In the world of religion, smugness and self-assurance are usually risky. As Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism and Mainline Protestant denominations have discovered, success in the present provides no guarantees for the future. If anything, saying Kaddish for other religious movements has often been the first sign of a movement’s own impending decline.
Whether one opposes or supports gay marriage, one thing is certain: The heterosexual divorce rate is more than 50 percent, and it has been so well before gay rights ever came to the fore in this country. Sure, we can search for scapegoats to blame for the loss of love in our time. But we heterosexuals have seen the enemy and it is us ... The greatest danger to marriage in our time stems from the wholesale degradation of women in the popular culture. In magazines, on television, and especially on Internet porn, women are continually portrayed as the libidinous man’s plaything, not an equal to be taken seriously but a subordinate who is a means to salacious male ends ... Surely, if asked, Jesus would have said that a woman is more than male eye-candy ... [C]rying out against gays when there are bigger and more toxic fish to fry is what makes religion ineffective and irrelevant.
We’re training women to be rabbis ... What they will be called is something we’re working out.
Tune in to C-SPAN on Sunday at noon [ET] for a discussion with Thomas Buergenthal, Auschwitz survivor-turned-judge at the International Court of Justice. He'll discuss his new book, A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy. I had the pleasure of meeting him briefly during law school after his lecture at the Organization of American States on the formation and priorities of the ICJ ... and have always wanted to hear him discuss his personal story as a Shoah survivor.
We met with unaffiliated Jews living in the neighborhoods in which we have now established circles, and we asked the participants about their connections to Judaism, their reluctance to become affiliated with a synagogue, what of Judaism they would like to try, where they would like to try it, what we could do to help, and similar questions. Participants responded that they were seeking Shabbat meals and services in an intimate setting, serious learning about Judaism, and social action projects. They wanted to start with activities in their own neighborhoods, and they sought a mix of ages and types (e.g. married and single, older and younger; interfaith couples) to join together. Additionally, participants wanted any social connections to flow from these activities, rather than focusing on the social or dating aspect.
Many of his points echoed thoughts I wrote about in an article for Kesher in its Summer/Fall 2006 issue. I observed that despite the seeming success of the modern Messianic Jewish Movement in America, it has failed to reach Jews:
Although much attention is often given to the growth of Messianic Judaism since its inception in the 1960's and 70's, there is also a failure to recognize the fact that the Messianic Movement has not been as successful as it claims in reaching out to the larger Jewish community. Although Messianic congregations are springing up around the world, very few of these congregations have sizable Jewish numbers, and tend to be quite small.
As Derek argues in his blog, if Messianic Judaism is ever to become what many of us believe it should be, it must overcome its current crisis of identity and address the causes of this phenomenon. Our position is that until the movement as a whole (or at least a substantial sector) comes to agreement on the purpose of our existence, these issues will remain.
Stay tuned as we share our own thoughts on the purpose and goals of a Yeshua-infused Judaism.
In case you needed another reason to spit when you say "Bernie Madoff," the New York Times reports today that Madoff's investment fraud is threatening the livelihoods of Israeli musicians. The America-Israel Cultural Foundation, as it turns out, invested its entire $14 million endowment with Madoff, and saw it all go to smoke this past fall. AICF, whose scholarships have provided a "stamp of approval" for acclaimed Israeli musicians, including Itzhak Perlman (who performed at this year's Presidential inauguration) and Pinchas Zukerman has slashed it scholarship program drastically.
In Israel, an A.I.C.F. scholarship is commonly referred to as a keren, Hebrew for foundation. Young players use the term as in, When is your keren? Did you get a keren? How much is your keren?
It is beyond appalling that a fellow Jew would rip off his kinsmen with such gargantuan flair. His victims included no less than Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. Elie Wiesel! As Rob Eshman at the LA Jewish Journal described his reaction:
The man survives Auschwitz, lives to serve as the moral conscience of the world, then in the twilight of his noble life sees his charitable wealth destroyed by a fellow Jew. No one could plumb the darkness of a soul that could do such a thing, not even Wiesel.
As Rob Eshman goes on to explain, the blame does not fall exclusively on the shoulders of our decade's greatest swindler. The American Jewish community's "Big Macher Syndrome" provides fertile ground for opportunistic liars like Madoff:
We have rabbis who shut their mouths rather than risk alienating a potential donor. Sure they'll preach tikkun olam and charity from the pulpit, but how often do they preach modesty, humility and moderation? People are telling me the Madoff scandal all boiled down to one word -- greed. But it's not so simple. Madoff didn't just want money, he wanted the immunity that being a big shot, a macher bestows upon all sorts of cheats, dimwits and blowhards in the Jewish community.
Which begs the question, are the same norms operative within our own community? We may not have enough wealth in our midst to contemplate a Madoff scenario. But the mechanics of prestige and power don't always need money to grease their wheels. Have we built up individuals in our midst so dramatically that we offer them unprecedented opportunities for abuse ... setting them (and their victims) up for a cataclysmic fall from grace? Who throws their weight around in our shuls and institutions, and does our outsized admiration have a role in building the pedestal(s) on which they stand?
