Forward Thinking

Family Amulet Captures Jewish Life in India

By Sigal Samuel

A portrait of the writer’s great-great-grandmother with amulet overlaid / Sigal Samuel

When my grandmother was pregnant with my dad, she got a terrible — and somewhat mysterious — mouth infection. It kept her from eating and talking. It was so painful that it landed her flat on her back; for days, all she could do was lie in bed. Then her bedroom door creaked open to reveal my great-great-grandmother, sidling up with something clenched tight in her palm. The object passed from the older to the younger hand, accompanied by a command in Hindustani: “Put this on — and don’t take it off until you get better.”

The object looked like a necklace, but it would be a mistake to call it that. Really, it was an amulet. Extraordinarily heavy, made of solid Indian gold, its cylindrical capsule — as long as an index finger — hung from an expensive-looking chain. Opening it, my grandmother saw a shriveled black root. She suppressed a shiver of disgust and closed it up again, then placed the chain around her neck. A few days later, she was healed.

A prized heirloom, that amulet has been in my family for five generations now. It’s traveled from Bombay to London to Montreal. These days, my grandmother doesn’t really believe that the ugly black root has magical healing powers; more than anything, she finds it creepy. But my great-great-grandmother, an uneducated Calcutta-born Jew who came from a family of kabbalists, believed it had the power to ward off the evil eye.

I love this amulet for many reasons, chief among them its weirdness. The sheer superstitiousness of it makes me smile — maybe because it reminds me that Judaism and rationalism didn’t always go hand in hand, whatever the diehard Maimonideans would have us believe.

I also love the way this artifact captures the centuries-long symbiosis that Jews enjoyed in India — a country that, until recent years, was strikingly free of anti-Semitism.

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What The Forward's Jewish Charity Poll Teaches

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Jewish charity goes largely to Israel-related groups. Our readers think that’s a bad idea.

Last week, as part of our ongoing investigation into Jewish charity finances, we asked you how you thought Jewish charitable dollars should be spent.

The results, embedded below, suggest that Forward respondents think that education-related Jewish charities should get the largest share of contributions, followed by health care and social service-related charities. Israel-related charities rank fourth.

These poll results are far from scientific. Still, they shed light on the opinions of Forward readers, as Jane Eisner wrote in her editorial this week.

Close readers confused by the disparity between the “How They Spend It” figures reported below and the numbers reported in our story on this two weeks ago, take note: We excluded two categories from the poll for the sake of clarity, which resulted in tweaked figures.

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No, Brandeis Isn't 'Silencing' Ayaan Hirsi Ali

By Ali Gharib

Anti-Islam activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali / Getty Images

To begin with, let’s clear up a few details of the flap over Brandeis University’s decision to revoke an invitation for Ayaan Hirsi Ali to receive an honorary degree and address the graduating class: Hirsi Ali is emphatically not being “silenced,” as she and her defenders claim.

The university, in tandem with its notice to Hirsi Ali that her award was rescinded, invited her to campus to expound on her views in a forum that did not confer upon her any honor.

That latter invitation was the lynchpin in Brandeis’s strategy to correct its mistake — the initial offer of an honor — in the best way possible: by preserving the notion that universities should be bastions of free thought, even for deeply unpopular ideas.

And it is that invitation which renders moot Hirsi Ali’s complaint that “neither Brandeis nor my critics knew or even inquired as to what I might say. They simply wanted me to be silenced.” The issue with honoring Hirsi Ali was never what she may say — hence the standing invitation to speak — but rather what she has said.

Hirsi Ali’s record is plump with remarks that any tolerant, liberal institution should view with caution. Her personal narrative and work on women’s rights may tell a different, laudable story, but not one that outweighs the pattern of hostility toward a major world religion.

This hostility crosses boundaries beyond atheistic skepticism and into literal militant opposition to one faith in particular: Islam. Hirsi Ali claims her “critics have long specialized in selective quotation – lines from interviews taken out of context – designed to misrepresent me and my work.”

