Sometimes when I go to Jewish events that I know will include a question and answer session, I make a chart that looks like this:
# of times someone asks a question that is not actually a question ( __ )
# of times speaker is interrupted by someone in the audience ( __ )
# of rants by audience members ( ___ ) *
This chart has come in particularly handy at conferences, but can be applied on a holiday such as Shavuot, if you write. (It also makes an excellent drinking game.)
I spent Shavuot at the JCC in Manhattan, which, if you have not attended a tikkun there before, can be really overwhelming. It’s super crowded, especially in the areas with the cheesecake and water and coffee. The offerings are pretty diverse: yoga, films, art, speakers, and more traditional learning situations with chevrutah. I came because I was in the neighborhood, and also for the 10 pm session with Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson (RKE in this piece, for the sake of brevity here), director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, called “Women of the Wall, Pluralism in Israel, and American Jews.”
RKE began by asking the audience about the values that motivate their activism (“I just don’t want someone to say that my voice can’t be heard,” said one woman,) and also about the values that they felt Israel should embody, which were no surprise in a liberal Jewish crowd: equality, democracy, justice, respect, Judaism, co-existence, pluralism. “I am worried by what I see in the news,” said RKE, before giving a brief history of the actions of Women of the Wall, beginning in 1988, when the group gathered at the Kotel for the first time. In 1993, the group attempted to read Torah for the first time at the Wall, resulting in the arrest and detainment of group members. (The Torah reading happened, outside the jail near Jaffa Gate, while members of the group and allies waited for folks to be released.) ”There was a feeling of being vulnerable, and yet so strong,” said RKE. The events continued to escalate after 1993, and American Jewish support for WOW grew. RKE: “Seeing Jewish women being taken away by Israeli police in a Jewish state? How can it be?”
(Question from an audience member: ”Should Israel Jews be able to interfere in American politics the way American Jews are interfering in Israel’s? Why should that be allowed?”
Friend I brought with me, under her breath: ”I don’t know, trillions of dollars in military aid?”)
It’s the opinion of the American Jewish community that RKE feels led Netanyahu charge Natan Sharansky with creating a solution to the “problem” of Women of the Wall and their goal of creating equal gendered space. (RKE-Robinson’s Arch is not so physically accessible, and can seem “like you’re praying in an archae0logical dig.”) There’s some confusion, however, as to who makes the ultimate decision. It’s not Naftali Bennett, apparently, but RKE encouraged the audience to email him and write him letters. It’s probably not Netanyahu, either. “Liberal Jews have given up on the Kotel,” said RKE. “They’re saying, this is not our place, we don’t need to be involved. I’m not interested in restoring the sacrificial system, but I don’t want to give (the Kotel) up. It’s ours, too. We’re liberating the wall again.” Citing the May 10th prayer service, which was the first time that Women of the Wall were protected by the Israeli police, RKE said, “We’re watching the ground shift, we’re not going to go back.”
*Tally, in case you’re interested, from this session:
# of times someone asks a question that is not actually a question: 3
# of times speaker is interrupted by someone in the audience: 4
Rabbi Asher Loptatin, current spiritual leader of the modern Orthodox Congregation Anshe Sholom Bnai Israel in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, will assume leadership of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in Riverdale NY beginning in June 2013. Yeshivat Chovevei Torah was founded in 2004 as a liberal Orthodox alternative Rabbinic training school to Yeshiva University’s RIETS by Rabbis Avi Weiss (Riverdale Hebrew Institute), champion of the notion of “Open Orthodoxy.”
Many people with Chicago roots had a grandparent who attended this shul. Today it is a shambles, and following a public fight to save it this spring, the once magnificent synagogue where Martin Luther King Jr. later made a famous speech has been be torn down for good, another scar on the face of North Lawndale. Nobody cares, nobody can change it, we can only mourn it and the tragic history of the neighborhood that once was home to 175,000 Jews within a square mile on the west side of the city. And so, an eicha for North Lawndale and the Russische Shul, Anche Kenesses Israel:
Eicha for North Lawndale
The Russiche Shul looms large on Douglas, decades since it changed to a church.
The now falling ceiling covered three thousand souls who traversed the world to pray freely,
and those who once gathered to hear Reverend Dr. King preach on justice and and equality. More »
Indie Rocker and Jewish Day School Alumna Regina Spektor
As those of you who have been following this season’s America’s Got Talent and/or have read my previous post know, one of the most promising contenders in the show is a religious Jew who is a singer. Not only that, but he is an incoming freshman at the Jewish high school I attended. Curious if any ICJA alumni before have ever enjoyed success and fame as popular musicians, I did some searching but could not find anything. To my knowledge, the only music icon to have graduated from ICJA was Disturbed front man David Draiman (who first spent some time at the Wisconsin Institute of Torah Study, WITS, and Torah Valley High in California).
