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Forward 50: Susan Talve

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 7:00am
Forward 50 annually publishes its list of the 50 American Jews who have had the most impact on our national story.

 When Rabbi Jill Jacobs, head of the rabbinic social justice group T’ruah, wanted to travel to Ferguson, Missouri to support protesters, she got in touch with Susan Talve.

Talve, 61, is rabbi and spiritual leader of Central Reform Congregation, located a few miles from Ferguson, in downtown St. Louis. Ever since the August death of black teenager Michael Brown, Talve has been the most visible Jewish religious presence in a movement led by local black youth.

A longtime activist on social justice issues, Talve was recognized as one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis by the Forward this year for her local work in St. Louis combating gun violence.

Talve has been a regular participant in the recent protests in Ferguson, but she describes her role as one of support rather than leadership. “I go pretty much every night,” she told Haaretz. “It’s young people protesting and clergy showing up to model nonviolence and to listen to what they have to say.”

Over the past several months, she and her colleagues have continued to put their bodies on the line. One day in October, after they tried and failed to get arrested at an action outside the Ferguson police station, the Forward reached Talve by phone as she rode to visit a group of jailed ministers. She described a young member of her synagogue who lives in Ferguson: “He just wants to go to school,” she said. “He also doesn’t want to be afraid that when he walks on the street at night, that he’s going to be provoked, profiled and harassed because of the color of his skin.”

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In Germany, a Jewish community now thrives

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 7:00am
By Mike Ross for The Boston Globe


SINCE FIRST arriving in what would become Germany more than 1,800 years ago, Jews have searched for acceptance. No matter how desperate their attempts to demonstrate their standing as good German citizens — in some cases converting to Christianity, enlisting to fight in World War I, even trying to persuade their American counterparts to be less critical of the rising new leader Adolf Hitler — nothing brought them acceptance by their countrymen.

That, however, may be changing. Seventy years after the Holocaust, as anti-Semitism churns across Europe, the Jewish population on the continent is plummeting to record lows. New strands of hatred foment seemingly justified by the policies of Israel — a sovereign country thousands of miles away. And yet Germany has suddenly reemerged as a home for Jews.

Ask Cilly Kugelmann, the vice director of the Jewish Museum Berlin. Kugelmann is the daughter of two Polish Holocaust survivors who, as it is said, “grew up sitting on packed suitcases.” Today, she says she can’t think of anywhere else she’d rather live than Germany. “Germany is one of the safest places for Jews worldwide,” Kugelmann said.

In preparing to visit Germany for the first time, nothing was further from my own beliefs. In the place where my father’s family was slaughtered, I assumed that no Jew would ever again see Germany as their home. How could they?

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A love story

Mon, 11/03/2014 - 7:00am
Cory Booker talks about growing up in Harrington Park, falling in love with Judaism
by Joanne Palmer for New Jersey Jewish Standard

Often it’s easy to pick out a non-Jewish candidate trawling for Jewish votes.

He’ll show up at a shul wearing a fancy crocheted kippah with his name spelled out along the edge; it’ll be pinned to cover the bald spot precisely. (Really, if you’re going to wear one, you might as well benefit from it, right?)

He’ll throw out Yiddishisms with abandon — mishuganeh here, mensch there, oy, oy everywhere. He’ll talk about getting a bagel with a schmear. (Do you know any Jew who has ever eaten one of those? Me neither.)

In order to show his deep, lifelong sense of connection to the Jewish community, he’ll pander so hard it must make his teeth hurt.

But if you are looking for an actual Judeophile, a non-Jew whose connection to the Jewish world is longstanding, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and clearly real, you would have to direct your gaze in another direction.

You’d find yourself looking at Cory Booker —New Jersey’s junior U.S. senator — who visited the Jewish Standard’s offices last week.

Instead of flinging out Yiddish malapropisms, he’ll quote from the machzor, in Hebrew; he’ll cite biblical chapter and verse, again in Hebrew, and he’ll launch into a spirited explanation of why he insisted on being a co-president rather than the only president of Oxford’s L’Chaim Society.

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Has Argentina Turned Against its Jews?

