Oct 29, 2008

JTA: "R.A.'s choice of female rabbi makes history"

R.A.'s choice of female rabbi makes history

Julie Schoenfeld was chosen as the first female rabbi to helm an American rabbinical association.

Schoenfeld was named Wednesday as the new executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the Conservative movement's rabbinic group. She will succeed Rabbi Joel Meyers, who will step down July 1.

Schoenfeld is the first female rabbi to serve in the chief executive position of an American rabbinical association.

A graduate of Yale University and ordained in 1997 by the Jewish Theological Seminary, Schoenfeld is currently the Rabbinical Assembly's director of rabbinic development.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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a beautiful picture of our aron dedication!

a prayer to use when voting this Tuesday!

Dear Chevre,

The following prayer, written by Rabbi David Seidenberg (founder of Neohasid.org), is non-partisan and gives Jewish depth and context to the act of voting. Please note that it makes reference to this week's parshah and also has a place to make a pledge for tikkun olam based on the custom of pledging tzedakah when called to the Torah.  You can download a pdf of the prayer, with linear Hebrew and English,  or just English, from

Kol Tuv,
Rabbi Creditor 

a prayer to use when voting
Rabbi David Seidenberg

With my vote today I am prepared and intending to seek peace for this country, as it is written:

"Seek out the peace of the city where I cause you to roam and pray for her sake to Yah Adonai, for in her peace you all will have peace." (Jer. 29:7)

May it be Your will that votes will be counted faithfully and may You account my vote as if I had fulfilled this verse with all my power.

May it be good in Your eyes to give a wise heart to whomever we elect today and may You raise for us a government whose rule is for good and blessing to bring justice and peace to all the inhabitants of the world and to Jerusalem, for rulership is Yours!

Just as I participated in elections today so may I merit to do good deeds and repair the world with all my actions, and with the act of...[fill in your pledge] which I pledge to do today on behalf of all living beings and in remembrance of the covenant of Noah's waters to protect and to not destroy the earth and her plenitude.

May You give to all the peoples of this country, the strength and will to pursue righteousness and to seek peace as unified force in order to cause to flourish, throughout the world, good life and peace and may You fulfill for us the verse:

"May the pleasure of Yah Adonai our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands for us, may the work of our hands endure." (Ps. 90:17)


Oct 28, 2008

Religious “No!” to Proposition 8

The Jewish Journal

October 28, 2008

Religious "No!" to Proposition 8

http://www.jewishjournal.com/ opinion/article/religious_no_to_proposition_8_20081028/

"My Christian friends say homosexuality is a sin. Isn't Judaism based on the same Old Testament bible?  How does our synagogue welcome homosexuals with acceptance and equality?"
I was substituting for our rabbi in our 10th grade confirmation class.  Homosexuality is not a curriculum subject.  The student asking the question, though, obviously struggled with conflicting messages.
On the one hand, Leviticus says when a man lies with another man like a woman, it is an abomination and they shall be put to death.  On the other hand, the Union of Reform Judaism, the denomination in which our synagogue affiliates, officially responded in 1989 to "gay rights' as a civil rights issue and wrote a policy of inclusion statement.  
Included in the statement was a specific reference to "gay" and "lesbian" Jews, inviting them directly to become future prospective temple members and potential Reform denomination leaders.  The direct invitation indicated Reform Judaism was officially extending acceptance and equality to previously excluded Jews.  How could Union leaders pass a resolution that contradicts the Torah?  The question is easy to answer.
Reform Jews often do not read the bible literally.  In the Torah (the first five biblical books) the death penalty is mentioned as punishment for a number of crimes no one would implement today.   In Deuteronomy, the 'wayward and defiant son' (the teen boy disrespecting parents) should receive capitol punishment.  In Numbers, the Sabbath violator should also lose his life. In these two cases, no one argues the punishment fits the crime.  Why disregard or re-interpret the bible in these instances but take literally the sin of two men engaging in homosexual activity?  
The Torah is a holy document. It is not, though, a perfect work.  Reform Jews believe the sacred books in our literary cannon were written not by God but by people.   In other words, biblical and rabbinic authors may have been divinely inspired but they were still infallible human beings.  The written word, therefore, always reflects human imperfection.  The context of time a text was written should always be taken into consideration. 
Child sacrifices, animal cruelty, and inhumane slavery were inherent features of the pagan cult. In biblical times, it's easy to understand how our Israelite ancestors strived to disassociate themselves from nations that performed horrific cultic practices.  It is easy, in establishing an ethical monotheistic covenant, to understand how our biblical ancestors could over-state their condemnation of particular pagan behaviors.
Rabbi Bradley Artson, a friend and mentor, is Dean of the Rabbinic School at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.  When Bradley Artson was a student studying to become a rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary, he did an interesting academic project. 
He looked up every reference he could find to homosexual activity mentioned in ancient Greek and Latin writers.  Every citation he found described an encounter between males where one party, the master, physically abused another, the slave.  Rabbi Artson could not find a single example where one partner was not subservient to the other.
"Homosexual relationships today," Rabbi Artson says, "should not be compared to the ancient world.  I know too many homosexual individuals, including close friends and relatives, who are committed to one another in loving long-term monogamous relationships.  I know too many same-sex couples that are loving parents raising good descent ethical children. Who's to say their family relationships are less sanctified in the eyes of God than mine is with my wife and our children?"
"We are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us." Reform Jews frequently look to this popular refrain as guidance when making important ethical decisions.
On the one hand, by standing on our ancestors' shoulders, Reform Jews know we have roots to the past that help place in proper context our visions of the future. On the other, by standing on past shoulders, we can see further and clearer in their horizon's future than previous generations could imagine.
Proposition 8 is California ballot initiative that legally restricts marriage to only a relationship between a man and a woman, depriving gays and lesbians a state mandated constitutional civil right.  In opposing this ballot-measure, I know I am optimistically standing on firm religious ground. 

Elliot Fein, a graduate of the American Jewish University and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, is Education Director at Temple Beth David in Westminster, California. 

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Oct 23, 2008

a wonderful TIME article: "Why Barack Obama Is Winning"

Why Barack Obama Is Winning

General David Petraeus deployed overwhelming force when he briefed Barack Obama and two other Senators in Baghdad last July. He knew Obama favored a 16-month timetable for the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq, and he wanted to make the strongest possible case against it. And so, after he had presented an array of maps and charts and PowerPoint slides describing the current situation on the ground in great detail, Petraeus closed with a vigorous plea for "maximum flexibility" going forward.

Obama had a choice at that moment. He could thank Petraeus for the briefing and promise to take his views "under advisement." Or he could tell Petraeus what he really thought, a potentially contentious course of action — especially with a general not used to being confronted. Obama chose to speak his mind. "You know, if I were in your shoes, I would be making the exact same argument," he began. "Your job is to succeed in Iraq on as favorable terms as we can get. But my job as a potential Commander in Chief is to view your counsel and interests through the prism of our overall national security." Obama talked about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, the financial costs of the occupation of Iraq, the stress it was putting on the military.

A "spirited" conversation ensued, one person who was in the room told me. "It wasn't a perfunctory recitation of talking points. They were arguing their respective positions, in a respectful way." The other two Senators — Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed — told Petraeus they agreed with Obama. According to both Obama and Petraeus, the meeting — which lasted twice as long as the usual congressional briefing — ended agreeably. Petraeus said he understood that Obama's perspective was, necessarily, going to be more strategic. Obama said that the timetable obviously would have to be flexible. But the Senator from Illinois had laid down his marker: if elected President, he would be in charge. Unlike George W. Bush, who had given Petraeus complete authority over the war — an unprecedented abdication of presidential responsibility (and unlike John McCain, whose hero worship of Petraeus bordered on the unseemly) — Obama would insist on a rigorous chain of command.

