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Shabbat Nachamu

Torahportion Reform - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
Va-et'chanan Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11

Do Not Make Yourself a Pesel, Lest Torah Become an Idol
D'var Torah By: Shira Milgrom for ReformJudaism.org

In the next parashah, Moses will tell the Israelite people: "Thereupon the Eternal One said to me, 'Carve out two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me on the mountain; and make an ark of wood. I will inscribe on the tablets the commandments that were on the first tablets that you smashed, and you shall deposit them in the ark.' . . . . After inscribing on the tablets the same text as on the first—the Ten Commandments that the Eternal addressed to you on the mountain out of the fire on the day of the Assembly—the Eternal gave them to me" (Deuteronomy 10:1-4).

Our parashah, Va-et'chanan, contains this second text of the Ten Commandments. One would expect a perfect replica of the first set, an exact repetition, as Moses and God both promise. It is startling and wonderful to see that the texts are not identical. Traditional commentary,1 encoded in L'cha Dodi, tells us that both versions of the commandment to observe the Shabbat are uttered in the same instant by God (shamor v'zachor b'dibur echad); the single Divine word shatters into countless sparks as when a hammer strikes the anvil. Biblical criticism 2 teaches that the (edited) text we have before us is made up of different versions of our sacred narratives. Either way, the Torah pushes back against the notion that there could ever be a singular version of Divine truth. Divine truth is always beyond human grasp; the pure light of the Divine is necessarily refracted by human experience into countless colors.

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Shabbat Nachamu

Torahportion Recon - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
Va-et'chanan Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11

By Rabbi Lewis Eron for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

Our Sustaining Hope
The great miracle of Jewish survival is not that we survived great tragedies. It is that we survived as a community ever faithful to its vision of a better world for us and for all people and not as an angry and embittered tribe.

When we look at Jewish responses to the tragedies of our past, what emerges is that despite the great disasters, the unbelievable suffering, the unbearable pain, and the overwhelming sense of loss, we never believed that our God abandoned us. We never gave up hope.

When we asked where our God was, our response was that God is with us in our suffering. We did not feel alone but sensed that even after the fall of Jerusalem and through all the centuries of wandering, the Holy One went into exile with us to comfort us, inspire us, and give us hope.

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Shabbat Nachamu

Torahportion Conserv - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
Va-et'chanan Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11

This week's commentary was written by Rabbi Mychal B. Springer, director of the Center for Pastoral Education and the Helen Fried Kirshblum Goldstein Chair in Professional and Pastoral Skills, JTS.

The dreaded has happened. The inconceivable has come to pass. The Temple has been destroyed. Our center is no more. Our sense of safety is shattered. The world is no longer familiar. We are in a place of disorientation. So this Shabbat we begin the hard work of consolation: Nachamu, nachamu ami ("Comfort, oh, comfort My people, Says your God" [Isa. 40:1]). These are the opening words of this week's haftarah portion. Each week, for seven weeks, we will receive another haftarah of consolation, until we reach Rosh Hashanah. The number seven conveys completeness, like the seven days of the week. Like the seven days of shiv'ah. Consolation cannot happen in one brief moment. It is a process, a journey. How is it that consolation does happen?

There are three verses in the haftarah that stand out as offering great insight into the dynamics of consolation:

A voice rings out: "Proclaim!"
Another asks, "What shall I proclaim?"
"All flesh is grass,
All its goodness like flowers of the field:
Grass withers, flowers fade
When the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Indeed man is but grass:
Grass withers, flowers fade—
But the word of our God is always fulfilled!" (Isa. 40:6-8)
These verses contain a dialogue between two voices. They can be understood as the voices of the Prophet and God, the voices of two angels, the voices of two people, or the conflicting voices inside a single individual.

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Fresh Ink For Me

Teens - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
Four years of Fresh Ink for Teens made me a confident writer and affirmed my commitment to Judaism.
Lizzie Zakaim

Four years have passed by in the blink of an eye. All too recently I was a hesitant freshman, discovering my niche in a diverse habitat — public high school — after popping my 10-year bubble of Jewish day school. In high school I encountered many people and many conversations about my customs: Why can’t I hang out on Saturdays? Why do I label my containers “meat” and “milk?” Do I own a dairy farm? I was learning how to cope with my new world, and I eventually found solace in writing. I have since adapted to my diverse atmosphere and wrote about some of my experiences as a Jew in public school (“Discussing God in the Chemistry Lab” and “Confessions of a Day School Dropout”). I am fortunate to have nine articles and one poem published on Fresh Ink for Teens.

