Friday, March 9, 2012

Cookie Chronicles: Oreos and (Jewish) Identity

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Oreo this week, writer Jeffrey Yoskowitz ruminates on the cookie’s unique legacy. When the Nabisco corporation released kosher Oreos in 1998, it was only after one of the most expensive kosher transformations in corporate history. The result: An iconic American snack food that was once manufactured with lard was finally accessible to the Jewish community.

A feature by Jeffrey Yoskowitz for the Forward

To read more, click here.

Schwartz's, Montreal Deli, Sold: Celine Dion, Husband Rene Angelil, Among Consortium

Celine Dion, Film Magic
Singer Celine Dion is part of a consortium that has purchased a landmark Montreal restaurant, famous partly for its food and partly for its generations-old decor.

The Quebec diva and her husband, Rene Angelil, have teamed up with other investors to buy Schwartz's, a downtown deli.

The establishment is famous amongst Montrealers, and tourists, to a certain extent because of its smoked-meat sandwiches but also because of its appeal as a larger-than-average time capsule.

Founded in 1928, the St. Lawrence Boulevard shop regularly draws long lineups of tourists eager to grab a seat in a place that looks untouched by the passing decades. --  Huffington Post

To read more and see the accompanying video, click here.

Archives on a 20th-Century Diaspora Are Being Put Online

Linda Levi, archive director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee,
in the organization's storage space in Long Island City, Queens.
Photo by Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
Jews are known for their wanderings, even if those have not always been at their own instigation, and one of the most sweeping chronicles of their migrations has been stored at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a relief and rescue organization that is almost 100 years old....

Its archives are sought after by scholars and genealogists and most intimately by descendants of war refugees and disaster survivors hoping to find out what bittersweet adventures their ancestors endured. But delving into those records has itself sometimes been an adventure, requiring searches through indexes, microfiches, file cards and folders in Midtown Manhattan; Long Island City, Queens; and Jerusalem. In a digitized world, that kind of effort has seemed increasingly archaic.

Now the organization, which is widely known as “the Joint” and has helped Jewish communities in 79 countries with food, schooling and job training, is about to put a large chunk of those archives online. There will be a searchable index for every document, photograph and record card, an essential tool considering that the Joint’s archives contain over 500,000 names and 100,000 photographs. -- Joseph Berger, NY Times

To read more and to see accompanying slide show and photos, click here.

Jewish foundations meet to discuss Israel education

Leading Jewish organizations came together to discuss the future of Israel education for North American pre-college students.

Some 80 groups gathered last week in New York for a meeting called iThink convened by the iCenter, a Chicago-based organization founded in 2009. The meeting featured the presentation of a report titled “Mapping the Landscape: The Emerging Field of Israel Education,” which offered several recommendations for enhancing Israel education.

Among the report’s recommendations are adopting professional standards of practice, investing in Israel educator staff positions and creating more opportunities for encounters between Israelis and North Americans.

The report also set several goals to be achieved by 2020, among them doubling the number of Jewish 18-year-olds who demonstrate basic proficiency in Hebrew.

“Looking and giving attention at how we can build a strong foundation starting at the earliest of ages, in a way that is systemic and organic, is going to lead to a really strong foundation for the future,” said Ann Lanski, executive director of the iCenter.

The iThink event was co-sponsored by The AVI CHAI Foundation, the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Marcus Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. -- JTA

Tel Aviv court sets surrogacy birth precedent

An Israeli court set a legal precedent with its ruling that a woman whose baby was conceived using her eggs in a surrogate mother does not have to adopt her own child.

The Tel Aviv Family Court's ruling, which was made public Wednesday, states that DNA testing can be used to prove maternity. Previously, women had to officially adopt their children from the surrogate.

The surrogate birth of twins in the current case was undertaken outside of Israel. Both parents were recognized as the babies' biological parents on the birth certificate issued in the Republic of Georgia, where the surrogate lives.

