A response to my critics


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

More synagogues are phasing out mandatory dues


“Voluntary dues” may sound like an oxymoron, but the idea soon may be coming to a synagogue near you.

According to a new study by the UJA-Federation of New York, the number of non-Orthodox synagogues nationwide that have eliminated fixed annual dues has more than doubled in the past two years. Instead of charging a set membership fee, these synagogues are telling congregants to pay what they want — and they’re succeeding.

The nearly 60 Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues that have stopped charging mandatory dues are just a small percentage of the country’s 1,500 or so Conservative and Reform synagogues. But the number is more than twice the 26 synagogues that had voluntary dues as of 2015. On average, the synagogues reported increases in both membership and total revenue since they switched to the voluntary model. They join nearly 1,000 Chabad centers in North America that always have worked on the voluntary model.

According to the report, the synagogues adopted the new model due to a mix of financial and values-based reasons. Synagogue members appeared increasingly reluctant to pay mandatory dues after the 2008 financial crisis, and a pay-what-you-can system was more appealing to families with less spare cash.

In addition, the report said mandatory dues may have alienated families that want to feel unconditionally welcomed at synagogue or who may have felt uncomfortable explaining to a board why they couldn’t pay the full fee. Engaging members with voluntary dues has caused synagogues to build relationships with congregants so they feel invested in the synagogue, as opposed to feeling obligated to pay an annual bill. The model, according to the report, also drives synagogues to increase financial transparency, so members know what they’re paying for.

“The existing model is no longer really aligning with the values and culture of the synagogue,” said Adina Frydman, executive director of Synergy, a division of the New York federation that advises synagogues on strategy and produced the report. “The process of asking for a [dues] adjustment becomes all about the money, as opposed to ‘you are a member of this congregation and community.’ ”

Of the 57 synagogues included in the report, more than half are Reform, while about a third are Conservative. The remainder are either Reconstructionist or unaffiliated. None is Orthodox. Most have between 100 and 500 “member units” — families or individuals who belong.

While the synagogues don’t charge a fixed fee, many do indicate a “sustaining level” donation — the average amount the synagogue needs from each member unit to reach its goal. On average, the synagogues reported increases of 3.6 percent in total membership and 1.8 percent in dues. What that means is that more total money is coming in from more people but the average annual membership contribution has fallen.

At the Conservative Temple Israel of Sharon, Mass., in suburban Boston, which adopted the voluntary model in 2008 because of the recession, revenue and membership have remained steady. But only about 45 percent of members pay dues at or above the sustaining level — a bit above the average of 38 percent across the 57 synagogues.

“The original goals of switching to this system, creating a model that was financially welcoming and sustainable for both the synagogue and our membership, continue to be met,” Benjamin Maron, Temple Israel’s executive director, wrote in one of the report’s case studies. “In other ways, however, challenges have grown over the last few years. While our membership has grown, the overall income from our voluntary dues has not.”

The 57 synagogues are still less than 5 percent of the country’s Conservative and Reform synagogues, but Frydman believes the number will continue to grow. About 100 synagogues tuned in via livestream to a recent conference on the report.

Studies suggest that millennials are less inclined to become members of old institutions. Jack Wertheimer, a history professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, said that free Jewish programs like Birthright — the 10-day trip to Israel for young adults — get young Jews used to the idea of no- and low-cost Jewish services.

“We’re living in a time when some Jews don’t want to pay anything to go to synagogue and benefit from synagogue,” Wertheimer said. “We’re living in a time today when institutions are held suspect and also seen as rather cold and distant. This whole idea of membership dues reinforces that point.”

Why aren’t Orthodox synagogues adopting the model?

Wertheimer and Frydman suggested that because Orthodox Jews view prayer as mandatory, the obligation carries over to synagogue membership. Even so, Frydman’s office is embarking on a study of young Orthodox Jewish professionals on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, who often bounce between a few synagogues rather than sticking to one and becoming a member of it.

One large Orthodox organization that doesn’t charge dues, however, is Chabad, whose centers worldwide rely entirely on voluntary donations. While that means the emissaries who run the Chasidic movement’s outreach efforts spend a significant amount of time fundraising, Chabad spokesman Rabbi Motti Seligson said it also removes a barrier to participation in Jewish life — and forces Chabad centers to run programs people want.

“This isn’t a technique or a model that’s devised through a focus group,” Seligson said. “This is about what’s at the [movement’s] core, which is love of Israel.”

Chabad emissary couples, he added, “are not living in an ivory tower. They’re beholden to the community that they’re serving. They need to actually be serving the community.”

While Frydman emphasized that UJA-Federation does not endorse any one dues model, she said the voluntary model is appealing to some synagogues because it ensures that the synagogue has an active relationship with its congregants.

“They’re cultivating the relationship so that people feel a connection, enough to want to be a part of something bigger,” she said. “It’s about that the synagogue should take the time to ensure that they know all the members, that they understand what people are looking for.”

What I wish synagogues knew about single parents


I’m not sure where to begin. I first want to say that my synagogue — and I think synagogues in general — have done a really great job of welcoming congregants who have converted, are intermarried, and are in gay and lesbian marriages. My synagogue also welcomes adopted children and Jews of color. It is still mainly an Ashkenazi population, but it quickly is becoming more diverse. The rabbi, cantor and board of trustees have worked hard and continue to work to make the synagogue inclusive.

But there is one population that seems to be left out: single parents. I think I speak for most single parents when I say we didn't marry with the intention of divorcing. Unfortunately, divorce happens for all sorts of reasons, which oftentimes are private and painful. And as welcoming as synagogues have become of non-traditional families, the one thing they have in common is they remain two-parent households. Shira may have two imas, but there are TWO parents in Shira’s house.

Many single parents have fewer financial and emotional resources than married parents and less time to volunteer. And while the divorce papers may have been signed, single parents are often dealing many years later with uncooperative ex-spouses and the shifting landscape of children’s custody.

When I was married, I was a super-volunteer at my synagogue and loved being involved. I knew well the rabbi, cantor and religious school director. When they asked me to take leadership roles in various areas of synagogue life, I was happy to contribute.

Then I divorced. My ex-husband met with the cantor to discuss his feelings about the split, so it clearly wasn’t a secret. Yet for all the time and energy I had generously devoted to the synagogue, no one called or reached out to me. The group that arranges meals and transportation for sick congregants never called to see if I wanted a few meals delivered. I had to apply for reduced dues since my ex-husband was the main breadwinner.

I was already feeling ashamed and embarrassed due to my divorce, and I felt the synagogue, my second home, was ashamed of me and my failed marriage. Instead of lifting me up when I needed the most help, the congregation let me down.

I still feel committed to Judaism and living Jewishly, but I am conflicted about Jewish institutions. I don’t feel like my synagogue has a place for people like me, and I also feel that there is little compassion or understanding for single parents. I don’t need a support group; I need support.

There is an unspoken stigma regarding divorce in the Jewish community. The failure of a marriage implies that something is “wrong”— abuse, addiction, affairs, mental illness. In addition, success in the Jewish world is almost always defined as highly educated, capable of self-support and able to maintain a functioning family. So when my marriage fell apart, it was logical that I felt like a failure.

A phone call from the rabbi or cantor acknowledging the challenges my family and I were facing would have gone a long way in easing my frustration and disillusionment. As it stands now, since I am outside the normative two-parent family, I’m not sure what or where my next steps will be.


Eliana Salzman is the pen name of a single mom of two teenagers.

Can Israelis protect themselves from a new wave of low-tech terror?


Just after dawn on Nov. 18, a pair of Palestinian cousins from East Jerusalem went ” target=”_blank”>three American and one British — as well as a Druze traffic officer who tried to intervene.

“I was in shock — I didn’t understand what they were doing,” said Simha Anteby, 30, a Venezuelan immigrant who lives across the street from the synagogue and watched police kill the shooters as they ran from the building. “Never before has Hamas entered the shul. This is our calmest time, when we’re standing wrapped in tefillin. We’re completely vulnerable.

“They took advantage,” she said.

The Har Nof synagogue massacre, above all other recent acts of terror, has shattered the Israeli public’s sense of security in its most intimate settings. And it is forcing Israelis, who have secured their skies with the Iron Dome and their borders with fences and separation barriers, to attempt to figure out how to defend themselves against their next-door neighbors.

Regular worshipers at the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in West Jerusalem inspect bullet holes left by Palestinian shooters in a Nov. 18 rampage. Photos by Simone Wilson

This was the sixth fatal attack against Israelis within one month. There were also two car-as-weapon assaults ” target=”_blank”>attempted assassination of religious activist Yehuda Glick; and two stabbings on the same day, at a ” target=”_blank”>Tel Aviv train station.

A trend has emerged: Palestinian assailants, most with Jerusalem residency cards and, therefore, freedom of movement around Israel, are launching lone-wolf attacks with easy-to-find weapons.

Israeli social media analyst Orit Perlov, a research fellow for the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said that trend has turned into a wildly effective, almost ISIS-like online campaign called “Ida’as, Ita’an, Itbah” (Arabic for “run over, stab, slaughter”).

“It creates a bigger effect than before,” Perlov said. “I’m sitting in Tel Aviv, I don’t leave my house, and I’m getting those pictures in a second. It doesn’t mean we have less security today, but we feel more insecurity. … I don’t need to physically be there to be terrorized.”

Most of the attacks before Har Nof seemed to be spur-of-the-moment decisions, impossible to predict or prevent.

“This is quite clearly a popular [movement] that is going from bottom up,” said Udi Dekel, a former negotiator in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and managing director of the INSS. “It’s the popular, kind of copycat nature of terrorism that people are getting excited about. … They can decide one morning to go out and [release] what’s been cooking in their souls for a week or two.”

When the attacks began, Israeli police erected concrete blocks at rail stations, deployed more than 1,000 extra officers around the city, set up dozens of vehicle checkpoints, and launched a new fleet of helicopters and surveillance balloons overhead.

Still, early on Nov. 18, the Abu Jamal cousins drove to the Har Nof synagogue with a car full of weapons and entered with ease.

“They didn’t have to break in,” said Dr. Joyce Morel, a first responder. “It was time for prayers — it was open. Anybody could just walk in.”

In response, Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich implemented sweeping changes. He boxed in all Palestinian neighborhoods with concrete barricades, requiring anyone entering or exiting to pass through a checkpoint. He ordered all synagogues to hire private guards and enlisted four reserve border police companies for public patrol. 

The residents of Har Nof in West Jerusalem, many of them English-speaking immigrants, gathered for a special service on Nov. 20 in memory of four synagogue members killed two days before.

Perhaps most controversially, Aharonovich eased restrictions for former cops or soldiers — and anyone living in a high-risk neighborhood — to acquire a gun license.

“The decision comes from a need to improve the feeling of safety among the population in light of the recent terror attacks,” Aharonovich said.

Jonathan Fine, a senior researcher at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC), lives in a mixed Arab-Jewish sector of Jerusalem called French Hill. He said he doesn’t leave the house anymore without a gun.

“On the intelligence and tactical levels, it’s almost impossible to predict an independent attack,” he said. “Therefore, the only response on the ground will be from those who happen to be there. Police, pedestrians, or … your humble servant jogging with a pistol in his pouch.”

Yoram Schweitzer, INSS’ resident expert on terrorism, stressed that Israel can’t “put a guard in every synagogue and every kindergarten, because you have a zillion installations. This is not a solution.” In an INSS roundtable on the state of the conflict, Schweitzer and his colleagues advised that in order for calm to be restored, knee-jerk security measures would not be enough without a real political effort to move forward in the pursuit of Palestinian independence.

“We have to fight against the terror and dismantle the terror infrastructure … but it’s not enough,” Dekel said. “You have to all the time strive and go forward in the direction that you believe would be better for us and for the Palestinians.”

