Friday, December 9, 2011

JTSA Chancellor starts blog

Arnold M. Eisen, Chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary, has started writing a blog on varied subjects of interest to Conservative Jews.

To view this blog, click here.

Two Israeli hotels nab spots on Top 10 list

Two Jerusalem hotels were among the top 10 Best in the World Middle Eastern hotels as ranked by the Conde Nast Travelers Readers’ Choice Awards.

The Inbal Jerusalem came in at No. 4, while the David Citadel tied with the Grand Hyatt Amman in Jordan at No. 6.

The rankings were based on 28,876 responses to a readers’ survey through Global Market Insite Inc. Customers reviewed hotels based on criteria such as food, location, design and service.

The Inbal, located near Liberty Bell Park, was lauded for exceptional food, location and design in finishing with an overall score of 87.5. The David Citadel, which overlooks the Old City, received high marks for location, rooms and activities, and had a score of 86.

Hotels in Dubai, Doha and Riyadh were mentioned as well, with the Park Hyatt Dubai topping the list with a score of 95.5. -- Jessica Leader, JTA

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times for Women Rabbis

So what do Charles Dickens and women rabbis have in common?

Here’s Mr. Dickens, beginning A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair...”

There’s nothing like starting a story with a thesis, assuming a consensus, only to find that reality, at least as refracted through the people you talk to, is considerably more splintered.

Right now is not a great time to be a rabbi, at least in the practical sense. If you are a young rabbi, it’s harder to get a job than it was a decade ago. If you are a middle-aged rabbi, it’s harder to hold onto the job. If you are older – well, retirement’s a good thing, isn’t it?

There are many ways, of course, in which this is a superb time to be a rabbi, but that would be another story.

But does it make a difference if you are a female or a male rabbi? What role does gender play? How deep-seated are our images of God, of authority, of scholars, of healers? A full quarter-century after the Conservative movement first ordained women, how’s it working out?

The answer, it turns out, is as varied as the women rabbis themselves. -- Joanne Palmer, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

To read more, click here.

Israel's new chocolatiers

Making chocolates at Sweet N' Karem

A growing cadre of gourmet Israeli chocolate makers are bringing high-quality chocolate to both the Israeli and foreign markets. -- Avigayil Kadesh, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

To read more, click here.

Israeli study: Attractive pols get more TV time, Republicans rule top 10

Better-looking U.S. politicians receive more television coverage, a new Israeli study found.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Haifa, asked 463 Israeli students to rank the attractiveness of the 110th U.S. Congress, which served in 2007, based on the official photographs posted on the government websites. Presidential candidates, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and majority and minority leaders were excluded from the rankings.

After controlling for seniority, political standing, electoral vulnerability, ideology, legislative activity and communication efforts, gender and race, among other variables, the study found that physical attractiveness was the third strongest predictor of television coverage, increasing coverage by 11.6 percent. -- JTA

To read more, click here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

German neo-Nazi cell distributes anti-Semitic version of monopoly called Pogromly

A Pogromly neo-Nazi board game.
Neo-Nazi board game, called Pogromly, first surfaced in 1997; recently exposed cell reportedly sold dozens of units to extreme rightists across Germany.

Members of a German neo-Nazi group discovered last month distributed dozens of copies of an anti-Semitic version of Monopoly, called Pogromly, selling units to neo-Nazi activists across Germany.

The game first hit the market back in 1997, distributed by the terror cell that called itself the National Socialist Underground. The board features an array of Nazi symbols; Swastikas, a picture of Hitler, and four concentration camps.

One copy of the game was recovered by German police in a 1998 raid on the apartment of the female member of the group, which also included two other men. The German Police also found explosives in the same raid.  -- Ofer Aderet, Haaretz

To read more, click here.

Obama administration refuses to relax Plan B restrictions

The federal government Wednesday rejected a request to let young teenage girls buy the controversial morning-after pill Plan B directly off drugstore and supermarket shelves without a prescription.

In a rare public split among federal health officials, the Health and Human Services Department overruled a decision by the Food and Drug Administration to make the drug available to anyone of any age without a restriction. -- Rob Stein, Washington Post

To read more and to view slideshow chronicling history of "Plan B" contraception click here.

