Photos by Jonathan Fong

DIY: Dried fruit garlands for the sukkah


With the holiday of Sukkot just around the corner, it’s not too early to start thinking of creative ways to decorate the sukkah.

Here’s a festive idea that celebrates the harvest with garlands of dried citrus fruits. The mix of oranges, lemons and limes creates a colorful medley, and the fruit slices filter sunlight like stained glass. You even can use the dried fruit after Sukkot for home décor throughout the autumn season.

What you’ll need:

Oranges
Lemons
Limes
Knife
Paper towels
Baking sheet
Parchment paper
Nail
String

1. Thinly slice the oranges, lemons and limes. (If you prefer, you can use only one type of fruit.) The slices should be no more than a quarter-inch thick. The thinner the slices, the faster they will dry.

Step 1

 

2. Pat the fruit slices dry with paper towels. Soaking up as much juice as possible with the paper towels will reduce drying time in the oven.

Step 2

 

3. Heat the oven to 200 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the fruit slices in a single layer on the baking sheet.

Step 3

 

4. After an hour, flip over the fruit slices so they can dehydrate evenly. Return to the oven and dry for another hour. Check the fruit every hour and flip the slices each time. It will take two to four hours to dry the fruit, depending on the thickness.

Step 4

 

5. Poke two holes with a nail near the top of every fruit slice, about a half-inch apart. The fruit still will be flexible, so you can move the nail around to expand the holes to fit your string.

Step 5

 

6. Slide string through the holes to make your garland. If you have a problem with insects in your yard, you can spray the garland with a clear varnish before hanging.

Step 6

 


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

From left: Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles CEO Jay Sanderson, L.A. Federation Lifetime Achievement Award honorees Helgard and Irwin Field, and Federation Board Chair Julie Platt attend the 2017 Jewish Community Lifetime Achievement Award dinner. Photo courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Moving & Shaking: Helgard and Irwin Field receive lifetime achievement award, JVSLA holds fundraiser at wax museum


The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles honored Helgard and Irwin Field with the 2017 Jewish Community Lifetime Achievement Award on Sept. 17 at the Beverly Hilton, “in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the Jewish community and generous support of our life changing work,” the event program said.

Irwin Field, raised in a Zionist and charitable household, served as Federation’s campaign chair in 1973 and 1974, as its president in 1995 and 1996, and in other leadership positions. He also served as publisher of the Jewish Journal from 2003-2011.

Helgard Field, raised in Germany, has been involved with numerous organizations, including the Women’s Zionist Organization, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israel Museum.

The Fields have four children, 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Speakers at the event included Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe — who discussed how counseling the Helgards following the death of their son, Edward, was among the most profound spiritual experiences of his life — and Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson.

The event featured cocktails, dinner and musical entertainment from the Jewish vocal ensemble Guys and Meidels.

The more than 450 attendees included Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), Federation Board Chair Julie Platt, Adat Shalom Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz, Federation Executive Vice President Andrew Cushnir, Sinai Temple Rabbi Erez Sherman, and Leon Janks, a managing partner at Green Hasson Janks.

The event raised more than $1 million for Federation’s Special Needs Engagement Fund, which will increase access to Federation programs for Jewish children and teenagers with special needs.


From left: Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVSLA) board member Matt Winnick; JVLSA CEO Alan Levey and his wife, Deborah; JVSLA President Harris Smith; JVSLA fall fundraiser co-chairs Adam Abramowitz, Heidi Levyn and Steve Seigel; and JVSLA client Rasika Flores pose with a wax version of Arnold Schwarzenegger from “The Terminator” at the JVSLA fall fundraiser at Madame Tussauds Hollywood. Photo courtesy of Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles

 

Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVSLA) held its fall fundraiser, “An Evening at Madame Tussauds,” at the famous wax museum in Hollywood on Sept. 16.

The costume-optional “party with a purpose” drew more than 200 guests, who snapped photographs with the museum’s wax celebrities and mingled while enjoying food, drink and dance until midnight.

The event raised nearly $100,000 to benefit JVSLA programs for veterans and at-risk youths in foster care and on court-ordered juvenile probation.

JVSLA is a nonprofit, nonsectarian agency dedicated to empowering people to overcome barriers and achieve sustainable employment.

“This was absolutely a first-of-its-kind event for JVS and the beginning of an entirely new approach to our annual fundraiser,” JVSLA Board President Harris Smith said. “We wanted to create both a memorable experience for our longtime donors and an opportunity to engage a new circle of supporters. In addition to a great evening, our guests had a chance to learn firsthand about the life-changing impact of our work in the lives of veterans and youth through the very moving stories of our former clients, Alex and Rasika.”

Alex was former JVSLA Veterans First program client Alex Tapanya, who was stationed at the Pentagon on 9/11 and set up a triage unit to handle injuries. When he was discharged from the military, his work experience didn’t translate to the private sector, forcing him to take whatever job he could get. He then was referred to JVSLA, and the organization made it possible for him to become certified in cyber security. JVSLA also paid to train his wife, also a veteran, in data analytics.

“For both of us, JVS Veterans First was the linchpin not only for funding but for the compassion and support and understanding of our fellow veterans,” Tapanya said. “The program has made a world of difference to our family, and we are deeply grateful.”

The “Rasika” referred to by Smith is Rasika Flores, a former JVSLA Youth Program client who grew up in an unstable, homeless family and dropped out of high school to take care of her siblings.

“Not only did JVS hire me, but they pushed me to want more from myself,” Flores said at the event. “I enrolled in Santa Monica College … something no one in my family has ever done.  With the help of JVS and all of you here tonight, I started to become greater than my sufferings.”

The event’s co-chairs were Adam Abramowitz, managing director at Intrepid Investment Bankers; Jason Kravitz, director of national sales at Mortgage Capital Associates; Heidi Levyn, a client partner at Facebook; Steve Seigel, president of Silversheet; and Aaron Suzar, managing director at L&S Advisors.

  Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer


The Sulamot Klezmer Band from Israel performs at Shelters for Israel’s 69th anniversary luncheon at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. Photo courtesy of Shelters for Israel

 

Shelters for Israel celebrated its 69th anniversary with a luncheon on Sept. 10 at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

Drawing about 225 people, the event benefited Sulamot–Music for Social Change, an education program for at-risk children and a collaboration between the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), Tel Aviv University and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

“We chose Sulamot because we were impressed with their model — in partnership with the IPO, the IDF and Tel Aviv University — to reach out to thousands of disadvantaged, at-risk children throughout Israel and provide musical instruments and instruction to them,” Shelters for Israel President Myra Gabbay said.

Shelters for Israel, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, was founded in 1948 by a group of female Hungarian Holocaust survivors who moved to the United States following World War II. Aware of a housing shortage in Israel due to an influx of immigrants, they used money from a regular card game to create a loan fund for the new arrivals to the fledging Jewish state.

To date, the volunteer-led organization has sponsored more than 50 capital projects in Israel serving the elderly, Negev and the Galilee communities, disadvantaged youth and others. Among its current projects is a three-year program in Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev, where the city has committed to match the organization’s funding and build a music school for graduates of the Sulamot program.

Participants in the the event included David Jackson, Shelters for Israel co-president; Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, director of the Orthodox Union’s West Coast region; Holocaust survivor Eva Brettler and Beverly Hills High School 2016 graduate Lauren Aviram.

The highlight of the luncheon was when the Sulamot Klezmer Band from Israel performed klezmer and classic Jewish and Israeli music, Gabbay said. “It was special to dance with the survivors and subsequent generations to the music of these exceptional young people.”


American Friends of Hebrew University Humanitarian Torch of Learning Award honorees Renae Jacobs-Anson (left) and Helen Jacobs-Lepor. Photo courtesy of American Friends of Hebrew University

American Friends of Hebrew University (AFHU) honored Renae Jacobs-Anson and Helen Jacobs-Lepor, prominent civic and Jewish communal leaders, at its annual AFHU Bel Air Affaire on Sept. 16 at the home of Brindell Gottlieb.

The honorees received the AFHU Humanitarian Torch of Learning Award for being “dedicated supporters of Israel and members of AFHU’s national and western region boards,” an AFHU statement said.

Jacobs-Anson, an actor and singer, and Jacobs-Lepor, vice president of business development for US Medical Innovations, have co-chaired the annual event for nine consecutive years.

Additional chairs of the event included Glaser Weil lawyer Patricia Glaser, AFHU western region board vice chair; Glaser’s husband, Sam Mudie; and May Ziman and her husband, Richard, AFHU western region board chair. Hebrew University President and professor Asher Cohen also attended.

The gala raised more than $1 million to support scholarships for Hebrew University students.

AFHU, a nonprofit, raises funds and awareness for Hebrew University, a leading academic institution and research facility in Jerusalem. The university has four main campuses — the Mount Scopus campus for humanities and social sciences, the Edmond J. Safra campus for exact sciences, the Ein Karem Campus for medical sciences and the Rehovot campus.


USC graduate student Sydney Siegel is paired with Shauna Esfandi, who has cerebral palsy, at Friendship Circle of Los Angeles’ eighth annual Walk4FriendshipLA. Photo courtesy of Friendship Circle of Los Angeles

 

The eighth annual Walk4FriendshipLA, a 2-kilometer walkathon benefiting Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, was held Sept. 17 at Shalhevet High School. 

The gathering is the biggest annual community awareness program and fundraiser for the Chabad-affiliated organization serving Jewish children with special needs.

Friendship Circle Development Director Gail Rollman said this year’s event was a success, raising $220,000 for social, recreational and educational programs.

“It was a thrill to see close to 800 people in pink T-shirts that said ‘Step up for Friendship’ walk in support of our Jewish children who have special needs,” she told the Journal.

Rollman and her husband, Fred, were top walkers, raising nearly $23,000 for the organization through their participation in the event. Other top walkers included Yonatan Mark, Alana Bess, Jonah Weiss and Rabbi Michy Rav-Noy, Friendship Circle of L.A.’s executive director.

The opening ceremony featured a performance by Broken Chains, an Alice and Nahum Lainer School teen band led by Friendship Circle volunteer Zev Gaslin.

Volunteers included Sydney Siegel, a USC graduate student paired with Shauna Esfandi, a child with cerebral palsy.

“I absolutely loved meeting Shauna,” Siegel said. “That is certainly an interaction I will never forget.”

The walk began at 2:45 p.m. and took participants on a route that passed the Petersen Automotive Museum at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. The walk was followed by a family festival that featured Rosh Hashanah crafts, a photo booth, carnival activities, a barbecue, shofar demonstrations, a live DJ and more.

Established 15 years ago, Friendship Cricle operates 25 programs for Jewish children with special needs with the help of 500 teen volunteers.


Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Rescuers from the Mexican-Jewish aid agency Cadena inspecting damage in Mexico City following a 7.1 magnitude earthquake on Sept. 19. Photo by ourtesy of Cadena

In Mexico City, this Jewish NGO is the go-to agency for earthquake relief


I was on the 11th floor of an office building here when the ground started moving. There had been a mock evacuation that same day in remembrance of the 1985 earthquake that killed more than 10,000 people, but this was no drill.

According to protocol, everyone ran toward the building’s columns — structurally the safest place to be in an earthquake. I closed my eyes as the rumbling worsened, focusing on my breath and hugging the concrete structure as ceiling lamps came down, breaking the long wooden tables. Through the window, I saw clouds of dust billowing behind the skyline.

The 7.1 magnitude quake on Sept. 19 toppled 38 buildings in Mexico City and killed over 300 people nationwide. Two buildings collapsed next to my apartment in the Condesa neighborhood, and many more in Roma — both historical centers of Mexican-Jewish life. Although most Mexico City Jews moved to the city’s outskirts following the aftermath of the ’85 temblor, which destroyed both areas, the neighborhood is still home to five synagogues, a Jewish archival center, a kindergarten and a Holocaust museum.

I realized an hour later that my house was uninhabitable — windows busted, cracks across the walls, bathroom tiles scattered on the ground — and I joined an exodus of thousands of walkers (the highways needed to be cleared for emergency vehicles) as we made our way out of the disaster zone.

I stayed at my parents’ place, returning to the neighborhood two days later. The roads had been blocked by the army and marines. The parks were turned into supply centers, with thousands of volunteers making human chains and trying to help out those stuck in the rubble.

Half a block from the Alianza Nidjel Israel synagogue on Acapulco Street, whose structure was severely affected by the quake, Cadena, a Mexican-Jewish NGO specializing in humanitarian aid, set up shop. A line of about 20 people was standing waiting to be registered as volunteers, and many more were running around fetching what was needed and loading it on trucks.

During its 12 years of existence, this small organization (only 10 people work full-time) has helped over half a million people in Mexico, Haiti, Turkey, Chile, Guatemala, Ecuador, Belize and Costa Rica. Through partnerships with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, IsraAID, local Jewish communities and other humanitarian organizations, Cadena has been able to operate nimbly and at incredible speed, mobilizing the human resources of the Jewish world to get to the most impenetrable disasters zones in record time.

In Condesa, Cadena repurposed the parking lot of a residential building near the synagogue as a warehouse for donated goods essential to the rescue operations in Mexico City and beyond. When I got there, the donations had been meticulously categorized into types of aid (“medicine,” “axes,” etc.) and there was a constant influx of trucks and vans — including police and army vehicles — coming to stock up on supplies. Some supplies were destined for the nearby states of Morelos and Puebla. Others, such as insulin packages, were sent via bicycle to help the victims of a building that had collapsed nearby.

By the time the latest earthquake struck, Cadena already was performing activities on the ground in the aftermath of a quake on Sept. 7 — the strongest one in a century. It had ravaged the south of Mexico, and Cadena was assisting those affected in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

On Sept. 19, the organization deployed its Go Team, which specializes in rescuing victims from toppled structures, in the nation’s capital. In coordination with the 70 Israeli soldiers who arrived to help in the relief efforts and the Mexican army, team members visited the devastated zones.

“We are the only organization with special equipment that detects heartbeats,” Benjamin Laniado, CEO of Cadena, explained to me over the phone. “Thanks to this device we managed to rescue 25 people from underneath the rubble.”

Cadena is a Mexican-Jewish NGO specializing in humanitarian aid. (Courtesy of Cadena)

At the Condesa center, Miriam Kajomovitz, a fundraiser for the organization, had been working nonstop coordinating the delivery of the supplies even though she had been evacuated from her house after a building collapsed next to hers.

“We need hands,” she told me the day I visited as we approached the eve of Rosh Hashanah. “People are going to go home for their meals and leave us.”

The worry proved unfounded — many of the volunteers decided to forego the celebrations and continue to help out.

In a country where suspicion of government runs high, Cadena has positioned itself as an effective humanitarian alternative. Lately, the Mexican press has been running articles about the illicit use of relief funds for electioneering purposes in the state of Oaxaca. Public intellectuals like the Jewish writer Sabina Berman lambasted government-run relief efforts as inefficient and overly centralized. In the town of Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, Cadena provided relief before any government help had arrived, according to The New York Times.

“We wanted to donate to a transparent, credible organization that was not affiliated with any political party,” said Raul Cardos, CEO of a communications firm that designed a mock Airbnb platform called Arriba Méxicoto raise funds for the victims. “When we tell people that the funds go to Cadena, they are more willing to help out.”

Clara Zabludovsky, a Mexican Jew who lives in London, found out about the destruction as her plane touched down in San Francisco. She has since raised over 17,000 British pounds ($23,000) toward a GoFundMe goal of 18,000 pounds , a lucky Jewish number — all of which will go to the NGO.

Now that a week has passed since the temblor, people who live in Condesa and Roma are coming to terms with the loss. The immediate urgency has receded, and questions about long-term damage to buildings are taking center stage. The continuing gentrification of what an American magazine recently called “Mexico City’s reigning axis of cool” is now in question.

On Sunday, Cadena shut down its emergency supply center in Condesa. In its week of operation, the center managed to send out 347 shipments to cover the needs of rescue workers in Mexico.

It’s not enough. The NGO is now organizing an international campaign to build temporary housing for those who lost their homes in Oaxaca and Chiapas. Cadena will be setting up tents with kitchen utensils, hygiene kits, water filters, beds and portable, ecological kitchens.

“There are thousands of people living in the streets, and it’s raining and cold,” Laniado, who is traveling to the state, told me. “The government reconstruction program takes too long, and in the meantime, people have nowhere to sleep.”

As for my building, it has been severely damaged. Specialists say it will take at least five months for it to be safe enough to withstand the next earthquake. I’m not taking the risk. For an unforeseeable time, I will be staying in my childhood home.

Gay parent sues Pressman Academy for discrimination


gay man is suing Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am, claiming the Conservative Jewish day school discriminated against his 8-year-old daughter because of his sexual orientation.

The suit refers to the man only as “John Doe,” a single, Israeli-born man whose two daughters, referred to as “Jane Doe 1” and “Jane Doe 2,” were enrolled at Pressman Academy until the end of the 2016-17 school year.

Filed Sept. 20 in Los Angeles Superior Court, it alleges that Pressman teachers and administrators “failed to address the bullying that Jane Doe 1 was subjected to because she has no mother.” It says a teacher at the school insisted on “informing everyone in the class that Jane Doe 1 was different,” even after the student asked her not to. The suit alleges civil rights violations, fraudulent business practices and infliction of emotional distress, asking for an unspecified amount in damages.

The first hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 20.

Adam Wasserman, the attorney for the plaintiff, declined to comment on the case.

Erica Rothblum, head of school at Pressman Academy, said in an emailed statement to the Journal, “While we cannot comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, it is important that everyone know that we are a school committed to the physical and emotional safety of our students.”

She added, “We are a community that embraces diversity, and we remain an inclusive community for LGBTQ students and families. Our commitment includes a life skills class in our middle school that explicitly teaches about sexuality and identity, as well as an active partnership with Keshet, a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life.”

The 47-page complaint alleges that Pressman Academy, a preschool through eighth-grade day school operated by Temple Beth Am on La Cienega Boulevard, engaged in false advertising by selling itself as a “warm embracing community” that “balances a rigorous academic education with social, emotional and spiritual learning.” It claims other students teased Jane Doe 1 by calling her an orphan, pushing a chair into her, circulating rumors about her and, at one point, putting thorns on her pillow.

“The inaction by the faculty and staff at Pressman sent a direct message to the students that tortured, taunted, physically, and verbally abused Jane Doe 1, ‘that this behavior is acceptable at Pressman,’ ” the suit alleges.

After a school therapist learned Jane Doe 1 and her younger sister were the daughters of a single gay man, “everything began to get progressively worse,” according to the suit. Allegedly, a teacher announced to a third-grade class that “Jane Doe 1’s family is different,” and Jane Doe 1 was discouraged from attending a Mother’s Day event.

As a result of this treatment, the suit claims, “Jane Doe 1 became severely depressed and talked to her tutor about wanting to kill herself; she isolated herself socially and would not play with other children at recess because they picked on her; she would lock herself in rooms because she felt safer alone than with other students, staff, and teachers.”

Eventually, according to the suit, a Pressman Academy counselor told John Doe it would be better if he withdrew his daughter and sent her to a local Reform day school.

At the advice of a third-party therapist, John Doe withdrew his daughters from Pressman Academy, according to the suit. Jane Doe 1 had attended the school for six years.

In her statement, Rothblum, the head of school, painted a very different picture from the one in the complaint, describing the school as a place where “everyone should feel safe and comfortable to tell a teacher, counselor or administrator” if they encounter bullying. “Those adults will then take prompt and effective action,” she wrote.

She added, “Pressman Academy is a community of support and engagement, and we are invested in the well-being of our children and our families.”

WATCH: David Frum and Peter Beinart on the challenges in Trump’s America


 

 

Elly Rubin (left) and Lya Frank. Photo by David Miller

Survivors Lya Frank and Elly Rubin: Former hidden children ‘have a story to tell’


On the evening of April 18, 1943, as Lya and Elly Meijers were being bundled up by their parents, they were told, “You’re going away for a few days.”

The day before, the girls had celebrated their shared birthday — Lya had turned 7 and Elly 4 — and now, with only a valise each and no further explanation, they were placed on the backs of bicycles belonging to non-Jewish friends, Wilhelmina and Jan van Hilten, whom the girls called Tante (Aunt) Wil and Oom (Uncle) Jan. As they rode away from their home in Utrecht, the Netherlands, Lya and Elly had no idea they soon would be separated from each other for more than two years.