An insecure nation

Multiple Jerusalemites told the Journal that the synagogue massacre, more than other attacks, has left them with a feeling of total insecurity.

Kalman S., an Orthodox father-to-be and West Jerusalem resident who was afraid to give his full name, said he had always considered Har Nof off-limits to the enemy. “Americans come all the way to Israel to live in this beautiful place,” he said. “Until now, it was the area that was more safe than the rest of Jerusalem. Then, all of a sudden, these guys are barbarically killed.

“Now,” he said, “I’m crossing the street with my wife, nine months’ pregnant, and I’m looking over my shoulder to make sure there’s no Arab guy to stab me.”

More than 12 hours after the attack, small clusters of Har Nof residents still lingered near the front steps to the shul, their faces dark and disbelieving. Charedi men in black coats and hats inspected bullet holes in synagogue windows and car doors, now marked with police tape. Women pulled their cardigans tighter to shield themselves from the cold.

“We know that if we go to the center, to the Western Wall, they can hurt us,” Avraham Kleiger, 25, told the Journal. “But, here we thought we were safe. We thought the synagogue was the red line.”

Young women from Har Nof hide their tears behind their prayer books during an emotional Nov. 20 service at the Kehilat Bnei Torah shul.

In the agonizing hours that followed the Nov. 18 attack, Har Nof residents would learn which of their seasoned Torah scholars hadn’t made it through morning prayers alive: Aryeh Kupinsky. Kalman Levine. Avraham Goldberg. Moshe Twersky.

Twersky comes from a famous Chasidic family with a strong presence on America’s East Coast that is a household name among the Jerusalem Orthodox. His friends and family knew him as a strict scholar with a warm smile, devoted wholeheartedly to serving God. Twersky’s niece, Rebecca Rosenblatt, currently studying abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said in a hushed interview outside the family shivah that she had never once heard her Orthodox uncle discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Uncle Moshe respected everyone,” she said. “The only one he ever sought recognition from was God.”

Israeli security and social-media analyst Perlov said this attack on religious Jews wrapped in tefillin comes amid a shift in iconography driving the Palestinian resistance. Whereas propaganda cartoons used to mainly show uniformed Israel Defense Forces (IDF) under attack, she said, many of the victims are now depicted as caricatures of Orthodox Jews.

IDC counterterrorism expert Fine said the synagogue massacre was a clear sign that Palestinian attackers are taking clues from radical Islam. “They used butcher knives,” he said of the assailants. “If you get into Sharia law, you’ll see very specific rulings on killing the enemy with a knife.”

Some analysts believe the Har Nof synagogue may have been a random pick, born of convenience, but there’s a good possibility the Abu Jamal cousins chose their venue carefully. East Jerusalem residents who knew Ghassan and Uday told the Journal that the Kehilat Bnei Torah shul was the same one frequented by the family of the man convicted of brutally murdering young East Jerusalem boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir in July. (Various Israeli and Palestinian media reports provided evidence toward the same claim.) And Ghassan, they said, had been close friends with Yousef Ramouni, the Palestinian bus driver Dust and lightning

A short drive from Har Nof, at the mouth to Jerusalem, a few hundred Israelis gathered beneath the Bridge of Strings on the night of the synagogue massacre to voice their pain — and their anger at Israeli officials for not preventing the attack with a greater show of strength.

Israeli activist Itamar Ben Gvir rallies a crowd near the entrance to Jerusalem on Nov. 18, calling for Israel to expel all Arabs from the country.

The rally soon devolved into a rowdy mob led by members of the extreme anti-Arab group Lehava. They taunted riot police, chanted “Death to the Arabs!” and attempted to chase down suspected Palestinians and “lefties” walking by. Slogans like “No Arabs = no attacks” and “There is no coexistence with cancer” were scrawled on homemade signs. Wartime-level racial tensions had returned to Jerusalem.

Said one young protester: “The government needs to fight stronger against this enemy. We need to go and blow up their house — right now. It’s taking too long.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had the same idea. That night, under pressure to take decisive action and to console an insecure nation, he said in a media statement:

“We will not tolerate this reality; we will fight terrorism, and we will defeat it. We will restore law, order and security to the streets of Jerusalem. This evening, I ordered the demolition of the homes of the terrorists who perpetrated the massacre and the hastening of the demolition of the homes of the terrorists who perpetrated the earlier attacks.”

The next night, a demolition team made up of IDF Combat Engineering Corps soldiers, Israeli police and border cops A young relative of terror suspect Abdel Rahman Al Shaludi stands in the rubble of their family home. The building was partially demolished by Israeli forces on Nov. 19 as punishment for Al Shaludi’s deadly October attack at a Jerusalem light rail station.

The family building didn’t crumble entirely. However, 21-year-old Abdel Rahman’s apartment — where he lived with his mother, father and five brothers and sisters — has been gutted, rendered unlivable, by an IDF explosive. And the building’s other seven units are now in various states of destruction — some with holes in their walls, some with their belongings ransacked and furniture shredded. A car parked on the street below was destroyed by falling objects. “They peed on the bed of the children, and on the schoolbooks of my niece, on the first floor,” Enas claimed.

Her son, now a community shahid (martyr) with his face on fliers and banners all over Silwan, allegedly had rammed his car into a Jerusalem light rail station on Oct. 22. The crash killed a 3-month-old baby girl and an Ecuadorian immigrant, and sent Jerusalem into a new era of tension and violence some are calling the Third Intifada.

“I don’t like to see innocent people dying. I don’t like to see anyone die — Jew or Palestinian,” she said. “But violence will create more violence. Action will create more action. The situation will only become worse. The only solution is to end the occupation and to keep the settlers out of Al-Aqsa mosque.”

‘An extraordinary step’

The Al Shaludi home demolition was the first in a lineup of at least six punitive demolitions that as of press time Nov. 24 was expected in the coming days.

Back in July, the IDF demolished two family homes in the West Bank belonging to Palestinian men suspected of carrying out the infamous kidnap-murder of three Jewish boys. At that time, officials were hesitant to confirm the demolition to the press. The practice was then somewhat taboo: It had been discontinued in 2005 after the IDF declared it ineffective and had only been approved in two exceptional cases since.

But with the 4 a.m. explosion in Silwan last week, this tactic, whose effectiveness is often debated, re-entered the mainstream.

In a video interview with CNN, the prime minister’s spokesman, Mark Regev, explained the revival. “It is an extraordinary step, one of the tools in our tool box,” Regev said. “A Palestinian terrorist, any terrorist, may not care about themselves. But maybe they care about their immediate loved ones and where they live. I’ve been in security discussions, and our experts believe this policy could save lives.”

Jabel Mukabbir, the East Jerusalem hometown of the Abu Jamal synagogue attackers, will be hit hardest by the demolitions. Their two family homes — plus that of Mohammed Naif Ja’abis, who flipped over a Jerusalem bus with his tractor on Aug. 4, killing one — are on the IDF’s list.

Theirs is a tight-knit neighborhood that cascades down a hill just south of Jerusalem’s Old City, spilling over the political fault line that separates East Jerusalem from the West Bank. It’s also a hotbed for anti-Israel activity: In 2008, another Jabel Mukabbir resident shot up a yeshiva in West Jerusalem; eight boys died in the attack.

On the afternoon of Nov. 21 in Jabel Mukabbir, hundreds of residents had gathered to support the Abu Jamal family at a mourning tent for Ghassan and Uday. Their mothers were holed up in a neighbor’s home, too distraught to speak to the press. They’d just gotten word that Israel might not return their sons’ bodies for burial — and a 48-hour demolition notice posted on their family homes Nov. 20 was set to expire the next afternoon.

“When you build this house, your soul is gone when you finish,” said Kamal Awisat, 51, a cousin of the synagogue attackers. “It’s not easy for Palestinians to build in Jerusalem because Israel doesn’t give us new permits. So every time your children have children, you cut a new apartment into the house.”

The two stone buildings set for demolition, home to around 20 members of the Abu Jamal family, are situated about 50 meters apart, surrounded by olive trees and connected by a dirt path. One is said to be around 200 years old.

By last Friday, families had removed their furniture from the home and were bracing for an explosion in the night.

Uday’s younger brother, who didn’t want to give his name for fear the Israeli police would arrest him, said that if the IDF demolished his home, he would sleep in the rubble — right where Uday’s room used to be. “I will be like him some day, inshallah (God willing),” said the 10-year-old, a red checkered keffiyeh draped over his shoulders.

“You see? Instead of making calm, they are making more fire,” said Awisat. “How would you feel if this was your house? They will make 500 youth ready to do more than what [Ghassan and Uday] did.”

Waiting for Demolition

Next door, in the more low-key, upscale East Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor, there’s another IDF demolition slated for the home of Mutaz Hijazi — the man suspected of the near-fatal shooting of Israeli-American activist Yehuda Glick, a lead campaigner for Jewish prayer rights at the contested Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Hijazi‘s father Ibrahim, 67, welcomed a nonstop rotation of journalists into his house on Friday afternoon. He walked from room to room, showing them the space where he‘d raised his children. The furniture had been dragged out, but traces of life remained: In the living room, a child had painted stripes of glitter on the wall. In an adjacent bedroom, deflated red and yellow balloons were still tacked to the ceiling. An embroidered “Welcome” sign and a photo of his dead son Mutaz hung near the front door.

Waiting for the IDF to arrive, Ibrahim said, was almost more painful than the demolition itself. “He’s already gone,” said Ibrahim of his son. “What they‘re doing now is just to show how much hate they have for our people.”

The renowned Israeli professor and doctor Shimon Glick, father of the man Hijazi allegedly shot, said he sees the demolitions mostly as a means of attempting to calm the Israeli people.

“No one knows whether this is effective” in preventing future terror attacks, he said. “Everyone has an opinion. They like to think they know, but no one knows for sure.”

Personally, Glick said, “It gives me no satisfaction to know that these people will have their house blown up. But when something this horrible happens, people demand a response. The government has to do something.”

The U.S. has urged Israeli authorities to avoid punitive home demolitions. “We’ve made it clear that all sides have to work together to lower tensions,” U.S. State Department Jeff Rathke said at a recent press conference. “And we believe that punitive home demolitions are counterproductive in an already tense situation. This is a practice I would remind that the Israeli government itself discontinued in the past, recognizing its effects.”

Various Israeli security experts stressed to the Journal that the country’s long-term security depends on a delicate balance of initially cracking down on radicals — to deter future attacks — while not pushing other Palestinians to the breaking point, and keeping hope alive for the future.

“When you have a gloomy option of peace negotiations, naturally the radicals have the upper hand — they incite and violence grows,” Fine said.

‘They knew the neighborhood’

The initial crackdown phase is in full effect in Jerusalem. Over the past few days, the Israel of a decade ago — in which one couldn’t walk a block without being watched or patted down by a man in uniform — has come back to life. More than usual, the streets are full of vigilantes: Plainclothes men in kippot walk around slung with rifles. On a recent Friday, one young man on the Jerusalem light rail, fresh out of the army, said he was carrying a gun to show Palestinians that “Jerusalem is ours.” Two others peeled past the central bus station in black helmets and Israeli flag capes, whooping into the wind. Central bus station security guards looked like they’d just woken up from two years of vacation, and spent a good 30 seconds rifling through each passenger’s bag.

Some Jerusalemites told the Journal that there’s not much they can do besides stay alert — or hide. “There are fewer people in the streets,” said Kalman S. “We stay home when we can.” 

Others are taking a stand. A controversial new campaign has urged Jewish business owners to fire their Palestinian employees.

According to police, the Tel Aviv stabbing suspect had been working illegally in Israel before he lashed out. One of the Abu Jamal cousins, too, is said to have worked at a grocery store a few blocks from the Har Nof synagogue. (Residents of Har Nof each named a different store when questioned by the Journal, and storeowners all denied the synagogue attacker had worked in their businesses.)