Barack Obama has prospered in this presidential campaign because of the steadiness of his temperament and the judicious quality of his decision-making. They are his best-known qualities. The most important decision he has made — the selection of a running mate — was done carefully, with an exhaustive attention to detail and contemplation of all the possible angles. Two months later, as John McCain's peremptory selection of Governor Sarah Palin has come to seem a liability, it could be argued that Obama's quiet selection of Joe Biden defined the public's choice in the general-election campaign. But not every decision can be made so carefully. There are a thousand instinctive, instantaneous decisions that a presidential candidate has to make in the course of a campaign — like whether to speak his mind to a General Petraeus — and this has been a more difficult journey for Obama, since he's far more comfortable when he's able to think things through. "He has learned to trust his gut," an Obama adviser told me. "He wasn't so confident in his instincts last year. It's been the biggest change I've seen in him."

I asked Obama about gut decisions, in an interview on his plane 17 days before the election. It was late on a Saturday night, and he looked pretty tired, riddled with gray hair and not nearly as young as when I'd first met him four years earlier. He had drawn 175,000 people to two events in Missouri that day, larger crowds than I'd ever seen at a campaign event, and he would be endorsed by Colin Powell the next morning. He seemed as relaxed as ever, though, unfazed by the hoopla or the imminence of the election. Our conversation was informal but intense. He seemed to be thinking in my presence, rather than just reciting talking points, and it took him some time to think through my question about gut decisions. He said the first really big one was how to react when incendiary videos of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's black-nationalist sermons surfaced last spring. "The decision to make it big as opposed to make it small," Obama said of the landmark speech on race relations he delivered in Philadelphia. "My gut was telling me that this was a teachable moment and that if I tried to do the usual political damage control instead of talking to the American people like ... they were adults and could understand the complexities of race, I would be not only doing damage to the campaign but missing an important opportunity for leadership."

The speech was followed by a more traditional form of damage control when Wright showed up in Washington still spewing racial nonsense: Obama cut him loose. And while Obama has followed a fairly traditional political path in this campaign, his strongest — and most telling — moments have been those when he followed his natural no-drama instincts. This has been confusing to many of my colleagues and to me, at times, as well: his utter caution in the debates, his decision not to zing McCain or even to challenge him very much, led me to assume — all three times — that he hadn't done nearly as well as the public ultimately decided he had. McCain was correct when he argued that Obama's aversion to drama led him to snuggle a bit too close to the Democratic Party's orthodoxy. But one of the more remarkable spectacles of the 2008 election — unprecedented in my time as a journalist — was the unanimity among Democrats on matters of policy once the personality clash between Obama and Hillary Clinton was set aside. There was no squabbling between old and new Dems, progressives and moderates, over race or war or peace. This was a year for no-drama Democrats, which made Obama as comfortable a fit for them as McCain was awkward for the Republican base.

And at the crucial moment of the campaign — the astonishing onset of the financial crisis — it was Obama's gut steadiness that won the public's trust, and quite possibly the election. On the afternoon when McCain suspended his campaign, threatened to scuttle the Sept. 26 debate and hopped a plane back to Washington to try to resolve the crisis, Obama was in Florida doing debate prep with his top advisers. When he was told about McCain's maneuvers, Obama's first reaction — according to an aide — was, "You gotta be kidding. I'm going to debate. A President has to be able to do more than one thing at a time." But there was a storm brewing among Obama's supporters in Congress and the Beltway establishment. "My BlackBerry was exploding," said an Obama aide. "They were saying we had to suspend. McCain was going to look more like a statesman, above the fray."

"I didn't believe it," Obama told me. "I have to tell you, one of the benefits of running this 22-month gauntlet is that ... you start realizing that what seems important or clever or in need of some dramatic moment a lot of times just needs reflection and care. And I think that was an example of where my style at least worked." Obama realized that he and McCain could be little more than creative bystanders — and one prominent Republican told me that McCain was "the least creative person in the room at the President's White House meeting. He simply had no ideas. He didn't even have any good questions." Obama had questions for the Treasury Secretary and the Fed chairman, but he was under no illusions: he didn't have the power to influence the final outcome, so it was best to stay calm and not oversell his role. It was an easy call, his natural bias. But, Obama acknowledged, "There are going to be some times where ... I won't have the luxury of thinking through all the angles."

Which is why the Petraeus moment is so interesting. Obama's gut reaction was to go against his normal palliative impulse and to challenge the general instead. "I felt it was necessary to make that point ... precisely because I respect Petraeus and [Ambassador Ryan] Crocker," Obama said, after he reluctantly acknowledged that my reporting of the meeting was correct. "Precisely because they've been doing a good job ... And I want them to understand that I'm taking their arguments seriously." Obama endorses Petraeus' new post, as the commanding general at Central Command, with responsibility for overseeing both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. "He's somebody who cares about facts and cares about the reality on the ground. I don't think he comes at this with an ideological predisposition. That's one of the reasons why I think he's been successful in moving the ball forward in Iraq. And I hope that he's applying that same perspective to what's happening in Afghanistan."

Actually, Obama and Petraeus seem to be thinking along similar lines with regard to Afghanistan. I mentioned that Petraeus had recently given a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation in which he raised the possibility of negotiating with the Taliban. "You know, I think this is one useful lesson that is applicable from Iraq," Obama said without hesitation. "The Sunni awakening changed the dynamic in Iraq fundamentally," he said, referring to the Petraeus-led effort to turn the Sunni tribes away from the more radical elements of the insurgency. "Whether there are those same opportunities in Afghanistan I think should be explored," he said. In fact, senior U.S. military officials have told me that there is a possibility of splitting Pashtun tribes away from the Taliban in the south of Afghanistan. "But we have to do it through the Karzai government," a senior officer told me, referring to the fact that the Army had acted independently of the Maliki government in creating the Anbar Awakening. "That is one lesson we've learned from Iraq."

Almost exactly two years ago, I had my first formal interview with Barack Obama — and he appeared on this magazine's cover for the first time. It wasn't an easy interview. His book The Audacity of Hope had just been published, but his policy proposals didn't seem very audacious. He actually grew a bit testy when I pushed him on the need for universal health insurance and a more aggressive global-warming policy — neither of which he supported. He has stayed with his less-than-universal health-care plan, and I still find it less than convincing. And his cap-and-trade program to control carbon emissions has taken a backseat to the economic crisis — although Obama insisted that he still favored such a plan, so long as consumers are cushioned with rebates when energy prices rise.

But Obama seems a more certain policymaker now, if not exactly a wonk in the Clintonian sense. He has a clearer handle on the big picture, on how various policy components fit together, and a strong sense of what his top priority would be. He wants to launch an "Apollo project" to build a new alternative-energy economy. His rationale for doing so includes some hard truths about the current economic mess: "The engine of economic growth for the past 20 years is not going to be there for the next 20. That was consumer spending. Basically, we turbocharged this economy based on cheap credit." But the days of easy credit are over, Obama said, "because there is too much deleveraging taking place, too much debt." A new economic turbocharger is going to have to be found, and "there is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy ... That's going to be my No. 1 priority when I get into office."

That sort of clarity is new. At the beginning of the year, Donna Brazile said of Obama, "We know he can walk on water — now where are the loaves and fishes?" The inability to describe his priorities, the inability to speak directly to voters in ways they could easily comprehend, plagued Obama through much of the primary season. His tendency to use big rhetoric in front of big crowds led to McCain's one good spell, after Obama presumptuously spoke to a huge throng in Berlin after his successful Middle East trip. Only a President should make a major address like that overseas. Obama seemed to learn quickly from that mistake; his language during the general-election campaign has been simple, direct and pragmatic. His best moments in the debates came when he explained what he wanted to do as President. His very best moment came in the town-hall debate when he explained how the government bailout would affect average people who were hurting: if companies couldn't get credit from the banks, they couldn't make their payrolls and would have to start laying people off. McCain, by contrast, demonstrated why it's so hard for Senators to succeed as presidential candidates: he talked about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the sins of Obama, and never brought the argument home.

