5776 Lâ€™Shana Tova
Supplement to Jewish News August 31, 2015
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Jewish Holidays 5776 Rosh HaShanah Sept. 13–15, 2015 Yom Kippur Sept. 22–23, 2015 Sukkot Sept. 27–Oct. 4, 2015 Simchat Torah Oct. 4–5, 2015 Hanukkah Dec. 6–14, 2015 Tu BiSh’vat Jan. 24–25, 2016 Purim March 23–24, 2016 Passover April 22–29, 2016 Yom HaShoah May 4–5, 2016 Yom HaZikaron & Yom HaAtzmaut May 10–12, 2016 Lag BaOmer May 25–26, 2016 Shavuot June 11–12, 2016 Tishah B’Av Aug. 13–14, 2016 Selichot Sept. 24, 2016
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Looking back at 5775 by Uriel Heilman
NEW YORK (JTA) — As 5775 winds to a close, here’s a look back on the highs and lows (and everything in between) of the year that was.
September 2014 At the annual U.N. General Assembly, President Barack Obama focuses his speech on the ISIS, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likens Iran to ISIS and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blames the West’s blunders for fomenting the terrorists of ISIS. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issues a scathing attack against Israel for its conduct in the summer’s war with Hamas in Gaza.
October 2014 Rabbi Barry Freundel, the longtime spiritual leader of the Kesher Israel synagogue in Washington, D.C., is arrested and charged with voyeurism following the discovery
of hidden cameras that recorded women undressing in the Orthodox synagogue’s mikvah. The following February, Freundel pleads guilty to 52 counts of voyeurism. The case roils the Orthodox world. Rabbi Avi Weiss, an ardent political activist who espouses a liberal brand of Orthodoxy, announces his planned retirement from the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York. Weiss is the founder of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah rabbinical school for men and Yeshivat Maharat school for female Orthodox clergy. The Death of Klinghoffer—an opera based on the true story of an elderly American Jewish man in a wheelchair killed by terrorists aboard an Italian cruise ship— opens at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York amid protests that the production is anti-Semitic and sympathetic to terrorists. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and two former New York governors, David Paterson and George
Pataki, are among those who protest the New York opening of an opera that had its worldwide debut in 1991. Chaya Zissel Braun, a three-month-old American citizen, is killed when a Hamas terrorist crashes a car into a Jerusalem rail station. A second victim, a 22-year-old tourist from Ecuador, dies several days later from injuries sustained in the attack. Relations between the Obama White House and Prime Minister Netanyahu reach a new low after an anonymous American official calls the Israeli leader a “chickenshit” in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic. U.S. officials condemn the remark and Secretary of State John Kerry calls Netanyahu to apologize. Open Hillel, the movement launched to counter the campus organization’s regulations on Israel programming, holds its first national conference, at Harvard University. The two-day gathering, titled “If Not Now, When?,” draws some 350 participants for a
May the sound of the shofar herald health and happiness for your entire family, and the promise of a secure and lasting peace in Israel.
conference aimed at pushing back against Hillel International rules prohibiting programs that feature groups or individuals who “delegitimize” Israel or support the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the Jewish state. Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, the senior rabbi at a large Conservative congregation in Washington, D.C., announces he is gay. The announcement is received positively by the leadership of his synagogue, Adas Israel. SodaStream, the Israeli at-home seltzer machine company, announces that it will close its West Bank factory and move the facility’s operations to southern Israel in 2015. The company says the move out of the Jewish settlement of Mishor Adumim is unrelated to boycott threats. The core exhibit of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, a more than $100 million complex first conceived over continued on page 22
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20 years ago, is inaugurated with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on hand.