I then expanded my search to include alumni rockers from any major Jewish day school in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia. (Incidentally, this search revealed volumes about the institutional identities of the individual schools. While some schools mention Nobel Prize winners and Rhodes Scholars among their graduates, others mention only male ‘notable alumni,’ and some only rabbis, major Jewish community leaders, and mega-machers. And some even mention convicted murderers. I’m looking at you, Charles E Smith Jewish Day School.) Interestingly, the rock star Jew-school grads hail disproportionately from Orthodox day schools. Care to interpret?
Anyway, on to the challenge (answers after the ‘more,’ but no peeking!):
which of these famous musicians attended which of these Jewish Day Schools? Hint: two or more may have attended the same school
Lest there be any doubt in your minds, Skokie, IL is the bastion of cool these days. Jewschool’s very own Adam Davis just moved there, I grew up there, and…oh yeah, the likely winner of this season’s America’s Got Talent hails from there too.
AGT Contestant and Skokie native Edon Pinchot, 14
Singing sensation AGT finalist Edon Pinchot is 14 years old and about to start high school at Chicago’s Ida Crown Jewish Academy this coming fall. He and his family live just blocks from my parents (who are long-time friends of his grandparents), and his parents are pillars of the orthodox Jewish community there. I remember his mother, Laurie—an exquisitely refined, thoughtful woman, from the Skokie Women’s Tefilla Group which I regularly attended in my pre-adolescent years. The rest of the family are also substantial folks who excel at what they do. More »
Rabbi Andrew Sacks directs the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, the organization of Masorti/Conservative rabbis.
The office of the Chief Rabbinate is established in law. The need for such an office is altogether another question.
Only the State and four cities are obligated under law to have a Chief Rabbi. Since there is no agreement as to who should hold the position – we have two; one Ashkenazi and one Sefardi. Except in Tel Aviv where the city council refused to allocate funds for two rabbis – so they have one.
Jerusalem has gone years without a Chief Rabbi. There is lack of agreement as to whether at least one of Jerusalem’s Chief Rabbis must be a Zionist.
All told there are thousands of employees “working” for the rabbinate and for the Ministry of Religions. Hundreds of millions of shekels are allocated.
Last week, for the first time, a decision was rendered that will require regional councils to employee non-Orthodox rabbis. This is an historic breakthrough in a country which, while not employing all Orthodox rabbis, has employed only Orthodox rabbis. As many as fifteen such positions for non-Orthodox rabbis may be filled. More »
Introducing: The first-ever Orthodox LGBT Vacation Retreat in the Midwest
July 5th through 8th, 2012 at Ronora Lodge and Retreat Center, Watervliet, Michigan
Whether you are Orthodox, Traditional or just want to spend a relaxing Shabbat with others, this retreat is for you.
Retreat will include inspiring learning, spirited davening (prayer), delicious locally grown kosher food, and an Eshel Speaker and Leadership training. Retreat will take place in a beautiful, natural setting with lots of time in between for relaxation, beauty and summer fun, including trip to Warren Dunes. Stay tuned for more details! Have questions about the summer retreat? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
*Eshel builds understanding and support for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in traditional Jewish communities. www.eshelonline.org
This is a guest post by David Kelsey. David is a former baal teshuvah who left ultra-Orthodoxy after witnessing the dark side of Jewish fundamentalism. He is a proud fourth generation secular Jew who has written about the recruitment techniques of kiruv organizations and their Liberal backers on Jewschool before, especially NCSY and the Jewish Student Union (JSU).
The Washington Post has shamefully printed an advertorial for Aish HaTorah in DC without even marking it as such.
In September, Aish will launch a new Sunday School program for children ages 5-13, encouraging diversity, and imbuing the vibrancy, relevance and joy of Jewish life, regardless of background or affiliation.
In fact, despite Rabbi Buxbaum’s denunciation of “labels and sects,” Aish promotes a specific brand of black hat Judaism, which includes contempt not only for secular and Liberal Judaism, but even Modern Orthodoxy. More »
Louder Than a Bomb is Chicago’s High School Poetry competition, though that is not the spirit found among its participants. Founded by local poet, author and jew Kevin Coval, Louder Than a Bomb is something of a Chicago darling. WBEZ covers the finals event every year (Coval was a contributor to the station’s 848 program). Now in its 10th year, its is the subject of a new and inspiring documentary film getting rave reviews.
