Jul 30, 2010

Haaretz.com: "Rabbi clashes with Israeli embassy in Washington over Western Wall arrest"

Haaretz.com: "Rabbi clashes with Israeli embassy in Washington over Western Wall arrest"

By Natasha Mozgovaya

The Israeli embassy in Washington was enraged on Thursday after receiving a letter from modern Orthodox rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who had organized a protest last week following the arrest of feminist activist Anat Hoffman.

Hoffman, founder of the Women of the Wall movement, was arrested on July 13 for carrying a Torah scroll at the Western Wall, which Israeli courts have prohibited women from doing. Herzfeld, along with dozens of protesters, demonstrated at the Israeli embassy in Washington following the event.

"He basically blackmailed us and made some headlines at the expense of the [Israeli] ambassador [to Washington]. These North Korean-style negotiations are not in the spirit of our relationship with the Jewish community," a source at the embassy told Haaretz.

The source quoted the letter, penned by Herzfeld, which read "I have invited Ambassador [Michael] Oren to come to Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue to explain this arrest. So far we've received no word from him on whether or not he will show up. But if I don't hear from him by tomorrow morning, then I will be forced to announce a public protest in front of the embassy."

"We are dealing a lot with the Women of the Wall story," the diplomat said. "The ambassador met with the Chief Rabbi and with the minister of the interior to discuss this matter. The way Rabbi Herzfeld chose to deal with it looked more like a public relations exercise. He called on the ambassador 'to come out and say that he is ashamed of this policy' – that's not how sensitive issues are dealt with. It was not appropriate and it left an unpleasant impression that the organizer seeks press coverage and ignores the serious and quiet work done by the embassy to deal with this issue."

Rabbi Herzfeld told Haaretz that his intention was to make the responsible side feel uncomfortable.

"The Israeli government did not criticize it at all. Michael Oren didn't say anything about it. So if we keep silent, at a certain point we become associated with this policy," he said. "Women and men in our synagogue – it affects all of us and it is starting to embarrass us."

"We are an orthodox synagogue and there is a phrase – silence is like acceptance. Our question to them was: do you agree with that? And the answer was: we don't know the facts. And I say, I am sorry, it's not good enough. You had 10 days to check. There is a YouTube video of the arrest with the facts," the rabbi went on to say.

Herzfeld stressed that he is an ardent supporter of Israel. "Many times I stood there counter protesting voices against Israel - it is something I take pride in. But I had two reasons to protest this time - I wanted Anat Hoffman to know she was not alone, that there are people who supported her and other women's right to hold a Sefer Torah. She had the right to do it based on a freedom of religion, but also from a halakhic (Jewish law) perspective, I think it's definitely permissible."

"If the government of Israel is going to continue with this type of action, they should know it's not acceptable and they will hear it from us," he said. "Some people say 'don't raise your voice, it will embarrass Israel' But even they won't defend the policy. How can Michael Oren and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu defend this policy?"

"Michael Oren was in my synagogue at Rosh ha-Shanah when the Torah was passed to the women's section. That demonstrates clearly that he doesn't have an ideological problem with this," Herzfeld continued.

He confirmed that embassy officials asked him not to demonstrate. "One of their arguments was that the ambassador had already discussed it directly with Netanyahu in a private meeting after the previous arrest. But clearly this quiet diplomacy is not having an effect. What could have an impact is if the government understands that there will be negative publicity."

Following the demonstration, Herzfeld was invited into the embassy to talk, but he wasn't placated. "The only thing they said is that they don't know the facts yet. I am sorry – 10 days after the arrest, they still don't know the facts? It shows they don't take it seriously. It's not going to blow over."

"One of the reasons I went out there is because I heard from a lot of people in our synagogue how upset they were about it. Most of the people in our synagogue are strongly affiliated with Zionism and support of Israel – and they tell me how outraged they were. I felt that this arrest was like a punch in the face."

Rabbi Herzfeld said that his invitation for Oren to visit the synagogue still stands. "I invited him to come at any point. He knows how to get here. He's been here before. But he refused to come. If he doesn't want to address these concerns, what should we do? Just be quiet?" 

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Jul 29, 2010

Check out our innovative Jewish program for your Kindergartener!

Edah @ Congregation Netivot Shalom
CNS Homepage
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To learn more about Edah, please email youth@netivotshalom.org!

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Edah is designed to be a vibrant and integral aspect of participating families lives and will be open to the entire Bay Area community, regardless of synagogue affiliation status.  It will be lead by Shalom Rosenberg (see bio below) who is responsible for program development and implementation and staffed by madrichim and enrichment specialists as needed.