November 2014 As Republicans retake the Senate in midterm elections, a state senator from New York’s Long Island, Lee Zeldin, is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming the sole Jewish Republican in Congress. Four Jewish immigrants and a Druze policeman are killed during morning prayer services in a terrorist attack at a Jerusalem synagogue, Bnei Torah Kehillat Yaakov in the Har Nof neighborhood. The mayor of Ashkelon is roundly criticized for laying off city Arab workers in the aftermath of the deadly synagogue attack in Jerusalem. Israel’s Cabinet grants initial passage to a controversial bill that would identify Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, prompting concern at home and among some American Jews that it will prioritize Israel’s Jewish character over its
democracy. Acrimony over the bill sparks a coalition crisis that ends up dissolving the Knesset in early December and sending Israel to early elections scheduled for the following March. Steven Pruzansky, a New Jersey Orthodox rabbi known for his incendiary rhetoric, is broadly criticized for publishing a blog post saying that Arabs in Israel are an enemy that must be “vanquished.” The post, titled “Dealing with Savages,” draws a strong rebuke from the Orthodox Union, which calls it “anathema to the Jewish religious tradition.” As the Ebola epidemic spreads in three countries in Africa, IsraAid becomes the sole Israeli or Jewish organization on the ground in the hot zone. A state monitor slams the East Ramapo Central School District in New York’s Rockland County for giving preferential treatment to Orthodox schoolchildren who do not attend public schools. The school board, which is majority Orthodox, had been under fire for years for allegedly diverting public funds to religious schools.
Jonathan Greenblatt, a former special assistant to President Obama, is named the next national director of the Anti-Defamation League to replace Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s leader since 1987. World powers, led by the United States, extend the deadline in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program to June 30, 2015, prompting a call by AIPAC for new sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Ultimately, additional sanctions are not levied during the negotiations, which last until a deal is struck in early July 2015.
December 2014 France’s parliament, the National Assembly, votes 339-151 to urge the French government to recognize the state of Palestine. The vote follows similar motions passed the previous month by parliaments in Britain and Ireland. An oil pipeline ruptures near the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat, causing a spill that is called one of Israel’s worst environmental disasters.
The United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents more than 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors and other student workers in the University of California system, approves a resolution to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, becoming the first major U.S. labor union to hold a membership vote on Israel and BDS. The New Republic’s longtime literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, and editor Franklin Foer quit the 100-year-old magazine to protest its new direction under new owner Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder. The magazine has a long history of Jewish editors and coverage of Jewish issues. The European Parliament passes a resolution that supports, in principle, recognition of a Palestinian state as part of peace talks with Israel, in a 498-88 vote with 111 abstentions. Meanwhile, the General Court of the European Union annuls Hamas’ inclusion on a blacklist of terrorist groups, saying the 2001 decision was based on press reports and not legal reasoning.
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Alan Gross, a Jewish-American contractor for the U.S. government who had spent five years in a Cuban prison for helping connect Cuban Jews to the Internet, is released and returned to the United States as part of a sweeping deal to restore diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana. Jewish immigration from France to Israel reaches an all-time record of nearly 7,000 in 2014, more than doubling the French aliyah rate in 2013 and far outstripping immigration to Israel from the United States. Overall, immigration to Israel hits a 10-year high in 2014 with approximately 26,500 new immigrants. The Conservative movement youth group USY votes to relax rules barring teenage board members from dating non-Jews. The change, adopted at the group’s annual convention in Atlanta, affects the 100 or so teen officers who serve on USY’s national board. President Obama signs the 2014 United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act. The law, which unanimously passed the House and Senate, declares Israel a “major strategic partner,” upgrades the value of American weapons stockpiles in Israel and grants the Jewish state improved trade status. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics announces that the country’s population grew by 2 percent in 2014, to 8.3 million. Of them, 74.9 percent are counted as Jews, 20.7 percent as Arabs and 4.3 percent as others.