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How China’s Lost Jews Celebrate Passover

By Anna Goldenberg

Tsuri (Heng) Shi, far left, with Michael Freund, right, and Kaifeng Jews. / Shavei Israel

A new Passover destination is being added to the maps this year. Those bored of celebrating the holiday in Florida or Israel can now head to Kaifeng, a city of four million in China’s central Honan province. For the first time in more than 150 years, the city’s small but ancient Jewish community will hold a communal Passover celebration.

Nearly a millennium old and thought to originate from Persia and India, the Jewish community of Kaifeng numbered up to 5,000 people at its heyday between the 14th and 17th century, but fell into decline during the 19th century due to intermarriage and assimilation. Over the past decade or so, with the help of the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization, members of the community have started rediscovering their roots through Shabbat gatherings and study sessions.

This process culminates in a Passover ceremony to be held on April 14, which will be led by Tzuri Shi, a 28-year-old member of the community who immigrated to Israel in October 2009, where he underwent conversion and studied at a yeshiva. According to a press release by Shavei Israel, Shi was sent back to his hometown together with Passover items, ranging from matzoh and haroset to Hebrew and Chinese Haggadahs and kosher-for-Passover cakes. Of the estimated 500–1,000 Jews in Kaifeng, 100 are expected to attend.

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Finding My Family's Kabbalistic Roots in India

By Sigal Samuel

Jewish women at the Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue in India / Getty Images

“What are you doing?” I asked my grandmother.

Sitting across the table from her at last year’s family Passover Seder, I had been watching with rapt attention as she peeled an egg — a commonly featured food on the Seder plate. She was handling it with a degree of carefulness that bordered on the neurotic, making sure to capture every tiny bit of shell in a napkin she held open in her other hand. She refused to even answer my question until after she had hurried from the dining room to the bathroom to flush the napkin down the toilet.

When she sat down again, she wasn’t sure how to answer me. “I don’t know why I’m so careful,” she said. “It’s something my mother used to do, and I learned to handle food from her, so I do it too.”

My grandmother’s mother, a Bombay-born Jew, lived most of her life in India and raised her family in that country’s then-flourishing Jewish community. That’s why my family still cooks and eats Indian cuisine. It’s why our main course that night was not brisket but imtabaq, a layered mixture of tomatoes, potatoes and beef. And why, instead of the apple-based haroset, we had haleq, the sweet syrup made from dates and walnuts that I spend all year craving.

Then my father piped up, saying, “It’s Kabbalistic.”

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6 Things To Remember on Quebec Election Day

By Anne Cohen

On Monday, citizens of Quebec will go to the polls to vote for a new provincial government.

Two main players are facing off in this year’s elections: the Parti Quebecois (PQ), Quebec’s nationalist party currently ruling as a minority government and led by Premier Pauline Marois, against Quebec’s Liberal Party, ousted from power in 2012 after a wave of student protests fighting proposed tuition hikes, with newly-elected leader Philippe Couillard at its head.

1,057,706 people, or 17.8% of voters, already cast their ballots during the advance voting sessions held on March 30-31, and the most recent polls put the Liberals in the lead, with the potential for a majority win.

So, why should you care?

Earlier this year, the PQ released its proposal for a Charter of Values, portrayed as a means of promoting a religiously neutral state, as well as gender equality.

Under the Charter, presented to the National Assembly as Bill 60 and spearheaded by Premier Pauline Marois and Bernard Drainville, public servants would be forbidden to wear so-called “ostentatious” religious symbols such as kippahs, hijabs, turbans or large, and prominent crosses. Smaller and less “conspicuous” objects such as earings bearing religious symbols would still be tolerated.

