Forward Thinking

5 Dudes Who Claim To Be America’s Rabbi

By Emily L. Hauser

Judaism — it’s a big religion; America — it’s an even bigger place.

But one man — one brave, self-sacrificing man — has taken upon himself the weight and burden of serving both constituencies, of being just the Jew that this country needs, of being: America’s Rabbi.

I’m sorry, did I say “one man”? I meant “five men.”

There are five American men (and yes of course they’re men) currently laying claim to the title of “America’s Rabbi.” Five, can you believe it? Why, that’s as many books as we have in the Torah! We’re going to have to add a chapter to our Holy Scriptures, or at the very least create a field guide, to sort them all out.

So allow me to present to you: A Field Guide to “Rabbis, America’s”

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Why Is Pa.'s Tom Wolf a Big JCC Macher?

By Anthony Weiss

Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf is a JCC macher, but is not Jewish / Flicker: WolfForPa Campaign

(JTA) — In his coverage of last night’s primary elections, Slate political reporter Dave Weigel mentioned an odd fact: Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania’s newly crowned gubernatorial nominee, has given so much to his local Jewish community center in York, Pa., that many reporters assumed he was Jewish. Only he isn’t.

So why is a non-Jewish businessman one of the biggest donors to his local JCC — so big that, in the midst of a gubernatorial campaign, he’s also co-chairing the JCC’s new capital campaign?

There are a couple parts to this answer. One is that Wolf and his family have deep roots in the York community — in fact, one of the York’s boroughs, Mount Wolf, is named for Tom Wolf’s great-great-grandfather — and he’s been a generous donor of time and money to local civic life.

The second part is that the York JCC is one of a number of JCCs around the country where the membership is majority gentile. (I wrote about this a few years ago for the Forward.) In these communities, the Jewish population is too small to support a decent JCC on its own, so the local leaders have decided to actively recruit members from outside the Jewish community. The Jews get a nice big JCC (and I can attest that the York JCC is very nice, even before its newly planned expansion) with lots of Jewish programming, and the non-Jews get a nice gym and another good local preschool.

So, in that light, Tom Wolf’s JCC donations make sense — he’s just supporting another York civic institution, the way his family always does.

There’s one more twist to the story, though: Tom Wolf, the man so many people believed was Jewish, just beat out Allyson Schwartz — a woman who is, in fact, Jewish — in the Democratic primary race for governor.

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Posing as Jewish Women — To Beat Up Arab Men

By Sigal Samuel

Still from a video produced by anti-miscegenation group Yad L’Achim

Imagine this: You’re a young guy in Israel. Scrolling through Facebook, you see the profile of an attractive Jewish girl. She seems interested in finding a date, so you send her a message. She writes back! The two of you make plans to meet up in person next week. When the big day arrives, you show up at the appointed spot, excited and nervous. You hear a sound behind you and turn around, expecting to see the beautiful girl. Instead, a bunch of guys pounce on you and punch your lights out.

The reason? You’re an Arab, not a Jewish, Israeli.

Welcome to Jews Against Miscegenation, a far-right group of male teens and 20-somethings who pose as Jewish women on Facebook to bait and lure Arab “predators” into the open and then beat them up.

These young men made headlines in the Israeli press today after they were indicted at the Jerusalem District Court. Police were able to identify and catch them, thanks to a security camera mounted at the site of one of their attacks.

It’s a relief to see these youths finally taken into custody — not just because their actions are racist (mere Arabness is enough to get you targeted) and sexist (women clearly can’t be trusted to choose for themselves), but because reports over the past few years have suggested that Israel’s police and municipal governments were actually supporting and funding these bigots.

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Why Is Laos the Least Anti-Semitic Country?

By Sigal Samuel

Chabad Lubavitchers bring religious Jewish life to Laos in 2008.

If you saw the Anti-Defamation League’s scary new report on global anti-Semitism, you might have been intrigued to learn that the least anti-Semitic country in the word is…Laos.

Laos? Yes, Laos.

But why Laos, you ask? Good question. Maybe the landlocked Southeast Asian country has an amazingly tolerant and morally evolved population? Perhaps it’s been impressed by the wit of the Talmud, the humor of Seinfeld, the literary prowess of the Jewish Nobel winners, the breakthrough research of Israeli scientists? Do they just really like knishes over there?

Probably not. A more likely answer can be found in the Wikipedia page devoted to “History of the Jews in Laos” — yes, there is such a page, and here it is in its entirety:

Laos has no established Jewish presence, but as this communist country gradually opens up to foreign tourism, Chabad has secured permission to establish a permanent presence in Luang Prabang in 2006, where the young Rabbi Avraham Leitner provides meals and shelter to Jewish travelers. In all, there are only four permanent Jewish residents in the country, who serve the Israeli backpackers, tourists, and diplomats visiting Laos.