“They knew the neighborhood. If they didn’t work here, this wouldn’t happen,” said 17-year-old Har Nof resident Yakov Wilshinky. “The Arabs don’t want us alive in this country. You don’t know which one will come and kill you.”

Wilshinky and his friends — one of whom held up a flier reading “Don’t hire Arabs!!!” — said they had been making the rounds to local businesses. “We’re going to the managers of all the grocery stores and telling them to fire their Arab workers,” said Dudu Asulin. He said his own boss, at a nearby supermarket, had sent all the Arabs home that day and told them, “Don’t come back to work.”

Despite warnings from the Prime Minister’s Office — “We should not generalize an entire population because a small minority of it is violent and belligerent,” Netanyahu said — the “don’t hire Arabs” movement quickly spread beyond Har Nof. A reception hall chain in Bnei Brak reportedly fired more than a dozen Arab dishwashers after the synagogue attack. And the mayor of Ashkelon, a large Israeli city near Gaza, made international headlines when he banned Arab workers from construction sites near schools. (He later retracted his decision.)

Protesters at the Lehava rally said there was no alternative. “Every Arab you see, you get scared,” said Avi Mann. “If an Arab wakes up in the morning and he’s angry, he could take a knife and kill Jews.”

A 22-year-old Palestinian woman living in Jabel Mukabbir and working at an Israeli hospital would only give her initials — R.A. — in an interview with the Journal, for fear her hospital superiors would see the article and fire her.

R.A. also volunteers for a Palestinian emergency response team, where she’s been treating young Jabel Mukabbir protesters wounded in clashes with police ahead of the slated home demolitions. “We couldn’t just let them come in,” she said of Israeli forces. “All of the people of this village stopped them from entering. We are very close here; every home is our home. We can’t give up that easily.”

Of the motives driving recent terror attacks, she said: “Things escalated over a few months. It started on Ramadan, when they stopped us from going to the [Al-Aqsa] mosque. Then Abu Khdeir was killed, and then Gaza — it built up, bit by bit. And they just suppressed it. They didn’t let people express their feelings.

“These bad things that happen don’t come from nowhere,” she said. “It’s a reaction. We don’t all wake up every morning and want to kill.”

Palestinians kill five in Jerusalem synagogue terror attack


Two Palestinians armed with a meat cleaver and a gun killed four worshippers and an Israeli police officer in a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday before being shot dead by police, the deadliest such incident in six years in the holy city.

[Follow @jewishjournal for breaking information]

Three of the victims held dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship and the fourth man was a British-Israeli national, police said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to respond with a “heavy hand” and accused Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting violence in Jerusalem.

Abbas condemned the attack, which took place after weeks of unrest fueled in part by a dispute over Jerusalem's holiest shrine.

A worshipper at the service in the Kehillat Bnei Torah synagogue in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jewish West Jerusalem said about 25 people were praying when shooting broke out.

[Kerry: Attack was ‘senseless brutality’]

“I looked up and saw someone shooting people at point-blank range. Then someone came in with what looked like a butcher's knife and he went wild,” the witness, Yosef Posternak, told Israel Radio.

Photos distributed by Israeli authorities showed a man in a prayer shawl lying dead, a bloodied butcher's cleaver on the floor and prayer books covered in blood.

U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement: “I strongly condemn today's terrorist attack on worshippers at a synagogue in Jerusalem, which killed four innocent people, including U.S. citizens Aryeh Kupinsky, Cary William Levine and Mosheh Twersky, and injured several more.”

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama said too many Israelis and Palestinians had died in recent violence.

“And at this difficult time, I think it's important for both Palestinians and Israelis to try to work together to lower tensions,” he said.

U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed in April after Abbas signed a unity deal with Hamas, an Islamist group that advocates Israel's destruction. Palestinians have also been angered by continued Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Violence in Jerusalem, areas of Israel and the Palestinian territories has surged in the past month, fueled in part by a dispute over Jerusalem's holiest shrine, and Abbas has said Muslims have a right to defend their sacred places if attacked.

Five Israelis and a foreign visitor were killed in the Palestinian attacks that preceded Tuesday's incident. At least 10 Palestinians have also been killed, including those accused of carrying out the attacks prior to the synagogue assault.

DEMOLITIONS

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the two assailants, both from Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, were shot dead by police in a gun battle outside the synagogue. Netanyahu said Israel would demolish their homes.

Israel's ambulance service said at least eight people were seriously wounded.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine militant group said it carried out the attack, which it called a “heroic operation”.

The four dead – Twersky, 59, Kupinsky, 43, Levine, 55, and Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, a 68-year-old British-Israeli – were all ordained rabbis.

A Jewish seminary lecturer, Twersky was from a Hassidic rabbinical dynasty. Thousands of mourners attended his funeral.

Palestinian radio described the attackers as “martyrs” and Hamas, the dominant group in the Gaza Strip, praised the attack.

Loudspeakers at mosques in the enclave called out congratulations and youngsters handed out candy in the streets.

Palestinian media named the assailants as Ghassan and Udai Abu Jamal, cousins from the Jerusalem district of Jabal Mukaber, where clashes broke out as Israeli security forces moved in to make arrests.

Abbas said in a statement: “The presidency condemns the attack on Jewish worshippers in one of their places of prayer in West Jerusalem and condemns the killing of civilians no matter who is doing it.”

The attack raised Israelis' concern about a new Palestinian uprising, and Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said he was seeking a partial easing of gun controls so that military officers and security guards could carry weapons while off-duty.

A day before the incident, a Palestinian bus driver was found hanged in his vehicle in Jerusalem. Israel said he committed suicide, but his family said he was attacked and mourners at his funeral chanted for revenge.

Residents trace the violence in Jerusalem to July, when a Palestinian teenager was burned to death by Jewish assailants, an alleged revenge attack for the abduction and killing of three Jewish teens by Palestinian militants in the West Bank.

The summer war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and a row over access to a Jerusalem compound that is sacred to Muslims and Jews alike have also triggered violence.

The synagogue attack was the worst in the city since 2008, when a Palestinian gunman killed eight people in a religious school.

ADL alerts U.S. synagogues to protect against online hackers


The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has issued a security alert to Jewish institutions across the country concerning a potential uptick in the number of online attacks by foreign hackers targeting the websites of synagogues and other Jewish organizations, which could compromise synagogue membership lists and financial data.
 
The latest attack was reported last week. As Jews were celebrating the festival holiday of Sukkot, a hacker group calling itself “Team System Dz” attacked the website of a South Florida synagogue, redirecting visitors to a page with messages expressing support for the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
 
ADL’s security alert urges synagogues and other Jewish communal institutions to ensure their websites are secure and important online data, such as membership lists, is protected behind secure firewalls.
 
“Jewish websites in the U.S. have become a common target for hacker groups in the Arab and Muslim world,” said Oren Segal, Director of ADL’s Center on Extremism. “While past hacking efforts against Jewish institutions have mainly focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the more recent attacks are being carried out in the name of the Islamic State.”
 
The attack on the synagogue server in Florida was just one of a series of incidents reported in 2014. Jewish synagogues in Houston and Pennsylvania also have been targeted. And those foreign-based hacker groups taking responsibility for the attacks are vowing to strike again.
 
“Team System Dz,” for one, has bragged about its “hacks of Jewish websites especially the website of the Miami Temple” on its Facebook page. The apparently Algeria-based group is now threatening additional attacks against American and Israeli websites.
 
Other hacker groups such as “aljyyosh” (“the armies” in Ara­bic) claim to have hacked into per­sonal infor­ma­tion belong­ing to Amer­i­can Jews and Israelis and pro­vided instruc­tions on how to hack into such per­sonal infor­ma­tion on their var­i­ous online forums.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.  Follow us on Twitter: @ADL_News

German police arrest 18-year-old after attack on synagogue


German police arrested an 18-year-old man after petrol bombs were thrown at a synagogue in the western town of Wuppertal overnight, they said in a statement on Tuesday.

“According to investigations, three suspects threw several incendiary devices at the entrance,” police said. No one was hurt and it appeared no damage had been done to the synagogue, they said. A local resident had alerted them when she saw a fire close to the building.

Prosecutor Hans-Joachim Kiskel said the nationality of the arrested suspect was not clear, but that the man had told authorities he was Palestinian. The other two suspects fled.

The German government last week assured Jews living in Germany that they should feel safe in the face of the anti-Semitic chants and threats heard at some recent protests against Israel over its conflict with Hamas in Gaza, and said such behavior would not be tolerated.

Germany is ultra-sensitive about anti-Semitism because of the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis, and German media have expressed shock at the tenor of anti-Israel chants at some of the demonstrations.

The former head of Germany's Jewish community, Charlotte Knobloch, said in a newspaper interview to be published on Wednesday that Jews were under threat in Germany and urged them to be careful how they appeared in public.

“This is the most worrying and threatening period that we've experienced since 1945,” Knobloch told the Cologne Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper. “The phone has been ringing off the hook and we've been bombarded by mail – we're being confronted with insults and hatred.”

She said Jews were being “attacked and insulted in our country again”.

“And once synagogues are burning, then it's time to ask: What do we have to do to protect Jewish citizens?”

Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Erik Kirschbaum and Thorsten Severin; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Pew study prompts spirited synagogue leadership debate


Five days after the release of the Pew Research Center’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” a report revealing that Jewish engagement is on the decline, speakers at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Oct. 6 Synagogue Leadership Conference all appeared to be asking one question: Should we panic?

“I share your worries about the results of the Pew research study, but I don’t think we should panic,” Harvey Cox, a leading theologian who until his retirement in 2009 was a professor at Harvard Divinity School, told a room full of rabbis, lay leaders, communal officials, philanthropists and others. The group had assembled at Federation headquarters for an event titled “Staying Relevant in a World That Won’t Stop Changing.”

Cox, author of “The Future of Faith,” delivered the program’s keynote address. He also participated in the day’s closing panel, alongside Rabbis Naomi Levy and Yosef Kanefsky, and others.

Sunday’s event was planned prior to the release of the study, but it came at an opportune time, given that the study paints a bleak picture of what Judaism looks like right now. “The percentage of U.S. adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has declined by about half since the late 1950s” and 32 percent of Jewish Millennials “describe themselves as having no religion,” is among the findings in the report.

Cox, who is not Jewish but is married to a Jewish woman and has raised his child as Jewish, said there is, nevertheless, a lot to find encouraging in today’s world, despite the findings of the report. 

He said he often meets young people at Harvard who are interested in God and spirituality. 

Kanefsky, however, leader of the Modern Orthodox B’nai David-Judea Congregation, challenged Cox’s optimism, noting that he is worried not about fewer people being interested in spirituality but in the decline in levels of observance.

“If the question were: How do we make sure that young Jews remain people interested in God, people interested in spirituality? Then, absolutely, don’t panic. Because interest in God, interest in spirituality, is on the upswing. But if the question is: How do we want to ensure the continuity of Judaism? Panic,” Kanefsky said.

Kanefsky spoke during a panel that followed Cox’s keynote lecture, which addressed pluralization, American-Jewish attitudes toward Israel and other topics over the course of an hour.

Marc Rohatiner, who has served as a lay leader with multiple organizations, joined the conversation with Kanefsky and Levy, spiritual leader of Nashuva, a spiritual community that also engages through social service. Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Ed Feinstein served as moderator. 

Levy was decidedly more upbeat in her reaction to the Pew’s findings.

“The Pew study doesn’t scare me; it excites me. It means even more people for me to address,” said Levy, whose services are often an entry point for previously unengaged Jews.

But, Cox pointed out, the problem isn’t that people are less interested in being religious — on the contrary, young people want to be religious but are distrusting of the religious institutions. But it is key, he said, to rethink the approach of using institutions as a way to reach people.