They also never would see their parents again, and their only indirect communication would come 50 years later, when someone unexpectedly forwarded a postcard their father had thrown from a train on his way to a transit camp in the Netherlands, after he and their mother had been captured. It was written in pencil, dated May 1944 and addressed to a neighbor in Utrecht.

After the war, Lya and Elly were encouraged not to speak about their past. Later, as former hidden children who hadn’t experienced the horrors of roundups, ghettos or camps, they thought their stories weren’t consequential.

But faced with some personal crises in 1993, Lya began to acknowledge her long-buried anguish of having been separated from her sister and of emerging from World War II to discover that her parents and extended family — except for an uncle, aunt and cousin — had been annihilated by the Nazis. Soon after, she began sharing her story publicly. For the past five years, Elly tentatively has followed suit.

“We do have something to say. We do have a story,” Lya said. “It may not be Auschwitz,” (“Thank God,” Elly interjected) “but we have different issues.”

Lya and Elly were born in Utrecht, a city in the central Netherlands, to Lion Mauritz, known as Leo, and Renee Meijers.

Leo worked for the Hamburger Lead and Zinc manufacturing company as the equivalent of a chief financial officer. The family lived comfortably, often surrounded by friends and family. “I have memories of a happy childhood,” Lya said.

After Germany invaded and occupied the Netherlands in May 1940, anti-Jewish measures were implemented, though Lya and Elly’s parents mostly sheltered them from details of the increasingly perilous situation. By April 1943, they were living in permanent hiding places.

Lya, who kept her name, which, like her appearance, was not identifiably Jewish, was placed with the Broers family in Amersfoort, about 15 miles northeast of Utrecht. She was instructed to tell people, if asked, she was from Rotterdam, which had been heavily bombed, and didn’t know her parents’ fate.

Hugo Broers was an ophthalmologist with an office on the first floor of their spacious house. His wife, Kathy, worked with him. They had two daughters, Pauline, then 6, and Francine, 4. “I was treated as one of the girls,” Lya said.

The first night, when Hugo and Kathy entered Lya’s large bedroom to say goodnight, Lya burst into tears. “I don’t want to sleep alone,” she told them. The parents moved her into their girls’ bedroom the following night.

Sometime later, a new housekeeper cornered Lya, interrogating her. “What kind of parents do you have? They don’t write. They don’t see you,” she said. Lya remained outwardly calm. “I don’t know. I’m from Rotterdam,” she answered.

That night, Lya recounted the incident to her foster parents. “We’re really proud that you stuck to your story,” they told her, rewarding her with a scarce piece of candy and firing the housekeeper.

Elly doesn’t recall being taken to her foster families in 1943. “But I remember the families,” she said.

She first was placed on a farm in Baambrugge, about 18 miles north of Utrecht, with Wijntje and Jacobus Griffioen and their six children. But after six months, because the house was close to the road and because Elly’s darker hair and complexion made her conspicuous, she was moved to the farm of Wijntje’s sister and brother-in-law, Cornelia and Jan van der Lee.

At the time, the van der Lees had six children. They were not well-to-do, but, Elly said. “They were rich in religion and family life.” Elly attended their Dutch Reform church and was part of the family. “I was loved until [they] died,” she said. Jan van der Lee died in 1968; his wife, who was known as Cor, died in 2006.

On May 5, 1945, the area was liberated. “The [Dutch] flags went out and people were celebrating,” Lya said. Allied tanks and jeeps rolled in, and the children were allowed on the street, where soldiers distributed chocolate and white bread.

A couple of months later, Lya was visited by her Uncle Lex, their birth father’s brother, who had been in hiding himself and who had learned the girls’ locations, most likely through the van Hiltens. He reunited Lya with Elly, whom she didn’t recognize but by day’s end didn’t want to leave, in fear of being separated again. The foster parents agreed that Lya should stay with Elly while Lex and his wife, who had two daughters of their own, searched for housing.

One day, Cor van der Lee called Lya and Elly into the front room, which was used only on Sundays and holidays. “I have to tell you, Mommy and Daddy have gone to heaven,” she told the girls. Lya immediately burst into tears. “That couldn’t be,” she said. “They loved us.”

In November 1945, the girls moved to Amsterdam with their Uncle Lex and his family. They lived in a large house and attended the Rosh Pina Jewish school. “We had a good family life,” Lya said.

But when the Hungarian Revolution broke out in 1956, Lex announced, “We’re not staying here to go through this again.” They arrived in the United States as immigrants a year later.

The family first lived in Glendale, where Lya and Elly worked in banking. Eighteen months later, they moved to Los Angeles.

Lya married Henk Frank in December 1959. Their daughter, Terry, was born in August 1962. Elly and Coleman Rubin married in December 1962. Their two children are Mark, born in August 1964, and Sharon, born in April 1966. Coleman died in 2004 and Henk in 2014. Lya has two grandchildren and Elly has nine.

Over the years, Lya and Elly learned that their parents — along with two uncles, an aunt, their grandmother and a cousin — had been hidden by two brothers in Brummen, a village in central Netherlands, which was their father’s birthplace. There, one brother’s step-daughter, who was having a relationship with a German officer, divulged their hiding places and got paid for the information. “For a small amount of money, they annihilated our whole family,” Lya said.

Lya and Elly also learned that as the bus carrying the captured family members pulled away from Brummen, their mother was shouting, “I want my children. I want my children.”

The family was taken to the Westerbork transit camp and then to Auschwitz, where only a cousin survived.

The van Hiltens, Broers, Griffioens and van der Lees all have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. Lya and Elly have remained close to the families, visiting through the years. “I loved these families. I still do,” Elly said.

Lya and Elly said they feel fortunate to have each other, each other’s families and their hiding families.

“You know what?” Lya repeated. “We do have a story to tell.”

Bobbi Fiedler

Bustop was where Conservative Jews got on board


The roots of modern Jewish conservative politics in Los Angeles were planted in the San Fernando Valley suburbs by Arnold L. Steinberg, a perceptive campaign consultant, and the candidate he helped make a star, Bobbi Fiedler.

Steinberg tells the stories of his many campaigns in a new, insightful memoir, “Whiplash.” For those of you who are like me, obsessive followers of political news and history, “Whiplash” is an invaluable journey through conservative Republican politics, especially relevant now with Republicans in control of Congress and the presidency.

Steinberg, whom I have known for years, is more conservative than I am, by far. For example, I found it annoying when he referred to the public schools he’d attended — John Burroughs Middle School and Fairfax High — as “government schools,” making them sound like second-rate detention facilities. Come on, Steinberg! They were good enough to get you into UCLA, then on to a successful career as one of the first consultants to use advanced statistics to shape a political campaign.

To me, the most interesting and significant part of the book is the story of how Fiedler ran for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board in 1977.

Fiedler was a leader of a group of mothers, many of them Jewish, at Lanai Road Elementary School in Encino. A court had ruled that LAUSD was segregated. It ordered the district to be desegregated, which meant that large numbers of students of all races would be bused across town and put together in schools that had been long segregated by neighborhoods. The plan exacerbated Los Angeles’ race problems.

Fiedler organized a group known as Bustop, which fought the court order and became a powerful political force in the city. At the time, I was covering the desegregation story for the Los Angeles Times and got to know Fiedler and some of the other Lanai Road school mothers

Steinberg, then a young political consultant, didn’t see busing as his battle. He was single. “But I had cousins of modest means who wanted their children close to home,” he wrote. “This mandatory busing seemed preposterous.” Steinberg, not limited by a false sense of modesty, said, “I decided in 1977 to take over the Los Angeles school board by electing a majority opposed to forced busing.” That’s when he met Fiedler.

There were Jewish Republicans at the time but not many. A notable one was Taft Schreiber, a power in the entertainment industry who had been close to Ronald Reagan since the former governor and future president’s show business days. Most Jews were liberal and supporters of the African-American mayor, Tom Bradley, and the Westside-San Fernando Valley political operation headed by Howard Berman and Henry Waxman. But the prospect of busing angered liberals. That was clear to me when I interviewed Jewish Bustop activists, who included a substantial number of Democrats.

Steinberg saw Fiedler as a winner for a school board seat. He wrote, “Bobbi, intuitively bright and very strategic, was determined; she managed her husband’s pharmacy business. She did not have Republican roots, and was hardly a movement conservative. Like many of her Jewish contemporaries, she had backed the civil rights movement. But she opposed the forced busing of her two small children.”

With Steinberg and communications chief Paul Clarke, who later married Fiedler, calling the shots, Fiedler won, and the board’s pro-busing majority was beaten. Presiding over the board as president was Roberta Weintraub, another San Fernando Valley anti-busing leader. “We did it,” Weintraub said after the vote.

Fiedler, by then a Republican, went on to defeat a highly favored incumbent Democratic congressman and served three terms in the U.S. House.

Fiedler’s victories did not signal a Jewish conservative tidal wave. Jews continue to vote solidly Democratic in Los Angeles and elsewhere. But what Fiedler and Steinberg had tapped was an undercurrent of discontent with the Jewish establishment, a constant Steinberg theme. He wrote, “I occasionally found myself as the token conservative on an election panel that ranged from the Los Angeles Jewish Federation Council … to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee … [and] at an AJC reception a very wealthy Jewish philanthropist might agree with my sentiments but would ask if I would keep the conversation with him ‘confidential. ’ ”

Steinberg sounds as if he took it personally, as I would have. It was as if the rich man was ashamed to be caught talking to anti-busing advocate Steinberg.

Part of the grass roots’ anger could be traced to its opposition to the school board and its desegregation plan. And part was working-class and middle-class resentment of the establishment leaders who tended to support the plan.

Steinberg’s roots are in the Jewish working class. “During World War II, my father left New York for Los Angeles where he used his savings to buy a small market at the corner of 59th Street and Central Avenue,” Steinberg recalled.  “He and my mother worked six full days a week.”

His extended family was similarly situated. 

“Generally,” he wrote, “my relatives and their families were not into amusement parks and expensive outings — just a whole large extended family gathering nearly every Sunday in the public park. … These picnics helped me understand how people from modest circumstances can have a sense of community and have fun.”

When Bobbi Fiedler appeared on the scene, her critics, including the Jewish establishment, first tried to dismiss her as an inconsequential Valley housewife and then a bigot. Steinberg saw her as someone who could connect with people like him and his family.

The busing plan collapsed in 1981, killed by an appellate court decision, a unanimous school board vote and persistent opposition by white parents who began pulling their children from public schools.

The impact of the campaign lingers. Echoes of it could be seen in the anti-establishment aspects of President Donald Trump’s election campaign.

“Trump did not stir the expected scare among Jewish voters,” Shmuel Rosner wrote in the Jewish Journal after the election. “The share of the Democratic vote among Jews continues the slow yet steady decline from the early ’90s to today: 80 percent, 78 percent, 79 percent, 74 percent, 74 percent, 70 percent, 70 percent.”

Forty years ago, this would have been considered impossible. Then came Bustop, the empowerment of San Fernando Valley Jewish parents and the rise of conservative Jewish grass-roots political influence.


BILL BOYARSKY is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

President Donald Trump in Indianapolis on Sept. 27. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump facing increased pressure from lawmakers to abide by Iran nuclear deal


Ben Cardin, one of a handful of Senate Democrats who opposed the Iran nuclear deal, urged the Trump administration not to pull out of it — the latest indication of congressional resistance to killing the agreement.

“If we violate a U.N. resolution, in the eyes of the international community, do we have any credibility?” Cardin asked Wednesday at a monthly meeting he holds with foreign policy reporters, referring to the Security Council resolution that undergirds the deal. “I don’t understand the strategy to set up the potential of the United States walking away from a nuclear agreement.”

Cardin, who is Jewish and the top Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, was one of four Senate Democrats who opposed the 2015 deal, which trades sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program.

He warned the administration to stick to the deal as long as Iran is abiding by it. President Donald Trump has called the agreement one of the worst he ever encountered and intimated he might kill it or at least open it up to renegotiation.

Cardin said he was speaking for many opponents of the deal.

“We thought it was the wrong decision,” he said, “but we want to see it implemented.”

Trump has said his decision on what to do with the deal will be known by next month. The president can declare Iran is not complying with the agreement under a law that Cardin co-authored that requires the president to periodically certify Iran is abiding by the pact. That would give Congress 60 days to reimpose sanctions — effectively leaving it up to lawmakers whether to withdraw from the deal. The certification is due by Oct. 15.

Cardin said kicking the ball to Congress would be an abdication of executive responsibility.

“This is not a congressional agreement, this is an agreement entered into by the president,” he said.

Trump may also unilaterally stop the deal simply by refusing to waive sanctions.

Cardin echoed warnings issued earlier this week by European ambassadors that there is little appetite among U.S. allies to end the deal.

“It’s pretty universal that our friends don’t want us to walk away from the agreement,” he said.

Cardin last week joined six other Senate Democrats in top security positions in a letter to administration officials demanding evidence that Iran is not in compliance. U.N. nuclear inspectors have repeatedly certified Iranian compliance.

The resistance to ending the deal is not confined to Democrats. The top foreign policy Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said earlier this month that he would prefer to keep the deal in place. He added that Trump should “enforce the hell out of it.”

And on Wednesday in the House, a Republican, Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, and a Democrat, Gerald Connolly of Virginia, introduced a bill that would devolve oversight of the agreement on a bipartisan commission to include 16 lawmakers — equally split between Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate — and four executive branch officials.

Connolly in a joint news release with Rooney indicated that the aim of the commission would be to protect the deal from the whims of the president.

“Congress has a role to play in effective oversight of this agreement, and we must assert that role regardless of whether the President certifies Iran’s compliance,” he said.

Trump derided the deal last week during the U.N. General Assembly as one of the worst he had ever encountered, and he was joined in that assessment by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump is also under pressure from some conservatives to kill the deal.

This week, a letter from 45 national security experts urged Trump to quash the deal, hewing to a plan drafted by John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations. Among the signers was Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Like the European ambassadors who warned against pulling out of the deal, Cardin urged Trump to use the available tools to pressure Iran to modify its behavior, outside the parameter of the nuclear agreement, including a range of sanctions targeting Iran’s missile testing and its military adventurism.

“Seeking the support of our allies to isolate Iran for its non-nuclear activity,” he said. “That should be our strategy.”

Jeffrey Tambor in “Transparent.” Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

‘Transparent’ finds new conflicts on trip to Israel


Over the course of its four seasons, “Transparent” has been creating groundbreaking conversation about gender identity, telling the story of a family in which one parent is going through gender transition. It’s also become known as one of the “Jewiest” shows on TV, pushing deeper into issues of secular Jewish identity and introducing many to epigenetics, the idea that trauma — in many Jewish cases, Holocaust suffering — is hereditary, passed down from the generation that experienced it, to echo in future generations.

These conversations are complicated, and with the fourth season now available on Amazon Prime, “Transparent” adds another controversial topic: the Israel-Palestine conflict. (The following includes spoilers from Season Four.)

Throughout the series, the Pfeffermans have struggled with boundaries, definitions and fluidities; characters push against and dismantle binaries, rejecting constructs like “black/white” or “male/female” in favor of multiplicity and expanded perspectives. In Season One, Mort Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) transitioned to become Maura, a decision that reshapes the family journey moving forward.In the new season, Maura is invited to speak at a conference in Israel and makes a discovery that further impacts the definition of family. The Pfefferman children — Sarah (Amy Landecker), Josh (Jay Duplass) and Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) — struggle with nonconforming identities and relationships.

The tour bus full of Pfeffermans shleps with it the traditional baggage of old and new American-Jewish perspectives on Israel: An older generation argues for Israel’s position as a safe home for Jews after pogroms and the Holocaust but is unable to see any nuance to the current conflict and is unwilling to criticize the Israeli government. The young see the black and white of suffering and inequality, whether it’s a stark imbalance of Western Wall plaza space for women or oppression of Palestinians.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian storyline, the Palestinian narrative gets the most visibility. In Ramallah, the youngest Pfefferman, Ali, hears stories from her activist friends and the Palestinians who live there, of Israelis blackmailing Palestinians and exploiting their vulnerabilities, such as sexual orientation, to recruit them as informants, and that some of them can’t visit Jerusalem without permits. She asks if checkpoints are “along the border” and is quickly corrected that “there is no actual internationally recognized border, just one big, ugly wall and hundreds of checkpoints all over the place.” It’s life on the ground for the Palestinians and their activist friends, without any larger context: There’s no acknowledgment of why the wall is there, and the one person who says, “Not every Israeli is here to get rid of Palestinians” is all but drowned out as others talk over her.

Responding to her family saying that Israel was created to be a safe place for Jews post-persecution, Ali says, “We do not need to make the Palestinians unsafe just so the Jews can be safe.” But there’s no discussion of the reason for the existence of the divider and the outcome, that it is believed to have increased security for Israel by severely curtailing suicide bombings (although violence continues, as this week’s shooting in the West Bank demonstrates).

Ali always has been the millennial searcher, looking for truth, equality, love and acceptance. Her sense of right and wrong is only partly innate, and ignited and amplified by the people she meets and loves. But it would have been even more interesting if she had to navigate conflicting narratives, each of which was making compelling — and passionate — points and presented by people with whom she shares a peer-level respect and an emotional connection.

These scenes paint an unbridgeable gap: The previous generation is living in the past, unable to step away from its narrative to see any negative outcome, and the younger generation is passionate about Palestinian rights as part of an overall quest for justice but divorced from the region’s history as context. Each perspective sees no other choice; each perspective has its valid points and its blindnesses, all forged in history and emotion, with no room for nuance or compassion.

In real life in the modern American-Jewish community, when it comes to “the conflict,” there are extreme positions that mirror the extremes in the Pfefferman clan. But those of us who don’t adhere to edges or subscribe to extremes are, perhaps, more silent because we’re seeing both sides but don’t have answers, and perhaps more disturbingly, don’t have any confidence that either side is willing to listen.

Throughout, the Pfeffermans’ visit to Israel is underscored by the songs of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” a soundtrack both geographically appropriate and subversive as a score for a Jewish family’s tour of the Holy Land. For example, take “Everything’s Alright.” Its lyrics — “Try not to get worried/try not to turn on to/problems that upset you, oh/don’t you know/everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine” — indicate a kind of wishful thinking. “Close your eyes/close your eyes/and relax/think of nothing tonight” may be a good, in-the-moment coping strategy for a fictional, rock ’n’ roll opera Jesus, but it doesn’t solve systemic problems, whether they are Pfefferman family conflicts or regional ones.

Much has been written about the unlikability and selfishness of these characters. “Transparent” is intentionally disruptive and seems built to make the characters, and viewers by extension, uncomfortable, making it a perfect tonal match for the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which self-interest is a necessary guiding principle and discomfort reigns as conversational default.

If there’s one thing we should be learning from the Pfeffermans, it is perhaps that pushing against social limits and rejecting binary definitions, even — or especially — in a conflict as emotional and deeply rooted as the one in the Middle East, reveals the space between extremes. It is there, not at one pole or another, that we can do our individual work in discovering identity and exercise our sense of nuance and compassion.

Memorial candles

Disenfranchised Grief at Yizkor by Karen B. Kaplan


[Ed. Note: I chose to publish this entry in the blog for the week leading up to Yom Kippur because the Yizkor (Memorial) service on Yom Kippur is so often a major focus in many communities. This article speaks to how memory may be fraught, and not always what we might picture. — JB]

Whether it is Yizkor or just an ordinary service, the prayers before reciting the Kaddish can make some grievers feel even more rotten instead of better. What if a mother or father was not particularly one for whom “we recall the joy of their companionship”? What if “their memory” does not exactly bring “strength and blessing?” I remember in rabbinic school wrestling with the meaning of the Fifth Commandment for those who have or did have abusive parents. How can one be good to oneself, which is a mitzvah, yet  honor such a parent?

For grievers of such parents, the idea of grieving feels paradoxical. It seems straightforward enough and certainly painful enough to grieve a parent whose memories of their goodness sustains you. But a neglectful or downright hurtful mother or father elicits enough loads of guilt and anger to go round. And sadness is more about the protection or help or advice or love that parent did not provide; about the parent you never had. Thus, condolences and standard prayers before the Kaddish hardly bring comfort. Instead they are a jarring reminder of how your parent shortchanged you.

