Jan 28, 2009

NY Jewish Week: "Seminaries, 92nd St. Y Forced Into Painful Cuts"

Seminaries, 92nd St. Y Forced Into Painful Cuts

by Stewart Ain
Staff Writer

In further signs that the deepening recession is having a major impact on Jewish universities and institutions, two major seminaries here announced tuition freezes and budget cuts, the city's largest Jewish cultural institution laid off nearly 10 percent of its staff and Brandeis University is taking  the highly unusual step of selling off its prized contemporary art collection.

"This is one of the more challenging moments in recent history," Jewish Theological Seminary Chancellor Arnold Eisen told The Jewish Week. The seminary has cut its current budget by $2 million and, Eisen said, "we are making further cuts in the budget for this year and will continue to do so in 2009-2010."

At Yeshiva University, Hillel Davis, vice president of university life, said Monday that there would be a series of "belt-tightening" measures in a bid to reduce expenses by about 15 percent in the next academic year. Most of the cuts are expected to be in the administrative area. Meanwhile, tuition for undergraduate students will be frozen next year at this year's level. Affected are students at Yeshiva College, Stern College for Women and the Sy Syms School of Business.

Both JTS and Yeshiva said that although they were freezing undergraduate tuition, no decision has been made about tuition at their graduate schools.

Officials at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., said that budget woes had compelled it to close its Rose Art Museum that opened in 1961 and to sell the "large amount of modern and contemporary art" that it houses. "We're reaching out to the donors [of the artwork] to inform them of our plans," said Dennis Nealon, a university spokesman.

Although the university has not placed a value on the art, one art expert valued it at as much as $300 million. It is to be sold at auction, with the proceeds reinvested in the university to combat the economic crisis. The collection, which numbers over 8,000 objects, includes the work of Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Helen Frankenthaler.

"These are extraordinary times," Judah Reinharz, Brandeis' president, said in a statement. "We cannot control or fix the nation's economic problems. We can only do what we have been entrusted to do — act responsibly with the best interests of our students and their futures foremost in mind."

Plans call for closing the Rose Art Museum by late this summer. The space would then become a fine arts teaching center with studio space and an exhibition gallery (The New York Times reported Wednesday that the Massachusetts attorney general's office is investigating Brandeis' decision to sell off the collection.)

These steps are just the latest in a series of actions universities and Jewish institutions are taking to deal with the growing recession that saw at least eight companies cut more than 75,000 jobs worldwide this week — on top of the 2.6 million jobs lost last year in the United States alone. Earlier this month Hadassah announced that it was laying off 80 employees, roughly a quarter of its national staff, in a restructuring effort.

In New York, the 92nd Street Y announced that 24 of its 374 employees were laid off last week from all areas of the Y and that another seven were reassigned, some to part-time positions. The staff changes will save the institution $1.7 million annually, according to Beverly Greenfield, a spokeswoman.

The Y has had a hiring freeze since last summer and recently announced another $3 million in operating and capital cost cuts by delaying capital projects and cutting such things as the marketing budget.

A spokeswoman for Hebrew Union College said no decisions have yet been made regarding next year's budget.

Tuition for Yeshiva University's 2,300 undergraduate students is $31,594 each year. Davis said that although the university will be cutting expenses by 15 percent in the next academic year, it would also be attempting to raise another $5 million in scholarship money for students — increasing the amount of scholarships to $35 million. About 70 percent of the students receive financial aid.
"This is in response to the current economic crisis that our parents are facing," YU's Davis said. "We're particularly sensitive to the unique needs of our undergraduate students, the vast majority of whom are paying day school tuition for their other children."

Davis said Yeshiva would like to increase its undergraduate enrollment because tuition makes up 35 percent of its operating budget. But since the university's "appeal is to the graduates of yeshivas and day school," it cannot hope to attract the number of applications other private schools receive. "We attract students who are interested in a double curriculum — secular and religious studies," he said.

Although some universities are considering cutting a number of adjunct professors next year, Davis said Yeshiva was "doing the best we can to protect the integrity of the academic offerings."
He said the university might not know until mid-February how it would reduce expenses by about 15 percent. But he said Yeshiva was looking to cut the money from administrative expenses "to protect the number of class offerings, the quality of offerings and the number of professors."

The budget-tightening measures came just three weeks after Yeshiva announced that it lost its $14.5 million investment with Bernard Madoff, who has admitted to running a Ponzi scheme that cost investors more than $50 billion.

Yeshiva's investment was said to have grown to $110 million at the time of Madoff's arrest. The university's endowment, taking into account the Madoff loss, was estimated earlier this year at $1.2 billion, down from $1.7 billion on Jan. 1, 2008. That loss of 28 percent compares with a Dow Jones loss of 32 percent.

Of the situation at JTS, Eisen said in a statement: "The current economic climate has of course impacted The Jewish Theological Seminary, as it has all other institutions of higher education, nonprofits in general, and many for-profit companies. JTS has been acting vigorously since last spring to cut expenses while minimizing the impact of the economic downturn on the core mission and long-term health of the institution."

"We remain committed to our core mission and core values even as we using these challenging times as an opportunity to transfigure and innovate," Eisen added. "JTS entered this period of uncertainty in sound financial condition, and we are determined to exit it even stronger."

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Jan 27, 2009

Weekly Adult Torah Study - Wednesdays at Netivot Shalom!

La'asok: Weekly Adult Torah Study
Wednesdays at 1pm
@ 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.  For more information, please contact us at education@netivotshalom.org and consult the Netivot Shalom online calendar for updated information.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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HAG HaHAGGADAH: A Creative Festival 5769

1. Create a Haggadah which includes  the traditional  Seder elements  in Hebrew, English and/or transliteration. If you wish to download a Haggadah text it is available in Davkawriter6 at

NEW FOR 5768 /2008 COMPLETE TRADITIONAL HAGGADAH (Paginated) With Complete Traditional Hebrew Songs and English Parody Songs: DAVKAWRITER6 

Other software editions have their own text libraries of the traditional Haggadah which you can edit, illustrate, supplement, translate, transliterate, illuminate, format, etc. as you wish. All to my knowledge can be expofrted in a PDF which is essential. Other languages for translation, commentary and transliteration will be considered and judges found for evaluation if possible.

2. You may submit your entry only in a PDF. Itt may be composed in any software  and in any operating system of your choice, including but not limited to Davkawriter6 Platinum, Mellul for Mac, Dagesh, Microsoft Hebrew Windows, or others. Judges will consider only  a PDF submission - no other format including snail mail will be considered for judging.

3. Each entry must be accompanied with  a Jewish National Fund contribution confirmation number that you will receive when you make a minimum "hai" contribution for a tree in Israel via JNF. In additio to the elegibility for this contest you are also planting a tree - at least one - in your name in Israel. JNF will provide you with each individual confirmation number that must accompany each separate submission and registration.

4. We will accept entries for this first international creative Haggadah contest until Rosh Hodesh Adar.

5. Copyrighted material from any source - books, internet textual, photo or graphic - must have written permission affirmed to be used. Original artwork,  texts - translations, comments, commentary(ies) footnotes, endnotes - , photos, graphics, scans, etc. that you create are encouraged.

6. First prize in each division will be

a laptop computer;

additional prizes will include books and computer software;

all entries will be shared with interested publishers, and it will then be an individual negotiation between only the author(s) and the publisher;

(d) FFFE/Hag HaHAGGADAH does retain the right to post the PDF in our website, with full attribution to the creative author(s) and for any other purpose to support FFFE / Hag HaHAGGADAH  as a tax-exempt, non-profit educational corporation.

(e) we will advise you of new prizes on a regular basis at our up-date site.

