By Lee Green, DSJV
Two Jewish soccer players — one from Israel the other from Scotland — continue to push toward their goal of a successful career and athletic achievement in the United States.
And senior Paul Sammeroff, along with freshman Ori Ben-Shalom, are getting their kicks out of their University of Alabama at Huntsville Chargers soccer team, heading toward the Gulf South Conference playoffs.
Both are friends on the team and united by several things — the importance of their Judaism, their friendship and their quest for team success as well as a great life in the United States. But with Sammeroff being from Glasgow, Scotland, and Ben-Shalom from Netanya, Israel, both took different paths to the Deep South.
“The people here have been very nice and welcoming. This is like a home to me,” said Sammeroff in a thick Scottish accent. “When I told my mom I wanted to play soccer at a university in the U.S., she said that I shouldn’t go to the South because she didn’t like the accent,” he says tongue-in-cheek. “But I really have adjusted well and the people here are hospitable as well as being great soccer fans.”
Sammeroff said that his only lament about playing soccer in the United States is that it doesn’t have near the overall fan base on the college and pro levels as his native Scotland or other countries. “Over there, people eat and sleep soccer. It is similar to the way people feel about college football in the South, perhaps. I am Jewish first, but soccer is always considered my ‘second religion’,” he said.
In Glasgow, many soccer players were signed to professional development contracts as young as age 13. If a player doesn’t attract that “star” attention before they turn 17, normally, a good bet is to play on the college level in the U.S.
Sammeroff played for the Macabee team in Antwerp for a year and then began researching U.S. schools. He had planned to go Winthrop College in South Carolina, but his plans changed after an ankle injury. Once he healed, he went to a tryout at UAH and there was an immediate fit.
He said people are surprised to meet a Jew from Scotland. In Glasgow, he said, there used to be as many as 6,000 Jews. That number is now about 3,000 and they usually stick to one area of town.
Ben-Shalom’s native Netanya has a population of 200,000, similar to Huntsville, but of course, the Jewish population is much greater than in Huntsville and Glasgow. Ben-Shalom, 24, completed his service in the Israeli Army and then traveled the world for several years. Why did he settle in Alabama?
“UAH has a great academic reputation and I knew I could play with a great soccer team,” said Ben-Shalom, who is majoring in marketing. Sammeroff has a double major in marketing and management.
“I feel very comfortable here. People ask me questions about being Jewish and what is going on in Israel. They have been very welcoming,” he said. “Most of the time they seem to have a pretty good understanding already. But one guy asked me one time if we all ride camels to get around in Israel.”
One guy asked Sammeroff seriously how long it took for him to learn English, to which he retorted humorously, “how long did it take you to learn American?”
“Religion is very important in the South and I have found that people don’t care as much if your religion is different from theirs. They respect you for having strong beliefs and are knowledgeable about other religions,” he said.
Sammeroff and Ben-Shalom spent the High Holy Days with UAH Associate Director of Athletics Michael Altman, who is also Jewish. Once the season is over, Ben-Shalom will also work for Altman in his office, which coordinates all facilities management.
“Of course I knew when Ori came here that he was Jewish. Ori got to know Paul and found out he was Jewish but neither Paul nor I knew the other was Jewish,” said Altman. “After I invited Ori to celebrate the High Holy Days with us, he went back downstairs and then Paul came up yelling ecstatically, ‘I didn’t know you were Jewish! You have to invite me too!’”
The soccer season for UAH runs from August through late October. During that time, especially considering that the team could be on the road for several days a week across the Southeast traveling to games, balancing course work with athletics poses a challenge.
“I am used to traveling a lot so I know how to do as much as you can when you can. We study on the bus going to games a great deal,” said Ben-Shalom.
Sammeroff said that soccer is played just about year-around in Scotland. “I wish the season was longer,” he said, though for the first time in several years UAH’s season will be a bit longer since the Chargers will play in the conference playoffs — and perhaps regional and national if the team qualifies.
He said he coaches a youth soccer team in his free time and he hopes to ultimately go into coaching or perhaps sports marketing and management after he graduates this May. But Sammeroff is not ready to hang up the cleats by any stretch of the imagination.
“I want to continue playing as well as coaching after I graduate. It’s in my blood. I like it in the South and I am strongly considering staying here,” he said.
As for Ben-Shalom, he hasn’t played a lot this season since he is a freshman and is still learning the ropes. But he hopes to earn more playing time and achieve even greater success on the soccer field and in the classroom.
“I am lucky to have this opportunity and I want to make the most of it,” he said.
Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and lay leaders dance at an international conference of Chabad emissaries.
By Jacob Berkman
SOMERSET, N.J. (JTA) – The life of a Chabad-Lubavitch shaliach can be isolating.
Sent under the mandate of the late leader of the movement, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to the ends of the Jewish world, these fervently Orthodox emissaries are often the only affiliated Jews for hundreds of miles.
When they sign on to spend the rest of their lives trying to start Jewish communities in remote places, they often put themselves in areas where they are the only Jews that observe the laws of kashrut and Shabbat.
Still, since 1950, when the rebbe sent out his first emissary to Morocco to build up Jewish education in North Africa, some 4,000 have dispersed around the world, from Beijing to Ukraine to Laos to Boise, Idaho, and virtually every spot in between, where Jews might live or pass through.