In the future, maybe synagogues should exist, but then again, maybe not, Cox said, arguing that Jewish leaders must be open to anything when it comes to considering how the religion will proceed. 

“How do we retool our religious institutions so we can help people in suspicious mode, in searching mode, so that they can feel they’re not doing it alone? I don’t know. But I know religious institutions are not built for eternity,” he said. “They come and go.”

Kanefsky, however, said that to dismantle the institutions means there is no religion. 

“If you don’t have the scaffolding, it ain’t Judaism,” Kanefsky said.

No direct solutions were agreed upon by the panel. “The challenge is what changes and what doesn’t change,” Feinstein said.

It’s a challenge that affects synagogues as well as the Federation.

“We think challenges faced by synagogues are challenges being faced by us,” said Andrew Cushnir, executive vice president and chief program officer at the Federation, who participated briefly in the panel at the request of Feinstein.

The event was part of the Federation’s mission to work with synagogues to address the needs of the community, Cushnir said. Beryl Geber, Federation senior vice president, organized the conference. 

Other sessions — “Relational Judaism,” “The Impact of New Media on Organizational Loyalties” and “Models of Membership” — made up the remainder of the conference on Sunday, drawing more than 70 attendees.

Blogger Geller testifying before Toronto police board over nixed shul talk


Blogger Pamela Geller said she will testify over a complaint she filed against a Toronto-area police force in the cancellation of a synagogue appearance.

Geller told JTA via email on Monday that she was scheduled to testify Wednesday via Skype before a hearing of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director in Toronto, which oversees grievances against area police.

She alleges that the York Regional Police, north of Toronto, threatened and bullied Rabbi Mendel Kaplan into canceling her appearance last May at his Chabad synagogue because of her strident anti-Islamist views.

Kaplan is a volunteer chaplain with the force, and Geller accused the police of threatening to remove him from the post if he did not comply.

Geller’s complaint claims “breach of police policy and conduct pursuant to the police Code of Conduct and the York Regional Police’s Code of Professional Ethics.”

York Regional Police said the complaint was lodged with the OIPRD.

Complaints can take 120 days to resolve, an OIPRD official said, though the official did not confirm or deny a complaint was brought by Geller.

In a statement last May, York Regional Police said reports that Kaplan had been threatened were “a flagrant misrepresentation of the facts.”

According to police, the rabbi canceled Geller’s talk because “it would place him in conflict with the values of our organization, which support a safe, welcoming and inclusive community for all.”

Kaplan told JTA that he has already given evidence to the complaint’s investigators.

Asked whether he ever felt intimidated or threatened, he said, “There was a very clear choice laid out to me. The police said, ‘we don’t believe this agrees with [our] values, so either you have to give up your chaplaincy or you can have this speech.’

“I did something that I didn’t necessarily want to do because I had to do it.” He added, “It was a wise decision not to host her because it was not something worth losing my chaplaincy over.”

Geller’s talk, sponsored by the Jewish Defense League, was moved to another venue, where she lashed out at the police. She  later wrote that “jackbooted thugs” had used “intimidation” on Kaplan to persuade him to cancel the synagogue talk.

The problem with prayer


If the practice of Judaism is based on synagogue attendance, and if synagogue attendance is based on the passive recitation of prayer, then Judaism is in trouble.

The ritual of repetitive communal prayer might have worked in the shtetls to keep Jews Jewish, but it doesn’t work in today’s America.

For many Jews — especially the nonobservant — the very act of prayer can seem odd. What am I praying for? Does God really owe me anything more than all the blessings I already have and take for granted? And if I decide to pray for something — like being healthy — am I not better off going to the gym and watching what I eat? 

Prayer, in fact, might be the most problematic point of entry into Judaism. Why should people waste their time doing something they don’t really understand and don’t believe will benefit them?

Synagogues sense this. That’s one reason they put so much emphasis on the value of community. Becoming a member of a synagogue means belonging to an extended “family” that will provide you with a network of support and friendships, rabbinic assistance for lifecycle events, High Holy Days privileges, special classes and programs, and so on.

Synagogues depend on membership dues to survive. That’s why this time of year is so critical, when people make decisions about whether to renew their memberships for the coming year.

This traditional synagogue model will not — and cannot — go away any time soon. But if the Jewish world is looking for a breakthrough to attract the unaffiliated, the disconnected and the disenchanted, they’d do well to take this old model and experiment with some meaningful upgrades.

A good place to start would be to redefine prayer so that it can stand on its own.

A lot of promising work has been done in this area in synagogues across the country. One particular example can be found in the spiritual communities — such as IKAR, Nashuva and the Carlebach minyans — where prayer services share an almost tribal quality, with melodies and communal chanting that simply elevate you.

But one prayer method that I feel doesn’t get enough attention and that I find especially promising is the notion of following a “prayer narrative.” This method is more introspective, allowing a prayer service to become a personal spiritual journey that keeps you connected from beginning to end.

I ran this notion last year by my friend Rabbi Yoel Glick, a spiritual teacher who lives in the south of France and runs the Web site Daat Elyon. He was intrigued enough to write up an insightful “seven-step spiritual journey” for the Shabbat morning prayer service.

This seven-step guide doesn’t change the actual prayers, it simply frames them in a way that injects deep personal meaning. 

Each prayer section offers a theme that connects to the next one. The first three build up to the climax — the Shema — while the last three are the denouement.

Glick themes the seven steps as follows: “Awareness,” “Gratitude and Appreciation,” “Recognition of God and the Good,” “Affirmation — Light and Love,” “Communion,” “Contemplation” and, finally, “Tikkun Olam and Oneness.”

For each theme, Glick includes spiritual insights around which to meditate as you pray. For example, in the first phase (“Awareness”), you meditate around “a series of blessings constructed to make us conscious of the extraordinary blessing of being a living, breathing, self-aware human being.”

The journey takes effort and concentration, but the idea is that by the end of the service, you will come out more spiritually alive and more connected to Godliness, as well as to your own unique purpose in life.

The prayer guide is like a spiritual workout. Just as a personal trainer guides you to work out different parts of your body, Glick guides you to work out different parts of your soul and humanity.

It’s hard to imagine how this personal and introspective approach — which anyone can apply to any style of prayer service — would not be an improvement over passively reciting arcane prayers many of us don’t even understand.

The best part for me, though, is that Glick offers a meaningful response to a question modern Judaism must urgently answer: “What do I gain from Judaism?”

We needn’t be offended by that question. It’s just reality — in today’s world, Judaism will succeed only if it can offer something real and meaningful.

Redefining prayer in more personal and meaningful ways is a crucial ingredient if we want to attract the millions of Jews who prefer spending their Saturday mornings anywhere but at a house of prayer.

With seven weeks to go before the big crowds show up for their annual High Holy Days pilgrimage, spiritual leaders ought to be thinking about their own ways of making their prayer services even more meaningful. 

Simply put, people are more likely to come back to pray during the year if they feel the experience is something that will improve their lives, spiritually or otherwise. 

I look at it this way: If people come out of a gym feeling like a million bucks, why can’t they feel as good coming out of a prayer service?

Isn’t God more powerful than LA Fitness?


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Bomb threats called in to Houston synagogues


Two Houston synagogues received bomb threats.

The bomb threats were called in to Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue, and Congregation Or Ami, a Conservative synagogue, on Wednesday afternoon.

Both synagogues canceled Hebrew school classes for Thursday but said they would reopen Friday with more security, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The Houston Police Department, Anti-Defamation League, FBI and Department of Homeland Security all were notified about the threats, Congregation Beth Israel told the Houston Chronicle in an email.

A message on the Beth Israel website said that a congregational dinner scheduled for Friday night was canceled; it did not say if the cancellation was related to the bomb threat.

Police squad cars were parked outside the synagogues on Thursday morning, KHOU in Houston reported.

National Council of Young Israel changes rule to let shuls quit


The National Council of Young Israel voted to eliminate a rule barring member synagogues from withdrawing from the franchise.

The rule became a subject of controversy two years ago when the National Council considered expelling a synagogue in Syracuse, N.Y., that was said to owe some $20,000 in unpaid dues to the national organization. The move was seen as a possible precursor to legal action to seize the shul’s assets, causing alarm among member synagogues.

The Syracuse synagogue ended up dropping the Young Israel moniker and becoming Shaarei Torah Orthodox Congregation, and the National Council gave up its efforts to enforce the provision. But existing and prospective synagogues remained concerned that the National Council’s constitution gave it the power to seize their assets if they ever tried to quit the Orthodox synagogue umbrella group.

“It deterred possible new members, and yet if someone left, the National Council was not able to enforce it, and it upset people, so it had three terrible consequences to it,” Farley Weiss, the president of the National Council, told JTA.

This week's vote to drop the provision from its constitution passed with overwhelming support.

“Now, synagogues can join without the fear that once they join they can never leave,” said Farley, who last November became the organization’s first president from outside the New York metropolitan area. He lives in Phoenix and works as a trademark lawyer.

Some 200 Orthodox synagogues worldwide carry the name Young Israel, including more than 140 in the United States, 50 in Israel and a handful in Canada. The Israeli synagogues are affiliated with the National Council but are not under its control.

Farley said the rule about quitting was the organization’s most controversial issue and that other contentious issues would come up for review this year. Among them will be the organization’s position on what to do about synagogues that want to hire rabbis whose only ordination is from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a liberal and pastoral-focused Modern Orthodox rabbinical school founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss of New York.

“Within the year we’ll have a more clear position on it,” Farley said.

There are no plans to change the organization’s rule against allowing women to be synagogue presidents, which Farley said follows the religious edicts of Rabbis Moshe Feinstein and Joseph Soloveitchik, two luminaries who guided Modern Orthodox American Judaism in the 20th century.

The National Council also is looking to hire a new executive director to fill the vacancy left by the departure of Rabbi Pesach Lerner in early 2012.

BREAKING: LAPD investigating bomb threat near Wilshire Boulevard Temple


[UPDATE: 5:00 pm] ” target=”_blank”>Wilshire Blvd. Temple target of bomb threats

[UPDATE: 2:45 pm] “[The vehicle] was rendered safe. No device was found in or around the vehicle,” said police spokesman Sgt. Rudy Lopez.

The investigation is ongoing as LAPD seeks to identify who placed the bomb threat early this morning. There are “minimal leads,” Lopez said.

The LAPD BatCat vehicle, with the squad car held midair on its lifting mechanism, will remain near the intersection of Wilshire Blvd. and Harvard Blvd. for approximately another hour, Lopez said.

Most of the streets around Wilshire Blvd. Temple have reopened. 

[UPDATE: 2:10 pm] The squad car under investigation was moved by the LAPD BatCat vehicle.

[UPDATE: 1:50 pm] LAPD officer has approached the squad car and is inspecting the vehicle.

[UPDATE: 1:30 pm] Loud boom as the trunk of the squad car flew open. LAPD Robot inspecting vehicle.

[UPDATE 1:00 pm] ” target=”_blank”>KTLA 5

[UPDATE 12:06 pm] An LAPD BatCat unit has now deployed by the suspicious LAPD squad car outside Wilshire Blvd. Temple in mid-Wilshire.  The black fire engine-sized vehicle is using a front fork to lift the LAPD vehicle.

[UPDATE 11:30 am] Bomb squad robot has removed an object from underneath the LAPD squad car near Wilshire Blvd. Temple.

[UPDATE 11:19 am]  A loud bang as the LAPD robotics unit shot out the windows of the LAPD squad car suspected of harboring an explosive device.  LAPD canine  units are now being deployed to search for any “secondary threats,” according to Sgt. Rudy Lopez.  A robotics team is still investigating the LAPD car parked on Harvard St. between 6th and Wilshire Blvd

[UPDATE 11:00 am] The robotic unit is now moving toward the police car that LAPD suspect of harboring an explosive device.