But even with his new populist skills, Obama hasn't been as plain as he could be. If an Apollo project to create a new alternative-energy economy is his highest priority, as he told me, why hasn't he given a major speech about it during the fall campaign? Why hasn't he begun to mobilize the nation for this next big mission? In part, I suppose, because campaigns are about firefighting — and this campaign in particular has been about "the fierce urgency of now," to use one of Obama's favorite phrases by Martin Luther King Jr., because of the fears raised by the financial crisis and because of the desperate, ferocious attacks launched by his opponent.

If he wins, however, there will be a different challenge. He will have to return, full force, to the inspiration business. The public will have to be mobilized to face the fearsome new economic realities. He will also have to deliver bad news, to transform crises into "teachable moments." He will have to effect a major change in our political life: to get the public and the media to think about long-term solutions rather than short-term balms. Obama has given some strong indications that he will be able to do this, having remained levelheaded through a season of political insanity. His has been a remarkable campaign, as smoothly run as any I've seen in nine presidential cycles. Even more remarkable, Obama has made race — that perennial, gaping American wound — an afterthought. He has done this by introducing a quality to American politics that we haven't seen in quite some time: maturity. He is undoubtedly as ego-driven as everyone else seeking the highest office — perhaps more so, given his race, his name and his lack of experience. But he has not been childishly egomaniacal, in contrast to our recent baby-boomer Presidents — or petulant, in contrast to his opponent. He does not seem needy. He seems a grown-up, in a nation that badly needs some adult supervision.

Oct 17, 2008

NY Jewish Week: A Movement in Transition

A Movement In Transition

by Stewart Ain
Staff Writer - NY Jewish Week
Rabbi Elliott Cosgrove, right, Steven M. Friedman, Park Avenue Synagogue's board chairman, at the rabbi's recent installation.The Conservative movement's beliefs and practices need clarifying, Rabbi Cosgrove says. Courtesy of Park Avenue Synagogue
When the Conservative movement was faced with contradictory rabbinic rulings regarding gay ordination two years ago, a young Chicago rabbi tried to find a common theological view. 

Now the rabbi, Elliot Cosgrove, is again pushing the envelope, calling upon the Conservative movement to re-examine its institutional structure "in a way that is coherent to the very Jews it claims to serve."

Rabbi Cosgrove, who was installed last month as the senior rabbi of the 1,500-family Park Avenue Synagogue on East 87th Street, perhaps Manhattan's flagship Conservative shul, pointed out in an interview that it was nearly 100 years ago that "Solomon Schechter set up the Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue and the Jewish Theological Seminary."

"It strikes me that a fair question is whether this organizational model is the most effective structure 100 years later," said the rabbi, 36, whose appointment here is seen as recognition that he is one of the new leaders of the Conservative movement.

Such a re-examination now would be opportune because the senior paid executives of both the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue will be retiring next year, Rabbi Cosgrove noted.

"The moment of transition is precisely the moment to raise the question about the next 100 years of the movement, not to mention the fact that I always look at this from the vantage point of the Jews in the pews," he said.

With the current structure, the "Jews in the pews" have what Rabbi Cosgrove described as "the Herculean task of sorting out a single movement as represented by the seminary, the United Synagogue, the Rabbinical Assembly, Masorti [the movement in Israel], Masorti Olami [the movement in South America and Europe], the University of Judaism, Women's League and the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs."

Not only is the movement's infrastructure confusing, he maintained, but the movement's beliefs and practices are also in need of clarification in light of a narrowing of differences between Conservative and Reform Judaism.

"I would like to see Chancellor Arnold Eisen and President [David] Ellenson clearly clarify the difference between Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism, both in theory and in practice," he said.

Eisen is chancellor of the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary and Rabbi Ellenson is president of the Reform movement's Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Rabbi Cosgrove's call for such a clarification comes at a time when the Conservative movement's ideology is in a state of flux. The former provost of the movement's Jewish Theological Seminary, Jack Wertheimer, wrote in Commentary magazine last year that the movement's split decision on gay ordination "has taken on the signs of ideological impasse" and that the movement should "get back to basics."

The Conservative movement, Wertheimer maintained, "has relied mostly on assertions of what it is not ... rather than on affirmations of what it is."

Rabbi Cosgrove pointed out that the Reform movement "is showing increased attention to Jewish rituals, the Hebrew language and observance" while the Conservative movement "is seeking to position itself as a viable halachic [Jewish law] alternative to Orthodoxy. And people are asking, 'Where precisely is the line between Reform and Conservative Judaism?'"

At the same time, the rabbi observed that American Jewry is "increasingly if not entirely post-denominational."

"I don't think movement labels bring people to the door," he said. "People are looking for relevant, dynamic and compelling communities that enable their Judaism to speak to their day-to-day lives. The challenge the Conservative movement faces is how to communicate the values the movement stands for in a post-denominational world.

"I firmly believe with a full heart that American Jews want a passionate, uplifting Jewish life that doesn't ask them to check their intellect at the door. I believe American Jews are searching for the language of how to affirm their own faith while respecting the integrity of other faith claims. The ideals Conservative Judaism stands for are just as relevant now as they ever were. The problem of Conservative Judaism isn't what we believe in — we are very well positioned to meet the special needs of our time. The problem is that we as a movement are akin to the man in the classic parable who goes searching the world for a treasure that is ultimately discovered beneath his own home."

Rabbi Cosgrove, a native of Los Angeles whose father was president of Sinai Temple there and whose grandfather served as an Orthodox rabbi in Glasgow, Scotland, said the Conservative movement's ability to adapt with the times is part of its strength.

"A movement doesn't require a fixed ideological position," he said. "It represents a critical conversation for the future vitality of our people. ... The excitement of Conservative Judaism is that it includes two ideologies like Rabbi Gordon Tucker's and Rabbi Joel Roth's," who espouse opposite opinions on gay ordination.

Their debate, Rabbi Cosgrove argued, "draws our attention to the nature of the halachic process. Movements aren't static. They evolve and a movement that claims to always be aware of historical context inevitably will always be responsive to the community of Jews in which it functions."

But there are limits to where the Conservative movement should go despite a changing world, said Rabbi Cosgrove, who was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary and previously served as spiritual leader of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago. One is patrilineal descent, which says that a person is a Jew if he or she was born to a Jewish father or mother and then formally identifies with the Jewish faith, or who converted to Judaism.

Although the Reform movement adopted this position in 1983, both the Conservative and Orthodox movements continue to recognize matrilineal descent, in which Jewish identity is passed through the mother only or by conversion. The Talmud says matrilineal descent is Torah law.

Rabbi Cosgrove said matrilineal descent "needs to remain firm, and our continued efforts to encourage building Jewish marriages should be ongoing."

He noted that the Conservative movement "is showing an increasing willingness to reach out to the non-Jew in a Jewish family. ... It's inconceivable to me to teach, preach or practice a vision of Jewish life that doesn't acknowledge that most North American Jewish families have a non-Jewish member somewhere in them. In-marriage is still a Jewish value, and so what we're seeking to do is to create an inclusive mode of Jewish existence that still places a premium on core Jewish values."

Reflecting upon his new position here, Rabbi Cosgrove said his challenge is to "bring the spirit of religious entrepreneurship to synagogue life. ... The opportunity for me as the rabbi of Park Avenue Synagogue is how to take that energy and bring it within the four walls of this institution. And more importantly, how to bring the Jews of the Upper East Side into the Park Avenue Synagogue family."

"If one day I can walk into this building and see a packed room of excited high school students, that would mean they have come up through the system, celebrated their bar or bat mitzvah and continued developing their Jewish identities. We would be sending them off to college with a deep commitment to their Judaism. At that point I'd know that I have done something great. ... "The holy grail for me is when the children of Park Avenue Synagogue return to New York for their first jobs or graduate school and walk back in as adults to the congregation in which they grew up."

