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The Pilgrim Family: A Jewish Perspective On Thanksgiving

Mon, 11/23/2015 - 7:00am
Arnold M. Eisen For The Blog/Huffington Post

With assistance from the phenomenal memory of a friend of mine from high school days, I can still recall the essay I wrote for 9th-grade English class about Thanksgiving. "Of Bands and Bullwinkle," I called it, the reference of course being to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and the balloon of my favorite cartoon character. The tone, my friend and I presume, was a combination of mild disapproval that a solemn occasion intended for the collective expression of gratitude to God had become a day devoted to parades, football and filling up on turkey--and real affection for the parades, the games, and especially the turkey. Parenthood and middle age have only increased my affection for all three. I liked Thanksgiving a lot when I wrote that piece, and still do.

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For great ideas, visit our Hanukkah Holiday Spotlight Kit

The Talmudury Tales

Mon, 11/16/2015 - 7:00am
Women without underarm hair, transvestites seeking illicit sexual relations, lepers who can’t shave, nazirite gentiles, grape-eaters, and other Chauceresque characters, in this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’
By Adam Kirsch

Literary critic Adam Kirsch is reading a page of Talmud a day, along with Jews around the world.

Throughout Tractate Nazir—whose end Daf Yomi readers approached this week—there has been a very natural assumption that the only people who can become nazirites are Jews. Indeed, it never occurred to me that it could be otherwise: Isn’t naziriteship a part of Jewish law, as laid down in the Torah? Yet in Nazir 61a, the rabbis point out that the textual basis for naziriteship, in the Book of Numbers, is not crystal clear on this point. The subject is introduced with the words, “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When a man or woman shall clearly utter a vow, the vow of a nazirite, to consecrate himself to the Lord.” The phrase “speak to the children of Israel” seems to imply that what is to follow—the rules and restrictions of naziriteship—is intended for Jews only.

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How a Holocaust legacy helped launch the Kind bar brand

Mon, 11/09/2015 - 7:00am
By Gabe Friedman for JTA.org

In many respects, the Manhattan headquarters of Kind Snacks — the purveyors of the omnipresent fruit and nut bars found everywhere from health-food stores to office-supply emporiums — are pretty much what you’d expect: Scads of casually dressed millennials mill about sleek, brightly colored rooms adorned with inspirational quotes from the likes of Desmond Tutu and Groucho Marx.

But step into the office of founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky and there’s a different vibe. The furniture is older, and a Time magazine cover on one wall featuring the face of Anwar Sadat stands out. Lubetzky tells JTA that his desk and the artwork on the walls belonged to his late father, a Holocaust survivor who had a deep effect on his life and business philosophy.

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“What would have been if?” – HaDag Nachash on Rabin z”l

Mon, 11/02/2015 - 7:00am
In collaboration with the Rabin Center, top Israeli band HaDag Nachash have just released a brand new song for Rabin Memorial Day.
Entitled “What would have been if?” the song remembers and laments.

Here is our translation, officially endorsed by the band:
The past we know, some of us even remember
How a few moments after the end of the speeches
We were all as one fixed to the receivers
Until the message reached our ears – and left us without words or utterance
And with a slightly bashful glance we were sucked back into the cycle
Of wounded and licking and wounded and flogging – like a wave

But you should know, that there are moments
When I see high above the Cypress trees
And above the heads of my exhausted People
A bubble floats and inside three words:
“What would have been if?”

The present is known with no need to expand
How it drains and shakes how it pressures with no quiet
And how every winter we race after the left-overs of the left-overs
Because maybe in the summer we’ll be running to the bomb-shelters

But know that there are moments
In which I see high above the Cypress trees
And above the heads of my exhausted People
A floating tear and inside three words:
“What would have been if?”

And our untrustworthy future what does it have in store
What more can it bury
Your Six Days blossomed a hundredfold
And nowadays not only we declare victory
And to think that you had the courage to change
And to think you knew how to plant hopes
And to think that you raised up to fly and went far enough to see
And to think that you managed to understand:
“What would be if…?”