[10:15 am] LAPD units on the scene at Wilshire Blvd. Temple‘s Koreatown synagogue are deploying bomb disposal units and robotic devices “to assess the situation” following a series of three bomb threats.

Wilshire TempleWilshire Blvd. Temple which received a bomb threat early in the morning on Dec. 18. Photo by Lynn Pelkey

Police spokesman Sgt. Rudy Lopez told the Jewish Journal at 10:15 a.m. the investigation should take about two hours.

At 2 a.m. a caller to LAPD headquarters claimed to have planted an explosive device on the grounds of the temple, one of Los Angeles’s largest. An initial search failed to turn up anything suspicious.

[Follow

Leaders of prominent N.Y. shul praise U.N. Palestine vote


The leaders of a prominent New York City synagogue sent out an email to congregants praising the U.N. vote that elevated the Palestinians to non-member state status.

“The vote at the U.N. yesterday is a great moment for us as citizens of the world,” said the email, signed by the B'nai Jeshurun's three rabbis, cantor, board of directors and executive director. “This is an opportunity to celebrate the process that allows a nation to come forward and ask for recognition. Having gained independence ourselves in this way, we are especially conscious of this.”

The email was sent Friday, the day after the Thursday's U.N. vote. The New York Times, which first reported the email on Tuesday, said that it elicited “shock” from some members and was welcomed by others.

B'nai Jeshurun, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, is a large synagogue known for its liberal politics and lively, music-infused services. It is not formally affiliated with any religious movement.

The email expressed hope that the U.N. vote would advance prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“As Jews deeply committed to the security and democracy of Israel, and in light of the violence this past month in Gaza and Israel, we hope that November 29, 2012 will mark the moment that brought about a needed sense of dignity and purpose to the Palestinian people, led to a cessation of violence and hastened the two state solution,” the signatories wrote.

Deluged day school, ruined Torahs and devastated communities left in Sandy’s wake


When Rabbi Avremel Okonov arrived Tuesday morning at the school he co-founded 10 years ago in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, the water in the basement had already receded from the high water mark. It only came up to his knees.

Everywhere he looked around his school, Mazel Academy, there was destruction. On the walls of the school’s lower level, which sits several feet below the street and just blocks from the Brooklyn waterfront, he could see the mark where the water level had risen. It was at head level.

Four pumps had run for several hours to rid Mazel Academy of water. On Wednesday, as the cleanup effort began to make headway, several puddles of water remained and the stench of seawater was inescapable. Hundreds of waterlogged prayerbooks were laid out on tables in the vestibule and piles of black trash bags lined the sidewalk filled with papers, books and other supplies destroyed by the surge of Hurricane Sandy.

But it was in the main sanctuary of an old synagogue now used by the school that the most poignant image was on display. Six Torah scrolls, stored during the storm in a safe on the lower level, were fully unrolled to dry, their parchment blotched and black lettering distorted by the floodwaters.

“We're drying them out,” said Okonov, the school's executive director. “But I'm looking closely — a lot of these pages, it's not reparable. This is just heartbreaking to look at.”

Across southern Brooklyn on Wednesday, residents took stock of the devastation wrought by the most destructive natural disaster in memory to hit New York. Downed trees blocked countless roads, and the sound of generators powering pumps could be heard on virtually every block in Brighton Beach as residents labored to dry out their basements.

Without electricity to power signal lights, traffic was perpetually snarled. And with temperatures predicted to drop with the sun, residents were bracing for another cold night without heat.

In the nearby Brooklyn neighborhood of Manhattan Beach, where the storm had left streets covered with sand and thick black muck, a lone worker shoveled water and debris from the entryway of Temple Beth-El. Across the street, an elderly rabbi who had taken shelter during the storm with a family member was discussing the cleanup with a contractor.

The cost of post-storm reconstruction in the region will take weeks to assess, but estimates suggest that the costs for the New York area will be in the tens of billions of dollars.

“We still didn't get through to our [insurance] broker,” Okonov said. “Our insurance papers are underwater. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

The storm known as Sandy took dead aim on Monday at some of the most populous regions of the country, home to tens of millions of people as well as the nation's largest Jewish communities. As the floodwaters rose from the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound, dozens of Jewish communities were besieged.

With electricity and phone service still spotty in affected areas as the week wore on, it was difficult to fully gauge the storm's impact on local Jewish communities. Calls to Jewish agencies across the Northeast only occasionally went through — and even then, more often than not, were answered only by voicemail.

Jewish Federations of North America, which later this month is expected to host more than 3,000 people in Baltimore for its annual General Assembly, was shuttered, its headquarters in the flood zone in lower Manhattan. The umbrella group’s president, Jerry Silverman, was stuck overseas, unable to get a flight back to the New York area, and early in the week even emails to federation officials were coming back undeliverable.

Over in New Jersey, where the worst of the storm's impact was felt, some local federations were silent, too.

“We haven't been able to get through to a couple” of local federations, said Steven Woolf, who is helping coordinate the response for the Jewish Federations of North America. “Unfortunately, we don't have real accurate reports because of the evacuations and because people have not gone back to do actual surveys of the damage.”

On Tuesday, many Jewish organizations began responding in earnest. Several of the largest — including Jewish Federations of North America, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and B'nai B'rith International — set up funds to help the victims. Others helped organize volunteers to aid in the relief effort.

But little could be done, at least in the short term, to alleviate the human loss and suffering caused by the storm.

“Lots and lots of seniors who didn't evacuate are stuck in the dark, with no refrigeration, no elevators, and no stores open anywhere within walking distance,” Lenny Gusel, a Russian Jewish activist who had visited Brighton Beach, wrote in an email early Wednesday morning. Gusel urged his fellow Russian Jews to come help, noting that some elderly residents couldn't easily leave their buildings without elevator service. (On Wednesday evening, Con Edison, the local power company, announced that it had restored power to the Brighton Beach area, though it noted that some buildings may still be without electricity due to flooding or storm damage.)

At Mazel Academy, Okonov tried to put on a brave face Wednesday, but the hurt was palpable. He helped start the academy 10 years ago with three students. Today, he has 140, drawn mostly from the ranks of secular Russian Jews that settled in Brighton Beach and surrounding areas. With the school growing rapidly, he had renovated the school's ground floor just last year.

Now, everything they had built was ruined.

“Everything is brand new,” Okonov said, gesturing toward the recently laid floors and new furniture, all of it waterlogged and beyond repair. “Here we go again.”

F.R.E.E. of Brighton Beach is located at 2915 Brighton 6th St., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11235. Click here to help with disaster relief.

The Jews of Kaifeng, China


Jewish liturgy and ritual frequently remind us that the Israelites were scattered to the “four corners of the earth,” as symbolized by the four fringes of the tallit, or prayer shawl. The extent of the geographic dispersion of the Jews over millennia has been vast, ranging from Baghdad to Burma, Marrakesh to Melbourne, Jerusalem to Los Angeles. 

But it wasn’t until I arrived in China for a two-and-a-half week stint to teach Jewish history that I realized just how dispersed these “four corners” are.

In Kaifeng, where Jews once lived — and still do — I witnessed the past and present of one of those dispersed “corners.” I also learned what it is like to teach Jewish history in China, where the field of Jewish studies is undergoing a surprising growth spurt.

The absence of a firm trail of historical evidence leads some to maintain that reports of a medieval Jewish presence in China are unfounded. I tend to agree with another group of scholars, who believe that there was such a presence — and that Kaifeng (pronounced “Ky fung”), in Henan province, is the oldest known Jewish community. This group argues that Jewish merchants, most likely originating in the Middle East, traveled along the vaunted Silk Road and made their way to and through China as early as the seventh century C.E. A document written in Judeo-Persian detailing business activity dates Jews in China to the early eighth century. Meanwhile, scholars surmise that sometime between the 10th and 12th centuries C.E., Jewish traders — likely of Persian origin — laid roots in Kaifeng. Kaifeng was no mere station along the Silk Road, and surely no backwater. It was one of the “Seven Ancient Capitals of China,” serving as the administrative center for five dynasties. Even more remarkably, Kaifeng was reputed to be the largest city in the world in the 11th and 12th centuries, with a population estimated at between 700,000 to 1.5 million. The list of other leading urban population centers in this period includes Córdoba (Spain), Constantinople (Istanbul), Cairo and Baghdad, all of which were or would become home to large populations of Jews. In fact, the Jewish romance with the city was not a modern invention. In a city, one could find a spirit of openness, new ideas and, of course, abundant commercial opportunities. In this sense, it would be no surprise that Jews made their way to medieval Kaifeng.

Kaifeng in its golden age was a masterfully designed city, with three sets of city walls, at the center of which was the elaborate Forbidden City where the emperor and his court were located. The Jewish community lived within the city walls, dwelling in close proximity to the community’s first synagogue, built in 1163, whose construction was commemorated in a stele dated to 1489. Unlike many of their medieval co-religionists, the Jews of Kaifeng, it appears, were largely unscathed by discrimination or persecution. The Song Emperors, based in Kaifeng, held the Jews in high esteem. And the Jews maintained good relations with their local Chinese neighbors. 

It is reasonable to assume that amiable relations hastened the pace of cultural integration. Within several hundred years, many of Kaifeng’s Jews, who at their peak numbered several thousand (some estimate as high as five thousand), lost knowledge of the Hebrew language. And yet, a key feature of traditional Jewish life remained throughout the entire existence of the community, even up to today: Jews in Kaifeng abstained from eating pork. Another distinctive feature of the Kaifeng community also survived: One of the Song Emperors, who could not pronounce the Hebrew names of the Jews in his realm, bestowed on them seven Chinese family names that are still in use today.

The existence of this community was unknown to the West until 1605, when the intrepid Jesuit scholar and missionary in China, Matteo Ricci, received a visit from a Kaifeng Jew in Beijing. After an initial confusion in which the two thought they belonged to the same religion, Ricci recognized that he was dealing with a previously unknown phenomenon: a native Jewish community in China. This well preceded the later communities established in the late 19th century in Shanghai and Harbin. 

A model of the Kaifeng synagogue at Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People, Tel Aviv. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Some decades later, the city of Kaifeng, including its Jewish community, confronted a major disaster. In 1642, a devastating flood of the Yellow River wreaked massive destruction upon the city, killing large numbers of residents, including Jews, and laying waste to much of the city’s infrastructure, including the synagogue. The glory days of Kaifeng as a world center of commerce were over.

After the flood, the Jews did manage to rebuild their synagogue, distinguished, like the original one, by a large Chinese-style roof, along with a number of other distinctive Chinese features. But the community’s best days were past. Fewer and fewer Jews attended the synagogue or had familiarity with Jewish ritual. In 1841, another major flood hit Kaifeng, again destroying much of the city, including the second synagogue. And this time, no communal institutions were available afterward to provide support or services to Kaifeng Jews. 

One might assume, on the basis of this story, that the history of Kaifeng Jewry has come to an end, a victim not of anti-Semitism but of Chinese hospitality. My visit to Kaifeng suggests otherwise. My host in China, professor Xu Xin, one of the founding figures of Jewish studies in China (about whom more later), took me to visit Esther Guo Yan, a woman of about 25 or 30 who preserves one of the seven Jewish family names. Esther is the granddaughter of the last renowned Jewish notable from Kaifeng, and she runs a tiny, rough-hewn shrine to the history of Kaifeng Jewry. She waits for the occasional tourist to find her home, which is located in the historic Jewish quarter. Her interests are both to recall the old Jewish community and to bring knowledge about Chinese culture to what she refers to as her “hometown,” Jerusalem.

