A Palestinian worker passes near the Aida refugee camp on December 21, 2005. / Getty Images
A friend and I lived and volunteered in the Aida refugee camp, just outside Bethlehem, for several months after graduating high school. It was a great and memorable experience for both of us, but living in tense regions of the world has more downsides than just poor resources and facilities, which are to be expected. There is also the almost constant fear that your own friends might be suspicious of you.
One night there was a loud thump on the front door of our home, as if someone had thrown a large stone or possibly a brick. It was followed by a louder thump, another bang and then a few seconds of calm. My friend and I quickly, almost instinctively, grabbed the largest kitchen knives we could find and ran, knives in hand, to the front door.
The Jewish community should feel a sense of déjà vu as it witnesses the government-sponsored persecution of LGBT people in Russia. We should respond with a statement of determination nearly as familiar to us as the Shema: Never again.
In the 1960s, with our awareness of the Holocaust very fresh in our memory, American Jews took seriously Soviet scapegoating of Russian Jewry and the efforts to destroy the Russian Jewish community. In 2013, in Putin’s Russia, gays are the new Jews.
In his assault on democratic institutions in Russia, Vladimir Putin is counting on xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Western and anti-immigrant sentiments to turn the Russian people against anybody perceived to be different. Government-run media supports these policies. The precious few independent media outlets cannot compete with Putin’s huge propaganda machine. This, along with the infamous new law banning the spread of “nontraditional sexual relations,” all but silences LGBT people in Russia.
Act Up’s slogan “Silence = Death” comes from recent U.S. history, when coming out and speaking out were essential to changing public views of homosexuality and to mobilizing response to the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s. If you are gay in Russia in 2013, it is no longer lawful to affirm who you are, even in front of your own children.
Frimet (third from right), holds up her Footsteps certificate with the other fellows.
I am a Footsteps member and supporter. I am also an observant Jew.
To the critics of Footsteps, a not-for-profit organization that helps those seeking to leave their ultra-religious communities, this statement may seem like an oxymoron. Until about a year ago, I too believed that one could not remain Orthodox and be a Footsteps member at the same time — that one could not eat a plate of chulent at the Shabbos meal, completely unplugged from the world, and engage in an intelligent existentialist debate.
I became a Footstepper — the term of endearment embraced by members — this past May. Five years after leaving the Hasidic community I grew up in, but still remaining Orthodox, I finally decided to join the community of exes (ex-Hasidim, ex-ultra-Orthodox and ex-Orthodox). I’d never felt the need for social and emotional support, but until this year I had been unaware of the other resources Footsteps offers to help the exes get better education and find jobs.
Furthermore, as an Orthodox woman, I half believed the rumors flying around — that Footsteps is anti-religious, that their only goal is to get you to abandon your traditions and that all Footsteppers are losers, drug-addicts and ne’er–do–wells. I almost bought into it because I did not know otherwise. Even though some of my closest friends — successful, educated and settled individuals — had been Footsteppers for years without spewing venomous fires of atheism through their nostrils, it was still easy to think that joining Footsteps meant throwing the Jewish baby out with the cultural bathwater.
My first visit to the Footsteps headquarters in New York City was on a scorching hot Sunday morning. I was selected to participate in the Footsteps Career Fellowship pilot program — a paid opportunity for 12 members to gain meaningful work experience, develop a career network, improve their presentation, and access valuable professional support (full disclosure: I ended up using my fellowship to work at the Forward). This first welcoming workshop was designed to acquaint fellows with the program. In between panel discussions and introductions, lunch was served — turkey and ham sandwiches from a local restaurant. Oy.
In many ways, Mark Goldman’s a traditional cantor. He serves a 900-member Reform congregation, in Plantation, Florida. He’s performed around the world, including a historic group gig at the Vatican. And he loves to chant the “haunting, yet familiar” Kol Nidre.
But this year, the UK expat became a trailblazer. After nearly two decades as a member, Goldman was elected president of the American Conference of Cantors, making him the first openly gay chazzan to hold the post.
Descended from a long line of cantors, the yeshiva-educated Goldman came out to his parents at age 27 — three years after emigrating to the States. He took on his first cantorial position at Temple Kol Ami, which later merged with Temple Emanu-El of Fort Lauderdale. Nineteen years later, he’s become a beloved fixture on the South Florida Jewish scene.
The Forward caught up with Goldman from the home he shares with interior designer Aaron Taber, his partner of 17 years.
(JTA) — Natan Zaidenweber thought the mohel was kidding. His wife, Linda Raab, thought it was some kind of religious formality and didn’t give it a second thought.
