Friday, July 13, 2012

‘Don’t interfere’: Ottawa warns Iranian embassy over alleged recruitment of expats in Canada

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Tuesday
that the Iranian Embassy (pictured) "should not interfere" in Iranian-Canadians' choices.
Jennifer Campbell / The Ottawa Citizen
Canada’s Foreign Affairs department issued a warning Tuesday to Iranian diplomats who are allegedly using their Ottawa embassy to recruit Iranian-Canadians to serve the Islamic Republic’s interests.

“Iranian-Canadians have rejected the oppressive Iranian regime and have chosen to come to Canada to build better lives,” a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement to the National Post. “The Iranian Embassy should not interfere in their choices. Canadian security organizations will act to prevent threats and intimidation of Canadians.” -- Kathryn Blaze Carlson, National Post Canada

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Nathan Englander takes Irish short story prize

Jewish-American author Nathan Englander won the 2012 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award.

The award, for his short story collection "What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank," garnered Englander a $30,000 prize. The collection of stories won out over collections by Israeli writer Etgar Keret, as well as Sarah Hall and Kevin Barry.

The prize is funded by the city of Cork in Ireland.

Englander teamed up this year with Jewish-American author Jonathan Safran Foer to publish the "New American Haggadah," a more modern take on the traditional Passover Haggadah. -- JTA

Israeli gov’t launches $25 million food aid program

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a $25 million government food aid program.

The initiative was presented Monday at a news conference in Jerusalem.

The money reportedly will be used to provide debit cards to purchase food in place of food baskets. The program also will establish a committee to create an ethical code for food charities to follow.

Food charities for years have called on the Israeli government to assist in feeding families living in poverty.

At a separate news conference Monday on nutritional security, Netanyahu cited data presented by National Insurance Institute Director-General Shlomo Mor-Yosef showing that poverty had declined.

Netanyahu said poverty declined because the government "intervened here with two populations, the elderly and the handicapped, and I think that this is very significant." -- JTA

Crossing Religious Lines in an Israeli Hospital

There are no empty beds this day in the recovery room at the Hadassah-Ein Kerem hospital. Doctors and nurses hover over patients. Manar Igbarya, 25, is giving a woman an injection and inspecting a bandage on her right leg. The Orthodox patient is absorbed in talking to her visiting husband. Everyone is chatting in Hebrew; nothing in this scene seems unusual, except that Ms. Igbarya is a Palestinian Muslim. -- Souad Mekhennet, NY Times

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Orthodox rabbinical group urging German Jews to defy court ruling on circumcision

Europe's main Orthodox rabbinical body is urging Jews in Germany to uphold the commandment to circumcise newborn sons, despite a court ruling in Germany that said circumcising young boys could be considered a criminal act. -- JTA

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Seeking to Lure the Crowds Again. But Hold the Borscht

At Grossinger’s resort in 1967. The Catskill Mountains region, long ago named
the borscht belt for its predominantly Jewish clientele, has nearly fallen off the tourist map.
Eddie Hausner/The New York Times
Long before they became associated with borscht, the Catskills conjured images of fog-shrouded cliffs and rugged retreats, Rip Van Winkle and the Hudson River School of art.

Now, unfortunately, they evoke the past and present of Concord Road in Sullivan County. The Concord, once the largest hotel in the Catskills, with a dining room that seated 3,000, and, during the 1940s, a 35-piece orchestra performing Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, closed in 1998. A proposed $600 million entertainment, housing and gambling complex that is the latest plan to revive it exists only on paper. And for now, there is just a dismal, fenced-in expanse of rubble, brush and ghosts.

In an era when enhancing the brand name is deemed mandatory for every aspiring company, celebrity and locale, it seems clear that the Catskills could use a rebooted one. Hence an exercise in crowd-sourcing and creative marketing in which the newly formed Catskill Park Resource Foundation is hoping to raise $5 million to rebrand the Catskills. -- Peter Applebome, NY Times

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Peres cancels Olympics participation to avoid desecrating Shabbat

Israeli President Shimon Peres canceled his participation in the 2012 Olympic Games in London after failing to find a way to attend the opening ceremony without desecrating the Jewish Sabbath.