Finding the Persian Gulf's Only Synagogue

Bike outside the Bahrain synagogue with graffiti stating "death to Israel."
As rumor had it, the one synagogue on the Arabian Peninsula was in Bahrain. It seemed like an easy find -- a sore thumb somewhere in two mile-wide downtown Manama. Earlier in the day the address I had plucked from an online forum, "Sasa'ah street," seemed to get vague grunts of recognition from taxi drivers: near the souq, maybe. I decided not to make the trip to the desert to see the "Tree of Life," a large mesquite that seems to spring miraculously from arid ground. Instead, buzzing and sleepy from a long, bacony brunch, I went in search of the country's Jewish roots.

A friend dropped me at the arched gate of the Manama Souq, a mostly pedestrian criss-cross of simple stands and boutiques. I forgot my phone (GPS and all, though unlikely to be helpful) -- this quest would depend entirely upon the knowledge and forthrightness of passersby and standers around. -- Adam Valen Levinson, Huffington Post

To read more, click here.

Israeli author kicked off literary panel after request by Palestinian colleague

Moshe Sakal
Photo by: Daniel Tchetchik

In the previous two years the conference had been held in Marseilles, Palestinian writers had refused to come because there were Israeli participants. -- Maya Sela, Haaretz

To read more, click here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Remember Pearl Harbor

In December 7, 2011,
remember 70 years ago.
Original photo

A personal trainer for weak hearts

The Optimizer III strengthens damaged heart muscles.
Implantable device invented in Israel electrically ‘teaches' diseased heart muscle to contract more strongly and get the blood pumping -- Abigail Klein Leichman, Israel21c

Shalit’s father denies hunger strike reports

Gilad Shalit, left, stands with his father Noam at Tel Nof air base in central Israel on Oct. 18.
Photo by REUTERS/Ariel Hermoni/IDF
The father of Gilad Shalit denied reports that his son went on a hunger strike toward the end of his captivity.

“He was in such a deteriorated physical state that they had to connect him to an IV. It wasn’t the result of a hunger strike, but of an array of factors having to do with the conditions of his imprisonment, such as a years-long lack of daylight,” Noam Shalit said at a journalism conference in Eilat, according to Haaretz. -- JTA via Jewish Journal

To read more, click here.

Clinton’s criticisms of Israeli democracy raise hackles

Israeli lawmakers rejected U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s criticisms of Israeli democracy made during a closed forum in Washington.

Clinton reportedly rapped two bills making their way through the Knesset that would restrict funding to left-leaning human rights organizations, as well as the marginalization of women in Israel, citing the examples of religious Israeli soldiers leaving programs that feature women singing and women sitting in the back of the bus on some religious bus lines.

She reportedly made the comments, which were reported in the Israeli media, during a closed session Saturday of the Saban Forum attended by American and Israeli political figures.

“Israel is a living, breathing liberal democracy," Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said at the start of Israel’s weekly Cabinet meeting. "The issue of the exclusion of women and separation is unacceptable and must be stopped, but to claim there is a threat on Israeli democracy is a big stretch."

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan called on "elected officials around the world [to] examine their domestic problems first.” He added, "I hope that government steps will demonstrate our commitment to equality between men and women." -- JTA

Opinion: What Hillary Got Right About Israel

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Getty Images
Hillary Clinton has made some important people in Israel angry. But she has made a whole bunch of other people, especially women, really happy. I, for one, am grateful to Clinton.

I’m referring, of course, to her now viral comments that she is “worried” about Israel democracy, and about the status of women. Both issues should give all of us pause, and she gets a special kudos for linking the two issues, something no public figure had effectively done until now.

Clinton’s democracy concern stems from a series of troubling legislation that has recently been discussed and in some cases passed in the Knesset, led by several key Likud and Yisrael Beitenu parliamentarians. The bills that have been tabled over the past few months include: the Defamation Bill that, as the Forward explains here, would make life difficult for journalists reporting on activities of Knesset members; the Supreme Court Justice Appointment Bill, which gives Knesset Members increased powers in the process of appointing Supreme Court justices; the NGO Bill, which prohibits “foreign governmental bodies” from donating to “political” NGOs in Israel — followed by the tax bill that also proposes enormous taxes on foreign donations, and the Basic Law — The Judiciary, which aims to restrain NGOs from bringing lawsuits to the High Court of Justice. -- Elana Sztokman, Forward

To read more, click here.

