Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus

The newly opened Gospel Trail lets pilgrims experience the same terrain where Jesus spent his childhood and ministry

This spring, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism (www.tourism.gov.il) opened a new 60-kilometer Gospel Trail (www.gospeltrail.com) in the Galilee, in Northern Israel. The trail will allow pilgrims and tourists to walk, bike or drive from Nazareth - Jesus’ childhood home - to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the center of his ministry.

The route begins on Mount Precipice in Nazareth, where Pope Benedict held a large public Mass on his 2009 visit to Israel. It ends at Capernaum.

For many Christian hikers, the highlight of the trail comes at the end, when they travel across the Sea of Galilee to Tiberias in a wooden replica of a boat from Jesus’ time that was excavated on the shores of the sea. -- Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Netanyahu to Address US Congress May 24


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on May 24, House Speaker John Boehner announced.

While the invitation from Boehner (R-Ohio) to Netanyahu has been widely publicized, it was the first time a date was given.

“America and Israel are the closest of friends and allies, and we look forward to hearing the Prime Minister’s views on how we can continue working together for peace, freedom, and stability,” a statement from Boehner's office said.

Netanyahu will be in Washington to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference May 21. He is scheduled to meet the day before with President Obama at the White House.

The Israeli leader's speech to Congress is expected to outline his plans for peace with the Palestinians. -- JTA

Simulation of Memorial Monument at Mount Herzl Unveiled

Defense Ministry expects new monument to be established by Memorial Day 2013 at Mount Herzl

Construction on the monument is expected to begin sometime in the next few months and should be completed by Memorial Day 2013. Defense Minister Ehud Barak first spoke of the project last April. It is now in the final stages of planning.

Aryeh Mualem, head of the Defense Ministry's unit for commemorating soldiers, said that each name of a fallen soldier or terror victim will appear on a brick with the person's time of death and a candle, which will light up on his commemoration date. In addition, a memorial service will be held by a military cantor every morning for the soldiers who died that day.

Mualem claimed the national monument will finally unify the memory of those who had fallen, since some of them are not recognized in different monuments and sites across Israel. The monument will also provide an solution for many bereaved parents who fear no one will be there to hold memorial services for their loved ones after they die. -- Hanan Greenberg, Ynetnews

Click here to view video about this memorial.

Israeli Ice Device Destroys Benign Breast Tumors in Minutes

Biomedical company IceCure offers women a quick, scar-free and virtually painless option for freezing fibrous breast growths out of existence.
Hezi Himelfarb, CEO of IceCure with the IceSense3 device
An Israeli product that gives benign breast tumors the cold shoulder is launching in US medical offices and hospitals.

Last December, the US Food and Drug Administration cleared IceSense3, a device made by IceCure Medical to vanquish fibroadenoma tumors by freezing them in a minimally invasive procedure. Two months later, the biomedical firm went public on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, raising $10.5 million in its initial public offering.

CEO Hezi Himelfarb explains that during an ultrasound-guided procedure, the IceSense3 probe penetrates the tumor and then destroys it cryogenically - engulfing it with ice. The entire process takes about five minutes, and the woman won't have scarring or recovery downtime. "She can get right up and go to work," he says.

Headquartered in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, IceCure is opening an office in the US Midwest this spring. The plan is to funnel most of its investment funds into marketing, sales and distribution in the United States, where the device is already in use at several facilities. -- Avigayil Kadesh, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

To read the complete article, click here.

The Beating Heart of Jerusalem

All photos courtesy Mel Brickman.
After many years of infrastructure work and renovation, tens of thousands of Israelis, tourists, gap year students and others, returned to celebrate Independence Day on the newly upgraded Jaffa street corridor in downtown Jerusalem. Stages were set around the area including at Zion Square, Safra Square (Jerusalem municipality building) and outside the Hamashbir department store at the top of Ben Yehuda Street.

