Theological Method Jewish Theology Pt. VIII Last in Series – Patheos (blog)


From a Jewish perspective, the foundation of spirituality is the human capacity of being called by something beyond ourselves, something that both speaks to our nature and is yet embedded there. In moments of quiet honesty, we find ourselves with a given orientation and that orientation offers itself up as an approach to our better selves it is the voice of our own objective nature calling us toward fulfillment. We understand this urging of our own nature as the foundation of morality and religious practice.

Listen! God speaks to us through the world through the burning bush and the quiet voice on the wind.

Human fulfillment requires alignment with this voice calling out from reality/nature, including our own human nature.The insights for living a meaningful and good life arise from a reasoned, teleological reflection on our own nature and our relationships to others. This vision offers a formal framework within which to conduct our theological and moral reasoning.

The goal of Jewish practice and observance is Shalom a holistic sense of peace and wholeness. Jewish spiritual practice teaches us to be good listeners to hear the voice calling us to strive for wholeness and help others obtain the same. By doing so, we heal ourselves and our world and achieve our evolutionary and Torah-based primary directive thrive and flourish!


The Jewish vision is that it is fundamental to human nature to seek the truth about the world and ourselves, attempting to find meaning in our lives. Genuine spirituality is centered on the truth not elaborate, ungrounded theology or grand speculation without foundation.

Truth is the adequate correspondence of human judgments to reality itself. Human knowledge is fallible, but generally reliable, and is verified in relation to reality. Reasoned human discourse functions along these lines when people make claims, they ought to be able to provide some justification for those claims justification involves offering evidence based in reality this is how human communities gain wisdom and make progress.

The Jewish search for meaning is approached from the vantage point of spiritual realism. Spiritual realism operates from an epistemological conservatism humbly seeking to understand reality and trying to offer some explanation for events and circumstances. Jewish history has provided ample experience of tragedy that tempers any inclination to lofty, unjustified saccharine theologies.

Therefore, the spiritually grounded person is the one who listens to and sees reality as it truly is waking up to the world as it is in itself. (Texts, teachers, and traditions can help us in this task, but these are fingers pointing to the moon, not the moon itself, as a Buddhist saying goes.)

The notion of listening is employed metaphorically the goal being to strip away the unnecessary filters that block more accurate perceptions of nature, including our own human nature. Awakening to the world as it really is and living accordingly is the heart of Jewish spiritual realism.


We should stand in awe at the splendor of reality. And this awe, if carefully cultivated, reveals more than can be sustained by a mere mechanistic or materialistic vantage point that necessarily ascribes an accidental nature to everything that is.

Within the complex matrix of sufficient reason, causation, emergence, teleological thinking, and the nature of time we begin to glimpse some sense of the multiple layers of contingency of the universe contingency on some emergent cause that prompts the original expansion of singularity, the contingency on inherent principles that guide the ordered emergence of matter and energy, and the contingency on the regularity, continued existence, and direction of the unfolding.

Despite the protests of many, the universe appears to have an internal logic that inevitably drives matter from nonliving to living, from simple to complex, from inert to consciousness in a seemingly clear direction toward life and increasing complexity for the sake of survival. (Protests abound, in part, because science cannot properly detect or evaluate meaning, purpose, or value.)

We may dismiss the above as poetry, but the proper response to some of lifes mysteries are reflection and meditation. Science solves problems. Religion plumbs the depth of mysteries. Wisdom is knowing the difference between a problem and a mystery. Mystery does not cry out for solutions or answers it finds its resolution in awe and wonder and a willingness to engage its depths.

Jewish tradition understands that the purpose of theology isnt to intervene in science over questions that science is much better prepared to address, but to relate the material universe studied by science to questions of ultimate concernof value, meaning and purposewhich science cant address and are instead the proper sphere of religion.

Cultivating this sense of awe and reverence is the purpose of spirituality in general, and Judaism in particular. Such an enterprise is pivotal in undoing the unfortunate effects of secularization the tendencies toward nihilism and dehumanization and provides an Archimedean point from which our culture can be renewed.


Jewish theology is the result of ongoing engagement with its sacred texts and the primary rule is to always read the texts with an attitude of compassion looking for mercy in the texts at all times.

The two great literary works of the Jewish people are the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament) and the Talmud. Most people are familiar with the Hebrew Bible, even if they dont read it. Its served as a foundational text for Western culture. Its myths and narratives are still invoked. Most Christians read it or have it read to them at least weekly.

The Talmud is less known and less read, even among Jews. Many people assume its a large volume of writings. But as my extremely kind friend who recently gave me, and thus carried the texts to my home, will attest the English translation of the Talmud is 28 volumes, each individual text comprised of a 200-350 pages, or more. Its massive.

What exactly is the Talmud?

The Talmud is a set of written teachings and commentary, related to the scriptures, and addressing aspects of Jewish law and tradition. The Rabbis began writing it down in the first century CE. And finished writing the initial version about 600 years later.

Each volume deals with general topics in Jewish life and poses questions, offers answers, debates the answers, clarifies scripture, and adds understanding to each issue.

Now, for the part about Jewish logic of mercy. Jews dont relate to their law the same way as do Christians. Linear logic is not the logic of the early Jewish Rabbis. Their logic is more circular, organic, more conversational, more dialectical, and more phenomenological and always an attempt to find mercy in the text.

Each issue in the Talmud begins with a short quote from the Mishnah a statement of law and/or practice often derived from the Bible. The statement is then debated and commented on for years, decades, centuries, by multiple authors, calling upon various sources, sometimes quoting teachers long gone and dead, but assuming to know what they would say.

Its like having Abraham Lincoln engaged in conversation with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and John Kennedy about the Constitution. Conclusions are few. The conversation is riveting. You learn tons.

But when youre done, youre not really done.

There often isnt a conclusion or definitive answer to the questions raised. First, the intention was that the conversation and debate would go on into the future, so that even Jews today would add their insights, their answers, and their thoughts for the generations to come. Second, its not part of Jewish logic that firm answers always exist to complex questions and issues. Some things seem settled and have a strong majority opinion, some issues are grayer, requiring further analysis.

Jewish theology always says lets talk we have time.

Where does all of this get us? Especially in terms of Jewish logic of mercy?

Consider the Biblical commandment to stone a woman found guilty of committing adultery. The scriptures call for the woman to be stoned in front of her fathers house. The command appears in scripture at least twice.

The Rabbis raise the question in the Talmud and then begin applying their logic. What is adultery? How do we find someone guilty? How many witnesses are required? Why stone her in front of her fathers house?

By the time the commentary and analysis is done, it would be nearly impossible to stone any woman for adultery the bar for conviction, the requirement of witnesses, the urging for mercy, the twists and turns of Jewish logic always opting for compassion, justice, kindness, and forgiveness. Granted, adultery is never approved of, never condoned, but mercy prevails.

Can such conversation sound legalistic? Sure. Is such conversation motivated by legalism? Not at all. The motivation of even the ancient Rabbis was mercy and love. The entire enterprise of Talmud is one of gentleness and a move toward affirming human dignity.

Talmud, and thus Jewish law, understands that conversation isnt over. The Talmud isnt finished. And the logic toward mercy, love, and freedom is still alive and dominant in Jewish theology.

Christians often say that Jews are under the law and that Christianity is about mercy and freedom from the law. Are Jews under the law? Well, it depends on how you define law? And what exactly do you mean by under? And what would Rabbi Akivah say about that? How about Hillel? And here in Torah it says we are all free

Pull up a chair. Have a glass of wine. This will take some time.

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Theological Method Jewish Theology Pt. VIII Last in Series – Patheos (blog)

Michael Eisenberg – Tablet Magazine

The recent appointment of Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman as President of Yeshiva University (YU) serves as an opportunity to reflect on the state of Modern or Centrist Orthodoxy in America. Personally, I think he is an excellent choice for the role. (Full disclosure: Rabbi Berman is a friend; we studied together in the same shiur at YU and in classes at the Gruss Kollel in Jerusalem.) However, I think his appointment belies a much deeper malaise in American Orthodoxy that requires exploration.

At least publicly, YU seemed to be considering two types of candidates: An academic or Jewish thinker, rabbi or visionary, or, alternatively, a very capable fundraiser or businessman. The Universitys financial issues after the Madoff fraud, the financial crisis, and other reported financial mismanagement seemed to initially steer people to the fundraiser candidate. Thankfully, the board moved to Berman, who is a thoughtful and thought-provoking rabbi with an academic degree. Appointing a fundraiser would have missed, perhaps, the fundamental issue afflicting both American Orthodoxy and YU: First you run out of ideas, then you run out of money.

I view the recent debate around the OU position paper on women in the same light. Without commenting on the actual position taken by the seven-member rabbinic panel (some of whom were my esteemed rabbis and teachers at YU), I think it is reasonable to conclude that this has come too late. The changes in womens prominence in Torah and halakhic issues, engendered primarily by ground-breaking programs in Nishmat, Matan, and Midreshet Lindenbaum in Israel, has evolved over the last 20 years. The debate on womens roles and the community roles they have occupied and continue to serve in, has been proceeding in the United States for over a decade. It would appear that the papers focus on clergy was a response to Rabbi Avi Weiss, who successfully provoked that issue from the outside and effectively laid the framework for the response. Unfortunately, only now, when it simmered past the boiling point in America, was it taken up in a serious manner.

Here, too, a central issue affecting the future of American orthodoxy was not led by the ideas and ideals of American Orthodoxy. It was, to use a political term, led from behind, or reacted to. Of course, when we think back to Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchiks groundbreaking positions on womens Torah learningTorah in general, our approach to modern society, and other ideas and ideals critical to American Orthodoxyone can only longingly marvel at the Ravs leadership, ideas, ideals, and wisdom.

I think these two issues are related. American orthodoxy is suffering from a lack of ideas and ideals that are the direct result of a lack of leadership. The question is: What happened to those leaders? I think the answer is inherent in the appointment of Rabbi Dr. Berman. Like Rabbi Berman, they, the future leaders, moved to Israel. Moreover, I would argue, the ideas and ideals that animate American Orthodoxy and will, necessarily, impel it forward in the 21st century, have also moved to Israel. I think we can spot the watershed moment when the future leadership departed.

From 1991-92, I was the news editor of The Commentator, the student newspaper of Yeshiva University. While happily minding my business at a bar mitzvah, I overheard two YU board members discussing the potential decision to close down the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. A short time later, I broke the story in The Commentator, leading to a wave of protests, intrigue, and showdowns between the YU Administration and its students. I can still hear the drum beats in President Lamms office, and the chants of protestors outside of Furst Hall. The words of The Day the Revel died sung to the tune of American Pie still linger in my head. These memories were recently brought to the fore.

Protests outside Furst Hall, circa 1992. CAPTION AND CREDIT HERE

I was the reporter of those events but many of its protagonists were my friends. Importantly, many are still my friends today. One of the leaders of the protests recently sent me an email with a photo of one of the demonstrations with the caption, We used to learn about history, now we are a relic of history. Actually, I told him, In fact you are a part of the future.

