Friday, May 20, 2011

Chancellor's Blog

Dear JTS Family,
Today was an exciting day here at The Jewish Theological Seminary—our 117th Commencement. One hundred twenty-four graduates from all five of our schools received their diplomas, degrees, and/or rabbinic or cantorial ordinations and will now—empowered by their incomparable JTS educations and guided by JTS’s unique vision for the Jewish future—enter a world of service and leadership to the Jewish community.

Also exciting is the new JTS initiative that I mentioned in my address, which has now gone live: a weekly blog entitled “Conservative Judaism: A Community Conversation.” The blog features a series of short essays on various topics related to the nature and distinctiveness of Conservative Judaism, such as covenant, community, mitzvah, and tefillah. The essays will be accompanied by responses from invited dialogue partners as well as a wide-ranging community discussion.

Why have we launched this blog now? My strong sense is that Conservative Jews want to hear from us, and from one another, about the ideas that we have for moving forward, our best thinking about what distinguishes Conservative Judaism from other forms of our tradition, and how we can most effectively translate the singular insights of our Movement into institutions that meet the needs of contemporary Jews.
As the preeminent institution of Jewish higher education—a place that integrates rigorous academic scholarship and teaching with a commitment to strengthening Jewish tradition, Jewish lives, and Jewish communities—JTS is the ideal venue for the launch of this compelling initiative. Our primary goal is to teach clergy, educators, scholars, and other leaders who can inspire their communities to ask the questions that define who we are as Jews and who our children will be. Therefore, it makes sense that the online discussion about the Conservative Movement of tomorrow begins at JTS today.

I invite you to play a key role in “Conservative Judaism: A Community Conversation.” Make your voice heard by joining the discussion at
arnold eisen signature 2
Arnold M. Eisen
The Jewish Theological Seminary
P.S. You can also follow me on Twitter @ArnoldEisen (

The Charles Bronfman Prize Names 2011 Recipient

Jewish Humanitarian Award Goes to Karen Tal, Principal of Bialik-Rogozin School in
Tel Aviv, for Creating an Educational Community of Inclusion, Success and Achievement for Disadvantaged Youth in Israel

Karen Tal, who as principal of a school serving one of the most economically challenged and socially diverse student populations in Israel, has created and grown a model institution that infuses young lives with hope and grabs success and achievement from despair, is the 2011 recipient of The Charles Bronfman Prize.

Each year, The Charles Bronfman Prize - and an accompanying $100,000 award - goes to a young humanitarian whose work is informed and fueled by Jewish values and has broad, global impact that can potentially change lives.

“Aspiring to create a world in which social justice, opportunity, and empowerment apply to those at the lowest and most disadvantaged rungs of society – often overlooked or deemed hopeless – is a historic driver for the Jewish people,” said James Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank and Chairman and CEO of Wolfensohn and Company, on behalf of the Prize judges. --

To read the complete article, click here.

Why Koreans Study Talmud

Close to 50 million South Koreans read collection of Jewish writings in school in bid to become "geniuses like the Jews," ambassador explains.
The original Talmud Photo: Micha Doman, Chabad
Almost every house in South Korea has a translated Talmud. Moreover, the South Koreans have made the collection of ancient rabbinic writings on Jewish civil and religious law part of their school curriculum's compulsory literature.
Korean version of Talmud (photo courtesy of South Korean Embassy)
But unlike Israel, even Korean mothers study it and read from it to their young children. Yes, in a country of almost 49 million people who believe in Buddhism and Christianity, there are more people who read the Talmud – or at least have a copy of it at home – than in the Jewish state. Much more. -- Tzofia Hirschfeld, Ynetnews

To read the complete article, click here.

House Swapping, Israeli Style

House swapping allows travelers to sample each other's hometowns without paying for hotels. The trend is catching on in Israel.

Yirmie Elkus, left, and Amitai Richman of
Batya and Gershon Burd are always on the lookout for a good vacation deal. When traveling, they usually rent out their home in Jerusalem's Old City. But now they are trying a new tactic: house swapping.

The couple registered with JewishSwap, a free site launched in March by Ra'anana businessmen Amitai Richman and Yirmie Elkus.

"I trust the arrangement more if I'm swapping with somebody rather than renting to a stranger, because we have mutual responsibilities to each other," Batya Burd tells ISRAEL21c.

The notion of exchanging homes is already popular in other countries, as reflected in the 2006 Kate Winslet-Cameron Diaz film, The Holiday, about a London-Los Angeles house swap. And now it's catching on with budget-conscious Israelis and Holy Land tourists.