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 7:00am
For twenty years, the government of Argentina has failed to bring to justice perpetrators of one of the deadliest anti-Semitic terror attacks of all time. Now, it appears that it is no longer trying.
by Eamonn MacDonagh for The Tower

 Argentina Turned Against its JewsOn July 18, 1994, a suicide bomber drove a van packed with explosives into the headquarters of the AMIA Jewish community organization in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The resulting blast killed 85 people and left hundreds injured. It was one of the worst incidents of anti-Semitic violence since World War II. The horrific attack is believed to have been ordered by the Iranian regime and executed by its terrorist proxies, and the ongoing betrayal of justice carried out by successive Argentine leaders who have failed to have the massacre properly investigated and prosecuted bears notable marks of anti-Semitism.

The criminal investigation into the massive terrorist attack was chaotic, plagued with accusations of cover-ups, witness tampering and bribery. In a particularly sordid climax, the investigating judge, Juan José Galeano, was removed from the investigation and now faces trial on charges arising from his handling of the investigation. A group of corrupt police officers, as well as a dealer in stolen vehicles, were eventually tried on charges of playing a secondary role in the attack. In 2004, they were all acquitted.

A subsequent Supreme Court decision revoked the acquittals of the stolen car dealer and some of the corrupt policemen. A new trial was ordered. It still hasn’t happened. The same ruling found that the initial investigation into the attack, flawed though it was, produced substantial valid evidence proving the attack was an act of terrorism.

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The Sarajevo Hagaddah: Held Hostage in a Crumbling and Shuttered Museum

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 7:00am
Sarajevo HagaddahPriceless 14th-century manuscript from Spanish Jewry’s Golden Age survived inquisitions and the Holocaust, but now sits trapped in the shuttered Bosnian National Museum, barred from public display
BY ILAN BEN ZION for Times of Israel
SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina — One of the most magnificent Jewish manuscripts, a book that survived two inquisitions and a Holocaust, is sitting trapped behind closed doors in Bosnia’s slowly crumbling National Museum, held captive by the dizzyingly convoluted politics of the Balkan nation.

The Sarajevo Haggadah, the most elaborately decorated codex remaining from Spanish Jewry’s Golden Age and today a keystone of Bosnia’s Jewish and gentile heritage, has been kept for the past two years from both the local community and tourists, despite grassroots and international efforts to put the treasure back on display.

The Bosnian government, experts say, is seemingly content to let the Haggadah continue to languish behind closed doors.

The book, which contains the story of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt — retold each year on Passover — is remarkable not only for its beautiful design, exquisite illuminated text, master-craftsmanship, and rare drawings from pre-Inquisition Spain, but also for its own remarkable exodus story.

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A Simchat Torah Story

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 7:00am
And it was morning and it was evening, the Seventh Game.
Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher of The Jewish Week

Gary Rosenblatt My favorite contemporary Simchat Torah story was told to me by a close friend who grew up in Pittsburgh. I offer it here in honor of Simchat Torah, which is celebrated this year on Thursday evening and Friday, and as the baseball season closes out this weekend. Nowadays, with the expanded Major Leagues, divisional playoffs and Wild Card teams, the World Series, long known as the October Classic, could very well linger until November. But when I was growing up, the World Series invariably fell out on the High Holy Days. (I used to imagine Ford Frick, the commissioner at the time, consulting a luach, or Jewish calendar, each year to pick the Series dates just to frustrate observant fans.) But it was just such a convergence of the baseball schedule and the Jewish holidays that led to the unique encounter described here …

This is a story about the faith and joy that can bring us together (all too rarely), about the ephemeral nature of man’s yearnings and the eternity of God’s words. Mostly, though, it’s just a story that always makes me smile.

The year was 1960, when Simchat Torah — that joyous day when we complete, and begin again, the reading of the Torah — was about to start, just as the long Major League Baseball season was about to end.

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My Grandfather Collected Etrogs—To Be Passed Down to Future Generationse

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 7:00am
More than an ephemeral part of Sukkot observance, the fruit also symbolizes the commitment of one generation to the next
By Benjamin W. Corn

Etrog CollectorOn my mother’s glass-and-chrome étagère stands a sepia-toned photograph of a dapper-looking soldier, a captain in the tzar’s army. The young man, my maternal grandfather, wears his medals and other military regalia. The picture pleases the eye, startling the viewer only when background information comes to light: In addition to being a commanding officer, my grandfather was a rabbi.

I never met my grandfather, Benjamin W. Greenberg. He died several months before my birth. In compliance with Ashkenazic custom, I inherited his name. Still, having heard stories about this Renaissance man, I feel that I know him.

