Friday, February 3, 2012

Jewish Philathropists Face Off In Super Bowl

The New York Giants, who are owned by the Jewish Tisch family,
pose with the Vince Lombardi trophy to celebrate their 2008 Super Bowl victory.
Photo by Paul Morse.
When the New York Giants and New England Patriots take the field for Sunday’s Super Bowl, most of the country will focus on the athletes wearing the jerseys. However, from a Jewish perspective, the story behind these football franchises comes from those wearing suits in the owner’s box.

The Giants are co-owned by the Tisch family, with film and television producer Steve Tisch, son of Bob, as the team’s chairman and executive vice president. Bob’s brother, Larry, was the father of Jim—former president of the UJA Federation of New York and former board chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Jim’s wife, Merryl, chairs the board of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.

On the New England side, owner Robert Kraft’s wife Myra—who passed away last July—served as chair of the Boston-based Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ (CJP) board of directors and was twice co-chair of CJP’s annual fundraising campaign. -- Jacob Kamaras, JointMedia News Service via Algemeiner

To read more, click here.

Canada’s foreign minister stresses strong support for Israel

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird
Photo by Reuters
The foreign minister of Canada emphasized his country's staunch support of Israel.

“Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada,” John Baird said Monday at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum.

Baird, on his third visit to Israel, also said that “Canada does not stand behind Israel; Canada stands shoulder to shoulder with Israel." He repeated the sentiments later in the day at a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Baird and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty are scheduled to spend several days meeting with their counterparts in Israel and with leaders of the Palestinian Authority.

At the 12th annual Herzliya Conference Monday night, Baird called the delegitimization and demonization of Israel the "new anti-Semitism." He also voiced Canada's support for a two-state solution for peace between Israel and the Palestinians,

The Canadian delegation was accompanied by Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn, director of public affairs for the Canadian Federation of Chabad Lubavitch. With the rabbi, the group was scheduled to visit Chabad-Lubavitch institutions and meet Chabad officials in Israel. -- JTA

Also see the article in the Jerusalem Post by clicking here.

Poll: Most Israeli Jews keep kosher, practice some Sabbath rituals

More than four of every five Israeli Jews believe in God and three-quarters of Israeli Jews keep kosher, according to a survey.

The study, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute’s Guttman Center and paid for by the Avi Chai Foundation, also found that 51 percent of Israeli Jews favor instituting civil marriage; in Israel, marriage is controlled by the religious authorities.

The poll found that 70 percent of Israeli Jews believe the Jews are the chosen people; 61 percent think Israel should ensure that public life is conducted according to Jewish religious tradition; and more than 60 percent support holding sporting and cultural events on Shabbat.

The survey of 2,803 Israeli Jewish respondents was conducted in 2009 but the results were only released publicly on Sunday. It followed up on surveys conducted in 1991 and 1999. While the 1999 study showed a drop in Jewish attachments from the previous survey, the 2009 study shows a rise.

The 2009 study also showed that 82 percent of Israeli Jews light Chanukah candles, 67 percent refrain from eating leaven on Passover, 68 percent fast on Yom Kippur, 66 percent light Sabbath candles and 60 percent have Kiddush on Friday night.

The study showed some differences by ethnic origin, with Jews from Middle Eastern background more likely to define themselves as traditional than Ashkenazim. -- JTA

Israeli singer dedicated to keeping Ladino alive

Yasmin Levy

Israeli songstress Yasmin Levy is dedicated to keeping Ladino alive.

“It’s my life mission,” she said in an interview from her home in Israel last week. -- Sheldon Kirshner, Canadian Jewish News

To read more, click here.

Synagogue solicits Mel Gibson

A California synagogue asked movie star Mel Gibson for a donation, suggesting it would remedy his reputation regarding Jews.

The president of Congregation Beth Shalom in Corona sent the filmmaker and actor a letter asking for help to prevent the synagogue from losing its building, the Hollywood gossip site TMZ reported last Friday.

"Our proposal to you, Mr. Gibson, is since you have been cited as an Anti-Semitic, and have denied those allegations, what better way to prove to all your fans and the nay Sayers -- than to endorse and help raise funds for our cause -- SOS, Save Our Synagogue," the letter from the synagogue's president said.

The letter said that the synagogue was grappling with a $1.6 million loan that it had taken out to construct its building and the effects of the economic downturn on its members.

It concluded: "Mr. Gibson, we offer you to be a Mensch and make a sizable contribution to our cause."

A representative for Gibson told TMZ that he was not aware of the request.