"Israel is a destination for people all over the world, and we want to cater to everyone looking to stay here," says Richman. -- Abigail Klein Leichman, Israel21c

To read the complete article, click here.

Calling all Jewish Heirlooms

Appraiser David Streets has a passion for Jewish antiques — old Kiddush cups passed down for generations, Shabbat candlesticks with stories to share. It’s a history that he loves, even if it’s not his.

“I’m an Episcopalian,” he confessed, explaining, “Many of my clients were and are Jewish and have wonderful items that have been inherited, passed down, saved, of Judaica.”

Streets, 46, will bring his years of experience to American Jewish University in Bel Air on May 22 for a Jewish Antiques Appraisal Show from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Admission is $10, but appraisals are free....

Jonathan Greenstein, owner of J. Greenstein & Co. Inc., a New York auction house devoted solely to selling antique Jewish ritual objects, said evaluating Judaica is a tricky business….

“Judaica is second only to Faberge in the amount of fakes and forgeries, because [so much] was stolen and melted by Hitler and the Third Reich,” Greenstein said. -- Ryan E. Smith,

To read the complete article, click here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Op Ed: O Canada

In striking contrast to the treatment Jerusalem has been getting from its fair-weather European allies and a fickle Obama administration, there stands, of all countries, Canada. Why "of all countries"? Because none of this was preordained.

Until lately, Canada's relations with Israel have essentially followed the trajectory of those with Western Europe—that is, starting out warm and turning increasingly frosty. Since 2006, that has changed under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative party. In the most recent elections on May 2, to the delight of Israelis, Harper won another resounding victory, giving him a clear majority in parliament. --Elliot Jager, Jewish Ideas Daily

To read the complete article, click here.

Religious Groups Oppose Male Circumcision Ban for San Francisco

AP file photo
An organized opposition group representing three religions will attempt to block a November ballot measure that would ban the circumcision of boys under 18 in San Francisco.

On Tuesday, city resident Lloyd Schofield submitted more than the 7,168 signatures needed to put the ban on the ballot, and if the Department of Elections certifies the proposal in 30 days, it will officially be up to voters. The measure would make circumcising a minor a misdemeanor carrying a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

Schofield likens circumcision — a common religious practice for Jewish and Muslim boys — to widely condemned female-circumcision practices in Africa. Abby Porth, the associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, resents the comparison.

“We do take this seriously,” Porth said. “We find it deeply offensive.”

She doesn’t think the measure will pass, but Porth said the ballot language could be deceiving to voters who might be against “forced genital cutting.”

Porth said the San Francisco InterFaith Council, which includes Muslim and Christian groups, will throw all its weight behind opposition to the measure. She said it will first pursue legal recourse that raises conflicts between the measure and constitutional rights of religious freedom, then a public affairs campaign will follow.

The San Jose-based Islamic Networks Group also sees the ban as restrictive.

“It definitely does cross the line of religious freedom,” said Ameena Jandali, the group’s co-founder. “Other cities could consider it too.”

Dan Sandman, the director of the San Francisco Anti-Defamation League, said The City’s religious leaders will overwhelmingly agree to fight against a threat to ritual.

“This is an important tradition, and when it comes to an attack on religion, or choice, I think Muslims, Jews, Christians will all respond,” Sandman said. “This is a time to come together.” -- Dan Schreiber , San Francisco Examiner

Philip Roth Named Booker Prize Winner

Jewish author Philip Roth has won the Man Booker International Prize for the body of work in his more than 50-year-long career.

The biennial award to be presented in June in London to Roth, 78, was announced Wednesday. The author of the widely read and controversial "Potnoy's Complaint" has also won two National Book Awards and a Pulitzer Prize.

The author is well known for creating the character Nathan Zuckerman, often considered a Roth alter-ego.

Authors on the shortlist for this year's Booker Prize included: Rohinton Mistry, Philip Pullman, Anne Tyler, and Chinese novelists Wang Anyi and Su Tong. Previous winners include Canadian writer Alice Munro, Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, and Albanian writer Ismail Kadare.

The annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction is awarded for a single book.

Following the announcement, author and publisher Carmen Callil withdrew from the prize's three-judge panel, citing her displeasure with giving the award to Roth, the Guardian reported. -- JTA

Arrest of Top Presidential Contender Shakes France’s Jews

Shock waves continue to ripple throughout France as Dominique Strauss-Kahn, considered the likely Socialist Party candidate to challenge President Nicolas Sarkozy in French presidential elections next year, remains in a New York City jail on charges of sexual assault.