The definition a health professional gives to grieving is “reaction to the loss.” That is a broad enough definition to cover all situations. Still, how to start going about it is much more puzzling to a mourner of troubled parents. What does it mean to sit shiva for such a parent? What does it mean to recite the Kaddish for them? To me, the prepositon “for” suggests doing a ritual or prayer as an act of goodness, appreciation and love. And of course we use the expression “grieving for” so-and-so.

It seems odd to say under such circumstances, that “I am grieving for my mother.” I think part of successful grieving is portraying the process to oneself as honestly and accurately as possible. Otherwise you will hinder  the purpose of grieving in the first place, which is to allow all the feelings, great and small, peaceful and turbulent, joyful and gloomy, an open path for release. Somehow saying “grieving for” sounds like the tears are ready to roll at almost any provocation and that you miss them if not for how they were at the time of their passing, then at least for how they were in better days.

I think honesty in how we use language is one step in figuring out and expressing how we really feel, which is what healthy grieving is all about. As a symbolic baby step towards this goal, I am inventing a new expression for those who did not have parents who could be caring and be there for you:

“I am grieving against my mother.”

Methinks I have found a solution for us unconventional grievers. Let me know if the sentence below helps to express to yourself how you really feel about that louse. Does saying it this way give you permission to stop censoring those less socially acceptable emotions?

“I am grieving against my father.”

Rabbi and board certified Chaplain Karen B. Kaplan is author of Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died  (Pen-L Publishing, 2014) a series of true anecdotes capped with the deeper reasons she chose her vocation. She has also recently published a collection of science fiction stories, Curiosity Seekers (Createspace Independent Publishing, 2017). She has submitted multiple entries published in Expired And Inspired.

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan photo

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan

___________

GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 5, Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Liturgy, & Practice (Other than Taharah & Shmirah), online, afternoons/evenings, in the Winter semester, starting roughly in January, 2018. This is the core course focusing on ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means (for everything other than Taharah and Shmirah, which are covered in course 2).

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

Information on attending the course preview, the online orientation, and the course will be announced and sent to those registered. Register or contact us for more information.

REGISTRATION

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

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

____________________

Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session on the 3rd Wednedsays of most months. Each month, a different person will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly. The next scheduled session of the Gamliel Café is October 18th.

If you are interested in teaching for a session, you can contact us at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.

____________________

Gamliel Graduate Courses

Graduates of the Gamliel Institute, and Gamliel students who have completed three or more Gamliel Institute courses should be on the lookout for information on a series of “Gamliel Graduate’ Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will be in groups of three sessions each quarter (three consecutive weeks), with different topics addressed in each series.  The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. We plan to begin this Fall, in October and November. The first series will be on Psalms. Registration will be required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for the three sessions. Heading this intiative is the dynamic duo of Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. Contact us –  register at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/, or email info@jewish-funerals.org.

_____________________

DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, 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, both 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) organization, 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/).

___________

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 a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog 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, courses planned, 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.

____________________

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 unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

_____________________

 

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) on March 15. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Daily Kickoff: What Sen. Bob Menendez’s trial has to do with ‘tzimmes’ stew | Mike Doran on JCPOA | Gloria Allred’s Crusade | BDay: Walter P. Stern


Have our people email your people. Tell your friends to sign up for the Daily Kickoff here!

PROFILE: “Gloria Allred’s Crusade: The attorney takes on Bill Cosby, rape law, and Donald Trump” by Jia Tolentino: “She was born Gloria Rachel Bloom on July 3, 1941, to two doting Jewish parents, Morris and Stella. Stella was English; she and Morris had met, Gloria says they told her, “in Baltimore, on a streetcar named desire.” Both left school after the eighth grade. Morris worked six days a week as a door-to-door salesman, hawking Fuller brushes and photographic enlargements, and the family (Gloria was the only child) lived in a row house in southwest Philly. They didn’t attend synagogue together—Morris was too busy, and Stella explored many religious ideas, going to a church one week and an Ethical Culture meeting the next—but Gloria went there for Sunday school, and was confirmed.”

“Allred was approached years ago by people who wanted her to run for a seat in the California State Senate; she didn’t seriously consider it, she told me. She isn’t particularly religious, but she believes in the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, that it is the job of individuals to repair the world. “Each one of us has the responsibility of turning a negative experience into a positive experience,” she had told me the previous week, in Los Angeles. “Maybe that’s why these bad things happened. Maybe that’s the purpose—if there is a purpose, and I don’t know that there is. But a human being likes to think there is.” [NewYorker]

TZIMMES, THE TALK OF THE SEN. MENENDEZ TRIAL — by Matt Friedman: “Earlier, before the trial broke for Rosh Hashanah last Wednesday, Judge William H. Walls compared his decision on permitting certain evidence to a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish stew with “a little bit of this, and a little bit of that.” [Abbe] Lowell told Walls that the stew was called tzimmes, that it’s traditionally served on Rosh Hashanah and that he would bring some to share with the court. Lowell on Monday made good on that promise, bringing containers full of tzimmes for Walls and even the prosecution. “This is a new meaning of serving the government,” Lowell said as he handed some to prosecutors.” [Politico

“Walls, who had previously said he has to watch his sodium intake, asked whether it was a salty dish. Lowell assured him it was “sugary.” “Sweet as in sweet New Year,” Lowell said.” [NJ Advance]

Hollywood talent manager Scooter Braun posted on Instagram: “L’shana tova. Have a happy new year. For a split second I almost didn’t share this message because of all the hate I see online for my heritage and culture. But no. I’m a proud Jew so happy new year. And if you are a proud Christian or Muslim be proud. If you are who you are, whether it be race, religion, sexual orientation, or you just like being different… Be you. Never be afraid to express it and embrace others for being exactly who they are. This year may we all be better TOGETHER. So once again…. l’shana tova and happy new year. Much love.” [Instagram] • From last week: “Scooter Braun on philanthropy, working with Kanye and trying times with Justin Bieber” [CBSNews]

BREAKING OVERNIGHT: “Palestinian kills 3 Israelis in settlement near Jerusalem” by Aron Heller: “A Palestinian gunman on Tuesday killed three Israeli security men and critically wounded a fourth outside a West Bank settlement before being shot dead, in one of the deadliest attacks of a two-year spate of violence. Israeli officials said the attacker was a 37-year-old father of four, with a valid work permit in Israel and a troubled personal life who appeared to have acted alone. The attack comes at a tense period amid the Jewish high holidays and is likely to complicate the mediation efforts of U.S. peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, who just arrived in the region for meetings with Israeli and Palestinians leaders.” [AP]

Greenblatt tweets: “My family & I are horrified by the attack in Har Adar. Shame on Hamas & others who praised the attack. All must stand against terror! We pray for the victims of today’s attack at Har Adar, and their loved ones as well.” [Twitter]

KAFE KNESSET — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: The tragic news of the Har Adar terror attack took over the agenda of the weekly cabinet meeting, which was postponed from Sunday and convened this morning. The traditional wave of political reactions and calls for punitive measures focused this time on revoking work permits for Palestinians, as the terrorist who stabbed the three Border Policeman to death had a permanent work permit. Economy Minister Eli Cohen said that all work permits should be suspended until after the holiday season, and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said the attack will have “grave consequences on employing Palestinians and easing movement restrictions.”

Netanyahu, in his opening statements, stopped short of announcing any collective punishment for now, announcing three immediate steps in response to the attack: demolishing the terrorist’s house, imposing a curfew on his village, and revoking entry permits from his family. Netanyahu also pointed a finger at Palestinian incitement and demanded Abu Mazen “condemn the attack and not justify it,” a talking point echoed by all of his cabinet ministers, with some saying the attack is proof there is “no partner” on the Palestinian side. Deputy FM Tzipi Hotevely said the attack is a “message” for the US administration, just as Jason Greenblatt arrives in Israel for another round of peace talks, and the attack is likely to complicate his already complicated mission. Several right-wing ministers and MKs stressed that in the midst of terror, there is no room for economic gestures and initiatives for the Palestinians, and others – Like Bayit Yehudi’s Uri Ariel – demanded settlement construction as a suitable reaction. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

UN Mideast envoy says Israel ignoring UNSC resolution — by Edith Lederer: “Israel is not complying with a UN Security Council resolution demanding a halt to all settlement activity and instead is continuing to expand settlements, making a two-state solution “increasingly unattainable,” the UN envoy for the Mideast said Monday. Nickolay Mladenov told the council that in the three months since June 20 Israel’s settlement activity “continued at a high rate, a consistent pattern over the course of this year.” [AP

DRIVING THE CONVO: “How Trump Can Improve the Iran Deal” by Mark Dubowitz and David Albright: “We propose the president “fix” U.S. policy by making it clear he does not accept the Iran deal’s dangerous flaws. He should insist on conditions making permanent the current restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and the testing of advanced centrifuges and nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, as well as the buying and transferring of conventional weaponry. He must insist on unfettered access for U.N. weapons inspectors to Iranian military sites.” [WSJ]

HEARD YESTERDAY — Hudson Institute fellows Michael Doran and Peter Rough, along with Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution discussed President Trump’s policy on Iran in a panel “The Trump Administration and the Middle East: What Should America Do Next?” hosted by the Hudson Institute and moderated by the think tank’s Senior Fellow Lee Smith.

Highlights — Doran: “As much as I abhor the JCPOA, I don’t think that trashing it at this moment is the priority. The priority is Syria and breaking up this (Iranian) beltway. If we are not going to compete with the Iranians in Syria, we are not going to roll back the JCPOA. There has to be a paradigm shift in Washington about competing with the Iranians in the region.”

Doran on Syria ceasefire: “We should use our own considerable air defense assets to send a message to tell the Iranians and the Russians that if they violate that (Syrian) belt, they’ll be in trouble. Eastern Syria should be American dominated territory… We should adopt the Israeli red lines as our own and send a message to the Russians that we are with the Israelis. That increases their deterrence and empowers the Israelis.”

O’Hanlon on Egypt: “President Sisi is [Hosni] Mubarak on steroids… I don’t think we should be giving Egypt the same amount of aid as in better days — not that there were such incredibly better days. I would be giving half as much aid these days.” [Video

“Europeans say Trump can win on Iran without ripping up nuclear deal” by Laura Rozen: “In a sense, this administration has changed the climate on Iran,” British Ambassador Kim Darroch said at a panel of four European ambassadors at the Atlantic Council. “It is succeeding. … But let’s keep the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action].” Darroch said he has noticed an intensification of contacts over the past couple of months between the Europeans and experts within the US administration on how to increase the pressure on Iran… Whether or not Trump certifies next month is “basically a domestic issue,” French Ambassador Gerard Araud said. “What matters will be the consequences. We are not going to criticize the president for certification or decertification. That is your problem.” [Al-Monitor; NYTimes]  

“Iran’s supposed missile launch was fake, US officials say” by Lucas Tomlinson: “The video released by the Iranians was more than seven months old – dating back to a failed launch in late January, which resulted in the missile exploding shortly after liftoff, according to two U.S. officials. President Trump had originally responded to the reported launch in a late-Saturday tweet, saying, “Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel… Not much of an agreement we have!”” [FoxNews

ON THE HILL — House committee to vote Thursday on Hezbollah sanctions bill — by Aaron Magid: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s bill — introduced by the Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY) —  further restricts Hezbollah’s ability to fundraise and recruit along with cracking down on foreign states that do business with the Lebanese terror group, including Iran. Additionally, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will also markup a bill on Thursday that condemns Hezbollah for its usage of civilian shields during warfare while imposing sanctions on individuals who are involved in this practice. [JewishInsider]

JARED INSIDER: “How Jared Kushner Is Dismantling a Family Empire” by Rich Cohen: “His future seemed certain. But, as Kushner’s great-grandparents would’ve said, kicking it in the shtetl, Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht. Man plans, God laughs… Jared Kushner is six feet three and thin—rangy if you like him, reedy if you don’t. He has dark eyes and brown hair, a broad smile, and a facial expression, captured in newspapers, that goes from surprised to amused to flat. Something about him remains opaque, unknowable. Something held in reserve.” [VanityFair]

“Jared Kushner’s lawyer, fooled by ’email prankster,’ offers window into private email controversy” by Natasha Bertrand: “Top Washington lawyer Abbe Lowell engaged in an email exchange with a prankster posing as client Jared Kushner on Monday, at one point telling the prankster that he needed “to see all emails” sent and received from a private email account the president’s son-in-law had set up in December… On Monday, the prankster wrote to Lowell from the email address “kushner.jared@mail.com” asking what he should do with “some correspondence on my private email … featuring adult content… Lowell replied: “Don’t delete. Don’t send to anyone.  Let’s chat in a bit.” [BusinessInsider]

“At Least 6 White House Advisers Used Private Email Accounts” by Matt Apuzzo and Maggie Haberman: “Other advisers, including Gary D. Cohn and Stephen Miller, sent or received at least a few emails on personal accounts, officials said. Ivanka Trump… used a private account when she acted as an unpaid adviser in the first months of the administration, Newsweek reported Monday. Administration officials acknowledged that she also occasionally did so when she formally became a White House adviser… Most of Mr. Trump’s aides used popular commercial email services like Gmail. [jared] Kushner created a domain, IJKFamily.com, in December to host his family’s personal email. That domain was hosted by GoDaddy on a server in Arizona, records show.” [NYTimes; Newsweek]

HAPPENING TODAY: “Trump Dinner at NYC’s Le Cirque Seeks Up to $250,000 Per Couple” by Zachary Mider and Jennifer Jacobs: “Some of the biggest names in U.S. finance and real estate are expected to gather at New York’s Le Cirque restaurant on Tuesday as President Donald Trump raises money for the Republican National Committee… Many of the anticipated attendees, such as the executives Howard Lorber and Steve Witkoff, come from New York real-estate circles where the president’s career began.” [Bloomberg]  

SPOTTED in Playbook: “Michael Flynn last night having dinner at Char Bar, the kosher restaurant in Foggy Bottom. Asked what his mood was these days, he replied: “My mood is good. Very good.” [Politico]

“Anthony Weiner sentenced to 21 months in federal prison” by Matt Zapotosky: “Disgraced former U.S. congressman Anthony Weiner, whose exchange of illicit messages with a teenager wound up playing a role in the 2016 presidential election, was sentenced Monday to 21 months in prison… The penalty marks a stunning downfall for the New York Democrat whose propensity for sending lewd photos to women repeatedly derailed his career in politics, and — in a roundabout way — might also have affected Hillary Clinton’s bid to become president… Weiner is scheduled to report to prison on Nov. 6, prosecutors said.” [WashPost

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

BUSINESS BRIEFS: From Bistricer to Rockpoint: The new Starrett City deal is a far cry from what might have been [RealDeal] • Wells Fargo Bank provides apartment construction loan for Sole Mia in North Miami by Soffer and LeFrak [Bizjournals] • Inside the $524 Million Bucks Arena & Entertainment Mecca [MilwaukeeMag

HOLLYWOOD: “Can a Hollywood Celebrity Find the Truth About Trump and Russia?” by Edward-Isaac Dovere: “[Rob] Reiner is trying to break through to Trump voters over Russia’s unprecedented meddling in the 2016 election. His new project is The Committee to Investigate Russia, a website gathering news and information on the various Russia inquiries that he hopes will help spur a 9/11-type, bipartisan commission that will bring everything together in a definitive report and make concrete recommendations. On its board are former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, prominent Never Trumpers David Frum, the Atlantic senior editor… So far, Reiner says, he has donated about $100,000 of his own money, and sits on its board of advisers. He says he and his wife will “probably put more in as is needed.”” [Politico]

“The Abbie Hoffman of the Right: Donald Trump” by David Brooks: “In the late 1960s along came a group of provocateurs like Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the rest of the counterculture to upend the Protestant establishment. People like Hoffman were buffoons, but also masters of political theater…  America is seeing nearly as much cultural conflict as it did in the late 1960s. It’s quite possible that after four years of this Trump will have effectively destroyed the prevailing culture. The reign of the meritocratic establishment will be just as over as the reign of the Protestant establishment now is.” [NYTimes]  

“‘We Believe Deeply In Lox And Bagels’: What It Means To Be A Secular Jew” by Michel Martin: “Bob Garfield, co-host of WNYC’s On The Media… on what it means to be a secular Jew: “There’s this bizarre, sometimes hostile ambivalence about the religion and the culture from which we spring. You know, it’s a big part of the American-Jewish community. The best way I can put it to you is this, Michel: We don’t read much Torah, but we’ve read every word Philip Roth ever wrote. We don’t necessarily even believe in God, but we believe deeply in lox and bagels. So we, on one hand, are not really participants in the spiritual part of the religion, but we’re as Jewish as can be.””[WAMU

SPORTS BLINK: “Hank Greenberg: Caught Between Baseball And His Religion” by Noam Hassenfeld: “Let’s be real clear,” Aviva [Kepmner] says. “Hank Greenberg did not play on Yom Kippur in ’34, as Hitler was rising in Europe, and that’s what made it even more powerful. And after what happened in Charlottesville, I hope some more Jewish baseball players don’t play on Yom Kippur.” [WBUR

BIRTHDAYS: Vice Chairman and a Director of Capital International, Inc. and long-time Board Chair of the Hudson Institute, Walter Phillips Stern turns 89… Stage, film and television actor, he is best known as “The Most Interesting Man in the World” appearing in Dos Equis beer commercials (2006-2016), Jonathan Goldsmith turns 79… Escondido, California resident, Edward Karesky turns 70… CEO of Israel Longhorn Project, dedicated to bringing Texas Longhorn Cattle home to Israel, Robin Rosenblatt turns 69… Five Towns (NY) resident, Barry Mandel turns 69… Former chairman and CEO of the French engineering conglomerate Alstom, he is the son of Holocaust survivors, Patrick Kron turns 64… Senior political adviser to President Bill Clinton during his second term and co-author of a New York Times best-seller on the future of politics in the United States, Doug Sosnik turns 61… Teaneck-resident with a Jersey City dental practice, Paul Lustiger, DDS turns 61… Historian, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Robert Kagan turns 59… Chief of Staff to Ohio Senator Rob Portman, Mark Isakowitz turns 51… Head coach of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets men’s basketball team, he was the 2017 ACC Coach of the Year, Josh Pastner turns 40… Former Communications Director for NY Governor Paterson, Senator Schumer and Congresswoman Jane Harman, she now heads a NYC based PR firm whose past clients have included Jared and Ivanka, Risa Beth Heller tuns 38… NYC-based senior editor of global digital video programming at Bloomberg LP, Henry Seltzer turns 32 (h/t Playbook)…

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

Otto Warmbier confessing to stealing a political poster in North Korea on Feb. 29, 2016. Screenshot from YouTube

Trump: Otto Warmbier ‘was tortured beyond belief by North Korea’


President Donald Trump said that Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died earlier this year after being imprisoned in North Korea, had been “tortured beyond belief.”

Trump’s comment on Tuesday followed an interview with Warmbier’s parents on “Fox & Friends” in which they described their son’s condition when he was released in June.

“Otto had a shaved head, he had a feeding tube coming out of his nose, he was staring blankly into space, jerking violently,” Fred Warmbier said in the interview. “He was blind. He was deaf. As we looked at him and tried to comfort him, it looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth.”

On Twitter, Trump called the interview “great” and made the claim about North Korea torturing Warmbier, 22.

Warmbier died in the United States in June, days after after being sent back here in a coma. In 2016, North Korea sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster while on a student tour there. North Korea released Warmbier, saying his health had deteriorated after a bout of botulism. Warmbier’s doctors in the U.S. said he suffered extensive brain damage.

Prior to Warmbier’s death, JTA reported that he had been active in the Hillel at the University of Virginia. Following his death, it was revealed that his family hid their son’s Jewishness from the public as negotiations for his release took place.

A family spokesman, Mickey Bergman, told The Times of Israel that the family chose not to disclose Warmbier’s Jewish background as negotiations went forward so as not to embarrass North Korea, which had announced that Warmbier stole the poster on orders from the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio.