January 2015 Streit’s announces it is closing its historic, six-story matzah factory on New York’s Lower East Side, where the company produced the Passover staple for 90 years. It will relocate operations to New Jersey. Bess Myerson, the only Jewish woman to win the Miss America pageant, dies at 90. Myerson won the competition in 1945. Four Jewish men are killed by an Islamic gunman during a hostage siege at a kosher supermarket in Paris two days after a pair of Islamic gunmen storm the Paris offices of a satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, killing 11. The supermarket gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, is killed when police storm the Hyper Cacher market. Almost simultaneously, police kill the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attack—brothers Said
and Cherif Kouachi, who were friends with Coulibaly—at a printing plant just outside Paris. The events, which prompt a massive anti-terrorism demonstration in Paris, stoke fears of French Jews about their future in the country. Actor Michael Douglas is named the winner of the Genesis Prize. The $1 million award, given by a consortium of philanthropists from the former Soviet Union, is meant to recognize accomplished Jews who demonstrate commitment to Jewish values. Alberto Nisman—the indefatigable Argentine prosecutor collecting evidence of culpability in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires— is found shot to death in his apartment, just hours before he is to present evidence to Argentina’s congress that he said implicated his country’s president and Jewish foreign minister in a scheme to cover up Iran’s role in the bombing. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner first calls the death a suicide, then a murder, while protesters hold rallies in Buenos Aires demanding justice in the Nisman case. The mysterious circumstances surrounding Nisman’s death remain unresolved. New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is arrested on federal corruption charges. One of the state’s most powerful politicians and high-profile Orthodox Jews, Silver soon steps down as speaker, but retains his Assembly seat while the investigation is ongoing. House Speaker John Boehner invites Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on Iran’s nuclear program. The move sparks a showdown with the Obama administration, which says the invite breaks protocol by circumventing the White House and is inappropriate, given that the Israeli leader is in the midst of an election campaign. American Jews are divided over whether Netanyahu should speak to Congress over Obama’s objections, and a partisan row ensues. The Conservative movement’s flagship institution, the Jewish Theological Seminary, announces plans to sell two dorms, some of its air rights and potentially part of its library building in order to finance an ambitious redevelopment project at its Manhattan campus.
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Portugal’s government adopts legislation that offers citizenship to some descendants of Sephardic Jews, making Portugal the second country in the world after Israel to pass a law of return for Jews. FEGS, a Jewish charity and one of the largest social service agencies in the United States, abruptly shuts down after losing $19.4 million in 2014. The 3,000-employee agency, which is a major beneficiary of UJA-Federation of New York, had said it served 12,000 people daily in such areas as home care, job training and immigrant services. The news comes just days after another major New York Jewish social services agency, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, announces it is looking to merge or partner with other organizations or perhaps close altogether.
February 2015 Brandeis University President Frederick Lawrence announces he will step down at the end of the academic year. Lawrence led the historically nonsectarian, Jewishsponsored university for five years and was the institution’s eighth president. Comedian Jon Stewart announces he is leaving The Daily Show, the mock news program he anchored for 16 years and built into a political and cultural touchstone. Europe’s Jewish population is pegged at 1.4 million, down from 2 million in 1991 and 3.2 million in 1960, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Overall, European Jews account for about 10 percent of the world Jewish population, compared to 57 percent in 1939, the eve of the Holocaust. CBS News reporter Bob Simon, an Emmy Award-winning correspondent who was held captive in Iraq for 40 days while covering the Gulf War in 1991, is killed in a car crash in New York. He was 73. A gunman attacks the main synagogue in Copenhagen, killing a security guard. The attack comes just hours after a gunman kills one person at a cafe in the city, where a caricaturist who had lampooned Islam was speaking. The attacks are seen as a wake-up call for Danish Jews to the threat of Islamic terrorism. As a gesture of solidarity, Muslims in neighboring Norway form a “peace ring” around an Oslo synagogue.
The Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film goes to Ida, a Polish movie about a Catholic novitiate who learns she is the daughter of Jewish parents killed by the Nazis. More than half of U.S. Jewish college students witnessed or experienced anti-Semitism, an online survey conducted by two professors at Trinity College finds. In a landmark case, a New York jury orders the PLO and the Palestinian Authority to pay more than $218 million in damages to American victims of six terrorist attacks that took place in Israel between 2002 and 2004 and were attributed to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Hamas. The Palestinian Authority pledges to appeal. Leonard Nimoy, the actor who portrayed the iconic character Spock on Star Trek for over four decades on television and in film, dies at 83. Born in Boston to Yiddishspeaking Orthodox parents, Nimoy had said he derived Spock’s trademark split-finger salute from the priestly blessing that involves a physical approximation of the Hebrew letter “shin.”
