Religion & Jewish Life

Mario Cuomo married strident liberalism and sensitivity to the Orthodox

Mario Cuomo, seated, was New York's governor when he waa a featured speaker at the 57th General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations held in New Orleans, November 1988. Showing their appreciation of the governor's comments are CJF President Mandell Berman, right, and Daniel Shapiro of New York. (Robert A. Cumins)Mario Cuomo, seated, was New York's governor when he waa a featured speaker at the 57th General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations held in New Orleans, November 1988. Showing their appreciation of the governor's comments are CJF President Mandell Berman, right, and Daniel Shapiro of New York. (Robert A. Cumins)

(JTA) — Mario Cuomo, a three-term New York governor, was the rare politician who appealed to the Jewish tent’s opposite poles. A strident liberal with a nuanced understanding of the sense of vulnerability among the deeply religious in a secular society, Cuomo died of heart failure on Thursday just… Read more »

For poker champ Ari Engel, kipah works to his advantage

Ari Engel on the European Poker Tour in Prague in 2013. (Thomas Stacha)Ari Engel on the European Poker Tour in Prague in 2013. (Thomas Stacha)

NEW YORK (JTA) – Ari Engel is homeless. It’s been a decade since he last held a regular job and two years since he gave up his apartment. But don’t shed any tears for him. Over the last 10 years or so, Engel has grossed about $5 million playing… Read more »

Will Russia’s economic woes burst bubble for Jews?

Boris Smolkin, left, and his co-stars on the Moscow set of the hit television series "My Fair Nanny" in 2006. (STS Television)Boris Smolkin, left, and his co-stars on the Moscow set of the hit television series "My Fair Nanny" in 2006. (STS Television)

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (JTA) — In the basement of one of Europe’s largest synagogues, 100 Jews are waiting to meet local film star Boris Smolkin. The crowd applauds enthusiastically as the 66-year-old funnyman, who gave his voice to Master Yoda in the Russian-language version of the “Star Wars” trilogy,… Read more »

Portland preschool pushes boundaries of Jewish outdoors education

Sarabel Eisenfeld, the founder of Gan shalom, and her Portland Jewish preschoolers grating potatoes outside for Chanukah latkes. (Anthony Weiss)Sarabel Eisenfeld, the founder of Gan shalom, and her Portland Jewish preschoolers grating potatoes outside for Chanukah latkes. (Anthony Weiss)

PORTLAND, Ore. (JTA) — Even on a cold, gray and rainy morning, the children from the Gan Shalom Collaborative School are outside, seated under a wood-framed shelter topped by corrugated plastic. With their teacher, Sarabel Eisenfeld, they grate potatoes for latkes, then cup their hands beside their heads to… Read more »

For a Jewish baseball purist, Cuba beckons

Children playing a baseball game in the streets of Havana. "For the baseball purists, those who love to go to Cuba, it's a unique culture," Kit Krieger says. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)Children playing a baseball game in the streets of Havana. "For the baseball purists, those who love to go to Cuba, it's a unique culture," Kit Krieger says. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(JTA) – To the dismay of baseball fan Kit Krieger, future travels to Cuba will no longer include get-togethers with ex-Washington Senators pitcher Connie Marrero. Marrero, who played for Washington from 1950 to 1954, died in Havana last April at age 102, a few months after Krieger’s last visit… Read more »

USY reverses interfaith dating ban

At United Synagogue Youth's 2014 convention being held in Atlanta, the board voted to relax the youth organization's ban on interfaith dating. (Courtesy of United synagogue Youth)At United Synagogue Youth's 2014 convention being held in Atlanta, the board voted to relax the youth organization's ban on interfaith dating. (Courtesy of United synagogue Youth)

NEW YORK (JTA) – United Synagogue Youth voted to relax its rules barring its teenage board members from dating non-Jews. The amendment was adopted Monday in Atlanta at the annual international convention of the Conservative movement’s youth group. The change affects the 100 or so teen officers who serve… Read more »

Seeing need, Yechiel Eckstein’s Jewish-Christian fellowship gets into aliyah game

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein arriving in Israel with the first group of immigrants brought by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Dec. 22, 2014. (International Fellowship of Christians and Jews)Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein arriving in Israel with the first group of immigrants brought by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Dec. 22, 2014. (International Fellowship of Christians and Jews)

(JTA) — Citing failures by the organization traditionally responsible for bringing Jews to Israel, the founder of a Jerusalem-based interfaith charity said his organization would begin bringing more Jews to Israel from Europe — starting with Ukraine. Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and… Read more »

With ‘team’ portrait, Jewish ballplayers go to bat for charities

Sandy Koufax is out front in the Ron Lewis painting of Jewish major leaguers and others. The sale of 500 autographed prints is partly for profit and charity. (Jewishbaseballplayer.com)Sandy Koufax is out front in the Ron Lewis painting of Jewish major leaguers and others. The sale of 500 autographed prints is partly for profit and charity. (Jewishbaseballplayer.com)

(JTA) – At the first Detroit Tigers game he attended, in 1940, Bob Matthews saw slugging first baseman Hank Greenberg play. Now a retired orthodontist living in Farmington Hills, Mich., Matthews can gaze each day at his hero’s image on visits to the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit… Read more »

Why the RCA’s conversion system is better than the alternative

NEW YORK (JTA) – In a recent JTA Op-Ed, Rabbis Marc Angel and Avi Weiss made a number of claims about the Rabbinical Council of America’s conversion system. While some of their arguments have merit, they paint only a partial picture of what we’re doing in the North American… Read more »