EDAH: a community of Jewish learning and doing
Welcome to a new, innovative model of complementary Jewish Education!  The 2010-2011 Edah program, a new part of the cutting-edge CNS Hebrew School, includes learning experiences with several concurrent features: learner-centered; project based; experiential; individual and group activities; Hebrew, Jewish values, and Jewish text integrated throughout; parent education; and family learning.  Edah learners will realize our program's goals in age appropriate ways.  By the end of 5th grade, participating children will:
· have a positive Jewish identity
· know Hebrew language, Jewish tradition, and Jewish values
· be capable of engaging in Jewish ritual and communal life.

There will be two Edah "Open House" events in August. The first will be on Sunday, August 8th from 10 -11:30am and the second will be on Monday, August 23rd from 4-5:30pm.  Email youth@netivotshalom.org for more information! 

2010-2011 Edah Program Features Include:  Each day will begin (1:30*-3:30) with free choice learning centers, Hebrew literacy activities, text study, and small group work on particular skill building. This will accommodate a variety of start times for kids depending on when their particular school day ends.  Physical activity (sports, dance, etc.), visual and performing arts, music, cooking, Hebrew language, Israel (culture, geography, history), Jewish text study will be incorporated throughout the program.  The second half of each day (3:30-5:30 p.m.) of the week will include specialized foci: project based learning** related to Torah, tefillah, chagim, outdoor/environmental education, Hebrew language study, Shabbat preparation.  Family education programs and Shabbat programming (either Friday p.m. or Saturday afternoon/evening depending on season) will take place once a month. Throughout the year participants will engage in"school's out" day-long programming on selected secular holidays and public school professional development/conference days and Jewish holiday programming.  Once a year programmatic elements will include a beginning of the year "kick-off" retreat and three weeks of day camp (one winter week, one spring week, one summer week).
* Exact start time will be set in accordance with relevant East Bay school schedules. We will offer transportation from schools to CNS--transportation options are currently being investigated.  
** For more information on Project Based Learning see http://www.bie.org/about/what_is_pbl

Meet Shalom Rosenberg, Edah Director / Lead Educator

Shalom Rosenberg has been a Jewish Educator for the past decade and has taught in Jewish schools, camps, and
ShalomR2organizations of all denominations on both coasts of the United States. In addition to being the new Edah Program Director and Youth Advisor at Congregation Netivot Shalom, Shalom also teaches adults and older children at Congregation Emanu El in San Francisco.
Prior to this year, Shalom taught at the Palo Alto JCC, the Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School, Shaar Zahav, Emanu El San Francisco, JCC Manhattan, Kane Street Synagogue, Park Avenue Synagogue, Shaaray Tefila, the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, and the Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps in Malibu.
Shalom graduated from Brooklyn College where he studied Film and Education. He was a member of the Ford Colloquium, an interdisciplinary branch of the Honors Academy and was also active in Hillel, Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity (Philanthropy Chairman and Pledge Master), HaTikvah Magazine (Editor in Chief), Excelsior Newspaper (Senior Editor), and the Jewish Film Society, which he founded in 1999.
Shalom is a native New Yorker who moved to the Bay Area last year.  He grew up as the son of an Orthodox rabbi and is married to Adam Rosenwasser, a Reform Rabbi at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills. Shalom sees teaching as way to bring people and families together. He has many passions-from teaching about Judaism and Hebrew to film studies to pop culture to reading to travel and more. He enjoys his new home in California with Adam and their pets, Shachar the cat and Phaedra the puppy.
Shalom is thrilled to be joining this wonderful community and looks forward to many years of learning and growing together!  You can reach Shalom at youth@netivotshalom.org.

Forward.com: "Name Game: How Traditional Is The Conservative Movement?"

Forward.com: "Name Game: How Traditional Is The Conservative Movement?"

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Published July 28, 2010, issue of August 06, 2010.

What's in a name?

Lately, that age-old question has become a burning issue for leaders of Conservative Judaism.

Chancellor: Arnold Eisen during a visit to the Forward.
Chancellor: Arnold Eisen during a visit to the Forward.

Once the largest of American Judaism's denominational streams, the movement today, though still significant, faces declining membership, financial difficulties and confusion about what it stands for. The confusion is in part a result of lost distinctions as Conservative Judaism has joined Reform, now the largest stream of Judaism, in adopting egalitarian practices and accepting women and gay and lesbian Jews as rabbis.

At a July 22 meeting with Forward editors and reporters, Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, which has long been regarded as Conservative Judaism's flagship academic center, acknowledged that the movement's name is now being debated, along with much else, among its leaders.

"I'm open to it. I'm open to it," Eisen told the journalists when asked about the possibility of a name change.

Leaders of Conservative-affiliated organizations want to find a name that will better capture what they want the movement to represent, he said.

"The leading candidate right now, I think, is just to go with the name 'Masorti,' which captures things better than the word 'Conservative' captures them. So I am open to suggestions; I am open to a name change," Eisen said.

Masorti, the Hebrew word for "traditional," is how Conservative Judaism is known outside North America. But in a country as deeply resistant to unknown foreign coinages as America is, would the word communicate a meaningful message to its intended audiences, both Jewish and non-Jewish?

