Volume 11, Number 4 April 2021
Serving the Local New Orleans, Northshore, and Baton Rouge Jewish Communities
USA ‘One Year Has Passed, Yes,
But It’s Still Hurting’: 9 Jews On Their Pandemic Years. By JTA Staff
An Italian Bar Mitzvah Celebrated One Year Later
Clockwise from top left: Gen Slosberg and Jenni Rudolph (Courtesy of Lunar); kindergarteners at the Moriah School in Englewood, N.J. (Courtesy of the Moriah School); Ruben Golran at his bar mitzvah (Courtesy of the Golran family); Sofi Hersher and her boyfriend (DeAjah DeLee); Andrea Kopel volunteers at NCJW's New York food pantry (Courtesy of NCJW-NY); Eliana Light poses (Ori Salzberg)
(JTA) — One year ago, Carol Ackerman’s father was still alive. Andrea Kopel was trying to figure out how to run a food pantry without volunteers. Sasha Kopp hadn’t yet given up on the city she loved. They knew that the pandemic had changed the world in major, wrenching ways. But the impact of COVID-19 on their own lives still had yet to become clear. Earlier this month, when America passed its pandemic anniversary, many reflected on the moments when everything changed. Now, with an end to the crisis coming into view, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency spoke to nine Jews whose lives have been reshaped by the pandemic. Their stories offer a window into the grief, loss, surprise and, yes, joy that has unfolded over the last year — and an outline of some of the dynamics the Jewish world will have to grapple with on its journey toward a new normal.
Because of bans on large gatherings, Ruben Golran, an Italian Jewish kid celebrating his bar mitzvah, had to limit the February 2020 ceremony to close relatives. (Courtesy of the Golran family)
Ruben Golran’s 600-person bar mitzvah celebration was scrapped amid Italy’s early surge in February 2020. One year later, he chanted his Torah portion before 200 masked and distanced community members. His father, Elia Golran: Schools were closed and everything went on Zoom — and the shul and our community. But slowly, slowly, from May until after the [High] Holidays, the situation in Italy was pretty good. A Devastating Loss Reshapes a Family in New York
Stanley Teich, back row, left, seen here at a grandchild’s bat mitzvah, died of COVID-19 in April 2020, an early casualty of the pandemic in the United States. (Courtesy of Carol Ackerman)
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Stanley Teich was looking forward to taking his family to Israel for Passover to celebrate his birthday. Instead, he was battling COVID19 in the hospital when he turned 80. His daughter, Carol Ackerman: We had already booked out all of the travel and the excursions and the highlights we wanted to see. But he decided that it was safer and more prudent to cancel, and we promised we would go in 2021. A Rabbi Who Shut Down Early is Back in Action
Kindergartners at the Moriah School in Englewood, N.J., one of seven Bergen County schools to urge families to abide by school guidelines outside of school in September 2020. (Courtesy of the Moriah School)
When the Orthodox rabbis of Bergen County, New Jersey, decid-
ed on March 11, 2020, to end all in-personal Jewish life under their supervision, their choice was unprecedented — but only for a few days. Rabbi Kenny Schiowitz: Until we shut down, we were looking to guidance from the CDC, the Department of Health. And then suddenly in one day we became the ones writing the rules. Missing the Hugs of the Hungry and the Elderly
Andrea Kopel, center, the director of NCJW-New York, joins a volunteer in preparing a food delivery at NCJW’s food pantry in New York on March 15, 2021 (Courtesy NCJW-NY)
The pandemic renewed attention to hunger as a national crisis. On the Upper West Side of Manhattan, See ONE YEAR on Page
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ONE YEAR Continued from Page 2 Andrea Kopel had to figure out how to keep a weekly food pantry going, stripped of its regular volunteers and routines. Kopel: We have really prided ourselves on really creating a warm and welcoming and dignified experience for our hunger program. This does not feel like that at all. Read more about how the National Council of Jewish Women’s food pantry adjusted, who has taken the elderly volunteers’ place and what the mood on the street is as more people are vaccinated. A College Senior Year ‘Dissipated’ — With a New Jewish Community Taking Its Place Gen Slosberg’s in-person classes at the University of California, Berkeley, stopped on short notice in March. She never had another one — or another all-nighter at the library, or boba tea with friends, or any of the other activities that struc-
matter of days in March 2020. But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been bringing her brand of Jewish children’s music to new audiences this year.
Gen Slosberg, left, and Jenni Rudolph founded Lunar: The Jewish-Asian Film Project during the pandemic. (Courtesy of Lunar)
tured her life as an American college student. Slosberg: Not only did I lose the mundane things that made in person life great, I lost friends and community members. People of my background were lost to hate. We talk about adapting, shifting, changing… I never quite got to process my loss. A Jewish Musician’s New ‘Hybrid’ Lifestyle Could Last A Lifetime Like all arts and education gig workers in the Jewish world, Eliana Light saw her carefully planned travel schedule disintegrate in a
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In college, Sasha Kopp spent time studying in Copenhagen, where many children attend “forest preschools” that are largely outdoors. That experience came in handy over the last year in her work with the Jewish Education Project. Kopp: Our teachers hadn’t had experiences of being outside with kids two to five hours a day. Accelerating Love And Work
Eliana Light is one of several young Jewish musicians and spiritual leaders moving their work online. (Ori Salzberg)
Light: We’ve been able to collaborate and work with each other way more than we would have in a regular world, given that we live across the country from each other. Read more about Light’s pivot to Zoom, the projects that have sustained her most and her vision for a post-pandemic Jewish arts ecosystem. A Museum Chief Takes A 99% Pay Cut — And Sees “Visitors” Skyrocket
Sofi Hersher and Nate Andorsky pose during a visit to introduce Andorsky to Hersher’s grandmother, with COVID precautions in place, in Syracuse, N.Y., Sept. 21, 2020. (DeAjah DeLee)
With so many nonprofits in distress because of the pandemic, Sofi Hersher’s new communication consultancy had brisk business. The Washington, D.C., executive hired many staff members who were then shaken by seeing the Jan. 6 insurrection play out in their backyard. Hersher: I had to talk them through that. No one has the emotional resilience that they used to have.
A view of the front of the Tenement Museum. (Wikimedia Commons)
When the Tenement Museum had to close in March, outgoing president Morris Vogel slashed his own salary to just $25 a month. A year later, he’s no longer in charge, but he says the museum’s mission explains its success in drawing visitors online. Vogel: People come to us to find a deeper and richer version of the American story, a story of perseverance and aspiration.
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Sasha Kopp, who trains Jewish early childhood teachers, took up dog walking in Manhattan to fill time during the pandemic. Here she poses at Carl Schurz Park in New York City on July 16, 2020. (Carl Vitullo)
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Services by Golf Cart and Antique Car Menorah Parades: The Jews Who Call Florida’s Massive Retirement Community The Villages Home By Caleb A. Guedes-Reed
She had been captivated by the free concerts, huge crowds in the streets, and endless restaurants and storefronts at Lake Sumter Landing, a waterside mall that caters excluRabbi Zev Sonnenstein stands in the sanctuary of Temple Shalom of Central Florida, a Reform congregation just outside The Villages that welcomes around 200 congregants for Shabbat. (Caleb Reed/JTA)
Sumter County, Fla. (JTA) — When Ellen Faulkner told her friends that she was moving to The Villages, the sprawling senior community in Central Florida, they cautioned her: There was no Jewish life there. Faulkner hadn’t noticed that during her visit, which was made at the urging of a high school classmate who told her rapturously about what it was like to live in the 55-plus community that’s home to 125,000 self-described “Villagers.”
Ellen Faulkner started the social group Amazing Jewish Women of The Villages for the growing number of Jewish women in the Central Florida senior living community. They met in a social hall in The Villages prior to COVID-19. (Caleb Reed/JTA)
sively to residents. After returning home to Broward County, in South Florida, she and her husband immediately put their home on the market. It sold in a day. They were all set to begin their new life at The Villages, where as depicted in surreal fashion in the
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recent documentary “Some Kind of Heaven,” residents can play golf at one of 12 nearby championship courses, attend medical appointments and lunch dates by golf cart, and listen to live music each night in the many public squares. In making the move north, Faulkner and her husband were indeed leaving an epicenter of Jewish life in the United States — one where massive retirement complexes such as Century Village and Wynmoor have been home to countless Jewish grandparents — to an area without much of a Jewish identity. But five years later, they are steeped in an emerging Jewish landscape at The Villages, where Faulkner coordinates Amazing Jewish Women of The Villages, one of nearly 3,000 social groups available to residents. “We have a network now,” Faulkner said. “We all feel connected because we have Jewish friends.” The explosion of Jewish life at The Villages has gone under the radar in recent years as the community has drawn more attention for its staunch support for former President Donald Trump. Residents voted for Trump, who visited the community twice during his presidency, by a 2-to-1 margin in both 2016 and 2020. Trump even joked about moving there after drawing criticism for retweeting a video filmed at the community in which one of his supporters shouted “White Power.” But for Jewish residents — and the friends they hope to recruit to become neighbors — the changes are impossible to miss. The community now has two full-time rabbis, one at a Reform synagogue and another with Chabad. The area’s first-ever Jewish federation opened in July. Rabbi Yoshi Hecht picked up and moved the Chabad center he founded in neighboring Ocala, a city of just under 60,000, after recognizing the population growth taking place at The Villages. Now the rabbi of the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Center of Ocala and The Villages, Hecht estimates the local Jewish population to be between 3,000 and 6,000
— and said he gets calls daily from Jews considering a move. Hecht’s Chabad offers a minyan every Shabbat and encourages the community to celebrate the holidays together. Before COVID, the residents held a Hanukkah party with 120 people in attendance. Now that COVID has restricted the offerings, the rabbi has made adjustments. During the pandemic, volunteers have taken chicken soup and challah to their neighbors on Shabbat, and Hecht holds regular classes on Zoom. During Hanukkah, the community organized an
A road leading from The Villages to Temple Shalom of Central Florida in Oxford is known as the Temple Trail and is accessible only by golf cart. (Caleb Reed/JTA)
antique car menorah parade. “We try to do things that feed into their Villager and Jewish spirit,” Hecht said. Regan Johnson, a retired state government worker from East Lansing, Michigan, moved to The Villages at the end of 2014. “I picked The Villages because it had many golf courses for my husband, [and] it had many musical opportunities for me,” Johnson said. Before moving, Johnson visited to find out what Jewish life was like. “One of my concerns of coming to Central Florida was that there might not be a Jewish population at all,” she said. Back in East Lansing, Johnson was highly involved in a close-knit Jewish community bolstered by Michigan State University. “I sang in the choir, tutored kids for bar and bat mitzvahs, and organized the congregational seders,” she said. “I was active in every way.” To her surprise, the Jewish population in The Villages was even See PARADES on Page THE
PARADES Continued from Page 4 more vibrant than it was in East Lansing. To find some new Jewish friends, Johnson scoured the list of the thousands of social clubs at The Villages. She went through the club listings and saw interesting names that caught her attention, like the Borscht Belt and The Kibitzers Jewish social clubs, and more learning-focused groups like Chavurah. The first activity she attended was a sold-out holiday gala organized by the Borscht Belt. “There must have been over 300 people there,” she said, adding, “And there was dancing, and food and entertainment. It was a big deal.” In a pre-COVID world, Johnson attended challah and hamantaschenbaking nights, Purim spiels, women’s seders and Hanukkah candlelighting events, though much of this has gone virtual over the past year. “It’s really comforting,” she said. “These are my people.” Temple Shalom of Central Florida, The Villages-adjacent Reform synagogue, started 20 years ago as a Villages social club called The Jewish Friends. Members met in a local church before they had their own building. Temple Shalom now has 565 members, many of whom access the congregation by golf cart via an entrance to the property from the second hole of one of the championship golf courses. It’s called Temple Trail. The synagogue was lay-led for 18 years until three years ago, when it hired Rabbi Zev Sonnenstein, a native of Monsey, New York. Before he took the job, there were no kids in the congregation. Now, due in part to the area’s rapid growth and need for workers to service the community, Sonnenstein has three bar mitzvahs on the calendar. NonVillagers currently make up nearly 20% of the rising congregation. “I’ve seen the Jewish population growing,” he said. “The population here is really starting to make an impact.” On a normal, pre-COVID Shabbat evening, the temple sanctuary draws crowds of 150-200 worshippers. (Sonnenstein had a rocky arrival to The Villages, when he was arrested for a DUI in 2019 and lost his driver’s license, but he’s been a reassuring presence for his congregation in the Zoom era.) Susan Feinberg, a longtime THE
member and the temple’s marketing director, is originally from Baltimore but moved to The Villages nine years ago. “Central Florida is famous for a lot of things most Jewish people don’t like to hear about,” she said, alluding to the region’s conservative politics. “But we have a fairly big Jewish population.” Feinberg mentioned the abundance of Jewish social groups, but also pointed to how The Villages tries to make its Jews feel welcome. “During Hanukkah, there are menorahs and candlelightings on all the public squares,” she said, adding, “They even put menorahs up in every recreation center and light the candles each of the eight nights. There’s an awareness here about Jewish life.” The annual Tri-County Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance program, for example, draws crowds of over 1,500 people, both Jewish and nonJewish. The growing Jewish community in and around The Villages is still tiny compared to the Jewish population in South Florida, where half a million Jews live, many in massive retirement complexes such as Century Village and Wynmoor. And there are signs that the area isn’t overrun by Jewish seniors: The community’s website advertises the presence of eight churches, noting just one synagogue. Sprinkled among the smiling billboards that line the flat highway leading to The Villages — “America’s Friendliest Hometown,” “Where Friends Are Like Family,” “Where Life Is An Adventure” — are ads for airboat tours, live baby gators and an X-Mart Adult Supercenter that’s open 24/7. And some aspects of Jewish life can be challenging: For example, there’s no local kosher grocery store. “We’re just an hour from Orlando, which is helpful because there’s more available there,” said Hecht, who noted that some of the local grocery stores do carry kosher products and his organization makes kosher meat available for purchase. But for people like Faulkner, it’s the neighbors, not the availability of kosher meat, that makes a robust Jewish community. By 2017, two years into living at The Villages, she had made five Jewish girlfriends. And after they posted a picture of a group dinner on Facebook, they were overwhelmed with
messages from other Jewish women in The Villages wondering why they hadn’t been invited. “After that, I said, ‘That’s it, no one is going to feel left out,’” Faulkner said. “I know what it’s like to feel left out.” That night, the group Amazing Jewish Women of The Villages was born. “I realized there was a need,” Faulkner said. The group set up a Facebook page — it now has more than 500 members — and invited anyone who wanted to be involved. In the beginning they met in local restaurants. But the group kept growing. “At some point, we couldn’t do that anymore because the restaurants just couldn’t handle 60 to 70 Jewish women,” Faulkner said. So they decided to become one
of the 2,800 official resident lifestyle social clubs — alongside other popular groups like Vintage Sewing, Line Dance for Exercise and Model Railroad Club. This way, they could use the recreation centers for their gatherings. Before COVID, the group’s monthly events, which feature entertainment, educational speakers and cultural-religious programming, had to be capped at 125 participants. Over the past year, attendance for Zoom events was disappointing, but Faulkner said that with most members having been vaccinated, they are starting to think about reconvening. “We can’t wait to go back in person when it’s safe to do so,” she said, adding that “Because we have these groups, I feel comfortable living here and being Jewish here.”