But the mohel, Cantor Philip Sherman, was serious. Though most fathers demur when he invites them to perform the bris on their sons by clipping their foreskin, preferring to delegate the task to someone professionally trained in the procedure, Sherman finds that about 5 or 10 percent of dads agree to do the cut.
“It is the father’s mitzvah to actually perform the bris as Abraham did for his son, Isaac,” Sherman said. “Many fathers have told me what an incredible moment it was for them to do the actual bris and enter their sons into the covenant of Abraham.”
The Mill Valley, Calif., couple realized the cantor wasn’t joking only once the ceremony was underway. Sherman began with a naming ceremony for Jay Hilay and his twin sister, Sivan Rose. Then he again offered Natan the option of making the cut.
The new dad stepped forward, and as his startled wife screamed his name in a tone that she says was intended to say, “Are you crazy?,” a friend reassured her it would be easy.
“I then took a deep breath, surrendered to the faith I had in Phil and motioned that they had my blessing to proceed,” Raab said.
Sherman set up what was needed, gave the baby some sugar water, put a clamp in place and offered Zaidenweber some direction. Making the cut, Zaidenweber said, was a powerful bonding experience.
“I’m glad I did,” he said. “I’m glad I have that connection with my son. Your love is equal for both [twins], but it’s special that we have that bond.”
For Raab, too, the experience was a positive one. Sherman had told the gathering that a baby’s cry during a bris is like the sound of the shofar opening the gates of heaven.
“I closed my eyes, heard Jay’s cry and actually was able to experience it as deeply spiritual and beautiful,” Raab said, noting her pride that her husband took on the role.
“He stepped up, fearlessly, with a faith in himself that I wouldn’t have had in myself,” she said. “I have since been aware of how much his modeling has helped me to muster more courage as I face the tasks of mothering.”
If the couple were to have another son, would Zaidenweber make the snip again? Yes, say mom and dad, without hesitation.
When you’ve got Kanye and the Coen Brothers, can the Klezmatics be far behind? Not in this week’s news quiz, they can’t. And neither can Jewish children’s books about chickens.
For real. It’s a trend.
(JTA) President Obama, always up on the latest Jewish internet fads, sent out an official Thanksgivukkah greeting yesterday:
“For the first time since the late 1800s – and for the last time until some 70,000 years from now – the first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving. It’s an event so rare some have even coined it “Thanksgivukkah.” As we gather with loved ones around the turkey, the menorah, or both, we celebrate some fortunate timing and give thanks for miracles both great and small.”
Very nice. But a sentence in the next paragraph caught my eye:
“In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, [the Maccabees] reclaimed their historic homeland. But the true miracle of Hanukkah was what came after those victories almost 2200 years ago – the Jewish Temple was cleansed and consecrated, and the oil that was sufficient for only one day lasted for eight.”
With this sentence, the White House has — inadvertently, I’m sure — taken a side in an old, latent Israeli debate over what the “Hanukkah miracle” really was.
Like almost every Jewish holiday, Hanukkah has something for both secular and religious Israelis. Secular Israelis see in Hanukkah an epic story that prefigures the birth of the modern state: a small, informal army — facing seemingly insurmountable odds — defeats a more powerful foe and creates an independent Jewish commonwealth. For non-religious Jews who find little to no meaning in the Second Temple and its sacrifices, the miracle of the oil is an afterthought.
But for religious Israelis, the war that liberated the land was just a prerequisite for the holiday’s real miracle: the small jar of oil lasting eight days – enough to reinstate the Temple service. In a similar vein, some modern Orthodox Israelis see the current, secular state as a stepping stone toward a coming messianic era when Jewish religious law will guide Israel.
The debate even emerges in two alternate Hebrew spellings of the word “Maccabee.” One spelling, with the Hebrew letter kuf, means “hammer” — emphasizing the Maccabees’ strength and the military victory. It’s the word’s popular English translation and also the inspiration for this gem of a film.
But the more common Hebrew spelling is with the letter kaf, which makes the word an acronym for the phrase “Who is like you among deities, God?” — stressing the Maccabees’ divine inspiration.
You probably won’t find people fighting in the streets of Jerusalem over the correct interpretation of the Hanukkah miracle. But for those who are counting: score one for the oil.
Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein have yet to sell shtreimels. But one fashion commentator — and a whole lot of YouTube viewers — think Hasidic garb is worth another look.