Indeed, a strong connection to Israel marks the larger group of Jewish descendants whom I met in Kaifeng. I first visited them at the end of their weekly four-hour study session of English and Hebrew with their ebullient, chain-smoking Israeli teacher, Shulamit Gershovich, who had been sent by Shavei Israel, an international group that seeks out lost Jews. She is concluding a six-month stint teaching the Kaifeng group and lives in one of the two rooms that now serve as a kind of community center under the name Beit HaTikvah (House of Hope). This name was bestowed by the center’s founder, a young American Jew named Eric Rothberg, who began to work with and teach the group two years ago. 

On a Thursday evening, I met with a group of eight students, some of them bearing the ancient names of Kaifeng Jews who, thus, are “descendants,” and others who have no Jewish blood but are married to descendants. Here in Kaifeng, as in post-Soviet Eastern Europe, the most important criterion of Jewishness is not the rabbinic standard of matrilineal descent. Rather, it is the willingness and desire to be a Jew. Against remarkable odds, the members of Beit HaTikvah are assiduously studying what it means to be a Jew. Though a small number of younger family members have been sent off to Israel or the United States to study and undergo formal conversion, the majority of the 25 or so attendees at Beit HaTikvah are on their own path of Jewish self-discovery in China, where they likely will remain. (I should add that, in the ancient and venerable ways of the Jews, there is another group of a similar size studying at a different locale in Kaifeng with a Messianic Jew named Tim Lerner, though I did not get to meet them.)

Without a doubt, the highlight of my time in Kaifeng, and a reflection of the group’s indomitable spirit, was the Shabbat I spent at Beit HaTikvah. I was brought to the Friday night gathering by Ari Schaffer, an Orthodox undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University, who is conducting research on the community. The small, nondescript room was filled with some 25 people, ranging in age from 16 to 75. On one wall was an unusual array of symbols: the flag of the State of Israel on the right, the flag of the People’s Republic of China on the left, and in the middle, the Shema prayer flanked by a pair of Hebrew words, shemesh and kamon.  

Shemesh means sun. Kamon’s meaning is a matter of dispute; some scholars believe it refers to an angel, while others maintain that it connotes moon. In any case, this pair of words seems to have served a sort talismanic function for the community.

After candlelighting, Gao Chao, the leader of the small community, began to sing “Yedid Nefesh,” the medieval poem sung at the outset of Kabbalat Shabbat. Typically enough for this community, Gao Chao is not of Jewish descent. He is married to a descendent, but has taken on the responsibility of learning Hebrew and Jewish prayers so as to serve as the prayer leader on Friday nights. He led the community through Kabbalat Shabbat, with members joining in in their Chinese-inflected Hebrew (which was rendered into Chinese characters for them to follow). The degree of ritual fluency for a community that does not include a single halachic Jew and has been studying Hebrew intensely for only two years was remarkable. The community chanted with gusto and competency many of the standards of Jewish liturgy and custom on Friday night: “Lechah Dodi,” “Ve-shamru,” and “Shalom Aleichem.” It was particularly moving when the congregation joined with Gao Chao to sing the penultimate line of the Friday night Kiddush: “For You have chosen us and sanctified us from among all the nations, and with love and good will given us Your holy Shabbat as a heritage.”

After services, the entire group sat down to a potluck vegetarian Shabbat dinner, my first with chopsticks as the utensil of choice. Dinner was tasty and spirited, but a mere prelude to the memorable post-meal singing. We sang the grace after meals and then spent several hours singing zemirot and other Hebrew and Israeli songs at the top of our lungs — aided, it must be said, by a potent Arak-like beverage native to the region. One member of the community — not herself a Jewish descendant, but married to one — had assumed the Hebrew name Netta. She seemed to know virtually every Hebrew song sung. She had an infectious smile, beautiful voice and a true sense of oneg Shabbat — the joy of the Sabbath. Other members did not know many of the songs, but added their own enthusiastic and well-timed rhythm by clapping and pounding the table.

The one song that all knew was the one whose name adorns the current Kaifeng community: HaTikvah. At a certain point in the midst of the cacophonous frivolity, the group rose as one to offer a sonorous version of “Hatikvah” — in Chinese! Those of us who knew followed in Hebrew. It was another stunning moment in an evening of stunning moments. Few of the community members are likely to make aliyah, but somehow they have managed to develop a strong bond with and sense of pride for Israel. There was also a strong sense among all of us present of the past and future shared by Jews. Assembled at a long Shabbat table in Kaifeng, we experienced, in the rawest and purest form I’ve ever witnessed, the unbroken spirit that links Jews scattered over the four corners of the world, from California to China.


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Gunter Grass told to stay away from Polish synagogue


Gunter Grass, the Nobel Prize-winning poet banned from entering Israel, is being asked not to visit the Gdansk synagogue.

Grass, 85, will arrive on Friday in the Polish city of his birth to open an exhibition of his paintings.

“We wish to Gunter Grass very fruitful and pleasant stay in Gdansk,” Michal Samet, chairman of the Jewish Community in Gdansk, told the Gazeta Wyborcza. “There are so many wonderful places in Gdansk, the city has more than a 1,000-year history; certainly he will have a lot of things to see here. He was in our synagogue once, five years ago, and I think that would be enough.”

Earlier this year, Grass published in a German newspaper and other international publications his poem “What Must Be Said,” which condemns the German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel for agreeing to subsidize the sale of additional submarines “from my country” to Israel “justified as reparations.”

Grass also said that his reluctance until now to speak out against Israel was due to his own sense of connection with the Jewish state and that “the charge of anti-Semitism” is easily flung at those who criticize Israel.

In 2006, Grass admitted in an interview that he had joined the Waffen-SS as a teenager at the end of World War II. He was accused at the time of having hidden the truth for decades while at the same time pointing the finger at others for hiding their Nazi past.

Italian Jewish community to raise money to cover earthquake damage


The Italian Jewish community launched a campaign to raise money for synagogues and other Jewish properties that were damaged in earthquakes that struck northern Italy last month.

“The Jewish communities in the towns, along with their members, were affected by the occurrences,” the Union of Italian Jewish Communities said in a statement. It said several major Jewish properties were “severely damaged” in the quakes.

“The community of Italy is trying to estimate the damages caused by the earthquake and to evaluate the cost,” the union said. “This estimation is difficult since new waves of earthquakes are happening and might be happening more in the future.”

Quakes on May 20 and May 30 killed at least 24 people, left thousands homeless and caused widespread damage to art and architectural heritage.

According to a report released by the union at the end of last week, synagogue buildings in the Italian cities of Ferrara, Modena, Mantova, Sabbioneta and Soragna suffered damage.

In Mantova, roof tiles were displaced, cracks appeared in some walls and plasterwork, and stucco decorations fell away. In Modena, the tympanum over the entrance to the synagogue was damaged as well as the railing in front of the bimah; the floor shifted and was cracked.

At the 18th century synagogue in Soragna, walls, the entrance to the women’s gallery, the ark and other features were damaged. The synagogue is now a Jewish museum.

“UCEI anticipates that the immediate and long-term needs will be profound and is coordinating with its in-country representatives to respond as well,” the community organization said.

Seven Krakow synagogues to open—for one night


Seven historic synagogues in Krakow that are closed for most of the year will open for one night.

The synagogues will open June 2 as part of the the second annual 7@nite-Synagogues By Night, an evening of exhibitions, music concerts and fashion shows by young artists from Poland and around the world.

The free event is sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, JCC Krakow and the Krakow Jewish community.

Among its highlights, Geva Alon, an Israeli singer and songwriter, will play with his band in Tempel Synagogue in his first concert in Poland.

At the Kupa Synagogue, Piotr Kulisiewicz of the Warsaw Jewish community will exhibit his posters from important Jewish events. At the Remuh Synagogue, Slawomir Pastuszka will show his exhibition about Jewish architecture.

The Old Synagogue will host a fashion show titled “Jewish Dress Code,” while “In Motion,” a multimedia trip around the world, will be shown at the High Synagogue.

At the Izaak Synagogue, Majk Hercberg will show his handmade mezuzahs. At the Popper Synagogue, guests will decorate a model of the synagogue.

The Galicia Museum will feature a concert by Jacek Kabzinski, as well as Israeli folk dancing.

The JCC will be open for meals or to meet with local rabbis.

Wind closes synagogues, schools


Gusts that peaked at 97 miles per hour whipped through the Los Angeles area Wednesday night, downing trees and power lines and leaving some synagogues and Jewish schools with minor damage and no power.

Hardest hit was the Pasadena area, where the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, B’nai Simcha Community Preschool in Arcadia and the Weizmann Day School all remained closed on Thursday. The mayor of Pasadena declared a state of emergency for the area.

The unusually fierce Santa Ana winds sent a tree crashing through the bedroom of the home of a Mount Washington member of Chabad of Pasadena, but the family was not hurt, according to Rabbi Chaim Hanoka of Chabad of Pasadena. Trees branches and debris were scattered around the Chabad building, but Hanoka did not detect any damage to the building, though he saw danger in live wires that dangled over some streets on Thursday. Many fires were reported in the area.

At Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (PJTC), large tree limbs and branches littered the grounds, roof shingles had been lifted off, and a chain-link fence came down.  The window in the school principal’s office was blown out, but no structural damage occurred.

The synagogue lost power around 9 p.m. Wednesday night, it leader, Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, said that if power were not restored by Friday morning, he would be forced to cancel Shabbat services.

“We were supposed to have a big Shabbat dinner tomorrow night, but now we have 15 pounds of chicken rotting in the refrigerator,” Grater said.

A 60-foot tree in front of Grater’s home was completely uprooted, he said.

The Weizmann Day School, an independent Jewish elementary school with an enrollment of 67 children that rents space from PJTC, informed parents Wednesday night that the school would likely be closed the next day, according to principal Lisa Feldman. At 6:30 a.m. Thursday, another message – sent via a room-parent phone tree, as well as texts, Twitter, emails and Facebook – confirmed that the school would be closed Thursday. A teacher stood outside the school at drop-off time just in case some without power didn’t get the message, but no parents showed up, Feldman said. Pasadena public schools and about 10 other school districts in the area also were closed Thursday.

Photo by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

Hanoka of Chabad said he had delivered food to several families who were without power and were trapped in their homes by toppled trees.

Around 300,000 Southern California residents were without power as of Thursday afternoon.

In Los Angeles, large trees splayed across several streets in the Pico-Robertson area. Maimonides Academy had a felled tree in its yard, and no power in the half of the school that resides in West Hollywood, while the half of the building on property in the City of Los Angeles had power.

Eitan Trabin, executive director of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, said he is grateful that there was no serious damage to the temple and no one was hurt, especially seeing what had occurred around the neighborhood.

Trabin said, however, that he is bracing for more winds forecast through Friday.

“Whatever progress they make now in repairs and cleanup might be set back with the winds tonight,” Trabin said.

Rosh Hashanah ‘in the house tonight’ dances into the new year


Aish brings together rhythm, beats and davening for their Rosh Hashanah ‘in the house tonight’ dancing spectacle that parodies LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem.  Here’s the chorus from the lyrics, but be sure to watch the video for the full effect.

Rosh Hashanah’s in the house tonight
All the world is passing through the light
Let’s all get written in the book of Life
Shana Tova—it’s High Holiday time

 

Opinion: Implementing a historic mandate for deaf Jews


The Conservative movement, through its Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, has taken a historic step in acknowledging that deaf and hard-of-hearing people are entitled to stand with the Jewish community as equals. Not only did the law committee vote to recognize the users of sign language as equals, it also issued a mandate, or teshuvah, that synagogues and organizations must strive to be accessible to all.

The new teshuvah, which passed on May 24, reads in part:

“The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards rules that the deaf who communicate via sign language and do not speak are no longer to be considered mentally incapacitated. Jews who are deaf are responsible for observing mitzvot. Our communities, synagogues, schools, and camps must strive to be welcoming and accessible, and inclusive. Sign language may be used in matters of personal status and may be used in rituals. A deaf person called to the Torah who does not speak may recite the berakhot [blessings] via sign language. A deaf person may serve as a shaliah tzibbur [prayer leader] in sign language in a minyan whose medium of communication is sign language.”