March 2015 Amid lingering controversy, Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses a joint session of Congress to warn of the emerging Iran nuclear deal. Several Jewish lawmakers skip the address. Obama says the speech offers “nothing new,” and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., calls it an “insult to the intelligence of the United States.” The Reform movement’s rabbinic group, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, installs Denise Eger as its first openly gay president. The Swarthmore Hillel votes to disaffiliate from Hillel International to protest the Jewish campus group’s rules on Israel programming. In 2013, the Pennsylvania college’s Hillel ignited a national debate on Hillel International’s Israel policies, which restrict programs with speakers who support boycotting the Jewish state. Netanyahu wins a fourth term, his third in a row, as Israel’s prime minister, roundly defeating his main challenger, Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union. Netanyahu’s remarks in the days before the election prove highly controversial, as he says a Palestinian state
will not be established under his watch and warns on election day about Arab-Israelis turning out to vote “in droves.” The comments are condemned in the United States by the Reform and Conservative movements and by President Obama. Netanyahu later apologizes to Israel’s Arabs and insists he still backs a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The American Jewish Reconstructionist movement is roiled by debate about whether to drop its longstanding ban against intermarried rabbinical school students. Some synagogues threaten to quit the movement if the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College becomes the first of America’s four major Jewish religious denominations to ordain intermarried rabbis; the debate continues.
Seven children, ages 5 to 16, are killed in a Brooklyn house fire reportedly caused by a malfunctioning Sabbath hot plate. The children’s mother, Gayle Sassoon, and her daughter Tziporah sustain injuries in the blaze but survive; the father was out of town at a religious conference. The children are buried in Israel.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, announces that he intends to run for the U.S. presidency. A self-described “Democratic socialist,” Sanders, who is running as a Democrat, is considered a long shot to defeat the party’s front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is found guilty of fraud under aggravating circumstances and breach of trust for accepting cash-filled envelopes from U.S. Jewish businessman Morris Talansky and using it for personal gain. Olmert’s lawyers later appeal the verdict in what is known as the “Talansky Affair.”
April 2015 Negotiators for the United States, five other world powers and Iran reach a framework accord for a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program and set June 30 as the deadline for a final, comprehensive deal. Women of the Wall, a group that promotes women’s religious rights at the Western Wall, for the first time reads from a fullsize Torah scroll during its monthly prayer service at the Kotel, contravening regulations there. The Torah was passed across the barrier between the men’s and women’s sections by male supporters. The following month, police block and arrest a man who attempts to repeat the effort. Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a leader of the national religious movement in Israel, a head of the Har Etzion Yeshiva in the West Bank and a prominent modern Orthodox scholar, dies at 81. The White House acknowledges that a U.S. drone strike in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area in January accidentally killed Warren Weinstein, the Jewish-American government contractor who had been held hostage by al-Qaida since 2011. An Italian hostage, Giovanni Lo Porto, held captive since 2012, also was killed in the strike on an al-Qaida-linked compound.
Ethiopian-Israeli protesters clash with police during demonstrations throughout Jerusalem over two attacks against Ethiopian-Israelis by Israeli law enforcement, one of which is captured on video. The attacks spark a national debate about racism in Israel.