The Charter has been met with vocal opposition by religious and ethnic minorities who see this push for secularization as discriminatory in a province where religion has long been a touchy subject. The Jewish community in particular has been quick to denounce what it sees as a “bad solution to a non-existent problem.”

Here are a few things to keep in mind as Election Day approaches.

1. This is what will happen if the Parti Quebecois wins a majority.

The Charter of Values is the third item on the party’s electoral strategy sheet, directly below Quebec sovereignty (the issue which is essentially its primary reason for being). So, it’s fair to say that it’s a major priority.

If the Charter becomes law, Jewish doctors, lawyers, teachers, judges, police officers, government officials (need I go on?) will be forbidden to wear visible symbols that openly flaunt their religious beliefs.

But the law goes even further. Organizations that receive public funding from the Quebec government will also have to comply. Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, for example, could no longer serve kosher food, nor could its doctors wear yarmulkes while treating patients. One PQ candidate even proposed to do away with the “Jewish” in the hospital’s name.

2. Who will this law affect?

The Jewish General Hospital in Montreal // Wikimedia Commons.

According to the latest National Household Survey (2011) there are currently 85,100 Jews living in Quebec, the majority of whom live in the Montreal area. Jews are the fifth-largest religious group in the province; Catholics are first, followed by Protestants, Muslims and Christian Orthodox.

The older and more established Jewish community in Quebec is Ashkenazi and Anglophone — meaning their first language is English. Like their American counterparts, most arrived in Canada in the late 19th century or in the aftermath of the Second World War. The growing Sephardic community, largely French-speaking, immigrated to Quebec from North Africa (in large part because of language) in the 1960s and 1970s.

Why the emphasis on language? Welcome to Quebec. Language groups retain singular importance in a region where political and social affiliation depends largely on which language you were brought up speaking. The one thing that most Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews can agree on, however, is that they hate the Charter.

Opposition to the Charter makes for unlikely allies. Ethnic and religious minorities who might not otherwise agree — Jews and Muslims among them — have joined together in the face of a common perceived threat to their fundamental religious rights.

3. Many people say they will disobey.

Muslim women protest the Charter of Values in Montreal // Claude Robillard / Flickr.

Many Jewish groups have openly declared that they will flout the Charter of Values if it becomes law. The Jewish General Hospital in Montreal released a statement in November declaring it would publically defy the law, which its staff views as “patently discriminatory.” Others have found more creative ways to protest the dreaded kippah ban: one rabbi stamped his head covering with the blue-and-white Fleur-de-lys — the province’s flag and symbol of nationalism. “I thought this would be a great way to make a positive statement,” Rabbi Yisroel Bernath told the Forward in December. “They want to ban the kippah? Let’s put a kippah on our heads!”

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Watching Porn While Sitting Shiva

By Henrik Eger

Digital Spy

It was my first shiva call, and it shocked me out of my wits.

Sarah, one of the residents in the Jewish retirement community where I’d been conducting seminars on world news, had passed away. A cheerful lady in her 90s, she had always brought an international aspect to our weekly discussions. I loved her. She was the kind of grandmother I always wished I’d had.

On the day of her funeral, I wore my kippah and stood with the mourners during the service at her son’s home. Afterwards, I spoke to the family members. I talked about my experiences with Sarah and about how proud she had been of her three grandsons and their achievements as musicians, writers and filmmakers.

I had met two of them before, and was impressed by their dedication to their art and their love for their grandmother, who had lived in various countries before coming to the U.S. So, after many conversations about Sarah, and after eating some traditional foods, I wanted to talk to the three sons. I asked their mother whether it would be all right if I went to join them in the basement.

“No problem,” she said, and down I went into one of the finest rec rooms I had seen, dominated by an oversized, cream-colored couch, with the lights dimmed down. The three sons — all in their 20s and early 30s — and their girlfriends, were idling on the plush family sofa. None of them got up when I walked in. They just waved, and one of the sons said, “Come and join us!”

