Friday, July 15, 2011

As Men fade from Jewish Communal Llfe, Men’s Clubs Push for Revival

The Young Guys' Initiative of Temple Beth Shalom Men's Club
in Livingston, N.J., invited wives and kids along
for pumpkin picking in October 2010. (Courtesy Lou Piels)
When Mitchell Ross was a boy, he remembers his grandfather hanging out with the men’s club at his Conservative synagogue.

“I always felt it was something older Jewish men were involved in, the over-60s club,” said Ross, a 39-year-old cardiologist in Phoenix, Ariz.

Today, Ross is active in his own men’s club at Har Zion Congregation, a Conservative shul in Scottsdale, and he is working hard to attract men his age and younger to a Jewish world that many of them have dismissed.

“I’m into fitness, into biking, and the men’s club has a wellness initiative, so we do a lot of hikes as well as community service activities,” Ross told JTA. “It offers a way for younger men to get involved.”

Good luck with that.

For more than a decade, Jewish leaders and academics have been lamenting the disappearance of boys and men from non-Orthodox Jewish life. Men’s clubs, operating at more than 250 North American Conservative synagogues, are just one of many groups trying to stop the hemorrhaging. -- Sue Fishkof, JTA

To read more, click here.

Majorcan Descendants of Spanish Jews Who Converted Are Recognized as Jews

Centuries after the Spanish Inquisition led to the forced conversion of Jews to Catholicism, an ultra-orthodox rabbinical court in Israel has issued a religious ruling that recognizes descendants from the insular island of Majorca as Jews.

The opinion focused narrowly on the Majorcan community of about 20,000 people known as chuetas and did not apply to descendants of Sephardic Jewish converts in mainland Spain or the broader diaspora of thousands of others who scattered to the Ottoman Empire and the Spanish colonies in South and North America.

The island, isolated until a tourist boom that began in the late 1960s, is a sociological preserve for descendants of Jews who formed an insular community of Catholic converts that intermarried through the centuries because of religious persecution and discrimination that barred them from holding certain positions in the Roman Catholic Church through the 20th century. Most carry the names of 15 families with ancestors who were tried and executed during the 17th century for practicing Judaism.

The religious court in Israel, led for more than 40 years by Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, sent another rabbi to the island in May to explore its warren of streets where a synagogue once stood and to examine the family trees of some of the chuetas who trace lineage back 500 years.

In a two-paragraph opinion — typical of the private rabbinical court that deals with matters of conversions, marriage conflicts and financial disputes — Rabbi Karelitz issued a statement that said because of the intermarriage patterns of the chuetas, “all those who are related to the former generations are Jews.”

“The decision is a headline ruling,” said Rabbi Israel Wiesel, a judge from Israel who explored the community in Palma, roaming the street where, for generations, many chueta families have operated jewelry stores. “Unlike other Marranos in Spain and Portugal, who lost their line of history,” he said, “this particular community is unique and kept the pure line of history for the last 700 years, which means they are Jewish.”

In May, the regional government of the Balearic Islands became the first to create a memorial ceremony for Jewish descendants, marking the deaths of 37 people who were executed in 1691 by the Inquisition, and expressing regrets for persecution that chueta families suffered through the centuries.

Bernat Aguil√≥ Siquier, an amateur local historian who is descended from one of the 15 chueta families, said most of them stopped practicing Judaism altogether in the 18th century. But he said he still found the decision significant because it is “a recognition of a fact, as much as an act of justice.”

Shavei Israel, a private group that offers support and religious training for Jewish descendants in Spain and Portugal, had been pressing for the recognition for years. The result, according to its founder, Michael Freund, is that now “they no longer need to live in between worlds. We have succeeded in opening the door for them to come home.”

What that means in actual practice is still evolving. Mr. Aguiló said he hoped that it would inspire the state of Israel to grant citizenship to the chuetas.

