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Orthodox feminists say they don’t want a revolution

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 7:00am
Female rabbis and other religious Jewish feminists discuss the need for evolution and patience in the struggle for equal rights
By Amanda Borschel-Dan, The Times of Israel

Women were first counted in prayer quorums in liberal Judaism by the early 1800s. But it took until 1935 for the first female rabbi’s ordination — Regina Jonas in Germany — and another 37 years until the second.

Rabbi Sally Priesand was ordained through the Reform movement in the United States in 1972, followed by Reconstructionist Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso in 1974. By 1985, the Conservative movement followed suit, and there was an international domino effect of first female graduates from each denomination’s rabbinical schools.

For the young graduates, finding a receptive congregation and being hired for a pulpit position was the next hurdle. Even today this proves sometimes insurmountable in more conservative Jewish communities, often, ironically, in the Europe where the first female rabbi was ordained 80 years ago.

But now that women are the majority in seminary classes and lead hundreds of communities around the globe (albeit usually at lower salaries than their male counterparts), what about their sister suffragettes from Modern Orthodoxy who are just getting started on their feminist leadership journeys?

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BACKSTORY Emerson Swift Mahon: Canada’s first black Jew

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 7:00am
Eiran Harris, Special to The CJN

In 1912, a young black man left Grenada in a quest for learning. His voyage led him to Canada and conversion to Judaism.

“May you be written in the book of life in the New Year,” says the greeting in Yiddish on the back of a photograph of a black man in a broad-brimmed hat (see picture on cover).

That man, Emerson Swift Mahon, Canada’s first black Jew, sent the picture with a brief letter to Rabbi Herman Abramowitz of the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue in Montreal.

The letter, dated Nov. 16, 1921, is one of many treasures discovered in the Allan Raymond Collection housed at the Jewish Public Library Archives of Montreal.  Raymond, a historical lecturer, retired from the insurance business to devote his time to the study and collection of Canadian and Canadian-Judaic history. Written in English and Hebrew, the letter is a fascinating glimpse of this remarkable man.

“It is to be regretted that I have neglected my study of Hebrew,” Mahon wrote from Winnipeg to the rabbi. “What with the busy whirl of life...I had almost forgotten the saying of the sage.”

That saying is written in Hebrew. “Whoso forgets one word of his study, him the scripture regards as if he had forfeited his life.”

To be black and Jewish in Canada nearly 100 years ago was both unique and challenging.  To be also literate in Hebrew and Yiddish was an indication of an unusual and determined personality.

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When grandpa was a Nazi

Mon, 03/09/2015 - 7:00am
By Ben Sales for JTA


What do you do if you find out your grandfather was a Nazi officer?

That’s the crisis Jennifer Teege confronted in a Hamburg library in 2008 when she stumbled upon “I Have to Love My Father, Right?” The book was written by her mother, Monika Hertwig, and according to the dust jacket, Hertwig’s father was Amon Goeth, commandant of the Plaszow concentration camp.

Teege, now 44, remembered Goeth from the 1993 film “Schindler’s List,” where he was portrayed by the actor Ralph Fiennes.  As a student, she had taken a particular interest in the Holocaust an even spent four years in Israel. But until that day in the library, she had no idea her grandfather was a Nazi.

“It even got worse by getting this information, to realize that this was not a random man but someone who belonged to my family, someone I had a connection with,” Teege told JTA in an interview at the Jerusalem International Book Fair. “It felt like it was a bad dream.”

Teege’s struggle with her family history is the subject of “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me,” a book she wrote in 2013 that is due out in English this year. Teege was born in southern Germany to a Nigerian father and German mother and the book chronicles her uncovering of her roots and subsequent struggle with what her ancestry means for her own life — particularly as someone whom the Nazis would have persecuted.

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Christians Have Fallen in Love With Queen Esther, Purim’s Jewish Heroine

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 7:00am

In recent novels, sermons, and Bible-study guides, evangelicals and mainline Protestants alike find inspiration in the biblical tale


By Rebecca Phillips for Tablet Magazine

In Hadassah: One Night With the King, a popular 2004 novelization of the Book of Esther, the queen describes her first night alone with the king of Persia. Apparently she had a great time:

    … our mutual hunger raged unchecked—at no time did I even think of demurring or becoming submissive, for my desire for him was genuine. I had fallen in love with him. I had seen past his outer facade … and now I had reached his heart.

