Friday, July 22, 2011

Rudolf Hess's Grave, Neo-Nazi Pilgrimage Site, Destroyed

Nazi Rudolf Hess at Nuremberg Trial in 1945
Photo by: Wikimedia Commons

Resting place of one-time Hitler deputy had become subject to neo-Nazi demonstrations; body exhumed, ashes to be scattered at sea. -- Jerusalem Post

To read more, click here.

Cold Comforts

Family act: Ronne Fisher, left, brainstormed new business
with daughters Isabelle, center, and Meredith.
Mother-daughter ice cream business caters to fondness for classic Jewish desserts like rugelach and macaroons. -- Tamar Snyder, NY Jewish Week

To read more, click here.

Prisoner’s Diet Sparks "Who is a Jew?" Debate

ACLU-NJ intervenes after prison consults Chabad chaplain
Rabbi Mendy Carlebach, a volunteer chaplain for the Middlesex County Adult Correction Center,
says, “I have no problem with people getting kosher food if they are not Jewish.”
A former New Jersey prisoner’s demand for kosher food has triggered a debate over “who is a Jew.”

At issue: Must a prisoner prove that he is Jewish in order to get kosher food and, more importantly, who gets to decide — the individual, the state, or an outside religious authority?

Thomas Feldheim was being held earlier this year in the Middlesex County Adult Correction Center as he awaited extradition to North Carolina on a 2008 charge of raping a 13-year-old girl.

While being held in the North Brunswick jail, Feldheim requested kosher meals. Corrections officials sought advice from Rabbi Mendy Carlebach, director of the Chabad of North and South Brunswick and chaplain at the corrections center.

“The rabbi asked Feldheim if his mother was Jewish and he said, ‘No, but my father is Jewish.’ So the rabbi went back to the correction center and said, ‘No, he is not Jewish,’ and the correction center denied Feldheim’s request for kosher meals,” said Katie Wang, spokesperson for the ACLU of New Jersey. -- Robert Wiener, NJ Jewish News

To read more, click here.

Saudi Arabia's "Anti-Witchcraft Unit" Breaks Another Spell

The unit, established in 2009, is charged
with apprehending sorcerers and reversing
the detrimental effects of their spells in the Gulf country.
Photo by Reuters
When the severed head of a wolf wrapped in women's lingerie turned up near the city of Tabouk in northern Saudi Arabia this week, authorities knew they had another case of witchcraft on their hands, a capital offence in the ultra-conservative desert kingdom.

Agents of the country’s Anti-Witchcraft Unit were quickly dispatched and set about trying to break the spell that used the beast’s head.

Saudi Arabia takes witchcraft so seriously that it has banned the Harry Potter series by British writer J.K. Rowling, rife with tales of sorcery and magic. It set up the Anti-Witchcraft Unit in May 2009 and placed it under the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPV), Saudi Arabia's religious police. -- David E. Miller, Media Line via Jerusalem Post

To read more, click here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

WLCJ Signs on to Support for Respect for Marriage Act

Women's League for Conservative Judaism has become a signer of a coalition letter in support of the Respect for Marriage Act which would repeal Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] thereby allowing federal benefits to flow to same-sex couples who have been lawfully married in states which recognize these unions.

There was a Congressional hearing scheduled, Wednesday, July 20 at 10 am, in the Senate Judiciary Committee which will address the harm caused by DOMA to loving couples married in states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa, DC and soon New York. This is the first DOMA hearing since 1996 when the law was enacted and as such, part of our hearing efforts include soliciting additional organizational signatures for the attached coalition letter to demonstrate the sea-change of opinion with regard to marriage equality.

WLCJ joins 61 other organization who support the Respect for Marriage Act including:
  • United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
  • The Rabbinical Assembly
  • Women of Reform Judaism
  • Anti-Defamation League
  • Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
  • National Council of Jewish Women
  • Union for Reform Judaism
  • Interfaith Alliance
  • Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
  • United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Being a signatory of this letter is in keeping with the WL resolution of 1992 supporting full civil equality for gays and lesbians in our national life.

      The Real Inglorious Bastards: Meyer Lansky vs the Nazis

      Reputed Mafia financier Meyer Lansky takes a break in a Miami attorney's office, Friday January 22, 1982. AP Photo
      In godfatherly fashion, SEAL Team Six was gearing up to whack Osama Bin Laden at the moment Prince William and Kate Middleton took their vows at Westminster Abbey. The events weren’t connected, but given our culture’s wish to see things through a Hollywood lens, let’s picture President Obama stroking his dog, Bo, behind the Resolute desk and telling the Middletons to “consider this justice a gift on this, the day of your daughter’s wedding.”

