rebbi Yosi, and Rav Papa — taking a break, presumably, from their usual halachic debates over usury and property ownership — are said to have compared the relative sizes of one another’s genitals. The text is graphic (if not slightly hyperbolic) in its description of each Rabbi: Rav Papa’s “limb” is described as being “like a wicker work basket”. One can’t help but picture a frat-house scene in which each rabbi “lays it out” for the amusement of his colleagues.
That the Talmud is as frank as it is in its depiction of rabbinic endowment only serves to render Jewrotica’s search for the “Hottest Rabbis of 2013” all the more impotent. The site, which, as its name suggests, explores Judaism’s sensual side, is currently taking submissions for “studs and babes” to be judged based on a rabbi’s “smarts,” ability to “get some action,” and “badass factor.”
Sounds scandalous? It’s not.
In 2000’s “Keeping The Faith,” the image of Ben Stiller’s “sexy rabbi” strutting around Manhattan in a leather jacket was plenty novel. Now, thirteen years after its release, pushing hot Rabbis as something edgy seems decidedly forced, and stale.
And, as it turns out, the search for the “Hottest Rabbis of 2013” (retitled from its original “Sexiest Rabbis of 2013”) doesn’t actually have much to do with Jewrotica’s usual fare of sex, eroticism, or sensuality at all. “Get Some Action” refers to a nominee’s “Jewish outreach or social justice activism,” while “Badass Factor” is described as a broad mishmash of qualities, ranging from “riding a motorcycle” to “leading meditation retreats” and being “irresistibly sexy”, without actually qualifying what that means. Highlighting outstanding Rabbinic work is absolutely valuable, but no matter how edgily Jewrotica presents it, it’s certainly nothing new.
There was, in fact, a seeming indifference on the part of Jewrotica’s editors towards describing the nominees as “sexy” in the first place. After several days spent responding to questions about the sexiness of their search they themselves seemed to recognize the cliché. Writes site founder/editor Ayo Oppenheimer, in an update explaining the switch to “Hottest”:
Qatar’s two-faced policy towards Israel was on display this week, as Doha hosted a competition of FINA, the international governing body of swimming and other water sports.
Members of Israel’s national team were granted visas to the Gulf monarchy where Israeli passports are normally rejected, and there were no boycotts of competitions against Israelis. But the Qatari television that broadcasted the event worldwide, did not present Israel’s flag on screen, instead opting for a white rectangle every time Israeli swimmers competed. Israeli news website Ynet’s showed a screen shot of the bizarre political statement.
The incident reflects Qatar’s policy towards Middle East politics, which is best characterized as an ongoing balancing act, especially when it comes to the delicate region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
In 1996, Qatar became one of the first Arab countries to establish trade relations with Israel, but the alliance ended when as a response to the 2008-09 Gaza war – in which Israel’s military killed over 1200 Palestinians — the Qataris shut down the Israeli trade office in Doha and expelled all Israeli representatives. Recently, Qatar suggested a renewal of diplomatic ties, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government rejected the offer.
Meanwhile, Qatar’s on-and-off ties with Israel have not stopped it from being a friend and a financial supporter of Hezbollah and of Hamas — whose head, Khaled Meshaal, is currently based in Doha. Further emphasizing its contradictory alliances, Qatar is home to the largest American military base in the Middle East but also provides safe haven to hardline Islamists from all over the Arab world.
So why should we even care about the foreign policies of a peninsula half the size of New Jersey, that is located over a 1000 miles away from Israel and seems to be eager to please all sides?
Because the carbon-rich Qatar, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, has been using its money to do much more than just build shiny skyscrapers in the middle of the desert. By cultivating broad relations with all main Middle East stakeholders, Qatar — a country with a population of less than two million people – has become an influential regional player.
Secretary of State John Kerry, just spent an entire press conference yesterday praising Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah for being one of the main forces behind the Arab Peace Initiative. Kerry also thanked Qatar for its decision to provide $150 million in much-needed debt relief to the Palestinian Authority.
It is not the Qataris seemingly endless money flow that makes them important. It is their stance as a major player that is on nobody’s side. Last year, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the Qatari Emir, was the first head of state to visit Gaza since 1999, meeting Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and launching a humanitarian reconstruction project valued at $250 million. As the Kerry-led peace talks continue, Qatar could play the critical role of bridging between Hamas and Fatah, an essential step on the path to a sustainable long-term solution between Palestine and Israel.
Find Yermi Brenner on Twitter: @yermibrenner
In the years immediately following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the anniversary of his passing became an important event for British Jewry, only to see it weaken as the years passed, the peace process fell apart, and the image of Rabin faded like an old photograph.
This year, however, offered some hope for a burnishing of the image. On Wednesday evening, London’s new Jewish community centre, JW3, hosted a memorial event for Rabin attended by 200 plus people. This number, though respectable for a dank night in October, was not the most important thing about the memorial. It is that it was organized and put by the youth movements, Tzofim and Habonim Dror amongst others.
