Left, right must unite against anti-Semitic hate


recent headline from London’s Jewish Chronicle read: “Worst Year On Record As Anti-Semitism Soars In Britain 36 Percent.”

Across the big pond, the initial reaction may have been: “Thank the Lord, it’s not happening here.”

Not so fast. U.S. headlines confirm that history’s oldest hate continues to rear its ugly head across America:

• Jewish Community Centers in the United States have received nearly 70 bomb threats in 2017. The digitally altered voice threatens, “It’s a C-4 bomb with a lot of shrapnel. … In a short time, a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered. Their heads are going to be blown off from the shrapnel. … There’s going to be a bloodbath … in a short time. I think I told you enough. I must go.” The FBI has yet to apprehend the culprits.

• Chicago’s historic downtown Loop Synagogue, founded nearly 90 years ago, had its plate glass window shattered shortly after midnight on the Sabbath. The coward who broke the glass also plastered the synagogue entrance with black-and-white swastika stickers. The Chicago Police have opened a hate crime investigation.

• At Houston’s Cypress Ranch High School, students taking a senior class photo held their hands in the air in a “Sieg Heil” Nazi salute. The photos have been circulating on social media. In an email to TV station KPRC-TV, a student witness says that as many as 70 young people were shouting “Heil Hitler” and “Heil Trump.” Whether stupid prank or hate crime, “It was pretty terrifying,” one student said.

• At the University of Florida in Gainesville, a man wearing a swastika armband and making menacing statements, identified as Michael Dewitz, appeared on campus the day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Dewitz was at this for a week. Finally, some student protesters roughed him up. Gainesville is reputedly one of the most “liberal” areas in north Central Florida.

In one of the few redeeming moments, New York commuters banded together one Saturday to clean up a subway car defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti and Nazi symbols. Gregory Locke, a young attorney from Harlem, saw the group effort unfold after he got on the city’s No. 1 Line at 50th Street. There were swastikas and other graffiti on every window, door and advertising display. Slogans were also written across the rail car, including “Destroy Israel, Heil Hitler,” and “Jews belong in the oven.”

On a Facebook post, Locke said, “The train was silent as everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do. One guy got up and said, ‘Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie. We need alcohol.’ He found some tissues and got to work.” Locke told NBC News that his fellow passengers then began looking for hand sanitizer, while others started wiping off the graffiti, which was gone before the train made it as far as Lincoln Center at 66th Street.

What Americans today need is a reintroduction to and embrace of Martin Luther King’s legacy — a leader who campaigned for justice for all.

These incidents are not about policies, but a symptom and byproduct of the extreme political and social polarization of our country across ideological and partisan lines that became supercharged during the Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump presidential campaign — and show no signs of abating. In fact, they are only getting worse, and left unchecked could lead to dangerous, if unintended, consequences.

Surely there must be ways to defend immigrants, refugees and the court system without smearing the White House as a den of “Nazis.” Those seniors in Houston are just aping adults quick to deploy the N-bomb 24/7. Such tactics succeed only in eroding the swastika and Nazism as the quintessential symbols of genocidal and anti-Semitic evil, and may be inadvertently opening the way for more, not less hate.

What Americans today need is a reintroduction to and embrace of Martin Luther King’s legacy — a leader who campaigned for justice for all and whose denunciation of all forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism, earned him and his movement support from Americans of every race, religion and creed.

Today, many European Jews no longer wear a yarmulke or Star of David necklace for fear of attack. In 2017, we need more Americans from across the social and political divides to demonstratively reject history’s oldest hate — as the group of New York subway riders did — or we may soon be grappling with the impact of mainstream anti-Semitic hate, not unlike Europe’s.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Republican Jews, Jewish Republicans differ on DNC race


The race for the new Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair is highlighting a split among Jews who support the Republican Party. In many instances, the differences stem from a matter of two identities and whether ‘Republican’ or ‘Jewish’ is the adjective or noun.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

For Jewish Republicans, who are more likely to actively support the Republican National Committee over bipartisan groups like AIPAC, the idea of Rep. Keith Ellison, a candidate who has attracted controversy over past remarks, winning Saturday’s election to become the face of the Democratic Party is a welcome one.

“To my friends at the DNC please please elect this man [Ellison] Chair,” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks tweeted on Thursday, in reaction to comments Ellison made on Wednesday night defending his Israel record.

However, given Ellison’s record and controversial past comments, some Republican Jews worry that his election would allow more extreme views and policy positions into the mainstream, in a way that could be harmful to any remaining bipartisan consensus on the U.S. – Israel relationship.

“Politically, Republicans love the idea of Ellison at DNC; Jews, however, should be frightened over the further mainstreaming of a hater,” Jeff Ballabon, a Conservative-Republican activist, wrote on Twitter.

“I do not prefer to see Ellison elected,” Tevi Troy, former Jewish Liaison for President George W. Bush, told Jewish Insider. ” I think that both Israel and America are better off if we operate under the bipartisan consensus in favor of strong ties between the U.S. and Israel.”

At the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC], Jewish attendees had divergent opinions. Yitchok (Ian) Cummings, 24, a first-time CPAC attendee from Linwood, NJ, told Jewish Insider that as a Republican Jew his partisanship doesn’t seep through when it comes to hoping Ellison wins the DNC Chairmanship. “I do think Keith Ellison’s anti-Israel views are dangerous. I think the fact that he’s such a powerful frontrunner for the DNC, is just indicative of the fact that the Democratic Party has moved to the far left and shifted on Israel,” Cummings said. “So even as a partisan, while there’s some advantage to see Ellison leading the Democrats, it makes me sad as a Jew that we may not have a loyal opposition that we respect and can work with.”

Eric Golub, a Trump supporter from LA, favored a more partisan approach. “Obviously as a Jew, I don’t want to see a Jew-hater get anywhere near the levers of power. As a Republican, I want the Democrats to have a complete whack job running their party,” Golub, a conservative comedian, explained while waiting for Vice President Mike Pence to take the stage at the annual gathering. “Now, my Judaism always comes first but here is why I am going to make an exception in this case: the heads of the parties are not significant. It’s not like he’s the presidential or vice presidential candidate. The DNC and RNC chairs are symbolic figureheads. So if the Democrats want to have the worst of all worlds for them, that’s a win-win situation for Republicans.”

During a televised debate on Wednesday, Ellison addressed the past comments and views that have caused many establishment Jewish Democrats to oppose his candidacy. “These are smears and we’re fighting back every day, he said. Adding, “I believe that the U.S.-Israel relationship is special and important. I’ve stood for that principle my whole service and my whole career. And you can trust when I’m the DNC chair that that relationship will continue. We will maintain the bipartisan consensus of U.S. support for Israel if I’m the DNC chair.”

The race between leading candidates Ellison and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, an establishment favorite, remains tight, according to media reports and internal pollingamong the 447 electors. Regardless of who wins the DNC race on Saturday, Tevi Troy says he is worried “about the direction of the Democratic party on the Israel issue.”

Ariel Kohane wears a Donald Trump yarmulke while attending the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center on Feb. 24. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Did Donald Trump and the Jews have a good week?


Was this, at last, a good week for the Jews and President Donald Trump?

Compared to the Trump administration’s initial few weeks, maybe. The president’s first month saw the White House omit Jews from a statement commemorating the Holocaust, then rebuke Jewish groups that criticized the statement and stay silent as waves of hoax bomb threats hit Jewish community centers. Last week, Trump shut down a Jewish reporter asking a polite question on anti-Semitism. The day before, he began responding to a question on anti-Semitism by boasting about his election victory.

But starting with a specific if belated condemnation of Jew hatred on Tuesday, a number of statements and actions by Trump and his associates served to calm Jews who fear a growing specter of anti-Semitism on the right.

Days after angrily shutting down a Jewish journalist who asked about the administration’s plans to counter a spike in anti-Semitism, the president gave his critics what they had been seeking: a specific  condemnation of anti-Semitism.

“Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop, and it has to stop,” he said Tuesday, the day after the fourth wave of JCC bomb threats in five weeks.

In prepared remarks he delivered that day at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Trump said “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and our Jewish community centers are horrible, are painful and they are a reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

The next day, Vice President Mike Pence gave succor to Jews looking for more than words from the administration. Visiting a vandalized Jewish graveyard outside St. Louis, Pence rolled up his sleeves and spent a few minutes clearing away branches and raking the cemetery.

“There is no place in America for hatred, prejudice or anti-Semitism,” Pence said, literally speaking through a megaphone.

But most concerns from Jews about anti-Semitism have been more about Trump’s supporters than the man himself — from tweeters spewing deluges of white supremacist hate to the (as of now) anonymous criminals phoning in bomb threats and knocking over headstones. Right after Election Day, the Anti-Defamation League blamed “the contentious tone from the 2016 election” and said “extremists and their online supporters” have been  “emboldened by the notion that their anti-Semitic and racists views are becoming mainstream.”

But there were signs this week that Trump’s anti-Semitic supporters haven’t infected the Republican Party mainstream. At CPAC, the premier annual confab for political conservatives, attendees raucously cheered Trump — a man they once distrusted — and also made moves to exclude anti-Semitism from their movement.

A Thursday session was dedicated to bashing the “alt-right,” a loose far-right movement that includes anti-Semites and white supremacists, and affirming that it wasn’t part of conservative ideology.

“There is a sinister organization that is trying to worm its way into our ranks,” said Dan Schneider, executive director of the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC. “They are anti-Semites. They are racists.”

Richard Spencer, a leading white supremacist who showed up at the conference uninvited, was kicked out of CPAC after holding court with reporters.

Jewish concerns haven’t been completely assuaged. At CPAC, Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, who used to run Breitbart, a news website favored by the alt-right, denounced the “corporatist, globalist media,” using a phrase that evokes anti-Semitic tropes of Jews as an internationalist fifth column.

Jewish groups mostly praised the Trump condemnation of anti-Semitism, and especially Pence’s words and actions at the St. Louis cemetery. But nearly all urged the president to follow up with concrete plans for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism. The ADL is circulating a petition imploring Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take “immediate actions that will curb anti-Semitic threats and all hate crimes in our schools and communities.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested how that might be done, announcing on Thursday that the state is committing $25 million for safety and security upgrades at Jewish schools and other institutions at risk of hate crimes or attacks. In thanking Cuomo in a tweet, the ADL’s regional director, Evan Bernstein, called it an “ideal example of what an elected official can do: Speak out, have a plan & commit resources to problem.”

Now that the administration seems to have found its voice, the Jewish mainstream is looking for action.

Jewish End of Life Music by Rabbi G Rayzel Raphael


Expired And Inspired

Expired And Inspired

Jewish End of Life Music

In 2001, I had a conversation with Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi z”l after my father of blessed memory, Mitchell Robinson z”l left this world. Reb Zalman talked about having a CD of Nichum Aveilim music: songs to comfort the mourner. Although I had been singing and recording for many years, at that time I just wasn’t ready to face a whole recording of an end of life genre of music.

The Process

Several years passed and then other friends, family, and colleagues died. Sometimes their death inspired me to compose a song to honor their passing. On other occasions, a song would come to me based on a traditional teaching that I might use in my pastoral work as a rabbi. Without even realizing it, I was compiling a series of “Jewish songs of comfort”.

I once learned that in an African country when a child is born they bring forth a new song. Looking back now, I see that unfortunately over the years, death has written a number of songs for me as well. Sometimes I look upon death as a mystifying detour taking us places we never imagined we would go. I never really wanted to be called to this work of composing songs for the deathbed and grief. Yet I have to acknowledge the bittersweet edge of creativity, comfort, and memory that my collection of songs have offered me and others.

The Result

          In 2014, after my teacher and mentor Reb Zalman died, I made a commitment to working on a CD of End of Life music called, “May the Angels Carry You – Jewish Songs of Comfort for Death, Dying and Mourning. The title of this CD is the title of a song dedicated to Savina Teuval z’l, a Jewish feminist scholar, as I was privileged to write it after singing at her deathbed.

It is also the title of the book written by my life partner, Dr. Simcha P. Raphael, founding Director of The Daat Institute, for Death, Awareness, Advocacy and Training, which is a short collection of prayers and readings for the deathbed, including the lyrics to the songs on the CD.

Recently, I had the opportunity to teach about this music for a public Jewish death and dying series sponsored by the Daat Institute and The Jewish Relationship Initiative. In teaching my session “Wisdom for the End of Life Journey” I researched other songwriters with a similar type of music that could be used at various stages of the end of life journey: Dying, Death, Taharah, Funeral, Shiva, Shloshim and Yartzeit.

A Resource

I have received many recommendations from my rabbinic colleagues in the Reconstructionist and Renewal movements, and from Chevrah Kaddisha members. Many composers are listed, as this music spans the Jewish movements.

I am providing a link to the song sheet of the many heartfelt offerings from various Jewish songwriters. The list is not complete, but it’s a start. [Link to download END OF LIFE SONG SHEET] What is not listed are, of course, the various wordless niggunim that can be used at any time.

Life endings are always hard, and may be complicated and tragic, but music is the great soother. May this compilation be an assist for you at this holy time.

[Ed. Note: The list that Rabbi Raphael compiled spanned nine pages – far too long to include here. She has provided a link to download the list as a PDF file. If the link does not work, please email me at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, and I will try to forward it to you. — JB]

Rabbi G Rayzel Raphael

Rabbi G Rayzel Raphael

Rabbi G. Rayzel Raphael is a Reconstructionist Rabbi in the Philadelphia area. She has a private practice, performing life cycle rituals as well as other artistic offerings of her soul. For more information see her website: www.shechinah.com

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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. 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. Taste of Gamliel gives participants a “Taste” of the Gamliel Institute’s web-based series of courses. The Gamliel Institute is the leadership training arm of Kavod v’Nichum. The Gamliel Institute offers five on-line core courses, each 12 weeks in length, that deal with the various aspects of Jewish ritual and actions around sickness, death, funerals, burial and mourning. Participants come from all over the United States, Canada, Central and South America, with Israelis and British students joining us on occasion.

Taste of Gamliel Webinars for this year are scheduled on January 22, February 19, March 19, April 23, May 21, and June 25. Learn from the comfort of your own home or office.

The Taste sessions are done in a webinar format, where the teacher and students can see each other’s live video feeds. The sessions are moderated, participants raise their virtual hands to ask questions, and the moderator calls on and unmutes participants when appropriate. We’ve been teaching using this model for seven years (more than 250 session). We use Zoom, a particularly friendly and easy to use platform.

This series of Webinar sessions is free, with a suggested minimum donation of $36 for all six sessions. Online sessions begin at 5 PM PSST; 8 PM EDST.

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.

On registration, you will receive an automated acknowledgment. Information and technology assistance is available after you register. Those who are registered are sent an email ahead of each webinar with log on instructions and information for the upcoming session, and also receive a message on how to view a recording of each of the sessions.

You can view a recording of the sessions, uploaded after each session, so even if you need to miss one (or more), you can still hear the presentation.

More info – Call us at 410-733-3700

Attend as many of these presentations as are of interest to you. Each session is about 90 minutes in duration. As always, we plan to hold time for questions and discussions at the end of each program.

Again, the entire series is free, but we ask that you consider a donation to help us defray the costs of providing this series. The suggested $36 amount works out to $6 for each session – truly a bargain for the valuable information and extraordinary teachers that present it.

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.

Suggestions for future topics are welcome.

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD:

UPCOMING COURSE

Gamliel Institute will be offering course 4, Nechama [Comfort], online, evenings in the Spring on Tuesdays (and three Thursdays – the day of the week will change in those weeks with Jewish holidays during this course). The date of classes will be from March 28 to June 13 2017. Please note: due to holidays, classes will meet on Thursdays on April 13th, April 20th, and June 1st. There will be an orientation session on Monday, March 27th, 2017.

COURSE PREVIEW

If you are not sure if the Nechama course is for you, plan to attend the Free one-time online PREVIEW of Nechama session planned for Monday evening March 6th, 2017 at 8-9:30 pm EST (5 PST/6 MST/7 CST/9 AST). The instructors will offer highlights from the material that the course covers, and let you know what the course includes. You can RSVP to info@Jewish-Funerals.org.

REGISTRATION

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

INFORMATION

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or look at information on the Gamliel Institute at the Kavod v’Nichum website or on the Gamliel.Institute website. Please contact us for information or assistance. info@jewish-funerals.org or j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700, or 925-272-8563.

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KAVOD v’NICHUM CONFERENCE

Plan ahead, hold June 18-20, 2017 for the 15th annual Kavod v’Nchum Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference. Register now, and reserve your hotel room!

15th Annual North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference

At Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, California June 18-20, 2017

REGISTRATION

Registration is now open. Advance prices are good through the end of February. Group discounts are available.
The conference program will include plenaries and workshops focused on Taharah, Shmirah, Chevrah Kadisha organizing, community education, gender issues, cemeteries, text study, and more.

DATES

The conference is on Sunday from noon until 10pm, on Monday from 7am to 10pm, and on Tuesday from 7am to 1pm. In addition to the Sunday brunch, we provide six Kosher meals as part of your full conference registration. There are many direct flights to San Francisco and Oakland, with numerous options for ground transportation to the conference site.

HOTEL

We have negotiated a great hotel rate with Embassy Suites by Hilton. 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.
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DONATIONS:

Donations are always needed and most welcome. Donations 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.