7.  Weekly up-dates, suggestions, samples in my website

8. The divisions for which each has a first prize of a laptop computer are:
    (1) Elementary School grades K through 8;

    (2) High School grades 9 through 12;

    (3) Adults of all ages

9. All decisions of the President of FFFE are final and conclusive for this program

10. Questions, suggestions, new parody Seder Songs, ideas, resources off-line and on-line are welcomed at bdlerner1@gmail.com

Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner
'1969 MHL   1970 JTSA  1995  DD
President, Foundation For Family Education, Inc.
Associate Rabbi, Congregations of Shaare Shamayim

Some Thoughts on the CJ Website Conversation & Moving Forward

Shalom Chevreh,

I believe the energy it would take to get a CJTorah site up is enormous - and worth it.  The ShefaNetwork.org main page is meant to begin that process as well, holding pointers to both the internal ShefaNetwork conversation and to the wider world of Conservative Judaism.  There is a page with collections of Torah commentary from Masorti/Conservative Rabbis, one of synagogue skills, a page with links to online essays by living CJ luminaries, and much more - perhaps finding places to connect is a better use of our energies than recreating everything.  If conservativejudaism.org isn't going to be a place of content but rather a meeting place for the institutional players, that's not bad.  It just isn't sufficient.  Just today, a blog post related to this was written by someone named Sam Gerber at http://gerberblog09.blogspot.com/2009/01/127.html.  I have no idea who this person is, but they wrote, in a post called "Class Reflections" just today:

In evaluating the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's home on the web, I was surprised that the site doesn't clearly define the group's basis for Jewish identification. I was shocked I could not find where the group defines Judaism, who is Jewish and the principles of Judaism. Under the "About Us" tab, there is information on the bylaws, history and mission statement of the organization, but not on conservative Judaism. Next, I explored the tab Jewish Living, however this only presented information on prayers and Torah study.  Although it didn't touch on this important idea I feel a national Jewish website should have(basic definition of Conservative Judaism), compared to www.reformjudasim.org, I thought the USCJ's website is organized better. Reform Judaism had little information on their site and send the viewer to many other links for information. the UCSJ's site had many different tabs on the top and the left of information. I also liked how you could more easily find a local conservative Synagogue on the UCSJ's site.  Overall, it seems that the Reform site gives more information to a non-partisan viewer, while the UCSJ assumes most people viewing the site are Jewish and most likely Conservative Jews finding information about the parent organization.   I did however find www.shefanetwork.org very helpful for theological information on Conservative Judaism. I was especially impressed with the Audio/Visual Torah section, to see that some in the conservative movement are in tune with the newest technology, and can reach out to even the most tech savvy of us. I think this section would be most popular with the younger population of Jews, as they might not have patience to read the weekly Parsha (that is a whole other topic, today's youth impatience that is), but would listen via a podcast.

So chevreh, I'd put forward a thought: how about visiting shefanetwork.blogspot.com, where the ShefaNetwork blog is waiting for this kind of conversation, and can be discovered by the next online seeker - the more connected Torah we put out there, the better.  Creating newer silos won't move the conversation deeper, it will likely only complicate the breadth of the entry for many.

My best, chevreh, and good luck to us all balancing the needs of our particular community with the global needs around us, which need ever-more tending.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Jan 22, 2009

NY Jewish Week: Shuls Facing New Stresses In Recession

Shuls Facing New Stresses In Recession


Steve Lipman
Jewish Week: Staff Writer

In a normal year, Rabbi Gerald Skolnik of the Forest Hills Jewish Center begins writing his Purim essay for the synagogue bulletin about a month before the March holiday. This year he's already turned his thoughts to it, a month earlier than usual.

Blame it on the recession. To save money, Rabbi Skolnik's Conservative congregation has converted the monthly bulletin into a bimonthly one, mostly online now instead of printed and mailed, which means early deadlines for the rabbi and other contributors.

A few blocks away, the calls to Rabbi Yehuda Oppenheimer at the Young Israel of Forest Hills for contributions from his discretionary fund are coming in more frequently, and more plaintively, than in past years.

Rabbi Oppenheimer blames it on the recession.

In the past, calls for help with tuition payments, food or other staples were sporadic. Now the calls to the Orthodox rabbi come in several times a week.

Ten minutes north, Rabbi Mayer Perelmuter of the Reform Temple of Forest Hills shows a visitor a change in the temple's February calendar of events. Instead of an annual game night and party, the congregation will sponsor a raffle.

The reason, the rabbi says, is the recession. A game night raises money for the temple every year, Rabbi Perelmuter says, but it also requires substantial expenditures in advance; the overhead on a raffle is negligible.

From his colleagues in the Reform movement, Rabbi Perelmuter hears "pretty much the same story" about the economy and its effect on synagogue budgets. "Fundraising is down, dues are down, resources are down."

Forest Hills, a middle-class neighborhood in the middle of Queens, is neither New York City's wealthiest nor its poorest Jewish area, but it typifies the stresses that face Jewish institutions during the worst economic downturn in the United States since the Depression seven decades ago.

Representatives of synagogues — the institutions that commonly become most Jews' closest tie to the Jewish community — say they have started to notice decreases and delays in dues payments and voluntary donations over the past few months, and have instituted a wide variety of cost-cutting measures.

"A shul is not the first thing on the [financial] agenda" of people facing lowered incomes, says Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel. "Forget about donations," which depend on a member's largesse. "The dues are late in coming."

"I think every shul is challenged at times like this," Rabbi Skolnik says.

"Raising money during a recession is hard enough," the rabbi wrote on his Jewish Week blog. "Raising money in a synagogue when so many people are losing jobs, and have already lost large portions of their pensions and savings ... well, that's beyond hard."

A decrease in donations was evident during the Kol Nidre appeals on Yom Kippur, which bring in a large part of many congregations' income, synagogue representatives say. Money is coming in slower than in past years, but the full effect of the recession won't be evident until next fall, when synagogue membership is up for renewal and registration for religious schools begins.

So far, donations are down everywhere, says Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. "The small donations are still coming in — the $18, $36 are still coming in. The impact is in the larger donations."

At some synagogues, the signs of distress are visible. Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side, which had previously cancelled a major expansion project, has committed to a more modest renovation (it lost millions in the Bernard Madoff scandal), and Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, N.J., in the midst of a two-year rebuilding, is scaling down plans for the new building's interior. "The [outer] structure is up. It's not something that can be called off," says Rabbi Shmuel Goldin. "It's going to be more difficult to collect [pledges for the construction]."

Some synagogues are moving forward with their building campaigns, while "others have hit the skids," said David Mersky, a senior lecturer on Jewish philanthropy at Brandeis University, told the Jewish Journal in Los Angeles.

At other sites, the signs are subtle.

A member walking into the Forest Hills Jewish Center "would not see the impact [of the budgetary belt-tightening] yet," Rabbi Skolnik says.

Like other congregations and congregational groups contacted by The Jewish Week, the synagogues in Forest Hills are not hemorrhaging funds; they did not suffer major losses in the stock market collapse or the Madoff scandal. And they are not showing visible signs of economic distress: they have not laid off staff members yet, and have so far maintained the usual upkeep of their physical facilities.

"This is only the beginning — there will be a lot of impact for the next year ... the next 18 months," says Rabbi Epstein.

Already, there is talk in synagogue circles of postponed raises, anticipated layoffs, reduced payments for employees' health plans, and cutbacks in business hours. There is also talk of mergers of youth groups and religious schools, introduction of a "weekday membership" for people who take part in a congregation's worship services only on weekdays and elimination of such "frills" as weekend scholars-in-residence. Some shuls are considering reductions in synagogue dues and religious school tuition, increases in volunteer activities done by members, and such mundane steps as the purchase of energy-efficient light bulbs.

"It's a crisis, but we Jews have coped with crises throughout our lives," says Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis. "Shuls are looking at their budget and saying

'We have to cut.' Shuls usually don't have a lot of money at their disposal to begin with."
In the New York area, many congregations have set up formal and word-of-mouth job banks for members who have lost their jobs. Among them: The Reconstructionist West End Synagogue in Manhattan will host a Cover Letter Writing Workshop on Feb. 1, the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale has launched a job bank, the Reform Woodlands Community Temple in Greenburgh brought in experts from Westchester Jewish Community Services to help out-of-work members and the Conservative Merrick Jewish Center on Long Island has established an emergency fund to help members pay for such necessities as food, fuel and medicine.