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How academic efforts to boycott Israel harm our students

Students - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
By Jill S. Schneiderman, Opinion for The Washington Post

In March 2014, I and my co-teacher stood with 27 Vassar College students at the sparkling Auja Spring in the parched West Bank of the Palestinian territories. We listened attentively as environmental educators from the Auja Eco Center and a Palestinian graduate student from Al-Quds University explained the Auja village’s dependency on this sole water source. Sadly, this learning experience almost didn’t happen. My colleague and I were nearly prevented from embarking on the trip by opposition from a surprising source: the faculty and students of our own academic institution.

I am a tenured geology professor at Vassar , an elite liberal-arts school . I research, teach and write about the complex and intimate connections between land and water resources and social justice. For the study trip I led to Israel and the Palestinian territories, I created a syllabus designed to explore difficult issues and engage diverse perspectives that was vetted by Vassar’s faculty and administration. I have successfully led numerous similar trips to locations such as the Appalachian Mountains and the Mojave Desert. My modest goals for such trips are to impart knowledge and share experiences with my students that can be realized only by traveling to the regions we are examining. In studying arid regions without seeing the situation with their own eyes, it is difficult for students from places where water is relatively abundant to think about solutions to the problems that occur when local residents must share a meager supply.

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Jill S. Schneiderman is a professor of earth science at Vassar College.

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LGBT - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
By Paula Sinclair for Keshet

In what feels like eons before “Moppa” (the nickname given to Jeffrey Tambor’s transgender character on the Golden-Globe winning show Transparent), before Janet Mock and Laverne Cox helped to bring #GirlsLikeUs and transgender issues into the mainstream media, and before 17 million people huddled around their televisions as Bruce Jenner came out as transgender on a national platform, Barack Obama appointed Amanda Simpson, a transgender Jewish woman, to hold an executive branch position.

In 2010, Simpson became the first openly transgender woman appointed by any administration.

She held the position of Senior Technical Adviser in the Bureau of Industry and Security at the U.S. Department of Commerce until she moved to the Pentagon in 2013.

Simpson now works as the Executive Director of the U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives (OEI) where her work centers on renewable energy projects. Simpson is helping to pave new inroads to the army for transgender individuals.

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The 9 Stages of Toddler Art

Kids - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
By Lindsey Barnes for Kveller

As little as I know about art, I know this: Art is subjective. If the kid believes it’s “art,” who am I to say otherwise?

If you are now, or have ever been, the parent of a toddler, you know exactly why “art” is in quotes. While these mini-masterpieces take many shapes and forms, few of them are what one might call gallery-ready.

These are the nine phases we go through with our toddler “art.”

1. The Prodigy

It all started when our little geniuses figured out how to hold a crayon properly in their hand… Amazing! With tongue splayed out the side of their mouth, contact was thoughtfully made with the paper. Incredible! Just like that, the first “masterpiece” was created. We cherished that first gem. It got pride of placement on the fridge and ample discussion of its many artistic merits. Should we start saving now for art school?

2. On A Roll

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Less than 2% of the US population is Jewish. So why is 41% of the country’s packaged food kosher?

Traditions - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
By Deena Shanker for qz.com

Considering how few people keep kosher in the US—Jews make up less than 2% of the American population, and only a portion of them follow Jewish dietary laws—it’s fairly astounding that 40% of the country’s packaged food and beverage products are labeled as being kosher. That makes it the top label claim on food and beverages, according to market research firm Mintel, beating out the ever-present “gluten-free” label and even allergen claims.

“Kosher” food meets the broad range of requirements of Jewish dietary laws. The laws define, for example, which animals are and are not allowed to be eaten (cows and chickens are ok, pigs and shellfish are not), as well as how the animals are slaughtered, and how their meat is prepared; the laws also lay out which foods can and cannot be mixed (no meat with dairy, for example), and even, when it comes to wine, who is allowed to touch it.

