Helping the Victims of Hurricane Harvey

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Texas as they face the epic devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey.The storm that unleashed approximately 27 trillion gallons — or a record 51 inches — of rain on Texas and Louisiana left 50 people dead (a figure that is expected to increase), thousands of residents displaced and billions of dollars’ worth of property destroyed.

https://www.defense.gov/Photos/Photo-Gallery/igphoto/2001799185/

Rescue by Texas Army National Guardsmen. Photo: Lt. Zachary West.

While hatred and evil were on display a mere few weeks ago in Charlottesville, the best of humanity has shown itself during the response to Harvey. From the brothers who drove from Dallas to participate in multiple dangerous rescue efforts to the human chains spontaneously created for saving others to the local Pizza Hut that delivered pizzas by boat to people in need of food, selfless acts of courage have abounded during the tragedy in Texas.

For those still seeking a way to help the victims of Harvey, we have compiled the following list of Jewish organizations engaged in Harvey relief efforts: [Read more…]

A High School Student goes to Israel

Editor’s Note: The NFTY-EIE High School in Israel is an accredited semester or summer-long program for Reform Jewish high school students in grades 10-12. EIE offers an opportunity to be immersed in the richness of the land, culture, people and history of Israel, while earning high school and college credit. Part of the Union for Reform Judaism family of camps and programs in North America and Israel, NFTY-EIE is based at Kibbutz Tzuba, approximately 15 minutes outside of Jerusalem. With very small class sizes, students take advanced Jewish History and Hebrew classes and their regular general studies courses to fulfill their home high schools’ requirements. There are numerous week-long trips, including a trip to Poland to study the Holocaust and a week in Gadna (a simulated Israeli army training experience).

— by Amber Soffer, EIE participant 2016

Amber Soffer (on the right) with two friends from Philly.

Amber Soffer (on the right) with two friends from Philly.

I came to EIE with my own thoughts, ideas, and values, and I had never thought to question them. However, the main thing I learned on EIE is to question everything. Nothing is as simple as we think. This goes for something as intense as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to something as simple as ripping toilet paper on Shabbat. One of the main focuses of our Jewish history class is talking about the meaning of Am Yisrael (people of Israel). This is quite a loaded topic, because there are so many different ways to be Jewish. For example, some people consider one to only be Jewish if one’s mother is Jewish. As a Reform Jew, I do not believe that. I’m still trying to figure out what makes one a Jew: something I had never thought to question before EIE.

Along with many of the cool aspects of the program, one of the best is learning something in the exact place where it happened.For example, if we were learning about the Bar Kochba revolts, we explored the tunnels in which they hid. Being immersed in Israeli culture and society allowed me to absorb so much of it. I picked up Hebrew phrases, and am now able to follow conversations in Hebrew: something I had never thought possible.

I learned that in Israeli society, it is customary to only know how to be aggressive. On the first day of Jewish history class our teacher told us, “There is no passive-aggressive in Israel, only aggressive.” But, even after the Israelis are done yelling at each other, they just go back to normal conversation.

On a personal growth level, I learned how to live away from home, advocate for myself, and be a part of a most amazing community. All of these skills and experiences will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Amber at the Sataf in the Judean Hills

Amber at the Sataf in the Judean Hills

It is almost impossible to pick just one experience that was my favorite. There are so many different categories to “favorite”. There is favorite in the sense I learned the most, had the most fun, and the most important experience to me. My favorite thing that I learned was Hebrew. I had the most fun trying to use my Hebrew to bargain with shop owners, order pizza, and ask for directions. It was the most exciting feel that I not only could say what I want, but understand their reply, too. On EIE, the fun basically never stops because you are always surrounded by your best friends. But, if I had to pick only one favorite experience, it would be Yam L’Yam. This was our Sea to Sea hike (from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean Sea). This was filled with new experiences for me and finishing the five day hike was so satisfying. My favorite aspects of Yam L’Yam were sleeping under the stars, adventuring through the different terrains of Israel, and taking in the amazing views and scenery that were around every corner. My most important experience was our trip to Poland. Although it was very sad, it compares to the Muslim obligation to have to go to Mecca once in their life. I feel as though every Jewish person should go to Poland and see the horrible sights in remembrance of WW2. Each concentration camp, ghetto, and other place where the Jewish people were oppressed provided a sense of reality for the entirety of the Holocaust.