For now, Rabbi Wiesel said, the next steps for the Spanish island were more modest.

“Rabbis will come and teach whoever is interested in learning,” he said, “and offer every assistance to those who want to come back to the Jewish fold.” -- Doreen Carvajal, International Herald Tribunes/NY Times

Fracking Comes to Jewish Summer Camp--Concern Over the Environment Versus Financial Reward

Controversial: B’nai B’rith’s Perlman Camp in Lake Como, Pa. signed a lease to allow fracking on its land.
Fracking, the controversial technique for extracting natural gas that energy companies are promoting as America’s path to energy independence, has come to the sunny, idyllic world of Jewish camping.

Four Jewish summer camps have signed leases with gas exploration companies which could allow the deep bore drilling technique — criticized by many experts as damaging to the environment — at their campgrounds by this fall.

Although the leases were signed in 2008 and 2009, an interstate regulatory body has put a hold on natural gas drilling in Wayne County, Pa., where the four camps are located. But that hold could be lifted in September.

The leases, all of which are held by the Hess Corporation, highlight tension between environmental concerns over the new drilling technique, which has drawn opposition from most Jewish environmental groups, and the significant paydays that gas companies can offer the not-for-profit camps. -- Josh Nathan-Kazis, Forward

Fracking: Four Pennsylvania camps have inked drilling deals.
Sources: States of NY and PA
To read more, click here.

Surprise TV Hit Strictly Kosher "Has Helped Break Barriers"

Stars of a TV ratings smash filmed among Manchester’s Jewish community
believe the documentary will help break down cultural barriers.
Stars of a TV ratings smash filmed among Manchester’s Jewish community believe the documentary will help break down cultural barriers.

ITV1’s Strictly Kosher takes a behind-closed-doors look at Manchester’s 40,000-strong Jewish community, including orthodox mum Bernette Clarke and fashion boss Joel Lever.

With more than 4.5m viewers tuning in on Monday night, the one-off documentary could yet become a regular series after proving a ratings smash. -- Manchester Evening News

To read more, click here.

With Flurry of New Local Studies, Jewish Communities Seeing Trends and Making Changes

he Jewish Federation of Greater Portland,
whose latest campaign kickoff event is pictured here,
is one of dozens of Jewish communities
with its own Jewish community study.
(The Jewish Federaion of Greater Portland)
The American Jewish community spends a lot of money counting itself.

So does the United States as a whole: The 2010 U.S. Census cost taxpayers $13 billion.

The Jewish community counts its own for much the same reasons: to get a representative picture of the Jewish population, as well as detailed information to assess needs, raise money, plan services and measure the effectiveness of existing programs.

While the era of the national Jewish study appears to be over -- there are no plans for continuing the decennial National Jewish Population Survey, which last time around cost $6 million -- local Jewish communal leaders are still investing heavily in surveying their own communities.
-- Sue Fishkof, JTA

To read more, click here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Jerusalem Tolerance Museum Gets Final Approval

Artist's rendering of the Jerusalem Museum of Tolerace
Construction of a Museum of Tolerance in the center of Jerusalem can begin immediately after receiving final approval for a building permit.

The approval was granted Tuesday by the Ministry of the Interior’s District Planning and Construction Committee. The building permit was issued by the state, instead of the municipality of Jerusalem, due to the sensitivity of the site, according to the Jerusalem Post.

The plan is opposed by Muslim religious leaders, who say that the site of the project had served for centuries as a Muslim cemetery. They appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court, which granted the Wiesenthal Center permission to continue.

The plan had been withdrawn by the Simon Wiesenthal Center more than two years ago due to the slumping economy

The original plan was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, who left the project after creating in 2002 a design for a $250 million, 240,000-square-foot museum. A smaller, less expensive building was designed by Tel Aviv-based Chyutin Architects.

The new plan includes three floors and two additional underground ones, as well as an archaeological garden, with a Roman aqueduct discovered during digs on the site.