“The Substance of Hasidic Style,” a video posted by fashion platform StyleLikeU (and reposted by Upworthy), has garnered more than 170,000 views after it was picked up by Upworthy.com. The 16-minute mini-documentary is comprised of interviews with several Hasidim and focuses on Hasidic attitudes towards fashion, modesty, community, and belief in God.
Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandlebaum, the mother-daughter team that runs StyleLikeU, could easily have treated the Hasidic community as some sort of oddball curiosity. When I read that they had previously produced short films on the style of monks, nuns, and ballerinas, I was skeptical about how they might portray Hasidim: would they be shown as a freakish “other,” wearing outlandish clothing, stuck in the past?
To the team’s credit, the film treats the Hasidic community quite respectfully and even admiringly. Elisa Goodkind writes that the time she and her team spent among Hasidim in the Catskills was “a 12-hour odyssey that would change us forever.”
“[N]ot only did I begin to identify with some of my own life values, but I found a new group of the coolest people I had met in a long time, who were about to become my new great friends,” writes Goodkind, who describes herself as “a reform and rebellious Jew.” Her film not only depicts Hasidic clothing, but offers a broader looks at the Hasidic way of life. Hasidic views on modesty, community, and femininity are all portrayed sympathetically.
Adam Levine meets Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nazi gold in what SOUNDS like a really bad movie, but is actually this week’s really fun Jewish news quiz. And guess who else is here? King Solomon and Brad Pitt! Ok… so maybe that’s a movie I’d see.
(JTA) — It was, perhaps, not the most auspicious setting for Ronit Peskin’s first-ever public speech.
The 25-year-old self-described housewife stood in front of a crowded room at the biggest Jewish conference of the year, the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Jerusalem. She was about to verbally assail Women of the Wall — a group most in the audience supported. On the stage with her were Yesh Atid Knesset member Aliza Lavie, representing a party that championed religious pluralism; Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who’s spearheading a compromise on the Kotel; and Women of the Wall’s chairwoman, Anat Hoffman, a confident public speaker with decades of experience.
By the end of the event, Lavie was telling Peskin she should run for Knesset.
A Cleveland native and mother of three who moved to Israel at age 18, Peskin says she generally tries to avoid the spotlight. Most of her frequent Facebook posts are about cooking and household economy — publicity for her blog, Penniless Parenting.
But since April, Peskin has also served as co-founder of Women for the Wall, a traditionalist group that aims to maintain the status quo at the Kotel and that opposes Women of the Wall — helping to draw thousands of girls to the women’s section to counter WOW’s monthly services.
In her GA speech last week, she didn’t hold back.
“When Anat Hoffman and other WOW board members mistakenly compare Israel to Saudi Arabia, claim that women here are oppressed and have no rights, and that Conservative and Reform Jews get arrested for praying in their way, it’s doing irreparable harm to our nation,” she said. “The answer is not to let a tiny but vocal minority ruin the experience for everyone else.”
As a first-year rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), I read a lot about the challenges facing “millennials.” With the recent outpouring of analysis relating to the Pew report on American Jewry, the amount of content may have quadrupled, but the number of young voices has not.
I’m often frustrated by the dearth of meaningful commentary from my generation about how we plan to transform apparent challenges (Think: dues to synagogues, intermarriage and collegiate Jewish disaffection) into our greatest opportunities. We are blessed to have so many articulate and expert Jewish leaders seeking the secret sauce for our engagement. But this is not their task — it is ours.
Recently, I was privileged to join four other millennials on a panel at the Jewish Federations of North America’s annual General Assembly in Jerusalem. Learning that I might be speaking in front of a few thousand people prompted me to spend a good chunk of time dreaming about how best to use this incredible platform to contribute to the conversation about next generation Jewishness.
My path to the rabbinate has been shaped by three vibrant themes in American Jewish life: contagious leadership, nurturing community and social justice. Dynamism and creativity defined the clergy at the synagogue of my youth, but the love for the Jewish people, the infectious excitement about the vibrancy of Jewish tradition and identity made the deepest impact throughout my years there. My role models truly loved their work.
The other day I overheard someone quip: “No one in the history of the world ever washed a rented car.”
A car, like a religious community, only sparkles when people take ownership of it. I was inspired to pursue a position of leadership in the Jewish community because I was taught from childhood that it is mine to lead. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the former spiritual leader of my synagogue (and now the president of the Union for Reform Judaism), told me so many times that I would make a great rabbi that I actually began to believe him. He turned my responsibility to my community into my own great opportunity.
Max Levin makes more money sitting in his high school math class than most people do during a day at their office.
At 11, the Jewish boy from Voorhees, N.J., was making his first stock picks, guided by his grandfather, a day trader in New York City.