I thought they might be watching a documentary in honor of their grandmother, or a film about Israel.

To my disgust, they were watching porn.

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POLL: How Would You Spend Jewish Billions?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

How should Jewish donor dollars get spent?

Today, the largest share of Jewish donor dollars goes to Israel-related charities, as the Forward reported last week in the first part of our series on Jewish charity finances. (Part two of the series, published today, is here.)

Are we spending too much on Israel? Or maybe too little? Should we be allocating more to other causes, like education or health?

Below, in our interactive infographic, you can indicate where you think Jewish contributions should go. Once you have adjusted the sliders to a breakdown that looks right to you, click “submit” to let us know what you think. The Forward will publish the results of this unscientific survey sometime in the next few weeks.

Once you have submitted your breakdown, click the Facebook and Twitter buttons to show your friends how you think charitable dollars should be spent.

The breakdowns below reflect contributions reported by groups in the Forward’s database of financial data on Jewish charities. We’ve left out contributions to federations and foundations, as that money is meant to be granted to other organizations. We’ve also left out contributions to groups that didn’t fit cleanly into any category and to religious groups, as most religious groups don’t file with the IRS and as such were not included in our database.

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Jewish Brides Make British Gay Marriage History

By Daniella Peled

Tania Ward and Nicola Pettit / Courtesy of Nicola Pettit

(Haaretz) — Tania Ward and Nicola Pettit will make history this Saturday when they become one of the first same-sex couples to legally marry in Britain.

More than that, their marriage will be among the first to receive a Jewish blessing, as Liberal and Reform streams prepare for a flurry of simchas to follow the change of law.

Since 2005, the United Kingdom has allowed civil partnerships which give the same rights and responsibilities as traditional marriage.

Campaigners, however, continued to lobby for full equality, facing opposition from conservative politicians and religious communities despite broad public backing. The new law comes into effect on Saturday March 29.

The couple, who live in southern England’s seaside Brighton resort, one of the country’s most bohemian centers of LGBT life, met when a mutual friend set them up on a blind date six-and-a-half years ago. “And that was that, really,” says 27-year-old Nicola.

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Stop Comparing Jewish and Palestinian Refugees

By Michael Kaplan

Yemeni Jews get instruction at a center for immigrants in Israel. / Getty Images

As the Israeli-Palestinian peace process grinds on, and the issue of Palestinian refugees continues to be a sticking point, some Jewish groups are arguing that these aren’t the only refugees we should be considering as the parties move forward in negotiations.

They’re calling on Western governments to recognize the more than 850,000 Jews pushed out of Arab countries in 1948 and the years that followed — and claiming that the Arab Jewish refugee issue should be tied to the fate of Palestinian refugees.

“Palestinians document every tent, well and thicket they had here but we left behind property worth billions of shekels,” Meir Kahlon, representing Libyan Jews, recently told the Israeli press. He argued that stolen property should be compensated for as a part of the ongoing U.S.-led negotiations.

And just a few weeks ago, six years after a similar resolution passed in the United States, activists pushing for recognition of Arab Jewish refugees enjoyed a big win in Canada, when pro-Israel Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to back a government committee recommendation to “recognize the experience” of Jewish refugees.

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How I Built My Jewish Charity Database

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Kurt Hoffman

Last summer, I hit upon a way to measure Jewish institutional power: Using data from the IRS, I would gather financial information on every single Jewish organization that files a tax return.

My first story based on that project is printed in this issue of the Forward. This addendum, which is only for readers with a high tolerance for boring data stuff, describes how I built my database.

I started with two files, posted online by the IRS last spring, that contained data from all tax returns filed by tax-exempt groups in the 2012 calendar year. The IRS posted one set of data extracted from Form 990s, which are filed by larger tax-exempt groups, and another from Form 990-EZs, which are filed by smaller groups. I chose not to include a third dataset extracted from Form 990-PFs, which are filed by private foundations, as those groups are generally harder to classify as Jewish or not-Jewish.