Like many rabbis, Grandpa amassed a vast collection of Jewish books, including rare folios and classical texts. Sixteenth-century Bibles, illuminated haggadahs, and anthologies of Yiddish poems stood among the bound volumes on shelf after shelf in his modest house, which he purchased in Brooklyn after he emigrated from Russia. Simply acquiring a treasure-trove of books, however, was too conventional to satisfy his eclectic tastes. He also cherished another object. Grandpa was an avid collector of etrogs.

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Check out Jvillage’s High Holiday+    page.  While you're at it, check out our High Holidays Holiday Spotlight Kit for ideas, crafts, recipes, etc.

Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald, and Their War on Israel

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 7:00am
By Gabriel Schoenfeld in Mosaic Magazine

When it comes to Israel, The Intercept’s coverage crosses the line from opinion journalism to a crude and vile form of propaganda.
Pierre OmidyarPierre Omidyar, founder and chairman of the auction site eBay, became a billionaire at the age of 31. Having made his fortune (his net worth is somewhere in the ballpark of $8 billion), the French-Iranian-American entrepreneur wants to give back. A decade ago, he established the Omidyar Network, an institution that is part venture capital and part philanthropy, to help businesses and nonprofits that share a “commitment to advancing social good at the pace and scale the world needs today.”

Some of Omidyar’s investments do good by anyone’s definition: funding joint public-private educational projects in South Africa, or helping indigenous peoples around the world retain rights to the resources on their own lands. But for other investments, “social good” is in the eye of the beholder. Omidyar recently infused $250 million into a new journalistic venture, First Look Media, and has installed a respected mainstream journalist, a former managing editor of the Washington Post, as President, to help “develop the best ways to serve audiences as well as oversee the company’s editorial vision.” That vision encompasses a number of lofty objectives: ensuring that citizens are “highly informed and deeply engaged in the issues that affect their lives”; helping “to improve society through journalism and technology,” building “responsive institutions”; and supporting efforts to “hold the powerful accountable.”

That is all well and good, but how are these high-minded goals working out in practice? The only product of First Look Media thus far is The Intercept, an online publication whose three founding editors are Jeremy Scahill, Laura Poitras, and Glenn Greenwald. The latter two are both individuals to whom Edward Snowden entrusted the top-secret documents he purloined from the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence bodies before he took refuge in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Jeremy Scahill is a self-described “progressive journalist” who has written extensively for the Nation and wrote the script for a 2013 documentary film, Dirty Wars, based upon his book of the same title, about America’s “global killing machine.”

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18 Things You Should Do Before Rosh Hashanah

Mon, 09/22/2014 - 7:00am
From Oy!Chicago

(This article might be from Chicago but there's no reason why you can't do most of these things in your own hometown.)

18 Things You Should Do Before Rosh HashanahNot that we have anything against highs in the mid-70s, but as the calendar inches closer and closer to September (seriously, WHAT??), it’s kinda hard to believe that was it for summer this year. It’s been a joy pretending to live in northern California, but it’s time to face the truth, Oy!sters: fall and 5775 are fast-approaching, and with them sweaters, boots, and (even) cooler temps. We can practically taste the pumpkin spice lattes already.

That said, there are still a few weeks left to stock up on fresh air before you pack your bags for the suburbs or buy your plane ticket home for Rosh Hashanah and settle onto the couch for hibernation.

Chicago tradition dictates the aggressive enjoyment of nice weather until the LAST DAMN DAY WE CAN, right? With that in mind, from our rooftop barstool to yours, here are Oy!Chicago’s top picks for sending 5774 off with a bang:

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And while you're at it, check out our High Holidays Holiday kit with lots of wonderful ideas and suggestions to make your HHD fun and fulfilling.

Rosh Hashana, Circa 1919

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 7:00am
By JOAN NATHAN for The New York Times

Shiva Shapiro“SHALOM ALEICHEM!” Shiva Shapiro said in a heavy Yiddish accent to her visitors.

As she deftly stuffed cabbage leaves with rice and stewed tomatoes, and displayed other dishes she has made on her 1900 Beauty Hub coal stove, Ms. Shapiro drew her guests into her life.

“This is 1919,” she said. “Last year was the end of the influenza epidemic and the end of the war to end all wars. We’re a Jewish family and we’re keeping kosher in our home. I don’t read English, only Yiddish and Hebrew. My daughter Mollie learned about bananas at school. I think that bananas are mushy, but I take her to buy a hand of bananas for 25 cents.”