Under Israeli law, the birth mother is the only person considered the mother of a baby, not the egg donor. -- JTA

Scottish Jewish umbrella group says no to scheduling Saturday independence vote

The umbrella group for Jewish communities in Scotland will ask the country's government to refrain from holding a vote on Scottish independence on a Saturday.

In a draft response on the Scottish government's Your Scotland, Your Referendum proposal, leaders of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities write that a ballot on a Saturday "would disadvantage Jewish voters since those who observe Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) would not be able to vote on the day of the referendum."

One question on the government's proposal asks, "What are your views on the idea that the referendum could be held on a Saturday?"

The reason for the proposed change is to bring out more voters. Elections are currently held in Scotland on Thursdays.

In its draft response, the Jewish council also says that alternative methods for voting for those who cannot get to the polls on Election Day "do not provide an entirely satisfactory solution."

Voting by mail, the council writes in its response posted on its website, "although permissible, is not without drawbacks, since it requires a voter to decide how to cast his or her vote well before the end of the campaign. Equality of opportunity requires that no-one should be compelled to vote by post on account of his or her religion, which would be the case if the referendum were to be held on a Saturday."

The response also expresses concern that Jewish people would be turned down for referendum-related jobs if they could not work on the day of the poll.

The council is still consulting with Jewish leaders before issuing its final response, according to reports.

In Scotland's most recent census, in 2001, some 6,580 people identified themselves as Jewish, accounting for 0.13 percent of the country's total population. -- JTA

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Jewish Women Who Shake The World

Julie Zeilinger.(Lisa Dejong, The Plain Dealer/ Landov)
Daily Beast’s list’s Jewish women on being Jewish women

Newsweek [via their online blog  Daily Beast] released their “150 Women Who Shake The World” list today ahead of their third Women in the World conference. It’s hard to take lists like this seriously (and some have strange track records), but on the other hand it’s nice to think about what a list like this would have looked like 50, 75, 100 years ago.

There are six Jewish women on the list, from the expected: Jill Abramson, editor-in-chief of the New York Times; Gabrielle Giffords, national hero; Tzipi Livni; Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum. Then there is new kid on the block, Julie Zeilinger—an 18-year-old feminist wunderkind, and dark-horse pick Roseanne. If you, like me, run a betting pool every year on which women Newsweek will choose, Rosanne would have paid out great. -- By Dan Klein, Tablet

To read more including the list of Jewish women on the list, click here.

‘Unorthodox’ With The Facts?

Deborah Feldman:
Credibility questioned, Satmar memoir still selling well.

Is Deborah Feldman’s “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots” the publishing world’s latest fraudulent memoir, on par with James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces?” -- Julie Wiener, NY Jewish Week

To read more, click here.

Peres, Bibi bringing up Pollard release with Obama

Israeli President Shimon Peres asked President Obama to release convicted spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard.

Peres told Pollard's wife, Esther, on Monday that he discussed the possibility of releasing Jonathan Pollard, who has been jailed for 27 years since being convicted of espionage in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison, during his meeting with Obama on Sunday at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also was set to raise the issue of releasing Pollard with the U.S. president during Monday's meeting, the Prime Minister's Office told Ynet.

American Jewish groups have long sought Pollard's release, arguing that he has received a sentence far harsher than others convicted of similar espionage crimes. Pollard also has expressed remorse and is said to be suffering from medical ailments.

In recent years, a renewed push on his behalf has gained support from a number of members of Congress from both parties as well as former U.S. government officials. -- JTA

Congregation B’nai Kabul

Most of the time, Larry Bazer runs a shul in Massachusetts. But for the past six months, he served in the military as the only rabbi in Afghanistan.
Blowing the shofar during Elul.
(Postcards from an Army Chaplain)
At 4:00 in the morning on Aug. 5, 2011, Lt. Col. Larry Bazer, a 48-year-old from Massachusetts, stepped off the C-17 at Bagram Air Base, roughly 40 miles north of Kabul, Afghanistan. Unlike the hundreds of soldiers coming and going that day, Bazer didn’t carry a weapon. Instead he dragged a 100-lb. trunk that contained a Torah, a shofar, prayer books, and other religious items he would need during his deployment—the first in his 22-year military career—as a military chaplain and the sole rabbi to the Jewish soldiers in the country.