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Mr. Sinatra Adored Israel, and Israel Adored Him Back

Jewish Music - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
The Chairman of the Board died 17 years ago today. In his centennial year, a tour of his deep-seated Zionism.
By Shalom Goldman for Tablet

2015 is the year of the Frank Sinatra Centennial, and though the great singer’s 100th birthday won’t be marked until December, it seems only proper to remember the Chairman of the Board’s deep and abiding commitment to Israel, which he saw as an integral part of the chain of liberal causes that he supported throughout his career. His activities on behalf of the Jewish state started with smuggling money to the Haganah under the British Mandate. Starting in the 1950s, his records and films were banned in Arab counties because of his sympathies with Zionism. He performed for IDF troops, and in the 1970s and ’80s he raised millions of dollars for student centers in Nazareth and Jerusalem.

Sinatra’s initial visit to Israel came in 1962, as part of his first world tour. At the height of his popularity, his managers wanted him to embark on a series of concerts that would take him as far as Japan. Sinatra also had personal reasons for touring: His falling out with the recently elected JFK and the rest of the Kennedy clan, due to a combination of Sinatra’s volatile temper and allegations concerning the singer’s links to organized crime, hurt him deeply. Sinatra turned toward reviving his own career and stepped up his charitable work, which his managers hoped would “temper the image of the flip playboy.”

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Challah Hot Dogs

Jewish Cooking - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
By Shannon Sarna on The Nosher for MyJewishLearning.com

Its officially hot dog season if ever there was one, and I freely admit: I love hot dogs. I have even found a way to combine a love of hot dogs with a love of challah with my famous challah dogs.

What are challah dogs you might be wondering? Well it’s my answer to the bagel dog, or the pretzel dog. And one of the great things about this recipe is you can use any challah recipe you prefer. The key is rolling your challah into roughly 3 oz size pieces and then snaking it around the hot dogs. I brush them simply with a beaten egg before adding toppings.

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To the Woman at Target Who Shamed Me & My Son

Family - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
Rachel Wallenstein for Kveller

Out of the corner of my eye, as I was pushing my cart with my shrieking 3.5-year-old to our car in 86 degree heat, I saw you watching me. I promptly forgot, though, as I was hyper focused on getting my son safely in the car to calm down.

When you knocked on my window, as I was about to start driving, I hesitated because I had a feeling I knew why you were there. Still, I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt; maybe you needed some help. The pamphlet on “Discipline” that you tried to give me, and then–when I declined–placed on my windshield, made me laugh heartily. Especially because after you first tried to hand it to me, I simply said, “No thanks, my son has autism and is having a meltdown–not a tantrum.” Then you said, “It still applies.”

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The Jewish comic-book revolutionary behind Mad magazine

Jewish Books - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
A new biography of Harvey Kurtzman pays tribute to the Jewish artist’s genius but struggles to escape the long shadow of his days at Mad magazine in the 1950s, much like Kurtzman himself.
By Akin Ajayi for Haaretz

“Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created MAD and Revolutionized Humor in America,” by Bill Schelly, Fantagraphics Books, 644 pages, $34.99

Sometime in 1988, Harvey Kurtzman invited Art Spiegelman to guest-lecture at his cartooning class at New York’s School of Visual Arts. Spiegelman was already a leading light of the alternative comics movement (he’d win a Pulitzer Prize, in 1992, for “Maus”), and it was expected that he would talk about his career. But instead, Spiegelman turned the spotlight around, talking about the inspiration for his comic-book career – Kurtzman himself.

Spiegelman ran through Kurtzman’s early successes, but talked most about Kurtzman’s greatest contribution to comic books, as the creator of Mad magazine (he would later document the afternoon, comic strip-style, in a New Yorker tribute shortly after Kurtzman’s death in 1993). “Mad was an urban junk collage that said ‘Pay attention! The mass media are lying to you … including this comic book!’” Spiegelman told the class. “I think Harvey’s Mad was more important than pot and LSD in shaping the generation that protested the Vietnam War.”

