Friday, March 16, 2012

On St Patrick’s The Rabbi Wears Green

Rabbi Sara O'Donnell Adler and her father Jeri O'Donnell
A few years back, the son of friends wore a green shirt to school on St. Patrick’s Day that said “Kiss Me, I’m Irish.” The response from his teachers, “You’re not Irish, you’re Jewish.”

To many people it might seem odd to think of Jews celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. But for Rabbi Sara O’Donnell Adler and many other Irish Jews or Jews of Irish decent, nothing seems more natural. Rabbi O’Donell Adler goes out of her way each year on St. Patrick’s Day to dress in green and wish everyone a happy holiday. Not a big fan of pubs or of corned beef (she is a vegetarian) she makes sure to call family members, send cards and share the luck of the Irish on this special day. O’Donell Adler was raised Jewish but her father was Irish Catholic. While she did not adopt his religion she is proud of her ethnic heritage. When she married Jeremy Adler, she could have dropped the O’Donnell and all the questions that come with it, but chose not too. On the contrary, she fought long and hard to make sure that the entire name was displayed prominently on her ID badge at the University of Michigan Hospitals where she is a chaplain. Does it cause confusion or negative comments? “No,” laughs O’Donnell Adler, on the contrary it is frequent positive conversation starter.

The Irish American longing for Ireland, is something that resonates strongly with Michal Morris Camille of Marin CA. Morris Camille was born in Israel but her father was born in Belfast. As a diplomat representing the government of Israel, the family lived all over the world but always saw Israel as home. Even as a representative of the Israeli government he was still seen as Irish and called on to sit in the grandstand at St. Patrick’s Day parades or judge Irish beauty contests.

In many ways, the American celebration of St. Patrick’s Day fits easily with Jewish life. Though it’s origins are clearly religious, St. Patrick’s Day as it is celebrated in the United States is a largely ethnic diasporic holiday, which helps those living at a distance affirm a commitment to homeland, that may exist only in realm of longing not in the realm of experience.  The ability to gather and celebrate a common heritage, to recall the place from which one originates, is common to both Jews and Irish living outside their homelands. The broadening out of this particularistic ethnic celebration into the mainstream of American life provides a model for Jews as we continue to integrate into American life. So whether or not your roots lie in the Emerald Isle or elsewhere, happy St. Patrick’s Day. -- Ruth Abusch Magder, MyJewishLearning

Opinion: How about Arab apartheid week?

In Syria, one of the Middle East’s most oppressive regimes (after the fall of the Ghadhafi clan in Libya) has killed thousands of its citizens, but university campuses in North America and Europe are silent.

There are no demonstrations, no moral outrage, no conferences and no boycott campaigns. There is also no “Saudi apartheid week,” no protests against the killings of members of the Coptic community in Egypt, and no boycott of Turkey for systematic discrimination against its Kurdish citizens, or of Iran for systematic attacks against non-Shiite minorities.

Instead, the self-proclaimed voices of liberalism, progressivism and peace are using all of their energies and resources for an obsessive attack against Israel with another round of “Israeli apartheid week.” -- Gerald, Steinberg, Canadian Jewish Week

To read more, click here.

Coming Up Empty on Title VI

Little Success Applying Civil Rights Law to Anti-Israel Activity
Title VI Dead End: Efforts to use federal civil rights laws against colleges
where pro-Palestinian activities have taken place have largely gone nowhere.
Photo by Joel Siegal
A year and a half after the federal government extended a landmark civil rights law to cover Jewish students, Jewish groups have yet to succeed in using this law against what they see as anti-Semitic anti-Israel activity on campus.

A survey by the Forward has found that at least 10 anti-Semitism cases have been filed with either the Department of Education or in court under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In only one of these cases so far has the complainant been favored: a high school case in which Israel played no role.

Six of these cases involve anti-Israel activity. One has been closed after administrative review. Another case has been rejected by a federal court, but the complainant has been invited to amend the complaint.

For some, this track record raises questions about the utility of civil rights law to combat campus anti-Israel activity. But advocates for Jewish students say it’s too soon to come to conclusions about what kinds of cases will work under the new law….