This isn’t the same meek, pure Esther most Jews are familiar with from the story of Purim, the woman Jewish girls throughout history have wanted to emulate. This Esther is a bundle of raging hormones, swept away by the handsome and powerful Xerxes (or as Jews know him, Ahasuerus).

But the Esther in this novel is different from the heroine we’re familiar with in another significant way. Later in Hadassah, Esther is depicted on her walk toward Xerxes to request a private banquet with the king and Haman. She teeters between life and death, as anyone who approached the king unbidden risked being put to death immediately. The original telling of this moment in the Bible portrays both Esther’s fortitude and her resignation to her fate: “If I perish, I perish,” she famously says. But in this novel, Esther seems to embrace her possible death:

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For more information, recipes and great ideas for Purim, check out Jvillage's Purim Holiday Kit

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Presenting: A cross between a pomelo and an orange and other novel Israeli produce varieties

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 7:00am
From The Jerusalem Post

Researchers at Israel's Volcani Institute show off their new produce varieties to eager chefs.
Would you like your tomatoes with extra lycopene? How about a sweet, easy-to-peel grapefruit, or even chickpeas that don't make you gassy?

These products - among many others - are what scientists at the Volcani Institute's Agricultural Research Organization (ARO) - the research arm of the Agriculture Ministry - are working on bringing to the market.

At an event for several dozen chefs from around the country, researchers presented their work - and its tasty applications - to an eager and hungry group at ARO's headquarters in Beit Dagan. The cooks from the Israel Chefs Association heard from four scientists about their fields of specialty: fresh herbs, citrus fruits, strawberries and chickpeas.

Dr. Nativ Dudai, who specializes in aromatic and medicinal plants and herbs at ARO's Neve Ya'ar branch and also lectures at the Hebrew University, says the "perrie" basil strain developed by the ARO is the most popular fresh herb in Israel, and also exported overseas.

"It's not just about the quality of the herb, but also their ability to grow year round, and their shelf life," said Dudai.

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A Eulogy for Elsa Cayat, Who Laughed at Her Killers

Mon, 02/16/2015 - 7:00am
Elsa Cayat was a French psychoanalyst and columnist who was murdered in the January 2015 shooting attack on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices. She was the sole female fatality at that terror site

In memory of the murdered ‘Charlie Hebdo’ satirist, book lover, therapist, Jew
By Delphine Horvilleur for Tablet Magazine

The following eulogy was given by Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur at the funeral of Elsa Cayat, in Paris, France, on Jan. 15, 2015. It is reproduced, in a translation from the French, with consent of the family.

Elsa used to begin each of her therapy sessions by saying to her patients: “So, now, tell me!”

So, I would like for us to listen to her invitation to hear other people’s words, and for us to speak, even if this cemetery is so far removed from her disarrayed office, even if the smoke from her cigarette no longer swirls in the air. Let us tell, at this place, who Elsa Cayat was, who she was for her parents, her brothers and sisters, her family, her partner, her nephews, her patients, her colleagues, for her Charlie Hebdo family, for her daughter.

We must tell how exceptionally intelligent this woman was, how vivacious she was in her wit and humor that you all knew. We must tell of the life of a woman who was out of the ordinary, as though we were telling a story—and I think she loved stories. Just as she loved books.

As a teenager she once told her sister: “You ought to read a book a day! Nietzsche, Heidegger, Freud … It doesn’t matter!” That was her minimum diet for culture and for her love of knowledge and for words, as she conceived of them.

Elsa was passionately in love with books, especially detective stories—because she adored plots and novels that you can’t put down and where the endings, she would say, let you “always discover who the killer was, and even his motive.”