"One of the most important things a community can do is to remind individuals that they are not alone when facing difficulties," says Rabbi Barry Dov Katz of the Riverdale congregation.

"There is a notion of kehillah [community] that we're trying to reinforce," says Rabbi Charles Klein of the Merrick Jewish Center. "It's really a throwback to what was [traditionally] the role of the kehillah and what should be the role of the kehillah."

Across the country, the Young Israel of Century City, in Los Angeles, sponsored a panel discussion on real estate and stocks, The Temple in Cleveland has begun to lower thermostat settings and eliminate coffee and bagels at meetings, and the members of Temple B'Nai Torah in Ormond Beach, Fla., offer car rides and food to those in need.

The USCJ, like other organizations that serve congregations and rabbis, has instituted several programs to help members deal with the economic crisis and reach out to unemployed or nervous congregants. It recently distributed a report entitled "Managing Membership Income and Hardships: Dues Do's and Don'ts."

The Reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis is sponsoring a series of seminars and workshops in early 2009, the Union for Reform Judaism offers relevant publications and guidelines on its Web site and such organizations as the National Council of Young Israel and Yeshiva University have sponsored seminars — in person and over the Internet — that offer advice on dealing with the economy.

Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future and its Rabbinic Alumni Association are hosting a series of Web seminars on the subject. Participants in last week's "What the Rabbi Needs to Know About the Current Financial Crisis" Web broadcast, which included Rabbi Goldin from Englewood, clinical psychologists Dr. Sara Barris and Rabbi Jonathan Schwartz, and educator Dr. David Pelcovitz, encouraged rabbis to acknowledge from the pulpit congregants' possible loss of employment and status, and to be aware of possible "role reversal" when members may be out of work and rabbis are still employed.

Young Israel, during workshops and e-mail notices, is urging member synagogues to consider new ways of raising funds and bringing entrepreneurial models into their operations.

"Think business!" says Rabbi Lerner of the National Council. "We're trying to get our organizations to think business." Which means to consider innovative ways to cut expenses and raise money. Like sponsoring thrift shops. Or driver's education classes. Or housing medical clinics. Or holding annual dinners on-site instead of in expensive, rented halls. "Look for partnerships," Rabbi Lerner advises. "We're not supposed to be nonprofit. We're supposed to be not-for-profit."

A Young Israel event in Brooklyn last month on the economic crisis was co-sponsored by the Council of Jewish Organizations of Flatbush, the Metropolitan Council of Jewish Poverty, Agudath Israel of America and the Orthodox Union. A similar meeting will be held in Queens in the coming months, Rabbi Lerner says.

So far, says Rabbi Bini Maryles, director of the Orthodox Union's Department of Synagogue Services, the recession "has not impacted [congregations'] ability to serve their membership."
Worship services and classes are being held as usual.

"More people seem to be coming" to Shabbat services, says Rabbi Perelmuter. "At times of crisis, people look for community."

More are coming in for counseling too, Rabbi Skolnik says.

No synagogue would close its doors to a congregant who can't pay his or her bills, he says. "That's not the way shuls work."

Last week the Forest Hills Jewish Center held a Saturday night coffeehouse where members took the stage to demonstrate their vocal or other musical abilities. The event broke even financially, Rabbi Skolnik says. Its purpose was "community building," especially appreciated at a time when members feel nervous about their economic future.

Afterward, he says, many people approached him to offer thanks for the event.

Rabbi Skolnik's winter schedule mirrors one effect of the recession: in a few weeks he has to start working on his Passover essay for the synagogue bulletin.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Jan 21, 2009

from JTS: Chancellor Eisen's Inaugural Reflections


Arnie Eisen Banner

Greeting the New Day in America

January 20, 2009

Decidedly religious imagery framed today's inauguration, as it has done in every other inauguration before it. One could not help but note God's presence, whether standing at the Capitol as I did or watching the turning of history on TV with virtually every other American. God's blessing was invoked at the beginning of the ceremony and again at its conclusion; at a key point in between, President Barack Obama declared, "This is the source of our confidence—the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny."

We Americans, regardless of creed, seem united in the recognition that we need God's blessing if we are to live up to what we wish for ourselves. As President George Washington put it some 220 years ago in the pleasingly indirect and humble language characteristic of our nation's founders,

"It would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to the Almighty Being who rules over the universe . . . Every step by which we have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency."

Standing in the cold this morning, as the entire country seemed able to see every hopeful breath it collectively exhaled, my thoughts turned to the blessings that religiously observant Jews recite every morning. Those "blessings of the dawn," like good inaugural addresses, begin with the obvious facts of the situation—opening one's eyes, putting on clothes, stretching one's limbs, rising to meet the day—and make of those facts an occasion for both thanksgiving and responsibility. Thanksgiving, because here we are again, alive with a new day's opportunity before us. Responsibility, because the ability to see the light, stretch out, and stand tall, confers the obligation to join God in helping others do the same.

Barack Obama has been teaching and preaching for close to two years now that blessing obligates one to action and that action itself is an enormous blessing. For right action builds community, makes life worthwhile, and nurtures hope. The new president reiterated that lesson today.

The rhythm of the inaugural rite seemed familiar to me because of the prayers that we Jews say daily. Men, and many women, stand clothed in prescribed head covering, tallit, and tefillin, to thank God again and again that we have lived to see the morning and embrace its responsibilities. Hundreds of thousands of us stood in reflection at the Capitol this morning, fortified against the cold in long underwear, sweaters, and earmuffs. We joined with the new president in considering what it would take to get through the multiple crises that face the country and the world. I reflected too on the idea that the ritual recital of hope and recall of blessing somehow helps us to change things for the better. Remembering past crises survived or overcome assists us in confronting new crises; giving voice to past expression of resolve impels us—in John F. Kennedy's words—to "go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own."

The reassurance that we are not wasting our breath at such moments of rededication, and will not be wasting our efforts in the years ahead, is utterly crucial to our work for change. It forms no small part of the comfort and empowerment conveyed by the inauguration's ritual words and images. If God's work must truly be our own, according to the Scripture we hold sacred, it follows that God's work can be ours and that our work can be God's. "We the people" possess the authority to challenge state power in the name of a Higher Power. Our government can claim the highest authority for state action only so long as it secures human rights and does not abuse them. Finally, the work belongs to all of us. Every single American has the same claim on our country, our president, and one another. This is implicit in the inaugural's ritual recitation.

Our new president, more than many others, seems to have a pragmatic sense of limitation built into his exultant rhetoric. The master of "Yes, we can!" has read his Reinhold Niebuhr. He knows that " . . . the challenges we face are real . . . they will not be met easily…." Times such as these are when we need each other (and effective government) the most.

President Obama, we can be sure, knows well the Exodus narrative that Jews are reading in shul this week. God promises deliverance but warns that it will take many plagues to bend the will of Pharoah towards freedom. But the moment will come. It does come.

History is like this, the Rabbis taught: generation after generation and event after event accumulate without apparent recompense for sacrifice. History seems to lack purpose. It appears stalled. Then, "all of a sudden," something happens: things move. Setbacks follow. There is more work to do, more suffering to bear, more wilderness to slog through; but the fact that redemption happened once gives us hope. We wake up to the blessing of a new day and, free to stretch and stand tall, we accept the privilege to open eyes and push back walls. History seems malleable once again.

It was amazing at today's inauguration how many Republicans joined Democrats in the determination to rejoice at the election of an African American as president. It was remarkable too how many people in the crowd seemed ready to trust that this time important things will really change. It was as if all Americans joined in the blessings Jews recite daily. Thank God for vigor restored to the weary, the sense that we have all that we need for one more effort to do right. God's help and one another are all that is needed, along with a little wisdom and a leader who brings out the best in all of us.