Saturday's arrest of Strauss-Kahn significantly changes the political playing field in France, as some recent polls had showed that the 62-year-old head of the International Monetary Fund was the most popular among those considered to be possible presidential contenders.

It also represents a particularly harsh blow for many in France’s Jewish community.

Strauss-Kahn -- popularly known by his initials, DSK -- has been outspoken about his Jewish identity in a country where politicians typically are mum about their religion. He also has expressed feelings of attachment to Israel in the past, all the while maintaining a measured distance from actively participating in Jewish institutions, according to Jewish leaders. -- Devorah Lauter , JTA

To read the complete article, click here.

Former Jewish Leader Indicted in AMIA Jewish Center Bombing Cover-up

A former Jewish leader was among those indicted in Argentina for bribery during the original investigation of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires.

Ruben Ezra Beraja, who once headed the DAIA Jewish umbrella organization, was among those charged May 12 by Federal Judge Ariel Lijo as he closed the first part of his investigation into reported irregularities that took place during the probe.

The attack killed 85 people and wounded hundreds.

Others indicted included the judge who presided over the investigation, Juan Jose Galeano; ex-prosecutors Eamon Mullen and Jose Carlos Barbaccia; Argentina's former secretary of intelligence, Hugo Anzorregui; intelligence agency officer Patrick Finn; attorney Victor Stinfale; and a defendant in the case, Carlos Alberto Telleldin, along with his wife, Ana Maria Boragni.

The indictment stems from an illegal payment of $400,000 to Telleldin, an auto mechanic who was among those charged in the attack, for his false testimony about to whom he gave the car bomb. Beraja knew about the payment, Lijo said.

This irregularity, among others, led the court in 2004 to annul the investigation and free all the accused. In 2005 a jury dismissed Galeano and the case was transferred to federal judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral and prosecutor Alberto Nisman.

As a result of the second investigation, Argentina is seeking the extradition of seven Iranians, including the current defense minister, for their alleged roles in the attack.

In May 2009, the Argentina Supreme Court ruled that not all of the first investigation made by Galeano is illegal but only the information collected after the illegal payment, and ordered the reopening of the investigation of Telleldin. -- JTA

Sweden’s Queen Silvia Investigates Father’s Nazi Ties

Sweden's Queen Sylvia ordered an investigation into her father's links to the Nazis, according to reports.

The German-born queen "has taken the initiative to gather the facts concerning the activities of Walter Sommerlath in Brazil and Germany between 1930 and 1940," the royal court said in a statement. The statement said that the entire Sommerlath family was on board for the investigation, which began several months ago, according to the French news organization AFP.

Walter Sommerlath died in 1990. He was a member of the Nazi party, though the queen said he was not politically active and joined the party to save his career.

Silvia Sommerlath met Carl XVI Gustaf, who became the King of Sweden, at the 1972 Munich Olympics, where she was working as an interpreter. They married in 1926.

A Swedish television station in November aired an investigation into Walter Sommerlath's alleged Nazi past, reporting that he took over a Jewish-owned German factory in 1939, as part of a Nazi program of Aryanization. The queen issued a denial following the airing of the news program. -- JTA

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Op Ed: Dominique Strauss-Kahn Is Jewish. So?

Dominique Strauss-Kahn
If you couldn’t tell by the last name, numerous sources will confirm that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, is Jewish….

Strauss-Kahn was arrested yesterday in New York and accused of sexually assaulting a 32-year-old chambermaid at his hotel.

Rob Eshman,

To read the complete article, click here.

Homage to Facebook: Israeli Baby Named Like

An Israeli couple has named their daughter Like, in honor of Facebook.

Lior and Vardit Adler, from the central Israel city Hod Hasharon, told the German press agency DPA that they like to give their children uncommon names.

Their other two children are named Dvash, which means honey, and Pie.

"If once people gave biblical names and that was the icon, then today this is one of the most famous icons in the world," Lior Adler told DPA.

Following the protests that deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, an Egyptian man named his daughter Facebook, honoring the social network for the part it played in mobilizing demonstrators. -- JTA

Endeavour to Run Experiment that Crashed with Ilan Ramon

Mission will close a circle for Prof. Gazit of the Hebrew U's skeletal biotechnology laboratory, who planned and developed the original experiment.

