Fla. candidate accused of being atheist (and nudist): ‘I am Jewish’

A candidate in an Orlando-area primary is disputing claims in a flier mailed to voters that he is a nudist and an atheist.

Jeffrey Goldmacher, who is running in Tuesday’s Republican primary for the Osceola County Commission, said he lives on a “clothing optional resort” at the Cypress Cove Resort and Spa in Poinciana, not a “nudist colony.”

“Only lepers and ants live in colonies,” Goldmacher, 56, told the Orlando Sentinel.

The retiree disputed the claims that he is an atheist by saying he is Jewish and that he won’t promote nudism as a commissioner.

“I am Jewish,” he told the Sentinel. “I just don’t belong to a temple or a synagogue. I practice my religion in my own way.”

The mailer, sent by the Florida-based group With Women We Will Win, asks voters to “say yes to decency and no to nudism and atheism on our county commission.” The organization’s Facebook page says it supports women candidates for office, according to the Sentinel. Goldmacher is running against two men.

Goldmacher, a first-time candidate, says he’s not sure if the mailer will cost him votes.

“At least there’s one candidate who believes in transparency,” he told an audience during a recent forum, the Miami New Times reported. “I have nothing to hide and no place to hide it.”

For Crypto-Jews of New Mexico, art is a window into secret life

Artist Anita Rodriguez’s “aha” moment came after reading “To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico.”

The 2005 book by New Mexico’s former state historian, Stanley Hordes, tells the story of the Southwest’s Converso settlers and the elements of their Sephardic heritage – among them lighting candles on Friday night and refraining from eating pork—that were passed down over 500 years.

It suddenly dawned on Rodriguez, a Catholic from Taos whose family has lived in New Mexico for 10 generations, that her neighbors may have been reticent to talk about religion because of secret family histories.

“Growing up in Taos, I quickly learned that it was taboo to ask people about their religion,” she told JTA.

Rodriguez is one of several artists planning to exhibit Crypto-Jewish-themed paintings and folk art at the conference of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies to be held July 22-24 in Albuquerque. Among the featured speakers will be historian David Gitlitz, author of “Secrecy and Deceit: The Religion of Crypto-Jews,” and Santa Fe educator Isabelle Medina Sandoval, author of “Hidden Shabbat: The Secret Lives of Crypto-Jews.”

“Artwork makes people want to know more about their own identity,” said Dolores Sloan, president of the society, which helped obtain grants to bring artists to the conference.

The gathering, which will include a genealogy workshop, is part of a continuing effort to reveal the stories of those who may have had a hidden Jewish past. A recent genetic survey published in the Journal of Human Genetics revealed new DNA evidence that Spanish Americans of the Southwest likely had Jews in their family trees. The Crypto-Jews of New Mexico are said to be descendants of Sephardic Jews who were forced to convert during the Spanish Inquisition.

After reading Hordes’ book and researching Jewish life, Rodriguez began painting Southwestern- and Mexican-influenced scenes of the secret Jewish lives that she imagined her neighbors’ ancestors had practiced.

Among the works she will bring to the conference is a large pink, turquoise and royal blue painting influenced by Mexican Day of the Dead art, depicting a Jewish wedding scene in which the groom, bride and wedding party are all ghostly skeletons.

Another one, titled “Hora,” shows skeletons dancing around a Jewish bride on a raised chair.

“These could be ancestors who come back on the day of the dead and act out scenes from their lives,” Rodriguez said.

In another work she calls “nichos,” a takeoff on a traditional Latin American form of folk art, Rodriguez uses painted wooden boxes created from kiln-dried wood. Painted in a folk art style with brightly colored acrylic paint, the boxes, which have two hinged doors, reveal what she sees as the duality of the Crypto-Jewish life.

For example, on one nicho, a Christmas Eve scene is shown with people streaming in to the village church. Open the box’s doors and painted on the inside is a skeletal Jewish family seated at table with a lit menorah.

“There are some truths that can only be spoken in the voice of art,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez says that when she shows her work in New Mexico, some people have whispered in her ear things like, “I need to talk, but can’t meet you downtown.” One person, the artist says, told her that after seeing her work he spent a night sneaking through a graveyard looking for signs of Crypto-Jewish heritage on his ancestor’s headstones.