To find a list of other blogs and resources we think you, our reader, may find of interest, click on “About” on the right side of the page.There is a link at the end of that section to read more about us.

Past blog entries can be searched online at the L.A. Jewish Journal. Point your browser to http://www.jewishjournal.com/expiredandinspired/, and scroll down. Along the left of the page you will see a list of ‘Recent Posts” with a “More Posts” link. You can also see the list by month of Expired and Inspired Archives below that, going back to 2014 when the blog started.

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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, Shomrim, funeral providers, funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

 

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Vice President Mike Pence at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery on Feb. 22. Photo by Michael Thomas/ Getty Images

Pence visits vandalized cemetery, condemns threats to JCCs


Vice President Mike Pence visited a vandalized Jewish cemetery near St. Louis after giving a speech in Missouri touching on a spate of recent anti-Semitic attacks.

Pence in his address Wednesday at the Fabick CAT headquarters talked about the vandalism and a series of bomb threats leveled at Jewish community centers across the country in recent weeks. The day before, President Donald Trump condemned anti-Semitism in remarks at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

On Monday, 154 headstones were knocked over or damaged in the older section of the 129-year-old Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, where the majority of the burials were between 1890 and 1940.

“That, along with other recent threats to Jewish community centers around the country,” Pence said, “declare to all a sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil. We condemn this vile act of vandalism and those who perpetrated it in the strongest possible terms.”

Photographs showed Pence in shirt-sleeves wielding a rake and picking up branches during cleanup efforts at the cemetery led by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who is Jewish.

University City Police investigating the vandalism have yet to determine whether it was a random act or a case of anti-Semitism, according to the St. Louis Jewish Light.

Andrew Rehfeld, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, told the Jewish Light that the community should stop guessing at the motivations for these incidents and start looking at the effect.

“The chief culminating effect of all these incidents is a clear targeting of Jewish community institutions,” Rehfeld said. “That’s the pattern that is emerging and we need to contain it.”

He added that the federation is evaluating its ability to support “a much broader security function. We’re looking at a much more significant investment in it.”

People take part in an "I am Muslim Too" rally in Times Square on Feb. 19. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

What America needs: Thousands of Jew-haters


One would think that before admitting tens, let alone hundreds, of thousands of Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Americans might look at what bringing in millions of Muslims has done for Europe. One would also assume that American Jews would want to know how this surge in MENA Muslims has affected Jews in European countries.

But one would be wrong.

Such an approach would be rational. But for most people, the rational has no chance against the emotional.

A thousand rabbis signed a petition to bring large numbers of MENA Muslims into the United States; and virtually all Jewish organizations outside of the Zionist Organization of America (and some within Orthodoxy) have condemned the Donald Trump administration for enacting a temporary halt in accepting travelers and refugees from seven (of the world’s more than 50) Muslim-majority countries that currently have hostile, dysfunctional or nonexistent governments, for the purpose of creating a more thorough screening process.

Do these rabbis and lay leaders know what is happening in Europe?

Do these rabbis and other Jewish leaders know what it feels like to be a Jew in formerly tolerant Sweden?

Last year, the Jerusalem Post published an article about a Jewish couple who had lived in Sweden since the middle of World War II. They were Danish Jews who, as children, were smuggled into Sweden. Their gratitude to Sweden (and, of course, Denmark) has been immense.

But they have now left the homeland that saved them to live in Spain. The city in which they lived, Malmo, has become so saturated with Jew-hatred that they can no longer live there. It was caused by, in the words of the husband, Dan, “the adverse effects of accepting half-a-million immigrants from the Middle East, who plainly weren’t interested in adopting Sweden’s values and Swedish culture.”

He added that “the politicians, the media, the intellectuals … they all played their parts in pandering to this dangerous ideology and, sadly, it’s changing the fabric of Swedish society irreversibly.”

The Jerusalem Post continued: “Karla [the wife], who’d sat passively, occasionally nodding in agreement at Dan’s analysis, then interrupted, saying, ‘If you disagree with the establishment, you’re immediately called a racist or fascist.’ ” (Sound familiar?)

According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, the anti-Semitism in Malmo is so dangerous that the Danish-Jewish star of a very popular Scandinavian TV show left the show.

“Anti-semitism,” the Telegraph reports, “has become so bad in Malmo, the Swedish city where the hit television drama ‘The Bridge’ is set, that it contributed to actor Kim Bodnia’s decision to quit the show.

“Jewish people in Malmo,” the Telegraph report continued, “have long complained of growing harassment in the city, where 43 percent of the population have a non-Swedish background, with Iraqis, Lebanese and stateless Palestinians some of the largest groups. The Jewish community centre in the city is heavily fortified, with security doors and bollards on the outside pavement to prevent car bombs.”

Do American-Jewish leaders know that, for the first time since the end of World War II, the Jews of France fear to walk in public wearing a kippah or a Star of David necklace? If the rabbis and Jewish lay leaders know this, what do they assume — that Catholic or secular French anti-Semitism has dramatically spiked? Or would they acknowledge that this is a result of Muslim anti-Semitism in France?

Do these rabbis and other Jewish leaders know how much the presence of large numbers of Muslims in Europe has contributed to Israel-hatred in many European countries — especially on campuses? If they don’t, all they need to do is examine the situation on American campuses, where many Jewish students feel more uncomfortable than at any time in American history — all because of the left and Muslim student activists.

An article on the Huffington Post, presumably another racist and xenophobic website, reports:

“Migrants streaming into Europe from the Middle East are bringing with them virulent anti-Semitism which is erupting from Scandinavia to France to Germany. …

“While all of the incoming refugees and migrants, fleeing Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other Muslim lands, may not hold anti-Jewish views, an extremely large number do — simply as a result of being raised in places where anti-Jewish vitriol is poured out in TV, newspapers, schools and mosques. …

“ ‘There is no future for Jews in Europe,’ said the chief Rabbi of Brussels. … ”

So how is one to explain the widespread American-Jewish support for bringing in a massive number of people, many of whom will bring in anti-Jew, anti-Israel and anti-West values?

First, they are staggeringly naïve, believing, for example, that marching with signs at airports that read, “We love Muslims” will change those Muslims who hate Jews into Muslims who love Jews.

Second, never underestimate the power of feeling good about yourself for the left; that is, after all, where the self-esteem movement originated. And it feels very good for these Jews to be able to say, “Look, world — you abandoned us in the 1930s, but we’re better than you.”

And third, when American Jews abandoned liberalism for leftism, they became less Jewish, less Zionist, and more foolish.

Just ask the Jews of Sweden and France.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

From left: Spencer Pensoneau, Ron Klump and Philip Weiss, of Weiss and Rosenbloom Monument company, work to right toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery. Photo by Tom Gannam/Reuters

Vandals damage more than 100 Jewish headstones in St. Louis area


Vandals damaged more than 100 headstones at a St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery.

FOX2NOW, a local TV station, reported that police in University City, Missouri, were on Monday reviewing footage from surveillance cameras in the area of Chesed Shel Emet cemetery, which has served the community since 1893.

The station quoted police as saying that it was likely there was more than one perpetrator.

UPDATE: Jewish governor of Missouri, Muslim activists pitching in to repair vandalized Jewish cemetery

President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 16. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Trump shouts down reporters who ask about anti-Semitism


President Donald Trump shouted down two reporters who asked him about rising anti-Semitism in America and said he “hates” being called an anti-Semite, although neither reporter called him one.

Trump, fielding questions at a contentious news conference Thursday about the multiple scandals and mishaps afflicting his young administration, said he wanted to take a question from a friendly reporter.

Jake Turx, a Charedi Orthodox reporter for Ami Magazine, volunteered, saying “I’m friendly,” and prefaced his question by saying his community did not regard Trump as anti-Semitic.

“I haven’t seen anyone in my community accuse you or anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic,” Turx said. “We understand that you have Jewish grandchildren, you are their zayde,” or grandfather.

Trump appeared to understand what Turx was saying, thanking him.

“What we haven’t really heard being addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it,” Turx continued, citing dozens of bomb threats called into Jewish community centers in recent weeks.

Trump interrupted and accused Turx of dishonesty.

“It’s not a simple question, not a fair question,” he said. “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you have ever seen in your entire life.” The president also said he was the “least racist person.”

Turx interrupted, saying he did not believe Trump was anti-Semitic, and Trump shouted him down, “Quiet, quiet, quiet.”

“See, he lied about, he was going to get up and ask a straight simple question, so, you know, welcome to the world of the media,” Trump said.

“I hate the charge, I find it repulsive, I hate even the question,” he said, going on to cite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement a day earlier at a joint news conference that “there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump.”

“You heard the prime minister, you heard Netanyahu yesterday, did you hear him? Bibi,” Trump said. “He said, ‘I’ve known Donald Trump for a long time,’ and then he said, ‘Forget it,’ so you should take that instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.”

Another reporter tried to raise a similar question, asking about “rising anti-Semitism,” some of it committed in his name.

Trump, again interrupting, replied that he thought a lot of the instances were his opponents trying to smear him by disguising themselves as his supporters.

“Some of that anger is caused by people on the other side,” he said. “It will be by people on the other side to anger people like you.”

Trump defended his record, saying the country was divided long before he took office and that it was his plan to unite it.

Turx on Twitter said he hoped the White House would understand that Trump “clearly misunderstood” his question.

“This is highly regretful and I’m going to seek clarification. #TrumpNewsConference,” he wrote.

 

Rachel Bloom. Photo by Nino Muñoz/The CW

‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ star Rachel Bloom brings a fresh, feminist approach to Jewish comedy


When it comes to Rachel Bloom, it’s hard to know whether to start with the sex or the Jewishness. Both seem to ooze out of her, like a classic starlet of the Yiddish theater in which burlesque comedy could arrive in a voluptuous feminine package.

Consider the music video “You Can Touch My Boobies,” which has more than 5 million views. Bloom plays a Hebrew-school teacher who appears in a dream to seduce her kippah-wearing bar mitzvah student, Jeffrey Goldstein. Clad in a black bustier and fishnets, she rides around in a toy car shaped like a giant breast — with a nipple for a hood ornament — crooning, “We’re gonna have some fun tonight.” No need to check the locks, she tells Goldstein, because — wink, wink to American Jewish dining habits — his parents are out at Benihana. But Jewish guilt is never far behind, and suddenly, Golda Meir appears to scold Jeffrey for his fantasies: “You have brought shame on your family and the Jewish people!”

In the tradition of Woody Allen, she has deftly translated the American-Jewish experience — its neuroses, obsessions and culturally distinctive lexicon — into mainstream entertainment. As a writer and actress, Bloom routinely probes aspects of her identity — relishing, mocking, exuding sexuality and Jewishness — both in the prolific collection of music videos she posts on YouTube, as well as on the CW show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” a musical romantic comedy that she co-created and stars in.

[Watch Rachel Bloom’s Jewiest music videos]

In Rachel Bloom, we have a female heir to the neurotic, outsider Jew who is constantly negotiating identity through sex and ethnic baggage. There are strains of Philip Roth in her work — a sex-obsessed Jew feeling ever out of place, trying to grow up and fit in. And what we gather from Bloom, a millennial, is that although political frissons have somewhat altered the American-Jewish makeup, a generation later, communal preoccupations are the same.

The 29-year-old is an expert at channeling the tropes of her male artistic and literary forebears, where sex and Judaism coalesce and collide as integral, paradoxical and indispensable to the human experience. But she upends theses legacies with something new and utterly transgressive: a female point of view.

“I think a lot about Fanny Brice’s aesthetic,” Bloom told me when we met for coffee last month in Silver Lake. “Her whole thing was Yiddish, Yiddish, Yiddish. I did 23andme [the genetic test] and I’m 97 percent Ashkenazi Jewish. Yiddish is what I connect to.”

The comparison to Brice (the comedian-actress immortalized in the movie “Funny Girl”) is apt — except for the fact that Bloom, unlike Brice, writes all of her own material. In just two seasons of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” Bloom has written or co-written more than 80 original songs. “That’s more than four Broadway shows,” she said.

Rachel Bloom (second from left) is Rebecca Bunch in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Photo by Mike Yarish/The CW

Rachel Bloom (second from left) is Rebecca Bunch in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Photo by Mike Yarish/The CW

 

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” tells the story of Rebecca Bunch, a tenacious, Harvard-educated Manhattan lawyer. After a chance encounter on a New York sidewalk with a guy she dated at summer camp, she becomes unmoored, determined to pursue her crush all the way to the West Coast. She walks out of her high-paid, partner-track job and follows the object of her affection to his hometown — West Covina. Last year, the role earned Bloom a Golden Globe award.

The day we met, Bloom had just wrapped the show’s second season, which is now available in its entirety on Netflix. She declared a recent episode “the most Jewish episode we’ve ever done.” In Season Two, Rebecca finally ensnares her lifelong obsession, the under-employed, none-too-bright Asian-American Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), and makes him her boyfriend. Before long, they’re heading together to Scarsdale for a bar mitzvah, and Rebecca frets nervously over how her family and friends will receive them. “Will Scarsdale Like Josh’s Shayna Punim?” asks the episode’s title.

What Rebecca does not expect is that her overbearing mother (played expertly, as always, by Tovah Feldshuh) warms quickly to Josh, learning to call him a “Pacific Islander” instead of “Oriental,” and teaching him how to make and pronounce challah. But rather than quell Rebecca’s anxiety, her mother’s acceptance intensifies it, as if to say: If a Jewish mother approves, something is definitely wrong. Rebecca’s anxiety then shifts from Josh’s outsider status to her own: At the bar mitzvah, it isn’t the non-Jewish Josh on trial, but Jewish tradition itself.

Far-fetched? More like autobiographical. Bloom herself never really felt she belonged.

“I’m a West Coast Jew, so there’s always this feeling of, like, ‘What are my roots?’” Bloom said of growing up an only child in Manhattan Beach. Religious observance was anathema at home, but, Bloom said, “We talked about being Jewish a lot, we talked about Christian oppression a lot, and for as long as I can remember, my father’s been telling me to read ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.’

“[My] family felt like East Coast Jews: I was not allowed to swim in the ocean because my mother was afraid I’d drown. My parents were wary of me being in the sun because of skin cancer. I loved musical theater, Stephen Sondheim, Woody Allen. Plus I had obsessive-compulsive disorder,” she said. “All of these things combined made me feel like an outsider living in a beach community where everyone is surfing and bleach-blond. They don’t even have a word for anxiety.”

During the episode in Scarsdale, which aired in January, Rebecca is on edge the entire time. At the bar mitzvah party, she is constantly rolling her eyes and whining about how “miserable and terrible” Jews are. When her childhood rabbi, played by Patti LuPone, asks if she’s found a synagogue in California, Rebecca replies that she doesn’t believe in God, so it’s not on her to-do list. “Always questioning,” the rabbi replies gleefully. “That is the true spirit of the Jewish people!”

Rebecca is most disheartened that the boy she brought to shield her from Jewish communal rituals is actually quite enjoying himself. She can’t understand why Jewish psychological mishegoss is not blatantly apparent to him.

“You don’t understand,” Rebecca tells Josh. “You are — forgive me — a non-Jew from the West Coast. Let me explain how it goes. East Coast: dark, sad. West Coast: light, happy. These people don’t understand what fun is. Trust me.”

Josh and Rebecca (Vincent Rodriguez III and Bloom) sing to each other in an episode where Josh later meets her family and friends at a bar mitzvah party. Photo by Scott Everett White/The CW

Josh and Rebecca (Vincent Rodriguez III and Bloom) sing to each other in an episode where Josh later meets her family and friends at a bar mitzvah party. Photo by Scott Everett White/The CW

 

That’s when the horah begins — “a fun dance!” Josh exclaims — but while the traditional klezmer music plays and everyone happily clasps hands, Rebecca’s view that tragedy is never too far from the Jewish psyche is proven when the rabbi sings: “Now it’s time to celebrate / Grab a drink and fix a plate / But before you feel too great / Remember that we suffered.” The song, appropriately titled “Remember That We Suffered,” is not only the defining Jewish number of the series so far, but perhaps the most Jewishly astute musical number since “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Ironically, Bloom said it is the absence of personal Jewish suffering that has enabled Jewish exploration in her work.

“People who came over here from Europe watched their families being murdered because of Judaism,” she said. “They were terrified for their lives because of Judaism. And they came to an America that was still quite anti-Semitic, so of course they wanted to assimilate. I’ve never really suffered anti-Semitism. Sure, sometimes people call me a kike online or whatever — because people say horrible things on the internet to everyone. [But] I have never been afraid for my life because of my heritage. And that gives me the freedom to talk about it.”

Like most American Jews, Bloom fits firmly into an assimilated framework, describing her Judaism in mostly cultural, secular terms. Being Jewish is “Mel Brooks!” she said. “The feeling of being an outsider, the being cold in restaurants, the guilt, the anxiety.” She said her husband, Dan Gregor, grew up “Conservadox” on Long Island and attended yeshiva until eighth grade, but ultimately left the religious life. As a couple, they celebrate with occasional holiday meals, but a question about shul attendance got a deep, resounding “Noooo.” Not even on the High Holy Days?