Mahane Yehuda was the site of another big attraction featuring an Independence Day party held by the Student Association. Unfortunately, the demand for the party was larger than the market could accommodate leading to an early closure for safety reasons.

The return of the crowds to downtown’s Jaffa Street brought great joy and momentum to local business owners. With the light rail’s operation slated to begin soon, the Jerusalem municipality intends to increase cultural events and restore the beating heart of Jerusalem to the city center. -- ejewishphilanthropy.com

To view more photos, click here.

Osama bin Laden News Finds Pundits Forsaking Usual Comfort Zones

Jon Stewart
It's hardly a revelation to note that the cable and talk-radio commentariat is divided on many leading issues of the day. But in the wake of the military raid claiming the life of Osama bin Laden, the range of pundit opinion has exhibited some striking crossover maneuvers, with traditionally caustic conservative critics of President Obama congratulating the daring and resolve of the successful mission. There have also been some notable misreadings of sardonic intent--plus some simple confusion
about how to process the dramatic news.

Take the remarks of "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart. In the clip featured above, the news satirist spent the first 10 minutes of his Monday's broadcast skewering Osama bin Laden, who was killed a day earlier by U.S. special forces in Pakistan, before offering some more somber reflections.

"I am way too close to this whole episode to be rational about this in any way, shape or form," he said. "Last night was a good night, for me, and not just for New York or D.C. or America, but for human people. The face of the Arab world in America's eyes for too long has been bin Laden, and now it is not. Now the face is only the young people in Egypt and Tunisia and all the Middle Eastern countries around the world where freedom rises up. Al Qaeda's opportunity is gone." -- Joe Pompeo, The Upshot Blog, Yahoo!News

To read the complete article and to view accompanying video, click here.

Visit 1,000-year-old Yeshiva, but Only on Tuesdays at 3 PM

Torah studied here 1,000 years ago
Photo by Gili Mazza
...About 40 years ago, archaeologists were surprised to discover under the [The Rouen Courthouse] building a historic structure dating back to 1100.

The archeological find was only revealed to the wide audience in the past year. It appears to be a yeshiva from the Middle Ages – the only one in Europe whose remains have been preserved to this day.

Rouen residents are very proud of the yeshiva, referring to it as "the most important Jewish archeological find in Europe."
-- Gili Mazza, Ynetnews

Whose Holocaust Museum?

The Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City
The controversy that often surrounds a Holocaust museum’s decision to include the mass murder of other groups — like the Armenian Genocide in Turkey a century ago, or the 1994 killings in Rwanda — is expanding beyond a small group of scholars to the wider public.

In a series of recent articles, Edward Rothstein, critic-at-large at The New York Times, asks if the Shoah is a uniquely Jewish tragedy, if a Holocaust museum should broaden beyond its immediate subject, if there are universal lessons to be learned from the Jewish experience at the hands of the Third Reich.

His answers: the Holocaust should be treated as uniquely Jewish, and institutions dilute their message when they present other genocides as comparable. “It is as if familiarity is breeding analogy … [some Holocaust museums] began to see the Holocaust as an extreme manifestation of a refusal to care about injustice or the fate of one’s neighbor,” he wrote.-- Steve Lipman, NY Jewish Week

To read the complete story, click here.

"The Cast All Abused Me:" The Pain of Playing Shylock

Patrick Stewart in rehearsals for the Royal Shakespeare Company, production of The Merchant of Venice.
Photograph: RSC/Ellie Kurttz
What's it like to play Shakespeare's most controversial character? As a new RSC production opens, Patrick Stewart, Antony Sher and other former Shylocks reveal all. -- Maddy Costa, guardian.co.uk

To read the complete article, click here.

Tony Kushner to Receive CUNY Honorary Degree After All

Tony Kushner
Trustees of the City University of New York approved an honorary degree for playwright Tony Kushner, reversing an earlier decision.

The executive committee of the CUNY board of trustees voted Monday night to award Kushner an honorary doctorate during commencement ceremonies next month. The committee can reverse decisions of the full board.