The site on which the museum is to be built was given to the Wiesenthal Center by the government of Israel and the Jerusalem municipality and previously served as the city's municipal parking lot for more than 40 years; During that time, Muslim groups never protested that the parking lot was once part of an ancient burial site, according to the Wiesenthal Center's website. -- JTA

States Enact Record Number of Abortion Restrictions in First Half of 2011

In the first six months of 2011, states enacted 162 new provisions related to reproductive health and rights. Fully 49% of these new laws seek to restrict access to abortion services, a sharp increase from 2010, when 26% of new laws restricted abortion. The 80 abortion restrictions enacted this year are more than double the previous record of 34 abortion restrictions enacted in 2005—and more than triple the 23 enacted in 2010. All of these new provisions were enacted in just 19 states. -- Guttmacher Institute
A Mix of Old and New Strategies to Curb Access to Abortion Care
Editor's note: WLCJ is a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights and has passed numerous resolutions supporting a woman's right of choice.

To read more, click here.

American Jews Rally Against Israel's Boycott Law

Controversial legislation sees Jewish community in US unite in denouncing it as affront to freedom of expression‬‬

American Jewish organizations from the Left and Right have come together to fight an unexpected "evil," as they call it: The newly inducted anti-boycott law. [Click here to read about the bill.]
According to a Wednesday report in JTA, the US Jewish community seems remarkably united in deeming the measure an affront to freedom of expression.

“We're disappointed that they passed the law,” Rabbi Steve Gutow, director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for the Jewish public policy groups, said.

“We don't support boycotts… The law does challenge democracy in a way, and hopefully the Supreme Court will respond.”

A prominent figure in the community hedged that "Not since 'Who is a Jew?' has there been a controversy that could seriously strain relations between Israel and American Jews. Who needs it?"

To read more, click here.

Indiana City’s $1.2 Million Gift to Religious School Violates Constitution, Watchdog Group Says

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today warned the South Bend (Ind.) Common Council that its plan to use public funds to support a religious school is unconstitutional.

The council has approved the purchase of property valued at $1.2 million that it will donate to St. Joseph’s High School. The Catholic high school will use the new building for religious education and sectarian activities. -- Americans United for Separation of Church and State

To read more, click here.

Mezuzah Case Goes to Federal Court in Chicago

A federal trial involving a condo association that removed mezuzahs from residents’ doorposts opened in Chicago.

According to the law firm Much Shelist, which is representing the plaintiffs on a pro bono basis, the dispute is between Shoreline Towers condominium association in Chicago and residents of the building who say their mezuzahs were repeatedly removed from outside their doors by the association. A building rule adopted in 2001 prohibits “objects of any sort” outside the entrances to residents’ units.

Ironically, one of the plaintiffs chaired the committee that drafted that rule.

The plaintiffs, who are from two separate families living in the building, say they tried to resolve the issue directly with the board, but eventually filed complaints of religious discrimination with the city’s Commission on Human Relations, the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the state’s attorney general.

Since then, both the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois have passed laws protecting the display of religious objects on residential property, but those laws are not retroactive. 

The case, which is being tried before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and opened Monday, will also invoke the Fair Housing Act, which plaintiffs’ attorneys say is quite rare.

A similar case in Texas led to a state bill signed June 17 requiring homeowner associations to permit religious displays on residents' doors, including mezuzahs. Florida passed a similar law in 2008. -- JTA

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Reluctant Renegade: Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Louis Jacobs
Since its founding, Conservative Judaism in the U.S. has defined itself in sharp contrast to Reform, pursuing a more religiously centrist and Zionist middle course.  Its UK parallel, Masorti ("traditional") Judaism, was born as a secession movement from Orthodoxy—inspired by the writings of theologian Louis Jacobs.