Two years later, he used his bar mitzvah money to move to the big leagues, buying and selling stocks daily in between classes on his phone.
It paid off. Big time.
When his grandfather died in 2012, Levin memorialized him by launching StockPick101.com, a website devoted to helping young people learn the ABCs of stocks, investing and trading. What started as Levin writing about topics he found interested has grown into a national network of college-age writers and readers, who weigh in and discuss financial strategy. Trending topics this week include “Hot Mutual Funds,” “Marijuana Stocks to Invest In,” and “Tips and Tricks for the Young Investor.”
“What we’re trying to do is reach out to the younger generation of new investors,” Levin said in a phone interview with the Forward. “The younger you do it, the better it is [and] the more familiar you’ll be with the stock market and the economy.”
Now 16, Levin also writes weekly articles for MainStreet and TheStreet, online publications connected with Jim Cramer (host of CNBC’s “Mad Money”), under the name “StockPick Whiz Kid.”
Exactly 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln said: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
On its anniversary, the Gettysburg Address, which is often considered the most important speech of American history, is anything but forgotten: Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns launched a mass participation project, in which he invites Americans from all walks of life to film themselves while reciting the Address, and upload the video to the project’s homepage.
More than 300 videos are online already, which include the performances of around 60 prominent people. There are the five living ex-presidents; Bill O’Reilly and Rachel Maddow; giants of business such as Bill Gates; and celebs like Stephen Colbert and Uma Thurman.
Stephen Spielberg, Senator Chuck Schumer and Rabbi Peter Rubinstein are a few of the several notable Jewish figures who have joined in.
Burns came up with the idea for the Learn the Address project while filming a documentary for PBS at the Greenwood School, a boarding school for boys with learning difficulties, which holds an annual competition in which the boys memorize and recite the Address. Burns observed the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment among the boys that followed successful memorization and thought he could turn this challenge into something bigger.
“Mass participation does the same healing like singing in church,” Ken Burns told the Forward. “We are such a fractured society. As a famous historian [Arthur Schlesinger Jr.] said, there is too much pluribus, and not enough unum.” In addition to doing something together, he said, participants get access to “the most important speech of all of American history.”
It’s time to check your inbox. The White House has sent out invitation for this year’s Hanukkah reception hosted by President Obama.
It is a good way of measuring one’s status in the world of Jewish leadership. If you’re not invited to the White House reception you’re either from the wrong party (in that case you might want to check out the RJC’s party) or you’ve just no longer a “Jewish leader.”
The good news is that this year’s list of invitees, which usually reaches 300-400 members of the tribe, is expected to be even bigger. In fact, the traditional White House Hanukkah reception will, for the first time, be divided into two receptions, one after the other.
The events, an administration source promised, would be identical, so no need to fret over which reception is better. They’ll be plenty of Jewish VIP’s at both events. Israeli-born Grammy winning violinist Miri Ben-Ari is expected to perform, and, just as in previous years, the White House kitchen will be made kosher for one day, to provide for the crowd.
For those who did not get a White House invitation, they’ll be a host of other opportunities to light the Menorah with Washington movers and shakers: at the Congress, the Pentagon, and of course the traditional lighting of the National Menorah sponsored by Chabad at the Ellipse just south of the White House, next to the national Christmas tree.
There is no single place in Jerusalem as politically sensitive as the site that Jews call the Temple Mount, and Muslims call the Haram al-Sharif, or noble sanctuary.
In the past couple of decades, there have been riots and violent confrontations there. The Second Intifada erupted in 2000 after Ariel Sharon, then leader of Israel’s right-wing opposition, visited the Temple Mount.
While Israel annexed the Temple Mount and all of East Jerusalem after their capture in the 1967 Six Day War, the Muslim group known as the Waqf manages the site. Freedom of access to the area is enshrined in Israeli law. However, for security reasons, Israeli police enforces a ban on Jewish and other non-Muslim prayer there.
Recently, right-wing religious Zionists have been pushing to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. They want the Israeli government to assert its sovereignty over what Jews revere as the site of the first and second holy temples. These activists have gained support from elements within the current government, especially members of the Jewish nationalist Habayit Hayehudi party.
While the Waqf is in favor of tourists of all kinds visiting the area, it is wary of Jewish religious fanatics who might want to damage or destroy the Dome of the Rock and other Muslim sites. Some ultra-religious Jews believe it’s their responsibility to do so in order to clear the path for construction of a third temple.