One of the previous winners, and a subject of the film, is one Adam Gottlieb, whose poem Maxwell Street surprised many with its thick references to his Jewish identity. Coval himself has explored his Jewishness in his work, and this year, another young poet, Tova Benjamin, emerged from the Orthodox stronghold of West Rogers Park. Her poem, Not an Envelope Opener, is getting a bit of notice for similar reasons. Benjamin has apparently strayed from the derech, but one hopes that means a deeper exploration of her faith and identity and not a departure from it. Indeed, I would like to hear more from her on the subject. Check her out below, or listen to this interview on WBEZ.
Over the past week, the Jewish paper of record (The New York Times) has reported a few times on the Shabbatroversy in Houston, TX.
Robert M. Beren Academy joined the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools for sports. Not surprisingly, TAPPS is dominated by Christian schools. It is Texas. When Beren joined, TAPPS told the school that there may be games during the playoffs on Shabbas. There were also no games to be held on Sunday, according to the by-laws.
But I don’t care. It also seems that Beren didn’t care either. Sure the kids were bummed but the school made a CHOICE to join TAPPS and the school is filled with religious Jews. They clearly are going to pick Shabbat over B-ball any day and that is how it should be. I am lost at the outrage from the liberal movements and the community at large.
Congrats to the kids being taught that in a secular world, they can sue to get what they want religiously. Good luck with that in the real world. But now that they can play, I hope the beat the pants off those anti-Semites.
This is a guest post by The Neo Nazir, a nomadic Jew who spends zes time worrying that the US might actually elect Santorum and that ze and everyone reading this post will be hurled into a den of wild, indigenous mountain lions, only to be devoured limb by limb.
Newsflash! Orthodox Judaism is not the bellwether of queerness. Given Orthodox Judaism’s official position on non-heterosexuality, one hardly expects Orthodox communities to offer a fully understanding dialogue on homosexual identity. But today, even the orthodox are realizing that they can no longer simply sweep LGBTQ issues under the rug.
Tonight in the Chicago area, a controversial event originally scheduled for early January, will be held at Congregation Or Torah, a large modern-Orthodox community in Skokie, IL. This event, sponsored by a number of major Chicago-area Orthodox synagogues and a local Chabad community, will attempt to broach the subject of homosexuality in the Orthodox community, featuring two out-of-town speakers, described by the event’s promotional blurb as “two of the world’s leading authorities on the Torah’s perspective on homosexuality,” Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel and Rabbi Chaim Rapoport. More »
I could probably just about build a raft and sail around the world with all the books advocating for Jewish Social Justice that have come out in the last couple of years. Several of them are very good. I particularly like Rabbi Jill Jacobs’ first book, which is both thorough and excellent.
But I want to recommend a book that’s a little bit different.
Rabbi Shmuly Yankelowitz, the founder of the Orthodox social justice movement Uri L’Tzedek, has just come out with a book very simply titled Jewish Ethics and Social Justice (Derusha Publishing). Unlike most of the the other books in this burgeoning genre, Rabbi Y’s book is a collection of essays previously published in newspapers journals and blogs. This is both a strength and a weakness, which I will touch on later. More »
I read with great interest your op-ed “Lechery, Modesty, and the Talmud” in the New York Times last week. I commend you for taking such a strong stand on this important issue, especially in the wake of continued violence against women in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. However, I think there is a structural flaw at the core of your argument that I would like you to address. (continues here)
This is a guest post by Lillian Cohen-Moore, a freelance writer, editor and stage manager who calls the West Coast home. She often tours and travels to cover assignments; she lives out of a suitcase and on twitter.
Earlier this month in Beit Shemesh, Israel, a group of women did something unthinkable to their critics: they danced.
The population in Beit Shemesh ranges from ultra-Orthodox Jews to socially active long-time residents, as well as recent waves of English speaking immigrants. As Beit Shemesh and Israel at large undergo social change, much of it religious and class based, the clashes between segments of the population happen more often, with an often vociferous intensity from the ultra-Orthodox. As members of many Orthodox families begin university and military service, the extremists in the community lash out, believing their peers should stay as removed from larger society as possible. In this current social climate, women across Israel have been subject to escalating harassment by these members of the ultra-Orthodox. Media outside of Israel began to sit up and take closer notice of the harassment of women in Israel after Naama Margolese, an eight year old resident of Beit Shemesh, was spat upon and had rocks thrown at her by ultra-Orthodox men. Parents escorting their daughters to the same school are subject to similar harassment, being told by grown men that their daughters are ‘whorish’ because their school uniforms are not modest enough.