This photo of those Revel protests is hanging in a new lounge for the Revel School in Washington Heights. Rabbi Jeffrey Saks, who sent me the picture, described his strange feeling at walking into the lounge to give a talk and seeing himself on the wall. When he sent it to me, I kept staring at it. I could not tear myself away from looking at all of the people and placards. Part of it was nostalgia. Part of it was reliving the excitement of those times, where westudents, professors, board members and reporterscan now say that we saved the Revel graduate school. It is certainly good to feel young again, the memories of the adrenaline rushing through my system as we hurried out newspaper after newspaper to keep up with the events.

However, as I looked more closely at the picture, my adrenaline and nostalgia were overwhelmed by a sense of foreboding. This picture did not tell the story of the Revel Graduate School and its salvation. It told the story of a watershed moment in American Jewish History, particularly Modern Orthodox Jewish history in America. It was the moment the future leadership, ideas, and ideals made Aliyah.

I look closely at the pictures Michael Segal, whose drumbeats in Dr. Lamms office still give me a headache, is now Professor Michael Segal and head of the Mandel Institute of Bible Studies at Hebrew University (where he also serves as editor of the University Bible Project). Rabbi Saks is now running ATID with Rabbi Chaim Brovender, an institute which trains Orthodox educators from around the world. Rabbi Hillel Novetsky is embarking on one of the most ambitious online Torah projects ever. Called, Rabbi Novetsky is using modern web technology to enable Torah and Bible study at a high level. Rabbi Yitzchak Blau teaches at many seminaries in the Jerusalem area.

Of the original seven members of CPR (The Committee for the Preservation of Revel), five are living in Israel: Rabbi Yitzchak Blau, Saks, Segal, Novetsky, and Beth Zuckerman Prebor. Two of them, Rabbis Robert Klapper and Yaakov Blau, have remained in the U.S. Many, many others who were involved at the time are living in Israel and are well-regarded educators and intellectuals. I know because I see them and reminisce with them often. The people who cared deeply about Judaism, Jewish thought, and the future of Jewish educationenough to risk their reputations and careersmoved to Israel, where they teach many of the Centrist-Orthodox American kids in Yeshivot and Universities in Israel.


What happened in that time is that the future intellectual and Jewish leadership of Modern Orthodoxy and perhaps Orthodoxy as a whole decided to make Aliyah. Like Nehemia, 2,500 years ago they decided to leave Shushan behind and move to Israel to build the future of the Jewish people. Some of those involved in the Revel protests stayed and have gone on to do wonderful things in America. However, the critical mass of young potential leaders moved on and with it the animated vision for the future. Perhaps, this is but the expansion of a trend that Rav Aharon Lichtenstein started 40-plus years ago when he moved his family to Israel and to where he said was the Major Leagues of Torah. However, over the last two decades, beginning with the Revel leaders, the trend has gained steam and it is now decisive.

Those who were focused on the future of the Jewish people understood that it was happening in Zion. Despite being immigrants and having accents, they have integrated and influenced Israeli society and the future of World Judaism because the future is not in America nor England. Jewish tradition, innovation and renaissance in Tanach, ritual, Torah, and life is happening in Israel. It is where the vibrant discussion is taking place and where the intellectual leadership resides. The core debates on our future are happening in Israel. To wit, the same discussion on womens roles is happening in Israel but it is causing far less of a schism. There is more of a rainbow in the national and religious spectrum that accommodates it so the discussion is, in fact, more nuanced and civilized. As I referenced earlier, it is in Israel that most of the Yoatzot (female, Halakhic advisers) are trained and where the idea was birthed. Nishmats Rabbanit Henkin pioneered this vision almost two decades ago and Malka Bina at Matan took womens learning to new heights. Like Rav Lichtenstein, both were American and they too made aliyah with these indispensable ideas and ideals.

That same sense is what I think explains the choice to bring Rabbi Ari Berman back to Yeshiva University as its president. Think about it. The leading institution of Orthodoxy in America could not find anyone in America to lead it. It had to go to Israel, where, apparently they too realized that both the center of Torah and the vision for Judaism and Jewish identity has moved. American Orthodoxy has long promoted Zionism, however, the numbers of olim coming from its communities has been sparse and remains a slowish drip. Rarely, if ever, does a leading pulpit rabbi in Teaneck, Woodmere, or Los Angeles stand up and suggest that one should follow his Zionist ideals and Jewish depth to Israel. The last one may have been Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who left behind Lincoln Square Synagogue at his and its height to settle a hilltop in Efrat and who has influenced Judaism globally from Israel. And so the dissonance continues. The potential idealist leaders, creative innovators and new ideas have already moved to Zion over the last two decades and assumed meaningful positions in Israel.

I guess, on some level, American Orthodoxy succeeded in exporting its future but not its masses.

What are those ideas and ideals that can inspire American Orthodoxy for the future? Actually, here too I think looking at Israel is instructive and perhaps, even more worrisome for American Orthodoxy. It is not only at the level of Jewish ideas that Israel is now leading, it is also where the future economy and economic moorings of the Jewish people is moving. As the innovation economy continues to gather steam, influence and wealth is increasingly coming from technology centers and entrepreneurship. For the last almost 100 years, the center of Jewish philanthropy and wealth has been New York City. This is quickly changing. It is simultaneously moving to San Francisco and Tel Aviv and for the same reason: technological innovation. These are transitions that take decades but they are well underway and it has profound implications.

This foundational economic change is a challenge for Yeshiva University and American (Orthodox) Jewry as a whole. It is a multi-faceted challenge. The first one is occupational. More and more jobs are moving to the technology sector. Moreover, many of the well-paying traditional professional jobs that Orthodox Jews occupy are also under threat of disruption from automation, Artificial Intelligence and technology, emanating from San Francisco, Tel Aviv and New York itself. Jewish educational institutions in America are woefully behind in the sciences, technology and entrepreneurship. This is true for most elementary schools and all the way through to my alma mater YU. Catching up is going to be very expensive and very difficult in a system that is already financially strained.

Many American Jews who want their children to raise families, to send their kids to Jewish day schools are in a conundrum. Families likely cannot send their children to Jewish Day School without a scholarship unless they have a steady and/or very high income. Most innovation sector jobs pay less initially (although that is changing) and are higher risk from the perspective of career stability. In the innovation economy you will switch jobs, willy-nilly, every 3-5 years. Due to the aforementioned technology disruption and the changing nature of employment, it is very likely that over the coming decades, you are not going to be a lifetime employee at Morgan Stanley or Simpson Thatcher. The economy and world is changing and is ever more entrepreneurial and unstable. We are passing through the professional job era of my son is a Jewish doctor or my son is a Jewish lawyer that the community has grown accustomed to.

Which brings me to the fundamental challenge of the coming decades. If the leading minds of American Orthodoxy are moving to Israel and if the leading Torah and Jewish institutions are in Israel, and the innovation-centric wealth will grow in Tel Aviv and San Francisco, what will be left of the intellectual vision for American Jewry, particularly Orthodox Jewry whose epicenter is New York and the East Coast. Who, in the academic, rabbinic, and lay leadership will articulate a vision beyond Torah UMadda at Yeshiva University and the broader community? If the future leadership continues to make Aliyah, who will paint a path forward for a communal and community ethos? Who will confront growing assimilation? Birthright long ago outsourced its Jewish identity needs to Israel by sending kids there for 10 days. A one-year gap program in Israel is now de rigueur for most Orthodox Jewish kids and many Jewish youth of other denominations wishing to grow in Torah studies and Jewish identity. To this day, the U.S. Jewish community has been unable to provide this deep identity need. That search and crystallization of identity for most Jewish kids has moved to Israel.

So now what? A priori, there are two choices. The first is to attempt to rebuild and seriously address the future. With one eye toward ever-encroaching assimilation, American (Orthodox) Jewry must rediscover both its leadership and its ethos. American Orthodoxy must effectively confront these many issues, from technology (in both the Jewish and professional sense) to womens leadership and other critical issues of our time. That will require new ideas, ideals, and a cadre of leaders. Since we are all trained to think linearly, that is the natural choice. However, I would argue that it is a choice wrought with cognitive dissonance between the ideals you are taught and the surroundings you live in. It is a bet that the future of your economic situation looks much like the last 5-6 decades and that your institutions can shift their foci and educational training from a standing start.

The second is to acknowledge the disruption. The future is, in fact, highly non-linear and definitely unpredictable. The politics and economic gyrations of the last decade should make that plain and obvious at this point. Like Nehemia and the Revel Rebels, you can be a part of the non-linear disruption to lead the future of Jewry where the future is happening. YU under Rabbi Berman can lead that Nehemiah-like non-linear future. It can start thinking and acting toward building the Orthodox footbridge to Israel in a serious way. It can join the trend of Jewish leaders following their ideals to Israel and dramatically increase the momentum of that trend. That future includes technology education at the highest levels in the world, a risk-taking ethos in the new 21st century economy, and an affordable Jewish education rooted in a Jewish calendar and Jewish holidays. It is an approach that will be consistent with your ideals, ideas, hopes and prayers. It is not necessarily the most comfortable, or linear, option but it is likely the most effective. It is where the future of your Judaism and Jewishness lies. Perhaps, most importantly, the Jewish State, is also the greatest bulwark against assimilation, the multi-generational assault on Jewish peoplehood, that with the passage of time is overwhelming all denominations of American Jewry.

Michael Eisenberg is a partner at Aleph, a venture capital fund based in Tel Aviv. Recently, he published The Vanishing Jew, A Wake Up Call From The Book of Esther and Ben Baruch, an analysis of Tractate Brachot in the Jerusalem Talmud. He is a graduate of Yeshiva University and lives in Jerusalem with his wife and 8 children.

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Michael Eisenberg – Tablet Magazine

Lorain synagogue epxresses solidarity after vandalism – Chronicle … – Chronicle Telegram

LORAIN Several hundred people attended Saturday services at Agudath BNai Israel Synagogue to stand in solidarity with the congregation after the synagogue was recently vandalized with a swastika and anti-Semitic message.

A day care worker at Agudath Bnai Israel Synagogue, 1715 Meister Road, arrived at work last week and saw a swastika carved into a metal door frame followed by an anti-Semitic statement, We will rise and gas you (expletive), according to a police report.

Many local public officials including the mayor, several city council members, current and former Lorain County commissioners and several Lorain County Court of Common Pleas judges attended.

Zachary Simonoff, a member of the synagogue who also serves on the synagogues board, spoke during a phone interview after the service in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the synagogue.

Simonoff said such an act of vandalism will not scare those like him who attend services at the synagogue. Synagogue officials met with the Anti-Defamation League last Sunday, security has been increased and Lorain police contacted the FBI and continues to investigate the vandalism.

The vandalism at the Lorain synagogue occurred among a backdrop of 122 bomb threats called in to Jewish organizations in three dozen states since Jan. 9 and a rash of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries, as reported by the Associated Press.

Simonoff said Jews have been considered outsiders and persecuted for centuries, and recent acts of anti-Semitism are troubling. However, he said the turnout Saturday reaffirms his belief that although the roots of anti-Semitism run deep, they dont spread far.