It turns out Madoff's travesty teaches us a lesson we'd do well to remember.
Though I'm still not sure the lesson is worth $50 billion.
I tend to find that people who have grown up in a home where mainstream Judaism was a part of their lives find messianic synagogues lacking in authentic (ie. not Googled) culture ... [I]f a place is called a synagogue it needs to function, feel, and smell like one. A heart for G-d isn’t enough. Culture does matter. Especially if we’re going to do anything about the rampant intermarriage rate. One’s children might call themselves Jews but do they feel like Jews enough to marry another Jew and have a Jewish household?
What in the world made me assume that the poor are dumb? ... [I realized that] at some level I was prejudiced with the assumption that poor people did not know what their problems are, if they did know about their problems, they were not articulate enough and even if they were articulate, they were not smart enough to solve the problem.
- Suraj Sudakhar @ the Acumen Fund
In the words of our favorite sixty-year old, Rabbi Russ Resnik:
This point in life's journey is a good time to re-invent ourselves, not a time to set our sights on Florida, plaid Bermudas and decaf, but to find creative ways to use the gifts and experience with which Hashem has blessed us, and to stay in shape, physically, mentally, and spiritually, so we can do it. There's a caveat, though, as we retool ourselves for another two or three decades ahead. We need to keep our younger colleagues in mind ... Younger, emerging leaders should not need to do battle with a bunch of old gatekeepers to gain a place at the leadership table.
Shabbos morning at around 9:30, Hatzalah was called to the scene of a motor vehicle accident on Empire Boulevard and Albany Avenue. It is unclear who called or why, but Hatzalah responded and treated two drivers both of whom were not Jewish. A minivan and a small SUV collided mid-intersection, sending one of the cars up onto the sidewalk. None of the drivers suffered any serious injuries. One driver did complained of back pains, while the other refused medical attention altogether. Two members of Hatzalah responded to the scene. Upon arriving, they saw that FDNY EMS was already at work on the scene. The Hatzalah members cancelled their ambulance and gave assistance.
He who desecrates the Sabbath for the sake of one who is critically ill, even if his efforts prove unnecessary or fruitless, is sure to receive a reward; for instance, if the physician has said that the sick person needs one fig, and nine men have plucked one fig each for the sick man, they have all earned a reward from the Almighty, blessed be His name, even if the patient has recovered from the first fig ... there is nothing that supersedes the saving of human life. (Chapter 92)
- "If you have a sheep that falls in a pit on Shabbat, which of you wouldn't take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore, what is permitted on Shabbat is to do good. (Matthew 12:11-12)
- "Shabbat was made for man, not man for Shabbat." (Mark 2:27)
- "If a boy is circumcised on Shabbat so that the Torah of Moses will not be broken, why are you angry with me because I made a man's whole body well on Shabbat?" (John 7:23)
If rabbinic supervision as it is currently constituted...is concerned only with ascertaining the purity of meat according to the letter of the law, and does not provide the moral foundation to militate against flagrant social abuses, then a revaluation of the concept of kashrut itself is in order.
- promoting eco-kosher standards and the humane treatment of animals
- an additional heksher (kosher certification symbol) denoting a company's commitment to righteous business practices, and
- more transparent kashrus procedures
Mr. Obama’s predecessors, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, came of age politically with the American-Israeli viewpoint of the Middle East conflict as their primary tutor, said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator. While each often expressed concern and empathy for the Palestinians — with Mr. Clinton, in particular, pushing hard for Middle East peace during the last months of his presidency — their early perspectives were shaped more by Israelis and American Jews than by Muslims, Mr. Levy said.
It is indeed time to bring additional considerations to the table. Although we do not expect the facts on the ground to actually change all that much, it's pretty pessimistic to throw up our hands and call it an "intractable conflict."
Two short months ago, we enjoyed the happiest day of our lives when we were joined together under a huppah. Given that Joshua is a rabbi and all, we took the process of preparing for our huppah pretty seriously. In partnership with our senior rabbi, we developed an egalitarian and joyful lifecycle ceremony that was halachically valid and consistent with the way Jews have been getting married for thousands of years. (Why turn a wedding into a hippy dippy circus? There's no reason to mess with a good thing, we thought.) It was inclusive of and accessible to our non-Jewish friends and relatives ... and most importantly, had everyone spilling tears of joy.
The canopy of our huppah was a Scottish lace tablecloth of Monique's great-grandmother, who smuggled it out of Germany during the Holocaust.
We are living in a world with a lot of broken glasses ... broken homes, broken windows, broken doors, broken children, broken Yiddishkeit [Jewish life]. I want to bless you that you should be the ones to rebuild Jerusalem, because Jerusalem is only rebuilt by people who can take a broken glass, and build the holy Temple from it. - Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach
Selfish volunteering is huge. It starts young, with three-week service projects in hot, poor countries that can be neatly turned into college admissions essay. (1 part unawareness of own privilege + 1 part manual labor + 1 encounter with poor/sick/disabled native child just my age = admission to Oberlin.)
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