A view of the State Department building in Washington, D.C. Wikimedia Commons

State Dept.’s anti-Semitism monitoring office to be unstaffed as of July 1


The U.S. State Department’s office to monitor and combat anti-Semitism will be unstaffed as of July 1.

A source familiar with the office’s workings told JTA that its remaining two staffers, each working half-time or less, would be reassigned as of that date.

The Trump administration, which has yet to name an envoy to head the office, would not comment on the staffing change. At full staffing, the office employs a full-time envoy and the equivalent of three full-time staffers.

The State Department told JTA in a statement that it remained committed to combating anti-Semitism – and cited as evidence the tools, including the department’s annual reports on human rights and religious freedom, that existed before Congress mandated the creation of the envoy office in 2004.

“We want to ensure the Department is addressing anti-Semitism in the most effective and efficient method possible and will continue to endeavor to do so,” the statement said.

“The Department of State condemns attacks on Jewish communities and individuals. We consistently urge governments around the world to address and condemn anti-Semitism and work with vulnerable Jewish communities to assess and provide appropriate levels of security.

“The Department, our Embassies, and our Consulates support extensive bilateral, multilateral, and civil society outreach to Jewish communities,” the statement continued. “Additionally, the State Department continues to devote resources towards programs combating anti-Semitism online and off, as well as building NGO coalitions in Europe. We also closely monitor global anti-Semitism and report on it in our Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and International Religious Freedom Report, which document global anti-Semitism in 199 countries.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress in testimony earlier this month that he believed special envoys were counterproductive because they provided an excuse to the rest of the department to ignore the specific issue addressed by the envoy.

Congressional lawmakers from both parties have pressed the Trump administration, in letters and proposed bills, to name an envoy and to enhance the office’s status. They have noted that unlike other envoys, whose positions were created by Trump’s predecessors, the office of the envoy on anti-Semitism is a statute and requires filling.

“As the author of the amendment that created the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, I remain hopeful that these critical positions will be filled,” Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who authorized the 2004 law, said in a statement to JTA.

Jewish groups have lobbied President Donald Trump to name an envoy, saying that despite Tillerson’s testimony, the position has been key to encouraging diplomats and officials throughout the department to focus on anti-Semitism. Hannah Rosenthal, a special envoy on anti-Semitism in the Obama administration, instituted department-wide training on identifying anti-Semitism.

“The idea of having a dedicated envoy who can travel around the world to raise awareness on this issue is critical,” the Anti-Defamation League CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, told JTA in an interview.

“That doesn’t mean there isn’t value for all ambassadors and every embassy in addressing issues of anti-Semitism and bigotry in countries they operate,” he said. “But if the administration is truly committed” to combating anti-Semitism, “maintaining the special envoy for anti-Semitism seems like a no-brainer.”

The ADL, coincidentally, launched an online petition Thursday to the White House to fill the position.

Officials of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has enjoyed a good relationship with the Trump administration, said that if the unstaffing was coming ahead of a reorganization of the office, that was understandable. But positions remain unfilled in all of the major federal departments and agencies since Trump took office.

“However, we are almost in July and there is still no one of proper rank at the State Department whom the Wiesenthal Center and others can work with to re-activate US leadership in the struggle against anti-Semitism at a time when global anti-Semitism is rising,” said an email from Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the center, and Mark Weitzman, its director of government affairs.

Jason Isaacson, the American Jewish Committee’s director of government and international affairs, said the position was essential.

“It’s not as though the need for a special envoy has diminished,” he told JTA in an interview. “If anything it has increased.”

Ed Elhaderi (middle) with high school classmates in Libya in 1967. Photos courtesy of Ed Elhaderi

From a culture of anti-Semitism to becoming a Jew


A Libyan’s nomadic journey of self-discovery and understanding

That hot afternoon seems like yesterday, but it was 50 years ago this month. I was 15 and living in Sabha, a small city in the Sahara Desert of southern Libya. An older cousin told me about the reports on Cairo Radio about the dire situation facing the Egyptian army.

“We’ve got to do something,” he said.

I didn’t fully understand the politics of what would come to be known as the Six-Day War, but I knew that what was happening was bad for us as Arabs and Muslims. All around me were other teenagers absorbing the tense mood and looking to vent their rage at the Jews.

I followed the crowd to the only Western-style establishment nearby, a bar. It was early afternoon and the place hadn’t opened yet. A few older boys broke down the door, and a crowd stormed in, breaking bottles and dumping alcohol onto the street outside.

Standing in a crowd, I joined the chants: “Death to the Jews!” “Drive the Jews into the sea!”

The truth is that I had never actually met a Jew. I grew up in a small nomadic village of 20 families, a collection of mud huts with palm-frond roofs that wouldn’t have looked much different 2,000 years earlier. Health care was so primitive that by the time I was a young boy, my parents had lost three children to illness.

Sunni Islam was the only way of life I knew. My preschool was in a mosque, where an imam taught us to read and write by drilling us with verses from the Quran. After that, our education was more secular — I went to mosque, going through the motions, but I was hardly devout. I never was exposed to any alternatives or avenues to question the life we had.

Our textbooks didn’t mention Israel, and people used the word Yahudi, Jew, only as an insult. The Jews had rejected the Prophet Muhammad, so they were considered to be condemned. The only Jews I saw were in Egyptian movies, in which they were portrayed as menacing, monstrous characters — hunched over and speaking with high-pitched nasal accents.

I did know Palestinian Arabs. My elementary school had once hired a young Palestinian as a teacher. Because he was Palestinian, the community welcomed him warmly and supported him generously.

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Elhaderi receives the prestigious First Honor National Academic Award from Libyan Prime Minister Abdessalam Jalloud in 1974.

After high school, I went to the University of Tripoli, where I was neither politically active nor religiously observant. During my first year there, my father arrived to deliver tragic news: My mother had died. I channeled my grief into focusing on my studies, earning a place in the prestigious chemical engineering program.

Hoping for a career in the country’s burgeoning oil industry, I won a scholarship to study abroad in one of the top-ranked programs in my field, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Leaving behind my father and one younger brother, I set out for my first journey beyond Libya.

In Madison, I discovered a campus teeming with international students — Iranians, Nigerians, Europeans, Asians. Amid the activist ferment of the mid-1970s, each group freely and openly expressed its political and cultural identity.

I did that, too: When I moved into an office I shared with two other graduate students, I tacked up a large poster of Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization leader, wearing his iconic kaffiyeh, brandishing a semiautomatic rifle.

It was 1974, just two years after the murder of Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympic Games and the same year as the terrorist massacre in the Israeli town of Ma’alot. Half of the department’s faculty and perhaps a quarter of its students were Jewish, yet it didn’t strike me that my choice of décor might offend anyone. Many colleagues undoubtedly reacted by steering clear of me.

And then, for the first time, I began getting to know Jewish people. The encounters happened organically, in classrooms and the student union. Two Jewish professors in my department were kind and understanding. Over one leisurely summer, I spent time with a Jewish philosophy professor who engaged a group of us over beers in leisurely discussions about politics and life. I was struck by how they were just people — wonderful, decent, normal people. They defied every stereotype I had been fed while growing up in Libya.

The contrast was so striking that not only did I begin to reconsider my assumptions about Jews, but I also came to re-examine every aspect of my life. Gradually, I came to see how the black-and-white worldview I had grown up with didn’t jibe with reality.

The more experiences I had with Jews, the more I felt drawn to them. I even began thinking that I wanted to marry a Jewish person (although I didn’t have a particular one in mind). Perhaps that would help me to cleanse myself of the hateful mindset of my upbringing.

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Elhaderi and his wife, Barbara, after he received his doctorate in chemical engineering from USC in 1982.

After three years in Madison, I transferred to USC. A few months after arriving in Los Angeles, I was practicing tennis at the Ambassador Hotel when I struck up a conversation with an attractive young woman named Barbara and suggested we volley. When I told her my background, she said, unprompted, “I just want you to know, I’m Jewish.”

We exchanged phone numbers, and a week later, I called her. It took a couple of weeks before we connected again, meeting to play tennis and dine on Mexican food. We got along well. Not long after that, I went out of town to take a break from my studies and returned to find a note from Barbara telling me she missed me.

Before long, she invited me to meet her parents. Barbara’s father had lived in Israel, serving as an officer in its War of Independence. And one of her sisters’ boyfriends was an Israeli who had served in the Israel Defense Forces.

I’m sure that when they learned that she was dating a Libyan named Abdulhafied (the name I had grown up with and still used), they thought Barbara had lost her mind.

Still, we grew closer. After a couple of months, we moved in together into an apartment her parents owned in Koreatown. At first, the arrangement was one of convenience, but soon our lives became intertwined. Barbara lovingly helped me through my doctoral thesis and cared for me in ways no one had since my childhood.

She also welcomed me into her family’s life, and, despite our contrasting backgrounds, her parents accepted me with love. Barbara’s family wasn’t particularly observant — they celebrated only Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and Passover.

In 1980, we married at their Fairfax District home. At that point, I didn’t consider myself a Muslim, but rather a spiritual searcher. Together, Barbara and I had explored a nondenominational church called Science of Mind. Our wedding ceremony blended elements of Judaism with some of our own personal touches.

By then, my relationship with my aging father, still back in Libya, was distant. I spoke to him only occasionally, and his question was always: “When are you coming back?” I chose not to share the news of my marriage.

As we settled into our life together, Barbara and I only had limited Jewish observances: Rosh Hashanah dinners, Chanukah gift exchanges, seders hosted by her parents. Together, we continued our spiritual search, occasionally joining a colleague of Barbara’s at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest.

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Elhaderi’s father, Elsaidi, in front of his home in the Libyan village of Hatiet Bergen in 1979.

Eager to start a family, we struggled with infertility for many years. We were just days from adopting a baby when the birth mother had a last-minute change of heart. Then, just a week later, Barbara learned she was pregnant. Our daughter, Jessica, was born in 1991 and, two years later, we had a son, Jason.

Not long after that, my father died. We had spoken only occasionally since my last visit to Libya, in 1979. I had shared little about my new life with him, knowing it would have been nearly impossible for him to grasp the pluralism and openness I had come to cherish.

Surely he couldn’t have imagined the next step in my spiritual journey. When Jason turned 12, he announced that he wanted to have a bar mitzvah. We were living in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood and a neighbor, the Israeli-born wife of a rabbi, offered to teach him to read Hebrew and start some initial religious study.

He also began studying Judaism and his Torah portion with a Chabad rabbi at a shul not far from Barbara’s parents. I sat in on every class, slowly learning about Jewish prayer and customs, as Jason studied his haftarah and maftir. The more I absorbed, the more I felt drawn to Judaism.

On the day he became bar mitzvah, I stood on the bimah, filled with pride in my son and awe for the beauty of the service I could barely understand — and overflowing with emotions I could not fully explain.

The power of that day also made me start to ponder my own mortality. It pained me to realize that since I wasn’t Jewish, I could not be buried in a Jewish cemetery beside my beloved wife.

Not long after the bar mitzvah, I told Barbara that I wanted to convert to Judaism. A rabbi we knew directed us to American Jewish University’s Introduction to Judaism Program, and Barbara and I enrolled.

Our 18 months in the class felt like a second honeymoon: While I learned about Jewish history, Torah and Jewish rituals, I felt closer than ever to Barbara, and I fell in love with Judaism.

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Ed Elhaderi and his wife, Barbara, celebrate his becoming a U.S. citizen in 1985.

When I met with my sponsoring rabbi, Perry Netter, then at Temple Beth Am, he asked only one question: “Why do you want to be Jewish?” Choked up with emotion, I couldn’t speak. I simply cried.

“OK,” he said, smiling. “You pass.”

Something else happened: The more I learned about Judaism, the more I saw parallels in my own upbringing in Libya. When I learned about the mezuzah, I remembered how in my childhood village, families posted palm fronds wrapped around verses from the Quran in their doorways. Words I learned from biblical Hebrew seemed to echo colloquial terms unique to the region of my youth.

Investigating, I learned that Jews had lived for thousands of years in Libya, including in my native region of Fezzan — although most left in 1948, and nearly all of those remaining fled just after the Six-Day War. My strong feeling was that I wasn’t so much discovering a new faith as uncovering a long-hidden part of myself, that perhaps some of my ancestors were Jews.

On the morning when I went before the beit din — the rabbinical court — to finalize my conversion, and plunged into the waters of the mikveh, I felt joy combined with a serenity that had eluded me for decades. I felt that I was returning to where I belonged.

Our family joined Temple Beth Am, where I felt increasingly at home, regularly attending on Shabbat and weekdays. At home, we shared weekly Shabbat dinners, at which I started offering each of my children a blessing.

I also engaged in regular Torah study and found particular resonance in Rabbi Akiva’s wisdom from Pirkei Avot: “Everything is foreseen, yet free choice is given.”

That essential tenet — that we can embrace God but decide our own fates — encapsulates much of what I hold dear about America and Judaism. I grew up like so many people in closed societies, knowing one way of life, having one set of beliefs, and taught to despise anything beyond that realm.

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Ed Elhaderi (far right) at his son’s bar mitzvah in 2006 with (from left) daughter Jessica, in-laws Ellen and Bob Levin, son Jason and wife Barbara.

The best guidance for overcoming that kind of internal and external strife is another piece of advice from Pirkei Avot: “Who is wise? The one who learns from all people.”

My own learning came full circle in November 2012, when Barbara and I traveled to Israel. We landed in the late afternoon, and by the time we arrived at our Tel Aviv hotel, Barbara wanted to rest, but I felt energized, so I took a walk. Traversing the streets of Tel Aviv and Jaffa until midnight, I marveled at the variety of people I saw — young and old, from so many ethnic backgrounds. I was amazed by the sights and smells and how alive the city was.

Scanning the faces I passed on the street, I could not help but think back to my youth, to the hatred for Israel and Jews that had been fed to me.  As we traveled the country — Jerusalem, Safed, the Golan, Rehovot — Israel entered my bloodstream. I felt at home.

The trip deepened my connection to Israel and to being Jewish. In synagogue on Shabbat mornings, I began to take notice of a part of the service that I hadn’t thought much about: the prayer for the State of Israel.

Now I say it each week with full intention: “Bless the land with peace, and its inhabitants with lasting joy.”

Occasionally, as I say those words, I think back to my 15-year-old self, on that hot June afternoon on the streets of Sabha. And I say an extra prayer of gratitude to God for carrying me on this remarkable journey to myself.


ED ELHADERI is a real estate investor and developer who lives in West Los Angeles with his wife, daughter and son. He is writing a memoir about his journey from his Libyan childhood to his life as an active and committed American Jew. Tom Fields-Meyer is a Los Angeles author and editor who helps people tell their life stories in writing.

Adam and Eve depicted on a 19th-century ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract, from the Norsa-Torrazzo Synagogue in Mantua, Italy. Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images

‘Jewish spouses matter,’ says a new demographic study. Let the battle begin.


One of the wisest things ever said about intermarriage came from former Atlantic sports columnist Jake Simpson: “No stat could have predicted … the wonder that was David Tyree’s helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII.”

Granted, Simpson wasn’t writing about the high rates of Jews marrying non-Jews. He was complaining that the growing emphasis on statistical analysis in sports — sabermetrics — was undermining the human element of the game. A statistician will tell you who is likely to catch a touchdown pass. But only ecstatic Giants fans (and heartbroken Patriots fans) could appreciate the glories of Tyree’s improbable reception.

Another sportswriter, Joe Posnanski, described it as “the human record versus the human heart.”

It’s not a stretch to recognize a similar argument among those who care about Jewish “continuity” and what it means to live a meaningful Jewish life. On one side, the think tanks and sociologists are churning out statistics (Hebrewmetrics?) suggesting the dire toll intermarriage is taking on the strength and vitality of Jewish life.

On the other side, rabbis and others in the grassroots are demanding that Jewish leaders take into account the deeply personal stories of individual Jews and those who love them, lest they feed the alienation from Jewish institutions that the numbers crunchers complain about.

According to a new analysis by the Jewish People Policy Institute, or JPPI, analyzing stats on “non-haredi” American Jews aged 25 to 54, “just 21 percent are married to Jews, while well over twice as many [50 percent] are non-married and 29 percent are intermarried.” Only 15 percent of this cohort are in Jewish-Jewish marriages with Jewish children at home.

The implication, once you exclude the haredi Orthodox — as well as the modern Orthodox, who often marry before age 25 — is that the non-Orthodox Jewish population is in a steep demographic decline, perhaps perilously so.

As authors Steven M. Cohen and Sylvia Barack Fishman point out in an essay for JTA, this decline is not only a function of intermarriage. It’s also the result of late marriage, no marriage and low birth rates.

Yet the Jewish engagement gap between the inmarried and the intermarried is “truly enormous,” according to JPPI. The inmarried are more likely to feel that being Jewish is very important, to have Jewish friends, to belong to a synagogue and to raising their children “in the Jewish religion.” By contrast, “non-Jewish spouses and children in the home each seem to diminish the likelihood of Jewish engagement.”

These kinds of analyses alarm Jewish institutions; they seek answers in institutional ways. Should more money be invested in a highly engaged “core,” or spread among outreach to the “periphery”? Does the smart money go to the hip startups that are trying to attract less-engaged Jews, or to the legacy institutions that still have large (if shrinking) membership bases?

Just days after the JPPI study came out on June 5, there was a much different kind of reaction to the intermarriage “challenge” coming from rabbis of at least three distinct stripes.

Clergy at B’nai Jeshurun, a big and influential synagogue on New York’s Upper West side, announced that they would begin officiating at the weddings of interfaith couples who commit to creating Jewish homes and raising Jewish children. Downtown, Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie, who runs the innovative Lab/Shul, said he, too, would officiate at intermarriages despite his training in the Conservative movement, which bans its rabbis from doing so.

And in an essay for The New York Jewish Week, Rabbi Avram Mlotek, who was ordained at the liberal Orthodox Chovevei Torah yeshiva, suggested that “it’s time we revisit our tribalistic approach toward intermarriage and our highly divisive conversion practices.” Mlotek was coy about what that would mean in practice, although he did suggest that the Orthodox and Conservative movements should take a cue from the Reform’s “welcoming posture towards families with non-Jewish partners.”

B’nai Jeshurun is not affiliated with a movement and its decision is internal; Lau-Lavie and Mlotek will have to deal with the consequences within their affiliated institutions. (Chovevei Torah already issued a statement reiterating that it forbids its rabbis from performing intermarriages.)