CUNY's board on May 2 had struck the playwright's name from a list of those scheduled to receive honorary degrees at CUNY's John Jay College of Criminal Justice after a university trustee, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, attacked Kushner as anti-Israel.

"Freedom of thought and expression is the bedrock of any university worthy of the name," Benno Schmidt, chairman of the executive committee, said Monday in a statement. "It is not right for the board to consider politics in connection with the award of honorary degrees except in extreme cases not presented by the facts here."

Wiesenfeld, a Republican appointee to the board, quoted from several Kushner statements in his appeal to the CUNY board to remove the Pulitzer Prize winner's name.

Kushner reportedly has said that Israel was "founded in a program that, if you really want to be blunt about it, was ethnic cleansing." Kushner also has said that "it would have been better" had the Jewish state never been created.

The board's original decision to exclude Kushner drew an outpouring of public criticism. Kushner later said the statements were taken out of context, wrongly casting him as opposing Israel's existence and supporting boycotts, and he objected to not having been given the opportunity to defend himself before the decision was taken.

Wiesenfeld told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he would be willing to vote for giving Kushner an honorary degree if he repudiates his past statements about Israel. Wiesenfeld is not a member of the executive committee. -- JTA

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Op Ed: Zionism: More than Just a Jewish State

I was recently present at a panel discussion on the subject of religious pluralism in Israel. Two members of the Knesset addressed the audience.  MK Yithak “Buji” Herzog (Labor) articulated a clear position for the State of Israel that put religious pluralism front and center.  He posited that no single group holds a monopoly on Jewish tradition and on truth.

Minister Miki Eitan (Likud) also articulated a position. Sadly, his approach was that Israel, as both a Jewish and a democratic state, must preserve THE true religious traditions.  His mistake was in thinking that the Orthodoxy he votes to fund (while denying funding to the non-Orthodox streams) holds some sort of monopoly on truth. His parochial views are an anathema to Israel and a distortion of Judaism. They uphold prejudice against women and fail to make room for a revitalization of Judaism in our homeland.

Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, the great Zionist thinker, wrote “The old shall be renewed and the new shall be sanctified.”  Rav Kook understood that a room full of holy books from centuries gone by would not be enough to inspire the Jewish people in our new State.  He believed with a passion that innovation was a sacred obligation. The old must be revitalized and the new, he insisted, was to be seen as holy and sacred. This is a lesson lost on Minister Eitan and so many others who falsely view themselves as preservers of THE tradition. -- Rabbi Andrew Sacks, Director of the Masorti [Conservative] Movement's Rabbinical Assembly in Israe, Masorti Matters, Jerusalem Post

To read the complete article, click here.

Israel at 63: Population of 7,746,000

Celebrating 63 years of independence Photo: AP
Independence Day 2011: Central Bureau of Statistics data indicate 75% of population are Jewish, 178,000 babies born in past year, 24,500 immigrants made aliyah.


New data published by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Sunday indicate that nearly 5,837,000 of the population are Jewish (75.3%).

On Israel's 63rd anniversary its population stands at 7,746,000 people, a 2% increase (150,000 residents) compared with 2010. In comparison, on the night of its establishment, the State of Israel consisted of only 806,000 residents.

Challenge and Responsibility on Yom Ha’atzmaut

There were years when Yom Ha’atzmaut was cause for near-euphoria. The first sovereign Jewish state in 2,000 years, Israel represented to Jews everywhere much more than a country, a flag, and even a homeland. Independence for Jews was synonymous with a renewed lease on life, and therefore, even in the midst of unending wars, periodic economic crises and many dark clouds on the horizon, Israelis’ celebration of independence was much more than a good party. There was an existential quality to Yom Ha’atzmaut, a sense of sanctity that not everyone could articulate, but that everyone could feel.