May 2015 Ed Miliband, the first Jewish leader of Britain’s Labor Party, fails to become his country’s first Jewish prime minister as the incumbent, David Cameron of the Conservative Party, handily wins reelection and secures 331 of the 650 seats in the Parliament. Miliband resigns immediately after the defeat. Rabbi Freundel is sentenced to nearly 6½ years in prison—45 days for each of the 52 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism. Additional court documents show Freundel also engaged in extramarital sexual encounters. The U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passes a bill providing for its approval of any Iran nuclear deal. Shlomo Riskin, rabbi of the West Bank city of Efrat, is summoned to a hearing by the Chief Rabbinate’s governing body on the future of his position. An Orthodox progressive on women’s issues and conversion, Riskin vows not to go, suspecting the Chief Rabbinate is looking for a pretext to dismiss him. The Rabbinate later backs down and renews Riskin’s position. Rochelle Shoretz, the founder of the national cancer group Sharsheret after
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being diagnosed with breast cancer at 28, dies of the disease at 42.
June 2015 After a lengthy story in The New York Times detailing his habit of inviting young males to join him for naked heart-to-heart talks in the sauna, Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt of the Riverdale Jewish Center in New York asserts he is innocent of any crime, but says he regrets if his conduct offended anyone. Congregants at his Orthodox synagogue are divided dismissing him. Rosenblatt eventually rebuffs offers to buy
out the remainder of his contract, vowing he will stay on as leader of the shul. The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a 2002 law allowing U.S. citizens to list Jerusalem as their place of birth. The case was brought by the parents of 12-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky, whose parents sought the passport listing not long after his birth. Spain’s lower house of Parliament passes a law offering citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews, the result of a 2012
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government decision that described the law as compensation for the expulsion of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition. David Blatt, the first Israeli to serve as head coach of an NBA team, guides the Cleveland Cavaliers to the league finals. Blatt’s club loses to the Golden State Warriors in six games after taking a 2-1 lead in the bestof-seven series. The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict finds that Israel’s military and Palestinian armed groups committed “serious violations” of international human rights law during their 2014 summer war. While the report accuses both sides of possible war crimes, its findings focus more on what it considers Israeli wrongdoing. Israel, which refused to cooperate with the investigation, slams the outcome. Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, an Orthodox Jewish nonprofit that purports to help gay men become heterosexual, is found guilty of violating New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act and is ordered to pay $72,000 in damages to three former clients. The plaintiffs said JONAH claimed a success rate it could not prove and used scientifically questionable therapy methods. Days before the U.S. Supreme Court endorses the right to same-sex marriage, the Public Religion Research Institute finds that American Jews are among the
country’s most supportive religious groups of same-sex marriage. The Pine Bush Central School District in upstate New York agrees to pay nearly $4.5 million to settle a lawsuit alleging widespread anti-Semitic harassment. The 2012 suit by five former and current students was due to go to trial in July. Israeli parliamentarian Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States and before that a respected American-Israeli historian, causes a stir with a new book, Ally, suggesting that President Obama purposely damaged U.S.Israeli relations.
July 2015 Iran and six world powers led by the United States reach a historic agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the easing of sanctions. President Obama says the deal cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb. Prime Minister Netanyahu calls the deal a “stunning historic mistake.” AIPAC quickly launches an all-out effort to have Congress scuttle the deal. A 94-year-old former Auschwitz guard, Oskar Groening, is sentenced by a German court to four years in prison for his role in the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews in the concentration camp. Theodore Bikel, the actor and folk singer who won fame playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, dies at 91.
Paying to pray? by Rabbi Ellen Jaffe-Gill, Tidewater Chavurah
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26 | Jewish News | August 31, 2015 | Rosh Hashanah | jewishnewsva.org
e’ve all heard this story, and some of us have lived it: A Jewish individual or couple, new in town or newly seeking to reconnect with the Jewish community, walks into a worship space just before the start time of a High Holy Days service and starts to enter the sanctuary, only to be stopped by an usher, who asks, “Do you have a ticket?” If the answer is no, the would-be worshiper is directed to a table in the lobby, where he or she is offered admission to the service in exchange for a stated amount of money.