The vast majority of people in Lorain and Lorain County are not anti-Semitic, and I think this is really a sign of ignorance, he said.

When hatred appears, the best thing to do is to speak out against it, Simonoff said. People also should educate themselves on different religions and learn about Jewish persecution and the Holocaust as World War II gets further and further from public consciousness, he said.

I personally believe that the moment any anti-Semitism or racism rears its head, youve got to kick it in the teeth as soon as possible so as not to give it a chance to grow, Simonoff said. Were not going anywhere. We are going to continue to practice Judaism as we have in Lorain for more than 100 years.

Lorain police Capt. Roger Watkins attended the service along with other members of the police department including Chief Cel Rivera. Watkins grew up in Lorain and said his father worked at the synagogue as a janitor after retirement and his mother helps out in the kitchen there.

I was really glad to see so many people come out in a show of support to that temple, he said.

Lorain County Commissioner Matt Lundy said the vandalism wasnt the focus of the discussion following the service. Those present were more focused on discussing how to move forward since this has not happened before, he said.

I think its important that we stand together as a community during times like this, Lundy said. I think we need to send a clear message that we as a community reject hate. What happened is not a reflection of the countys values, and many people are disturbed, disappointed and quite saddened that something like this could happen.

Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer echoed those sentiments and said Lorain is united and will not tolerate such hatred.

The freedom to worship is a basic American ideal and we all need to protect it when it is attacked, he said. We really are the International City and we have open arms to multiple races, different nationalities and different religions. We are a community whose strength is built upon the fabric of diversity in many different ways. Todays crowd was just another example of that.

Contact Jon Wysochanski at 329-7123 or

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Lorain synagogue epxresses solidarity after vandalism – Chronicle … – Chronicle Telegram

Purim Provides a Guide for American Jews on How to Fight anti-Semitism – Haaretz

The heroes of Purim stood proudly as Jews. They worked with the non-Jews around them, especially those in power, and together they defeated those who conspired against them.

This Sunday we Jews will eat hamentaschen (triangular pastries), drink wine, and shake groggers (noisemakers) to celebrate Judaisms most fun holiday: Purim.

Yet, underneath all this frivolity, Purim is essentially about Jewish confrontation with anti-Semitism. In different historical contexts, anti-Semites from Haman to Pharaoh to Hitler have extended anti-Semitism to its ultimate expressiongenocide, the extermination of the Jewish people.

Purim strikes a particularly somber note this year. Many Jews had come to believe that anti-Semitism had largely subsided in the US. From an attitudinal perspective this may well be true:

According to Pew Foundation studies (most recent survey January 9-23, 2017), non-Jewish Americans feel more warmly toward Jews than toward any other religious group in our society, outside of their own.

Within the last few months, however, the FBI and ADL have tabulated a significant rise in anti-Semitic incidents, including 100+ bombing threats against Jewish Community Centers and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Rochester.

How are we to understand this discrepancy between the relative warmth non-Jewish Americans feel toward Jews and the recent rise in anti-Semitic incidents? How can both be possible at the same time the same society?

Numerous sociological studies indicate that relatively fewroughly 15%of members in any group are predisposed toward bigotry because of their psychologically authoritarian personalities.

The Hamans and Hitlers of the world often start with Jews as their targets, but then add many others in their hatred. These authoritarian individuals tend to express bigotry against a range of others, such as Muslims, African Americans, gays and lesbians, refugees. Theyre even prejudiced against groups that dont exist, like Lilliputians.

Furthermore, they can be found throughout the political spectrum. Anti-Semites on the left, for example, tend to view Jews as financial and political elites who oppress the less affluent and educated; right-wing anti-Semites tend to condemn Jews for preponderant liberalism and cosmopolitanism.

This is why anti-Semitism is essentially best understood as one particular manifestation of human bigotry. Xenophobia may have different victims, but all of its expressions are prejudicial cousins to anti-Semitism. With roots in irrational stereotyping, anti-Semitism resists fact-checking. In the mind of the anti-Semite, Jews can be simultaneously communists and capitalists.

What is more, this recognition of the familial relationship of anti-Semitism to other bigotry is key to effectively fighting anti-Semitism. To do so, we enlarge the we standing strong together with our non-Jewish neighbors to oppose all prejudice.

Fighting prejudice universally, however, does not necessarily come easy. Prejudice comes from both nature and nurture, so almost all of us have biases to overcome. Biologically its hard-wired into us. Our cultural environmentand need to conform to itthen influences the targets of our bigotry.

Societally, the communities that have been most effective in eradicating prejudice have 1. Isolated the approximately 15% of hard-core bigotsand 2. Worked in coalition with everyone else to change culture, through leadership, education, government, laws and law enforcement, media, and religion.

This is why we need the President, Congress, the press, and other leaders to proclaim, together, a zero tolerance policy against all acts of bigotry whereby every perpetrator will be prosecuted and punished. The recent letter by all 100 Senators was a step in the right direction.

Such statements need to be more than lip service. Opposition to hatred needs to be enshrined in law and investigated seriously and prosecuted diligently. In Shushan, Mordecai and Esther could not have succeeded in their fight against Human without the support of King Ahasuerus.

On a personal level, overcoming our inherent prejudices takes focus and work. We need to open ourselves up to personal interactions with others, celebrate our differences, and commit to living in mutual respect.

We Jews, in particular, can best begin with ourselves. By studying and practicing Judaism, we can build inner resilience and outer dignity. When we stand tall, exemplifying Judaisms highest values and respecting others identities and practices, we can reach the peak pluralistic balance of living as proud Jews while nurturing friendships and partnerships with everyone else.

Let us learn from Esther and Mordecai. They stood up proudly as Jews. They worked with the non-Jews around them, especially Queen Esthers husband, King Ahasuerus. Together they defeated Haman and foiled his plot to exterminate the Jews.

When we too stand proudly as Jews and work in coalition with others, all of us can effectively fight anti-Semitism in our own day.

Mark L. Winer served as a full-time pulpit rabbi for 30 years in the New York area and 13 years in London, England. He is also a sociologist (Ph.D. Yale), and has written widely on interfaith relations and contemporary Jewry. Mark and his wife Suellen live in Boca Raton.

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Purim Provides a Guide for American Jews on How to Fight anti-Semitism – Haaretz

Israel’s World Baseball Classic run going unnoticed back home

AP 2:07 p.m. ET March 11, 2017

USA TODAY Sport’s Bob Nightengale breaks down the teams to watch at this year’s World Baseball Classic. USA TODAY Sports

Israel players pose for photographs with the team mascot.(Photo: Chung Sung-Jun, Getty Images)

JERUSALEM (AP) Israel is the big surprise of the World Baseball Classic, upsetting three teams, generating buzz and offering a mascot like no other The Mensch on the Bench.

Back home, no one seems to notice.

Baseball has long been overlooked in Israel, seen as an arcane and boring game. This team consists almost entirely of American pros of Jewish descent. It has been derided as a group of mercenaries with little connection to the country.

Israel entered this showcase tournament ranked 41st in the world, the lowest ranked and last team to qualify. In quick succession, however, the Israelis beat third-ranked South Korea 2-1 in extra innings in the opening game before topping fourth-ranked Taiwan 15-7 and ninth-ranked the Netherlands 4-2 to finish first in Pool A with a 3-0 record.

Next up in the second round is Cuba on Sunday in Tokyo, with a chance to advance to the semifinals.

For the small Israeli baseball community this has been nothing short of astounding, creating a wave of pride in their disparaged sport. The country has only one baseball-specific field and only about 1,000 active players who are well accustomed to fielding incredulous questions from native-born Israelis about their funny gear and the difference between a home run and a strikeout.

Israels WBC games havent been broadcast on the national sports channel and have been mentioned only briefly in the media. Most Israelis likely arent even aware they have a national team or understand it is competing against the worlds best in the sports most prestigious global event.

That includes the countrys sport minister. Asked in a radio interview whether she was planning to travel to South Korea, Miri Regev had no idea what was happening there. When pressed, she said she knew a baseball team existed but not much more.

I may be the sports minister but I dont pretend to know every player and every team in detail, she said on Army Radio. My job is to promote them. Obviously it is not one of the preferred fields that we invest in.


USA learns tough World Baseball Classic lesson – and survives Colombia, too

USAs Danny Duffy to be emotional Saturday when USA faces Dominican Republic

In Israel, soccer and basketball reign. Baseball has been one of the most popular sports among American Jews, but in Israel it has mostly been the domain of a loyal group of American immigrants.

It failed to catch on with the rough-and-tumble native-born Israelis. When it came to imported American sports, they took more of a liking to the strategy and hard hitting of football. In 2007, a group of American supporters launched the Israel Baseball League, a professional league comprised almost entirely of foreign players. It folded after one season.

Team manager Jerry Weinstein acknowledged that generating more interest in Israel was one of the teams primary goals.

Thats what were trying to do, help grow the game in Israel, he told reporters Saturday. And I think that by playing in this (tournament) and doing well that we enlighten peoples awareness.

Support has also suffered because the team is, well, not very Israeli. Thanks to the WBCs heritage rule, its players are almost all Americans with major or minor league experiences and varying degrees of ties to Judaism and Israel. The roster includes only two Israeli citizens, both little-used pitchers, and eight of the Americans visited Israel for the first time only two months ago to learn about the country.

Lets stop pretending like they really represent Israel because it is doubtful that someone who doesnt live in a country and has never visited it can truly develop affection toward it, Guy Leiba wrote in the popular YNet website. There is no difference between these players and African sprinters who choose to represent Arab countries for a few dollars.

Even so, a select few have jumped on the bandwagon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who lived in America and has American-born aides who have played baseball and softball locally, tweeted a greeting to the team as it mowed through the competition in South Korea.

The ritual, plus fans sporting Jew Crew T-shirts and the mascot with a Yiddish name mensch meaning a responsible person of integrity has given the team a far more Jewish flavor than Israeli. And that, says sportscaster Gil Barak of Sports 5 TV Channel, makes it even tougher for locals to connect.

Even though he covers sports for a living, Barak said he couldnt name a single player on the team, and Israelis just couldnt identify with such a group.

No one knows anything about the game and this is entirely alien, he said. Its a sport that has no past here, has no future and has no present.


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Israel’s World Baseball Classic run going unnoticed back home

Not just prayers: synagogues are organizing to fight Trump’s agenda – Cleveland Jewish News

NEW YORK The day after the presidential election, as congregants gathered in her Brooklyn synagogue to air their feelings, Rabbi Rachel Timoner was already starting to organize against the incoming administration.

She called her local city councilman, Democrat Brad Lander, and together they organized an activists panel at her congregation, Beth Elohim, to discuss policy changes under President Donald Trump. More than 1,000 people packed the sanctuary for the event.

Four months later, Beth Elohim has been transformed into an activist hub in Brooklyns affluent and historically progressive Park Slope neighborhood. Together with Lander, the synagogue has set up 15 working groups on liberal causes ranging from combating anti-Semitism and Islamophobia to protecting reproductive rights. Ten thousand people are active in the groups, and seven mass meetings of the activists, educating them on issues and teaching organizing tactics, have drawn an average crowd of 1,000.