Arnold Eisen's signature

Chancellor Arnold Eisen

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Jan 20, 2009

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg answers Bill Moyers

Dear Bill Moyers,

I have been a long time fan of Bill Moyers and an admirer of your work in many areas – including the Genesis series in which my wife participated.
For this very reason, I was deeply dismayed to read an excerpt of the transcript of your comments on the Gaza war on the Friday night Journal program.  I believe that you made a serious moral misjudgment on the invasion and then compounded your error with two applications that are beyond the pale – even more so for someone of your stature and judgment.

1.      You acknowledge Israel's right to defend its people but then allege that Israel's decision to invade Gaza constitutes "waging war on an entire population."  You allege that "by killing indiscriminately the elderly, kids, entire families, by destroying schools and hospitals" Israel "spilled the blood that turns the wheel of retribution."

You ignore that Israel has bombed only Hamas military posts, command headquarters and points of origin of Hamas fire – and does so with pinpoint accuracy.  You ignore that the UN school shelling was a return of enemy fire from that school or a shell that went astray in an exchange of fire with Hamas shooters stationed nearby.   Israel has not fired on hospitals or schools deliberately – though Hamas locates headquarters, war supplies and rocket launchers in such places.  You ignore the New York Times report (1/11/09) that Hamas tells civilian Palestinians to go up on the roofs of homes where their fighters are located because it knows Israel will not fire when its soldiers or planes see civilians.  By leaving out these facts, you shore up the false equation which underlies your whole text:  Israel striking back with military force as a last resort at a group pledged to its destruction -- and which has backed up that pledge by years of terror attacks, suicide bombers, and rocket showers -- is equivalent to Israel consciously targeting civilians and casually initiating these attacks, which is then morally equated to Hamas' deliberate terrorism, targeting civilians primarily. 
Hamas' strategy for destroying Israel incorporates the expectation that inevitable misjudgments and accidents in the course of fighting will evoke the kind of one sided outbursts such as yours which undermine Israel's world standing.  I, too, feel great pain and sympathy at the enormous suffering and losses of innocent Palestinians, but it is Hamas that has deliberately put them in harm's way, not Israel as your words imply.
2.      Equally distressing is your use of the phrase '[Israel] spilled the blood that turns the wheel of retribution".  Had you used the word revenge, you would have made your point that Israel's attacks inflame Hamas and others, a cause of grave concern to Israelis and to all who seek and love peace.  But the word 'retribution' really means this:  justified punishment for bad behavior.  That tone of justification – terror [justifiably] evokes terror – is all over your next paragraph which subtly suggests that assaults on Jews in Europe are the to-be-expected outgrowth of Israel's attacks and not the excuse used by anti-Semites to continue attacks they have been carrying on for years.
3.      Most disturbing of all:  You describe Gaza "as the latest battle in the oldest family quarrel on record" – as if modern day Israel was motivated not by self-defense but by the Biblical account of Isaac conflicting with Ishmael; as if Israelis are following the ancient Israelite' "leaders [who] urged violence against its inhabitants;" as if Israelis are following Deuteronomy's instruction to wipe out idolatry.  Does Israel smash the religious places of the Palestinians?  There is not a political figure in Israel – not even a marginalized extremist – who invokes Deuteronomy as a motivation or justification for behavior toward Palestinians.
You ignore that more than two millennia have passed since Judaism, in its rabbinic development, declared that these Deuteronomic laws applied only to idol worshippers in those previous millennia; that Islam has been treated with great respect by Judaism and specifically honored as a monotheistic religion, never equated with idolatry; that in the Talmud it is ruled that the seven nations referred to in Deuteronomy's injunction to "wipe out their name from that place" no longer exist, and that these instructions may not be applied to any other nation.  In short, perhaps out of ignorance, you besmirch Judaism as a blood thirsty religion -- using selected texts that have long been nullified.  With your words, you strengthen the hands of contemporary haters who seek to portray Judaism and Jews as blood thirsty murderers – this, in order to legitimate their unspeakable desire to actually wipe Israel and Jews off the face of the earth.
4.      This brings me to your climactic disturbing comment.  You follow the Deuteronomy quote with the following statement.  "So God-soaked violence became genetically coded."  What that means in plain language is:  that Jews are genetically coded to be violent and totally wipe out their opponents.  Do you believe that?; that [all] Jews are genetically coded to violence, to assault civilian populations?  I cannot believe that you believe that.  Then you are all the more guilty, out of anger, of willfully degrading a whole people and lending your eloquent voice and stature for the cruel mission of those who seek the destruction of my people.
You may try to claim that your next sentence states: "A radical stream of Islam now seeks to obliterate Israel from the face of the earth" to argue that you were not speaking just about Jews.  But in the context of the previous and ensuing paragraphs which are all about Israel's violence, you tear off that fig leaf.  It comes out all Israel, all the time.  You have made a shocking departure from the minimum standards of responsibility in your words – and all in the name of speaking up for victims.
I plead with you to rescue your moral standing and your record of working to improve the world .  Reflect on your loss of balance.  Restore your credibility.  As part of your reparation, you certainly should apologize for labeling Jews as genetically encoded for violence.
Yours truly,
Rabbi Irving Greenberg

a beautiful post by Nigel Savage, founder and exec director of hazon

New York -- Monday night, 19th January 2009 / Going from MLK Day into President Obama's Inauguration.

by Nigel Savage

Dear All,

Sometimes people ask me why I came here to found Hazon. Today, on Martin Luther King Jr Day and less than 24 hours before Barack Obama swears the oath as President, I want to give part of the answer.

I think you have to grow up somewhere else – as a Jew in England, for instance – to understand that the United States is a Jewish country. It is not only a Jewish country: it is also a Buddhist country, a Moslem country, an Italian country, a gay country, an Hispanic country. But it is, to me, a Jewish country, as it has been for Jews since before the War of Independence. 

Remember that in England the Archbishop of Canterbury still sits, by right, in the House of Lords.  If  Prince Charles followed Tony Blair's example and converted to Catholicism he would forfeit his right to the throne. In France one may still talk of a "Frenchman" and presume a normative Frenchness that excludes those who are Jewish, or Moslem, or black.  The exclusion of Jewishness from normativeness is true in every country of the world except two: in Israel, which is a Jewish country because it is a Jewish country, and in the United States of America, which is a Jewish country because it is not a Jewish country but it also isn't anyone else's country either, and thus is no less Jewish than it is Protestant or Catholic or anything else.

This might seem a trivial thing, but it turns out it is not.

The palpable excitement ahead of the inauguration is partly a commentary on the last eight years. We have been passengers in a vehicle that has been badly driven. It has skidded off the road so many times that most of us are bruised somehow, and some a lot worse than just bruised.  So there is a sense of hope because a new driver is about to take the wheel. On the night of the election I sobbed uncontrollably, could hardly stop for two days, and it was not because Obama was the first black president but because at a time of great need we would have a president of high intelligence, of thoughtfulness, a president who seemed determined to address serious problems seriously. (Also a president who had respect for science and data and for the English language and an understanding – amongst other things – that climate change and a range of environmental challenges needed to be addressed with integrity and commitment.) In aggregate: a new driver, who gave us legitimate hope that he knows how to drive and understands the responsibility of this unique vehicle.

But there is also something larger that derives from Obama's being the first black President. To me it makes him also the first gay president, in some ways the first president who will be a president of the world as well as merely of America and, yes, the first Jewish president.  The story of America, despite its nominal secularity, is deeply religious. The very idea of the United States is a sort of secular religion. Obama's relationship to his grandparents and his children, his lifestory and the way he explicates it, point towards his significance in the narrative of America as a secular religion, and they prompt us to think about the significance of our religion and our people in all this.

Knowing that three billion people will watch President Obama being sworn is a reminder of how big the world is - and of how few Jews there are. Even if we punch above our weight – even way above our weight – we can still accomplish only so much. If we really mean to be a light to the nations we had better understand that our light is only so bright, and there are many other lights out there.

