Obama Sits Down With Rabbis

— by Rachel Shabad

Recently, White House Director of Jewish Outreach in the Office of Public Engagement Jarrod Bernstein sat down with President Barack Obama and White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to meet with Jewish leaders from the Conservative and Orthodox communities. The group discussed a wide range of topics as part of “a continuing dialogue with various strands of the American Jewish community.”

Bernstein wrote:

At the meeting with Conservative Jewish leaders, the President was given the traditional blessing for heads of state by Rabbinical Assembly Executive Vice President Julie Schonfeld. The role of faith leaders in communities across the country was discussed and celebrated, with the President speaking to the important role these clergy play in our everyday lives. From the social safety net to advocacy on issues around the globe, leaders of religious movements have helped to make this a ‘more perfect union.’

The meeting with Orthodox leadership covered many topics, as well, including how the government and faith leaders can work together to ensure that all students get access to the services they are entitled to by law. The group discussed the President’s unshakeable support for Israel and our commitments to peace and security for Israel and the entire Middle East. The group finished its meeting with a brief visit to the Oval Office, where they presented the President with a copy of George Washington’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Rhode Island written in 1790.

List of attendees follows the jump.
Attendees at meeting of Orthodox Rabbis:

  • Dr. Simcha Katz, President – Orthodox Union
  • Rabbi Steven Burg, Managing Director – Orthodox Union
  • Mr. Nathan Diament, Executive Director for Public Policy – Orthodox Union
  • Mr. Yehuda Neuberger, Public Policy Chairman – Orthodox Union
  • Mr. Allen Fagin, Senior Vice President – Orthodox Union
  • Mrs. Shira Yoshor, Orthodox Union Community Network Leader, Houston, TX; Trustee, Yeshiva University
  • Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, President – Rabbinical Council of America
  • Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Congregation Kehillath Jeshurun, New York
  • Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, Boca Raton Synagogue, Florida
  • Rabbi Benjamin Blau, Green Road Synagogue, Cleveland, Ohio
  • Rabbi Avraham Shmidman, Lower Merion Synagogue, Pennsylvania
  • Rabbi Shalom Baum, Congregation Keter Torah, Teaneck, New Jersey
  • Mrs. Ellen Lightman, Board Member – Orthodox Union

Attendees at meeting of Conservative Rabbis:

  • Rabbi Bruce Dollin
  • Rabbi Ed Farber
  • Rabbi Jeffrey A Wohlberg            
  • Rabbi Amy Greenbaum
  • Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin
  • Rabbi Daniel Greyber
  • Rabbi Danielle Upbin
  • Rabbi David M Ackerman
  • Rabbi Harold Berman
  • Abby Joseph Cohen:
  • Dr. Arnold Martin Eisen
  • Mr. Marc Gary
  • Rabbi Luis Felipe Goodman
  • Rabbi Joseph Howard Krakoff
  • Rabbi Andrea L. Merow
  • Rabbi Jack L. Moline
  • Rabbi Danny S. Nevins
  • Rabbi Julie Schonfeld
  • Rabbi Steven Curtis Wernick
  • Richard Skolnik
  • Rabbi Eric S Yanoff

Israel Recognizes Conservative, Reform Rabbis


Rabbi Miri Gold

Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein office announced yesterday that 15 Reform and Conservative rabbis will be recognized as rabbis of non-Orthodox communities and put on the state payroll for the first time — on a par with Orthodox community leaders. This out-of-court settlement brings to a close the 2005 petition before Israel’s Supreme Court by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism and Reform Rabbi Miri Cohen of Kibbutz Gezer. The decision allows for equal financing of non-Orthodox rabbis in regional councils and farming communities throughout the country, but so far does not extend to the larger cities.

Rabbi Gold, who first heard the news on the radio said, “This is a big step for religious pluralism and democracy in Israel.  Israeli Jews want religious alternatives and with this decision the State is starting to recognize this reality. There is more than one way to be Jewish, even in Israel.”

The ruling in this case follows other successes by the Israel Religious Action Center including the placement of a Reform Rabbi in Mevasseret on the Religious Council there, the finding that forced gender segregation on public transportation is discrimination and prohibited, and the allocation of pre-fab units to non-Orthodox congregations for synagogue buildings.

According to DEBKA, “they have a long way to go before their authority is accepted for performing marriages, conversions and other religious matters along with Orthodox and Haredi rabbis.” However, this decision has hailed as an important milestone by the Conservative and Reform movements.

Reaction after the jump.  
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Vice-President of the Rabbincal Assembly
The Rabbinical Assembly is the international body of Conservative rabbis

This is a historic day for Israelis and Jews around the world. In order for Judaism to grow and thrive in Israel, it is necessary that the government recognize its obligation to provide equal funding to various Jewish religious streams and expressions that flower in the Jewish state.

Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, President of the Rabbinical Assembly

The announcement of Israel’s Attorney General Weinstein represents a dramatic step forward in the struggle for religious pluralism in Israel. The historic inequities in the funding of local community rabbis in Israel has long hampered efforts to bring a greater variety of spiritual options to Israelis.  Hopefully, this decision will open the door to new and exciting Jewish spiritual opportunities that will strengthen Israel, and bring Israelis to a new appreciation of Jewish tradition.

Rabbi Daniel Allen, Executive Director of ARZA; The Reform Israel Fund
ARZA is the major American Reform Movement funder of the Israel Religious Action Center, an arm of the Israel Reform Movement, that brought the case to court six years ago.