As children played noisily on the street outside of his synagogue office, Rabbi Cosgrove, married and the father of four, summed up his thoughts about the Conservative movement.

"There is no catechism to the Conservative movement — no one dogma," he said. "The question is not which checklist of beliefs you want to sign off on. The question for post-denominational Jewry is which movement best represents your aspirations and your struggles as a contemporary Jew. I believe the values that Conservative Judaism struggles with and elevates are precisely those that are of deepest concern to American Jewry."

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

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La'asok: Weekly Adult Torah Study @ Congregation Netivot Shalom

La'asok: Weekly Adult Torah Study
@ Congregation Netivot Shalom
1316 University Ave., Berkeley, CA

Join this new weekly opportunity for adults to learn Torah with Rabbi Menachem Creditor and Rabbi Shalom Bochner of Congregation Netivot Shalom! Each week will focus on the upcoming Torah portion, and Rabbis Bochner and Creditor will alternate each week as presenter. Sessions will take place in the library. Please bring your own vegetarian/dairy lunch.  The first session in the series will take place on Oct. 29th.  For more information, please contact us at education@netivotshalom.org and consult the Netivot Shalom online calendar for updated information.

Oct 11, 2008

Gilad Shalit is still in captivity - who is to blame?

ANALYSIS / Gilad Shalit is still in captivity - who is to blame?
By Amos Harel

The approaching end of Ehud Olmert's term as prime minister has coincided with a wave of media reports about Gilad Shalit's abduction and the ongoing negotiations over his release.

Why now? Because it seems as though Olmert, despite his recent efforts to find a compromise that would salvage the negotiations, is likely to end his term with Shalit still in captivity. Thus this is an appropriate time for an interim assessment.

The gloomy picture includes a lot of bad blood, both personal and organizational. Everyone involved in the affair, from the kidnapping itself to the negotiations, has failed; thus they all have an interest in trying to shift some of the blame to others. This is not just a matter of the strain between Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak; it includes tension between the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service and within the IDF itself.

Following are the principal points at issue:

b The kidnapping itself. Here, there is no argument that the blame lies mainly with the IDF. But there are numerous subsidiary disputes: How precise was the warning the Shin Bet relayed before the abduction? Could the interrogation of Hamas operative Mustafa Muammar have produced critical information sooner? Did the 24-hour delay in his arrest result in vital information being obtained too late?

b The failure to locate Shalit. For over a year, the IDF and the Shin Bet have been quarreling over who is responsible for obtaining precise information about where Shalit is being held - a necessary condition for any rescue attempt. The IDF accuses the Shin Bet of apathy and lack of initiative; the Shin Bet charges that the army is not allocating enough resources to this matter. About six months ago, Olmert laid the blame squarely on the Shin Bet.

b The failure to conclude a deal. For this, much of the blame obviously rests with Hamas' exaggerated demands. But Israel's leadership is divided over what price the country ought to pay: Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, who opposes a large-scale prisoner release and presents data showing that a significant percentage of prisoners released in the past have resumed terrorist activity, is at odds with IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and the government's lead negotiator, Ofer Dekel, who believe that time is running out for a deal. Members of the IDF General Staff wonder whether Diskin would take a similarly hard line had the victim been a Shin Bet agent.

b The link between Shalit and the truce in Gaza. Israel walked into this trap with open eyes. Last week, Olmert's associates blamed Barak for it, but in truth, the entire government knew quite well that Egypt's pledge to accelerate the talks over Shalit once the Gaza border crossings were reopened was vague, and that Hamas did not necessarily feel bound by it.

As a footnote to all these disputes, Yedioth Ahronoth last week published a chapter from the book Dekel is writing about the negotiations he conducted with Hezbollah over the return of the bodies of two other kidnapped soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Nothing could better illustrate the "end-of-term" atmosphere on Israel's side. And that atmosphere might be justified were it not for one minor detail: Gilad Shalit is still in captivity.


Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

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Oct 9, 2008

Yom Kippur 5769: “Eyes on the Prize”

Yom Kippur 5769: "Eyes on the Prize"
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Last night I had a dream about a home that was so bright.
I don't know why it had to be a dream.
Why can't I? Where will I? God help me.  Help me find a home.
Keep your eyes on the prize.  Don't be dismayed, don't be dismayed.
Deep in your heart you must believe everything is gonna be alright someday.

- "Eyes on the Prize", Harry Stewart
from the film Green Card

We have so much work to do.  So much work to do.

And it is easy to become dismayed.  I had been planning, in this Yom Kippur Drasha, to talk about the hope that eludes whose eyes are open to the unfathomable burdens of our world.  I was planning on singing the words of that very powerful song to share how dismayed I've felt, how overwhelmed I feel almost every day by the needs of the world around us.  The world is so much with us, too much with us.  There is just so much to do.  So much that needs to be addressed.

And then I listened this past Sunday to Valentino Achak Deng speak in our shul's sanctuary.  I wept deeper and deeper while hearing of his exile from Southern Sudan with millions of displaced refugees, witnessing horrors beyond comprehension, how he eventually made it to Atlanta where, with Dave Eggers, he launched a book –a movement – to change the world by starting a foundation to educate children, girls in particular, in Murai Bai, his home community.  He shared his own life stories and pictures of the construction of the first secondary school in Sudan that we as a community have begun to fund.  But he also shared mental images from his experience that felt so unquestionably Jewish to me.  "Here was a Sudanese man sounding like I Jew," I thought to myself.

Valentino Achak Deng reminded me this past Sunday of something so precious, so overflowing, so beyond words, that everything changed inside me. 

He shared just this past Sunday with those assembled in our shul that his people - 2.5 million of whom have been murdered, 1 million who have been "eternally displaced", as he termed their persecution by both the Sudanese government and the rebels – he shared that they learned, often scribbling their school notes in the dirt they used as notebooks, about the "Oxudus" as he called it, the Israelite Exodus from oppression to freedom, Yetziat Mitzrayim

But the unleavened bread we carried on our backs through our desert wandering had a particular corollary in his narrative.  Children who attend the limited primary schools in Southern Sudan often carry their own chairs on their backs sometimes 5 miles each way.

The horrors of our sons being drowned in the nile and our families torn asunder in the Umschlagplatz, the Nazi deciding points of life and death throughout Eastern Europe during the Sho'ah were suddenly connected to the current lives and struggles of Southern Sudanese.

He sounded Jewish, I realized, because I knew my own story, our people's narrative, our pain and his teaching felt Jewish to me because I was suddenly unable to escape the universality of the pain. 

Elaine Scarry has written that "… pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it, bringing about an immediate reversion to a state [before] language, to the sounds and cries a human being makes before language is learned. (The Body in Pain, p.4)"  He knew the pain of Jewish history better than I did because it isn't limited to the Jewish experience of pain.  When a human being suffers, Valentino taught by his very presence, the language is immaterial.

What Mr. Deng shared profoundly changed me.  He said that his goal, and the goal of the foundation which now bears his name, is to make sure more children can smile.  That, he said, gives him hope.

I had been planning, my friends, on sharing how hopeless I've felt recently. 

One story after another.  Gilad Shalit's continuing imprisonment.  The upcoming election.  Our country's, (and therefore the world's) financial upheaval.  The current needs and unequal achievements of different groups of public school students in Berkeley's school system.  The defacing of a peace-promoting poster featuring an Arab Israeli on the Berkeley campus.  Illness in our community.  Contemporary Genocide.  The list just continues…

I had been planning to share how helpless I've felt.  How little I knew, and how much I've learned.

How, I was planning on asking (and hopefully addressing), can we feel hopeful in a world with so much need?

And then Valentino Achack Deng pointed out that, in the face of all he witnessed, all he's experienced, his goal, and the steps he's helping us take, is one that inspires hope in him.  He stood in our sacred sanctuary and told us all that we were family.