Jacobs, whose fifth yahrzeit is observed this month, was practically "tenure track" to becoming Britain's Chief Rabbi, a post that was and remains under the auspices of the (Orthodox) United Synagogue. Jacobs's ascent was stymied in the early 1960's over his heterodox views on the divine origins of the Pentateuch. He died in 2006, the mostly-unwitting founder of Britain's fledgling Masorti movement. -- Elliot Jager, Jewish Ideas Daily

To read more, click here.

New Jewish Group Wants to Restore Polygamy

Photo by: Reuters
Practice promoted as solution for the abundance of single women, Arab demographic threat and the predicament of seeking extramarital relations.

A new organization is trying to reinstate polygamy into mainstream Orthodox Judaism, despite it being against the contemporary norm of Jewish law, and prohibited by the state.

The idea is the brainchild of Habayit Hayehudi Hashalem (The Complete Jewish Household). -- Jonah Mandel, Jerusalem Post

To read more, click here.

At Maccabi Games in Vienna, Symbolism—and the Opposite Sex

The U.S. team parading in the opening ceremony
of the 13th European Maccabi Games
in front of Vienna City Hall, July 6, 2010.
The symbolism was unmistakable.

Four thousand Jews stood just a few hundred yards away from the spot where a quarter-million Austrians cheered Adolf Hitler in March 1938 as he announced Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria.

This time, however, the Jews had come to celebrate, as athletes from around the world gathered July 6 for the lavish opening ceremony of the 13th European Maccabi Games.

It was the first time the Games -- the so-called Jewish Olympics for Europe -- have been held in a German-speaking country since 1945, and Maccabi officials said the crowd made up the largest gathering of Jews in Vienna since the Holocaust. -- Ruth Ellen Gruber, JTA

To read more, click here.

Rabbi Elected to Buenos Aires Parliament

Rabbi Sergio Bergman
Argentine Rabbi Sergio Bergman handily won a seat on the Buenos Aires municipal legislature.

Bergman led with 45 percent of the vote, more than tripling second-place finisher Juan Cabandie of the Victory Front Party,  who had 14 percent.

Bergman, the senior rabbi of the traditional Congregacion Israelita Argentina, is the founder of Active Memory, a group that demonstrated every Monday for a decade in front of Argentina’s Supreme Court seeking justice for the victims of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center.

Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri had tapped Bergman to lead his PRO Party’s list for the municipal legislature. As the top candidate on the center-right party's slate, the rabbi obtained nearly half the votes in a race featuring 10 candidates.

A Buenos Aires court had ruled June 16 that Bergman, a prominent spiritual leader in the capital city, could not use the title “rabbi” on the election ballot....

Estimates of Argentina’s Jewish population range from 180,000 to 280,000. It is Latin America’s largest Jewish community, but it has suffered the sting of anti-Semitism during its history. -- JTA

To read more, click here.

Religion Important to Teens' Identity during High School

Study shows that although lives of adolescents can be turbulent, religion is one aspect of their lives that remains consistent, regardless of ethnic background. -- Staff, Jerusalem Post

To read more, click here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tug-of-War Over Iraqi Jewish Trove in US Hands

In this June 20, 2011 photo,
Alaa Jassim, a member of the library restoration staff,
works on a damaged document
at the Iraq National Library and Archives in Baghdad.
A trove of Jewish books and other materials, rescued from a sewage-filled Baghdad basement during the 2003 invasion, is now caught up in a tug-of-war between the U.S. and Iraq.

Ranging from a medieval religious book to children's Hebrew primers, from photos to Torah cases, the collection is testimony to a once vibrant Jewish community in Baghdad. Their present-day context is the relationship, fraught with distrust, between postwar Iraq and its Jewish diaspora.

Discovered in a basement used by Saddam Hussein's secret police, the collection was sent to the U.S. for safekeeping and restoration, and sat at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Maryland until last year, when Iraqi officials started a campaign to get it back. -- Rebecca Santana, Associated Press via

This 2003 file photo shows
books and documents found by U.S. troops
in a secret police building in Baghdad.

