How Do I Mourn?

Ilona Engel Fuchs (circa 1950, Tokaj, Hungary)

Ilona Engel Fuchs (circa 1950, Tokaj, Hungary)


— by Marta Fuchs

My 98-year-old mother died last week and I’m waiting to feel something. I watched family and friends cry at her funeral and I listened to their outpouring of love and accolades for the remarkable woman my mother was. To a person, they spoke of how loving and generous and talented she was — and yes, that she was also forceful and insistent — how much of an impact she made on them, how they remain in awe of how she survived Auschwitz at great odds, and how she rebuilt her life multiple times with flair, energy, and optimism. [Read more…]

In-depth Intro to Judaism Class Starts This Week

Carrying the Torah scroll.

Carrying the Torah scroll.

By Charles B.

I’m the product of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. While my father had a bar mitzvah ceremony, and I was brought up in a primarily Jewish neighborhood, I had no formal religious upbringing or training. What I learned about Judaism, I learned from my friends who were b’nei mitzvah, and my neighbors who observed the Jewish holidays and attended synagogue. When I was 18, I left home for college, and for the next 40 years was totally divorced from any religious affiliation or practice.

While I have had a successful career, married a wonderful woman, have two grown children that I am very proud of, and have good friends, I have expressed the feeling over the last several years that there was still something missing in my life. My wife, a Presbyterian, encouraged me to explore and take the first steps to rediscover the “faith and rituals” I had experienced as a child living in a Jewish community.

Lighting Shabbat Candles

Mother and daughter lighting Sabbath candles.

I decided to take a course in introductory Judaism and Hebrew sponsored by the Conservative movement and taught by local Conservative rabbis. It is a 30-week course that is taught annually at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. Many of the students who took the course were there to convert from the outset (mostly because of marriage commitments). I did not make the decision to convert until I had almost completed the course. What I learned from this course was that the beliefs and principles that took me almost 60 years to formulate, are the tenets and practices, and the moral and spiritual compass that Judaism provides.

As importantly, this course provided me with the tools and foundation to move forward on my journey. I am now studying with a rabbi, attending services regularly, and incorporating the lessons learned from this course into daily practice. The overall experience from this course has been transforming, both intellectually and spiritually. The practice of Judaism nurtures me, and provides me with the fulfillment and guidance I have searched for.

Editor’s Note: Charles has successfully completed the Introduction to Judaism class, and will soon be taking the step of formally converting.

The Rabbi Morris Goodblatt Academy is a 30-week “Introduction to Judaism” course sponsored by rabbis of the Conservative movement in the Philadelphia region. The next cohort will begin on Wednesday, September 14, 2016. The course is designed for Jews and non-Jews, singles and couples to learn more about Judaism (history, language, culture). Interested students have the opportunity to convert to Judaism under Conservative auspices following successful completion of the course.

The Reform movement also has an Introduction to Judaism class.

Being Jewish and American on 9/11

www.flickr.com/photos/vosherov/ Second Tower on Fire, 9/11 Vladimir Osherov

Twin Towers burning, view from Queens. Credit: Vladimir Osherov

by Lou Balcher

With the High Holidays around the corner, remembrance and reflection are part of our Jewish DNA. So what is the significance of 9/11 for us as American Jews?

Prominently placed on my suit jacket lapel is a 9/11 pin that is worn while speaking about Israel at community events. It always is a conversation starter. After the talk, unfailingly someone asks, “Why the 9/11 pin?” My answer is that on 9/11, our Christian neighbors and friends finally began to understand what it means to be Jewish and supportive of Israel. [Read more…]

“Gates of Shabbat:” A Guide for Reform Shabbat Practices

Gates-of-ShabbatThe Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) Press, the official publisher of the Reform Movement, is releasing a 25th Anniversary edition of a guide for Shabbat practice titled, “Gates of Shabbat: A Guide for Observing Shabbat.” This new edition is a completely revised and updated version of the classic guide for Shabbat observance. [Read more…]

Tú Sos Muestro Dio: You Are Our God – Reclaiming a Sephardic Identity in Guayaquil, Ecuador

by Heidi Schultz.