Amber on an archaeological dig

Amber on an archaeological dig

As much as people say that you will change over this experience, I feel like it is hard to see it in yourself, especially while you are still in Israel. Once home, I am sure that I will be aware of the little differences in myself more. However, one of the things I outright is the way I view my Judaism. In Israel, it is so easy to lead a Jewish life, because you are always surrounded by the little things. But, back in America these little things will cease to surround me at all times. I want to keep the little things around me, so being Jewish is not a conscious choice I sometimes make, but always envelops me.  Also, I feel as though I am way more of an independent person, and I can tackle almost any challenge after being here. I know at home I will not struggle with the trivial issues, like too much homework anymore, because here I had double as long of a day with the same amount of homework; yet, I learned to successfully deal with it here. Since being here, I feel as though when I return home it will be my duty to correctly be able to answer people’s question about Israel. And when they see something in the news and ask me about it because they know I am Jewish, I will be able to explain to them what happened and why. I hope this ends up turning into Israel advocacy, and help people be more educated about Israel. The biggest change I will make is adapt myself to fit the Israeli style of living by making the most of each moment.  Israelis definitely know how to live life to the fullest, and I hope to bring that change home with me as well.

For more information about NFTY-EIE, please to go its website, www.nftyeie.org

Reform Movement Sets Sails for Fundamental Change

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram



A new Reform Judaism is rapidly emerging: inspiring, courageous, inclusive, radically hospitable, spiritual, and relevant.

In light of “doomsday statistics” about diminishing Jewish identification and affiliation, as given in the recent, much-publicized Pew study, how is this possible?

One should keep in mind that such studies only document what had been, and typically miss the exciting new approaches across the flow of Jewish history, that percolate in every age, and sometimes catch on big time.

One watershed moment was the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial, held in San Diego last month.

As announced in the Biennial, URJ membership is no longer required for attendance at its conferences, camps and youth groups. Many of the best innovations and innovators of our times, from within Reform, Jewish Renewal, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Judaism, were in evidence.

Each attempted fusion worked elegantly and authentically, maintaining the heart and structure of Jewish prayer while riveting the 5,000 participants even during lengthy Shabbat services. Choreographer Liz Lerman led prayer through authentic movement, for example, and virtually everyone participated (see video).

More after the jump.
The URJ is going head to head with the orthodox movement, Chabad, in terms of embracing the core Jewish spiritual practices, the mitzvot, as the URJ president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, explained:



I met recently with Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, a cherished member of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s inner circle, who now has the responsibility of overseeing Chabad’s worldwide activities.

Shortly after we sat down in his office at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, Rabbi Krinsky leaned forward and asked, “Rabbi Jacobs, can we be frank?”

I said “Yes,” not sure where he was going.

“Why are you so busy trying to get more people into your Reform Movement? After all, you don’t care about kashrut, you don’t care about Shabbat, and you don’t care about mitzvot, so what are you so busy doing?”

I responded, “Rabbi Krinsky, we care about kashrut. We care about Shabbat. We care about mitzvot. We just care differently.”

“My job,” I told him, “is exactly the same as yours: to try and bring more and more people close to the sacred core of Jewish life.”

I believe with the very fiber of my being that young Jews are hungry, but not for a Judaism frozen in a distant time, no matter how loving and warm the purveyors — including Chabad, in particular — might be.

Rabbi Jacobs himself, along with the music director for the conference — the soulful, deeply God-connected Josh Nelson — set a contemplative tone of meaningful rather than formulaic prayer.

This shift one of affect, away from services styled after the music of Debbie Friedman, of blessed memory, that was often accompanied by rabbinic intoning of prayers.