To read more, click here.

Cancer Cell Breakthrough Reported by Hebrew U.

Jerusalem scientists identify molecular basis for DNA breakage, which results in the development of cancer. -- Judy Siegel-Itzovitch, Jerusalem Post

To read more, click here.

Israel Recognizes Emerging Nation Of South Sudan

South Sudan marks statehood with football match. Guardian
Israel recognized the new state of South Sudan.

"I hereby announce that Israel recognizes the Republic of South Sudan. We wish it success. This is a peace-seeking country and we would be pleased to cooperate with it in order to ensure its development and its prosperity. Greetings to South Sudan," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday's regular cabinet meeting.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai also welcomed the news of the new state of South Sudan, saying that Israel should begin negotiations with the new country in order to return thousands of Sudanese refugees who have made Israel their home in recent years.

Sudanese refugees living in Tel Aviv celebrated the birth of the new state, according to Israeli media.

South Sudan became a state on July 9 with its capital in Juba, following a vote for independence. The country was recognized on July 8 by the government of Sudan.

Jewish groups welcomed the new state. -- JTA via NY Jewish Week

Zion, By Any Other Name

The Jewish Territorialist Organization

Before the Jews had a direction home, YIVO show chronicles, there was Suriname, Angola and Uganda. -- Eric Herschthal, NY Jewish Week

To read more, click here.

"LaunchBox" is Next Big Jewish Idea Winner According to LA Federation

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles announced Batsheva Frankel’s “LaunchBox” as the winner of the Next Big Jewish Idea (NBJI) competition on July 6.  Scott Minkow, Federation Vice President of Partnerships & Innovation, delivered the news to Frankel by removing one of his “I have the Next Big Jewish Idea” pins that have been circulating in the community for months and pinned her, saying, “I have to take this off because you are the one who has the next big Jewish idea.” Frankel told The Jewish Journal she was “over the moon and felt like I won the lottery.” Her idea initially was called JEWWW in a Box.

Monthly LaunchBoxes will be filled with activities, learning materials and links to online Jewish resources, such as interactive e-learning classes to help community members incorporate Jewish traditions and rituals into their lives. Frankel, a Judaic studies and English teacher at Shalhevet High School, will receive up to $100,000 in funding plus in-kind services to turn her dream into a reality.  Frankel’s idea is to reach all corners of the Jewish community to give Jews the tools they need not only to be Jewish but to do Jewish.  “I know that what is successful in reaching people is experiential activities: a Shabbat table, Birthright trips, Jewish summer camp. The boxes will help facilitate that to Jews who otherwise might not have any connection with their Judaism in a meaningful way,” Frankel explained.

Minkow says the competition started a conversation among Jews in Los Angeles. “It was delightful and unexpected to hear that people were talking about the competition in grocery lines,” she said. The Federation started its centennial year with the NBJI competition, calling for ideas to benefit the greater L.A. community. More than 350 ideas were submitted, and the last round of voting on the five finalists closed June 2.  The judges, all leaders in their respective fields, were Joshua Avedon, Aimee Bender, Larry Cohen, Jonathan Greenblatt, Rachel Levin, Todd Presner, David Suissa, Nina Tassler and Amelia Xann.

“The good news that we learned from all of the submissions and voters is that most everyone wants to be in the conversation. And that’s a win for us,” Federation President Jay Sanderson said.

So what will be in these LaunchBoxes? That’s the next big question.  “We’re going to have to think outside of the box, to inspire people on their terms to do Jewish,” Minkow said.  The good news is that once a box is wanted, the goal has been reached and it’s already been opened.