Muslim and Hindu exchange students, Jewish teens learn about religions

A program by Congregation Beth El in Bethesda
and AFS Intercultural Programs brings together U.S.
and international teens of different faiths.
On a balmy November night, a busload of eighth-graders spilled out onto Massachusetts Avenue NW, the girls tentatively pulling on head scarves they had been instructed to bring.

“Does mine look normal?” one asked, cinching it tightly under her chin.

“Mine looks really ugly, doesn’t it?” said another, tugging at a billowy confection of material.

Suitably attired, more or less, they trooped into the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. Many of the students, who belong to an after-school Hebrew program at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, had passed by the large mosque with the columns and minaret, but they had never gone inside, until now.

The youths are part of a cultural exchange between Beth El and AFS Intercultural Programs (formerly the American Field Service), which brings teenagers from all over the world to live with host families in the United States and sends American teens abroad.  -- Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post

To read more and to view accompanying slideshow, click here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

U.S. professor becomes first Jew to win 'Arab Nobel Prize'

Stanford's Ronald Levy says Saudis deleted any mention of Israel from the bio he submitted for the prize.
An American professor has become the first Jew to win the King Faisal International Prize in Medicine, popularly known as the "Arab Nobel Prize."

Stanford professor Ronald Levy, who heads the university's Oncology department, told Haaretz that as an American Jew married to an Israeli it never crossed his mind that he might win the Saudi-financed competition.

"I didn't think there was much chance, and I forgot about it," Levy said. "It's an Arab country, and I didn?t think they are likely to pick a Jew." -- Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz

To read more click here.

Boycott Israel Effort Leads to Increased Sales for An Israeli Shoemaker

A months’ long effort by pro-Palestinian activists to convince Canadian shoppers to boycott a successful Israeli shoe company unleashed a sort of boomerang effect and ended up causing a surge in sales. -- Sharona Schwartz,

To read more, click here.

American-style Jewish fraternities cross Atlantic to Britain

The founding fathers of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity chapter
in Birmingham, England, which is also home to a chapter of Zeta Beta Tau.
Photo by Steven Senft
Historically Jewish fraternities are leading the introduction of American Greek culture to the United Kingdom, but not everyone is throwing a toga party for England's latest import.

Over the past year, Zeta Beta Tau and Alpha Epsilon Pi -- Jewish fraternities whose membership is open to all -- have established the first fraternity chapters in the United Kingdom. ZBT established its chapter in May in Nottingham, followed by a second in Birmingham. AEPi has opened chapters in Birmingham, Leeds and at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Except for St. Andrews, the other chapters are city based and open to members from all nearby universities.

The fraternities aim to appeal to Jewish students differently from the country's existing network of Jewish societies, which operate similarly to Hillel chapters in the United States and are organized under the umbrella of the Union of Jewish Students. JSocs, as they are known, focus broadly on serving Jewish students and defending their interests, while the fraternity representatives say their focus will be on social events, volunteering and professional networking. -- Alex Weisler

To read more, click here.

More female soldiers in more positions in the IDF

The Chief of the General Staff's Women's Affairs Advisor, Brig. Gen. Gila Kalifi-Amir, presented data indicating an improvement in the incorporation of females in the IDF and an overall positive trend.

"Women make up 33% of the IDF, taking into consideration their shorter service in comparison to males," Brig. Gen. Kalifi-Amir said. "51% of IDF officers are females serving as both career soldiers and reservists. Women also make up 3% of the IDF's combat soldiers and 15% of technical personnel. Additionally, there is a significant decrease in the number of women serving as secretaries, indicating a change in perception." -- Israel Defence Forces

To read more, click here.

Loans Without Profit Help Relieve Economic Pain

Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz runs a gemach,
a program of interest-free loans,
in a prosperous stretch of suburbia near Atlanta.
Photo: T. Lynne Pixley for The New York Times
When Hirshy Minkowicz was growing up in a Hasidic enclave of Brooklyn 30 years ago, he often noticed visitors arriving after dinner to meet with his father. They would withdraw into the study, speak for a time, then part with some confidential agreement having been sealed.

As he grew into his teens, Hirshy came to learn that his father operated a traditional Jewish free-loan program called a gemach. The visitors, many of them teachers in local religious schools, struggling to raise their families on small and irregular salaries, had been coming to borrow money at no interest and with no public exposure.