After a short flight aboard an old Russian helicopter run by a contracting agency, he arrived at his final destination: Camp Phoenix, a military base on the outskirts of Kabul, where his unit, the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s 26th “Yankee” Brigade, had already been deployed. It was a Friday, so after a briefing with the base’s commanding officer, Bazer headed to the chapel to lead his first Shabbat service. -- Whit Richardson, Tablet

To read more, click here.

French prime minister calls for end to ritual slaughter

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon advised Muslims and Jews to forego ritual slaughter practices he deems un-modern, sparking controversy.

“I think religions should think about maintaining traditions that no longer have much in common with the state of science and technology, health issues today,” Fillon said Monday on French Europe 1 radio, in reference to halal and kosher practices.

“We’re in a modern country. There are traditions that are ancestral traditions that no longer correspond to much, whereas they corresponded in the past to problems of hygiene,” he said, speaking his “personal” opinion.

The French Jewish community reacted with outrage. -- JTA

To read more, click here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

For Purim

From B'nai Brith Canada

Israel offers to send humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians

Israel contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross and suggested that it help transfer Israeli humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians
Israeli Foreign Minster Avigdor Liberman
Photo by Reuters
Acting under instructions of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman, the MFA Deputy Director General for International Organizations and the United Nations Evyatar Manor contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross and suggested that Israel transfer humanitarian aid to Syria under Red Cross auspices. The Committee’s representatives in Israel stated that they will respond with an appropriate reply once they have examined the population’s needs and requirements.

FM Liberman stated that “The Jewish State cannot sit by and do nothing while these atrocities are taking place in a neighboring state and people are losing their entire world. Even though Israel cannot intervene in events occurring in a country with which it does not have diplomatic relations, it is nevertheless our moral duty to extend humanitarian aid and inspire the world to put an end to the slaughter.” -- Israel ministry of Foreign Affairs

Women Seek Role in Deciding Halacha

Moderate Orthodox Alliance Pushes Back Against Hardliners

Push for Greater Role: Female rabbinic scholars and Orthodox rabbis have formed
a group to push for a greater role for women in interpreting Jewish law.
Photo by Nathan Jeffay
Even as Orthodox women take on clergy-like roles, the task of interpreting Jewish law has long been the exclusive domain of men. But a new group called Beit Hillel aims to bring down that barrier.

An alliance of 120 Orthodox rabbis and 30 female religious scholars, Beit Hillel was formed to counter the increasingly hard line that rabbis in the religious Zionist community are taking against women in official religious roles. The group’s formation, in February, paves the way for Jewish legal positions formulated by women to be issued under the names of leading Modern Orthodox rabbis.

“We have to stop talking about ‘what women feel and are all about’ and start hearing from women and having women as part of the halachic discussion,” said Oshra Koren, a Beit Hillel founder and the director of the Matan organization for women’s religious education, in Israel’s Sharon region. “We need to have women deciding and defining what we want.”

The Beit Hillel alliance has provoked strong criticism from some prominent Orthodox rabbis, including Shlomo Aviner, chief rabbi of the religious Zionist settlement of Beit El, deep in the West Bank. Aviner told the Srugim religious news website that women’s involvement in public life should be “modest and behind the scenes.” -- Nathan Jeffay, Forward

To read more, click here.

Maturing Korean Jewish Community Gets Own Torah Scroll

A supporter of the Jewish community in South Korea
writes one of the first letters in a Torah scroll
commissioned by the Chabad House in Seoul during a 2008 launch party in Israel.
The dedication of a new Torah scroll is always a cause for celebration. But for the small yet proud Jewish community in South Korea, just such a dedication Sunday meant so much more. Not only did it cap the community’s recent unprecedented growth, it welcomed what for Jews elsewhere in the world is almost a given: a Torah scroll of their own.