A representative of the Southern California Conservative synagogue told TMZ that "We weren't trying to shame Mel Gibson into giving us money. We are approaching many celebrities and people of the community as well. We thought because of his situation he would be very much interested in supporting our cause." -- JTA

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Changeling

Ed Koch may not have caused a change in Obama’s Israel policy, but he’s forced the administration to shift its message to Democratic Jewish voters
Former New York Mayor Ed Koch.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

During a fundraiser earlier this month in New York, President Barack Obama gave an improbable shout-out: “To one of the finest mayors the city has ever seen,” he said [1] to approximately 100 well-heeled and well-fed supporters at Daniel, Chef Daniel Boulud’s eponymous four-star restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. What made the salute both “special”—as Obama put it—and unexpected was not that the nation’s first African-American commander-in-chief had playfully appropriat -- Jacob Sugarman, Tablet

To read more, click here.

Cancer Group Halts Financing to Planned Parenthood

Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood.
Ron Edmonds/Associated Press
In a decision that is inflaming passions on both sides of the abortion debate, the world’s largest breast cancer organization, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is cutting off its financing of breast cancer screening and education programs run by Planned Parenthood affiliates.

The move will halt financing to 19 of Planned Parenthood’s 83 affiliates, which received nearly $700,000 from the Komen foundation last year and have been receiving similar grants since at least 2005.

Planned Parenthood contends that the Komen foundation is yielding to longstanding pressure from anti-abortion groups, which Komen denies.

A spokeswoman for the Komen foundation, Leslie Aun, told The Associated Press that the main factor in the decision was a new rule adopted by Komen that prohibits grants to organizations being investigated by local, state or federal authorities. Ms. Aun told The A.P. that Planned Parenthood was therefore disqualified from financing because of an inquiry being conducted by Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, who is looking at how Planned Parenthood spends and reports its money.

After the A.P. article was posted on Tuesday afternoon, the Komen foundation declined to make Ms. Aun or another staff member available to discuss the Planned Parenthood decision. The foundation issued a statement saying it was seeking to “strengthen our grants program” and had “implemented more stringent eligibility and performance criteria.” -- Pam Belluck, NY Times

To read more, click here.

In Jewish fracking debate, it’s the environment vs. energy independence—and energy’s winning

Activists connected to Jews Against Hydrofracking
demonstrating in New Jersey on Nov. 21.
Photo by Jews Against Hydrofracking
To frack or not to frack?

As concerns mount over the environmental and public health consequences of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, Jewish groups are coalescing around a strategy that supports efforts to extract natural gas from shale rock while seeking to mitigate its worst effects.

In May, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the community's main public policy umbrella group, will consider a draft resolution on fracking that in its current form acknowledges the potential benefits of a major new source of natural gas while urging greater oversight and government regulation of the practice. -- Ben Harris, JTA

To read more, click here.

Following Ultra-Orthodox Money Trail

Haredi Groups Get Cash From Satmars and Kosher Certification
Satmar Celebration: Satmar Hasidim fund ultra-Orthodox groups in Israel.
Getty Images
You’ve already heard about the wave of violence by ultra-Orthodox zealots in Israel: grown men spitting on and cursing terrified little girls trying to walk to school; harassing women who refuse to move to the back of public buses; stoning those buses, private cars and the police, and starting full-blown riots. But did you know that when you purchase many popular kosher food items, you may be financially supporting that violence?

There are many different kosher symbols representing several hundred kosher supervision companies. Most are just what they seem to be. But a minority of them are not. Of that minority, at least two kosher supervisions bear special scrutiny. -- Shmarya Rosenberg, Forward

To read more, click here.

Opinion: It’s time U.S. Jews spoke up about what’s important – and it’s not just Israel

U.S. policies on Israel are the hot topic for presidential candidates, but by speaking to a minority of Jewish Americans who’ll base their vote solely on that, they’re giving the rest of us a bad name. -- Yael Miller, Haaretz

To read more, click here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

N.Y. center gets $2.5 million gift for new rare books room

A $2.5 million gift from the David Berg Foundation will be used to establish a rare books room at the Center for Jewish History in New York.

The center, which announced the gift earlier this month, houses the collections of the American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

The room will provide the center’s partners with a state-of-the-art facility in which to showcase some of their most important printed materials, including seminal first editions and a cross-section of rabbinical literature, Jewish philosophy and intellectual history that dates back hundreds of years.

Scheduled for a fall opening, the room will be named for the late Berg, a real estate lawyer who immigrated to America from Russia in 1904. It will be open to the public.