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A Marriage That Changed the Course of History

Mon, 02/09/2015 - 7:00am
What Natalie Zemon Davis, pioneering scholar of early modern Europe, owes to her husband, and Martin Guerre
By Rachel Gordan for Tablet Magazine
The story of historian Natalie Zemon Davis, as she tells it, is largely one about the benefits that have accrued to an outsider. Sidelined during the early years of her career, her husband, the mathematician Chandler Davis, was arrested for creating and distributing Communist literature. In fact, in 1952, as a graduate student, Davis herself had done much of the research and writing for a pamphlet attacking the unconstitutional actions of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which was published anonymously by the University of Michigan Council for the Arts, Sciences, and Professions. As Davis later reflected, “the sexism of the House Committee members worked to my advantage in this instance: like legal authorities in early modern Europe, they assumed that if a married couple did something together, only the husband was really responsible.”

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The Top Ten Most Anticipated Jewish Movies Of 2015

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 7:00am
We look at those films coming out this year featuring stellar Jewish acting, directing, and writing
By: Caitlin Marceau for ShalomLife

Although it’s always sad to see another year pass us by, the start of a new calendar one brings with it the promise of new memories to make, resolutions to keep, changes in your life you want to (finally) make and, of course, some exciting new films to get even the most stoic of fans buzzing with excitement.

So sit back, and get pumped, as we countdown the top ten most anticipated movies of 2015 featuring some of the most talented Jewish actors, directors and writers in the business.

10. Insurgent

The second film in the Divergent series, Insurgent, is coming to cinemas this March. The story is the continuation of Tris’ saga to stop the Erudite faction from tearing her society apart, while also coming to terms with the loss of her parents and what it truly means to be divergent. Although many fans of the trilogy were less than enthusiastic about the first film’s adaptation, audiences have high hopes for the second, which features Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort.

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The First Jew Scalped for America: Francis Salvador

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 7:00am
From the Jewish Virtual Library

When we think of Jewish heroes of the American Revolution, Haym Salomon, the "financier" of the patriot cause or Isaac Franks, aide-de-camp to General George Washington, are the first names that come to mind. Rarely do we hear of South Carolina's Francis Salvador, the first identified Jew to be elected to an American colonial legislature, the only Jew to serve in a revolutionary colonial congress and the first Jew to die for the cause of American liberty.

Francis Salvador was born in London in 1747, the fourth generation of Salvadors to live in England. His great grandfather Joseph, a merchant, established himself as a leader of England's Sephardic community and became the first Jewish director of the East India Company. When George III ascended the British throne, Joseph Salvador arranged an audience for the seven-man delegation that officially congratulated the king on behalf of the Jewish community.

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Wagner and the Jews

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 7:00am
Two centuries after the great composer’s birth, his anti-Semitism remains a bitterly contested issue. Perhaps that’s because neither his defenders nor his detractors have come to grips with its, or his, true nature.
By Nathan Shields for Mosaic Magazine

In 2013, as the classical-music world lurched from crisis to crisis, with orchestras on strike and opera companies vanishing into thin air, the bicentennial of the birth of the towering German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) offered a brilliant exception to the prevailing gloom. Productions of his operas filled houses from Seattle to Buenos Aires, and the great companies of Europe and the United States vied to present ever grander stagings of the colossal 15-hour cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. At a time when so many preeminent musical institutions are collapsing into bankruptcy or labor disputes, Wagner is one institution that seems to endure.

Yet Wagner’s powerfully continuing appeal in terms of dollars spent and seats filled is only a part, and the less important part, of his enduring significance. Wagner has always been remarkable not only for the breadth but for the depth of his impact, a depth that can be measured both by the intensity of the devotion that his works inspire and by the fact that his devotees have included many of the intellectual and political elite of Western society. When his fame was at its zenith in the latter part of the 19th century, his most fervent admirers were as varied as the young Friedrich Nietzsche, the poet Charles Baudelaire, and King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who helped to bankroll Wagner’s great festival in the northern Bavarian town of Bayreuth.

Today the Bayreuth festival, dedicated exclusively to Wagner’s works, stands at the apex of German cultural life, counting Chancellor Angela Merkel among its regular guests, while the years surrounding the recent bicentennial witnessed an outpouring of reflections on and encomia to the composer from figures as divergent as the Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek and the Pope.