This past week, from Nov. 15 to Nov. 20, some 2,800 emissaries converged on Chabad-Lubavitch International headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn for the movement’s annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries.
The annual “kinus,” as it is known in Yiddish, offers a wide range of workshops, from staffing issues to meeting the needs of the Sephardi community to prison chaplaincy.
The conference banquet is seen as the highlight, and this year it drew some 4,000 people, filling 396 tables at the Garden State Exhibition Center in Somerset, N.J., on Sunday night.
This year’s banquet honored Chabad’s largest benefactor, Sami Rohr.
Rohr, a former Colombian Jewish real estate mogul who affiliates as modern Orthodox, and his family have given tens of millions of dollars to Chabad to establish outposts throughout the former Soviet Union, on college campuses and at remote spots around the world. Reportedly, they underwrite the salaries of some 500 emissaries, and have a foundation specifically to help Chabad rabbis on U.S. campuses construct buildings.
Though Rohr, his son George and their family have been involved with Chabad since the 1950s, this was the first time he was honored by the organization because he tends to shun publicity.
And though the thousands of men dressed in black and white hung on their benefactor’s words, it was Rohr who lauded Schneerson’s army of shluchim, expressing pride that Odessa, Ukraine, recently had two Torahs underwritten by families that found their Judaism through Chabad, and that in Athens, where the Jews defeated the Greeks in the Chanukah story, Chabad had erected a giant menorah.
“There are those who speak of Jewish continuity, but you are the ones who create it,” Rohr said, a banner bearing the rebbe’s likeness hanging off to his right.
After Rohr’s speech, the conference chairman, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, called off each country and state where Chabad has placed shluchim — among them one in Vietnam, seven in China, four in Kazakhstan, 118 in Russia, one in the Virgin Islands and 23 in Texas.
But as impressive as was the list, it paled next to the sight of 4,000 Chabad emissaries and supporters breaking into a spontaneous dance that snaked wildly between the 18 rows of tables 22 rows deep.
But for the shluchim, the kinus is more about the “farbrengen” — Yiddish for a spending of time together — than it is about the workshops and the gala. It is there where the thousands of men dedicated to the teachings of the rebbe, most of whom knew each other as yeshiva students, can reconvene and spend a little time not on an island, but in a Chabad sea.
“There’s nothing like the energy here, the synergy here,” said Mendel Lifshitz, who runs the Chabad in Boise.
It allows rabbis such as Hershey Novack to share with his colleagues ideas such as the Kosher Cooking Club that he has started at Washington University in St. Louis, where bi-weekly he organizes a coed class in cooking Jewish ethnic foods from challah to kubeh.
And it gives the emissaries a chance to share success stories.
For instance, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Kantor, who started Chabad in Thailand, which now sees some 110,000 visitors a year through four centers there and one in Laos, can tell the story of the one Israeli tourist who actually became a Chabad rabbi after a chance encounter.
But, many say, it provides them with a confirmation of the reason they have committed to spending the rest of their lives in foreign lands.
Though they are pushed by the success stories and by the potential and need for more, there are challenges for these stridently religious families who isolate themselves in areas where there are few observant Jews.
When Kantor got to Thailand, finding anything kosher to eat was a challenge, as was anything cultural.
“There was no one that understood me,” he said.
For some it is even harder.
“Menachem” for instance can’t even be known. He asked that his name not be used, nor the country where he is stationed identified because international religious organizations are illegal there. In his adopted country, Menachem typically wears a baseball hat and cotton pants in public, instead of the typical black suit and fedora that is Chabad uniform.
Kosher food, too, is impossible to find. So he and his wife slaughter their own chickens, milks cows and make their own yogurt for themselves and the hundreds of Shabbat guests they host. “It is difficult for my wife and kids to find friends,” he said.
But for the week or so he will spend in New York for the conference, he and his family are free to be more openly themselves. He wears his black suit in public, and allows his children to eat nearly all the kosher junk food they can handle. And of course he will return to his country with seven extra suitcases of food.
Rabbi Hara Person, editor in chief at Union for Reform Judaism Press
By Rabbi Hara Person
NEW YORK, Nov. 21 (JTA) — The Torah teaches us to revere our mother and father (Lev. 19:3). This mitzvah is embedded within the Holiness Code. In observing it, we achieve holiness, as well as the wholeness of learning from the wisdom of both our patriarchy and our matriarchy. A new Torah commentary written by women, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, currently in progress at the URJ Press, does just that. With significant help from Women of Reform Judaism, this Torah commentary — which includes the work of women scholars, clergy and poets — is meant to complement and supplement what has gone before, not to replace. The goal of this project is to place women’s voices alongside the male voices of our tradition.
When women join the conversation, new ways of studying the text emerge that add depth to the experience for students of Torah. Familiar tales are reframed, new understandings surface, and traditional readings are challenged. The women in the text become not simply secondary characters, but primary in their own right.
The story of Yehudah and Tamar in Genesis 38, for example, becomes no longer just one episode in the life of Judah, but rather a complete and rich tale about insights into broken promises, being a childless widow in biblical society, and the avenues of redress that were open to women. When Reuven sleeps with his father’s concubine Bilhah, we read the incident not only as a part of the larger Ya’acov and Yosef narratives, but also as a story about male and female power, and the nexus of sexuality, jealousy, anger and revenge.