      Think mixing the government and gangland is farfetched? Going back a few wars, our leaders sent the mob after the Nazis, the subject of my new historical novel, The Devil Himself.
      Click here to find out more!

      The collaboration between gangsters and Naval intelligence during World War II—which the government denied for nearly 40 years—began after the behemoth cruise ship Normandie caught fire and capsized at Pier 88 in Manhattan on the heels of Pearl Harbor. -- Eric Dezenhall, Daily Beast

      To read more, click here.

      Where Families Are Prized, Help Is Free: Israel is the world capital of in vitro fertilization.

      Vered Letai-Sever, an Israeli from the small town of Tsoran,
      with her son Eitan, whom she had through in vitro fertilization.
      Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times
      Jewish and Arab, straight and gay, secular and religious, the patients who come to Assuta Hospital in Tel Aviv every day are united by a single hope: that medical science will bring them a baby.

      Israel is the world capital of in vitro fertilization and the hospital, which performs about 7,000 of the procedures each year, is one of the busiest fertilization clinics in the world.

      Unlike countries where couples can go broke trying to conceive with the assistance of costly medical technology, Israel provides free, unlimited IVF procedures for up to two “take-home babies” until a woman is 45. The policy has made Israelis the highest per capita users of the procedure in the world. --  Dina Kraft, NY Times

      To read more, click here.

      Chicago Jewish Population Sees 8 Percent Growth

      The Chicago Jewish community grew by 8 percent over the past decade, or more than 21,000 people, according to a new demographic study.

      The study, which the Jewish United Fund and Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago commissions every 10 years, found that the number of Jews living in the Chicago area increased for a third consecutive decade, to 291,800.

      Chicago’s overall population over the same period grew by only 3.5 percent.

      The study comes as local Jewish federations have released or are conducting a flurry of demographic studies and the Jewish Federations of North America organization has moved away from surveying the Jewish community on a national level.

      A survey released recently by the Portland-area federation in Oregon found a Jewish population of 47,500 -- more than double the number of Jews that community leaders had believed were living in the city area.

      The Chicago study also found that intermarriage had increased from 30 percent in 2000 to 37 percent in 2010, and that more than 90,000 of the 148,100 Jewish households had at least one non-Jewish member.

      At the same time, the survey found that half of interfaith families are raising their children only Jewish. Previously only a third had been raising children solely in the Jewish faith.

      Among other findings, half of Chicago Jews have been to Israel, 86 percent of children aged 6-18 have had a formal Jewish education and nearly all the respondents said that being Jewish was important to them. -- JTA

      “Harry Potter’s” Jason Isaacs on Playing “Racist” Lucius Malfoy

      Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy
      “Lucius Malfoy espouses the language of racism and eugenics,” said Jason Isaacs, the British actor who has portrayed the Muggle-loathing wizard supremacist in seven of the eight “Harry Potter” films, concluding with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:  Part II,” which opened on July 15.

      With his long, blond hair, and imperious blue eyes, Lucius Malfoy – a henchman of the genocidal Lord Voldemort—has a Nazi-like obsession with the preservation of blood purity, disapproving of marriages between Muggles (mortals) and magic folk.

      “But you don’t need to look to the Second World War for the concept that blood shouldn’t be mixed,” he said of his inspiration for the character.  “You can look around the world today and see many politicians standing on that kind of anti-immigration, separatist, backwards-looking platform. There’s no shortage of right-wing politicians trying to make people feel more comfortable and superior in these times of great uncertainty and fear.

      “It’s not like I don’t understand racism, fear, bigotry and ignorance,” he added.  “Being Jewish, I think, has brought me a more nuanced perspective on it than most.” -- Naomi Pfefferman, JewishJournal

      To read more, click here.

      Sunday, July 17, 2011

      Montreal Cemetery Encourages Visitors to Explore its History

      Executive director Jay Aaron
      welcomes visitors to the historic Baron de Hirsch Cemetery.
      Its 40 acres are the final resting place of 55,000 people, making the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery Canada’s largest Jewish graveyard and, at 107, one of the oldest.

      The non-profit corporation that runs it today knows it is a historical treasure and is encouraging visitors – and not only those with loved ones there – to explore it. For the second year, the cemetery organized a walking tour this month for the public, led by retired Jewish Public Library librarian Ron Finegold, who possesses a font of knowledge about those who lie there, both great and obscure. -- Myron Love, Canadian Jewish News

      To read more, click here.