“This isn’t an end.  It’s a beginning of many new ideas and a perfect way to launch The Federation’s next 100 years,” Minkow said. -- Lauren Bottner, LA Jewish Journal

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Soldier for Sexual Equality

As long as the army has such a central influence over life in this country and Orthodoxy is dominant, asserts Prof. Alice Shalvi, there won't be equality between the sexes. Despite this, at 85, the Israel Prize laureate is still energetically working toward achieving that lofty objective.

Sitting in the garden of Shalvi's charming home in Jerusalem's Beit Hakerem neighborhood, one finds that there are actually two Alice Shalvis: the institution and the woman. The institution everyone knows, more or less: the feminist activist, social leader and fighter for equal rights, recipient of dozens of awards and honorary doctorates in Israel and abroad, and 2007 Israel Prize laureate for her special contribution to society and the country. The private individual is less well known. Shalvi the woman is married to Moshe, a mother of six, grandmother of 21 and great-grandmother of three. She is relaxed and gentle, and the strength of the intimate bond between her and Moshe after 61 years of marriage is quite evident. They caress each other with looks of longing and affection to the point that one could easily forget that behind this petite and smiling woman with the charming and mischievous sense of humor, who radiates such confidence and calm, hides an active volcano that could erupt at any moment. A volcano of words that align themselves into sharp sentences and deep insight, and into industrious and uncompromising action and public service. Activity that it's hard to imagine Israel functioning without. -- Aviva Lori, Haaretz

To read more, click here.

Betty Ford, Champion of Women's Rights and Former First Lady, Dies at 93

Eleanor Smeal and former first lady Betty Ford appear at a 1981 countdown rally for the Equal Rights Amendment in Washington.
I will never forget the day in 1981 that I asked Betty Ford to be an honorary co-chair with Alan Alda of the Equal Rights Amendment Countdown Campaign. I thought it would be a long, involved process. But she said almost immediately that she would be honored to do so.

At the time Betty Ford, the wife of former President Gerald Ford, was one of the most admired women in the United States. She also was completely unpretentious. If she could help women win full equal rights with men under the U.S. Constitution, Betty Ford wanted to give it her all.

For readers too young to remember, the drive for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution was massive in 1981. Congress and the state legislatures of 35 states had ratified the ERA. We needed the legislatures of 38 or three-fourths of the states to approve the amendment.

In 1981, we needed to win three more states by June 30, 1982. As Alda said at the final rally in 1982, "I don't accept the ERA vote as a loss; we simply haven't won yet." (The ERA was re-introduced in the current Congress with 159 co-sponsors by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey. The struggle to win the last three states also continues. We are just as determined as ever to ratify it.)
 -- Eleanor Smeal [president of Feminist Majority Foundation/publisher of Ms. magazine and a former president of the National Organization for Women], CNN

To read more and view accompanying videos, click here.

Op Ed: Israel Must Grant All Citizens the Right to Civil Marriage

The radicalization of the rabbinical establishment have led to a situation where the status of women - on issues of marriage, property rights, child custody and divorce - is swiftly deteriorating.

he dozens of Israeli couples who married about two weeks ago in a mass ceremony in the city square of Larnaca, Cyprus, didn't do so in order to break the Guinness record for mass weddings. They were forced to take part in this expensive procedure, far from home and family, because in Israel, there was no way they could have a civil wedding.

The United Nations has issued a report on implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which Gili Cohen (Haaretz, July 5, [to read click here] ) noted was handed to the government authorities here in February of this year. The UN is not interested in the coalition arrangements of successive Israeli governments. Like an earlier report that examined trafficking in human beings, this report deals particularly with the blatant undermining of women and their status.

Although Israel likes to boast that it is "the only democracy in the Middle East," and signed the convention requiring it to ensure equal rights for women in marriage and family relationships, it is ranked, according to Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, who heads Bar-Ilan University's Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women's Status, "in a bad place in the middle," and Israel, in effect, stands "among the countries of the developing world and the Muslim world."