“I love thinking about the fact that it’s the High Holidays,” Bloom said. “But at end of the day, he and I are both secular people. I do not believe the Torah is the word of God — I believe it’s very interesting, and that it informs my entire heritage, and there are things to be learned from it, but I do not believe the universe cares if I have a cheeseburger.”

Bloom earned her musical theater bonafides at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she led the school’s sketch comedy group, Hammerkatz. A year after graduating in 2009, she made a splash with the self-produced music video, “F— Me, Ray Bradbury,” about a young woman who fantasizes about the science fiction author and masturbates while reading his stories. Bloom’s character alternates between sex kitten — dressed like Britney Spears in “ … Baby One More Time” — and sci-fi geek, turning down a date to stay home and read.

“When I started doing musical comedy, I realized that a lot of pop music, even though I love it, does not represent how people actually are,” Bloom said. “Bradbury” was her attempt to “reconcile what I thought I should be like with what I actually was like. And I found more people [related] to the latter. More people feel like outcasts, and feel like they don’t fit in. All of us feel some form of imposter syndrome.”

After “Bradbury” went viral, Bloom continued to release a string of music videos, as well as the album “Suck It, Christmas,” a collection of Chanukah songs co-written and produced with her husband and her writing partner, Jack Dolgen. In “Chanukah Honey,” a parody to the tune of “Santa Baby,” Bloom again plays come-hither sex kitten to a Jewish love interest who “got an MBA from Penn — Amen” but, unfortunately for her, dates Japanese women. Replete with references to the JCC, bat mitzvahs and camp, Bloom tempts her crush to “Come and flip my latkes tonight” as she rolls around on the floor in a blue-and-white Santa outfit. Of course, with Bloom, being a good Jewish girl, sex isn’t all she’s after: “But seriously,” she asks as an aside, “do you want kids?”

In “Can Josh Take a Leap of Faith?” — the Season 2 finale — Bloom’s character, Rebecca (right), is all dressed up for her big day when complications ensue. Photo by Michael Desmond/The CW

In “Can Josh Take a Leap of Faith?” — the Season 2 finale — Bloom’s character, Rebecca (right), is all dressed up for her big day when complications ensue. Photo by Michael Desmond/The CW

 

On her first trip to Israel last year, Bloom said, she played her Israeli tour guide some tracks from the Chanukah album, thinking he’d get a kick out of it. “We wrote a song about cantors, but no one in Israel talks about cantors,” she observed. Bloom was surprised to discover that even though she “loved” visiting Israel, she didn’t really relate to it. “It was really crazy to be in a country for all Jews, but Israel is not my culture,” she said.

Because she is an Ashkenazi Jew, European persecution is much more her thing, and it pops up in the animated video “Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song,” a feminist send-up of Disney fairy tales. While searching for her prince, Bloom encounters little Jews hiding out in the forest. “I never did ask you, why do you hide in the forest? Oh, I see, to hide from people trying to kill you!”

The video caught the attention of screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, who penned “The Devil Wears Prada” and “27 Dresses.” She arranged to meet Bloom; together, they solidified the idea for “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and promptly sold the pilot. Bloom had her big break into Hollywood.

What followed was a crippling period of anxiety and depression. “Mental illness runs rampant in my family,” Bloom said, “and no one has ever dealt with it.” The actress speaks openly and publicly about her struggle with anxiety — and not the kind treated as a kitschy Jewish trait, but a debilitating affliction. To tame her illness, she does cognitive behavioral therapy and practices meditation. She also sees a psychiatrist.

“I think keeping things taboo, keeping things secret, for me, that’s when things get bad,” she said. “When you learn to deal with anxiety, you think about what you actually know to be true versus what you tell yourself. These catastrophic thoughts, do you actually think those things are going to happen?”

The angst dates back to middle school, where Bloom said she was bullied. “I never felt pretty,” she said. “I wanted to be pretty, but I felt disgusting. And people told me, ‘You’re ugly; you’re a loser.’ It was the way I dressed, I cut my own hair. Then in eighth grade, I started to get boobs and I got more positive attention. And that only continued to grow. So I feel like I have a perspective on being a sexual being, as someone who hasn’t always been that. I appreciate it, but I also see the absurdity of it: Suddenly I have value because sacks of fat on my chest grew?”

Bloom’s interest in the way sex shapes identity is a constant theme in her work, a trait she shares with male Jewish predecessors like Woody Allen and Philip Roth. But her approach to sex constitutes a radical departure from the conventions of Jewish sexuality that have been canonized in film and literature — mainly by men. Whereas Jewish men typically have dealt with feelings of extreme sexual alienation, Bloom offers the bliss of sexual possibility. Where her male counterparts were ensorcelled by sex, Bloom is determined to demystify it.

At the end of the “Bradbury” video, instead of allowing a reference to Bradbury’s book “Something Wicked This Way Comes” to serve as pun, Bloom trades the erotic for the mechanic: “And by come, I mean ejaculate,” she declares, as if giving a science lesson.

Sex gets the same biological treatment on her show, which has featured numerous musical numbers that deal with the more visceral, uncomfortable truths about sex. “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” is about the difficult, unpalatable things women do to groom themselves for a date — and includes a bloody scene of anal waxing. In the sardonic hip-hop number “Heavy Boobs,” Bloom salutes and ridicules her ample bosom by dressing as a scientist holding up plastic bags filled with breast fat. The song “Period Sex” needs no explanation.

“The reason I’m so open and honest and brassy and ballsy about this s— is because my goal, if there’s a goal that I have as an artist, would be to make us all realize we are all just animals on this earth made of guts, who are all just trying to survive and get along,” she said.

If the defining feature of Jewish sexuality until now was sexual inadequacy, Bloom has rewritten the script. A child of the post-feminist generation, she is fully awake to her sexual power. But rather than use it strictly to seduce, she subverts the male gaze by drawing attention to the body’s anatomical indignities. It’s as if she’s trying to warn young Jeffrey Goldstein that his sexual fantasy will likely end with a urinary tract infection.

“There might be a tiny part of me that’s still a little afraid of being sincerely sexy because then you risk looking foolish,” Bloom said. “It’s much easier for me to be brassy-funny-sexy because there’s a protectiveness to that, and I don’t want to feel taken advantage of. It’s all about control.”

Bloom at the Golden Globes in January. Twice nominated for ‘Girlfriend,’ she won in 2016. Photo by Jen Lowery/via Newscom

Bloom at the Golden Globes in January. Twice nominated for ‘Girlfriend,’ she won in 2016. Photo by Jen Lowery/via Newscom

 

With lipstick and a dress, Bloom can easily play the bombshell. But off-screen she’s content in a gray T-shirt and bomber jacket. When we meet, she isn’t wearing an ounce of makeup, another way she peels back the curtain on the many façades of being female.

“When I learned sketch comedy, I felt like I suddenly had to become a dude, because that’s the culture of comedy,” she said, lowering her voice to sound like man. “Dude, bro, f—.’ There is a certain adopting of a façade when you are anything other than the majority, and I think that gives you an understanding of others who are oppressed.”

If feminism bequeathed to her a creative benefit, Bloom said, it is “the freedom to say what I want.”

Her fearlessness certainly resonates with her Jewish audience, which goes bananas every time Bloom explodes an old stereotype. After she took on the meaning of Jewish American Princess in the “JAP Battle” rap, a female writer for the Jewish online magazine Tablet ecstatically declared, “I am FINALLY THE DEMO OF A THING. I have never been the demo of a thing!”

But ultimately, a Jewish audience may not be enough to sustain even a critically acclaimed show.

“I’m not afraid to make my show Jewish,” Bloom said, “but at the same time, my show is the lowest-rated show on network television. So while specificity is important to good art, I don’t know how much of a mass appeal there is in openly talking about Judaism.”

In the past, Jewish artists like Allen and Roth could be rueful about their Jewishness, perhaps a little bit ashamed. But not Bloom. Instead, she seems to revel in it. And she’s not prepared to stop anytime soon. At the end of our meeting, Bloom was rushing off to start work on Season Three. It’s not just a job for her, but a community, a purpose, a spiritual salve.

“For most of my life, I’ve kind of felt like I don’t really have a place, and the success of this show not only draws me to people who have also felt like that, but it makes me feel I have a place to fit in. It’s cathartic to realize I’m not alone.”

Rachel Bloom

Rachel Bloom’s Jewiest music videos


‘You Can Touch My Boobies’

YouTube (2012)

 

While Bloom preps young Jeffrey Goldstein for his bar mitzvah, he falls into a dream in which she reappears as a fishnet-clad vixen ready to make him a man.

Best line: A cameo appearance by “Golda Meir” in which she scolds, “You’re going to be a rapist!”

Views: 5 million+

‘Chanukah Honey’

YouTube (2013)

 

In a parody of “Santa Baby,” Bloom wears a blue-and-white Santa outfit to try to seduce her Jewish crush by playing up their tribal bond and cooing, “Come and bless my challah tonight.”

Best line: “At the JCC / you play basketball / so tall! / You must be five foot eight.”

Views: 447,000+

‘JAP Rap Battle’

‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ (2016)

 

Rebecca Bunch (Bloom) and her childhood nemesis, Audra Levine (Rachel Grate), duke it out in the Jewish American Princess Rap battle. These two “She-brews from Scarsdale” drop crazy Jewish verse, insulting each other with references to Birthright, AEPi and seder plates.

Best line: “We’re liberals / duh / progressive as hell / though of course I support Is-ra-el.”

Views: 422,000+

‘Remember That We Suffered’

‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ (2017)

 

At a bar mitzvah in Scarsdale, Rebecca’s childhood rabbi (Patti LuPone) and over-the-top mother (Tovah Feldshuh) prove that even during celebration, trauma is never too far from the Jewish psyche. This horah contains “the sweet and the bitter / Streisand and Hitler.”

Best line: “When I say ‘We,’ you say ‘Suffered’ / We — Suffered! / We — Suffered!”

Views: 112,000+

‘F—- Me, Ray Bradbury’

YouTube (2010)

 

Bloom proves she’s a person of the book with this explicit entreaty to “the greatest sci-fi writer in history.”

Best line: “I’ll feed you grapes and dandelion wine / and we’ll read a little Fahrenheit 69.”

Views: 3.7 million +

‘Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song’

YouTube (2013)

 

Bloom offers a feminist send-up of Disney fairy tales as she searches for her prince in a medieval village decimated by the plague where Jews hide in the forest out of fear for their lives.

Best line: “Oh look everyone! It’s my friends from the forest — The Jews! Hello Jews! … Tell me, have you ever had a dream you thought wouldn’t come true? Oh I see, your dream is that people won’t want to kill you. Well, that’s definitely a dream that won’t come true!”

Views: 1.2 million+

David Friedman. Photo by Michael Friedson/The Media Line

Ambassador nominee Friedman apologizes in rabbinical forum


On the eve of what is expected to be the most contentious confirmation hearing for any Trump appointee beneath the cabinet level, ambassador to Israel-designate David Friedman finds himself not only targeted by the political left – an obvious situation for any appointee of this administration – but also in the exceptionally rare position of being a Jewish designee vilified by hundreds of Jewish clergymen and women.

[This story originally appeared on themedialine.org]

The Media Line has learned that one month ago, the would-be-ambassador met with a contingent of some twenty members of the New York Board of Rabbis led by Executive Vice President Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, in an effort to clear the air. Several rabbis who attended the session were of one mind concerning the gravity of Friedman’s controversial statements and admonished that such assertions, despite his promises and protestations, would not be easily expunged. Nevertheless, the rabbis agreed they would support whomever is approved by the Senate.

The angst beyond the political divide is not without reason. Friedman’s road to the US Embassy in Tel Aviv wound through his attorney-client relationship with the new president for more than fifteen years during which time the seasoned litigator was able to withdraw statements found inappropriate to a court of law. But absent commensurate experience in diplomacy, Friedman learned during the course of the campaign that inflammatory and hurtful statements could not be as easily erased in the court of public opinion.

Already labeled a firebrand and radical by the left because of his refusal to embrace the consensus two-state solution for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Friedman infuriated Democrats by calling Barack Obama a “blatant anti-Semite” and incensing more than a few Republicans as well when he crossed a line sacrosanct among Jews, invoking a Holocaust-era image declaring members of the left-wing lobbying group J Street to be “worse than kapos,” Jews who cooperated with the Nazi regime in order to survive. This, when already vilified for his history of personal support for the settlement movement and right-wing causes.

Unlike other Trump appointees who were merely the subject of negative newspaper editorials and critical talking heads on cable television, Friedman quickly became the target of a well-organized and highly-focused Internet campaign by J Street that included a petition asking Senators to reject the nomination.

Friedman, meanwhile, launched a campaign of his own apparently aimed at introducing the actual man to those being influenced by what was fast becoming a conventional wisdom of its own.

Yet, all shared the belief that Friedman must be allowed the opportunity to be heard before passing judgement on his fitness for the position. In fact, according to former Board of Rabbis President Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner of the Conservative Temple Emanu-el in Closter, New Jersey. “It’s un-Jewish to not afford him a hearing [but] this does not mean I wasn’t profoundly troubled about the statement [about Kapos]. Confirmation is contingent on the hearing. He needs to be heard. He needs to have a fair hearing.”

According to Potasnik, Friedman did, indeed, apologize for his use of the inflammatory words and sought to explain the context in which they were made. But while none of the participants were able to assess whether the effort was enough, it was evident that Friedman successfully convinced his audience that he is a serious player who understands that he would, as he told the group, “be the ambassador for all segments of society,” and not just those who share his conservative thought.

Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, spiritual leader of the influential Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, a Reform congregation, seemingly sought to separate the political differences between the liberal community and Friedman, from the matter of his troubling statements. To be forgiven for the latter, he stressed, would take time and consistency. Regarding the policy issue, he noted that “the role of the ambassador is not to make policy but to explain the policy of the administration set by the President and his foreign affairs team.” On that score, Hirsch told The Media Line of his concern that, “His stated positions are at odds with fifty-years of American policy [that] happens to be the positions of a sizeable majority of American Jews.”

The rabbis agreed that the second issue – the kapo comment – was more problematic and, according to Hirsch, demands “a compelling, comprehensive and consistent response which is not a one-off statement. If he is ultimately confirmed and becomes the ambassador, this is an area he will have to address over and over again and cannot simply be a one-off statement.”

Rabbi Elie Weinstock of Manhattan’s iconic Kehilath Jeshurun Synagogue (Orthodox) agreed that Friedman deserves to say his piece and answer questions “including why he called J Street ‘kapos.’” Weinstock told The Media Line that he “left the meeting with a positive feeling that David Friedman…knows how to deal with the different segments of the community. There can be healthy disagreement. I can see him doing a good job as American ambassador to Israel.”

Despite the issues, the Board of Rabbis group left unambiguous the fact that, as Rabbi Hirsch said, “Of course I will support the ambassador who receives the confirmation of the Senate and the confidence of the American president.”

While the outcome will only be known at the conclusion of the process that begins on Thursday, Rabbi Potasnik summed up the feeling echoed by others. While being clear that he was not issuing an endorsement of Friedman, he did assess that the nominee “understands the complexity of the Jewish community…I think he should be heard.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint news conference at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Netanyahu: Trump administration now ‘understands’ Jewish meaning of Holocaust


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was his impression that President Donald Trump’s administration now understands that the meaning of the Holocaust was the attempt to eradicate the Jews.

Netanyahu said he did not bring up the White House’s controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement in his meeting Wednesday with Trump, but that their teams had discussed it ahead of the summit. The statement omitted any mention of or allusion to the Jews.

“There is no doubt that they now understand the meaning of the Holocaust as a means to strike out the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said in a briefing after the summit for Israeli reporters.

The Jan. 27 statement drew criticism from an array of Jewish groups, including several that otherwise back Trump, and Holocaust historians, who said that while tens of millions were murdered during the period and multiple groups were targeted, the bid to eradicate any trace of the Jews was unique and is the only phenomenon “Holocaust” describes.

Administration spokesmen said the statement was meant to be “inclusive” of other groups that suffered during World War II and derided objections as “asinine” and “pathetic.”

JTA asked White House spokesmen to react to Netanyahu’s contention that the administration now understood the centrality of Jews to the meaning of the Holocaust. There was no reply.

Netanyahu, speaking to Israeli reporters, repeated what he had said during a joint news conference with Trump earlier in the day, when an Israeli reporter asked about a spike in expressions of anti-Semitism since Trump’s election, which the reporter linked to the xenophobic tone of Trump’s rhetoric.

“There is no better friend” than Trump “to Israel and the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said.

Asked to comment on expressions of concern by Jewish organizational leaders, Netanyahu insisted: “There is no basis for these worries.”

President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump answered a question about anti-Semitism by boasting about his election victory


During President Donald Trump’s joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Wednesday, Trump was asked a direct question from an Israeli reporter about “a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States” — on the same day that the Southern Poverty law Center reported that the number of hate groups in the United States, most subscribing to anti-Semitic views, rose in 2016. It also came after a six-week period in which Jewish community centers around the country were forced to evacuate in three separate incidents due to coordinated bomb threats.

Below is the question and answer from the news conference at the White House, with my annotations.

REPORTER: Mr. President, since your election campaign and even after your victory, we’ve seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic — anti- Semitic incidents across the United States. And I wonder, what do you say to those among the Jewish community in the states and in Israel and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones?