“I have had close friends who have made the discovery,” Rodriguez said. “Some are furious because they were lied to; some even go back to Judaism.”

In researching her own family history, Rodriguez discovered that the name Rodriguez appears frequently on lists of surnames of families forced to convert. She hasn’t taken the low-cost genetic test now available that could cast light on her ethnic heritage.

Diana Bryer, another New Mexico artist exhibiting at the upcoming conference—her work depicts secret Sephardic symbols like six-pointed roses and families holding secret seders—says she has had moments of recognition, too.

“One person came over to me and said, ‘I think I have Jewish roots. There are things in here that my family did,’ ” said Bryer, who comes from an Ashkenazi Jewish background. “People have feelings, and those feelings should be acknowledged.”

Sinai Temple welcomes new cantor

Congregants of all ages came to Sinai Temple’s main sanctuary on June 10 to welcome the newest member of the clergy, Cantor Marcus Feldman, who officially took over as the congregation’s senior cantor on July 1. Feldman’s first concert, performed with Sinai Temple Cantors Joseph Gole and Arianne Brown, was designed to showcase his diverse musical background, including Hebrew, Ladino and Italian songs.

“I wanted to give Sinai Temple an opportunity to share in my passion for Jewish music,” he said, explaining his choice of songs by great Los Angeles Jewish composers as well as some of his own teachers. Feldman said he sees his work as a “solemn responsibility to preserve our incredible musical tradition and to facilitate its continuity within the context of 21st century Judaism.”

A Los Angeles native, Feldman grew up at Stephen S. Wise Temple singing on the High Holy Days and helping to lead Friday night services. But it wasn’t until his junior year of college that Feldman was encouraged by his mentors, Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin and Cantor Nathan Lam, to become a cantor.

After graduating from USC in 2007 with dual degrees in Vocal Performance and Business Administration, Feldman was ordained as a cantor by the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, in May 2011, where he earned a Masters of Jewish Sacred Music. Feldman said he continued his training with Cantor Lam from 2005 onward.

Although just 28, Feldman already has served in a number of prior cantorial positions throughout California, leading services at Sun City Jewish Services in Palm Desert, and as cantorial intern for four years at Stephen S. Wise Temple, before becoming second cantor there, for a year, until his move to Sinai.

Trained in opera, Feldman traveled to Jerusalem two years ago to study under Cantor Naftali Herstik, a 14th-generation traditional cantor. “I learned how to better improvise within the context of the prayer modes, to paint emotions with the words.”

Sinai’s Senior Rabbi David Wolpe lauded Feldman’s “deep knowledge of Jewish musical tradition,” adding that “he’ll bring a wonderful energy to our services and programs.”

“I come to the community as a representative of the newest generation of cantors,” Feldman said. “It is my humble duty to ensure that the incredible 1,000-year-old musical tradition of Ashkenazic music and the 100-year tradition of music at Sinai Temple will continue to thrive and be a central part of Jewish life.”

“He’s an exceptionally mature person for someone of his years,” Wolpe said.

Cantor Gole will continue to serve Sinai in the new position of Cantor Emeritus.

Feldman said he will be working closely with Wolpe throughout the summer to prepare for the High Holy Days and will also play a role in continuing Sinai’s “Friday Night Live” programming, working with Wolpe and Craig Taubman.

Arab Israeli bound over on murder charges in Michigan

An Arab-Israeli suspect in a series of killings and attacks in three U.S. states has been bound over for three murder trials in Michigan.

A Michigan judge on Tuesday ordered Elias Abuelazam, 33, a Christian Arab from Ramla, to be tried in a Flint courtroom for a third murder.

In addition to the three murder charges, Abuelazam also is facing six assault with intent to murder charges in the Flint area, as well as attempted murder charges in Toledo, Ohio. He is a suspect as well in several attacks in Leesburg, Va.

Abuelazam, who lived in the United States for several years as a child and reportedly was living legally in the United States on a green card obtained when he married a U.S. citizen, was arrested Aug. 1 in Atlanta after boarding a flight to Israel.

Nearly all of the attacks, which include at least a dozen non-fatal stabbings and five deaths, involved dark-skinned victims, either black or Latin American.

Defense lawyers reportedly are considering an insanity defense.