On eve of biennial, 9 things to know about Reform Judaism

Wed, 10/28/2015 - 12:38pm
By Uriel Heilman for JTA.org

Some 5,000 Reform Jews will gather Nov. 4-8 in Orlando, Florida, for the biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism. With about one in three American Jews identifying as Reform, the movement constitutes America’s largest Jewish religious denomination. Read on for more about the movement, its leadership, and its connections to Cincinnati, Detroit, Scarsdale, New York, and, yes, Mattoon, Illinois.

1. The movement is led by a pilot and a dancer — both from Scarsdale

Two of Reform’s three main institutions, the Union for Reform Judaism, the congregational arm, and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the flagship rabbinic school, are led by men who hail from the same synagogue: Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale. Both men, rabbis Rick Jacobs of the URJ and Aaron Panken of HUC, also have unconventional hobbies. Panken is a licensed commercial pilot and has a degree in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University. Jacobs, who stands 6-foot-4, is a former dancer and choreographer.

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Does Synagogue Have To Be So Boring?

Mon, 10/26/2015 - 7:00am
The Seesaw for The Jewish Daily Forward   

I’m engaged to a Jewish woman who I have been dating for seven years. I’ve observed a lot of holidays over the years with her and her family and I love every minute of it. I’m even in charge of matzo ball soup now at Passover.

Last year she said I might try coming to synagogue with her more often. There is no expectation for me to convert, but she just wants me to get used to it since we will be married by a rabbi and raise our future kids Jewish. (I am a nothing by the way. Wasn’t raised with any religion.) So here’s my problem: I love Judaism at home but just can’t get into services — which are Reform. I feel like learning enough to really get it enough to even just follow along would take a lot of energy and time, and I just don’t have it in me. And it’s not the praying to God thing, because that I can deal with, but more just a feeling of being really confused and bored for an hour or two and not feeling it at all.

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A Conversation With Gillian Laub

Mon, 10/19/2015 - 7:00am
The photographer talks about ‘Southern Rites,’ her HBO documentary and companion book project about racial tensions in small-town Georgia
By Elisa Albert for Tablet Magazine

For her HBO documentary Southern Rites, photographer Gillian Laub spent 12 years getting to know the community of Mount Vernon, Georgia, home of one of the last segregated proms in America. Laub was first sent to photograph the town’s segregated homecoming parade for Spin magazine, which had received a letter from a disgruntled high-school student begging the media to pay some attention. Many in town were not thrilled to have a photographer on the scene. The homecoming eventually integrated, but the prom remained stubbornly segregated. The situation so haunted Laub that she returned many times on her own over the following decade-plus. What unfolded thereafter—including the killing of a young, unarmed black man by a much older white man, and a campaign for sheriff that left a beloved black candidate mysteriously not victorious—came as a shock to Laub. Produced by John Legend, the documentary premiered in May. Jon Stewart called it “affecting,” and the New York Times said it was “riveting.” Now Laub has published a book with the same title, which, in addition to showcasing her nuanced photographs, uses artifacts, letters, transcripts, and narrative to further illuminate the story of a community rife with injustice, complicity, and occasionally some hope as well.

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The Twilight of French Jewry, the Twilight of France

Mon, 10/12/2015 - 7:00am
French Jews are emigrating to Israel by the tens of thousands. Their departure isn’t just about them; it’s about the end of the French idea.
Alain El-Mouchan for Mosaic

“If 100,000 Frenchmen of Spanish origin were to leave, I would never say that France is no longer France. But if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.” Thus declared Prime Minister Manuel Valls to the National Assembly in January 2015, within days of the homicidal jihadist attacks in Paris on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and at a kosher supermarket.

What prompted this impassioned declaration? It is true enough that increasing numbers of French Jews have been leaving for Israel. In the past five years alone, more than 20,000 have done so, and since 2012 the annual figures have been moving steadily upward. Still, the French Jewish population, standing at about 480,000, remains the largest in Europe, and the latest surge, following as it does upon earlier, smaller movements of French Jews to Israel, is a far cry from the Prime Minister’s alarmed figure of 100,000. Is so massive an outflow really imminent, and, no less important, is there a sense in which the departure of a cohort of 100,000 Jews would truly mean the failure of the French political model of republican governance—that is, of France itself?