Often a Torah scroll – which typically costs in excess of $10,000 and can cost as much as $30,000 – is donated by generous individuals in honor or in memory of a loved one, but according to Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Osher Litzman, the South Korean Torah was funded by the community members themselves.

“We have been blessed with donations from locals, visitors and friends who have helped to cover a significant amount of the expenses,” said Litzman, who is still fundraising for the project. “The goal is that everyone in the community will have a share.” -- Tamar Runyan, Chabad-Lubavitch News

To read more, click here.

Don’t visit Temple Mount, rabbis say

Israel's chief rabbis and other senior rabbis have called on Jews not to visit the Temple Mount because it is against Jewish law.

The declaration is being presented now, according to the statement's signers, because many Jewish organizations are calling for the public to visit the Temple Mount.

"It is a holy obligation to make you aware that it is completely forbidden by Halacha to ascend to the Temple Mount, and this prohibition has always been a simple and clear one, and this thing has been forbidden by all of the Great Ones of Israel," the statement reads. "Since, in the recent period, all kinds of organizations are calling on the public to ascend to the Temple Mount, we hereby proclaim the Torah opinion, that the prohibition still stands, and it is completely forbidden to ascend to the Temple Mount at this time."

The declaration by Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar was co-signed by Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi Yona Metzger, former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, Old City Rabbi Avigdor Neventzal, and the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovich, among others.

Rumors of extremist Jewish groups' planned visits to the site have sparked riots by Muslims at the Temple Mount in recent weeks. -- JTA

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Mormon letter warns members to stop proxy baptisms

A letter to be read in all Mormon churches warns members to stop all unauthorized posthumous baptisms, including those of Holocaust survivors.

The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the highest governing body of the Mormon church, issued a letter on Feb. 29 that was to be read Sunday to its congregations.

"Our preeminent obligation is to seek out and identify our own ancestors. Those whose names are submitted for proxy temple ordinances should be related to the submitter," the letter reads. "Without exception, Church members must not submit for proxy temple ordinances any names from unauthorized groups, such as celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims."

The letter follows the discovery in recent weeks that several prominent deceased Jews have been baptized posthumously, including Anne Frank and Daniel Pearl.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, welcomed the letter, calling it "an important step by the LDS Church to further educate its worldwide members about the Church’s policies regarding posthumous baptism, particularly its prohibition of baptizing Jewish Holocaust victims."

Foxman and the ADL called on the church to "reconsider" the practice of posthumous baptism and "to increase its monitoring and education to ensure that the proxy baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims are stopped. Church members should understand why proxy baptisms are so offensive to the Jewish people, who faced near annihilation during the Holocaust simply because they were Jewish, and who throughout history were often the victims of forced conversions."

Last month, Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel called on Mitt Romney, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, to tell his church to stop performing posthumous proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims. Some members of the church reportedly had submitted Wiesel’s name for proxy baptism, as well as the names of Wiesel’s deceased father and maternal grandfather. -- JTA

Israel's President Peres to Receive U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Obama will award Israeli President Shimon Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

During his speech Sunday before the AIPAC policy conference, Obama said he would award the medal -- the highest honor that the United States can award to a civilian -- to Peres this summer.

Obama focused a portion of his speech on praising the work of the Israeli president.

“In his life he has fought for Israel’s independence, and he has fought for peace and security. As a member of the Haganah and a member of the Knesset; as a minister of defense and foreign affairs; as a prime minister and as a president -- Shimon helped build the nation that thrives today: the Jewish state of Israel," the U.S. leader said. “But beyond these extraordinary achievements, he has also been a powerful moral voice that reminds us that right makes might, not the other way around.” -- JTA

Krakow bat mitzvah first for synagogue

Krakow's Tempel Synagogue

A bat mitzvah celebration in Krakow's Tempel Synagogue is believed to be the first of a locally born Jewish girl.