It turns out that some of the senior URJ leadership has studied or been featured with Rabbi Rachel Cowan and her team at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality (IJS).


The Korean-born rabbi, Angela Buchdahl, has become a symbol of Reform inclusiveness.

The Importance of Inclusion

Another service co-leader was the new head rabbi at Central Synagogue in Manhattan, Angela Buchdahl, who is also listed as part of the non-denominational Institute for Jewish Spirituality.

Korean-born Rabbi Buchdahl has lived in the U.S. since the age of 4, and Rabbi Jacobs used her presence as a focal point to advocate for attention though kindness and inclusiveness throughout the movement, noting that people would often love her services when he and she shared a pulpit, and then ask him quietly, “Is she really Jewish?”

He later gave a shout-out to Congregation Or Ami in Clabasas, California which

 “identifies itself by saying: ‘We are also ‘Mosaic’ in that we connect back to Moses, a Hebrew child, raised by Egyptians, who married a non-Jewish woman of color and became the leader of his people.'”

Jacobs spoke further about every possible category of difference and the importance of inclusion:

When we open our doors — and more, our hearts and minds — and say, “Come in, we need you,” we will have new talent and energy beyond our wildest dreams.

Al tistakel b’kankan, warned our sages, “don’t look at the bottle,” ela b’mah sheyesh bo, “but at what is inside it.”

Inside those people whom we exclude is another great gift, another opportunity of a lifetime just waiting for us. As we learn from Abraham, we cannot wait for the seekers.

The Union plans outreach to every kind of public venue. Both year-round family camping and a fourteenth camp for “Jews who love science” will open this year.

Regarding intermarriage, Jacobs advocates doors open wide:

It is not just sociology that demands that we be serious about welcoming interfaith families. It is theology as well.

We have a sacred obligation to open our doors, to add to our ranks, and to make sure that Progressive Judaism has a growing, not a shrinking, voice in proclaiming what Torah must mean for our time and for our world.

It is a veritable gift of God to have the opportunity of a millennium: more non-Jews who want “in” than Jews who want “out.”

That has never happened before. We dare not squander this gift out of fear of what new voices may say and where new opinions may lead.

Heavily “strummed” services were mostly moved to smaller breakout service times, performance sessions and variegated welcomes (see video to the right).

Best of all the many abundant approaches to helping people feel welcomed was embodied by the phrase used by Rabbi Jacobs, “audacious hospitality.”

Heightened Spirituality Broadly Evident

Shifts toward soulful approaches in both music and liturgy were abundant. The movement’s new Mishkan T’Filah prayerbook worked beautifully in the mix.

In perhaps a related development, Neshama Carlebach, daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, z”l, announced at her late-night standing-room-only conference concert with Josh Nelson that her soul is “making aliyah to the Reform movement,” an announcement for which she received resounding applause.

And in an article published immediately after the conference ended, Carlebach termed the URJ Biennial “the largest spirituality-oriented gathering of Jews in North America”:

Reform synagogues have always been “the shuls I didn’t attend.” Simply put, I had no idea how extraordinary Reform Judaism was.

The tikkun olam (social justice) mandate is so strongly bound up with the movement, and in the most joyous of ways. I was overwhelmed by the music, by the davening (prayer) and yes, my Orthodox friends, by the ever-present light of Torah.

Some of the Biennial’s Influences:

The Underlying Forces

Rabbi Jacobs description of this new approach echoes almost the identical wording of the literature of Jewish Renewal.

The founder of Jewish Renewal, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (widely known as “Reb Zalman”), once told the author of this article, “It’s really we (the Renewal movement) who have accomplished what the Rebbe set out to do.”

It must have been a nachas (pleasure) for Reb Zalman to hear what took place at the Biennial, and to know that many Jewish Renewal teachers, students and principles were strong influences in the mix. (See sidebar)

As explained by the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Rabbi David Saperstein
, in a recent tribute to a Renewal social activist, Rabbi Arthur Waskow:

The Renewal movement has not only grown into a significant presence in its own right, but has had a profound impact on the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements.

