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
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.
Tony Mendez is no longer a spy for the CIA, but the qualities that helped make him one of the best — his wit and unassuming personality — were on full display Oct. 8 at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, at an event hosted by 30 Years After, a local Iranian-American Jewish group.
Mendez’s heroic rescue of six Americans hiding in the Canadian ambassador’s residence in Iran during the 1979 revolution there made him famous via the Ben Affleck film “Argo,” which won three Academy Awards at the Oscars this year.
At the theater, Mendez and his wife, Jonna Goeser, who was also a CIA agent, took the stage to discuss his career. Before the event, Mendez, 72, and Goeser sat down with the Journal to discuss the art of spy craft, their work with the CIA and how they met on assignment in Thailand. Read the full story here.
Erin Hyman, 41, is the wife of a congregational rabbi in San Francisco who was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. She’s just published “The Day my Nipple Fell Off,” an anthology of essays by women under 45 in the Bay Area with the same diagnosis who meet monthly to laugh and cry together. In honor of National Breast Cancer Month. Read the full story here.
U.C. Berkeley — hotbed of anti-Israel activism, stomping grounds for the BDS movement, home of a student Senate-sponsored divestment bill — is opening its first Center for Jewish Studies next week. They still have no undergraduate major and no Jewish studies department, but it’s a start. And the chancellor is giving them $1 million in seed money. Read the full story here.
Israel is working on a secret plan to cede the Temple Mount to the Palestinians, a lawmaker from the ruling Likud party has claimed.
“The issue here is that the prime minister wants to be rid of the Temple Mount,” Moshe Feiglin, a powerful figure on the right flank of the ruling Likud party, wrote in a column published today.
Feiglin has fought hard for the right of Jews to pray at Temple Mount since winning a Knesset seat in January — causing him to clash with Likud’s party whip. Currently, Jews may only ascend during specific hours and may not pray there.
Feiglin wrote that while past negotiations broke down after other subjects were settled on the matter of Temple Mount, the “current process is just the opposite: Prime Minister Netanyahu has already reached agreements in principle and now he is going to create the facts on the ground and get the public accustomed to the new reality.”
He went on to describe what he sees on the horizon. “First, Israel cedes the Temple Mount and Jerusalem while declaring that we are doing no such thing. But the facts on the ground show that we are — in front of our very eyes. At a certain stage, Netanyahu will have to admit the truth. “
According to most analysts the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have reached something of an impasse, and it is unlikely that Feiglin would be the man to know about a secret deal that has been kept from the rest of the world.
The Temple Mount has long been a popular setting for conspiracy theories. Many Arab leaders claim that plans are underway by Israel to demolish the Al-Aksa mosque and demonstrations against the “danger” to Al-Aksa are common.
Feiglin ends his column with a rebuke to the religious-right, saying that by not visiting in large enough numbers, they are allowing this to happen. “We cannot complain about Netanyahu or the police because if only twenty Jews a day visit the Temple Mount, as opposed to tens of thousands of Arabs, then all my words are meaningless,” he wrote.
The Arab conspiracy theory about Temple Mount gets people galvanized; are we seeing the start of a Jewish conspiracy theory to the same end?
The Kremlin’s self-styled flag experts have declared that the flag of Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region —which bears an uncanny resemblance to the rainbow gay pride symbol — is in fact 100% kosher, Buzzfeed World reported.
The flag, designed in 1996 for the Birobidzhan region, boasts colorful stripes on a white background. It was under review for its possible violation of Russia’s ban on LGBT propaganda.
“Regarding the similarity of this flag with the symbol of the gay movement, we explain that not every rainbow image is linked to sexual orientation,” Georgy Vilinbakhov, a Kremlin advisor, wrote in a letter published by local website EAOMedia.ru.
“Obviously, the above described flag, the flag of the Jewish Autonomous Region, whose foundation is a white cloth, has nothing to do with that,” he wrote. “This flag does not contradict the current law of the Russian Federation and so there is no basis to cancel or change it.”
The Jewish Autonomous Oblast, or region, was designated by Stalinist Soviet authorities in 1934 as a “Jewish socialist republic.”
Interviewed by the same local outlet, the flag’s creator, Alexander Valyaev defended his design. “On its flag the gay movement uses seven stripes, not six,” he pointed out. “The rainbow is a divine symbol, taken from the Bible. God threw the rainbow from the sky into the wilderness of the desert as a symbol of hope.”
Each year, the Forward publishes the Forward 50, which is our opinionated list of American Jews who made a difference in the preceding 12 months.
Creating the list is a long process for the staff of the Forward. Each of us is required to propose names of candidates — and defend our choices in meetings with colleagues who are equally passionate about their own picks.
Call it a cage fight for Jewish journalists. Jokes aside, it’s a process that ends with a selection of Jewish figures from activism, arts, business and religion — among other fields — that are inspiring, unexpected and just plan fun.
We also ask readers to weigh in with their own suggestions.
The deadline for nominations is October 18. Submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A small yet vocal group seems to be holding the artistic and ethical sensibilities of the Jewish community of Washington, D.C. hostage, leading Theatre J to scale back its planned production of ‘The Admission’ by Motti Lerner.
Theatre, like all arts, is meant to create dialogue as well as delight, foster intellectual discourse for new and challenging ideas, and to bring community together over important social issues through creativity and openness. In other words theatre is meant to enlarge us, not constrain us.
The small group, COPMA (Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art), is advocating censorship. In its small-minded way it has decided that Jewish communal funding mechanisms should not fund plays they feel de-legitimates Israel. As a result they started a witchhunt to force the local Jewish federation to withdraw funding from Theatre J’s, home at a Jewish community center.
This is McCarthyism, pure and simple.
Motti Lerner’s credentials are impeccable. He is an honored member of the Association for Jewish Theatre (as is Theatre J). He has written for television and for theatres throughout Israel including the Cameri and the Habimah National Theatre. He won the Prime Minister of Israel Award for Writers, the Meskin Award for Best Play (1985), and the Israeli Motion Picture Academy award for best T.V. drama in both 1995 and 2004.