The denominational and halachic issues are intriguing for insiders, although the casual reader might be more taken with the personal stories each of the rabbis tells. In a nearly 60-page explanation of his decision, Lau-Lavie wrote of the the interfaith marriages he performed before his ordination as a Conservative rabbi, as well as the requests he continues to receive from “Jews and people of other heritages or faiths seeking a Jewish wedding, life, and community.

“Each story was unique,” he wrote. “I couldn’t bear saying no. The firsthand encounter with the pain of rejection and its consequences to the couple, to me, and to our community convinced me of the need for an urgent solution. It has become not just a practical issue but also one of deeply personal, ethical, and theological dimensions.”

Mlotek wrote of the young Jewish woman he met as a staffer on Honeymoon Israel, which takes interfaith couples on heritage trips to Israel. “Rachel” told Mlotek that her parents cut her off after she became engaged to an Arab man. 

“My guilt is tremendous and I understand my parents’ disappointment,” she explained through tears. “Still, is there any way there might still be a space for me within Judaism? I feel as if God has brought my partner and me together.” 

Mlotek wrote: “A posture of radical hospitality and love will be the only way to ensure Jews remain Jewish and Jewish remains worthwhile.”

For the B’nai Jeshurun rabbis, the personal is theological, to borrow a phrase. Their decision came with the launch of what they are calling the Jewish Home Project, which will feature support programs, “resources for daily Jewish living, a more robust conversion program and rich Jewish education courses.” If rabbis a generation ago performed intermarriages to smooth the feelings of the Jewish partner’s parents, now they want to embrace the couple and do all they can to make them a part of the Jewish community.

Critics of the “stat heads,” as a baseball fan might put it, say that, unlike folks on the ground, they don’t see the people behind the numbers. These critics say the major studies and their authors treat the intermarried as a statistical burden rather than living and breathing individuals making sometimes hard, sometimes welcome choices. That interfaith couples feel judged by the “tribalistic” mainstream, and that Jewish institutions should accept people as they are, not as they wish them to be. Besides, critics say, the statisticians are working against forces they can’t resist and longing for a past that cannot be recaptured.

Meanwhile, the sociologists and pollsters insist that they are deeply concerned about Jewish individuals, not just faceless Jewish “communities.” They study Jewish belonging not because they are scolds, but because they believe that a vibrant Jewish community — with strong institutions, crowded events, knowledgeable members, and complex friendship and family ties — creates a deeply meaningful life. That the Jewish thing is not worth preserving for its own sake, but because of the difference it has made in the lives of individuals and the world.

And their research, as opposed to their gut, leads them to recommendations — and yes, judgments at a time when judging is out of favor.

The authors of the JPPI study take aim at their critics when they conclude, “Many regard all Jewish journeys and family configurations not only as equally valid, but as equally valuable for Jewish engagement and continuity. In contrast with such avowedly non-discriminatory and non-discriminating thinking, our study demonstrates that Jewish spouses matter, Jewish children matter, and, more generally, the configuration of Jewish families matters a great deal for current Jewish engagement and future Jewish continuity.”

The battle line has been drawn, and it runs right between the human record and the human heart.

DC Jewish community to hold vigil for Muslim teen killed in attack


The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington will hold a vigil in memory of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old Muslim girl killed after leaving her mosque with friends in northern Virginia.

“Now it is time for us to express our deepest sympathy and stand with our brothers and sisters in the Muslim community as we all come to terms with this tragic event,” the JCRC said in a statement Monday.

The vigil will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Lake Anne Plaza in Reston, Virginia.

The JCRC “has enjoyed a decades-long relationship with the ADAMS Center, working hand-in-hand to promote interfaith understanding and combat bigotry against any faith or ethnicity,” the release said.

ADAMS is the acronym for the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, the mosque that Hassanen had worshipped at in suburban Washington, D.C., in the pre-dawn hours Sunday before heading to a restaurant with friends for breakfast. Muslims fast from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan.

Police in Fairfax County do not believe bias was involved in the killing, describing it instead as a road rage incident. Police allege that Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, got into an argument with a teen in the group as the friends returned to the mosque, drove his car over a curb, chased the group and used a baseball bat to hit Hassanen in a parking lot nearby. Torres has been charged with one count of second-degree murder.

The Washington Post quoted family members as saying they remain convinced it was a hate crime against Muslims.

The attack has garnered international attention because of a proliferation in recent weeks of reports of attacks targeting Muslims. The Anti-Defamation League called on police to investigate the incident as a hate crime.

Episode 42 – Social innovation: When values and startups meet


For most Israelis, innovation means high-tech, angel investors, an exit and boatloads of cash. Truth is, though, Innovation can come in many forms. Startups make profit out of innovation, by identifying problems and offering solutions. But what if innovation were to be used not as a means to make profit, but rather a tool to achieve social goals?

Irad Eichler chose this path exactly, by establishing a relatively large non-profit organization, Shekulu Tov, that works with the state and offers rehabilitation services to those in need in order to help them return to the work force. For his achievements, Irad was recently awarded a prize by the U.N. He joins us to talk about social innovation.

We also played a beautiful song by The Fine Marten!

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks to the employees at the State Department in Washington, U.S., May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Rex Tillerson retreats from commitment to fill anti-Semitism envoy position


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson retreated from his department’s commitment to fill the post of envoy to combat anti-Semitism, saying the effort may be more effective without one.

“One of the questions I’ve asked is, if we’re really going to affect these areas, these special areas, don’t we have to affect it through the delivery on mission at every level at every country?” Tillerson said in testimony Wednesday to the foreign operations subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. “And by having a special envoy, one of my experiences is, mission then says, ‘oh, we’ve got somebody else that does,’ and then they stop doing it.”

Since Congress established the position with a 2004 law, the role of the envoy has been to train career State Department officers and diplomats in identifying and combating anti-Semitism and to encourage embassies and bureaus to more closely monitor anti-Semitism. The envoy has not functioned as a stand-alone entity but rather is part of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and supervises about five career State Department staffers.

European Jewish community officials have said that having an envoy has delivered a message to their governments that the United States is focused on anti-Semitism.

At the subcommittee hearing, Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., asked Tillerson for a timeline for the hire. Earlier this year there were reports that the Trump administration, eyeing massive budget cuts to the State Department, planned to eliminate the role. National Jewish groups and Congress members expressed outrage, and in April a State Department spokesman told JTA that the department did not in fact plan to eliminate the position and was reviewing candidates to fill it.

Lawmakers have noted that because the role was created by statute, the Trump administration cannot eliminate the post. Tillerson said he would seek to persuade Congress to cut the position if he deems it necessary.

“Those that are mandated by statute, we will be back to talk with you about those as to whether we think it’s good to have it structured that way or whether we really think we can be effective on those issues in a different way,” he said at the hearing.

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the ranking Democrat on the foreign operations subcommittee, was appalled by the possibility of the position being eliminated.

“It is outrageous and offensive that Secretary Tillerson would even suggest appointing a Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism is unnecessary, particularly given that his State Department committed to filling the post back in April,” she said in an email to JTA. “As reports of hate crimes against Jews continue to rise in the United States and around the world, it is essential that Secretary Tillerson fill the Special Envoy position immediately.”

Bipartisan legislation under consideration would enhance the position to ambassador level.

“It is essential that the administration fill the position now more than ever, and we appreciate Congress to make sure the administration hears this message loud and clear,” William Daroff, the Washington director of Jewish Federations of North America, told JTA in an interview.

Rafael Anteby. Photo by Joan Marcus

Mandala maker handles life’s shifting sands with art and kung fu


Not much had changed since Rafael “Rafi” Anteby was a little boy who played in
the sand.

Sometimes his immaculate apartment looks like a big sandbox with dozens of bowls filled with colorful sands, which he collects from around the world: purple from Big Sur and Idaho, black and green from Hawaii, red and yellow from Israel, golden brown from Myanmar.

Anteby, 52, who was born in Israel, is a Los Angeles artist who uses sand of different colors to make Hindu and Buddhist ritual symbols known as mandalas. It’s an ancient art form that represents the universe. Some of Anteby’s involve symmetrical designs, while others have featured figures such as a tiger or peacocks. Monks in Tibet work on their mandalas for months at a time, only to discard each one once it’s finished, spilling it into the water.

“It’s their way of letting it go back to nature. Part of the meditation is the practice of letting go,” Anteby said.

His first exhibition of mandalas in Los Angeles is on display Thursdays through Saturdays through July 1 at 929 E. Second St. in the Arts District.

Anteby’s process is different, creating his mandalas using dozens of sand colors, minerals, gold, diamonds and semiprecious stones from the Himalayas and gluing the sand into a canvas so it remains in place. Like the monks, he uses authentic artisanal tools over hundreds of hours to perfect the tedious process of funneling the sand through a metal flute.

His discipline to the practice drew the attention of the Tibetan Lama Adzom Rinpoche, an avid mandala-maker himself. The lama came all the way from Tibet for the exhibition reception on June 4. A portion of sale proceeds are being donated to the lama’s Buddhist institute that educates hundreds of children from remote villages of the Himalayas.

Anteby was drawn to the Far East at first through his fascination with kung fu. He was introduced to martial arts at 14 in Haifa.

“I was a small kid and was often bullied by the boys; even the girls beat me up,” he said. “As a result, I got involved with the bad crowd in town, a group of kids who were troublemakers and everyone feared them. It wasn’t that I was a bad kid, but I felt safer with them. One day, a kung fu teacher came to our school and talked to us about it, and I knew that this is what I want to do.”

Days after he finished his military duty in the Israeli army, he flew to Hong Kong to study with his kung fu master for two years. “I studied in a monastery-style school, 10 hours a day. I also led a life of a monk during that time — no women, no alcohol. I hardly left the place.”

After his two years in Hong Kong, he moved to South Africa and joined a friend, Lance Von Erich, a former American professional wrestler, who had opened a gym. He asked Anteby to help him.

“I was a martial arts instructor at his facility and ended up staying there for eight years,” Anteby said. “During that time, I won the South African championship in kung fu as well as the Shaolin world tournament for kung fu in China.”

Back in the United States, Anteby was diagnosed in 2000 with macular degeneration. He was told that he had one year before he would become legally blind. Anteby refused to accept the verdict. “I told my doctor, ‘No way, not in my book; it’s never going to happen,’ and he answered, ‘I appreciate your positive attitude, but I still encourage you to start thinking about what it’s like being blind, because it is going to happen.’ ”

Anteby found the name of an expert in Chinese medicine in Arkansas, flew to see him and stayed for two weeks, undergoing intensive acupuncture treatment. “After that, I went to see my teacher in Peking, who sent me to a 104-year-old teacher of qigong meditation, which I practiced for six months at the Wudang monastery,” Anteby said. “Only then I went back to see the doctor who diagnosed me. He examined me and was shocked to find out that the disease had disappeared.”

Anteby learned the art of mandala during his frequent visits to Nepal and Tibet, where he noticed monks working on them. “I approached one and asked, ‘ Can you teach me?’ The monk replied, ‘Can you learn?’ ”

At that time, Anteby already was an artist with a clothing and jewelry line called Bullets 4 Peace, which he started after a close friend was shot fatally in South Africa.

“I wanted to raise awareness about the perils of gun violence,” he said. “I took empty bullet shells and transformed the bullet from a symbol of fear to one of love and compassion. This is my way of spreading consciousness of peace.”

Anteby uses bullet casings taken from reload centers, streets and war zones, turning them into necklaces with symbols of peace and love. Among his customers are Jamie Foxx, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Chris Noth and Justin Bieber. Some of them, he said, participate at his annual charity event, which he established in 2008.

Not everyone appreciates the design of the necklaces, however. Airport security personnel have confiscated the items from Gloria Estefan, Snoop Dogg and members of the Pussycat Dolls as they were checking in for flights. (Anteby sent them new ones.)

In July, Anteby is planning another trip to the Far East, to study charcoal powder painting in Thailand, to work with monks in Nepal on a permanent mandala, and to do some sand carving in Myanmar. He also intends to distribute school supplies to orphanages and instruct children in tai chi, kung fu and meditation.

“I know how much it [kung fu] had helped me as a kid, how much self-confidence I received thanks to it,” he said. “It transformed my life for the better, and I know how much it can do for them, as well.”

Before and after: Shulem Deen as a Skverer Hasid, left, and a modern secular Jew. Photo at left courtesy of Shulem Deen; at right, by Pearl Gabel

A Chasid becomes a heretic


In 2005, at the age of 31, Shulem Deen was excommunicated from the Skverer Chasidic community of New Square, N.Y., where he lived with his wife and five children.

His crime? “Heresy.” Like in the Middle Ages.

In the early pages of his award-winning 2015 memoir, “All Who Go Do Not Return,” he gives an accounting of his alleged medieval sins:

“I was speaking ill of the rebbe.

“I was no longer praying.

“I disparaged the Torah and the teachings of our sages.

“I was corrupting other people. Young people. Innocent people.

“In fact,” Deen wrote of the accusations of the beit din, “people were saying I had corrupted a yeshiva boy … so badly that the boy left his parents’ home, and … went to live with goyim in Brooklyn. It was rumored that the boy planned to attend college.”

To secular eyes, Deen’s tale of woe has elements of the ridiculous: Who wouldn’t want a child to get an education? But it is also tortuous, terrible and tragic. To leave religious life, Deen had to forsake everything and everyone he ever knew.

“It was a very difficult year, a very isolating year,” he said of his transition into the outside world. His nonconformity was so destabilizing that friends and family — including his five children — stopped wanting to see him. “I didn’t have anybody,” he told me.

When he recounts this traumatic chapter, Deen says he “left” the Chasidic community even though he was exiled, because, heretic or not, leaving is what he wanted; leaving was his choice.

“I wanted no more than a world in which I was not lying and hiding,” he writes in his memoir. “I wanted the freedom to simply be who I was, without fear or shame. When caught in a world where your very essence feels shameful, life turns into a feverish obsession with suppressing your true identity in favor of a socially accepted one.”

Who among us shares this same “heresy”? It is the experience of all those whose gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or skin color has deprived them of the right to live with dignity and truth. It is the heresy of individualism. Deen’s crime was that he placed his need for “the mystique of freedom” above family, above community and above tribe.

In a way, we’re all heretics, choosing our communities based on beliefs, politics and values considered anathema elsewhere.

During the Middle Ages, when rabbis were vested with full judicial authority in their communities, so-called heretics were at the mercy of rabbinic courts. Living in 21st-century America, Deen was free to leave totalitarian New Square for democratic Brooklyn without transgressing the law. But there were other consequences.

Outside of a system in which every aspect of existence pivots around community, Deen was plunged into a “soul-crushing solitude.” The modern world and its attendant freedoms —  newspapers, books, television, internet — presented strange, new choices, such as what to do for the first Shabbat on the outside, as if he had breached a prison wall.

“I had nothing to do Friday night and it was really, really depressing,” he said. “I reached out to a guy, not Jewish, who was a reader of my blog and sent him an email, ‘Hey, want to hang out?’ There was something uncomfortable in that for me because it came from a place of desperation, a place of need. I was desperate for contact.”

In New Square, Deen was lonely among the faithful. In Brooklyn, he was lonely with no faith at all.

In the decade since, he has reinvented his life. The support of Footsteps, an organization for frum Jews who leave their communities, was vital. Deen’s fluency in English helped him land a job as a computer programmer, though he gave that up to pursue writing. Still, his children refuse contact.   

Deen’s story is a subject of fascination among secular and religious Jews alike, many of whom are alien to the ways of the ultra-Orthodox. Although we glimpse them in Hancock Park and Borough Park, tell their tales and sing their songs, we don’t know them. And mostly, they don’t want to know us.

“The worst part about the isolation wasn’t that I didn’t know anyone,” Deen said. “It was that I wasn’t quite sure I was a normal person who could get to know someone. I had a feeling that I was different, almost literally an alien. So the idea that I could make friends was a question I had. It was about whether the possibility existed.”

His was the heresy of curiosity, of seeking difference. Questioning. Arguing. Not believing in a literal interpretation of the Bible. The things many of us consider definitional to our Judaism — intellectual life, civic engagement, biblical metaphor, encountering The Other — are apostasy for the Skverers.

In a way, we’re all heretics, choosing our communities based on beliefs, politics and values considered anathema elsewhere. We hide parts of ourselves we don’t want seen. We struggle in shame and in silence with secret heresies that we know others might not understand or accept. 

Yet most of us think, whether we’re believers or not, that by engaging with Jewish tradition we are doing God’s will. That by adhering to the wisdom of our tradition we are attaining, if not holiness, something close to wholeness. Even if our theological understanding demands a more expansive view of the God personified in the Bible, the ideals that God represents — goodness, kindness, mercy, wonder — are qualities we seek.

What would Jewish life look like without Judaism?

“Occasionally, I miss a rebbe’s tisch,” Deen said. “So I’ll put on a white shirt, a jacket and a yarmulke, and go to Borough Park on a Friday night. For nostalgic reasons. Sometimes I feel a little bit moved by it. There are certain experiences I want to connect to again.”


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Tallis

Why are Jews traditionally buried in a Tallis? By Isaac Pollak


[Ed. Note: The tallis, also pronounced tallit, is the name for the Jewish prayer shawl. Its purpose is to help remind the wearer of the commandments that are to be followed. It comes in two basic forms; the tallit gadol, often worn as an overgarment or wrap, and the tallit katan, usually worn as an undergarment, beneath the coat or shirt. The purpose of both is similar: they serve as the base on which the attachment of the fringes, the tzitzit or tzitzis – pl. tzitziot, is accomplished. These are the fringes mentioned in the Torah, Bamidbar/Numbers 15:37-41. The fringes are strings that are wound and tied to create knots and windings in specific patterns that are intended to represent the totality of the mitzvoth or commandments, and thereby serve as a visual reminder. — JB]

Why are Jews traditionally buried in a Tallis?

This question is touched on in two places in the Talmud. Our first indication that men are buried in a Tallis is from Talmud Bavli in Tractate Bava Batra 74:A which reads as follows:

Rabba bar Bar Chana related that an Arab merchant showed him the burial spot of the Israelites who had died during their 40 year trek in the desert. Rabba said he dug up one of the bodies and removed a corner of the fringed garment (Tzitzis) to take back home to determine the proper method of producing a Tallis and its fringes. However, he was divinely prevented from taking it with him.

Here is our first indication that one is buried in a Tallis. (See also Tractate Samechot, Chapter 10.)

Tosofos [also spelled Tosafot] (early Medieval commentaries on the Talmud) remark that this is not necessarily proof, because the Midrash says that the people in the desert (Midbar) knowing they were fated to die, would lie down in their graves annually (on the ninth of Av) wearing their Taleisim [Ashkenaz; plural of Tallis] and await their death. Tosofos concludes that this doesn’t necessarily prove that a deceased person should be wrapped in a Tallis before burial, as this annual event was a unique occurrence.

