Rabbis Forgo Annual High Holy Days Call with President

The High Holy Days are an opportunity for reflection and introspection. As the leaders of major denominations in American Jewish life, we have been deeply engaged in both, considering the events of the Jewish year that is ending and preparing spiritually for the year to come.

Press Release from the Religious Action Center

In so doing, we have thoughtfully and prayerfully considered whether to continue the practice in recent years of playing key roles in organizing a conference call for the President of the United States to bring High Holiday greetings to American rabbis. We have concluded that President Trump’s statements during and after the tragic events in Charlottesville are so lacking in moral leadership and empathy for the victims of racial and religious hatred that we cannot organize such a call this year.

The President’s words have given succor to those who advocate anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia. Responsibility for the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, including the death of Heather Heyer, does not lie with many sides but with one side: the Nazis, alt-right and white supremacists who brought their hate to a peaceful community. They must be roundly condemned at all levels.

The High Holy Days are a season of t’shuva for us all, an opportunity for each of us to examine our own words and deeds through the lens of America’s ongoing struggle with racism. Our tradition teaches us that humanity is fallible yet also capable of change. We pray that President Trump will recognize and remedy the grave error he has made in abetting the voices of hatred. We pray that those who traffic in anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia will see that there is no place for such pernicious philosophies in a civilized society. And we pray that 5778 will be a year of peace for all.

Central Conference of American Rabbis
The Rabbinical Assembly
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Jerusalem Official Discovers Sudden Disappearance of White House Watchdog

By ILAN CHAIM

Art Buchwald’s 1973 column about excuses for President Richard Nixon. Photo courtesy: Los Angeles Times.

JERUSALEM (PJV) – A  senior government statistician in Jerusalem discovered last week that his official counterpart in Washington has apparently disappeared. The statistician, who must remain unnamed, informed the Philadelphia Jewish Voice that US President Donald Trump has apparently abandoned the US Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) guidelines, which both generate the president’s budget as well as overseeing and regulating how it is used.

Instead, the official finally saw, after a futile search throughout the US government’s considerable number of websites, a new official website appear. It announced that the administration is “updating” the regulations.

The question occurs as to why the OMB guidelines are in sudden need of updating a role it has carried out since the Nixon administration in 1970. The largest White House branch oversees and coordinates the administration’s procurement, financial management, information, and regulatory policies.

The OMB annually reviews federal agency budget requests in preparation for deciding what resource requests would be sent to Congress as part of the president’s budget. It therefore functions as the mechanism by which a president implements his policies – from the Department of Defense to NASA. Its director reports directly to the president, vice president and White House chief of staff.

These regulations also feature as an international role model on the website of the United Nations, so they will apparently be available for comparison with the Trump administration’s adulterated version that is currently under reconstruction.

The Israeli statistician had become alarmed during his search for the original site, when he suddenly found he could no longer reach his Washington counterpart. “I would search and search until I realized that the problem was more serious than an incorrect email address,” said the source.

He suggested that the “updating” apparently indicates that Trump himself or someone high in the administration wants to remove any government supervision of the White House budget. The Israeli equivalent is the Prime Minister’s Office.

“The immediate seriousness of this discovery,” the source pointed out, “is that the quality of information reaching the US public from its government is largely determined by how closely it adheres to standards of good government and reflects reality. When you remove these standards, the government is free to distort reality.”

He said further that this new phenomenon appears to be linked to another recent bureaucratic disappearance in the US capital involving the Office of the Chief Statistician of the American government. The guidelines referred to are listed on the website of the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology (https://fcsm.sites.usa.gov/policies/). Try reaching any of the links under Government-Wide Standards and Guidelines.

The possible missing link he referred to may be part of an ongoing controversy regarding the appointment of the current US Chief Statistician Nancy Potok. She was appointed a day before Trump was inaugurated (!) and there has been no mention of her since, though she hasn’t officially resigned or is not known to have been purged.

The Trump administration is apparently now casting its darkening shadow over OMB appointments, which are meant to be permanent, non-partisan, qualified staffers who in the past have been relied upon for their accuracy and objectivity. Another indication is that the previous chief statistician had an interactive webpage of her own that served the public’s need for facts, which has since vanished.

Online Middle School Israel Educational Program

By Ferne Hassan

A new middle school curriculum, “LINK: Discovering Your Israel Connection” is now available nationwide. The 6-lesson unit allows students to explore the historic Jewish roots to Israel while discovering their own personal, modern connection.

Through a sophisticated, interactive, on-line application, LINK was developed by teachers, curriculum writers and internet experts who understand the need for a dynamic, educational experience of this kind. The outcome is a platform designed to enable students to determine for themselves, through experiential and project based learning, their own, unique Israel connection.