Our people are awakened, activated, determined, in some cases alarmed, and deeply wanting to be part of preventing harm and healing this country, Timoner said. I have literally hundreds of members who are in acute pain, who are seeing their country become distorted.

Beth Elohim is among several synagogues that have doubled down on political activism since Trumps election. Synagogues are taking on roles usually reserved for nonprofits hiring professional activists, organizing protests, mobilizing congregants to lobby and educating them on immigrant and refugee rights. Several synagogues sent delegations to the Womens March on Washington and its local offshoots in January.

Some of these synagogues dont see the work as partisan, aimed as they are directly at Trumps policies. (Trump himself has called for loosening federal laws that prevent houses of worship from endorsing political candidates.) Others, citing overwhelming demand among their congregants, are less concerned about appearing political. But they all say that regardless of the risks, this is the moment for synagogues to offer their members a chance to engage on issues that matter to them in a Jewish context.

We have Torah, and Torah is very clear that we do not oppress the stranger, that we love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves, Timoner said. What I think it offers to have things like this happen in a synagogue is it provides the moral framework.

Beth Elohim has received a grant to hire a community organizer, a step Manhattans Stephen Wise Free Synagogue is also taking, fueled by more than $100,000 in congregant donations. Stephen Wise is organizing its members into three activist groups on refugees and immigrants; anti-Semitism and Islamophobia; and protecting civil liberties.

Stephen Wise helped raise $20,000 for Jews in Whitefish, Montana, when they were threatened by white supremacists in January. In June, a delegation from the synagogue will travel to Greece and Germany to aid refugees, while educating kids at the synagogue about refugee rights. Ammiel Hirsch, the synagogues rabbi, expects groups to lobby legislators on a range of issues as well.

Judaism is a faith that believes in action, in making the world a better place through policy, Hirsch said. Theres got to be a force of legislation behind it. Otherwise, its just a question of localized humanitarian action, without regard to collective policies that ensure were on a higher moral plane.

Other synagogues have collaborated in interfaith initiatives or served as spaces for activist gatherings. Bnai Jeshurun in Manhattan was the site of a rally that drew thousands before the New York City womens march in January. The synagogue has also set up an action alert list with 200 subscribers to mobilize congregants for protests.

Bnai Jeshurun congregants at the HIAS rally for refugees in February. (Courtesy of Bnai Jeshurun)

For some of these synagogues, the current activism is just an intensification of a historical tilt toward political engagement. Bnai Jeshurun has a longstanding program to aid New York State farmworkers, while Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C., led two trips to aid undocumented immigrants in Texas in 2014 and 2016, before Trumps election.Synagogues nationwide have long been active on Israel policy, and in the 1970s and 1980s, on behalf ofSoviet Jewry.

But some congregants see synagogue-based political action as a step too far. David Horowich, a Reform Jewish businessman from Syracuse who voted for Trump, appreciates Reform Judaisms cultural and communal aspects. But he feels synagogues shouldnt be in the business of political advocacy, because its not always easy to judge whether policies are successful.

I havent been in favor of coming out with statements that are political, because sometimes they can come back and haunt you, Horowich said. Im open to people expressing their opinions, but you have to wait until it all plays out.

For those who oppose him, Trumps policies on refugees and immigration have become a particular focus of synagogue activism. All four religious denominations and several major organizations opposed the first iteration of his immigrationban in January.

In response to Trumps immigration policies, several synagogues have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. For some synagogues, including Temple Sinai, that means setting aside rooms should undocumented immigrants need a place tolive. Others, like Philadelphias Congregation Beth Zion-Beth Israel, which is exploring becoming a sanctuary,are holding classes for immigrants and others on immigrant and refugee rights.

Our religious tradition teaches about not only welcoming the stranger but not oppressing the stranger, and making sure the most vulnerable in our midst has been protected and cared for, said Temple Sinai Rabbi Jonathan Roos. The level of fear is at a level unseen during the Obama years, even when the level of deportations was high.

The push for synagogue activism appears to be spreading. Timoner has held two conference calls with rabbis interested in Beth Elohims model. And Truah, the rabbinichuman rights group, drew 200 rabbis to a conference in February, called No Time for Neutrality, that ended with 19 rabbis getting arrested during a protest in front of a Trump hotel in New York City.

We have more power, privilege and social capital than weve ever had in this country, said Beth Zion-Beth Israel Rabbi Yosef Goldman.Its an opportunity for us to be vigilant about using our power to defend our own community, but [also] to defend those around us who are more vulnerable than we are.

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Not just prayers: synagogues are organizing to fight Trump’s agenda – Cleveland Jewish News

Racism with a kosher seal of approval – Ynetnews

The friends of former Knesset Member Sharon Gal (Yisrael Beytenu), who is currently hanging out at the Big Brother house, sent a helicopter up to the sky with the sign If a Zionist is a racist, Im proud to be racist. It would have been more accurate to write, If being a racist is Zionist, Im proud to be a Zionist, as Gals Zionism is not the fulfillment or the creation of an exemplary Jewish society. Rather, it is mostly about hating Arabs and leftists.

And whats wrong with that, youre wondering. The Arabs are our enemies, and the leftists collaborate with our enemies. I could try to explain what is wrong with that, what is wrong, for example, with an idea of MK Miki Zohar (Likud) that Israel annex the territories and give the Arabs all democratic rights apart from voting. I could try to explain, but it seems that this is the classic case of the luxury restaurant: If you have to ask how much it costs, you cant afford it. If you need an explanation as to what is wrong with Zohars proposal or Gals world view, its unlikely that an explanation would do any good.

The goal of this op-ed is more modestnot to explain what is wrong with racism, but to point out the other places that the legitimization of racism is leading us to. Take, for example, the institutionalized racism in the ultra-Orthodox sector towards Sephardic girls seeking admission into Haredi-Ashkenazi educational institutions.

The students were deemed unfit not because they are Sephardic, but because they are not Ashkenazi (Archive photo: Dudi Vaknin)

Ahead of the previous school year, the candidacy of dozens of girls from Elad, most of whom were of Sephardic descent, was rejected by the Darkei Hanna School and the Ladaat Chokhmah Seminary in the Haredi city, which is located beyond the Green Line. Why were they rejected? Because they are unsuitable. Why are they unsuitable? Thats an excellent question. It has nothing to do with the fact that they are specifically Sephardic. It has more to do with the fact that they are not Ashkenazi.

The students parents petitioned the court. Following the court and Education Ministrys intervention, it was agreed that the Elad Municipality would move to a regional registration method, which would make it difficult to disqualify a student due to the descent of her parents or parents parents. Like the Israeli government, the Elad Municipality made a decision in principle, but failed to actually change the admission system. And the Sephardic candidates wereagaindeemed unfit to be admitted into these prestigious (and completely Ashkenazi) educational institutions.

The parents petitioned the court again, requesting that the municipality be forced to implement the decision it made in the past. The court accepted the petition. Happy ending? Not exactly.

Elad Mayor Israel Porush didnt like the decision. What do I mean by didnt like it? He really didnt like it. He declared that the court ruling contradicts the explicit order of the greatest sages of Israel, may they live long and happily, and we will turn to them to hear what should be done. Social MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) even announced that this is a day of disgrace. Have you ever heard such a thing? 100% Kosher Jews seek to practice racism, according to their forefathers finest racist tradition, and the secular state, which is suspected of leftism due to its being secular, is trying to stand in their way? Outrageous!

First of all, we must admit that the Haredi argument is essentially justified. Indeed, traditional Judaism does not believe in equalitynot between Jews and non-Jews, men and women or scholars and the uneducated. The former in each of these three pairs deserve favored treatment. An Arab, even a good Arab, is not a real human being; a woman, even a good woman, is not really a man; and a secular person, even a good secular person, will never be equal to a religious scholar (who is better than the greatest secular scholar, even if he is a complete fool).

The discrimination against Sephardim may not be according to the law of the Bible, but it is definitely prescribed by the rabbis (the greatest sages of Israel, may they live long and happily). And in the new Israel, the secular courts rulings are always conditional, until we find out what the Torah sages have to say.

And what does Minister Aryeh Machluf Deri (Shas) think about it? The minister was deeply offended when artist Yair Garbuz dared to talk about amulet kissers. Racism! And what about Elad? The Shas voters, Deri ruled, have more urgent problems than discrimination. If you are with us in the racism towards Arabs, we will forgive your racism towards Sephardim.

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Racism with a kosher seal of approval – Ynetnews

Shore communities stoic as bomb threats rattle JCCs – Daily Record

Alex N. Gecan, @GeeksterTweets 11:04 a.m. ET March 10, 2017

People clap as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers remarks at the Kaplen Jewish Community Center on the Palisades during a rally against recent bomb threats made to jewish centers, Friday, March 3, 2017, in Tenafly, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)(Photo: AP)

Bomb threats. Evacuations. Religious vandalism.

Since January, scores of Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) and day schools in at least 30 states have received over 100 bomb threats. In New Jersey, 19 incidents at religious facilities throughout New Jersey have been reported; eight were bomb threats targeting six JCCs

No explosive devices were found at any of the centers, but the sudden spike in threats has shaken communities and, so far, raised more questions than answers, including who is behind them, why they are doing it and why they are doing it right now.

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“This is nothing that we’ve seen before,” Joshua Cohen, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey office, told the Asbury Park Press. “They’ve been coming in waves since the beginning of the year. There were bomb threats that were called into Jewish institutions last year, and these happened from time to time, but nothing like this wave.”

JCCs: Bomb threats raise old fears

He said that the purposes of bomb threats are twofold – “to disrupt operations and to create fear and panic in the community. This wave of bomb threats, while credible, has created fear and panic in the community.”

When asked what he attributed the increase in bomb threats to, Cohen said the recent political climate – a contentious presidential election, the emergence of the so-called “alt-right” – could be a factor.

“Individuals are feeling empowered and emboldened to act out, speak out, commit acts of anti-Semitism in an environment where they may not have felt comfortable to do so,” he said.

While the most recent bomb threats represent a sudden spike in anti-Semitic incidents, hate crimes targeting Jews and Muslims were already trending upward in the state even as total bias incidents have begun to decline, an Asbury Park Press analysis of state police data found in 2016.

Crimes against both Jewish and Muslim New Jerseyans spiked in 2015. Religiously motivated hate crimes had been in decline until rising 10 percent in 2015.

Of the victims of religiously motivated bias crimes, Jews were the most common targets with 113 reported incidents in 2015. There were 14 reported Muslim victims and only six targets of other religions.

According to the Pew Research Center, Muslims comprise only three percent of adults in New Jersey, and six percent are Jewish.

Old sickness, new symptoms

“To be honest, I think this has always been our reality, and I think this nation has some unfinished business around race religions,” said Elizabeth Williams-Riley, president of the American Conference on Diversity. “It’s always been a part of the fabric of our nation, it’s why we exist as an organization. So what has happened is the platform has been given to, in a very bold way, folks who can now see their own attitudes and behaviors as being right, or being reinforced, or being celebrated.”