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We Just Don't Want a Bris

Interfaith - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
Seesaw in the Jewish Daily Forward

I was raised Conservative but in a kind of just going through the motions way. I never really clicked with Judaism, and it surprised nobody when I married a non-Jew. We had a rabbi officiate our wedding, but not for spiritual reasons. We just liked some of the fun Jewish traditions, and also couldn’t come up with a better alternative, and knew the rabbi would make my family happy.

Now I am pregnant with a boy and my family is putting pressure on me to have a bris. I will circumcise him in the hospital, but I just feel no need to have a whole ceremony and party a week after I give birth. The reality is, it means nothing to me and I don’t feel like I should have to do this just for my parents. We aren’t going to raise him Jewish, so there is no point in pretending we are at the beginning. Seesaw, how can I get my parents to understand that I just don’t care about being Jewish?

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Billy Rose Was Showman, Patriot — and Zionist Hero

Holidays - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
With no Jewish holidays coming up immediately, we bring you profiles of some well known and some not so well known Jews. Enjoy.

On August 3, 1964, Billy Rose suspected that Teddy Kollek, the future mayor of Jerusalem then working in the Israeli prime minister’s office, was harming his shot at immortality. Rose was furious. His plan for a sculpture garden at the Israel Museum, which turned 50 on May 11, was not just another chance for fame.

Rose knew about fame. Over the past 35 years three movie studios had paid for the rights to his name and life story, and three publishers tried to produce his biography. He had starred on his own television show, written a best-selling memoir, produced a syndicated column that ran in 300 newspapers in 38 countries, attached his name to some of the most popular entertainments of the mid-20th century, married first one of the most famous women in America and next one of the most beautiful, and was steady copy for the scores of columnists, newspapers and magazines that wrote about Rose the songwriter, nightclub owner, theatrical producer, impresario of spectaculars, art collector, stock market investor and multimillionaire.

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Israeli Researchers Working on Innovative Project to End Global Water Shortage

Going Green Jewishly - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
Researchers from Ben-Gurion University, Technion, Hebrew University, and Australia’s Monash University are working to develop “water sensitive cities
By: Maayan Jaffe, JNS.org, in ShalomLife.com

California headlines this month scream “water shortage”—but the shortage is not limited to the western United States. According to a recent report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, while the demand for freshwater resources is increasing, the supply remains constant and many regions are starting to feel the pressure. The report states that water managers in 40 of 50 states expect water shortages in some portion of their states within the next 10 years.

Amid this grave prognosis, a new Israeli research project might make the Jewish state an important part of the solution.

In what is arguably one of the most innovative water research consortiums to date, researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Australia’s Monash University are working to develop “water sensitive cities.” The description for the project, which is funded by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), says that water sensitive cities adopt and combine decentralized and centralized water management solutions to deliver water security. The data gathered from the project may be used to support development of urban master plans in cities in Israel and around the world.

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Lilith, Lady Flying in Darkness

Feature Article - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 7:00am
The most notorious demon of Jewish tradition becomes a feminist hero
By Rabbi Jill Hammer for MyJewishLearning.com

“Half of me is beautiful

but you were never sure which half.”

            Ruth Feldman, “Lilith”

Lilith is the most notorious demon in Jewish tradition. In some sources, she is conceived of as the original woman, created even before Eve, and she is often presented as a thief of newborn infants. Lilith means “the night,” and she embodies the emotional and spiritual aspects of darkness: terror, sensuality, and unbridled freedom. More recently, she has come to represent the freedom of feminist women who no longer want to be “good girls.”

Biblical and Talmudic Tales of Lilith
The story of Lilith originated in the ancient Near East,where a wilderness spirit known as the “dark maid” appears in the Sumerian myth “The descent of Inanna” (circa 3000 BCE). Another reference appears in a tablet from the seventh century BCE found at Arslan Tash, Syria which contains the inscription: “O flyer in a dark chamber, go away at once, O Lili!”