      Whittier Celebrates the Last Hurrah of America’s First Havurah

      Pioneers: Members of the Whittier Havurah gather at Camp Komaroff in 1975.
      Courtesy of Whittier Havurah
      It was September 1960, with hometown hero Richard Nixon running neck and neck with John F. Kennedy in the final stretch of the race for the White House, when a handful of Jewish families in Whittier, Calif., a small city 12 miles southeast of Los Angeles, decided to reinvent themselves as Jews. They formed a group outside their local synagogue to study Judaism, celebrate the holidays and explore the relevance of their religion to their lives.

      “They were the first American havurah,” said Rabbi David A. Teutsch, former president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and longtime observer of the havurah movement. The havurah is an affinity group dedicated to Jewish studies, prayer and holiday celebrations outside the synagogue structure. The notion that the movement began with countercultural experiments in the 1970s ignores the fact that the Whittier Havurah predates them all.

      Hailed by late Reconstructionist leader Rabbi Ira Eisenstein as “a pioneer in our movement,” the Whittier group has origins that are more complex than hippie anti-establishment. As a model of longevity and creative activity, its influence over the years outweighed its peak enrollment of 50 families, inspiring similar groups beyond Southern California. Teutsch told the Forward, “I consider the Whittier Havurah a wonderful success.”

      So why, at its 50th anniversary celebration, July 16, is the Whittier Havurah officially disbanding? -- Rex Weiner, Forward

      To read more, click here.

      Charter Hebrew School as Model

      The Hebrew Language Academy, New York City’s first Hebrew-language charter school, opened two years ago. Now its backers—including financier Michael Steinhardt—want to replicate the model nationwide.

      A kindergarten class at Hebrew Language Academy.
      Hebrew Language Academy
      Two years ago the Hebrew Language Academy—New York City’s first Hebrew-language charter school—opened in Brooklyn to fierce opposition. Foes of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s charter-school expansion efforts weren’t pleased, nor were some parents, who questioned why public money was being used to promote a cultural identity. The controversy has abated, but it wasn’t clear that its backers saw the Academy as anything more than an isolated experiment.

      That’s about to change. The people behind the Hebrew Language Academy—a group of Jewish philanthropists including financier Michael Steinhardt—are now looking to replicate their Brooklyn school in cities across the United States, and they’ve founded the Hebrew Charter School Center, a $3.2 million nonprofit that gives seed money and support to new Hebrew-language schools, to help do it. -- Anna Phillips, Tablet

      To read more, click here.

      The Voice: Mel Blanc

      Before he was the famous voice of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and Woody Woodpecker, Mel Blanc was a Jewish kid in Portland, Ore., doing impressions of his immigrant neighbors

      Mel Blanc at the KGW Studio in Portland, Ore., circa 1948.
      Courtesy Noel Blanc
      Museum exhibits are often about visuals, but the first thing you notice when you walk into the Oregon Jewish Museum’s current show celebrating Mel Blanc’s life and career is his voice. That manic patter is familiar and unmistakable: It’s the voice of Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat and Tweety Bird, Barney Rubble and Dino and so many other beloved cartoon characters. Blanc, in fact, voiced so many different characters—over 400—that Jack Benny once remarked, “There’s only five real people in Hollywood. Everyone else is Mel Blanc.” And all of Blanc’s characters, as the new exhibit deftly reveals, owe a part of their existence to his upbringing as a young Jewish boy in Portland, Ore., performing in the city’s vaudeville houses and mixing with its various ethnic populations.

      Born in San Francisco in 1909 as Melvin Jerome Blank, he moved north with his family at the age of 6. -- Katie Schneider, Tablet

      To read more, click here.

      “Harry Potter” Producer David Heyman’s Jewish Connection

      David Heyman
      As the final chapter in the boy wizard franchise “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II” hits theatres July 15, producer David Heyman – who last spoke to me about his 2008 Holocaust film, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas—will be closing a 12-year chapter of his life.

      And what a chapter it has been.

      First, convincing author J.K. Rowling to sell the movie rights to her bestselling novels, with the promise that he would remain faithful to her story and characters.  Then discovering Daniel Radcliffe, after auditioning hundreds of prospective Harrys, while they were both attending a play, of all places.  Hiring unexpected directors such as Alfonso CuarĂ³n and David Yates to keep things fresh.  And keeping the young cast together through eight films without anyone having a Britney Spears-type meltdown. -- Naomi Pfefferman, Jewish Journal

      To read more, click here.