Historically, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was used during the 1960s to desegregate public schools in the South. It prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin, but does not include religion as a protected category. But in October 2010, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a letter saying that Title VI would henceforth cover members of religious groups on the basis of shared ethnic characteristics, thus opening the door for Jews to file complaints. Several existing cases involving campus anti-Semitism were grandfathered-in then under the newly-redefined rules. -- Naomi Zevelof., Forward

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Israel's oily approach to natural pest control

The oil-based pest control system
A cocktail of ordinary cooking oils sprayed on crops is just as effective as chemical pesticides – and much cheaper and safer, too. -- Rivka Borochov, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
To read more, click here.

New Hampshire town votes to rename Jew Pond

Residents of a small New Hampshire town voted to rename a recreational water hole called Jew Pond.

Mont Vernon residents voted 104-33 on Tuesday night for the name change following a charged debate that was interrupted for a half hour due to a false fire alarm, according to reports. A new name was not chosen, The Associated Press reported.

The body of water has been known as Jew Pond since the 1920s, though there are no signs to that effect. The name, however, does appear on maps.

The Mont Vernon Board of Selectmen will turn to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names to change the pond's name.

Dug near a hotel and golf complex, the manmade pond originally was called Spring Pond. It reportedly became known as Jew Pond after two Jewish businessmen bought the hotel and its grounds. They intended to make the pond bigger and call it Lake Serene, town officials told the AP. -- JTA

The New Jews of Cameroon

Serge Etele
Serge Etele is a 31-year-old cocoa farmer and native African who lives in Sa'a, a small rural village in Cameroon, on the west coast of Africa. He and his family, as well as a thousand others in his village, were members of a Pentecostal Christian congregation. Today, though, Serge considers himself a Jew. He is the spiritual leader of the Beth Yeshourun Jewish Community of Cameroon.

What is most remarkable about Serge's transformation is that at the time of his self-proclaimed conversion he had not heard of any Jews in Cameroon (although there are reports of ancient connections to Judaism), and he never met or had any contact with Jews. How then did this unlikely and puzzling conversion take place 13 years ago when he was still a teenager?

In a talk at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on Feb. 23 -- his first excursion out of Cameroon -- Serge told his story in halting but adequate English (French and English are the official national languages of Cameroon, but 230 tribal languages are also spoken). The audience was captivated. After the presentation, I had the privilege of interviewing Serge for more details about his spiritual journey.

Serge was chaperoned on his visit to the U.S., which is part of an East Coast tour of speaking engagements with Jewish organizations and student groups, by Rabbi Gerald Sussman and his wife Bonita. Two years ago Kulanu, a Jewish organization that supports isolated and emerging Jewish communities around the world, sent the Sussmans to Cameroon to help Serge and his congregation of 50 self-converted Jews broaden their understanding of Judaism, obtain study materials and prayer books, and establish contact with other Jewish groups….

Perhaps the most compelling reason for Serge's conversion was revealed in what he said when asked what meaning conversion to Judaism had for him. In his poised, self assured and soulful manner, he said that he couldn't explain it in terms of words or logic but that as he explored Judaism he felt in the depth of his being that he was Jewish. A moment of stunned silence consumed the lecture hall…. -- Bernard Starr, Huffington Post

To read more, click here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

(Anne) Frank Talk

Although Rabbi Helga Newmark survived the horrors of the Holocaust, a childhood slight—from Anne Frank—stayed with her for the rest of her life
Anne Frank, second from the left, at her 10th birthday party in 1939 in Amsterdam.
Photo byAnne Frank Fonds
I only ever met one person who had anything bad to say about Anne Frank.

I was 12 years old, among a hundred other Hebrew school students in the social hall at our temple in northern New Jersey, eating our weekly dinner at long, uncovered banquet tables, when the oldest woman in the world walked in the door. In truth, Rabbi Helga Newmark was only 67 then. But the darkness in her eyes gave her a worn toughness where she might have been inviting, like impermeable black stains on a welcome mat. She was sturdy, though petite. She was wearing a fuchsia suit.

Rabbi Newmark sat down to face us where we had gathered at a table stacked with empty pizza boxes. She looked to me then like a person for whom it is impossible to imagine eating anything without a fork. And then she told us: “Anne Frank was a brat.”

To read more, click here.