Women like Brenda Ganot, who works at Partnership 2Gether of the Jewish Agency for Beit Shemesh, and Miri Shalem, director of the Ramat Beit Shemesh community center, wanted to respond to the harassment going on in their community. The negative coverage of the city, which has included media attention on the ultra-Orthodox push for segregated bussing, got to both women. Ganot describes Beit Shemesh possessing a large moderate community with a deep engagement in charity and community events, a community that has been eclipsed in the eye of many media outlets while they cover the actions of the ultra-Orthodox community. More »
The article does note that the phase seems to end when many teens return from gap year in Israel when they frum out. I guess between episodes of getting blotto and into trouble, they wander into the wrong neighborhood on Shabbos, texting blithely away and get violently assault. Welcome to Mea Shearim… Frum satire also fisks…
As we’ve posted before, R. Art Green and R. Danny Landes have been having quite an intense back-and-forth debate about theology and other things over the last few months.
To recap: Last year, R. Art Green published a book, and R. Daniel Landes wrote a critical review of it in the Jewish Review of books. Green then responded to the review, and Landes responded to the response (on the same link). Green’s next response appeared here in Jewschool, and Landes responded on his own blog.
This is rumored to be the last installment, by Green:
I think we are still far from understanding each other. You just don’t get me. Identifying me with Mordecai Kaplan and Richard Rubenstein is way off the mark in terms of how I see myself or self-identify, whom I read, or my relationship with either God or tradition. Kaplan was never an influence on me; I came to JTS the year after he retired and never had the privilege of studying with him. I read Heschel’s God in Search of Man for the first time when I was fifteen, and fell in love. I tried Kaplan a bit later, but found him dry and boring, too prosaic, too American and pragmatist, not the soaring spirit I needed. I did indeed try to align my neo-Heschelian mysticism with aspects of Kaplan’s legacy during my RRC years. That attempt did not succeed very well; just ask the Kaplanians. Yes, of course I share some concerns with Kaplan and greatly respect his honesty in raising them, but our framework for responding to them is quite different. We both want to respond out of the most contemporary and profound understanding of religion. But for him that is the rationalism of Dewey and Durkheim. For me it is the phenomenology and post-critical religiosity of Otto, Eliade, and Peter Berger.
Along with most of the intellectually-oriented JTS students at the time, I was excited when Rubenstein published After Auschwitz in 1966. He had dared to say what many of us were thinking. But I soon realized that his net result was the demise of traditional Judaism, reducing it to nothing more than a psychological tool. My move toward a neo-Hasidic reading of tradition was precisely a response to Rubenstein, not an alliance with him. I needed a Judaism that expressed a spiritual truth, not just religion serving as a crutch with which to get through this absurd life.
It took me many years to say out loud that I am a mystic. In Jewish circles it sounds a bit like proclaiming oneself a tsaddik, which is the farthest thing from my mind. But it is true that as a thinker and as a religious personality, it is only the mystical tradition that has saved Judaism for me. Scholem quotes R. Pinhas of Korzec as thanking God that He created him after the Zohar was revealed, “because the Zohar kept me a Jew.” That is true for me too, regarding both the Zohar and the teachings of the Hasidic masters themselves.
I would love to be able to explain this to you, but find it subtle and difficult. More »
Let’s legislate non-orthodoxy out of existence. OTOH I’d like to see what the law actually says. Maybe we could add a friendly amendment that since there are no streams of Judaism, therefore the Orthodox have no right to maintain their hegemony, because the Reform and Masorti are not (now, according to this new bill) streams, but exactly as legit as orthodoxy, since it would now all be “just Judaism”? FTW, right? Or we could counter-propose a bill that there is no such thing as Orthodoxy, and the true heir of Jewish practice is [name your favorite non-Orthodox movement].
Or maybe we could get the government out of the religion business, stop allowing the nuttiest of the nuts to determine who is a Jew, while simultaneously preventing people with good intent from converting (contrary to Jewish law, despite the fact that they keep claiming they’re the true inheritors, just like lots of other odd things they do, such as (my fave) prevent Jewish weddings unless their roster of rabbis is involved, despite the fact that one needs no rabbis at all halachicly speaking).
Hey, maybe we should just do that anyway.
Gene Simmons of KISS on Israel. It’s kinda weird, but I love it when Simmons/Witz tells Israelis to toughen up because Americans criticize everyone. So much for the tough-on-the-outside sabra? Maybe the real reason we don’t have peace in the middle east yet is because despite all the machismo of the Israeli image, Israelis aren’t really all that tough? Or maybe even because they are trying to live up to the image that American Jews on the right desperately want them to be? (Hey does that mean we can blame the occupation on all those kids who beat up Jewish kids in elementary school?)