And Mr. Prime Minister, do you agree to what the president just said about the need for Israel to restrain or to stop settlement activity in the West Bank? And if we could follow up on my friend’s question — simple question: Do you back off from your vision to the (inaudible) conflict of two-state solution as you lay out in (inaudible) speech? Or you still support it?

DONALD TRUMP : Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had — 306 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. [Turns to Netanyahu] You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.

Trump, we know, often boasts about his Electoral College victory. But what connection is he drawing between charges of bigotry and the strength of his win in the election? Is it possible that he tuned out after the first part of the question — in which the reporter mention “your election campaign and even after your victory”? Is he stalling before answering the anti-Semitism question? Or, and this seems likely, is he suggesting that whatever criticisms people have about his unusual and taboo-breaking campaign, he was vindicated by the electorate?  He has used this tactic before: On Nov. 14, right after the election, Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” asked if was going to going to release his tax returns. Trump replied, “Obviously, the public didn’t care because I won the election very easily.”

I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on. There’s a lot of bad things that have been taking place over a long period of time.

It’s notable, given the question and the fact that he is standing next to the prime minister of the Jewish state and in front of the Israeli flag, that Trump makes no mention of Jews or anti-Semitism at this point. Specific attacks on Jews (and some of his supporters during the campaign launched some doozies, especially at journalists like Julia Ioffe and Jonathan Weisman) are subsumed under “every other thing that is going on.” Jewish antennas are on high alert on this point, especially after the White House released an International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that did not mention the Jewish victims of the Nazis.

I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation, very divided.

Did Trump just acknowledge he won the election only because we have a “very divided nation”? If so, that would contradict his early boast about the size of his victory, as well as his repeated unsubstantiated claims that his loss of the popular vote was only the result of massive voter fraud.

And hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And I, you know, it was something that was very important to me.

Trump has been significantly less inclined than most recent presidents to reach out to those who didn’t vote for him, although he did say in his inaugural address, “It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag.”

As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren.

When Trump finally gets around to mentioning Jews, he has five in mind: son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, Kushner’s wife Ivanka and their three children. For some in the Jewish community, his Jewish relatives are all the evidence they need that Trump will not tolerate anti-Semitism. Defending Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, against allegations of anti-Semitism, the Zionist Organization of America’s Morton Klein wrote in November, “Would Trump’s Orthodox Jewish daughter Ivanka, whose children go to an Orthodox day school, ever allow an anti-Semite to work with her father?”

But other Jewish groups felt Trump did not do enough during the campaign or since to send a strong message to bigots and white supremacists that they weren’t welcome in his coalition. The Anti-Defamation League wasn’t satisfied with Trump’s response today, tweeting, “Troubling that @POTUS failed to condemn real issue of anti-Semitism in US today.”

I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening.

And you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love.

OK? Thank you.

On the campaign trail, Trump often invoked “love” as a solution to America’s racial and religious divides, as he did after winning Indiana in the Republican primaries: America, he said, which “is very, very divided in so many different ways, is going to become one beautiful loving country, and we’re going to love each other, we’re going to cherish each other and take care of each other.”

Minority groups might prefer a little less love and little more focus on the issues that concern them most, like, in the case of the Jews, a strong statement condemning anti-Semitism and a pledge to carefully monitor hate crimes and threats.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Feb. 12. Photo by Gali Tibbon/Reuters

Dear Bibi: Please put American Jews on your agenda


Most eyes will be on how President Trump threads the needle during Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s visit on Wednesday.  How can Trump advance the Holy Grail of a peace agreement—requiring pressure on Israel to pause West Bank settlement expansion—while distancing himself from Obama policies and showing himself a “true” friend of Israel?

My eyes, however, will be on Netanyahu.

Netanyahu leads the only Jewish nation in the last 2000 years, created to be a refuge for Jews after the Holocaust. As such, Netanyahu has a responsibility to confront anti-semitism worldwide.  And that includes an increasingly vocal anti-Semitism in the U.S.

Netanyahu’s situation is tricky. The U.S. has been Israel’s biggest supporter, providing vetoes in the United Nations, high levels of military and security cooperation, and the largest foreign aid package in the world–$3-4 billion per year, (agreed to for a decade by the supposedly anti-Israel Obama administration).  And Netanyahu will not want to risk undermining the overwhelming support for Israel that Trump has demonstrated so far.

But the moral imperative for Netanyahu is clear.  Trump, his family, and his advisors have at best ignored increasingly virulent anti-Semitism and racism during the campaign and after the election. At worst, they have encouraged it.

The most egregious and blatant instance of Trumpland anti-Semitism was Trump’s last campaign ad: The narration consisted of a conspiracy-theory rant about international elites plotting against the common people that repeated age-old anti-Semitic tropes. After showing a picture of Hillary Clinton (she partners “with these people who don’t have your good in mind”), pictures of three prominent Jews associated with high-finance accompanied the rant: liberal George Soros, the Fed’s Janet Yellen, and Goldman Sach’s Lloyd Blankfein. Released in the very last days before the election, there was little time for the horror of this to sink in among the public.  (The nature and timing of the ad would seem to be a joint product of two of Trump’s top campaign strategists and grudge-holders: Roger Ailes, Nixon’s ad-man and then Fox News chief who was humiliated and fired due to multiple sexual harassment allegations, and loser in a high-stakes Goldman Sachs executive power-struggle that led to his resignation, Steve Bannon.)

More broadly, Trump consistently refused to acknowledge, even much less stand up to, the widespread anti-semitism and racism that cranked up during and after the campaign.  His central strategist, Steve Bannon, claimed the mantle of leadership of the alt-right as the editor of the Breitbart website–and many of the alt-right agreed.  Large swaths of Breitbart readers and alt-right folks are white supremacists, including KKK and Nazi supporters.  Neither Trump nor Bannon have made serious efforts to separate themselves from these deplorables; in fact, this may be Trump’s core base.

During the campaign, anti-semites began using a symbol on social media (triple parentheses) to identify and target journalists of Jewish descent. A tidal wave of anti-semitic social media messages, phone calls, and threats poured in: The ADL counted over 19,000 anti-semitic tweets alone to over 900 journalists, with 83% of them targeting just 10 writers. Many of the tweets came from over-lapping groups of Trump, white nationalist, and alt-right supporters. Melania Trump, when asked about the way that hordes of anti-semites had been harassing a reporter after she had posted a complaint about the reporter’s story, said that the reporter had “provoked” it. Donald himself said of that particular problem, “I don’t have a message to the fans…There is nothing more dishonest than the media.”

How tweets and images from white supremacists and Nazis got funneled into Trump’s twitter feed is anyone’s guess.  His famous Clinton attack-tweet that recycled an anti-semitic image complete with Jewish star and dollar bills is hard to forget.  And Trump’s guiding “America First” slogan itself has historically anti-Semitic overtones. During the campaign, ADL’s Greenblat wrote Trump asking him to drop the theme but was ignored.

Campaign ads, slogans, and social media attacks began to have real-world consequences after Trump’s surprise win.  Racists felt emboldened and hate crimes (the majority of which have been against Jews in recent years) soared across the country.  Swastikas appeared on school lockers. Strangers screamed threats to Latino women on the street. And in the Ronald Reagan building in Washington D.C., white supremacists responded to an anti-semitic speech by alt-right leader Richard Spencer with cheers and Nazi salutes.

When asked about the rise in hate incidents since the election in a 60 Minutes interview, Trump pretended to be surprised.  When it was explained, he did not seem particularly upset and had to be urged more than once to use the televised interview as an opportunity to address the haters: Finally, he could only manage two words: “Stop it,” he said mildly to the perpetrators of hate crimes. (Compare that to the passionate “Lock Her Up” chants Trump led for months, or the two-minutes of jeering he encouraged rally-goers to spew at working journalists.

Trump came to realize that he cannot challenge the racism and anti-semitism in his base. When he tried to “pivot” in the general election and flirted with Latino political leaders, hinting he would soften his stance on deportation to attract more Latino votes. But when Sarah Palin and others criticized that pivot, Trump backed down.  He learned that, once incited, racists cannot be easily pacified.

Trump’s defenders have almost always focused on personal anti-Semitism: The ace-in-the-hole is that his daughter Ivanka converted and married the observant Jewish Jared Kushner. Kushner went so far as to leverage his family’s Holocaust past to personally defend Trump as a lover of Jews in a column he wrote in his own New York Observer.  (Strangely, though, Trump and defenders do not often mention that his son Eric married a Jewish woman; it may be that acknowledging too many Jews in the family would be bad politics.)

One of the strange things about Trump’s success is his ability to align otherwise antagonistic bedfellows. The real question is not whether Trump is personally anti-Semitic, but how Kushner and other Jews can sit in the same room as Trump’s Breitbart and other facilitators of hate and anti-Semitism?  Why did Jewish family members allow Trump to use America First as his governing theme? Why didn’t they insist he do the right thing and apologize for anti-Semitic and Nazi sourced social media posts, or apologize for omitting Jews from the Holocaust statement? The answer provides keen insight into Netanyahu’s dilemma.

Start with the fact that Kushner and Ivanka went to visit the grave of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe the night before the election, apparently to pray to the last great Rabbi for help in next day’s election.  The highest goal of the Rebbe, and of most Hasidic and Orthodox Jews, is to hasten the coming of the (Jewish) Messiah, one element of which entails moving to the Promised Land.

Not surprisingly, then, more politically conservative and more religiously observant Jews tend to be single-issue voters, focusing on which candidate is the strongest (and uncritical) supporter of Israeli policies. Whether it is in Israel or the U.S., they are relatively comfortable with walls, separation, insular communities. In contrast, more liberal and less-observant Jews typically care about full and permanent integration into American life, and are generally more critical of right-wing Israeli policies towards Palestinians.  They view pluralism and tolerance as critical features of a democratic state, whether here or in Israel.

A large majority of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews did vote for Trump, and a similar majority of less observant and more secular Jews voted for Clinton. Although there are supporters of each side at each end of the religious spectrum, it seems that the religious center, like the American middle class, is eroding.  This is where Netanyahu needs to step in.

Just as Israel has relied on American Jews for support, we need to rely on a strong Israel for support in the face of anti-Semitism.  Israel should not simply be a refuge for persecuted Jews, but a leader promoting tolerance and acceptance of Jews—and all others—around the world.  When anti-Semitism climbed in France, Netanyahu famously told French Jews to move to Israel. That is not the answer for us.

Will Netanyahu demand that Trump speak out forcefully for tolerance and respect for Jews wherever they live? Will he demand Trump not only welcome Jews into his family, but welcome the founding Judeo-Christian value of respect and love of the neighbor and stranger back into our politics? Or will Netanyahu come to stroke Trump’s ego, see what more he can he can extract (war with Iran, perhaps?), and throw the Blue Jews to Trump’s wolves?

Mark Feinberg, Ph.D is a UCLA Visiting Scholar and a Research Professor at Pennsylvania State University

Rabba Sara Hurwitz, right, is the dean of Yeshivat Maharat in New York, which since its founding in 2009 has ordained 14 Orthodox clergywomen. Photo by Uriel Heilman

A response to the Orthodox Union’s statement on women clergy


Several people have asked me my thoughts on the Orthodox Union’s recent statement regarding women clergy. As you know, the advancement of women’s leadership and scholarship provides one of the fundamental tenets that make Shalhevet High School what it is.  The topic also is important to me on a personal level. I am proud to daven frequently at B’nai David-Judea, a synagogue that employs a female clergy member. My wife has spent this year in Jerusalem studying to become a Yoetzet Halacha. I routinely use my soapbox to call for progress on a host of issues triggering difficult halachic discussions – including women’s issues, LGBT issues, and more – and have received a good deal of flak for those stances.

And yet, I find the resentment towards the Orthodox Union, and these Rabbis in particular, in reaction to this statement, somewhat exaggerated and unfair. Please do not misunderstand me – I have issues with the statement. But I look at the response to this statement (mostly on social media and in private emails) and I see a lot of knee-jerk reactions instead of carefully considered critique. I see individuals demonizing the rabbis who penned the statement, decrying their chauvinism, and declaring their standing on the wrong side of history. Many people I have spoken to do not seem to have read the piece carefully, if at all.

You don’t agree with the decision? Great. Disagree! That is the Jewish way, the Talmudic way, which has charted our course for millennia. I understand that this statement is painful for many people. But let’s not jump to assume the worst about those with whom we disagree. Let’s avoid assuming that its authors acted in bad faith. Rather, collect your thoughts, respond point-by-point, identify what you consider to be any logical missteps, and advance the dialogue on this important issue. All too often these days, people don’t just disagree– they demean, malign, reject and delegitimize. The rabbinic authors of this statement are talmidei chachamim who are filled with ahavat Yisrael, and think day and night about the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of the Jewish people.

As I have written in the past on numerous occasions, we need not agree on every issue. I respect and admire Rabbi Kanefsky tremendously. I consider him a role model and a true tzaddik. Rabbi Kanefsky disagrees with the Orthodox Union decision, which is his right. Just as Rabbi Kanefsky retains the prerogative to diverge from the OU’s line of reasoning, so too does the OU have the prerogative to make public that decision and rationale.

I understand the opinion that people often will use halacha to confirm a certain predisposition to an issue. But that is an oversimplification of the halachik process. Halachik decisors draw not only on precedent and clear-cut textual sources but on what they take to be the spirit that animates the halachik system in its totality, a spirit that they have drawn from a comprehensive study of halacha and its sources. Similarly, those who earnestly seek to expand the role of women generally do so in an attempt to advance what they consider to be the goals of the halachik system. We can disagree without arguing that the other side is acting in bad faith.

Given that this debate implicates the overall values of the halachik system, there is enough “give” in centuries of Biblical commentary, Talmudic discourse and Halachik Responsa to justify opposite conclusions on the issue of women clergy. And what’s true of the debate over women clergy is true of a wide variety of other halachik issues that draw upon the relative weight we place on the wide range of halachik values within our tradition. But the existence of multiple values in no way diminishes the integrity of halachik analysis.

Both the supporters and detractors of the OU’s statement approach this issue with important and valid halachik values essential for any honest and thorough conversation over the role of women within the clergy. Let us focus on what both sides in this debate share in common.  A deep commitment to halacha and a recognition that in the year 2017 there is a need for an expanded role for women in synagogue leadership .  The OU document, while saying no to women rabbis, carves out a much greater amount of space for women to serve and lead.  This is significant given the community from which the document emanates.  Yes, many would love to see more; yes, many feel that women rabbis are acceptable in halacha.  Let’s argue, but by all means let’s also recognize how much common ground the two sides of this debate share. The value of honoring Mesorah (tradition) and making religious leadership available to women can both be seen as Torah objectives; the relative weight we give to those values can each support honorable Torah worldviews. And precisely because each worldview comprises Torah values, each position will find halachik support. Should we bemoan this reality? I don’t think so. It speaks to the complexity and depth of the Jewish tradition. We are a tradition of debate, not of unanimity.

There is one reality, however, that we should bemoan: our inability to debate with dignity and respect. We have lost our ability to have genuine empathy for any side that disagrees with our worlviews. If the Jewish community joins our current society at large in choosing this direction, then I struggle to see how we will heal the wounds that have formed in this toxic atmosphere we have created.

When the rest of the world is going so low, should not the Jewish community go high? Does our mission not contain the mandate to shine a light unto the world? If we do nothing but emulate the coarse ways of a polarized world, then who are we?

Modern Orthodoxy can lead the way in shining a Jewish light unto the world. Our rabbinic leadership must begin to define its movement in positive, as opposed to negative terms. Our decisors must describe for us what we as Modern Orthodox Jews can and should be, a vision to which we can aspire, as opposed to offering a steady diet of restrictive pronouncements. Far too many Orthodox Jews feel that the rabbis only show up periodically to offer a “slap on the wrist” when societal norms have gone too far afield. This does not inspire a greater reverence of, and commitment to, halacha. Rabbi Soloveichik, with his writing of the Lonely Man of Faith and other works, inspired a generation. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and Rav Amital’s writings inspired yet another generation. While they said no at times, and yes at others, everyone was inspired by them, saw their humanity and sensitivity and understood that they were torn and pained at times when they had to say no.

Developing empathy for both sides should be the starting point for dignified debate. Without that, we rush into another one of those communal food fights that throws out lots of heat and generates little light. We are better than that. We should be better than that. Our ancestors did not struggle for millennia to see their descendants turn into dogmatic warriors who constantly turn on each other.

So, this is a call for dignified debate, for radical moderation. This is a call for empathy before judgement. This is a call for reasoned rebuttal. Finally, this is a call for us to shine a Jewish light unto the world, no matter how deep our disagreements.

Are we up to the challenge?


Rabbi Ari Segal is Head of School at Jean and Jerry Friedman Shalhevet High School.

Two Jewish brothers standing with our Muslim brothers


I stood beside my partner Dave outside my family’s house and rang the doorbell to the tune of “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.” It was the first night of Hanukkah but unlike previous family celebrations, the current political climate had indisputably altered our family dynamic. My mother is a holocaust survivor; my dad fought in the Israeli Army. This past June my brother and his now fiance, Kristine, survived a terrorist attack at the Istanbul Atatürk Airport. Our Jewish identities have been challenged, threatened, and compromised time and time again. As we lit the Menorah, we stood in silence unable to even make eye contact. The flicker of the candles illuminated my family in a way that made them look like strangers. This Hanukkah, it felt like we had enough oil to keep the flames of fear burning for years to come.

