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What We Lose As The Diaspora Shrinks

Mon, 04/25/2016 - 7:00am
By Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, Special To The Jewish Week

Back in my lithe teenage years, I used to Israeli dance with the best of them — that is, whenever I wasn’t nursing a sprained ankle caused by my congenital flat-footedness. OK, I admit it; while I thought I was pretty good, I reminded people less of Rudolph Nureyev than those dancing hippopotami in “Fantasia.” In fact, it was my stirring rendition of a gushing water sprinkler in Hora Mamtera that convinced the Israeli government to go all-in for drip irrigation. But I loved Israeli dance nonetheless.

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Was There an Exodus?

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 7:00am
Many are sure that one of Judaism’s central events never happened. Evidence, some published here for the first time, suggests otherwise.
Joshua Berman for Mosaic

To this day, no pulpit talk by a contemporary American rabbi has generated greater attention or controversy than a sermon delivered by Rabbi David Wolpe on the morning of Passover 2001. “The truth,” Rabbi Wolpe informed his Los Angeles congregation, “is [that] the way the Bible describes the exodus [from Egypt] is not the way it happened, if it happened at all.”

Beyond dropping a theological bombshell, the sermon ushered in a new era, one in which synagogue-attending Jews could increasingly expect to be confronted with the findings of academic study of the Bible. To Rabbi Wolpe, intellectual honesty mandated that, with respect to the exodus in particular, these findings be not only confronted but embraced, and it was the duty of spiritual leaders like himself to help the faithful assimilate them.

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Why Do We Eat Coconut Macaroons on Passover?

Mon, 04/11/2016 - 7:00am
By Aly Miller in The Nosher for MyJewishLearning.com

Few foods represent Passover as much as a box of matzah, gefilte fish, and those dense and chewy coconut macaroons. Most foods at the seder have symbolic ties to the story of Passover, or at least to a traditional Eastern European or Sephardic recipe. But not so for coconut macaroons. How did these tropical coconut-based treats make their home on the Passover grocery store shelf?

With some recipe sleuthing, linguistic investigation, and history lessons, we might just get to the bottom of this Passover mystery.

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Exhibit shows new works by iconic photographer who immortalized pre-WWII Jewry

Mon, 04/04/2016 - 7:00am
Roman Vishniac retrospective at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum includes never-before-seen footage of 1939 Poland
By Lisa Klug for The Times of Israel

When Roman Vishniac began documenting impoverished Jewish communities with his camera in 1935, he unwittingly sealed his photographic legacy by capturing a rare glimpse into a world that was soon to disappear.

On the eve of World War II, while on assignment for the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), Vishniac created what would become the most widely recognized and reproduced photographic record of European Jewry. In the many decades since they were first distributed, his iconic black-and-white images continue to capture the public’s interest with their portrayal of a vanished world.

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What happened to the Jewish orphans who were brought to Britain in 1945?

Mon, 03/28/2016 - 11:14am
The stories of the 732 orphans - of which only 80 were girls - who were taken in by the British government are now being recorded in 'Memory Quilts' at the Jewish Museum
By Jenni Frazer for The Telegraph

Bela Rosenthal was three years old when she came to Britain in August 1945. She spoke no English and even her German was limited to a few words, dog and soup.

Born in Berlin, Bela, was the youngest of six Jewish orphans liberated from the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia in April 1945.

Her mother – whose name the toddler didn’t even know until years later – had died in the camp in March 1944, her father had been killed in Auschwitz the year before. In June 1945, the six were taken to houses outside Prague, while the Red Cross searched to see if there were still any surviving relations of the children.

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With 75% non-Jewish students, Utah’s Jewish school seeks to universalize Judaism

Mon, 03/21/2016 - 7:00am
By Uriel Heilman for JTA

SALT LAKE CITY (JTA) – It’s Friday afternoon at the McGillis School in Salt Lake City, and students from the third through fifth grades are gathered for the weekly Shabbat celebration.