Alice Weidel, a co-head of the far right Alternative for Germany party, seen in Berlin after Germany’s elections on Sept. 25. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

What you need to know about the far-right Alternative for Germany party


Chancellor Angela Merkel clinched her fourth term and her center-right Christian Democratic Union party maintained its parliamentary majority in the German national elections on Sunday.

The victory, however, was hardly a landslide: With some 6 million votes, the populist, far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, finished in third place, securing 94 seats in the national parliament, the Bundestag, which now has 709 seats in all.

With a platform focused on Islam and migration, and rhetoric tinged with Nazi tropes, the AfD garnered 12.6 percent of the vote — nearly three times better than in 2013.

The unprecedented showing for a far-right party in postwar Germany alarmed Jewish and Muslim leaders.

“A party that tolerates right-wing extremist ideas in its ranks has managed not only to win seats in almost all our state parliaments, but also in the Bundestag,” Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement.

Schuster expressed the urgent wish that German democratic leaders “reveal the true face of the AfD, and expose its empty, populist promises.”

Here is a look at the AfD: its history, its leaders and backers, and where the party stands on key issues.

When was the AfD founded, and why?

Riding a wave of popular resentment against German bailouts of bankrupt European Union member states, the party was launched in April 2013. The AfD has since developed into an anti-immigration, anti-Muslim and euro-skeptical party.

The party gained popularity primarily for its attacks on Merkel’s liberal policy toward refugees — since 2015, Germany has opened its doors to more than 1.5 million, mostly Muslims — and xenophobic and nationalistic campaign platforms. Akin to President Donald Trump’s “America First” position and the U.K.’s rejection of the European Union, the AfD promotes a “pro-Germany” stance, even going so far as to urge citizens to have more babies “made in Germany.”

Who are the party’s leaders?

The party has a moderate and a far-right fraction. Heading the latter is Alexander Gauland, a 76-year-old attorney and journalist who left the conservative Christian Democrats after 40 years to co-found the AfD. His “moderate” counterpart is Alice Weidel, a 38-year-old economist.

Gauland recently said Germans “don’t have to be held accountable anymore for those 12 years [of the Nazi regime]. They don’t affect our identity today any longer. And we’re not afraid to say so.”

Germans, he added, “have the right to be proud of the achievements of German soldiers in two world wars.”

Are AfD politicians anti-Semitic?

Right-extremist parties in Germany have learned over the years how to avoid pitfalls: They don’t deny the Holocaust, which is illegal. But they might say it wasn’t as bad as Jews make it out to be, or that the firebombing of Dresden was worse.

Recently, Bjorn Hocke, the AfD party leader in the eastern German state of Thuringia, caused a stir when he said that too much attention to the Holocaust was making German history “appalling and laughable.” He called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin a “monument of shame” and has recommended a radical departure from “these stupid politics of coming to grips with the past.”

Hocke said “we need nothing other than a 180-degree reversal on the politics of remembrance.”

A party candidate in the western state of Saarland, Rudolf Muller, is under investigation for allegedly selling Nazi paraphernalia in his antiques store.

Concerning their attitudes toward Jews, “many AfD members do share anti-Semitic ideas,” Jan Riebe, who has researched anti-Semitism within AfD for the Berlin-based Amadeu Antonio Foundation, said in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

While the party itself may not be anti-Semitic, many members “believe that Jews are the masterminds of all evil,” Riebe said. “So, in that sense, anti-Semitism does play an essential role in the AfD.”

Riebe added that a former member of the AfD in the Weserbergland region, Gunnar Baumgart, once wrote that Zyklon B, the poison used in the gas chambers, “was used to protect lives and that not a single Jew was killed by it.”

Dirk Hoffmann, a party executive in Saxony-Anhalt, equated Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories with the Holocaust.

Wolfgang Gedeon, an AfD legislator in Baden-Württemberg, has been accused of spreading anti-Jewish propaganda, among other things by reviving debate about the infamous anti-Semitic hoax “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

“The AfD instrumentalizes Judaism and Jewish people, but has no interest in a real Jewish life in Germany,” Sigmount Konigsberg, who handles issues related to anti-Semitism for Berlin’s Jewish community, wrote in a commentary for Germany’s Jewish weekly, the Juedische Allgemeine.

AfD also wants to ban kosher slaughter in Germany, as well as the import and sale of kosher meat, in line with its opposition to halal, or Islamic ritual  slaughter.

“This puts them squarely in the camp of [Hitler’s] National Socialist party, which banned kosher slaughter as early as April 1933,” Konigsberg wrote.

Furthermore, he wrote, “if Holocaust remembrance is termed a ‘Cult of Guilt’ and AfD chairman Gauland is proud of the Wehrmacht, then we can all put two and two together and understand the consequences.”

Some observers have noted that other parties have their share of anti-Semites as well and should be scrutinized in that area as much if not more than the AfD. In particular, they say, left-leaning parties are far more likely to be anti-Zionist and supportive of boycott movements against Israel than are parties on the right.

An AfD poster in Berlin, Sept. 26, 2017. (Steffi Loos/AFP/Getty Images)

Who are some of the party’s legislators? 

Among those expected to take seats in the Bundestag are:

* Martin Hohmann, former member of the Christian Democratic Union, who in 2003 referred to Jews as a “nation of perpetrators.”

* Siegbert Droese, a nationalist who last year raised eyebrows when it turned out that one of his cars bore the license number AH 1818 – the initials of Adolf Hitler in letters and numerals.

* Wilhelm von Gottberg, who in a 2001 essay quoted Italian Holocaust deniers and commented, “We have nothing to add here.”

* Detlev Spangenberg, a former informant for the East German state security apparatus, is a German nationalist who reportedly wants to see the country’s 1937 borders restored.

What about the AfD’s views on Israel?

Though the AfD decided not to include a discussion about Israel in its party platform, reportedly because of concern by some party leaders about Israeli “war crimes,” there has been a generally supportive attitude toward the Jewish state.

Observers say there are two reasons for this: Israel is seen as a bulwark against radical Islam, and support for Israel is used as an alibi against charges of anti-Semitism.

But only one day after Sunday’s elections, Gauland triggered a debate about whether Israel’s right to exist should really be a German “reason of state” – referring to Merkel’s 2008 declaration of solidarity in the Knesset.

“Of course we stand with Israel,” the co-party leader emphasized at a news conference, while questioning whether the viability of the Jewish state should be high on Germany’s agenda. But if that would mean “that we are really prepared to sacrifice our lives for the State of Israel,” he said, “I don’t feel that way.”

Meanwhile, the AfD head in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, Marcus Pretzell, told the Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that he would not support any change in the status of Germany’s support for Israel, which he termed Germany’s only reliable partner in the Middle East.

In Israel, reactions to the AfD’s success were mixed: While some Israeli politicians look to Europe’s populist parties for support in fighting radical Islam, others have called the AfD’s evident appeal to right-wing extremists and racists a warning signal for Israel and Jews.

Who supports the party?

The largest base of support comes from Germany’s eastern states, where it received more than 20 percent of the vote. Nationwide, the AfD has some 23,000 members. By contrast, Merkel’s Christian Democrats have more than 400,000.

Jewish supporters of the AfD may not be many or vociferous, but some — like the Berlin-based artist Pavel Feinstein — have openly declared that the AfD is “the only party that will stop this invasion” of Islamist extremists.

“You don’t have to marry” the AfD, Feinstein told JTA in an interview last year.

Some observers say the AfD has drawn voters from across the political spectrum — including those who never voted — and liken its success to the approval for Brexit in the U.K. and the election of Trump in the United States. This phenomenon has been described as a “radicalization of the center,” though it remains to be seen whether the AfD’s strong showing will lead Germany’s mainstream parties to whistle a more populist tune.

Conan O’Brien speaking with Israeli soldiers. Screenshot from YouTube

Conan and ‘Transparent’ give Israel the normalcy it craves


“It looks just like L.A.”

A character in the Amazon series “Transparent” says this as she gets her first glimpse of Tel Aviv, and if you work for the Israeli government, or any of a number of pro-Israel groups, you probably couldn’t be happier.

Even if the show will go on to acknowledge the political and human rights mess of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and don’t worry, it will), such glimpses of an extremely appealing and otherwise normal Israel have the feel of “mission accomplished.”

The start of the fall TV season has been very good to Israel. Anxious about the BDS movement and other efforts to delegitimize Israel, its boosters were treated to a season-long arc on “Transparent” largely set in Israel, as well as an hourlong “Conan In Israel” special on TBS. “Transparent” used Israel as background and counterpoint to its usual explorations of identity, sexuality and family dysfunction, while Conan O’Brien used his charming “idiot abroad” shtick to poke gentle fun at Jews, Palestinians and mostly himself.

Yet both shows appeared to have emerged from an earlier, less complicated era when Israel was largely seen as a regional good guy and the Palestinians as an uncomfortable but ultimately solvable nuisance if only haters on both sides would let go of their broyges.

I say that realizing that “Transparent” acknowledged  the complexities and contradictions of the conflict in ways likely to anger the right. As Season 4 begins, Maura Pfefferman, the transgender matriarch of the show’s distinctly Jewish and proudly secular central family, is invited to Israel to deliver a lecture on gender and the Cold War. (All 10 episodes of “Transparent” are available on Amazon.) Pfefferman’s youngest daughter, Ali (short for Alexandra), asks to go along, having been humiliated by a former lover in a poem published in The New Yorker. She wants to go for “the history and the suffering and the bloodshed — all that real stuff.”

A scene from the fourth season of  “Transparent” featuring Jeffrey Tambor, left, and Gabi Hoffmann in Israel. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Ali, a grad student, is the most “woke” of the three grown Pfefferman children, and unsurprisingly it is through her perspective that the show relates the Palestinian experience. A feminist activist scoops her up in front of the Tel Aviv Hilton (having declined to spend money in Israel in deference to the boycott), and brings her to meet a Palestinian friend at a hip cafe in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Ali is amazed by the normalcy of life in the “Ramallah bubble,” although her companions remind her about the checkpoints and promise to “catch [her] up” on life under occupation.

Next stop is a nearby farm, where attractive young Palestinians (and at least one pro-Palestinian Jew) share their experiences. A gay man explains that he was jailed in Israel (he doesn’t say why) and that his jailers threatened to out him to his family. A Canadian-Palestinian says that Jews in the Diaspora have more claims to citizenship in the land than the Arabs who actually live there. Another says, “We can’t breathe, can’t move, can’t go to the next city.”

The episode, tellingly, is titled “Pinkwashing Machine,” an allusion to the charge that Israel asserts its positive gay rights agenda to distract from its oppression of the Palestinians.

You can almost hear the clacking of the keyboards as Jewish organizations work on their news releases refuting the Palestinians’ claims, but the scene is oddly nonconfrontational for a show that is so, well, transparent in its left-wing politics. Set outdoors around a table groaning with Palestinian food (maqluba, yum), the scene is right out of a commercial for a California wine or Olive Garden. The viewer is left wondering how bad their lives can be if they live like this. Although a wide-eyed Ali seems converted to the Palestinian cause by all she sees and hears, loyal “Transparent” watchers are by now used to her various intellectual enthusiasms, which she tends to pick up and discard as easily as her ever-changing hairstyles.

In a later episode, the Pfeffermans will debate the conflict during a bus ride to Jerusalem, but the dialogue again seems carefully, and blandly, balanced. Ali scoffs when an Israeli says there never was a Palestinian people; her mom, Shelly, counters that the Holocaust made the Jewish state a necessity. Ali reminds her family of the displaced Palestinians. Maura says there were Jews in the Holy Land well before there was an Israel.

In the end, you are left with the message that “it’s complicated,” and the family goes on to enjoy a raucous morning in the Old City. On a visit to the Western Wall — “Jesus Christ, it’s like an Orthodox Jewish Disneyland!” says one of the Pfefferman kids, not inaccurately — an androgynous-looking Ali sneaks into the men’s section. Shocking? Iconoclastic? Maybe. But considering the broad American Jewish consensus in support of pluralistic prayer at the Wall, hardly transgressive. Ultimately, “Transparent” plays it safe, assuaging Israel’s critics with a nod toward the Palestinian reality and soothing the pro-Israel crowd with a portrait of a cool, bourgeois Israel that feels like home even to Diaspora Jews as disaffected as the Pfeffermans.

Conan O’Brien filming a scene for his Israel special with Rabbi Dov Halbertal at the Tel Baruch Central synagogue in Tel Aviv. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Conan also acknowledged the Palestinians in his special, although here, too, the balance was with the Israel as the most ardent Israel booster would like it to be seen. He visits the Aida refugee camp for a sober although hardly enlightening conversation with a few of its residents. But this is Conan, and he’d rather amuse than enlighten. The brief segment includes a number of complaints about the security wall and Israel’s military, after which Conan is careful to remind viewers, “To be fair, we did not have a conversation with people who dispute these views.”

Instead, the unmistakably Irish-Catholic talk-show host jokes with handsome young men and woman on a Tel Aviv boulevard, jams with an Elvis impersonator at the beach, visits the Waze headquarters for a view of “startup nation” and trains with the IDF. He even gets face time with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an indicator, perhaps, of how seriously Israel takes the notion of hasbara — public diplomacy, as it were — and how grateful it was that Conan turned over an hour of prime time and a pervasive social media campaign to presenting Israel at its best.

It’s impossible not to enjoy Conan’s man-on-the-street bits, and he does the important work of humanizing both Jews and Palestinians, itself an accomplishment and a contribution in a region too often portrayed as a war zone. Pro-Palestinian social media, however, didn’t seem pleased with his visit, mocking him as naive and ensorcelled by the Israeli side.

But at least he went to Aida and Bethlehem, just as “Transparent” took its cast beyond the Green Line. Maybe it is impossible to capture Israelis and Palestinians in all their complexity — activists on both sides certainly don’t make it easy.

The problem in fully understanding the conflict is that the people who seem to care the most about the issue have almost no interest in hearing the other side or having them heard. That goes for Jews as well as Arabs. So both sides attack the media and other observers for trying to get a complete, nuanced picture. And the gun-shy media, when they are not taking sides, either over-correct or play it safe.

Still, given the choice between a portrait of the region that displays its antagonists as “normal” versus one that demonizes either side, I’ll take normal any day.


Andrew Silow-Carroll is JTA’s editor in chief.

The interior view of a Panoramic Sukkah. Photo courtesy of Eliyahu Alpern

This Panoramic Sukkah re-creates Jerusalem in your backyard


When it comes to Sukkot, the weeklong festival in which Jews live and eat in temporary huts known as sukkahs, no place does it better than Jerusalem. City schools and plenty of workplaces close, and a festive spirit permeates the air.

Many Jews around the world make a tradition of visiting Jerusalem to celebrate the holiday, which is also known as the Feast of Booths. Can’t make it to the Holy City? Fear not. Your sukkah can now transport you and your loved ones here.

Well, sort of. The Panoramic Sukkah is a creation by Andy “Eliyahu” Alpern, a photographer specializing in 360-degree images. Thanks to his sukkahs, which consist of panoramic photos of famous places in Israel, celebrants can easily pretend that they are actually at notable Jerusalem sites such as the Western Wall at night or smack in the middle of Mahane Yehuda market.

Alpern, 50, is a native Chicagoan who now lives in the northern city of Safed, where he runs his own gallery. Five years ago he was wandering through Safed during the festival, listening to the voices of families who were celebrating in their sukkahs, when the idea for the Panoramic Sukkah hit him.

By providing an immersive, inside-Israel experience, the Panoramic Sukkah is “a way of sharing Eretz Yisrael with people all over the world who can’t be here,” he told JTA, using the Hebrew term for the Land of Israel.

Alpern added that the point of Sukkot is to hearken back to life during biblical times — for example, wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt (hence the origin of the sukkah), thus one of his panoramic images is of the Negev Desert. Also, as Sukkot is one of the three pilgrimage festivals  (the others being Passover and Shavuot), it was tradition for Jews to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Launching Panoramic Sukkah as a business two years ago, Alpern had to find the material to print the walls on and a printer to transfer the images, taking into consideration both quality and affordability for the consumer.

Alpern declined to say how many sukkahs he has sold to date, but said his goal is to sell 100 by the time next year’s festival begins. (And while it’s too late to purchase a Panoramic Sukkah for this year, it’s not too early to plan for next: Keep an eye out for a sale during the intermediary days of the holiday, when Jews have Sukkot on the brain.)

A view of a Panoramic Sukkah from the outside. (Courtesy of Eliyahu Alpern)

A variety of images and styles are available. The full Panoramic Sukkah kit (from $1,080) includes a frame, as well as four walls with a 360-degree image on semi-translucent fabric. Other options include walls only (from $800) or single-wall panels (from $210) if, as the website says, you’re “looking to bring Israel into your Sukkah, but not for quite so much Israel.”

Of course, Alpern can also create custom sukkahs. This year he created a wall panel for a customer depicting the Ushpizin, mystical special guests that are ritually welcomed each evening of the holiday. The panel included the images of the traditional “guests” — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and King David — and interspersed them with images of the customer’s family members and inspirational figures such as Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

If Alpern’s Panoramic Sukkahs can bring Jerusalem to anywhere in the world, then it’s probably no surprise that the reverse can also be true. Perhaps the greatest custom sukkah that Alpern has created was for himself: Wrigley Field. A diehard Chicago Cubs fan since he worked as a vendor at the iconic ballpark in 1984, Alpern was disappointed that he could not make it back to his hometown last year for the World Series. So he took a panoramic photo of Wrigley that he had shot a few years back and turned it into a Panoramic Sukkah of his own.

Last year, Alpern and his three sons slept in the sukkah, waking up in the middle of the night to watch the games broadcast over the internet. This year — with the Cubs on a hot streak and ready to defend their title — they plan to do the same: Major League Baseball’s postseason begin Oct. 3, the night before Sukkot begins.

The neo-nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (Nordiska motstandsrorelsens) sympathisers demonstrate in central Stockholm on Nov. 12, 2016 to protest against migrants. Photo by Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

Swedish court moves neo-Nazi march on Yom Kippur away from synagogue


A court in Sweden has rerouted a neo-Nazi march on Yom Kippur farther away from a synagogue.

The Gothenburg administrative court ruling concerning the Sept. 30 march by the far-right Nordic Resistance Movement overrode the suggested route by police. The court also shortened the route.

The group had initially wanted to march on the main streets of Gothenburg, but the police offered an alternate route taking demonstrators only about 200 yards from the main synagogue in Sweden’s second largest city.

An outraged Jewish community appealed the police decision earlier this month along with several other groups. The Anti-Defamation League and the World Jewish Congress were among others to protest.

Among other factors, the court said it considered the fact that the route would have passed near the synagogue on the Jewish holiday and the demonstration would fall during the Gothenburg Book Fair, when some 100,000 people are expected to gather in the city for the largest literary festival in Scandinavia.

Swedish Jewish leaders cautiously praised the decision.

The Jewish community “welcomes the Gothenburg administrative court’s decision to not allow the neo-Nazi group to march close to Gothenburg’s synagogue on the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur,” Aron Verstandig, chairman of The Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, said in a statement to JTA.

“Even if the Council had wished that the protest would have been moved to a different day, it views it as a positive development that the court took into consideration that Yom Kippur is celebrated on that day, which the police had not taken into consideration.”

The chairman of the Gothenburg Jewish community, Allan Stutzinsky, said the court’s ruling was “a significant improvement,” noting that members could now walk to synagogue without fearing they would encounter neo-Nazis.

“The ruling means that we are much safer,” he told JTA in a statement.

Earlier this month, Stutzinsky said the community, which is typically under tight security, feared harassment and physical threats both from the neo-Nazi marchers and potential left-wing counterprotesters.

A flooded street southwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 21. Photo by Dave Graham/Reuters

After Hurricane Maria disrupts Rosh Hashanah, Puerto Rico’s Jews vow to ‘start living again’


Rabbi Norman Patz stood on a 13th-floor balcony overlooking the flooded streets, stripped trees and downed power lines of the Condado neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

It was Sept. 25, the first weekday after Rosh Hashanah, and Patz had no way of communicating with the majority of his congregants at Temple Beth Shalom; Hurricane Maria had knocked out the island’s communication grid.