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Lone Star (of David) Story

Mon, 01/12/2015 - 7:00am
A ‘moving’ tale of a synagogue being trucked across Texas
By Samuel D. Gruber for Tablet Magazine


This is a moving story—really. This past week, during Hanukkah, the 121-year-old wood-frame, clapboard-sided B’nai Abraham synagogue of Brenham, Texas, has been sliced in pieces, trucked across four counties, and re-erected on the Dell Jewish Community Campus in Austin. For the first time in decades the synagogue will host a daily Orthodox minyan and be the central place for an active Texas Jewish community. Brenham native Leon Toubin, whose family has cared for the synagogue since most of Brenham’s Jews moved away, has mixed feelings. He’s devoted himself to keeping the synagogue ready for worship in Brenham but has to admit that Orthodox Jewish life isn’t coming back to the town. Leon is in his 80s, wants to see the old shul be a center for prayer again, and wanted to settle things while there was still time. He decided to look for new options and reached out to the Austin Jewish Federation.

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Lydda, 1948: They were there

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 7:00am
By Martin Kramer for Israel Hayom

Most Israelis know nothing about Ari Shavit's bestselling book, "My Promised Land: The ‎Triumph and Tragedy of Israel." Readers of Haaretz, where he's a columnist, may have seen it ‎mentioned in short articles celebrating Shavit's stateside success. But few Israelis have heard of ‎the book, and I'm guessing that only a handful have actually read it. That is because there is no ‎Hebrew edition.‎

Shavit wrote it in English for an American Jewish audience, upon the suggestion of David ‎Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. Haaretz at first reported that a Hebrew version would appear ‎at the end of 2013, and later that it would be published in the spring of 2014 (by Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir). But ‎while the book has also appeared in Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Hungarian, and Polish, there is no ‎sign of a Hebrew edition.‎

So Israelis have no clue that Shavit has added a massacre in the city of Lydda (Lod) to the litany ‎of Israel's alleged crimes in 1948. That's why I felt privileged to take part in a December 4 panel ‎on the conquests of Lydda and Ramla in 1948, sponsored by the Galili Center for Defense ‎Studies. The chairman of the center, Uzi Arad, suggested that I explain and analyze the claims ‎made by Shavit in his book, which I had already done in English for the web magazine Mosaic. (The ‎organizers also invited Shavit, but he was off collecting accolades in south Florida.)‎

I was youngest participant on the panel, and nearly the youngest person in the lecture hall, which ‎was full of veterans of Lydda and many other battles of 1948. These people are not historians, and ‎they do not necessarily know the big picture of how politics and military operations interacted. ‎They were not commanders (the officers are all gone); they were young soldiers in 1948, at the ‎bottom of the chain of command. They have also read a lot and shared recollections over the past ‎‎60-plus years, so you cannot always tell whether what they say about some episode is first-hand or ‎derives from something they read or heard. Finally, time erodes memory, as some are quite ‎prepared to admit.

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How Not to Help the Ultra-Orthodox

Mon, 12/29/2014 - 7:00am
Liberal democracies like Israel need and depend on pious people. But they don’t need to— and shouldn’t—subsidize grown men for not working.
By Peter Berkowitz for Mosaic Magazine
In the short space of 66 years, Israel has established a kind of polity never before seen in the Middle East, a polity that promises all citizens individual freedom and equality before the law. To an astonishing degree, particularly given the exceedingly dangerous neighborhood in which it dwells, the Jewish state has succeeded.

Not that the dangers, either from without or from within, should ever be discounted. Those from without (Iran, terrorism, the collapse of the Arab state system, stalemate with the Palestinian Authority, and so on) are well known; less so, those from within. Although the Israeli economy has made great strides in shaking off the remnants of its socialist roots, large sectors continue to underperform as government’s heavy hand impedes innovation and stifles competition. In addition, a restive Arab minority, approximately 20 percent of the citizenry, though generally aware that it enjoys the same freedoms enjoyed by Jewish Israelis—freedoms of which Arabs elsewhere in the Middle East can only dream—is increasingly impatient with the underfunding of its communities and its outsider status.

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The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!

