Filing Change of Address Counting the Minutes For Home of Jewish Life As Well as the Days Congress to oppose the Iran nuclear deal and backing away from a pledge to expand egalitarian prayer at the Kotel. That indictment does not take into account that a less Israel-centric, non-Orthodox Judaism was making inroads in the United States well before
From Where I Sit By Dave Schechter email@example.com
Netanyahu became prime minister. The word “diaspora” — from the Greek for “across” and “scatter” — is defined by the Oxford Dictionaries Online as “the dispersion or spread of any people from their original homeland.” Over two millennia, the word primarily described the dispersion of Jews from the historic land of Israel. Deuteronomy 28:25 carries this admonition of the penalty for defying the Almighty: “Adonai your G-d will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you will advance on them one way and flee before them seven. You will become an object of horror to every kingdom on Earth.” “Object of horror” here means being made an example to others. Eisner wrote that the “disequilibrium” over the authenticity of Jewish life inside and outside Israel poses “a challenge to those North American Jews who over the decades have substituted worship of a mythical Israel — what Donniel Hartman (president of the Shalom Hartman Institute) calls ‘the endangered fairy-tale land’ — for real engagement and commitment to our own Judaism at home.” I asked, and my brother the rabbi offered three suggestions to increase that engagement and commitment: Expand scholarships to make Jewish summer camp more affordable; grow a generation of non-Israeli Hebrew teachers for congregational Sunday schools; and attract unaffiliated and unattached Jews by embracing the “seeker-sensitive” approach employed by some evangelical churches. In the meantime, American Jews have every right to take offense at the notion that their home address makes them any less Jewish. Jewish life in America is different from Jewish life in Israel — but is of no less value because it is in America. ■
For those who observe the ritual of Sefirat HaOmer — counting the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot — as a period of semi-mourning and reflection, the opportunities for celebration can be quite limited. For day school teachers, this season entails another kind of countdown, from spring break to graduation. I’m counting the number of papers and tests in my “to be graded” folder, readying myself to begin writing report card narratives. Attempting to ward off the end-ofschool-year blues, I accept invitations to attend a few celebrations during Sefirat HaOmer and welcome the opportunity to spend time with a friend and Rabbis Without Borders colleague, Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder, at the AIB Network Allen Awards ceremony. Despite the traffic on Interstate 285, or because we account for it, we arrive early and enjoy visiting the gallery in the Southwest Arts Center and meeting board members and other guests at the reception. I notice someone I know I’ve met — I never forget a face — but I can’t place where or when, and before I can greet him, we are ushered into the auditorium. Rabbi Ruth is offering the invocation, so we are directed to sit in the VIP section, close to the stage. After the opening musical performance, welcome speeches and invocation, the nominees for the AIB Community Spirit Award are announced in a brief video. The instant Second Helpings Atlanta fills the screen, I realize that guest at the reception is none other than the agency’s executive director, Joe Labriola. It has been nearly a year since we met, and I’ve thought often about how I could help him recruit Weber students to work with this incredible organization. The video ends, and the winner is announced, and I see Joe making his way down the aisle to accept the
award. He speaks for a few moments about how much this recognition will help raise awareness in the community about Second Helpings’ mission to fight food waste and food insecurity. Their volunteers rescue surplus food from restaurants, grocery stores, cor-
From the ARA By Rabbi Pamela Jay Gottfried
porate dining halls and school cafeterias and deliver it to agencies that feed the hungry throughout metro Atlanta. Before he concludes his speech, Joe highlights their 90 Minute Model, which enables volunteers to make an impact in just 90 minutes a month. As we applaud and congratulate Second Helpings, I find myself invested in yet another counting this Sefirat HaOmer — not of weeks or days, but of minutes. Perhaps I should call it an accounting: 90 minutes is the equivalent of one class block plus five minutes before and five minutes after to travel between classes. As the introduction for the next award begins, I resolve to continue my search for 90 minutes in the coming month — once final exams are graded and report card narratives are written — to volunteer with Second Helpings Atlanta. The rest of the evening flies by; it is time well spent, recognizing the strength of our diverse, interfaith community. The 2018 John Houston Allen Awards ceremony will be broadcast the week of May 6 on AIB. Check with your television provider for times, or watch on the AIB website or on YouTube. ■ Rabbi Pamela Jay Gottfried is the dean of Jewish studies at the Weber School and a Rabbis Without Borders fellow.
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MAY 4 ▪ 2018
Do you consider Israel to be your Jewish “homeland”? Does living in the American “Diaspora” make you a less authentic Jew? I suggested in my last column that a significant percentage of American Jews may regard Israel “as a primarily Jewish country, but not one they consider their own.” Jane Eisner, the editor of the Forward, recently opined that “there remains an expectation that Israel is the central address for real Jews, and the rest of us live in the outer exurbs.” David Shneer, the director of Jewish studies at the University of Colorado, told Eisner, “Seeing the global Jewish community as multiple centers, with Israel as one center, better describes how Jews actually live.” Not everyone agrees. “No, we are not just a religion. We are a people, one nation scattered throughout the world. No, Washington is not our Jerusalem. Jerusalem is our Jerusalem. We only have one land that belongs to us and one ‘center’ of gravity — the Land of Israel. Everywhere else, we are guests,” reads an online retort to Eisner’s column. Daniel J. Elazar, the founder of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, wrote nearly 20 years ago that Jews active in communal life “like to proclaim ‘we are one’ and that ‘the mystic bonds of Jewish unity hold us all together.’ ” Those bonds may be fraying. “The ‘distancing’ discourse is gaining currency; today’s prevailing opinion, particularly in the Diaspora, is that Israel and Diaspora Jewry are growing farther apart. Surprisingly, this view is more common among older Jews than among younger Jews,” read a report issued in April by the Jewish People Policy Institute. Daniel Gordis is an AmericanIsraeli, a well-known author, and the Koret distinguished fellow and chair of the core curriculum at Shalem College in Jerusalem. A year ago he warned, “Increasingly, the orientation of many American Jews toward Israel is one neither of instinctive loyalty nor of pride but of indifference, embarrassment or hostility.” Politically liberal American Jews may point a finger at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose perceived sins include cozying up to President Donald Trump, addressing