It is time that this be acknowledged. The merging of aesthetics of new liturgies and rituals, the synergy of mystical prayer and meditation, passion for social justice rolled into an expression of Judaism has brought new light into so many Jewish lives.

These two tents within progressive Judaism — Reform and Renewal — have a great deal of synergy in place already.

The Reform Movement has the numbers and the strength to reach out to the majority of Jews whom Rabbi Jacobs termed “nones” — those having some Jewish interest, but no affiliations.

Jewish Renewal, in the words of a Renewal rabbi who attended the Biennial, Rabbi Diane Elliot “is well-positioned to provide ‘midwives'”: spiritual teachers specializing in one or more modalities (chant, movement, hiddur mitzvah, etc.), who are equipped to go out into Reform communities, and those of other denominations, to help implement this emerging, Renewal-infused agenda:

Midwives are patient. They understand the global trajectory of the birthing journey, and at the same time they know how to meet the birthing mother where she is (“ba-asher hu/hi sham,” Genesis 21:17), helping her to stay present and in contact with what is happening right now, opening bit by bit, not pushing too soon, but when they time comes, pushing hard.

Midwives are coaches. In the wake of the Biennial, I saw that Jewish Renewal clergy are well suited for the role of spiritual coaching among other denominations.

While I see us continuing to serve and create new enclaves of Jewish Renewal, it seems to me that the most effective way to spread the “good news” of what we offer is not to pour energy into trying to aggressively market ourselves as a movement, thus throwing ourselves into competition with other larger and much better funded streams of Jewish life, but rather to consciously offer ourselves in service of k’lal Yisra’el, “all Jews.”

True to the role modeling of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Rabbi Elliot proposes that Jewish Renewal continue “doing what we do best — opening hearts, minds and bodies to deeper and more comprehensive practice and experience, thoroughly grounded in Jewish textual, historical, and mystical traditions.”

To my mind, this kind of research and development can feel risky and even earth-shattering for some folks, given Jews’ communal trauma history, passed on unconsciously, cellularly, from generation to generation, through body language, thought patterns, and child-rearing practices, as well as through story, fiction, poetry, theater, visual art, and contemporary midrash.

So the deep work, integrating new modalities, is best done in small groups on retreat and in more intimate community settings, where trust can be built and healing manifest — for individual participants, for communities, and for Judaism itself.

Jewish Organizations Welcome Renewal of Peace Talks


Secretary of State John Kerry

In response to Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement, that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have the basis to resume peace talks, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

We welcome this apparent progress toward peace, and commend Secretary of State Kerry for his leadership and effort and pledge our support for such efforts as they move forward. We pray that this is the beginning of a process that will lead to a lasting agreement that will bring true peace and stability for a region that has known conflict for thousands of years. We call on both the Israelis and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table with a true willingness to work for peace and we pray that the vision of the prophets will soon be fulfilled.

JCPA and JStreet comments after the jump.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs Chair Larry Gold said:

This is an opportunity that for the past two years has been extremely elusive. It grows out of the recognition that peace and security, prosperity and independence, cannot be reached by any path other than direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. We have no illusions about the difficulties ahead. The issues that must be resolved are profound. But the status quo is unacceptable. Israel’s future as a secure and democratic nation state of the Jewish people cannot be fully preserved without establishment of a stable, viable, and independent State of Palestine. We encourage both sides to show the courage, flexibility and persistence necessary for these talks to be successful.

JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow added:

This is a great achievement for Secretary of State Kerry who invested so much time and diplomatic effort in finally bringing Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Last week, we and the American Task Force for Palestine joined together in Washington, D.C. to meet with members of the administration and leaders in Congress to express our support for this effort and for a negotiated peace. Two states for two peoples cannot be achieved without a strong U.S. leadership, and we are thankful to Secretary Kerry and President Obama for their leadership. But the hard work is just beginning. As we move forward, we urge all who want peace to support these negotiations and to encourage reconciliation, not division.