Third female lawmaker introduces bill to limit men’s Viagra access

Democratic Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner is the third female lawmaker to introduce a bill that would limit men's access to Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs to make a statement about the dozens of anti-abortion bills that have passed statehouses around the country over the last year.

Turner is opposed to a proposed bill that would prohibit abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The Dayton Daily News reports that Turner's bill would mandate that men seeking Viagra be "tested for heart problems, receive counseling about possible side effects and receive information about 'pursuing celibacy as a viable lifestyle choice.'"

Turner said on MSNBC Monday that the bill is about showing "men as much love in the reproductive health arena as they have shown us over the years. My Senate Bill 307 is all about the love and making sure we look out for men's sexual health." -- Liz Goodwin, Yahoo News

To read more, click here.

Helium Parenting

Do you hover? Is your child's each vibration a source of concern to you? Honestly, do you harbor the suspicion that, without your patient, constant guidance, your teenager, or toddler, or ten year old, will topple into the abyss and never recover? In other words, was the term "helicopter parent" invented for you?

There are some colorful descriptions of "helicopter parenting," the practice of supervising childrens' every movement. Colleges complain that when students matriculate, they are often lost -- they do not know how to budget their time, handle disappointment or cook their own meals. An entire generation is writing sophisticated computer code and being confounded by laundry....

How do we escape helicopter parenting? Sometimes a new practice requires a new image. For parents I have a new metaphor to aspire to --helium parenting.  -- Rabbi David Wolpe, Huffington Post

To read more, click here.

Child-care subsidy would help women join workforce in Israel

An average Israeli family spends NIS 1,900 a month on child care, and subsidizing half this amount would pay off according to the research.

Subsidizing child care could encourage an additional 22,000 women into the workforce, according to new research by the Bank of Israel.

An average Israeli family spends NIS 1,900 a month on child care, and subsidizing half this amount, about NIS 950, would pay off for many working mothers - and for the economy - according to the research, which will be released soon as part of the central bank's annual report. This would raise women's participation in the workforce from 63% to 67%.

Such subsidies could cost the state NIS 2.9 billion a year, but this figure could be cut back substantially if subsidies went only to those with lower earning potential. Such subsidies would also reduce poverty, help close social gaps and increase working hours, according to the research.

Women in Israel miss more work than men, in all sectors, as is common in most of the world. Men take more vacation days, while women take more sick days, especially when the children are sick. This was the case before 2001, but due to the recession a decade ago, women started taking less time off out of fear they might lose their jobs, but since 2009 things have returned to the previous state. -- Haim Bior, Moti Bassok and Hila Weisberg, Haaretz

Interim rabbi takes over under tragic circumstances

Rabbi Allan Nadler to step in as interim rabbi
The past nine months have been difficult ones for everyone at Congregation Beth-El in the Montreal suburb of Town of Mount Royal. In July, their dynamic spiritual leader Rabbi Ronnie Cahana suffered a devastating stroke.

More recently, Rabbi Emeritus Allan Langner had stepped in for Rabbi Carbana, but recently had to withdraw with his own health issues.

Reeling in shock and confusion, the synagogue has turned to a distinguished spiritual leader, who is no stranger, to fill the void. Rabbi Allan Nadler has agreed to step in as interim rabbi for the next few months with the blessing of Rabbi Cahana. -- Mike Cohen, Toronto Jewish Tribune

To read more, click here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Remove Israeli envoy, stop gas exports, Egyptian parliament demands

The Egyptian parliament voted unanimously on a statement calling for the deportation of Israel's ambassador and stopping gas exports to Israel.

The People's Assembly passed the resolution Monday night stating that the halting of gas exports is in protest against attacks by Israel on Gaza.

The measure also called for the withdrawal of the Egyptian ambassador from Tel Aviv, according to Al Masry Al Youm (the Egypt Independent) daily newspaper and a renewal of the Arab boycott against Israel.

“Egypt after the revolution will never be a friend of the Zionist entity, the first enemy of Egypt and the Arab nation,” the resolution reportedly said, and demanded that the Egyptian government review all its relations and agreements with that “enemy,” according to Al Masry.

The motion is largely symbolic, according to The Associated Press, because only the ruling Military Council, the country's current government, can make such decisions.