Mrs. Shapiro is actually Barbara Ann Paster, one of the actors here at the Strawbery Banke restoration, a living museum in which over 350 years of Portsmouth homes, stores, churches and history have been preserved. It is in Puddle Dock, which was a decrepit neighborhood destined to be razed under urban renewal until a campaign in the 1950s and ’60s led by the town librarian saved 42 houses on 10 acres to create the museum.

The area was first settled in 1623 by the English, who found a profusion of strawberries there. By the turn of the 20th century Italians, Irish, English, French-Canadians and East European Jews had come here to find work. Although most immigrants at that time settled in large cities, some settled directly in smaller towns like Portsmouth. By 1919, 152 Russian Jews made up about a quarter of the immigrant population of Puddle Dock and 18 of them were Shapiro relatives, according to the museum.

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Watching ‘The Producers,’ Nearly 50 Years Later

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 7:00am
Mel Brooks’ 1968 film evoked laughs in the face of the obscene. It still does today.
By Isabel Fattal for Tablet Magazine

The ProducersWhen I sat down to watch The Producers last weekend, I was prepared for the humor to be somewhat obscene. Having already seen Spaceballs and History of the World Part I, I was familiar with Mel Brooks’ style. But The Producers reached an entirely new level. I love Brooks’ sense of humor, but still I wondered if it was OK to laugh—while wincing—when the female SS officers dance in a Swastika formation during the first performance of Springtime for Hitler. Still, my discomfort was short-lived, and I didn’t find it too difficult to decide to just laugh at and enjoy the film.

My proximity to the film’s subject matter perhaps helped make me feel more comfortable laughing along with The Producers. As a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I felt like my personal connection somehow allowed me to be entertained rather than offended. After all, laughing at one’s own history and identity seems more appropriate than laughing at the plight of others. This seems to have been true for Brooks as well; watching the film, I wondered if another writer or director who didn’t share Brooks’ background as the descendant of German and Ukrainian Jews would have been able to take the film to its extreme levels of obscenity—the key to its success.

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The kosher controversy at Sainsbury's speaks to a profound problem: acquiescence to anti-Semitism

Mon, 09/01/2014 - 7:00am
Brendan O'Neill in Mosaic Magazine

SainsburyWere you outraged by a Sainsbury's store's decision over the weekend to hide away its kosher foods in an attempt to placate anti-Israel protesters? You should have been. For this incident, though seemingly a one-off, speaks to a profound problem in Europe today – the respectable classes' acquiescence to anti-Semitism; their willingness to accept anti-Semitic sentiment as a fact of life and to shrug it off or, worse, kowtow to it.

The kosher incident took place at the Sainsbury's in Holborn in London. When a mob of anti-Israel protesters gathered outside the store, the manager took the extraordinary decision to take all kosher products off the shelves lest the protesters target them and smash them up. Kosher foods, of course, are Jewish not Israeli; they are part of the Jewish dietary requirement, not part of any kind of Israeli food corporatism. To shamefacedly hide away such foodstuffs in order to appease a gang of hot-headed Israel-haters is an attack on a religious people and their rights, not on the Israeli state. That in Britain in 2014 we have store managers taking kosher foods off public display should be of concern to anyone who hates prejudice and racism.

So does this mean Sainsbury's is anti-Semitic? No. It doesn't even show that anyone at the Sainsbury's in Holborn is anti-Semitic. But it does shine a light on the modern phenomenon of acquiescence to anti-Semitism, the rank unwillingness of influential people and institutions to face up to anti-Semitic sentiment and their preference for moulding the world around it rather than challenging it. Imagine if a Sainsbury's manager suggested that the best way to deal with a racist in his store was to remove the black employees who were offending him. There would be outrage. Yet this weekend, in central, apparently civilised London, a manager decided that the best way to deal with people possessed of a possibly anti-Semitic outlook was to hide away the Jew stuff, lest they see it and feel disgusted by it.

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I’m Turning into My Mother-in-Law & I Think I Like it

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 7:00am
By Stacy Reiber for Raising Kvell

I’m Turning into My Mother-in-Law“Mah Jongg is an old lady game.”

I tried to block out those words as I carried the small red suitcase of tiles to my first lesson. I had fully assumed I wouldn’t like it, but honestly, once I understood the whole “crack bam dot” business, it was a blast. Challenging, fast moving and competitive, all of the qualities I like best in a game.