“The irony of the thing is that we’re here to celebrate the beginning of the new year, and we wish each other a shanah tovah, and this crap is all around us,” he told the Journal, speaking on a cell phone he managed to keep charged thanks to his building’s diesel generator.

The historic hurricane delivered devastating winds and rain that halted the rhythms of normal life on the island, disrupting synagogue services at the holiest point in the Jewish calendar. Some 1,500 Jews live on the island, mostly concentrated in San Juan, forming the largest Jewish community in the Caribbean. 

At Temple Beth Shalom, a Reform congregation, services for the first day of Rosh Hashanah were cancelled. On the second day of the holiday, however, 15 people showed up, according to Patz.

Though some second-floor classrooms at the synagogue flooded due to driving rain, the sanctuary had been spared flooding. But the lack of air conditioning rendered the sanctuary hot and airless — so congregants carried folding chairs across the street and held a service underneath the cover of a drive-through window of a bank.

Click here to donate to Temple Beth Shalom of Puerto Rico

The Chabad Jewish Center of Puerto Rico, in a touristy area of San Juan, took on hundreds of gallons of water, the center’s director Rabbi Mendel Zarchi told Chabad.org.

“The natural flow of water on Rosa Street, where Chabad is located, is toward the north, in the direction of the ocean,” Zarchi said. “At 5:30 a.m., there was a raging river with waves about 3 feet high flowing in the opposite direction, towards the south.”

Emerging from the synagogue, where he took shelter, Zarchi said he encountered “blasted-out windows, toppled utility poles mangled with an overwhelming amount of downed trees [and] smashed cars.”

He said the synagogue still managed to attract a prayer quorum on both days of the holiday.

By Sept. 25, a relief fund had been set up on the center’s website to raise emergency funds for food and water distribution, fuel for Chabad’s generator, repairs to the synagogue building and a 24-hour armed guard to protect the synagogue from looters.

Click here to learn more and donate to Chabads relief fund.

Representatives for the island’s oldest congregation, Shaarey Zedeck Synagogue, could not be reached for a status update, as dialed phone calls met with error messages. But in the hurricane’s wake, the Conservative congregation set up a fund “to aid our Synagogue and vulnerable communities in Puerto Rico,” according to its website.

Click here to donate to Shaarey Zedeck Synagogues relief fund. 

The downed communication network posed a challenge for those hoping to deliver aid.

Patz, who commutes to Puerto Rico from New Jersey to officiate for the High Holy Days, said the Union for Reform Judaism and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) had reached out with offers of help.

“They’ve offered all kinds of things — personal help, monetary help, anything that we need,” he said. “And I said to all of them, ‘Listen, we can’t assess the needs. We can’t contact people. We don’t know.’”

Hurricane Maria comes as Jewish organizations are still working to meet the needs of the communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey in southeast Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida. The JFNA is now collecting funds for victims of all the year’s hurricanes, to be distributed as needed.

“We have been actively engaged with the leadership of the Jewish community in Puerto Rico and are working to bring immediate relief resources,” JFNA spokesperson Rebecca Dinar said in an email to the Journal. “We anticipate that the needs of the community will be significant and once we have a clear idea of what those needs are we will determine the best way to support and help them.”

Click here to learn more and donate to JFNAs hurricane relief fund.

Meanwhile, Patz, 79, said he and his wife were stuck walking up and down the 13-story staircase to the apartment loaned to him by a congregant, as the power outage had rendered the elevator useless. “We’re just walking the calories right off,” he said.

He described Puerto Ricans as a resilient community that would inevitably bounce back from the tragedy.

“As we celebrate our new year, we do the best we can,” he said. “The spirit of renewal is the thing that says get up and start living again. And that’s what people here are trying to do.”

Rabbi Sharon Brous

Rabbi Sharon Brous’ Rosh Hashanah sermon: The bug in the software of the West


America is turning from a place with an undercurrent of antisemitism, to a place in which antisemitism is condoned by the state. What are we going to do about it?

The synagogue in Charlottesville, bracing itself for the Nazi rally planned in late August, requested a police presence to protect worshippers on Shabbat morning. You may have heard: the police failed to send even a single officer, so the synagogue hired a private armed security guard to stand in front of the building. As Nazis paraded by, waving swastika flags, they shouted, “There’s the synagogue!” and “Seig Heil.” Learning that Nazi websites had specifically posted a call to burn the place, congregants left out the back exit and removed the sifrei torah from the premises. It’s true that law enforcement was busy that weekend, but also confounding that they would fail to understand the particular threat neo-Nazis pose to Jews.

I’ve never given a High Holy Day sermon on antisemitism. It’s not that it wasn’t a problem before Charlottesville: it’s that there were always bigger, graver, more urgent problems. As Jews in an America facing moral crisis, plagued by racism and white supremacy, poverty, inequality and climate denial, I didn’t want us to focus primarily on our own victimization. Instead, I wanted to draw our attention to the ways in which Jews were called to engage as a fairly privileged segment of a broader culture. I still believe all of that, but this year I wanted to start with antisemitism both because it’s taking dangerous new shape in America, and because antisemitism is bound up in the broader challenges facing our country. Very simply: the way that the Jewish community addresses antisemitism today matters.

They say that antisemitism is the world’s oldest hatred—and its most pernicious manifestations, in Europe, left that land drenched in our people’s blood. Massacres, expulsions, inquisitions, pogroms, libels and ultimately gas chambers stand in eternal testimony to the danger of hatred fueled by church and state alike. James Carroll recently described antisemitism as “the bug in the software of the West,” that insidious, ever-present illness that excludes Jews from moral concern and allows for heinous crimes like the Holocaust to happen.

Antisemitism caused holy hell in Europe. In America, it has been ever-present, but it has never brought the same kind of existential risk that we confronted elsewhere. Thank God. For Jewish immigrants from Europe and Arab lands, even the cold embrace of America was a welcome contrast to the storm of bloodthirsty hatred overseas. Yes, Peter Stuyvesant, the Director-General of New Amsterdam called Jews “deceitful… repugnant… enemies and blasphemers.” Yes, we suffered a century of discrimination in employment, housing and education. The lynching of Leo Frank, wrongly convicted in the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl, is seared into the Jewish collective conscience, and yes, Henry Ford funded mass distribution of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. We must not downplay the sharp immigration quotas of eastern European nations with large Jewish populations and Jewish exclusion from American social, educational, political and economic life in the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” was derisively referred to as the “Jew Deal,” and the SS St. Louis was mercilessly turned away and nearly 1000 Jews seeking asylum from Nazis were sent back, most to their deaths. We must remember to teach our children about the prohibitive housing covenants that restricted where Jews could live, and I will always remember the mix of confusion and shame I experienced as a child learning that two of the three country clubs in the New Jersey suburb I grew up in had strict “No Blacks, No Jews” policies.

Yes, we constantly joke about (and I hope also take seriously) the need to have our passports updated. And many of us still quietly note potential Nazi escape routes when deciding on a new home. But have we not come to feel pretty safe and comfortable here?

In America, Jews have achieved unprecedented prominence in nearly all sectors: political, social and financial. Here we have become Supreme Court Justices, Senators, Professors and Chief Oncologists. A few years ago, the mayors of the three largest U.S. cities were all Jews– one of them is a member of our own shul. Several years ago, when David and I walked into the Hanukkah party in the White House, I cried watching the West Point cadets, wearing kippot, sing “Ma’oz Tsur”—certain that my Grandma Harriet never could have dreamt of such a thing.

Yes, America has been good to us. So good that maybe we’ve forgotten a little bit who we are.

So good that many of our Jewish institutions failed to find the words to condemn the spike in anti- Semitic attacks that coincided with the 2016 presidential campaign. Failed to speak out against White Nationalist sympathizers– men who have trafficked in antisemitism and racism for years—becoming senior White House officials. Failed to protest when—again and again—our deepest Jewish commitments—care for the stranger, the poor and the vulnerable—have been thrashed about in a political tempest that demands outrage and resistance.

So good that somehow, Jewish senior cabinet members silently abided the President of the United States as he delivered one of the most damning equivocations in modern history, revealing a profound and disturbing inability to simply say: “There is no place for Nazism and white supremacy in this country. Take your hatred and get off our streets.”

What has happened to us?

I was recently asked in high-profile interview: “Why isn’t the Jewish community more involved in the struggle for the rights of targeted minorities in this country? Given your history, you’d think Jews would be on the front lines!”

My initial reaction: what are you talking about? We’re fighting with all we’ve got! Of course, I told her about all the Jews deeply involved in multi-faith and racial justice work today, about the electrifying presence of Jewish activists on the street, opposing efforts threatening the rights and dignities of Muslim and Mexican and LGBTQ allies and neighbors. Standing strong in solidarity and friendship. I spoke of how proud I was of our own community, with our inexhaustible Minyan Tzedek leadership inspiring folks to step up in strategic and meaningful ways. I talked about how Jews are on the front lines, fighting for democracy, equality and justice.

But even days later, I couldn’t get her question out of my head. What made her think the Jewish community wasn’t involved? And then I realized: who are the dominant voices in our community shaping the public perception?

There’s Israel’s Prime Minister, who frequently claims to speak for the Jews, who has repeatedly given cover to, indeed warmly embraced, this President, even after his most egregious missteps. There’s the Prime Minister’s son, who, in the week leading up to Rosh Hashanah, was the banner photo on the neo- Nazi Daily Stormer website after posting a classically antisemitic cartoon on his Facebook page. There are the President’s own family members, observant Jews, who have their rabbis contorting themselves to permit them to fly on AirForce One on Shabbat… I wonder: did they seek rabbinic dispensation for their silence in the face of the Muslim Ban, the rescinding of DACA, the ban on transgender people in the military? And of course, there are the unelected, self-appointed leaders of the American Jewish Establishment, funders and organizational heads who will, of course, decry Nazism, but fail to call out the clear and present role of the administration in normalizing white supremacy and antisemitism, for fear of falling out of favor.

Do you think I’m overstating the point?

I wonder how many here know the difference between white supremacy and White Nationalism? I didn’t, until I started reading and listening to Eric Ward, an African-American senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who has been sounding the alarm on the difference between the two. White supremacy is an ideology of racial superiority and subjugation of people of color built into this country’s DNA. The much newer White Nationalism is a radical social movement committed to building a white-only nation. And antisemitism, Ward argues, is the beating heart, the fuel that moves the engine of White Nationalism.2 Thus, the conflation of Nazi and White Nationalist symbols and aspirations in Charlottesville: this is a movement modeled after Nazi Germany whose goal is to eradicate Jews and people of color from the country.

In his thirty years of studying and fighting White Nationalism, Ward says he has not seen the movement operating at such a level of sophistication as we’re now seeing. It has been simmering, he says, waiting for an opportunity. And now the perfect storm has occurred.

Derek Black, the now-estranged son of the Grand Wizard of the KKK explains: White Nationalists expect to be condemned by everyone. Every elected official knows it’s political suicide not to condemn Nazis and White Nationalists. Until one Tuesday in August when the President of the United States could bring himself only to say: “You had some very fine people on both sides.” According to Black, that was a huge victory for White Nationalists. “Tuesday was the most important moment in the history of the modern White Nationalist movement.”

Make no mistake: not only was that Tuesday in August the most important moment in the history of the modern White Nationalist movement, it was a critical moment, potentially a turning point moment, for Jews in America. Because suddenly, in one press conference, America turned from a place, like so many, with an undercurrent of antisemitism, to a place in which antisemitism is condoned by the state.

Yes, these people, with their menacing hatred born of fear and ignorance, with their contorted faces and their murderous chants, they who play softball with words and symbols that cut to the heart of our people’s trauma, they who worship the statues—literally idols to an American past that degraded and dehumanized millions of Black Americans—they are the ones with whom the administration found sympathy.

Charlottesville did not happen in a vacuum—it is the inevitable outcome of racism being met with anything short of forceful, explicit condemnation. There’s a reason white supremacists didn’t wear hoods to march in streets this summer. They didn’t feel they had anything to hide… because this time they marched with nods of approval from the highest offices in the land.

There have always been angry white men who have held some kind of erotic fascination with Hitlerian symbols, who get high off of and may even kill for their Jew-hatred. But we know from history that the real danger comes when antisemitism is supported by the state. That’s what makes this moment different.

That’s what’s at stake when well-intentioned leaders ignore the whitewashing of Jews from Holocaust remembrance and remain silent at the suggestion of moral equivalence between Nazis and those protesting Nazis.

Mind you, these are some of the same Jewish leaders who continue to sound the alarm daily on any hint of antisemitism in the racial justice movement, where it does rear its ugly head all too often. Our allies on the left need to know who they’re getting in bed with when they dabble in, enable and give license to antisemitic trope. But it is communal malpractice to focus our collective outrage and resources on the left while excusing, minimizing and even ignoring antisemitism from the one place it’s ever presented an existential threat to our people: the armed and state-supported far right. As if BDS, problematic as it is, poses a greater danger to the Jewish people than Nazis emboldened by the President of the United States.

Is it wealth and power that have caused this misalignment? Is it our dependence on a few mega-donors who essentially control the public agenda of the Jewish community? I wonder: is it our voice, or our will that we’ve lost?

Listen to the terrifyingly prescient words of Hannah Arendt, written in 1942: “…Our people—those who are not yet behind barbed wire– are so demoralized by having been ruled by philanthropists for 150 years that they find it very difficult to begin to relearn the language of freedom and justice.”

Is that how we, too, have forgotten to see the world through prophetic eyes? Forgotten that we’re called “to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8)? Is that how, only 70 years after our greatest tragedy, with the words “Never Again!” still emblazoned on our hearts and the walls of our institutions, we somehow find ourselves downplaying the danger of a regime that rose to power stigmatizing vulnerable minority populations and daily manifests disturbingly fascistic tendencies? Is “Never Again” just an empty promise?

Or is it that we now can only see through one lens: “Is it good for Israel?” As if it is in any way conceivable that an America that is profoundly morally compromised is good for Israel. How could we, who measure time in millennia, be so utterly myopic?

For 70 years, our driving force as a community was vigilance to antisemitism. Forgive us, but witnessing the near extermination of your people tends to leave an impression. Yes, much of our communal obsession was rooted in trauma. Some of it also came from the realization that there was no greater adhesion than shared terror; if we kept front and center others’ eternal hatred of us, we’d stick together in a country that offered more open doors, more access and more ability for many Jews to pass than any we’d previously inhabited.

So from trauma and fear, we set off five star alarms every time a swastika appeared on a school desk. For 70 years, we led with the threat of existential crisis—precisely, ironically, as our community grew to be the strongest and most secure we’ve ever been, anywhere in the world.

But now, as the smoke of antisemitic hatred fills the classroom, we’re asking the students to please stay calm and remain seated, because we don’t want to cause a stir. No need to threaten political alliances. Let’s not misconstrue bombast as ideology! And, by the way, why should I be worried if the Prime Minister of Israel is entirely unconcerned?

It’s no wonder the growing alienation of young people from the institutions our grandparents built. We desperately need a new play book.

Rosh Hashanah is a time for soul examination. It’s also a time for us to examine at the soul of our community and our nation. We do this in the hopes that some clear-headed thinking might help us figure out where our bruises and blind spots are, and what we can do to move forward.

In his 1965 commencement address at Oberlin, Martin Luther King, Jr. told the story of Rip Van Winkle. What Dr. King was taken by was not the fact that Rip slept for 20 years, but instead “that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up on the mountain, a great revolution was taking place in the world – indeed, a revolution which would, at points, change the course of history. And Rip Van Winkle knew nothing about it; he was asleep.”

“There are all too many people,” King said, “who, in some great period of social change, fail to achieve the new mental outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.”

In a few moments, we’ll hear the sound of the shofar, calling us to awaken from our slumber. This is the central moment of the Rosh Hashanah experience. Think of what it means that our tradition places an alarm clock right at the heart of the new year celebration. It’s as if the spiritual architects of our tradition understood one critical fact about human beings: we will sleep through the revolution. It’s human. But then Rosh Hashanah bursts into our September, shaking us awake, reminding us that sleeping while the world burns is simply not an option.

Last year, the shofar came as a jolt in the night, calling us to grapple with our nation’s moral crisis, to defiantly lift our gaze toward a politics of aspiration. The year before, the shofar was a call to action: to pair our broken hearts over three-year-old Aylan Kurdi in his tiny sneakers with some real effort on behalf of Syrian refugees.

Some years, the blasts of the shofar free us from the folly of presumed powerlessness. Some years, they come to awaken us from our privileged detachment. And some years, it’s about recalibration—a call back to our core values and true purpose.

Chants of “Jews will not replace us!” are our wakeup call this year. It’s our task to walk away from Charlottesville with a renewed sense that we were put here not to be comfortable, but to be prophetic.

Remember Joseph, thrown by his brothers into a viper pit and sold into slavery in Egypt? Abandoned by everyone who should have cared for him, Joseph is disoriented, dislocated, forced to rebuild his life in a land not his own.

But through some mix of grit, luck and divine intervention, this slave quickly rose in the ranks working וַיְ הי י ֵסף יְ ֵפה־ for the powerful Potiphar, giving him respect and authority. Until the Torah tells us that Joseph was well built and handsome (Gen 39:6). That’s a strange comment for the ת ר וי ֵ פה ַמ ְר אה׃ Torah, so sparse with words, to make. (This isn’t a Tinder profile, it’s the Book of Genesis. What’s going on here?) Rashi explains: As soon as Joseph began to gain power and influence in Potiphar’s home, he started to eat and drink and curl his hair. This infuriated the Holy One, who cried out: Your father mourns for you and you’re curling your hair? Has all this power and luxury made you forget who you are? You’re so enamored by Egypt that you’ve forgotten your people, their suffering, your destiny? Do you think this is what you are here for?

Nehama Leibowitz describes that Joseph then found himself on the brink of spiritual disaster. “The plight of the poor and downtrodden exiled from their land is difficult enough,” she writes, “but doubly dangerous is the plight of one who achieves favor in the eyes of his masters so that they advance him for their own needs to the highest of positions.”

And it was in that moment that God plotted Joseph’s fall from grace.

Privilege, comfort, abundance: these are all great blessings. If we’re paying attention, the shofar wakes us up before they become curses.

So what can we do? I’m going to suggest three things.

First, we—the Jewish community—have to be clear and honest about the dangers we’re facing today. We cannot sugarcoat this. Especially in a time of all-out assault on truth, we have to speak openly and clearly about the threat. We need to hold our leaders accountable: this is not a moment for normalizing, justifying or hedging. Timothy Snyder warns that “Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given.” Anticipatory obedience is when regular people voluntarily compromise on small values or principles, signaling to a regime how willing they are to conform to new standards. The problem is that eventually, it’s simply too late to stand up and resist. We cannot be party to this.

Second, we have to get creative and we have to be bold. On one hand, you heard about the 2014 counter-protest to the annual Nazi march in Bavaria, when residents sponsored the marchers in what they called Germany’s “most involuntary walkathon,” festooning the town in pink banners, throwing confetti at the Nazi marchers and encouraging them to keep walking because every meter brought in donations to an organization promoting defection from extremist groups. Inspired by this model, we did something similar last year when the antisemitic and homophobic Westboro Baptist Church protested outside this building, raising thousands of dollars for The Trevor Project, which provides suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.

And at the same time, we have to be bold in our thinking and organizing, particularly around the advancement of racial healing in this country. We have to commit to helping America make teshuvah— reckon with and reconcile our nation’s past. I’ll be talking more about this tomorrow.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have to take the vulnerability that we felt from Charlottesville, in Ruth Messinger’s words, the “body shock” of seeing Nazis on US soil, and renew our commitment to join forces with other marginalized and vulnerable people in the US. Many of these communities have far fewer resources and are more directly and dangerously targeted than the Jewish community. What I’m suggesting is that at precisely the moment that we Jews feel most vulnerable in America, we need to turn to our Muslim, Latino, Black, Sikh and immigrant neighbors and double down on support, solidarity and love.