People's Assembly Speaker Saad al-Katatny asked a special parliamentary committee to take the demands to the government, according to Al Masry. -- JTA

Volunteer Jewish security team to launch in Canada

Canada's Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is forming a volunteer network to provide security at Canadian synagogues and Jewish community facilities.

The Community Security Network will be similar to neighborhood watch programs, only on a national scale, CIJA said in its announcement.

"I'm not looking to train commandos," program coordinator Doron Horowitz told the National Post newspaper in a story published Monday. "It's a neighborhood watch. We're not looking for vigilantes."

Horowitz, the director of national security infrastructure for CIJA and a decorated Israeli army officer, said the effort is intended to complement law enforcement.

"This is the Jewish community taking an active role in [its own]  security on a civilian level," he said.

Toronto is the site of the pilot project. Once the program can field a team of 25 volunteers, it will be rolled out in Jewish communities across the country.

Volunteers, who must be aged 25 to 50, will undergo a series of background checks and psychological screening "to weed out individuals who have a different agenda or idea of what it means to protect the Jewish community," Horowitz said.

Trainees will learn about counter-surveillance methods, as well how to conduct patrols and recognize signs of suspicious activity, Horowitz told the Canadian Jewish News.

He stressed that the program will be "emphatically, categorically" different from groups like the Shomrim, unarmed civilians who patrol Jewish communal buildings and large events in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Toronto. -- JYA

The Butcher and the Surgeon

They call Bashar al-Assad "son of the butcher," but he is merely a butcher twice removed.  -- Micah D. Halpern, Jewish Ideas Daily

To read more, click here.

Editorial: The Sound of Silence

In an editorial, the Forward suggests that changing a few words or adding some Arabic to "Hatikvah" would make the Israeli national anthem both Jewish and democratic.

In the video broadcast widely on Israeli television, Salim Joubran was staring straight ahead, his square face quite still but for his eyes, which occasionally darted back and forth. Oh, and his mouth. That was the key feature here. It was fixed in a closed, downturned shape, the opposite of a smile. And it didn’t move.

Joubran has been a permanent member of the Israeli Supreme Court since 2004, the first and only Arab Israeli to receive such an august appointment, and one can imagine that his quiet refusal to sing “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, at a February 28 event was probably not the first. Nor was it the first time that a high Arab official in the Israeli government stood in silence when the anthem was played.

But this time, the TV cameras caught Joubran in the act, and for that, he was pilloried and, thankfully, also defended.

As relatively modern inventions, national anthems often are tasked with representing broad patriotic emotion while acknowledging singular ethnicities and heritages. So the Canadians sing in both English and French, and the Swiss have lyrics in French, German, Italian and Romansh, and the post-apartheid South African anthem incorporates five of the country’s 11 official languages.

“Hatikvah” has a more complicated provenance for some Israeli citizens. It beat out Psalm 126 (“Shir Ha Ma’alot”) to become the official anthem of the Zionist Conference, and it is based on a poem written in 1886 that was put to a melody initially inspired by a Central European folk song. It was not born a sacred text; it became one.

To read more, click here.

Anne Frank figure unveiled at Madame Tussauds in Berlin

Madame Tussauds in Berlin unveiled a wax figure of Anne Frank depicted sitting at her desk, pen in hand, smiling dreamily.

The unveiling took place last week amid some criticism about including a Holocaust victim at such an unserious location, according to the Bild Zeitung, Germany's most popular daily. Others say that as long as there is information about the life and death of Anne Frank it is appropriate.

Anne died at age 15 at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp about a month before the camp's liberation in April 1945. The best-known photographs snapped of the young diarist by her camera-happy father, Otto -- the only immediate family member to survive the Holocaust -- show young Anne smiling.

A museum spokeswoman, Nina Zerbe, told Bild Zeitung that the display includes information about Anne in German and English, and she is presented in the context of the room in which she hid.

"This is a three-dimensional history lesson for visitors," Zerbe said.

The director of the Anne Frank Center in Berlin, Thomas Heppner, who attended the unveiling, praised the idea of bringing visitors closer to history through such displays.