They read and discuss a passage about humility by former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Then a blond girl with braided hair prepares to light the candles. A hush falls over the room as the flames are kindled, and the students recite the practiced benediction in unison:

“As we bless this source of light, the warmth these candles bring reminds us of times we gave light and received light,” they sing, followed by a recitation of the traditional Shabbat candle-lighting blessing in Hebrew.

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Uganda Rabbi Wins Opposition Seat in Parliament as Authoritarian Leader Clings to Power

Mon, 03/14/2016 - 7:00am
Sam Kestenbaum for The Jewish Daily Forward   

Far from political discussions about Bernie Sanders and the meaning of secular Jewish socialism, Jewish political history has just been made — in Uganda.

An African Jew, and chief rabbi, no less, has just won a parliamentary seat, a first for the country.

On February 19, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, the spiritual leader of the century-old Abayudaya Jewish community, was named the winner in a heated race among eight candidates, including two main rivals from Uganda’s ruling National Resistance Movement party. Sizomu, who ran with the main opposition party, will represent Bungokho North, a rural district outside the town of Mbale, about an hour’s drive from the Kenyan border.

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Who Was Abba Eban?

Mon, 03/07/2016 - 7:00am
The “voice of Israel,” as David Ben-Gurion dubbed him, was revered abroad, mocked and sidelined at home. A new biography helps explain why.
Neil Rogachevsky for Mosaic

For much of the second half of the 20th century, Abba Eban was one of the world’s most famous Jews. As the first representative of the fledgling state of Israel to the United Nations in 1948, and then as its ambassador to the UN and Washington, Eban shot to prominence through his eloquent defenses of the Jewish state in some of its most perilous early hours. For two decades after 1960, serving as Israel’s on-again, off-again foreign minister, he remained in the eyes of the world the indispensable “voice of Israel,” as David Ben-Gurion had dubbed him. His books on Jewish and Israeli history and a hefty autobiography were best-sellers, and Heritage: Civilization and the Jews, a 1984 public-television series in which he served as both writer and presenter, drew more than 50 million viewers.

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Israelis angels and their Palestinian passengers

Mon, 02/29/2016 - 7:00am
In the midst of a terror wave which has deepened the divide and hatred in the country, some Israelis give renewed hope for a better future – they go into Palestinian territories in their private cars, pick up Palestinian civilians and bring them to Israel for medical treatment.

Linda Lovitch got JerusalemOnline.com

It's cold at the Barta checkpoint in Wadi Ara in the north of Israel. For many, this is the gateway to honor in their lives, for others, it is the gateway to life. Every week,     Amjed, a Palestinian takes his daughter to various therapies and doctor appointments around Israel. When he crosses the checkpoint to Israel, there is always an Israeli waiting there to transport him wherever he needs to go – the checkpoint angels.

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See how teen pals found each other some 50 years later

Mon, 02/22/2016 - 7:00am
By Hillel Kuttler for JTA

The “Seeking Kin” column aims to help reunite long-lost relatives and friends.

As a librarian, Oren Kaplan researches obscure facts and utilizes databases to track down information.

So when the Haifa resident read a recent “Seeking Kin” column about someone in his city, Menahem Orenstein, who hoped to locate a long-lost childhood buddy, Kaplan decided to put his experience to work.

Within a week, Kaplan had located Orenstein’s old friend, David Bak, living in Stockton, California, about 70 miles east of Oakland. That’s Bak, not Beck (remember the names).

Orenstein and Bak, who worked together at a Haifa auto repair shop in the late 1960s while attending technical high schools, expressed delight at reconnecting and hope to meet within a year.

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We Palestinians hold the key to a better future

Mon, 02/15/2016 - 7:00am
Bassem Eid for The Times of Israel

I am a proud Palestinian who grew up in a refugee camp and raised a large family. I want peace and prosperity for my people. I want an end to the misery and the destruction.

After 66 years of mistakes and missed opportunities, it is time for us Palestinians to create the conditions for peace and to work for a better future. It is time that we stopped pretending that we can destroy Israel or drive the Jews into the sea. It is time that we stopped listening to Muslim radicals or Arab regimes that use us to continue a pointless, destructive, and immoral war with Israel.

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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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