We at the Forward decided to solicit suggestions from a wide range of people as to what new name they think the Conservative movement ought to adopt, if any. The responses ranged from the comic to the cosmic.

"It should be called the 'I Eat Treyf Outside the House' movement," said comedian Judy Gold, speaking for the comic end of the spectrum. Gold, who belongs to a Conservative synagogue in Manhattan, said that the denomination "is definitely suffering from middle-child syndrome" as it struggles to restore vitality to the space between Reform and Orthodox. "It's the Jan Brady of the Jewish world, and everyone's always saying 'Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.'"

When Gold mentions her Conservative affiliation in her act, "you can see people's heads exploding" because they think she means that she's politically conservative — something the lesbian single mother of two is decidedly not.

This growing misunderstanding of the name "Conservative movement" is proving a problem for rabbis, as well.

"Twenty years ago, when I introduced myself as a Conservative rabbi, people understood. But now they think I'm defining my political or theological stance as opposed to just labeling my denomination," said Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, director of the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network. "This is a real issue. Now I simply introduce myself as a rabbi, not a Conservative rabbi, and that's harsh."

"There is no doubt that we need a name change," she continued. "Why define ourselves now, over 100 years after the fact, against that which we were separating from? We should have a more dynamic title, not a reactive title."

In contrast, Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for the fervently traditionalist Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America, urged that the Conservative movement "not change its name, which is an important reminder that its foundational raison d'être was to conserve Jewish observance in the face of Reform."

The Conservative movement grew from the Positive-Historical Judaism school of thought, born in mid-19th-century Europe as a response to the Enlightenment's impact on traditional Judaism. In the United States, the nascent Reform movement celebrated the first graduating class of Reform rabbis at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in Cincinnati, by serving shellfish at the infamous "Treyfa Banquet" in 1883. Two years later, Reform leaders formally rejected observance of Jewish ritual. This moved more traditional Jews to create the Jewish Theological Seminary, and later the United Synagogue of America, to "conserve" the heart of Jewish tradition while taking an academic approach to Jewish study and integrating contemporary values.

Rabbi David Wolpe, spiritual leader of Los Angeles's Conservative-affiliated Sinai Temple, has long thought about the issue, and at the Rabbinical Assembly convention a few months ago, he suggested that the movement now be called "Covenantal Judaism."

It should be "Covenantal Judaism" because "it should be about relationships — between Jews, Jews and the non-Jewish world, Jews and God," he told the Forward.

Rabbi Shaul Magid, a former JTS professor of Jewish philosophy who is now a professor of Jewish studies at Indiana University, proposes that the movement now be called "Historical Renewal," to reflect both its roots and its desire for spiritually focused growth.

"Conservative Judaism wants to see itself as a movement of 'renewal.' It should own that. And it should own that Jewish Renewal is a natural and productive outgrowth of Conservative Judaism — even as it may still acknowledge that Renewal goes too far," he said, referring to the small, mystically oriented movement led by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi that goes by that name. "The Conservative movement has always put 'history' at its center. It should reaffirm this, even as our understanding of history may change."

Rabbi Charles Simon, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs, put forward the idea of adopting the Masorti name several months ago, at a meeting of the heads of Conservative institutions, he told the Forward. The name "is working in other places" outside North America, he said. "It's an easy thing to change; it just takes commitment on the part of the organizations to figure out how to implement it."

"We all agree that it should change, but I don't know what the answer is," said Cory Schneider, international president of the Women's League for Conservative Judaism.

But Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president and CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said that this is not the time for his movement to be discussing a name change.

"At this juncture, it is a distraction from the work that's directly in front of us. A name change without reprioritization of the messaging of what it is the movement wants to accomplish, I'm not prepared to have that conversation right now."

Rabbi Bradley Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University, Los Angeles, the Conservative movement's other rabbinical school in North America, agreed.

"Our movement needs to say, 'Let others worry about the label, we're going to worry about the product,'" Artson said. "As long as Jews are really learning to love God, Torah and mitzvoth in a modern, dynamic way, then we're winning.

Branding guru Rob Frankel, owner of the Los Angeles marketing firm RobFrankel.com, argued that there was no point in changing the Conservative movement's name if the movement does not first decide what its essential message is.

"How could you possibly name something without having a brand strategy first? If you can't articulate what you're trying to provide, how can you come up with an identity?" said Frankel, whose family was affiliated with a Conservative synagogue for decades. A few years ago, he did local research and found that while the average length of membership in Conservative synagogues used to be 20 to 25 years, now it is just three years.

"There is no brand strategy at the Conservative movement, which is one of the reasons why they're struggling," he said.

Then again, if the denomination decides to go in a radically different direction, it can always borrow from another successful brand. According to Aaron Freeman, co-author with his wife, Sharon Rosenzweig, of the soon-to-be-published "The Comic Torah," Conservative Judaism should re-dub itself "Britney Spears."