How many Jews have been turned off from participation in synagogue life because this has happened? It’s a classic recipe for alienation. The stranger may be offended by what seems to be a crass business transaction at what’s supposed to be the holiest time on the Jewish calendar. He or she may not be able to afford the amount asked for. The person staffing the table may come off as officious or unfriendly. And heaven forbid the stranger doesn’t look particularly Jewish.… This doesn’t happen in our bend of the river, of course. But it happens, and it’s always a horror story when it does.
This is a time of nervousness and heightened security measures, when you don’t know what kind of nut might walk through the door. But we who gather in congregations that are outlets for our Jewish spiritual and communal impulses have a responsibility even at the High Holy Days—especially at the High Holy Days—to make sure every single newcomer who turns up on the doorstep is welcomed warmly and unconditionally. I would like those of you who are not affiliated with a congregation to understand why most synagogues ask for donations of money from nonmembers who want to attend High Holy Days services. It’s mostly to offset the greater expenses that congregations incur during the holidays. These can include space rental; additional personnel (from extra security guards to a cantor and other professional musicians); food service for a crowd several times larger than usual; printing of bulletins, prayerbook supplements and memorial booklets. Keep in mind, too, that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the only services for which congregations ask a specific donation. For every other visit to a temple’s sanctuary during the Jewish year—every Shabbat, every festival, every commemoration—the stranger is asked for nothing but fellowship. When you make a donation to a congregation in order to attend High Holy Days services, you aren’t paying to pray. (After all, you can do that for free, anywhere.) You’re supporting the ability of that congregation to provide a spiritually meaningful, aesthetically pleasing worship experience led by people who have trained for years and are working hard to express both the gravitas and celebration of the holiday season. You’re supporting the profoundly communal nature of Judaism, making yourself part of the minyan, if only for a couple of hours—and, it’s tax-deductible. The responsibility of the worship group,
then, is to offer a sacred space and atmosphere that will embrace you and make you want to come back. The congregations that do this best at holiday time enlist their friendliest, warmest members to sit at the “ticket table,” take tickets at the door, and hang out in the lobby with an eye toward spotting newbies. Collecting money from nonmembers is a much lower priority. Nonmembers who walk in without tickets should be directed smilingly to the ticket table, where they are asked for a donation. If the potential congregants offer a smaller donation than requested, accept it graciously. If they say they can’t afford any donation or aren’t carrying what they need to make a transaction, hand them tickets and a stamped, addressed donation envelope, saying something along the lines of, “No problem. Here’s an envelope if you can send something later. We’re glad you can be with us for the holiday.” The odds of receiving a check? Unknown. Mitzvah points? Priceless. During my years as a Jewish adult, I’ve been a temple board member eyeing the budget for the High Holy Days, and I’ve been the gal at the ticket table. I’ve been the cantor hired for the holidays and am currently rabbi of a congregation-without-walls that needs to rent walls for the holidays. And I’ve been the stranger seeking a spiritual home for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Even when I was young and my financial resources minimal, the sense of being home was always worth supporting. If congregations and unaffiliated Jews approach the High Holy Days in a spirit of generosity, support and welcome, worship spaces everywhere will be filled with an extra radiance of joy and wholeness. L’shanah tovah um’tukah tikateivu: May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good and sweet year. And may you find your spiritual home in 5776.
Have a Happy and Healthy New Year!
Tidewater Chavurah’s High Holy Days plans
idewater Chavurah will celebrate the High Holy Days at a new venue this year, holding services in Brody Auditorium at Temple Israel. Rabbi Cantor Ellen JaffeGill will lead in prayer and celebration. Tidewater Chavurah’s services are in the Reform/Reconstructionist traditions. Tidewater Chavurah welcomes people to join this group of chaverim for holiday worship filled with warmth, joy and
community. Tickets (for a nominal fee) are required for entry to the building and services. Tidewater Chavurah doesn’t want anyone left out. Temple Israel is located at 7255 Granby Street in Norfolk. Contact Reesa at firstname.lastname@example.org or 757468-2675 or Carol at email@example.com or 757-499-3660 for details.