Yehudah Glick, an American immigrant to Israel, professional tour guide and Temple Mount activist, was arrested on October 10 and barred by the Israeli police from the site. He began a hunger strike in protest, ending last Thursday after 12 days, when his permission to ascend to the Temple Mount was reinstated.
The Forward asked Glick about his being barred from the Temple Mount, his hunger strike, and why he believes Jews should have full access to the site.
(JTA) — At most Jewish conferences, speakers and participants are careful to focus on sharing only their successes and accomplishments. After all, you never know when a potential donor might be listening.
But on Monday, 120 Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders are gathering to focus on something very different: failure.
Sponsored by New York’s Jewish Education Project and San Francisco’s Upstart, Monday’s event is being touted as the Jewish world’s first-ever “Fail Forward” conference. “Fail Forward” is a new buzz phrase in management circles: the idea being that fear of failure stifles innovation and that failure is a learning opportunity.
Ashley Good, the founder of a consulting group called Fail Forward, will facilitate Monday’s events, where participants and speakers will share some of their biggest failures and learn how to “bring intelligent failure” to their organizations, according to the program schedule.
David Bryfman, director of the Jewish Education Project’s New Center for Collaborative Leadership, told JTA that “if you establish a culture whereby talking about failures is acceptable and dominant, it allows you to take more risks moving forward.”
He also emphasized that a “failure” is different from a “mistake,” in that it’s bigger and more measurable.
And what failure does he plan to share? “One of our Jewish Futures conferences in Denver was a complete bust,” he said. “We over-programmed and had too many speakers, we forgot the people in the audience were actually smart. “
Since then, he’s made sure to schedule more time for interaction at conferences, including Monday’s.
Here’s hoping the conference is a success. But if it’s a failure, well, maybe that would ultimately lead to success.
(JTA) — As the sun began to set over Copenhagen, Peter Madsen realized he would not be able to serve the dozens of people still waiting in his shop for a free swastika tattoo.
“We had to stop taking in people after the 54th client,” Madsen, artistic designer at the Meatshop tattoo parlor, said on Tuesday — the day that more than 120 similar businesses worldwide offered free tattoos of the ancient Indian symbol as part of campaign titled “Learn to Love the Swastika.”
For the occasion, the Meatshop announced that anyone who enters the shop on Tuesday would be entitled to a $180 swastika tattoo on the house, on a body part of their choosing.
The idea, Madsen said, is “to reclaim this symbol, which the Nazis abused, and restore it to its original meaning in India, where is has served for thousands of years as a sign of peace and goodness.”
In Russia, Europe and the English-speaking world, swastikas are popular with white supremacists, given the symbol’s association with Nazism. The symbol has been banned in several European countries with limitations on hate speech, though not in Denmark, where a strong liberal tradition has trumped even the bitter memories from the Nazi occupation during World War II.
Still, the Meatshop’s swastika stunt drew emotional reactions from Danish Jews. “I believe that a symbol that was once something else, but which the Nazis took hostage, cannot just be washed clean,” Finn Schwarz, president of the Jewish Congregation of Copenhagen, told the news site mx.dk. The Meatshop’s attempt to do just that was “cheap,” he added.
Ayelet Galena’s death at the age of 2 from a rare bone marrow disease launched a wave of grief around the world. For months, thousands followed the little girl’s fight for her life with the Eye on Ayelet blog, set up by her parents, Hindy Poupko and Seth Galena.
But more than a year and a half after Ayelet’s death — and a year after Hindy Poupko made the Forward 50 — the little girl’s memory lives on.
“People continue to give to her donor circle without us even asking,” Poupko told the Forward in a phone interview. “We’re always surprised that it’s still on their radar.”
This silent but constant support is what helps the still-grieving mother find the strength to move forward. Most of these acts of kindness are subtle, more substantial than grand, but often empty, gestures.
Ayelet’s story first grabbed the attention of Forward readers with a series of touching stories by then-Director of Digital Media Gabrielle Birkner. Hindy Poupko’s inspirational effort to harness the grief landed her a spot on the Forward 50. And readers made her the surprising choice as the most clicked-on profile in the package, outpacing dozens of far more well-known figures.
Poupko recalled that even this week, she was cc’d on an email chain as part of her role as Managing Director and Director of Israel & International Affairs for the Jewish Relations Council of New York. Scrolling through the exchange, she noticed something peculiar:
“By the way, December 5 is Ayelet’s birthday,” someone had written to the others involved.
Poupko was stunned. “It was such a beautiful thing,” she said. “It’s one thing to remember a yartzeit, it’s another to remember a birthday, especially in such a work environment. I was really moved by that.”