Miri’s success is success for all of us. With patience and perseverance, we will build an inclusive democratic Israeli society. Israel’s Declaration of Independence guaranteed religious freedom, it has to be that this freedom is for all Israeli’s, Jewish as well as Christian and Muslim. This decision brings us closer to the day where this will be the reality in Israel rather than the ideal.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism

This is a watershed moment for the Reform Movement and for religious pluralism in Israel. Mazel tov to Rabbi Gold and the many activists who work so diligently to ensure the eventual and thorough embrace of liberal Judaism in Israel.

Kenneth Bob, President, Ameinu

This historical decision is an important first step toward the recognition of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism by the State of Israel. There is still much work to be done, but it’s a big victory for pluralism and religious freedom in Israel. We salute the efforts of the Conservative and Reform movements and will continue to stand with you.

Jewish Leaders Commit To Reduce Energy Use


Leaders across the political and religious spectrum celebrate Tu B’shvat by setting goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 14% by 2014.

— by Vicki Stearn

The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) today announced that a diverse group of community leaders has joined its Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign by signing the “Jewish Environment and Energy Imperative” declaration. Rabbis from the Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform and Renewal movements and other communal leaders set the goal of significantly lowering greenhouse-gas emissions, advocating for energy independence and security, and reducing the Jewish community’s energy consumption 14% by 2014.  The official signing ceremony at Manhattan’s 14th Street Y preceded Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish new year for trees.

The declaration states:

The need to transform the world’s energy economy while addressing global climate change is not only a religious and moral imperative, it is a strategy for security and survival.

Each of us — as Jews, people of faith and Americans — has a personal responsibility to work toward lowering greenhouse-gas emissions and decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, COEJL co-chair, and president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “This responsibility starts in our hearts and from there we must care for our homes, places of worship and institutional buildings.

More after the jump.
COEJL Director Sybil Sanchez said,

The Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign commits our leadership to take concrete action on climate change and energy security. Reducing our energy use by 14% by 2014 is our first step toward the national goal of an 83% reduction of 2005 greenhouse gas levels by 2050.

The year 2014 is the next ‘sabbatical’ or seventh year in the Jewish calendar, a traditional time to refrain from impacting the earth.

“Greening and sustainability are areas where the Jewish community has both an opportunity and an obligation to take a leadership role in the neighborhoods where Jewish institutions thrive,” said Stephen Hazan Arnoff, 14th Street Y executive director.  

Since participating in the Jewish Greening Fellowship program, the Y has reduced energy usage with new systems and equipment, and adopted sustainable practices to reduce and reuse materials, especially in the Y’s theater, where the ceremony took place.

Among the 50 signers of the declaration are:

  • Robert Barkin, president, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation;
  • Rabbi Yosef Blau, chair of Rabbinic Advisory Board, Canfei Nesharim;
  • Rabbi Steve Gutow, president and CEO, Jewish Council for Public Affairs;
  • Nancy Kaufman, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women;
  • Karen Rubinstein, executive director, American Zionist Movement;
  • Sybil Sanchez, director, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life;
  • Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism;
  • Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president, The Rabbinical Assembly;
  • Rabbi Arthur Waskow, executive director, the Shalom Center;
  • Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president, Orthodox Union; and,
  • Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president and CEO, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

About COEJL
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life deepens and broadens the Jewish community’s commitment to the stewardship and protection of the earth.  Through a network of 27 national organizations and 125 community agencies, COEJL is mobilizing the Jewish community to address today’s energy and climate change crisis. COEJL is an initiative of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

About the 14th Street Y
The 14th Street Y builds community in the heart of Manhattan’s East Village.  The Jewish center embraces people of all ages, faiths and backgrounds, offering health and fitness, education, art and recreational programs for people and families of all ages. The 14th Street Y is part of a network of 44 programs at 27 sites provided by The Educational Alliance.

Food Stamp Challenge: The Week The Rabbis Went Hungry


— by Eric Harris

This week Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and other members of the RAC staff, is taking the Food Stamp Challenge. Part of “Fighting Poverty with Faith’s” initiative to focus people of faith on issues of economic justice and the need to sustain vital social safety net programs, Food Stamp Challenge participants live for seven days on the standard weekly food stamp allotment of $31.50. Rabbi Saperstein will participate in the Challenge from October 27th through November 2nd, joining a half dozen prominent Jewish leaders and ten Members of Congress in this effort to call attention to anti-hunger programs and educate the faith community on the plight of hunger.

We are honored to be able to participate in the Food Stamp Challenge, and experience even for a brief time the ongoing struggle of the millions of Americans nationwide who are confronting hunger on a daily basis. We have long advocated for anti-hunger programs, like SNAP and WIC that meet the needs of the 49 million food-insecure Americans but the Challenge places in stark relief how difficult it is to obtain enough food and nutritious food on a food stamp budget – and why we must do better as a nation.

Jewish tradition teaches that feeding the hungry is a vital responsibility. The Midrash says:

When you are asked in the world to come, ‘What was your work?’ and you answer: ‘I fed the hungry,’ you will be told: ‘This is the gate of God, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry.’

Participating in the Food Stamp Challenge will not, by itself, end hunger in America; that will take a sustained commitment by our nation and its leaders. To that end, we are hopeful that our participation in the Food Stamp Challenge this week will inspire others to advocate for policies addressing families and individuals who confront hunger nationwide. During these difficult economic times, easing the burden on those who are most vulnerable must be our number one priority.

All members of our congregations are being called to register online, and join us in the Food Stamp Challenge and use it as an opportunity to educate your synagogue and community.

Other food stamp challenge participants are listed after the jump.

Who else is taking the challenge?

Ask your Member of Congress to take the challenge too.