The Form 990s and Form 990-EZs ask different questions, and the datasets provided by the IRS were structured differently. I mapped the two datasets onto each other so that they could be considered together. Then, using another dataset from the IRS — the Exempt Organizations Business Master File Extract, which includes information like names and addresses on all tax-exempt groups registered with the IRS — I searched for Jewish organizations.

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Why a Sicilian Nun’s Song Moved Me as a Jew

By Sigal Samuel

Left: Ophir Ben-Shetreet on Israel’s ‘The Voice.’ Right: Sister Cristina on Italy’s ‘The Voice.’

I’m not usually the type of person who goes in for reality TV shows. Especially not when they revolve around singing competitions, and especially not when one of their singers’ performances becomes an overnight Internet sensation, to be endlessly posted and reposted on social media.

So why did I feel compelled to watch a Sicilian nun singing a song by Alicia Keys on Italy’s ‘The Voice’ about a dozen times over the course of this weekend?

After giving it some thought, I realized it wasn’t the TV lover or even the music lover in me that drove my obsessive replaying of this video. It was the Jew — or, more specifically, the formerly Orthodox Jewish woman — that couldn’t resist its charm.

Strange as it may sound, watching 25-year-old Sister Cristina Scuccia belt it out on stage while a cluster of habit-clad nuns cheered her on from the sidelines, I couldn’t help but do a simple thought experiment: What if this were an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman instead? Would she dare to sing like that in front of a mixed audience of men and women, knowing that her performance — her intimate voice — would be broadcast to millions more around the world? And would her ultra-Orthodox female friends stand there, cheering her on?

No way, I thought. Not in a million years. The reason why can be explained in two words: Kol Isha.

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Rabbi's Meditation Lessons Changed My Life

By Brent Spodek

Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg

On those very rare occasions when I start to get anxious or freak out or dive down the rabbit hole of “What if this bad thing happens and then this and then this?” I hear the lilting voice of Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg in my head, telling me to breathe and compassionately bring my attention back to my breath.

My first experiences with meditation were with Weinberg at the Jewish retreat center Elat Chayyim when it was in Accord, N.Y. I had come for a 36-hour introduction to Jewish meditation, and simply getting to the center had been an ordeal of inefficiency, with buses that arrived late and cabs that never appeared.

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Israeli 'Semi-Citizenship'? No Thanks!

By Brent E. Sasley

Getty Images

Yesterday in these pages Mira Sucharov explored the concept of qualified Diaspora Jewish citizenship in Israel. She was responding to Naftali Bennett’s floating of the idea (he called it “semi-citizenship”), but she seems open to the notion. However vague, both Bennett and Sucharov meant more than just the ability of ex-pats to vote in “homeland” elections.

Talk about dual loyalty. I cannot think of a worse idea for either Israel or Diaspora Jewish communities.

We Diaspora Jews like to think our connection with Israel is special, outside the normal bounds of host-kin country relationships that mark all other ethno-national communities. (Israeli Jews hardly think of the connection at all.) Our bond, we contend, is of an ancient people committed to a particular piece of territory by history and religion. Jews revived their old sovereignty by dint of blood, sweat and tears — including the blood, sweat and tears of Diaspora Jews who went to Mandatory Palestine and early Israel to volunteer in agricultural work, industry and war. Though the specific nature of our activities vis-à-vis Israel have changed over the years, we still see ourselves as intimately connected to the land and to its (Jewish) people.

But we aren’t special in this regard. Diaspora Armenians, Palestinians and Greeks — to name only a few — feel a similar connection to their mythological-historical homelands and kin networks. If every Diasporic community — most of which, like the Jewish Diaspora, were born in “foreign” lands — is allowed to claim citizenship and participate in the homeland’s politics, there would be no need for separate states. And again, Jews aren’t so special that only they would be considered for such status.