Debra Nussbaum can be reached at dnussbaumc@forward.com

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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cnn.com: "Addressing treatment of workers, group readies new kosher seal"

cnn.com: "Addressing treatment of workers, group readies new kosher seal"
Talya Minsberg

Most religious dietary guidelines allow individuals to maintain a sense of holiness in their daily lives.

For many Jews, that sense was shattered in spring of 2006, when an Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa was raided and found to have hundreds of illegal immigrants and dozens of violations, from unsafe conditions to unethical treatment of workers. It was the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant.

In June, Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin was sentenced to 27 years of imprisonment on fraud charges, though he appealed his conviction earlier this month.

The scandal has done more than send Rubashkin to jail. When American Jews learned that workers at the Agriprocessors plant faced dire conditions, including receiving safety instructions in English even though many spoke only Spanish, the community entered a kosher crisis.

For an animal to be "kosher," it must be slaughtered using perfectly sharp knife to cut the throat. The method is apparently painless and is recognized as the most humane method of slaughter. For that reason, some Jews feel that keeping kosher is as ethical as it is holy when it comes to meat consumption.

Following the Postville raid, Rabbi Morris Allen of Saint Paul, Minnesota argued to his congregation that keeping kosher is as much about workers as about animals.

"We needed to find a way to develop kashrut that is kosher and raised to the highest Jewish ethical standard," Allen said in an interview. "If we were serious about kashrut (keeping kosher), it was time to understand the laws of kashrut that were not written in the Torah."

Allen's idea? A new kind of kosher.

Just like labels such as "fair trade," a kosher label–called a hekhsher–certifies that the product is kosher. Allen proposed a new kosher stamp certifying that the treatment of workers is as kosher as the treatment of the food.

But creating a new kosher stamp has proved more difficult than it may sound.

"This was a systemic issue, not something that could be handled individually on one plant or another," Allen said.

Since 2006, Allen has been promoting a new seal, called Magen Tzedek, through an organization of the same name. "The world's first Jewish ethical certification seal," the group says, "synthesizes the aspirations of a burgeoning international movement for sustainable, responsible consumption and promotes increased sensitivity to the vast and complex web of global relationships that bring food to our tables."

Last September, Magen Tzedek issued a 154-page document outlining standards for the new seal, addressing everything from hazardous waste reduction to off site education for employees. The document covers employee wages, benefits, health and safety, animal welfare, and corporate transparency.

So far, food manufacturers and consumers have praised Magen Tzedek.

"Companies are always interested in whether the seal will sell more products, and we believe it will… it can restore the sense of kashrut in the American community," Allen said.

Magen Tzedek and its Hekhsher Tzedek Commission have the garnered support from the Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Nathan Cummings Foundation and Social Accountability International. Many kosher certifiers have also backed the new certification.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the largest certifier of kosher food, OU Kosher, has publically advocated the new Hekhsher.

"Clearly we have captured the imagination of American Jewish community. It's not accidental that two of the major Hekhsher Tzedek players were recognized by Newsweek as influence rabbis," Allen said, referring to Newsweek's 50 most influential Rabbis in America of 2010.

Magen Tzedek hopes to have its insignia next to kosher seals early next year.

While he declined to disclose companies that he says are on board for the new seal, Allen say that "major names that people will recognize will be among the first to go forward with this."

Companies can apply for the Hekhsher Tzedek seal online. Magezn Tzedek plans to hold webinars to educate consumers and advocates.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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concerned about Veritas


While surfing Facebook just now, I just came across a site that has me very concerned.  http://veritashandbook.blogspot.com  is "The Veritas Handbook Home Page", which is VERY well done.  They just went public with a Press Release.  It is free, very viral (pdf, blog, fb, etc...), and uses Israel Advocacy techniques and resources to (as they put it) "provide readers with a fuller understanding of the development and progression of the Palestinian struggle for justice and equality."  But, similar to the BDS campaign, the framing of the project is much more problematic than the campaign itself.  The press release begins:

July is historically an important month in the struggle for Palestinian human rights. It was in July when the British Empire officially established its control over Palestine through the League of Nations Mandate System (July 24th 1922); it was in July when the first major Zionist terrorist attack against Palestinian civilians occurred (July 26th 1938); it was in July when the International Court of Justice ruled the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank to be illegal in international law (July 9th 2004); and it was also in July when the Palestinian people issued their historic call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel (July 9th 2005), which has formed the basis for the global mobilization against Israeli apartheid in recent years. 