The Berlin branch of Madame Tussauds has been criticized over the inclusion of other historical figures related to the Nazi period. In July 2008, one of the first visitors to the new museum, a 41-year-old Berlin man, lunged past guards and lopped off the head of the Hitler figure. The figure, which depicts a defeated Hitler, was repaired and is now behind glass. -- JTA

The Jewish Vote: A History

Charges of dual loyalty have dogged American Jews since at least the 1868 president election, as historian Jonathan Sarna explains in his new book

Photoillustration Tablet Magazine;
original photo Library of Congress and 2008 US Presidential Election map
On Dec. 17, 1862, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, concerned about smuggling and enraged by the discovery that his own father was conspiring with Jewish clothing manufacturers to move southern cotton northward, issued General Orders No. 11, which expelled “Jews as a class” from the territory under his command. As a result of this infamous order—the most anti-Semitic official order in American history—a small number of Jews were expelled from the territories in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee under Grant’s command. More Jews would certainly have been expelled had Abraham Lincoln not overturned the order less than three weeks after it was issued. --  Jonathan Sarna, Tablet

To read more, click here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

IAF Kills Shalit Kidnapper, Palestinian Rocket Attacks Met with Firm Retaliation, ‘Iron Dome’ Successful

Palestinians extinguish a fire after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah
Photo Credit: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking about the escalation in rocket attacks in the South on Friday and Shabbat, said: “We will continue to attack anyone who tries to harm Israeli citizens.”

The Palestinian Ma’an news agency reports that air strikes continue to rock the Gaza Strip, killing three men on Saturday, raising to 15 the number of Palestinians killed since Israel killed a military leader 24 hours earlier.

According to the AP, an Israeli air strike killed the commander of the militant group behind the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and a second militant in Gaza on Friday in the highest profile attack in months. -- Jacob Edelist, Jewish Press

To read more, click here.

Israel, US med schools sign landmark agreement

Bar-Ilan University. Valuable ties Photo: GPO
Over coming months, Bar-Ilan University's Faculty of Medicine in Galilee and University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine to explore joint development of cancer center which will integrate scientific research conducted by basic, translational and clinical faculty -- Ynetnews

To read more, click here.

Study: Jews are world’s most migratory religious group

A new study found that Jews are the most internationally migratory of all the world’s major religious groups.

“Faith on the Move,” a study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, found that a quarter of Jews are international migrants, defined as individuals who reside permanently in a country other than the one in which they were born.

By contrast, only 5 percent of Christians -- the next most migratory religious group -- are international migrants.

Pew found that more than 3.6 million Jews are international migrants. Some 2.76 million Jews have settled in Israel, with another 370,000 residing in the United States, 140,000 in Canada and 70,000 in Australia.

According to Pew, 56 percent of Jewish migrants come from Europe and another 24 percent from North Africa and the Middle East. -- JTA

Israel’s Cabinet approves plan to empower women

Israel's Cabinet approved a plan to increase the participation of women in municipal government.

The plan, part of the Knesset's marking of International Women's Day, is meant to increase the representation of women on local councils from its current 12 percent.

The Cabinet also put into effect some recommendations of the Committee to Prevent the Exclusion of Women, which deals with complaints from the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women hotline, and an advertising campaign to increase awareness regarding the exclusion of women.

The recommendations from the committee put into effect:

* The Civil Service Commission issued directives against the exclusion of women at government and state ceremonies.

* The Transportation and Road Safety Ministry opened a hotline to deal with instances of women being excluded on public transportation. The ministry will require transportation companies to post signs banning such exclusion.

* The Religious Services Ministry will instruct burial societies, the Chief Rabbinate and religious councils to ban preventing women from participating in eulogies and the burial of loved ones.

* The Justice Ministry will evaluate instances in which women have been restricted in media subject to regulation.

* The Israel Police will step up enforcement regarding offenses against women.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the place of women in the public space must be ensured and equal.

"Israel is a democratic country. There is no place in it either for harassment or for discrimination," he said. "We will act against cases of exclusion and will encourage the involvement of women in public life."

Netanyahu added, "In a country with women pilots, women will be everywhere." -- JTA

Opinion: Evading Service or Serving God?