During World War II, my grandparents were captured and taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. While there, my grandmother gave birth and shortly thereafter, a camp guard ripped the child out of her arms and threw it into a fire. That act snatched away the small embers of hope that still remained in my grandparents.

After years of struggling against Nazis, starvation, and typhus epidemics, my grandmother became pregnant once again. She bore the pregnancy while bearing witness to the deaths of tens of thousands around her. For the child, they remained in the camp even after it’s liberation. In September of 1945, my grandmother finally gave birth on soil drenched with death: that brave baby girl would become my mother. When my mother’s parents emigrated to the United States in the late 40s, they did so in search of a better life. They arrived as refugees to the warm embrace of Lady Liberty who helped breathe new life into a future they didn’t feel worthy of.

My father was born in communist-ruled Romania but emigrated to Israel with his family soon after. As a child, he worked on a kibbutz before enlisting in the Israeli Defense Forces at the age of 18. While in the army, he was taught of the evil and terror that awaited him in neighboring countries. He fought in the Six-Day War, a battle that pitted Israel against all of its neighbors and saw things that, even now, has only hinted at. He saved every penny that he ever made and as soon as he finished his service, he traveled to all the lands that he had only read about in books. After growing up in two different countries that had built fences around the possibilities of his future, he broke out and became a citizen of the world. He slept in airports, on park benches, and in bus stations, navigating through each country by talking to locals and following their lead. He’d fly multiple trips on the Concord, go to multiple Olympic ceremonies, and he even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Any country my dad was taught to hate, he would visit. He visited the pyramids in Egypt, played chess in Aleppo, and taught English to school kids in Indonesia. Over his lifetime, he’d go on to fill up more than a dozen passports. In January, my dad boarded a plane and made his way to another historic event: the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump.

I have spent the majority of my life marinating in the fear of terrorism. My nightmares began at the age of 10 after Columbine and continued with 9/11, until any place I had ever held sacred was eventually connected to an attack, from movie theatres to concert venues. On a Tuesday morning in September, I watched a cloud of smoke trail over New York City: the North Tower was burning. At 12, I didn’t process what I was watching. It wasn’t until I sat in a stunned world history classroom, watching the towers fall, that I understood. The innocence of our childhood crumbled along with the towers that day. I sat in half empty classes because parents were afraid to send their kids to school. I walked home that day with my best friend since the 5th grade, Nadia. She is Muslim. As a kid, I would tell her about this dreaded day called Yom Kippur in which I had to fast for the entire day. She would immediately counter with this dreaded month called Ramadan in which she had to fast for an entire month. We talked to each other about everything, but that afternoon we walked home in silence. It was hard for me to understand how and when things would get better.

Later that year, we walked to meet her mom at the Starbucks in our neighborhood. Her mom was always at that Starbucks. Before we left, Nadia’s mom gave each of the baristas a Christmas gift with an accompanying card; she left another stack of gifts for the employees that weren’t working that shift. There was Santa Claus, Hanukkah Harry, and then there was Nadia’s mom. For her gift giving wasn’t part of an act or a tradition, it was love in it’s purest form. I saw firsthand what it meant to invest in your community. Nadia and her mom didn’t teach me what it meant to be Muslim: they taught me what it meant to be human, to care, to grieve, to love and to hope.

On June 28th, 2016, my brother Adam and his girlfriend Kristine were at the Atatürk Airport in Turkey when terrorists launched an attack that would go on to kill 45 people and injure hundreds more. My personal world and the world at large felt like they were crumbling, and I began to retreat within myself, terrified of the unknown. I obsessively sifted through Reddit threads that showed security cam footage of the gunmen storming the terminal and loops of the bombs going off. Initially, I was consumed by my fear of the men that had executed the attack, but then slowly my focus drifted to the quiet moments before the chaos. The man leisurely pulling his bag behind him, the girl pushing her friend through the terminal on a luggage cart, the family embracing their son as he turns to catch his flight. Each moment was interrupted by the sound of gunfire and the wave of fire that swept through the terminal. What were the last words that they said to one another? Did they know that they were loved? What dreams were they robbed of? I wrote a piece entitled “Three Little Dots” about the storm of dread and anxiety that had infiltrated my body as my brother texted me during the attack.

Then I got the letters. Their origins were diverse: Germany, Pakistan, Egypt, and even Turkey. But their message was the same: hope. For the first time in my life, it felt like I was seeing the world through my father’s eyes. I finally had a face and a story to put to the countries I had only read about on breaking news chyrons. As the messages continued to come, Adam called to inform us that he and Kristine would be continuing their trip through Europe. I sent my brother screencaps of the messages that I’d receive and hoped he had a chance to breathe it all in. “The world is with you!” I said.

Our families begged them to cut their trip short, but my dad was the lone voice that implored them to continue on. I asked him why. “If they come home now, they may never leave again,” he said. He was right. In the heat of our panic, we had succumbed to our own fears and instincts to retreat from danger.

Our family felt the ripples of the terrorist attack long after Adam and Kristine arrived home. Each of us used the proximity of the event to reaffirm our own skewed perspectives of the world. Many family members now had a direct confirmation of their worst fears–that the headlines would feature names they’d recognize and love. That fear had seeped into the foundation of our family. For the world, and for my family, the question now is, “Where do we go from here?”

When my dad returned home from the inauguration, we greeted each other in silence. That void peaked on the evening of Shabbat when the news broke of the executive order that banned refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries. This executive order hit close to home as both my mother and father immigrated to America fleeing the hardships and tragedy and now immigrants were being denied that same opportunity. As my dad and I sat in silence, he spoke then I spoke. Not in extremities but of vulnerabilities, we spoke of our fears and for the first time in more than a year we spoke to each other, not over each other.

The following Sunday morning in January, my brother and I drove with my dad on the 405 and we talked politics. My dad has made this journey many times before so we followed behind him as he led the way to the Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX. When we arrived, there were already thousands of protesters outside of the baggage claim area. Seven months after the terrorist attack at the Istanbul Atatürk Airport terminal, I found myself standing beside my brother hours after an executive order was issued by the president of the United States targeting refugees and immigrants from predominantly Muslim nations. We saw families consoling each other waiting to hear from loved ones that had been detained. Our family’s story was born out of persecution, loss, and heartache so the pain on display at the airport was familiar. As my dad looked on, my brother and I stood holding a sign together. “Two Jewish Brothers Standing with Our Muslim Brothers.” We stood in that terminal bearing witness to the pain that our country could inflict at the stroke of a pen. As we stood there, a Palestinian couple in their early 30s came up to my brother and I. They had tears in their eyes and without saying a word, opened their arms wide to give us a hug. We held onto one another in silence, and I could hear their faint whimpers. The mom gestured down to her daughter who couldn’t have been older than 4. “Look at their sign.” The little girl looked up at the sign and sounded out the words. “They’re here with you!” Her dad said. The girl smiled at me. I saw my mom’s reflection in her eyes.


Noah Reich is a freelance writer by day, a reader by night and a humanitarian at heart.
A conversational Yiddish class is held every Monday at the Workmen’s Circle, where about 15 students, most of them age 80 and older, gather. Photo by Tess Cutler

No talking in class! (Unless it’s in Yiddish)


On any given Monday afternoon, the most likely place to find Ben Silver is the Yiddish conversation class at the SoCal Arbeter Ring/Workmen’s Circle, a Jewish cultural and social justice organization near Robertson and Pico boulevards. He’s easy to spot: At 97, he’s usually the oldest student in the room.

At one recent class, Silver was the first to arrive, wearing a “World War II Veteran” baseball cap and carrying a bag of snacks to share with the class. Silver said he grew up speaking Yiddish, but, after years of not using it, “I lost the language.” That is, until a few years ago, when he first found out about the conversational class.

“There was a yearning in me to go back to my roots and to learn all of the goodness that I learned from my family,” he told the Journal. “This brings back a beautiful time in my life.”

Silver sits in a room with a long wooden table at the center and a green chalkboard at the side. He’s one of about 15 students, most of them age 80 or older whose childhood memories of Yiddish have faded over years and assimilation. The weekly 75-minute sessions, taught by Hadasa Cytrynowicz, 82, become a time capsule, with bookcases of dog-eared Yiddish classics lining the walls.

Cytrynowicz fled Poland with her parents in 1939 when Germany invaded their small town. Later, she lived in the Soviet Union, a German displacement camp, a newly formed Israel, Brazil (where she was the first professor at Sao Paulo University to teach Yiddish), and now Los Angeles. She told the Journal that she’s always felt like an outsider. “But I’m at home in the classroom,” she added.

It’s a “home” for her students, as well.

“My parents were both Yiddish speakers, especially when they didn’t want the kids to know what they were talking about, which I think was very common,” said Irving Lehrer. Born in 1938, he noted, “I’m probably one of the youngest students in this class.”

Ruth Judkowitz, who serves in the volunteer position of “chairmentsch” at Workmen’s Circle, often brings along an accordion for when the class breaks out into Yiddish folksong.

“I’m just here, keeping the doors open,” she said. Judkowitz first heard about the Arbeter Ring in 1990, when she joined the Yiddish chorus (which no longer exists) and has since devoted much of her time to the nonprofit.

“We’ve all become friends because we’re just happy to speak Yiddish and be with each other,” she said.

Workmen’s Circle started in 1900 as a mutual aid society in New York, helping Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Eastern Europe adapt to American society. It operated summer camps, ran credit unions, published books, offered medical services and bought tracts of land for cemeteries. Today, it runs social justice and cultural events and schools throughout the New York metropolitan area and in large cities such as Los Angeles, Boston, Detroit and San Francisco.

In Los Angeles, the Circle occupies a modest building, with a splay of overgrown weeds taking over the sidewalk. But inside is a treasure trove. Sure, the fixtures are outdated and the walls could use a fresh coat of paint. Yet this simple edifice is a portal, a snapshot into Los Angeles’ once thriving Yiddishkeit community.

The Yiddish class has an informal layout, open to all Yiddish levels, spurring more discussion than one might expect from a typical language class. For one exercise, Cytrynowicz calls out Yiddish words that students, in turn, use in a sentence.

Chutzpah,” Cytrynowicz called out.

Silver was first to respond, “Ikh hob dos nisht,” meaning, “I don’t have that.” To which, a woman immediately wise-cracked, “He has a lot of chutzpah saying that.”

“There’s a lot of humor that goes on. We learn and make jokes. It’s just a good time,” said Judkowitz.

There’s a robust back-and-forth between teacher and students. Often, current events are discussed in Yinglish, a Yiddish-English hybrid. When a student speaks too much English, Cytrynowicz is quick to reprimand, “Yiddish! Yiddish!”

Speaking Yiddish is not the only reminder of the past. Days after President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country, many in the class found the order an eerie example of history being repeated.

Some discussed the ban with outrage, recalling the MS St. Louis, the shifl (boat) that was turned away by the U.S. in 1939, a decision that bore tragic results when those passengers were sent back to Europe — many to their deaths. “I was a kinder (kid) then,” a woman remembered.

It’s strange to hear about World War II in Yiddish. It’s always the elephant in the room, the reason for the extinction of this language, this voice. When someone mentioned the Third Reich, a student uttered under her breath, “Yimakh shemo” — May his name be erased — turning the room from a Yiddish class to a yahrzeit candle, a flame of something ancient, through their resurrected language, a lost world remembered.

Episode 24: Lincoln and the Jews with Professor Jonathan D. Sarna


tnjb-logo-2-0This Sunday is the birthday of the iconic 16th American President and it turns out that Abraham Lincoln was in fact a pretty good friend of the Jews (at a time when it wasn’t necessarily so popular to befriend the “Hebrews”).

Abraham Jonas, who the president himself described as his “most valued friend”, was first to advise Lincoln to run for president. Issachar Zacherie, foot-doctor and spy, alleviated many a pains on Lincoln’s feet but also helped the president secure his second election. These, and many others, are a testament to the important relationship between Lincoln and the American Jewish community.

In celebration of Lincoln’s 208th birthday, Two Nice Jewish Boys visited the Giv’at Ram campus of the Hebrew University for a special episode with Professor Jonathan Sarna. Professor Sarna’s newest book “Lincoln and the Jews” is a fascinating biography examining the former president’s close ties with the Jews of his time. The historical narrative is accompanied by Benjamin Shapell’s vast and gripping collection of rare documents and photographs which really transport the reader in a way that few historical non-fiction books manage to do.

Tune into our latest episode to hear about all this and more.

Rabbi Naomi Levy

Jews against the Muslim Ban


Last Friday night, my rabbi got all political on me.

It came as something of a shock. I know Rabbi Naomi Levy really well — we’ve been married 25 years. During that time, I’ve heard Naomi give at least 1,000 sermons. Not one took an overt stand on a hot political issue or candidate. She would call for understanding between Israel and her neighbors, for instance, but the words “two-state solution” never escaped her lips.

It’s not that she hasn’t always had passionate and astute political opinions. I know. We talk.

But inside the sanctuary, her focus always has been on helping people grow spiritually, to find their life path through faith, tradition, learning and community. When she calls for social action, it is of the nonpartisan sort: feed the homeless, plant trees, engage with other faith communities. Her sermons move people to tears, laughter and introspection, not to petitions.

“That’s what people come to shul for,” she always told me. “That’s who I am.”

She also understood that politics could easily divide a congregation, or alienate some members. Both when she was the senior rabbi at Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, and after she founded Nashuva, an outreach congregation based in Brentwood, she wanted everyone to feel welcome and accepted. If people wanted a pundit, they could watch cable.

So imagine my surprise this past Friday night:  The usual standing-room-only crowd, some 400 people, packed inside Brentwood Presbyterian Church, where Nashuva holds its services. Naomi began her sermon as she often does, with something true, funny and personal.

“I’m a neurotic Jew from Brooklyn,” she said. “I’m scared of so many things. I’m scared of heights. I’m scared of snakes. After my bout with skin cancer, I’m scared of the sun.” Then she asked, “But you know what I’m not scared of?”

Voices from the congregation responded, “No, what?”

Muslims,” she said. “I’m not scared of Muslims.”

There was a momentary pause.  We didn’t see it coming.  It took a split second to clock the punch. The rabbi was speaking out, loud and proud.

And all at once, applause. A loud, long spontaneous ovation.


Listen to Rabbi Naomi Levy’s sermon:


Naomi went on to hammer away at President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, and all refugees from Syria. She spoke of her own mother, Ruth, who arrived from Poland at age 6. The rest of Ruth’s large extended family — aunts, uncles, cousins — all were murdered in the Holocaust.

Naomi urged her congregation to fight the ban and to oppose the administration’s efforts to demonize Muslims. When she finished, the applause went on for a while. One couple did get up and walk out — maybe they had to use the restroom?

Why now? I asked Naomi. Why is this issue the first one you chose for making a strong political stance?

“I had no choice,” she said. “Welcoming the stranger is at the core of what it is to be Jewish.”

Of course, I agree. As an American, I know our country’s success is tied directly to immigration. As a Jew, I know how our country’s open doors literally saved our lives. And I know how many more Jews would be alive today — helping make America even greater — if the voices of fear and hate hadn’t all but closed the door to Jewish immigration after 1924. Those same forces tried to shut out Iranian Jews in 1979, and Soviet Jews in 1989, but thankfully they failed.

There is something in this immigration ban that is particularly noxious and motivating. It’s why Jewish organizations ranging from Yeshiva University to the Reform movement have taken stands. Why leaders who don’t ordinarily bring politics to the pulpit, like Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Ed Feinstein and Stephen Wise Temple’s Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, have spoken out.  Why many disparate parts of a very diverse, fractured community are fighting it together.

That unity makes the silence of some leaders and institutions even more apparent.

Without naming names, it’s all too clear that many rabbis and leaders who deeply oppose the cruel, hateful and self-defeating order cannot publicly say so, for fear of alienating some supporters. Some worry it will tear congregations or boards apart along partisan lines. Or, they worry about upsetting large donors.

I don’t envy any rabbi or community leader this choice. There are costs to speaking out, and those of us who don’t have to pay shouldn’t be so quick to expect others to foot the bill. Their silence in any case should not be an excuse for our inaction.

At the same time, there is a cost to not taking a public stand. How dare we do any less than we would want others to do for us? History will record who stood by and let the doors slam shut, and who, even if they failed, tried to jam them back open.

I’m proud of my rabbi, my wife. I hope to be proud of us all.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Expired And Inspired

Kavod v’Nichum’s Expired And Inspired: Who may Prepare Whom for Burial?


You may recall that some weeks back I described a new feature of the Expired and Inspired blog; the option to submit a question that would be researched and written up. This is the first response to such a question.

The Question Asked

The question for this blog came up in several ways. It has been a part of the ongoing discussion concerning who should/could be included in a Chevrah Kadisha team, and how a Chevrah Kadisha team might/should deal with encountering a transgender meit/ah. The answer to that issue is not yet fully clear, nor is there universal agreement.

It is fairly widely understood that the traditional practice has been that men could only prepare men for burial, while women could prepare either women or men (in an ‘emergency’). This practice has been used to choose to have teams of women as the Chevrah Kadisha in some instances, for example in times of war, when no men were available, or, more recently, for the preparation of some transgender persons.