The opening ceremony begins on a Friday, July 27, before Shabbat starts, but will end well after the onset of the holy day. Though Peres is not religiously observant, he does not publicly desecrate Shabbat.

The President's Office reportedly has been working for months on the Olympics visit and plans for the opening ceremony. Since there is no hotel within walking distance of the stadium, Peres' staff made an official request that he be allowed to sleep Friday night in the Olympic Village, which is near the main stadium.

His request was denied, since only Olympic athletes are allowed to stay in the village.

Other alternatives were discarded due to security reasons, according to reports.

The President's Office issued a statement Tuesday saying that "Due to the fact that the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is on Friday evening and there are no hotels in walking distance of the stadium, the president decided to cancel his visit and not desecrate the Sabbath. The president wishes good luck to the Israeli athletes."

Peres on Monday hosted Israel's Olympic and Paralympic teams for an official sendoff. -- JTA

Israel salutes non-Jewish Poles for heroism and preserving Jewish memory

Israel in twin ceremonies honored non-Jewish Poles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust and those who have preserved Jewish memory since World War II.

Israeli Ambassador to Poland Zvi Rav-Ner on June 8 recognized five Polish women as Righteous Gentiles for risking their lives to save Jews during the Shoah. About 6,400 Poles have been honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Gentiles, and more are recognized each year. Rav-Ner presented the awards to the grandchildren of the honorees, who are all deceased.

At a separate ceremony the same day, Rav-Ner presented the annual Preserving Memory awards to eight individuals and one organization in recognition of their efforts to preserve and care for Jewish heritage, culture and memory in Poland. It was the 15th edition of the awards, which have recognized more than 170 people throughout Poland.

This year’s honorees came from the provincial towns of Grodkow, Szczekociny, Pulawy, Seroczyn, Rzeszow and Jastrowie. They were honored for projects including cleaning up Jewish cemeteries, writing books about local Jewish history and organizing Holocaust commemoration events. -- JTA

The Case for Kosher Lab-Grown Meat

Your lab-grown steak will taste the same, maybe better, require no shechita, and be 100% kosher.
Photo Credit: Chen Leopold/Flash 90
According to a recent report, real progress is being made to generate lab grown meat that tastes as good as the real thing without all the cruelty, ghastly side effects, expense and waste of the present worldwide meat industry.

Dr Mark Post, whose lab at the University of Maastricht is experimenting with literally growing meat in Petri dishes, has told the Guardian: “We could be seeing a future where huge quantities of high-quality meat are gown in vats, incorporating not only muscle fibers but layers of real fat and even synthetic bone. In 25 years real meat will come in a packet labeled, ‘An animal has suffered in the production of this product’ and it will carry a big eco tax. I think in 50-60 years it may be forbidden to grow meat from livestock.” -- Jeremy Rosen, Jewish Press

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Gay congregation shares worship space with conventional synagogue

Rabbi Noah Kitty, left, of Congregation Etz Chaim and Jerry Berkowitz,
a member of Beth Torah and cantor of Etz Chaim, are happy with the accord.
Two Torah scrolls, flanked by the flags of Israel and the United States, plus the rainbow-striped flag that is the symbol of gay pride.