Much of the Zealously Orthodox, non-Zionist,  Yeshiva world in Israel would appear to be populated by those who may study the words of the Torah but who invest time and effort avoiding its commandments.  How could I make such an outrageous statement? Allow me to make my case. -- Rabbi Andrew Sacks, Director of the Masorti/Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, Masorti Matters, Jerusalem Post

To read more, click here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Israel calls on UN to condemn rocket attacks from Gaza

Rockets fired from Gaza
Photo by Nikola Solic / Reuters
Israel's deputy ambassador to the UN Haim Waxman sent a letter of complaint Sunday to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and members of the UN Security Council regarding the barrage of rocket attacks, calling on them to "unequivocally condemn" the attacks and do everything in their power to "stop the rocket fire that continues to rain down on Israeli civilians, in violation of every precept of international law."

Waxman said that Israel sent a letter "just a few days ago" warning "of the dangers of inaction" by the international community. -- Herb Keinon and Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post

To read more, click here.

Also see

Palestinians fire 100 rockets at southern Israel

8 injured, including 1 critically from rocket shrapnel on Friday night in rural region; Safety instructions in place for residents living within 40 km of Gaza. -- Yaakov Lappin, Jerusalem Post

To read more, click here.

Israel named world's 2nd-best cleantech innovator

A leader in cleantech innovations per capita

Cleantech Group, World Wildlife Fund release first-ever global cleantech innovation ranking. Denmark, Israel and Sweden dominate top-three slots -- Ynetnews

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

La Différence--French Jews wholly French?

French Jews of the Middle Ages as pictured
in the Jewish Encyclopedia, c. 1905.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

While American Jews cultivate a hyphenated identity, French Jews like to make themselves wholly French. Do we still share a cultural language?
-- Robert Zaretsky, Tablet

To read more, click here.

New blood test offers early cancer detection

A woman undergoes chemotherapy treatment
at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.
Photo by Chen Leopold/Flash90
Israeli researchers have developed a simple and cheap blood test that was found to provide early detection for many types of cancer in clinical trials.

The promising new blood test, developed by scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheva, can detect minuscule changes in the blood of a person with a cancerous growth somewhere in the body, even before the disease has spread.

Early diagnosis of cancer could save thousands of lives. Every day in the United States alone, 1,500 people die of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the US after heart disease, accounting for one in four deaths.

Medical specialists believe that earlier detection greatly increases the chances for successful treatment. It also prevents the need for long, painful and costly treatments when the cancer reaches a more advanced stage. -- Nicky Blackburn, Israel21c

To read more, click here.

New Group Combating Child Molestation in Ultra Orthodox Enclave

“Magen” is a new Child Protection Agency operating in Ramat Beit Shemesh, two miles south of the city of Beit Shemesh, whose Haredi vs. National Religious and Secular clamorous encounters made headlines a month or so ago. But Magen deals with a quieter, more sinister aspect of life in this area. Founded two years ago, Magen’s website now reports the presence of at least 36 suspected child abusers in the community of Ramat Beit Shemesh. -- Tibbi Singer, Jewish Press

To read more, click here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Israel and the Plight of Mideast Christians

A damaged crucifix survives the burning of a Greek-Orthodox church
in Tulkarem in the West Bank on Sept. 17, 2006.
Getty Images

The church in Bethlehem had survived more than 1,000 years, through wars and conquests, but its future now seemed in jeopardy. Spray-painted all over its ancient stone walls were the Arabic letters for Hamas. The year was 1994 and the city was about to pass from Israeli to Palestinian control. I was meeting with the church's clergy as an Israeli government adviser on inter-religious affairs. They were despondent but too frightened to file a complaint. The same Hamas thugs who had desecrated their sanctuary were liable to take their lives.

The trauma of those priests is now commonplace among Middle Eastern Christians. Their share of the region's population has plunged from 20% a century ago to less than 5% today and falling. In Egypt, 200,000 Coptic Christians fled their homes last year after beatings and massacres by Muslim extremist mobs. Since 2003, 70 Iraqi churches have been burned and nearly a thousand Christians killed in Baghdad alone, causing more than half of this million-member community to flee. Conversion to Christianity is a capital offense in Iran, where last month Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was sentenced to death. Saudi Arabia outlaws private Christian prayer.