Estera Derkowska celebrated becoming a bat mitzvah with a Havdalah ceremony on Saturday before nearly 200 worshipers at the Reform synagogue.

Krakow’s local Orthodox rabbi, Boaz Pash, and Reform rabbi, Tanya Segal, both participated in the ceremony.

“There have been other bat mitzvahs in Krakow, but this is the first one ever for a local Krakovian girl,” said Jonathan Ornstein, executive director of the Krakow Jewish Community Center.

Ornstein said Estera had studied with Pash for a year and attended Sunday school classes at the JCC since the facility opened in 2008.

The bat mitzvah, he said, marked a milestone in the development of the Jewish community, which numbers several hundred. -- JTA

Bagels and Luxe

A new high-end residential development is seeking to add a shine of kosher chic to the historic—if also historically downmarket—Lower East Side
The view from roof of the Madison Jackson building.
New York Architectual Renderings
Six years after developing the old Jewish Daily Forward building into luxury condos, real-estate developer Michael Bolla is back with another building that will likely be of interest to Jewish New Yorkers. The Madison Jackson building—a palatial former school designed by architect Charles Snyder in 1908 that is being turned into high-end condos—will feature an in-house vegan restaurant with a hashgacha, or kosher certification, that will also offer room service to building residents. The organic juice bar outpost in the building’s basement will also be under hashgacha. -- Stephanie Butnick, Tablet

To read more, click here.

Dancing a Hora All His Own

The Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin
with dancers in Batsheva Dance Company.
Photo by Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times
Just a few feet from the Mediterranean Sea here, people gather on Saturday mornings for weekly folk dance sessions, a tradition that takes place all over the country as it has since before the establishment of the state, when dance was used to forge national identity. Participants execute variations of that twisting, weaving, circle dance that most people in America know from awkward renditions at weddings and bar mitzvahs: the hora.

A mile down the coast, at the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater, a sprawling campus of white-stone plazas surrounded by date palms and cafes, the Batsheva Dance Company recently rehearsed its own “Hora,” a 2009 work by the choreographer Ohad Naharin, the group’s artistic director.

The hora, with its simple steps and “the more the merrier” attitude, is all about dancers losing themselves in the collective. In Mr. Naharin’s “Hora,” which is coming to the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Wednesday, dancers assert their individuality in virtuosic solos, only occasionally moving in sync. Instead of creating a dance of unity, Mr. Naharin, as he does in much of his work, explores the complicated dynamics of the individual within the group, rendering the classic hora completely unrecognizable, if not altogether erasing it. -- Brain Schaffer, NY Times

To read more, click here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

After 50 years, "soap opera" feud between two ultra-Orthodox dynasties is quietly resolved

The Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokach.
Photo by: Tomer Appelbaum  Yair Ettinger, Haaretz
On February 21, the Supreme Court struck down the so-called Tal Law, under which ultra-Orthodox men studying at yeshivas were granted a draft exemption. Concurrently, an equally auspicious event, from the viewpoint of the Haredi community, was held. This one was a surprise meeting between the two leaders of the ultra-Orthodox courts from Belz and Machnovka.

The meeting was the result of conciliatory efforts between the Belzer Rebbe and the Satmar Rebbe - the latest episode in a soap opera that has riveted hundreds of thousands of Haredim around the world since last January. The protagonists are the Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokach, and his brother-in-law, the head of the Satmar sect, Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum. They lead two of the largest Hasidic courts in the world, they are both 64, and they are both married to daughters of Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, the head of the Vizhnitz Hasidic dynasty and a wholesale producer of daughters for Hasidic courts (a third daughter is also married to a rebbe ). The two sisters, Sarah Rokach and Sasha Teitelbaum, played a key bridging role.
-- Yair Ettinger, Haaretz

To read more, click here.