7 Reading from the Torah during Shabbat 1

Family Shares Torah Reading.

A small but extraordinary Jewish cultural renaissance is taking place in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The port city of Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest urban area. Among its over two million inhabitants, there is a small but growing congregation of Jews who attend services at Templo Bet Jadesh (Beth Chadesh Temple). Most of the attendees who have affiliated with the synagogue are not the sons and daughters of Jewish Ecuadorians, but rather are new converts to Judaism. Yet many of them do not feel themselves to be newly converted. Instead, they see themselves as returning to their own religious tradition, lost hundreds of years ago when the Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain in the eventful year of 1492. [Read more…]

Jewish Roundtable at the DNC

— by Frances Novack

At the Democratic National Convention, the Jewish caucus held a couple of “round-tables.” On Tuesday of Convention Week, Democrats highlighted their strengths and also this year’s election needs. Congressman Jerry Nadler (NY-10), who represents the nation’s most Jewish district, pointed to the social, educational, and health programs that Jews had helped enact into law. Other speakers, including retiring Representative Steve Israel, urged attendees to give active support to Hillary Clinton to stave off the dangers of a Donald Trump presidency.

[Read more…]

Pope Meets the Founder of Shavei Israel

SHAVEI-1Pope Francis met with Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund in Krakow. As part of his visit to Poland, Francis travelled to the former extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich introduced Pope Francis to Freund, whose organization, Shavei Israel, aims to strengthen the ties between the Jewish people, the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world.

Francis and Freund discussed how a growing number of young Poles are rediscovering their Jewish roots. Today there are approximately 4,000 Jews registered as living in Poland, but experts suggest there may be tens of thousands of others throughout the country who are either hiding their identities or are simply unaware of their heritage. In recent years, a growing number of such people, popularly known as the “Hidden Jews of Poland” have begun to return to Judaism and to the Jewish people.

“Courage of the Spirit”

Courage of the Spirit tells of one man’s struggle under the Nazis. Many books have been written of the spiritual heroism of the Jewish people as they rebuilt their lives after the devastation wrought by Hitler’s attempt to wipe out every last Jew. “Courage of the Spirit” is such a book. It portrays the spiritual struggle of one man during the first half of the twentieth century—the author’s father, Rabbi Dr. William Weinberg, who survived under Nazi and Communist tyranny to become the first State Rabbi of the community of Holocaust survivors in the German State of Hesse. This book stands out because the author was told those stories of heroism firsthand by family members. [Read more…]

Shabbat of Shalom and Reflection

shabbat_candle_lightingOn  Shabbat, I want to offer a moment to reflect on the recent tragedies and acts of horrible violence we have experienced.

The words Shamor v’Zachor (Keep and Remember) will dance in my mind as the light from the flickering flames of the Shabbat candles fill the room. It will not be a joyful beautiful dance. I will somberly reflect on what it means to remember and preserve Shabbat. So much violence, so many lives needlessly taken by fear and violence. How will I react?

I hope to rise above my own anger and frustration. Instead of hate, I want to resolve to be part of something better. I will look to my community and join with them as my community joins with others. I hope to become part of something greater that aligns with the message of hope instead of despair, of love instead of hate, of joy instead of pain. [Read more…]

Thou Shalt Not Remain Indifferent

Rabbi Marks, left. Elie Wiesel, center.

Rabbi Marks, left. Elie Wiesel, center.