As 800,000 Jews were once expelled from Arab countries, so are Christians being forced from lands they've inhabited for centuries.

The only place in the Middle East where Christians aren't endangered but flourishing is Israel. Since Israel's founding in 1948, its Christian communities (including Russian and Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Armenians and Protestants) have expanded more than 1,000%. -- Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, Wall Street Journal

To read more, click here.

Cal State system to resume Israel study program

Haifa University
California State University, with 420,000 students on 23 campuses, has resumed its Study in Israel program at the University of Haifa, after a 10-year hiatus.

During the initial application period, which has now ended, only three students applied for the program that will begin this fall.

However, because many students may have missed the initial announcement, CSU has extended the application deadline up to April 10, provided all required forms are in order, university spokesman Erik Fallis said.

Interested students are urged to contact their campus international programs advisers as soon as possible. -- Tom Tugend, Jewish Journal

To read more, click here.

Opinion: Feminism’s final frontier? Religion.

“In churches (and synagogues and mosques) across the land,
women are still treated as second-class citizens,” Miller writes.
Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images

The battle of the sexes, waged this election season with fulsome fury in the public space, is being fought in a much more painful, private sphere as well. In churches (and synagogues and mosques) across the land, women are still treated as second-class citizens. And because women of faith are increasingly breadwinners, single moms and heads of households, that diminished status is beginning to rankle.

There are churches in America in which women aren’t allowed to speak out loud unless they get permission from a man first.

There are churches (many of them) in which women aren’t permitted to preach from the pulpit.

There are churches in America where a 13-year-old boy has more authority than his mother. -- Lisa Miller, Washington Post

To read more, click here.

AJWS Pushkes The Envelope

The iconic JNF pushke.
American Jewish World Service
is rethinking tzedakah box design.
Tzedakah box design competition seeks to spur conversation about philanthropy.
Legions of Hebrew school graduates have vivid memories of the tzedakah box, that little charity bin in every classroom that felt more like a moral obligation than an inspirational font. Often it was nothing more than a bland blue-and-white tin box with a coin slot on top — the ubiquitous “pushke” of the Jewish National Fund.

But the American Jewish World Service hopes to change that.

This week, the group will close off submissions for a tzedakah box design competition that tries to re-imagine the object for the 21st century. In addition to a category for a redesigned tzedakah box, it has created two other categories: one for a digital device, like a website or app, that helps people think more deeply about to whom they give and why; the other is for a work of art, like a sculpture or painting, that might simply stir philanthropic feeling. -- Eric Herschthal, NY Jewish Week

To read more, click here.

Beyond Beren, basketball’s a part of Jewish culture

Named for the Star of David and sporting personalized yarmulkes, the boys basketball team at Beren Academy captivated the Houston community as they fought to maintain Sabbath observance and play in the state tournament. While the Beren Stars made headlines as Orthodox athletes, their story follows generations of Jewish basketball players before them, who made basketball a part of their culture.

The team’s balance between belief and basketball struck Tamir Goodman, dubbed “the Jewish Jordan”, who came to Beren’s defense this week. He was the first Orthodox Jew to play Division I college ball without playing a single Friday night game.

“I was proud of the team in Houston because it’s not an easy thing to do,” said Goodman, who went on to play professionally in Israel and start an organization that teaches Jewish values through basketball. “For me, basketball was always about uniting the physical and the spirit. (God) gives us talents, and it is up to us to pursue them.”

Beren won Friday’s much-publicized state semifinals game then went on to lose Saturday night’s championship game. The popularity of Jewish hoops at the school, where there are a half-dozen basketball teams among a student body of about 270, isn’t an anomaly. The sport remains the most common at Jewish day schools and community centers, its history tied to Jewish culture and Jewish immigrants’ assimilation in the early 20th-century.

As I’ve written about before, basketball was invented at a Massachusetts YMCA in 1891, but the JCCs weren’t far behind, opening gyms for Jewish players interested in the sport. One of the first services offered by the JCC was a space for basketball since Jews often weren’t allowed to play in public places, said Eric Bishop, director of youth sports at the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center in Meyerland, which opened in 1934. It currently offers basketball leagues for preschoolers through adults, with no games or practices on shabbot or Jewish holidays. -- Kate Shellnutt, Believe it or not blog

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