The young people reciting the blessings and singing the songs of memory and peace could not possibly have been thinking of Yitzhak Rabin the man. Most if not all of them would have been born after November 4, 1995, after the music ended and the shots rang out. Thus, their motivation could not have been the memory or the trauma of the event itself, a reaction to the assassination, but something much deeper: a commitment to the inspiration of Rabin and the ideas he died for.
Chicago’s uptown neighborhood is better known for Vietnamese restaurants and crime than the home of one what was once one of the city’s most stunning synagogues. Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation, which sits closed on a residential street opened its doors this weekend as part of Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago festival.
Designed by Henry Dubin in 1922, the building has fallen into such disrepair that it’s hard to ignore the water damage and the holes in the stained glass windows. But visitors can still see what once made this space elegant.
The focal point of the sanctuary, whose pews seat 2,000, is the grand ark, with bold Hebrew letters declaring — ominously and inspiringly — “Know before Whom you stand.” On the ark, two hands, configured for the priestly blessing are circumscribed by a Star of David, which hovers above floral forms which are aflame. (Asked by a reporter if this represented the burning bush, Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz, who sat in a wheelchair greeting guests, admitted he hadn’t noticed it before.)
The synagogue, as the Chicago Jewish News reported in June 2012, was shuttered by a “bitter dispute” between Lefkowitz and the congregation’s former president. The feud has “involved a bet din (Jewish court), accusations of embezzlement, excommunication and more,” according to the article. “The matter is not settled and the building is padlocked.”
According to a synagogue website, which Lefkowitz maintains, “Today, Agudas Achim stands tarnished yet unbowed. Structurally sound, this more than three quarters of a century old building needs a great deal of repair to make it fully functional.” Tarnished is an understatement, to be sure, and it remains to be seen whether the building — and its congregation — will return to its prior glory, or whether it will become a new set of condos.
Last week 63-year-old Shimon Pepper returned the book “While Six Million Died,” to the Fall River, Mass. library — a remarkable 42 years late. But for Pepper, his trip to his hometown was about more than an old book. He came to rescue Torah scrolls and pay homage to a dying Jewish community.
Three years ago, when Pepper learned that Adas Israel, his Orthodox childhood congregation in Fall River, was lacking enough men to form a minyan for the Yom Kippur service, he traveled from his home in Monsey, NY for the holiday.
Sleeping on an air mattress and praying Pepper spent what he calls “26 magical hours” in the shul which dates back to 1885.
It was during these hours that his cousin, Jeffrey Weismann, who is also the president of Adas Israel, shared with him that the synagogue was at the brink of closing. Like Pepper, most Jews had left the former industrial town, and the aging and shrinking community was unable to maintain the upkeep of the building.
The South Coast Chabad house started a fundraising campaign to buy the synagogue and preserve the Jewish character of the building — but came up short. In November 2012, the synagogue finally moved to a chapel in a local conservative synagogue, Temple Beth El and sold the building for $400,000 to the Word of Life Community which converted the space into a church.
After the move, Adas Israel now no longer needed the majority of the Jewish books and religious scriptures they owned. “‘Let’s not create a museum,’” Pepper recalls Weissman’s saying, “‘Let’s keep Judaism alive.”
Several of the torah scrolls were given to other congregations. This fall Pepper oversaw the donation of nine particularly old and fragile scrolls. “It’s not about commerce, it’s about the mitzvah,” Pepper told the Forward.
When asked whether Fall River had changed since his childhood days, Pepper just sighs: “Oh, yes.” The former vibrant Jewish community has shrunk considerably — from around 4,000 in 1970 to less than 1,000 today. “No more than two or three people I grew up with are still there,” Pepper said. Still, he returns to Fall River every few years — to visit his grandparents’ grave, help out in his old shul — or return a long-lost library book.
Amid the troubling statistics about the state of American Jewry in the recent Pew Research Center Survey there was one staggering, positive number that stood out to us: 94% of respondents to the survey said they were “proud” to identify as Jewish.
So who makes up the 94%? We asked readers, to submit stories, anecdotes, and nominations of people who may not fit in to “traditional” categories of Judaism. Here are their stories:
“I’m a Jew devoid of halakha: No davening, and Yom Kippurs filled with treyf. But I’m a Jewish history professor at a southern college with few Jews, and I bring Yiddishkeit to the classrooms of the Bible Belt. We are a Light to the Nations, so I enlighten the gentiles of Dixie. If locals no longer call a temple a ‘Jewish Church,’ know Anne Frank didn’t find comfort through a fiddler on her roof, can swear in Yiddish like my Litvaks, and approach Sunday Chinese food as sacred ritual, then am I bad for the Jews?”
— Dr. Jarrod Tanny, Wilmington, North Carolina