The question that is being considered here is not about the transgender concern (I mention that only because that was the context in which the question came up), but simply, how did it come to be that women could serve on/as the Chevrah Kadisha team for men?

Credit where credit is due

I turned to our volunteer researcher, Isaac Pollak, a student of the Gamliel Institute, and a long time, very experienced member of several Chevrah Kadisha teams, who has also studied and participated on Chevrah Kadisha teams worldwide. Thanks and appreciation to him for his efforts on this question.

Please note: I am summarizing Isaac’s work; I have done my best, but it is quite possible that I have misunderstood or misstated something, so if there are any errors, I have introduced them – don’t blame Isaac, it is my fault. — JB

Answer

It turns out that there isn’t a great deal of information that supports the custom that women may perform a Taharah for men.

The earliest basic text found to start with is Chapter 12:10 of Evel Rabbati (first part of minor tractate Semachot), which reads:

“A man may shroud and gird the corpse of a man, but not that of a woman. A woman may shroud and gird the corpse of a man or of a woman.

A man may attend another man suffering from intestinal illness, but not a woman. A woman may attend a man or a woman suffering from intestinal illness.”

Other later textual sources such as the Tur (Jacob ben Asher, Arba’ah Turei), the Shulchan Aruch (Joseph Caro, Code of Jewish Law), Nachalat Yaakov (Yaakov ben Binyamin Aharon, on Rashi’s Commentary on the Torah), and the Taz (David Halevi Segal, Turei Zahav) build on this position, and all state that the reason that a man cannot shroud women is because a man has a tendency to have immediate prurient thoughts  upon the sight of a woman’s body, whereas a woman does not.

More, the subsequent responsa literature seems to all repeat the same thing, with no additional information.

Conclusion

The finding is that the early source, Evel Rabbati 12:10, continues to be the basis upon which this allowance of women to prepare men stands, and the only additions after this text are apparently assertions of the (we might think questionable) reason for the allowance.

We can speculate that this was at one time arrived at as a practical answer: I can imagine that in a time of war, when most men were away for extended periods for work or travel, when there were restrictions on the gathering of men in groups, or for other reasons; there may have been times when only women would have been available to perform the essential mitzvot around Taharah, whether the deceased was male or female.

That might have given rise to pressure to find a way for women to be permitted to do this task for men instead of men doing it. Women would have been engaged, even though this could be seen as fulfilling a time-bound mitzvah (one to be completed as soon as possible, and preferably within a day to permit speedy burial); a category of mitzvot for which women are generally not obligated, and some say prohibited, in halachic thought.

This is a fascinating question. We don’t have a complete answer, but the underlying ‘why’ is most intriguing.

If you know any more about this question, please feel free to be in touch or submit an article for the blog.

Do You Have a Question?

And if you have a question you would like us to look into, please send it to me at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Rabbi Joe Blair serves two small congregations in the central Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Bridgewater College, and serves as webmaster and coordinator for Jewish Values Online. He studied at, and was one of the first group of graduates from the Gamliel Institute. He serves as a staff and board member of Kavod v’Nichum, and as a faculty member and Dean of Administration for the Gamliel Institute. He is the editor of the Kavod v’Nichum’s blog, Expired and Inspired, which appears on the L.A. Jewish Journal blogs website. He is involved in several Chevrot Kadisha.

Rabbi Joe Blair

Rabbi Joe Blair

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TASTE OF GAMLIEL

From Here to Eternity: Jewish Views on Sickness and Dying.

In 2017, Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute are again sponsoring a six part “Taste of Gamliel” webinar. 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. Taste of Gamliel gives participants a “Taste” of the Gamliel Institute’s web-based series of courses. The Gamliel Institute is the leadership training arm of Kavod v’Nichum. The Gamliel Institute offers five on-line core courses, each 12 weeks in length, that deal with the various aspects of Jewish ritual around sickness, death, funerals, burial and mourning. Participants come from all over the United States, Canada, Central and South America, with a few Israelis and British students on occasion.

Upcoming Taste of Gamliel Webinars are on February 19, March 19, April 23, May 21, and June 25. Learn from the comfort of your own home or office.

The Taste sessions are done in a webinar format, where the teacher and students can see each other’s live video feeds. The sessions are moderated, ask participants to raise their virtual hands to ask questions, and call on and unmute participants when appropriate. We’ve been teaching using this model for seven years (more than 250 session). We use Zoom, a particularly friendly tool.

Webinar sessions are free, with a suggested minimum donation of $36 for all six sessions. Online sessions are 90 minutes. Sessions begin at 5 PM PST; 8 PM EST.

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

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

You will receive an automated acknowledgement of registration. Information and technology assistance is available after you register. Those who are registered are sent an email ahead of each webinar with log on instructions and information.

You can view a recording of the sessions after each session, so even if you need to miss one (or more), you can still hear the presentation.

More info – Call us at 410-733-3700   

Attend as many of these presentations as are of interest to you. Each session is about 90 minutes in duration. As always, there will be time for questions and discussions at the end of each program. 

The entire series is free, but we ask that you make a donation of $36 or more to help us defray the costs of providing this series. That works out to $6 for each session – truly a bargain for the valuable information and world class teachers that present it.

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.

Suggestions for future topics are welcome. 

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD:

UPCOMING COURSE

Gamliel Institute will be offering course 4, Nechama [Comfort], online, evenings in the Spring on Tuesdays (and three Thursdays – the day of the week will change in those weeks with Jewish holidays during this course). The date of classes will be from March 28 to June 13 2017. Please note: due to holidays, classes will meet on Thursdays on April 13th, April 20th, and June 1st. There will be an orientation session on Monday, March 27th, 2017.

COURSE PREVIEW

If you are not sure if the Nechama course is for you, plan to attend the free one-time online PREVIEW of Nechama session planned for Monday evening March 6th, 2017 at 8-9:30 pm EDST. The instructors will offer highlights from the material that the course covers, and let you know what the course includes. You can RSVP to info@Jewish-Funerals.org or call 410-733-3700.

You can register for any Gamliel Institute courses 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 look at information on the Gamliel Institute at the Kavod v’Nichum website or on the Gamliel.Institute website. Please contact us for information or assistance. info@jewish-funerals.org or j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700, or 925-272-8563.

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KAVOD v’NICHUM CONFERENCE

Looking ahead, hold June 18-20, 2017 for the 15th annual Kavod v’Nchum Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference.

15th Annual North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference

At Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, California June 18-20, 2017

Registration is now open. Advance prices are good through the end of February. Group discounts are available.
The conference program will include plenaries and workshops focused on Taharah, Shmirah, Chevrah Kadisha organizing, community education, gender issues, cemeteries, text study and more.

The conference is on Sunday from noon until 10pm, on Monday from 7am to 10pm, and on Tuesday from 7am to 1pm. In addition to Sunday brunch, we provide six Kosher meals as part of your full conference registration. There are many direct flights to San Francisco and Oakland, with numerous options for ground transportation to the conference site.

We have negotiated a great hotel rate with Embassy Suites by Hilton. 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
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DONATIONS:

Donations are always needed and most welcome. Donations 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 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, Shomrim, funeral providers, funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz

Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, had colorful and unconventional approach to outreach in L.A., dies at 71


Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, founder and director of the Chai Center, a Jewish nonprofit outreach organization in Los Angeles that engages Jews through weekly Shabbat dinners, free High Holy Day services and other events, died Feb. 8 of multiple myeloma (Kahler’s disease) at the age of 71.

Known as “Schwartzie,” the rabbi is survived by his wife, Olivia, 12 children and 50 grandchildren.

Born in 1945 in Atlantic City, N.J., his father had been a cantor in Vienna before fleeing in 1939. Schwartz attended public school in Atlantic City through fifth grade, followed by Talmudical Academy of Baltimore, where he was exposed to Chabad through the late Lubavitch Rabbi Yitzchok Springer. He had catching up to do in terms of his Jewish studies abilities, but soon excelled, Steve Bailey, a childhood friend and co-founder of Shalhevet High School, said in a phone interview. 

He attended college at Yeshiva University, spending his time on the weekends enjoying the folk music scene in Greenwich Village. So began a love with the hippie movement that would stay with him until the end of his days.

“That hippie-ness never left him, and that was a good thing … except it had an overlay of Chassidus and traditional Judaism. It wasn’t free-for-all and free love and that part,” Bailey said. “It was the part that was social and cared about other people.”

While at Yeshiva University, he met Rabbi Boruch Cunin, today the director of Chabad West Coast. The Chabad movement made an impression on Schwartz, and he dropped out of the university to attend the Chabad’s Rabbinical College of America. His relationship with Cunin led him to serving as a Chabad rabbi on the UCLA campus for 16 years.

Schwartz split with the Chabad movement in the late 1980s, but continued a practice, which he’d cultivated through Chabad, of finding Jews where they were, as opposed to waiting for Jews to come to him.

“Instead of having one center, one physical location, he ended up going to thousands of locations. He went into different synagogues, different venues, different homes. He took the idea of Chai Center and made it Judaism-to-go,” Jewish Journal President and longtime friend David Suissa said.

He regularly set up a booth on the Venice boardwalk and offered Jewish astrology readings to the skateboarders, workout enthusiasts and others who frequented the bohemian enclave. Through the Chai Center, he also held Friday night dinners in his house — the event was called Dinner for 60 Strangers — that drew singles and couples.

Bailey, who attended both Talmudical Academy of Baltimore and Yeshiva University with Schwartz, said his friend appealed to people of all backgrounds.

“People loved talking to him and listening to what he had to say. He was very stubborn and kept on people until they’d hear him out and hopefully reconnect with their Jewish identity,” Bailey said.

David Sacks, a television writer and producer (“The Simpsons,” “3rd Rock From the Sun”) and co-founder of the Happy Minyan, a Pico-Robertson Orthodox congregation, was among those attracted to Schwartz’s colorful style.

“He was often in rainbow suspenders with his long red beard and huge smile,” Sacks said. “He was someone who really embodied a joyous Judaism and an embrace of everyone, a genuine love for everyone, especially for, in his words, ‘every Jew that moves.’ ”

Even as his health began to fade and he was confined to a wheelchair, Schwartz continued to show up at Happy Minyan and express his love of life, music and Judaism, Sacks said. He recalled that Schwartz attended Happy Minyan on the last night of Chanukah, which was also New Year’s Eve, and stayed until 2 a.m.

“Till the end, he was going to concerts and plugging into the joy,” Sacks said.

Bailey, for his part, said Schwartz’s mission in life included the fight against intermarriage.

“He was very dedicated for Jews to marrying Jews,” Bailey said. “That’s what he wanted.”

Also among those in the entertainment industry touched by Schwartz was Thomas Barad, an independent film producer who praised Schwartz for his ability to speak the language of everyday people.

“Schwartzie loved all Jews. That was his thing, and he could put it in layman’s terms,” Barad said. “He spoke the language of the ’60s and ’70s. He was hip. He had the lingo, and yet he had a profound knowledge of Torah and he had an understanding of human nature that gave him an entry into people’s hearts very quickly.”

Schwartz was buried on Feb. 10 in Safed, Israel.

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 2. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Trump team blocked State Department’s Holocaust statement that mentioned Jews


The State Department crafted a statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day that explicitly mentioned the Jewish victims of the Nazis, but President Donald Trump’s White House team reportedly blocked its release.

An unnamed Trump official said the incident was purely the product of miscommunication, Politico reported Thursday.

The State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy on Holocaust Issues prepared a statement that it believed was written for Trump to use. The statement specifically mentioned the Jews murdered by the Nazis.

The Trump official told Politico that the president did not receive the State Department draft until after he released his own statement.

Trump’s statement, released Jan. 27, elicited a storm of criticism for failing to mention the Jews killed during the Holocaust.

The White House statement spoke of “the victims, survivors, [and] heroes of the Holocaust,” but did not specifically mention Jews or anti-Semitism, which had been customary in statements by his predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

The Zionist Organization of America, Republican Jewish Coalition and the Anti-Defamation League were among the many Jewish groups to take issue with the omission. Sen. Tim Kaine likened the statement to Holocaust denial.

In response to the criticism, Trump administration spokeswoman Hope Hicks defended the statement as an attempt to be inclusive.

Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said the president “has dear family members that are Jewish.”

“I recognize, in fact, obviously that that was what the Holocaust was about,” Priebus said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last weekend.

Survivors attend a prayer and tribute ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27Photo by Agency Gazeta/Kuba Ociepa/Reuters

Why the White House is wrong about the Holocaust: Q-and-A with Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum


In seeking to create a teachable moment following the White House’s decision to withhold the mention of Jews from President Donald J. Trump’s statement honoring International Holocaust Memorial Day, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust asked noted Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum to describe not only his response to the statement, but also the reasons why it generated such strong opposition.

Berenbaum served as Deputy Director of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust (1979–1980), Project Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) (1988–1993), and Director of the USHMM’s Holocaust Research Institute (1993–1997). He played a leading role in the creation of the USHMM and the content of its permanent exhibition.

“The failure of the White House statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day to mention the Jews is troubling because it fails to grasp the full nature of the Holocaust,” Berenbaum said. “The statement of the President’s Press Secretary defending that statement misrepresents history and invents a new category of victims.”

Who were the victims of the Nazis?

Some were victimized for what they did: trade unionists, political dissidents, social democrats even Free Masons.

Some were victimized for what they refused to do. Jehovah’s Witnesses would not register for the draft, swear allegiance to the state or utter the words “Heil Hitler.”

Some were victimized for what they were. Roma and Sinti, pejoratively labeled as Gypsies, were considered asocials. Germans of special needs – mentally retarded, physically infirm, congenitally ill, mentally retarded or emotionally distraught German – Aryans non-Jews – were sent to their death, defined as “life unworthy of living” and “useless eaters.”

Jews were victimized for the fact that they were. It was sufficient to have Jewish grandparents irrespective of one’s faith or identity for the Nazi state and their collaborators to murder one as a Jew.

Why the emphasis on Six Million Jews?

It was the German state and the Nazi regime that decided upon the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” a euphemistic way of declaring the annihilation of the Jews – all Jews, everywhere, men, women and children. Four death camps – Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and Chelmno were dedicated also exclusively toward what the Nazis referred to as the extermination of the Jews. Millions of Jews were murdered in these camps, so were some 20,000 Roma and Sinti. It was the German state policy to rid the world of Jews, a policy that had no parallel in the Nazi universe.

Why are Jews sensitive – so sensitive or overly sensitive – to the omission of a specific mention to the Jews?

Three reasons:

1. During the Communist era, authorities throughout the communist world deliberately omitted all mention of the Jews, referring instead to the murder of their citizens without specifying that they were Jews. This decision obscured the nature of the crime and its reasons. It also let many collaborators, including collaborating government distort, their participation in the crime because Jews were not treated as citizens but as Jews, outsiders and no entitled to the protection of the state.

2. Jews were killed as Jews. They have every right to be remembered as Jews.

3. It gives Hitler and all who participated in the murder of the Jews a posthumous victory because they not only wanted to murder all the Jews but also to eradicate the memory of the crime. By erasing the memory of Jews, one assists in distorting the crime.

Should not all victims of Nazism be remembered?

Of course, all contemporary museums to the Holocaust include the memory of non-Jews murdered by the Nazis; because their inclusion is required to remained faithful to history and also because only be including the memory of all Nazi victims can we understand what was singular about the murder of the Jews.

So what was singular about the murder of the Jews?

– Scope
– Scale
– Duration
– Totality
– Methodology
– Purpose

The Holocaust engulfed 22 countries throughout Europe from France to Central Russia, from Norway in the North to North Africa in the South.

It was the intended policy of the Nazi German government to be rid of the Jews from German lands for 12 years, from the time that Hitler came to power to his dying day, indeed to the last hours of the war. First their intention was to be rid of the Jews by making it impossible for them to live in Germany. Therefore they would first be forced to leave, and then, after June 1941, they would be murdered, first by sending mobile killers to murder the Jews, and when that proved difficult and burdensome, by making the Jews mobile and sending them to stationary killing centers, factories of death, where assembly line procedures make for an efficient murder mechanism.

Why kill the Jews?

The murder of the Jews served no territorial purpose, was economically disruptive and burdensome to the war effort. The Jews were murdered because in the Nazi universe they were regarded as “cancerous” on German Society and their elimination first by evacuation and later by murder essential to the health of that society. Yale historian Timothy Snyder has recently written that Hitler lived in a world of dominance, the strong would either dominate or be destroyed. Thus, Jews were opposed for the values they brought into the world. Compassionate justice and assistance to the weak stood in the way of the natural order as perceived by Hitler; in nature, the powerful exercise their power without restraint. Hitler practiced social Darwinism at it most extreme. Jewish values were not only held by Jews but spread widely by Christians who revered Jesus.

The murder of the Jews was considered by the Macarthur Prize winning UCLA historian, Saul Friedlander, ”redemptive antisemitism.” The elimination of Jews would “save Germany.”

What was wrong with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s defense of the Statement?

The newly appointed Press Secretary invented a new category of victims. Had he asked – as any White House Press Secretary should ask — any knowledgeable historian would have told him German and Austrian male homosexuals were victimized by the Nazis. There is no evidence for the victimization of Lesbians, though undoubtedly so lesbians were victimized because they were Jew or fell into the other categories of victim groups.