Tallis with Tzitzis

Tosofos, however, also infers from another Tractate, Talmud Bavli Menachos 41:A, that the dead should be buried in a Tallis with Tzitzis. This is the second source in the Talmud.

The relevant discussion in Tractate Menachos asks whether a four cornered garment needs fringes on its own even if it’s not worn; in other words, is the obligation on the wearer or is the obligation on the four cornered garment?

Rabbi Tove bar Kisna says in the name of Shmuel that fringes are obligatory on each four-cornered garment whether it’s worn or not, as long as the garment remains ready to be potentially worn; articles of clothing left in a drawer are still subject to the requirement of having fringes. The proof text is from Deuteronomy 12:12, “You shall make yourself braided fringes of the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself.”

  אשר תכסה בה

The stipulation is that as long as it would be potentially possible to cover yourself with it, or it has the potential to be used as a garment, it needs fringes. A garment made for a living person to wear at some time in the future, whether used for that purpose or not, must have Tzitzis.

Garment Made NOT for the Living?

Shmuel, the Talmud continues, concedes, regarding an elderly person who made a four-cornered garment for his personal shroud, that it is exempt from Tzitzis. Even though the Tallis/Shroud may upon occasion be worn by a living person (to be fitted, for example), it’s still exempt because it’s made for a purpose other than being worn by a living person. It is not defined as a garment with which you cover yourself, rather it is by definition a shroud; it was produced with the intention of being worn by a deceased person.

Burial in a Tallis!

This is the basis that to this day Jewish men are buried in a Tallis!

Tzitzis on a Shroud?

Now the question arises whether the Tallis/Shroud needs Tzitzit?The Talmud continues that when a person dies we most certainly affix fringes to the four-cornered burial shroud because of the verse in Proverbs 17:5 “one who mocks a pauper insults his maker”.   לעג  לרש וחרף

The Talmud continues that when a person dies we most certainly affix fringes to the four-cornered burial shroud because of the verse in Proverbs 17:5 “one who mocks a pauper insults his maker”.   לעג  לרש וחרף

עשה

This is as if to say that clothing a deceased in a four cornered garment that has no Tzitzis appears to be a form of mockery of the deceased, because it draws attention to the fact that the deceased is no longer obligated to follow God’s commandments, and it seems to be mocking him by saying ‘we can continue to observe the commandments, but you, the deceased, can’t continue and are unable to follow God’s commandments’.

Why invalidate the Tzitzis?

Tosofos (in TB Bava Batra 74:A and TB Brachos 18:A) questions why there is a prevailing custom (in medieval Ashkenaz – France and Germany) to remove, cut off, or invalidate the fringes in some form?

Rabbeinu Tam (Rashi’s grandson) responds that wrapping a dead person in fringes not only signifies that he fulfilled the commandments of Tzitzis, but that he was faithful to all 613 positive commandments, because the numerical value of the word Tzitzis is 600 combined with the eight strands of the Tzitzit and the five knots that are attached to the Tallis, which added together equal six hundred and thirteen.

Adds the Ri (Tosofos) that in the days of the wise, all men in the community observed the commandment of Tzitzis and therefore they were buried with a Tallis and all its fringes, but in this current time (13th-15th century) many people are not scrupulous about wearing Tzitzis during their lifetime, and it was considered deceitful to wrap such people in Tzitzis only after their death; therefore one of the fringes is cut off.

In short – it’s a compromise. Everyone is buried in a Tallis, however, because many were not careful in the observance of the Mitzvoth in their lifetime, the Tallis remains in place, but in an invalid state. (See Talmud Bavli Nidah 61:B Tosofot Avel for a detailed treatment of the issue of removing or invalidating the Tallis by cutting off or removing one of the Tzitzit .)

Eventually, it became customary to bury ALL people in a Tallis with invalid Tzitzis in order not to openly distinguish between those who wore Tzitzis during their life time and those who did not.

This is codified in the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreah Deah, Siman 351:2 (see the long Ba’ch on the Yoreah Deah which offers a detailed explanation of the custom as it evolved) and is done so by the vast majority of Chevrei Kaddisha worldwide.

How do we invalidate the Tzitzis?

Various traditions have arisen, and the most popular involve:

  • Cutting off one of the 4 fringes (which seems to be the most popular) but leaving the removed Tzitzis in the casket.
  • Opening the sides of the Tallis pocket where the Tzitzis are attached and rolling the Tzitzis into the pocket thus temporarily invalidating the Tallis.
  • Making additional knots besides the five knots on the fringes, therefore invalidating the Tallis, but still easy to unknot and re-validate.
  • Hanging the Tzitzit outside the coffin so they are physically separate.
  • Making 2 fringes out of the four by knotting two and two together.
  • In some Chassidic communities it’s customary to lay the body in the ground wrapped in a Tallis, and once it’s in the ground to then remove the Tallis, or put a Tallis on the deceased, lay him in the coffin and put the coffin in the earth and then to remove coffin lid and remove the complete Tallis.
  • Some prominent Medieval and later Rabbis instructed their students to bury them with Tzitzis in their hands (and not invalidate them in any way) as if they were saying the prayers on Tzitzis.

Other Questions

Another dimension is raised, leading to some questions that are not fully resolved.

If a person had a weekday Tallis and a Shabbos (Sabbath) Tallis, which one should they be wrapped in for burial?

Here again there is a difference of opinion. Some say (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch) the Shabbos Tallis has a higher level of showing one’s faithfulness in keeping the commandments; whereas others claim that the one used more frequently – the weekday Tallis – has a higher level of holiness.

What of Women?

There is a tradition among some Sephardic communities and some of the Naturei Karta groups of Jerusalem that a woman is also buried with a Tallis Katan without Tzitzis (small Tallis; not full size). This may be based on Shulchan Aruch Orach Hayim, Siman 17, that a woman who wore a Tallis Katan in her lifetime should be buried in one, and the same principle as above; in order not to make a distinction between women who wore them and women who didn’t, these communities decided that all would be buried with a Tallis Katan, but without Tzitzis.

Are we causing a Potential Problem by removing the Tzitzis?

Another question arises whether there will be an obligation of Tzitzis (or any other commandments) when we achieve Techias Ha’Maisim (resurrection of the dead) after the arrival of the Messiah.

If there will be an obligation to follow the commandments, then all those who rise from the dead will have non-kosher Taleisim (with invalidated fringes). [What a business bonanza for Tallis manufacturers when we all arise from the dead!]

For a related concern, see TB Niddah 61:B and the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreah Deah 301:7 for a fascinating discussion of Shatnez – the forbidden combination of wool and linen – which is allowed in Shrouds, which to some degree is based on the issue here of whether there will be an obligation to fulfill Mitzvot after the Resurrection of the Dead – techiat hameitim.

On the other hand, if there is no obligation to observe Mitzvoth once one is deceased, and there will not be an obligation when we all arise from the dead, then why invalidate the Tallis?

The concept of Lo’ag Larash (mocking a disadvantaged person or ridiculing the helpless) is no longer valid as the deceased has no obligation to observe any commandments now or in the future. However, the concept of Lo’ag Larash may be that we are feeling sorry for them now that they no longer can, and no longer have any obligation to perform any Mitzvoth.

What about the Mitzvah Against Wasting/Destroying?

Removing the Tzitzis leads to another question, that of Ba’al Tashchis (a Torah prohibition against wasting, taking a perfectly good item that can be used for holy purposes or other purposes as well, and making it totally unusable –unfit for holy use or other uses). Invalidating the tzitzis seems to be a clear violation of this principle. How can we justify it?

Taeku

No answers were found to resolve these additional questions. It seems we will need to await the Messiah’s coming for answers to these and others.

Isaac Pollak is the Rosh/Head of a Chevrah Kadisha on the upper East Side of Manhattan, NYC and has been doing Taharot for almost 4 decades. He is fascinated by and a student of customs and history concerning the Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish burial and mourning ritual. He is an avid collector of Chevrah Kadisha material cultural items, with over 300 historical artifacts in his own collection. He serves as chairperson of the Acquisition Committee for Traditional Material Culture at the Jewish Museum in NYC, and is CEO of an International Marketing Company. He is a student and participant in Gamliel Institute courses.

Isaac Pollak

Isaac Pollak

[Ed Note: Isaac Pollak has agreed to serve as a ‘researcher’ for the Expired and Inspired blog, providing us with information that is pertinent and interesting. If you have a question, please submit it to the editor. — JB]

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KAVOD v’NICHUM CONFERENCE

Registration for the 15th North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference, next week on June 18-20, in San Rafael, California, is still open, and you can attend..

Our conference will have intensive workshops on Introduction to Taharah, Infection Control, Communicating about difficult Taharot, Modifying Taharah, Taharah Stories as well as exploring traditional Taharah liturgy, Navigating Taharah Liturgy – A Play, and Taharah liturgy in Maavar Yabbok.

We’ll have an exciting series of workshops on Jewish cemetery issues, including Green Cemeteries, Cremation, Perpetual Care Fund Investments, Record Keeping and Acquiring New Cemetery Property.

What’s different this year is an evolving theme – expanding the work of the Chevrah Kadisha and the Jewish Cemetery by encouraging conversation about end of life plans with the Conversation Project; end of life decision-making with Dr. Jessica Zitter, and communicating about how we die with Dr. Dawn Gross.

There’s much more – see our Preliminary conference program.

Consider a Sunday morning pre-conference field trip to Gan Yarok – an environmentally conscious Jewish Green Cemetery.

Sunday afternoon from 2-5, Sam Salkin, Executive Director of Sinai Memorial Chapel, will facilitate an intensive session on starting & managing a community funeral home. Let us know if you are interested in this session. Attendance is by advance reservation only.

Tuesday afternoon after the conference Sinai Memorial Chapel will facilitate a tour of Gan Shalom Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery with an interfaith section. Again, let us know if you are interested – Attendance by advance reservation only.

And there is an extension to the conference! Gamliel Institute students, and others by approval, can remain for an additional day to participate in the Gamliel Institute Day of Learning. We will have three extraordinary teachers presenting on a variety of texts and concepts that are of interest. This is a fantastic opportunity to study with some of the very best instructors in a small group setting during a twenty-four hour period. Students, contact us to RSVP; if you are not a Gamliel student, contact us to seek approval of the Dean to attend.

Register for the conference now.

We have negotiated a great hotel rate with Embassy Suites by Hilton, but rooms are limited; please don’t wait to make your reservations. We also have home hospitality options – contact us for information or to request home hospitality. 410-733-3700, info@jewish-funerals.org

Questions? Email info@jewish-funerals.org or call 410-733-3700.
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TASTE OF GAMLIEL

In 2017, Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute are again sponsoring a six-part “Taste of Gamliel” webinar series. This year’s topic is From Here to Eternity: Jewish Views on Sickness and Dying.

Each 90 minute session is presented by a different scholar.

The June 25th session is being taught by Dr. Laurie Zoloth, well known author, teacher, and scholar.  

Taste of Gamliel Webinars for this year are scheduled on January 22, February 19, March 19, April 23, May 21, and June 25. The instructors this year are: Dr. Dan Fendel, Rabbi Dayle Friedman, Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow, Rabbi Richard Address, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, and Dr. Laurie Zoloth.

This series of Webinar sessions is free, with a suggested minimum donation of $36 for all six sessions. These online sessions begin at 5 PM PDST (GMT-7); 8 PM EDST (GMT-4).

Those registered will be sent the information on how to connect to the sessions, and will also receive information on how to access the recordings of all six sessions.

The link to register is: http://jewish-funerals.givezooks.com/events/taste-of-gamliel-2017.

More info – Call us at 410-733-3700 or email info@jewish-funerals.org.    

Click the link to register and for more information. We’ll send you the directions to join the webinar no less than 12 hours before the session.

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

Gamliel Institute will be offering course 2, Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah, online, afternoons/evenings, in the Fall semester starting September 5th, 2017.

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet on twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in those weeks with Jewish holidays during this course). There will be an orientation session on Monday, September 4th, 2017.  Register or contact us for more information.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

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DONATIONS:

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organizations, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

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MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent an email link to the Expired And Inspired blog each week by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

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SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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French President Emmanuel Macron on May 27. Photo by Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

A French Jew’s killing provides a test for the new Macron administration


Before he threw Sarah Halimi to her death from a window of her third-story apartment in Paris, 27-year-old Kobili Traore called his Jewish neighbor “Satan” and cried out for Allah.

These and other facts about the April 4 incident that shocked French Jewry are known from testimonies and a recording made by a neighbor, according to the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism watchdog.

Years before the attack, Traore called a daughter of his 65-year-old victim, whom he beat savagely before killing, “a dirty Jewess,” the daughter said.

Despite these accounts Traore, who reportedly has no history of mental illness, was placed under psychiatric evaluation as per his temporary insanity claim. Prosecutors presented a draft indictment against him for voluntary manslaughter that contains no mention of the aggravated element of a hate crime.

The omission, along with the perceived indifference of authorities and the media in France to a crime that was largely eclipsed by a dramatic elections campaign, has left many members and leaders of the country’s traumatized Jewish community feeling marginalized and angry at a society they say is reluctant to confront anti-Semitism head-on.

“The authorities’ failure to state the terrorist and anti-Semitic nature of this murder is nothing unusual,” Shmuel Trigano, an author of 24 books and a scholar on anti-Semitism, said in an interview on Radio J three weeks after the killing.

Trigano for years has been accusing French authorities of turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism – including at times when leaders of French Jewry praised their government for taking extraordinary measures to protect Jews, particularly for deploying thousands of armed soldiers around Jewish institutions for their protection following the murder of four Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris in January 2015.

Yet amid silence by authorities and the national media about the April 4 killing, l’affaire Halimi has emerged as a rallying issue for Jewish leaders, activists and prominent thinkers. They say the investigation is indicative of a deeper problem in French society and the community’s first major test for the administration of the newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron.

“Everything about this crime suggests there is an ongoing denial of reality” by authorities, 17 French intellectuals wrote this month in an open letter published in Le Figaro. “We demand all the truth be brought to light in the murder of Sarah Halimi,” added the authors, including Alain Finkielstein, a Jewish philosopher and member of the Academie Francaise — the guardian of French language and culture.

Amid growing criticism by its constituents CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, substituted its calls for patience for authorities’ handling of the investigation with open criticism over its handling and bid to intervene legally.

“A Jewish woman, a physician who ran a kindergarten, was murdered at her home amid cries of ‘Allah hu akbar,” CRIF Vice President Robert Ejnes wrote in a statement titled “An Increasingly Heavy Silence” nearly two months after the incident. The phrase “Allah hu akbar,” which means “God is great” in Arabic, is sometimes linked to terrorist attacks.

The judiciary, Ejnes added, “has not referenced the anti-Semitic character of the murder but it is clear that Ms. Sarah Halimi of blessed memory was killed because she was Jewish by a murderer motivated by Islamism.”

And the media “has practically not spoken about this, as though the defenestration of a woman is not unusual in Paris in 2017!” he wrote, giving voice to one of the aspects of the affair that many French Jews say is among its most painful aspects.

But it was the open letter by the 17 intellectuals on June 4 that broke the silence in the national media about that affair, according to Hervé Gardette, a journalist for the France Culture state radio station. On June 8, Gardette investigated the case in a program titled “Is There a Denial of Anti-Semitism in France?”

Long before the Halimi case, Jewish leaders and thinkers have been complaining for years of a reluctance in society to face inconvenient truths about crimes when their victims happen to be Jewish.

Gardette, who is not Jewish, acknowledged this on his show.

“Strikingly, this murder immediately brings to mind another older murder, of Ilan Halimi in 2006, 24 days after his abduction, and how long it took back then for the anti-Semitic character of the crime to be admitted by the detectives and journalists. So nothing has changed,” he said. “Is there a denial of anti-Semitism in France?”

Ilan Halimi (no relation), a Jewish phone salesman, was abducted, tortured and murdered by a gang led by a career criminal with a history of targeting mostly Jewish victims.

In an open letter addressed to French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, the French-Jewish philosopher and historian Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine suggested the silence around the Sarah Halimi case stems from the establishment’s desire not to offend Muslims — and to deprive the anti-Muslim far right, led by the leader of the National Front party Marine Le Pen, of campaign fodder.

“Insisting on not calling a spade a spade, minimizing (‘isolated acts’ and ‘lone wolves’), euphemizing (‘children lost to jihad’), justifying, banalizing and playing psychiatrist will get us nowhere,” Laignel-Lavastine wrote.

As for Macron, his official platform speaks of “fighting with determination against all radical streams that distort the values” of Islam, and the distrust of institutions, conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism they represent. But Macron has remained vague on solutions, proposing to conduct the fight by “helping French Muslims to achieve the [restructuring] of their institutions.”

Those who believe that France, despite its previous government’s strong mobilization to protect Jews, has a denial problem cite a long list of cases that they say have been swept under the carpet.

According to Trigano’s research, the French government under former President Jacques Chirac suppressed the anti-Semitic characteristics of at least 500 assaults recorded in the years 2000-02, when anti-Jewish incidents grew from a few dozen annually to hundreds of incidents each year.

More recent cases included the omission of an anti-Semitic motive in a draft indictment against the alleged perpetrators of a 2014 rape and robbery of a Jewish family in the Paris suburb of Creteil. The hate crime element was added following a public outcry.

In 2015, a man who stabbed three Jews near a synagogue in Marseille while crying Allah’s name was initially labeled mentally ill by police, who revised their indictment to omit any reference to mental health following criticism by Jewish leaders.

The question about denial “needs to be asked, and in those terms,” Alain Jakubowicz, president of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism – the French counterpart of the Anti-Defamation League – said during the June 8 radio broadcast. “There is a denial of reality when it comes to this new form of anti-Semitism, which is as deadly as the previous and which poses a problem particularly in France.”

Scholars and watchdogs also worry that anti-Semitic acts are labeled and minimized as “anti-Israel.” The scrapping this year of a documentary about this phenomenon — what some call the “new anti-Semitism” — by the Franco-German Arte television channel “shows the specific treatment of this subject in France, as opposed to other countries,” said Jakubowicz.

Magali Lafourcade, president of the French government’s National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, said she welcomes the debate over whether authorities downplay anti-Semitism and hate crimes. However, referring to the Halimi case during the France Culture broadcast, she said “we need to let the judiciary do its job” and detectives need time to review all aspects of the case.

