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American Jewry's Great Untapped Resource: Grandparents

Mon, 02/08/2016 - 7:00am
They’ve got time, money, and love to spare, and there are more of them than ever. Why isn’t the Jewish community enlisting their help?
Jack Wertheimer for Mosaic

In The Best Boy in the United States of America, the Jewish educator Ron Wolfson pens what amounts to a love letter to his grandparents, whose wise and benevolent influence has continued long after their demise to shape his life, his values, and his loyalties as a Jew. Wolfson’s story has elicited paeans of confirming praise from readers eager to share their own grateful memories of grandparents like his.

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Shabbat not well attended? Five questions to ask

Mon, 02/01/2016 - 7:00am
by Donald H. Harrison for the San Diego Jewish World

SAN DIEGO – If the Shabbat services at your synagogue are not well attended, then you should ask five questions in reexamining how they are conducted, according to Rabbi Steven Wernick, chief executive officer of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Wernick served as scholar in residence Jan. 22-23 at Congregation Beth Am, and also had meetings at other area synagogues including Congregation Beth El and Tifereth Israel Synagogue.

At the latter synagogue, Wernick met with a group of leaders including Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal and members drawn from Tifereth Israel’s Board of Directors, Sisterhood, and Men’s Club.

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Who Owned 'Vexed Man' Sculpture During WWII? Austrian Dispute Hits Getty Museum

Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:00am
Documents sent to the public prosecutor’s office in Vienna suggest that it’s not entirely clear who owned the work before and during the Nazi regime.
Uri Blau for Haaretz.com

A family dispute in Austria raises questions about the ownership history of a famous sculpture purchased eight years ago by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Austrian news magazine News reported Friday that it is not entirely clear who possessed the piece during World War II.

The sculpture in dispute, “Der Verdrüssliche” (“The Vexed Man”), was created by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, a leading Austrian artist of the 18th century. After working for Empress Maria Theresa, making sculptures of her and her husband, Messerschmidt left Vienna and made dozens of sculptures known as “character heads” – works world famous for their awkward faces. 

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Iraq’s Last Jews Need Our Help

Mon, 01/18/2016 - 7:00am
by Tina Ramirez for The National Review

The violent persecution and near genocide of Iraq’s Yazidis and Christians have made headlines around the world. Less well-known is the story of Iraqi Jews, who face near eradication. As millions flee Islamic militants in Iraq, one man has emerged to help rebuild the Jewish remnant.

When I met with Sherzad Omar Mamsani, the Jewish representative to the Kurdish government, in December 2015, he proudly wore his kippah in public — an act of bravery and defiance against those who would see him and his people wiped out in Iraq. He told me that, contrary to reports of only a half dozen, there are as many as 430 Jewish families left in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

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They Were the Good Kids on the Lower East Side

Mon, 01/11/2016 - 7:00am
Laurie Gwen Shapiro for The Jewish Daily Forward   

The three alter kockers looked much younger than their years when they greeted each other at the Seward Park Library on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Mentally sharp, with considerable color in their skin and dyed hair, they seemed giddy that they’d been chosen to be the first formal interview subjects for The New York Public Library’s new oral history project on the Lower East Side. The interview will be catalogued in the Library’s Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, and made available online to the world.

Seven decades had elapsed since my 95-year-old father, Julius, and his sisters Paula “Peshie” and Esther, 92 and 85, had been in this high-ceilinged Lower East Side Renaissance Revival building. The 20,000-square-foot landmark the width of a city block on the eastern side of Seward Park was designed by Babb, Cook & Welch and built in 1909. Two of the architects also designed Andrew Carnegie’s 1901 64-room Carnegie Mansion — better known today as the Cooper Hewitt Museum.

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New Pew report highlights Modern Orthodox Jewry straddling two worlds

Mon, 01/04/2016 - 7:00am
by Jared Sichel for JewishJournal

 Just as Charedi Jews in the United States are likely to enroll their kids in a yeshiva, attend synagogue every week and vote Republican, so too are Modern Orthodox Jews.

But also, just as non-Orthodox Jews in the United States tend not to marry before the age of 25, earn at least a bachelor’s degree and have a significant number of non-Jewish friends, so, too, do the Modern Orthodox.