JStreet President Jeremy Ben-Ami said:

Secretary Kerry deserves the recognition of the entire world for his determination and creativity in achieving this breakthrough. We are confident he will remain fully engaged as the parties get down to negotiating. We thank President Obama for making this issue a top foreign policy priority of his second term.

We call on Congress and American Jews to get fully behind this peace effort to give the parties the support they need to make the tough decisions necessary to resolve their conflict.

Achieving a two-state solution is a vital U.S. national security interest and would inject much-needed stability into an increasingly unstable region. It would deal a setback to extremists and terrorists around the world who have exploited this conflict to mobilize support for their violent methods.

Such an agreement is also the only way to secure Israel’s future as both a democracy and a Jewish homeland and would provide Palestinians with a vehicle in which to fulfill their self-determination and national aspirations.

We know that difficult days lie ahead, but we are convinced that with persistence, creative mediation and international support, a deal is within reach. Vocal minorities on both sides can be expected to oppose the negotiations going forward, but must not be allowed to frustrate the desire of clear majorities of Israelis and Palestinians for a two-state solution to end this conflict.

URJ’s Camp Harlam to Launch First Reform Day Camp


Harlam’s overnight camp, 2012

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), representing North America’s largest Jewish congregational Movement, and Camp Harlam, the URJ’s Philadelphia-based regional overnight camp, announced that they will open the first URJ-affiliated day camp in the summer of 2014.

The URJ’s foray into Jewish day camping is a strategic initiative meant to complement the Reform Movement’s focus on Youth Engagement and the URJ’s North American Camp Committee’s strategic plan. The expectation for the day camp is to be the first of its kind and a model, and other day camp initiatives will be considered for various target communities throughout North America in the coming years.

More after the jump.
“The URJ has been a leader in Jewish camping for over 60 years, keeping it as a high strategic priority for decades and making the case for camp as a true cornerstone in the development of Jewish identity,” said URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs.

Camp Harlam, like all of our URJ camps, has developed its own joyful and engaging brand of Reform Jewish living and learning in a truly beautiful, fully immersive, well-supervised, fun setting. The day camp initiative is a way to expand what Camp Harlam already does so well and offer more entry points for Jewish families to engage with the Reform Movement.

The URJ’s Director of Camp and Israel Programs, Paul Reichenbach, said:

URJ camp and Israel experiences give kids Jewish cultural roots and inspire them to seek more and more connections. A day camp model will enhance our ability to reach more kids and encourage them to embark on their own Jewish journeys.

Reform Movement Leader Shows Support of Stricter Gun Laws

In advance of the interfaith day of advocacy around gun control today, The Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs sent a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urging Congress to pass stricter gun laws.

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:

Nearly four decades ago, in 1975, the Union for Reform Judaism recognized the need for legislation that would limit and control the sale and use of firearms. Since the adoption of that resolution, the URJ’s first calling for the regulation of firearms, more than one million Americans have been killed as a result of gun violence. The URJ has spoken out repeatedly and passionately on gun violence and continues to insist that gun regulation is a vital necessity.

Continued after the jump.
As president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the membership organization for nearly 900 Reform synagogues and 1.5 million Reform Jews in North America, I follow in the footsteps of my predecessors and urge you to support the comprehensive gun violence prevention package before Congress (S.649 / H.R. 137), which not only will require enforceable background checks, but also will curb gun trafficking and enhance school safety, making America safer while keeping the Second Amendment secure. Congress also must ensure that the bill is enforceable by requiring private sellers who sell crime guns to produce a background check — just as dealers are required to do. There’s no question that the two minutes it takes to pass a background check is a wise investment in saving lives.

I ask, too, that you support the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines (S.150 / H.R. 437), which will ban these weapons of war that have no place in our schools or on our streets. These weapons — frequently used in police killings and mass shootings — dramatically increase the number of lives lost and the damage done.