They come together each Friday at Temple Beth Torah — symbols of a rare arrangement between the standard Conservative synagogue and Congregation Etz Chaim, a liberal group that ministers mainly to gays and lesbians. Leaders say it's a good move. -- James D. Davis, Florida Sun Sentinel

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

London’s thriving ‘Limmud’ high school shows pluralism gaining ground among UK Jews

Jeremy Stowe-Lindner with his pupils. (photo credit: courtesy)
The Jewish Community Secondary School is the only one in Britain where you can find Reform and Orthodox prayer books on the same classroom shelf. The departing principal says it is changing the entire community. -- By Miriam Shaviv, Times of Israel

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Probe into Arafat's death could open a bigger Palestinian can of worms

Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, just before his death in 2004.
Photo by Archive
Several professors of medicine have expressed wonder at the total lack of any investigation into a possible reason for the Palestinian leader's death: AIDS. -- Amos Harel, Haaretz

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Wiesel, Jewish leaders rap changes to Canada’s refugee policy

Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel joined a growing list of Jewish leaders who are calling on Canada to reverse changes to legislation that denies health care to refugee claimants.

In a letter released last week to the Globe and Mail newspaper, Wiesel said he supports the Toronto Board of Rabbis, which has called on Canada's federal government to abandon the changes, which end most health benefits to certain refugees.

"As a former refugee, together with the Toronto Board of Rabbis, I feel morally compelled to remain on the side of other uprooted men and women everywhere," Wiesel wrote. "Today, as yesterday, a nation is judged by its attitude towards refugees."

The Globe noted that Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was a keynote speaker two years ago at a conference on anti-Semitism in Ottawa that was organized with the help of Canadian immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who is behind the refugee reforms. -- JTA

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July marks National Pickle Month: Popularized in America by Jews, pickles pack a punch

Stephen Leibowitz, chief pickle maven
for United Pickles and Guss' Pickles,
at the United Pickles headquarters
in the Bronx, N.Y., May 2012.
(Josh Lipowsky)
Walk into a kosher deli and a big bowl of pickles is typically waiting at the table.

Ever wondered why?

“Pickles are vital to the deli experience,” says Rabbi Gil Marks, author of “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.”

Deli mavens know that the tastiest cuts of pastrami and corned beef are also the fattiest, but after a few mouthfuls the fat covers the palate and masks the flavor of the meat, Marks explains. Just as wine does with chicken or meat dishes, he says, a pickle cleanses the palate between bites, so the flavor of the hot pastrami on rye continues to shine, while also interacting with the sandwich, creating new flavors. -- Josh Lipowsky, JTA

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Calif. teens win Diller Teen Tikkun Olam awards

Five California teenagers won Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards for their innovative social action projects.

Each will receive an honorarium of $36,000 toward the project or the recipient’s future education.

The winners are Zak Kukoff, 17, for his Autism Ambassadors, a national non-profit that empowers teens to teach and better understand their special-needs classmates; Joseph Langerman, 19, for his Voices Against Cruelty, Hatred and Intolerance, a student-run program that promotes awareness and prevention of bullying in schools; Daniel Rosenthal, 15, for his Magic Is Medicine, a magic performance initiative to bring joy to the sick, disabled, elderly and others in need; Adam Weinstein, 18, for his Archimedes Learning, a math and science enrichment program for underprivileged fifth-graders in Los Angeles; and Celine Yousefzadeh, 19, for her Fashion with Compassion, a student-run fashion show that raises funds for Israeli charities.

It is the sixth year for the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards; more than $1 million has been given out to 30 California teens. The award is the vision of Bay Area philanthropist Helen Diller and The Helen Diller Family Foundation. -- JTA

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Will Schechter Schools Leave Conservatives?

Troubled System Seeks New Path as USCJ Focuses on Shuls
Charting New Path: Struggling with declining enrollment,
the Schechter network of schools in considering leaving an umbrella group for Conservative Jewry.
Courtesy of Marla Shelasky
The beleaguered Schechter Day School Network — an educational pillar of Conservative Judaism — is considering leaving its parent organization as it grapples with shrinking enrollment and shuttered schools, the Forward has learned.

The Schechter network has been under the aegis of the movement’s congregational arm, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, since its founding in the mid-1950s. One of the movement’s crown jewels, the network has contracted in recent years, a symptom of Conservative Judaism’s struggle to retain members as non-Orthodox American Jews shift away from denominational affiliation.