I met my brother this past Sunday.

How can I not, how can we not, believe in our worthy dreams when Valentino has shown us that the world can be redeemed?

We must keep our eyes on the prize, my friends.  And this is our prize – a redeemed world.  We can accept - and the world is crying out for - no less.  Judaism is a path to an Olam of Tikkun, a world of healing.  Yes, the need, as Ruth Messinger teaches us all, will always exceed the relief effort.  But, as she is quick to add, that makes the work all the more heroic. 

The world was spiritually reborn ten days ago on Rosh HaShannah.  Each of us will, must, ask ourselves this question right now, ten days late:  What have I done to change the world since then?

The shofar comes closest to the sound my heart made when Valentino taught us that his people have learned about the Holocaust and that they feel "related to us."  I broke when he said this.

He stood before a group of mostly Jewish Berkeley residents who had the luxury of sitting in a beautiful shul on upholstered chairs that we did not need to carry with us, and he was suddenly every survivor I have met.  And he was telling me to hope.  That 28-year-old survivor asked me, asked us all, to help him help children smile.

The task of living in the world is so heavy, I had been thinking.  And then Valentino rewrote a famous line of Pirkei Avot through the wisdom of his life's experience:  The work is not yours to complete, but neither are you free of it.  And so I say to us as a community right now that the work is not ours to complete, but neither are we free of it.

If social justice sounds has been, in your experience, a group of programs here and there that our shul has produced, ones you've either attended or not, I ask you to open your hearts to this message tonight.  It is a demanding one.  It is a commanding call. 

We have, no matter how desperate we believe our financial situations to be, more than we need.  This is a moral question, one the Torah itself demands us to answer.  If you have a field, give 10 percent of it to someone who needs it.  If you have time, sharing it in a purposeful way, in an act of Tzedakkah, of righteousness isn't an option – it's a mandate.  No matter how little we have, we must give.  It's not a choice.

I am struggling, have been struggling for the past year, to feel hopeful.  There is a more dire sense of chaos and fear, of contagious uncertainty than I can remember.  In conversation with friends and teachers, some have remembered crises throughout time, where they were, what they smelled, felt, saw.  It is easy to become dismayed. 


As Reb Chaim of Volozhin teaches in his magisterial Nefesh HaChayiim:

"And this is the Torah of being a person…One should never say in their heart, God forbid, 'For what am I and what is my power to enact anything through my insignificant and and deeds?  Understand, know, and set in your heart that every detail of every deed, word, and thought is not lost.  Every one of them ascends to its own Source to cause an effect in the highest Heavens. (NH 1:4)"

No act is neutral, and we can have a cosmic impact by simply thinking differently.  We choose our destinies. 

This is a difficult concept.  So much happens in the world.  Cyclones and social injustice combine to overwhelm even the prophets among us.  Can we reasonably believe in our power to heal the world?  Is 'Hope' an illusion?  

No! No! No! 

I shared just yesterday with our current Amitim students my thoughts about Valentino and the children suddenly didn't seem as child-like, paying very close attention, knowing that they were being called to something very important, and had the ability to contribute.  I shared with them that the preparation we're sharing towards their Bnei Mitzvah is actually a "key," a way of plugging into their Jewish community whose dreams are about healing the whole world.  They responded so powerfully to this. I was both humbled and inspired.

It is time to open our eyes once more and let in the very light which will allow us to illuminate the world.  As Rabbi Israel Morgenstern of Pilov is quoted as having taught: "One who does not want to see the truth will not see it, even if it demonstrated to him with clarity.  Their eyes are sealed from ever seeing it."

The mysterious power of Yom Kippur is all around us. 

We are holy people in a holy space during a holy time and the world needs us.  It needs us right now.  We are living in a time of many transitions.  The financial market not only has "measurable" impacts; it also impacts our spiritual health.  If we feel strong, we feel ever ready to contribute to the world.  When we are afraid, we question our power.  Remember the impact we each can have on the world, starting with ourselves. 

My dear friends, we are incredibly powerful. 

Every step of our precious community's journey has been a leap of soul, of faith, a demand of the universe to support something important, something holy, something worthy.  We built a home and are 39 families stronger today than we were just over one year ago.  None of this makes any sense unless we are meant to learn that by the sheer force of our spirit we can make miracles real.

Jewish Spirituality and Learning are meant to make a positive, practical difference in our daily lives - in our health, relationships, satisfaction with life, decision making and purpose.  We are committed as a shul to empowering every single member to experiencing a nurtured soul because this, in turn, reminds us of both how powerful we are, and how responsible to the world we share.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater shared the following story first told by Rabbi Avi Weiss in the book "Spiritual Activism", with which I'll close for tonight:

Once, in the kingdom of Solomon, there lived a two-headed man. Upon the death of his father, the man became embroiled in a bitter dispute with his brothers and sisters over the inheritance. "Since I have two heads," he claimed, "I deserve twice as much money as the rest of you." His siblings responded, "Perhaps you have two heads, but you only have one body. Therefore you deserve only one share." The case was brought before King Solomon, the wisest of our kings. He said, "Pour boiling water over one of the man's two heads. If the second head screams in pain, then we will know he is one person. If not, it will have been determined that the two-head person is in fact two separate independent individuals."

And so it is with our world. We have many heads, but share the same body, and when one part is in pain, we should all feel it collectively. Each human soul, Jew and non-Jew, is a head on the body of humanity, a body that right now is suffering in so many of its parts that it often seems too overwhelming to start the healing process.

Chevreh, our question is not whether or not we and the world share a body but where to start. Darfur?  Israel? The environment? The global economy?  Hurricanes?  Domestic Violence?  The war? Marriage equality? AIDS? Poverty? Homelessness?  We have work to do.  And we are powerful enough to do it.  We are called to do it.  And to do it today.

Why, with all these concerns, does a shul on University Avenue in Berkeley, CA matter?  Because, as Rabbi Brad Hirschfield has taught, "religious traditions exist not to serve the faithful, but to help the faithful serve the world."  Our shul calls each of us to be a stronger, better part of the world we share.  It is a Jewish imperative to be a global citizen.  It is a sacred task to strengthen our spiritual home which prepares us to spread justice in the world.

We begin tonight with ourselves, owning our mistakes, committing to do better as individuals.  But we are called to this work for a purpose greater than ourselves.

Keep your eyes on the prize.  Don't be dismayed, don't be dismayed.
Deep in your heart you must believe everything is gonna be alright someday.

We share a shul community.  We share a direction.  Our lives are connected.  We share a state, a country.  We share a world.  We have work to do. 

Chevreh, I bless us that we should remember that we are strong enough to change the world by sharing the load, by dreaming with our hands, and by achieving them together, step by step.

May this be a year in which so much good happens that our list of concerns shrinks just a bit.

May it be a year of health, of friendships, and of peace.





Oct 8, 2008

For yom kippur: Say What you Need to Say (By john mayer)

Take all of your wasted honor.
Every little past frustration.
Take all of your so called problems,
Better put 'em in quotations.
Say what you need to say

Walkin' like a one man army,
Fightin' with the shadows in your head.
Livin' up the same old moment
Knowin' you'd be better off instead
If you could only...Say what you need to say

Have no fear for givin' in.
Have no fear for giving over.
You better know that in the end
It's better to say too much, than never to say what you need to say again.

Even if your hands are shaking,
And your faith is broken.
Even as the eyes are closin',
Do it with a heart wide open.
Say what you need to say

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to

Oct 7, 2008

John McCain was making a bid for South Florida's Jewish voters, a crucial demographic in a purple state. But then he chose Sarah Palin as a running mate.


"I find her offensive"

John McCain was making a bid for South Florida's Jewish voters, a crucial demographic in a purple state. But then he chose Sarah Palin as a running mate.