Jewish tradition mandates tikkun olam, “repair of our fractured world” — and this country’s background check system is broken indeed. This flawed system, which does not require “private sellers” to conduct background checks, easily puts weapons in the hands of the vast majority of gun criminals. It is time to fix this broken system with passage of S.649 / H.R. 137, which will extend the current background check requirements to private gun sales, with dealers conducting the checks and keeping records the same way they have done for more than 40 years. Passage of these bills is the single most meaningful step you can take to stop senseless violence, honor all who have been lost to gun violence, and bring solace to survivors. On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism and its members across North America, I urge you to support these critical pieces of legislation.

Just as the prophet Isaiah exhorts the people of the earth to “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks,” so too do I urge you to vote for comprehensive and enforceable background checks and to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. As elected officials, it is your moral imperative to work to solve society’s problems. This is holy work and we are counting on you to do it, helping to shape a better and more hopeful world for us all. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Rick Jacobs

URJ’s New Jewish Science and Technology Camp

The Union for Reform Judaism is proud to announce new directors for its two specialty camps. Eric Lightman will direct the new URJ 6 Points Science and Technology Academy and Alan Friedman will oversee the already highly successful URJ 6 Points Sports Academy.

More after the jump.

Both camps aim to attract a new cohort of campers, who, were it not for the sports or science components of the programs, would probably not enroll in a Jewish camp. Funding for both URJ 6 Points Academies is made possible by the Foundation for Jewish Camps (FJC) Specialty Camps Incubator grants, jointly funded by The Jim Joseph and AVI CHAI Foundations.

“The URJ is thrilled to have both Alan Friedman and Eric Lightman as new members of our team,” said Director of URJ Camping and Israel Programs Paul Reichenbach, “They are leading the effort to grow and establish specialized camping for young people who want camp experiences in sports or science and technology, that are filled with fun, friendship and skill acquisition, but that are also intentionally and joyfully Jewish. Alan and Eric join an exceptional group of URJ camp professionals who are creative and entrepreneurial leaders in their field.”

Lightman to Head 6 Points Science and Technology Academy

Eric Lightman, a long-time camping professional with an impressive background in computer science, will become founding director of the URJ 6 Points Science and Technology Academy, to open near Boston in summer 2014. The camp will serve upwards of 600 campers entering grades 6-10 and will build on the growing interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to attract unaffiliated and currently unengaged Jewish families.

URJ 6 Points Science and Technology Academy will not only engage campers’ curiosity about the world through hands-on scientific exploration; it will immerse them in a vibrant community filled with Jewish experiences and connections to Israel. Judaism will infuse all aspects of the camp experience through song sessions, blessings at meals, Shabbat celebrations, and the presence of Israeli staff. Campers will develop meaningful Jewish friendships and create shared Jewish memories.

Lightman is an experienced Jewish communal professional who was a long-time camper and staff member at Capital Camps in Maryland. He has a degree in computer science from the University of Maryland and worked as a software engineer for MicroStrategy, Inc., an international business intelligence firm. Lightman participated in Project Otzma, a 10-month volunteer and learning experience in Israel, and served as teen services director at the Weinstein JCC in Richmond, VA. He received the prestigious JCC Association Graduate Scholarship and the Taub Foundation Fellowship, which enabled him to pursue graduate studies at New York University in public administration and Hebrew and Judaic studies. Most recently, Lightman was the director of the 2012 JCC Maccabi Games in Rockland County, New York.

“I am incredibly excited to begin work on the new 6 Points Science and Technology Academy, which will require tackling not only the logistical challenges of running a summer camp, but also the task of crafting a program that melds Judaism and science into a single, cohesive experience,” said Lightman. “I look forward to sharing these meaningful and impactful experiences with hundreds of Jewish teenagers each summer.”

Friedman to Direct 6 Points Sports Academy

Alan Friedman, the former director of a leading sports camp and a thriving Jewish residential camp, will assume the helm at Six Points Sports Academy, a Reform Jewish sports camp in Greensboro, NC. At 6 Points Sports Academy, Jewish children entering grades 4 to 11, participate in top-level sports training alongside the beloved traditions of Reform Jewish camping.