Students discover an Israel not usually found in traditional Jewish curricula; an Israel whose actions are informed by Jewish values and reflect the best of what matters to today’s youth. They learn about an Israel that is diverse, where humanitarian aid is a priority, and where there are opportunities for refugees and economic migrants. They are inspired by an Israel whose innovations and technologies are improving and saving lives throughout the world.

“LINK: Discovering Your Israel Connection” is headed by Mina Rush, Director of Middle School Education and programming for StandWithUs, a sixteen year-old, international Israel education organization. Mina’s background includes being the Director of Outreach for Jewish World Watch where she also did programming in Jewish education.

“The motivation behind this endeavor was to create a program that could reverse Jewish students’ diminishing relationship to Israel as evidenced by recent polls. My experience showed that traditional methods of teaching did not always achieve the desired results. I realized that students are best able to connect when the material represents their core values. This realization led to the direction that LINK has taken,” explains Rush.

A year-long pilot program of 20 schools across the US was completed in July, 2017. Jewish day schools and Jewish supplementary schools participated in the study, representing all Jewish denominations. Data was collected from teachers and students to measure progress and to determine if educational goals were being met.

Data analytics revealed that after participating in the LINK program:
– Students showed a 45% increase in knowledge and understanding about Jewish continuity in Israel.
-Students showed a 55% increase in knowledge, understanding and challenges of Israel’s size, demographics and location.
– Students showed a 75% increase in knowledge and understanding of Israel’s diversity.
– Students showed a 78 % increase in knowledge and understanding about Israel’s role in global humanitarian and disaster aid as well as efforts Israel makes at home with refugee and economic migrant populations.

– Students showed a 60% increase in knowledge and understanding about the global impact of Israeli advances in technology.

Teachers reported that students readily engage in the lessons and look forward to their experience with the curriculum. They articulate not just an increase in knowledge, but pride in and a connection to Israel.

“The use of technology and the presentation of the information truly honors today’s teen. When our students in the school were surveyed, many stated that the LINK program was the favorite part of their school day,” states Sandy Borowsky, CJE, MS.ED, Educational Director Orangetown Jewish Center in New York.

Tears for Our Country

-Deanne Scherlis Comer

I, like so many, am weeping at the words I heard yesterday from the leader of our beloved country.

Moreover, I am wondering if any of the president’s supporters who have any shred of moral credibility left are looking at themselves in the mirror and asking, “What have I done?” And when will other members of that coterie of his inner circle show some backbone and call out, loudly and clearly, the heinous words and actions that have tarnished this presidency?

This is the time to be an “upstander” and not a “bystander” in our daily interactions as well. Our children, whose footsteps are shaping the path of our nation’s history, are listening.

This is the time to remember and honor all those who have stood up and fought against Nazism, Fascism and global genocides at any level.

March by white nationalists carrying torches in Charlottesville. Photo:

White nationalists marching in Charlottesville. Photo: All InOne News video.

This is the time to remember the diminishing number of Holocaust survivors who are the heroic remnants of the horror inflicted by racial and ethnic hatred.

This is the time to feel empathy for the African Americans who still feel the inequalities, for the moderate Muslims who feel threatened, and for the undocumented, law-abiding immigrants who want a fair opportunity and path to citizenship.

My father fled the pogroms of Communist Russia and always cautioned me about speaking out on issues I believed in. He felt that as a Jew, I should keep a low profile. “Well,” I told him, “Elie Wiesel believed that even if no one is listening, we need to yell against injustice so others don’t change us!”

So, as a human being, as the daughter of an immigrant, as an American Jewish woman, as a mother, as a grandmother and as a Holocaust educator, I will continue to speak my mind.

Hillel said, “If not now, when?”

Deanne Scherlis Comer is past chair of Abington School District’s Holocaust Curriculum Committee and is an education consultant for the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center of Delaware Valley.

Rising Anti-Semitism at Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College. Photo courtesy: Swarthmore.edu

– Naomi Friedman

During the 2016-2017 school year, swastikas were found plastered in McCabe Library, the Crum Woods, Sparrow House and elsewhere on and about Swarthmore college campus. Most of us associate Nazi graffiti with—well, Nazis or neo-Nazis. But in recent years, swastikas have popped up on many campuses just prior to, during, or following  student votes to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel and other anti-Israel activity.

I first noticed this in my hometown of Evanston at Northwestern University. In the 2015 spring semester, the student group Wildcats for Israel found their banner torn apart just as a BDS group formed to push for divestment from Israel.  Soon after, BDS student and faculty resolutions were followed by two swastika incidents and anti-Israel mock border checkpoint demonstrations.

[Read more…]

American Health Care — Where Do We Go From Here?