A Year Into the Pandemic, Conservative Jews Consider Whether to Make Zoom Prayer Permanent By Ben Harris
Rabbi Rachel Ain, center, leads the New York-based Sutton Place Synagogue congregation in a Zoom service. (Screenshot)
(JTA) — On the first weekend of the coronavirus lockdowns in New York City in March 2020, Rabbi Rachel Ain decided that her Conservative synagogue would conduct Shabbat services online over Zoom, the videoconferencing platform then still largely confined to the business world but soon to become a household word. Doing so technically violated a 2001 decision by the Conservative movement’s Jewish law authority, which had voted by overwhelming majority to bar the convening of an online prayer quorum, or minyan. But Ain didn’t see an alternative. “I was ahead of them,” said Ain,
who leads the Sutton Place Synagogue in New York City. “I made the decision for my community based on how I understood what my community needed at that moment.” Days later, the heads of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards would officially sanction Ain’s choice, allowing rabbis to temporarily ignore the 2001 ruling for the duration of the pandemic. Separately they issued an opinion, or teshuvah, permitting the limited use of Zoom on Shabbat, when use of electronic devices is severely circumscribed. Those rulings, like many others issued across the Jewish world during the frightening early days of the pandemic, explicitly invoked sha’at had’chak — literally “a time of pressure,” a principle in Jewish law that permits a certain relaxation of customary rules in times of emergency. Now the law committee is preparing to formally consider whether the allowance for a Zoom
minyan should outlive the pandemic. At the Conservative movement’s rabbinical association conference in February, dozens of rabbis participated in a study group intended to guide the law committee in its consideration of the Zoom question. Looming over the deliberations was the legacy of another decision made by the Conservative movement in response to what once was perceived as an inexorable shift in Jewish communal life that had to be accommodated or risk the movement’s irrelevance: the great Jewish exodus to the suburbs. Recognizing that large numbers of Jews who had left the city in the postwar period no longer lived within walking distance of a synagogue, the movement in the 1950s made a landmark decision to permit congregants to drive to synagogue on Shabbat — but nowhere else. The change led to the thriving of large suburban Conservative congregations in the middle decades of the 20th century, but it continues to
be rued in some circles for having undermined the commitment to strict Shabbat observance. “We are writing a new driving teshuvah,” said Rabbi Avram Reisner, a longtime law committee member widely seen as the body’s foremost traditionalist, referring to the choice to permit Zoom streaming on Shabbat. Reisner loathes the driving decision for the same reasons he fears where the committee is moving on the Zoom question. In the view of many traditionalists in the movement, what was supposed to be a limited decision to accommodate families unable to walk to synagogue on Shabbat came to be seen as a broader license to drive, effectively eroding broad respect for Shabbat observance. Reisner thinks the movement is about to make the same mistake again. “Sociologically, as soon as you See ZOOM PRAYER on Page
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ZOOM PRAYER Continued from Page 6 permit television and computers into your Shabbat, Shabbat is gone. It’s out the window. You’ve changed the tenor of observing Shabbat,” said Reisner, who retired from his Baltimore pulpit in 2015. Like the driving decision, streaming has opened religious participation to those for whom it would otherwise have been impossible. Some synagogues have added daily prayer services during the pandemic, since the streaming technology has enabled greater participation. Many report that more people are logging in for services online than ever showed up in person. That has been the case at Beth El Synagogue Center in New Rochelle, New York, where Friday night services via Zoom — streamed prior to the onset of Shabbat — attracts 100 worshippers every week. Before the pandemic, 15 would typically show up in person. Yet Rabbi David Schuck has refrained from permitting interactive services on Shabbat or counting a prayer quorum for mourners online on other days, though the synagogue has been holding inperson services three times a day since July. In fact, he wrote a dissent in March 2020 to the Conservative movement’s emergency ruling allowing those practices. Allowing online services on Shabbat “will create a new norm in communal prayer which will, in the long run, weaken communal bonds, lower the commitments that we can expect from people to show up for one another, and diminish the sanctity of Shabbat,” Schuck wrote. Schuck acutely understood the consequences of that choice. New Rochelle was at the epicenter of one of the earliest coronavirus outbreaks in the United States, and his synagogue was inside the containment zone established by state authorities in March 2020 in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. Many members died in those first weeks. “I think we had way over 20 funerals,” Schuck said. “And I was doing funerals of couples, like one person and then a week later their spouse. I mean, it was traumatic.” The rabbi was under significant pressure to enable his congregants to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, one of Judaism’s most emotionally resonant prayers, over Zoom. He also had a personal stake in the issue: His own father had died the THE
previous November, and he was reciting the prayer for him daily when the pandemic struck. But wary of the long-term effects of an emergency ruling, Schuck instead crafted an alternate ritual. He began teaching online each day a short passage from the Mishnah, the second-century code of Jewish law that, because its Hebrew letters are the same as the Hebrew for soul, is traditionally also understood as a way to elevate the spirit of the departed. He also began reciting a prayer composed by an Israeli rabbi as an alternative to the Mourner’s Kaddish. Not everyone in his synagogue was pleased with the choice, he recalled. “I understood their disappointment in my decision,” Schuck said. “But largely there wasn’t a rebellion here. And I would say we were very effective, if not more effective than ever before, in meeting the religious and emotional needs of people who had to say Kaddish.” Ain, too, adapted in-person practices for the pandemic era — but reached a different conclusion about whether to permit a prayer quorum. “What we did on daily minyan and Shabbat for months was not a carbon copy of what would have been experienced live in person altogether because I wanted to make that emotional, pastoral, religious distinction between what was and what wasn’t,” she said. “But we did count a minyan, no matter what.” As the law committee prepares to consider the Zoom question, the potential consequences of a longterm allowance for Zoom services is weighing heavily even on those who have championed the technology. Rabbi Josh Heller, who wrote the paper permitting Zoom use on Shabbat, and even negotiated with the company to implement changes to the software that would mitigate the potential for violating Jewish law, said both the suburban exodus and the long-term impact of the pandemic represent epochal shifts in Jewish life. How the Conservative movement responds, he said, will echo for decades to come. “I lose a lot of sleep over this,” Heller said. “I really feel like in some ways the Conservative movement defines the mainstream of American Jewry and is really the glue that holds together a right and a left that keep on wanting to head
off in different directions. And to that extent, where we go does provide a great amount of steering for the American Jewish community as a whole.” Relieved of the pressure to make a quick choice about how to respond to a rapidly unfolding public health crisis, Ain is moving more deliberately in considering how to structure services in a post-pandemic world and says she will take into account whatever guidance the law committee ultimately provides. But her synagogue expects to continue the use of Zoom in some capacity, including possibly offering participation in the service to those who are physically remote. “What we’ve learned is that if people are home and watching and trying to engage, they want to have a meaningful experience as well,”
Ain said. “And they are not coming because they don’t like shul, they’re not coming because something’s holding them back. And so, we want to give them a meaningful experience at home. And so, we’re exploring what technologies we need for that.” Ain said three times as many people are attending services now than before the pandemic. Attendance on Friday night has jumped from about 35 to 70 each week, she said, and as many as four times as many people attend weekday services. “It has not given them an excuse out, it has given them a way to opt into religious life,” Ain said. “And that has been a profound change, that we have reached people that we didn’t even know we could reach.”
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understanding by, for example, showing that the name of God was written in Hebrew even as the text was largely in Greek. Part of the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets scroll, written in Greek. (Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)
Portrait of a male lion basking in the sun on a rocky outcrop in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. (Wikimedia Commons)
(JTA) — The Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem is clarifying its feeding protocols after families watched a lion devouring a bunny. Video of the incident, which was shared on Twitter by Israeli TV journalist Yossi Eli, shows the lion eating a white rabbit. The voices of onlooking parents and children wondering aloud about the meal can be heard in the background. The Biblical Zoo features animals alive during the time of the Bible, as well as other species. “The Biblical Zoo turned into National Geographic in the middle of the day,” tweeted Eli, Jerusalem correspondent for Israeli Channel 13. “The kids at the zoo were astonished to see how a lion devoured rabbits in the middle of the day. … Parents were shocked.” The zoo released a statement explaining that the lions are usually fed dead animals behind closed doors but that, in this case, the lion dragged its food out into public view.
“The Asian lions in the zoo, which are a species in danger of extinction, are part of a worldwide lion conservation program,” the zoo’s statement said, according to Eli. “The lions in the zoo are fed prey that is no longer alive, which the zoo receives from an animal food provider. Due to sensitivity, the lions receive their food behind the scenes. In this case, the lion dragged its prey into the exhibition area.” Several Israeli Twitter users pointed out that it isn’t exactly a shock that lions eat meat. Some connected the incident to a classic Hebrew children’s book, “The Lion Who Loved Strawberries,” by Tirza Atar, which is about a lion who thinks he likes strawberries but (spoiler alert) has never actually tasted them and in fact finds them disgusting once he does. “It would have been a great crossover if the bunny were named ‘Strawberry,'” one user wrote.
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The moment when the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets scroll was discovered in Muraba‘at Cave. (Highlight Films, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)
(JTA) — Digging for ancient relics, Israeli archaeologists uncovered a fragment of a scroll with a message seemingly designed for today: “Speak the truth to one another … And do not contrive evil against one another.” That commandment from God is inscribed on a fragment found in a dig organized by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Judean Desert. On Tuesday, the authority announced that the dig, which has been underway since 2017, has turned up a trove of artifacts, including the biblical fragments — the first Dead Sea Scrolls unearthed in 60 years — and an intact basket produced more than 10,000 years ago. Archaeologists have been exploring the Judean Desert’s caves since 1947, when a shepherd famously happened upon a set of secondcentury biblical fragments that became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. That discovery and others over the subsequent 15 years gave scholars a new understanding of how Jewish life and texts evolved over time. The newly discovered fragments, from Zechariah in the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets, add to that
Part of the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets scroll, written in Greek. (Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)
The relics were found in what is known as the “Cave of Horror,” a cave in the West Bank desert that can be accessed only by rappelling down a sheer rock face. Inside the cave, according to the announcement, were coins left behind by Jewish rebels who sought refuge there after the Bar Kochba Revolt, a failed insurgency against Roman rule nearly 2,000 years ago. The archaeologists also found the crude burial site for a child who appears to have died about 6,000 years ago. And in another cave, students who joined the dig found an intact basket that was determined to be more than 10,000 years old. “It is very exciting to see these finds and expose them to the public, finds which shed great light on our history,” Avi Cohen, the CEO of Israel’s Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, said in a statement. “These finds are not just important to our own cultural heritage, but to that of the entire world.”
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What Do Evangelicals Want With Israel? A New Documentary Goes Looking for Answers. By Andrew Lapin
A church in Middlesboro, Kentucky, prays to a Star of David in a still from Maya Zinshtein's documentary "'Til Kingdom Come." (Abraham Troen/'Til Kingdom Come (2019) Film Ltd.)
(JTA) — Evangelical Christians are among the biggest sources of outside money flowing into Israel today, in many cases outpacing support from American Jewish groups. And while the Israeli government welcomes such support, some critics insist their intentions in the region are murky and rooted in a fundamentalist biblical theology that demands conflict in the Holy Land and the eventual conversion of Jews to Christianity. Russian-Israeli documentary filmmaker Maya Zinshtein explores the relationship between evangelicals and Israel — and especially their growing support for the Israeli settler movement — in her new film “‘Til Kingdom Come,” now available for digital viewing through virtual cinema platforms. And while she is a critic of what she calls the evangelicals’ “clear right-wing agenda,” she acknowledges that their support of Israel is complicated. “There are so many levels that this relationship can be explored: on a faith level, on a political level, on a personal level just with your neighbors,” she said. “And it’s complicated. It’s never black and white.” The documentary follows various characters in the evangelicalIsrael relationship, including a pastor in Bell County, Kentucky, where more than 30% of residents live in poverty, who implores his congregation to send thousands of dollars to Israel based on the biblical promise that God will bless those who bless the Jews (Genesis 12:1-3); Yael Eckstein, CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and THE
Jews, who spearheads many interfaith charity projects in the region; and members of the Israeli settler movement who align with evangelicals to push U.S. policy in their favor. Zinshtein is no stranger to exploring controversial elements of Israeli society: Her 2016 film “Forever Pure” examined the racist fan base of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team. Along with her producing partner, Abie Troen, an Israeli American, Zinshtein spoke to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about the meaning of “support,” what Jews get out of the relationship and the film’s reaction among American Jews. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. JTA: What do we mean when we talk about American evangelical “support” for Israel? How have you defined the term in this film? Zinshtein: It’s a great question. And I think the answer for that lies in the word “support.” Because people, I think, usually would consider the word “support” as something objective. But it’s actually a very subjective term. Forty years ago, this bond was a dirty secret. Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein [the late founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and Yael’s father] was expelled from his synagogue for working with Christians. Today it’s a huge transformation. Today it’s really colored as something that you cannot argue with because only if you’re against Israel will you turn down “support” for Israel. But I do think you really need to look into this relationship because many of the things these communities are
pushing for are considered by many Israelis as the opposite of support. I’ll give you one example. When [the American Christian organization] Christians United for Israel [visits Washington] in the film, you see 5,000 evangelicals teach what they should say to their representatives in Capitol Hill, and ask them basically to push then-President Trump to cut aid to the Palestinians. In that moment, as an Israeli, I’m standing there listening to that and knowing that the security community of the State of Israel is extremely against cutting the aid because the security community of the State of Israel knows what it means to have a humanitarian crisis on our borders. Wait a minute, is this support of Israel? Or is it actually promoting a very specific agenda, which is quite an extreme rightwing agenda, about this place? And, you know, a month after this event, Trump actually cut aid to the Palestinians. And then half a year later, Bibi Netanyahu approached Trump and asked him
to give it back. And Trump said no. Troen: There are clear demographics in this case. The generous [estimates] of Jews in the world are under 20 million. Whereas, in the not-so-generous estimates of evangelical Christians, it is 600 million and growing. It’s one of the fastest growing religions in the world. And when we think about the fact that the Jewish people in Israel [are part of] their theology, that is something that if you’re an Israeli politician or a Jew, you can’t just throw it away and say it’s not relevant to us because it really is. What drew you to make this film? Zinshtein: I started the research in summer 2017. The United States had a new president, President Trump, and it was very clear that he’s widely backed by this [evangelical] community, and also that promises have been made during the campaign about Israel. And on the other hand, here in Israel, all the See EVANGELICALS on Page
Israel EVANGELICALS Continued from Page 9 questions of Christian support are, basically, most of the Israelis would say, “We don’t know,” or “There are these Christians that love us.” And that’s it. I found that it’s a really unexplored field. Today I think it plays a major role in our politics here, in our relationship with the Jewish community in the United States. What was your reaction to being in the Kentucky church that was sending thousands of dollars to Israel, and what was their reaction to having you there? Troen: Curiosity. These were people who had Israeli flags waving outside of their church, and many had not met an Israeli, let alone a Jew. That led to a whole host of questions, both when the camera was on and off us. It is mind blowing, just visually, the kind of stuff that we saw there: the Star of David on the cross, larger-than-life Ronald Reagan heads in people’s garages. And I think there was, from their end, an almost growing flirtatiousness to see if we would convert. By the end of the day, they wished to get us baptized on camera.
We also learned a lot about each other as human beings. Our hope was to understand what faith meant. I think we got several answers to that. And also what faith meant to an impoverished community [Bell is one of the poorest counties in the country], and what role Israel played into their imagination, hope and dreams. You also spoke to several Jews who have maneuvered through this relationship for their own purposes. What was your read on them? Zinshtein: It was really amazing to see how there are certain [areas of discussion where] the people from the Jewish side of the bond just don’t go there, because if they [do], all this structure will just collapse. It was really interesting to see how they constantly navigate within this thing. Of course I know, and they know, there is a huge elephant in the room. When Sondra Oster Baras [founder of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, an organization that encourages Christians to support settlements in the West Bank] stands there holding the Bible and says, “This is my Bible, and you have a little bit here, but all this we share” — that “little bit” is Jesus! It’s not little, it’s actually
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pretty huge. And she’s still really convincing. [She’s someone who] knows how to have this conversation and just ignore, you know, some situations where the irony is really screaming at you. Troen: The one anecdote I can share is the moment when I felt the most Jewish in my life, and when I felt what being a minority really means. We filmed with the [Israeli settler] head of the Samaria region at the Republican Study Committee, which is the biggest faith-based caucus on Capitol Hill. And it was a room packed with prominent congressmen, senators and aides, heads of foundations, all religious, Christian. They started out with a prayer. And it was followed by praising the fact that transgender people had been banned from the U.S. [military] that day. And the room erupted into a euphoric applause. And after this had happened, the head of the Samaria region was brought on stage and was asked to give his presentation about the prophecy coming to life and why we need evangelical Christian support to support the settlements. And he started out by saying, “We are great friends, us and you.” And it was almost comic, seeing a room filled with hundreds of Christians and a tiny Jewish entourage saying, “We are great friends,” like we’re in this together. And it was not so comical to realize that he was saying this after the room had erupted into applause for transgender people being banned from the U.S. [military]. For me, it was the realization of the fact that people who are transgender, just like Jewish people, are a symbol in the imagination of this larger group. And being a symbol in other people’s minds is a very strange place to be. Zinshtein: When the Jewish side of the bond says, “We’re great friends, we’re working together,” it almost feels to me like there’s a huge elephant and a tiny ant on his back. One of the Christians said to me — and I really appreciated the honesty — he told me, “Listen, you need to understand. When they say to you that they love you, they mean that they love Jesus. It’s not personal to you. You’re the key, we cannot make it without you. And we know what happens with the key when the door is open.” And that was a moment when I said, “Now I get it.” What would you like American
Jews who watch your film to come away from it thinking? Zinshtein: Abie and I have already had quite a few talks in Jewish film festivals, in synagogues. I think this issue really bothers the Jewish community. And so many of them have been telling me, “Finally, someone talks about this.” As an Israeli, it worries me as well, where our relationship is going. And what it means when the prime minister of Israel says to Pastor [John] Hagee that he is our best friend. I really think that the Jewish community in the United States, and the Israeli community, we should have conversations about that. It’s true that you have a new president, Biden, but the Christian evangelicals, they’re not about to disappear. So these powers are here to stay. Today, by the numbers, onethird of all aliyah [programs] are financed by Christian evangelicals. So the Jewish money is going down and the Christian money is going up. What will happen in 10 years? How is this bond affecting the younger generations of American Jews? We have fascinating Q&As, and I won’t say where, but not in New York and L.A. — more in the rural places where the Jewish community is small, they’re really struggling [with this relationship]. They’re afraid to come to the Q&A. [They ask,] “Is the Jewish federation going to put their logo on the publicity? Or should they be more cautious?” These are areas where the Jewish community is a tiny spot within a huge community of evangelicals. And on a certain level they’re working together, they need to cooperate. And they actually feel, on the ground, like this is an unequal relationship. I know that there are so many lovely [evangelical] people. I met them. They opened their houses for me. It’s never black and white. But there are questions to ask. What are the consequences of their actions?
Interest in Immigrating to Israel From US Soars Despite Pandemic-Era Challenges By Renee Ghert-Zand
Rachel and Yosef Gross immigrated to Israel in February 2020, and due to the pandemic, Rachel was unable to fly to Chicago to visit her cancer-stricken father before his death in February 2021. But Gross says she has no misgivings about moving to Jerusalem. (Courtesy of Rachel Gross)
When Aaron Feinblatt moved to Israel in late February 2020, just as the first signs of the worldwide coronavirus outbreak were emerging, only one person wore a mask on his aliyah flight. Feinblatt had no idea that masks would soon become the norm for him and everyone else, nor how COVID-19 would affect the first year in his new home. “I got here two weeks before the country completely shut down,” he said. “With all the lockdowns and
restrictions in the last year, I feel like I have been physically here but my aliyah hasn’t yet happened.” Yet the 29-year-old lawyer from Philadelphia has no regrets about arriving when he did. “I am thrilled to be here,” Feinblatt said. “I’m healthy and I have a job with an Israeli start-up and I live a 10-minute walk from the beach in Tel Aviv. I would have pushed through and come here even if my aliyah date had been during the pandemic and not before it.” Rather than diminishing interest in immigrating to Israel, the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have fueled it. A total of 7,965 aliyah applications from North America were submitted in 2020, double that of the previous year. Over the first three months of 2021, the number of immigrants arriving in Israel from North America was up 30% over the same period a year ago. “We’ve seen unprecedented interest since spring 2020,” said Marc Rosenberg, vice president for
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ing number of people who want to move to Israel without giving up their U.S. careers to do so. The difficulty of travel and Israel’s ban on non-citizen entry (with some exceptions) is prompting some Americans who were frequent visitors to Israel, particularly retirees with grandchildren there, to relocate permanently. And Israel’s early success combating the coronavirus and efficient rollout of vaccinations encouraged some of those already considering aliyah. “I figured that the risk of contracting the disease seemed the same in both countries, but in Israel I would be able to be immediately vaccinated,” said Ariana Gordon, 33, who made aliyah recently from Los Angeles. After Gordon lost her job at a California gym due to COVID closures, she realized it was time to act on her longstanding aliyah wish.