Friedman was active at Camp Mah-Kee-Nac, a private boys’ sports camp in Lenox, MA, since he was 12 years old – first as a camper and then as a CIT, group leader and finally director. In 2006 Alan took his passion for informal Jewish education and summer camping and became the executive director of Camp Mountain Chai, a Jewish residential summer camp and year-round retreat center in Southern California, where he grew the camp from 125 to 550 campers. Friedman was active in NFTY throughout high school and spent ten years working as senior youth group advisor at four Reform congregations in the northeast. He earned a degree in Communications and Business Management from Ithaca College and has had a successful advertising career.

“I am excited to join the 6 Points Sports Academy team,” said Friedman. “I look forward to building on the huge success of the past three years as we continue to offer campers the unique opportunity to develop athletic skills while being part of a caring Jewish camp community. I will ensure that 6 Points Sports continues to be a special place where campers and staff can become the next generation of proud Jewish athletes.”

URJ Camp and Israel Programs serve more than 11,000 young people each summer. Responding to demand, the overall URJ camping program has dramatically expanded in the past few years. For morinformation, visit their website.

Reform Movement Joins Communal Israel Terror Relief Fund

— by Annette Powers

In response to Israel’s military efforts to stop the barrage of rockets fired from Gaza, and the subsequent escalation in violence, the arms of the Reform Movement, representing 1.5 million Jews in North America, as well as numerous professional organizations and affiliates, are joining together, calling for spiritual, political, and financial support for Israel.

More after the jump.
The Reform Movement has long been an unwavering voice for Israel and reaffirms that staunch support for Israel in this moment of crisis. The Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) has been in touch with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), and the entire Reform Jewish Movement is working together to provide support for Israel’s people who find themselves in the line of fire from Gaza rockets, including those in Reform communities.

To that end, the Reform Movement is joining with partners from across the North American Jewish landscape in establishing an Israel Terror Relief Fund. This effort is being coordinated by the Jewish Federations of North America. All donations will go to direct aid, including to the Reform community in Israel, through organizations such as The Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, as they work to provide respite and support to the thousands of children and families in Israel’s southern region, food and emergency kits to the elderly and disabled, and many other relief and emergency services.

Donation information, as well as a wide array of other resources – including liturgical suggestions, background information from many of our affiliates, including ARZA, and curricular materials – are available at urj.org/israel.

2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge Continues

— by Benjamin Suarato

Rabbis and cantors in communities across the country representing all four major denominations are committing to living for one week on a food budget of $31.50, the average allotment for individuals on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly SNAP), as part of the 2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, running from the lead-up to the High Holy Days starting September 7 and continuing through Thanksgiving. Participating clergy will take the challenge in order to educate congregations and communities about the realities of hunger and raise a loud collective Jewish voice about this crisis.

“Hunger and food insecurity touch every one of our communities, but it is rarely talked about and frequently misunderstood,” said Rabbi Leonard Gordon, co-chair of the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge representing the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and a member of the JCPA board. “The Food Stamp Challenge is a way for rabbis and cantors to make the invisible daily struggles of congregants and neighbors real while demonstrating the Jewish community’s deep commitment to help those in need. This includes education about the programs and assistance available.”

More after the jump.
“The involvement of rabbis and cantors from all streams of Judaism, in every region of the country is a testament to the centrality of ending hunger to the work we do as Jewish leaders and the unity of our community in elevating the conversation on poverty,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “This will be my third Food Stamp Challenge and each time, I am reawakened to the true struggle faced each day by those who depend on SNAP to put food on the table. It is a lesson that is now being brought to communities across the country through this committed involvement of religious leaders.”

SNAP participation has been functioning as intended, steadily increasing with the needs of those still struggling during the slow economic recovery, yet the program, one of the key instruments to addressing hunger in America, has been facing proposals of severe cuts to funding.

“On a budget of only $1.50 per meal, many SNAP recipients must settle for unsatisfying meals that lack the necessary nutrition and energy to meet the demands of work and family,” said Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “By trying to understand, even in a very small way, the challenge these families face, we will be better armed to protect SNAP from the threat of cuts.”