Expired And Inspired: Ghosts in the Machine


Expired And Inspired - the Kavod v'Nichum Blog on Jewish End-of-Life Matters

Expired And Inspired – the Kavod v’Nichum Blog on Jewish End-of-Life Matters

You may have been wondering why you haven’t seen an Expired And Inspired blog from Kavod v’Nichum for a bit. I am almost sorry to say that the reason is no mystery (it would be so much more interesting if there were some odd or mysterious reason).

In fact, a major switch in technology platforms has discombobulated things. (Caveat: upgrading technology can truly bite the hand that tries it!)

Until now, it has not been possible to post anything, and we are working behind the scenes to get things sorted right. The move to a new platform, as so many of these things do, disconnected links, dropped information, and failed to include all the postings from the past several years. In short, it created a royal mess!

The reason for the move was to improve appearance, streamline delivery, add functionality and features, and overall make the blog experience better for all concerned. At the same time, we can see the operation of the ‘law of unintended consequences’ once again.

As I said, we are working on sorting it out, but meantime, I am going to highlight selected past postings from the archive. Once we get things back to “normal” I will again start posting new materials. To that end, if you have a story or something you want to share that relates to our focus on Jewish end-of-life, caring, comfort, and/or death, please send it to me as a submission for consideration. I can assure you that it will receive due consideration and attention – and ideally, will appear ‘in print’ soon.

As a reminder of what we are about, I am posting today the original message that started this blog.


Welcome to Expired & Inspired.

Don’t be fooled by the title. This is not your everyday blog. It is not a self-help blog. It is not about feel-good stories (though there may be some). It is not about Yoga. It is not about breathing. It is not what most people would pick as a best seller. And yet, it is about something that fascinates, mesmerizes, frightens, attracts, and affects all of us.

What is this blog?

It is a blog about death and dying – and the Jewish ways thereof.

It is about the Jewish rituals, forms, customs, behavioral norms (and not-so-norms), about Jewish ideas and thoughts on and around this topic. It is about how Jews approach death and the dead, how they treat them, what they do, and how they do it.

It is about transforming a physical task into a holy act; bringing sanctity and compassion to souls who are in need of it.

It is really about caring for and honoring the dead and comforting the living; the sacred, loving work of helping to bring closure and peace at the end of life to those who have died, and comfort to those who care about them.

“Expired and Inspired” is Kavod V’Nichum’s blog on Jewish life end, death, funerals, and comfort. The name refers to the interplay in Jewish life when the living care for the dead, and are in turn inspired by that act and by those who have died. The care they provide consists of respectfully and lovingly preparing the deceased, those who have expired, for the next step on their excursion. The living are inspired by the expired deceased. We invite you to come behind the scenes, and join us as we perform our sacred tasks and “midwife souls on their journey.”

The topic of death and dying has long been taboo. Because death comes to all of us, and touches most of us in life, it needs to be open for discussion – though not in a morbid fashion: there are aspects of this part of life that are beautiful and touching.

The death of a loved one is sad, but the sacred, holy work in which we engage can be spiritual, loving, transformative, and life-affirming. Talking about it should not be ‘taboo’ or avoided. There is even room, at times, for humor, as well as awe, love, and honor, as we explore this universal part of life.

Expired and Inspired is intended to educate, reveal, and share stories in an interesting and compelling way about the people involved, and the Jewish process, rituals, and activities that include Bikkur Cholim and the work of Caring Committees (whatever title they may have), and all aspects concerning the Jewish approach to the end of life, death & dying, the full range of the work of the Chevrah Kadisha – the Holy Society that provides care for the deceased, and comfort for mourners and those bereaved.

Accompany us as we draw back the curtain a bit, and let you see our work, the results of it, and how it affects those of us who do it, and others. Join us as we offer you an aspect, a viewpoint, a glimpse of the transformative power of the work we do.

Rabbi Joe Blair holds two part-time pulpits, is a principal in Jewish Values Online, is a board member and serves on the staff of Kavod V’Nichum, an instructor and Dean of Administration for the Gamliel Institute, and is the editor of Kavod v’Nichum’s Expired And Inspired blog. He can be contacted at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org

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TASTE OF GAMLIEL

From Here to Eternity: Jewish Views on Sickness and Dying.

In 2017, Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute are again sponsoring a six part “Taste of Gamliel” webinar. 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. Taste of Gamliel gives participants a “Taste” of the Gamliel Institute’s web-based series of courses. The Gamliel Institute is the leadership training arm of Kavod v’Nichum. The Gamliel Institute offers five on-line core courses, each 12 weeks in length, that deal with the various aspects of Jewish ritual around sickness, death, funerals, burial and mourning. Participants come from all over the United States, Canada, Central and South America, with a few Israelis and British students on occasion.

Taste of Gamliel Webinars are on January 22, February 19, March 19, April 23, May 21, and June 25. Learn from the comfort of your own home or office.

The Taste sessions are done in a webinar format, where the teacher and students can see each other’s live video feeds. The sessions are moderated, ask participants to raise their virtual hands to ask questions, and call on and unmute participants when appropriate. We’ve been teaching using this model for seven years (more than 250 session). We use Zoom, a particularly friendly tool.

Webinar sessions are free, with a suggested minimum donation of $36 for all six sessions. Online sessions are 90 minutes. Sessions begin at 5 PM PST; 8 PM EST.

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

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

You will receive an automated acknowledgement of registration. Information and technology assistance is available after you register. Those who are registered are sent an email ahead of each webinar with log on instructions and information.

You can view a recording of the sessions after each session, so even if you need to miss one (or more), you can still hear the presentation.

More info – Call us at 410-733-3700   

Attend as many of these presentations as are of interest to you. Each session is about 90 minutes in duration. As always, there will be time for questions and discussions at the end of each program. 

The entire series is free, but we ask that you make a donation of $36 or more to help us defray the costs of providing this series. That works out to $6 for each session – truly a bargain for the valuable information and world class teachers that present it.

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.

Suggestions for future topics are welcome. 

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD:

UPCOMING COURSE

Gamliel Institute will be offering course 4, Nechama [Comfort], online, evenings in the Spring on Tuesdays (and three Thursdays – the day of the week will change in those weeks with Jewish holidays during this course). The date of classes will be from March 28 to June 13 2017. Please note: due to holidays, classes will meet on Thursdays on April 13th, April 20th, and June 1st. There will be an orientation session on Monday, March 27th, 2017.

COURSE PREVIEW

If you are not sure if the Nechama course is for you, plan to attend the Free one-time online PREVIEW of Nechama session planned for the Monday evening March 6th, 2017 at 8-9:30 pm EST. The instructors will offer highlights from the material that the course covers, and let you know what the course includes. You can RSVP to info@Jewish-Funerals.org.

You can register for any Gamliel Institute courses 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 look at information on the Gamliel Institute at the Kavod v’Nichum website or on the Gamliel.Institute website. Please contact us for information or assistance. info@jewish-funerals.org or j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700, or 925-272-8563.

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KAVOD v’NICHUM CONFERENCE

Looking ahead, hold June 18-20, 2017 for the 15th annual Kavod v’Nchum Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference.

15th Annual North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference

At Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, California June 18-20, 2017

Registration is now open. Advance prices are good through the end of February. Group discounts are available.
The conference program will include plenaries and workshops focused on Taharah, Shmirah, Chevrah Kadisha organizing, community education, gender issues, cemeteries, text study and more.

The conference is on Sunday from noon until 10pm, on Monday from 7am to 10pm, and on Tuesday from 7am to 1pm. In addition to Sunday brunch, we provide six Kosher meals as part of your full conference registration. There are many direct flights to San Francisco and Oakland, with numerous options for ground transportation to the conference site.

We have negotiated a great hotel rate with Embassy Suites by Hilton. 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
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DONATIONS:

Donations are always needed and most welcome. Donations 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 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.

To find a list of other blogs and resources we think you, our reader, may find of interest, click on “About” on the right side of the page.There is a link at the end of that section to read more about us.

Past blog entries can be searched online at the L.A. Jewish Journal. Point your browser to http://www.jewishjournal.com/expiredandinspired/, and scroll down. Along the left of the page you will see a list of ‘Recent Posts” with a “More Posts” link. You can also see the list by month of Expired and Inspired Archives below that, going back to 2014 when the blog started.

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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, Shomrim, funeral providers, funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

 

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Cartoon: Trump omits references to Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day


cartoon-trump-holocaustday-cmyk

Thousands gathered to protest at Los Angeles International Airport on Jan. 29. Photo by Eitan Arom

When an executive order prompts civil disorder


Shortly before Shabbat fell on Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that effectively slammed the door on refugees seeking entry to the United States — at least for now.

Shock and dismay had been building in the Jewish community since a draft of the order was leaked days beforehand, and on Jan. 28, those sentiments exploded onto Rabbi Susan Goldberg’s cellphone in the form of concerned messages from her congregants at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

“When Shabbat ended last night, my phone was blowing up — emails, photos,” she said Jan. 29 as a crowd milled past her at the arrivals gate at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). “For Jews, there’s a clear line that’s been crossed.”

The airport protest came as a grass-roots reflection of simmering anger in the organized Jewish community. The days before the executive order saw statements from Jewish organizations ranging from the Orthodox Union to the Anti-Defamation League expressing their ire, and in some cases promising to fight the administration.

At LAX, where a number of travelers had been detained because of the order, thousands poured through terminals and onto the curbs the afternoon of Jan. 29. Police cut off traffic through much of the airport and largely gave protesters the run of Tom Bradley International Terminal.

Many protesters were Jews from congregations across the city, and even on signs held aloft by non-Jews, a certain Jewish influence could be detected in references to 1930s Germany and proclamations of “Never again.”

“Our country once made the mistake of shutting its doors to nearly 1,000 refugees on the S.S. St. Louis — people died as a result,” said Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue, reached by phone shortly after the order was signed. “We don’t want to see that happen again.”

To be sure, there are plenty of Jews who support the ban or parts of it and others who dispute analogies to the Holocaust. “Analogy to 1930s Jews is recklessly false,” a statement from Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), declared the day before the order was signed.

But some community members who voiced their support for Trump’s order did so at their own peril, including Simon Etehad, a personal injury lawyer in Beverly Hills, who was born in Iran and fled the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

img_4102“You have no idea how many friends I lost on Facebook because of my opinion … but I believe that he’s doing a wonderful job,” he said.

“Even if I would have been personally affected by this ban, I would still support it,” he wrote in a follow-up email. “Because I am not willing to endanger the life of a single U.S. citizen so that my family members might have an easier travel experience in the next 90 days!”

The people who showed up Jan. 29 at LAX didn’t quite see it that way.

“There are a lot of Jews here — a lot,” Goldberg said from the airport, joined by her three children and her husband, who translated as she spoke in sign language, since she’d lost her voice.

‘Let them in!’

As weary travelers emerged to boisterously chanting crowds, Adam and Noah Reich held a sign reading, “Two Jewish brothers standing with our Muslim brothers.” While they spoke with a reporter, a short woman with olive skin, a total stranger, walked up and hugged both of them. That type of thing had been going on all afternoon.

“Maybe like, a dozen so far,” Noah said. “We’ve been here for a couple hours and people just come up to us.”

“The collective power of everyone here is saying, ‘You’re not alone; we’re all here for you,’ ” Adam said. “And I think that’s a powerful thing.”

Emerging from the crowd, Jesse Gabriel, an attorney and executive board member at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, put his hand on Noah’s shoulder.

Kol ha-kavod,” he told the pair, using a Hebrew expression for “Well done!”

Gabriel was one of dozens of attorneys swarming the terminal, many with signs reading “lawyer” and announcing their foreign language proficiencies, hoping to be of help to stranded travelers or those recently released by Immigration and Customs officers.

“When you have individuals whose rights need to be protected, that’s when lawyers need to step in,” Gabriel said.

In fact, there was little work for the attorneys at the terminal, since those detained were stranded elsewhere, in the bowels of LAX, incommunicado. The crowds were chanting, “Let them in!” but lawyers were struggling even to make contact with those stranded.

“Our understanding is that there are a number of people with legal travel documents who are being detained in customs and border patrol, in custody,” said immigration attorney Michael Hagerty.

Hagerty was serving as ad hoc media liaison to a group of attorneys at the airport (as announced by a cardboard sign reading “media liaison”). Among his charges were representatives from legal aid clinic Public Counsel and the local American Civil Liberties Union. But information about those in limbo -— even a basic head count — proved difficult to come by.

“We don’t know who they are, we don’t know exactly what their legal status is on an individual basis, but in all likelihood, they are legal permanent residents, they are refugees with legal refugee travel documents, people with student visas,” Hagerty said.

As he spoke, wayfarers cut through surging crowds, pushing carts and lugging suitcases. For those just arriving, it must have presented an overwhelming scene: shouts of “USA!” from flamboyantly dressed protesters, their signs decorated with images ranging from the Statue of Liberty to Trump with a Hitler mustache, and outside, drums banging out an incessant beat.

Marchers mobbed the sidewalk on both the upper and lower levels, along with the international terminal itself. The crowd lined the curb, waving signs at passing cars, and some took to the upper levels of parking garages across the street to look down over the scene.

Some travelers decided to join the protest, including Zoe Lister-Jones, a filmmaker who had just stepped off the plane after screening her new comedy, “Band Aid,” at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

“I’ve been witnessing the injustices occurring from Park City and I came straight from the arrivals terminal to protest,” she said. “As a Jew, I think it’s part of our bloodline to stand up to injustice and resist fascism.”

Mollie Goldberg from Los Angeles

Across Airport Way from the mass of protesters stood Michael Chusid, a kind of greeter. The tall, bearded, middle-aged Encino man held a sign that read “Welcome” in English, Arabic and Hebrew.

“My grandparents came from Lithuania and Ukraine,” Chusid said. “My grandfather was the only one to survive from his whole family. The only thing that is left in Lithuania is tombstones.

“That’s why I’m here,” he said as he teared up.

Clergy respond

News of the order quickly raised a chorus of rabbis in opposition.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis, for instance, a consortium of Reform clergy, has been abuzz with outrage at the new policy, Feinstein said.

“We know full well when people come after minorities, they don’t stop with one,” he told the Journal. “History shows this to be the canary in the mine.”

At the airport, the crowd included enough rabbis to start a seminary.

“This country is an expression of the best of what the world has to offer,” Rabbi Ron Stern of Stephen Wise Temple said at LAX. “And to be that, it has to be open to immigrants. It has to reflect the values that we hold dear as Jews.”

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica stood alone on the sidewalk outside the terminal wearing a yarmulke and prayer shawl, having been unable to locate his congregants in the chaos.

“I wanted people to know that the Jewish people feel a chill up our spine because this is happening,” he said.

Leading up to the refugee order, HIAS, a refugee resettlement agency formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, recruited more than 1,700 rabbis across the denominational spectrum to sign a statement welcoming refugees to the United States. They included Rabbis Sharon Brous of IKAR, Adam Kligfeld of Temple Beth Am, Stan Levy of B’nai Horin, and Yoshi Zweiback of Stephen Wise Temple, as well as Feinstein and Stern.

Reached by phone Jan. 27, shortly after Trump signed the order, Kligfeld noted that the Exodus story obliges Jews “to advocate for our country to continue to have its arms and heart open to the bedraggled and impoverished and persecuted.” But he sounded a note of sympathy with community members who want to protect the nation’s ports of entry.

“I find myself in a centrist place on this issue,” he continued. “I’m proud of our country’s history regarding Jewish and non-Jewish refugees. I think we also live in a scary world.”

Representing the nation’s Orthodox rabbinate, the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America reaffirmed a joint statement issued in December 2015 blasting the idea of a Muslim ban. Taken together with reproving statements from the Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative movements, the Orthodox groups’ opposition brings every major strain of American Judaism into alignment against the immigration measures.

Struggling over security, Holocaust memory

The Orthodox rabbi’s statement fell far short of other proclamations by large Jewish organizations, some of which promised an outright battle with the administration.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a nonpartisan group that was critical of candidate Trump, found fighting words: “ADL relentlessly will fight this policy in the weeks and months to come,” CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement, responding ahead of time to a leaked draft. “Our history and heritage compel us to take a stand.”

American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris also reached for Jewish heritage to motivate his opposition.

“We are all related to those fortunate enough to have been admitted to this country — in my case, my mother, father, wife, and daughters-in-law,” he said in a statement. “And we believe that other deserving individuals merit the same opportunities to be considered for permanent entry.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center protested the idea of a nationality-based ban in a statement the day of the order while steering clear of Holocaust imagery. But the same day, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it criticized Trump for not mentioning Jews in a statement about the Holocaust — a week after the Wiesenthal Center’s founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier, offered a prayer at Trump’s inauguration.

Among the leaders of large Jewish institutions, ZOA’s Klein offered a rare note of support for Trump’s measures, saying in the statement his group “is appalled that left-wing Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Reform Movement are ‘strongly condemning’ this draft Executive Order.”

He took umbrage with comparisons to Jewish refugees.

“No Jewish immigrants flew airplanes into buildings, or massacred scores of innocent people at a holiday party or nightclub or marathon or drive trucks into innocent citizens,” Klein said in the statement.