A test on adult stem cells to study the influences of weightlessness on bone cells and resultant osteoporosis that was to have been performed by Israeli astronaut Col. Ilan Ramon on the ill-fated space shuttle Columbia in 2003 will finally be performed on Monday by the Endeavour – on the penultimate mission of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s shuttle program.

The Endeavour mission will close a circle for Prof. Dan Gazit of the the Hebrew University’s skeletal biotechnology laboratory, who planned and developed the original experiment for Ramon. -- Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, Jerusalem Post

To read the complete article, click here.

The Struggle of Israel is the Struggle of the World

RaholaPilar Rahola is a Spanish politician, journalist and activist. Her articles are published in Spain and throughout some of the most important newspapers in Latin America. Here she addresses pro-Palestinian demonstrations:

Why don't we see demonstrations against Islamic dictatorships in London, Paris , Barcelona ?

Or demonstrations against the Burmese dictatorship?

Why aren't there demonstrations against the enslavement of millions of women who live without any legal protection?

Why aren't there demonstrations against the use of children as human bombs where there is conflict with Islam? -- Canada-Israel Committee

To read the complete speech, click here.

Op Ed: Egypt's Scapegoats

New gov't playing old games?
Firemen dousing flames at a Cairo Coptic church set alight
in rioting that killed six and injured 50 on Saturday. EPA
But this isn't only about Copts. Egypt won't be fully free of its pharaohs until it rids itself of a culture that seeks scapegoats in lieu of policy that benefits its people. Only when a minority ceases to be the target of riots, and only when its talented members are reintegrated into Egypt's leadership, will we know that a true Arab Spring is around the corner. --Benny Avni, New York Post

To read the complete article click here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

36 Under 36 2011: The New Re-Engineers

This, the fourth installment of the “36 Under 36” list, highlights the dedicated lay leaders who are reordering our legacy organizations alongside community activists and social justice crusaders whose startups are chock-full of innovation. -- New York Jewish Week

To view the complet article, click here.

More Facts About Israel’s Population

Israel’s population has grown to 7.7 million on the eve of its 63rd Independence Day. This is an astounding figure, given that there were just 806,000 residents when the Israeli state was reborn in 1948. Here are some more statistics:

*    Jews make up 75 percent of the population, but there is a significant Arab minority contributing about 20 percent of the nation.

*     Non-Jewish immigrants and their children account for about five percent of the population.

*    While there are many similarities between Israel and a country like Canada, population density is not one of them. Canada has about three people per square kilometer. Israel has 100 times that density, making it the second-most dense country in the world.

*    Israel now has about 150,000 Christians, a population that has grown about 400 percent from 39,000 since 1949.

*    Life expectancy for Israeli men is almost 79 years; for women, 83.

*    Israel has the highest ratio of university degrees to the population in the world.    

*    Israel produces more scientific papers per capita than any other nation by a large margin – 109 per 10,000 people – as well as one of the highest per capita rates of patents filed.

*    In proportion to its population, Israel has the largest number of startup companies in the world. In absolute terms, Israel has the largest number of startup companies than any other country in the world, except the US (3,500 companies mostly in hi-tech).

Israel may be a small country with a relatively small population – but it is also a vibrant, multicultural nation with a bright future. Israel is proof positive that size doesn't matter! -- Canada-Israel Committee
Click on the picture below to see the related video.

John Demjanjuk Convicted Over Nazi Camp Deaths

Retired U.S. autoworker John Demjanjuk was convicted of thousands of counts of acting as an accessory to murder at a Nazi death camp and sentenced on Thursday to five years in prison, a groundbreaking verdict that closed one chapter in a decades-long legal battle.

Judges ordered him released pending appeal, on the ground that he did not pose a flight risk.

Demjanjuk was found guilty of 28,060 counts of being an accessory to murder, one for each person who died during the time he was ruled to have been a guard at the Sobibor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Presiding Judge Ralph Alt said the 91-year-old was a piece of the Nazis' "machinery of destruction."

"The court is convinced that the defendant ... served as a guard at Sobibor from 27 March 1943 to mid-September 1943," Alt said, closing a trial that lasted nearly 18 months. --Andrea M. Jarach in Munich and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report for Huffington Post

To read the complete article, click here.

Flying High with the Air Force’s 105 Squadron

Celebrating its 60th birthday this year, the IAF’s cream of the crop has adapted to changing needs and technology to remain the country’s chief line of defense in the sky. -- Yaakov Lappin, Jerusalem Post

To read the complete story, click here.

May Is Jewish American Heritage Month

The website has a schedule of events and resources.

Click here to go to the site.