The Handbook consists of five sections.  Here's how the Press Release describes them:
    1. A Concise History of Palestine: Geared towards educating an uninformed audience while solidifying information that any regular activist may have, it has been designed such that it could be a course for activists with a one hour session, once a week, for ten weeks.
    2. Commonly Asked Questions: Aimed towards providing activists with factual, comprehensive answers to commonly asked questions.
    3. Perspectives and Debates: Contains scholarly and academic insight by some of the most significant thinkers in the field and seeks to inform activists about the important issues surrounding our work and the controversies that arise. These issues, including the interpretations of Israel's "right to exist," approaches to confronting the Israeli occupation regime, non-violent and violent resistance, and the varying proposals for a solution to the Zionist-Palestinian conflict, are all addressed from a variety of perspectives. We have not taken a stance on any of these issues, but instead hope to provide you with the resources to make your own decisions.
    4. Appendices: Five appendices with a comprehensive resource guide with numerous sources for accurate information, solidarity organizations, links to printable posters and pamphlets, human rights reports, and primary resources. We strongly suggest referring back to the primary resources and human rights reports that llie at the heart of understanding the reality of the situation. We have also included significant information not easily accessed, such as details about the Palestinian villages destroyed and depopulated during the 1948 Nakba, a list of Palestinian prisoners (men, women, and children) currently held illegally in Israeli detention, and a list of the children murdered by Israel during Operation Cast Lead. This section is best used virtually as it contains links to many resources, and if you do choose to print the handbook, we suggest that you omit this section.
    5. Extended Bibliography: Comprehensive bibliography that can be used as a reading list.

Chevreh, this might be just another grassroots tool for delegitimizing Israel by framing the struggle for Palestinian human rights as incompatible with Zionism, a false equation.  But it's also a very compelling presentation, well-designed, and viral.  Are similar tools being made available which defend Zionism as a noble aspirational vision?  It's the volatile encounters on campus that make most clear what the "Pro-Israel" groups on campus need to do - acknowledge mistakes Israel has made/makes, and find ways to express a Zionism resonant to those exposed to the partially-correct and emotionally-overwhelming social justice claims of groups like Veritas.  

Concerned, and hoping we can respond effectively and thoughtfully, on campus and beyond,

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Jul 28, 2010

Chancellor Eisen: JTS Year-End Review, July 2010

Dear Friend of JTS,

I write to report on the remarkable year that just ended at The Jewish Theological Seminary; remarkable, not least because JTS met the serious challenges facing us (and every other institution of higher education in North America) with determined and thoughtful innovation. Consider a few accomplishments from the past ten months:

  • Formulation and approval of a new vision and strategic plan to guide JTS’s future
  • Significant restructuring of JTS’s administration, and major strides toward reorganization of the faculty
  • Revitalization of the Board of Trustees under the leadership of new Board Chair Abby Joseph Cohen
  • The awarding of numerous honors to JTS’s outstanding faculty, student body, and alumni
  • Public programs that highlighted the new direction in JTS’s service to our community and society at large
  • A balanced budget for 2010–2011 that sets future growth on a firm foundation
  • A significant increase in the funds received by JTS in the form of grants, which contributed to total fund-raising of more than $22 million

These achievements have positioned JTS well to launch a set of exciting new initiatives and programs designed to increase JTS’s direct impact on Judaism and the Jewish community while maintaining our long tradition of academic excellence. This is why I believe that 2009–2010 has been a truly productive year at JTS—and why I am confident that even better years lie ahead. Let me share some highlights of this achievement, as well as some plans for the school year that will soon be upon us.

Commencement Day

The word commencement, in a gift bestowed by the English language, frames the successful completion of a long period of study as a new beginning. That is the way it is with the chanting of Torah year by year, or the completion of a tractate of Talmud, and it was certainly the case at the JTS commencement ceremony on May 17.

Many of the 115 graduates on whom degrees were conferred are headed for careers as lay and professional leaders in our community and our society; some will, no doubt, match the distinction achieved by the illustrious group of scholarly and communal leaders to whom JTS awarded honorary degrees. Those honorees included Professor Robert Alter (a JTS alumnus); Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson; Professor Sara Japhet; our own Gershon Kekst (chair, JTS Board of Trustees from 1991 to 2009); and our own Dr. Menahem Schmelzer (Albert B. and Bernice Cohen Professor Emeritus of Medieval Hebrew Literature and JTS librarian from 1964 to 1987). We also inducted Mr. Martin D. Payson (former JTS board member) into the JTS Society of Fellows.

Several members of the faculty, who have long served JTS with distinction, were honored to loud applause on the occasion of their retirement: Dr. Carol Ingall, Dr. Anne Lapidus Lerner, and Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz.

I am pleased to report that every one of the rabbinical students who graduated in May and has sought employment for the coming year has been successful in that search, despite reduced prospects in the current economy. It is good news, too, that despite economic pressures on them and their families, the entering classes of the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies and The Graduate School of JTS will be significantly larger this fall than they were last fall.

We should not take any of this for granted.

My commencement address set forth publicly, for the first time, the new vision that will guide JTS in coming years and the reasons for the changes it embodies. I also presented several key elements of the strategic plan that is designed to bring the vision to realization. There is no need to recapitulate those remarks here, to stress the importance of our role of training outstanding students as leaders for the Jewish community and beyond, or to explain again the changed conditions and needs that impel JTS to alter what we do and how we do it. The commencement address is available, in full, on the JTS website at www.jtsvideo.net/newvision/home.html. Let me now make two points that are directly relevant to this letter’s review of 2009–2010 and its preview of 2010–2011.