References to biology are not skipped over or left unexplored. Though the women of the Bible may have heard God’s voice, or lived lives of heroic struggle, like all women they also bled and nursed and gave birth and dealt with infertility and the fear of rape. Whereas these details may be mentioned only in passing in the text, and may be only minor events in the big picture of the biblical narrative, they are recognized as potential windows into women’s lives. We also take note of the ways in which the texts treat the generic female body. We study the laws about a woman being taken by force, the laws surrounding birth and menstruation, the laws of purity and contamination. From these questions we gain insights into the lives of our ancestors as well as into our own.
We ask what tools women had to work with in order to become active participants in the narrative, and the ways in which power and powerlessness motivate actions. Tamar used clothing to hide her identity and seduce her father-in-law in order to get what was rightfully hers. Rivka used clothing and food to help Ya’acov trick Yitzhak. What do these motifs teach us about women’s lives in ancient times, and now? How are biblical characters forced to act when their access to power is limited, and what light does this shed on contemporary human behavior?
Names and namelessness are a topic that can teach us about kinship relationships, the relative importance of the sons or husbands of these women, and their roles in the narrative. Why is Esau’s wife, Adah, named when so many other wives are nameless? Why are Noah’s wife and Lot’s wife unnamed, despite their important roles? Why are the daughters of Zelophehad named? Why is Aaron’s wife Elisheva, who seemingly plays no role in any story, given a name?
This week we previewed the commentary through WRJ’s Parshat Chayei Sarah program, in which more than 10,000 participants throughout North America in nearly 300 Reform synagogues engaged in Torah study. On Nov. 18, women and men alike had the opportunity to discuss this portion that both details the death of our matriarch Sarah and introduces us to Rivka.
During this study of the Torah portion of Chayei Sarah, as seen through the eyes of women, provocative questions were addressed and we will perhaps all begin to gain a new perspective on the role of women in the Bible.
When women study Torah and create commentary, we become partners with God, who invites us into this sacred dialogue of text study. When women study Torah, we take our rightful place in a sacred dialogue. We declare that the lives of the women of the Torah matter, and thus that our lives and our concerns matter too.
The study of Torah by women, and the writing of Torah commentary by women, is not meant to compete, but rather to complete the richness of the Torah study that has come before. In order to truly be a holy community before God, we must revere both the mothers and the fathers of our tradition. We must listen to the whole raucous spectrum of voices, not limit our own possibilities for holiness based solely on gender identification. Inspired by the cacophony of diverse voices, we are able to inch ever closer toward wholeness, and thus to holiness.
Rabbi Hara Person is editor in chief at Union for Reform Judaism Press.
Photo: Robert A. Cumins
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addresses the UJC General Assembly.
By Jacob Berkman
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 15 (JTA) — The United Jewish Communities’ annual General Assembly usually is seen as something of a pep rally for the lay and professional leaders on the ground in the federation system.
But this year’s G.A., which started Sunday at the Los Angeles Convention Center and wrapped up Wednesday, was a higher-stakes affair.
In the midst of an Israel Emergency Campaign that so far has raised roughly $348 million to help rebuild Israel after the summer’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon — and coming off a couple of General Assemblies that by many accounts fell flat — the UJC saw this one as an important momentum builder.
The organization revamped its program only 10 weeks before the gathering, from one that would have highlighted major federation contributors and professionals to one that was primarily Israel-centric.
UJC President and CEO Howard Rieger told a news conference of Jewish journalists Monday that response to the original-themed event had been disappointing, but in the end, some 5,000 federation and Jewish communal professional and lay leaders turned up for the G.A.
“It was high stakes because you can’t fail,” Rieger told JTA of the Israel-themed event. “And at the same time, it feels a little intimidating.”
The UJC might have abandoned its Hollywood theme, but its opening plenary still had plenty of showman’s flair. The program was marked by interludes from Dan Gordon, who wrote the acclaimed 1999 film “The Hurricane” and decided to serve as a reservist in the Israeli army during its recent war in Lebanon.
It also featured a spoken-word and musical performance arranged by avant-garde Jewish musician Craig Taubman, performances by musician Debbie Friedman and a reading by actor Jon Voigt.
Theatrics aside, the plenary sessions offered a hardhitting array of speakers, among them six high-ranking Israeli government officials, highlighted by a Tuesday night address by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Olmert did mention that he’d be willing to sit down with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at any time, but he spent much of his time thanking UJC and its leaders for helping to rebuild Israel’s North after the war.
“Our lives are interconnected,” Olmert said. “Our fates are intertwined. Israel and the Jewish diaspora is one. Your success is our success. We may be separated by an ocean, but our hearts beat together always.”
His sentiments may have quieted some of the waves made Monday by Zeev Bielski, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, who told a Jerusalem Post reporter that “One day the penny will drop for American Jews and they will realize they have no future as Jews in the U.S. due to assimilation and intermarriage.”
Bielski later explained that the comment was intended to highlight the importance of aliyah.
Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu used one plenary to lay out what he calls Iran’s “single-bomb theory” — taking care of its “Jewish problem” by attacking Israel with a nuclear weapon — as the first stage in a broader nuclear attack on the Western world.
“This is 1938, Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to get atomic weapons,” Netanyahu repeated almost as a mantra during his speech.
On Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters that the Israeli people are frustrated because many assumed that attacking Hezbollah would lead to the return of two soldiers Hezbollah captured in a July 12 cross-border raid that sparked the conflict.