In March, Lafourcade’s commission reported a 50 percent drop in the number of anti-Semitic crimes, which it attributed to the deployment of troops outside synagogues, Jewish schools and other institutions deemed at risk of anti-Semitic attacks. But her report questioned the existence of the “new anti-Semitism” and noted only far-right perpetrators of anti-Semitic crimes, stating that other perpetrators could not be classified one way or another.

Jakubowicz rejected Lafourcade’s call to wait for word from the judiciary on the Halimi case.

“The entire reason for this mobilization,” he said in the radio program, “is that the judiciary is not doing its job.”

A response to my critics


I thank my colleagues and friends Rick Jacobs and Noah Farkas, and many others, who wrote in response to my opinion piece “Why I Keep Politics Off the Pulpit” in the June 9 edition of the Jewish Journal. I offer the following points:

1. “Moral issues” are almost always “political stances I agree with” and “partisan politics” are stances with which I differ. Self-righteousness is a potent drug, and politics has enough of it without adding religion, as our Founding Fathers knew. The passion with which you hold a conviction says absolutely nothing about its correctness. Nothing. Even-handedness feels tepid and uninspiring, but for that reason it is all the more important. We demonize each other by pulpit pounding proclamations of “Torah true” positions. Using the rabbinate to promote policies is exploiting one form of authority to enforce another.

2. Every rabbi should preach values, of course. Values are not policies and not embodied in politicians. This past Shabbat, I spoke about Judaism and the sin of racism. Policies to combat racism are a more complex matter. There are studies, statistics, successes, failures — in other words, solutions best left to those who master the field and know something, and to our capacity to argue as citizens. I’ve spoken and written about immigration, war, poverty and other issues to clarify values but not to endorse policies. Congregants often know more about specific policy issues than I. Rabbinic training does not provide the gavel to judge between the economic contentions of John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman. Gun control measures, however much I may favor them, were not outlined in the story of Korach or the Book of Proverbs. Colleagues who miraculously locate the policies of their party in each week’s Torah portion are no more credible than so-called kabbalists who find in the Torah’s “codes” predictions of the future or confirmations of the past.

3. I’ve asked several correspondents a simple question and received not one satisfactory answer: What policies do you support on major questions that differ with what you would believe if you were not a religious Jew? If Judaism supports all the policies you believe anyway, can’t you be at least a little suspicious that your politics are guiding your Torah, and not your Torah leading to your politics?

4. Politics and campaigns are inherently divisive, and never more than now. If as a rabbi you have a perfectly homogenous shul, then I congratulate you on your frictionless life. But I have too often heard of people leaving shuls feeling politically disenfranchised by the rabbi’s preaching. Synagogues should not be tax-exempt campaign offices.

5. Yes, I know Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Honestly, I do. But issues like slavery and civil rights are very rare, once in a generation, and invoking them for everything from social welfare policy to Dodd-Frank to the methods of vetting immigrants is both dishonest and cheapening a great moral legacy. If you are using the march on Selma to religiously validate your views on the minimum wage, shame on you.

6. Many people privately ask about my political views and I’m happy to answer. But not from the bimah. As a rabbi, my task is to bless, to teach values and texts and ideas and rituals, to comfort, to cajole, to listen and learn, to grow in spirit along with my congregants, to usher them through the transitions of life, to create a cohesive community, to defend the people and land of Israel, and to reinforce what most matters. The great questions of life are not usually political ones. When political questions do arise, the rabbi should clarify the Jewish values involved and expect congregants to decide which candidates and policies best fulfill those values. Aren’t there enough disastrous examples in the world where clergy set public policy for us to be humble about our political wisdom?


David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple. His most recent book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).

Why my friend David Wolpe is wrong: A ‘politics free’ pulpit is an empty pulpit


There are few colleagues for whom I have more respect than Rabbi David Wolpe. His books, sermons, articles and his personal character and warmth show all of us what being a rabbi means. I count him as both a teacher and a friend.

Which is why I was struck by Rabbi Wolpe’s recent op-ed in the Jewish Journal (“Why I Keep Politics Off the Pulpit,” June 7). How could someone who is usually so right be so wrong on something so important?

Rabbi Wolpe is, of course, correct when he writes “You can love Torah and vote for Trump. You can love Torah and think Trump is a blot on the American system. What you may not do, if you are intellectually honest, is say that the Torah points in only one political direction.” But I want to suggest that although one can certainly love Torah and follow different political paths, one cannot claim to be a lover of Torah and not care about how our society treats those in need, the weak, the vulnerable, the stranger and the oppressed.

Let me be clear: Our synagogues should never be places of partisanship. People of all political stripes should feel welcome within our walls. For that reason, I have argued against repealing the Johnson Amendment that bars clergy and houses of worship from endorsing or opposing candidates or parties. Repeal would turn synagogues into just another partisan tool, when in fact we should be moral goads, always free to speak truth to power and lift our voices to affirm our 3,000-year-old mandate to “Speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy” (Proverbs 31:9) as an expression of our care and concern for the world around us.

Sermons that “speak up” on the great moral issues of our world and our lives may address politics and policy as a means of addressing such moral issues but they are not about politics. On the contrary, they are about our Jewish values; the values we teach and the values we pass on to our children; the values that have kept us together as a people for centuries.

The role of the rabbi is not to eschew such issues in their sermons but rather to lift up the insights of our tradition that can illuminate these debates and model civil discussion in a manner that shows respect for differing views and avoids divisive language or ad hominem attacks on those who disagree.

The Judaism that I believe in does not limit Torah lessons to the parchment of our sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls), nor to the tables around which we convene for communal Torah study. The Judaism that I live compels me to use those lessons to understand the most urgent challenges we face. And since the beginning of the enlightenment, rabbis of all streams have felt compelled to use the evolving institution of the sermon to bear prophetic witness to pressing societal and communal challenges their congregants faced.

As Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, one of America’s most influential rabbis of the first half of the 20th century, responded to criticism by those who made the argument Rabbi Wolpe made, that he should not address political issues from the pulpit, such as the power of monopolistic corporations and the abusive treatment of their workers:

“If, however, there is a larger and a higher duty, it is the duty of the Synagogue pulpit. … [T]he pulpit of the synagogue is charged with the responsibility of the prophetic memories and prophetic aspirations. If the Jewish pulpit ought to speak out at this time concerning the industrial situation, then upon the pulpit in which I stand, pledged to the truth-speaking under freedom, there lies a most solemn and inescapable duty. I could not with self-respect remain silent. … ”

Now, more than ever, with millions of refugees suffering the crushing burden of wars and dislocation, the planet on the verge of confronting the irreversible, devastating consequences of climate change, Muslim and Jewish Americans fearful in the face of escalating hate crimes, and millions at risk of losing lifesaving health care access, rabbis cannot — nor should not — abdicate the call of the prophets and the teachings of the rabbis by “standing idly by the blood of our neighbor.”

Rabbi Wolpe refers to our “tradition of argument, debate and compromise.” Those are indeed core values of our tradition. While our sages welcomed the debate, ensuring that majority and minority opinion were respected, in the end, despite differing viewpoints, the decisions were made on what the law would be; guidance was given to the Jewish community, even when compromise and common ground were elusive. Our rabbis should do no less nor offer any less guidance regarding the urgent issues our communities, our nation, Israel and the world face today.

I am moved by Rabbi Wolpe’s referencing that the mezuzot at the very doors of our homes are hung not horizontally nor vertically but rather at “an angled compromise.” He is right about the importance of compromise, but we must not miss the key lesson here: the mezuzot are, in fact, hung!


RABBI RICK JACOBS is president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

Rabbis must navigate politics and morality


Like many others, I read Rabbi David Wolpe’s op-ed on politics and the pulpit with a sense of profound ambivalence (“Why I Keep Politics Off the Pulpit,” June 9). I found myself caught between ovation and objection.

The ancient rabbis begin in a similar place. Religion has no place in the public square because the town center is full of sin, it is depraved and consumed with self-interested politicians. “Be wary of the government, for they befriend no one unless it is out of self interest.” (Pirkei Avot 2:3).

The English word for holy spaces, “sanctuary,” comes from the Latin “sanctus,” meaning separate. Religion is a refuge against all that’s dirty and repugnant in the world. We come to the sanctuary to find comfort in one another’s embrace, protection from the harshness of the political world.

There is a something comforting about hunkering down against the weekly tweetstorm. Something heartwarming and freeing to not be bothered by CNN for a few hours. It feels good to rest.

However, our tradition forbids us to pray in a room without windows. We must be able to look outside and see the hour, including the pressing hour, the sha’a dakhaq, upon which our world is squeezed ever more presently.

The rabbis tell us, “Anyone who is able to protest against the transgressions of the entire world and does not is punished for the transgressions of the entire world.” (Shabbat 55a). There is no sanctus in Judaism, nothing takes us out of the world. There is only kedushah a sense of holiness that pushes us back into it.

Hence my ambivalence toward the good rabbi. Every leader must make a decision for his or her community, and I believe ultimately that the false distinction between religion and politics makes both worse. It makes religion a reverential Polaroid of ancient times. It makes faith static, metaphysics frozen, and theology moribund. If religion has nothing to say about the world we live in, if it addresses no reality outside our door, especially when that reality causes anguish and pain, what then do we need religion for? We risk slipping into the great void where all our windows become mirrors.

A state without a transcendent moral ethic of religion can become imperiled. George Washington, in his farewell address, understood that, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” One of Washington’s great fears was that a society that is based in freedom would eventually free itself from morality and succumb to the bare clash of naked self-interest. As my teacher Rabbi Harold Schulweis z”l writes, “Religion … acts as a check on the State’s politics affirming that that which is harmful to the general good is impious and must be altered immediately.”

Religion is a durable good for society; it can hold the conscience and aspiration that make democracy work. Religion gives a tailwind to those who want to see that the injustices of yesterday cannot dictate the freedoms of tomorrow. The rabbi’s role is not to pick winners and losers in both party and personality, but to be the navigator, making sure that both congregant and congressman do not run aground on shoals of selfishness.

I fear, however, that Washington is proving to be right. In an article in the Atlantic Magazine, Peter Beinart shows convincingly that as Americans participate less in religious activities, the more polarized our politics become. “For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict,” Beinart concludes. “It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.”

It is because religious spaces like synagogues are some of the only platforms of mediation today between those who look and act enough like us so that we can listen to differing points of view. When we hear a rabbi teach an ethic of selflessness, transcending the ego in service to ideals higher than our own narrow desires, we can build havens of communication and solidarity in the chaos of the political world.

With the loss of these religious spaces we easily lose our affection for one another. Without sacred humility we lose the capacity to hear one another. If we leave all politics at the door when we enter the synagogue, then we lose a crucial nurturing structure that knits together our society.

Church and state can and should remain separate. But religion and politics are joint authors of our book of life.


Rabbi Noah Farkas is a clergy member at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino; founder of Netiya, a Los Angeles Jewish nonprofit that promotes urban agriculture through a network of interfaith partners; and the author of “The Social Action Manual: Six Steps to Repairing the World” (Behrman House).

On the moral imperative of politics: A response to Rabbi David Wolpe


I write in response to Rabbi Wolpe’s editorial from June 7, “Why I keep politics off the pulpit.” Rabbi Wolpe’s erudite defense of an apolitical pulpit captures wonderfully the rhetoric of the Right and Left – on Israel or America – that insists on the Jewishness of their particular position. He argues that Jewish tradition does not speak definitively to either side, that neither support for Trump nor opposition to him necessarily contradicts the Torah.

I applaud his call for rabbis to focus their public teaching on texts and Jewish traditions – on Jacob and Rachel, not Pence and Pelosi, as he put it. Too often rabbis focus their sermons exclusively on contemporary politics – whether American or Israeli – and squander their weekly opportunity to teach Jewish texts to a semi-captive audience that does not regularly study our traditions. However, Rabbi Wolpe’s argument that rabbis should avoid politics almost entirely – whether on or off the pulpit – contains at least two fundamental flaws that I hope he, and others, consider.

First, there is no neutrality in politics any more than there is neutrality in Sabbath observance. Sabbath comes, and one observes it or not in whatever way they choose. So-called political neutrality is itself a form of political expression. It is support for those in power, or for those destined to be victorious without the voice of the rabbis. Moreover, countless times rabbis have indicated to me that they do not take stands on political issues – even compelling ones – but then happily supported various political causes that they understood to benefit Israel or the Jewish community. Well, that is a circular argument that labels certain actions as non-political because they seemed so self-evidently beneficial. Those were, in fact, political actions that reflected the Jewish values of the rabbis in question, and their refusal to advocate for other issues was equally a political act.

Second, there is no single Judaism today. Judaism is split between competing denominations with different core values. For most Reform congregations, for example, the prophetic teachings about social justice and common humanity are far more important than familiarity with how the Talmud derives that a man can “acquire” a wife via a written contract, to cite Rabbi Wolpe’s example. (To be sure, many Conservative and Orthodox congregations – who are more committed to Talmudic texts and law – likewise believe the Torah’s key message is to defend the defenseless.)

In contrast, other congregations are bound together primarily by a shared sense of ethno-nationalist identity, and certainly there are texts and traditions to support this. Their Judaism is focused on rituals and texts that express this identity, while downplaying or reinterpreting other texts. Whereas public flaunting of religious law might lead to various levels of exclusion in other observant congregations, here it is instead public opposition to the West Bank settlements – not to speak of support for a bi-national democratic state – that might lead to ostracization.

In short, insisting that neither support for Trump nor opposition to him necessarily opposes the Torah is itself setting the Jewish values of one’s community in a specific way. Rabbi Wolpe’s brilliant caricature of the Jewish claims of the Right and Left does not prove that a rabbi must avoid these positions. Rather, each rabbi and community must decide if the Torah in fact does support one position.

It is perfectly legitimate, for example, to argue that a rabbi must rally Jews against Trump and his agenda, and it is also valid to argue that the rabbi must rally Jews behind him. Equally, it is valid for a rabbi to preach the immorality of the occupation, or instead to advocate for greater oppression of the Palestinians. The choice reflects the “denomination” of Judaism represented, and the texts and traditions they choose to emphasize and ignore. Rabbis and their flocks must decide which “denomination” seems most authentic. Rabbi Wolpe’s call to ignore the issue is itself a political act, separate from either camp to be sure, but no less a political – and thus moral – choice for it.

Finally, in a rejoinder on facebook (cited here with his permission), Rabbi Wolpe added that there are exceptions to his argument, but that they are “very rare – slavery, civil rights,” adding that a rabbi should “invest his or her political views with Jewish sanction [only] once in 100 years.” I appreciate the concession, and it is true that Judaism does not speak to every political debate, but it merely begs the question of whether we now live in such a moment. Remember, those views in their time were extremely controversial, and as a result many rabbis in both the North and South refused to address them based precisely on Rabbi Wolpe’s logic. Only with hindsight do we applaud those rabbis who took up the mantle and – perhaps – bemoan the failure of others to join them. It is up to each Jewish leader – indeed, each and every Jew – to decide for themselves whether the current crisis in America warrants a religious response. Personally, I cannot imagine a more obvious Jewish cause in my lifetime.

Joshua Shanes

College of Charleston

Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Chuck Schumer parodies Trump’s awkward Cabinet meeting in video


President Donald Trump convened his first full Cabinet meeting on Monday, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate minority leader, quickly transformed it into farce.

In his opening remarks, in a meeting held in full view of the media, Trump focused on his accomplishments.

“We have done about as much as anybody ever in a short period of time in the presidency,” he said.

Then, in a weird bit of theater that might have played well in Pyongyang, Trump’s senior staff and Cabinet, one by one, praised his leadership in effusive terms.

It started with Vice President Mike Pence: “This is the greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to a president who’s keeping his word to the American people.”

So it went, but no one was as, um, salutary as chief of staff Reince Priebus, who said: “On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve give us to serve your agenda and the American people, and we’re continuing to work very hard every day to accomplish those goals.”

Schumer couldn’t resist his own bit of theater, assembling his staff around a boardroom desk for a video parody of the Trump meeting. There were self-deprecatory references to Schumer’s well-known affection for the attentions of the media.

“How’d we do on the Sunday show yesterday?” the senator asked.

“Your tone was perfect,” a staffer replied.

Another staffer began to compliment Schumer’s hair, when a male staffer interrupted to mimic precisely Priebus’ praise for Trump.

“You know before we go any further, I just want to say thank you for the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda.”

A silent beat, and then the room erupted into laughter.

Have a look:

A view of the KAM Isaiah Israel Synagogue in 2013. Photo by Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

80% of Reform rabbis are Democrats. That’s higher than any other clergy.


The vast majority of Reform and Conservative rabbis affiliate as Democrats, according to a new study.

The study, published Sunday by Yale University, found that more than 80 percent of Reform rabbis, and about 70 percent of Conservative rabbis, affiliate as Democrats. Both were among the top five most Democratic clergy of the Jewish and Christian denominations in the United States, with Reform rabbis topping the list.

Among Orthodox rabbis, nearly 40 percent identify as Democrats and a quarter as Republicans.

By contrast, Evangelical pastors are almost all Republicans, as are most Baptists. The Black Protestant African Methodist Episcopal clergy, as well as Unitarians, are heavily Democratic. Catholic priests are evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

The study’s findings reflect existing data on the politics of American Jews. Solid majorities of American Jews consistently vote for Democrats — 70 percent voted for Hillary Clinton in the November presidential race — with polls showing that Orthodox Jews are more likely to vote Republican. Reform Jews have been on the front lines of protests against President Donald Trump.

Orthodox Jews make up about 10 percent of the American Jewish population, various studies show. One-third, or 35 percent, of all U.S. Jews identify with the Reform movement, 18 percent identify with Conservative Judaism, 6 percent with other movements and 30 percent with no denomination, according to the Pew Research Center.

The Yale study also shows that rabbis’ political views track with congregants’ views on policy. For example, 40 percent of Orthodox rabbis are Democrats, and some 40 percent of Orthodox congregants are pro-choice, while about 30 percent of congregants believe gays and lesbians should be legally allowed to marry. Likewise, large majorities of Conservative and Reform rabbis are Democrats, and large majorities of their congregants are pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told JTA earlier this year that Reform rabbis’ generally liberal politics are a reflection of their Jewish values.

“The idea of Jewish spiritual community being about feeding the hungry, clothing the homeless, caring for the stranger — these are fundamental core pieces,” Jacobs said in January. “If we don’t talk about those things in our religious communities, we’re irrelevant.”

Orthodox Jews also cite Jewish values in explaining their support for Republicans, noting a preference for the GOP on Israel and conservative support for school choice programs and religious exemptions for various government mandates.

In total, the data cover 186,000 clergy, including approximately 2,700 rabbis. The data were collected via denominational websites cross-referenced with voter registration records. Some denominations and religions — including Mormons and Muslims — are not included due to lack of reliable clergy lists.