Is Israel losing Temple Mount war?

Archeology expert: Excavations barbaric, a crime
Photo by Israel Bardugo
Ira Pasternack couldn't believe his eyes. The tractor's huge blade was lifted high up and then brought down with great force, shattering the ancient floors on Temple Mount. The large clods of earth exposed by the work were cast aside by the mustachioed driver. Yet even an amateur archeologist could spot the priceless remnants of Jewish, Christian and Muslim history being cast away.

A few hours earlier, on a steaming July day in 2007, Pasternack was sent to Temple Mount in his role as an Israel Antiquities Authority inspector, in order to supervise excavation works at the holy site, which in the past boasted two Jewish Temples. This marked the first such project at the site since the 1967 Six-Day War, as the area's sensitivity could prompt a political and diplomatic flare-up, thereby discouraging any such work. -- Amir Shoan, Ynetnews

To read more, click here.

Making the desert boom

However great the economic impact of Israel’s energy sector transformation will be, the interdependent geopolitical consequences look even more astonishing.
An aerial view of shale oil drilling rig SAI-307
Photo by Reuters
We are now witnessing a transformation of the energy landscape of Israel. In the short term, Israel is actually suffering from an energy shortage. Warnings of blackouts and higher electricity rates are the result of recent attacks on the natural gas pipeline between Egypt and Israel, as well as the unexpected decline in production from Israel’s sole existing domestic off-shore gas site, known as the Mary B field.

Notwithstanding the current energy crunch, Israel is poised to become energy independent and a net energy exporter within this decade in light of significant discoveries of both off-shore natural gas reserves and onshore deposits of shale oil. -- Nicholas Saidel and Harvey Rubin, Jerusalem Post

To read more, click here.

Israel Railways Proposes Ambitious Plan to Link Israel with Judea and Samaria By Rail

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz inspecting a rail tunnel
Photo by Kobi Gideon/Flash90
Officials at the state-owned Israel Railways confirmed that it has completed a proposal to establish train service in Judea and Samaria for both Israeli and Palestinian passengers.

The plan, first reported on Monday by Haaretz, was prepared at the request of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz. According to a map obtained by the Israeli daily, it calls for the construction of 11 new rail lines. The map reveals that Israel Railways has proposed 475 kilometers of rail, and includes a Jenin-Nablus-Ramallah-Jerusalem-Ma’aleh Adumim-Bethlehem-Hebron line, and another that would run along the Jordanian border from Eilat to Beit She’an and then on to Haifa. According to the report, the map was submitted to the top brass of the the IDF’s Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria in December. -- Rafi Harkham, Jewish Press

To read more, click here.

Retirement Home Uses Montessori Method to Help Residents

Retirement Home resident Evelyn Sher keeps her fingers nimble
by clipping plastic clothespins to bowls of the same colour.
Photo by Joanne Hill L'Chaim
An innovative program for people with dementia is making remarkable improvements in the lives of residents at L’Chaim Retirement Home, its staff told the Jewish Tribune.

One resident had not spoken for two years but she began to sing and speak after staff members, trained at a two-day workshop in the Montessori Methods for Dementia™ at McMaster University, presented her with a lifelike baby doll. Another resident sat, unresponsive, in front of a piano until staff propped up a note with the request, “Please play the piano,” and she began to play. -- Joanne Hill, Toronto Jewish Tribune

To read more, click here.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Breaking News: Orthodox school falls short in Texas tournament

The Robert M. Beren Academy of Houston lost 46-42 to Abilene Christian in the 2A private and parochial boys basketball state championship game.

Down by 11 points early in the fourth quarter, Beren closed the deficit to three points with two minutes to play, but couldn't cap the comeback effort.

Co-captain Isaac Mirwis and junior sensation Zach Yoshor led Beren with 15 points each. After a slow start, Yoshor hit a three-point shot to tie the game 19-19 at halftime.