But, she noted, “There are some things a military action cannot achieve, and it was clear from the first days that this military operation could not bring back our boys.”
And there were some unlikely meetings of the minds, such as a plenary Monday at which Rabbi Norman Cohen, provost of the Reform Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion; Arnold Eisen, chancellor-elect of the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary; and Richard Joel, president of Orthodox Yeshiva University, discussed how to engage young people.
Most in attendance, such as Avi Naiman, chairman of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Israel and Overseas Committee, felt the shift to a more Israel-centric program was important after the war.
“To focus on something aside from Israel would have been inappropriate,” he said.
Naiman felt the G.A. was informative, but should have provided more tools and workshops showcasing successful models for federations to take back to their own communities.
“Now we have to figure out what the next step is,” he said. Making the G.A. less of a “one-way affair” is something that UJC “will have to work on,” he said.
Still, the collection of people at the G.A. was “very valuable” he said, and it provided delegates from his federation with an opportunity to meet face-to-face with many of the professionals they have been working with to help his federation’s sister city, Nahariya.
Each year, the G.A. is a place where Jews from all walks of the federation and Jewish communal system can come together — from those such as Scott-Martin Kosofsky, who came to meet with people involved in the production of his upcoming book, a reproduction of the 1940 Arthur Szyk Haggadah, that will sell for $6,000-$25,000 per copy; to those such as student Alex Friedman, president of the Hillel chapter at Washington University in St. Louis.
But the biggest business happens between the sessions and plenaries, where federation leaders and volunteers can bounce ideas off each other and where those looking for funding can schmooze with potential benefactors.
Take, for example, Mark Levenson, president of the UJA Federation of Clifton-Passaic in New Jersey. His small federation, which has an annual campaign of less than $1 million, is on the verge of merging with a much larger federation, UJA Federation of MetroWest New Jersey.
The conversations that planted the seeds for the shidduch took place while walking in Jerusalem between sessions at the 2003 G.A., Levenson said.
“I almost did not want to come back to the G.A. because the first one I went to in Cleveland was so bad,” said Marlene Lauwasser, campaign president of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. But she said she was glad that she had decided to attend this year’s event with seven other members from Milwaukee because it had been invigorating.
“I’m just so proud to be Jewish, and to be in a room with 5,000 Jews is amazing,” she said.
This year, for the first time, the UJC held a lunch for 250 federation executives, Rieger told JTA.
But the question now is what the federation representatives will do with the material the G.A. provided.
One goal is to continue the Israel Emergency Campaign. Though the G.A.’s goal isn’t fund raising, the themes that delegates take from the meeting should play out in the work they do in their home communities, said Steve Nasatir, president of the Jewish United Fund/United Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
The G.A. “transcends just the raising of dollars,” Nasatir said, but added that he hopes the emergency campaign can raise another $100 million. The Chicago drive has raised $40 million for the emergency campaign — $32 million of which came in the first week — and it’s pushing to raise more.
The key to keeping a strong campaign, said Steven Rakitt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, is avoiding “inertia.”
The trick will be getting delegates to the G.A. to carry that momentum home. Rieger admitted to JTA that the UJC sometimes has trouble making sure that “what we do on one level translates back into the next level.”
The UJC faces two major challenges in coming months, Rieger said.
The first is making as big an impact as possible in terms of getting out the message about important Jewish needs — and “that’s not all about money,” he said. The second is trying to figure out how to build a bigger donor base.
But all in all, he said, he was pleased with this year’s G.A.
In the past, “there were some who advised us not to have a G.A., or to have it every two years,” Rieger said. “But that would have been the easy solution.”
Photo: Uriel Heilman
A Falash Mura family waiting in Ethiopia to immigrate to Israel, in a 2005 photo.
By Uriel Heilman
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Leaders of the North American Jewish federation system are hailing an Israeli government decision not to halve the rate of Ethiopian immigration as an “important achievement.”
But advocates and some federation executives suggest Israel’s move is just a feint, meant to distract supporters of Ethiopian aliyah from the fact that Israel still has not followed through on its March 2005 commitment to accelerate Ethiopian aliyah to 600 people per month. The current pace is 300 per month, although — until the recent backtrack — Israel had decided to cut it to 150.
“I wonder if we were sucker punched,” one federation leader told JTA. “They told us we’re going to cut it, then we had to fight with them not to cut it, and now we should be pleased they’re not going to cut it. Which is them saying to us: ‘Forget about the 600. You should be happy we’re not cutting it all. This is the level for the foreseeable future.’ ”
In September, as part of the government’s proposed 2007 budget, Israeli officials suggested halving the monthly Ethiopian aliyah from 300 to 150. However, on the eve of the Knesset vote last week that approved the budget, the director-general of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office sent a letter to the United Jewish Communities federation umbrella group, saying the plan to cut Ethiopian immigration had been dropped.
Stephen Hoffman, president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, said the government’s continued stonewalling on previous decisions to accelerate the aliyah betrays a philosophical difference about the value of Ethiopian immigrants.
“It’s a matter of principle,” Hoffman told JTA. “I guess it just comes down to whether you think the aliyah of the Ethiopians is valuable or not, and I recognize that there are different views.”
At least, he added, “I’m happy we’re not going backward.”
Last week, both federation leaders and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which is in charge of the immigrants’ aliyah and absorption in Israel, sought to take credit for the government decision to maintain the status quo.