It is precisely in our moments of greatest danger that we must affirm exactly who we are. Now we need to lead with the Jewish values that are the air we breathe, that give us both life and reason to live. Now we must remember that we were put in this world to bring a message of justice and love, that the memory of degradation, dehumanization, near extermination lives in our bones, calling us to work to transform the societies we live in. Our goal is not to eat, drink and curl our hair. Nor is it simply to survive. We are called to a higher purpose, to be bearers of light and love, sources of hope and strength. As Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “To be or not to be is not the question. How to be and how not to be is the question.”

We are here to cry out against injustice, to fight for human dignity. To give love and to receive it. To pry open hearts and minds, to lift the fallen and strengthen the vulnerable, give voice to the voiceless, to advance the causes of dignity and peace—for our people and for all people. We must not abandon our core commitments when things get tough; we must make justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a mighty stream.

Mother Teresa once brought food to a family with eight children who had not eaten in days. She entered their home and looked into the faces of children “disfigured by… the deep pain of hunger.” She handed a plate of rice to the mother, who divided the rice in two and left the house. When she returned a few moments later, she served the remaining half plate to her children. “Where did you go?” Mother Teresa asked her. “To my neighbors; they are hungry also.” “I was not surprised that she gave,” Mother Teresa recalled, “—poor people are really very generous. I was surprised she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves, we have no time for others.”

Antisemitism is a real and present danger in the US today, inextricably woven into the fabric of the racialized hatred that is tearing our country apart. It’s now more than ever that we must stand together. Join us for interfaith actions with our LA Voice partners. Join and support the Poor People’s Campaign. Go to an Iftar at the Islamic Center. Affirm that the best antidote to White Nationalist hatred is multiracial and multifaith alliances.

Luxury and power were a toxic combination for Joseph. He lost himself beneath those fancy dinners and curled eyelashes. It took many years for him to find himself again. At some point, with his estranged brothers standing before him, וְ לא־יָ כל י ֵסף ְלה ְת ַא ֵפק– Joseph could no longer constrain himself. He wept so loudly that all of Egypt heard him as he said, ֲא ני י ֵסף — I am Joseph (Gen 45:1). I look like an Egyptian, I live in the palace, but know that I am yours. #JeSuisJuif. I am a Hebrew. My loyalty is to my people.

His brothers were dumbfounded, but Joseph had never been more clear about anything in his life.

We should not be ashamed of our success or achievements in this country; we should be grateful for the opportunities we’ve found in America. But we also must never forget who we are, and who we are called to be in the world.

Susan Bro, mother of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, murdered by a Nazi on American soil in 2017, spoke at her daughter’s funeral:

“They tried to kill my child to shut her up, but guess what, you just magnified her. I’d rather have my child, but by golly if I got to give her up, we’re going to make it count.”

Yes, Susan: we will make it count. May your daughter’s memory be a blessing—for you and for us all. This moment is a clarion call; it is a wakeup call. Let us not sleep through the revolution.


Sharon Brous is the senior and founding rabbi of IKAR.

Alexander Gauland, left, and Alice Weidel, co-leaders of the right-wing Alternative for Germany party, speaking at a news conference in Berlin on Sept. 25. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Alternative for Germany leader says Jews have nothing to fear


Jews should not fear the strong election showing by the Alternative for Germany, a leader of the populist far-right party said.

“There is nothing in our party, in our program, that could disturb the Jewish people who live here in Germany,” co-party head Alexander Gauland told reporters Monday, a day after AfD garnered more than 13 percent of the vote to finish third in German national elections.

Gauland also said that he was ready to meet with German Jewish leaders “at any time.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected to a fourth term and reportedly has rejected the idea of including AfD in a coalition government.

“Unfortunately, our worst fears have come true: A party that tolerates far-right views in its ranks and incites hate against minorities in our country is today not only in almost all state parliaments but also represented in the Bundestag,” the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dr. Josef Schuster, said in a statement issued late Sunday.

“I expect all our democratic forces to unveil the real face of the AfD and to expose the party’s empty, populist promises. The goal that should unite all democratic parties: to make it clear to the voters that the AfD is not an alternative, so that it can land where it belongs — under the 5 percent hurdle! ”

The council called on the parliament to “fight for democracy and to defend its values ​​vehemently” in the face of the AfD successes.

The Anti-Defamation League called AfD’s entrance into the national parliament “a disturbing milestone in modern German politics,” saying the party is “proudly extremist, anti-immigrant, and anti-minority.” The party leaders have made anti-Semitic statements and played down the evil of the Nazi regime, the ADL also said in its statement.

“Chancellor Merkel has a strong track record of protecting the Jewish community and other minorities,” CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said. “We appreciate that she has excluded the possibility of AfD joining her coalition, and we count on her strong leadership going forward to diminish the appeal of AfD among German voters.”

Hundreds of protesters gathered in cities throughout Germany on Sunday evening to protest the AfD’s election successes. In the Alexanderplatz public square in central Berlin, protesters chanted “Racism is not an alternative,” “AfD is a bunch of racists” and “Nazis out!”

Rabbi Jonathan Aaron

Rosh Hashanah sermon: Rabbi Jonathan Aaron


If you don’t know our theme phrase by heart yet, I’m sure that by the end of the days of awe you will. “In a place where no one’s acting Human, strive to be human.” It seems like a pretty straightforward phrase. But tonight I want to show you four approaches to the verse from Pirke Avot, with the hopes that you may relate to at least one of them, and make it a part of your process during the 8 hours or so we will congregate here in this room over the next ten days. For me, our theme, and the themes we have introduced over the years, is a big kavannah, a direction of thought. It is like a liturgy and poetry filter, a way to think about this whole through a distinctive lens. But each of us comes into this room from such a different perspective, and we go out of this room, after the introspective process, with different areas that we need to work on in our lives. So here are four ways to enter into the High Holy Days this year.

The first approach is the way we have introduced the text through our translation. “In a place where no one’s acting human, strive to be human.” When a place is devoid of morals, be moral. Someone put it more bluntly to me, “When people are morons, be a mensch.” This leads us to social action, social justice. Reading it this way is about standing up for the rights of others when they can’t stand for themselves, about standing up for injustice and inhuman behavior, and turning injustice to justice, the inhumane to the humane, the inhuman to the human. This is how we translated it, this was a big part of our online High Holy Day message. Feed the hungry, care for the elderly, attend public rallies, be human. There may be some of you here who are unsure how you want to react to the actions of certain people or groups. You’re affected by Charlottesville and racism and sexism and any other “ism,” discrimination, intolerance, hate, genocide, and the subversion of the rights of those who cannot help themselves. But you are unsure as to how or where you can participate. Perhaps these ten days can be reflections on what really matters to you, and where you want to make a difference in the world. That is our opportunity. That is our challenge. (by the way, bringing food for the hungry and diapers for refugees is a great start)

For the Second approach I have to point out the Hebrew wording of our theme. In our translation, we say, “In a place, where no one’s acting human.” That is certainly a valid translation/interpretation. The actual words in Hebrew – she ayn anashim – means, “where there are no people” (it’s actually “men,” but we are in the year 5778/2017, lets take the gender out of it), hishtadeyl l’hyot ish, “Strive to be a person” (or, man). So if I use similar wording to our translation it becomes: In a place where there are no humans, strive to be a human.

Consider how Hillel, who said this phrase two thousand years ago, became the head of the Sanhedrin, the court in Jerusalem made up of 21 great scholars and leaders. It is said that he only agreed to became the head of the Sanhedrin when he realized that there was no one else more qualified than he to answer questions of Jewish law regarding the Pesach offering. For him, perhaps the phrase meant: “In a place where there are no people to lead, take it upon yourself to be a leader,” or, “In a place where there is a vacuum, fill the vacuum.”

I think reading it this way offers the opportunity to search through our lives to identify those places where you feel you can step up, where you can fill a void, perhaps become a leader,  even a reluctant one. This void could be at work, could be in an extra curricular activity, or volunteer work, could be here in the synagogue, could be in our homes or within our larger family. Sometimes it is difficult to take the reigns of leadership. We are all afraid to fail, and there are times when it is intimidating to be thrust into a leadership role. We may feel that we are not worthy. But to summon the courage, to open ourselves up and put ourselves out there, to become more, that is our opportunity, that is our challenge.

The third idea focuses more on the first line: “In a place where there are no people.” If we take this line literally, then no one is around, and we are left with a basic question: Who are we when no one is there? What do we act like, “when there are no people?” According to this text, we must still “strive to be human.” Even though no one is looking, even when there isn’t a person around, that doesn’t mean we can just throw all morals out the window. Pinchas of Koretz wrote the following:  A person can act as purely innocent, and yet be involved in all types of devilish schemes, or he can pose as the most humble of all men, while pride rages within him. The Torah stresses that in both the cases God, as it were, tests you, and while you may be able to fool others, you cannot fool God.” Isn’t that the same idea that the High Holy Days sets up? There is a book, and all of our deeds are found in that book, because nothing escapes the view of heaven, and whether there is anyone around or not, we still need to live up to the standard.

It’s like the Jewish folktale of a man who takes his young daughter into a neighboring field to steal corn. He asks her to be his lookout. After a minute or so, she says, “Daddy, someone sees you from the North!” he stops what he is doing, looks to the North and doesn’t see anyone. He throws her a look and goes back to his business. Minutes later, “Daddy, someone sees you from the south.” He looks, no one there, he throws her a perturbed, suspicious look. “Daddy, someone – “ He stops her. “Sweetie, why do you keep saying someone sees me, there is no one around.” She looks up at him and says, “God sees you.”

Now it may or may not be a part of your theology to imagine that God can see us, but it does beg the question, “Are we the same when we feel like there is no one to see us, to judge us?” Perhaps for some of us, we need to reflect on whether we are who we are at all times, when we are in public around others, and when we are alone? The opportunity and challenge is to align both our public outer selves, and our private inner selves.

The last concept really ties them all together. It is the word hishtadeyl. We are translating it as “strive.” I like that translation because it encompasses the essence of the root of the word. All Hebrew words (with some exceptions) have three lettered roots, and those three letters have a core meaning. In this case SHADAL has a couple of meanings that work. First, in its simplest form, it means, “to be wide open” (like a door opening). Another active form means, “to persuade”.  But the form of the verb is the key. It is reflexive, we do it to ourselves. We open ourselves up, we persuade ourselves to act. So I have news for all of us. This will not be easy. It is difficult to stand up to injustice. It is hard to take on leadership, even when you need to be that leader. It is not always an easy thing to be the same person when no one’s looking as when you know you are being seen. We need to open ourselves up to the possibility, and we need to persuade ourselves, convince ourselves to do what we need to do.

That’s why “strive” is our word. To strive towards something is to exert yourself, to make the effort – to “convince” yourself to contend in opposition to something. It is an effort towards a goal. And the effort comes from within us. Striving is a process, not a destination. We may never be able to solve injustice completely, we may not become that leader, we may not achieve parity in our private and public selves – this week, month, year, or ever. But we can strive to get there, we can move the arrow in the right direction. And it only comes from inside of us, not from anyone else. To strive, in the hishtadeyl sense, is to open yourself up to the possibility of making things happen, convince yourself to act, persuade yourself to be human independent of others.

This is the work we have in store for us over the next ten days of honest reflection. May we find what we strive for: a place to combat injustice; a place to become the leader we need to be, where we need to be it; to a place where we can be proud of our public and private actions. May we find that place, and open ourselves up, convince ourselves, persuade ourselves, to be that person we want to be. This is our opportunity. This is our challenge.


Jonathan Aaron is Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes

Rosh Hashanah sermon: Rabbi Paul Kipnes


This summer, Michelle and I donned our blue wetsuits, pulled up our oversized boots, and climbed aboard our raft for a guided ride down Alaska’s Chulitna River, from Denali to Talkeetna. Initially, the River looks uniform, winding this way and that, carrying greyish water from the glacier out to the sea. Up close, we discovered that the river was anything but uniform as its branches split multiple passages carved through deposits of glacial silt.

From our guide we learned that reading a river is an adventure in complexity and nuance. When rivers run quickly, it is not because the water was flowing deeply. It’s more nuanced than that. The quickly flowing parts signify that the bottom is closer to the surface and that hidden below the water might be sharp rocks and fallen trees, which might impede our travel or worse, might tear a hole in the raft.

Now I was blissed out during my sabbatical, not a temple related thought in my head, when it occurred to me. There’s a sermon in this: Life is sometimes like that. When rafting along the river of life, we too easily are misled by first impressions. We become overconfident about what we think we know, and miss the complexity of what’s around us. If we are not careful, we just might end up ripping holes in our life rafts. I whipped out my iPhone, opened Evernote, and typed: “Embracing complexity and nuance is not easy.”

We live in an age when many yearn for simplicity. Social media rewards short attention spans with 30-second videos and clever Instagram memes, which claim to offer everything we need to know. Everything is binary: Good or bad. Left or right. Right or wrong. No room for a middle ground. But when we practice this reductionism, we overlook treacherous circumstances, ignoring the dangers as we try to float on by.

It was not always like this. In the early days of the Talmud, that epic compendium of Jewish law and lore, the ancient rabbis lived among shades of gray. Even on points of law, when we needed a decision, the rabbis exhibited incredible complexity and nuance. On each page of the Talmud alongside the anonymous, accepted legal opinion, we find the words d’var acher – another interpretation – preserving for all time insightful alternative arguments.

The rabbis understood that eilu v’eilu divrei Elohim chayim – that these AND those were the words of the living God, in spite of the fact that the law followed one opinion. From this, we learn that clarity does not reside in black-and-white but rather amidst the grey muck that hides the nuances of life.

The rabbis of old had it right. More often than not, our challenge while floating along the river of life is not about discerning right from wrong. We must choose from a bunch of interwoven options, left to navigate between two or more equally hopeful alternatives. Sometimes we are even choosing not between good and bad, but something more arduous: between good and good, or between more acceptable and less acceptable. Each option boasts its benefits; each has hidden dangers.

Unfortunately, the evaluation of ideas requires patience and proceeds only slowly, like a Sunday afternoon float down the river. That’s why we tend to prefer the easier route: reducing our options to simplistic catchphrases. Thus we get: “all Mexicans are murderers and rapists.” That “all police are racist and evil.” Or that “Jews are conniving and control world finance.”

Now don’t worry. I’m not going to talk about politics this morning. Though perhaps we should. Politics is just the art of bringing our values to bear on the public negotiation for a better world. It’s supposed to be an attempt to attain the best for the public by bringing disparate interests together, negotiating a solution that works for the betterment of all. It’s about listening to insights different than our own, debating openly, and figuring out – together – how best to move our city or country forward.

Politics allows us to apply our Jewish values to the public sphere. In fact, our 1400-year-old Talmud provides crucial insights about almost every major issue we face today, from public policy and economics, to government and the dangers of dictatorship, to insights about different gender identities – the Talmud lists seven! – to compassion for the poor, to how we must prioritize healthcare for all, to explanations of why there ought to be one law for the citizen and non-citizen alike.

But today we won’t talk about any of that. Instead, on this Rosh Hashana, perhaps we might focus on confession. Should we be confessing to ourselves and to the Holy One that many of us are guilty of the sin of avoidance? (I know I am.) That we harbor great anxiety about talking openly with people we are closest to? That we fear being judged by others, having people cut us off, or ruining relationships by offering an opinion.

How many of us sat uncomfortably around the Thanksgiving table, a few weeks after the election, purposefully avoiding what everyone was thinking about: who did you vote for and why? Who worried that across from them sat this Republican, that Democrat, or that other person who didn’t even vote? Who sat quietly, unsure how to respond, When someone was attacked for an opinion? Or elsewhere, who has sat among groups of Jews wondering: do these people really support Israel in its totality, or do they criticize her or, chas v’shalom (God forbid), do they care too much about Palestinians, or too little?

Don’t worry. Your rabbi is not gonna talk about all that, because we don’t know how to listen. We don’t know how to hear opinions we disagree with. We have lost, or abdicated, our ability to sit with complexity and nuance.

So instead, like some of you, I am sick to my stomach thinking about all those families and friends who cannot sit and talk about the troubling issues we face. Why? It is because buzzwords and slogans are easy – we get them, complexity and nuance, not so much. Well, Judaism has plenty to say – from the Torah and Talmud, to the Prophets and Midrash – about today’s challenges. If you want to hear how I think Jewish values speak to the great issues of the day, please come by Congregation Or Ami and sit with me, and I will teach you. We shouldn’t allow our bifurcated community to keep us from hearing opinions, even the ones that make us uncomfortable, but will make us think.

Of course some of you might be uncomfortable that your spiritual leader is sliding there, right on the edge of the sword, getting ready to speak about what Judaism has to say about the real issues facing the country and the world. I know because I have received so many calls, texts and emails from people about the content of my sermons, about the services in general. Silly me, at first I was tickled that so many of you were thinking ahead about your High Holy Day spiritual preparation. Until I realized that some of you calling to urge me not to talk about anything related to current realities. Not about what Judaism has to say about political behavior, or values underpinning our tax policy, or about racism or Nazis, or what it means that a Hurricane could devastate a major American city… again. And of course I received an equal number of contacts urging me to do just that, to say what Judaism has to say from our Jewish texts and tradition about this issue. And everybody was really uptight about it.

If we want this country to prosper, and this congregation to flourish, and our families to blossom, we need to take a collective communal breath. Back in the beginning, Bereisheet, God warned us about times like this. According to the Midrash, when God created Adam, God led him around the Garden of Eden and said to him: “Behold my works. See how beautiful they are. All that I have created, I created for your sake. Now it is up to you. Make sure that you do not spoil and destroy my world, for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.” We must examine what’s happening to our world before we burn it down. Before our country is consumed.

If we don’t learn how to talk about our mutual concerns for our communities and country, and our shared worry about the people in them, then we allow others to control the tenor of the conversation. We give space – and allow others to give space – to hate-filled ranting and hate-filled Nazis marching through our American cities, carrying banners emblazoned with swastikas, chanting the German Nazi slogan blut und borden – blood and soil, and shouting “You won’t replace us here. Jews won’t replace us here.” And all the counter claims, What about the Antifa? – problematic as it might be – will not change the horrific fact that Nazis were again marching openly in America, denouncing Jews and other minority groups with heinous words, shouting anti-Semitic tropes, and that it became … acceptable.

It’s not only because of this President, or the one before, or the presidents who preceded them. It is because of us. We the people are the guardians of our values, the foundation of our republic.

Imagine if we learned to embody complexity and embrace nuance. Im tirzu ein zo aggadah- if you will it, it is no dream, said Zionist thinker Theodore Herzl, the late 19th century dreamer who dreamt that Jews would once again be a free people in our homeland of Israel. He dreamt, he worked at it, and, though he never lived to see it, 50 years later, Israel came to be. Herzl was safe in his own life, nonetheless labored diligently on his dream, making it his mission to create something for the good of our people and all of humanity.

Well, if I may be so bold, like Herzl and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I too have a dream… that any two of you, passionate people both, will sit down and talk about the most difficult issues facing our country and you will converse with kavod(respect) and chesed (kindness), patiently listening to each other to uncover the nuance and complexity of your opinions. Without destroying each other. Without resorting to the “shock and awe” which characterizes the “ridicule and destroy” sloganeering that tries to pass as debate today on both sides of the aisle, and in the middle too. Im tirtzu – If we will it, it is no dream.

I have a dream that the content of one’s argument – intellectual, logical, even passion if measured – will be more important than the slogans some chant or the vicious names some hurl at those with whom they disagree. Im tirtzu – Does it need to remain a dream?

I have a dream that next week we will look across the Erev Yom Kippur table at people with whom we intensely disagree, but we will still perceive tzelem Elohim (the image of God) within them, and we will affirm that within them too exists that combination of intrinsic worth, blessed uniqueness, and undeniable equality. And we will disagree thoughtfully while engaging in difficult conversations.

And I have a dream, as said the ancient prophet Micah and as sang the modern poet Lin-Manuel Miranda, that “every man and woman will sit under his or her vine and fig tree and none shall make them afraid.” Let’s aspire at home and at the synagogue to talk openly, for example, about Israel, in all her beauty and complexity, her grave mistakes and incredible successes, exploring the challenges of living as Jews in a dangerous neighborhood, facing the horrid plight of the Palestinians, considering the future of the settlements, and the challenges to Jewish pluralism… and during that whole discussion, never once will we be calling the other a “self hating Jew” or “right-wing Jewish extremist.”