But then again: Yisrael Campbell's comic monologue begins (and I paraphrase): "the Milky Way is huge, billions of miles across, with hundreds of millions of stars. And I'm just one person, and yet I'm all I think about…"  We are a small minority but we are also deeply significant. We should be able to hold both these two truths.

I founded Hazon because I believe in the significance of Jewish tradition and of the Jewish people and I believe in America. Not that I don't believe in Israel; not that I don't consider myself a Zionist; not that Israel isn't central to my life, and my life committed to the future of Israel. But I reject a world of either/or, and my affirmation of the centrality of Israel to Jewish life is balanced by my freely chosen commitment to the American Jewish community. When people look back two centuries from now, what happens in our day in Israel will turn out to have mattered a great deal to the future of the Jewish people. But what happens here in the American Jewish community will also be vital to the future of the Jewish people – and to the future of America, and of the world.

And thus Hazon. Hazon literally means vision, because vision really matters. Vision is about seeing in this world but also in the world of our imagination. In the famous words of RFK, "some see what it is and ask why; I see what might be, and ask, why not…?"

Hazon is a rejection of negativity and fear in Jewish life. It's about a sense of possibility. It's about people celebrating Jewish tradition at the same time in different ways, and then joining together for a meal, or a bike ride. It's about believing that we best do Jewish education when we address wider issues and not just our own parochial ones. It's about rejecting false choices between the particular and the universal. It's about seeing that it's possible to bring kids and 20-somethings and 40-somethings and 70-somethings together and have the whole be greater than the sum of the parts. It's about understanding that a 3,000 year old tradition of "keeping kosher" has what to say, today, about food deserts in our cities and how food is grown in this country and how animals are raised and that we need to do something about people who are hungry in the world on the day when Barack Obama becomes President Obama.  In aggregate, it's about believing that we really can create a healthier and a more sustainable Jewish community, - and in doing so, truly build a healthier and more sustainable world for all.

So Hazon is about recognizing our significance. The world needs America at its best, and America needs the Jewish people at its best, and the Jewish people needs each one of us – literally, you, and me, and all of us – doing the best we can do, working together, seeking to combine our talents and interests and capabilities as effectively as we possibly can.

And thus we as an organization are playing a distinctive and increasingly significant role in enabling and encouraging American Jews – and Jews in other countries, including Israel; and Americans of other backgrounds, not just Jews – to be our best selves, to step up as part of a broader human ecosystem, in a way that is consonant with how I think President Obama will inspire us and challenge us in his inauguration.

In being here I'm inspired by the Torah, by the rabbis of the talmud, by the Rambam, by Heschel and Soloveitchik and Ben Gurion and Reb Shlomo, by Mickey Rosen and Alice Shalvi and Blu Greenberg. And I'm also inspired by Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Teddy Roosevelt. Emma Goldman and Lincoln Steffens. By Chaney and Schwerner and Goodman. By Warren Buffet and Eleanor Roosevelt, by Keith Haring, by Aaron Sorkin and Michael Pollan, by Adam Berman and Nili Simhai and Reb Arthur Waskow, by Ruth Messinger and Ari Wallach and Mik Moore, by Anna Stevenson and Nati Passow and Phyllis Bieri. And by President Obama.

When I look back I see that since we began in 2000 Hazon has grown and flourished, and our work has accelerated in these last few months, even as the world has slid into a spiral of crises.

When I look forward I know that the world's problems are intimidatingly large. The loss of confidence in the banking system will not easily be fixed, or jobs regained that have been lost. Inflation looms behind the avalanche of money now being printed.  Paying the interest on the enlarged US federal budget deficit will tax us for a generation. Israel faces tough challenges. The recent travails of the Jewish community will persist for a good number of years. And behind these problems lie global scorching, climate change, species extinction, the despoliation of the world's oceans, huge global disparities of wealth and poverty, and an underlying system of overconsumption that damages the world and impoverishes generations yet to come. I support market systems (in general) as a good way to allocate resources in a free society; but the recent market collapses have made crystal clear the underlying deficits of our very way of life. It will be our challenge, as the century unfolds, to rethink how best to re-balance freedom and prosperity for ourselves and for future generations.

And yet I feel an extraordinary sense of hope, and not from a place of naïve optimism, and not from idol worship either.

I believe we will in due course respond to all these challenges because it turns out that leadership matters, hope matters, and a sense of possibility and determination makes all the difference.

The world's problems will be no different tomorrow – the day after the inauguration – than they are today, the day before. Yet what will change will be the new president, the thousand people he will appoint, the tens of millions whom he will influence directly and the few billion who will think afresh about what it means to be alive in the 21st century.

I'm under no misapprehensions about his infallibility. But from this day onwards, no-one will forget that America stands for possibility. No-one will doubt that the best parts of America's secular religion have been reinforced in an extraordinarily powerful way. It's not just that Obama himself seems set to be an impressive president. It's that it is almost impossible to imagine someone of his background or skin color elected leader of Britain or Germany or Russia or frankly anywhere else. Obama's election says something not only about who he is but about the country that elected him. His election reminds us not only of what he is capable but of what we ourselves are capable.

For Hazon, this is an end and a beginning.  In September we completed the first full shmita cycle of Hazon's existence and Obama's inauguration marks the end of the first full presidency of Hazon's existence. The next shmita cycle ends on September 13th 2015, and if he's reelected, President Obama's term will end on January 20th 2017.

What will the world look like in 2015 or 2017? How will we have fared individually and collectively? Thinking about this is like looking at the Yom Kippur liturgy writ large – who will live and who will die, who by fire and who by water? It prompts us to look back and to look forwards.

President Obama's election inspires me, but so too does seeing the work that Howie Rodenstein has done in building the Israel Ride. I don't know what to do about Israel and Gaza, but I know that what David Lehrer is doing at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies – student by student, day by day, made far harder by recent events – builds true peace, one person at a time. In the last few years we've raised over a million dollars for the Arava Institute, and another million for Jewish environmental initiatives – our own and others – in the US. We've been the occasion of marriages made and children born, of countless friendships established and strengthened. People have met us, heard about us, read about us, joined us, helped us. More than two dozen farms and 40 or more farmers are supported by Tuv Ha'Aretz; people in local food pantries ate nearly 18,000 lbs of our leftover food last year. Teens are growing up taking what we do and what we stand for entirely for granted – as they should. We're playing a unique and increasingly vital role in networking and supporting an entire movement, a generation of young and young-at-heart American Jews who are renewing our relationship with land and with food and in doing so are writing an inspiring and important chapter in the future history of American Jewish life.

Last month 560 people came to the largest event in Hazon's history – a 4-day Food Conference that was extraordinary in its energy and in the remarkable group of people who were there. In the coming weeks we'll publish and invite feedback on the national 7-year goals for the Jewish Food Movement which we launched at the Food Conference. And we'll announce a new initiative to mobilize the Upper West Side Jewish community to support a range of measures that will create more livable streets for all who live here; something that we hope will inspire equivalent work in other parts of the country.

Hazon is a trust, and we each play a unique role in taking that trust forward. Every staff member and every board member, every member of the NY Ride steering committee, every person who rides or supports a rider (more than 7,000 in 2008 alone), the nearly 2,000 members of Tuv Ha'Aretz, the people who write on The Jew & The Carrot, the students baking challah and selling it, the people at the Food Conference, the many organizations and individuals we partner with…  each makes Hazon what it is, and effects change in the overlapping ecosystems of which we're a part.

In May 2000, when we cycled out of Seattle Hillel on our first Hazon Ride, I couldn't have imagined 9/11 or much else that has happened in the world. But even as our programs have grown and evolved, our central values have been remarkably consistent. (If you're interested, check out what I wrote that May )

I'll end with this thought. Jewish tradition often locates a fast day before a feast day – Ta'anit Esther before Purim, the Fast of the First Born before Pesach, Tsom Gedaliah just after Rosh Hashanah but before Shabbat Shuvah and Yom Kippur.