“If the government didn’t change its policy to cut the aliyah, it’s because of the lobbying of the Jewish Agency,” agency spokesman Michael Jankelowitz said. He pointed to an Oct. 24 meeting between Olmert and Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski, among others, as key.
But Robert Goldberg, chairman of UJC’s board of trustees, said federation lobbying did the trick. A UJC fund-raising campaign, Operation Promise, aims to provide $100 million for Ethiopian aliyah and absorption over the next few years, some of it channeled through the Jewish Agency.
“It is clear that pressure brought to bear by our federation leadership — by you — has played a critical role in this decision,” Goldberg wrote to supporters last week.
“We remain engaged in supporting and assisting the preparation of the Falash Mura community in Ethiopia for their new lives in Israel with the help of the generous contributions that have been made to Operation Promise,” he wrote. “We will remain steadfast in our commitment to bringing about the conclusion of this aliyah as quickly as possible.”
There is some debate about how many eligible aliyah petitioners remain in Ethiopia. Most estimates put the population at 8,500-14,000, but independent media investigations have found that there may be thousands more Falash Mura living in the countryside.
Falash Mura are Ethiopians of Jewish ancestry whose progenitors converted to Christianity several generations ago to escape social and economic pressures. In recent years they have been returning to Judaism — a bid, some say, to emigrate to the Jewish state along with their extended families. Most have moved from their rural homes to shantytowns near Jewish-run facilities in the Ethiopian cities of Addis Ababa and Gondar while they wait to emigrate.
Every month, approximately 300 are brought to Israel by the Jewish Agency. Once here, they’re given housing, education and job training.
Nevertheless, many find it difficult to climb out of poverty, and many Ethiopian Israelis live on welfare in one way or another. The average Ethiopian immigrant costs Israeli taxpayers roughly $100,000 over the course of his or her lifetime, according to government estimates.
Observers say that’s partly why the government has dragged its feet for years on implementing successive Cabinet decisions to speed up Ethiopian aliyah. The original Cabinet decision to expedite the Falash Mura aliyah was taken in February 2003, when Ariel Sharon was prime minister.
“By deciding to delay the aliyah, Israel is shooting itself in the foot,” said Orlee Guttman, director of operations for the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, which maintains aid operations in Gondar. “The delay in aliyah will result not only in prolonging suffering in Ethiopia, but will cause a delay in absorption, a delay in children’s integration into the Israeli educational system.”
Doron Krakow, UJC’s senior vice president for Israel and overseas affairs, said federations will continue to press Israeli officials — including those in the United States this week for the UJC’s General Assembly in Los Angeles — to follow through on the pledge to expedite Ethiopian aliyah.
“We will continue to remind and press the government that they made that commitment, and we expect them to live up to that commitment,” Krakow said. But so far, he added, “we’ve only gotten back to where we started.”
Jankelowitz, the Jewish Agency spokesman, said it doesn’t much matter whether the rate is accelerated to 600 immigrants per month or not.
Given how few remain in Ethiopia, “within another three years the current aliyah of the Falash Mura will be over anyway,” he said. “It’s a matter of 27 months.”
A fervently Orthodox mob opposed to the upcoming Jerusalem gay pride parade tried to attack the city’s mayor. (JTA)
Mayor Uri Lupolianski had to be extricated by police late Tuesday after scores of protesters threw stones at a banquet hall he was visiting near the fervently Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She’arim.
He was unharmed.
Lupolianski, himself fervently Orthodox, has long voiced his personal opposition to gay pride events taking place in Israel’s capital.
The White House urged Israel to quickly complete its investigation into the circumstances of an artillery attack that killed 18 Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip. (JTA)
“We deeply regret the injuries and loss of life in Gaza today,” Gordon Johndroe, the spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said Wednesday.
“We have seen the Israeli government’s apology and hope their investigation will be completed quickly. We call on all parties to show restraint so as to avoid any harm to innocent civilians.”
Israel said initial signs were that the barrage on the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, which killed mostly women and children, was misdirected fire aimed at terrorists firing rockets into southern Israel.
The Israeli air force killed the commander of Hamas´s rocket units in the Gaza Strip. (JTA)
The Palestinian fugitive, long on Israel´s wanted list, died in a missile strike on his car in Gaza City on Wednesday night. Another Hamas member who was in the vehicle also died.
Security sources said the operation aimed to curb Hamas´s efforts to expand the range and lethality of its homemade Kassam rockets, hundreds of which have been fired into the Jewish state.
Ehud Olmert came first in a survey ranking Israeli government ministers the public considers corrupt. (JTA)
Forty-two percent of those polled for the survey, which was published Wednesday at the annual Sderot Conference on the Economy, named the Israeli prime minister as the “most corrupt Cabinet member.”
He was followed by the minister for strategic threats, Avigdor Lieberman, who took 26 percent, and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who took 23 percent.
Olmert, who ranked 7th in the poll last year, when he was deputy prime minister, has been dogged by corruption allegations since winning the top office in March elections.
He has denied wrongdoing. Asked which Cabinet minister they believe has the most integrity, 38 percent of respondents said Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and 35 percent said Vice Premier Shimon Peres.
Anheuser Busch Companies, Inc. donated $100,000 to the UJA-Federation of New York. (JTA)
The money will go to support the federation’s nonsectarian education, social welfare and human services, according to a Wednesday news release from the federation.
