Religion & Jewish Life

Conservative synagogue group releases new strategic plan

NEW YORK (JTA) — In the latest attempt to reverse the fortunes of what was once America’s largest synagogue denomination, the congregational association of the Conservative movement has released a draft strategic plan that seeks to improve its governance, reduce the financial burden on member synagogues and refocus its… Read more »

Purim feature: Badkhn Belt? Jewish humor was born in 1661, prof says

BERKELEY, Calif. (JTA) — The Chmielnicki massacres weren’t particularly funny. From 1648 to 1651, nearly 100,000 Jews were slaughtered throughout Ukraine by Bohdan Chmielnicki and his roving bands of Cossacks. It was arguably the worst pogrom in history, leaving hundreds of Jewish communities in ruins. Yet according to Mel… Read more »

Growth spurt: More farms at Jewish buildings seeding food awareness

Campers at Ramah Darom in Georgia tending to the camp's five-acre organic garden. (Photo courtesy of Ramah Darom)

NEW YORK (JTA) — After the unexpected death of his 26-year-old daughter Jessica last August, Dane Kostin found himself searching for a fitting memorial, a project that would benefit the community and provide an appropriate tribute to a daughter who loved cooking with fresh, seasonal vegetables. Thus was born… Read more »

Debbie Friedman, inspired by the last words of Daniel Pearl

(JTA) — Debbie Friedman, the popular singer and songwriter who died Jan. 9, wrote the following for “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl,” a collection of writings following the 2002 murder of Wall Street reporter Daniel Pearl. Dear Daniel, This is the… Read more »

Venezuelan Jews report shift in tone from Chavez government

Venezuelan Jews celebrate the opening of a new synagogue in Caracas, December 2010. (Jasmina Kelemen)

CARACAS, Venezuela (JTA) — On a balmy tropical evening in early December, a few hundred families, mostly of Moroccan descent, gathered to inaugurate the first phase of what eventually will be a grand, two-story marble shul located in a wealthy Caracas neighborhood. Among them, Claudio Benaim’s family beamed as… Read more »

Partnership between shul and mosque a model for community

Rabbi Yossi Kaplan of the Chabad Lubavitch Center, left, and Mohammed Aziz, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Valley Forge, before Friday Muslim prayers. (Jordan Cassway)

PHILADELPHIA (Jewish Exponent) — The cars slowly turn onto the long driveway, their wheels occasionally crunching the adjacent ground frozen from the night before and speckled with a light dusting of snow. Rabbi Yossi Kaplan and Mohammad Aziz walk side by side in the direction of the oncoming line… Read more »

Barriers broken, female rabbis look to broader influence

At a program in suburban Boston titled "Raising up the light," 50 female rabbis in the audience were called up to the bimah in tribute, Dec. 6, 2010. (Larry Sandberg)

NEWTON, Mass. (JTA) — Lynne Kern knew at 13 that she wanted to be a rabbi, even though in 1970 there were no female rabbis to act as role models. So Kern became a writer, eventually winning a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. But she never forgot her passion, and… Read more »

For deaf Jews, Jewish community only slowly opening up

ASL interpreter Naomi Brunnlehrman, left, and Alexis Kashar are co-founders of the Jewish Deaf Resource Center. (Ava Kashar)

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (JTA) — Alexis Kashar was listening intently to the speaker at a recent Jewish federation event in this New York City suburb. A closer look revealed that her eyes were trained not on the podium but on Naomi Brunnlehrman, who was seated in front of the… Read more »

PROFILE: Nancy Kaufman going national with model twinning social justice and Israel

Nancy Kaufman with Dean Jep Strait, left, Father Demetrios Tonias, Pastor Wesley Roberts and Bishop Gideon Thompson on a summer study tour in Israel in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Boston JCRC)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — With the prospect for the first American universal health care plan apparently dimming in Massachusetts because the three outsize personalities vital to its passage — the state’s governor, its House speaker and its Senate president — could not agree on the details, Nancy Kaufman came to… Read more »

In saving Jewish remnants in Galicia, an effort to enlist Ukrainians

The remains of a Jewish cemetary dating back to the 16th century in the Ukrainian village of Solotyvn. Dina Kraft

SOLOTVYN, Ukraine (JTA) — On a sloping green hill tucked between small farmsteads, the mottled graves of Jews buried here since the 1600s rise up like a forgotten forest. Trudging through the mud between the tilted stones, their chiseled Hebrew lettering and renderings of menorahs sometimes barely visible, Vladimer… Read more »

With grassroots input, Reform team looks at ways to reinvent movement

After the Reform movement broadcast online its first session devoted to reassessing itself, in mid-November, the comments poured in. One viewer suggested that the movement create a network of schools, camps, shuls and seminaries focused on tikkun olam, the Jewish injunction to repair the world. Another said the movement… Read more »

At site of Nazi power, a chanukah menorah at Brandenberg Gate

A costumed Maccabee stands at a Chanukah menorah-lighting ceremony at Berlin's Brandenberg Gate, Dec. 1, 2010. (Toby Axelrod)

BERLIN (JTA) — Icicles formed on Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal’s beard as he helped set up the towering menorah in the center of Berlin. It wasn’t just any menorah among the thousands that the Chabad-Lubavitch movement erects every Chanukah in public locations around the world. Teichtal, the Chabad rabbi in the… Read more »

20 Jewish cantors walk into a church — it’s no joke

Cantor Lauren Bandman of Temple Beth Am in Los Altos, Calif., introduces the first piece in the cantorial concert in Rome -- "Shalom Aleichem," by William Sharlin, Nov. 16, 2010. (Ruth Ellen Gruber)

ROME (JTA) — Can Jewish sacred music sung in a Roman Catholic basilica help relations between Christians and Jews? For the Reform movement’s American Conference of Cantors, the answer is a resounding yes. Twenty Reform cantors from across the United States traveled to Rome this month for just that… Read more »

In the lions’ den: Federation women cap week in the Big Easy

One of the "lions" at the International Lion of Judah conference helps a young New Orleans reader during the event's community service literacy project. (Bernie Saul for Jewish Federations of North America)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (JTA) — Just down the road from where the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America had concluded a day earlier, more than a thousand of the federation system’s most generous women found a philanthropic sanctuary of their own. At the Hilton Hotel here,… Read more »

Whither the Jewish baby boomers?

Fifty percent of affiliated American Jews are Baby Boomers, like these participants at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North Americain New Orleans, Nov. 9, 2010. (Courtesy JFNA)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (JTA) — As America’s 77 million baby boomers retire, they will place an unprecedented burden on the Jewish community’s infrastructure. They will need more services, and many will want to become involved in a community that isn’t making room for them. The federation system in particular… Read more »

Is reform movement going kosher?

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — Kosher — it’s the first word in the book. And tackling the “k” word head-on is part of what makes the first Reform guide to Jewish dietary practice so significant. “The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic,” to be published next month by the… Read more »