Beren grabbed national headlines with its push for a pre-Shabbat starting time for its semifinal game, which the school won with a decisive 58-46 victory over Dallas Covenant to secure a spot in title game.

The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, known as TAPPS, originally ruled that the semifinal game would be played at its original 9 p.m. Friday start time -- after the start of the Jewish Sabbath. Beren, a Modern Orthodox school, would have opted to forefit without a change in the schedule.

But TAPPS reversed itself just hours after the announcement that Beren's team captain, along with teammates and parents, had enlisted the support of prominent Washington attorney Nathan Lewin and filed a lawsuit against the association; the lawsuit also named the Mansfield Independent School District, whose facilities are hosting the semifinals and finals of the 2A tournament. The 2A category includes schools with enrollments of 55 to 120.

The championship game was originally set for 2 p.m. Saturday, which also conflicts with the Sabbath.

"We feel this was a success," said Rabbi Harry Sinoff, Beren's head of school, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. "We got to compete in a basketball game, but the whole experience for the school was really remarkable. It brought the community together. Sometimes you don't have an event like this to do that. We're not pioneers. We just thought it was right for us to play. It was good for basketball."

TAPPS in a statement posted on its website Wednesday had said that when the Beren Academy met with the association's board in 2009 to discuss membership, it was told that tournament games are scheduled on Friday and Saturday, and that the school's athletic director said he "understood" and "did not see a problem."

Beren's plight made international headlines this week and garnered support from several public figures, including the mayor of Houston, the former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). The team, which with a 25-5 record is playing the best basketball in its history, had earned a spot in the state semifinals last week with a 27-point victory in the quarterfinals. -- JTA

Orthodox team advances to Texas state championship game

After grabbing national headlines with its push for a pre-Shabbat starting time, the Robert M. Beren Academy of Houston registered a decisive 58-46 win over Dallas Covenant to secure a spot in the 2A private and parochial boys basketball state championship game.

Junior sensation Zach Yoshor led the Beren Stars with 24 points.

The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, known as TAPPS,originally ruled that the game would be played at its original 9 p.m. start time -- after the start of the Jewish Sabbath. Beren, a Modern Orthodox school, would have opted to forefit without a change in the schedule.

But TAPPS reversed itself just hours after the announcement that Beren's team captain, along with teammates and parents, had enlisted the support of prominent Washington attorney Nathan Lewin and filed a lawsuit against the association; the lawsuit also named the Mansfield Independent School District, whose facilities are hosting the semifinals and finals of the 2A tournament. The 2A category includes schools with enrollments of 55 to 120.

The championship game was originally set for 2 p.m. Saturday, which also conflicts with the Sabbath. But the game will now be played at 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. (The game can be watched online at

"We are thankful to the TAPPS for ultimately making the right decision," the Beren Academy said in a statement Thursday. "The school administration and board was not involved in any legal action, and we regret that it took a lawsuit filed [by] parents to bring about this decision."

TAPPS in a statement posted on its website Wednesday had said that when the Beren Academy met with the association's board in 2009 to discuss membership, it was told that tournament games are scheduled on Friday and Saturday, and that the school's athletic director said he "understood" and "did not see a problem."

Beren's plight made international headlines this week and garnered support from several public figures, including the mayor of Houston, the former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). The team, which with a 25-5 record is playing the best basketball in its history, had earned a spot in the state semifinals last week with a 27-point victory in the quarterfinals. -- JTA

Circumcision Debate Heats Up in Colorado

Lawmakers Debate Proposal To Restore Funding for Procedure

Joyce Foster
courtesy of Joyce Foster

The debate over circumcision has spread to Colorado, where two lawmakers are seeking to reinstate Medicaid funding for the procedure after it was cut last year.

The proposal, which is snaking its way through the state legislature, has sparked a broader conversation about circumcision in Colorado and beyond, with Jews on both sides of the issue.  -- Naomi Zeveloff, Forward

To read more, click here.