Elie Wiesel was not an Israeli citizen. Nevertheless, the news in Israel refers to him as “one of our own.” In a country whose establishment is inextricably tied to the Holocaust, the messages conveyed by his words, both written and spoken, articulate both the lessons of the Holocaust and, in a powerful way, the importance of the State of Israel. Israel, of course, provides the place to which Jews may escape and find safe haven when the forces of anti-Semitism imperil their lives. Today, the influx of Jews from France provides but one example of how important this aspect of Israel remains. But Wiesel’s message went beyond anti-Semitism, challenging Israel to be more than a place for Jews, but a place illuminated by Jewish values. Wiesel loved Israel. Had there been an Israel prior to WWII, one can only imagine how many Jews could have been saved. But Wiesel loved Israel not only because it was a place for Jews, but because it was the only place in this world where Judaism, Hebrew and Torah could gain full expression.

I had the privilege of hearing Elie Wiesel speak on numerous occasions. Most memorable was his visit to our congregation, some twelve years ago, arranged for by our member, my dear friend and friend of Wiesel, David Pincus, z”l. Each time I heard Elie Wiesel speak, the power and poetry of his words touched me deeply. But it was not just the stories of the Holocaust which stirred him. As distance from the Holocaust grew, his message to those who would listen focused powerfully and forcefully on today’s world. Whether speaking to the UN about the growth of anti-Semitism or identifying today’s tyrants who orchestrate the mass murder of their own citizens, Wiesel was tireless, fearless and unwavering.

While mourning Wiesel’s death, we were reminded of the urgency and timeliness of the message of his life. Over the course of the 24 hours before or after his death, we learned of a spate of brutal, gruesome and senseless attacks. In a cafe in Bangladesh gunmen entered and executed 20 people. In Baghdad a suicide bomber drove his van into an area crowded with people celebrating the end of Ramadan, killing more than 140. ISIS has claimed responsibility for these attacks, as well as the attack in the airport in Istanbul. Here in Israel, during that same 24 hour period, we learned of the stabbing of a 13 year-old girl by a terrorist who broke into her house and stabbed her while she slept in her bed.

And then there was the random attack on a rabbi and his family coming home to prepare for Shabbat.

Rabbi Marks, left, looks on as Elie Wiesel attaches mezuza.

Rabbi Marks, left, looks on as Elie Wiesel attaches mezuza.

Rabbi Miki Marks, the Head Rabbi/Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva in the town of Otniel, had a reputation for being open and kind, a rare Rabbi who wanted to find ways to live and co-exist with his Palestinian neighbors. It was because of this reputation that Elie Wiesel agreed to come to that Yeshiva some years ago as the Yeshiva’s new building was being dedicated. In a photograph being circulated today, Wiesel and Rabbi Marks are seen smiling and clapping hands as the mezuza was affixed to the doorpost at the entrance to the building by Elie Wiesel. It is ironic that the Rabbi was killed just before Shabbat, less than 24 hours before Wiesel died.

Israelis, secular and religious alike, have been stunned by the senseless attack on the Rabbi of Otniel and the attack on a girl sleeping in her bed. Meanwhile, the world is shocked once again, by the murderous rampages of an unrestrained and unrepentant Radical Islam. (Israelis cannot comprehend how the world can be stunned by the terrorism perpetrated by ISIS around the world while remaining indifferent to attacks in Israel. But that discussion is for another time.) Even Wiesel’s powerful voice was unable to shake the world’s conscience in order to generate a global call for justice for Israel. But Wiesel never stopped trying.

I don’t know what Israel or humanity can do to fight the evil which seems to fill our world. Elie Wiesel charged us with the responsibility to bear witness. He implored us never to forget. In response to a lifetime of pleas by Elie Wiesel, in response to the terrorism which is inflicted daily upon Israelis, in response to a world which seems permeated with hatred, we must never stop trying. What then shall we do? That is a question we must each answer for ourselves. But this much I know: in response to a hate-filled and violence-crazed world, in solidarity with Israel and as an homage to the life and work of Elie Wiesel, z”l, we cannot forget, we cannot ignore, we must never become indifferent.