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IMMIGRATING Continued from Page 11 She initiated her application late last June and put her graduate degree in computer science to use by beginning a remote internship with Israel Tech Challenge. Now she lives in Tel Aviv. The pandemic also prompted educator Ilanna Price to make the move. Price, 27, was living in New York while the rest of her family had moved to Israel over the past decade. “I had a life in the U.S., and things were going well. But then with COVID I was stuck at home and the ability to do my job was severely limited,” Price said. “The situation gave me the extra push to finish up my aliyah application.” Price moved to Israel in October. She lives in the trendy Florentine neighborhood in south Tel Aviv and works as a kindergarten teacher. Making aliyah during the COVID-era has not been easy. The pandemic slowed the processing of necessary paperwork on both sides of the Atlantic. Israel’s government limited the operations of the country’s main airport for several weeks more than once, frustrating the scheduling of immigration flights. When Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport was shuttered in January during a third national lockdown, Gordon’s aliyah flight was canceled and she found herself stranded in the United States after having given up her apartment and car. “I got my aliyah visa in late January and my original flight was scheduled for Feb. 1, but Israel wasn’t letting in any flights,” Gordon said. “I was rebooked five more times, and finally made it to Israel on a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight that arrived March 1.” Due to the delays, Gordon had to redo some costly paperwork, including import documentation for
her dog, and underwent three COVID tests at her own expense. “It was a real emotional roller coaster,” Gordon said. “I tried not to get my hopes up each time, but I couldn’t help it because I wanted to be in Israel so badly.” For Rachel and Yosef Gross, a couple who immigrated to Israel in February 2020, the challenge of aliyah during the COVID era came after arrival. “My dad was sick with cancer in Chicago and I thought I would be able to go back to visit him regularly,” Rachel Gross said. “But then COVID happened. He passed away in early February 2021 and I couldn’t get there.” Yet she says she has no misgivings about moving to Jerusalem. Rachel, 28, has a full-time job as a graphic designer with an Israeli start-up. Yosef, 27, works in digital marketing and music management, and is also pursuing a graduate degree in environmental studies at Tel Aviv University. The couple is expecting their first child later this year. “It’s always been our dream to be in Israel, and we are blessed to be here,” Yosef said. “It would have been worse for us if we had gotten trapped in the U.S. because of COVID,” Rachel added. With most of Israel’s adult population vaccinated, new COVID cases at their lowest levels in months and the country largely reopened, Feinblatt says he’s looking forward to doing the things he’d planned to do a year ago. Primarily he wants to make the social connections he missed out on before starting work. “I had been looking forward to integrating, being out and about, learning and practicing Hebrew, and meeting people,” Feinblatt said. Looking back on her own experience, Price said that when she completed her aliyah application last summer, she figured it could be the
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Ariana Gordon decided to move from her California home to Israel during the pandemic, but her aliyah flight was delayed multiple times because of Israeli restrictions on incoming flights, forcing Gordon to redo costly paperwork to bring along her dog, Desi. (Courtesy of Gordon)
worst time or the best time to make aliyah – she just wasn’t sure which. “The truth is that I probably would have continued to put off aliyah if it hadn’t been for COVID,” Price said. “I’m glad I took the step to do it.” This article was sponsored by and produced in partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh, which in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah, The Jewish Agency, KKL and JNF-USA is minimizing the professional, logistical and social obstacles of aliyah, and has brought over 65,000 olim from North Amer-
ica and the United Kingdom for nearly two decades. This article was produced by JTA’s native content team.
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G lobal Growing Up in Anne Frank’s Shadow, My Kids Have
Known About the Holocaust Since Before They Could Speak By Cnaan Liphshiz
The son of JTA's Europe correspondent, pictured here when he was nearing his second birthday, examines a memorial cobblestone for murdered Dutch Jews in Heerlen, the Netherlands, July 29, 2017. (Cnaan Liphshiz)
AMSTERDAM (JTA) — On a country road steeped in spring blossom, the 5-year-old in the backseat asked a question that sent shivers down our spines. “Did the farmer plant those trees around his house because his family’s Jewish?” he asked us, his parents, pointing at a farmhouse we passed along the way. I knew immediately what he meant. “What do you mean?” I asked anyway. “So, people wouldn’t be able to see them from the road,” he replied. It was startling evidence of how his mother and I — and perhaps life itself as a Dutch-Jewish boy — have allowed Holocaust traumas to mark his young mind and that of his younger sister. For me, the revelation invoked a pang of guilt. But that feeling subsided into resignation of the reality of raising children in cities haunted by the ghosts of their murdered ancestors. For Europe’s Jews, that’s just our lot in life. I told my son reassuringly that the farmer’s family probably wasn’t Jewish and that they wouldn’t need to hide even if they were. But in my mind I was revisiting — one guilty flashback by another — all the times that I had exposed the kids to the Holocaust. There was that rainy afternoon when I took them to the Holocaust museum in Mechelen, Belgium. We had some time to spare, I wanted to see the place and the two bottom floors were supposed to be ageappropriate. They deal only with the background to the genocide, which is explored in escalating order in the five-story building. But the lobby had a temporary THE
exhibition of drawings by an Aus- raised here to be invested in their chwitz prisoner showing a Nazi identity. flailing an inmate’s bare buttocks. Questions followed. Answers flowed, including about how the Germans tried to kill Granny Hella at Auschwitz because she was Jewish. Before I knew it I mentioned gas chambers. Then I changed the subject and we walked in the rain to Frost covers the Merwede Square in the nearest ice cream shop.
The author’s son visits the Kazerne Dossin Holocaust museum near Antwerp, Belgium, March 12, 2020. (Cnaan Liphshiz)
I’ve been obsessed with the Holocaust since a young age. I must have been 3 when Hella told me, sobbing intermittently, about how she had survived Auschwitz, the death marches and the carpet bombing of Dresden. My job as JTA Europe correspondent isn’t helping me put distance from the genocide. Clearly I’m partly responsible for introducing my very young children to horrific facts. Some parents make the argument for starting early with age-appropriate Holocaust instruction. I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing, especially considering the mainstreaming of anti-Semitism today in Europe and the Netherlands. In last month’s general elections here, the right-wing and COVIDskeptic Forum for Democracy party quadrupled its number of seats in parliament — it has eight now — despite a massive scandal over antiSemitism in its ranks in November. On the left, Green Left, the only party in the Dutch parliament that supports a boycott of Israel — and no other country — entered as a lawmaker Kauthar Bouchallikht, an activist who in 2014 posed for pictures in front of a sign reading “stop doing what Hitler did to you” at a pro-Palestinian demonstration. She has apologized for her actions. But even if I’m overreacting, the H-word seems unavoidable for a Jewish-Dutch child who is being
playground just under that flat featuring a prominent statue of the teenage diarist that always has fresh wreaths at its feet, placed there by tourists. Their mother attended Frank’s former elementary school, which is now named for her. It sits about 500 yards from the playground. The entrance to our children’s Jewish kindergarten has a life-size Amsterdam, where a statue of Anne poster of Anne Frank. And there’s a Frank stands opposite her last home in building-size portrait of her towerwhich she and her family lived as free people. (Wikimedia Commons/Franklin ing over the passenger terminal of Heijnen) the ferry that we take several times For such Jews, the Holocaust a week to reach the city center. seems everywhere in the NetherOn the streets of many Dutch citlands, where the Nazis and collabo- ies, especially their native Amsterrators murdered at least 75% of the dam, shiny brass memorial cobblelocal Jewish population — the stones decorate the doorsteps of highest death rate in occupied West- pretty much each building from ern Europe. which Jews were deported. They My father-in-law lives down the are magnets for inquisitive young road from Anne Frank’s old apart- children, especially my 4-year-old ment, before she went into hiding. On visits, the kids go with their See ANNE FRANK 14 saba, Hebrew for grandfather, to a on Page
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ANNE FRANK Continued from Page 13 daughter, who tells me, “Look, Dad, Jews!” whenever she notices one (she seems to think they should make me happy). Then there are the German-built massive bunkers that scar the entire length of the coastline; annual World War II memorial days with a two-minute silence where everybody stands still; and the innumerable references to the genocide in our heavily Jewish social circle and on television. To help me think through it all, I called up a fellow Dutch-Jewish parent: Meir Villegas Henriquez, an Orthodox rabbi from Rotterdam. His two boys, aged 8 and 11, are a little older than my kids, so he has more experience with navigating the challenge of raising children in the shadow of the Shoah — and more insight into the potential trauma that might result. Henriquez, 41, told me that he tries to filter the content that his children encounter about the Holocaust at a young age — but has come to terms with being unable to block it out. His older son learned about the Holocaust in third grade at his nonJewish school, Henriquez said. So the boy’s younger brother, who was then 5, also heard about it. “And there are commemorations. It’s not something you can ignore for more than a few years as a parent,” he said. Henriquez says he has some guidelines for his family. He tries to shield his sons from graphic images of the Holocaust and avoids taking them to museums with such pictures. “Images have a tendency to burn into the mind,” he said. Henriquez also works to show his sons that they are safe as Jews in the Netherlands through his volunteer work running Ohel Abraham, a nonprofit and study center that he founded for both Jews and non-Jews with an interest in Judaism.
“The boys see an openness to the outside world. They see many nonJews with a warm sentiment toward Judaism, the Jewish people and Israel,” he said. “Such things create a balance. That’s the best you can strive for.” Still, Henriquez has not shied away from turning the Holocaust into a sobering warning for his children. “I try to instill vigilance, but not fears, phobias or paranoia,” he said. He told his boys that the Holocaust “shows you need to be vigilant. Not trust the government. Any government. That Anne Frank and her family were betrayed by their countrymen.” (The exact circumstances of the Frank family’s capture remain a subject of debate among historians.) Henriquez shares another lesson with his children. “It shows why aliyah is a good idea,” he said, using the Hebrewlanguage word for immigrating to Israel as a Jew. As an Israeli Jew living in the Netherlands, I see the appeal. And I confess that after some thought, I realize that a part of me doesn’t mind slightly traumatizing the kids with their exposure to the Holocaust. My own trauma, acquired growing up in my native Israel among survivors, is making me prioritize instilling in them powerful survival instincts over giving them a sheltered childhood. I can’t know what I would have done as a Jew in Europe in the 1930s. All I can know is that my grandmother was lucky to survive — and I wouldn’t want my children to have to depend on luck. I also know that, as an Israeli in Europe, I’m OK with my children feeling some discomfort. Maybe exposing my children to the Holocaust early on will give them a nuanced understanding of their home here — a home that is perhaps conditional, even as it is beloved every day.
Best wishes to my many friends & associates in the Jewish Community. Thank you for your continued support.
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Orleans Civil District Court, Section L 14 April 2021
Yemen’s Jewish Population, Once Over 50,000, Drops to Below 10 By Gabe Friedman
Yemeni Rabbi Youssef Moussa, left, and his brother Salem sit in an apartment in Sanaa, Yemen, Nov. 10, 2009, after fleeing conflict in the northern part of the country. (Marwan Naamani/AFP via Getty Images)
(JTA) — Amid the ongoing civil war in Yemen, 13 Jews have immigrated to Egypt, leaving the country’s once vibrant community of at least 50,000 with a population of fewer than 10. Some reports claimed that the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who control part of Yemen, forced the Jews to leave. The Times of Israel reported that the refugees instead struck a deal with the Houthis to leave peacefully Cairo. They also reportedly refused an
offer to go to Israel. Other Yemeni Jewish families have left for the United Arab Emirates in recent months, according to The Times of Israel. The UAE is newly on formal diplomatic terms with Israel after signing onto the Abraham Accords peace deal last year. Tens of thousands of Yemeni Jews left for Israel shortly after its establishment as a state in 1948, spurred by the wave of anti-Semitism across the Arab world that the founding had triggered. A group of 19 Yemeni Jews were brought to Israel on a secret mission in 2016 coordinated by the Jewish Agency for Israel. Attacks against Jews in Yemen had risen sharply since 2008, when a Jewish teacher was murdered in Raydah. In 2012, another Yemeni Jewish citizen was murdered in Sanaa, and a young Jewish woman was abducted, forced to convert to Islam and forcibly wed to a Muslim man.
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Is Your Name on This List? Your Jewish Roots Might Be in Cairo, Baghdad or Nearby By Asaf Shalev
A scanned page of the list of Baghdadi Jewish men exempt from Ottoman military service published by Rabbi Shlomo Bekhor Husin in 1892 and archived at the National Libary of Israel in Jerusalem. (Courtesy of Jacob Rosen-Koenigsbuch)
(JTA) — In the late 1800s, the Ottoman Empire was looking to conscript men into its army, including the several thousand young Jewish ones who were living in the city of Baghdad. The Jewish community didn’t like the idea of the imperial forces taking away its young men, so it arranged to pay authorities for exemptions. Rabbi Shlomo Bekhor Husin of Baghdad documented the exemptions, carefully jotting each down name in medieval Rashi script. In the following decades, many of those names vanished or morphed as the Jews living there dispersed across the globe. But the lists survived and now are housed at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem — if you’re willing to deal with the microfilm format on which they are preserved. Retired Israeli diplomat and independent researcher Jacob Rosen-Koenigsbuch has squinted to read and translate every single one of the nearly 3,500 names on Husin’s lists. And the lists are just one of the dozens of idiosyncratic sources that Rosen-Koenigsbuch has consulted in his years-long hunt for lost Jewish family names. Rosen-Koenigsbuch, 73, has published the world’s most complete lists of Jewish surnames from the cities of Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo and — as of this week — Alexandria. (Next up are probably Basra, Mosul and Erbil, he said.) The four lists have been combined by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency into this searchable database. (If you know your name belongs but isn’t there, email Rosen-Koenigsbuch, who’s always making additions and corrections.) THE
A Flourish data visualization Before I spotted Rosen-Koenigsbuch’s research on the internet, I had only once ever seen a written reference to my family’s original Baghdadi last name. The generically Israeli sounding “Shalev” was “Shaloo” until my grandfather changed it upon moving from Iraq to Israel in 1951. An act of assimilation, the switch was easy because “Shalev” and “Shaloo” are spelled the same in Hebrew script: shin-lamed-vav. The letter “vav” is capable of making both an “oo” sound and a “v” sound. I searched and found no “Shaloo” on Rosen-Koenigsbuch’s list. But I did find a “Shellu,” and it felt close enough. Maybe, I thought, that was just how he had transliterated a name that could be spelled out any number of ways. “One of the biggest problems in this work is transliteration,” RosenKoenigsbuch said on the phone from Jerusalem as he began to confirm my inkling. “There are different ways to pronounce the names and different ways to spell them.” I asked him where he had found “Shellu.” He pulled up his sources and quickly told me that the name appeared three times. First, he told me about Husin’s Ottoman exemptions, and among them was a young lad with the name spelled “shinlamed-vav.” Shellu. Shaloo. Shalev. Bingo. This could be a forgotten ancestor. Then, he said the name appeared twice in a 1950 registry from Iraq. This was a list of people whose citizenship was revoked during the Iraqi Jewish exodus — definitely my ancestors. After years of curiosity, and some research, I had finally made a genealogical breakthrough.
Rosen-Koenigsbuch started on the surnames project while doing his own genealogical research. But his family is not from the Middle East; they’re from Poland. “My parents were Holocaust survivors,” he said. “And they didn’t speak. My father was completely silent.” To learn anything about his family’s past, he had to dig. He discovered elaborate family connections and eventually gave lectures on his findings. Audience members with Mizrahi heritage would approach him and they tended to have a certain reaction. “I would hear this mantra,” he said. “We don’t know anything about our families because we left Egypt or Syria or Iraq in a hurry. We left everything behind and the archives are closed. We came out alive from those countries, but the documents are not with us. In Europe, most of the Jews were annihilated but the archives are open.’” Rosen-Koenigsbuch, who served as Israel’s ambassador to Jordan
from 2006 to 2009, had the geographic interest and some of the linguistic knowledge to find out what kind of information might still exist despite the lacunae. He decided to focus on surnames and found thousands of them in historic newspapers, business directories, a circumcision registry, court records, previously published research and through the help of social media groups dedicated to the various Jewish diasporas. None of these sources are comprehensive. Your family was more likely to be mentioned somewhere, for example, if you donated money or if you sent your kids to Jewish schools. “There are many limitations, but we have to try to gather the history because we still have among us people in their 70s, early 80s and in 10 years there will be no one to talk to,” Rosen-Koenigsbuch said. “If we will not hurry they will be gone. It’s a very important message to encourage people to start thinking about this.”
Together we celebrate 73 years of Independence in Israel!
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H oliday F eatures These Landmarks Across the
US Lit Up Blue and White for Israel’s Independence Day By Ron Kampeas
Denver City Hall, Denver, Co. (Israeli-American Council)
Chapters of the Israeli-American Council, an advocacy and community outreach organization, worked with local authorities to light up town halls and landmarks in areas with large IsraeliAmerican concentrations. Other blue-and-white light exhibits were seen in Cleveland, Houston, Orlando, Atlanta, Denver and Hollywood, Florida, as well as a number of municipalities in New Jersey, and Rockville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. The coordinated event was a first for the Israeli-American Council and was a means of celebrating Independence Day, or Yom Haatzmaut, under pandemic conditions. There will be follow-up events throughout the weekend, including drive-through celebrations in a number of cities, culminating in the broadcast of a concert from Jerusalem on Sunday evening. One of the events will be a street fair Sunday in New York City’s Times Square with blue and white featured throughout the famed area, including a car parade with the vehicles decorated in those colors, confetti and 73 balloons for Israel’s birthday. On the council’s website, the Hebrew teaser for the midday event promises a “wild and crazy” time.