Though unusual within the Jewish establishment, Klein’s thesis found support in some pockets of the community, including some who are recent immigrants themselves.

“It is simply disgraceful to compare Trump to Hitler or his actions to those of the Nazi era,” Etehad wrote in the email.

Eugene Levin, president of Panorama Media Group, which operates a radio
station and two Russian-language  weekly newspapers in Los Angeles, said he supports Trump’s ban on immigrants from several predominantly Muslim countries because there is no way of doing a thorough background check and knowing if someone is not a disguised terrorist.

“Many individuals with questionable backgrounds from the Soviet Union moved here as refugees. Think about [the] Tsarnaev brothers, who were able to immigrate here as refugees,” he said, referring to the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

“I believe what Trump did was a necessary step,” he added.

Muslims “are against the Jewish people,” said Roman Finarovsky, who grew up in Ukraine at a time when going to a synagogue could result in losing one’s job if caught by the KGB.

img_4085But some saw in the struggle of Soviet Jews cause to oppose the ban. Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was an activist in the free Soviet Jewry movement as a student at UCLA. While several members of the Russian Jewish community expressed support for the ban, Yaroslavsky strongly denounced it.

“I find it to be abhorrent and contrary to every fiber of my being as a human rights activist, as an activist for Soviet Jewry in earlier years, as a civil libertarian, which I am,” Yaroslavsky said of the executive order in a phone interview. “This is un-American, literally un-American.”

Galvanizing young Jews

Shay Roman, 27, stood with two friends at LAX, all three wearing T-shirts from the group IfNotNow, a network of Millennial Jews that protests the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza.

“I’m here especially as a Jew,” Roman said. “I feel it’s so important to show support for other communities, especially the refugee community.”

“Our generation is absolutely not apathetic,” one of his companions, Jonah Breslau, 25, added. “We’re a group of young Jews and our core values are about freedom and dignity for all people — Israeli and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims.”

Danit Osborn, 22, cited her background as both Jewish and Cambodian as part of her reason for being there. She said she wasn’t sure the protest would accomplish any specific policy reform.

“I’m not sure we’re gonna change Donald Trump,” she said. “But I have to be here for my mother and I have to be here for my father.”

Olga Grigoryants, Ryan Torok, Danielle Berrin and Rob Eshman contributed to this report.

Photo by Rob Eshman

Trump’s anti-American immigration ban


The most astonishing moment for me at last Sunday’s protest against President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees came when I was standing by the arrivals area at Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.

Suddenly a cheer cut through the din of chants.  A mob of photographers pushed past me to take pictures of someone walking up the exit ramp. This being LA, I was sure George Clooney had just arrived.

I elbowed my way through the crowd, and saw the source of all the excitement.  It was a stout old Muslim woman. Her head and much of her face was wrapped in a thick black hijab.  She was schlepping up the ramp, alone.

A swarm of cameras flashed in her eyes.  The crowd chanted, “Salaam aleikum!  Saleaam aleikum!”   There was applause and whistling and clapping.

The excitement bewildered her.  The photos I snapped show something close to panic in her eyes. A middle-aged Jewish woman I recognized burst through the mob and practically jumped on the older lady, stroked at her arms and said, “Salaam Aleikum ShukranSalaam Aleikum Shukran!

I couldn’t imagine what she made of the mob, the noise, the strange woman who blurted “Hello thank you! Hello thank you!”

Her family rushed to greet her. The old woman gave a get me the hell out of here look, and they spirited her away.

That’s Donald Trump for you, I thought.   The Executive Order Trump signed was so ill-conceived, slapdash, illegal, pandering, and un-American, only he could turn an innocent Muslim bubbie into an unwitting Rosa Parks.

There is something funny about the unsuspecting grandmother turned hero, or it would be funny if the actual consequences of the Muslim ban weren’t so devastating to people, to our democracy and to the actual fight against Islamic extremism that it was purportedly designed to help.

By now we have all read the stories of citizens and green card holders deprived of their rights, of chaos and confusion, of ISIS’s using the ban for recruitment, of cooperative Muslim countries being insulted, of the hypocrisy of leaving out countries that breed actual radical Muslim terrorists, like, say, America, and of the fact that countries  in which Trump does business are excluded from the ban.

In this week’s Jewish Journal, you can read even more stories of Jewish refugees whose American success stories grew from their ability to enter the United States when their lives depended on it.  They fled Nazi Germany (like the grandparents of Jared Kushner). Or they fled  Eastern Europe (like the ancestors of young Stephen Miller, who helped write the ban), or they escaped Iran.  Because politicians and people spoke up loudly to shout down the voices of xenophobia and ignorance, America opened her doors to them.

But this time, the xenophobes are in charge.

Their apologists point out that the executive orders call for only a  temporary ban at best, though a full ban on people fleeing Syria.  The masses that gathered at LA and airports around the country know better.  They get that the Syrian refugees are the German Jews of 1930, or the Persian Jews of 1979, or the Eastern European Jews fleeing the Czar or the USSR.  The hijab is the streimmel. The beard is the payes. What was foreign and threatening to Americans then is just as scary to them now.

That’s why, in frightening times, our safest bet is to rely on our deepest values.  The crowd at LAX understood that, even if their president does not.

That’s why the most common message people held up on their protest protest posters were the words written in 1883 by a 34 year-old Jewish woman in New York, Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Those posters were heartwarming, but they were my second- favorite posters I saw at the rally.

My favorite?   It was held up by a quiet young woman inside the terminal.  It read: “INVEST IN SHARPIE STOCK BECAUSE WE’RE NOT STOPPING.”

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Activists gather at Portland International Airport on Jan. 29. Photo by Steve Dipaola/Reuters

Invite a Muslim for Shabbat


It will be a very long time before I forget the news I heard this week of a 5-year-old Muslim child handcuffed at Dulles Airport on Saturday because he was deemed a security threat. News outlets later reported that this boy is a U.S. citizen who lives in Maryland.

While that news continues to disturb me, I can only imagine what it does to Muslim children living in our country.

This past Monday night my wife came home and told me that a Muslim acquaintance of hers who she knows through work told her that his child is very scared and is crying non-stop since Saturday.

We started talking about what we could do to help this child.

Every Friday night we host lively Shabbat dinners in which we usually entertain members of our congregation.  But after hearing that story, my wife and I decided that we should invite this Muslim family for Shabbat dinner.

A Shabbat dinner is a powerful opportunity to connect while breaking bread together.

Recently the Washington Post wrote a story about a former white supremacist who changed his racist views and entire world view after celebrating Shabbat dinners with his classmates.

In our case we would have a different goal. Our goal in inviting Muslims would not be to convert each other or to engage in interfaith dialogue or to give each other political litmus tests. Indeed, the best Shabbat meals we have are the ones that accept an informal policy of not talking politics.

Rather, we must simply demonstrate that we are embracing and giving respect to our Muslim neighbors.  In this specific case, our goal would be to tell this Muslim child that there are people in this country who are not Muslims but who care very deeply about him and his well-being. Not only do we not want him to leave our country, we want him to grow up and be one of our future leaders. Nothing says I care about you and I believe in you like freshly baked challah bread and homemade bread.

From the perspective of Jewish law the Talmud specifically authorizes inviting a non-Jew to a Shabbat meal (Beitzah, 21b).

Indeed the Midrash (Bereishit 11:4) tells of the time that the Roman ruler, Antoninus went to visit the great sage of the Mishnah, Rebbe for a Shabbat meal. He was so impressed with the lukewarm Shabbat food that was served that he returned during the week for another meal. But this time the food was served piping hot and it wasn’t good. He asked Rebbe what was missing. Rebbe said, “We are missing one spice. The spice of Shabbat!”

We should all follow Rebbe’s lead and share the spice of Shabbat.

Now that I think about it I am embarrassed to admit that through no specific intent or plan it so happens that we have never had a Muslim join us for Shabbat dinner. We just don’t run in the same circles.

It feels like now is the time to change that. Now is the time for people of all faiths to reach out and give some extra love to our Muslim neighbors.

The President campaigned on the promise of putting a ban on Muslims coming into this country. This past week through his Executive Order many law abiding Muslim citizens including green card holders, students, and people who have served the US Army, were handcuffed at airports and detained like criminals. Even though many were released, I don’t remember hearing an apology.

In light of what happened this week, Muslims in this country have every right to feel scared and marginalized.

It is our job as citizens, whether we are Republicans or Democrats, to reach out and embrace our Muslim neighbors. We must tell them that having a 5-year-old boy in handcuffs is not what we want our country to be. We must say to our Muslim neighbors  that we want you in this county.

For this reason, I am asking my fellow Jews this week to reach out and invite a Muslim family to their own Shabbat meal this week.

Now is the time to show our love to those who are scared and marginalized.


Shmuel Herzfeld is the Rabbi of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue, the oldest Orthodox synagogue in Washington, D.C.

Regina Spektor discusses her Russian-Jewish reaction to the refugee ban


Interviewed Jan. 30 on the KCRW-FM show “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” Russian-Jewish indie songstress Regina Spektor described President Donald Trump’s executive order calling for a ban on refugees entering the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries as “pure insanity.”

“I came here with refugee status. My heart really goes out to all the people that are, this Muslim ban, I think it is just, it feels like pure insanity to me, and I came here as a Russian-Jewish refugee from a country that doesn’t even exist anymore — the Soviet Union,” she said in an interview with “Morning Becomes Eclectic” host Jason Bentley. “But my parents were, at least at that moment in time, we weren’t fleeing because our physical lives were in danger; we were fleeing because there was anti-Semitism and no freedom of religion.”

She continued: “Seeing how much my parents had to give up, how hard it was for them to come to a place without any money and without knowing the language, all the things they had to do to get here, I can’t imagine now, especially as a mother, what it feels like to be a parent of a child and be fleeing for physical safety, for food, for shelter,” she said. “It hurts that things are being done on our behalf as a people that don’t seem to reflect our progressive nature.”

During the interview, she attributed her pessimism about the future of American life under President Trump to, in part, her Russian-Jewish roots.

“I think there is a part of me that’s very much hopeful and then there’s a part of me that’s maybe the Soviet-slash-endless-row-of-generations-of-Jews-who-barely-survived-and-that’s-why-I’m-here kind of part, and it’s very sort of, I don’t know, kind of, suspicious and confused and deflated,” she said.

The conversation began with Bentley asking Spektor about what it was like for Spektor to perform at the Jan. 21 Women’s March in Los Angeles. Spektor performed a cover of Jewish icon Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” in front of a sea of people on a closed-down street in downtown Los Angeles.

“I wanted to find the right words to express the feeling I was having, so, of course, I went right to a human I really love so much and that’s Bob Dylan, and then I covered ‘Blowin’ in the Wind.’ I felt, I don’t know, it felt really right at that moment,” she told Bentley.

Spektor fled the Soviet Union at the age of 9 as one of 36,114 Jews who immigrated with the help of HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), the self-described “oldest international migration and refugee resettlement agency in the U.S … founded in 1881 originally to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe.”

Spektor, who will perform April 8 in support of her latest album, “Remember Us to Life,” at the Dolby Theatre, was one of several celebrities to appear at women’s marches on Jan. 21 across the country.

The entirety of the 42-minute “Morning Becomes Eclectic” interview and performance with Spektor is available at kcrw.com.

The many faces of the Jewish refugee


Since the global refugee crisis took over front pages and cable networks, a popular statistic in the Jewish world has been the number 36. It’s mentioned frequently by politically attuned and progressive-leaning clergy as the number of times, at minimum, Jews are commanded in the Torah to care for the stranger in their midst, for they were strangers in the land of Egypt.

But there’s no need to look as far back as the Exodus to remember a time when Jews were strangers in a strange land. The face of the modern refugee is kaleidoscopic: Syrian, Afghan, Rohingya, Yazidi, Sudanese, Congolese. This effect is found in miniature within the many colors of the Jewish refugee over the last century: Persians, Russians, Iraqis, Poles, Germans, Algerians, and others who have sought respite in America.

In the few days since President Donald Trump signed an executive order restricting refugee admissions, the anti-Nazi theologian Marvin Niemoller has enjoyed a new vogue for his verse: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out. … Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” Today’s body politic has reimagined these lines as, “First they come for the Muslims, and then we said, ‘Not this time!’ ”

By compelling them to reach outward, to march for and alongside Muslims, the recent protests have caused American Jews to look inward and to draw on their own past. A look inside the very long — and yet very recent — history of Jewish refugees reveals a diversity that reflects today’s global refugee crisis, as well as its pervading narrative of persecution and hardship.

Collected below, edited for clarity and length, are six of these Jewish refugee stories, in their words.

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From left: Simon Ebrahimi, his daughter Maryam and wife, Nahid, in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, shortly after arriving from Iran. Below: the portrait for his 2012 novel.

cov-ebrahimi-useAfter a few months, we arrive at the New York airport. I’m with two little children and my wife. And my wife, who knows my temperament, she said, “You just don’t argue with anybody. Let’s go through this.” I said, “Fine.” So the guy calls me and says, “Why didn’t you let go of our hostages?” I said, “Excuse me?” “You Iranians,” he says. “Why didn’t you let go of our hostages?” … The third time, which is, you know, typical, he came and he said, “You still didn’t respond to me.” I said, “You know what, why don’t you and I go to Iran together and release the hostages? It’s a simple solution!” 

— Simon Ebrahimi, 79, Woodland Hills

 

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Milana Vayntrub as a toddler, newly arrived from Soviet Uzbekistan. As an adult, she has earned national fame in a series of AT&T commercials.

cov-milana-vayntrubThis is little me on the front steps of our apartment building in West Hollywood, in my coolest athletic gear. Most people living in that community were immigrants and it brought us so much closer together knowing we had this generous network of friends and babysitters we could rely on. A few years after arriving to America, my grandparents immigrated and moved in next door. My grandmother used to make Russian dumplings by hand and sell them to delis. She used her earnings to pay her way through school, where she studied English and accounting. Last year, she was able to comfortably retire. She’s a huge inspiration.

— Milana Vayntrub, 29, Hollywood

 

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Igor Mikhaylov (center) in 1983 with his family in Kiev. Below: Mikhaylov with his wife and sons in 2013.

cov-igor-mikhaylov-yom-kippur-2013-75-of-1My family and I left the Soviet Union in 1989 when I was 10. We were escaping anti-Semitism, which was rampant. Jewish refugees could not go directly to the U.S., and places like Austria, where we were initially settled, were overrun with refugees. The situation could get very heated, with Austrian protestors holding picket signs that said, “Shoot the Jews!“ and yelling “Sterben!” — “Die!” Later, we settled in a beautiful Italian coastal town, Santa Marinella. It had magnificent views of the Tyrrhenian Sea, palms, beach and a medieval castle, but none of it was really enjoyable since we were living in limbo. People had heart attacks, aneurisms, nervous breakdowns. Then came the vetting process and questions such as, “Were you ever members of the Communist party?” The only correct answer was “No!”  Who would check? How can you prove it?

— Igor Mikhaylov, 38, Granada Hills

 

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Penina Meghnagi Solomon (above, second from right) with her family in a refugee camp in Italy in 1967, after fleeing Libya. Below: in 2013.

cov-penina-nowI can remember the black sky from the burning. And we were in terror because they were looking for the Jews. … We lost everything. We had property, we had money in the banks. … I remember coming in [to the refugee camp in Italy] and not knowing where we’re going to sleep, what we’re going to eat, whatever. I was 17. And my mom was a widow at that time. … But maybe because my personality is I’m always looking to the positive on anything, I was happy to leave [Libya]. I was happy to leave to a place where I was subjugated to always worry, always with the head half turned back, you never know when you’re going to be pinched or someone’s going to try to kill you. So for me, we were on our way to freedom and it was a good feeling.

— Penina Meghnagi Solomon, 67, Valley Village

 

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Bob Geminder (right) with his brother George and cousin Muriel shortly after he arrived with his family in the U.S. after the Holocaust. Below: Geminder in Los Angeles in 2016.

cov-geminder-nowI was 12 years old. Knew no English pretty much, just some really bad words that the soldiers taught me at the German [displaced persons] camp. … This [photo above] was in East Orange, N.J. — that was kind of our first stop in America. … We were at that DP camp in Germany in Regensburg for about a year and a half, and that was kind of my first schooling. That’s where I learned the alphabet, I learned what two plus two is — you know, some math.. … The big joke in the Regensburg camp was, “Don’t worry about it — you’re going to find money on trees in America.” Me, being a foolish 12-year-old, I started looking at the trees.

— Bob Geminder, 81, Rancho Palos Verdes

 

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Tabby Refael (left) with her mother in the 1980s, shortly before emigrating from Iran. Below: Refael with her son in 2017.

cov-tabby-nowThe black-and-white photo features my mother and me in Iran in the mid-1980s. Iran printed the word “Jew” next to our names on our passports. Months later, on the same document, the Americans printed the three greatest words that have ever been written about us, stamped in a miraculous, indisputable promise: “Protected Refugee Status.” That alone should tell us something about the differences between repressive theocracies and redemptive democracies. I am eternally grateful to Congress and to HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) for the gift of a renewed life, as this photo of my son and me in America in 2017 conveys. It also captures my inner joy at not having had to wear a mandatory Muslim head covering in more than 28 years.

— Tabby Refael, 34, Pico-Robertson