“So I like Mah Jongg,” I told myself, “doesn’t mean I’m old.”

Then came the Danielle Steel novels. My kids and I were at the library and I had to choose my books while simultaneously making sure they didn’t put their hands in the newly-installed waterfall (easier said than done since the librarian had already warned me once after catching them in the act). Wanting something light and mindless that I knew I could read on the beach, I chose Danielle Steel (my book club would be horrified). That was the day I realized I’m not only getting old–I am turning into my mother-in-law.

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Is Schindler a Projection of Spielberg Himself?

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 7:00am
‘Schindler’s List’ is a story of redemption—for both the film’s protagonist and its director
By Gabriel Sanders for Tablet Magazine

Schindler a Projection of Spielberg In a 1994 New Yorker profile that appeared a few months after the release of Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg spoke candidly about how his Holocaust epic had transformed him.

In the past, he told the magazine’s Stephen Schiff, there had been projects he’d done for the money—things like the Indiana Jones sequels and Jurassic Park. “But,” he added, “these days I’d rather make the more difficult choices. I was just so challenged by Schindler’s List and so fulfilled by it and so disturbed by it. It so shook up my life, in a good way, that I think I got a little taste of what a lot of other directors have existed on all through their careers.”

Schindler’s List is also a story of transformation—of a hunger for money giving way to a higher calling. At its outset, Oskar Schindler is a dissolute, if charismatic, figure: a womanizer, a war profiteer, an opportunist. It’s more than an hour into the film before the girl in the red coat prompts his course-altering epiphany, and then another hour before the compilation of the list that secures his place in history.

Spielberg has often used characters who serve as stand-ins for himself: Roy Neary, the everyman visionary of Close Encounters; Upham, the brainy cartographer of Saving Private Ryan. Schindler fits squarely into this tradition. He’s a showman, a stager of spectacles, a Mitteleuropean P.T. Barnum. His talents, he tells Ben Kingsley’s Itzhak Stern, lie not so much with work but with “the presentation.” It’s perhaps no coincidence that the name by which Schindler goes most frequently is “Herr Direktor.”

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Word of the Day / Hamas: The terror movement that didn't do its Hebrew homework

Mon, 08/11/2014 - 7:00am
It's quite the coincidence that 'Hamas' the terror group is spelled differently from 'hamas' the nasty act, but both originate from an Aramaic word for 'hard'
By Shoshana Kordova for Haaretz

HamasIt’s pretty safe to assume that the Islamic terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip didn’t conduct market research on the meaning and resonance of the organization’s name in Hebrew before choosing to call itself Hamas.

The Arabic name of the group is widely described as an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (“Islamic Resistance Movement”) as well as an Arabic word meaning “zeal.” But unlike "Islamic Jihad," say, or "Al-Qaida," the name “Hamas” is not just an Arabic term or an English translation of one. It also happens to be a Hebrew word meaning “violence,” among other things.

Hamas – or rather, the lowercased hamas – has been around since antediluvian times. In fact, it was one of the reasons God flooded the earth, according to Genesis: “And the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence [hamas]” (6:11).

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Tayyip Erdogan Vows To Protect Turkish Jews

Mon, 08/04/2014 - 7:00am
Premier Says Israel Harms Jewry With 'Fraudulent Policies'

ErdoganTurkey will keep its Jewish citizens safe, but the Jewish community should denounce Israel, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a Turkish newspaper.

“Jews in Turkey are our citizens. We are responsible for their security of life and property,” Erdogan told the Daily Sabah.

He added: “I talked with our Jewish citizens’ leaders on Thursday and I stated that they should adopt a firm stance and release a statement against the Israeli government. I will contact them [Jewish leaders in Turkey] again, but whether or not they release a statement, we will never let Jewish people in Turkey get hurt.”

He said, according to the newspaper, that the Jewish leaders in Turkey should criticize “Israeli aggression,” and that the Israeli government “abuses all Jewish people around the world for its fraudulent policies.”

Erdogan on Friday criticized the United Nations for being “silent” on Israel’s operation in Gaza and said that Turkey has had difficulty delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza because of Israeli restrictions.

In an interview with CNN, Erdogan said that “If Israel is sincere on establishing a cease-fire, we will convince Hamas [to do the same].”

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