Here are images from some of the participating cities:
The City Hall building in Houston, Texas (IsraeliAmerican Council)
The Guitar Hotel in Hollywood, Fla. (Israeli-American Council)
The Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center in Atlanta, Ga. (Israeli-American Council)
The Leonard Zakim Bridge in Boston, Mass. (IsraeliAmerican Council)
Las Vegas City Hall (Israeli-American Council)
The Terminal Tower building in Cleveland, Ohio (Israeli-American Council)
With New Initiative on Earliest Evidence of Kosher Changing School Culture, Jewish Schools Focus on Diet in UK1 Found in 800-Year-Old Animal Bones Anti-Racist Education By Larry Luxner From Oxford Race and School Culture By Cnaan Liphshiz
Jewish day schools have increasingly diverse student bodies, including at the Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, California. (Courtesy of Prizmah)
A view of Keble College, one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford (Wikimedia Commons)
(JTA) — Archaeologists in the United Kingdom discovered findings from a medieval Jewish community of Oxford that they said were the earliest evidence of a religious diet. The findings, locked inside pottery fragments excavated in Oxford, go back to the 12th and 13th centuries following William the Conqueror’s invitation to Jews in Northern France to settle in England. The fragments came from two former homes in Oxford’s center that belonged to Jews: Jacob f. mag. Moses and Elekin f. Bassina, according to a report in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences last week on the findings by the researchers from the University of Bristol.
“A remarkable animal bone assemblage was unearthed in this latrine, dominated by domestic fowl (mainly goose), and with a complete absence of pig bones, hinting at a kosher diet,” the researchers wrote. Fish bones comprised only species such as herring, which are kosher, they added. The lead author of the research, Julie Dunne from the University of Bristol’s School of Chemistry, said in a statement about the study: “This is a remarkable example of how biomolecular information extracted from medieval pottery and combined with ancient documents and animal bones, has provided a unique insight into 800-yearold Jewish dietary practices.”
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After George Floyd was killed in May at the hands of Minneapolis police, and protests and demonstrations spread around the country, students at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland, found themselves upset, too. Many of the school’s 900 or so students, including a few who are Black, were asking questions about police brutality and systemic racism in American society. Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, head of the school, wanted to ensure those questions were encouraged rather than silenced or ignored. That’s one of the reasons the Charles E. Smith school decided over the winter to enroll in a unique initiative on race and school culture created by Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools. As a first step in what is envisioned as a multilayer, multiyear approach to help schools foster greater diversity, equity and inclusion, educators from about 40 schools gathered five times online over the course of a month for trainings focused on overcoming implicit bias, why equity work is important and how schools can create a welcoming climate for discussions on race. “One of our core values is that all people are created in God’s image and are to be treated with respect,” Malkus said. “We Jews have experienced thousands of years of persecution, so we feel we have an obligation to make the world better through tikkun olam. And it’s important for us to participate with other Jewish day schools that share those values in having that conversation — even though it can sometimes be an uncomfortable conversation.” The strong interest in Prizmah’s
Deep Dive is reflective of the increasing attention to matters of race and social equity among Jewish day school educators — and students. “This isn’t just a conversation that came and went in a few weeks when it was a hot topic,” said Prizmah CEO Paul Bernstein. “This has been an ongoing conversation for Jewish educators, and with recent events raising the temperature on these issues, there was also a very strong groundswell from the students themselves as they begin to see themselves as the leaders of tomorrow.” The five initial sessions in Prizmah’s Race and School Culture Deep Dive, which ran in February and March, focused on continuing to build a culture and community of change; strategies for building a diverse Jewish community, including welcoming Jews of color; addressing implicit bias; learning about current successful anti-racism programs in Jewish schools; and mapping out ways to advance work in these areas that is already underway. Beyond those initial sessions, each participating school is working with a consultant to further the effort, and lay and professional school leaders are joining collaborative working groups to move their race and school culture work forward with specific, goal-oriented next steps. Those groups are focused on topics that include creating a professional development agenda on race and school culture for faculty; teaching about identity, bias and race in elementary school; and identifying interdisciplinary curricular resources on race and equity. Prizmah also offers a peer-to-peer professional development community for sharing resources, asking questions and celebrating successes related to race and school culture. “The urgency of this work cannot be overstated,” said Tonda Case, a professional on diversity, equity and inclusion working with Prizmah on the project. “How do we do the work of coSee SCHOOL CULTURE on Page THE
Baseball is Back: Alex Bregman and Max Fried Top the List of 8 Jewish Players in the Majors
outstanding in the shortened 2020 .242 batting average was by far a season, going 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA, career low. He’s aiming for a return finishing fifth in the Cy Young vot- to his 2019 numbers, when he hit ing. He won 17 games in 2019 — .296 with 41 homers and 112 runs his only full season in the majors batted in on the way to a second— and sports a 26-11 record in his place finish in the MVP voting. By Rob Charry budding career. Bregman, who heads into the Some may be thinking Fried season with 105 career homers, could become the winningest Jew- would appear to have a good chance ish pitcher ever: Ken Holtzman has to become the all-time Jewish home that honor with 174 career wins, run leader when all is said and followed by Hall of Famer Sandy done. (Braun leads now at 352.) In Koufax at 165. The latter picked up his three full seasons from 2017 to an astounding 107 of those victo- 2019, he has averaged 30 homers a ries in his final four seasons before year. his career was cut short by an The Astros and Bregman had elbow injury. Fried, who was born been quite a success story from and raised in California, wore No. 2017 to 2019 with two World Series 32 in high school as a tribute to the appearances, including a world Dodger great. championship in 2017. They Alex Bregman appeared to be an engaging, funHouston Astros loving, multicultural group, with Some Jewish major leaguers are poised for breakout seasons in 2021. Bregman, the Houston Astros Bregman a rising young star. But (Getty Images; photo collage by Grace Yagel/70 Faces Media) third baseman, is certainly the most the team was implicated in an intri(JTA) — Alex Bregman is hop- will be on rosters and representing heralded Jewish position player ing to return to his near MVP form, the Jews, including some who have again this season. The 27-year-old See BASEBALL 20 Max Fried will be doing something played for Team Israel in the World All-Star struggled in 2020 — his on Page no Jewish ballplayer has done in Baseball Classic, as we begin anew four decades and World Series win- following the 60-game COVIDner Joc Pederson is wearing a new abbreviated campaign. jersey as the 2021 Major League Max Fried Baseball season gets underway Atlanta Braves Thursday. For the first time in 40 years, a That trio is among eight Jewish Jewish pitcher will be an Opening players who will don uniforms on Day starter, as Fried takes the Opening Day. As the game returns, mound in Philadelphia on Thursday so will some of the in-person fans: afternoon against the Phillies. The As of Wednesday, all 30 teams will last Jew to accomplish that feat: allow some percentage of atten- Steve Stone, for the 1981 Baltimore dance, ranging from a few thousand Orioles. seats to full capacity in the case of “I definitely think it’s an honor to the Texas Rangers’ stadium in be able to have my manager come Alex Bregman bats during Game 7 of the ALCS between the Tampa Bay Rays and Arlington. out and say we want you to start the the Houston Astros at Petco Park in San Diego, Oct. 17, 2020. (Alex Trautwig/MLB One familiar Jewish face will be first game,” the lefty ace said folPhotos via Getty Images) missing, though — former Most lowing his final spring training start Valuable Player Ryan Braun, on Saturday. doesn’t have a team after accepting The Braves are expected to be a buyout from the Milwaukee serious contenders again in the Brewers in the offseason. National League, with Fried anchorBut let’s deal with the guys who ing the pitching staff. Fried, 27, was Best Wishes to my friends
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Max Fried delivers a pitch in a spring training game against the Tampa Bay Rays, March 21, 2021. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images) THE
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BASEBALL Continued from Page 19 cate sign-stealing scandal spanning several seasons. Fans, unable to express their displeasure last season because of COVID, could try to make things tough on the club in 2021. As one of the Astros star players, Bregman could well be a target. While Bregman doesn’t exactly show off his Jewish identity often, his father told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2018 that he is “so proud” of how his son represents the tribe in MLB.
Cactus League homers — no one in Arizona or Florida hit more. His 130 career homers are the most among active Jewish players entering the season with Braun on the sidelines. You might remember Pederson and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. putting on an epic power display in the semifinals of the 2019 Home Run Derby — Guerrero Jr. eventually outlasting Pederson, 40-39. Or his home run show in the 2017 World Series, in which he broke the record for most by a Jewish player in a championship. So if the wind is blowing out at Wrigley — even if it isn’t — Pederson could return to
Dean Kremer pitches for the Baltimore Orioles in a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins, March 9, 2021. (Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Jewish player going into the 2021 season. The 25-year-old right-hander’s parents were born in Israel, but he is a California native who attended high school and college in the U.S. Kremer pitched for Team USA in the 2013 Maccabiah Games and for Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball classic. Drafted by the Dodgers in 2016,
the 2018 trade deadline. Kremer ended the 2019 season in Triple A, one level below the majors, and made his MLB debut for the Orioles in September. And quite a debut it was. Aside from making history as an Israeli pitching in the major leagues, he beat the New York Yankees at Camden Yards, limiting the Bronx Bomb-
Joc Pederson plays in a spring training game for the Chicago Cubs against the Seattle Mariners, March 3, 2021. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Joc Pederson Chicago Cubs Pederson left the world champion Dodgers to sign as a free agent with the Cubs. The slugging outfielder had seen his playing time reduced in 2020 with the Dodgers, a team that was already loaded with talent in the outfield before trading for Boston Red Sox star Mookie Betts. At 28, Pederson is going into his seventh season and had a torrid spring camp for the Cubs with 8
being the 25-homer-a-year guy he was from 2015 to 2019. Pederson’s mother Shelly once trekked to her late father’s old synagogue to find proof of Joc’s Jewish heritage so he could play for Team Israel in the 2012 World Baseball Classic. Kevin Pillar seen during spring training workouts at Clover Park in Port St. Lucie, Dean Kremer Fla., Feb. 27, 2021. (Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday RM via Getty Images) Baltimore Orioles Kremer, the first Israeli to pitch he was part of the package the ers to just 1 run on 1 hit in 6 innings. in the majors, is the most intriguing Dodgers sent to the Orioles to Kremer would allow just 3 runs in acquire star Manny Machado before 16 innings in his first 3 starts. Though he was a bit shaky this spring, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde announced Monday that Kremer would be his fifth starter. “Dean threw the ball well last year for us in his handful of starts,” Hyde said. “He didn’t get off to a really good start this spring, but his last start against Boston he showed that he’s earned it.” Kevin Pillar New York Mets After spending his first six seasons in Toronto, Pillar will be playing for his fifth team in the past three years. The 32-year-old outfielder split time between the Red Sox and Colorado Rockies last season, hitting .274 in 30 games for Boston and .308 in 24 games for the
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BASEBALL Continued from Page 20 Rockies — .288 overall, a career high. This followed a 2019 season in which he put up career highs in homers (21) and RBIs (88) in 161 games, all but five of them with the San Francisco Giants.
from brain cancer shortly before he made his major league debut in 2018. Ryan Sherriff Tampa Bay Rays Sherriff, a lefty reliever, has only made 30 appearances in his three major league seasons — the first 18 with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017
Rowdy Tellez of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates after hitting a home run against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston, Sept. 6, 2020. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Ryan Sherriff playing for the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 of the World Series in Arlington, Texas, Oct. 25, 2020. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Pillar, an outstanding defensive outfielder, hit for average this spring as well, .317 in 41 at bats in the Grapefruit League. He’s also a better-than-average baserunner, averaging over 16 stolen bases a year between 2015 and 2019. Pillar had a bar mitzvah and has said he takes pride in telling fellow players that he’s Jewish. Rowdy Tellez Toronto Blue Jays Tellez, Pillar’s former teammate in Toronto, begins his fourth season with the Blue Jays. The 26-year-old designated hitter and backup first baseman hit .283 in 34 games last season. In his only full major league season, 2019, the 6-4, 255-pound Tellez had solid power numbers with 21 homers and 54 RBIs in 111 games. Tellez was born in Sacramento, California. His father is Mexican American and his grandfather played in the Mexican Baseball League. His mother passed away
and 2018. He had Tommy John surgery in June 2018, was eventually released by St. Louis and signed by Tampa. After sitting out 2019 to recover, he joined the Rays staff last August, appeared in 10 games and did not allow a run in 9 2/3 innings. Sheriff was added to the Rays postseason roster and made two World Series appearances against the Dodgers, pitching two scoreless innings. (In case you were wondering, he did not face Pederson.) What Sheriff called “the greatest experience I’ve ever had in my life” though, was his stint as a reliever for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic in 2017. Both sets of Sheriff’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Richard Bleier Miami Marlins Bleier, a 33-year-old reliever, had to wait until he was 29 to make his major league debut — with the Yankees in 2016. The southpaw had
Richard Bleier pitches for the Miami Marlins against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, Sept. 26, 2020. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) THE
an earned run average under 2.00 in 23 appearances, but the Yanks traded him to Baltimore in the offseason. Bleier had a stellar 2017, a 1.99 ERA in 57 appearances, and was even better in 2018, a 1.93 ERA in 31 appearances, before an injury ended his season. He struggled in 2019 as he battled tendinitis. He was traded to the Marlins last July but ended the abbreviated 2020 campaign with a strong combined 2.16 ERA in 21 outings for the two teams. Bleier pitched in the qualifying rounds for Team Israel for the 2013 World Baseball Classic — Israel did not qualify — but elected not to accept its invite in 2017 to concentrate on winning a job with the Orioles. The Ryan Braun question and others who could join “The Show” As recently as three weeks ago, Braun at age 37 said he was leaning toward retirement. The six-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year in 2007, one of the greats in Brewers history, passed Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg’s 331 homers in 2019 to become the Jewish home run king. His 352 homers place him 93rd alltime.
Catchers Garrett Stubbs and Ryan Lavarnway, also a Team Israel alumnus, are among those who could surface at some point this season. The veteran Lavarnway, 33, has played for seven teams, notably the Red Sox, in his nine-year career. Stubbs, 27, has played in 33 games in parts of two seasons for the Astros.
Ryan Braun hits during a game between the Kansas City Royals and the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Sept. 19, 2020. (Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Arts & Culture
Inspired by the Pandemic, Jewish Musicians Are Rolling Out a Year’s Worth of Spiritual ‘Healing Songs’ By Shira Hanau
Shir Yaakov Feit sings the first of 70 melodies he wrote for the Book of Psalms at the beginning of the pandemic. (Screenshot from YouTube)
(JTA) — It was only about a week into lockdown last spring when Elana Brody took out her keyboard piano for a jam session. It was late at night, so it made sense that the new melody that came to her then was “B’shem Hashem” a part of the Shema. “It was kind of natural to want to sing this prayer because it’s a bedtime prayer,” Brody said, calling it an “incantation” of sorts. The words call on four angels to surround her — Michael to the right, Gabriel to the left, Uriel in front and Raphael behind — with God above her head. Brody imagined the angels surrounding the people of New York City, which she had left behind a week before when she drove to her parents’ home in Virginia to ride out the beginning of the pandemic, and protecting them as the first wave of the pandemic engulfed the city. For Brody, a Jewish singer-songwriter who also leads prayer services and runs spiritual retreats, the healing intention behind that song
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came to characterize her music throughout the pandemic year. Along with eight other Jewish singers and prayer leaders, Brody will showcase the songs written during the pandemic during a concert Monday night timed to the release of the studio recording of her “B’shem Hashem.” For singers and musicians, the past year of canceled concerts has made the pandemic especially difficult. But for some it’s also been a year of expanded capacity to write new material. And for artists who focus on Jewish spiritual and devotional music, much of the new material has drawn on the challenging shared emotions of the pandemic and transformed them into prayer. “We’re kind of hard-wired to digest grief and turn it into art or song,” Brody said of artists like herself. “I wrote an album’s worth of material through this last year, all transmuting loss into song.” When the pandemic began last spring, Deborah Sacks Mintz had been preparing for a series of concerts and prayer services to promote her new album of Jewish music released in May. When those concerts were canceled, it not only kept her at home. It also forced Mintz — someone who works as a prayer leader and educator teaching her songs and leading communal singing experiences — to rethink her approach to music. “It became clear to me pretty
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quickly that there was going to need to be a way for me to be willing to encounter myself and my own voice,” she said. “I couldn’t just be thinking about communal singing and gathering.” While Mintz has typically drawn from the prayer book and the genre of niggunim, wordless melodies, that can be sung by a group, she found herself drawn to the poetry of Yehuda Amichai, an Israeli poet who died in 2000 and often infused his work with biblical imagery, and writing melodies for his poems. “That’s something I probably would not have spent time doing before the pandemic,” Mintz said. For Shir Yaakov Feit, a Jewish songwriter who leads Kol Hai, a Jewish Renewal community in New Paltz, New York, the beginning of the pandemic was the most prolific songwriting period of his life. Staying inside at his Hudson Valley home in March last year, he challenged himself to write a melody a day for a chapter of the book of Psalms. The book has 150 chapters. “I’m afraid of committing to writing a psalm a day for the next 150 days, but maybe that’s what’s happening,” Feit said in the video from his first psalm tune on March 21, 2020. Feit didn’t end up going through all 150 Psalms chapters, stopping at 70. But he’s proud of the melodies he wrote and hopes to return to the project someday to complete the
second half. “I probably hadn’t written 70 songs in the previous seven years,” he said. Feit released his psalm melodies in YouTube live streams, with some racking up a few hundred views. While the videos were not a perfect substitute for the loss of in-person singing he normally leads at Kol Hai, he said the music was a way of touching people from afar. “I think the power and purpose of music became much more clear, that sound literally touches us,” Feit said. “So I think the music that we made during the pandemic was a form of medicine.” Brody is hoping to keep that ability for music to heal and connect at the front of her songwriting going forward. “I really hope that what has happened this year, with the focus being on healing and prayer and community, that my music kind of stays there,” she said. And Brody is already planning additional concerts to include more artists who wrote new material during the pandemic. “There are so many artists out there who have written a healing song this year, so now I’m excited to try to make a platform for even more artists,” she said. “For more healing songs.”