By Tristram Korten

Oct. 06, 2008 | The local retirement community known as Century Village is just one outpost in a statewide network of Century Villages, Florida's largest chain of retirement complexes. It is also a time capsule of the New York Jewish gestalt, circa 1965, transplanted intact to the golf greens of Palm Beach County. If a small, unscientific sampling of the shoppers in the Hamptons Plaza mall, directly across from the complex, is any indication, John McCain's choice of running mates may have pushed the residents of this heavily Democratic enclave back in Barack Obama's direction.

"I was leaning towards McCain," growled Marvin Weinstein, 74, as he strode to an appointment in a doctor's office. "But I think his choice of her has turned me off."

"What I hear is she's an awful anti-Semite," George Friedberg said as he sat curbside in his Escalade. "She won't be getting my vote." Friedberg's wife, Florence, appeared at the passenger-side door, shopping bags in hand. "I was leaning towards McCain, but after he selected her I've ruled him out completely. I find her offensive."

Just a month ago, Florida was not considered top of the list among likely electoral vote pickups for Barack Obama. Since the spring McCain had held a consistent lead in the state, which dovetailed with rumors that many of South Florida's Jews, a major building block of the state's Democratic coalition, were wary of a black candidate with a Muslim middle name.

But that was before Wall Street's meltdown -- and before the full import of the Palin pick began to sink in. A poll from Quinnipiac University put Obama ahead of McCain in Florida by a substantive 51 to 43 percent as of Sept. 29, and cited "Gov. Sarah Palin's sagging favorability," among other things, as an influence.

Only about 5 percent of Florida's voters are Jewish, according to exit polls from the 2004 election. But this is a swing state with 27 electoral votes and elections here are often decided by slim margins. "You never, ever take a vote for granted in Florida," notes Democratic pollster Thomas Eldon, of Schroth & Eldon Associates. "All the votes here count, even if we don't count all the votes." George Bush owed his victory in Florida in 2000, and the presidency, in large part to the difficulty that the elderly Jewish voters of Palm Beach County had with a butterfly ballot.

In 2000, one of Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore's prime electoral-vote targets was Florida, and his running mate was an Orthodox Jew. Would-be veep Joe Lieberman made repeated trips throughout the campaign to South Florida to deliver the base. It worked: George Bush received only 12 percent of Florida's Jewish vote. Four years later, Bush improved his total, taking 20 percent, and winning the state by 5 points.

In 2008, Joe Lieberman is back, but this time to make his case for the Republican candidate. Lieberman, now an independent, was reportedly McCain's personal choice for vice president, before party pressure forced him to look elsewhere. Lieberman cut a swath through South Florida this summer on behalf of McCain, an old friend and fellow Iraq hawk. Lieberman toured a synagogue, a cafe and a Jewish community center, in Broward and Miami-Dade counties in late July, then returned in early August, a trip notable because his campaign bus hit another vehicle. He is scheduled to return to Boca Raton Monday to conduct a town hall at the local Chabad center.

This year the Republicans thought they had an opening to exploit, a poor fit between the Democrats of South Florida and their party's presidential nominee. Much of the party leadership had been aligned with Hillary Clinton; Clinton also beat Obama by 17 points in the state's controversial Jan. 29 Democratic primary. Then there was Obama's race, his middle name, rumors about his religion, and doubts about his support for Israel.

Polls seemed to confirm Obama's relative weakness. Clinton outperformed him by 5 points relative to McCain among Jewish voters nationally, according to Gallup. Obama was still winning a majority of the Jewish vote, but at around 60 percent he was lagging behind John Kerry's 2004 numbers.

The numbers weren't as bad as they seemed, but word that older Jewish voters were resisting Obama persisted through the primaries and into the fall. There were the disaffected Hillary supporters, and some who, in common with other older white voters across the country, couldn't get past Obama's race. "I play mah-jongg with someone who said, 'I would never vote for a black man.' And that just made me so angry," Obama supporter Bertha Griffith huffed outside the Hampton Plaza.

Others focused on Obama's supposed ties to Islam. "I think it has affected some people, unfortunately," says Marcy Selko, a committed Democrat and 69-year-old retired librarian who lives in Palm Beach County. "I've heard some people say, 'How could we have a president whose name is Hussein?' They said this even though they were Democrats!"

The Florida GOP jumped to exploit Obama's name and his light legislative record on Israel. "When you look at the whole picture, you realize Obama is not a friend of Israel," says Sid Dinerstein, chairman of Palm Beach County's Republican Party, who is Jewish. "It is very important for the Jewish community of Palm Beach County to make an informed decision."

Dinerstein is happy to provide information. Within a day of talking with Salon, Dinerstein forwarded nearly a dozen articles and opinion pieces from the Jerusalem Post, the Washington Times and a wide variety of other publications critical of Obama's commitment to a safe and secure Israel. One of the broadsides was an anonymously authored document titled "Obama and the Jews: Truth Checklist," and pointed out Obama's association with the Rev. Wright, and by extension Louis Farrakhan.

Then there are the anti-Obama Internet smear campaigns, not officially affiliated with any campaign, which have also reached South Florida. These accuse Obama of being a closet Muslim whose campaign is funded by Hamas. One of the most insidious is a fake Maureen Dowd article titled "Obama's Troubling Internet Fundraising." Dated June 29, 2008, the Times columnist purports to assert that a series of big money donations were made to Obama from Saudi Arabia, Iran and China. In fact Dowd wrote no such piece (she didn't even publish on June 29). "Ms. Dowd did not write the column," a Times spokeswoman states flatly. A copy of the e-mail was supplied to Salon by state Rep. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, Democratic leader of the state house and a Florida superdelegate, who had received it from an alarmed friend.

"It's just made-up stuff, it's so silly," says Gelber, who is Jewish. "But it's like getting an e-mail about your child, even though you know it's not true or from a source you don't believe, you feel obligated to read it. And that's how these people feel about Israel, it's like their child."

In this environment, the Obama campaign made its bid for the Jewish voters of South Florida by selecting one of the region's most prominent Jewish Democrats, Rep. Robert Wexler, to co-chair the state campaign. (Rep. Kathy Castor from Tampa is the other chair.) Six-term incumbent Wexler's seat in Florida's 19th Congressional District, centered in Palm Beach County, is so safe that he has run unopposed three times. An Orthodox Jew and self-described "Fire Breathing Liberal," Wexler counterintuitively endorsed Obama right out of the gate, against the grain of the state Democratic leadership.

Wexler thinks the GOP has underestimated South Florida's Jews. "There's this misnomer among some in the press that the Jewish community is a one-issue community. It isn't," he says one summer afternoon following a talk at a Democratic Club in West Palm Beach. When his constituents learn "that John McCain supports privatizing Social Security" and "wants to appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade," he says, "I assure you they will have nothing to do with John McCain." But Wexler also says his support for Obama is based on the fact that he's such a strong supporter of Israel, and because Obama recognizes that Iran is the greatest threat to Israeli and American security.

And that was all before Palin hit the stage. Her selection was a calculated risk by the Republicans, who badly needed to shore up support among the Christian right in battleground states like Florida. But it carried a special risk in Florida, one of the swing states with a significant Jewish population. "Kissing the Jewish vote goodbye," headlined England's Guardian newspaper after McCain announced his running mate. "Small Town Palin Big Problem for Jews," New York Jewish Week warned.

Wexler, known for his bombast, immediately declared the Alaska governor "a direct affront to the Jewish community."

"She was obviously selected to galvanize the conservative base, and she's done that," Gelber notes. "But for people with other issues, well, elderly Jewish voters are really not comfortable with that level of religious conservatism. They're generally pro-choice, don't believe creationism should be taught in schools, and they support stem cell research."

Among those Salon spoke to at the Hamptons Plaza mall -- outside the Bagel Tree Diner, the Boca Kosher market, and the Beltone Hearing Center -- "she stinks" was a common refrain. Palin's anti-choice stance chafed the retirees, as did her fundamentalist Christianity. No one mentioned having seen a videotape of the blessing she received in the Wasilla Assembly of God church prior to her run for governor, in which the pastor who blessed her against "witchcraft" also noted in passing that "the Israelites" run the nation's economy.