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Jewish Routes // San Francisco

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 7:00am
by Sala Levin for Moment Magazine

San Francisco, the gleaming mecca of all things tech, got its big break during another era of innovation: the Gold Rush of the mid-19th century. Before then, several hundred people lived in Yerba Buena, which became San Francisco in 1847, after the territory was seized by the United States during the 1846 Mexican-American War. After gold was discovered in 1848, the population began to explode. Jews were among the first people to arrive; coming mostly from Bavaria, they sought both to escape anti-Semitism at home and to set up new businesses in a just-beginning-to-boom town. “In many ways, they were the founders of San Francisco,” says Jackie Krentzman, executive producer of American Jerusalem, a documentary film about San Francisco’s Jewish history.

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Hospitality on Sukkot - Ushpizin

Mon, 09/28/2015 - 7:00am
From the iCenter

One of the shalosh ha'regalim (שלוש הרגלים, "three pilgrimage festivals"), Sukkot is rich with customs, symbols and a long list of mitzvot to fulfill. Of these mitzvot, hachnasat orchim (הכנסת אורחים, "welcoming guests") and matan tzedakah l'aniyim (מתן צדקה לעניים, "giving tzedakah to the poor") – while important all year round – are given special importance during Sukkot.

Sukkot is associated with hospitality. We welcome friends, family, and the community into our sukkah and we visit others. We eat, we sleep, we study, and we spend seven days and nights in the company of neighbors and friends.

We also invite Ushpizin (Aramaic for "guests"). According to tradition, each sukkah is blessed with visits by seven honored guests, shepherds of the nation: Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. A more modern tradition is to invite the Ushpizot: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Avigail, Hannah, Huldah, and Esther. The Usphizot were chosen based on the Babylonian Talmud, which lists seven biblical women who were prophetesses.

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For more information and ideas visit our High Holidays Spotlight Kit

The Personal Prayer at the Heart of the High Holy Days

Mon, 09/21/2015 - 7:00am
“Here am I, poor in deeds,” it begins. Where did it come from and, more importantly, what does it say to us?
Atar Hadari for Mosaic

Just before the start of the musaf (“additional”) service in Ashkenazi synagogues on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the prayer leader chants a personal entreaty begging God to be merciful to His people, gathered at this season in repentance of their sins. The prayer is known by its opening words hineni he’ani mimaas, “Here am I, poor in deeds. . . .”  In all of halakhic literature there seems to be only one reference to it, by Rabbi Ephraim Zalman Margolis of Galicia (1762–1828), who wrote:

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 The High Holidays are upon us, check out our High Holidays Spotlight Kit

What millennials believe

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 7:00am
By Cristela Guerra for The Boston Globe

FRIDAYS AT DUSK, Casper ter Kuile, 28, begins his “tech Sabbath.” He puts his iPhone away. He lights a candle and sings a song. From sunset to sunset, he unplugs from technology and reconnects IRL, “in real life.”

This ritual is how he resets after the work week. It’s a time to walk, read, and meditate. It’s also part of his training as a minister for non-religious people. In conversations and relationships, ter Kuile, a master’s candidate at Harvard Divinity School, seeks substance and depth beyond the digital realm.

Like nearly one in three millennials, ter Kuile is not affiliated with an individual house of worship. He loves to create communities of meaning and belonging, but hasn’t found a home inside an established church. He might find fulfillment in reading Harry Potter as a sacred text, as he will at a book club he’s leading every Wednesday starting Sept. 30 at the Harvard Humanist Hub. Or discussing the significance of gratefulness at Thanksgiving.

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For Orthodox, Addiction Is Unspoken Problem

Mon, 09/07/2015 - 7:00am
Rachel X. Landes for The Jewish Daily Forward

On the surface, Asher Ehrman had a great childhood in Monsey, New York. Growing up in an Orthodox family, his parents loved him and his sister. It had its ups and downs, but until he was about 13 or 14, he really couldn’t complain.