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How Not To Brainstorm the Jewish Future

By Mira Sucharov

Supporters of Naftali Bennett celebrate in Tel Aviv in 2013. / Getty Images

When I heard that the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency were spearheading a three-day “Online Brainstorming Marathon to Plan the Future of the Jewish People,” the international crowdsourcing initiative instantly grabbed my attention.

Partly, it was because I’d heard that Israel’s Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs minister Naftali Bennett has been working with the Jewish Agency to launch a global dialogue that will, I believe, promote a healthy shift: from viewing Diaspora Jews simply as bankrollers of Israel, to seeing how Israel and the Diaspora can help each other in securing their respective and mutual identities. The “Government of Israel and World Jewry Joint Initiative,” which kicked off last November, will see the Israeli government earmark 1.4 billion towards this goal. More recently, Bennett even went so far as to float the idea of granting Diaspora Jews “semi-citizenship.”

The other reason I wanted to join the Jews around the world who have been participating in this online forum for the past three days had to do with something I’d written years ago. In a column about attending a Tel Aviv peace rally, I had puzzled over the question of whether or not participating in such protest marches was my right as a non-citizen. I suggested that perhaps we Diaspora Jews can consider ourselves quasi-citizens of Israel as we engage and wrestle with the Jewish state and its policies.

So I went sleuthing online, where I eventually found the Securing the Jewish Future discussion board. After signing in with my name and photo, I was invited to watch several minute-long, upbeat videos on topics including Israel and peoplehood, Israel on campus, Jewish engagement, experiencing life in Israel, immersive experience, and serving the global good.

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Gold Medalist Charlie White Not Really Jewish

By Daniel Treiman

Getty Images

(JTA) — Earlier this week, Jewish news outlets ran reports on American ice dancers Charlie White and Meryl Davis winning Olympic gold. All these outlets reported — based on previously published articles — that White was Jewish.

It appears we were all misinformed.

The Detroit Jewish News — which initially report White’s supposed Jewishness a couple years ago — is issuing the following correction (based on the follow-up work of its staff and the dogged research of syndicated Jewish celebrity-beat columnist Nate Bloom):

Olympic Champ Has Jewish Family, But Is Not Jewish

After a phone call four years ago from what was thought to be a reliable source, the Detroit Jewish News erroneously reported that Olympic Gold Medal ice dancer Charlie White is Jewish.

The Jewish News later received a phone call from Charlie’s mother, Jacqui White, saying that neither she nor Charlie is Jewish.

The Jewish News can now clarify after a conversation with a reliable source close to the family that the new Olympic champion had a Jewish step-grandfather, a Michigan-based physician, to whom Jacqui White’s mother was remarried for 37 years until his death in July 2013. Their blended family included his Jewish sons from a previous marriage.

Charlie White’s mother, Jacqui, and her birth siblings were raised Catholic. While Jacqui and Charlie, who also was raised as a Christian, were exposed to Jewish traditions and holidays, they are not Jewish by religion, birth or identification.

The Detroit Jewish News regrets the error and congratulates Charlie White and Meryl Davis on their Olympic championship.

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How to See the Schneersohn Library Online

By Paul Berger

You don’t have to fly all the way to Moscow to view the Schneersohn Library.

After almost a century in the bowels of Russian’s state library, the Schneersohn books are available online for anyone around the world to see.

You can view the books in a web browser or even, in many cases, download them as a pdf.

Because the Russian State Library’s website is clunky in Russian — and even clunkier in English — I thought it might be helpful to give non-Russian speakers a few tips.

To view the complete catalogue of the Schneersohn books follow this link.

To view a book, click on the number on the left of the screen.

In the next window, click on the link next to the words «Эл. адрес»

Next, you need to click the box on the bottom left of the screen to continue.

On the next screen, select “Онлайн-просмотр” to view the book online or “Acrobat Reader” to view the book as a pdf.