First, the process leading up to adoption of the new vision and strategic plan was perhaps no less important than its outcome. Every JTS constituency took part. We consulted and learned from students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, and other supporters, as well as all senior members of the administration. The planning exercise forced us to redefine JTS’s core mission and to decide what, among the many things JTS does, is essential to that mission.

Over the decades, JTS has been instrumental in starting initiatives that have proven of crucial importance to the Jewish community—the establishment of Ramah camps and Solomon Schechter schools, the broadcast of The Eternal Light programs on radio and television, the founding and growth of The Jewish Museum, the hosting of interfaith dialogues, to cite only a few examples. Those contributions were built on repeated and thoughtful innovation. We must keep in mind that JTS has periodically had to transform itself—faculty, student body, curriculum, and institutional priorities—in order to better fulfill its mission. We have done so again in 2010.

Second, we are determined not to allow the strategic plan, developed over eighteen months of careful consultation and reflection, to remain a mere plan, words on a page. JTS’s trustees and administration are making sure that the new direction we have set is translated, as quickly as possible, into action.

I am pleased to report the formation of an Implementation Task Force, co-chaired by Jonathan Lopatin, formerly a partner at Goldman Sachs and an alumnus of The Graduate School; and Dr. Stephen Garfinkel, formerly dean of The Graduate School and, as of July 1, associate provost of JTS, with responsibility for the restructuring of faculty, academic programs, and curricula. They will be joined by a high-level team of trustees, faculty, senior administration, and staff, including Dr. Shuly Rubin Schwartz, who has added the portfolio of The Graduate School deanship to her continuing duties as dean of List College.

I will report, in detail, on the many plans to be implemented and the new initiatives now in the works when those programs move from concept to pilot stage. As the strategic plan indicates, you will soon see the impact of the changes just made at JTS in at least three discrete areas:

  • High-level adult education in the New York metropolitan area, at 3080 Broadway and other locations. We will offer new degree and certificate programs, new lecture series on topics such as the intersection of Judaism with health and medicine, and daylong seminars that probe subjects such as interfaith relations and business ethics. Outside the New York area, in select cities and congregations throughout the United States and Canada, we will expand the roster of adult education programs offered by our faculty and our Kollot rabbinic fellows.
  • Reengagement with Conservative Judaism and the vital religious center of North American Jewry. JTS will seek to articulate in new ways, for a wider audience, what Conservative Judaism is—and stands for—as part of the broader religious center of Judaism that JTS has always addressed and served. The Mitzvah Initiative, a major part of this effort, engaged many hundreds of Conservative Jews this past year in learning, discussion, and heightened observance. The initiative will spread to many more congregations in 2010–2011, including shuls in Germany and Great Britain, and will grow to include a second-year curriculum.
  • Continuing education for Jewish professionals: rabbis, cantors, educators, and communal leaders. JTS has long engaged in this area, and I myself got to participate in two such efforts this past year: at our Rabbinic Training Institute, where I had the pleasure of watching recent graduates learn with and from colleagues spanning several generations; and at our Day School Leadership Training Institute, which gathered educators from all denominations for a week of intensive study and skill enhancement. JTS trains leaders who make a huge difference in the Jewish world, inside and beyond Conservative Judaism, and JTS can and should do more in this regard.

 Faculty Recognition

JTS earns the right to guide the Jewish future, first of all, because of the broad and deep learning gathered in our distinguished faculty. Our faculty was recognized this year in a number of ways:

  • Of five authors honored this year by the Association of Jewish Studies’ Jordan Schnitzer Book Awards, three are JTS scholars. Dr. Benjamin Sommer received the Schnitzer Award in the area of Biblical Studies, Rabbinics, and Archaeology for his book The Bodies of God in Ancient Israel and Its World, while Dr. Richard Kalmin and Dr. Edna Nahshon were cited as authors of Notable Books.
  • Dr. Eitan Fishbane was awarded a Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowship through the American Council of Learned Societies, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Just twelve awards were granted from among 190 eligible applicants across all fields in the humanities.
  • Rabbi Neil Gillman was feted in January when JTS’s Henry N. Rapaport Memorial Lecture was devoted to a celebration of his remarkable fifty-year career. The program featured a panel discussion, and Dr. Gillman offered closing remarks.
  • In April, JTS’s Dr. Carol K. Ingall was honored and celebrated on the occasion of her retirement after sixteen years of remarkable service; a special scholarship was seeded in her honor by the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education Advisory Board.
  • Dr. Jeffrey Kress was named chair of the international Network for Research in Jewish Education. 
  • Dr. Vivian Mann was elected a fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research, the oldest professional organization of Judaica scholars in North America. Her essay, “Jews and Altarpieces,” was published this year in the exhibition catalog for Uneasy Communion: Jews, Christians, and the Altarpieces of Medieval Spain. The New York Times said that the exhibition, organized by Dr. Mann at New York’s Museum of Biblical Art last spring, “represents a momentous turn in scholarly thought” and “sheds light on a fascinating chapter in the history of the Jewish Diaspora.”
  • Dr. David Roskies was named the first director of the new Center for Yiddish Studies at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, which speaks to the groundswell of interest in Yiddish culture in Israel. The joint appointment will allow Dr. Roskies and the center to host workshops and colloquia, publish forgotten Yiddish works, and collaborate with Yiddish research centers around the world.
  • Dr. Menahem Schmelzer received the Alexander Scheiber Prize from Gergely Arató, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Education and Culture of Hungary. The prize is awarded to Hungarians who have achieved distinction in Jewish religion, history, culture, or education, and who promote dialogue and tolerance between Jews and non-Jews.
  • JTS honored the faculty of the Teachers Institute, which led to the creation of various JTS schools and programs, on the centennial of its founding in 1909. In particular, Sylvia Ettenberg (BA ’37) was celebrated at a luncheon at the “Transforming American Jewish Life: A Celebration of the Teachers Institute’s 100th Anniversary” daylong symposium.

Public Events

Under the sponsorship of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies (LFI) and other auspices, JTS hosted discussions in 2009–2010 with leading figures in science and religion, medicine and health, and the effort to revitalize the Jewish community.

LFI sponsored “Three Conversations on Science and Religion,” in which luminaries from different fields explored the questions of how modern science has changed religion, what religion has to say to science, and whether science has irrevocably eroded religion’s credibility and legitimacy. JTS’s signature commitment to both faith and inquiry makes us well-suited as a venue for the discussion of such questions. The Revson Foundation grant establishing JTS as a center for Clinical Pastoral Education also makes provision for continued exploration of ethical issues pertaining to medicine and health care.

We are also the natural venue for conversations about Conservative Judaism and what our mission statement calls “the vital religious center of North American Jewry.” In April, JTS hosted a discussion on the phenomenon of independent minyanim on the occasion of the publication of Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, JTS doctoral candidate and alumnus, and cofounder and executive director of Mechon Hadar.

Along with The Jewish Museum, JTS presented A Day of Reinventing Ritual, a unique day of hands-on workshops, commentary, and live performance based on the museum’s exhibition, Reinventing Ritual: Contemporary Art and Design for Jewish Life, which surveyed the explosion of new Jewish rituals, art, and objects since 1995. In addition, our new Artist-in-Residence program, featuring noted painter and sculptor Tobi Kahn, led to the first JTS art show, Volumes, which presented the artwork of JTS faculty, students, and staff.

Last November, JTS welcomed Mitch Albom, author of the most successful memoir in publishing history, who lectured here on his latest book, Have a Little Faith, and the JTS-ordained rabbi, Albert Lewis (z”l), who inspired it. Feinberg Auditorium was filled, once again, by a sold-out screening and panel discussion on the provocative Hollywood film, Inglourious Basterds—a World War II fantasy written and directed by Quentin Tarantino—and the questions it raised about the rights and wrongs of Jewish vengeance.

On March 7, “Transforming American Jewish Life: A Celebration of the Teachers Institute’s 100th Anniversary” also included a discussion between Barnard President Debora Spar and me on the “Future of Higher Education”; several moving talks; and a keynote lecture by Rabbi Harold Kushner (SC ’55, RS ’60, ’72), author of the seminal When Bad Things Happen to Good People, in memory of William Davidson (z”l).

This year’s event roster demonstrated our commitment to a well-rounded, Jewishly learned, and honest discussion of contemporary issues involving Jews and Judaism. I look forward to the many programs being scheduled for 2010–2011.

On a special note, I want to mention a particularly meaningful occasion that occurred during this academic year, the Rabbinical Assembly Convention, an event hosted by JTS during the week following commencement. This convention had not been held at JTS for fifty years. Many rabbis expressed pleasure at being back on campus, and went out of their way to praise the program and the hospitality we provided.

Grants and Development 

There has been a significant increase in the number and dollar amounts of foundation grants received by JTS, including―in recognition of our leadership in Jewish education―a grant that totals nearly $15 million (over the next five years) from the Jim Joseph Foundation. The gift was part of $45 million awarded to JTS, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC), and Yeshiva University (YU) for the purpose of significantly increasing the number and quality of trained and credentialed Jewish educators. In addition to endeavors specific to The Davidson School, there will be collaboration among the three recipient schools in at least two areas: uses of new technology in Jewish education, and recruitment of more and better-qualified individuals to the field. I fully believe that this cooperation among JTS, HUC, and YU will prove to be historic.