This year, however, that unbridled euphoria is going to be hard to come by. Israel is marginalized in ways that would have been difficult to predict just years ago. Hamas and Fatah sign a treaty, but the international pressure for Israel to negotiate, and perhaps even to capitulate, continues unabated. President Barack Obama can say with impunity that America “will be relentless in defense of our citizens,” but Israeli leaders are not permitted that same unabashed determination. Osama bin Laden can be summarily killed, and no one calls it an extra-judicial killing. Egypt threatens to open the border to Gaza, Iran pursues its weapon, Turkey jettisons Israel and cozies up to Iran, Hezbollah has completely rearmed under the nose of the UN – and the pressure to make peace is consistently applied only to the Jewish state. -- Daniel Gordis, Dispatches from an Anxious State

To read the complete article, click here.

Where’s Hillary? Hasidic Paper Edits Clinton out of Iconic White House Photo

Hillary Clinton's expression, right hand clasped over her mouth in astonishment, is largely responsible for making the above photo iconic--and, to at least one newspaper, sexually suggestive.

In the photo, President Obama and his national security team are huddled around a conference table in the White House Situation Room, watching CIA director Leon Panetta narrate last Sunday's raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. The mood is clearly tense.

When Women's Wear Daily consulted a coterie of photo editors and designers about why the image is "destined to be one for the history books," Clinton was foremost in their responses.

"The Hillary Clinton expression is the one that holds the photograph fully," Time's photo director told the magazine. "You can see 10 years of tension and heartache and anger in Hillary's face," Conde Nast's Scott Dadich agreed.

Turns out she was probably just coughing during that crucial moment captured by White House photographer Pete Souza. But nevertheless, the image still proved a bit too racy for at least one of the many newspapers that printed it.
That would be the Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic broadsheet Der Tzitung, published in Brooklyn. The paper photoshopped Clinton, as well at the only other woman who could be seen in the room--Audrey Tomason, the national director of counterterrorism--out of the frame.-- Joe Pompeo, The Cutline, Y!News

To read the complete article, click here.

Yom Ha'atzmaut Greetings from President of Israel

Dear friends,

As we celebrate 63 years of statehood we can look back on the historic miracle of the birth of a nation – the State of Israel. And we can laud one of our greatest leaders, David Ben-Gurion, for declaring the establishment of a Jewish state – a homeland – one momentous day in May 1948.  Immediately afterward we were attacked - outmanned, outnumbered, outgunned.

From the debris of the War of Independence arose one of the best and most moral armies in the world. The desert turned into a model of state-of-the-art agriculture admired by all. Israel's development in fields such as hi-tech, science, technology and medicine has placed her at the forefront of advances in these areas the world over.

On the day of the proclamation of the State of Israel, it was stated that this newly-founded nation would be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.  We abide by the Jewish code of moral values instilled in us.

We are still facing evil forces, especially those that emanate from Iran. This call, by a regime that is a danger to the entire world, should be met by an uncompromising mobilization of the international community.  We are determined, together with our supporters everywhere, to fight Anti-Semitism and delegitimization.

The State of Israel is prepared to do its share, even at a painful cost, to achieve peace with our neighbors.  We are hopeful that the winds of change sweeping our region will herald new opportunities of peace, security and prosperity for all.

We all share the hope that Gilad Shalit will be reunited with his family immediately.

The bridges of kinship that link the Jewish state with the Jewish communities around the world are vital to us. You are full partners in our success.  Looking back, we have much to be proud of. Looking forward, we still have much to achieve. Together we can accomplish anything and everything. Together we can prevail. And together we shall celebrate many more independence days to come.

חג עצמאות שמח!

Shimon Peres

Did U.S. Use Lessons from Entebbe Raid to Prep for bin Laden Strike?

Air France passengers after they were released
in the Entebbe operation in 1976.
Photo by: Getty Images

In the mid-1990s, William McRaven, then a U.S. Navy SEAL, wrote a book about commando operations. Entitled "Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice" (Presidio Press), the book featured six case studies. One chapter was devoted to Entebbe, beginning with the lessons learned in the Israel Defense Forces as a whole, and in the Sayeret Matkal special operations unit in particular, after the failure to save the lives of 25 hostages in Ma'alot two years earlier. It included a discussion of Israeli intelligence gathering, decision-making processes, creation of the command and control system, personnel conflicts and the actual rescue operation in Entebbe Airport in Uganda, on July 4, 1976.