But then he came home wearing a blue shirt instead of the usual white and his parents kicked him out of the house to protect his sister’s shidduch , or marriage prospects and future. Ehrman went to live with his friend, whose mother took him in for the next three years.

Ehrman says, “Life is a bit of a blur from then on.”

At 19, Ehrman smoked marijuana for the first time, and within six months he was popping Adderall pills, and then Oxycontin.

He says now that he fell into the wrong crowd, but at the time he really didn’t think so. After all, “they were all guys in yeshiva,” Ehrman said.

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What Does it All Mean? Glossary of Jewish & Hebrew Words

Mon, 08/31/2015 - 7:00am
From Mazeltot.org

Latke? Mechitza? Mohel? What does it all mean?
Here we offer definitions of some Jewish and Hebrew words you may have heard before. If there's a word you'd like defined, email Josh Gold. For more information about Jewish holidays, terminology and teachings, visit www.myjewishlearning.com.

Aleph-bet: The Hebrew alphabet

Aliyah: The honor of being called up in synagogue to read from the Torah - or - a term used to describe Jewish immigration to Israel

Avodah: Work, often used in reference to work that serves God

Bar/Bat Mitzvah: A 13 year old Jewish boy or girl who is seen as an adult in the eyes of the Jewish community - or - a religious ceremony in which a 13 year old boy or girl reads from the Torah and/or leads a prayer service for the first time

Birkat Hamazon: Grace after meals

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Named for Fiddler on Roof’s Anatevka, new village to house Ukraine Jewish refugees

Mon, 08/24/2015 - 7:00am
Fleeing conflict, 100 residents set to move in next month; Kiev rabbi raises $6 million for first phase

A prominent Ukrainian rabbi and Israel’s ambassador to Kiev attended the groundbreaking ceremony for a village for Jewish refugees from the conflict raging in eastern Ukraine.

At the ceremony earlier this month near the village of Gnativka, which is located 15 miles from the country’s capital, Israeli Amb. Eliav Belotserkovsky watched as cement trucks poured the foundations for the village, where 100 new residents are expected to settle next month, the village’s initiator, Rabbi Moshe Azman, said Friday.

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Israel and Japan Are Finally Becoming Friends. Why?

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 7:00am
After decades of wariness, the two nations are being drawn together by common interests and shared fears.
By Arthur Herman for Mosaic

Walk down a side street in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol and you may came across a group of students chatting loudly in Hebrew as they review their Bible lessons of the day. Hardly an extraordinary sight in Israel—except that these aren’t Israelis. They’re young Japanese on student visas who have assumed hybrid names like Asher Sieto Kimura and Suzana Keiren Mimosa. And they’re Makuyas: members of a Japanese religious group that’s been fervently supportive of Israel since 1948.

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‘Commie Camp’ Documentary Captures Camp Kinderland’s Idealism, and Its Imperfections

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 7:00am
Once a utopian getaway for children of socialists and left-wing organizers, the camp remains an essential haven for ‘weird Jews’
By Nona Willis Aronowitz for Tablet

A 12-year-old professes his love for the Marx Brothers and Buster Keaton. A middle-schooler defines the “buffer zone” mandated around an abortion clinic, a regulation won by the Center for Constitutional Rights. A 9-and-a-half-year-old explains that Hannah Senesh “went to Pakistan during World War II, and she parachuted into Hungary and tried to save her country, but she got caught by the Nazis and was killed.”

These are a few of the slightly dorky, very adorable, comically precocious city kids at the heart of Commie Camp, a new documentary about a Jewish socialist summer camp in the Berkshires called Camp Kinderland, premiering June 28 at VisionFest. OK, so the kids get a few facts wrong (Hannah Senesh went to Palestine, not Pakistan). But, in the words of Katie Halper, a Kinderland veteran and the film’s director: “How many female anti-fascist paratroopers who suffered capture, torture, and death in an attempt to free her country from Nazi invasion can you name?”

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