So as MLK Day goes into Inauguration Day, I've been thinking about this relationship between commemoration and celebration, about America's greatness and its weaknesses. (For some reason I remembered what Arnold Toynbee once said:  America is like a big dog in a small room; "every time it wags its tail, it knocks something over.")

And in thinking back, I'm very much looking forward. I'm ready for the Inauguration, the poetry, the incredible crowds, the hand on the bible, the speech, the tears, the festivities.

And I feel reminded to thank each one of you for your kindness, your patience, your incredible support, and also for being understanding if I forgot someone's name or didn't reply to an email.  

I assume that President Obama will offer an injunction that we each be our best, that we take some responsibility for the world and for the imperfections that need to be fixed. I trust that as we listen we'll be inspired, as Jews and as part of the wider global family.  I hope that we'll rise to the President's challenge not only as individuals but also as Hazon stakeholders, so that together we'll bring new vision to life, within and beyond the American Jewish community. And I pray that we'll be able to look back at the end of this shmita cycle, and at the end of President Obama's second term, and know for sure not only that America is a better place and the world a better place, but that we have played a distinctive role in making that so.

Chag sameach.


P.S. The JCC in Manhattan does an annual celebration for MLK day. This is the quite extraordinary video they made for the occasion.

To sign up for one of our Israel Rides or our New York Ride, or to join Tuv Ha'Aretz in one of 32 locations this spring, or to support our work generally, go to www.hazon.org.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Jan 18, 2009

JTS: MLK & Abraham Joshua Heschel

JTS's presentation from http://www.jtsa.edu/x11157.xml

Since 1986, Americans have celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, honoring one of America's most revered civic leaders.

The Jewish Theological Seminary stood together in mourning upon learning of the death of Dr. King. Two prominent individuals at JTS spoke about the impact Dr. King had on the JTS community and the world at large. Their remarks are available online for the first time.

Seymour Siegel, former JTS professor of Ethics and Rabbinic Thought, spoke at a memorial for Dr. King at JTS on April 5, 1968. His speech can be found here.

On April 7, 1968, Louis Finkelstein, chancellor of JTS from 1940–1972, spoke on NBC television, mourning the loss of Dr. King. This powerful text can be viewed here.

Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King Jr.

"Heschel was professor of Jewish Ethics and Mysticism at The Rabbinical School of The Jewish Theological Seminary from 1946 to 1972. Once he became involved in the civil rights movement, Heschel was a potent force among the JTS student body and the American people; that is when he began to be known on the American scene and speak for the Jewish world." — Rabbi Joel Roth

Read a D'var Torah on Dr. Heschel and Dr. King by JTS Vice Chancellor, Rabbi Michael Greenbaum.

Chancellor Arnold Eisen discusses Dr. Heschel's thoughts and legacy in a compelling and thought-provoking interview with host Krista Tippett on Speaking of Faith, originally aired June 5, 2008, on American Public Media.

Iconic Images

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." — Dr. King

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. links arms with other civil rights leaders, including Abraham Joshua Heschel (second from the right), as they begin the march to the state capitol in Montgomery from Selma, Alabama, on March 21, 1965. The demonstrators are marching for voter registration rights for African Americans. Courtesy of AP Images

"We are not makers of history. We are made by history." — Dr. King

Chancellor Louis Finkelstein (r) and Professor Joseph Wohl (l) present Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. an honorary degree from JTS in 1964; Dr. Heschel was Dr. King's sponsor. Courtesy of the Ratner Center, JTS.

"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically . . . Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education." — Dr. King

Dr. Heschel with JTS rabbinic students in 1972

Quotes by Abraham Joshua Heschel

"God is to be found in many hearts all over the world. Not limited to one nation or one people, to one religion."

"Racism is an evil of tremendous power."

"Racism is man's gravest threat to man—the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason."

"Most of us, Negro and white, have not yet completed the crossing out of the Red Sea. There is still a long way to go. In fact, it was easier for the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea than for the civil rights legislation to pass the floor of the United States Senate."

See Dr. Heschel's compelling and groundbreaking interview on NBC. Order Abraham Joshua Heschel Remembered via the order form

Jan 16, 2009

[Shefa] JTA: Ziegler-Schechter split highlights Conservative divisions

Ziegler-Schechter split highlights Conservative divisions
By Ben Harris · January 15, 2009

NEW YORK (JTA) -- In a further sign that the American and international wings of the Conservative movement are moving in different ideological directions, a Los Angeles rabbinical seminary has ended its longstanding residency program with Machon Schechter in Jerusalem, the only institution that ordains Conservative rabbis in Israel.

Beginning this fall, third-year students at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies will spend their Israel year at the Conservative Yeshiva, a co-educational institute for Diaspora Jews housed at the Fuchsberg Center of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, the movement's North American synagogue umbrella. The change was announced last week in a memo to the United Synagogue's staff and board members.

"The Ziegler School and the Conservative Yeshiva share a common pedagogical philosophy -- integrating academic rigor, emotional engagement, and spiritual yearning," Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Ziegler's dean, said in a statement appended to the memo.

Both American Conservative seminaries -- Ziegler and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York -- are known to have ideological differences with Schechter's rabbinical school, whose dean, Rabbi Einat Ramon, has been an outspoken critic of the movement's liberalizing attitude towards gays and lesbians.

Ramon has declined to follow the lead of the American schools, both of which changed their policies to admit openly gay and lesbian students following a decision by the movement's Jewish law authorities in late 2006 paving the way for such a move. Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano, the movement's seminary in Argentina, also declined to change its policies.

Artson declined to comment beyond his statement in the United Synagogue memo on the reasons for the change. But in an interview with JTA last year, he responded to reports that students at Ziegler, the first Conservative seminary to adjust its admissions policy, were uncomfortable with the prospect of studying at Schechter.

"I've already launched conversations with Machon Schechter about the need to attend to there being real pluralism and that our students feel truly welcome," Artson told JTA. "We need to see significant progress on those issues. What I've discussed with Schechter is that our students have to not be tolerated guests. They need to feel a rapport. They need to feel that they are fully welcome."

Rabbi David Golinkin, Schechter's president, said the school had attempted to make adjustments to its courses in response to what he described as Ziegler's "unique approach" to training rabbis, but that ultimately those efforts came to naught.

"We've been told repeatedly by the people at Ziegler that this is not about the gay issue," Golinkin told JTA. "We take them at their word."

Others in the movement are less convinced. They point to a controversy that arose just over a year ago, when visiting American students at Schechter organized a ceremony to mark the one-year anniversary of the decision to permit gay ordination, but then decided to move the event off campus. The spat crystallized the discomfort of many Ziegler and JTS students, gay and straight alike, at the prospect of spending a year at Schechter, which is required under the present system.

They also point to an article Artson penned in the current issue of Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism in which he asserted that "halachic pluralism" -- the idea that conflicting approaches to Jewish law can coexist -- "precludes the option of continuing to postpone the day when all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of their orientation, are welcomed fully as part of the rich fabric of Jewish culture and Jewish life."

The American and international arms of the Conservative movement have gradually drifted apart on a number of hot-button questions in recent years, including the status of non-egalitarian congregations. Last year, three Toronto-area synagogues -- none of which fully embrace egalitarian worship -- cited a number of factors in explaining their decision to break off from the United Synagogue, including financial concerns and "philosophical differences" they felt were marginalizing the more traditional-leaning Canadian congregations.

Beyond their varying ideological approaches are what insiders see as differing styles with respect to rabbinic training. Ziegler is seen as having embraced a wider and more holistic approach to rabbinical education while JTS, which is in the process of a major overhaul of its rabbinical curriculum, is believed to be heading in a similar direction.

At Schechter, sources say, the educational approach remains more firmly in the academically oriented mold once exemplified by JTS. The school is also said to be preoccupied with asserting itself in the Israeli religious world and with holding the line against the liberalizing tendencies of the Americans.