Now it's the Democrats who see an opportunity in South Florida. The Jewish Council for Education and Research, which endorsed Obama, is trying to capitalize on McCain's stalled momentum by sponsoring "the Great Schlep," which "focuses on encouraging young Jews to visit their grandparents in Florida during the Columbus Day Weekend" and convince them to vote for Obama. As an added incentive to Bubbe and Zayde, the JCER provides pledges for the grandkids to sign promising to call more often during an Obama administration.

Oct 4, 2008

Jewish 'modesty patrols' sow fear in Israel

While I do my best to criticize Israel only in extreme circumstances, this front-page piece from msnbc.com shocked me into sharing this.

Jewish 'modesty patrols' sow fear in Israel: Some terrified that mere perception of impropriety could ruin their lives
The Associated Press
updated 6:05 p.m. PT, Sat., Oct. 4, 2008

JERUSALEM - In Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where the rule of law sometimes takes a back seat to the rule of God, zealots are on a campaign to stamp out behavior they consider unchaste. They hurl stones at women for such "sins" as wearing a red blouse and attack stores selling devices that can access the Internet.

In recent weeks, self-styled "modesty patrols" have been accused of breaking into the apartment of a Jerusalem woman and beating her for allegedly consorting with men. They have torched a store that sells MP4 players, fearing devout Jews would use them to download pornography.

"These breaches of purity and modesty endanger our community," said 38-year-old Elchanan Blau, defending the bearded, black-robed zealots. "If it takes fire to get them to stop, then so be it."

Many ultra-Orthodox Jews are dismayed by the violence, but the enforcers often enjoy quiet approval from rabbis eager to protect their own reputations as guardians of the faith, community members say. And while some welcome anything that keeps secular culture out of their cloistered world, others feel terrorized, knowing that the mere perception of impropriety could ruin their lives.

"There are eyes and ears all over the place, very similar to what you hear about in countries like Iran," says Israeli-American novelist Naomi Ragen, an observant Jew who has chronicled the troubles that confront some women living in the ultra-Orthodox world.

The violence has already deepened the antagonism between the 600,000 haredim, or God-fearing, and the secular majority, which resents having religious rules dictated to them.

Religious vigilantes operate in a society that has granted their community influence well beyond its numbers — partly out of a commitment to revive the great centers of Jewish scholarship destroyed in the Holocaust, but also because the Orthodox are perennial king-makers in Israeli coalition politics.

Thus public transport is grounded for the Jewish Sabbath each Saturday, and the rabbis control all Jewish marriage and divorce in Israel.

In recent years, however, the haredim have eased up on their long campaign to impose their rules on secular areas, and nowadays many restaurants and suburban shopping centers are open on the Sabbath.

These days, most vigilante attacks take place in the zealots' own neighborhoods.

'They can burn in hell'
Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the modesty police are not an organized phenomenon, just rogue enforcers carrying out isolated attacks. But Israel's Justice Ministry used the term "modesty patrols" in an indictment against a man accused of assaulting the Jerusalem woman.

The unidentified, 31-year-old woman had left the ultra-Orthodox fold after getting divorced, according to the indictment filed by the Jerusalem district attorney's office. The indictment said her assailant tried to get her to leave her apartment in a haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem by gagging, beating and threatening to kill her. He was paid $2,000 for the attack, it said.

A 17-year-old who moved to Israel from New York five years ago said she was hospitalized after being attacked with pepper spray by a crowd of men outraged that she was walking down a Jerusalem street with boys.

"They can burn in hell," said the girl, who would identify herself only as Rivka.

She lives in Beit Shemesh, a town outside Jerusalem where the vigilantism has been particularly violent. Zealots there have thrown rocks and spat at women, and set fire to trash bins to protest impiety. Walls of the neighborhood are plastered with signs exhorting women to dress modestly — spelled out as closed-necked, long-sleeved blouses and long skirts.

'Stupid troublemakers'
The state, catering to religious sensitivities, subsidizes gender-segregated bus routes that service religious neighborhoods. Ragen and several other women challenged the practice in Israel's Supreme Court after an Orthodox Canadian woman in her 50s told police she was kicked, slapped, pushed to the floor and spat upon by men for refusing to move to the back of the bus.

Another Beit Shemesh girl, who asked to be identified only as Esther, said zealots threw rocks, cursed and spat at a friend for wearing a red blouse — taboo because the color attracts attention.

Yitzhak Polack, a 50-year-old Jerusalem teacher, is one of those who deplore such behavior.

"They are stupid troublemakers who are bringing shame and disgrace on this holy community," he said.

But the rabbis are afraid to condemn them, says Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, another community member.

"They can't come out against zealots who champion modesty. Here and there they write against violence, but the militants ultimately set the tone," he said.

Stores are targeted too.

'This store burns souls'
In August, a Jerusalem man was placed under house arrest on suspicion he set fire to a store in a haredi district of the city that sold MP4 players.

"It started about six months ago. They would come into the store, about 15 of them at a time, screaming, 'This store burns souls!' and they would throw merchandise on the floor and threaten customers," said 31-year-old Aaron Gold, a haredi worker at the Space electronic store.

One Friday night, just before the Sabbath was about to begin, "they smashed a window, doused the place with gasoline and lit a match," Gold said.

Now, a big sign behind the counter says, "All products sold in this store are under rabbinical supervision. By order of the rabbis, no MP4s are sold here."

Clothing stores that sell clothes regarded as provocative have been vandalized, and bleach thrown at merchandise.

Suspicion sparks attack
Girls have been expelled from school after being seen talking to boys, a punishment that ruins their marriage prospects.

"It could be very innocent; she could be talking to her brother," Ragen said. But once thrown out of school, "no one — NO ONE — will take you in," she added.

In one case, the violence reached the highest levels of haredi society.

Three years ago, a son of Israel's Sephardi chief rabbi, Shlomo Amar, was accused of kidnapping a 17-year-old boy, beating him at knifepoint and terrorizing him with snarling dogs because he had sought the attentions of the accused's unchaperoned sister.

The son was sentenced to two years and eight months in jail.

His sister married a different suitor the following year.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