The data also show that the Reform rabbinate is the second-most female of any denominational clergy. Forty-five percent of Reform rabbis are women, as opposed to an average of 16 percent across the denominations surveyed. About a quarter of Conservative rabbis are women; nearly all the Orthodox clergy are men.

An analysis of the data by The New York Times found that rabbis on average lived in the most affluent neighborhoods of any clergy. The median household income of Conservative rabbis’ neighborhoods is nearly $100,000 on average, compared to a national median household income of $53,000. The Times article noted that average neighborhood income does not necessarily reflect pastors’ salaries.

Episode 41 – Selling a show to Nickelodeon at 40


Gili Dolev wasn’t especially studious as a young kid growing up in Binyamina. However, one of his teachers saw his potential and helped him pave his way to a successful career in animation. The road was not so easy. There were ups, downs, twists and turns but eventually, at 40, against all odds, Gili sold the first Israeli kids animation series to an international TV network, Nickelodeon.

Two Nice Jewish Boys had the privilege to sit with Gili and talk about his work, his career and the deal that changed his life.

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Some of the talent behind “Dear Evan Hansen,” from left: Lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, writer Steven Levinson and lead actor Ben Platt at the NYU Skirball Center, on May 7. Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Lucille Lortel Awards

Tonys 2017: The 7 Jewish shows to watch


This Sunday is the biggest night of the year for theater lovers: It’s the Tony Awards.

Unfortunately, our crystal ball is at the shop for repairs — so we can’t say with certainty who the winners will be. But there’s one thing that’s for sure: The past year has been a standout one for Jewish actors, characters and writers who are plying their talents on the Great White Way.

From a play about Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to a Broadway legend playing a Jewish cosmetics doyenne, here are seven shows with Jewish connections and themes that we expect to win big at the 2017 Tony Awards, which air Sunday evening on CBS.

1. “Oslo”

Oslo

A scene from “Oslo.” (Screenshot from YouTube)

 

“Oslo,” J.T. Rogers’ play about the 1993 Oslo Accords, is widely considered the frontrunner for Best Play. It’s won nearly every theater award  — the Drama Desk, the Lucille Lortel Award, the Outer Critics Circle, the Drama League, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle and the Obie.

The play, in which Israelis and Palestinian negotiators  —  including Uri Savir, played by Michael Aronov, who is nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Play — struggle to hammer out a peace deal, received rave reviews for turning a complicated history into a fast, entertaining three hours. What’s particularly impressive is how riveting “Oslo” is — even though it’s common knowledge how the peace talks ended.

“Oslo” has five more nominations: Best Direction of a Play (Bartlett Sher), Best Lighting Design (Donald Holder), Best Scenic Design (Michael Yeargan), as well as Best Leading Actor and Actress for Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle, who play Mona Juul and Terje Rød-Larsen, the Norwegian couple overseeing the negotiations.

2. “Indecent”

Another Best Play nominee, Paula Vogel’s “Indecent,” may lack the momentum of “Oslo” — but also tells a very Jewish story. The play recounts the bumpy journey to Broadway of Shalom Asch’s controversial Yiddish play “God of Vengeance.” Seemingly ahead of its time, the 1906 play featured a love story between two women — one a prostitute and the other the teenage daughter of a religious man — and while it found success in Europe, the cast was arrested in New York for obscenity when the production moved uptown.

The play is also nominated for Best Direction of a Play (Rebecca Taichman) and Best Lighting Design (Christopher Akerlind).

Despite the nods, the play has been struggling to sell tickets: Vogel recently tweeted, “Please buy a ticket soon to ‘Indecent,’ asking your support. This show is the best I got in me. Want to share while we can.”

 

Watch Paula Vogel talk about her Jewish identity:

 

3. “Falsettos”

“Falsettos” may have closed in January, but this musical about neurotic Jews came away with five nominations, including Best Revival of a Musical.

The musical revolves around a selfish but likable man, Marvin, who tries to navigate relationships with his ex-wife, his boyfriend, his psychiatrist and his son, Jason. The second act takes place two years after the first, and centers around both AIDS and a bar mitzvah, which, in the play’s moving conclusion, Jason holds in a hospital room.

Brandon Uranowitz — the only “Falsettos” cast member who is Jewish  — is up for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, alongside one of his costars, Andrew Rannells, who may be best known as Elijah from Lena Dunham’s “Girls.” (The other nominees are Christian Borle for Best Lead Actor and Stephanie J. Block for Best Featured Actress.)

If we’re lucky, maybe they’ll open this year’s award ceremony — hosted by Kevin Spacey — with a rendition of the musical’s opening number, “Four Jews in a Room Bitching.” That’s a fitting description of Tony night at my house.

 

4. “Hello, Dolly!”

It’s so nice to have our favorite Jewish diva, Bette Midler, back on Broadway where she belongs — and almost everyone agrees.

As Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly,” Midler has received nearly unanimous raves and is receiving multiple standing ovations a night, both during and after the show, and now she’s nominated for Best Lead Actress in a Musical. And while competition in this category is heavy on theater royalty — see: Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone — it’s unlikely that anyone will beat the Divine Miss M, who plays a matchmaking meddler enlisted to find a wife for wealthy Horace Vandergelder (played David Hyde Pierce, also nominated), fully intending to marry him herself.

Bette Midler

Bette Midler at the New York Restoration Project’s spring picnic at Morris-Jumel Mansion in New York, June 1, 2016. (Monica Schipper/WireImage)

 

“Hello, Dolly” is nominated for 10 Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. With only two competitors in that field —”Falsettos” and “Miss Saigon” — this widely-loved production is expected to win.

If you’re hoping to catch Midler singing a tune from the show, you’ll likely have to score a ticket — for which box-office prices top out at $748: Midler was deemed “unlikely” to sing at the Tonys this year.

5. “Dear Evan Hansen”

Ben Platt

Ben Platt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, May 1, 2017. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images For US Weekly)

 

Speaking of shoo-ins, Ben Platt, another Jewish actor, is probably the closest thing there is to one. I’m not a betting kind of woman, but I would put money on him taking home a Tony for Best Lead Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of anxiety-ridden outsider Evan Hansen, the title character in this dark musical about a boy who gets caught up in a lie after the death of a classmate.

Ben Platt grew up performing at a Jewish summer camp — watch him talk about his Jewish childhood on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” here, where he also sings a rendition of “Luck Be a Lady” in Hebrew.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is nominated for nine Tony Awards, including Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Mike Faist), Best Featured Actress (Rachel Bay Jones), Best Original Score, in which Benj Pasek, also Jewish, is nominated alongside Justin Paul. If the songwriters look familiar it’s because they already won an Oscar this year for “La La Land.”

6. “Come From Away”

Though “Dear Evan Hansen” is favored to win Tony’s final award of the evening — Best Musical — don’t rule out “Come From Away,” a touching, based-on-a-true-story musical about a small Newfoundland town. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the population of Gander temporarily doubled when 38 airplanes were rerouted there.

The musical is about how people come together and help each other through the darkest times. The Jewish connection? Aside from the show’s writers, married couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein (their previous show was called “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding”), one of the characters of “Come From Away” is a rabbi and, in a very moving scene, he sings “Oseh Shalom” as characters pray in many languages.

Sankoff and Hein are also nominated Best Book for a Musical and Best Original Score. Other nominees include Best Featured Actress (Jenn Colella) and Best Direction (Christopher Ashley).

7. “War Paint”

Patti LuPone may not be Jewish, but she’s played a rabbi on TV.

And now, she’s nominated for Best Lead Actress in a Musical in “War Paint,” which chronicles the rivalry between cosmetics magnates Helena Rubinstein (played by LuPone) and Elizabeth Arden (played by Christine Ebersole, also nominated in the same category). The musical, which is up for four Tony Awards, doesn’t shy away from the anti-Semitism that Rubinstein, a Polish immigrant, faced — she was denied an apartment at 625 Park Avenue, for example, but got her revenge when she bought the entire building.

“War Paint” isn’t nominated for Best Musical — but it was just announced there will be a performance from the cast during the awards ceremony.

To get a LuPone fix before then, check out this clip from her recent appearance on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”

Rich Garcia, head of security at Sinai Temple, is a Jew by Choice and a military veteran. Photo by Ryan Torok

Rich Garcia: Stepping forward for Marines and Judaism


When U.S. Marine Sgt. Rich Garcia was on a mission in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, an improvised explosive device destroyed the vehicle he would have been on had he not moved to another to take over for a Marine who was ill.

He credits a siddur, of all things, with keeping him safe.

“That was the first time I carried a siddur out on patrol,” Garcia told the Journal. “After that, I carried that siddur everywhere.”

Garcia, 33, was a Marine from 2002 to 2011, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was raised by a Jewish father, who also was a Marine, and a Catholic mother. They separated when he was young and he lived with his father.

As a Marine, Garcia went to Shabbat services at boot camp and wore a Star of David necklace under his combat gear. He began converting to Judaism in 2014 through the program Judaism by Choice. Today, his connection to Judaism is not just spiritual but professional as the head of security at Sinai Temple.

“I think since he has chosen Judaism, he has made a connection with our families, and it’s more than just a job,” Sinai Temple Rabbi Erez Sherman said. “It is a sense of duty.”

Born in Corsicana, Texas, Garcia grew up outside of San Diego, raised mostly by his father, Richard Levine. Garcia said his father encouraged him to go to synagogue on Shabbat at a Conservative congregation.

“He pretty much said, ‘Hey, you can pick whatever religion you want … but let’s go to synagogue,’ ” Garcia said at Sinai, a handgun holstered at his side.

On Sept. 11, 2001, his father woke him up to watch on television as the second plane flew into the World Trade Center. A high school senior, he skipped school that day and visited a military recruiter.

“I grew up in a very patriotic household,” he said. “Honestly, I probably knew what terrorism was when other high school kids were not even thinking about it.”

During boot camp in San Diego, he participated in Shabbat services. It was then that a rabbi on base gave him the siddur he would carry with him throughout his service.

After his discharge, Garcia moved to Los Angeles, drawn to its large Jewish community and the job opportunities in private security. He began working at Sinai Temple last year, around the time that he completed his conversion coursework, led by Rabbi Neil Weinberg.

“He is a single man who wanted to become Jewish because he loves the Jewish religion and the Jewish people. He did all the requirements in our program — keeping Shabbat every week, going to synagogue weekly and keeping kosher,” Weinberg said in an email. “I am very proud that he converted to Judaism through our Judaism by Choice program.”

At Sinai, Garcia runs a team of former military men. He said providing employment to military veterans is a way of helping them after their service. “Give them a role, make them feel like they’re needed, because in the military we were needed, we had a role,” he said.

Garcia, who lives in the San Fernando Valley, is an employee of Centurion Group, a full-service security company that serves houses of worship, among other clients. A member of Sinai Temple, he holds a degree in criminal justice from the University of Phoenix and he plans to earn an Emergency Medical Technician certification.

His Sinai team attends the annual High Holy Days security briefing organized by the Anti-Defamation League. He works closely with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles in keeping abreast of security threats.

As a Marine, Garcia went to Shabbat services at boot camp and wore a Star of David necklace under his combat gear.

Gone are the days of discovering improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan. These days, he is more likely to order an evacuation after a suspicious package is spotted at a bar mitzvah. Recently, a spate of threats targeting Jewish community centers put his team on higher alert. 

“It kept my guys on their toes — we took it personally,” he said. “This is our home, and we’re not going to let anybody destroy our community.”

In March, he traveled to Israel for the first time and participated in the Jerusalem Marathon as part of a delegation that included Sherman as well as other Sinai congregants . He ran in memory of Marcus Preudhomme, a fellow Marine who was killed in action in Iraq in 2008. Preudhomme’s name is inscribed on a bracelet on Garcia’s wrist.

During the trip, Garcia became a bar mitzvah at the Western Wall. Sherman was by his side as he recited an aliyah — Parashat Vayakhel.

Though he spends his free hours at the gym, he ran the half-marathon instead of the full.

“I ran the half, I’m not going to lie to you. Oh, my gosh, that was hard,” he said. “It was hills. I’m in the Jewish community. I wish they would’ve told me Jerusalem is all hills — they knew I was going. But it was great.”

Eric Bauman on Nov. 1, 2014. Photo from Wikipedia

Shabbat vote at issue in contested election of observant Jew as California’s top Democrat


Morris “Fritz” Friedman needed help to vote in the election for chair of the California Democratic Party, which took place on May 20, a Saturday.

As an Orthodox Jew, Friedman was forbidden from picking up a pen during Shabbat. So he asked a convention volunteer, Sean Kiernan, to fill out his ballot and sign it for him, casting it for Eric Bauman.

Bauman has since declared victory by a narrow margin of 62 delegates among some 3,000. But now, Friedman’s vote is at the center of an effort to unseat Bauman, himself an observant Jew from Los Angeles.

In contesting the election over alleged voting irregularities, the campaign for Kimberly Ellis, Bauman’s opponent, pointed to Friedman’s ballot as an example of double voting. Ellis is refusing to concede despite calls from Democratic leaders, including the speaker of the State Assembly, to back down.

“We believe deeply that not only did we not lose by 62 votes, but that we won this election outright and pretty handily,” Ellis said in a June 7 interview with the podcast “Working Life.”

In a June 5 “ballot review” on the campaign website, Ellis alleges that the signature of an employee of the Kaufman Legal Group, the law firm representing Bauman, appeared on multiple ballots. Kaufman Legal Group later identified the employee as Kiernan, who aided Friedman with his vote.

Some pro-Israel Democrats seized on Ellis’ challenge of Friedman’s vote as the latest transgression of a campaign with a shaky record on Jews and Israel.

“In challenging mismatched signatures, Kimberly Ellis is effectively targeting Orthodox Jewish delegates,” a group called Democrats for Israel Los Angeles said in a statement posted on Facebook.

The group also pointed to a vocal Ellis supporter who posted a cartoon on Facebook last month featuring an Israeli flag with the Jewish Star of David replaced by a swastika.

But Bauman said the double voting accusation is more likely an example of unscrupulous electioneering by the Ellis campaign than animus toward Jews.

“They’re casting about, and they have no real evidence that anything is actually wrong,” he said.

“I don’t think the singling out of a couple of Orthodox Jewish men was, per se, anti-Semitic,” he said. “I think it was just that they were grasping for straws.”

Paul Kujawsky, like Friedman, is an Orthodox Jew and served as a delegate to the May 20 convention. He believes he and Friedman were the only two Orthodox Jews to vote in the election for party chair. He said that having a helper sign the ballot on his behalf is a well-established practice that he’s used many times when votes occur on Saturdays.

“It’s pretty clear that [the Ellis campaign] knew it was not an issue of double voting but claimed it was, anyway,” Kujawsky said. “So it’s not about anti-Semitism, but it is about integrity.”

Neither Ellis nor her campaign responded to repeated requests for comment.

The party has referred the matter to its Compliance Review Commission, a body that adjudicates internal disputes. But Ellis’ campaign hopes to put the election in the hands of an independent third party, fearing the California Democratic Party itself is unduly influenced by Bauman, according to its June 5 statement.

Bauman, a former union organizer, has headed the Los Angeles County Democratic Party since 2000 and served as vice chair of the state party since 2009. LA Weekly has called him a “powerful boss” and a “kingmaker,” while the Los Angeles Times named him a “consummate party insider.”

A self-identified Zionist, Bauman is a member of two Los Angeles-area synagogues, the Orthodox Shaarey Zedek in Valley Village and Adat Ari El in North Hollywood, a Conservative synagogue where he wraps tefillin on weekday mornings. He keeps a kosher home in North Hollywood with his husband.

Culturally and politically, Bauman and Ellis are about as different as two California Democrats can get.

Ellis headed Emerge California, a nonprofit that aims to increase the number of women in elected office in California, from 2010 until this year, when she quit to focus on her run for party chair.

An African-American woman from the Bay Area, she attracted liberals disaffected with the party establishment, including many who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primaries, by pledging repeatedly to “redefine what it meant to be a Democrat.”

But before Ellis announced her run in August 2015, Bauman’s ascendance often was treated as a foregone conclusion. When friends wanted to draft her into the race, Ellis said in the June 7 “Working Life” interview, she told them, “That’s a preposterous idea and I’m not interested.”

Now, she claims to have won the election.

“Based on the information contained here, the actual vote count is in question,” her campaign said in a June 5 statement outlining the allegations. “It is believed that the wrong individual is serving as chair.”

Actress Gal Gadot signing autographs for fans during the “Wonder Woman” premier in Mexico City on May 27. Photo by Victor Chavez/WireImage

Israelis kvell over Gal Gadot’s public response to a 7-year-old fan


Is it possible that Israelis could fall even more in love with Gal Gadot, its homegrown Wonder Woman?

The answer this week is a resounding yes.

On Thursday, the star of the new blockbuster responded, on Facebook, to a young Israeli girl’s endearing handwritten fan letter.

Gadot called the 7-year-old, Zoey Vardi-Bar, “clever and creative” and sent her a “big hug.” The exchange between the leading lady and her fan quickly went viral in Israel, adding to what is already a national infatuation.

The girl’s mom, Liat Vardi-Bar, posted a photo of the note Monday on Facebook. She described Zoey as a feminist and a big fan of heroines, including Wonder Woman — and the 7-year-old, disappointed by the lack of Gadot-themed merchandise at Israeli stores, had left a note on the subject on the kitchen table that morning.

“Dear Gal,” Zoey wrote in blue and red marker, with some spelling and grammar errors. “I love Wonder Woman very much, meaning you. So if you don’t mind? Could you please produce games, pajamas and surfboards of Wonder Woman. With love Zoey Vardi Bar. I am 7 1/2 years old.”

In the middle of the note, she wrote Gal Gadot’s name surrounded by hearts.

Zoey’s note. Photo from Facebook

 

After the post received several dozen comments, Gadot — who has two young daughters of her own with her husband Yaron Varsano, an Israeli real-estate developer — weighed in with a personal message to Zoey. She explained that she was not in charge of Wonder Woman merchandise, but praised the proposal.

“Sweet Zoey. I loved reading your letter. You have really beautiful handwriting. Good job!” she said. “I’m not responsible for the issues of pajamas and surfboards, but I think it’s a really great idea and we certainly need to find whoever is responsible for this and tell him to produce games, pajamas and surfboards of Wonder Woman.

You are very clever and creative. Interesting to know what you would like to be when you grow up.. In the meantime I am sending you a big hug. Gal.”

The message ends with a smiley face icon.

Vardi-Bar, who lives in a small town near Haifa, reposted an image of Zoey’s note along with Gadot’s response. In an accompanying message, she praised Gadot as a real-life superhero.