JTS was further recognized by the Jewish and philanthropic communities via grants from: the Revson Foundation and the Booth Ferris Foundation, to continue our launch of the Center for Pastoral Education at JTS (accredited by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education [ACPE] as a satellite of New York-Presbyterian Hospital), which teaches our students, as well as rabbis and ordained clergy of all faiths, the art of pastoral care; the Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women, which will provide tuition stipends of $20,000 per year (over the course of three years) to three women who are rabbinical or cantorial students concentrating in pastoral care at the JTS center and planning to undertake an ACPE residency in New York City after ordination or investiture; the Covenant Foundation, to The Davidson School, for the development, implementation, and evaluation of twenty-first century curricula for congregational schools; the Tikvah Fund, which endowed the Tikvah Institute for Jewish Thought of JTS that devotes itself to the exploration of and reflection on the deepest problems of human life; UJA-Federation of New York, for full funding of the Leadership Institute for Congregational School Educators, a joint program with HUC that is designed to enhance the leadership skills of congregational school professionals; AVI CHAI, which established the Day School Leadership Training Institute that addresses the demand for exemplary leadership in the expanding day school movement and the Jewish Day School Standards and Benchmarks Project to help schools adopt a standard of excellence for teaching Bible; and, from members of the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies Advisory Board, Seinfeld Foundation, and List College alumni, funding for the List College Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship program, which provides training and support to List College students who wish to tackle major social issues and offer new ideas for wide-scale change.

In June, four more students were named recipients of the Schusterman Rabbinical Fellowship in a program that brings future leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements together for two years of formal study. Inaugurated in August 2008, the program is funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. The Center for Leadership Initiatives, Inc., a private operating foundation dedicated to developing Jewish leaders and promoting managerial excellence throughout the Jewish community, has helped shape the program.

Our ultimate goal, of course, is to engage current and prospective philanthropic investors in an ongoing dialogue that finds the intersection between their interests and the needs of our institution. We began this process by seeking new ways to generate smaller gifts and working even more closely with JTS alumni. We also began to search out the funding necessary to establish new programs, including an institute devoted to the future of Conservative Judaism and the vital religious center of North American Jewry—a place for applied research directed at transforming Jewish religious thought and practice on this continent. I do not have to tell you the ramifications that this will have on generations to come.

The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary

Recently, the United States Library of Congress asked permission to include one of our library’s special websites in its historic collection of Internet materials and as part of its research collections. The online content of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary will be periodically collected, archived, and made available through the Library of Congress public website, as part of that institution’s function of “acquiring, cataloging, preserving, and serving collection materials of historical importance to the Congress and to the American people to foster education and scholarship.” A visit to our library was also part of the CBS-TV interfaith religion special The Art of The Book on art and the Bible.

JTS Students and Alumni

Rabbinical students Charlie Schwartz and Yael Buechler, and Davidson School alumnus Yoni Stadlin, were named to Jewish Week’s prestigious “36 Under 36” list of young Jewish innovators. Charlie will soon enter his fifth year at The Rabbinical School of JTS as a Wexner Graduate Fellow, and is pursuing a master’s degree in education at The Davidson School. Yael will also begin her fifth year at The Rabbinical School this fall, and this summer she will receive a master’s degree in Midrash from The Graduate School. Yoni (DS ’08) and his wife, Vivian, founded Eden Village Camp, a Jewish sleep-away camp in Putnam Valley, New York, focused on environmental consciousness and sustainability.

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum (RS and GS ’04) is one of five emerging Jewish leaders to be named a recipient of the 2009 AVI CHAI Fellowship; fellows receive grants of $75,000 each year for three years. Rabbi Sharon Brous (RS ’01) was nominated by Jewish Women International as one of this year’s top ten “Women to Watch” and has again been included on Newsweek’s list of the fifty most influential rabbis in America.

Concluding Reflections

I look back on this year with satisfaction that we have perceived the present moment correctly, seized its possibilities, and made the changes necessary to continue the journey toward a more secure Jewish future. JTS has accomplished a great deal in the past ten months—and there is more work that awaits us in 2010–2011. Please visit JTS this year to see and feel the new energy on campus for yourself, and to witness our most important contribution of all to the Jewish future: supplying knowledge, historical context, and vision to a new generation of students and future leaders through daily interactions with the texts, faculty, and one another.

Whenever people ask why I do what I do, and why I am ever hopeful despite the many challenges that face the Jewish community today, my answer is the same: the more than 500 students gathered at JTS—an assemblage of minds, passions, abilities, and talent that inspires me each day when I come to work. I am convinced that what our generation accomplishes in North America is absolutely essential to the Jewish future, and that JTS is absolutely essential to the future of Jews and Judaism on this continent. We supply a vision for that future. We supply much of the leadership that will guide it. We build the bridges of learning that will take us there.

Please put your own hope to work with us. Thank you for supporting JTS’s investment in the next generation.


 Arnold Eisen signature

Arnold Eisen
Chancellor, JTS 

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