Previous contributions from the Berg Foundation to the museum include a $300,000 gift in 2010 to bring more visitors to the center and a $75,000 grant to help fund the its History of Genocide Initiative. -- JTA

UN Textbooks for Palestinian Children "Explosively Anti-Semitic, Anti-American and Anti-Israeli"

The textbooks used to educate Palestinian children who live in refugee camps came under fire at a briefing on Wednesday on Capitol Hill where experts said lessons of intolerance and hatred toward Jews and Israel fill the books’ pages.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the House subcommittee on Human Rights and co-chairman of the Bi-Partisan Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism, told that U.S. donations to the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA) make the federal government accountable for what is in the books.  -- Penny Starr, CNSNews via Israel Resource Review

To read more, click here.

Grace Notes

Orthodox klezmer and bluegrass virtuoso Andy Statman and evangelical country star Ricky Skaggs cross genres and faiths to form a mighty duo
Andy Statman and Ricky Skaggs in the studio, recording Old Brooklyn, May 30, 2008..
Photo by Bradley Klein
Virtuosic mandolin and clarinet player Andy Statman recently released his first album in five years. It’s called Old Brooklyn, and it includes collaborations with a number of top-notch musicians, including Béla Fleck and Paul Shaffer. Perhaps most unusual, though, is the track titled “The Lord Will Provide.” The song is an 18th-century hymn, and this beautifully spare version is a collaboration between Statman, an Orthodox Jew, and country music star Ricky Skaggs, an evangelical Christian. Independent radio producer Stephanie Coleman wondered how this collaboration came about. Here’s the story, as told to Coleman by Statman and Skaggs. -- Vox Tablet

To view the audio story with a running time of 10:20, click here.

With new restaurant at Canyons, kosher food debuts at a U.S. ski resort

A steak dish from the glatt kosher restaurant Bistro at the Canyons
at the Canyons ski resort in Park City, Utah.
Kosher food isn’t something one generally associates with ski resorts, and Utah isn’t a place known for its Jewish population.

But after Canyons, the state’s largest ski resort, opened the nation’s first ski-area, glatt kosher restaurant this season, the Jews came. And ate. And they were satisfied.

“Response has been phenomenal,” said executive chef John Murcko, who is the vice president of food and beverage at Talisker Corp., which bought Canyons in 2008 and opened the kosher Bistro at Canyons last December. -- Matthew Weinstein, JTA

To read more, click here.

Commenwealth Chief Rabbi Sacks dedicates Torahs in Melbourne

Two Torah scrolls were dedicated in Victoria’s state parliament before being led through the streets by the commonwealth's chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, to Melbourne’s oldest functioning synagogue.

Sunday morning’s service celebrated the 155th anniversary of the East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation, the only synagogue in the city center.

Sacks told more than 400 people packed into the historic sanctuary that even the Koran refers to Jews as the "People of the Book."

The chief rabbi’s last official visit to Australia before he steps down in September from the post he has held for two decades already has included whistlestop tours of Perth and Sydney.

At Sydney’s Great Synagogue last week he spoke of the world becoming more religious.

''But obviously within certain areas of faith, the momentum is with those who are hostile to the contemporary world and I think that is bad news for all of us,'' he said during a public conversation broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. -- JTA

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ukraine to get first Conservative rabbi

A Ukraine native will be the first Conservative rabbi to serve in the former Soviet republic.

Reuven Stamov, 38, originally from Crimea, on Feb. 3 will be the 82nd rabbi to be ordained by the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem.

Stamov, with his wife and their two daughters, will return to Ukraine from Israel to serve as the first rabbi from the Conservative movement in Ukraine and the former Soviet Union, according to the seminary.

Stamov had made aliyah in 2003 with his wife, whom he met at a Midreshet Yerushalayim Jewish community school where he was teaching. Soon after he began rabbinical studies at the Schechter seminary.

By the age of 23, Stamov completed his master's degree in mechanical engineering in Ukraine, but could not find a job in his field and instead took a job as a guide in a local Jewish youth club, despite negligible knowledge of Judaism and the history of the Jewish people

He later worked at the Ramah-Ukraine summer camps sponsored by Schechter's Midreshet Yerushalayim Jewish enrichment programs for Jews in the former Soviet Union.

 "Campers loved him. He sang with them and piqued their curiosity about Judaism and its vast stores of knowledge," said Gila Katz,  director of Midreshet Yerushalayim Eastern Europe, adding that he will do well in energizing those Jewish communities in Ukraine. -- JTA

How car exhaust causes tornados

A joint American-Israeli research project demonstrates for the first time how tiny particles of pollution dangerously affect the clouds. -- Karin Kloosterman, Israel21c
Air pollution is wreaking havoc on local weather systems intensifying storms.