Now, Schechter — which counts 45 schools in its network nationwide — is considering spinning off to become an independent not-for-profit organization, albeit one with strong ties to the Conservative movement. The conversation comes as USCJ is undergoing its own overhaul, paring down its programming to focus on synagogues, or kehillot, as it calls them, the Hebrew word for “communities.”  -- Naomi Zeveloff, Forward

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Cremation becoming increasingly popular among Jews, funeral professionals say

Different Choice: Jews still choose to be buried at higher rates than the general public.
But cremation is increasingly popular, despite religious edicts and tradition.
thinkstock
Rise occurring despite religious edicts and thousands of years of tradition. -- Josh Nathan-Kazis, Forward   

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Israel won’t cooperate with U.N. fact-finding mission on settlements

Israel said it will not cooperate with a United Nations fact-finding mission on how Israel's West Bank settlements affect Palestinians.

The U.N.'s Human Rights Council on Friday appointed three independent experts to conduct the mission.

"The establishment of this mission is another blatant expression of the singling out of Israel in the UNHRC and of the uncandid approach that characterizes the Council's dealing with Israel," Israel's Foreign Ministry said in a statement, also on Friday.

"This fact-finding mission will find no cooperation in Israel, and its members will not be allowed to enter Israel and the Territories. Its existence embodies the inherent distortion that typifies the UNHRC treatment of Israel and the hijacking of the important human rights agenda by non-democratic countries. The latter, unbothered by and dismissive of human rights, are taking advantage of their political and numerical weight in order to distort systematically the proceedings and rules of the UNHRC and to empty its workings of all moral content."

Israel suspended its ties with the Human Rights Council in March after the council voted to establish the fact-finding mission on the settlements. -- JTA

Tensions Boil as Israeli Oil Riches Grow

Israel’s once hidden oil riches are now certain to be so large its treasures could make it the richest oil country in the world.  And, its neighbors are not only noticing, they’re boiling mad.

It was just forty years ago when Golda Meir, the former prime minister of Israel once famously quipped, “Why did Moses lead us to the one place in the Middle East without oil?”

Well Prime Minister, Moses turned out to have a pretty good eye for what a promised land might look like.

Since oil was first discovered in the Middle East, Israel has been cut off from the world’s exploration resources because of its Arab neighbors.  No major oil company would dare explore there in fear of an Arab backlash.  Over time technologies in oil exploration have improved and international experts have noticed Israel’s potential. -- Ed DeShields, Omega Letter

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Oxford medieval Jewish cemetery marked

A Jewish heritage committee in Oxford marked a medieval Jewish cemetery in the university town.

The burial site, not in use since the 1290 expulsion of the Jews from Britain, is located in the city's Rose Garden, and was identified by Pam Manix, a historian and a member of Oxford Jewish Heritage.

The Jewish Chronicle reported Thursday that the group dedicated the granite memorial stone this week, reading Kaddish, the traditional mourner's prayer, from a medieval siddur.

A nearby plaque in place since 1931 is covered by ivy, and its location was not as precise as the new stone. -- JTA

Monday, July 9, 2012

Opinion: The crime of circumcision

A district judge in Cologne, Germany, recently ruled that ritual circumcision is a crime, violating “the fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity,” which outweighs other parental and religious rights. “This change runs counter to the interests of the child,” the court concluded, “who can decide his religious affiliation himself later in life.”

Jews and Muslims have traditionally viewed male circumcision in a different light — not as an expression of individual choice but as a form of initiation into a community. German religious figures from all the Abrahamic faiths criticized the Cologne ruling, with particular outrage expressed by Jewish leaders. ­Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, called it “outrageous and insensitive” and warned that a general application of the decision would “coldbloodedly force Judaism into illegality.”