Jewishnewsva.org | Rosh Hashanah | August 31, 2015 | Jewish News | 27
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Dr. Craig Koenig
(Son of founder Dr. Burton Moss)
ost of us can relate to the following situation: We went to school and studied for years. We worked in some jobs generally just to make enough money to pay to live while going to school. We had dreams of what we wanted to do when we got out of school. Then, the big day came. We graduated, applied to a number of work opportunities, and were asked to go for an interview. The preparation for that interview was fairly intense. We were nervous, we did not know what to expect. We were unsure what we would be asked. The big day finally arrived. We woke up that morning, nervous, making sure that we looked our best, had our cup, or multiple cups, of coffee and headed out the door. We waited in a waiting room while our stomachs churned with anxiety. Then, the secretary said the dreaded words, “Mr. ‘Smith’ will see you now.” As we sat down for that interview, we felt as though we were being judged, looked over and examined. We chose our words very carefully. We told our potential boss the truth, but definitely what we thought he wanted to hear. When asked the typical interview questions, we answered them well, but at the end of the interview we were told that there were many candidates and that we would get a call within a few days or weeks and we left. The feelings of anxiety lessened because the interview was over, but now different butterflies plagued our stomachs. Did we get the job or not?
Every year we, the Jewish people, go through this exact process with our Creator, the Ultimate Boss. We, “go to school” all year preparing and examining our lives. Then, we come to the month before Rosh Hashanah, the Hebrew month of Elul. During this month we get ready for our “interview.” We ready our resumes, think back on what we have done or not done. We contemplate our relationships, our life goals, our accomplishments and our failures. Then, the big day(s) come. Rosh Hashanah is the, “Yom Hadin,” the Day of Judgment. It is the greatest interview we will ever have. If we felt anxiety coming into a potential employer’s office then we should feel much more trepidation approaching the awe of Our Father in Heaven, the True Judge. Rosh Hashanah is a time when we bring out sweet foods and give each other kind greetings and well wishes. We want good things for ourselves and others and by surrounding ourselves with goodness we try to bring that spirit into our lives. At the same time we should not lose sight of the power and potential of these holy days. Just like we spend years preparing for our jobs we should use this month of Elul to prepare for the most powerful days of the year. May we all be inscribed in the book of life for the upcoming year. —Rabbi Gershon Litt is the rabbi at Adath Jeshurun Synagogue, the executive director of the Norfolk Kollel, and the director of the Hillels at the College of William and Mary and Christopher Newport University.
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28 | Jewish News | August 31, 2015 | Rosh Hashanah | jewishnewsva.org
years preparing for our jobs we should
use this month of Elul to prepare for the
most powerful days of the year.
What makes a mensch? A ‘digital diva’ wants to know by Gabe Friedman
(JTA)—“Our technology has exceeded our humanity,” Albert Einstein allegedly once lamented. But filmmaker Tiffany Shlain—who utilizes an online, collaborative process and distribution method she dubs “cloud filmmaking”—says it’s possible that technology, used correctly, can enhance our humanity. As a testament to Shlain’s methods, as well as her rise to becoming one of the most influential filmmakers in the American Jewish world, her latest film, The Making of a Mensch, will be shown in more than 4,000 Jewish schools, synagogues and other organizations across the country during the High Holidays. The film—about the Mussar movement, a lesser-known strain of Jewish ethical thought known for promoting character development—will be released on Friday, Sept. 18. Shlain’s nonprofit film company Let It Ripple: Mobile Films for Global Change is offering the short to the organizations for free, along with materials meant to foster discussions about moral discipline and ethical exploration. It’s a pretty remarkable feat, considering that just a few years ago Shlain—who founded the Webby Awards, for excellence on the Internet—had never heard of Mussar, which is Hebrew for “moral conduct.” Her new film, which has a run time of less than 15 minutes, coaches viewers on improving specific personality traits by combining Mussar teachings with strains of psychology, philosophy, social science and Jewish history. “The High Holidays are a time of self-reflection…on who you are, what you did last year and what you want to become,” Shlain says. “And Mussar is the perfect set of tools to help do that.” This is Shlain’s second film that delves deeply into Jewish topics. Her first, 2006’s The Tribe, was inspired by an iconic 11½ inch piece of plastic: the Barbie doll. “I always thought it was such an irony that a Jewish woman created the ultimate shiksa with the Barbie doll,” says Shlain, who identifies as “very culturally Jewish.” The short—which used Barbie and its founder, Ruth Handler, as an entry point into an exploration of American Jewish identity—played at the Sundance Film Festival and became the first documentary