To read more, click here.

Carlebach Musical Broadway Bound?

At one point in the musical “Soul Doctor,” an actor says, “There are two types of Jews. Those who have heard of Shlomo Carlebach and those who haven’t — yet.” For either type, “Soul Doctor: The Journey of a Rockstar-Rabbi” can be an enlightening experience.

During his lifetime, Carlebach was known as “The Singing Rabbi” for his use of joyous, Hasidic-inspired music to engage those he called “lost Jewish souls.” His unorthodox path put him in conflict with his mother and rabbi father, but ultimately made him the charismatic legend he became. If “Fiddler on the Roof” is about tradition, “Soul Doctor” is about breaking with tradition, even if that meant, as in Carlebach’s case, breaking his father’s heart.

After a five-week run in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, the biographical show, which bills itself as “pre-Broadway,” could benefit from some judicious nipping-and-tucking. The play compresses Carlebach’s 69 years into a two-act play with 37 scenes, performed by a cast of 18 and featuring 30-plus musical numbers. The play’s co-creator and associate director, David Schechter, wrote some of the lyrics, but most of the songs are Carlebach’s. -- Mary Jane Fine, Forward

To read more, click here.

The Stranger--Jewish Woman in the Bay Ridge Arab Community

Jennie Goldstein in Bay Ridge, Jan. 25, 2012.
Photo by Rachel Barrett
A 24-year-old Jewish Upper West Sider helps run the most important Arab-American organization in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, home to 35,000 Arabs -- Boris Fishman, Tablet

To read more, click here.

Opinion: Japanese must tap their 'inner Israeli'

If walls could talk:
Then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2006.
Japan and Israel are both islands
(Japan literally, Israel due to conflict with its neighbors),
but the effect of this isolation on each country's people
has been very different, with Japanese increasingly turning inward
while Israelis opt to break out of the Middle East the first chance they get.
AP Photo
Lessons from Mideast 'island' success story could help this nation out of its rut

Aimless, Japan has been struggling to find a suitable vision, or model, for its future. Should it strive to be like Finland, small but prosperous? Should it de-emphasize economic growth and focus on sustainability and lifestyle? Should it look to the go-go '80s for inspiration? Or should it withdraw from active engagement with the world and into its own cultural comfort zone (neo-isolationism, or shinsakokushugi)?

Without a vision or model to aspire to and measure progress against, Japan will continue to drift. Consequently, I would like to throw one more candidate into the ring as a partial model for Japan: Israel. -- Glenn Newman, Japan Times

To read more, click here.

Monday, January 30, 2012

U.S. Jewish leaders visit Pollard in prison, call for speedy release

Top officials from Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations express concern about convicted Israeli spy's deteriorating health condition. -- Jonathan Lis, Haaretz

Jonathan Pollard
Photo by AP
To read more, click here.

Small City Is Home to Israel’s Unlikely Top Team

 Kiryat Shmona's team, led by players like Elad Gabai, far left, won the Toto Cup.
Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times
This city is one of Israel’s smallest, a hardscrabble place with a population of 23,000 that is less than two miles from the Lebanese border and through the decades has repeatedly found itself caught in the crossfire of Arab-Israeli strife.

In 1974, Kiryat Shmona was the scene of a terrorist attack in which 18 Israelis, many of them children, were killed. Rockets have clobbered the town during cross-border fighting. Underground shelters are as familiar to the city as traffic lights. And jobs can be scarce.

Yet somehow, Kiryat Shmona’s professional soccer team has become the runaway leader of Israel’s top league, has captured a separate tournament that concluded this week and has begun to turn perceptions of this often-beleaguered community upside down. -- James Montague, NY Times
To read more, click here.

Safer radiation therapy

The balloon is inflated to protect the healthy cells.
An Israeli company's biodegradable 'balloon' radically reduces the negative side effects of radiation in cancer treatment. -- Desmond Bentley, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
To read more, click here.

25 years later, Shlock Rock is still rockin’

"Still not Quite on Broadway"
is one of two new albums by Shlock Rock
marking the group's 25th anniversary. (Shlock Rock)
Before the Maccabeats created a sensation on YouTube with their Chanukah song, and before the scores of individuals recorded Jewish parodies on video, and before Jewish outreach organizations used popular music to connect with unaffiliated Jews, there was Lenny Solomon and Shlock Rock.