“I haven’t admired anyone for a very long time, and then Gal arrives with tons of personal magic and strength that can stop the entire planet,” Vardi-Bar said. “This is just a little note of a 7 1/2 year-old girl (my daughter who will be so excited when she comes back home from school), but in my eyes, it’s huge and testifies so much about this woman who is Wonder Woman on the outside and apparently the inside as well.”

Zoey Vardi-Bar. Photo from Facebook

 

The Facebook page of the popular nightly news show Hazinor on Israel’s TV Channel 10 picked up the story on Thursday, which quickly spread across Hebrew Facebook. By the afternoon, the post had more than 6,000 “likes” and 100 comments praising Gadot.

“She served in the army, a beauty queen, a successful actress in Hollywood, a mother and still a kind person. Apparently she really is Wonder Woman,” said one woman.

Long popular in Israel, Gadot has become an international sensation since “Wonder Woman” premiered last week — raking in hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide and earning largely positive reviews. Israelis have watched with pride as Gadot, who is from Rosh Haayin and served as a combat instruction in the army, has become a bona fide movie star and feminist icon.

Gadot’s appearances on American TV or in Facebook live videos gets breathless coverage by the local press. Photos and videos of her as a soldier, a young model, 2004’s Miss Israel and an actress in smaller Hollywood roles seem to blanket Israeli social media, accompanied by kvelling comments.

A huge billboard for the movie overlooking Tel Aviv’s main highway declares, “We love you!” Nearby, the Azrieli Towers, the tallest buildings in Israel, featured illuminated messages in honor of the Israeli premiere of “Wonder Woman.” One read, “We are proud of you, Gal Gadot,” and a second said, “Our Wonder Woman.”

Lebanon’s ban of the film, because of its Israeli star, has done little to dampen the mood.

At a screening of “Wonder Woman” at a cinema in central Tel Aviv Saturday, the sold-out audience applauded Gadot’s on-screen heroics from the beginning to the end.

But for at least one little girl, all that was not enough.

“My heart exploded with pride that the way I work and what I believe permeates the children,” said Vardi-Bar, describing her reaction on finding Zoey’s note. “Want something? Make it happen.”

Photo by Paul Takizawa

Sophie Levy: Lights, camera, college


AGE: 17
HIGH SCHOOL: Wildwood School
GOING TO: Barnard College

Sophie Levy remembers practicing religiously — not for her bat mitzvah but for a cameo opposite Hugh Jackman in the 2011 film “Real Steel, ” which was directed by her father, Shawn.

Levy appears in the opening minutes, asking Jackman’s character, a former prizefighter, for an autograph.

“I was so excited about it — I think I was 11 at the time. I think I got to wear a cowboy hat, and I was pretty thrilled with my two lines,” Levy said. “I was so nervous it would get cut, but it made it and I was so happy.”

This wasn’t the last time Levy, 17, a senior at Wildwood School, appeared on the big screen — she appeared in two “Night at the Museum” sequels, also directed by her father (an executive producer of last summer’s Netflix hit “Stranger Things”).

But perhaps more meaningful, Levy has had a starring role elsewhere — at The Righteous Conversations Project, a Los Angeles-based Holocaust remembrance organization that pairs high school students with Holocaust survivors. Participants in the program create public service announcements based on survivors’ stories and focus on other issues like Syrian refugees and neighborhoods lacking access to healthful food.

Levy, who will attend Barnard College this fall, said she appreciated the opportunity of working with survivors.

“These people are all pretty old and late in their lives,” she said. “My generation is the last one to have the privilege of hearing their stories.”

Her lifelong passions include poetry and theater — she has appeared in school productions, including “Grease,” “The Sound of Music” and “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Her poems have addressed survivors’ stories in works called “Cold,” “The Chambers” and “Then & Now.”

“I thought it would be a cool art form to get these stories out there in my own personal way,” said Levy, who draws inspiration from Sylvia Plath and Tina Fey.

Her family belongs to Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist synagogue in the Pacific Palisades. She attended Hebrew school and became a bat mitzvah there.

Levy has three younger sisters, Tess, Charlie and Coco, ages 15, 10 and 6. The family is so close that it might follow Levy after she moves from Los Angeles to New York, she said.

“We are so incredibly close, we sweetly all agreed if one of us is gone, everybody else has to follow.”

Still, Levy said she hopes she gets a little time to settle in before anything like that happens, if it ever does.

“I know it’s super important to have my own independence and make my own mark there without them as a backboard,” she said. “And at the same time, it would definitely be nothing to complain about.”

Levy plans to study literature at Barnard, her mother Serena’s alma mater.

She credited her family, which she described as a “strong, passionate, loud Jewish family,” for instilling in her an appreciation for her heritage.

“I have grown up in a family that is not necessarily super religious but has always emphasized celebrating Jewish holidays and recognizing why it is such a special group to belong to,” she said. “We are always supposed to remember where we come from, how fortunate we are to be here, and from a young age, my parents told my sisters and I about the Holocaust and why it is a monumental event in our history, and why as Jews it is our job to spread stories of survivors to ensure it doesn’t happen again. I always felt this tremendous responsibility.”

Photo by Paul Takizawa

Romy Dolgin: The accidental star


AGE: 18
HIGH SCHOOL: deToledo High School
GOING TO: Harvard University

“I’m the epitome of an undecided, undeclared, incoming freshman,” Romy Dolgin, 18, said without sounding the least bit self-conscious.

It’s not the kind of statement you’d expect from a young woman on her way to Harvard. But the way Dolgin tells it, most of her achievements have transpired with a degree of serendipity.

“It’s not like something I had in my head since I was little,” she said of applying to Harvard. “But then I visited, and my mom and I looked at each other, like, ‘I can’t believe we’re even looking at this place!’ I had a giddy feeling the whole time. I didn’t want to invest my hopes in something that seemed impossible, but it was simply my favorite.”

The way she says simply — with a touch of drama, as if she were acting in an Oscar Wilde play — gives away her theatrical background. For the past 10 years, Dolgin has spent two hours a week participating in workshops at the Agoura Children’s Theatre. “It was less about becoming an actress, more about breaking out of my shell because I was a very, very shy kid,” she said.

Not anymore.

Thanks to her theater training, she became a competent enough public speaker to win a seat as vice president of the student council at deToledo High School — four times. She also developed enough confidence to go to Israel on an exchange program, which she described as “the hardest and also the best thing I’ve ever done.”

“It was very much about independence,” Dolgin said. “You had to figure out the bus schedule.”

Anyone who thinks that’s uncomplicated hasn’t been on a Tel Aviv bus. In fact, Dolgin limned a compelling story about it for her college essay. “It was about getting lost on the bus, alone at night, and how public transportation turns out to be a trying test of, ‘Can you get where you need to go on your own?’ ”

It certainly helped her Hebrew.

Not being hyper-directed has led her to some surprising and promising places. One day during her junior year, a friend mentioned a gathering for a sexual violence awareness program at the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles. “I thought, OK, I’m not really doing anything, so I went, in just a checking-things-out kind of way,” she said. 

Dolgin soon became lead peer educator for a program called “The Talk Project,” a student-led sexual violence education and prevention program conducted at schools.

I had never really noticed sexual violence was an issue in my life,” Dolgin said. “But the more people started talking about it, the more I was like, oh, yeah, I do see that: I notice my girlfriends holding keys in their hands as they walk to their car at night because they’re innately afraid.”

The more she learned, the more she taught. And the more she taught, the more peers started sharing their stories with her.

“You come to see it’s so prominent,” she said. “Close, close friends of mine have come forward as survivors of sexual assault.”

Dolgin said her drive to help others comes from — where else? — Judaism. “I love being Jewish,” she exclaimed. “I’ve been told that I need to take it down a notch. I make too many Torah jokes that other people don’t necessarily find as funny as I do.”

After 13 years in Jewish schools, Dolgin has achieved excellent grades, top test scores, become a National Merit Scholar and a Diller Teen Award nominee (the Helen Diller Family Foundation features a leadership development program for Jewish teens). A lover of English and mathematics, she said she wants to pioneer a field in which “left brain and right brain meet” so she can indulge her analytical side and creative side simultaneously.

Photo by Paul Takizawa

Rivka Schusterman: A dream of generations realized in a call from Harvard


AGE: 18
HIGH SCHOOL: Valley Torah High School
GAP YEAR: Midreshet HaRova in Jerusalem
GOING TO: Harvard University

Under Soviet rule in Odessa, Rivka Schusterman’s grandfather was barred from attending college. Instead, he educated himself, staying up nights, reading. One morning, after a long night of studying, he arrived at his job late — and was thrown in prison for four years.

So when the call came from Harvard that Schusterman had been accepted, it wasn’t just her dream but a dream of three generations coming true.

“My family didn’t even dream of Harvard,” she said. “I don’t know — they thought I would go to still a great university. But they couldn’t even have imagined Harvard.”

From her freshman year at Valley Torah High School, Schusterman applied herself to cultivating the grades and extracurricular accomplishments she knew she needed to get into a superb four-year college.

“ ‘Education is the most important thing,’ ” her parents told her, she said. “ ‘Once you get your degree, then you can worry about anything else.’ I’ve always been intrinsically motivated because of them.”

Among her outside activities, she played on the soccer team, participated in debate and mock trial, founded a recycling club and volunteered at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.

Somewhere along the line, her college ambitions took a back seat to a passion for community service. During a five-week volunteer trip to Israel in 2015 with the youth group NCSY, once known as National Conference of Synagogue Youth, she realized that she wanted to spend a career helping others in the most impactful way she could.

Becoming a doctor, she thought, “would be the most incredible community service — every single day.”

At Harvard, she plans to major in human, developmental and regenerative biology with a goal of becoming a neonatologist and healing babies before they’re born. “Honestly, I just love babies,” she said.

But first, she’ll take a year to study at Midreshet HaRova, a two-minute walk from the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

“I want to set the path for the Jew I want to be, through medical school, through residency,” she said. “I know that after Israel, I’m going to stay committed to my religion, and I think that’s really going to help me when things get tough.”

And when things get tough, Schusterman will have her active high school experience to draw on.

Asked what advice she would give a freshman entering high school, she said, “Just know where you’re headed. Follow through with your passions and what you’re interested in and what you’re studying. Study hard, and know that your hard work will pay off at the end of the day.”

As it did for Schusterman. On March 10, three weeks before she expected to hear from Harvard, she got a phone call from the admissions office there. An administrator called her home. Schusterman was at school working on a volunteer project. Her father forwarded the call. The voice on the other end said they were notifying her early that she would be accepted as a member of the Class of 2021.

“I went crazy and I started crying,” she said. “It was just a euphoric feeling — that everything I worked four years for came true.”

Marina Yarashuk, director of the Museum of Jewish Resistance of Novogrudak, at the museum on June 1, 2017. Photo by Cnaan Liphshiz

Jared Kushner’s family is a legend in this Belarus town


People in Jared Kushner’s ancestral town tend to speak very highly of President Donald Trump.

That’s generally the norm in the former Soviet Union. After all, Trump’s style goes over well in this part of the world — a survey conducted in November in Russia found that 45 percent of respondents said they would vote for Trump, compared to a four-percent approval rating for Hillary Clinton. Trump has promised to improve relations with Russia and has enjoyed high approval ratings throughout the region, with the exception of Ukraine and the Baltic countries.

But in Novogrudok — a picturesque city of 30,000 in western Belarus, about halfway between Minsk and Bialystok, Poland — Trump’s election is especially celebrated because it adds Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and key advisor, to the city’s short list of international success stories.

“Of course I am very proud that there is someone from Novogrudok in the White House,” said Boris Semyonov, a 57-year-old businessman, when asked about the subject last week in Lenin Square — a wide, clean space in the city center featuring a bust of the communist leader. “I am waiting for him to visit us.”

Yulia Silevskaya, a jurist in her twenties, said Kushner’s post “adds prestige” to her city.

Like many other locals, Semyonov and Silevskaya were familiar with Kushner’s name and his White House title; in addition to being married to Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka, Kushner is also a senior White House advisor.

But unlike many people — including residents of the United States — the citizens of Novogrudok had known about the Kushners long before the presidential election.

In Novogrudok, the Kushners are remembered and revered — not for their Trump connections or  their sprawling real estate empire, nor for the scandal that engulfed Kushner’s father, Charles, or the recent allegations that he proposed a back channel for communication between the Trump administration and Russia.

Rather, the Kushners are known for the daring escape from the local ghetto in one of the most famous acts of Jewish resistance to the Nazis.

The Kushners’ story features prominently at Novogrudok’s humble Museum of Jewish Resistance. The two-room museum, which opened in 2007, features pictures of Kushner’s paternal family — his great-grandfather, Zaidel; his wife, Hinda; their daughter, Rae; and her two siblings. The museum also displays the bunk beds where the family was forced to sleep when the Germans rounded up the local Jews into the Novogrudok ghetto.

In addition to Novogrudok’s wartime Jewish population of 6,000 — about a quarter of its total population — the Nazis crammed an additional 24,000 Jews from neighboring towns into a ghetto that was built around around a courthouse.

“The Kushners were a well-off family that, before the war, owned several shops in the center, was known to many people here,” said Marina Yarashuk, director of the Museum of History and Regional Studies in Novogrudok, which operates the Jewish museum. “So it’s natural that they should feature in the display.”

But what really makes the Kushners’ story stand out, Yarashuk added, is how they stuck together through a remarkable escape. Their plan seemed doomed to fail, but ultimately enabled them to survive the Holocaust and fight the Nazis alongside Jewish partisans.

“It’s an amazing story,” Yarashuk said. “I’m glad that it’s now coming out, even if it’s only because everyone is so interested in Jared Kushner.”

The Kushners’ unlikely survival centers upon the actions of Rae Kushner – Jared’s steel-willed paternal grandmother, who was 16 when the Germans placed her with her parents, sister and brother in the ghetto.

Having survived at least five “selections” for murder by machine gun — including the one in which her mother was killed — Rae joined her brother in leading a daring escape through a tunnel that was dug underneath the heavily-guarded ghetto, which was surrounded by electric wire. Rae recalled her role in the escape — which included removing dirt, as well as obtaining work tools and information from non-Jews who had entered the ghetto with the Germans’ permission — in a two-hour interview she gave in 1982 to the Kean College of New Jersey Holocaust Resource Center.

In what became one of Belarus’ best-known Holocaust stories, Rae helped lead prisoners through the weeks-in-the-making escape tunnel, which was the longest of its kind in Nazi-occupied Europe and facilitated the biggest escape through a tunnel by Jews.

The diggers — who concealed the earth they removed inside double walls and attics — led 350 men and women to freedom through the tunnel and into the woods. There, the survivors joined the Bielski partisans — a group of some 1,000 Jews named after the three brothers who led them, and whose bravery was the subject of the 2008 film “Defiance.”

As organizers, Rae and her brother, Honie, had earned a spot among the first to crawl out — what was considered a far safer position than at the end of the line. But she gave up her prime position to be with her 54-year-old father and 15-year-old sister. “If we live, we live together. If we die, we die together,” she recalled in the interview.

That decision may have saved her life, as well as that of her sister and her father, who was so weakened by months of malnutrition that he needed his daughters to carry him. Rae’s brother, who was among the first to emerge, disappeared without a trace. He was never seen again.

Today, the tunnel — which was dug inside a barrack and is now the site of the museum — is commemorated by a red-pebble path that traces its 225-yard trajectory all the way to the exit point, which is today a hole that borders a car repair shop. The shop’s walls feature commemorative posters with pictures from an archaeological excavation conducted there 10 years ago.

The attention devoted to the Kushners and their escape — as well as the general awareness of the story among Novogrudok’s locals — are typical of the success of Holocaust education in Belarus, according to Yuri Dorn, a former leader of Belarus’ Jewish community of 15,000 people.

Whereas revisionism is a growing problem among Belarus’ neighbors, with the exception of Russia, “the Holocaust is taught elaborately in schools in Belarus, where museums and memorials are set up and maintained,” he said.

 

President Alexander Lukashenko’s undemocratic rule and police-state policies may be condemned internationally, Dorn added, “but when it comes to Holocaust education and commemoration, Belarus is a world leader.”

This is partly because during World War II, Nazis killed some 2.23 million people in Belarus — a quarter of its population, including many non-Jews, Dorn said — a number too great to ignore.

Even so, the Kushners’ story is proof to Semyonov, the businessman, that the suffering of Jews was particularly intense. “The occupation in Belarus was a national tragedy,” he said. “But no one suffered like the Jews.”

In Rae’s two-hour interview, which was archived by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, she recalled how she forced a farmer to lead her family into the woods, where they lived for months on food given to them by locals until they were discovered by the Bielski partisans, who had heard about the escape and sought out survivors in nearby villages. The Kushners lived in the woods for a year, keeping watch for German troops and helping maintain the partisans’ camp until liberation in May, 1945.

Rae then took her family to a refugee camp in Czechoslovakia and, later, to Italy. She married her husband, Joseph Berkowitz, also from the Novogrudok area, in Budapest. Since he was from a poor family, he took her better-known name.

They emigrated to the United States in 1949 and settled in Brooklyn, where they raised four children, including Jared’s father, Charles. Joseph Kushner got a job as a construction worker, but by the time of his death in 1985, he had built a real-estate empire comprising more than 4,000 apartments.

Charles Kushner has visited Novogrudok several times, and even received a tour of the museum in 2014, Yarashuk said. Rae Kushner visited at least once before her death. The family donated some funds toward the construction of the Jewish resistance museum, according to Tamara Vershitskaya, the museum’s former director, who declined to provide details.

“Clearly it was a very moving experience for him, but it was also very emotional for us,” said Yarashuk.

She added: “Around here, the Kushners are a big deal, with or without Trump.”

Ben Platt (right) with Mike Faist in a scene from “Dear Evan Hansen.” Photo from dearevanhansen.com

Ben Platt’s life in theater may soon include a Tony for ‘Dear Evan Hansen’


Despite a crowded field of stellar nominees, it’s not that surprising that Ben Platt, star of “Dear Evan Hansen,” is the favorite to win Best Actor in a musical when the Tony Awards are handed out on June 11.

He was practically born for the stage.

Consider his upbringing: His older brother, Jonah, has made it to Broadway and his father, Marc Platt, is a prolific Hollywood and Broadway producer. Family lore has it that musical theater CDs accompanied every Platt family car ride. Something from those “Les Misérables” and “Miss Saigon” soundtracks apparently took hold.