Since 1993, Anheuser-Busch has donated more than $5.7 million to Jewish agencies, including the New York federation.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem was named as one of the top 100 universities worldwide. (JTA)
The list, published Wednesday by The Times Higher Education Supplement of London, ranked Hebrew U. at No. 43 in arts and humanities. It outranked Tel Aviv University at No. 87, as well as NYU at No. 47 and Brown at No. 48.
In social sciences, Hebrew U. placed No. 44.
The Jerusalem school was the only one in Israel to be listed in the field of biomedical sciences, at No. 63, and ranked No. 52 in science, two places behind Haifa’s Technion.
Hebrew U. was also ranked No. 29 overall among universities outside the United States, with Tel Aviv listed at No. 35 and the Technion No. 39.
Sam Bowers, who started a violent offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan that hit Jewish targets in Mississippi in 1967, as well as killing three Civil Rights workers in Philadelphia in 1964, died on Nov. 5 at Parchman Prison in Mississippi.
Born in New Orleans, Bowers was a Navy veteran who thought of the KKK as being too passive during the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s. He formed the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a group that would use violence when needed, and served as its Imperial Wizard.
In May 1964, in a Laurel restaurant, he authorized the execution of activist Mickey Schwerner, calling him “a thorn in the side of everyone living, especially white people” that “should be taken care of.”
Bowers’ involvement in the murders of Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney that summer in Philadelphia was described during the “Mississippi Burning” trials that followed. He was found guilty in 1967, serving six years in prison for civil rights violations — not murder.
At the time, he noted the acquittal of Edgar Ray Killen — who was finally convicted last year — and stated he was happy to be convicted “and have the main instigator of the entire affair walk out of the courtroom a free man.”
In 1966, members of the White Knights killed Vernon Dahmer, who was working to register blacks to vote and allowed his store to be used for collecting the poll tax from blacks. Member T. Webber Rogers testified that Bowers had given the order to have Dahmer killed. Four trials ended in deadlock, but Bowers was finally convicted in 1998 and sentenced to prison. He died while serving that sentence.
In 1967, the White Knights decided the blacks had not been the problem during the Civil Rights struggle, but the Jews were. The Klan bombed Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson and the home of its rabbi, Perry Nussbaum. Temple Beth Israel in Meridian was bombed in May 1968.
Funds were raised to pay Klan informants and an FBI deathtrap was set at the next target, the home of Meyer Davidson in Meridian, on June 29, 1968. One member of the bombing team — kindergarten teacher Kathy Ainsworth — was killed, while Thomas Tarrants III was wounded. He would later serve time in jail, undergo a conversion, and now heads the C.S. Lewis Institute and lectures on reconciliation and repentance.
According to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Bowers has no known relatives or property, and likely will be buried in a pauper’s grave at Parchman.
“It would be poetic justice for him to be buried in a pauper’s grave, dying friendless,” author Jack Nelson told the Clarion-Ledger. Nelson’s 1993 book, “Terror in the Night: The Klan’s Campaign Against the Jews,” detailed Bowers’ actions. “He sure wasn’t a friend to that many people,” Nelson added.
The Levite Jewish Community Center in Birmingham held its fourth annual Jewish Food Festival on Nov. 5, serving corned beef and pastrami sandwiches to chicken soup, chopped liver and brisket. There were also black and white cookies, a rarity in this region. Hundreds lined up to sample the goods, as well as shop the bake sale, tables from the local synagogue gift shops, and a Jewish Book Fair at the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School.
Rabbi Foster Kawaler of Congregation Agudath Achim blows the shofar at the start of A Night to Honor Israel at Broadmoor Assembly of G-d in Shreveport on Oct. 30.
Over 700 attended the event, which was a salute to Israel and the local Jewish community by pro-Israel Christians. The program was sponsored by Christians United for Israel, and CUI State Director Rev. Jesse Duplantis spoke about "Why did God Choose the Jews." He also contributed $50,000 toward the evening's collection for OneFamily Fund, which supports victims of terror in Israel, and said he plans to hold a similar event in New Orleans. Asher Yarden, Consul General for Israel in the Southwest U.S., also addressed the audience, saying these demonstrations of support mean a lot to Israel at a time when the country has so few friends in the world.
Photo: Holly Blossom
Experts say a new academic field of "synagogue studies" could help invigorate Jewish places of worship.
By Sue Fishkoff
SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 5 (JTA) — When Westchester Reform Temple breaks ground on its new sanctuary and lifelong Jewish-learning center next spring, the 1,200-member congregation will be making some interesting changes.
The bimah, or dais, no longer will be front and center above the worshippers but will be lowered and in their midst, to emphasize that the praying going on at the front of the room is no more important than that taking place among the congregation.
There will be space for musicians to gather, rather than the current space that holds only a lone organist. There will be room for people to move and dance during services.
The old sanctuary was built after World War II, says Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and its traditional design reflected a notion of synagogue hierarchy and decorum that no longer is in favor. Instead, he says, the new building will create a space that brings people together, “to create and cement sacred space.”
A redesign committee has been working with the help of leading experts in the field, but Jacobs says they could have used even more guidance in thinking about how the design could reflect the congregation’s needs and priorities.
That’s what a new institute is trying to promote: the creation of a field called synagogue studies, which would encourage practical-oriented research into how synagogues function and how they can be improved.
“I only wish it existed five years ago,” Jacobs says.