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links from jerusalem4obama

these links are from http://jerusalem4obama.blogspot.com/2008/10/rabbis.html


  • Rabbi Ethan Tucker: Stepson of Senator Joseph Lieberman; Co-founder of Mechon Hadar; faculty member at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education; ordained by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel after years of study at Yeshivat Ma'ale Gilboa; PhD from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Read more.
  • Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky: Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was ordained in 1977. Read more.
  • Rabbi Elliot Dorff: Professor of Jewish theology at the American Jewish University (formerly the University of Judaism) in California (where he is also Rector). Read more.
  • Rabbi Charles Simon: Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America graduate 1977; was a congregational rabbi; now working for the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs. Read more.
  • Rabbi Menachem Creditor: Spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, CA. Founder of ShefaNetwork and KeshetRabbis. MA in Jewish Education and rabbinic ordination from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Read more.
  • Rabbi Bernard H. Mehlman: Emeritus Rabbi, Temple Israel of Brookline; Professor of Midrash at New York's Hebrew Union College. Read more.
  • Rabbi Richard Levy: Executive Director Los Angeles Hillel Council; Lecturer in Rabbinics at HUC-JIR Los Angeles since 1974. Outgoing president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Former Rabbi-in-Residence at the Jerusalem School of HUC-JIR and Scholar-in-Residence at Brandeis Collegiate Institute and Brandeis-Bardin Institute. Was Assistant Rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, Rabbi Temple Beth Am in Yorktown Heights, New York. Read more.
  • Rabbi Steve E. Foster: Senior Rabbi, Congregation Emanuel, oldest Jewish congregation in the state of Colorado, founded in 1874. BS Philosophy from University of Wisconsin, Bachelor of Hebrew Letters, Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters. Ordained 1970 by the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion. Read more.
  • Rabbi Charles A. Kroloff: Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El Westfield, New Jersey. Currently Vice President for Special Projects of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. B.A. magna cum laude Yale University and rabbinic ordination at Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati. Read more.
  • Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus: Rabbi of B'nai Yehuda Beth Sholom in Homewood, Illinois. B.A. Fairhaven College in Bellingham, Washington; ordained 1979 by the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion. Former Rabbi of Temple B'nai Israel in Kankakee, Illinois; Rabbi of Congregation Beth Sholom in Park Forest, Illinois; Vice-President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Read more.
  • Rabbi Sam Gordon: Rabbi of Congretation Sukkat Shalom, Wilmett, Illinois. Ordained 1980 at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. MBA degree from Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Doctor of Divinity from HUC-JIR, 2005. Read more.
  • Rachel S. Mikva: Member of the Clinical Faculty of the Rabbinical Residencies Program, Hebrew Union College. Read more.
  • Rabbi Steven M. Bob: Rabbi since 1981 of Congregation Etz Chaim, DuPage County, Illinois. Ordained in 1977, after earning his BA at the University of Minnesota and his MA at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. 2002 honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Hebrew Union College. Read more.
  • Rabbi David A. Teutsch: Earned his doctorate from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, is past president of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Read more.
  • Rabbi Arthur Waskow: Founder of The Shalom Center. named by Newsweek as one of the fifty most influential American rabbis 2007; named by the Forward one of the "Forward Fifty" as a leader of the Jewish community, 2005; Abraham Joshua Heschel Award by the Jewish Peace Fellowship, 2001. Read more.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

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Oct 3, 2008

a beautiful piece on tefillah from the Jewish Week

Moonlighting Through Days Of Awe
by Jonathan Mark, Associate Editor


Elli Kranzler's not a cantor, and he'll be the first to tell you. He's a 57-year-old psychiatrist, who's been moonlighting since his teens as a "shliach tzibur," a leader of prayer, representative of the congregation, but more like a man plucked from out of the pews. He doesn't have a cantor's voice, one that thunders. His untrained voice filters through a room like, well, moonlight. If cantors' voices are traditionally like tubas, his is more of a mandolin, more Art Garfunkel than the operatic model that still dominates the trade.

"My goal is not to be heard," he says. "My goal is to sing harmony with the shul."

When leading services, he doesn't wear a tie. Oh, he'll wear one when he's Dr. Kranzler, but in shul he abides by a classic chasidic maxim: A man should wear a gartle, a sash of a belt when davening, to symbolically separate the lower, more animal-like parts of the body from the head and the heart. But, says Reb Elli (as he's know in shul), a tie is simply a gartel "separating the head from the heart, and that's not what you want when davening."

His annual pre-Slichos concert, this coming Saturday night (9 p.m.), at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, leading into the Slichos midnight service, has become a seasonal touchstone for many across the city, with the audience as likely to be from Brooklyn as from his Bronx neighborhood.

Once he, though, went to Brooklyn for the holidays. He moved from New York to Baltimore when he was 4, but returned with his family through the 1950s and '60s to be with his grandparents in Williamsburg, in a shul where the davening "was deep and passionate, an engaged effort by the whole community."

The shul was upstairs, a Lee Avenue walk-up above an A&P grocery. The shul was "chasidish," Reb Elli recalls, but was it Stolin? Vizhnitz? It was a place for survivors, sitting not in neat pews but on wooden benches around tables. "The shliach tzibur was a guy named Reb Yisroel Rosenbaum, a businessman who worked for Barton's. He had five, six sons who'd crowd around, singing with him. His first family was wiped out in the war."

Reb Elli's father would start humming a few seconds before Reb Yisroel, in anticipation of the next familiar tune. Reb Yisroel "davened from the heart, with tearful, joyful passion," but when he led services "it wasn't about him, it was about the davening," and after davening, he "crumpled into a heap of sweat and exhaustion inside his tallis and kittel."

Reb Elli says that when he and his brother, Reb Chaim (a shliach tzibur for the Drisha minyan on the Upper West Side) started leading davening, while still in their teens, "that was the image of what a baal tefillah [the leader of prayer] was supposed to be."
Reb Shlomo Carlebach, this generation's ideal baal tefillah, mentored the young Kranzler.

"My father learnt with Reb Shlomo in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas so, years later, when he came to Baltimore, he'd stay in our home," singing in the living room, following concerts, until three or four in the morning.

"Shlomo was a baal tefillah par excellence, he really respected and embraced nusach [the proper liturgical melodies and form] but he played with it," says Reb Elli. "He was a model for me, the idea of nusach as a jazz motif."

Some rabbis may write sermons about Darfur or global warming, but Reb Elli's orientation is toward "a personal, spiritual space. Being a psychiatrist, my personal [inclination] is to be internal."

So, while leading services, he can sense a congregation's Attention Deficit Disorder?
"On a given day, yeah," says Reb Elli. "We are a culture of many needs and pulls. One of those needs on a Shabbos morning is to talk to each other. We're all engaged in differing weekday pursuits that can be lonely or pressured. In shul, engaging God is one goal; our other goal is connecting with each other."

Perhaps his not wearing a tie is a reflection of how roll-up-your-sleeves physical the leading of services can be. Reb Elli compares it to several sports, a boxing ring or a marathon, "I ran several marathons that taught me the power of committing, building endurance, breaking through personal limits."

Foot-stomping dancers sometimes circle him, and then, perhaps, his space feels like a goalie's crease, a private, "very intense space. When the people crowd around, singing along, I'm being carried. On Yom Kippur, I can't think about how hot or tired or thirsty I am, it is almost an out-of-body spiritual experience."

And so the physical endurance becomes a spiritual one. Before ascending to the bima, "I try to find a private space for meditation and yoga," says Reb Elli, "thinking about nothing but davening. My main meditation is Elohai Neshama," from the dawn prayer, "My God, the soul you placed into me is pure ... You breathed it into me ... eventually you'll take it from me and restore it to me in the Time to Come..."

He explains, "When we breathe in, it is a kind of re-experiencing that Godly breath. And when you breathe out, we're making the world a holier place because you're giving of your Godly breath." And, of course, singing is very much about breathing.
It's a delicate balance for those leading services, choosing niggunim (spiritual melodies) from the familiar and the new. Like many leading services during the Days of Awe, he's drawn to Carlebach and Modzhitz.

The Modzhitzer rebbe, Shaul Taub, who died in 1947, was perhaps the most prolific composer of chasidic music, ranging from the ethereal to jaunty Sousa-like marches.
"When we used to clean the books for Pesach," remembers Reb Elli, the phonograph would be on and "we'd take turns picking albums. My father would play Modzhitz. I'd play Shlomo. There was this back and forth: Would it be Ben-Zion Shenker," the leading voice of Modzhitz, "who was really moving us, or Shlomo?"

"I was very much influenced by the chasidic niggunim. We'd go to Satmar on Simchas Torah; Vizhnitz, Stolin, Kloyzenberg, we went to all of those Williamsburg communities where there was tremendous davening and joy. But then Shlomo, who was steeped in that tradition, took it to another place, simplifying chasidic tradition into its core truths. Modzhitz was more complex, more nuanced. Shlomo conveyed Torah three ways: he'd teach it, he'd tell a story about it, then he'd sing it with a melody that was a Rashi [commentary] on the words."

After Yom Kippur's shofar, Reb Elli feels "a sense of exhilaration and trust. We made the effort. What we accomplished — we'll find during the year."

And if it is our last year, is the accomplishment any less? Perhaps it is all the more, a Days of Awe for our own end of days.

"That's why these davenings mean so much to us," says Reb Elli, "if we can only hold on to these feelings."

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

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