“At family get-togethers and simchas, we have been known to be called the ‘von Platt’ family,” said Julie Platt, a mother of three other children, referencing the singing von Trapp family from “The Sound of Music.” “Music is definitely an important and special part of our lives.”

The tagline of “Dear Evan Hansen” is “You will be found.” Through this much talked-about musical, Marc and Julie’s Platt’s fourth child hasn’t simply been found, he has arrived.

Ben Platt created the role of Evan, an awkward and isolated teenager who forges a connection with a grieving family based on a lie spread over social media. Directed by Michael Greif, who also helmed “Rent” and “Next to Normal,” “Dear Evan Hansen” features a score by the Oscar-winning “La La Land” team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The show’s nine Tony nominations include best musical.

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, a friend of the Platts since their college days at the University of Pennsylvania 40 years ago, calls the family “the Jackson 5 of the Jewish world” but hastily adds “except with better values, and I would say they do more for the world.”

Marc Platt is an Oscar- and Tony Award-nominated producer of more than 40 films, including “Legally Blonde” and “La La Land,” and Broadway’s “Wicked,” “Three Days of Rain” and “If/Then.” (He also is nominated for a Tony this year as the producer of the play “Indecent.”) Julie Platt is one of the L.A. Jewish community’s most committed leaders and philanthropists, serving as chair of the board of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and as a board member of Camp Ramah, among other organizations.

The foundation of Ben Platt’s Jewish identity was developed early. Like his siblings, Ben went to day school at Sinai and attended Camp Ramah. Values learned there are particularly helpful now, said Platt, who won rave reviews for playing the demanding role of Evan Hansen.

“It keeps me incredibly grounded during this time of insurmountable headiness, and provides a foundation of support and community that make this journey feel far more meaningful,” Platt, 23, said by email.  “As a theater artist in particular, Judaism has cultivated a unique sense of empathy in me for which I am very grateful. Judaism encourages us to see beyond the surface to try to understand those who are different from us. This has afforded me the opportunity to better comprehend the character of Evan and the characters around him.”

Ben Platt has been with “Dear Evan Hansen” since its development more than three years ago, playing the role in productions at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., off-Broadway’s Second Stage Theater and now Broadway.

In addition to its box-office success and critical accolades, “Dear Evan Hansen” is resonating with young audiences and opening up conversations between parents and children about such issues as suicide, bullying and the dangers of social media. The musical’s fans often approach Platt to share intimate stories of their own experiences.

“He’s very aware of the fact that he has no professional role in this,” Julie Platt said. “He never wants anybody to think that he is more than the person imparting this role. He tries to be as empathic as he can possibly be.”

“Evan Hansen” is light years away from the 6-year-old Ben Platt who acted in and directed backyard plays and portrayed the prince in “Cinderella” at the Adderley School for the Performing Arts. In 2002, when the producers of a three-performance summer production of “The Music Man” at the Hollywood Bowl needed a boy to play opposite Eric McCormack and Kristin Chenoweth, they called Adderley. The school recommended Platt, who got “The Music Man” gig and followed it up in subsequent Bowl engagements of “Mame,” “Camelot” and, fittingly, “The Sound of Music.” As an 11-year-old, Platt appeared at the Ahmanson Theatre as part of a national tour of Tony Kushner’s and Jeanine Tesori’s “Caroline, or Change” that also took him to San Francisco.

“He was singularly focused on the joy he felt singing and performing,” Julie Platt said. “After the first two musicals at the Hollywood Bowl, I think we were sort of onto the fact that maybe he was really going to get to do this. It’s hard to know that when you’re that young, but we sure knew this was the thing he loved more than anything in the world, and he seemed to have the blessing of being very good at it.”

Ben Platt frequently encounters aspiring actors seeking advice.

“I love getting to hear that [‘Dear Evan Hansen’] inspires them to keep doing what they love,” he said. “Being that I myself am still very young, I feel that the only advice of value I can really offer is to encourage these actors to avoid trying to fit into preconceived molds and to invest their time and energy in discovering what sets them apart and makes them unique and unmatchable.”

He continued to act in high school. Ted Walch, a longtime drama director at Harvard-Westlake who had known the Platt siblings, tabbed Ben for a role in a school production of “Gypsy” when he was 8. Seven years later, when Ben was a student at the school, he performed in several plays and musicals, including “Our Town,” “Pippin,” “City of Angels” and “Into the Woods.” He also was a member of the campus improvisation group, The Scene Monkeys, which had been started by his brother Jonah.

And although he already had notched several professional theater credits by the time he came to high school, Platt was not simply the drama kid.

“He was an exceedingly good student across the board,” Walch said. “He was a very complete kid in high school, and although his gifts in the theater were obvious to one and all, it was also equally obvious to his teachers that he was gifted in the classroom.”

His high school roles ranged from a fop in “The Servant of Two Masters” to a father in “Our Town” to the title role in the musical “Pippin.” Max Sheldon, an actor-writer and fellow Harvard-Westlake alum, recalls working out a complicated dance sequence with Platt during their senior-year production of “Pippin.” Sheldon, who had the more extensive dance background, played the Leading Player to Platt’s Pippin.

From left: Max Sheldon and Ben Platt in Harvard Westlake’s production of “Pippin.” Photo courtesy of Christopher Michael Moore

“Among the many things I admire about him is that he is just kind of fearless when he dives into things,” said Sheldon, who has stayed friends with Platt since graduation as both actors relocated to New York. “Most people who didn’t have any dance background would walk into a room having to learn a dance number and would be scared out of their minds, but Ben said, ‘No, let’s figure this out. What do we do?’ He and I took care of each other and kind of built this number together and played on his strengths and played on my strengths and decided what was going to work best for us.”

“It was a magical moment that you don’t get to experience often,” Sheldon continued, “especially with people who are as talented as Ben and as commanding of space onstage as he is.” 

Platt briefly enrolled at Columbia University but took a gap year after being cast in the film “Pitch Perfect.” Before he could return to school, he appeared in the Chicago production of “The Book of Mormon.” He later made his Broadway debut in that musical, playing the misfit and “Star Trek”-loving missionary, Elder Cunningham.

The Harvard-Westlake drama students were a tight-knit group and have remained close since graduating. Many of them have seen “Evan Hansen” multiple times, and Walch noted with satisfaction that when Platt received his caricature at the famed New York theater-district restaurant Sardi’s, several of his high school friends were there to share the moment. While Platt has been with “Dear Evan Hansen,” another Harvard-Westlake classmate and close friend, Beanie Feldstein, is performing up the street in the Tony-nominated revival of “Hello, Dolly!” On two-show days, Platt and Feldstein often meet between performances.

The knowledge that her son has a network of friends close by is comforting to Julie Platt, who, along with Marc, goes to New York for regular visits. The family gathered there for a Passover seder, which fell on a Monday. Ben participated but used a whiteboard to help conserve his voice.

Evan Hansen is a lonely, troubled and hugely vulnerable character. Asked to evaluate what it is like to watch her son’s character experience that kind of darkness, Julie Platt said, “Agony would be a good word.”

“It’s very difficult to watch Ben go to that place, and I cannot say that has lightened,” she said. “I’ve probably seen it more than 15 times, and each time with an equal amount of joy and dread.”

Wolpe can relate. Having seen Platt perform several times in recent years, the rabbi found “Evan Hansen” satisfying but also difficult to watch.

“The degree of the transformation, the totality with which he inhabited that character was stunning, and I kept reminding myself, ‘It’s OK, because he really does have good parents,’ ” Wolpe said. “I felt so bad for him in the show, and I seriously sat there saying, ‘But it’s OK, because Julie and Marc are really his parents. It’s really OK.’ ”

The Tony Awards ceremony will be televised on CBS at 8 p.m. June 11.

Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Jewish nurse breastfeeds baby of injured Palestinian mother during hospital shift


A Palestinian baby seriously injured in a car accident was breastfed by a Jewish nurse when he refused to take a bottle.

Nurse Ula Ostrowski-Zak nursed the nine-month-old boy throughout her shift at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital on Friday night, the Ynet news website reported.

The baby’s family had been in a head-on collision with a bus on Route 60 in the West Bank, killing the baby’s father and leaving his mother with a serious head injury. The baby was slightly injured and cried for seven hours in the emergency room while continuing to refuse a bottle, according to the report.

The baby’s aunts asked Ostrowski-Zak to help them find someone to nurse the boy and the nurse reportedly volunteered to do it herself. She nursed the baby five times during the next day. She then posted a request for help with nursing the baby on an Israeli Facebook page for nursing mothers and received many responses from women willing to come to the hospital, from as far away as Haifa, to help feed the baby until he is discharged.

The baby’s mother remains in serious condition.

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in Jerusalem on June 7. Photo by Debbie Hill/Reuters

Daily Kickoff: Nikki ‘Hurricane’ Haley lands in Israel | Congress on Qatar’s Hamas ties | ‘Israel’s astonishing ’67 concession’ | Lester Crown BDay


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TOP QUOTE — David Brooks writing in the NYTimes: “A ridiculously disproportionate percentage of the Giving Pledge philanthropists are Jewish.”[NYTimes]

–Rabbi David Wolpe adds: “Judaism teaches giving. No better system has ever been devised to produce generosity.” [Facebook]

HAPPENING TODAY ON THE HILL: At 2PM EDT, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein are co-hosting a bi-country simultaneous event to honor the 50th anniversary to the reunification of Jerusalem with live video between the U.S. Capitol and the Knesset. The event — organized by Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer — will also feature remarks from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [LiveStream]

SCENE LAST NIGHT: American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad), led by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, held their annual Lamplighter Awards dinner at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in DC. Honorees included House Speaker Paul Ryan, World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, and former DC Mayor Anthony Williams. One notable bipartisan highlight of the evening featured Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer introducing Speaker Ryan. Hoyer thanked Ryan for his service and leadership to the country and noted that both he and the Speaker are ‘institutionalists’ who respect the traditions and decorum of the Congress. Ryan returned the compliment explaining that “among both Republicans and Democrats, Steny Hoyer’s word is gold.”

Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer also delivered remarks focusing on the change in US policy towards Iran and at the UN. “Those UN votes against us are a product of the past. Any remaining votes are like the Japanese soldier in WWII stranded on an island in the Philippines who wasn’t told the war was over… Although you don’t read about it everyday in the mainstream press, Israel is less isolated than it has ever been. The critical thing we needed was a tailwind from the US and now we have that in the form of Hurricane Haley, along with Hurricane Trump.”

SPOTTED: UAE Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN), Rhoda Dermer, Howard Friedman, Dov Zakheim, Nancy Jacobson, Lisa Spies, Charlie Spies, Nick Muzin, Tevi Troy, Kami Troy, William Daroff, Steve Rabinowitz, Aaron Keyak, Ezra Friedlander, Daniel Mariaschin, Dan Glickman, Michael Landau, Jonny Fluger, Jeanie Milbauer, Bill Knapp, Robbie Greenblum, Michael Herson, Jeff Mendelsohn, Manette Mayberg, Tom Kahn, Azerbaijan’s Ambassador Elin Suleymanov, Bulgarian Ambassador Tihomir Stoytchev, Eddie Sugar, Jeremy Furchtgott, Harris Vederman, Ariana Kaufman, Jennie Shulkin, Asher Perez.

ALSO LAST NIGHT, “Vice President Mike Pence headlined a fundraising effort Tuesday to build a war chest to protect Republican House members as both parties gird for the midterm election next year. The event attended by Pence and House leaders honored Las Vegas residents Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson, GOP mega-donors to the National Republican Congressional Committee. The Tuesday NRCC fundraising dinner at the Willard InterContinental Washington hotel requested a contribution of $35,000 per couple.” [ReviewJournal]

PRESIDENT-IN-LAW: “Trump Jokes Jared Kushner Is ‘More Famous Than Me’” by Vivian Salama: “The last person President Donald Trump joked was becoming more famous than him was James Comey. Months later, he abruptly fired the FBI director… So when Trump threw out the same joke Tuesday about his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the Twitter universe questioned whether it was an omen. Trump hosted the Senate and House Republican leadership at the White House… While thanking participants for their efforts to advance Trump’s political agenda, he stopped at Kushner, who this week, is featured on the cover of Time. “Jared has actually become more famous than me,” Trump said, prompting laughter from the group and a grin from Kushner. “I’m a little bit upset about that.”” [AP]

From WH pool report: “Rep. Steve Scalise turned to Kushner and said ‘that’s a badge of honor’ as Kushner smiled and kept his hands clasped in front of him.”

“Jared Kushner’s family is a legend in this Belarus town” by Cnaan Liphshiz: 
“Of course I am very proud that there is someone from Novogrudok in the White House,” said Boris Semyonov, a 57-year-old businessman, when asked about the subject last week… “I am waiting for him to visit us.” … “The Kushners were a well-off family that, before the war, owned several shops in the center, was known to many people here,” said Marina Yarashuk, director of the Museum of History and Regional Studies in Novogrudok… “Around here, the Kushners are a big deal, with or without Trump.” [JTA

DRIVING THE CONVERSATION — “US suspects Russian hackers planted fake news behind Qatar crisis” by Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz: “US investigators believe Russian hackers breached Qatar’s state news agency and planted a fake news report that contributed to a crisis among the US’ closest Gulf allies… The Qatari government has said a May 23 news report on its Qatar News Agency attributed false remarks to the nation’s ruler that appeared friendly to Iran and Israel and questioned whether President Donald Trump would last in office. Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told CNN the FBI has confirmed the hack and the planting of fake news… On Tuesday, Trump tweeted criticism of Qatar that mirrors that of the Saudis and others in the region who have long objected to Qatar’s foreign policy… Hours after Trump’s tweets, the US State Department said Qatar had made progress on stemming the funding of terrorists but that there was more work to be done.” [CNN]

“Trump Joins the Campaign Against Qatar” by Blake Hounshell: “During the president’s recent meeting in Saudi Arabia with Sheikh Tamim [bin Hamad Al Thani], Trump was publicly effusive in his praise of Qatar. “We’ve been friends for a long time,” he said during a pool spray, “and our relationship is extremely good.” But privately, I’m told, he complained about Qatar’s support for Hamas. It’s not clear how Sheikh Tamim responded, but one person familiar with the conversation said it was not nearly as friendly as Trump’s other encounters with Gulf leaders. Another person briefed on the meeting said the Qataris were puzzled by the exchange, and asked if there were anything specific they could do to be more helpful.” [Politico]

REACTIONS ON THE HILL — by Aaron Magid: Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) told Jewish Insider, “Anybody that supports Hamas is supporting a terrorist organization and we need to take decisive steps to address that. It’s part of the discussion to let them know that this is unacceptable and that we want them to be a peaceful ally in the region and work with their neighbors and us.”

Striking a similar tone, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) called Qatar’s backing of the Palestinian terror group “outrageous.” The Tennessee lawmaker added, “We need to reevaluate our relationship with any nation that is engaging in state sponsoring of terrorism.”

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD): “Qatar is trying to play all sides of the game here and they may have been caught finally. But, we got to be careful because the US has some important assets there that assist us in the fight against terror.”

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) contended that the President’s public attack of Doha was unhelpful to America’s national interests. “To not recognize the fact that we have 10,000 American troops based in Doha and he didn’t actually factor that before he shuoted out his opinion from his Twitter account is fairly disturbing. We should do it through diplomatic channels and official channels instead of using Twitter.”

In contrast, Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) emphasized that President Trump, like all US citizens has a right to his opinion and found no problem with his Twitter criticism. Calling Qatar’s support of Hamas “super problematic,” the Texas lawmaker noted, “George Bush said it after 9/11: no matter whether you house terrorists or a hotbed for terrorists, we are coming after you.” Full report here [JewishInsider]

“Why the Saudi-Qatar rift could actually be about … Israel” by Jake Novak: “In the days leading up to the announcement of the Saudi-Qatari diplomatic freeze, reports began surfacing in the Israeli and Arab press that Riyadh was pushing Qatar to end its relationship with Hamas. And the Saudis are well aware that if Qatar cuts off Hamas, Hamas probably wouldn’t survive. Qatar’s refusal to do so immediately may have been the last straw for the Saudis who have been emboldened to at least appear to step up their anti-terror efforts after President Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh last month.” [CNBC]

Ben Rhodes‏ surfaces to tweet: “Given how Trump is going, including full embrace of Saudi worldview, very real and dangerous risk of escalation with Iran.” [Twitter]

“In Geneva Speeches, Nikki Haley Casts U.S. as Rights Champion” by Nick Cumming-Bruce and Somini Sengupta: “The American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, took a swipe on Tuesday at Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, criticized the United Nations for what she called its anti-Israel bias and insisted that the Trump administration would champion human rights… “America does not seek to leave the Human Rights Council,” Ms. Haley said [in a speech at the Graduate Institute of Geneva]. “We seek to re-establish the council’s legitimacy.” Pressed by the audience, she would not commit to staying or leaving.” [NYTimes; WashPost]

KAFE KNESSET — Queen Haley lands in Israel — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: Early this morning, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley landed in Israel. Haley was greeted by her Israeli counterpart, Ambassador Danny Danon, who will be accompanying her during most of the visit. Haley’s first meeting was with the Israeli PM Netanyahu, who expressed his deep gratitude for her “standing by Israel and the truth.” The warm embrace of Ambassador Haley was apparent in every meeting she has had in Israel so far. “People appreciate the truth,” Bibi told Haley. “We have an ancient Hebrew saying that when people tell the truth, you can sense it and people feel it. They not only understand it, they feel it. And we feel it.”