Though the ban directly applies in only one region of Germany, secular supporters count it a triumph and a precedent. One academic, Holm Putzke, celebrated the rejection of “religiously motivated violence against children.” “The court has,” he said, “unlike many politicians, not been deterred by the fear of being criticized as anti-Semitic or antireligious.”…

Jewish sensitivity on this subject is understandable. -- Michael Gerson, Washinton Post

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Iran says “no drug addicts in Israel.” Whew, that’s a relief

Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi
(Reuters)
Finally some good news from Iran. According to the country’s Vice President, there are no drug addicts in Israel. Mohammad Reza Rahimi is so convinced of our chemical purity that he declared, during a speech marking the “International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking” in Tehran, that “the Islamic Republic of Iran will pay for anybody who can research and find one single Zionist who is an addict. They do not exist.”  -- Brian Blum, Israel21c

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Israeli researchers grow marijuana without a high

Israeli researchers say they have developed a cannabis plant that gives no high.

The research firm, called Tikun Olam, operates a marijuana plantation in northern Israel, according to The Jerusalem Post. Medical marijuana has been legal in Israel since 1993, though its recreational use is illegal.

Tikun Olam claims that its new marijuana plant does not contain THC, the constituent of the plant that gives users a high. But the new plant still contains Cannabidiol, which doctors say can aid the treatment of a variety of illnesses.

The Post, citing the Healthy Ministry, reported that cannabis is used to treat 9,000 people in Israel.

"Sometimes the high is not always what they need," Zack Klein, head of development at Tikun Olam, told the Post. "Sometimes it is an unwanted side effect. For some of the people it's not even pleasant." -- JTA

Israeli technology to secure France's Louvre

Louvre Museum Photo: AP


France-based Synel technology to install comprehensive security system in world's most visited art museum in effort to prevent burglary

Sagi Cohen, Ynetnews

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Anne Frank, the App

Hinda Mandell
Earlier this month I found myself waiting in an hour-long line outside the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Antsy, I decided to download the free “Anne’s Amsterdam” app that was advertised outside the museum.

A quick download from the iTunes store and — Voila! —“Anne’s Amsterdam” was installed on my home screen. There was her smiling face, captured in black and white, her hair pinned back with a barrette — one of the most iconic faces to emerge from the Holocaust. And the app sits kitty-corner to my Facebook and Twitter icons on my iPhone.

Cognitive dissonance at its best, I think. -- Hinda Mandell, Forward's The Sisterhood blog

To read more, click here.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Israeli Identity Is at the Heart of a Debate on Service

In Jerusalem last month, ultra-Orthodox Jews protested
a court ruling that will end exemptions from military service for yeshiva students.
Lior Mizrahi/Getty Image
But the debate over these details masks a more fundamental and fractious one about evolving identity in this still-young state, where a “people’s army” has long been a defining principle, and about the growing cleavage among its tribes.

That is what has brought Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s broad unity coalition to the brink of collapse in recent days, with an Aug. 1 deadline looming to replace a law providing draft exemptions to thousands of men studying in yeshivas that the Supreme Court deemed illegal in February.  -- Jodi Rudoren, NY Times

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Olympian to flip out to ‘Hava Nagila’

American star Aly Raisman gives a new spin to Hebrew folk song during her floor routine
Israel’s athletes will need to win gold if they want to hear “Hatikva” at this summer’s Olympics — it’s happened just once before — but one tune that’s now sure to get played is “Hava Nagila.”

One of America’s freshly minted Olympians — gymnast Aly Raisman — uses the number during her floor routine (starting at about 1:50 here), and over the weekend secured her a spot on the squad by winning the Olympic trials (defeating current world champion Jordan Wieber in the process).