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Arts & Culture
Steven Spielberg Launches Foundation to Fund JewishThemed Documentaries By Gabe Friedman`
Stephen Spielberg and Kate Capshaw attend the 2018 Arthur Miller Foundation Honors at City Winery in New York City, Oct. 22, 2018. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
(JTA) — Steven Spielberg has launched a film foundation called Jewish Story Partners to fund documentaries that “tell stories about a diverse spectrum of Jewish experiences, histories, and cultures.” It’s funded by the Righteous Persons Foundation, which Spielberg and his actress wife Kate Capshaw
founded after Spielberg’s experience making “Schindler’s List” in 1993. Two Jewish philanthropies — the Maimonides Fund and the Jim Joseph Foundation — also contributed funds. (Both organizations also help fund 70 Faces Media, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s parent company.) “We are especially proud to help establish this initiative — which will make visible a fuller range of Jewish voices, identities, experiences, and perspectives — at a time when social divisions run painfully deep and mainstream depictions too often fail to reflect the Jewish community in all its complexity,” Spielberg and Capshaw said in a statement Thursday announcing the foundation.
Helen Mirren to Play Golda Meir in Upcoming Film ‘Golda’
The organization, which starts with $2 million, will soon announce its first round of grantees, who will receive $500,000 in total this year. It is already taking applications for a second round of grants and says it hopes to ramp up its funding over time. The project’s director is Roberta Grossman, a filmmaker who has specialized in Jewish-themed documentaries. Caroline Libresco, a longtime Sundance Film Festival programmer, will be its artistic director. And “Friends” creator Marta Kauffman is a board member. “I’m looking forward to helping create a stable and lasting funding organization that can fill the funding gap for independent filmmakers
Entertainment “Your Helpful Hardware Man”
By Gabe Friedman
Helen Mirren arrives at the Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Feb. 27, 2020. (Thomas Niedermueller/ WireImage/Getty Images)
(JTA) — It’s a Meir moment. Academy Award winner Helen Mirren will portray Golda Meir, Israel’s only female prime minister, in an upcoming biopic set during the Yom Kippur War. Production on “Golda” will begin later this year, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The news follows the announcement last month of another star-powered production on Meir, a series titled “Lioness” led by Israeli actress Shira Haas of “Unorthodox” fame. While “Lioness” will follow Meir from “her birth in Kiev to her American upbringing in Milwaukee, her role in the formation of Israel and her rise to become the new nation’s first and only female prime minister,” according to a report in Deadline, “Golda” will focus on the turbulent THE
who want to tell a Jewish story,” Kauffman said in a statement. Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation has funded a range of Jewish initiatives beyond the film world, including the USC Shoah Foundation, which has created an archive of recorded Holocaust survivor testimonies. Spielberg is also a recent recipient of the Genesis Prize, nicknamed the “Jewish Nobel,” which is given to “extraordinary individuals for their outstanding professional achievement, contribution to humanity, and commitment to Jewish values.” He said he will donate his $1 million prize earnings along with $1 million of his own to 10 different organizations fighting for racial and economic justice.
Yom Kippur War period. Along with the rest of Israel, Meir and her all-male cabinet were taken by surprise by the attack on the eve of the holiday in 1973 by Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian forces. The ensuing bloody conflict — chronicled in the recent acclaimed Israeli production “Valley of Tears” on HBO Max — shattered the nation’s growing sense of confidence at the time in an embattled region. “Golda” will be directed by Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv, who won the 2018 Academy Award for best short for “Skin,” a film involving neo-Nazis that he later made into a feature. “As someone who was born during the Yom Kippur War, I am honored to tell this fascinating story about the first and only woman to ever lead Israel,” Nattiv said in a statement. “Nicholas Martin’s brilliant script dives into Golda’s final chapter as the country faces a deadly surprise attack during the holiest day of the year, a core of delusional generals undermining Golda’s judgment. He added: “I could not be more excited to work with the legendary Miss Mirren to bring this epic, emotional and complex story to life.”
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Jewish Theological Seminary Names First Woman as Dean of Its Rabbinical School By Andrew Silow-Carroll
cal Seminary, the first woman in the dean’s role in the history of Conservative Judaism’s flagship seminary. When Uhrbach succeeds Rabbi Daniel Nevins in July, JTS will have women serving as deans of all three of its schools and as its chancellor. In addition, Cantor Nancy Rabbi Jan Uhrbach will become Abramson is director of the H. L. interim dean of the Rabbinical School at The Jewish Theological Seminary of Miller Cantorial School. America in July. (Courtesy JTS) Nevins announced last year that (JTA) — Rabbi Jan Uhrbach was he is stepping down to become named interim dean of the Rabbini- head of school of the Golda Och cal School at The Jewish Theologi- Academy, a day school in West
Orange, New Jersey. Uhrbach will serve as the interim Pearl Resnick dean of the Rabbinical School and dean of the Division of Religious Leadership, which encompasses both the Rabbinical School and Cantorial School, for the 2021-22 academic year. Chancellor Shuly Rubin Schwartz, in a letter to the “JTS Community,” said the seminary had begun a search for Nevins’ replacement and had spoken with “several impressive candidates,” but said the
search committee felt that the “wisest course” would be to name an interim dean. Uhrbach is founder and will continue as director of the Block/Kolker Center for Spiritual Arts at JTS, and has worked on several Conservative movement prayer books. She is the founding rabbi of the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, in Bridgehampton, Long Island. JTS ordained its first woman rabbi in 1985.
‘Kids Need Camp This Summer More Than Ever Before’: What Jewish Summer Camp Will Look Like This Year By Shira Hanau
Camp Modin in Maine was one of the few Jewish camps to open last year. It plans to follow the same playbook this year. (Courtesy of Howard Salzberg)
(JTA) — Last year at this time, the message out of Jewish summer camps was one of doom and gloom. In April 2020, the Union for Reform Judaism announced that COVID would force a closure of its camps for the summer, affecting some 10,000 kids. In May, the Conservative movement’s Ramah camps across the country followed suit. This year, the outlook could not
be more different. Camps in the United States are opening again with a combination of testing and vaccinations, along with a better understanding of how COVID-19 spreads. “It’s absolutely exhausting but incredibly exhilarating,” said Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, national director of the National Ramah Commission, which runs the Ramah camps across the U.S. and Canada. Cohen’s exhaustion has to do with the extra planning involved in fitting campers into existing space while allowing for social distancing and keeping campers in pods and outdoors as much as possible. And while most of Ramah’s 10 overnight camps are expected to open without issue, the group’s Canadian camp may have trouble due to Canada’s sluggish vaccine rollout and
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rising infection rates in Ontario, where the camp is located. (Cohen said the camp is exploring options for a new U.S. campus to serve campers from New York and Ohio who would typically attend the Canadian camp.) At most Ramah camps, campers will be kept in pods of one or two cabins for most of their activities. Spaces like the dining hall, where hundreds of campers and staff would come together for meal times, will be subdivided with temporary walls or plastic sheeting to separate pods. Where birkat hamazon, the blessing after meals, was once a rollicking campwide songfest, some campers will have to step outside the dining hall to a tent to say the blessings this year to allow another shift of campers to eat in the hall at a reduced capacity. “The last thing you want to do is to have a superspreader event at camp,” Cohen said. “We don’t need that. We can go one summer without everyone davening [praying] together or singing together.” Most camps will be able to aggressively test their campers and staff, and receive results quickly enough to isolate and prevent the spread of the virus. Vaccinated staffers will add another layer of protection, ensuring that the adults at camp, who are more vulnerable to death and serious illness from COVID than children, will be protected. And with increased under-
standing of how COVID spreads and preventative measures — namely through mask wearing, social distancing and activities held outdoors or in buildings with improved ventilation — keeping the virus under control seems doable, even if it does require extra preparation. Helping to cover some of the extra costs for camps to buy tents, upgrade buildings and increase capacity is $3.8 million in funding from the Foundation for Jewish Camp. Its grants are set to add capacity for 4,000 campers and will help the camps recoup some of the money that was lost last year. (Jeremy Fingerman, the foundation’s chief executive officer, said Jewish overnight camps lost about $150 million last year, the vast majority of which was covered by loans, cost reductions, donations and tuition rolled over to this year.) “We’re estimating that as a result of this grant, it’ll raise more than $16 million of revenue that will drop to the bottom line,” Fingerman said. At the Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute, a URJ camp in Wisconsin more commonly known as OSRUI, camp director Solly Kane is looking forward to welcoming back about 900 campers after closing last year. Staffers, including about 35 from See CAMP on Page THE
‘Divine Flow’: First-Ever Jewish Psychedelics Conference Looks to Put Spiritual Drug Use on the Map By David A.m. Wilensky
Rabbi Zac Kamenetz is one of the organizers of the landmark Jewish Psychedelic Summit. (J. the Jewish News of Northern California; background courtesy of Shefa/Shannon Levin)
(J. the Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, while some people were dabbling with new hobbies, Rabbi Zac Kamenetz was going all in on a lifelong fantasy. Kamenetz has a vision. He dreams of a world in which the trauma of the Jewish past can be healed through psychedelic experiences, a world in which chemically assisted mystical encounters are a normative part of Jewish spirituality. “Someday I see a space, maybe in the East Bay, where people can have safe and supported psychedelic experiences individually, and then integrate those experiences in a community that is invested in the application of mystical experiences with other people,” he told J. the Jewish News of Northern California, in 2019. “This is total science fiction because it doesn’t exist.” It does now. After losing his job as the director of Jewish learning and living at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco during a round of pandemic layoffs, Kamenetz decided to go for it. He founded Shefa, which means “flow” in Hebrew; the organization’s tagline is “Connect With Divine Flow.” In less than a year, Kamenetz has secured funding from Jewish donors, as well as Dr. Bronner’s Family Foundation (as in Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, the earthy brand with fine print all over the bottle) and the Riverstyx Foundation, which funds a number of “psychospiritual” projects. He also has begun to hold regular “integration circles,” support grouplike gatherings in which fellow travelers discuss and come to terms with their psychedelic experiences. Later this spring Kamenetz is THE
staging a two-day event that promises to put Shefa on the map — the first-ever Jewish Psychedelic Summit. It’s a collaboration among Kamenetz; Madison Margolin, editor of the psychedelics magazine DoubleBlind; and Natalie Lyla Ginsberg, director of policy and advocacy at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Ginsberg’s group, MAPS, has deep Jewish roots. Its founder, Rick Doblin, was inspired by a dream about surviving the Nazis to devote his life to promoting psychedelics as a cure for human ills and an insurance policy against another Holocaust. The organization has supported research and policy to advance psychedelics as a therapeutic tool. Shefa’s summit will zoom in on uniquely Jewish questions related to psychedelics. To be held virtually with four sessions each on May 2-3, the summit will bring together dozens of rabbis, scholars, artists and more for panels with topics such as “Did Psychedelics Play a Role in Ancient Jewish Practice?” “What Draws so Many Jews to India?” and “Jewish Trauma and Psychedelic Therapy: What Is Culturally Informed Care?” Psychedelic substances — whether organic, such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms) or synthetic (such as LSD) — are illegal virtually everywhere in the country, although some have been decriminalized to varying degrees in Oakland and Santa Cruz, California; Denver, Colorado; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and the state of Oregon. But that hasn’t stopped researchers and other practitioners — some funded by MAPS — from beginning to delve into the medical applications of these substances, such as treating PTSD, anxiety, depression and other conditions. Kamenetz has had two experiences with psilocybin, and both were done legally as part of a Johns Hopkins University study of psychedelic experiences in clergy of various religions. Those experiences were among the most powerful of his life, he said, and convinced him of the need for psychedelic-assisted healing in
the Jewish community. “I’m one of the very few people who can say they’ve had a legal experience with psychedelics in this country,” Kamenetz said. “To be able to speak freely about it without the stigma — because it’s not just people talking about doing illegal things — it’s allowed people to start having a more open conversation about it. When there’s the opportunity to hear from someone who did this in a legal environment, people will listen more.” And for Jews who have already been working with or using psychedelics, Kamenetz is proud to be creating a platform where they can talk about it more openly. “I think we’ve gotten ahead of the market,” he said. “If it wasn’t me, it would’ve been someone else.” Ben, a 34-year-old graduate student who didn’t want to use his full name, is one of the many Jews who have used psychedelic substances. He’s attended two Shefa integration circles, 90-minute affairs that can include some Jewish chanting, brief text study and discussion of personal psychedelic experiences. He appreciates the open, nonhierarchical vibe. “People are encouraged to share about their experiences, ask questions, receive feedback,” Ben said.
“I have a significant and longstanding psychedelic background. I have had a lot of conversations about it with similarly inclined Jews.” Ben first heard about Shefa when Kamenetz was interviewed on the Judaism Unbound podcast. “I knew right away this is a conversation I want to be part of,” he said. “And I sort of got the same sense from a lot of other people, a shared sense that it was important to talk about and do and explore this, to create spaces where we can talk about it.” When the Jewish Psychedelic Summit was announced, Ben didn’t even bother looking at the list of speakers. “I just saw the name [of the conference] and said sign me up,” he said, though he admits he’s excited about hearing from Rodger Kamenetz, the poet and author of “The Jew in The Lotus.” Rabbi Kamenetz (no relation) is excited, too. “We’ve got this big Jewish family of psychedelic enthusiasts who are coming and contributing to making this thing happen,” he said. “That’s why it feels so significant to me. I’ve never been part of something that really felt like a movement.”
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Why Jews Are So Obsessed with Tuna Salad
levels, which is a growing concern for tuna and other fish products. As a result, there is now a higher demand for sardines once again.
Plus, the ultimate tuna salad recipe By Sonya Sanford
Many will advise you to steer clear of the tuna at a Jewish deli, but there’s a reason almost every Jewish deli has tuna salad on their menu: American Jews love it. A Brief History of Canned Tuna
In the United States, tuna became popular about a hundred years ago. Throughout the 19th century, tuna was not seen as a desirable fish and was primarily used to feed animals or as bait for fishing. Sardines were the most popular tinned fish. That changed in 1903 when the country experienced a sardine shortage due to extreme weather conditions and overfishing.
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The owner of one of the largest sardine companies, Albert P. Halfill, decided to start canning Albacore tuna as a way to pivot his business. Tuna was abundantly available off the coast of Southern California, and he canned the fish by removing their natural oil and substituting it with vegetable oil. Hot steam was used to compress the fish, and both of these preparations aided in tinned tuna’s palatability. Halfill’s greater spark of genius was marketing the fish as “chicken of the sea.” Jessica Simpson was infamously mocked for thinking of tuna as chicken, but she was far from alone. This intentional comparison fundamentally aided the rise of tuna’s popularity in America. Tuna canners also started to publish recipes in magazines and newspapers, helping Americans learn to appreciate and use their product.
Photo credit: Sam and Gertie’s
While Halfill deserves credit for popularizing canned tuna, Japanese immigrants were the first to identify Albacore off the coast of Los Angeles in 1901. The Japanese had been fishing for tuna since the 18th century and developed innovative fishing techniques. Despite their invaluable contributions to the rise of the tuna industry, Japanese immigrants were aggressively discriminated against then, and for decades after. What started as a way to mitigate the demand for overfished sardines resulted in global mass consumption and overfishing of tuna. The most sustainable tuna today are fished through poll-and-line trolling, to reduce catching dolphins and other marine life. Certain brands prioritize testing mercury
Did Jews Popularize Tuna? Initially, interest in canned tuna disproportionately came from the East Coast, and New York more specifically. While there’s little documentation on which demographics were buying tuna, given that we know that tuna’s popularity began in New York City, it is likely that many of the early tinned tuna customers were Jewish. The rise of tuna coincided with the rise of Jewish delis as central gathering places for Jews in the 1920s. As tuna became readily available and desirable, tuna salad became a part of Jewish deli offerings. After all, delis were already serving a similar salad made of whitefish. Salads made of protein, mayo, and relish came well before tuna. They became a popular way of using up scraps of chicken, salmon, or whitefish. Smoked whitefish salad was especially popular in Ashkenazi communities. Jewish immigrants discovered that the whitefish of the Great Lakes was similar to the freshwater fish of Eastern Europe, and they began to make smoked whitefish a staple of their delis and appetizing shops. The popularity of deli whitefish salad paved the way for tuna salad. Tuna’s kosher-status also helped with its popularity among Jews. In Tablet’s 100 Most Jewish Foods, Ester Werdiger writes: “You know, Chassidish people who aren’t so Chassidish anymore but they still order a ‘toonabygel!’” Most canned tuna is kosher, most jarred mayo is kosher, therefore it was often considered kosher-enough for many Jews when they would go out to eat at a non-Jewish restaurant or diner. For Jews of all denominations, tuna salad sandwiches on bagels or rye bread became a popular meal option, and remain so to this day. What is Jewish Deli Tuna Salad? There are thousands of tuna salad recipes, but online searches frequently show “Jewish Deli Tuna
Salad” as a primary subcategory. What makes tuna salads “deli?” Recipes differ, but all include mayo, most include relish, and many include dill, celery, and onion. What makes the tuna salad Jewish delistyle is more about how it’s served: it has to be served on rye bread or a bagel. Tuna melts are another popular deli item, but they didn’t appear until the 1960s, when Kraft was trying to promote their newly invented Velveta cheese. For me, deli tuna salad has to have dill to be Jewish. When I ran my own Jewish deli, we made it with local tuna, mayo, dill relish (not sweet), celery, fresh dill, and parsley. We served it on locally made rye bread, on a bed of greens, or as a side to-go. Tuna salad was always one of our best sellers. When the deli closed due to the pandemic, many customers unexpectedly reached out about how they missed the tuna. Do You Really Need a Recipe? Tuna salad is as personal as matzah balls, but I’ve written a recipe for my ideal tuna salad sandwich. I need mine on rye, with a side of Tim’s Cascade jalapeño potato chips and a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda. The tuna salad sandwich will forever be one of my top comfort foods. Ingredients For the salad:
• 1 can tuna • 3 Tbsp mayo (Best Foods/Hell-
man’s) • 1 rib celery • 1 Tbsp dill relish • squeeze of fresh lemon juice • fresh chopped dill, to taste • fresh chopped parsley, to taste • salt and pepper
To serve: • caraway rye bread/Jewish Rye • crisp lettuce leaves • thinly sliced cucumber Directions 1. Drain your tuna, transfer it to a bowl and mash it very finely with a fork. Add the mayo, celery, relish, lemon juice, dill, and parsley and mix until well incorporated. Taste and modify as desired, and season with salt and pepper to your liking. 2. Serve on rye bread with lettuce and thinly sliced cucumber. An extra schmear of mayo on the bread is always welcome.