The S3K Synagogue Studies Institute was launched Nov. 3 by Synagogue 3000, a national organization devoted to synagogue transformation through innovative leadership. The institute has an advisory board made up of the heads of all the major, and several smaller, rabbinical seminaries and of synagogue-transformation organizations, foundation representatives and major figures in the field of non-Jewish congregational studies.
It also includes a virtual academy boasting more than three dozen scholars in Jewish studies at various academic institutions, who will be encouraged to generate research that congregations can use.
Experts say the undertaking is overdue, with synagogue membership declining in many areas of the country and as several national initiatives have emerged to re-energize synagogue programming and worship.
There already is a field called congregational studies, which emerged as a discipline in universities and Christian seminaries in the early 1980s. It focuses on how congregations — churches, mosques, ashrams or synagogues — function as religious and social centers in contemporary society. The discipline addresses questions such as, how do leaders interact with congregants? How is the community’s sacred space organized to enhance prayer? And how do congregations interact with each other?
Many Jewish scholars work in the field, and most of them study synagogues, but they must work across disciplines. There are no faculty positions in synagogue studies as such, which discourages research that could help synagogues function more effectively.
In addition, the field of congregational studies “uses categories that are Protestant categories,” says Shawn Landres, research director for Synagogue 3000, and that may not translate well into areas of concern for synagogues.
Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, concurs. He supports scholarship on synagogues within the general field of congregational studies, but says a discrete field that looks at the particular needs and concerns of Jewish religious organization also would be beneficial.
“A study of Willow Creek, a mega-church, is helpful in some ways, but it is not the model for most of our American synagogues,” he says. “There’s an enormous number of data regarding the histories of individual synagogues, but very few people are reading them, evaluating them, seeing what could be gleaned that would be of benefit to all synagogues.”
Synagogue 3000 will “act as a catalyst” to generate interest in creating the new field, Landres says. The institute has identified key scholars and will convene them periodically — helping them network and find funding for their projects — and will act as a virtual university-without-walls to promote the growth of the discipline.
The research will be conducted with an eye to practical application. Rabbis, Jewish educators and other practitioners will have critical input.
“The goal is to create the field and produce research that can be used,” Landres says. “And it will be academically sound.”
For example, when a working group meets in December in Los Angeles to hammer out the parameters for the proposed new field, pulpit rabbis as well as academics will be part of the discussion, Landres points out, to ensure that research projects and curricula are aimed at producing work that real congregations can use.
“We’ll have rabbis in the room saying, ‘I need this, can you guys go study it?’ ”
One of the institute’s first projects will be a study of synagogue space by David Kaufman, a specialist in synagogue architecture teaching at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. He will focus on how new building projects can work to enhance synagogue life — how, say, making the study hall rather than the sanctuary or auditorium the center of a building can demonstrate a synagogue’s commitment to Jewish education.
Kaufman will use this research as the basis for a book that congregational leaders can use in framing their priorities in future building plans.
None of the rabbinical seminaries currently teaches synagogue studies, though pieces of the discipline such as leadership development and theories of congregational organization sometimes are taught as electives.
Norman Cohen, provost of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, confirms that Reform rabbinical seminaries offer elective courses in topics such as leadership development that could be part of a future field of synagogue studies, but adds that these have “always been pieces, fragmentary, not systematic.” Other movement’s seminaries “suffer from the same thing,” he says.
This year the Reform rabbinical training program will begin to integrate leadership preparation into its coursework, Cohen says, starting with first-year students in Jerusalem. The required course will look at issues such as, “What is the nature of the institution they will be serving, how it is changing, what skills do the students need?” Cohen says.
Jack Wertheimer, provost of the Conservative Movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary and a prominent scholar of American Jewish institutional life, applauds the Synagogue 3000 initiative.
“While there are differences between the denominations, we continue to learn from each other,” Wertheimer says, noting that scholars and institutional leaders from many Jewish streams will be working together on the advisory board and in the virtual academy.
Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, says practical research like that promoted by the new institute will provide a framework for institutional self-reflection, helping a shul do strategic planning to “determine what are its primary and secondary goals, its strengths and how to play to them.”
American Jewish life is centered in synagogues, he says, and “a lot of our Jewish future is invested in the survival and flourishing of synagogues.”
Nancy Ammerman, professor of the sociology of religion at Boston University and one of the best-known names in congregational studies, speculates that Jewish seminaries didn’t jump on board as quickly as Christian ones because rabbinical education focuses so strongly on text-based study.
Christian theological education had the same focus until two decades ago, she says, when “the recognition emerged that pastors were going into work located in a human community, and no matter how well they knew their text and tradition, they might not be able to sustain that community in which the teaching takes place.”
Still, she points out, the field is quite new, so the development of a separate field of synagogue studies “is not that far behind” — and she expects to see it emerge within the decade.
By Jacob Berkman
NEW YORK (JTA) — Jewish day-school officials are looking at a recent $15 million tuition-relief grant from the Baltimore-based Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore as a trend-setting move to alleviate one of the biggest challenges facing Jewish education.
The grants will start in 2007, but the foundation also announced that it would immediately give an additional $1 million to the schools.
There are more than 200,000 students in 750 Jewish day schools across the country, and Baltimore — with some 6,000 students in a community of roughly 100,000 — has one of the highest concentrations in the country, according to Lawrence Ziffer, executive vice president of the city’s Center for Jewish Education, which worked with the foundation and the federation to write the grant.