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Product Labeling, The Newest Attack on Israel

Mon, 12/28/2015 - 7:00am
From Aipac

In November 2015, the European Union (EU) took the calculated step of imposing new labeling guidelines on certain Israeli exports produced in areas that came under Israeli control during the defensive 1967 Six-Day War. Though billed as mere “compliance” with long-standing European policy, the EU’s new foray into labeling marks a significant step in a dedicated campaign to pressure Israel into sensitive, unilateral concessions to the Palestinians. The EU’s action—taken outside the context of peace negotiations—is designed to impose Brussels’ vision of Israel’s future borders. These commercial attacks against Israel increase the prospect of isolating the Jewish state, while strengthening its most vitriolic critics and slowing the pursuit of peace.

Europe has pursued a policy of "differentiation" for nearly a decade—treating Israel as two distinct entities, one legitimate, one not—often cast in the mundane language of law and commerce. To wit, though Israel's first free trade accord was with the European Union, and it remains Israel's largest export market, the EU in 2004 disqualified Israeli exports produced in areas acquired during the Six-Day War from the preferential treatment afforded all other Israeli products.

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Drug for rare muscular dystrophy fast-tracked

Mon, 12/21/2015 - 7:00am
Israeli company BioBlast targets orphan diseases that traditional pharmaceutical companies won’t touch.
By Abigail Klein Leichman for Israel21c

Treatments for extremely rare medical conditions are few and far between. The number of cases of “orphan diseases” doesn’t justify the amount of cash needed to get a pharmaceutical developed, tested and approved.

This is exactly the niche that Tel Aviv-based BioBlast Pharma was created to fill in 2012. Now its three experimental platforms are moving closer to market.

Cabaletta, BioBlast’s lead product for treating two rare and currently untreatable conditions — oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy (OPMD) and spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 (SCA3) — received Fast Track approval in June from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to expedite the drug’s development, review and potential approval specifically for treating OPMD.

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You have to see what was just uncovered in Jerusalem!

Mon, 12/14/2015 - 7:00am
Incredible archaeological discovery brings Bible to life.

Dr. Eilat Mazar has unearthed a new discovery from her latest archaeological excavation in Jerusalem: the bulla of King Hezekiah of Judah. The clay seal stamped with Hezekiah's name was found in the royal quarter of the Ophel and marks Mazar's newest biblically related find.

The inscription on the bulla reads: "Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz, King of Judah."

Watch this video about King Hezekiah's seal.


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Why the Maccabees Aren’t in the Bible

Mon, 12/07/2015 - 7:00am
The books that tell the Hanukkah tale didn't make it into the Hebrew Bible -- but they are in the Catholic one.
By Rachael Turkienicz for MyJewishLearning.com

The First and Second Books of Maccabees contain the most detailed accounts of the battles of Judah Maccabee and his brothers for the liberation of Judea from foreign domination. These books include within them the earliest references to the story of Hanukkah and the rededication of the Temple, in addition to the famous story of the mother and her seven sons. And yet, these two books are missing from the Hebrew Bible.

In order to begin addressing the question of this omission, it is important to understand the formation of the Hebrew biblical canon. The word “canon” originally comes from the Greek and means “standard” or “measurement.” When referring to a scriptural canon, the word is used to designate a collection of writings that are considered authoritative within a specific religious group. To the Jewish people, the biblical canon consists of the books found in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).

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The new Jewess: A rising generation of actresses overturns old tropes

Mon, 11/30/2015 - 7:00am
by Danielle Berrin for JewishJournal

The year is 1950. The setting is a dimly lit movie studio backlot. It’s the middle of the night, and an attractive young woman named Betty Schaefer is explaining to her screenwriting partner why she became a writer instead of what she really wanted to be — an actress. The movie is “Sunset Boulevard.”

“I come from a picture family,” Schaefer (Nancy Olson) tells Joe Gillis (William Holden). “Naturally, they took it for granted I was to become a great star.  So I had 10 years of dramatic lessons, diction, dancing. Then the studio made a test.  Well, they didn’t like my nose — it slanted this way a little. I went to a doctor and had it fixed.  They made more tests, and they were crazy about my nose — only they didn’t like my acting.”

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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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