Williams-Riley recalled a surge in reported hate crimes following the 2016 Presidential election.

“It was occurring in K through twelfth grades most frequently, which is a tremendous ‘ah-ha’ for us,” she said, referring to reports of students hurling Islamophobic, racist and otherwise discriminatory remarks after the 2016 election. “I’ve also heard a lot about students feeling more open to say things about LGBTQ students and saying things about them not belonging, and they need to get themselves together.”

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American with disabilities have also faced increased harassment under the new administration, she said, because “one of the first things that Trump did was mock someone with a disability,” in reference to then-candidate Donald Trump’s apparent mocking criticism in November 2015 of New York Times investigative reporter Serge Kovaleski, who lives with arthrogryposis.

Racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, vitriol towards those seen as foreign – none of these are new sentiments. Williams-Riley suggests that kids learn biases at home, in their families. But now that Americans have seen groups like the so-called alt-right eating up airtime and a presidential candidate-cum-president stoke nationalist ire, they have become confident enough to act out on those beliefs. “In this instance, the notion to be openly bigoted or openly biased, to express yourselves about certain things, has been violated,” she said.

Politicking in response

Whatever the ideological motivation for the threats, if there even is one, other experts say that the reaction has been extremely political.

“I think the issue here, the reason this has become a bigger political issue, is because for many … President Trump’s response was slow in coming, to the point where we now have all 100 U.S. senators demanding action in response to these anti-Semitic incidents from the White House,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “That kind of unanimity almost never happens these days, and therefore an issue that might not be political has become political.”

TRUMP: “Anti-Semitism is horrible, and it’s going to stop and it has to stop.”

President Trump spoke out against the threats and vandalism at Jewish centers during his speech to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28: “Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a Nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”

To his critics, the denunciation – like his repudiation of former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke – was too little, too late.

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Dworkin urged against ascribing a political motive to the bomb threats.

“That’s plausible, but until we capture somebody or until we find an email that says ‘somebody is planning this and doing it,’ it is simply a plausible reason,” he said.

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In the 2016 presidential election, exit polls showed that 71 percent of Jewish voters cast ballots for Hillary Clinton, according to the Pew Research Center. However, Orthodox voters were more inclined to vote for Donald Trump: A September 2016 poll conducted by the American Jewish Committee found that approximately 50 percent of Orthodox voters favored Trump while 21 percent supported Clinton. Fifteen percent said they would not vote.

The president’s own daughter, Ivanka, converted to Judaism before marrying Jared Kushner, who is Orthodox, in 2009.

The Anti-Defamation League has compiled a list of bomb threats against Jewish day schools, community centers and other facilities. They counted 121 total threats in five waves between Jan. 4 and Feb. 27 nationwide – and at least another eight in a sixth wave on March 7.

The fifth wave, comprising only the day of Feb. 27, accounted for 40 bomb threats.

Federal agents have made one arrest so far in the wave of bomb threats.

Juan Thompson, 31, of Missouri is charged with sending threats to eight Jewish organizations as part of a bizarre plot to harass and discredit a former lover.

Thompson is, apparently, no stranger to the untrue. In 2016 online news agency The Intercept fired him after it “discovered that he had fabricated sources and quotes in his articles,” according to a statement from the publication.

Garden State threats

In New Jersey, the League counted seven specific bomb threats – three at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly on Jan. 9 and 31 and Feb. 27 and one each at the Jewish Community Center of Central Jersey in Scotch Plains and the Middlesex Jewish Community Center in Edison on Jan. 18, the Jewish Community Center of Metrowest New Jersey in West Orange on Jan. 31 and at the Betty and Milton Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill on Feb. 27.

On Feb. 27 the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness reported “19 incidents at religious facilities throughout New Jersey,” including eight bomb threats spread over six JCCs, but officials would not specify where each “incident” took place.

WATCH: Unity rally at Cherry Hill JCC

Asked for a list of the incidents, Special Agent Michael Whitaker, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Newark field office replied, “The FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are investigating possible civil rights violations in connection with threats to Jewish Community Centers across the country. The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence, and will ensure this matters is investigated in a fair, thorough and impartial manner. As this matter is ongoing, we are not able to comment further at this time.”

CENTRAL JERSEY: JCCs receive bomb threats

Police evacuated the Jewish Community Center of Central Jersey in Scotch Plains after the Jan. 18 bomb threat but staff and members were allowed back inside the same day. Still, Sandra Kenoff, director of marketing for JCC of Central Jersey, said it was a worrisome event.

“I think our community was very appreciative of the fact that we were pretty vigilant about our safety practice and protocol,” Kenoff said. “Certainly, it’s a concerning event to happen to the organization.”

The fallout from the threats has brought politicians of different stripes into agreement.

“Just a few days ago you had Senators (Bob) Menendez and (Cory) Booker side-by-side with (Gov.) Chris Christie up in Tenafly, New Jersey, at a rally denouncing … these incidents,” Dworkin said. “In New Jersey we have not seen that kind of politicized response.”

Shoreline connection

While the threats have certainly disrupted operations where they have forced evacuations, Jewish community organizations along the Jersey Shore have, at least for now, been insulated from much of the fear and panic.

“It hasn’t affected us really in any way practically, though we are more careful about our surroundings,” said Rabbi Shmuel Naparstek, who leads Chabad of Jackson. A newer organization, the Chabad hosts 30 to 50 people at its time in its various programs, Naparstek said.

“It has not been a factor in any of our programs or operations,” Naparstek said. I can’t speak for other organizations but personally it has not affected us.

Elsewhere in Jackson, opponents of an ordinance that would ban dormitories have denounced it as anti-Semitic. They say the ordinance directly targets the township’s Orthodox Jewish community, a specific subset of Jackson’s larger Jewish population.

“I personally have not encountered any of that animosity, and I really don’t see that as being any factor,” Naparstek said when asked if there may be escalating anti-Semitic sentiment in Jackson.

JACKSON: Swaskita, ‘white power’ graffiti appear

In Freehold Borough the Freehold Jewish Center reached out to local police, just to be on the safe side.

“I cannot tell you how good they’ve been,” Executive Director Marvin Krakower said of police in the borough and township.

“Thank God, we haven’t seen anything yet, but there’s been additional swastikas and threats,” Krakower said. “It’s just bringing out the worst right now – but most people in this country are good.”

LAKEWOOD: Cops arrest juvenile swastika suspects

Krakower applauded President Trump and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent denunciations of anti-Semitism, and that more politicians should “step up to the plate.”

Meanwhile, Cohen of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey office said it is imperative to investigate any such threats when they come in.

“We take these incidents very seriously, and we continue to work with our federal and local law enforcement partners, in addition with our local law enforcement partners,” Cohen said.

Alex N. Gecan: 732-643-4043;

The USA Today Network contributed to this report.

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Shore communities stoic as bomb threats rattle JCCs – Daily Record

We’re still here: Documentary profiles dwindling, rural Jewish populations – Amherst Bulletin

If theres a moment in the documentary There Are Jews Here that sums up the dilemma dwindling Jewish congregations face, it might be when Mickey Radman, of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, finally drops the brave face hes maintained through much of the film.

A couple years ago this was unthinkable, the elderly Radman says, as he contemplates the closing of the small synagogue hes attended for decades. And now its become a reality.

And with that, Radman, facing the camera, silently begins to cry before abruptly turning and walking away.

Radman is just one of a host of likeable and engaging people whose lives are profiled in There Are Jews Here, an acclaimed film that looks at four towns and small cities Butte, Montana; Dothan, Alabama; Laredo, Texas; and Latrobe where Jewish communities are struggling to survive.

Nationally, about 1 million of Americas roughly 5.3 million Jews live outside of major cities, the filmmakers say.

The problems for those in smaller communities are universal. Assimilation, younger people leaving for work elsewhere, elderly parishioners dying, some members simply disengaging from the community the people in There Are Jews Here face an attritional battle for which there are no easy solutions.

But the film, which screens Sunday at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, is not just a study of decline. Whether depicting prayer services, housewarming parties, or simple conversation, the documentary also offers moments of joy, humor and hope as interviewees talk about what Judaism and community mean to them.

It think the film is resonating with non-Jews, too, because ultimately its really about community, Brad Lichtenstein, the documentarys director, said during a recent phone call from his home in Milwaukee, Wis. There are declining populations in a lot of religions, not just Judaism.

Yet people crave community, Lichtenstein added, and they try to make it any way they can.

There Are Jews Here documents the unorthodox ways some communities have done this, such as Dothans pledge, through a program set up by a local Jewish philanthropist, to pay the moving expenses and related costs for Jews to resettle in the town.

And the film pays tribute to older generations passing the torch to younger people like how the tiny congregation in Latrobe vows to keep its synagogue open long enough to allow its youngest member, 12-year-old Ellie Balk, to have her bat mitzvah there.

Lichtenstein, who grew up in a Jewish community in Atlanta, has made numerous documentaries on social and cultural issues, such as a controversial mining project in a watershed area in Wisconsin and the violent 1971 uprising in Attica Prison in New York state.

He said the initial impetus for There Are Jews Here came from a friend, Mike Leven, who works with an organization that helps small Jewish communities insure their legacies if they close, such as by preserving sacred Torah scrolls or making arrangements to maintain historic cemeteries.

Mike suggested there could be a good film in some of these stories, since [the closing of Jewish communities] was happening all across the country, said Lichtenstein.

He and his co-producer, Morgan Elise Johnson, visited some 18 Jewish communities before settling on the four profiled in the film. The appeal of those towns, Lichtenstein said, came both from their diversity and the charisma of the people they talked to.

With documentaries, youre looking for people who can carry your story, and we found a really great bunch of people to talk to, he said.

Theres Nancy Oyer, for instance, of Temple Bnai Israel in Butte, where just 30 Jews live in a town of nearly 34,000 people. Oyer, a native of Chicago who moved west for work as a geologist and her love of the mountains, is energetic, warm, articulate and also weighed down by the effort of keeping her diminishing congregation afloat.

Its rewarding but exhausting, says Oyer, who also leads some of the services at her synagogue (there is no regular rabbi). In one sequence, she hires a rabbinical student from Los Angeles to lead services during High Holy Days; he jokes that when he first heard from Oyer, his immediate thought was There are Jews in Butte, Montana?

It would seem there were a fair number of them in past decades. The handsome brick synagogue, opened in 1903, appears as if it can hold well over 200 people. One of the films most enduring images shows Oyer, strumming an acoustic guitar, as she accompanies just nine people in song during a service.

In Laredo, Texas, the president of the local temple, Uriel Uri Druker, can count about 130 Jews in the community but thats in a city of over 248,000 people. We usually have just enough people to have a meeting, he says at one point.

The Laredo section includes an additional story. Susie Druker, Uris wife, grew up Catholic and became estranged for a time from her parents when she married and took steps to convert to Judaism. The familys synagogue has no education classes, though, so she attends a Torah class elsewhere in town, where discussion is in Spanish, English and Hebrew.