The Secret Not-So-Jewish History of Gefilte Fish By Rachel Ringler
This article originally appeared on The Nosher, 70 Faces Media’s Jewish food site. The downside of gefilte fish is of its appeal. Did you really want a that it takes a lot of time to prepare. carp in your bathtub waiting for its That pain, though, is offset with end? Did you really want your economic gain: You need a rela- home reeking of the malodorous tively small amount of fish to feed scent of fish? For some, preparing it many. Before the ground fish is was a triumph of old school cuisine. cooked, it is mixed with season- Others were happy to move on. Sliced gefilte fish with carrot and And that’s when some enterprisings, egg and either bread or mathorseradish on top (Getty Images) zah meal for binding and stretching ing Jewish businessmen moved in Some see gefilte fish as a deli- a little further. Poor families might to fill the gefilte fish void. cacy, others as something too dis- ask the fishmonger for just the fish Shortly before the Second World gusting to contemplate. Either way, head, skin and bones. The skin War, Sidney Leibner, the son of a it would probably appear on most would be stuffed with bread and fish store owner, began selling people’s short list of classic Ashke- other fillers, while the bones and ready-made gefilte fish under the nazi foods. For good reason — it’s head would flavor the broth. name Mother’s Fish Products — been part of the Eastern European first canned, and later in glass botJewish diet for hundreds of years. tles. Mother’s was joined by The funny thing is that gefilte Manischewitz, Mrs. Adler’s, fish didn’t start out as a Jewish Rokeach and others. Old World met food. The first mention of gefuelten New in mass-produced jars of hechden (stuffed pike) comes from gefilte fish. a 700-year-old, non-Jewish, GerThe bottled stuff was just palatman cookbook in which poached able, but in the late 1970s, consumPLEASE CHECK YOUR (The Nosher) and mashed fish was flavored with ers were offered the chance to make AD CAREFULLY FOR herbs and seeds, stuffed back into Given how time PLEASE consuming it their own fresh gefilte fish without CHECK YOUR SPELLING & GRAMMAR, the skin and roasted. It was a popu- was to grind the fish and return it to the AS fuss, muss and odor: Frozen PLEASE CHECK YOUR AD CAREFULLY FOR lar dish for Catholics during Lent, the skin, a new kind of stuffed fish loaves of ready-made gefilte fish WELL ASCAREFULLY ACCURACY OF ADAD FOR SPELLING & GRAMMAR, AS when eating meat was forbidden. eventually emerged — one thatNUMBERS swam in to save the day. All you DRESSES, PHONE SPELLING &name GRAMMAR, AS&do was boil water with carOF ADBy the Middle Ages, that Catho- wasn’t stuffed atWELL all. AS TheACCURACY had to OTHER VITAL INFORMATION. lic dish had migrated into the Jew- remained; the method changed. WELL AS ACCURACY OF AD-& DRESSES, PHONE NUMBERS ish kitchen under the moniker Fish was shapedDRESSES, into patties and PHONE & OTHER VITAL ad INFORMATION. willNUMBERS run gefilte (stuffed) fish. The rabbis poached in a seasoned Your fish broth. OTHER VITAL INFORMATION. AS-IS unless changes considered fish to be the perfect Over time, gefilte fish became Your ad will run food to kick off a Sabbath or holi- synonymous with the are shtetl andand made Your ad willchanges run unless day meal, since fish symbolize the with Sabbath and AS-IS holiday meals. approved with your AS-IS areunless madetochanges and coming of the Messiah and fertility. 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Jewish Community! areonly to Jews correct the changes As the Eastern European that may be made left their shtetls, theyPUBLISHER’S brought that beERRORS. made aremay totheir correct (The Nosher) cuisine with them. Many of us have Thank you for your to correct ERRORS. Gefilte fish even satisfied some heard stories of fresh ThisPUBLISHER’S isare a low-resolution carp swimreligious commandments. It is pro- ming in bathtubs on PDF PUBLISHER’S Manhattan’s ofERRORS. yourcontinued support! This is proof a low-resolution hibited to light a fire and begin Lower East Side. They were puradvertisement ThisPDF is aproof low-resolution of your cooking on the Sabbath and most chased from the fishmonger early (may not beproof true actual of yoursize). holidays. Gefilte fish, happily, can in the week and left advertisement to PDF frolic in to the be made in advance of the Sabbath tub before their home issacrifice. of size). advertisement (mayItnot beproperty true to actual day, chilled and eaten cold. 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rots, onions and celery, then pop in the frozen loaf. As many of us have begun to look back on our roots, the food of the shtetl has made a comeback in recent years. Millennials Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern are leading the way with “their mission to reimagine Eastern European cuisine.” Their cookbook, “The Gefilte Manifesto,” is filled with Old World recipes including herbed gefilte fish, baked terrines of fish and poached gefilte “quenelles,” as well as the original deal: Old World Stuffed Gefilte Fish. As author Stephen King wrote, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.” As it is with life, so it is with gefilte fish.
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F ocus Issues Inside the Debate Over Judaism and Zionism That on
Quietly Roiled the University of Iowa By Ben Sales
A view of the University of Iowa campus (Wikimedia Commons)
(JTA) — When the University of Iowa student senate debated a bill to give special representation to Jews on campus, Nick Nachtman voted no. Other minority groups had been given their own seats in the Undergraduate Student Government, chosen by their respective student organizations. The Jewish senator would be chosen by students at Hillel. In Nachtman’s view, that was a problem. “Unfortunately as I was researching Hillel International, I’ve seen quite a connection that holds a specifically positive view of the State of Israel,” said Nachtman, a first-
year student at the university who is not Jewish. “I worry that having such a strong power connected to the people who are making this decision could influence them to hold a political belief in an office that shouldn’t have a political belief.” That night, the student senate rejected the proposal. But two weeks later, after Nachtman and other senators gave the matter more thought, they met again to reconsider their decision. This time, Nachtman did not raise any reservations with the idea of having a designated Jewish senator. The bill passed with 95% support. The reversal reflects a remarkable episode that unfolded over the past two weeks at the University of Iowa. Student leaders have worked through thorny questions about how to define anti-Semitism, whether Judaism is primarily a religion or ethnicity, what role Zionism plays in Jewish identity and whether Jews get more attention than other persecuted minority groups.
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And they have done so with little of the vitriol, or involvement by offcampus advocates, that often accompanies campus fights over bigotry against Jews. “A lot of us feel differently on different things regarding protecting speech of people that may speak on the Israel-Palestine conflict,”
Kendall Michaels, a Jewish senior who said she had experienced anti-Semitism on campus, worked with student senators to craft the bill under debate. (Courtesy of Michaels)
Maria Martin, a Jewish student who said she is involved in Hillel and also critical of Israel, said Tuesday at the senate meeting. “And we also agree on a lot of things regarding the really old nature of anti-Semitism.” The idea to create a Jewish “constituency senator” post arose when Kendall Michaels, a Jewish senior, searched for a way to address antiSemitism she had encountered on the Iowa City campus. Several other minority groups there, such as LGBTQ+ students, veterans and Black students, have been afforded similar seats, and she thought a senator representing Jewish students could advocate for them. Michaels is a leader of her school’s Students Supporting Israel group, which has made public waves on other campuses. But the anti-Semitism that Michaels hoped to confront wasn’t connected to Israel, as it has been on other many campuses where debates about antiSemitism have garnered national attention. Instead, she was alarmed by ignorant comments and tasteless jokes that she had heard on campus. Michaels has been asked where her horns are and saw an acquaintance, who knows she is Jewish, post a swastika to social media along with the message “I hate all Jews.” She worries about wearing a Jewish necklace around campus. “Most students, when these things happen, they’re scared to ask for help,” Michaels said. “I wouldn’t
say it happens every day, but it happens enough that there’s something that needs to be done. It shouldn’t happen at all.” She attributed the anti-Semitism to the divide between Jewish students from places like the suburbs of Chicago, like her, and peers from rural Iowa who had little prior exposure to Jews. The school’s Hillel estimates that there are about 600 Jews amid a total undergraduate student body of over 22,000. Two senators worked with Michaels to craft the bill giving those students representation in the student government. Some of the other groups afforded constituency senators have populations that are smaller than or equivalent to that of Jews on campus. The bill stipulated that the Jewish senator, like other constituency senators, would be chosen by a student group that represents them — in this case by the students affiliated with the campus Hillel. But at the senate session on March 23, several student senators raised objections to the bill. Some, including Nachtman, worried about appointing a senator affiliated with a pro-Israel institution because the Senate does not generally comment on international issues. Others wondered whether by creating a post for Jews, the senate was unfairly privileging a religion at a public state university. “I know that it’s more than just a religion, and I know that it extends to ethnic ties and all of that,” said Marco Oceguera, who noted that he has Jewish ancestry. “I feel like the Jewish identity, Judaism as a whole, is one of the three major Abrahamic religions, and the fact that we’d be giving them a voice and giving a platform for that identity, even though it extends beyond the religious aspect, like I said, it’s impossible to represent the ethnic aspect without representing the religious aspect.” More than an hour into the March 23 debate, Elke Heckner, a professor who teaches about the Holocaust, said that she was “a little bit horrified” by what she was hearing. She was distressed that some students were arguing that Jews should See DEBATE on Page
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DEBATE Continued from Page 28 not be entitled to the same kind of representation as LGBTQ students or Black students because Judaism is a religion. “This is meant to be a representation of an ethnicity,” Heckner told the students. “Can you guys please think about what your resistance is to conceiving of being Jewish in terms of cultural terms? What’s up with that? Why do you guys have such an investment in trying to show that there can only be quoteunquote religious Jews? I find that proposition in itself really problematic.” When the bill narrowly failed to reach the two-thirds needed for approval, by a vote of 24-14 with one abstention, it was a shock to Jewish students. The next night, dozens of students attended a town hall where speakers complained that Jewish calls for support in the face of hate were going unheard. “This was another situation where Jewish students weren’t given a seat at the table,” Mollie Chez, Hillel’s student president, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at the time. Chez said she thought the student government debate reflected a misunderstanding of Jewish identity. “They assumed that just because their Christian identity is one way, Jewish identity is the same in nature, that you couldn’t separate Jewish identity from religious identity. That is false,” she said. But unlike in episodes at other universities, the weeks-long debate did not attract the attention of the national Jewish organizations that typically weigh in when they feel Jews or Zionists face discrimination on campus. On other campuses, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, also a Big Ten school, complaints of antiZionism and anti-Semitism have drawn in a range of groups who have engaged in public, coordinated activist campaigns. They have lobbied the schools’ administrations, sought media coverage and even successfully petitioned the federal government to open investigations into civil rights violations. Instead, largely out of the public eye, the Iowa students worked out the issues by themselves. The debate was civil if passionate. The university administration did not get involved (and did not respond to a JTA request for comment). The executive director of the campus THE
Hillel let students take the lead. “Students are still meeting and getting together, and figuring out all of this and what it means, and it’s kind of beginning, if that makes sense,” Iowa Hillel Executive Director Ashley Carol-Fingerhut told JTA last week amid the ongoing debate. “They’re concentrated on creating educational opportunities for senators and other students to learn about Judaism.” Things have started to change. Following the outcry, the senators, who are mostly not Jewish, decided to vote again. Nachtman, who did not respond to multiple interview requests, told JTA via email that “a great deal of us feel that the bill did not have an opportunity to be properly considered, discussed, debated, and amended by the student senate.” When the senate debated the bill again, the discussion took only 45 minutes and mostly concerned technical matters. One extended conversation, about whether to use a specific definition of anti-Semitism as the Jewish senator’s guide in identifying anti-Semitism on campus, made quick work of a question that has locked politicians and activists around the world in debate. Their debate has centered on the way that the document, popularly called the IHRA Working Definition, includes some forms of criticizing Israel in its examples of antiSemitism. That has caused some critics of Israeli policy to reject the definition; some recently proposed an alternate definition. But at the University of Iowa, student government leaders quickly came to a friendly compromise: The students agreed to endorse the IHRA definition — minus one example that says calling Israel a racist endeavor constitutes antiSemitism. The final vote establishing the Jewish senate seat was close to unanimous. And Jewish students said they felt heard on a campus where that has not always been the case. “The decision that was made previously was an uneducated decision,” Chez told JTA following the final vote. “Senators got caught up in the political rhetoric. The couple weeks in between gave them an idea of the impact this act has on the community, and a minority, and their fellow students at Iowa.”
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These Names Are Being Talked About to Be the US Anti-Semitism Monitor By Ron Kampeas
Nancy Kaufman, seen in January 2019, said a number of people outside the Biden administration urged her to apply for the monitor's post, so she made her interest known to people inside the administration. (Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Nancy Kaufman, the former CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, said this week that she had been in touch with the Biden administration about becoming this country’s newly empowered anti-Semitism monitor. Kaufman revealed her contact in the Forward in a story about how progressive Jewish groups appear to be coalescing around her candidacy. She confirmed it on Wednesday to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, saying that a number of people outside the administration urged her to apply for the job, so she made her interest known to people inside the Biden administration. “I expressed interest and now I’m waiting to hear,” she said. Kaufman isn’t the only one angling for the position, which reports on anti-Semitism overseas and presses governments to adopt measures to mitigate anti-Semitism. JTA spoke with four people close to the Biden administration who named a number of others who have been mentioned in chatter inside and outside the administration while noting that they could not confirm whether any of them were under formal consideration. The list includes Abraham Foxman, the retired longtime leader of
the Anti-Defamation League, and Deborah Lipstadt, the prominent Holocaust historian at Emory University. JTA reached out to all of those whose names are in circulation, but only a few replied — and confirmed that like Kaufman, they also had expressed interest in the job. One is Ethan Katz, a professor of Jewish history at the University of California, Berkeley. Mark Weitzman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center would only say that his name has cropped up in reporting on the issue. Stuart Eizenstat, a longtime U.S. Holocaust restitution negotiator, said he had not applied for the job. Other replies were off the record and cannot be reported. In explaining their request to remain off the record, two candidates with whom JTA spoke cited an age-old Washington maxim: The best way not to get a job in government is to campaign for a job in government. Governments do not like to appear pressured into making hires. Kaufman said she was not campaigning for the job, formally known as U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. She said that she had campaigned for Biden, in senior positions in outreach to Jews, older adults and progressives, and with his victory there had been talk of a possible administration position. The only one that excited her, Kaufman said, was the State Department’s antiSemitism envoy. “I’m very enthusiastic about the prospect,” she said. “But there are a lot of good people out there.” There are no front-runners. Kaufman said the administration had not reached the vetting stage, which the other applicants confirmed: They had not yet heard
Best Wishes to all of my friends in the Jewish Community. Thank you for your support!
back from government officials who would be tasked with the formal hiring. The Biden administration has made no sign that it is even considering a formal nomination beyond accepting applications. “At this time, we do not have any details to share regarding a nomination for the special envoy position,” a State Department spokesman told JTA. One thing the administration must consider that its predecessors did not: Congress just elevated the job to ambassadorial level, meaning the envoy will have more resources and influence. The downside is that the nominee will have to be confirmed by an evenly divided Senate, where Republicans have already sought to scuttle a number of Biden picks. Groups on the left — including IfNotNow, which has endorsed Kaufman for the job — want the anti-Semitism monitor to focus on white supremacists and to deemphasize Israel. They decried the last monitor under President Donald Trump, Elan Carr, for launching a campaign equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.