One of the slides McRaven subsequently used in lectures was a drawing of the old terminal building there, a sort of elderly relative of the intricate mock-up that McRaven - who is now relinquishing control of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in order to be promoted - used for preparing for last week's targeted raid on Osama bin Laden. -- Amir Oren, Haaretz

To read the complete article, click here.

World Jews Mark Independence Day

State of Israel's 63rd anniversary celebrated in many other countries, including Argentina, Britain and Russia. What's on the menu? Hummus, falafel, Israeli films and folk dances‬‬


Independence Day celebrations spread worldwide: Many Jews and Israelis across the world are celebrating Israel's 63rd anniversary as far as thousands of kilometers away. -- Aviel Magne‬, Ynetnews


To read the complete article, click here.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Yom HaZikaron

"The ambassadors of peace shall weep bitterly..."
- In memory of those who have fallen while on duty in the Israeli Foreign Service

Op-Ed: Where Are the Great American Jewish Leaders?

We are living in a troubling and dangerous time, a time when we need courageous and insightful leaders more than at any point since the Holocaust. We are facing a potentially existential crisis for Israel and ultimately, I believe, for Jewish people worldwide. Yet our leaders for the most part have not responded in a forceful way.

Those among us who understand what is at stake must immediately light a fire under our current leaders. At the same time, we need to rethink the process of how we select our leaders and what we expect of them.

If we look squarely at the facts and are unflinchingly honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are confronted with substantial threats. Today we are experiencing two primary attacks. The Arab/Muslim/Persian drive to remove Israel as a Jewish state is a fact, as is the very real threat of catastrophe that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel. -- Aryeh Rubin, JTA

Click here to read the complete article.

Israelis Find Key to Containing Cancer

Hebrew University researchers discover how a single gene can keep malignant cells from spreading to healthy tissue.
he red cells, tumor “micro-islands,” express a p53-suppressed gene.
The green cells are rapidly proliferating due to p53 deficiency.
Reprinted with permission of Nature, Macmillan Publishers 2011
It is called simply p53, a short name that belies its starring role in halting the spread of cancer.

Israeli scientists already knew that when it is activated, the p53 gene produces a protein that can halt and even kill cancerous cells. Now, a team headed by Prof. Yinon Ben-Neriah and Dr. Eli Pikarsky of the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have discovered that p53 also governs a mechanism that keeps those deadly cells from invading healthy epithelial tissue lining the cavities and surfaces of many internal organs.

As the researchers described in the February issue of the journal Nature, the ability to "turn on" p53 could be a critical means of protection against colorectal and other epithelial forms of cancer.-- Abigail Klein Leichman, Israel 21c

Click here to read the complete article.

1st Arab on Israel's Supreme Court Talks about Diversity in Detroit

The first and only Arab on Israel’s Supreme Court was in Detroit today to tell attorneys, students, and judges that Israel is a diverse country.

Sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Justice Salim Joubran is touring the U.S. and had a private lunch last week with five U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Speaking today to a group of attorneys and judges at the law firm of Miller Canfield in Detroit, Justice Joubran said he lives in Haifa, where Muslims, Jews, and Christians live side by side in peace. Haifa “is a unique mix” of Jews and Arabs where “respect and tolerance” are shared values, he said. He added that metro Detroit’s religious diversity reminded him of his hometown. -- Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press

To read the complete article, click here.