"People at Schechter feel that the Conservative movement has taken a wrong turn, that the Conservative movement in America has made a move toward being indistinguishable from the Reform and the Reconstructionist, from the other liberal movements," said one Conservative rabbi who favors gay ordination. "They view themselves as the last anchor of true Conservative Judaism and they will not be swayed."

Golinkin denied both assertions. "I don't take halachic positions in order to hold lines," he said.

Officials at Schechter and JTS, the movement's flagship institution, have been in discussions over a number issues raised by their differing admissions policies as well as the seminary's new curriculum.

Neither Golinkin nor Rabbi Danny Nevins, the recently installed dean of the JTS rabbinical school, would comment on the content of those discussions. But Nevins did tell JTA that while the seminary is committed to "cooperation" with Schechter, "we will also be expanding our partnership" with the Israeli branch of the Conservative synagogue movement, known as Masorti, "as well as with other Israeli organizations."


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Jan 13, 2009

A Memory of Rabbi Alan Lew, z"l

Shalom Chevreh -
this memory of Rabbi Lew is written by a student of his, and is a beautiful testimony to but a part of a special man named Alan Lew. 
May his memory be for a blessing,
A Memory of Rabbi Alan Lew, z"l
Shalom Spencer
For many years I was wrestling with a profound issue that perhaps has effected many Jewsof this generation. Having been alienated from Judaism though still participating I took up the practice of meditation. Issues still came up but there was no one to answer these complex issues. I migrated to California and discovered the work he was doing w/ Norman Fischer and began attending some of their retreats and classes. Needless to say I received a great deal.
Then Rabbi Lew authored three books all addressing profound issues that spoke to me and I am sure others. I read and continue to read these books as sources of inspiration.
One day I asked R' Lew in a private session what to do about my continuing anguish. I attend minyans but cannot "get into' it. His answer b'Kitzur  not only answered this question but so many others I have had and continue to have: Embrace the ambivalence.
Now with is passing and again feeling sadness, frustration and confusion I must enter into stillness and embrace my ambivalnce  
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Jan 12, 2009

a beautiful piece of Torah by Rabbi Alan Lew, z"l

Dear Chevreh,
Today's loss of Rabbi Alan Lew z"l is the loss of a very special person, whose teaching will continue to resonate. 
May his blessing be for a memory,
Rabbi Creditor
by Rabbi Alan Lew
Every year before the Days of Awe, the Ba-al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism, held a competition to see who would blow the shofar for him on Rosh Hashanah. Now if you wanted to blow the shofar for the Ba-al Shem Tov, not only did you have to blow the shofar like a virtuoso, but you also had to learn an elaborate system of kavanot -- secret prayers that were said just before you blew the shofar to direct the shofar blasts and to see that they had the proper effect in the supernal realms.
All the prospective shofar blowers practiced these kavanot for months. They were difficult and complex. There was one fellow who wanted to blow the shofar for the Ba-al Shem Tov so badly that he had been practicing these kavanot for years. But when his time came to audition before the Ba-al Shem, he realized that nothing he had done had prepared him adequately for the experience of standing before this great and holy man, and he choked. His mind froze completely. He couldn't remember one of the kavanot he had practiced for all those years. He couldn't even remember what he was supposed to be doing at all. He just stood before the Ba-al Shem in utter silence, and then, when he realized how egregiously -- how utterly -- he had failed this great test, his heart just broke in two and he began to weep, sobbing loudly, his shoulders heaving and his whole body wracking as he wept.
All right, you're hired, the Ba-al Shem said.
But I don't understand, the man said. I failed the test completely. I couldn't even remember one kavanah.
So the Ba-al Shem explained with the following parable: In the palace of the King, there are many secret chambers, and there are secret keys for each chamber, but one key unlocks them all, and that key is the ax. The King is the Lord of the Universe, the Ba-al Shem explained. The palace is the House of God. The secret chambers are the sefirot, the ascending spiritual realms that bring us closer and closer to God when we perform commandments such as blowing the shofar with the proper intention, and the secret keys are the kavanot. And the ax -- the key that opens every chamber and brings us directly into the presence of the King, where he may be -- the ax is the broken heart, for as it says in the Psalms, "God is close to the brokenhearted."
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Jan 8, 2009

NY Jewish Week: CAJE Seen Struggling To Survive

CAJE Seen Struggling To Survive

by Carolyn Slutsky - Jewish Week Staff Writer


The Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, the largest organization of Jewish educators in North America, is experiencing major financial problems and may be forced to cancel its annual conference and close its doors altogether.

"We'd love to be able to put on an amazing conference and build upon everything we've done," said Jeffrey Lasday, CAJE's executive director, noting that last year's conference, held at the University of Vermont, attracted 1,500 mostly supplementary school educators from across the country and Israel, the largest number in seven years.

But the reality looks less hopeful. Observers say CAJE is carrying a debt estimated at around $500,000 and that, as one put it, "if they pull through it's going to be ... a

In fact, Donald Sylvan, president of the Jewish Education Services of North America (JESNA), said that he has been in "intense dialogues" for several months with Lasday. One of the options under discussion is for JESNA to take over some of CAJE's programs and functions.

"There is no answer yet in terms of exactly what role JESNA will play in the future with respect to the endeavors that CAJE might or might not take," said Sylvan, adding that the word merger would not describe the potential arrangement and that CAJE will be making its own decision. "We want to carry on the legacy and ideals of CAJE."

CAJE's board president, Iris Koller, said the $500,000 sum is a rumor and Lasday would not confirm the figure, but he did say CAJE is in limbo and should know by next week whether funding it has sought will come through, and if Jewish institutions will be able to afford to send teachers to the conference, slated to be held in San Antonio in August.

Though widely beloved by Jewish educators, who view the conference as an annual booster shot of enthusiasm for their profession, CAJE had been struggling financially before the most recent dip in the economy. In 2001, the organization had gross receipts of $3.2 million and net assets of $2 million, according to the group's tax filings. By 2006, the last year for which tax records are publicly available, the gross receipts had declined to $2.5 million and the net assets were $281,000, with a deficit of $561,000.

"If we're looking at a scan of the field, professional development dollars are being cut from budgets," said Koller, speaking of the federations, synagogues and supplementary schools that help pay teachers' way to the conference each year. Additionally, she said, Jewish educators are notoriously underpaid and in this economy will not have extra resources to devote to traveling to the conference or paying the admission fee on their own.

"For us it becomes a question of how can we best continue to fulfill our mission of professional development of Jewish educators in a responsible way they can actually utilize," said Koller.

One of the critiques of CAJE — ironic in a post-Madoff wave calling for less dependence on wealthy machers — is that it historically had a board comprised of educators rather than the business people and philanthropists that typically populate non-profit boards. Both Lasday and Koller conceded this point, noting that three years ago CAJE adopted a new strategic plan that included adding more of the latter, a cohort they are still trying to build.

Lasday said leaders let membership and funders know well in advance about impending financial trouble.
"We've spent the past year and a half working with donors, federations and foundations, so we've been very active" in seeking additional funding and support, he said.

While nothing is finalized yet, many observers in the worlds of Jewish education and philanthropy sounded as though they were already in mourning.

 Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, echoed the sentiments of many admirers of CAJE when he noted, "the CAJE conference is a jewel in the crown of Jewish education, and its loss would be a terrible blow, especially in the world of supplementary education."

"My guess is the current economic downturn came at the wrong time for an organization already struggling with finances, it's just a hard time for everybody," said Vicky Kelman, director of the Jewish Family Education Project of the Board of Jewish Education in San Francisco, who has been a supporter since attending the first CAJE conference 33 years ago, when it began as an alternative group and was frowned upon by the educational establishment. (For its first years, the group's name was Coalition for Alternatives in Jewish Education.)

But "maybe that's the way it has to be," she added. "There are organizations that make their contribution, and CAJE has certainly made its contribution...sometimes a door closes and another one opens up."