Here in alphabetical order are the names circulating among people who talk with people inside the Biden administration: Stuart Eizenstat, a longtime U.S. negotiator for Holocaust restitution Ira Forman, anti-Semitism monitor under President Barack Obama Abraham Foxman, retired longtime national director of the AntiDefamation League Ethan Katz, professor of Jewish history, UC-Berkeley Nancy Kaufman, former CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women Mark Levin, longtime CEO of NCSEJ: National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry Deborah Lipstadt, Holocaust historian, Emory University Sharon Nazarian, senior vice president, international affairs, the Anti-Defamation League Mark Weitzman, director of government affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center
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Henderson, Nev., Has a Growing Jewish Population. Here’s What Locals Love About Living Jewishly in the Desert. By Howard Riell
Members of the Ahavas Torah Center in Henderson parade through the city during a Torah dedication ceremony in the mid-2010s. The Las Vegas suburb is home to a growing Orthodox Jewish population. (Courtesy of Ahavas Torah Center)
HENDERSON, Nev. (JTA) — Gershon and Leslie Wolf relocated from Brooklyn to Las Vegas in August 2006, then returned to the East Coast in 2010 to join their son and daughter and their families. But four years later, when the kids decided they’d had enough of the high prices, snowstorms and week-
long power outages, the whole clan moved back to Nevada. Only this time the Wolfs opted for neighboring Henderson, mainly because they wanted to be near the Yeshiva Day School of Las Vegas, “so the kids wouldn’t have to commute to school,” Leslie Wolf said. “We’ve never looked back. We all love the life here.” If Las Vegas is known as a place to have fun, its next-door neighbor Henderson — Nevada’s secondlargest city — has become a prime destination for Jewish families. Some 40% of the approximately 70,000 Jews who live in the Las Vegas Valley reside in Henderson, according to the most recent demographic survey by Jewish Nevada, the representative organization for the Jewish federation. A steady trickle of newly arriving families
every summer has propelled what was a sleepy suburb to an emerging hub of Orthodox Jewish life in the desert. In the shadow of Sin City sits a haven for Jews who, with few exceptions, all made the move from somewhere else. Henderson has peeled off Jews from New York and California, who are drawn to the low housing costs, abundance of parks and trails, and lack of snow. But it’s the welldeveloped infrastructure of observant Jewish life that’s the real draw: the thriving minyans, supermarkets with kosher sections, summer camps, kosher restaurants, religious schools, a kosher butcher, mikvahs and a Jewish cemetery. A religious boundary known as an eruv is bursting at its seams, and an expansion effort is underway. “We love it,” gushes Simon Lader, a corporate headhunter who relocated from England seven years ago. “Coming from Manchester we love the weather, the landscape, the dry heat and blue skies. We also love how warm and close the community is. It has grown exponentially since we first arrived. How-
ever, it has retained the ‘village’ culture where everyone still looks out for each other.” The city does not yet have everything that some community members want — but even when people move on, the village culture persists. The community was rocked this year when Bashi Rand, a 37-year-old former resident who had just moved with her family to New Jersey, in part to seek a larger Orthodox high school for her daughter, died of COVID-19 complications. Rand’s death sent many in Henderson into mourning. Her funeral was viewed virtually in Henderson by longtime friends. An online fundraising campaign launched on behalf of the family has raised more than $760,000. While it helped provide closure, it didn’t relieve the pain. “It was very tragic,” said Sy Ader, a retired engineer who arrived in Henderson in 1996 before much of the city had been built. Ader remembered Rand not only as someone who was always there for See HENDERSON on Page
Their Writing Helped Us Make Sense of a Pandemic That Was Just Beginning. Here’s What They’re Thinking About as We Enter Year 2. By Laura E. Adkins
modern miracle. But basic necessities like mental health care, child care and sick leave have become luxury goods. Jewish community and ritual, a life sustaining force for Jews for thousands of years, has been reduced to uneasy gatherings, Clockwise from top left: Gabrielle standing masked and distanced — Kaplan-Meyer, Rabbi Seth Winberg, alone, together — and computer Rabbi Aaron Brusso, Simone Somekh, Linda S. Haase, Meyer Labin, Sara screens, or selfishly exchanged for Nuss-Galles and Dr. Gary Slutkin public safety. (Courtesy photos) And some, (JTA) — What’s most heartit’s true, have breaking about reading the essays gained new published in March 2020 was that understanding they could have been written today. from this The tired joke is that this month strangest of is March, which is funny because years — about last month was March, too. The the ways we (Getty Images) reality is that half of the country is are all conisolated, half is overwhelmed and nected, perhaps, and the things they half a million are dead. realize they value the most. Those without children or family Have we really learned anything nearby are often bored and lonely. in a year turned upside down? The less fortunate are struggling to I asked those who wrote essays pay for basic necessities, battling for JTA in March of 2020, just as addiction or substance abuse, or are the upsets were beginning in earoverwhelmed with health care nest, to share how their lives and expenses. Those caring for children thinking has changed since then. or the elderly, already a Sisyphean There are moments of grace and task in a society mercilessly resilience, but there’s not a lot to obsessed by productivity, are barely take solace in. hanging on. I mostly feel like crying. Maybe The scientific community has that’s all we can really do. managed to develop four astonishResponses have been lightly editingly effective vaccines, a true ed for length and clarity. “I’m a veteran expert in stopping epidemics. Here’s MARCH CLOSED SALES why Jewish institutions should cancel everything.” 2020 Latter & Blum Elite Award and “This epidemic Top of the Latter Award (Top 30 Company Wide) of COVID-19 in the United States is Michelle Sartor one of the largest REALTOR, ABR preventable failCELL: 504-723-8057 ures in modern hisOFFICE: 504-866-2785 tory.” www.MichelleDSartor.com I’ve been guidAccredited Buyer Representative ing and leading Certified USAA & Navy Fed efforts to control Relocation Specialist
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major epidemics in the U.S. and abroad for over 35 years, much of that time with the World Health Organization. Over those years, I learned that populations do not like to make the changes in their behaviors that are needed to stop an epidemic. These changes may be in sexual behavior (AIDS), contact with sick people (Ebola), or in the case of COVID-19, avoiding gatherings as well as wearing masks, and other inconvenient but lifesaving efforts — changes needed until an epidemic is under control. I was glad to be helpful to the Jewish community, if I was, as well as to other religious communities in the earlier days of the COVID pandemic. However, with the exception of a very few governors, and a very few cities I worked with, denial was way too strong. And I and we failed. This epidemic of COVID-19 in the United States is one of the largest preventable failures in modern history. However, the blame does not go to one political leader alone, but to a culture that is not used to inconvenience or personal sacrifice for the greater good. And also to many of my own scientist and media friends and colleagues where
The author’s husband, Fred, left, and son, George (Courtesy of Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer)
communication efforts were not nearly good enough. The focus was rules rather than understanding the virus in the air; bending of a curve and opening up instead of stopping the virus, which other countries successfully did! We’re not out of the woods now. There is still way too much complacency and more preventable death to come if people let their guard down prematurely, before we have control. This denial and inability to wake up to threats is not just about COVID-19 — for the Jewish community as well as the country and beyond — but also about violence and the country’s extremely dangerous political situation. — Dr. Gary Slutkin “I can’t see my son who has See YEAR 2 on Page
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YEAR 2 Continued from Page 32 autism in person because of the coronavirus.” “I have learned to hold the reality that George has been in the best place for him during this unprecedented lockdown … while also missing our time together terribly.” One year ago, as the COVID-19 pandemic began, I was adjusting to what it meant to be the mom of a son with multiple disabilities living in a residential treatment center — when I wasn’t allowed to go see him or bring him home for visits anymore. I am grateful to report that my son George has been healthy, safe, generally happy and able to attend school on his campus in person thanks to the heroic efforts of the staff, therapists and teachers who care for him. We started visiting by Zoom twice a month a year ago, and those visits have been sustaining — to see George’s smiles, to tell him how much we love him, and to know our feelings and energy can be felt back and forth across the screen. In July, we were blessed to begin seeing him on campus twice a month. These visits are only an
hour in length, in a sterile room on his campus, but we have been truly grateful that we can have that time to be together, wearing our masks. There have been some COVID-19 cases in other units on his campus and to contain any spread, our inperson visits have been stopped, sometimes for six weeks at a time. I have learned to hold the reality that George has been in the best place for him during this unprecedented lockdown — that we would not have been able to provide the structure and support he requires at home — while also missing our time together terribly. I have spent this year going deeper into my spiritual practices than I ever have before, using my time when not working or parenting my daughter to meditate, write, resurrect a yoga practice, and let go of old patterns and ways of thinking that don’t serve me. This is a different way of becoming the best mom to George that I can be, but I believe an essential way. The more that I can hold our lives in love and not fear, I can imagine his future as one in which he always receives the support he needs to live a safe, happy and meaningful life. There is more to say ... for now, even as I anticipate the day when
George will get to come home again, I am also grateful just for this moment. — Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer “Asian Americans are facing violent xenophobia during the coronavirus outbreak. Jews have a responsibility to speak out.” “An America that is perilous for one minority is unsafe for all.” Nearly a year ago, I called for American Jews to speak and act in defense of Asian Americans as they began to experience a rise in xenophobic, violent and discriminatory incidents amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s tragic that the call remains relevant. Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition that documents anti-Asian hate and discrimination, has recorded more than 3,000 reported cases since my article was published on March 13, 2020. According to the New York Police Department, there was a 1,900% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020. Other cities in the U.S. saw similar statistics, which don’t even account for the many incidents that go unreported. Since my article was published, colleagues and friends in the Jewish community have asked again and again, “what else can we do?”
Here’s my advice: • Ensure that you know how to report a hate crime as a victim or a witness and that you can accurately share that information with others. • Urge elected officials to pass legislation, such as the NO HATE Act, that give law enforcement agencies the proper tools to respond to and report on these incidents. • Continue to express solidarity with and listen to our friends and partners in the Asian-American community. Ask how you can be useful at an organizational or individual level, and act accordingly. This bears repeating: An America that is perilous for one minority is unsafe for all. American Jews continue to stand with Asian Americans. — Dylan Adelman “Before the coronavirus pandemic, I hadn’t gone to synagogue in years. Now I’m more Jewishly connected than ever.” In March, I wrote about the beautiful, virtual, connected world of Judaism that COVID-19 opened up to me. One year later I find myself still inspired about what a postvaccination world will look like for See YEAR 2 on Page
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still take. It’s not lazy to need to take a night off from video calling (or even texting!) your friends and recharge. Be kind to yourself. Surviving in a pandemic is work. A year later, it is still OK to see this time as an (Getty Images) opportunity to rest. — Allison Darcy “I almost never let my kids use the internet — until the coronavirus forced their Orthodox school online.“ One year in, things have changed and yet stayed the same. My daughter takes the Zoom laptop all over the house. Recently she spent the whole school day in the basement, even though I knew I wouldn’t be down there. It’s a bit more freedom for her and showing our trust. We’ve kept our other family standards — no social media for the kids or YouTube. So I think we’ve struck a good balance. — Leebah Stephens
“Two vaccines later, we are slowly, cautiously, joyfully connecting with those missing pieces.” those of us who still need to stay Anniversaries are often a time of home, but also a bit cautious. reflection — joy, accomplishment, After a few-months burst of allendurance, passage, loss and this Jewish Zoom calls all the time, a past year, for me, a sort of survival. combination of Zoom exhaustion As a child of Holocaust survivors, I and people realizing this was going often tested myself with concentrato continue and that hosting was real tion camp scenarios. Could I stand work that they deserved to get paid at strict attention in the freezing for (and they do!) reduced the conChicago winter? Could I skip a stant possibilities of prayer, study, meal or two without my mother’s book clubs and song sessions. interference? Could I resist the Still, a steady stream remained beloved Cella’s Chocolate Covered — though lately they seem to be Cherry that taunted me from my dropping off even more. I remain so jacket pocket? hopeful that organizations of all In the early weeks of the 2020-21 sorts will realize how they opened year of COVID, I wrote that not themselves up to so many new only did I inherit my parents’ traupeople this past year, and that they ma, but I felt strengthened and predon’t have to lose those people pared by it. My pantry, refrigerator when they’re ready to meet in perand, yes, even toilet paper supply son again. There’s no reason they were always stocked. All year I ate, can’t or shouldn’t continue providI walked, I FaceTimed, I Zoomed ing accessible virtual events indefi(too much), I wrote and I read (a nitely to make sure all members of lot). their community can be a part of I managed all that pretty well. what they provide. What I hadn’t anticipated in my My thinking has also evolved in projection turned out to be what I a way: Because I didn’t have the missed the most: my people. My opportunities to be connected all “Growing up the child of Holo- children, my grandchildren, my the time before the pandemic, I may friends and, yes, my acquaintances have underestimated how much caust survivors prepared me for in the grocery store, coffee shop, energy online social interactions this pandemic.” yoga class and drug store. The social capital that connects us to others both intimately and casually. My husband and I are the lucky ones, having had everything we needed this past year. And now, two vaccines later, we are slowly, cautiously, joyfully connecting with those missing pieces — our family, our friends and our acquaintances. We wish it for the entire world. — Sara Nuss-Galles “The real reasons coronavirus is spreading in my Hasidic community“ “The shortest anti-Semitic sentence I’ve ever heard consisted of two words: ‘Of course.'” I was sitting on a plane waiting for takeoff, but one passenger was running late, holding up the entire flight. The 15-minute delay got us all on edge. The flight attendant gave constant updates on the state of ‘the late passenger,’ and finally announced that ‘he’s boarding now.’ All eyes were fixated on the older haredi Orthodox man making his way to his seat. That’s when the person behind me made a loud comment: ‘Of course.’ As if it’s to Best wishes to all my friends in the Jewish be expected — and even predicted Community. Thank you for your continued support. — that a passenger who selfishly held up an entire flight just had to Happy 73rd Anniversary! be haredi. 34 April 2021
I was reminded of that incident as I reflected on the last year with the deadly pandemic; our community came under the media spotlight time and again. While some of the criticism was justified, for some it was just another opportunity to scapegoat an easy target, sometimes disguised as genuine concern for our well-being. As the COVID pandemic started ravaging globally and hitting the Hasidic community with deadly impact, I wrote about “why the pandemic has hit my community hard,” attributing it largely to socioeconomic discrepancies and circumstantial misfortunes. Some of the explanations I provided still hold up, but I would be dishonest not to admit that it seems naive and simplistic in hindsight – subsequent months have painted a more complex picture. A lot has happened since I wrote that op-ed. We have lost hundreds of our elders, including my beloved grandmother, of blessed memory. The pandemic exposed fundamental problems in the community and its leadership. At the same time, it also reaffirmed the communal safety network’s strength and resilience that held up despite the overwhelming crisis. Some seek to minimize the unique impact the pandemic has had on our community, primarily because of a rightful concern of anti-Semitism. It’s a concern that I wholeheartedly share. We’ve seen how COVID has been used as an excuse to bully and scapegoat haredi individuals and families. But too much is at stake if we turn a blind eye to the facts, however painful. We can do both, fighting bigotry while taking a hard look inward. I firmly believe that we could have, and should have, done better as a community. The virus exposed a lack of leadership in the Orthodox world on all levels. Preliminary studies now confirm that the mortality rates were higher in haredi communities around the world than in the general population. The “real reasons” why the pandemic has hit the haredi community so hard is indeed not as simple and straightforward as I tried to explain back in March of 2020. We now have more data, and the explanation is likely far more complex. A real in-depth analysis would have to consider an array of factors rangSee YEAR 2 on Page THE
ﬁcial position on the bills yet, sition has softened, especially meantime.” State Rep. Ted James, Dsaid Shannon Dirmann, the after hearing from people who beneﬁted from the drug. Baton Rouge, is chair of the group’s attorney. Last year, he shepherded the House Administration of Crim“Several members have recommended that we oppose bill to allow doctors to recom- inal Justice Committee, which (recreational marijuana) bills, mend the drug to any patient will hear the bill. He said he although there has not been they think it could help, in- supports Nelson’s effort, sayan official vote taken yet,” stead of only those with speci- ing Louisiana is “behind the Dirmann said. “We will be dis- ﬁed conditions. times.” Still, legalization of maricussing this bill and other leg“When I ﬁrst came in, there islation with our members at was no way that’d get through juana for recreational use will be a tough hill to climb in Louian upcoming meeting.” (the Legislature),” he said. siana’s Republican-dominated Dirmann said the group dayall willwecome’ if, will as not hasn’t yet discussed Magee’s hard times, that moved me so much. that ‘The this was really needed. A Legislature, that, althoughespecially philosophers expected, law enforcement bill, but she noted that the orgaState Sen. Ronnie Johns, RWe often forget to notice the mag- committed group, willing to stand in tell you this, the sign of truth is that turn out to it. opposed recent Lake and Charles, said he hasn’t groups nificence nization of naturehasn’t in the hyper-urban the snow sing together. upon hearing it oppose one breaks into Lampert, of the district attormedical marijuana bills. The read Magee’s bill but is in faconcrete and glass of Manhattan. The hazzan sings, “He removes tears. Sheriffs’ Association helped vor of medical marijuana. He neys group, said law enforcePrayertank is a strange thing. We try bill day also and said brings night, among God islawhis ment That night I worries was touched typically that by a medical marijuana opinions to deeplyinconnect with our pain and name” in synchrony with the darktruth. 2014 but came aboard the makers have changed as they legalizing recreational marigratitude,following speak to year, our hopes andcraft ening sky. It beneﬁts is gettingofharder to read juana Waswill it lead the pain and trafﬁc loss of the helping to more saw the the drug. legislation that passed and set fatalities. He also contends But Johns isn’t ready to get regrets. We say these words to our- the small print in my prayer book, pandemic? The fragility of life? in motion the state’s medical there be aof“shadow crime I’m board with recreational selves with a divine intention. but Ion know the words by heart. The could support togetherness? marijuana program. component” where states thatit was marijuana, even if its day is Prayer is something that should be The lump in my throat loosens and not sure, but it was real, and legalize marijuana but are coming. The Advocate - 04/11/2021 so personal and private, yet I find it I breathe in the cold air. worth bundling up for and seeking Changing attitudes “I’m 72 years old; I’m old surrounded by states where most meaningful when done— with a Marc Cousins, the architectural outstill on illegal a freezing, snowy Friday see heightened school, I guess,” he said. “I it’s Legal marijuana whether community. theorist, one of come his lectures evening. activity as peoguesssaid thein day will when black-market for recreational or medical use I have—come to seeamong communal is popular Louisiana polls have consispraying residents, as a bit like therapy. In tently shown. And that support therapy we learn to hear our feelappears be growing. ings, accept our to pain and cherish In 2019, the LSU Public Policy our joys.Research But it is hard, if not Lab did a statewide impossible, to do this work alone. poll that found 55% of resiComplete We need dents someone, the therapist, Interior/Exterior support legalizingto small Available help us see ourselves better. Someamounts of marijuana for recuse, with hugetogenone who reational can give us permission erational feel sadness and divides. encourage us to In polls conducted for a medState Licensed celebrate success. ical marijuana industry group Bonded Community can play a similar in 2020 and 2021, pollster John Insured role. It legitimizes and creates a for Couvillon found support place forlegalization deep emotions. Together, and Fina of medicinal Ava we dare recreational to say that life fleetingfrom potisjumped 54% to 67% in a year, with and that the universe is vast, and nearly unanimous history has awful moments support and among the 18-34 age group humanity can be inspiring. We can this year. hold theseIndisturbing conflicting August 2019, medical ideas because we are doing it to marijuana became available together, patients and together feelofsafe after we years delays; and accepted. ThisFred needMills, for comstate Sen. R-Parks, through legislation munity isushered so fundamental that our to authorize the program in 2015 numbers have grown even as the and 2016. Since then, a total of temperature dropped. 15,672 patients have gotten the Praying on a public New York drug as of March 31, according City sidewalk, I felt exposed and to records from the Louisiana vulnerable at first. Some stared, Board of Pharmacy. Call 5 others tookThe photos on of their phone prenumber patients, From our table to yours, Best Wishes to our many scriptions anddog doctors in the or lingered, while their sniffed friends and customers in the Jewish community program significantly *Est a shrub, to watch us,grew or even joined syste after lawmakers agreed last us. Can we do this? I’m sure those summer to allow doctors to
This Year, I Learned the Pain and Beauty of Praying Outside Esther Sperber
Park bench locked off with barrier tape during the corona virus lock down (Getty Images)
This essay originally appeared in the New York Jewish Week. Friday night. We are standing in a paved plaza beside Riverside Drive; the air is crisp; the fresh snow is sparkling like diamond dust in the setting sun. We are 6 feet apart and masked (I can’t wait for this combined phrase to become obsolete). We join the hazzan, chanting the Friday evening prayer, welcoming the Sabbath as the sun disappears over the Hudson River. “Come my beloved towards your bride to welcome the Sabbath.” Suddenly I’m choked up, no longer able to sing. My eyes fill with tears and emotions. I have sung these words almost every week of my life — that’s about 2,500 times — but tonight these very familiar words feel new and deeply moving. Perhaps it is the beauty of praying outside. Kabbalat Shabbat, the prayer welcoming, or literally accepting, the Sabbath, is a relatively new prayer service. It was added in the 16th century by the Jewish mystical Kabbalists (note the repeating root) in the holy city of Tzfat in the Galilee. They got into the habit of leaving the city and walking out to the nearby hills and orchard. Out in nature, they sang and meditated about God’s glory as manifest in the universe and in history. This new service was an instant hit and has become part of the prayer book canon. But for most urban dwellers, it is a rare occasion, maybe on a high school weekend trip, Shabbaton or retreat, to practice it outdoors as the Kabbalists did. Early in the pandemic, our congregation shifted to outdoor services. We thought this would work during the summer. None of us envisioned the weekly service continuing outside through the bitter New York winter. But it did. Perhaps it was the link to the origin of Kabbalat Shabbat, the repetition of a practice through good times and THE
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who use this spot for yoga on Sunday morning have felt this discomfort too. The reclaiming of public space has been one of the surprising joys of the pandemic: restaurants using the parking lane for seating and closed streets becoming plazas for bikes and pedestrians. I realize how many things we could do outdoors if our city were designed to facilitate these activities. I hope we move toward making outdoor life in our city more easily accessible to all of its inhabitants. The pandemic has stripped our service to its bare basics. We worship without a space, without chairs, with dim light and no heat. I realized
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Travel HENDERSON Continued from Page 31 others, but as “a very funny girl with a subtle sense of humor.” “Aside from her loss, it really hit home to everyone because this was the first loss in our community,” he said. “It was a reality check on how precious life is.” Rand’s family represented a relatively rare occurrence. While Henderson has four synagogues – mainstream Orthodox, Chabad, Conservative and Reform – running the gamut of contemporary American Jewish life, it’s the local Orthodox community that has seen the most dramatic growth from its beginnings a quarter-century ago with a Chabad emissary. Henderson, which was incorporated in 1953, saw its population expand rapidly beginning in the 1990s, quintupling over the past 30 years to its current 320,000-plus. The first Chabad emissary had arrived in the mid-’90s. The Orthodox presence grew further with the arrival of Rabbi Yehoshua Fromowitz in the summer of 2008 to form a kollel (yeshiva for married men). Three years later he founded the Ahavas Torah Center, an Orthodox synagogue. Unlike in some other expanding
Orthodox-dominated suburbs, such as Lakewood, New Jersey, the Jews of Henderson don’t necessarily see their proximity to a big city as an advantage. Being a stone’s throw from the legendary Vegas Strip “definitely created some challenges in terms of spiritual growth,” Fromowitz said. “But for the most part,” he added, “the community remains isolated from the entertainment capital of the world — or so we hope.” Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel of Midbar Kodesh Temple, a Conservative congregation, considers Henderson unique in that “you can live here and avoid the common vices normally associated with Las Vegas.” “The Strip and all that it offers is there for those who want to take advantage of it,” he said. “However, you can live in Henderson and not even know it exists. As a masterplanned community there is a park within a mile walk of any home.” For some in the community, having Las Vegas nearby offers something of a beacon when it comes to maintaining Orthodox values in Henderson. “Every city has its places to go and places to avoid, but they are all interlaced and it’s hard to know where to steer clear of,” Lader said.