House Divided

The history of the synagogue in America, a new book shows, is one of rifts, splits, factions, and the ever-evolving tension between tradition and modernity.
A New York synagogue holding D-Day services, June 6, 1944.
Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection , Library of Congress
A Jew is shipwrecked on a desert island. Ten years later, a passing ship notices his campfire and stops to rescue him. When the captain comes ashore, the castaway thanks him profusely and offers to give him a tour of the little island. He shows off the weapons he made for hunting, the fire pit where he cooks his food, the synagogue he built for praying in, the hammock where he sleeps. On their way back to the ship, however, the captain notices a second synagogue. “I don’t understand,” the captain asks; “why did you need to build two synagogues?” “Oh,” says the Jew, “this is the synagogue I never go to.”

It’s an old joke; but as Marc Lee Raphael shows in The Synagogue in America: A Short History (NYU Press, $35), the phenomena of inter-shul rivalry and congregational splitting are quite a bit older. -- Adam Kirsch, Tablet

To read the complete article, click here.

Saving Chernobyl’s Children

Stas, left, is reunited with his brother Danny, brought to Israel by CCOC last year.
Israel is the only country that permanently opens its arms to children sick from radiation caused by the Ukrainian nuclear disaster 25 years ago.

On its 93rd rescue mission, the New York-based charity Chabad's Children of Chernobyl (CCOC) brought another 25 children to safety in Israel at the end of April.

The plane touched down at Ben-Gurion International Airport almost 25 years to the day since a combination of engineering deficiencies and human error caused one of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant's reactors to release massive amounts of radioactive materials into the environment -- many times more than at Hiroshima during World War II.

The fallout directly led to the deaths of about 100,000 people, sickened countless others and continues to pose grave health risks -- particularly to children there, who have a high rate of thyroid disease, birth defects, heart conditions and compromised immunity as a result of exposure to lingering radiation in the air, water and soil.

In 1990, the worldwide Chabad organization, a branch of the Lubavitch Hasidic sect, started flying out affected Jewish kids ages eight to 15 to resettle in Israel. The number of rescued youngsters now stands at 2,755.

"Israel is the only country that will accept the children on a permanent basis, and we are the only organization in the world that takes them out permanently," explains Rachel Fertel, special events coordinator for CCOC. "Others take them out of Chernobyl [for treatment] but bring them back after a few weeks. We don't want them back in contaminated areas ever again."-- Abigail Klein Leichman, Israel21c

To read the complete article, click here.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Up in the Attic

Sacred Trash, new from Nextbook Press, tells the remarkable story of the Cairo Geniza, a trove of Jewish documents from the Middle Ages discovered again in the late 1800s


Solomon Schecter examining manuscripts from the Cairo Geniza.
Cambridge University Library
In the late 1800s, Solomon Schechter, the scholar and teacher whose name is familiar to scores of Jewish day-school students, discovered a remarkable trove of Jewish documents stuffed in an attic-like space in a Cairo synagogue. Ranging from liturgical texts to shipping orders, the documents were mostly written in Judeo-Arabic, Aramaic, and Yiddish and dated back to the Middle Ages. It was a geniza, a store room for documents containing the name of God and awaiting ritual burial. The Cairo Geniza, as the collection has become known, has since fueled decades of scholarship on centuries-old poets and theologians, as well as long-forgotten details of daily existence. -- Vox Tablet

To read the complete article, click here.

Op-Ed: Elevate More Female Rabbis into Leadership Roles

On a recent trip to Berlin with a dozen other Conservative rabbis, we made certain to stop at the apartment building that Regina Jonas once called home. I had never heard of Jonas, but to the four female rabbis in our group she was a hero.

In 1935, she became the first woman in the world to be ordained as a rabbi. My colleague, Rabbi Gesa Ederberg, hosted our group at her beautiful Berlin synagogue during our visit and doubled as a knowledgeable tour guide. We also had the opportunity to meet with rabbinical students at the Abraham Geiger College, where in 2010 Rabbi Alina Treiger became the first woman to be ordained in Germany since Jonas.

Today there are hundreds of inspiring, smart and passionate female rabbis who have followed in the steps of Regina Jonas.