Wait a minute. Four Jewish residents?

Has the ADL considered that the low incidence of anti-Semitism in Laos may be due to nothing more than the tiny size of its Semitic community?

And why is the community so tiny?

It should be said that if there’s a lack of Jewish life in Laos, it’s not for lack of effort. Chabad Jews have been very keen to bring Yiddishkeit to the country — which, being communist, doesn’t look too kindly on religious activity. That hasn’t stopped this guy from trying.

Apparently, there was some drama in Laos back in 2008, when local police expelled Chabadniks from the country after they organized a Rosh Hashana celebration for 200 backpacking Israelis. The Chabadniks were arrested and interrogated, then put on a plane (along with their Torah scroll) to Bangkok, where they landed just one hour before the start of Yom Kippur.

So, establishing Jewish life is a tricky endeavor in Laos; there’s almost no permanent Jewish presence there; there’s also almost no anti-Semitism there. Should we be scoring that in the victory column?

At first sight, the ADL’s stats seem to tell a clear story. But they leave us with some murky questions. Laos is one of them.


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Counting the Omer and Nigeria's Kidnapped Girls

By Naomi Ackerman

Nigerian women call for the freedom of Chibok’s kidnapped girls / Getty Images

Last month, an Islamist armed group called Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria. Presumably, these girls will be killed or sold into slavery and child marriages.

Even though I sit here in Los Angeles, this crisis affects me personally, deeply and immediately. You see, I am a Jewish mother of three daughters: Zohar, Ella and Hadar. And even though I do not know the names of the 276 girls, I know who they are. I see them clearly. They are my Zohar, my Ella, my Hadar.

I know what slavery means. I grew up reciting, every year at the Passover Seder, “In each generation, each person must envision being freed from slavery in Egypt.”

If I can imagine that, how can I not imagine what the mothers (and fathers and sisters and brothers) of those girls are feeling? And how can I not act upon my feelings of sadness, fear and outrage? After all, the Torah teaches, “You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:34). Those girls and their families are not strangers to me. They are my family.

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'Privileged' Princeton Student’s Tale of Jewish Woe

By Michael Kaplan

Princeton student Tal Fortgang / Fox News

By now, you’ve probably heard about Tal Fortgang, the white male Princeton freshman who’s taken the phrase “check your privilege” to the next level. He’s actually claimed to have checked his, and in an article that’s now gone viral, he admits that he has privilege but insists it’s nothing to apologize for.

His family’s story, he writes, is one of triumph against all odds: His grandparents, survivors of the Holocaust, came here as penniless immigrants and had to work their way up the socio-economic ladder. They passed on their hard-earned privileges to the next generation, who passed them on to Fortgang. So the privileges he now enjoys are to be celebrated: If anything, his family’s tale proves that the American dream is attainable. “It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character,” he says.

Fortgang and I are similar in a lot of ways. I grew up in the Jewish day school system, I attend an expensive university and my ancestors arrived here in the United States as penniless immigrants, albeit a long time before his. I grew up thinking that it was to their hard work that I owed my privilege.

But, inspired by Fortgang, I’ve decided to check my privilege as well — and sorry Fortgang, but you’ve cut your inquiry short. Our Jewish families’ climb to success had everything to do with race.

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Is Israel Playing Into Hands of Hamas?

By Nathan Jeffay

Palestinians celebrate new Fatah-Hamas unity // Getty Images.

A few days ago, Israel was engaged in a bitter blame game with the Palestinians, with each side accusing the other of being responsible for sabotaging peace talks. Now, Israel is competing for recognition as the party that brought the flagging talks to an end.

The Palestinians aren’t prepared to extend talks beyond their deadline on Tuesday unless Israel fulfils certain criteria which the right-wing government is Jerusalem is set against, including a release of the Palestinian prisoners who were scheduled to be freed in late March and a building freeze.

But Jerusalem is apparently not content that the talks would come to an end because of Palestinian refusal to renew them, and announced yesterday that it is walking away. Israel declared that it is suspending talks, due to its fury about the reconciliation accord which the Palestinian Authority and its rival, Hamas, have just signed.

The declaration is strange. Israel is taking a principled stance not to take part in peace talks that aren’t happening. And on the grounds that rival Palestinian factions have signed a reconciliation pact, which they have done before only to fail to implement it.

And of the reconciliation does pan out, would silence not have served Israel better? By taking peace talks off the table in a scenario of real Palestinian unity, Israel has lifted from Hamas any real pressure to make tough decisions if it does make it in to a coalition within the Palestinian Authority. Is won’t need to respond to pressure from moderate Palestinians to be prepared to talk, because Israel will have closed the venue of talks.

Israel’s hardball response to Palestinian unity may play straight in to Hamas’ hands.

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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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