For 25 years the Jewish rock band has been teaching Jewish ideas through music using song parodies, original music in English and Hebrew, and children’s songs. --  Michael Feldstein, JTA

To read more, click here.

How Jewish Is Downton Abbey's Lady Grantham?

Jonathan Sarna weighs in on 19th century Cincinnati Jewry
Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Grantham
Photo from IMDB

Last week’s Commenter of the Week unearthed that Lady Grantham, the American-born wife of Lord Grantham in the BBC Masterpiece Theatre series Downton Abbey (whose second season is currently playing Sunday nights on U.S. public television), is, according to the program’s official website, “the beautiful daughter of Isidore Levinson, a dry goods multi millionaire from Cincinnati.” In other words: unless she converted—and there is no allusion in the program, as far as I know, even to her background, much less to any conversion—she is Jewish. -- Marc Tracy, Tablet

To read more, click here.

Also see
The Jewish Character in ‘Downton Abbey’

Sunday, January 29, 2012

EJC’s Moshe Kantor receives France’s highest honor

Moshe Kantor
Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, was awarded France's highest honor.

Kantor on Tuesday was presented with the National Order of the Legion of Honor, which is awarded by the French president.

The award is the highest level of the Legion of Honor, which was established by Napoleon Bonaparte. Among the past recipients are the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Kantor received the award, presented by Ambassador Philippe Etienne, permanent representative of the French Republic to the European Union, for his efforts on behalf of the rights of minorities, promoting interfaith relations, leading the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, and pushing for a more tolerant Europe in his roles at the European Jewish Congress, the democratically elected umbrella organization representing European Jewry.

"I am humbled by this honor,” Kantor said. “For many years I have tried to press European leaders to establish new and tougher laws against racism and anti-Semitism, and this award is recognition of my efforts to implement a new thinking towards prejudice on the European continent through the concept of secured tolerance.” -- JTA

Masorti quorum at Knesset synagogue lead by Canadian Rabbi Jennifer Gorman

Rabbi Jennifer Gorman,
executive director of Mercaz-Canada
and the Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism

Leaders of North American Conservative communities meet with ministers and MKs, hold afternoon prayer at Israeli parliament's synagogue. Rabbi Jennifer Gorman serves as cantor

A group of leaders from North America's Conservative (Masorti) Movement held a joint prayer for men and women at the Knesset synagogue on Tuesday, where prayers are usually held according to the Orthodox custom.  -- Kobi Nahshoni, Ynetnews

To read more, click here.

Israeli film 'Footnote' nominated for Oscar

Movie is the 10th Israeli film to be nominated for prestigious foreign language Academy Award.

Joseph Cedar’s Footnote, the country’s official entry for Academy Award consideration, received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Tuesday in Los Angeles. -- Hannah Brown, Jerusalem Post

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

Torah scribe wields her quill against segregation of women

Rabbi Hanna Klebansky
On a small desk, squeezed between a closet and a wall, the writing of the first women's Torah scroll in Israel began a few weeks ago. The scribe, Hanna Klebansky, says she hopes the writing and reading of the scroll will send a message contradicting that of the segregation of women.

Klebansky is hardly the stereotypical Torah scribe. She is 39, born in Georgia in the former Soviet Union, and was ordained a Conservative rabbi in Israel. A musician by training, she is also an instructor in courses for chaplains to the terminally ill. After her five children go to sleep, she begins her scribal work, line after line, column after column.

It was as a student at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem that she discovered the scribal world, at first as an enrichment course a few sessions long, and later during a year's study with a teacher. -- Nir Hasson, Haaretz via Schechter Institute.

To read more, click here.

Knesset launches caucus to strengthen ties to American Jewry

The Knesset inaugurated a caucus to strengthen Israeli lawmakers' knowledge and sensitivity to the American Jewish community.

The Israel-American Jewish Knesset Caucus was launched Wednesday to raise awareness with Israeli lawmakers about the agendas and priorities of the American Jewish community vis-a-vis Israel, Ynet reported.

Ronit Tirosh of the Kadima Party will chair the caucus. Tirosh is one of six Israeli lawmakers who visited American Jewish communities last year as part of the first Ruderman Fellows Program, which is designed to educate Israeli lawmakers about the American Jewish community.

The caucus is expected to become the "central Knesset address for all issues related to the American Jewish community," according to a caucus statement.

A poll taken this month sponsored by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that 77 percent of Israeli respondents agreed that it was extremely important for members of the Knesset to consider Diaspora views. The poll also found that 87.5 percent of Israelis “believe that the American Jewish community is important to the future and security of the State of Israel.” -- JTA