Jordan Farmar waived by Hawks, to play in Turkey

Jordan Farmar was waived by the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and reportedly will continue his professional basketball career in Turkey.

Farmar and four other players were traded to Atlanta last week from the Brooklyn Nets. The Jewish point guard reportedly asked the Hawks to buy out his contract, leaving the team room under the salary cap.

The Star Ledger of New Jersey reported that Farmar intends to play in Europe with Anadolu Efes of Istanbul, which reportedly has offered him a three-year contract.

Farmar played for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel during last summer’s NBA lockout.

Messianic Jewish groups claim rapid growth

About 200 congregants filled the stain glassed-windowed sanctuary on a Shabbat morning this spring, praying, singing and welcoming new members. Among the newly welcomed members was a young Israeli man, named Yoav. Not really extraordinary news, except Congregation Beth Hallel in a northern suburb of Atlanta is not a typical synagogue. Indeed, it is a member of the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (IAMCS), the largest ordaining body in the messianic Jewish movement.

Beth Hallel is only one of a number of messianic Jewish congregations in the Atlanta area – and one of some 800 messianic Jewish congregations in the world, according to Joel Chernoff, CEO of Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA), up from zero in 1967. “Messianic Judaism is the fastest growing stream of religious Jewish life since 1967,” said Chernoff, who said he grew up in a messianic Jewish family. Sharing his extrapolated and complicated arithmetic, Chernoff credited the Council of Jewish Federation’s 1990 National Jewish Population Survey for his belief that there are now more than one million messianic Jews. “Jews are becoming believers in Yehoshuah,” he says, referring to Jesus.

How can one be Jewish and accept Jesus?

Of course, mainstream Jewish leaders argue that messianic Judaism is not Judaism at all. How can one be Jewish and accept Jesus as the Messiah? Messianic Judaism, says Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president emeritus of the Union of Reform Judaism, is “built on a lie. They are lying about us and lying about themselves; they distort both.”

The rabbi of the Reform congregation not far from Beth Hallel says he rarely sees any of the messianic congregation’s members—“except those who want to see what a normative Jewish experience looks like,” says Rabbi Fred Greene of Temple Beth Tikvah. Greene expresses more concern about a local Baptist mega-church whose members approach Jewish teens and challenge them: “if you don’t find Jesus, you’ll go to hell.” Area high schools host rallies sponsored by the Fellowship for Christian Athletes. Other rabbis in the Atlanta area, even those who gladly share stages for pro-Israel rallies with evangelical groups, draw the line with messianic Jewish leaders, who also call themselves rabbis.

Still, while that line between evangelicals and messianic Jews may be distinct in the United States, in Israel, it has become fuzzier as the country reaches out for political support wherever it can get it.

Beth Hallel’s Rabbi Robert Solomon says his congregation is the oldest and largest messianic Jewish synagogue in Georgia and one of the largest messianic congregations in the world. “The congregation comes from many different backgrounds, including all branches of traditional Judaism as well as many denominations. While the majority of our member families come from a Jewish background, we have a strong minority of non-Jewish members as well.”

How many messianics are Jews?

Al Lopez, the leader of the Olive Tree Messianic Congregation in the Atlanta area, who, in contrast to Rabbi Solomon says he was ordained as a pastor, says most of his congregants are non-Jewish. Both messianic Jewish leaders say congregants come to them through word of mouth, through friends who spread the word. They claim they do not go into the Jewish community looking for new members.

Joel Chernoff, CEO of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America.

They say, that in many cases, intermarried couples find their way to messianic congregations. In other cases, they assert, Jews who feel alienated from their heritage and traditional Jewish synagogues are attracted to messianic Judaism. Atlanta’s Beth Ha’Mashiach calls itself a congregation of Jews and Gentiles “together worshipping Adonai in a unique blend of church and synagogue.”

At Beth Hallel, beyond the Israeli new member, congregants were comprised of many nationalities and races, oftentimes couples with small children, all raising their hands to the Lord as they sang along with words provided on an overhead screen. Some messianic Jewish leaders acknowledge that, not only is the combination of religious practices confusing for potential new members, but it is a real problem for the movement.

According to Needham, Massachusetts-based messianic Rabbi Richard Nichol, this underlines a “foundational weakness in messianic Judaism. If there are a significant majority of non-Jews, this trivializes the enterprise. This is a problem for us. We must be consciously aware of who joins our synagogues and make it clear that this is a home for Jewish people. It needs to be Jewish space.”

Jewish space? While some some traditional Jewish prayers are recited on Shabbat and tallit, kipot and tefillin are worn by some, the Beth Hallel congregants also praise Jesus as the Messiah and are asked to place money in envelopes that were then collected at the end of the aisles.

Jan Jaben-Eilon is a long-time journalist who has written for The New York Times, Business Week, the International Herald Tribune, the Jerusalem Report and Womenetics. She was a founding reporter for the Atlanta Business Chronicle and was international editor for Advertising Age before she fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving to Israel. Jan and her Jerusalem-born husband have an apartment in that city, but live in Atlanta.

The ADL and America’s worst case of anti-Semitism

From Nov. 13-15, the Anti-Defamation League will hold its annual conference in Los Angeles. In the essay below, author Steve Oney recalls the historic event that galvanized the organization: the Leo Frank case.