Similarly let’s aim to sit together during the 2018 elections as Republicans and Democrats and independents, sharing our diverse understandings about the challenges we face.

Or be like my father-in-law Murray who heads over to McDonalds or go to some coffee shop not near where you live, and week after week sit with people who are unlike you and just to talk. Try to grasp their opposing opinions and why they think that. It shouldn’t be that difficult. We used to talk to each other.

I wish I had some grand 5 point plan to tell you how to do this. But I have to be honest, it is hard for me too. Of course, Talking with my brother Chuck, we came up with these five steps:

  1. Find a person you disagree with and buy him or her a cup of coffee or a beer.
  2. Ask them hard questions. If they voted for President Trump, ask them why and what values underpinned their decision. If they voted for Senator Clinton, ask them why and what underpinned their decision. Don’t let them – kindly – get away with, “I didn’t like her.” Don’t let them – respectfully – get away with, “I didn’t like him.” Get to the values that underpin their ideas.
  3. Shut up and listen to what they have to say. Ask questions, respectfully, but then listen.
  4. Don’t think that you have the right answer, or that you know it all. Because my study of history is that we don’t. Even me.
  5. When you have these conversations, don’t be a jerk. Don’t be the one trying to “search and destroy,” be someone who listens and builds relationships.

Im tirtzu… it doesn’t need to be a dream! In fact, it is tied up with what it means to be a Jew.

To be a Jew begins with the recognition that even God is magnificent Presence, a complex idea, a Force and the sum of all Forces, the internet for the souls, and so much more. God cannot be reduced to simplistic sound bytes so we can wrap our little heads around God, for even as God is immanent, right here around us and within, God is also transcendent, way beyond us.

To be a Jew is to comprehend that when we sing Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu, the words Adonai echad – God is one, affirm that oneness actually means that the one God welcomes multitudes of people with a multiple perspectives about every issue under the sun. If God can wrap Godself around that reality, can’t we? To be a Jew is to work hard to live fully within mind-blowing nuance and the mind-numbing complexity of Existence.

I believe it’s possible. Last month, Michelle and I were up in Alaska, we watched not seven feet away from us, two Alaskan brown bear cubs – they were brothers – wrestling playfully together. They were endowed with sharp claws and knife-like teeth. They were swatting and biting, pushing and pawing, never once harming the other. Just because they could maul and mutilate each other doesn’t mean they would. Just because we can maul and mutilate each other, doesn’t mean we should. We Americans should wrestle through our most intense debates and even our most vulnerable moments, and strive that everyone comes away unscathed.

Look, in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and that earthquake down in Mexico City, those rescuers and we donors didn’t ask if the people in need were liberals or conservatives, gay, trans, or straight, Hispanic, black or white, poor or rich. If you needed help after the tragedy, we reached out and helped.

That’s because to be human, and to be Jews and be part of a Jewish family and Jewish community, is to work to transform our dinner table back into a mikdash ma’at, a holy altar of mutual respect, and to rebuild our cities into an ir shalom, a city of peace, so that our world can become a makom kadosh, a holy place.

Yes, I your rabbi have a dream that we can get to this place. And I really think that a lot of you share that dream too. Im tirzu ain zo aggadah – If we will it, it won’t just be a dream. So let’s go make it happen… together.


Rabbi Paul J. Kipnes (rabbipaul@orami.org) is the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas.

Alexander Gauland, left, and Alice Weidel, co-leaders of the right-wing Alternative for Germany party, speaking at a news conference in Berlin on Sept. 25. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

For first time since WWII, a far-right party will be in the German parliament


Jewish leaders congratulated Angela Merkel on her election to a fourth term as German chancellor, while decrying the rise of Germany’s newest right-wing populist party, which for the first time will enter the national parliament.

The Alternative for Germany Party, or AfD – founded in 2013 – came in third, with 13.1 percent of the popular vote, according to early election results. The party is likely to have 94 seats in the 631-member Bundestag.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union won with a weak 32.9 percent of the vote, followed by the Social Democratic Party, with what observers have called a poor showing of 20.8 percent.

Speaking to the Tagesspiegel newspaper in Berlin, Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, called the AfD a “party that agitates against minorities.” For now, their target is Muslims, he noted. “But I am convinced that when the topic of Muslims is no longer interesting, and it becomes politically and socially opportune to switch to another minority, they could easily do so. And I include Jews in that number.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder congratulated Merkel on her victory, calling her “a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people.” He also sharply denounced what he termed the “disgraceful” reactionary party AfD “recalling the worst of Germany’s past.”

Moshe Kantor, president of the Brussels-based European Jewish Congress, also welcomed the election news, saying Merkel had “shown tremendous courage and conviction in her support of the revival of Jewish life in Germany” as well as being a  “strong supporter of the State of Israel.”

Kantor also expressed concern about the strong showing of the AfD. “We trust that centrist parties in the Bundestag will ensure that the AfD has no representation in the coming governing coalition,” he noted.

Talks will soon begin to form a coalition government, most likely between the Christian Democratic Union and two of the smaller mainstream parties – the Free Democratic Party and the Greens (Alliance 90/The Greens), which came in with 10.6 percent and 8.9 percent of the vote, respectively.

The Social Democratic Party is likely to remain the chief opposition party, weakening the political impact of the AfD despite its third-place showing, said Sergey Lagodinsky, a political activist with the Green Party and member of the Berlin Jewish Community Council.

Lagodinsky told JTA the rise of the AfD was lamentable and yet not a surprise, given public discontent on economic and political levels. Chief among their concerns are the way the government has handled the influx of more than 1.5 million refugees since mid-2015, a majority of them Muslim. Another major concern is the economic future of Germany’s industrial regions.

“The AfD places more emphasis on majorities than on safeguards for minorities, and this is the difference between their outlook and the outlook of many parties,” Lagodinsky said, adding that the party has racist undertones and “appeals to people who feel that their future is not secure.”

For Jews, what’s especially significant about the AfD is its position against ritual circumcision and ritual slaughter, which affects both Muslims and Jews.

“It is also a party that wants a 180-degree turn around of the commemoration policy” of the crimes of the Holocaust, Lagodinsky noted. “They want Germany to feel more proud again… [Party leader Alexander] Gauland said… that they should be proud of the Wehrmacht soldiers. Any anti-liberal party that challenges human rights and civil rights is also a challenge for Jews.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. President Donald Trump at he White House on May 3. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

White House explains redirected funds to Palestinians


A White House official confirmed Jewish Insider’s report on Wednesday that the Trump administration had quietly transferred an additional $20 million to Palestinian wastewater programs after the funds were frozen from an Egyptian economic aid package. “The State Department came to us and said they had identified this particular piece of money and these were, if I recall, FY2016 (Fiscal Year) funds that disappear at the end of September,” the White House official told Jewish Insider last week.

[This article originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

However, the Trump administration source objected to an assertion made by a Congressional aide that the Trump administration was rushing to move the funds to West Bank water programs before the Taylor Force Act could be passed. Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Taylor Force Act, legislation introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that would cut off all U.S. economic aid that “directly benefits” the P.A. until they cease payments to families of terrorists. “There was a particular window for this so that the money would be used. TFA (Taylor Force Act) would have no impact on this even if they passed it tomorrow. There wasn’t an ‘oh my gosh, let’s get this money before Taylor Force passes,’” the White House official added.

The official said that there were numerous Palestinian projects that the U.S. would like to support. “But when you have terrorists stabbing American citizens in the back and tax paying dollars used to support these people, the President said very clearly to President Abbas in both Washington and Bethlehem in May, this is intolerable to us,” the source emphasized.

On a separate note, the White House official declined to opine regarding an announcement from Hamas last week that the U.S. designated terror group would dissolve the Gaza administrative committee and move towards a unity government. “Our feeling is very much wait and see. There have been lots of attempts at this before,” the White House official noted. “We appreciate the Egyptians (mediation) efforts to try and come to some resolution to do this.”

After Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary elections, the Islamist party joined with Fatah to form a national unity government in March 2007. The Bush Administration condemned this Palestinian government and refused to provide it with any assistance. This policy lasted until June 2007 when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the unity government following Hamas’ military coup in Gaza. Given the longstanding US policy of boycotting Hamas, any openness by the Trump administration towards the Islamist group playing some sort of internationally recognized political role is considered noteworthy.

Abbas rebuked U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman during his September 20 speech at the U.N. General Assembly for referring to the “alleged occupation” of Palestinian territories. When asked if the White House agrees with Friedman regarding the “alleged occupation” or the State Department that quickly clarified its decades old policy of calling the West Bank “occupied territory,” the White House official responded, “That’s simply not my question to answer. I am going to let David (Friedman) speak to that. It wasn’t my call. My personal views aren’t really relevant. That was his statement so I would refer that to him.”

Despite some reports that the U.S. is planning a regional summit with Israel and Arab Gulf states to accelerate the peace process, the Trump administration official noted that no such meeting is currently in the works.

The White House official declined to elaborate on the timetable when the U.S. plans to present Israelis and Palestinians with its peace plan or if there have been any concrete advancements towards peace during talks with Netanyahu or Abbas.

Asked what options the administration was considering, in light of the President’s unwillingness to exclusively back a two state solution,  the White House official explained, “It goes back to the other question. The President said one state or two states: it’s for the two parties to agree on. It’s not for us to say: here are your options.”

Lavishing praise on Netanyahu’s UN address, the White House source explained, “It was a very strong speech. Obviously, the President appreciated the strong expression of support. It doesn’t make us unhappy to have the Prime Minister of Israel very pleased with President Trump’s speech and perhaps the Venezuelans, Iranians and North Koreans less so. It draws a very clear contrast between the leaders of other countries. I thought the very positive message this year about what Israel offers the world was extremely valuable.”

Dating 101 – Not OK Cupid


I spent the weekend at home. I was dealing with jet lag and fighting off a cold that was trying very hard to derail me. I drank a lot of tea with honey, soaked in the tub a few times, and basically just rested. When I got an email from OK Cupid on Saturday afternoon letting me know someone was interested in me, I logged in thinking a good man might make me feel better.

That was the only mistake I made all weekend. These are the actual pictures of the man who got in touch with me. They have not been altered in any way, other than to delete his face. Yes, you got that right, they are posted online, for all to see, with his face clearly showing. This man is not shy or embarrassed by who he is or what he is looking for. Good for him I guess that he is so comfortable in his own skin, but surely there is a fetish dating site for him to be searching on.

Needless to say, after one week on OK Cupid, I was done.  Dating is a nightmare under the best of circumstances, and this was almost too much for me to handle. Maybe it was because I was tired, or perhaps because I was sick, but I wanted to scream and think I actually may have. I got up today at 4:00 am and the first thing I did was delete my OK Cupid account. Why didn’t I delete it immediately upon hearing from this man? Because my head exploded and I lost the use of my hands for a short time. That and I threw my phone on the floor and was too tired to go get it.

Dear Lord. I am 51 years old, cute, funny, successful, independent, kind, loving, supportive, open to love, and a great woman, yet this is what is available to me to date in Los Angeles? I will remain hopeful, because that is who I am as a human being, but to say this man did not crush my spirit a little would be a lie. In an attempt to shake it off and embrace the midlife crisis I am currently going through, I chopped off all my hair. A bit rash I suppose, but it’s just hair and it will grow back. At the end of the day I will be fine, because I am always fine. When it comes to my dating life however, today it is a bit of a struggle to keep the faith.

Michael Chusid puts a blowhole into an African antelope horn in his shofar workshop. Photos by Ryan Torok

A shofar master blaster shares his calling


At first glance, Michael Chusid’s workshop looks like most any utility shed at the back of a house — a space somewhere between Tim “The Toolman” Taylor’s garage from “Home Improvement” and Jason Segel’s man cave from “I Love You, Man.”

Electrical cords run across the roof. A power drill rests on a wooden workbench. A loveseat that could use a good cleaning nevertheless appears comfy and inviting.

But Chusid’s Encino workspace differs from others in one major respect: It’s filled with the horns of rams and antelopes, piled up in bowls like pieces of fruit.

Chusid is a self-described ba’al tekiah, a shofar master blaster, and creator of the blog “Hearing Shofar.” He studies them. He buys them. He sometimes alters them. And he blows them.

Each year, Chusid blasts a shofar at synagogues on the High Holy Days, at American Jewish University and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and as a member of Shofar Corps, which blows shofar for the sick and elderly who cannot make it to synagogue on the holidays.

“The most difficult thing for me as a blower is to remember to listen,” Chusid said. “Sometimes in shul, I start thinking, ‘Oh, I’m blowing it really good; I’m impressing people. Look at how great I am.’ And then I’m completely out of it. When I’m really into it, I disappear, I no longer exist, I feel the energy coming out of the earth, rising through my body and going out the shofar and connecting with heaven, like the [Hebrew] letter, vav.”

As he stood barefoot, wearing a sarong, with a rainbow yarmulke covering his gray-white hair, he demonstrated what he meant. He closed his eyes, held his hand to his face and said a prayer. Then he blew one of his shofars, sounding the three different bursts familiar to anyone who has attended a High Holy Days service: tekiah, one long blast; shevarim, three broken sounds; and teruah, nine staccato notes.

“I have a calling for shofar,” he said later. “I would be diminished if I didn’t teach it.”

Chusid, 64, knows almost everything there is to know about shofars. Archaeologists have discovered images of the instruments that date back at least 20,000 years, he said, and while the shofar blast awakens the spirituality of the Jewish people every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, other historical peoples also have created sounds for ritual purposes.

“Almost every ancient culture found a sound through which they heard and which they spoke with that which is unknowable,” he said.

How to make a shofar

If you have a ram's horn lying around, consider making a shofar:

Posted by Jewish Journal on Friday, September 15, 2017

 

Chusid purchases shofar horns online, from Amazon, eBay and Atlantic Coral Enterprise Inc., a Florida-based wholesaler of seashells and wildlife products that imports horns from South Africa.

“There is something dramatic about the long ones — you can get more pitches on them — but the short ones are just as functional and easier to transport,” he said. “I have some that I slip into my pocket so I can carry it with me all the time just in case the Messiah should show up.”

Atlantic Coral Enterprise sold Chusid the horn of a gemsbok, a large antelope native to South Africa that has horns longer and straighter than ram horns. One end of the gemsbok horn is ribbed, which creates a percussive sound when a tool is rubbed against it.

A variety of horns, from different animals, sit in a pile in Chusid’s workshop.

“This, I believe, is biblically accurate,” Chusid said of a gemsbok shofar he made. “And it’s showy and beautiful, and it’s versatile. We’re told to praise God with shofar and drums.”

Chusid said he first heard the shofar when he was 8 years old. However, he didn’t hear it as an adult until 1994, after he had entered his 40s.

“I went out and bought a shofar, and I’ve been hearing it since,” he said.

As he crafted the gemsbok shofar, Chusid threaded a wire through the horn to determine its hollowness and the location of its bone. He marked the horn with a Sharpie where it would need to be cut to create a mouthpiece at one end. He debated whether to cut off a tip of the horn, which would compromise its dramatic shape, or drill a mouthpiece hole on its side so he could leave the shape intact. He chose the latter.

“People ask me, ‘Did you make that shofar?’ and I have to say, ‘No, I didn’t make it. The sheep made it. Or the antelope. I just fabricated it a little bit,’ ” he said. “This comes from beyond me. The horns come from dead animals.”

And then, Chusid said it was time for my lesson.

As we walked outside, he began to explain technique: Buzz the lips and press the shofar’s blowhole tight to the place where the air comes out between your lips.

I managed a weak but on-point tone out of the gemsbok shofar. It wasn’t much of a blast, but it was something.

Chusid laughed and offered encouragement, adapting an expression of Jewish wisdom that, like the blast of the shofar, has resonated through the ages.

“The rest is practice,” he said. “Go and study.”

To be or not to be political: That is the question for rabbis


Rabbi David Baron of Temple of the Arts learned the hard way the lesson of discussing politics on the High Holy Days.

Years ago, before the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Baron invited Larry Greenfield, a future California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, and David Sadkin, senior counsel to Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, to participate in a community discussion on Yom Kippur afternoon about why they supported their respective party’s candidate.

The result, Baron recalled in a phone interview, was disastrous.

The speakers, he said, “were gentlemen, but their supporters were yelling epithets. It was totally contrarian to the spirit of Yom Kippur. The fangs were out. I said I would never do anything like this again.”

This year, as the Jewish community is consumed with events unfolding in the U.S. and beyond, rabbis are considering how to acknowledge those events during a sacred holiday period otherwise focused on personal introspection and renewal.

There is no rabbinical consensus on this topic — for the High Holy Days or any other time of the Jewish year — as evidenced by a debate over politics on the pulpit that unfolded in the Journal this summer after Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe wrote an essay denouncing how “the litmus test for religious legitimacy has become political opinion.” A colleague, Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom, disputed Wolpe’s view, saying it is incumbent on clergy to provide guidance on the “urgent issues our communities, our nation, Israel and the world face today.”

These same choices face rabbis as the Jewish year 5778 approaches and the churn of disruptive events continues to occupy daily thoughts and conversations.

Stephen Wise Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback told the Journal that while he does not want to preach politics from the bimah, he will strive to follow the advice from his temple’s founder, Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, in delivering High Holy Days sermons that are timeless and timely.

One of several rabbis who said he will acknowledge the challenging times while refraining from expressing a political viewpoint, Zweiback said he intends to discuss how Judaism — specifically, engagement with the religion, its traditions and values — helps make a person better equipped to handle what’s happening in the world.

“I will touch on what Judaism and what the Jewish community teaches us about how we can disagree but still be in community with each other; how Judaism teaches us about compassion for the other at a time when we see Klansmen protesting in the streets and Dreamers wondering what their status will be in the next few months,” he said in a phone interview. “In that sense, it can be timely without being partisan.”

Taking an alternative approach, Rabbi Sarah Bassin of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills plans to address politics and call her synagogue to action. Her Rosh Hashanah sermon, “Un-Fracturing,” conveys how stunned she felt this year as anti-Semitism spiked; when an LGBT rally in Chicago kicked out three women for carrying gay pride flags with Stars of David on them; when death threats targeted Jewish journalists in unprecedented numbers; and when Nazis marched in Charlottesville chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”

Though it is in the DNA of the Jewish people to worry for the future, Bassin will preach that the way to counter darkness is with light.

“It’s not preaching politics, but it is very much about how do I engage in the public sphere right now,” she said. “I have had a couple of congregants across the political spectrum review it just to get their thoughts and input, both from the left and the right, and I’ve made a few tweaks. I want people across the spectrum to be able to hear it. It’s not my intention to offend or be off-putting, but to give people a positive message.”

Her sermon draws on a theme selected by Temple Emanuel synagogue clergy that will tie together all of their sermons. This year, the theme is from Pirkei Avot, or “Ethics of the Fathers,” teaching that “In a place where nobody is acting human, strive to be more human.”

Temple Emanuel Senior Rabbi Jonathan Aaron, for his part, will not be going into politics.

“I kind of feel the synagogue is a place to get away from that,” he said, adding that he supports Bassin’s decision to address controversial issues.

“I believe she has the right to speak about what she wants to speak about,” he said.

Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard of the Conservative synagogue Adat Ari El in Valley Village said his sermon will draw inspiration from an August New Yorker article headlined “Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War?” He plans to talk about the polarization in the country, which he described as a “low-level civil war, with occasional bursts of violence,” and “what I think religious people, and therefore Jews, can do to address that situation.”

The rabbi doesn’t want his politics to turn off people, but he feels the need to be true to his convictions.

“There is a responsibility on the part of clergy to be thoughtful about what they are speaking about while also taking stands and putting themselves out there and sharing a point of view and not just being totally pareve,” he said, referring to food that can be eaten with meat or dairy dishes in accordance with kosher laws.

Like Bassin, Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood said she will discuss what is going on in the world in a way she feels is apolitical.

“I will address a bit of what happened in Charlottesville on erev Rosh Hashanah because I think it is on everyone’s mind, but it is not the main focus. It is: What do we have to do Jewishly at this season and within ourselves to overcome the hatred and the bigotry and the racism that’s become so openly present,” she said. “That’s not a political message.”