The couple want to stay in Laredo, but theyre worried their three young sons will grow up isolated in such a small congregation. They contemplate moving to San Antonio, which has a bigger and busier synagogue, but its a difficult decision: as Susie tearfully says, I dont want us to be just another number that left Laredo.

Dothan, in southeastern Alabama, made national news in 2008 when the plan to help Jews move to the town, by covering up to $50,000 of their moving expenses, was announced. Lichtenstein said that kind of notoriety made him reluctant at first to film there. But then he met a Jewish couple in Los Angeles who wanted to relocate to Dothan, as life in the City of Angels was too expensive.

There Are Jews Here covers, sometimes humorously, the steps that Karen and Terrence Arenson, with their young daughter, Emily, take to start a new life in the Deep South. No way! Karens mother yells when her daughter calls her to break the news. Alabama? What the hell is in Alabama?!

As Lynne Goldsmith, rabbi of Dothans Temple Emanu-el, puts it, its all about community. You really have to go out of your way here to be a Jew, she says (Dothan has about 143 Jews and an overall population of 68,000).

But between regular recreational activities like dinners and a bowling night, services at the synagogue, and a few newcomers like the Arensons, the towns Jewish members are hanging in there, Goldsmith says.

If you dont have a community, youre like a Jewish monk, she says, referring to towns where Jews no longer have any recourse for observing their faith together. And we dont do well as Jewish monks. We need community.

There Are Jews Here plays March 5 at 2 p.m. at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst. Tickets are $8 general admission, $6 for members, $4 for students.

To watch a trailer from the film, visit

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We’re still here: Documentary profiles dwindling, rural Jewish populations – Amherst Bulletin

Artist’s audio installation draws on musical traditions of Judaism … – Ottawa Citizen

Daniel Benlolo will be one of three vocalists featured in Call to Prayer. Jean Levac / Postmedia

A special audio installation at Ottawas Innovation Centre Bayview Yards is open to the public this weekend as part of this monthsJunoAwardscelebrations.

The project, called Call to Prayer, is described asan immersive sound experience that draws on the musical traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which is meant to create an emotional experience to inspire and unite.

Its really, in its most practical form, a way to display different music from different religions that people can hear that they may not be exposed to otherwise, saidBen Globerman, the Ottawa music, sound and production artist behind the project.

Globerman says the music, performed by vocalists Daniel Benlolo, Terri-Lynn Mitchell and Muna Bahumaid,will begin with separate threads in Hebrew, Latin and Arabic, respectively; and then the voices and music will gradually become entwined, ultimately forming a tonal fabric that finds harmonyin difference.

The event will be held inside the centres auditorium and will be presented through three speakers arranged at the points of a large triangle. As it unfolds, voices move around the room, eventually encircling the audience. The piece is 30 minutes and will be continuously looped throughout the day.

Its really (meant to generate) an interest in different forms of music maybe, and hopefully an appreciation for music they may not hear generally.

The project is an initiative supported by the City of Ottawa cultural funding, JunoAwards host committee, Ottawa Music Industry Coalition and the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards.

The 46thannual JunoAwards will take place at the Canadian Tire Centre on Sunday, April 2.

Call to Prayer will be presented March 11 from11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and March 12 noon to 3:30 p.m. at the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards, 7 Bayview Rd.

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Artist’s audio installation draws on musical traditions of Judaism … – Ottawa Citizen

Can Purim and Chanukah expand appreciation of Jewish diversity? – Cleveland Jewish News

Purim is upon us complete with its radical invitation to engage in satirical hilarity that focus-es both on our enemies from the Esther narrative, and on our own tendencies to take ourselves a little too seriously. This story and its attendant religious practices deserve our reflection, but the story I want to address today is that of the Maccabees.

You might be wondering why, at Purim I would focus on the Chanukah story. This is not as strange a spiritual transplant as it might seem. There are quite a few connections between these stories, despite significant differences in their respective narrative arcs. Both deal with the theme of negotiating the dynamics between Jewish and gentile culture, and the challenge of figuring out how permeable the boundary between them should be. Both texts, and the holidays built around them, also deal with direct threats to Jewish existence.

Moreover, the rabbinic tradition codifies their connection by requiring recitation of the Al ha nissim prayer, which thanks God for acts of miraculous redemption, on both holidays. These connections inspired our congregation to select the Maccabees as this years defendants for our annual theatrical mock trial. We noticed that the challenges faced by the Maccabees, and the choices they made in response, raise important questions for us in the twenty-first century. This is especially true with respect to how we think about our relationship to the larger culture around us, and how we behave toward fellow Jews who make different choices than we do.

For American Jews, the Chanukah story has created a sometimes controversial Jewish center of gravity at a time of year when Christian cultures influence is pervasive. It has also been framed as the earliest example of a most cherished American value, the fight for religious free-dom. In Israel, the Chanukah story is seen as an early example of Jews willing to take destiny into their own hands, and for whom military prowess and bravery were at the forefront of their identity.

As powerful as these readings are, Ive long been aware that there is an ironic tension that rarely gets brought to the fore, between the religious orientation of the Maccabees, and that of the majority of contemporary Jews.

This tension revolves around the balance many of us choose to strike between our Jewish identities and our participation in the larger western culture of which the Maccabees would have strongly disapproved. Would their disapproval have moved them to threaten, or seek to harm fellow Jews who embrace elements of western culture that require the rejection of tradi-tional norms? Its difficult to say for certain; unfortunately, there is no difficulty in finding re-cent, disturbing examples of violence emanating from specific sectors of the traditional Jewish community against liberal Jews, whose value system includes the modern and western ethic of gender egalitarianism, and who desire to express that value in the context of their Jewish practice at a religious site that is sacred to the entire Jewish world.

There does not, however seem to be tension between different sectors of the Jewish communi-ty around the appropriate practice of Judaism in the cultural universe of the Purim story. Perhaps we would be wise to more consciously incorporate that implied spirit of diversity into our future Purim celebrations, as a healthy counterpoint to the more strident message emanating from the Chanukah narrative. Framed thusly, the connection between these two holidays could be recon-structed as embodying both a message of Jewish pride as well as asserting the right of all Jews to interpret and practice our collective tradition in a way that is meaningful and inspiring to each of us.

Rabbi Steve Segar is spiritual leader of Kol HaLev, Cleveland’s Reconstructionist Jewish Community, in Pepper Pike.

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Can Purim and Chanukah expand appreciation of Jewish diversity? – Cleveland Jewish News

Nonprofit offers Jewish texts in English online for free – The Oakland Press

JERUSALEM For some, the notion of delving into the Talmud in English for free with the click of a mouse was something they could only dream of.

But now that dream is becoming a reality.

Earlier this month, Sefaria, a nonprofit organization devoted to Jewish text learning, announced it had uploaded 22 tractates of the renowned Steinsaltz English-language edition of the Babylonian Talmud and will post the remainder as they are translated and annotated.

The Hebrew version of the Talmud will begin going online by the end of the year at


The Talmud, considered the canon of Jewish law, is central to rabbinic Judaism but has mostly been the purview of rabbis and scholars, in part because it is written in Aramaic, and in part because it encompasses multiple volumes.

Ninety percent of the worlds Jews speak Hebrew and English, said Daniel Septimus, Sefarias executive director. The Talmud is in Aramaic. From an accessibility point of view, its a game changer.

Although there are other online Talmud editions, they are not in English or cost hundreds of dollars to access. Sefarias edition has a Creative Commons noncommercial license, meaning anyone can use it as part of the public domain for noncommercial purposes.

Known as the William Davidson Talmud, the new online edition offers parallel translations linked to major commentaries, biblical citations, midrash (ancient rabbinic literature) and halakhah (Jewish law and jurisprudence).

The project is funded by the William Davidson Foundation in cooperation with its publishers, Milta and Koren Publishers Jerusalem.

Septimus said the project, which required the efforts of 15 engineers and countless scholars and translators, has been a labor of love.

For the Jewish people, our texts are our collective inheritance, he said. They belong to everyone and Sefaria wants them to be available to everyone.

Michele Chabin is RNS Jerusalem correspondent.

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Nonprofit offers Jewish texts in English online for free – The Oakland Press

Conservative synagogues can now officially accept non-Jews as members – Religion News Service

Judaism By Lauren Markoe | 14 hours ago

Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac, Md. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

(RNS) Though some Conservative synagogues have already welcomed non-Jews as members,the body that governs Americassecond-largest stream of Judaism has now officially sanctioned the practice.

The 94-8 vote of the general assembly of the United Synagogue ofConservative Judaism the umbrella group for the movements synagogues, seminaries and rabbinicalboard now allows individual congregations to decide whether theywill extend membership to non-Jews.

The Rabbinical Assembly believes in the idea that synagogue life should be open to those who wish to be part of the Jewish community and we are enriched by their presence, said Rabbi Stewart Vogel, treasurer of the Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative rabbis.

Vogel is also vice chair of USCJs Commission on Community and Covenant, which convened last year to consider ways to engage interfaith couples.

We encourage a spirit of welcoming that can strengthen the connections of all, he said.

The March 1 vote comes at a time when the U.S. intermarriage rate for Jews hovers around 60 percent.

Though the movement had officially extended membership only to Jewspreviously, non-Jews were still considered members in some Conservative synagogues through family memberships that included all people in a household, Jewish and non-Jewish.

The Conservative movement sits between Reform, the largest stream of Judaism in the U.S., with its less strict interpretation of Jewish law, and various branches of Orthodox Judaism, the smallest and most traditional. Despite its name, which many in the movement believe no longer reflects its character, Conservative Judaism ordains women rabbis and sanctifies the marriage of gay couples.

There is pressure within the USCJ to be yet more welcoming to interfaith couples and to allow its clergyto preside at interfaith weddings an option now open to clergy in the Reform movement.

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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Conservative synagogues can now officially accept non-Jews as members – Religion News Service

Sylvania students set up museum to teach Holocaust horrors – Toledo Blade





A large glass jar held 580,000 grains of rice the contents of a 20-pound bag on display against a dark backdrop at St. Joseph Schools middle school campus in Sylvania.

A piece of paper next to the jar posed a somber question: How many jars of rice would it take to represent the 7 million Jews that died during the Holocaust?

The grim visual was the last of seven stations in a temporary Holocaust memorial museum created by Lynn Heintschels eighth-grade class.

The three-week-long research project is a precursor to the students annual visit to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Mich.

All 77 eighth graders go on the field trip, but only Ms. Heintschels class dedicates an entire unit to learning about the Holocaust.

This was their solution to teaching this to the other eighth graders, to provide them knowledge so that they can illicit some empathy, compassion, and respect for what theyre going to see there, Ms. Heintschel said.

Students walked quietly from station to station on Tuesday, learning from their peers about Judaism, anti-Semitism, the rise of Adolf Hitler, concentration camps, and the Holocausts aftermath.

Tiare Nicholas-Bublick said the makeshift museum was a powerful way to learn about a horrific time in world history.

Prior to Tuesday, she didnt know many details about the Holocaust, and she feels more prepared to attend the Holocaust Memorial Center next week, she said.