An 18-year-old from the Boston suburb of Needham, Massachusetts, Raisman is Jewish. Among her many accomplishments — which include three medals at least year’s world championships — is being named 2011′s Pearl D. Mazor Outstanding Female Jewish High School Scholar-Athlete of the Year, an honor given out by America’s National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Having knocked off the current world champion en route to the Olympics, Raisman is now a front-runner to win multiple medals at the London Games, which begin July 27.  Her “Hava Nagila” routine is likely to feature prominently — in addition to taking the national title in the event this year, she also claimed bronze on the floor at last year’s world championships.

However she fares, this will not be the Hebrew folk song’s first encounter with elite gymnastics. In fact, here’s a handy rundown of past performers who’ve taken a tumble to the tune.-- Nathan Burstein, Times of Israel

To view video, click on image below.

Opinion: Close Presbyterian Vote on Selective Divestment Shows Likudniks Losing Middle America

Thursday night, by what the Christian Science Monitor called the "thinnest of margins" the General Assembly of the 1.9 million member Presbyterian Church USA failed to approve a resolution requiring the church to divest its $20 million investments in Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard over the ties of these companies to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

The vote at the PCUSA's General Assembly in Pittsburgh was 333-to-331. In percentage terms, 49.85% were in favor of selective divestment from the Israeli occupation and 50.15% were opposed.

No doubt many among what Peter Beinart calls "the American Jewish establishment" celebrated the result. They had pulled out the stops to block the Presbyterians' selective divestment move. 1300 rabbis and 22,000 other Jews wrote to the Presbyterians, falsely seeking to characterize the proposed move as "the use of economic leverages against the Jewish state."

Robert Naiman, Huffington Post

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Community struggling to meet the needs of Jewish identity surveys’ ‘others’

Call it the age of “playlist Judaism.”

That’s how Rabbi Kerry Olitzky describes engagement in Jewish life for the seemingly ever-increasing group showing up as “other” or “just Jewish” on recent American Jewish identity surveys.

“I no longer have to buy the entire package in order to have the [Jewish] service I want,” says Olitzy, the New York-based Jewish Outreach Institute’s executive director, referring to how iTunes and Napster broke the stranglehold on a music industry that once forced consumers to buy entire albums to hear one preferred song on demand. -- Debra Rubin, JTA

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Young Judaea’s separation from Hadassah begins

Young Judaea's spinoff from Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, has begun.

Hadassah's board had voted for the separation in June 2011, and both organizations announced this week that the change had begun.

The spinoff comes as Hadassah, which supports two hospitals in Israel and other programs, faces financial difficulties. Hadassah was forced to return $45 million in connection with the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, and Hadassah recently announced the $71.5 million sale of its New York headquarters.

Hadassah will provide $7 million in transitional funding over the next three years as Young Judaea works to secure independent funding, according to a spokesperson. Hadassah chapters also will continue to raise scholarship money for the youth organization and Hadassah will have representation on Young Judaea's board. In December, Simon Klarfeld was hired as Young Judaea's executive director.

“Like a child leaving the nest, Young Judaea will always be part of the Hadassah family," Marcie Natan, Hadassah's national president, said in a statement. "Hadassah members take tremendous pride in how effective Young Judaea is in creating permanent connections between American youth and Israel.”

Founded in 1909 as a Zionist youth organization, Young Judaea serves 5,000 Jewish youngsters and young adults through U.S. camps and Israel programs. The group had been supported entirely by Hadassah since 1967. -- JTA

Safed college to offer mysticism degree

Safed Academic College, in northern Israel, will offer a bachelor’s degree in mysticism and spirituality.

Safed is the historical center of kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. Students in the program will study not only Jewish mysticism and spirituality, but also Sufism, Shamanism, American Indian mysticism, Zen, Hinduism and other mystical traditions, according to Haaretz. After taking introductory courses in mysticism, students will study three areas: kabbalah, current spirituality and electives in other religions.

“Involvement in spirituality and mysticism is vibrant today, and is one of the most requested educational specializations,” program director Mariana Ruach-Midbar told Haaretz. “We want to bring the general public closer to academic study of the subject.” -- JTA