The continuing abandonment of the areas of marital relationships and family to the control of the Orthodox establishment is not the legacy of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alone, but during his tenure there has been a worrisome worsening of the situation: The Haredization and radicalization of the rabbinical establishment have led to a situation where the status of women - on issues of marriage, property rights, child custody and, above all, divorce - is swiftly deteriorating. The thundering silence of Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman in light of the reactionary norms that have taken over in the rabbinical courts and the ease with which the government has been expanding the powers of the rabbis have only exacerbated the situation.

Although the government has made several attempts to promote limited legislation for civil marriage for those "ineligible for marriage," this initiative is the product of a political effort to conciliate a small group among immigrants from the Commonwealth of Independent States, and has nothing to do with the principle of equality. The right to marry and to start a family is a basic civil right, as is a woman's right to equality in all areas of life. If Israel is still interested in being considered an open society and a progressive country, it must implement the recommendations of the UN commission, and enable all of its citizens to marry, divorce and live equally. -- Haaretz

Undocumented Jews Live in Shadows of U.S. Society-- Not the Usual Illegal Alien and Off the Communal Agenda

The Jewish community’s strong support for immigration reform is fueled largely by memories of the Jewish exodus from Europe at the turn of the 20th century and by a desire to nurture ties with newcomer immigrant communities.

But there is another group that has a stake in seeing a comprehensive immigration overhaul adopted, a group the Jewish community hardly deals with, and perhaps is ashamed of: undocumented Jews.

Exact numbers of undocumented Jews are not available, and estimates are hard to find, but activists believe there are at least several thousand Jews currently living in the shadows of society. They are Israelis who immigrated to the United States without proper papers — some joining ultra-Orthodox communities, others seeking to pursue better financial opportunities and some who have used Israel as a stepping stone on their way to America from the former Soviet Union, without obtaining the necessary immigration status. And while their numbers are minuscule in comparison with the estimated 11 million mostly from Mexico and Latin America, Israeli undocumented immigrants share a similar fate. -- By Nathan Guttman

To read more, click here.

Defying Boycott Vote, U. of Johannesburg Continues Partnership with Israeli Institution

Israel’s Ben-Gurion University and the University of Johannesburg have reinstated a collaborative water-research agreement, defying a vote last March by the South African institution’s faculty senate to cut ties with the Israeli university, reports The Jerusalem Post. The faculty vote had been hailed as the first major success of an international academic boycott campaign against Israel, though the vice chancellor of the Johannesburg university said afterward that the university would not boycott Ben-Gurion.

On Friday, the two universities signed a contract to continue their joint research on water purification and the conversion of algae into energy with the cooperation of scientists from the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Ghent.

The senate vote followed a decision in September 2010 to end links with its Israeli counterpart if it found “direct or indirect military implications” to the relationship. The senate had called on Ben-Gurion to form partnerships with Palestinian universities and ordered a review of the ties between the two institutions. University of Johannesburg officials had told the senate before the vote in March that no Palestinian university had been found to join Ben-Gurion in the project. The Israeli university has several joint projects with Palestinian universities, researchers, and students. -- Chronicle of High Education

Sunday, July 10, 2011

In Dutch Shechitah Ban, Jews See a Sign They Are Unwanted

Luuk Koole, the manager of Holland's only kosher butcher,
Slagerij Marcus, says a proposed shechitah ban
would make doing business more expensive. (Alex Weisler)
A few streets over from the bookstore where Anne Frank bought her famous diary, the only kosher butcher shop in Holland is bustling. Two employees man the long counter at Slagerij Marcus, pausing from chopping meat to sell customers a bit of this or that for Shabbat dinner.

In the wake of an overwhelming vote by the Dutch House of Representatives to ban the type of ritual slaughter required for kosher and halal meat, this butcher shop famous for its handmade sausage is at the front lines of a battle between two competing ideals in Holland: freedom of religion and animal welfare.