Imagining each grain of rice in the glass jar as a person nearly brought Tiare to tears.

It would take 12 of these jars to signify how many people died, student John Mathias said, gesturing toward his display. This is a really fascinating topic that just shows you how far people will go. This is what true hate is.

Ms. Heintschel said learning about the Holocaust and history of anti-Semitism is especially important in light of current events, whether youre in public or parochial schools. Bomb threats have been made to Jewish Community Centers across the country this year, including one at the Sylvania YMCA/JCC.

Its tremendously important in the culture we live in today with anti-Semitism on the rise in todays world, Ms. Heintschel said. We absolutely bring our Christina foundation into the lessons in how we as individuals can make a difference in our own personal lives when we talk about prejudice, discrimination, and intolerance.

Classmates Kristina Sim, Alexa Brown, Jillian Cendol, and Madelynn DuBois researched and presented on Hitlers rise to power.

The students agreed that they learned more about the topic by teaching it to other students than they would have by simply reading a textbook.

Its important for their generation to understand how the Holocaust came to be and its lasting effects, Kristina said.

Were the future, Alexa added. We cant let it happen again.

Contact Sarah Elms at:selms@theblade.comor 419-724-6103 or onTwitter @BySarahElms.

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Sylvania students set up museum to teach Holocaust horrors – Toledo Blade

Nonprofit offers Jewish texts in English online for free – The Daily Tribune

JERUSALEM For some, the notion of delving into the Talmud in English for free with the click of a mouse was something they could only dream of.

But now that dream is becoming a reality.

Earlier this month, Sefaria, a nonprofit organization devoted to Jewish text learning, announced it had uploaded 22 tractates of the renowned Steinsaltz English-language edition of the Babylonian Talmud and will post the remainder as they are translated and annotated.

The Hebrew version of the Talmud will begin going online by the end of the year at


The Talmud, considered the canon of Jewish law, is central to rabbinic Judaism but has mostly been the purview of rabbis and scholars, in part because it is written in Aramaic, and in part because it encompasses multiple volumes.

Ninety percent of the worlds Jews speak Hebrew and English, said Daniel Septimus, Sefarias executive director. The Talmud is in Aramaic. From an accessibility point of view, its a game changer.

Although there are other online Talmud editions, they are not in English or cost hundreds of dollars to access. Sefarias edition has a Creative Commons noncommercial license, meaning anyone can use it as part of the public domain for noncommercial purposes.

Known as the William Davidson Talmud, the new online edition offers parallel translations linked to major commentaries, biblical citations, midrash (ancient rabbinic literature) and halakhah (Jewish law and jurisprudence).

The project is funded by the William Davidson Foundation in cooperation with its publishers, Milta and Koren Publishers Jerusalem.

Septimus said the project, which required the efforts of 15 engineers and countless scholars and translators, has been a labor of love.

For the Jewish people, our texts are our collective inheritance, he said. They belong to everyone and Sefaria wants them to be available to everyone.

Michele Chabin is RNS Jerusalem correspondent.

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Nonprofit offers Jewish texts in English online for free – The Daily Tribune

Hitler’s tipping point: When extermination of the Jews became official Nazi policy – The Times of Israel

LONDON British historian and documentary maker Laurence Rees claims he never set out to have a career where thinking about the horrors of mass genocide and the Nazi murder machine was part of his daily work criteria.

But a curiosity about history, as well as a penchant for truth and justice got the better of him.

And so, for the past 25 years, Rees has spent much of his working life personally interviewing both victims and perpetrators of one of the most horrific crimes the world has ever witnessed. His newest book, The Holocaust, published last month, asks many pertinent questions.

Broadly, the book examines the fundamental reasons the Nazis decided to exterminate an entire group of people, gassing, shooting, starving, and beating them to death. It also questions what possessed a society of seemingly, sane, educated and cultured people to implement a policy of barbarism and depraved violence upon the Jews of Europe during World War II.

Rees attempts to answer that question early on in the interview by making what appears to be a fairly obvious point.

The fundamental precondition for the Holocaust happening was Adolf Hitler, he explains from his home in London.

British historian and documentary filmmaker Laurence Rees. (Martin Patmore)

Even as far back as 1921, Hitler said that solving the Jewish question was a central question for National Socialism. And you can only solve it by using brute force.

Hitler had no blueprint for the Holocaust at that point, says Rees. But he did have a pathological problem with Jews.

Hitler believed that something needed to be done, Rees explains, and that evolved and changed according to circumstances and political opportunism.

An intriguing part of Reess book is his determination to figure out when the collective set of initiatives we now call the Final Solution became official Nazi policy.

Its a question that doesnt come with a straightforward answer, Rees maintains. What is clear, though, is that in the summer of 1940 there was still no concrete plan in place for the extermination of Jews. Furthermore, up until that point, Rees argues, the Nazis were still clinging to the belief that in the long term, the way to solve what they called the Jewish question was by expulsion and hard labor.

At that point, mass murder was still not the preferred option.

Illustrative photo of the villa where the 1942 Wannsee Conference was held, in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee. (photo credit: Adam Carr/WIkimedia Commons)

By the summer of 1942, however, a sea change had taken place. By that time, the Holocaust was in full swing. Therefore, within the previous two-year period, Rees points out, there were a number of milestones on the road towards mass extermination. But trying to pinpoint an exact moment where the decision was taken to commit to mass killing is very difficult, says Rees especially since much of the planning was done in secret without written records.

Hitherto, many historians, film makers, and writers have pointed to a single meeting where plans for the Holocaust were finally decided upon in the power structures of Nazi officialdom.

Hitler, Goebbels and others watch filming at Universum Film AG, the principal film studio in Germany at the time, 1935.(Photo credit: CC-BY-SA, Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1990-1002-500, Wikipedia)

This was known as the Wannsee conference. It was held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee in January of 1942, and involved several mid-ranking Nazi officials devising a plot to murder Jews over a shorter timescale and in more efficient ways.

But even then, Rees says, no final plans were actually resolved at the infamous conference. He also points out that key figures from the upper tiers of the Nazi hierarchy Himmler, Goebbels, and Hitler himself were not actually present.

I cannot see how there can have been a decision in 1941, says Rees.

By that stage you can say a decision to implement what we would now call the Holocaust had been made

The moment of no return for the Holocaust, says the historian, was in the spring and early summer of 1942, when a decision was taken to kill all of the Jews in the General Government in Poland a German-occupied zone established by Hitler after the joint invasion by the Germans and Soviets in 1939.

By that stage you can say a decision to implement what we would now call the Holocaust had been made, says Rees with convincing authority.

Rees also spends considerable time here backed up with with a wide array of statistics as well as primary interviews that hes conducted himself looking at a multitude of countries across western Europe where collaboration took place. Here, Jews were rounded up and captured, and then subsequently exported to death camps in the east for extermination.

Its worth asking though, Rees says, why some countries in western Europe captured and deported Jews with far greater efficiency than others.

French resistance fighters held by Vichy regime militias during World War II. (Photo credit: CC-BY-SA German Federal Archive Wikimedia Commons)

Consider, for example, he asks, why 75 percent of Dutch Jews died in the Holocaust, compared to just 50% of Norwegian Jews, 40% of Belgian Jews, and 25% of French Jews. Or why did, say, the Vichy regime in France impose such severe anti-Semitic measures to foreign born Jews, when they were not being officially asked to do so by the Nazi regime?

The disturbing truth, the historian claims, is that the French collaborators like other countries across western Europe simply chose to.

How much collaboration existed in various countries, and levels of anti-Semitism are obviously important here, says Rees.

In February of 1941, Amsterdams Nazi occupiers rounded up 427 Jewish men in their first razzia and deportation from the Netherlands. Only two of the men survived the war. (Wikimedia Commons).

But the underlying factor is the will of the Nazis themselves to implement [their policy on Jews] in various different countries, he adds.

As Reess book is keen to remind the reader, a deeply entrenched culture of anti-Semitism would certainly assist the Nazis in transporting Jews by train across Europe to meet their deaths.

But, most importantly, it would be in the east in the midst of Hitlers self-proclaimed war of extermination on Soviet territory that the Holocaust would officially be born.

Burning pit, Paneriai, where German SD and SS, and Lithuanian Sonderkommandos burned exhumed bodies from the Paneriai death pits in an attempt to destroy the evidence of the mass executions. (photo credit: Gregor Jamroski, Wikimediacommons)

In the Baltic states in particular, Rees stresses, many of those who committed murder of Jews did so by shooting at close range. These massacres were carried out by locals who collaborated with German security forces.

To understand the Holocaust in the east, you need to focus on how much the Nazis wanted to cleanse a place full of Jews, Rees explains. And in the Baltic States it was the most deadly because Hitler talked about creating a garden of Eden in the occupied Soviet Union.

Rees points to Lithuania as a prime example where local collaborators had no problem killing Jews to help implement Nazi policy at an alarmingly frantic pace.

For example, 96% of the Jewish population within Lithuania about 220,000 people were liquidated by the end of the Nazi occupation.

A monument for Lithuanian Jews killed in the Holocaust is unveiled in Moletai, Lithuania, August 29, 2016 (YouTube screenshot)

This fact is all the more disturbing when one considers that Lithuania Vilnius, the capital, in particular had for centuries been a cosmopolitan cultural melting pot for Jews prior to these catastrophic murders.

By the 19th century, Vilnius had become home to the Haskalah otherwise known as the Jewish Enlightenment and had long been a hub of Jewish scholarship, producing some of the most renowned Talmudic commentaries still studied today.

Many in Lithuania believed the lie that the Nazis were peddling at the time, that communism equals Judaism

The key thing to understanding [the Holocaust] in Lithuania is the hated occupation by the Soviets as the consequence of the Nazi-Soviet pact, Rees explains.

Many in Lithuania believed the lie that the Nazis were peddling at the time, that communism equals Judaism and that Jews were aiding the Soviet authorities, the historian adds.

If there had not been the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states immediately preceding the Nazi invasion, Rees says the Holocaust in Lithuania might have gone very differently and many Jews could have possibly survived.

Rees continually makes the point throughout the interview that its a common misconception in Holocaust history that the gas chambers emerged as the preferred killing method for Nazis simply because of their desire to kill Jews in large numbers.

Hungarian Jews on the Judenrampe (Jewish ramp) after disembarking from the transport trains at Auschwitz-Birkenau, May 1944. To be sent rechts! to the right meant the person had been chosen as a laborer; links! to the left meant death in the gas chambers. (From the Auschwitz Album)

He is keen to emphasize that psychology played an important part too.

The Nazis knew that if they kept shooting people they would have psychological problems for the killers. So the gas chambers solved this problem, says Rees.

The Nazis knew that if they kept shooting people they would have psychological problems for the killers

Also, he says, the gas chambers prove beyond doubt how the Holocaust was a genocide where modern technology allowed a confluence of two things to happen. Firstly, it propelled the killing forward with clinical speed and precision. Secondly, it allowed the Nazis to distance themselves emotionally from their victims while doing so.