-Michael Bihovsky

I wrote and recorded a lot of content in an effort to help stop the devastating repeal of Obamacare (not to mention, the time spent planning a major activism campaign that, fortunately and unfortunately, I didn’t get to use). So I want to say a few things now that the Republican Senate failed in its effort to uninsure anywhere from 22 to 32 million Americans, depending on which specific legislation the Senate was voting on at any given moment.

The most important thing I want to say is that this isn’t over. I really wish it were. But while the defeat of the Republican bill was absolutely a victory for health care rights and for basic human decency, it is not a lasting solution. Left on its own, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — Obamacare — will, in fact, implode. This is not the result of the legislation itself, but as detailed in an article by Steven Brill in The Washington Post, it is the result of early Republican sabotage against provisions of the bill that were intended to keep insurance costs down. [Read more…]

Tisha B’Av and Tips for an Easy Fast

Cartoon of two men discussing Tisha Be'Av. Credit: Drybones.

Courtesy of Yaakov Kirschen.

Tonight is Erev Tisha B’Av, the eve of the 9th Day of Av, one of the most solemn days in the Jewish calendar. Tisha B’Av is the anniversary of numerous tragedies in Jewish history. For example,

  • The report of the 12 spies.
  • The destruction of King Solomon’s Holy Temple by the Babylonians (422 BCE).
  • The destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans (68 CE).
  • The defeat of the Bar Kochba revolt (132 CE).
  • The declaration by Pope Urban II of the First Crusade (1095 CE).
  • The expulsion of English Jews (1290 CE).
  • The expulsion of Spanish Jews (1492 CE),
  • The start of World War I (1914 CE).
  • The beginning of mass deportation from the Warsaw Ghetto (1942 CE), and
  • The bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires (1994 CE).

To commemorate these events, Jews fast for 25 hours and refrain from bathing, wearing leather shoes and engaging in marital relations. This fast is probably the most difficult of the year: The sun sets so late making the fast seem longer. The summer heat can dehydrate you. But most of all, unlike Yom Kippur, when you are surrounded by fellow Jews who are also fasting and busy with the liturgy, most Jews continue their daily routines on Tisha B’Av and are confronted with reminders of food.

According to Ira Milner:

While some people fast with little difficulty, most of us expect to feel more or less bedraggled after only a few hours. If fasting means headaches and assorted misery for you, it might be the fault of what you eat or drink beforehand. A few simple precautions in planning your pre-taanit menu could make all the difference.

Here is a summary of Ira Milner’s recommendations:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. 8-10 glasses of water (or other non-caffeinated beverage).
  • Small portions of animal proteins.
  • Increase starch and carbohydrates: Whole grain-bread, cereals, pasta, potatoes, legumes, unsalted popcorn.
  • Increase fiber: Vegetables and fruits with edible skins or seeds.
  • Decrease salt.
  • Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, sodas)
  • Avoid fried or spicy foods.

CeaseFirePA Flash Vigil Marks 5th Anniversary of Aurora Shooting

To mark the fifth anniversary of the tragic Aurora shooting, CeaseFirePA held a flash vigil at the Regal Warrington Theater in Bucks County, PA on Thursday, July 20. Gathering to honor the twelve who lost their lives and the seventy shot that night, the crowd also affirmed that we have the right to be safe in places like movie theaters, churches, schools and places of business.  Shira Goodman, Executive Director of CeaseFirePA, explained, “We are here to send the message that we deserve to be able to come together to learn, work, pray and play in safety.  Going to your neighborhood theater is a quintessential American pastime — and we want to be clear that we want to be safe here and everywhere.”

[Read more…]

From Barrack to Broadway

David Treatman (left) and Alan Koolik (right), Columbia University students and theater producers in New York City.

David Treatman, a 2016 graduate of the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy,  and and his business partner, Alan Koolik, are two of the youngest producers on the New York theater scene. They are students at Columbia University: Treatman, a sophomore, and Koolik, a junior. [Read more…]

The Blessing of Separating Church and State: Is It at Risk?

– Alan Garfield

Why would we want to separate church and state? Isn’t religion a positive force in society? Doesn’t it foster ethical behavior and encourage charity? Just think of all the church-run soup kitchens or the moral leadership provided by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

So why would the framers build a wall separating church and state? Why not unite the two and combine their power for good?

Prof. Alan Garfield.

Prof. Alan Garfield.

Of course, the Constitution never explicitly says that there must be a wall separating church and state. But the First Amendment does say that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” In a landmark 1947 decision, the Supreme Court explained that this clause was “intended to erect ‛a wall of separation between church and State’” and that this wall “must be kept high and impregnable.”

What were the framers thinking? Were they opposed to religion? Were they at war with Christmas?

Certainly not. Most were religious themselves.

The framers merely knew their history. And history taught them that combining church and state produces a volatile brew that is good for neither church nor state. [Read more…]