The Jewish Deaf Resource Center applauds the law committee, notably Rabbi Pamela Barmash, for taking on this responsibility, writing the teshuvah and recognizing its importance in approving it.

Such a mandate is historic in that it grants full access to a marginalized group of Jews. The concept of providing access to those who are deaf or hard of hearing is new for many organizations.

“Communication access,” as this type of access is called, may include providing qualified sign language interpreters trained in Jewish liturgy, real-time captioning in which someone types the spoken message on a large screen, or auditory systems that amplify what is said and either works with hearing aids or a headset system worn by users.

Many Jewish organizations often are hesitant to provide communication access due to costs that are not anticipated in their budgets. However, there are ways to minimize such costs and maximize this needed access.

More important, many organizations do not realize that the significant number of people impacted by the lack of communication access. Most deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals have immediate family members who are hearing. When one person in the family is without access, the entire family often is deprived of the opportunity to share Jewish communal experiences together.

Deaf Jewish children who become parents themselves, generally to children who can hear, are unable to share positive Jewish memories with their children. The cycle repeats when the hearing children become parents.

The Jewish experience created by these hearing parents for their children often is similar to the one they experienced with their own parents—one of limited or no participation in Jewish communal life. In essence, denying access to one Jewish person has a ripple effect.

To create and nuture a culture in which all Jews are welcome, Jewish organizations must develop policies that require the provision of communication access throughout the organization. Having such policies solidly in place will help the organization respond appropriately to a request for communication access at all levels.

In order to implement the mandate set forth by the Conservative movement’s law committee, the larger Jewish community must work alongside the deaf and hard-of-hearing community to create appropriate communication policies and access.

Only with such collaboration can we end the adverse ripple effect and create an accessible Red Tent that is a welcoming home to all.

Alexis Kashar is president and Naomi Brunnlehrman is a co-founder of The Jewish Deaf Resource Center, a national advocacy organization.

Swastika painted on Conn. synagogue


A large swastika and the word “Nazi” were spray-painted on a Connecticut synagogue.

The graffiti on the B’nai Shalom synagogue in Waterbury was discovered Tuesday morning by worshipers.

Police are investigating the vandalism, which has been classified as a hate crime, according to reports.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) visited the synagogue Tuesday, WFSB TV reported.

“An act of hatred like this one is not a prank,” Blumenthal said, adding that the graffiti should be seen as a “criminal action.”

Calif. synagogue holding animal blessing


A Southern California synagogue is having its third annual “blessing of the animals.”

Congregation Dor Hadash in San Diego holds the event in honor of Tu b’Shevat, the 15th day of Nissan, which this year falls on Jan. 20.

Pet owners are invited to bring their pets to the Reconstructionist shul by noon Sunday, Jan. 9, where they will be blessed by Rabbi Yael Ridburg. Furred, winged and swimming creatures are all welcome—from cats to turtles.

Tu b’Shevat is known as the new year of trees, and is one of four “new year” celebrations on the Jewish calendar. Some Jews expand the holiday to include blessings for all living things produced by the earth, including plants and animals.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, last year’s blessing ceremony included the audience responding: “May they never suffer from ick, and may their fins and scales always sparkle in the light of your sunshine.”

Shabbat services held in Australian outback synagogue


The first Shabbat service in 50 years was held at a synagogue in Australia’s outback.

More than 200 Jews, mainly from Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, converged on Broken Hill Synagogue on the weekend of Nov. 28 to mark the centenary since the laying of the foundation stone in 1910.

The mining town, dubbed “the silver city” and “the capital of the outback,” is more than 620 miles west of Sydney near the border with South Australia.

Congregants, most of whom had ties to the town, said the prayer for the State of Israel, the Israel Defense Forces and the Commonwealth of Australia. On Nov. 28, a public celebration began with a traditional smoking ceremony led by a local Aboriginal leader and ended with the blowing of the shofar.

When the synagogue was built, about 150 Jews lived in the mining town. The number peaked at approximately 250 in the 1920s and 1930s.

Following World War II, Australian Jews moved to major cities. The synagogue closed in 1962 but was restored recently by the local historical society.

The last Jew of Broken Hill died in 2005 and was buried in the Jewish section of the community’s cemetery.

Bombing Suspect Ahmad Vahidi overwhelmingly chosen to be Iran’s defense minister [VIDEO]


From BBCNews.com.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad chose Ahmad Vahidi, wanted by Argentina over the deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre, as his new defence minister.

Mr Vahidi was strongly supported by Iran’s parliament, the Majlis, with 227 MPs backing him out of 286, Iranian Speaker Ali Larijani said.

Read the full story at BBCNews.com.

 

Economy forces tough dues decisions for congregants, synagogues.


With Rosh Hashanah 5770 fast approaching, the synagogue membership renewal season is in full swing. Throughout the summer months, billing statements with letters explaining dues, fees — and often increases — arrive in congregants’ mailboxes.

But many congregants affected by the economic downturn of the past year are struggling to meet their financial obligations, including those to their synagogues. At the same time, synagogues are facing their own reduced incomes and diminished returns on investments, leaving them all the more dependent on membership dues to help meet rising costs.

Although it’s too early to know the full impact of the economy on this year’s membership (dues collection continues through the fall), many shuls have been anticipating and are already seeing an increase in requests for financial assistance. As a result, they are faced with the need to cut costs while trying to maintain the offerings and services members have come to expect.

While balancing the financial needs of a synagogue with those of its members is often a struggle, it has become especially challenging in the current economy. Clergy and staff remain committed to extending compassionate help to their members in times of need, even when it means partially forgiving dues; at the same time, synagogues have to balance their budgets. Members, on the other hand, often don’t know how to ask for help, or are embarrassed by the prospect of doing so. But with some knowledge of shul policies and procedures on dues assistance, and of the role dues play in a synagogue’s budget, congregants in financial straits will most likely find they can reach a workable solution with their synagogue.

Allen Ishakis, executive director of Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills, said he’s “definitely seen an uptick in the number of people who have asked for help.”

Because the Orthodox synagogue saw the problem developing over the past year, Ishakis said the congregation decided to send out membership packets to its 750 families earlier this year so the staff would have more time to deal with special requests.

Requesting assistance with Beth Jacob’s $1,320 basic membership fee is an informal and confidential process. All requests go directly to Ishakis and remain private, though occasionally, he needs to consult the board president or finance committee. He sits down with anyone who asks for help and discusses what their needs are.

“Everybody’s situation is different,” he said.

Ellen Franklin, executive director at Temple Judea in Tarzana, said she has been seeing congregants struggling on two fronts — completing payments on last year’s dues and paying for the upcoming year. And while the Reform synagogue’s “policies for dealing with dues relief are great,” Franklin said, “in these times, we end up with a lot of individual, case-by-case decisions.”

At Judea, where the standard membership contribution is $2,750 per year per family, members fill out a form to request assistance, which only a small group of people (the director of finance, one board member and Franklin) has access to. In addition, “our philosophy on adjustments is completely based on the honor system…. We want to hear people’s stories; we don’t want to see their tax returns,” Franklin said, referring to a practice some synagogue administrators once used to determine need.

At Temple Beth Am, a 1,100-family Conservative synagogue in West Los Angeles where basic family dues are $2,585, members asking for relief complete an application that is reviewed by a small “equity committee” and kept confidential, Executive Director Sheryl Goldman said. Though the form asks members to state their income and expenses (no proof of either is required), it also includes space to describe extenuating circumstances, such as a failed business or a prolonged illness. Congregants are also asked to suggest the amount of dues they feel they can afford, a practice shared by many synagogues.

Temple Judea’s Franklin said her goal is to “work out a solution that’s equitable for both the synagogue and the family,” but her instinct is to grant the amount families suggest. She also tries to keep the process as simple and straightforward as possible so “the predominant conversation with the shul isn’t about business, since that would detract from the ability to see this as a sacred community,” she said.

Most synagogues also offer options for paying dues over time, whether as two or more lump sums or monthly payments throughout the year. Ishakis of Beth Jacob said he’s always willing to give people extra time, “as long as they’re making progress … even if they’re paying $25 a month.”

Beth Am’s Goldman said that some members, especially those who have never before had to ask for assistance, are reluctant to approach the issue.

“We want to make them as comfortable as possible … and let them know that now, of all times, we want to support them through this,” she said, echoing a sentiment expressed by all the synagogue staff consulted for this article.

At the same time, the executive directors said, members need to understand what it takes to keep a synagogue running.

While congregants might argue they don’t use their shul often, and therefore shouldn’t have to pay much to belong, a synagogue still needs to be up and running every day.

“It’s wonderful that people don’t need our services all the time, but we still have to be here for when you do,” said Franklin, citing funerals as an example of an infrequent but essential service.

Synagogues have always tried to educate their congregants that they are not fee-for-service organizations, said Jane Zuckerman, who was executive director at Temple Israel of Hollywood for 10 years before becoming a nonprofit marketing and development consultant two years ago. She believes that many people, especially younger ones, “don’t see supporting temple as a moral and ethical obligation — they’d pay more money for a gym.”

In times of financial trouble, some families might not be willing “to prioritize membership relative to their means,” said Goldman of Beth Am. And synagogues have always struggled with how they can remain open and caring, letting it be known there is flexibility on dues, without inviting people to take unfair advantage. Administrators also said some members have misconceptions about where synagogues get funding.

“A lot of people make the erroneous assumption that there is some umbrella organization that helps to support synagogues,” Zuckerman said.

In fact, synagogues must rely on dues, program fees, school fees (where applicable) and fundraising in order to operate. Members who can afford to do so will sometimes pay some form of enhanced dues, which can help make up for those who can’t afford standard dues.

The percentage of a synagogue’s costs supported by dues varies, although most shuls aim for 60 to 70 percent. But in reality, the figure is often much lower; dues at Judea, for example, cover between 45 and 50 percent of the synagogue’s costs.

When income from dues decreases, synagogues have to find ways to make up their budget shortfalls, either through program reductions, staff cutbacks, increased fees for programs or fundraising. While no one consulted for this article wants to make any of these cuts, they would rather do so than see members leave.

Synagogues across the board are facing these same challenges, but each must ultimately grapple with funding decisions for themselves.

“These are the times that challenge and test us, and there are no easy answers,” said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, whose fall 2008 survey of more than 30 rabbis revealed widespread concern over the developing financial challenges.

Despite their individual needs and responses, Diamond anticipates a commonality in shuls’ responses to the crisis. He believes synagogues across all denominations will be “resetting their priorities and holding on to what’s most important, their three basic functions: as a beit knesset, where Jews come together; a beit tefillah, house of prayer; and a beit midrash, house of learning.” 

The rest, as they say, is commentary.

Santa Barbara Fire Forces Synagogue Evacuation


One Santa Barbara synagogue has been evacuated and another is facing possible evacuation as crews continued to battle the Jesusita Fire on Friday afternoon.

The fire, which started May 5, has damaged or destroyed 75 homes and 30,500 people are under mandatory evacuation orders. More than 3,500 acres have been burned, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, and as of Friday afternoon the fire remained at 10 percent containment.

Congregation B’nai B’rith, in the Santa Barbara foothills west of Highway 154, is part of a mandatory evacuation order for the area that went into effect Thursday at 10 p.m.

“It’s a tough time,” said Rabbi Steve Cohen of the Reform B’nai B’rith. “There’s been a tremendous impact on the whole community.”

The synagogue hosted a dinner on Thursday to discuss evacuations, during which the synagogue’s executive director, Deborah Naish, came to the temple to let the rabbi know the fire had shifted toward B’nai B’rith.

“We all went outside and saw how close it had come,” he said.

The synagogue’s Torahs were moved to staff members’ homes Thursday night.