Mon, 12/22/2014 - 7:00am
A reanalysis of last year’s important Pew Study contradicts persistent alarmism about ‘vanishing’ American Jewry
By Leonard Saxe for Tablet Magazine


Fifty years ago, Look magazine—the second most widely circulated magazine in America at the time—featured a cover story, “The Vanishing American Jew.” The headline screamed “[n]ew studies reveal loss of Jewish identity, soaring rate of intermarriage,” and readers were told “Judaism may be losing 70 percent of children born to mixed couples.” The now iconic title and headlines notwithstanding, buried in the story was that membership in Jewish congregations and enrollment in Jewish religious schools had reached record levels. But the narrative was unequivocally bleak. A half century later, dire forecasts are again front and center. The release last year of the Pew Research Center’s A Portrait of Jewish Americans has unleashed a tsunami of doom and gloom punditry. With headlines that could have been cut and pasted from “The Vanishing American Jew,” shrill warnings about the dangers of intermarriage and the decline of non-Orthodox forms of Judaism have given rise to a refreshed narrative of a dismal Jewish future. But it is a distorted story.

Ironically, Look magazine folded less than 10 years after “The Vanishing American Jew” appeared. In contrast, the Jewish population has grown and today is expanding at a rate that matches growth in the overall American population. There are now more than 7 million Americans who have Jewish parentage or who converted to Judaism and identify as Jewish. Moreover, the expansion of the Jewish population has been accompanied, particularly over the past 25 years, by substantial growth in the number of Jews who are engaged in Jewish religious life and/or have visited and are involved with Israel.

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From rebbetzin to maharat

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
By Dina Brawer, The Times of Israel

Did I always want to be a rabbi? The answer is no. It never occurred to me.

Growing up I already had a defined, robust role for me to serve my community as a woman. As a Chabad teen, I aspired to be a shlucha emissary, a role that provided a clear path to spiritual leadership – regardless of marital status. As a result, I took up numerous communal responsibilities — from teaching to coordinating a Lag B’Omer parade to designing interactive educational exhibitions – all of them enjoyable and fulfilling. When I later married a rabbi, my position as a shlucha remained unchanged, as did my desire to serve my community. The reason the role of shlucha was so effective in enabling me to serve, therefore, was because it was understood, defined, and clearly labeled.

After five years on shlichut, my husband and I moved to the UK where he took up a position as a congregational rabbi. Over the next fifteen years we served two London congregations. As a rebbetzin, I led community development strategy, counseled congregants, taught Torah — and baked plenty of challah. And yet, while I clearly had carved out a communal role for myself, I couldn’t avoid the nagging feeling that if it weren’t for my husband, I wouldn’t have that role. I felt this most acutely when at events outside the Jewish community. People asked us what we did. My husband replied that he was a rabbi. But what was I? What could I say? A rebbetzin? A rabbi’s wife? That would just beg the question — what exactly does a rabbi’s wife do? My husband’s title could capture, in one word, who he was, whereas I had to spend fifteen minutes explaining what exactly I did.

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Hamas, Inc.-How Hamas Amassed Its Wealth

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 7:00am
Gazans suffer, while their leaders continue to pile up the loot
By Moshe Elad for Tablet Magazine

The idea that hardline Hamas political leaders like Mousa Abu Marzook and Khaled Meshal who order violence in the name of jihad are also canny businessmen who have assembled financial

Nor is the combination of political and military roles with business empires unique to Hamas, or to other Islamist organizations. When I started my job as the Israeli Military Governor of Tyre district during the first Lebanese war and asked to meet with the local police chief, I was told, “He is available only during the morning hours. In the afternoons he takes care of his businesses.” “Businesses?” I wondered. “Yes,” said my informant, “he has a supermarket chain.”

During my two years in Lebanon I learned that almost every local office-holder and officer, whether in the public sector, police, or army, owned a private business. The police commander in question, for example, recommended that citizens who approach the police for help should purchase food from his private stores. Because Western values such as conflict of interests, transparency, and public efficiency are less recognized and less respected in this part of the world, most political leaders in the Middle East see public office as a route to making a fortune, and most of their constituents accept this behavior—with the hope of sharing in even a small part of the leader’s wealth.

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