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

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Jan 5, 2009

VaYigash 5769: "The Possible Blessing of Encounter"

VaYigash 5769: "The Possible Blessing of Encounter"
Rabbi Menachem Creditor

   - wishing a Refu'ah Shleiman to Yedidya Schlessinger, wounded in Gaza
   - in memory of Alan Eisen z"l,
father of Chancellor Arnold Eisen
   - with thanks to Vicky Sommer

I've been spending some time with Martin Buber recently, preparing for a public conversation with my friend Josh Kornbluth, as part of his monologue at the Contemporary Jewish Museum entitled "Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?"  Buber is one of 10 Jewish portraits in museum's exhibit, and is himself an intriguing character in the worlds of philosophy, Zionism, and human interaction.  His general approach is articulated well in this quote, taken from Aubrey Hodes' "Martin Buber: An Intimate Portrait":

"I do not accept any absolute formulas for living. No preconceived code can see ahead to everything that can happen in a man's life. As we live, we grow and our beliefs change. They must change. So I think we should live with this constant discovery. We should be open to this adventure in heightened awareness of living. We should stake our whole existence on our willingness to explore and experience."

Buber's concept of "encounter" is useful as we enter Joseph's culminating interaction with his brothers, specifically Judah's approach:

Then Judah approached (VaYigash) him and said, "Please, my lord, let Your servant appeal to my lord, and do not be impatient with your servant, You who are the equal of Pharaoh. (Gen 44:18)

What must Judah have been thinking in the immediate aftermath of Joseph's accusing Benjamin of stealing?  Their father Jacob's youngest son was about to be lost (again) and Judah's leadership was facing the ultimate test once more, this time from a clear position of vulnerability.  What must Joseph have been feeling, with the pent-up pain and anger of decades and the sudden position of power over his abusers at hand?  What must Benjamin have been feeling, thrust into a horrible position he did not himself create? What do we, the readers, experience as we enter the writhing text and its intense emotionality?

What was embodied in Judah's approach?  The ancient rabbis wondered as well:

[What does 'VaYigash/He Approached' mean?] Rabbi Yehudah interpreted it as an approach of war.  Rabbi Nechemiah interpreted it as an approach of appeasement... The Rabbis interpreted it as an approach of prayer. Rabbi Elazar resolved the dispute saying, "if for war, here I come; if for appeasement, here I come; if for prayer, here I come." (BR 93:6)

It is Rabbi Elazar's view that compels my attention, in which Judah's approach was one of unpredictable outcomes, an encounter in Buber's framework, I believe.  This encounter could only be determined by both parties in dialogue.  Would war be the next step, as Rabbi Yehudah's interpretation would suggest?  Would reconciliation ensue, as Rabbi Nechemia and the Rabbis would suggest?  Rabbi Elazar's interpretation left the question unanswered, as perhaps it had to remain until Judah spoke and Joseph responded, a true dialogue owned by two separate people.  Neither could ultimately control the words, emotions, or experience of the other.

What a different world we would witness today were this the way nations interacted.  Readiness for either war or reconciliation would have two groups encounter each other without presuming to know or control the intention of the other.

We are witnessing destruction and pain in Gaza after years of stress for people in Southern Israel.  The world is seeing images that just break our hearts, no matter our personal allegiances, no matter our passionate love for our People in Israel.  Everyone is in pain.  everyone is suffering.  To ignore the pain being caused by the Israeli response in Gaza, no matter how justified military response truly is, is to forget our humanity.  When one image of God is killed, the collective human body shudders and cries.  As Israeli Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yonah Metzger reminded us all in his teaching just last week,

"Whereas 'HaBa L'horgecha Hashkem L'horgo, do not hesitate to defend yourself and your country,'
remember also 'Binfol Oyvecha Al Tismach-- do not rejoice because when our enemy suffers.'"
This came to sharp contrast in a powerful encounter, for me, just this past Shabbat. 

I had communicated to my community that this past Shabbat we would be reciting an Emergency Mishebeirach for Israel, and included a link to it.  In a time of conflict in Israel, all Jewish communities should respond with the souls.  It is not "simply" a policital statement - it is a spiritual anguish for us all when our sisters and brothers are under attack.  To pray for Israel is not a rejection of the humanity of the Palestinian people - it is an affirmation that we are family and that we are viscerally suffering, no matter the physical distance.

A member of the shul pointed out a challenge she recognized in the text of the Mishebeirach itself.  The prophetic quote from Micah (4:4) at it's closing "[May] every person shall sit under their grapevine or fig tree with no one to disturb him" was preceded with the words: "may the verse be applied to us. (emphasis mine)"

My friend asked me if this truly represented the verse, if it embodied our hopes as a shul, as a people - if it should be the aspirational language of our prayer in a moment of war.  Do we pray for only our own peace?  She was correct.  In our encounter, within our dialogue, a new truth emerged.  And so, when we did recite an Emergency Mishebeirach, the language that emerged was more authentic and, I believe, holier.  The Mishebeirach we ended up sharing reached through our pain, through the years of unceasing assault by Hamas, through our Jewish experience of repeated victimization, and prayed both for the safety of every IDF soldier and Israeli citizen and affirmed the humanity and worthiness of the Palestinians who are suffering so terribly from Hamas' hatred and failed leadership. 

Rashi, commenting on the eventual tearful embrace of Joseph and Benjamin (Gen. 45:14), suggested that their tears were not about the immediate moment, but rather were prophetic:

"And he fell on his brother Benjamin's neck and wept" for the two sanctuaries which were destined to be in Benjamin's territory and would ultimately be destroyed "and Benjamin wept on his neck" for the Tabernacle of Shiloh, which was destined to be in Joseph's territory yet would ultimately be destroyed. [Meg. 16b, Gen. Rabbah 93:12]

Joseph wasn't crying for his own pain.  He cried for Benjamin's pain.  Benjamin similarly cried for Joseph's pain.  In the encounter, they experienced each other.  This was a reconcilliation of two vulnerable selves, again an early echo of Buber's evolution away from proposing the unity of being and instead focusing on relationship and the dialogical nature of existence.  Joseph's relationship with his brothers wasn't one of undying reunification; upon reading their fear of reprisal upon Jacob's death (Gen. 50:15) it becomes all too clear that conflict dies hard.

I close with the English translation of the Mishebeirach we ultimately offered this Shabbat with the fervent hope, as Rabbi David Greenstein recently wrote so eloquently in the Jerusalem Repor, that the reconcilliation we seek need not be one of love, because that isn't likely to happen.  But reconcilliation without love is a worthy goal, much more healthy for everyone than the headlines and realities we are likely to witness in the weeks to come. 

While peace may remain elusive, in its absence may tolerance and recognition of "the other" be in our prayers.

An Emergency Prayer for the State of Israel
adapted by Rabbi Menachem Creditor from the original written by Rabbi Simchah Roth and Rabbi Michael Graetz.
The original can be accessed at www.shefanetwork.org.

May the One who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah bless the residents of the State of Israel who live under the daily threat of missiles of death and destruction. May the Holy One strengthen their spirit and give them resolve to withstand this crisis until it passes. May God grant wisdom and insight to those leaders of the State charged with protecting our people, so that their actions are infused with courage, wisdom and intelligence aimed at achieving a just goal. Adonai Tzeva'ot, protect the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces in the air, on the sea and land, those in battle, those on the home front, and all the rescue and security forces. Save them from every trouble and evil design, and cause the works of their hands to be for blessing and for success. May they go out in peace and return victorious and whole to their homes and loved ones.

Adonai, bring peace to our Holy Land and eternal joy to its inhabitants, for Jacob again shall have calm and quiet with none to trouble him. Adonai, bless the Palestinian people with the calm they deserve. May peace with Israel become their stated goal, so that they may soon see their own homeland's birth. And may the verse be applied to everyone being impacted by this horrible war: "But every person shall sit under their grapevine or fig tree with no one to disturb him. For it was the Lord of Hosts who spoke."

May this be Your will, and let us say:

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

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