In the past, the foundation had made individual grants to 10 area schools, foundation trustee Barry Schloss told JTA.
“But we said, ‘This doesn’t meet the needs of our community,’ ” Schloss said. “We all realized there needed to be more.”
Over the past 10 years, the federation’s allocation for Jewish day schools has grown from $900,000 a year to over $3 million as the school system has blossomed, federation President Marc Terrill said.
Still, more than $300,000 of needs went unfunded, Terrill said. The schools cost between $6,000 and $12,000 per year, according to the Center for Jewish Education, and the new grant will double the amount they get through the federation.
“The need is rather pronounced,” Terrill said. “There are people that are unfortunately victims of harsh economic times. There are also those who are relatively affluent, but when you factor in two, three, four or five kids for which they’re paying full tuition for day schools, it’s not the prettiest of pictures. It’s almost like self-imposed poverty — although it’s poverty with an enlightened purpose.”
Just over half of the students at Baltimore day schools receive some kind of financial aid, Ziffer said. The money from the new grant is to be used only for scholarships.
Recipients must demonstrate need, and the foundation has required that schools still maintain their current levels of scholarship giving, Schloss said. He added that over the next five years the foundation would like to see the community create an endowment fund to subsidize Jewish education.
There are no official plans to do so yet, but continuing to subsidize the school system at about $3 million per year would take a $65 million fund.
The Weinberg Foundation and the Baltimore federation are not the first to tackle the day-school tuition issue. The Avi Chai Foundation, a private New York- and Jerusalem-based foundation aimed at increasing Jewish learning, ran a program that gave $3,000 vouchers to students at four day schools in Atlanta and Cleveland between 1999 and 2000. Numerous family foundations across the country have started funds either to cap tuition or provide tuition relief at local Jewish schools.
The largest individual gift came from a group of anonymous families who made a $45 million donation to three schools in Boston, $15 million of which was to be used for tuition relief.
In Milwaukee, the Helen Bader Foundation set up a similar fund — though on a much smaller scale, at $500,000 per year for three years — to help the area’s 600 Jewish day-school students, according to Tobey Libber, the foundation’s program director.
Other Jewish communities, such as Los Angeles, MetroWest New Jersey and Chicago, are in the process of deciding how to tackle the tuition problem with similar grants, according to Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education.
But the Weinberg grant is an important one, he said.
“I believe that there is momentum building, and I believe that this grant is not only part of a trend, but this is a pace-setting decision that Weinberg has made,” Elkin said. “It’s not simply the size of the grant; it’s the fact that it’s partnered with the federation and is intended to be spent over the next five years. It provides an immediate infusion.”
The Baltimore grant “hopefully will become a model,” said Yossi Prager, Avi Chai’s North American executive director. “Affordability already is the single largest concern of the day-school community, and the crunch is likely to get worse since budgets for schools, Jewish and non-Jewish, are rising faster than inflation. This is a tremendous start in tackling a very serious problem.”
U.S. officials reportedly asked Israel to stop combat aircraft overflights of Lebanon. (JTA)
Elliott Abrams, the White House’s deputy national security adviser, and David Welch, the State Department’s top Middle East envoy, met Thursday with Ehud Olmert ahead of the Israeli prime minister’s Nov. 6-7 visit to Washington.
According to Ha’aretz, Abrams and Welch told Olmert that Israel’s overflights, an aftereffect of Israel’s war with Hezbollah this summer, are undermining Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government.
Kofi Annan proposed a registry of damages to Palestinians caused by Israel’s West Bank security barrier. (JTA)
The proposal by the outgoing U.N. secretary-general derives from a 2004 ruling against the barrier, which cuts through portions of West Bank land, by the U.N.’s international court. The registry would entail setting up a new office, Annan says, but would not be a “compensation commission or a claims-resolution facility, nor would it be a judicial or quasi-judicial body.”
The International Court of Justice ruling was not binding, raising questions about enforcement.
Doctors moved Ariel Sharon to intensive care after his condition deteriorated. (JTA)
The former Israeli prime minister contracted a new infection affecting his heart, doctors said Friday at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv. His condition was described as stable. Sharon has been comatose since January, when he suffered a massive stroke.---
Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi seemed set to cancel a conference on agunot, or women who can not obtain Jewish divorce papers from their husbands. (JTA)
Less than a week before the conference of renowned rabbis and heads of Jewish courts from across the world was set to convene in Jerusalem, a fax was sent to the 27 rabbis who had agreed to attend, notifying them that it would be canceled.
The Hebrew note obtained by JTA, signed by Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Dahan, head of Israel’s rabbinical court system, said that Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar had canceled the Nov. 7-8 meeting “due to petitions that came to him both from Israel and outside of Israel.”
However, Amar’s office later hinted that the decision might not be final and that an official announcement would come only next week.
“It is clear that the ultra-Orthodox leaders in Israel have been pressuring him and it was too much to bear,” Sharon Shenhav of the International Council of Jewish Women, who worked closely with Amar over the past two years to plan the conference, told JTA.
“Shamefully at the last minute he has canceled.”
Copyright © 2007, Deep South Jewish Voice All rights reserved.
dsjv :: Jewish News with a Southern Accent
PO Box 130052
Birmingham, AL 35222
Alabama Office 205.322.9002
New Orleans Office 504.780.5657
Main Email firstname.lastname@example.org