Haley told Netanyahu she is thrilled by the reactions. “If there’s anything I have zero tolerance for, it is bullying, and the UN behaved so brutally toward Israel simply because it can. We are starting to see a change. I think they know that they cannot go on responding as they have until now, they feel that the tone has changed.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who also attended the meeting, gave Haley a necklace with a gold pendant of a Menorah symbol which was found in excavations in the City of David. President Rivlin, in Haley’s next meeting, echoed the same warm sentiments. “With your support, we see the beginning of a new era. Israel is no longer alone in the United Nations, Israel is no longer the punching bag of the United Nations,” he told her. Haley then said that she feels “a bit embarrassed because all I do is tell the truth. The UN has been abusing Israel for a long time and we will not let it happen anymore.” Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

HEARD YESTERDAY — State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert in her first on-camera press briefing: “Middle East peace is something that’s very important to this administration. The President and the Secretary have both said they recognize that it will not be easy, that both sides will be forced to compromise. The President has made this one of his top priorities, and we are willing to work with both of those entities to try to get them to come together and make some – and to finally bring about Middle East peace.” [CSPAN]

“Obama’s Detailed Plans for Mideast Peace Revealed – and How Everything Fell Apart” by Amir Tibon: “This is perhaps the most dramatic part of the document, stating that “the new secure and recognized international borders between Israel and Palestine will be negotiated based on the 1967 lines with mutually-agreed swaps whose size and location will be negotiated, so that Palestine will have viable territory corresponding in size to the territory controlled by Egypt and Jordan before June 4, 1967, with territorial contiguity in the West Bank…” Many U.S. and Israeli officials told Haaretz that Netanyahu was aware that this paragraph, which effectively means Israeli acceptance of the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations, would appear in Kerry’s framework. According to these sources, Netanyahu was willing to enter final-status negotiations based on these words. But he had one reservation, which is indeed mentioned in the U.S. document: He wanted to avoid direct usage of the words “territorial contiguity.” [Haaretz]

DRIVING THE WEEK: “Trump, furious and frustrated, gears up to ‘punch back’ at Comey testimony” by Robert Costa, Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker: “Alone in the White House in recent days, President Trump — frustrated and defiant — has been spoiling for a fight, according to his confidants and associates… Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor and criminal law expert whose television commentary on the Russia probe has caught the Trump team’s attention, said he understands why the president would be motivated to speak out to counter [James] Comey’s testimony. “Every lawyer would tell the president not to tweet, not to react,” Dershowitz said. “But he’s not listening. This is typical. I tell my clients all the time not to talk and they simply disregard it. It’d very hard to tell a very wealthy, very powerful man not to tweet. He thinks, ‘I tweeted my way to the presidency,’ and he’s determined to tweet.”” [WashPost]  

Famed Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz: There are people in the White House ‘trying everything to try and get him to stop tweeting’[BusinessInsider]

PROFILE: “Marc Kasowitz, ‘Toughest of the Tough Guys,’ Stands Beside Trump” by Andrew Ross Sorkin: “Starting in 2006, [Marc E.] Kasowitz’s firm spent years going after the hedge fund managers Steven A. Cohen, Dan Loeb and James S. Chanos on behalf of Fairfax Financial Holdings, claiming they had engaged in a “bear raid” to drive down the company’s stock. The case, after 11 years of back and forth, which judges described as “grappling with a lion’s fearsome hide,” was dismissed… In a separate drama, Mr. Kasowitz has played on both sides of Wall Street’s biggest fighter: Carl C. Icahn. In the 1990s, Mr. Kasowitz worked for Bennett S. LeBow, who owned Liggett Group, one of the big-five tobacco companies. Mr. LeBow and Mr. Icahn, working with Mr. Kasowitz, tried, unsuccessfully, to take over RJR Nabisco… Years later, Mr. Kasowitz’s firm was on the other side of Mr. Icahn in a dispute over casinos. The client? Mr. Trump, along with his daughter Ivanka.” [NYTimes

SPECIAL ELECTION WATCH — “Handel, Ossoff clash in Georgia special election debate” by Elena Schneider:“[Republican Karen] Handel also attacked [Jon] Ossoff for his support of the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal, calling Iran “one of the biggest threats.” When pressed on striking a nuclearized Iran, Ossoff said that with military force, “there are complexities involved that a hypothetical cannot fully encompass,” but if Iran poses an imminent threat, “then we should use force to prevent them from striking our allies.”” [Politico

** Good Wednesday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: The Silicon Valley Billionaires Remaking America’s Schools [NYTimes] • Steve Ballmer Says Tech Firms Should Be as Accountable as NBA Teams [Backchannel]Silverstein’s Tal Kerret on the future of Downtown’s retail and office markets [TRD] • ASRR Capital teams up with Israeli partners to buy Surfside site for $8.8M [TRD] • Developer Klein Enterprises pitches 400-seat restaurant, amphitheater for Broadway Market complex [BizJournals]

SPOTLIGHT: “Cadre collects $65 million in Series C funding” by Connie Loizos: “Cadre, a three-year-old, New York-based real estate startup, has raised $65 million in Series C funding led by Andreessen Horowitz… Ryan Williams, a Goldman Sachs and Blackstone alum, cofounded Cadre along with Joshua Kushner and Jared Kushner… The deal marks the latest in small but growing string of real-estate-related bets for Andreessen Horowitz, whose general partner (and former OpenTable CEO) Jeff Jordan led the deal.” [TC]

’67 ARTICLES: “The Astonishing Israeli Concession of 1967” by Yossi Klein Halevi: “The astonishing, untold story of the battle for Jerusalem was how ill-prepared Israel was for the most mythic battle of its history: The paratroopers’ conquest of East Jerusalem and the Old City, including the two sites holiest to Judaism, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. Even more astonishing was the Israeli decision, at the moment of victory, to concede sovereignty over the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. The Jewish people had just returned to its holiest site, from which it had been denied access for centuries, only to effectively yield sovereignty at its moment of triumph. Shortly after the war, Dayan met with officials of the Muslim Wakf, who governed the holy site, and formally returned the Mount to their control.” [TheAtlantic]

“The Arab World Has Never Recovered From the Loss of 1967” by Hisham Melhem: “It may be difficult for the Arabs of today to seriously reflect on the meaning of the defeat they suffered 50 years ago, given their current calamitous predicament. A half-century ago in the free sanctuary of Beirut, Arabs engaged in introspection and self-criticism, seeking to answer the central questions of their political life: What went wrong, and how did we reach this nadir? That unique moment of guarded hope and promise lasted but a few years. Fifty years later, there is no equivalent to Beirut in which to ask the hard questions about why and how the moment of enthusiasm that followed the 2011 Arab uprisings lasted for only a few months before the peaceful protest movements gave way to violence and civil wars. And in the last half-century, the Palestinian movement — along with its numerous Arab allies — has failed to become a transformational force.” [FP]

“The Six-Day War Was a Step Backward for Zionism” by Michael Koplow: “The Zionism that envisions complete Jewish sovereignty between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea does not account for the complication of approximately 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians living in a state of limbo while their own legitimate national aspirations go unfulfilled. It does not account for Israel’s isolation within its own region and its increasingly difficult relationships with democratic European allies. It does not account for the security, economic, and ethical strains that controlling the West Bank places upon the Israeli state and society.” [TheAtlantic] • Seth Mandel: The literary left’s anti-celebration of Jerusalem’s liberation [NYPost

Calls For #BoycottSears Return Over ‘Free Palestine’ Shirts: “Sears is now selling “Free Palestine” t-shirts – and some shoppers are calling for a boycott over the move. The department store’s website features more than a dozen search results for the word “Palestine”, including shirts that read “Free Gaza”, “End Israeli Occupation” and other similar phrases… Perhaps the most controversial item on the site is a shirt that reads “Free Palestine” over an image of the outline of the entire state of Israel. Jewish advocacy group B’nai B’rith issued a statement saying: “We are appalled at Sears jumping into a geo-political issue by selling glib t-shirts that proclaim ‘Free Palestine’ – seriously?” After reports began circulating on social media, the hashtag “#BoycottSears” reemerged Tuesday morning.” [CBSLA]

DESSERT: “A Guide to Israel’s Stunning Beaches” by Eva Fedderly:“Israel is perhaps best known—and deservedly so—for its holy sites, but its standing as a stellar beach destination often goes unsung. With coastline bordering the Mediterranean, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea, and the Sea of Galilee, and everything from world-class scuba diving to ancient ruins to explore, the beaches of the Land of Milk and Honey have something for every type of sand lover. Here are the must-visit spots for a day (or a few) in the sun.” [VogueMag]

BIRTHDAYS: Chicago and Aspen-based billionaire, reported to own large stakes in General Dynamics, Maytag, Hilton Hotels, Aspen Skiing Co, the New York Yankees and the Chicago Bulls, among many other companies, Lester Crown turns 92… Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence turns 58… Developer of the cardiac defibrillator and other cardiovascular innovations, he also won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in nuclear disarmament, Bernard Lown MD turns 96… Former 5-term Democratic Congressman from California (1983-1993) Mel Levine turns 74… Attorney Advisor in the Office of Inspector General at the US State Department, earned a Ph.D. in political science in 1981 from Yale, Hillel N. Weinberg turns 65… Director of voice, creativity and culture at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Isaac Luria (born Isaac Goldstein) turns 34… Managing editor of The New Yorker, Emily S. Greenhouse turns 31… Actress and model, Emily Ratajkowski turns 26… Andrea Gonzales

Gratuity not included. We love receiving news tips but we also gladly accept tax deductible tips. 100% of your donation will go directly towards improving Jewish Insider. Thanks! [PayPal]

Prayeng man

When Prayer is Not Enough by Rabbi Janet Madden


Dying as Part of Life

In How We Die, surgeon and author Sherwin Nuland wrote: “We die so that the world may continue to live. We have been given the miracle of life because trillions upon trillions of living things have prepared the way for us and then have died—in a sense for us. We die, in turn, so that others may live. The tragedy of a single individual becomes, in the balance of natural things, the triumph of ongoing life.”

One of Nuland’s aims was to disabuse his readers of the notion of death with dignity; he wanted to point out that in fact death is messily undignified. But as a rabbi who has worked as a hospice chaplain and who is currently working as a hospital chaplain, I find these words and thoughts beautiful, even inspirational.  Although I am a well-schooled layperson in terms of the dying process and its toll on the body, the blessing of my work is that I am not confined to care only for the body.

I have attended three deaths in the past three days, and I’ve been pondering Nuland’s words as I encounter the mysterious and mystically liminal moments of life’s sacred portals: birth and death. I know and accept the facts: everything that lives, has ever lived and will ever live will die. This reality unfurls like a news crawl in the back of my brain while I am offering prayers and blessings for newborns and their parents; these words come always to the forefront of my mind as I attend a death.

The Personal Impact

But for a woman who is sobbing petitionary prayers in a hallway outside an ICU room as a rapid response team attempts to revive her husband or for a man who seems to physically shrink day by day as he sits at the bedside of his wife, clinging to hope that a test result that will lead to a miraculous reversal of her decline, the truth that life ends holds no beauty and is not assuaged by a sense of the universal.

The learning curve for those who put their faith in the human body (“He’s always been a fighter,” “She’s so incredibly strong”) or medical knowledge (“There must be something else you can do—another test—something?”) is excruciatingly steep. Even for those who accept that life is ending and for those who find comfort in prayer and ritual, there is profound shock in coming to the moment when the veils between the worlds thin and the irrevocable divide between life and death manifests.

In addition to the death itself, there are the after-shocks. Before the bereaved become mourners, in the first moments and hours when they are confronting the painful reality of loss, they are plunged into the business of death. The newly-bereaved must sign a release form for the body, observe a time limit that dictates how long they can stay with the body in the hospital room, make decisions about the disposition of the body, notify family and friends and answer questions about when and how death occurred and begin to make plans what comes next both for the deceased and for themselves. If the newly-bereaved are particularly unfortunate, they must also deal with learning that someone has posted the news of the death on facebook within minutes of being informed of the death, thus making public what has not yet had a chance to be communicated within the family.

Prayer is not enough

In these moments, prayer–no matter how beautiful, how sublimely profound, how potentially comforting–is not enough. Those of us who midwife the souls of the dying must transition to the things of olam ha zeh–this world. We must tend to the psycho-spiritual-emotional and physical needs of the living. It is not good enough to finish a Viddui, the final confession, and express our condolences. It is not good enough to ask the newly-bereaved “What can I do for you?” or “What do you need?” Shock and grief are paralytics. This is another liminality– the “sinking-in” time, the moments when families begin to grasp how this death has forever changed their lives. The time just after a death parallels the midrashic moment at the Sea of Reeds when G-d tells Moshe that there is a time for prayer and a time for action. The liminality of this time demands that clergy must wade into the swirling murkiness of shock and grief and position ourselves as comforters and guides, sometimes reassuring families that yes, their family member really is dead, sometimes simply standing by to bear witness to the tears, anger, endearments and reassurances that emerge.

The Role of Chaplain

Clergy cannot shelter behind prayerful words. What we can best offer is our calm and consistent presence, both spiritual and physical. Unless families request that we leave, we should stay with them until they and we discern that it is time for us to leave. Whether we are educating the family about the after-death care of their family member or listening to stories about the deceased or calling the mortuary on the family’s behalf or fetching tea or a blanket or waiting with the family until the mortuary transportation arrives or making sure that their parking is validated, what the newly-bereaved most need is to be cared for, to be reassured that for those of us who routinely deal with death and dying, the death of their family member is not commonplace. No matter the specific configurations and complications of their relationships, death changes things. Whether families self-identify as observant, religious, spiritual but not religious, or non-believers, they want and need to see the death of their family members as something more than a biological inevitability.

I have the same need. For me, attending deaths and tending to the needs of families offer uniquely sacred opportunities to connect with other humans, to witness the rawness that is unleashed from broken hearts, to come tantalizingly close to being as fully human as I am able to be, to be in awe again and again.

Rabbi Janet Madden PhD was ordained by The Academy for Jewish Religion-California. She serves as the rabbi of Temple Havurat Emet and Providence Saint John’s Health Center and has been a student of the Gamliel Institute.

Rabbi Janet Madden

Rabbi Janet Madden

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KAVOD v’NICHUM CONFERENCE

Registration for the 15th North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference, June 18-20, in San Rafael, California, is still open.

Our conference will have intensive workshops on Introduction to Taharah, Infection Control, Communicating about difficult Taharot, Modifying Taharah, Taharah Stories as well as exploring traditional Taharah liturgy, Navigating Taharah Liturgy – A Play, and Taharah liturgy in Maavar Yabbok.

We’ll have an exciting series of workshops on Jewish cemetery issues, including Green Cemeteries, Cremation, Perpetual Care Fund Investments, Record Keeping and Acquiring New Cemetery Property.

What’s different this year is an evolving theme – expanding the work of the Chevrah Kadisha and the Jewish Cemetery by encouraging conversation about end of life plans with the Conversation Project; end of life decision-making with Dr. Jessica Zitter, and communicating about how we die with Dr. Dawn Gross.

There’s much more – see our preliminary conference program.

Consider a Sunday morning pre-conference field trip to Gan Yarok – an environmentally conscious Jewish Green Cemetery.

Sunday afternoon from 2-5, Sam Salkin, Executive Director of Sinai Memorial Chapel, will facilitate an intensive session on starting & managing a community funeral home. Let us know if you are interested in this session. Attendance is by advance reservation only.

Tuesday afternoon after the conference Sinai Memorial Chapel will facilitate a tour of Gan Shalom Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery with an interfaith section. Again, let us know if you are interested – Attendance by advance reservation only.

And there is an extension to the conference! Gamliel Institute students, and others by approval, can remain for an additional day to participate in the Gamliel Institute Day of Learning. We will have three extraordinary teachers presenting on a variety of texts and concepts that are of interest. This is a fantastic opportunity to study with some of the very best instructors in a small group setting during a twenty-four hour period. Students, contact us to RSVP; if you are not a Gamliel student, contact us to seek approval of the Dean to attend.

Register for the conference now.

We have negotiated a great hotel rate with Embassy Suites by Hilton, but rooms are limited; please don’t wait to make your reservations. We also have home hospitality options – contact us for information or to request home hospitality. 410-733-3700, info@jewish-funerals.org

Questions? Email info@jewish-funerals.org or call 410-733-3700.
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TASTE OF GAMLIEL

In 2017, Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute are again sponsoring a six-part “Taste of Gamliel” webinar series. This year’s topic is From Here to Eternity: Jewish Views on Sickness and Dying.

Each 90 minute session is presented by a different scholar.

The June 25th session is being taught by Dr. Laurie Zoloth, well known author, teacher, and scholar.  

Taste of Gamliel Webinars for this year are scheduled on January 22, February 19, March 19, April 23, May 21, and June 25. The instructors this year are: Dr. Dan Fendel, Rabbi Dayle Friedman, Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow, Rabbi Richard Address, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, and Dr. Laurie Zoloth.

This series of Webinar sessions is free, with a suggested minimum donation of $36 for all six sessions. These online sessions begin at 5 PM PDST (GMT-7); 8 PM EDST (GMT-4).

Those registered will be sent the information on how to connect to the sessions, and will also receive information on how to access the recordings of all six sessions.

The link to register is: http://jewish-funerals.givezooks.com/events/taste-of-gamliel-2017.

More info – Call us at 410-733-3700 or email info@jewish-funerals.org.    

Click the link to register and for more information. We’ll send you the directions to join the webinar no less than 12 hours before the session.

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

Gamliel Institute will be offering course 2, Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah, online, afternoons/evenings, in the Fall semester starting September 5th, 2017.

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet on twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in those weeks with Jewish holidays during this course). There will be an orientation session on Monday, September 4th, 2017.  Register or contact us for more information.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

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DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organizations, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

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MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent an email link to the Expired And Inspired blog each week by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

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SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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A lesbian couple holding hands during the annual Gay Pride rally in Tel Aviv on June 8, 2007. Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images

England’s top Sephardic rabbi said acceptance of homosexuality is ‘fantastic’ — controversy ensued


The United Kingdom’s top Sephardic rabbi became the center of an international controversy after he praised societal acceptance of homosexuality as a “fantastic development.”

Rabbi Joseph Dweck, who serves as senior rabbi at London’s S&P Sephardi Community, came under fire after making the comment at a lecture last month. An Orthodox rabbi in London asked a rabbinic court to look into removing Dweck from his position and a petition created by an American Orthodox rabbi calling Dweck a “heretic” had gained some 480 signatures, The Jewish News reported.

A letter from Israel’s chief Sephardic rabbi, Yitzchak Yosef, also condemned Dweck.

“I am amazed and angry at the words of nonsense and heresy that were said about the foundations of our faith in our Torah,” said the letter, which was posted on the Israeli news site Kikar HaShabbat.

Dweck received rabbinic ordination from Yosef’s father, the late Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef.

Dweck, who grew up in Los Angeles and has been in his current position since 2013, has refused to back down, although he acknowledged that his use of the word “fantastic” was “exaggerated,” The Jewish News reported.

“I did not say that homosexual acts were fantastic. I said that the development in society had residual benefits much in the same way that Islam and Christianity did, as the Rambam pointed out,” he said.

Dweck continued: “These residual effects in my opinion are that it has helped society be more open to the expression of love between men. I was not asserting law, nor for that matter, demanding a particular way of thought. I was simply presenting a personal observation.”

The rabbi isn’t without his defenders. More than 1,900 people signed a petition backing Dweck,

“The current situation, wherein character assassination, misrepresentations, and misconstrued contexts has constituted a majority of the responses rather than honest, open, and sensitive discussion is disheartening and reflective of a most unfortunate climate in our community,” the petition reads.

A recording of the lecture from last month was originally posted on the website for the S&P Sephardi Community but has since been taken down, according to The Jewish News.