There is something about the idea of the gas chambers that encapsulates a mechanized element to the killing, says Rees. And you really do see this in chamber crematoriums that open in Auschwitz in 1943.

Auschwitz is also the name of a book that Rees published over a decade ago.In it, Rees argues that until the Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz in the summer of 1944, the death camp in Poland was still only playing a relatively minor role, overall, in the murder of Europes Jews.

Cover jacket, Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution, by Laurence Rees. (Courtesy)

The historian also makes a similar point in his latest book, pointing out that Hitlers policy for smaller states like Hungary was to liquidate the Jews as quickly as possible.

Hungary was especially attractive to the Nazis, given the number of Jews that resided there 725,000 in 1944. Many of these but not all were living in Budapest. 440,000 Jews were then transported to Auschwitz between May and July of 1944, where they were murdered.

This plan for cold blooded murder was deviously orchestrated by Adolf Eichmann, who at the time was stationed in Budapest.

The Hungarians, in terms of how quick the killing happened, suffered the worst of all the Jews [in Europe], says Rees.

Hungarian Jews about to be gassed at Auschwitz. (Courtesy)

Rees points out that many academics he has has met over the last 25 years when speaking about Holocaust history tend to point to seminars, abstract theories, and week-long conferences. The trouble with such an approach is that the subject can become dehumanized in the process, he says.

What is so intriguing about Reess approach is his tendency to link the primary individual interviews he has conducted with the wider tragic historical narrative.

Crucially, these interviews include interactions with both victims and Nazi perpetrators themselves. This has led Rees somewhat closer to understanding this crime of unspeakable horror. Although even then, he admits, its still pretty hard to ever come to terms with how humans could organize depravity on such a mass scale and with such cold calculation.

This 1961 file photo shows Adolf Eichmann standing in his glass cage in the Jerusalem courtroom where he was tried and convicted of war crimes committed during World War II. (AP Photo,b/w file)

Rees says that if he has learned anything from spending a quarter of a century researching this subject, its that many of the low-ranking Nazis murderers he spoke with and indeed the collaborators, too did not feel they were simply following orders on a mindless administrative conveyor belt.

Rees also makes it clear that he fundamentally disagrees with the thesis proposed by Hannah Arendt about the so called banality of evil, a term she famously coined when covering the Eichmann trial in Israel in 1961 for the New Yorker.

The Nazis were fanatics, says Rees. But one thing you cannot accuse them of being was banal.

Brunhilde Pomsel, former personal secretary to Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, speaking during in new film about her life, A German Life. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The reason the writer, documentary maker, and historian became so convinced of this was from the answer he often tended to get when directly asking Nazi killers, What was your motivation for carrying out this killing?

What we usually found was that there was an internalization of a belief system from Nazis that the murder they were carrying out [against Jews] was the right thing to do, says Rees.

You also got a sense speaking to Nazi murderers that they felt an immense exhilaration while they were carrying out the killing too, he adds.

Jewish women and children from Subcarpathian Rus await selection on the ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, May 1944. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Yad Vashem [Public Domain])

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Hitler’s tipping point: When extermination of the Jews became official Nazi policy – The Times of Israel

If Islam is Not a Religion, Then Neither is Judaism nor Christianity – Beliefnet

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

In an interview on NPR, White House Special Assistant to the President, Sebastian Gorka, had this exchange with host Steve Inskeep:

INSKEEP: On Feb. 3 when you were on the program, we asked if you felt the president believes Islam is a religion. The reason we had to ask that is because the previous national security advisor Michael Flynn made some statements suggesting he didnt believe it was a religion. You werent aware then what the presidents view was. Have you learned since? Does the president believe Islam is a religion?

GORKA: It would be nice if you actually reported things accurately. I didnt say I would refuse to do anything of the sort. This is not a theological seminary. This is the White House. And were not going to get into theological debates. If the president has a certain attitude to a certain religion, thats something you can ask him. But were talking about national security and the totalitarian ideologies that drive the groups that threaten America.

While he did say, immediately afterwards, that Islam is not the enemy, it was a bit concerning (to be generous) that Gorka refused to say whether the President thinks Islam is even a religion. The concern, on the part of many (including this writer), is that if Administration officials do not believe Islam is a religion, then they can deny Muslims their First Amendment rights.

This begs the question: what is religion?

I put this question to religion scholar Reza Aslan, host of the series Believer on CNN which premiers on March 6 at 10 PM EST:

There is no standard definition of religion in academia though many have tried to provide one. Mine follows that of Levi-Strauss and others who view religion as a form of communication. I define it as a systematized language of symbols and metaphors that allows a particular community to communicate with each other the ineffable experience of faith.

Islam, just like Christianity and Judaism, fits this definition quite well.

Yet, let us go a little further and compare the three faiths on their basic beliefs:

Christianity and Judaism both believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So does Islam. Christianity and Judaism both believe that God sent down revelation to humanity to teach it how to conduct itself: for Judaism, its the Torah, and for Christianity it is Jesus Christ himself. So does Islam: its scripture is the Quran, which has a great many similarities to the Bible.

As an outgrowth of revelation, Christianity and Judaism both believe that, throughout the ages, God has sent Prophets as guides and teachers for humanity when it deviates from the truth. So does Islam, and many of the same Prophets in the Bible such as Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Noah, Ezekiel, among others are mentioned in the Quran.

Both Christianity and Judaism have a concept of an Afterlife, where humanity will stand before God to account for its actions on earth. So does Islam, and the Quran is full of vivid descriptions of the Last Day.

Moreover, the key figures of both Judaism and Christianity loom very large in Islam. Moses, for instance, is mentioned in more than 70 passages in the Quran. The stories of his birth, his rearing in the Palace of the Pharoah, his mission, his miracles, the Passover, and the Exodus are all detailed in the Quran. It was Moses, according to Islamic tradition, who was behind our having to pray only five times a day (it was originally supposed to be 50). Thanks, Master Moses!

Jesus Christ, as well, is a very prominent figure in Islam and the Quran. He is described as the Word of God, a spirit emanated from Him, and being strengthened by the Holy Spirit in the Quran. The only woman mentioned by namein the Quran is Mary, the Holy Virgin and mother of Christ. In the Quran, Jesus heals the sick, cures the blind, and even raises the dead. One cannot be a Muslim if he does not believe in Jesus. Mustafa Aykol has written an excellent book about Jesus in Islam (about which I will write very soon).

These are only a small number of the similarities between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. These three faiths come from the same source, the God of Abraham, and all hearken to this self-same Patriarch.

Thus, if Islam is not a religion but rather a totalitarian ideology, as some are wont to claim, then neither can Christianity nor Judaism be considered religions, either. Such a notion is preposterous, of course. And so is that claim about Islam.

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If Islam is Not a Religion, Then Neither is Judaism nor Christianity – Beliefnet

Letters to the Editor The McGill Daily – The McGill Daily (blog)

Responses against the recently published article, “Jewish identity in a pickle”

Response to Jewish identity in a pickle, written by IJV McGill

Upon reading this article, I was struck by the factual inaccuracy, slander and perversion of Jewish identity that the authors employed to further their agenda as members of Independent Jewish Voices, an organization who criticizes Israeli state policy through a de-legitimization of the Jewish connection to Israel.

De-legitimizing this connection is factually inaccurate. The authors cite the Jewish people as diasporic, however they fail to mention that the reason the Jews constitute a diaspora is because they originate from the kingdom of Judah (what is now Israel/Palestine). Failing to acknowledge this fact is an attempt to pervert history. Jews are a Semitic people indigenous to the Levant and this is non-contestable.

Zionism was not a radical idea invented by Herzl, as the authors claim. The central tenets of Zionism, which encompasses the notion that Jews should be able to return to the land they have been expelled from since 740 BCE, has always been present in the Jewish consciousness. Of course, not all Jews believe this. However, decrying Herzl as a colonial oppressor ignores the fact that many Jews very much wanted to seek refuge in their ancestral homeland, due to their persecution across Eastern Europe and in the Middle East.

The article chooses to associate Zionism with elite Ashkenazi colonialists. Claiming that Ashkenazi Jews are privileged (which perpetuates an anti-Semitic stereotype that has existed since the 1800s) ignores the diversity of Ashkenazi Jewish experiences and invalidates the authors attempt to create an inclusive space for all Jews. Being a Zionist does not mean supporting Israeli state policy. Many Israelis are Zionists who share a plurality of political views, and are constantly mobilizing in protest of unjust Israeli state policies. I would encourage the IJV to inform themselves before they make sweeping claims that generalizes an entire ethno-religious identity.

Rachel Coburn

On IJVs Rant: So Many Words, So Little Substance

I write in response to the recent McGill Daily feature, Judaism in a Pickle, penned by three students who proudly flaunted their anti-Zionism yet lacked the courage to do so using their real names, instead hiding under pseudonyms.

The facts and anecdotes in the article range from the mendacious to the absurd. Thus, the commentary itself commits historical error by marginalizing the leadership and contribution of Eastern-European-Jews to the Zionist project, despite the fact that Israels first four Prime Ministers (one a woman) came from the Russian Empire. Meanwhile, a story of rejecting Israeli pickles is offered as some courageous sign of moral development and gusty rebellion.

IJV complains that its views are ignored and marginalized. The organized Jewish community has every legal and moral right to reject views that directly conflict with, indeed threaten, its members and values. As Rabbi Reuven Poupko succinctly put it, You dont invite butchers to a vegetarians convention.

An entity that affirms everything ultimately affirms nothing.

IJV is entitled to its views, repugnant as I and many others find them. It is not entitled to impose them on the many others, myself included, who utterly reject them and for whom their Jewish heritage and identity and love for the land, people, and State of Israel are indivisible.

I wish to highlight the fact that in its approximately four-thousand word discourse, IJV did not see it necessary or even warranted to deploy any words to condemn the nakedly inciteful and violent tweet that Sadikov published.

Sometimes it is the words that arent stated that speak the loudest.

Michael A. (Mikie) Schwartz, Third Year Student, McGill University Faculty of Law

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Letters to the Editor The McGill Daily – The McGill Daily (blog)

Ivanka Trump toured Holocaust Museum, president may follow suit … – The Hill

First daughter Ivanka Trump toured the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and her father may soon do so as well,Bloombergreported Friday.

The tour was private, and Trump was joined by her husbands parents Charles and Seryl Kushner, who are Orthodox Jews. Her husband and senior adviser to President Trump Jared Kushners grandmother was a Holocaust survivor who helped found the museum.

Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism before marrying Kushner in 2009.

During a news conference last month, Trump was asked by an Orthodox Jewish reporter about a rise in anti-Semitic acts, to which the president told him to sit down and declared he was the least racist person

Trump also faced backlash for not mentioning Jews in a statement commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day in January.

Amid criticism, Trump forcefully condemned anti-Semitism and threats and acts targeting the Jewish community in an address at the National Museum of African American History last month.

In those remarks, the president said he would visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum very soon, though a date for the visit hasnt yet been announced.

Ivanka Trump toured Holocaust Museum, president may follow suit … – The Hill