Senior Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood plans to deliver a Kol Nidre sermon he described as “political, but in a very high-minded sense.” He said he plans to focus on how Western liberalism — not liberalism in the political sense — appeals to the impulses of the Jewish people.

“I try to give people faith and hope and renewal about what is important to us as Americans,” he said.

His colleague, Rabbi Jocee Hudson, will address issues of racial justice and intersectionality — the concept that people of different minority groups have a shared struggle. Speaking to concerns of activists of the millennial generation, she, like Bassin, plans to call on the community to become involved, “to engage in justice work, and to do it as members of an organized Jewish community, not just as individuals who happen to be Jewish.”

Wilshire Boulevard Temple Rabbi Steven Leder’s approach falls closely in line with Wolpe’s and Zweiback’s. His goal in delivering a sermon, he said, is to provide a timeless and timely message, but being timely doesn’t have to mean a discussion of current events. He believes his congregants want something more.

“My general approach to preaching, and in particular on the High Holy Days, is to create insights for people to transcend the news of the day that are both deeper and more transcendent, because the news of the day on any given day fits into a much broader picture,” he said.

On Rosh Hashanah, Leder said, he will examine the art of letting go, going beyond what he called “the kabuki of change” — earnestly compiling, but not acting upon, intentions to do better in the new year — to actually work at achieving personal and societal transformation. On Yom Kippur, drawing on what he has experienced in his 57 years of living and his 30 years serving Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Leder plans to talk about death — a central theme of the day.

He will offer 10 lessons he has learned over the past three decades, a time during which he has seen approximately 700 corpses. What could be morbid, he explained, will be a plea to live life to the fullest.

“The rabbi does not write your eulogy after you die,” he will say in the sermon. “You write it with the pen of your life.”

The sermon will touch on larger themes, he said, and won’t mention Charlottesville, hurricanes or DACA.

“You’re dealing with something that transcends the headlines,” Leder said. “Not that the headlines are absent, but they ought to be illustrations for something more important on the holidays.”

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of the Orthodox, young adults-oriented synagogue Pico Shul, said he plans to leave politics out of the discussion when he delivers sermons on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“I am working hard on increasing people’s sensitivity to others and inspiring people to deepen and maximize their Jewish experience,” he said. “That is my goal.”

Rabbi Elazar Muskin, senior rabbi of Young Israel of Century City and president of the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox membership organization, has had a policy for more than 35 years of separating politics from the pulpit. This year, he said, he will discuss faith in God and the importance of family, topics he insisted are relevant and appropriate for the bimah.

“In my experiences, every rabbi who speaks about politics ends up in trouble because he will alienate his congregation and he isn’t doing what he is supposed to do,” he said. “A rabbi is supposed to teach you.”

Baron, of Temple of the Arts, said he will talk about the hurricanes in Texas and Florida and the fires in California, despite his weariness of politics during the Holy Days.

“I wasn’t going to talk about hurricanes and the impact on our lives, but the words [from the High Holy Day poem, ‘Unetanah Tokef’] never rang more true: ‘Who by fire and who by flood,’ ” he said. “The Western part of the country is burning up, and the East Coast is flooding out. Human frailty to violence in nature is something I think we talk about on the chaggim [holidays]. It’s one of the central prayers.”

Still, he considers expressing political opinion to be unwise.

“It’s a minefield, because I guess the level of discourse has so degenerated,” Baron said. “It’s something we get too much of all year long. The holiday needs to be an alternative to that. It needs to be an alternative universe to the one we inhabit.

“This is about our inner journey. The trial-and-error of politics is not worth getting into, unless it is something that is so core, so vital to the survival of our Judaism, of American Judaism in general.”

Some High Holy Days sermons become words to live by


Jennifer Stempel, a Los Angeles-based writer, changed her approach to life after hearing a High Holy Days sermon at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

Stempel was shul-hopping when the wife of a Temple Emanuel rabbi gave her and her husband tickets to the synagogue’s holiday services. Little did she know that Temple Emanuel Rabbi Jonathan Aaron would deliver a sermon that, inspired by “A Complaint Free World” — a book by Will Bowen that posits that people can transform their lives if they stop complaining — would have such an impact on her.

Aaron concluded the sermon by challenging his community to go the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur without complaining. If they caught themselves complaining, they were to start their 10 days over again. They could keep track of it with bracelets that read, “Be Complaint Free,” distributed to all 1,200 people in the sanctuary that day. He told people to wear the bracelets on their right wrist, and if they caught themselves complaining to move their bracelets to their left wrist.

The sermon so resonated with Stempel that she asked the rabbi for a copy of it and even shared it with her friends who were therapists, with the suggestion that their patients might get something out of it.

Nearly a decade later, she remembers the sermon.

“For me, personally, it was a very profound experience,” she said. “I felt like this was the first time I was engaged in a High Holy Day sermon. I was challenged and I actually took action from it.”

Every year, rabbis across Los Angeles attempt to deliver High Holy Days sermons that will leave a lasting impression on their congregations. The test, perhaps, is whether years later congregants can recall — and live by — what their spiritual leaders said.

In 1992, the Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinic arm of the Conservative movement, did not recognize the rights of gay people to be ordained as rabbis. Moreover, it prohibited its rabbis from officiating same-sex marriages. This, despite the fact that it had been two decades since the Reform movement had admitted Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), an LGBT synagogue in Los Angeles, into what is today known as the Union of Reform Judaism, an umbrella organization for the Reform movement.

It was against this backdrop that Rabbi Harold Schulweis, spiritual leader of Conservative congregation Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), set out to determine whether homosexuality actually was the sin some believe it is described to be in the Torah, which says one man is not to lie with another. He visited BCC and spent time speaking with some of its congregants. He read many scientific studies on the subject. On erev Rosh Hashanah in 1992, he delivered a sermon that addressed his movement’s position on gays in a sermon titled, “Morality, Legality and Homosexuality.”

In part, it said, “It is one thing to quote a verse. It is another thing to look into the pained eyes of a human being. I’m not dealing with words, and I’m not dealing with texts. … I do not regard these people as sinners or their love as abomination. The God I have been raised with is el moleh rachamim — God who art full of mercy — and the attribute which Jews are to emulate is that of compassion.”

Stephen Sass was seated in a pew that day. He was both a member of BCC and of VBS. He was in a same-sex relationship. What he heard made an impact on him.

“To hear him saying, ‘If this is what the tradition is saying, the tradition is wrong and we need to do something about it,’ that was very groundbreaking,” said Sass, an attorney and president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California.

“It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time, there was a conspiracy of silence where nobody would talk about that,” he said. “Even then in those days, people at BCC would not be identified by their last name; they would just use an initial because they could lose their job or their family.”

Schulweis’ sermon paved the way for the acceptance of gay Jews in the Conservative world. A support group for gays and their families launched at VBS. Eventually, same-sex couples could join the synagogue together as members.

“The Reform movement had made those strides and in a way the Conservative movement was just catching up,” Sass said. “He took this on. He didn’t have to, just like he took on so many issues.”

In 2004, Schulweis, who died in 2014, made another deep impression with a High Holy Days sermon titled, “Globalism and Judaism.” In it, he asked where Jews who said “never again” to the Holocaust stood as a genocide was unfolding in  Rwanda in 2004. Janice Kamenir-Reznik, then an attorney who was an active volunteer at VBS, was in the sanctuary that day. She was struck by Schulweis imploring his congregation to open a newspaper: “You can’t close the newspaper once you believe in a global God,” he said.

“It fortified the theology I had developed anyway about the relevance of Judaism and the relevance of Torah to daily life,” Kamenir-Reznik said. She went on to co-found Jewish World Watch — an anti-genocide nonprofit organization that is active in Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo — with Schulweis.

Last year, Emily Alhadeff, a Seattle resident and member of Temple De Hirsch Sinai, the largest Reform synagogue in the Pacific Northwest, was transfixed as Rabbi Jaclyn Cohen delivered a sermon on Rosh Hashanah about postpartum depression.

“It wasn’t my first dance with depression, and I’ve dealt with anxiety throughout my life. But when the crash came, I felt completely alone and deeply ashamed,” Cohen said in the sermon.

Alhadeff, a chef and founder of Emily’s Granola in Seattle, said the rabbi’s willingness to make herself vulnerable was transformative. 

“This idea — this strong woman having to confront her congregation — I just found it to be so powerful,” Alhadeff said.

Cohen, a Los Angeles native who joined Temple Beth Torah in Ventura this year, said she was nervous about opening up to her congregation that way. She did not know how people would react to a sermon that called on eliminating the stigma around mental illness. So when the community erupted with applause at the end of her remarks, she was at a loss for what to do.

“I was so taken aback, I looked down uncomfortably,” she said. “I said something that mattered. It was really amazing.”

Effective sermons are speaking to the realities of the times, Stempel said.

“What’s going on in the world, the sermon should take that into account,” she said. “I think you should be talking about a universal truth, something everybody in the room can relate to on some level.”

Of course, a profound sermon for one person is a dud for another. Stempel acknowledged that her husband did not respond to Aaron’s “complaint” sermon in 2008 as enthusiastically as she did.

“He likes to complain,” she said.

Remember

Do Paths Diverge? Is there a Fork in the Road? or Do Paths Run Together Again? By Rena Boroditsky


[Ed. Note: This is a reprise of an entry from 21 May 2015. It was not published as a Rosh Hashanah piece, but it touches on themes that are relevant to this holiday: memory, after life, the soul, connection to the divine, how we live, what shapes us, our choices. It feels very relevant to the Yamim Nora’im (days of awe).  All of us at Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel institute wish you a year of blessings in 5778. — JB]

Now in my early 50’s, I’ve lived longer than either of my parents did.  My dad died at 44 and my mom died at 48, just before my 20th birthday.

Over the years, particularly on those challenging parenting days, I often thought about how my parents managed family, work, life.  I could compare myself to them, or more accurately, see myself in relation to them, in their light.  I  appreciated and understood my parents on more complex levels with a deeper and wider perspective.  We shared common experiences of raising kids, running around, the never-ending list of things to do with limited resources and energy.

My future, however is truly my own. My parents and I will not share aging.  We wont have the common experiences of launching adult children into the world.  The pull and push of nurturing and separating.  Of, God willing, grandchildren.  Of  physical decline.  Of losing family and friends in a sad, steady stream.  My parents and I will have less and less in common as my life unfolds in ways that theirs did not.  I won’t be able to see myself in their light in the same way.

I was once asked who finished raising me.  I did much of the hard work, but in retrospect, my parents were still holding the map and the flashlight.

Judaism teaches that the part of us which is Divine, the soul of our soul, is eternal and continues on through realms beyond our comprehension.  We learn that souls merit from our good deeds.  That souls can communicate with us if they choose to and if we are open to it.  Many people have experienced a moment, a voice, a sense that there was a presence accompanying them.

I can’t identify a specific moment where I felt a presence.  I may not have recognized it at the time, or maybe I wasn’t paying attention.  I want to be believe that they – those who are gone – are aware of us.  When I have the opportunity, I silently dedicate a learning session in my parents’ names.  I wonder if they are with me.  If they are no longer holding the map, do they at least still have the flashlight?  Do they know the choices I have made and what I am doing?  Do they have any advice to offer me as I write the next chapters of my story?  And will I be able to hear them?

Dedicated to the memory of Gershon ben Aharon v’Sarah, 37th Yahrzeit, 3 Sivan 5775

Rena Boroditsky is the Executive Director of the Chesed Shel Emes, the non-profit Jewish funeral chapel and Chevrah Kadisha in Winnipeg, Canada. For more than fifteen years, she has been a student and teacher of end-of-life Jewish rituals. Rena has led sessions at Kavod v’Nichum conferences and at Limmud events in the US & Canada. She launched Death Cafe Wnnipeg. She has served in past as a board member of Kavod v’Nichum, and was elected to the office of Vice-President. She is a graduate of the Gamliel Institute  and has been an instructor and member of the faculty. She has been honored by the Federation for her work in the community, and continues her studies.  

Rena Boroditsky

Rena Boroditsky

___________

GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 5, Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Liturgy, & Practice (Other than Taharah & Shmirah), online, afternoons/evenings, in the Winter semester, starting roughly in January, 2018. This is the core course focusing on ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means (for everything other than Taharah and Shmirah, which are covered in course 2).

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

Information on attending the course preview, the online orientation, and the course will be announced and sent to those registered. Register or contact us for more information.

REGISTRATION

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

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

____________________

Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session on the 3rd Wednedsays of most months. Each month, a different person will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly. The next scheduled session of the Gamliel Café is October 18th.

If you are interested in teaching for a session, you can contact us at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.

____________________

Gamliel Graduate Courses

Graduates of the Gamliel Institute, and Gamliel students who have completed three or more Gamliel Institute courses should be on the lookout for information on a series of “Gamliel Graduate’ Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will be in groups of three sessions each quarter (three consecutive weeks), with different topics addressed in each series.  The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. We plan to begin this Fall, in October and November. The first series will be on Psalms. Registration will be required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for the three sessions. Heading this intiative is the dynamic duo of Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. Contact us –  register at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/, or email info@jewish-funerals.org.

_____________________

DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, 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, both 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) organization, 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/).

___________

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 a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog 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, courses planned, 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.

____________________

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 unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

_____________________

Zhenya Gershman’s painting “Lift” is on exhibit at UCLA Hillel. Photo by Zhenya Gershman

Artist Zhenya Gershman adds dose of ‘Awe’ to UCLA Hillel


As congregants climb the stairs to reach High Holy Days services at UCLA Hillel, they will be surrounded by far more than empty walls. 

Hard to miss will be a towering 11-foot-tall canvas, an oil painting depicting an ethereal, cupped pair of hands adorning the wall just outside the sanctuary.

“That’s exactly the idea,” said Zhenya Gershman, the Russian-born artist responsible for the work and its placement. Standing before the piece, titled “Lift,” she giddily descended a few steps then strode back up, arms open wide. 

“They will be greeted by God’s hands,” she said.

“Lift,” along with 10 other larger-than-life pieces, make up her latest collection, aptly called “Days of Awe,” a reference to the 10-day period beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur. “Days of Awe” will be on display through December at the Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts at UCLA Hillel’s Hilgard Avenue home. It will be prominently featured in and around the third-floor sanctuary, which doubles as an art gallery, during the High Holy Days services led by the congregation’s rabbi, Aaron Lerner.

The works are mostly varied portraits of Gershman’s often-used model Mark Snyder — the back of his head, a magnified profile, or just his hands in “Lift.” They toy with neutral grays and Rembrandt-inspired plays of light that help bring out a water-like translucency. She also used ceramic tools normally meant for clay to carve into layers of paint. One of the effects is providing the skin with realism; even the fingerprints have distinctive raised lines. It’s a technique she discovered by accident.

“With art, you’re either on cloud nine or you want to die. There’s nothing in between,” she said. “I was having a bad day. It’s subconscious. I saw this tool and grabbed it and, in my agony, I just slashed. It removed the paint that was there and it revealed some of the layers underneath. It created this dimensionality and sculptural texture that I had never seen anywhere in other people’s art or in my art. I couldn’t stop. I was like a kid in a candy store.”

Gershman said she hopes the works inspire introspection within viewers.

“These paintings were made as an amplification of this meditative process. They are helping you, in my mind, and the way that I intended for them to be viewed, to facilitate you finding your humanity, your stability and your core,” she said. 

Perla Karney, the Dortort Center’s artistic director, said holding Conservative High Holy Days services with massive displays of artwork is certainly a first. She had the idea when she met Gershman at an art fair several months ago. She said she was moved by a striking portrait of a pensive Snyder.

“He looked otherworldly and was staring at me,” Karney said. “I took down [Gershman’s] contact information and, I suppose, the rest is history.”

Karney, who admitted to being a longtime fan, commissioned Gershman to put together a solo exhibition for the Dortort Center meant to coincide with the High Holy Days. Upon seeing the results, she said she and Lerner felt strongly that the collection would heighten the message of services, not detract from it.

“I find that Zhenya’s art conveys the human condition in a deeply spiritual, mystical way,” she said. “It is therefore so fitting to show her exhibit ‘Days of Awe’ during the High Holy Days at Hillel. Her art is a meditation on life and its profound mystery, something we can never fully understand but stand in awe of.”

Born in Moscow, the internationally renowned artist held her first solo exhibition in St. Petersburg at age 14 and was hailed as a prodigy in her native Soviet Union. Gershman, who now lives in Brentwood, immigrated to the United States as a teenager in 1991. She’s widely known for her portraiture work, which is housed in public and private collections around the world. The Grammy MusiCares Foundation selected Gershman to create portraits of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan; her portrait of Sting is part of the permanent collection of the Arte Al Limite Museum in Santiago, Chile.

Gershman said that her latest solo exhibition is one of her most meaningful.

While growing up, Gershman and her family faced daunting anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, unable to openly practice Judaism. She wore a Star of David necklace underneath her clothes but never learned much in the form of Jewish customs or traditions. Her inclusion in Lerner’s services, in a way, brings everything full circle.

“I’m very spiritual and I feel my Jewish roots that were forbidden deep within me. But services and prayers were always foreign to me,” she said. “That was cut down from the roots of my family. It’s very meaningful to now create a work that will participate in a ritual. It’s not a Bible illustration, and it’s not meant to be prayed to. But it is for raising spiritual awareness.”

Gershman has never attended High Holy Days services. This Rosh Hashanah at UCLA’s Hillel will be her first.

“For me to know that 500 people will be facing the ark framed by my artwork on either side, and everyone will be experiencing the Torah through my work, I can’t even describe how that makes me feel,” she said, becoming emotional. “For me, art is a way to communicate with people and, in this, their most intimate state of prayer and meditation, with my art used to heighten and communicate the experience — that’s paradise. I’ll probably be a ghost in the back just crying.”

The official “Days of Awe” opening is Oct. 26, and is free and open to the public. n

High Holy Days alert: Be prepared to look out the windows


This is the time of year when Jews begin preparing for the High Holy Days. Part of that preparation inevitably involves picturing oneself in services, head buried in the prayer book. This year, however, perhaps we should prepare for a different posture.

The prophet Daniel, Scripture tells us, prayed in the upstairs room of his home. Why upstairs?  Because that’s where the windows were, showing him the world outside, facing Jerusalem. For Daniel, real prayer calls attention to the real world, the happenings outside the sanctuary of one’s comfort zone: in the sobering suffering of the public square.    

The diversity of the Jewish community is a wondrous feature of our people; it’s amazing that we can be so different yet cling to the same Torah. No two synagogues are alike, just as each community sings with its own voice and animates our age-old duty to pursue justice in its own way.

However, despite this astonishingly variegated nature of communities, every single sanctuary in our tradition has at least one commonality: They all, thanks to Daniel, have windows. They all, by Jewish law, forbid a prayer setup that is, in essence, “soundproof” from the noise outside of the thick walls of our buildings.  

The realities of our world today demand Daniel’s prayer posture, gazing out the window, as our liturgy urges us to make teshuvah, to “turn” to our core obligations, as a people in Covenant with God.  

This year, we look out the windows of our sanctuaries and confront our world. We look out the windows to see a world torn by suffering and hatred. We look out the windows to acknowledge pernicious public policies that propagate bigotry, oppression and racial and ethnic supremacy upon the most vulnerable among us —­ the proverbial “ foreigner, widow and orphan.” This year, we look out the windows to see the world as it really is, rather than the alternate realities prevaricated by corrupt leaders who, we pray, may yet find their pathways to moral rehabilitation.

This year, recognizing that, in the words of the late Abraham Joshua Heschel, “the hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity,” we look out the window, with our eyes open, our ears attuned and our hearts willing to be broken. And with our hearts broken, may we allow the letters of Torah to enter through the cracks and provide meaning and strength for what in the year 5778 surely will be a fierce, urgent and critical fight for the values of truth, justice and peace.

As we approach this High Holy Days season, while we practice the inherently introspective tradition of cheshbon ha-nefesh, “taking account of our souls,” be prepared to look out the windows.


Rabbi Matthew Soffer is the senior associate rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston, is on the board of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action and is a member of the advisory council of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds is the founding executive director of the Jewish Center for Justice and is the rabbi of the synagogue for the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. 

+