“With Vegas only a few miles away, we know that all the tumah [impurity] is concentrated in one specific area, and it’s lit up and visible for miles around, so it’s very obvious where to avoid.” Others say the Strip allows for employment opportunities, even if the content is not totally palatable for Orthodox workers. “Look, you grin and bear it,” said one Orthodox local who had worked at the Egypt-themed Luxor resort on the Strip and asked not to be named for fear of societal pressure. “Earning a living for one’s family is a righteous endeavor, and bottom line we’re still in golus [exile]. You make the best of things.” Many have made that determination. The Yeshiva Day School of Las Vegas is now located in Henderson and has 200 students, enough to have outgrown the school’s physical space — it leases additional space from the local Reform congregation, Ner Tamid. And preliminary plans are in motion to expand the city’s eruv eastward to encompass more apartment communities. Consultation with rabbinic experts is already underway. “People in Henderson, Jews and gentiles alike, are generally nice,” said Howard Perlman, president
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and founder of Perlman Architects. His firm designed developments in the city that cater to observant Jews, including housing units that surround the three synagogues and a local assisted living facility with a kosher kitchen. “I have found over the years that the gentile community we’re integrated with accepts and likes us,” Perlman said. “Even the city government went out of its way to help us with our eruv and traffic control on Shabbat and holidays.” Like many Jewish communities, Henderson is reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “COVID had a huge impact on our community,” said Ahavas Torah Center’s Rabbi Zecharia Rubin, who relocated with his family from Jerusalem. “Many people have been home and stayed away from shul and other gatherings, even with social distancing in effect. I am confident it will get back to normal, but it will take time.” When the pandemic struck, the community, like so many others, had to pivot to virtual events. Shuls shut down for months, then moved outdoors, adopted all regulations such as providing face masks and hand sanitizers, and socially distancing, suspended the weekly kiddush (the repast following Shabbat services) and curtailed all social events. Tecktiel sees “great” potential for the growth of Henderson’s Jewish community. “The strong base that we have created allows for people to move here and seamlessly integrate into the Jewish community,” he said. Locals await the addition of fresh-made food items for takeout or even on-premise consumption by the newly arrived kosher butcher Prime Nosh, which opened in 2018. The charitable organization founded by the Wolfs shortly after they arrived, Aishel Avraham — similar to one they had operated back in New York — now delivers free Shabbat food bundles to 80 financially stressed families across the area, and its scope is growing. Rubin said the pandemic had made Henderson attractive to even more potential Jewish residents than before. “Jews in big cities are looking to get out,” Rubin said, “and when they see Henderson they find the perfect place to come to. … There simply aren’t enough homes available within the eruv to accommodate the families interested in moving here.” THE
YEAR 2 Continued from Page 34 ing from history to psychology and sociology, perhaps even theology. One thing is certain: The explanation isn’t ‘Of course.'” — Meyer Labin “What American Jews can learn from my Italian-Jewish community’s response to the coronavirus” “One year later, everything and nothing has changed.” I recall the frustration I felt in early March last year as I saw the coronavirus hit my home country, Italy, while here in New York City, life went on as usual. Most people saw the looming pandemic as an exotic news story. I wrote my warnings in these pages and felt very much like a Cassandra, the Greek mythical figure whose prophecies nobody listened to. One year later, everything and nothing has changed. My Jewish community back home has lost many lives, especially during the second wave, which hit the country in November. The vaccines have arrived, but only 5% of the population has received the first dose. Yet Jewish life in Italy has never stopped. Synagogues have been
open (with strict social distancing compliance) uninterruptedly since June, and dozens of classes, events, talks and social gatherings have been taking place via Zoom every week. All that’s left is the question: Are we at the finish line yet? — Simone Somekh “You don’t need Zoom or Skype to say Kaddish without a minyan. Here’s a healthier option for the community.” “For some, virtual platforms are a meaningful way to get through the pandemic. For many others, a physical connection to a local community is vital and irreplaceable.” My personal view hasn’t changed. Without minimizing how emotionally difficult it can be, halakhah requires being together in person for certain rituals such as the Mourner’s Kaddish. Many months of working with young adults virtually and in person has convinced me that the most important and fundamentally human aspects of community do not transpose easily to a virtual space. Brandeis has had very few COVID cases on campus. We’ve worked incredibly hard to provide continuous religious life in person for all faith communities on cam-
school kids who used 3-D printers to make face shields for frontline workers, we have found ways to care for one another and stay connected. Everyone has been so creative and thoughtful in taking their programming online. And I am so proud to work for JUF, which has “I fought AIDS in the Jewish distributed nearly $20 million in community. Here’s what I learned extra funding to help meet emerthat can help us get through this gency needs in the community. pandemic.” — Linda S. Haase “I did have one thing right: When “I’m staying sane during the our community put our Jewish valpandemic by reclaiming an ageues to work, it made all the differold Jewish tradition: baking ence.” bread.” When I left my office on March “There will never be the perfect 12, 2020, I never dreamed that a full year would go by without my conditions to produce anything … returning. I never imagined how we just have to do the work anyeffective I’d be in working from way.” A year into this pandemic, I’ve home or how much I would miss interacting with my colleagues. moved four times and am back And I never anticipated how thank- home in Las Vegas, for the moment. ful I’d be for Zoom, Teams and My living circumstances have not other technological tools that have allowed me to cook or garden much, enabled us to stay connected to which is driving me mad. Thanks to friends and family — and to stream Patreon, I make just under $500 a month, and I’m not looking for my Shabbat services every week. But I did have one thing right: 39th job anytime soon. Once my When our community put our Jew- tax refund hits, I’m thinking about ish values to work, it made all the living in a van and traveling around difference. From the woman who delivered loaves of challah to her See YEAR 2 38 on Page neighbors every week to the day pus. For some, virtual platforms are a meaningful way to get through the pandemic. For many others, a physical connection to a local community is vital and irreplaceable. — Rabbi Seth Winberg
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Travel YEAR 2 Continued from Page 37 the country, though I don’t know how I’ll get around any of the practicalities like my hideous credit score and near total lack of savings. But yesterday, I snuck into the 57th floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel. In 2017, the perpetrator of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history holed up here. In the stairwell where cops waited to enter his room, there’s now a placard bearing Nevada’s trespassing code. I took another stairwell and walked slowly down the hallway where he rolled 21 cases of guns and ammo. Soon enough, hotel security found me, asked me what I was doing and threw me out. I learned then that when you get banned from one MGM-owned property, you get banned from all of them. Recently I became deeply involved in the Belarusian Freedom Movement on the streets of Chicago. It’s now six months out from the sham elections. There are over 250 political prisoners. And still, the people meet every Saturday in the snow on a small corner in Skokie. Love or stillness, the kind I sought a year ago, the kind I’m always seeking, is not something you can possess or carry. It’s some umbilicus joining us to everything. Sometimes, if we’re lucky enough, we know it has felt our twitchings and yearnings because it has responded in kind and placed us on the right path with the right people. There will never be the perfect conditions to produce anything, be it a loaf of bread or a revolution. We just have to do the work anyway. — Stephanie Kutner
Jewish Life “I hope we don’t forget what it feels like … to be human.” We have spent thousands of years turning our world into a familiar and habitable place. We have carefully curated our surroundings to convince us that we are the main characters on this planet. One year into this pandemic we are reminded that we are strangers in a strange land. We have seen traffic arteries cleared of cars while ventilators were clearing lungs. We have learned the humility of a global sabbath, of being still. And at the same time we have never felt more human. When families go through loss before a wedding or a bar mitzvah, they will sometimes say to me, ‘We don’t want to mention that. We want it to be happy.’ I will then suggest they think of the sanctuary like the human heart. It’s a place that contains everything all at once. Loss mixes with love mixes with joy mixes with tears. It’s a place where we don’t think of things as messy and chaotic but as one feeling teaching another to feel itself more deeply. This past year, we have had no choice but to feel it all at the same time. I hope we don’t forget what it feels like to be a creature and to be human. — Rabbi Aaron Brusso The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.
CAMP Continued from Page 24 Israel, will be required to be vaccinated, and there will be surveillance testing throughout the summer. While the camp won’t be bringing everyone together in one room for singing the way it usually might, OSRUI has ideas about gathering the entire camp. “Something like a Friday-night song session, instead of being all together [inside], we’re in a soccer field with kids sitting in pods and wearing masks,” Kane said. But no matter how much testing has to be done and how many events have to be reconfigured to work outside, the most important thing to Kane is to get the kids back to camp. “It’s been a hard last year for everybody,” Kane said. “Kids need camp this summer more than ever before.” Camp Modin in Belgrade Lakes, Maine, was one of the few Jewish camps to open last year, hosting about 300 children for one fiveweek session. The camp asked families to quarantine before camp, and tested campers and staff multiple times in the first weeks.
Co-director Howard Salzberg plans to follow the same playbook this year, though at a significantly reduced cost now that testing has become cheaper and more widely available. “We learned a lot last year, so we don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” Salzberg said. Modin campers will be asked to get a COVID test in the days before camp and will be tested on the first day — and possibly again with a rapid antigen test before boarding buses to camp. “We have the ability to test, test, test,” Salzberg said. “That is so much more than we even had at our disposal last year and costwise it’s now affordable.” Still, Salzberg is worried that parents this year may be less on guard than they were in 2020, when parents were overjoyed to be able to send their kids to camp at all. “The thing that was most effective was that the parents were partners with us and they really, really locked down and they tested negative,” he said.
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SCHOOL CULTURE Continued from Page 18 creating a world that holds at its core equity and justice? For our children, our elders and ourselves, how do we reframe our experience of ‘the other’ by coming to see all human beings as a different version of ourselves?” asked Case, who is a Jew of color. “How do we deeply root our work — emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually — in our Jewish belief that each of us is created ‘b’tzelem elokim,’ in the image of God, and recreate Jewish institutions, systems, language, rituals and cultural norms that hold organically the whole of who we are while maintaining the integrity of our beautiful and blessed difference?” The primary funders of the Prizmah project are the Jim Joseph Foundation, Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah and Crown Family Philanthropies, which have partnered to fund the program for at least three years, according to Bernstein. “At a moment when our country is reckoning more seriously with our legacy of racial injustice than it has in decades, the Jewish community must confront our own responsibilities, both to Jews of color and as part of our broader national commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion for all Americans,” Aaron Dorfman, president of the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, said.
living in. We’re facing complex issues, so we want the collective wisdom of different experts in the field to help us,” Freedman said. “We’ve been exploring these issues at Schechter for many years, dealing with the broader issue of race and discrimination using our own experience as Jews.” Years ago the school began examining its library and curriculum to make sure that students studying history and civics were hearing multiple voices — an approach informed by Jewish tradition, Freedman said. “Being human is to be messy,” Freedman said. “Our biblical heroes all contributed significantly to the betterment of civilization, and yet they were all flawed. The same goes for our own heroes of American history. We must not be afraid to teach kids honestly and help them think critically.” Tikvah Wiener, head of The IDEA School in Tenafly, New Jersey, a Modern Orthodox, projectbased learning high school that opened in 2018 and now has 51 students, said that addressing racial justice issues is an integral part of the curriculum. In its first two years, the school ran a “justice and righteousness” curriculum that used Talmudic texts to show how Judaism is concerned with seeking justice. For next year, Wiener and her team are working with experts to design a curriculum that weaves together the history of American slavery and the Jewish
decide how they will start, continue and develop racial justice work and be there for each other,” Wiener said. She cited a well-known Jewish aphorism from a Mishna in Pirkei Avot: “You are not obligated to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Aside from the 40 Jewish schools participating in the initiative, many more of the over 300 Jewish day schools in the Prizmah network are doing their own work in educational programming related to equity, diversity and inclusion. Portland Jewish Academy, a community day school in Oregon with about 180 students, began working on diversity issues several years ago, examining everything from its print educational materials to its wall art, the language teachers used to educate students and the facility’s layout to ensure inclusion. The school also brought in educators from the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education to work with students and adults on issues of racism and discrimination. Over the winter, 12 middle-school students participated in a three-day diversity workshop for students across the Pacific Northwest. “Our students are activists who
express themselves and their passions in a number of different ways, including attending protests, researching and teaching about important causes, and going into the community to feed the hungry,” school principal Merrill Hendin said. “Our goal is to send mensches out into the world — whether at the age of 3 or 14 — and we are doing whatever we can to accomplish that.” Debra Shaffer Seeman, Prizmah’s director of network weaving, said that though many schools were already doing this work on their own, there is new urgency to addressing inequity in the Jewish community and beyond. “Why are we doing this? Because Jewish day school and yeshiva educators feel a deep sense of responsibility for their students, including instilling their own sense of responsibility for the world around them,” Seeman said. “We can best serve the next generation by instilling in them the value and responsibility to improve themselves and the world.” This story was sponsored by and produced in partnership with Prizmah, the network for Jewish day schools across North America. This article was produced by JTA's native content team.
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Jewish day school students, like these at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County bearing signs with the Hebrew word for love, are increasingly pushing their schools to explore how they can foster greater diversity, equity and inclusion both in school and out in the world. (Courtesy of the Schechter School of Bergen County)
Steve Freedman, head of the 415-student Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, New Jersey, said his school is taking part in the Race and School Culture initiative to help get guidance in making better decisions about how to teach children. “This is a complicated time we’re THE
experience in the Holocaust. The students will interview survivors and descendants of both horrors, Wiener said. “We will inevitably make mistakes and need to learn from them, but by providing us with information and resources, schools can then
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