Now 39 years old and serving as the rabbi of a Chabad center near Atlanta, Rabbi Minkowicz has done something he never expected: open a gemach that deals primarily with non-Orthodox Jews in a prosperous stretch of suburbia. The reason, quite simply, is the prolonged downturn in the American economy, which has driven up the number of Jews identified by one poverty expert as the “middle-class needy.”

The same phenomenon has appeared in Jewish communities across the country, albeit most often in those with existing Orthodox populations already familiar with the gemach system. This institution, rooted in biblical and Talmudic teachings and whose name is a contraction of the Hebrew words for “bestowal of kindness” (“gemilut chasadim”), is now meeting needs created by such resolutely modern causes as subprime mortgages, outsourcing and credit default swaps.  -- T. Lynne Pixley, New York Times

To read more, click here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Technology to Reverse 'Curse of Babel?'

An Israeli company has developed technology that allows people speaking different languages to talk to - and understand - each other.

Yael Mittleman
Photo by Paul Orliev
The sorry aftermath of man's hubris in building the Tower of Babel resulted in the polyglot of languages we have today, so the Bible tells us; which would make the people behind Israeli startups Lexifone Biblical commentators, in a form of speaking. Actually, we don't know their views on matters spiritual, but Lexifone's staff is doing its part to enable understanding between nations.

Lexifone is utilizing voice to text and natural language technologies to produce an automatic translation service that will enable users to call a number, say a sentence or ask a question in their own language, and have it automatically translated into another language. It's a service that could be implemented at an airport, hotel, shopping center, or any other facility where people are likely to need translation help. -- TechIsrael Staff,

To read more, click here.

Peres: Ben-Gurion backed separation of powers

'Israel hatred an excuse.'
Peres Photo: Gil Yohanan

Speaking at a memorial ceremony marking the 38th anniversary of David Ben-Gurion's death, Israel President Shimon Peres said the former prime minister supported separation of powers. "Politicians will not judge, and judges will not participate in politics. He (Ben-Gurion) resigned because these principles were breached, and believed there was no substitute for the democratic system," the president said. -- Ilana Curiel, Ynetnews

To read more, click here.

New IDF program looks to increase Bedouin recruits

Bedouins in IDF
Photo: IDF Spokesman Unit

In an attempt to up the number of Bedouins in IDF, given the sector's low enlistment percentages, military officials present new plan intended to raise numbers by 20%, including improved conditions for officers, paramilitary course for sector. -- Yoav Zitun, Ynetnews

To read more, click here.

Maurice Sendak’s Hanukkah Lamps Choices

Courtesy of The Jewish Museum
Maurice Sendak is best known as a writer and illustrator of children’s books, most famously, “Where the Wild Things Are,” and more recently, “Bumble-Ardy,” published this year. Sendak, who was born to Polish Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn and lost much of his family in the Holocaust, also illustrated Isaac Bashevis Singer’s children’s story “Zlateh the Goat,” which received the Newbery Award, and “In Grandpa’s House,” written by his father, Philip Sendak. Needless to say, his Jewish roots run deep.

Now, Sendak has giving those feelings a different kind of expression by curating The Jewish Museum’s annual exhibit of Hanukkah Lamps, or Hanukkiot, selected from the museum’s extensive collection. Many of Sendak’s choices originate in Eastern Europe and recall the family that he lost there during the Holocaust. “I stayed away from everything elaborate. I kept looking for very plain, square ones, very severe looking,” he said. “Their very simplicity reminded me of the Holocaust. And I thought it was inappropriate for me to be thinking of elaboration.” The exhibit, on view until January 29, also includes original drawings from Sendak’s collaboration with Singer and with his father. -- Ezra Glinter, Forward

Click below to view a slideshow of Hanukkah lamps selected by Maurice SendakSlideshow: Maurice Sendak’s Hanukkah Lamps – The Arty Semite –

Success due to immigrant parents says Air Canada boss

Air Canada president and CEO Calin Rovinescu and his wife Elaine light candles on the menorah at dinner in his honour. [PBL Photography photo]
Air Canada boss Calin Rovinescu revealed a side of himself that few are aware of: how he was driven to excel as the son of hard-working Romanian-Jewish immigrants.

Rovinescu, the company’s president and CEO since 2009, received B’nai Brith Canada’s 2011 Award of Merit at a gala dinner Nov. 24 at the Fairmount Queen Elizabeth Hotel….