What put shechitah, or kosher slaughter, in the crosshairs was an unlikely convergence between animal rights activists and Holland’s far-right, anti-Muslim movement.-- Alex Weisler, JTA

To read more, click here.

In Israel, Diggers Unearth the Bible's Bad Guys

In this photo taken Wednesday, July 6, 2011,
volunteers and archeologists walk up a hill
at the excavation site in Tel el-Safi, southern Israel.
Associated Press
At the remains of an ancient metropolis in southern Israel, archaeologists are piecing together the history of a people remembered chiefly as the bad guys of the Hebrew Bible.

The city of Gath, where the annual digging season began this week, is helping scholars paint a more nuanced portrait of the Philistines, who appear in the biblical story as the perennial enemies of the Israelites.

Close to three millennia ago, Gath was on the frontier between the Philistines, who occupied the Mediterranean coastal plain, and the Israelites, who controlled the inland hills. The city's most famous resident, according to the Book of Samuel, was Goliath — the giant warrior improbably felled by the young shepherd David and his sling. -- Matti Friedman, Associated Press via Yahoo

To read more, click here.

Lighting a Candle for Sammy Davis Jr.

A half-century after the black singer’s conversion, the post-ethnic Judaism by choice he represented is in full flower. -- Samuel G. Freedman, NY Jewish Week

To read more, click here.

Are American Jews About to Follow the Canadian Pattern?

When it comes to the American Jewish community and Israel, hysteria seems to be the requisite emotion underlying and conditioning policy ideas and commentary, at the expense of more reasoned and careful thinking.

Take, for example, Politico's story on the decline in support for Barack Obama among Jewish Democrats. Many seasoned Jewish analysts don't think much of the argument. They note that most Jews don't vote on single concerns, including Israel, and that they are more liberal on social issues anyway, in sharp contrast to the Republicans.

And the story, including the anecdotal evidence that seems to support it, needs to be put into its proper context. As I've argued, Obama hasn't done anything to disrupt relations with Israel. The tiff between him and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is certainly not the worst in the relationship between the two countries: anybody remember the loan guarantees dispute between George H.W. Bush and Yitzhak Shamir?

Somewhat surprisingly, nobody seems to have pointed to the Canadian case as potentially being replicated here. After all, there are many similarities between the two Jewish communities, including shared community institutions. Not to mention the regular personal, institutional, and geographic links tying Canadian and American tourists, businesspeople, artists, and others.

In Canada, voting patterns among the Jewish community do appear to have shifted right, away from the Liberal Party (where they have long been anchored) and toward the Conservative Party (the Canadian equivalents of the Democrats and Republicans, respectively). Data indicates that more Canadian Jews voted for the Conservatives in the May national elections than ever before, including in "safe" districts with a high concentration of Jews and where the Liberals had long been able to count on Jewish support but which they lost in May. -- Brent Sasley, Houffington Post

To read more, click here.

U.S. State Dept. to Study Saudi Texts

The U.S. State Department is launching a study of Saudi textbooks to determine their reach and whether they promote intolerance.

The department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights will commission experts to examine textbooks for bigoted depictions of non-Muslims, including anti-Semitic tropes, Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department's envoy to combat anti-Semitism, told JTA.

During a tour last month of Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Rosenthal met with groups promoting interfaith dialogue and, in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, with government education ministry officials.

She confronted Saudi officials with examples of anti-Semitic statements in the kingdom's texts used as far afield in Saudi-funded schools in Pakistan and Argentina.

In one instance she cited, Jews are described as the spawn of "monkeys and pigs." Saudi officials told Rosenthal that such texts are no longer in use, but that if her department could uncover instances of intolerance in books being used, they would be altered.

Rosenthal said such a study was in its planning stages and would assess which countries have schools using the textbooks, as well as whether the texts promote intolerance. She said the grantees that would carry out the study had yet to be selected.

A similar study examining Palestinian and Israeli textbooks already is under way by the bureau. -- Ron Kampeas, JTA