As of Friday, the fire had crossed to the west side of Highway 154 and was burning in the hills above the synagogue, Cohen said.

“What everyone is dreading are the sundowners tonight,” he said, referring to Santa Ana-like evening winds that can make firefighting difficult.

Cohen said he was not aware of any congregants losing a home to the blaze, but he said at least 200 to 250 of B’nai B’rith’s 670 families have been evacuated from the fire area.

Nearby in Golita, Chabad of Santa Barbara’s Rabbi Yosef Loshack has opened his house to at least two displaced families. His home, which is used for religious services, is one block away from the evacuation area.

“I’m getting more phone calls as the day progresses, so I don’t know how many people we’ll end up getting,” he said.

Loshack said if the call to evacuate comes, his family plans to relocate to the Chabad at UC Santa Barbara.

“If we’re evacuated, we’ll put the sefer Torahs in the car along with my wife’s candlesticks and we go off,” he said.

Nathan Roller, librarian and development intern at UC Santa Barbara Hillel, said the streets surrounding the campus are filled with smoke.

Apart from two students who are staying with Roller, he said he wasn’t aware of Jewish students turning to Hillel for evacuation assistance.

Currently UCSB is serving as a shelter for more than 600 evacuated Santa Barbara residents. And the Hillel building, which features a handicapped-accessible elevator and shower, may be called upon to shelter displaced residents with special needs.

“We are an evacuation site, but [Red Cross] hasn’t asked us to do anything yet,” Roller said.

On Saturday morning, UCSB Hillel’s home, the Milton Roisman Jewish Student Center, will be a shelter of a different kind. B’nai B’rith congregants will join Isla Vista Minyan, an egalitarian minyan, at the center for Shabbat morning services.

“It’s far out of the line of fire,” Cohen said. “Tonight, we’re just not able to do a service.”

Reform Jews must refashion Shabbat


The following remarks are edited from an hourlong sermon delivered at the biennial of the Union of Reform Judaism held in San Diego on Dec. 15.

…. In the last half century, working patterns have changed. Not everyone works on Saturday now, and Jews, more than ever before, crave spiritual sustenance and meaningful ritual.

With members returning to the synagogue on Friday nights, we had hoped that some of them would also be drawn to our Shabbat morning prayer and to a serious conversation about the meaning of Shabbat.

But this has not happened, and we all know one reason why that is so: the character of the Shabbat morning service. With the morning worship appropriated by the bar and bat mitzvah families, our members who come to pray with the community often sit in the back of the sanctuary and feel like interlopers in their own congregation.

On erev Shabbat, we invite our members in, but on Shabbat morning, we drive them away. On Friday night, we entice them with exuberant prayer and a community of celebration and song. But on Shabbat morning, we leave them turned off and disappointed.

…. The bar mitzvah, like other significant moments in Jewish life, is meant to occur within the context of an open and caring community. But our members now feel that they are entitled to a private, individual bar mitzvah. And this means that what should be public and inclusive has become private and exclusive, with the focus more on the child than on the community.

The results are tragic. We lose young families, whose children cannot stay up late on Friday. We lose seniors, who avoid nighttime driving and prefer to pray during the day. We lose those wanting to say Kaddish and those who are simply looking to join their community in prayer. And not only that, we are also sending a message about bar mitzvah that we do not want to send.

Bar mitzvah is the occasion, symbolically at least, when a young person joins an adult community of Jews. But you cannot join what does not exist. A regular community of worshippers, who would be best suited to mentor the child, is not even present. At the average bar mitzvah, what you almost always get is a one-time assemblage of well-wishers, with nothing in common but an invitation.

And worst of all, absent a knowledgeable congregation, worship of God gives way to worship of the child — and self-serving worship is a contradiction in terms. Rabbis, cantors, educators and presidents all told me how painful it is to sit in a service where the child is the star and the theme is “Steven Schwartz, King for a Day” or, “Sarah Goldstein, Queen for a Day.” Inevitably, this leads to speeches in which every boy or girl is smarter than Einstein, a better soccer play than Mia Hamm, more of a computer whiz than Bill Gates and more of an activist than Bono.

Let’s be honest. There is something profoundly wrong here. On every Shabbat of the year, there are hundreds and hundreds of bar and bat mitzvahs in Reform congregations. But rarely does anyone walk out of those worship services saying: “That was so spiritually fulfilling that I can’t wait to come back next week.”

…. What I am hearing from our rabbis and cantors is that the time has come to say: If it’s not working, let’s not do it anymore. If I want to go to temple on Shabbat morning but I won’t presume to do so without an invitation from the bar mitzvah family, the time has come to try new things.

We all recognize that this will not be easy…. The best answer is an integrated service — a service in which the child joins the congregation and the congregation does not merely watch the child; a service in which the child’s obligation is not to perform but to lead the congregation in prayer; a service in which parents are encouraged to reshape their speeches as blessings; a service that remains truly meaningful for the bar mitzvah family without feeling like a private family event.

The best answer is public, communal worship that all of us, and not just the bar mitzvah family, want to attend.

….This discussion in the Reform movement is part of something larger — and that is a readiness to look seriously at the broader question of Shabbat observance…. Because we now understand that Shabbat was always central to Reform Judaism.

Isaac Mayer Wise was a firm proponent of a traditional Shabbat. And for classical Reform Jews, Shabbat was a serious matter. True, they significantly reduced both the duties and the prohibitions of the day, but what remained was observed with scrupulous dedication.

Also, other approaches to enhancing Jewish life have failed. Communal leaders outside of the synagogue love to talk the language of corporate strategy. They engage in endless debates on the latest demographic study. They plan elaborate conferences and demand new ideas. But sometimes we don’t need new ideas; we need old ideas.

We need less corporate planning and more text and tradition, less strategic thinking and more mitzvot, less demographic data and more Shabbat. Because we know in our hearts that in the absence of Shabbat, Judaism withers.

But most important of all, Reform Jews are considering Shabbat because they need Shabbat. In our 24/7 culture, the boundary between work time and leisure time has been swept away, and the results are devastating…. But families take the worst hit. The average parent spends twice as long dealing with e-mail as playing with his children.

For our stressed-out, sleep-deprived families, the Torah’s mandate to rest looks relevant and sensible…. We are asked to put aside those BlackBerrys and stop gathering information, just as the ancient Israelites stopped gathering wood. We are asked to stop running around long enough to see what God is doing.

And this most of all: In synagogue and at home, we are asked to give our kids, our spouse and our friends the undivided attention that they did not get from us the rest of the week. On Shabbat, we speak to our children of their hopes and dreams. We show them that we value them for who they are and not for the grades they get or the prizes they win. During the week, we pursue our goals; on Shabbat, we learn simply to be.

Mormons remove Wiesenthal from ‘baptism’ registry; Philanthropist funds series on composers suppress


Mormons remove Wiesenthal from Registry

The Mormon Church has removed the name of the late Simon Wiesenthal from its international genealogical index, avoiding a new dispute over accusations that the Church conducts vicarious baptisms for the deceased of other faiths.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints took the action after a strong public protest by Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, named in honor of the famed Nazi hunter.

However, a Mormon spokesman expressed his surprise that the Wiesenthal Center had not contacted the church directly before issuing a press statement on the matter.

In his statement, Hier said that “We are astounded and dismayed that after assurances and promises by the Mormon Church, that Mr. Wiesenthal’s life and memory, along with so many other Jews, would be trampled and disregarded.

“Mr. Wiesenthal proudly lived as a Jew, died as a Jew … and at his request was buried in the state of Israel. It is sacrilegious for the Mormon faith to desecrate his memory by suggesting that Jews on their own are not worthy enough to receive God’s eternal blessing,” Hier added.

The issue has been a sore point with Jewish organizations, after it was learned in the early 1990s that some 380,000 Holocaust victims had been placed in the Mormon genealogical database as a step toward posthumous baptism.

Bruce Olsen, the Mormon Church’s chief spokesman as press secretary to the First Presidency, said Tuesday that following Hier’s request, “no Church ordinance was performed for Simon Wiesenthal and his name was immediately removed from the International Genealogical Index.”

In 1995, Church officials signed an agreement with Jewish organizations to remove the name of Holocaust victims from its database.

Olsen noted that since then, the Church has maintained excellent relations with the Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish institutions, and that he was surprised to first learn about Hier’s concern when contacted by journalists.

Mark Paredes, director of the Church’s Jewish Relations in Southern California, emphasized that Church policy provides that its members can submit only the names of their own ancestors for posthumous baptism.

“Those who submitted the name of Mr. Wiesenthal or Holocaust victims represented a few misguided members, who certainly do not represent the Church as a whole,” Paredes said.

Hier was traveling and could not be reached for comment at press time.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Philanthropist funds series on composers suppressed by Nazis

Marilyn Ziering, a Los Angeles Opera board member and a Los Angeles-based philanthropist, has announced that she will donate $3.25 million of her own money and an additional $750,000 she raised to fund the L.A. Opera’s multiyear series of concerts on composers whose works were suppressed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The project, known as “Recovered Voices,” will kick off with two concerts in March at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, featuring the work of Alexander Zemlinsky, Kurt Weill, Viktor Ullmann, Franz Schreker, Walter Braunfels and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

The Nazis created “a great breach in the continuity of music when this music was suppressed and denied,” Ziering said. So forgotten are a number of these composers that Ziering, who grew up listening to Verdi, Puccini and Mozart, admitted that “some of the composers I had never heard of nor heard their works before.”

The philanthropist’s late husband survived work camps, ghettoes and concentration camps, and she said she is making the donation at this time because L.A. Opera Music Director James Conlon “has a passion to do this.” Conlon, a Catholic, will conduct the concerts, which will continue through 2010.

— Robert David Jaffee, Contributing Writer

L.A. City Council approves declaration on immigrants rights

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved on Dec. 13 a pro-immigrants’ rights declaration conceived by the local Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The so-called “Declaration of Los Angeles” calls for the humane treatment of undocumented immigrants; denounces xenophobia, especially against Latino immigrants; and encourages law enforcement agencies and courts to adhere to the highest ethical standards when dealing with issues surrounding the deportation and detention of immigrants. The document also criticizes vigilante citizen groups for creating an atmosphere of fear that raises the potential for violence against undocumented immigrants.

“At this particularly volatile time in our country’s history, we find it of the utmost importance to unite against hatred and victimization aimed at many people who migrate to this country,” said Amanda Susskind, director of the ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region, in a statement.

The ADL and 17 partner groups, including the Progressive Jewish Alliance, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, the ACLU of Southern California and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, plan to lobby the California Legislature to approve the declaration during its 2007 session.

— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Publisher of planned O.J. book allegedly fired over anti-Semitic comments

The decision to fire Judith Regan, the Los Angeles-based publisher behind the controversial O.J. Simpson “If I Did It” book and television deal, came after News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch learned of comments she made to a company lawyer on Dec. 15 that were deemed anti-Semitic.

On Monday, a News Corp. spokesman released notes taken by attorney Mark Jackson to the Associated Press that detailed his conversation with the publisher of ReganBooks, an imprint of News Corp.’s HarperCollins. During the conversation, according to the AP report, Regan told Jackson, who is Jewish: “Of all people, Jews should know about ganging up, finding common enemies, and telling the big lie.”

Jackson’s notes describe Regan using the term “Jewish cabal,” to describe a group that included himself, literary agent Esther Newberg, HarperCollins executive editor David Hirshey, and Jane Friedman, HarperCollins president and chief executive, who reported details of the conversation to Murdoch.

Regan’s attorney, Bert Fields, plans to file a lawsuit against HarperCollins for dismissing Regan, claiming breach of contract, according to The New York Times. Referring to the alleged comments, Field reportedly said: “They were looking for an excuse to fire her, and they fired her, and called it anti-Semitic. It ain’t anti-Semitic.”