to top the iTunes film chart. “Making of a Mensch is the next evolution of what I was wrestling with with The Tribe,” Shlain says. “The Tribe was about ‘OK, I’m Jewish, what does that mean?’ Ten years later, ‘I’m Jewish, we celebrate Shabbat…but I want a deeper guide and meaning in this 24/7 world on living a good life and fulfilling it in my children.’” Shlain, 45, lives in Mill Valley, Calif. with her husband and two children. She grew up in northern California, the daughter of a neuroscientist and a psychologist, and loved film and technology from an early age. She actually predicted the potential of the Internet before its time—in 1988, at age 18, she wrote a proposal called “Uniting Nations in Telecommunications and Software” that caught the eye of California Sen. Barbara Boxer. Through her work for The Web Magazine—a publication that Shlain says failed because it was way ahead of its time, founded the Webby Awards in 1996. The awards became a success partly due to Shlain’s quirky ideas, such as a five-word maximum for each award acceptance speech. San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown dubbed Shlain the “Digital Diva” of Silicon Valley. But it wasn’t until she met her husband, Ken Goldberg, that she got in touch with her Jewish side. Goldberg, a professor of robotics at the University of California, Berkeley, who now co-writes most of Shlain’s films, took her to Israel for their honeymoon and introduced her to Shabbat observance—a Jewish ritual that would inspire Shlain in the years to come. After attending the inaugural conference organized by Reboot (a Jewish nonprofit that engages and inspires young, Jewishly unconnected cultural creatives) in 2002 and making The Tribe, Shlain started working on a feature documentary, Connected, which explored technology’s ways of connecting people. It was shown at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. While working on the film, Shlain watched her father, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer, deteriorate to the point of having only “one good hour a day.” She resolved with her husband to turn off all of her family’s screens each Saturday—what she termed a “technology Shabbat”—in order to greater appreciate their time together. “Most people are surprised by it because
I founded the Webby Awards,” Shlain says. “But most of my work explores the good, the bad and the potential [of the Internet], all three of those things. Disconnecting one day a week every week has just been the most profound experience for me.” Shlain went on to make a short film about the “technology Shabbat,” which was also the first episode of a web series called The Future Starts Here, which she was commissioned to make for AOL. Connected and the subsequent Brain Power, were included in the State Department’s American Film Showcase, which showed the films at American embassies around the world. Since The Tribe, Shlain has carved out a niche for herself in the Jewish community and some Jewish educators and community leaders had been asking her for another “Jewish” film. Shlain credits her nonprofit with helping her reach out to Jewish institutions across the country without worrying about the profitability of her films. “Rather than focusing so much energy on licensing fees and selling the films,
foundations and grants could support giving the films away for free, and we could make so many more films and have them reach so many more people,” Shlain says. In producing The Making of a Mensch, Shlain on her website requested video submissions from people around the world to provide a definition of a mensch. Snippets from selected submissions will make their way into the final cut of the film, which Shlain is completing. Shlain terms this collaborative process—along with releasing the film for free to maximize its reach and impact—“cloud filmmaking,” a term that symbolizes how deeply her work is entwined with the power of the Internet. “I like the word ‘cloud’ because, to me, a cloud sounds intimate, and it sounds like creativity,” Shlain says. “The exciting part for me is that I can be working on a script with three people at the same time or I can make a film with videos from people from all over the world. I cannot wait to share this.”
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Rosh hashanah August 31, 2015