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Shabbat Chazon

Torahportion Reform - Mon, 07/20/2015 - 7:00am
Devarim, Deuteronomy 1:1–3:22

Tishah B'Av: Words and VisionsBy Rabbi Lisa Edwards for ReformJudaism.org
Rabbi Oren Hayon teaches: "Reading Deuteronomy is a very different experience from reading the rest of Torah. Here, the omniscient narrator of the earlier books has vanished, replaced abruptly by Moses's subjective voice. Deuteronomy, as its Greek name indicates, is a second telling: Moses's own reiteration of earlier events. In this book, we experience the Jewish past only through Moses's narrow perspective, which frustrates and disorients us at times. And yet it is this particular characteristic of Deuteronomy that makes it deeply relevant and meaningful for the formation of spirituality in a postbiblical diaspora."

Rabbi Hayon reminds us that Moses narrates the Book of Deuteronomy. Here at the end of the forty years in the wilderness, just before his own death, Moses gives his "own reiteration of earlier events." Also important is that in Deuteronomy, Moses speaks not to the generation that came with him out of Egypt but to the children of those people (and to us). If you've ever eagerly (or sleepily) listened to your grandparents reminisce about their lives, you get the picture.

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Shabbat Chazon

Torahportion Recon - Mon, 07/20/2015 - 7:00am
Devarim, Deuteronomy 1:1–3:22

Rabbi Richard Hirsh for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
Shabbat HazonThis week's Torah portion is Devarim, the opening section of the last book of the Torah known in English as Deuteronomy. This Shabbat, however, is known as Shabbat Hazon, after the opening words of the special Haftara reading: "Hazon Y'Shayahu", "[This is] the vision of [the prophet] Isaiah".

The origins of the tradition of the Haftara, the supplementary biblical reading associated with the weekly Torah portion, are obscure. Normally, the selection is tied to the content of the Torah portion, or to a key word or personality found in the Torah reading.

However, the rhythm of the Jewish calendar also helps to determine the Haftara reading, as is the case this week. This Shabbat comes just before the mid-summer fast day of Tisha B'Av on which we commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (586 BCE and 70 CE). It is the last of three special Haftaras of "rebuke", in which the prophets of ancient Israel warn the people to repent lest their sins bring national ruin.

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Shabbat Hazon

Torahportion Conserv - Mon, 07/20/2015 - 7:00am
Devarim, Deuteronomy 1:1–3:22

This week’s commentary was written by Rabbi Daniel Nevins, Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School and dean of the Division of Religious Leadership, JTS.

What is your vision of a righteous city? This is an important question, because this week is known as Shabbat Hazon, the Sabbath of Vision, and the vision offered by our prophets is that of a city that has gone astray, abandoning the path of righteousness. In our haftarah, the book of Isaiah opens with the chilling depiction of a “faithful city” (kiryah ne’emanah) that has become distorted into harlotry. What sins does Isaiah associate with such faithlessness? It is not ritual error but ethical failure that he decries. If so, then what would a righteous city look like? Is such a vision within our grasp?

Shabbat Hazon leads into the black fast of Tish’ah Be’Av in various ways. The opening chapters of Deuteronomy and Isaiah, which we read this week, set the stage for the calamity that will be described in horrific detail by the book of Lamentations. In Midrash Eikhah Rabbah, we read that three prophets used the language of Eikhah (how?!) to describe the sorrows of Israel. Moses, who saw the people in its glory, asked, “How can I bear their burden alone?” Isaiah, who saw Israel in its fallen state asked, “How did the faithful city become a harlot?” And the book of Lamentations, traditionally attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, saw Jerusalem destroyed and asked, “How did the great city become like a widow?”

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Teen Perspective: Don't Underestimate People With Disabilities

Teens - Mon, 07/20/2015 - 7:00am
Jake Borenstein for The Jewish Week

Editor's Note: As we recognize the 10 companies selected for the Ruderman "Best in Business' award, we are delighted to bring New Normal readers a teen perspective on employment and disability.

Actress Nikki Reed says, "What is important is to treat everyone like an individual and learning not to generalize disabilities.” She experiences autism first hand because her brother has autism. She strongly supports autism awareness and helping people understand that people with disabilities should be able to have a productive place in society.

Young adults with disabilities need jobs in today's workforce.

These kids are much smarter than we credit them for. Different organizations have already been successful incorporating the idea of inclusion, and it would save the government money on Supplemental Security Income Benefits, OR SSI, government funded monthly payments to help out families with disabled family members.

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