Is she Jewish? Rabbinate says yes, Israel says no

TEL AVIV (JTA) — In 2012, Anna Varsanyi was married in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony conducted through Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. Two years later, the Hungarian immigrant has made a life in Israel, settling with her husband in the central city of Modiin and working a desk job in a… Read more »

For some Orthodox converts, biggest challenges come after mikvah

NEW YORK (JTA) – There was the convert who was barred from a synagogue on Yom Kippur, the Jamaican convert whose boyfriend’s rabbi offered him a coveted synagogue honor if only he’d dump her, the grandmother who told her granddaughter she’d be going to hell because she became a… Read more »

‘Exodus’ is testosterone-fueled journey to ancient Egypt

Moses, as best I recall from Hebrew school and “The Ten Commandments,” was a reluctant prophet with a speech impediment who was ultimately persuaded by the unspeakable, unceasing suffering of his people—and God’s fearsome support—to confront Pharaoh and lead the Hebrews out of slavery. My, how (biblical) times have… Read more »

Female rabbis at forefront of pioneering prayer communities

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum, Kavana (Andy Ahlstrom)Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum, Kavana (Andy Ahlstrom)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — A decade ago in Los Angeles, two organizations opened their doors with a call to prayer — or they would have if they had any doors to open. Ikar, led by Rabbi Sharon Brous, and Nashuva, led by Rabbi Naomi Levy, were conceived separately. But… Read more »

Knife attack at Chabad headquarters in New York raises security questions

Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish men during prayer at 770 Eastern Parkway, the headquarters of Chabad in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, N.Y., Sept. 24, 2013. (Mendy Hechtman/FLASH90)Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish men during prayer at 770 Eastern Parkway, the headquarters of Chabad in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, N.Y., Sept. 24, 2013. (Mendy Hechtman/FLASH90)

NEW YORK (The Jewish Week via JTA) — Just three weeks after terrorists killed four worshippers in a Jerusalem synagogue, a man entered a Brooklyn shul and stabbed a 22-year-old Israeli student. New York police officers fatally shot the 49-year-old assailant, who reportedly shouted “Kill the Jews.” At a… Read more »

Sephardic vogue, Argentine immigrants fueling Jewish revival in Spain

Ahuvah (Amanda) Gipson, left, and other members of the Bet Januka congregation located at Naval Station Rota in southern Spain, July 30, 2014. (Cnaan Liphshiz)Ahuvah (Amanda) Gipson, left, and other members of the Bet Januka congregation located at Naval Station Rota in southern Spain, July 30, 2014. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

ROTA, Spain (JTA) — While setting up a synagogue at the American naval base where she works, Ahuvah (Amanda) Gipson made something of a bitter-sweet discovery. Rifling through a storage area at the sprawling American-Spanish military complex Naval Station Rota in 2012, Gipson, a former naval outreach professional who… Read more »

‘Jewish Soul Food’ author Janna Gur wants to make vegetables ‘sexy’

Janna Gur sees Israeli cuisine as being in the second stage of a revolution. (Daniel Lailah)Janna Gur sees Israeli cuisine as being in the second stage of a revolution. (Daniel Lailah)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Janna Gur’s “The Book of New Israeli Food” has sat on my kitchen counter with my other favorite cookbooks for years, and I frequently pull it out for friends and family who are unfamiliar with Israeli cuisine, saying, “This is the book you need to… Read more »

In Montreal, Jews from France see a future for themselves

Julie and Nathanael Weill with their sons Eytan and Lior in 2013.Julie and Nathanael Weill with their sons Eytan and Lior in 2013.

TORONTO (JTA)—When Dan Charbit and his wife, Gaelle Hazan, moved to Montreal from Paris two summers ago, it was meant to be a temporary fix — a yearlong attempt for Charbit to reboot his stalled career as a special-effects artist in Quebec’s thriving film and television industry. They agreed… Read more »

New museum reflects growing Polish interest in all things Jewish

Revelers dancing at the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, one of many Jewish culture festivals in Poland. (Wojciech Karlinski)Revelers dancing at the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, one of many Jewish culture festivals in Poland. (Wojciech Karlinski)

KRAKOW, Poland (JTA) — Crowds have been streaming to Warsaw’s POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews since its core exhibition opened Oct. 28 at a high-profile ceremony led by the presidents of Poland and Israel. Thousands of visitors have toured the museum’s eight interactive galleries that tell… Read more »

Budapest Jews split on whistleblowing leader with colorful past

BUDAPEST (JTA) — An anti-corruption whistleblower elected to head the Budapest Jewish community has sparked a crisis among the highest officials of Hungarian Jewry at a time of heightened tensions with the government. The conflict, one of the fractious community’s most vociferous and colorful fights in years, erupted shortly… Read more »

Black, Jewish and challenging ideas about the face of federation

Ilana Kaufman: "My purpose in the world has always been to be a bridge." (Courtesy of Ilana Kaufman)Ilana Kaufman: "My purpose in the world has always been to be a bridge." (Courtesy of Ilana Kaufman)

(JTA) — When Ilana Kaufman, a program officer at the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation, arrived at San Quentin State Prison for a meeting with the Jewish chaplain at California’s oldest correctional facility, the chaplain couldn’t seem to find her — even though Kaufman was standing in plain sight.… Read more »