Finally, click the “открыть документ” button at the bottom of the screen to view your book!

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger

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A Woman Is More Than a Wedding Night

By Mordechai Lightstone

Racheli Ibenboim chats with writer Tuvia Tenenbom./Photo by Isi Tenenbaum

I may not be a dyed-in-the-wool feminist by any stretch of the imagination. But I have a strong sense of the rights of women to take agency in their own lives and a repulsion for the oppressive nature of men who harass women for their own reasons. That is why I was completely taken aback by Tuvia Tenenbom’s latest article “Everything He Wanted To Know About Sex Among the Orthodox.”

How this tabloid-worthy work of voyeurism could ever be considered a legitimate work of journalistic inquiry is beyond me. Which is a shame, because there is a so much to explore here.

Racheli Ibenboim’s story is fascinating. Here is a women, seemingly pious and observant, in love with her Hasidic lifestyle, but dedicated to being a change-agent in her community. She may have taken a step back due to internal pressures, but it seems that she has not stopped in her mission.

Yet instead of focusing on her deeds and actions, we’re given what amounts to some sort of voyeuristic look at a man who must fetishize women in thick stockings and wigs. The reader sits and reads with increasing shock as we witness the literal recreation of catcalls on the street. Tenenbom pushes her to a place no man that respects women ever should.

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Israel Crowdsources 'Jewish Future' Plan Online

By Nathan Jeffay

Israeli Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett / Getty Images

The Israeli minister with the Diaspora portfolio believes that “what used to work as the Israel-Diaspora relationship doesn’t work,” he told the Forward.

Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett said that Israelis need to start deferring to Diaspora Jews regarding their needs, and the needs of the Israeli-Diaspora relationship. “I live in Israel, I don’t understand the Diaspora perfectly; the Diaspora understands itself much better,” he said.

Israel has traditionally looked at the Diaspora largely as a source of funds and immigrants, but the relationship needs to be more reciprocal, he said. Bennett made his comments ahead of a global online consultation process taking place this week, in which all Jews are being invited to voice their opinions about what provision should be made for the “Jewish future.”

One of the main questions on the table will be how the Israeli government should spend a new $140 million annual budget which it is investing in programming for Diaspora communities, in addition to its existing investment in Birthright trips.

Bennett said that the objective of the funding is to deepen Jewish identity and attachment to Israel in the Diaspora, but “we don’t know how” in Israel. “The process of building a plan is going to be a collaborative process,” he said, going on to add: “The lesson is that we [Israelis] are not the smartest people in the world and we don’t have all the answers here.”

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WhatsApp Is Way of Life for Israelis

By Marcy Oster

(JTA) — When my simple Nokia flip-phone broke last year and could not be repaired because it was so old, I upgraded – kicking and screaming – to an iPhone.

My 14-year-old son – who is dying for a smartphone but has to make do with his iPod – handled downloading the apps, telling me he would put on all the essentials. One of the most useful ones turned out to be WhatsApp, which allows me to send free text messages throughout the world and to be part of texting groups.

The app, which has only been around a few years, recently made some headlines for being the latest piece of technology banned by haredi Jews. Der Blatt, a Yiddish-language newspaper published by members of the Satmar Hasidic group in Brooklyn, reported last month that rabbis overseeing divorces say that WhatsApp is “the No. 1 cause of destruction of Jewish homes and business,” the Forward reported this week.

In the United States, WhatsApp is gaining in popularity, particularly among niche users like teens, immigrants, people with friends and family abroad – and, apparently the fervently Orthodox — but it still lacks the wide, mainstream audience enjoyed by social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and Google Chats.

Not so Israel. Here, WhatsApp is a way of life. I’m on several WhatsApp groups – including one for parents of my younger son’s Little League team, one for parents of my youngest daughter’s youth group and a family group that consists of me and my three oldest children (asking them to do chores when I am away from home became so much easier!).

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