The elements could hardly have been more volatile. On Confederate Memorial Day, 1913, a 13-year-old child laborer named Mary Phagan was strangled to death in the Atlanta, Ga. pencil factory where she worked. The last person to admit to having seen her alive was the plant superintendent, Leo Frank, an Ivy League-educated Northerner and, of vital importance, a Jew.

Local newspapers led by William Randolph Hearst’s Atlanta Georgian ran wild with the story, setting the stage for a sensational, month-long trial during which Jim Conley, a black man with an extensive criminal record, accused Frank of murdering the Phagan girl after she repulsed his sexual advances. Astonishingly in the Jim Crow South, an all-white jury believed Conley’s testimony, convicting the factory boss. The presiding judge sentenced Frank to death, instigating one of the 20th century’s most memorable cause célèbres.

In the aftermath of Frank’s conviction, Dr. David Marx, rabbi of The Temple — Atlanta’s old-line Reform synagogue — traveled to New York to alert the leading lights of American Jewry to his belief that the plant superintendent had not been so much prosecuted as persecuted. The degree to which anti-Semitism played a role in Frank’s trial was a matter of debate. So, too, was the issue of how the nation’s Jews should respond. Constitutional lawyer Louis Marshall, president of the American Jewish Committee, believed it would be best to work behind the scenes. Others, though, advocated a more public approach. Soon, a group that included Adolph Ochs, publisher of The New York Times, Chicago advertising baron A.D. Lasker, and Sears Roebuck amp; Company chairman Julius Rosenwald joined the fray. The Anti-Defamation League, which had just been founded in 1913, supported this activist position. During an appeals process that ultimately led to the United States Supreme Court, American Jews spent in today’s dollars untold millions in an attempt to exonerate the factory superintendent.

The efforts of Frank’s wealthy Northern allies produced an unintended negative consequence across the South, particularly in Atlanta. In a region still reeling from defeat in the Civil War, any hint of what was known as “outside interference” risked inspiring violent resentment. In the pages of his influential weekly newspaper, The Jeffersonian, a fierce Georgia demagogue and future United States senator named Tom Watson attacked the plant boss’ supporters. As he saw it, Northern Jews were trying to subvert the judgment of the Georgia courts to free a “lecherous Jew” who had raped and slain a child laborer who toiled in a dehumanizing setting for pennies an hour. Watson, the embodiment of the unreconstructed Southerner, despised industrialization, loathed Wall Street and resorted to anti-Semitism in the battle. “Jew money has debased us, bought us, and sold us — and laughs at us,” he wrote. “In the name of God, what are the people to do?” Such were Watson’s rhetorical gifts that he inflamed many readers with his dark passions.

From 1913 to 1915 — the time it took for Frank’s appeals to wend their way through the courts — America was transfixed by the case. Not only was it regularly on the front page of The New York Times and featured in weekly magazines, but it was the topic of newsreels and a documentary film. There were petition drives, mass meetings and public protests. Through it all, a stoic and largely silent Frank sat in an Atlanta jail, supported by his wife, Lucille, and a close circle of friends.

In June 1915, on the eve of the execution date, Georgia Gov. John Slaton, long plagued by doubts about Frank’s guilt, came to the conclusion that he was innocent and commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment. This action, far from tamping down hostilities in Georgia, brought them to a hideous climax.

On August 16, 1915, a well-orchestrated mob abducted Leo Frank, without a shot being fired, from the Georgia State Prison Farm in Milledgeville, just south of Macon. Driving Model Ts and traveling on dirt roads in the dead of night, the group transported Frank some 125 miles to Mary Phagan’s ancestral home of Marietta, just north of Atlanta. Shortly after dawn on Aug. 17, the vigilantes marched Frank into an oak grove and lynched him. By mid-morning thousands of spectators had gathered. A local judge who was actually part of the conspiracy rescued Frank’s body, which was then transported to Atlanta and taken by train to New York for burial. The lynching remains the worst outburst of anti-Semitism in American history.

Today, nearly 100 years later, the Leo Frank case poses many difficult questions. There is, however, no ambiguity when it comes to why the story matters and why it merits continued attention. The issues that came into play in the affair — class anxiety, yellow journalism and the exploitation of labor — are of enduring significance. The case also marked the beginning of a crucial, ongoing discussion regarding the proper response to American anti-Semitism. In the aftermath of the lynching, Atlanta’s Jews turned inward. Rabbi Marx, long an advocate of assimilation, forbade the use of the traditional canopy in wedding ceremonies and attacked the idea of a Jewish state. Nationally, however, Jews became more outspoken in their own defense. The Anti-Defamation League was decisively shaped by the events of 1915. Unlike previous acts of American anti-Semitism — restricted hotels and resorts or crude stage caricatures — the Frank lynching was a deadly assault upon both a faith and a man. The ADL’s current, no-holds-barred posture can be traced directly back to the shock and pain.

That a group as aggressive and well organized as the Anti-Defamation League was needed became almost instantly apparent. On Thanksgiving eve, 1915, the long dormant Ku Klux Klan held its first, modern-era cross burning atop Stone Mountain just outside of Atlanta. Several men who took part in the Frank lynching were said to have been present.

Steve Oney is a senior editor at Los Angeles magazine. “And the Dead Shall Rise,” his book on the Leo Frank case, won the 2004 National Jewish Book Award for history. It is now available in paperback from Vintage Books.