Illinois congressional candidate denies Holocaust

Arthur Jones, Candidate for Congress
in Illinois' 3rd District, denies Shoah
A candidate from Illinois for the U.S. House of Representatives called the Holocaust “nothing more than an international extortion racket by the Jews.”

Arthur Jones, a former member of the Nationalist Socialist Party, made the comments in an interview Wednesday with a local news site, the Oak Lawn Patch.

Jones, a 64-year-old insurance salesman and Vietnam War veteran, is seeking the Republican nomination to face incumbent Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) in the 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses the southern suburbs of Chicago. The primary is set for March 20.

“It’s the blackest lie in history," Jones said of the Holocaust. "Millions of dollars are being made by Jews telling this tale of woe and misfortune in books, movies, plays and TV. The more survivors, the more lies that are told.”

In addition to his past party affiliation, Jones regularly organizes family-friendly neo-Nazi events scheduled to coincide with Adolf Hitler’s birthday.

Jones indicated that he is mounting his third run for Congress because of Lipinski’s connections to the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC. -- JTA

eBay to expand activity in Israel

eBay is expanding its activity in Israel.

The Internet consumer company said it will unite its two activity centers in Netanya and Tel Aviv into a development center, and will expand the center by recruiting computer engineers, industrial and management engineers, and information system engineers, Ynet reported Monday.

eBay employs more than 200 workers in Israel. The new Israeli development center will focus on building catalogues, creating information on products and developing tools for social commerce aimed at allowing collective purchases and sharing the buying process with other users, according to Ynet.

Last year eBay bought the Israeli startup The Gifts Project, which developed an application for online group gifting.

In addition to five development centers in the United States, eBay has centers in India and China. -- JTA

Congressman gets chained to a messy Jewish divorce

Dave Camp, powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is taking heat for the ‘recalcitrant husband’ on his staff

Congressman Dave Camp
Pphoto by: AP/Harry Hamburg

An affluent, leafy suburb of Washington, DC boasting one of the area’s largest concentrations of Orthodox Jews is an unusual place to see sign-wielding protesters shouting slogans into bullhorns. Yet, about a year ago, the Kemp Mill neighborhood in Silver Spring, MD was the site of about 200 demonstrators carrying placards and chanting, in unison, “Aharon Friedman, give Tamar a get!”

The source of their ire is a 35-year-old tax specialist and Capitol Hill staffer whose boss, Congressman Dave Camp (R-MI), is chairman of the powerful tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

Since his civil divorce from Tamar Epstein, 28, in April 2010, Aharon Friedman has refused to grant Epstein a Jewish writ of divorce, known as a get. According to Jewish law, a husband must agree to give his wife a get before she can remarry within the faith, have additional children, or uncover her hair. In the meantime, she is known as an aguna, literally, a “chained” woman. -- Ari Ben Goldberg, Times of Israel

To read more, click here.

On skeleton, N.J.’s Bradley Chalupski hopes to sled for Israel at Olympics

Skeleton competitor Bradley Chalupski,
representing Israel, starts down the track
at the men's world championships in Lake Placid, N.,
Feb. 24, 2012. Photo by Ken Childs
Meet Bradley Chalupski, Israel’s best hope for a medal on the bobsled track at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.

Chalupski is an unlikely Israeli athlete.

For one thing, he competes in skeleton, a sport that’s virtually unknown in Israel -- not to mention the rest of the world. For another, technically he's not Israeli. His only visit to Israel came last year on a Birthright trip. And the Israeli Olympic Committee isn't even aware of Chalupski's existence.

But come summer, the law school graduate from Marlboro, N.J., with a Catholic father is planning on making the move to Israel with his girlfriend, Chana Anolick, whose parents already live in Kochav Yaakov, a settlement in the West Bank. And Chalupski, 25, is hoping that he can improve his racing times to qualify for the 2014 Winter Games. -- Uriel Heilman, JTA

To read more, click here.