Rovinescu, born in Bucharest in 1955, came to Montreal by boat when he was six years old. His father, Ionel, 38 at the time, was a urologist and surgeon seeking to escape antisemitism and repression. His mother, Adriana, was a teacher, with two master’s degrees.

To read more, click here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Saudis fear there will be ‘no more virgins’ and people will turn gay if female drive ban is lifted

'No more virgins': A new report makes
a devastating assessment of the impact
that allowing women to drive would have on Saudi society.
Photo: AP
Repealing a ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia would result in ‘no more virgins’, the country’s religious council has warned.

A ‘scientific’ report claims relaxing the ban would also see more Saudis - both men and women - turn to homosexuality and pornography.

The startling conclusions were drawn by Muslim scholars at the Majlis al-Ifta’ al-A’ala, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious council, working in conjunction with Kamal Subhi, a former professor at the King Fahd University.
-- Mail Foreign Service via Daily Mail (UK)

Click here to read more.

In Detroit, Jewish resurgence led by young aims to transform city

Blair Nosan, foreground right, founder of Suddenly Sauer and chair of Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue's Education and Social Action Committee, teaches a sauerkraut workshop at Detroit's recently opened Moishe House, Nov. 20, 2011. (Dan Klein)
Blair Nosan grew up in the Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield, attended the University of Michigan and then, like thousands of other young Jews from the beleaguered state, moved away.

Though she grew up in a heavily Jewish area, Nosan, 26, had felt disconnected both from her Jewish identity and the nearby city, which was undergoing its own debilitating population drain. Over the last decade, 25 percent of Detroit’s residents have taken flight. Some 5,000 young Jews left Michigan between 2005 and 2010, according to a 2010 survey by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

But then Nosan came back. --  Dan Klein, JTA

Click here to read more.

Palestinian Solidarity Day -- The U.N.'s Annual Attempt to Turn Back the Clock

Notwithstanding alleged U.N. support for a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, at New York Headquarters Tuesday [November 29] only the flag of the non-state of Palestine was flown alongside the U.N.’s own flag. The flag of the member state of Israel was barred.

This is how the U.N. General Assembly marked the anniversary of November 29, 1947 when it adopted the partition resolution that sanctioned a Jewish and another Arab state in the former Mandate for Palestine. “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” as it is called, is the U.N.’s annual attempt to turn the clock back. -- Anne Bayefsky, Fox News

Click here to read more.

Israeli women fight back against Jerusalem billboard vandals

Women in UK and US urged to send photographs of themselves to counter ultra-orthodox campaign against images of women

Shira Ben-Sasson Furstenberg: We're experiencing a snowball effect.' Photograph: New Israel Fund

Jewish women in Britain and the US are being urged to send photographs of themselves holding signs saying "women should be seen and heard" in a campaign against efforts by the ultra-orthodox to remove female images from advertising billboards in Jerusalem.

The New Israel Fund (NIF) is planning to compile the photographs into posters to display in Jerusalem.

Similar posters of Israeli women are being displayed by Yerushalmim, an organisation opposed to religious extremism and gender segregation which is funded by the NIF.

The appeal to British and American Jewish women is to show "this struggle is not just waged by the women of Jerusalem alone. It is the struggle of people of conscience everywhere", says the NIF.

Its appeal follows pressure from extremist ultra-orthodox, or Haredi, Jews on advertisers to remove images of women. -- Harriet Sherwood, Guardian (UK)

Click here to read more.

Netanyahu pulls ad campaign for Israeli expats that angered U.S. Jews

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is canceling an ad campaign aimed at luring Israeli expatriates home that some American Jews have found offensive.

The ads, produced by Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, attempt to convey the message that the children and families of Israeli expats will not have Israeli identities if they stay in the Diaspora. This week, the Jewish Federations of North America called the ads "insulting," and the head of the Anti-Defamation League said they were "demeaning."

"The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption's campaign clearly did not take into account American Jewish sensibilities, and we regret any offense it caused," Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, said in a statement. "The campaign, which aimed to encourage Israelis living abroad to return home, was a laudable one, and it was not meant to cause insult. The campaign was conducted without the knowledge or approval of the Prime Minister's Office or of the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Prime Minister Netanyahu, once made aware of the campaign, ordered the videos immediately removed from YouTube, and he ordered that the billboards be removed as well. The prime minister deeply values the American Jewish community and is committed to deepening ties between it and the State of Israel." -- JTA

Click here to read more.