As another “rabba” will soon be ordained, American Jews are just getting used to the idea of female rabbis in the Modern Orthodox world. However, in the more progressive streams of Judaism, female rabbis have been on the scene for decades and are now part of the fabric of everyday Jewish life. In fact, one funny anecdote demonstrates that for some of the youngest members of the Jewish community, female rabbis are the only form of rabbi that exists.
-- Jason Miller, JTA

To read the complete article, click here.

Spanish Official Gives First Formal Apology for Inquisition

On the island of Mallorca, where 37 Jews were killed in 1691 for secretly practicing Judaism, the regional president offered the apology at a May 5 memorial service in the city of Palma.

“We have dared to gather here to recognize the grave injustice committed against those Mallorcans who were accused, persecuted, charged and condemned to death for their faith and their beliefs," the Balearic Islands regional president, Francesc Antich, told a crowd of 130, according to an Associated Press report.

Spain’s Jewish federation told reporters it may have been the first such government-sponsored event in Spanish history.

The ceremony was suggested by Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, an Israel-based nonprofit that seeks out “lost Jews” around the world, the AP reported. Freund said he hoped it would inspire similar ceremonies elsewhere in Spain.

When the Inquisition was launched in 1492, Spain’s Jews either left the country or converted to Catholicism. Many “conversos” continued to practice Judaism in secret, and were punished severely if caught.

On Mallorca, 82 conversos were condemned in 1691. Thirty four were publicly garroted, and their bodies were burned in bonfires. Another three, including a rabbi, were burned alive.

It is beleived that about 15,000 descendants of conversos live on Mallorca today. Almost all are Catholic.-- JTA

At a Jewish Time of Reflection, Thoughts on a Pope and Catholicism

Passover is over and Shavuot is weeks away. It's a season when Jews traditionally take time for contemplation and reflection.

This year, I've been reflecting on Catholicism. Rather on the complicated interfaith nexuses between Catholics and Jews.

In large part, of course, this is because of the beatification May 1 of Pope John Paul II.

Critics have questioned the decision by Pope Benedict XVI to waive the usual five-year waiting period and fast-track John Paul's road to sainthood.

And JP2 had his faults -- his handling of the priest sex abuse scandals has come under particular recent scrutiny.

But the Polish-born pontiff was the best pope the Jewish world ever had. -- Ruth Ellen Gruber, JTA

To read the complete article, click here.

Kabbalah Centre Faces Federal Probe

Kabbalah Centre, Los Angeles
The Los Angeles-based Kabbalah Centre is under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service's criminal division.

The probe reportedly also involves two charities that are connected with Madonna, the nonprofit center’s most high-profile celebrity supporter. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Internal Revenue Service is looking into whether funds were diverted for the personal use of the Berg family, which has run the Kabbalah Centre for more than 40 years.

Karen Berg, 68, became CEO after her husband, Philip Berg, 81, who had been its head rabbi since 1969, suffered a stroke in 2004. She runs the organization with the help of sons Michael Berg, 37, and Yehuda Berg, 38.

The center’s assets are valued at more than $260 million. Exact totals are unclear, the Times reports, because the center has tax-exempt status as a religious organization and is not required to make its tax filings public.

Raising Malawi, which broke off ties with the Kabbalah Centre in March, is cooperating with the investigation, the Times reports. The children’s charity, which does work in the African nation of Malawi and is headed by Madonna, is the subject of a grand jury investigation in New York alongside the Kabbalah Centre and the Bergs.

In a statement, the Kabbalah Centre said it has received government subpoenas “concerning tax-related issues,” along with a second charity, its Spirituality for Kids initiative. Madonna chaired this charity’s board and donated $600,000 to the organization, according to the Times.

Madonna herself is not named in the IRS probe, the Times reports.

The Kabbalah Centre is credited with spurring popular interest in Jewish mysticism, although it has been criticized by mainstream Jewish leaders. The center grew enormously after Madonna began studying there in 1996 and raised its public profile. It now has branches in 31 countries and includes many celebrities among its followers. -- JTA