The 2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge is being led by a unique partnership of organizations spanning the religious spectrum, including:

    the Jewish Council for Public Affairs,

  • MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger,
  • the Rabbinical Assembly,
  • the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism,
  • the Union for Reform Judaism,
  • the Central Conference of American Rabbis,
  • the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association,
  • Uri L’Tzedek,
  • American Conference of Cantors, and
  • the Cantors Assembly.  

Resources created for this mobilization, include sample sermons, advocacy opportunities, programming ideas, and other tools for engaging congregations and communities. The Food Stamp Challenge is open for others besides clergy who are interested in participating in this experience.  More information and registration can be found online.  

The Steering Committee that is providing leadership for the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge includes:

  • Chaired by Rabbi Leonard Gordon of Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill, MA (representing the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Lenny is also on the JCPA Board of Directors)
  • Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Temple Beth El in East Windsor, NJ and Rabbi Ed Bernstein of Temple Torah of West Boynton Beach in Boynton Beach, FL  (both represent the Rabbinical Assembly)
  • Rabbi Harold Kravitz, Senior Rabbi at Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, MN (representing the committee as Chair of the Board of Directors of MAZON:  A Jewish Response to Hunger)
  • Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, MO; Rabbi Neil Borovitz of Congregation Avodat Shalom in River Edge, NJ; Rabbi Nancy Kasten, an active teacher and volunteer in the Dallas Jewish community, board member of Hebrew Union College; and Rabbi Judith Siegal of Tempe Judea in Coral Gables, FL (representing the Union for Reform Judaism/Central Conference of American Rabbis)
  • Rabbi Shawn Zevit, who worked for the Reconstructionist Movement for fourteen years and now serves as the visiting rabbi at T’Chiyah Reconstructionist Congregation in Detroit, MI (representing the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association)
  • Rabbi Ari Weiss, Executive Director of the Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek
  • Rabbi Sharon Brous, the founding rabbi of IKAR in Los Angeles, CA
  • Cantor Jack Chomsky of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus, Ohio (representing the Cantors Assembly)
  • Cantor Shannon McGrady-Bane, co-chair of the ACC Social Action and Justice Committee (representing the American Conference of Cantors); and
  • Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs

For more information about the 2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, please contact Robin Rosenbaum, JCPA Poverty Campaign Coordinator, at: rrosenbaum@thejcpa.org or (202) 212-6037.

Jewish clergy in all communities have been weighing in about how the goals of the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge have resonated with their varied experiences:

“I am taking the Food Stamp Challenge along with my family because it is important to not only talk about the fact that so many people in America are in need of food assistance, but also that we take action. When I take the Food Stamp Challenge I will have a better understanding as to what people who receive food stamps are feeling each and every day. By encouraging the members of my congregation to join me in this endeavor we will be making a statement that we must continue this important work of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and advocate on behalf of those who are in need. This is what Judaism asks of us and what we must do.”

— Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Temple Beth El in East Windsor, NJ

“With so much at stake in terms of how we are providing healthy, accessible and affordable sustenance in our country, inaction was not an option for me, challenged by my preparation for High Holy Days as visiting rabbi of Reconstructionist Congregation T’Chiyah in Detroit, to do more than only utter words and offer prayers for those in need. I have been spurred on by the wonderful response from friends, family, and clergy and members of faith communities everywhere. Let’s collect food for those in need this Yom Kippur and Thanksgiving and invite those who live with food insecurity to our sukkot, AND let’s work for systemic change for the millions who live on Food Stamps every day in our own communities, congregations and nation.”

— Rabbi Shawn Zevit who worked for the Reconstructionist Movement for fourteen years and now serves as the visiting rabbi at T’Chiyah Reconstructionist Congregation in Detroit, MI

“In my congregation, publicizing the Food Stamp Challenge has galvanized the community’s youth and social action leadership to make this a year to focus on hunger and food insecurity locally and in Israel.  Our students have adopted the slogan “Hunger is no Game” as the theme for the year (basing themselves on the recent movie, The Hunger Games”).  At a time when the social safety net is shredding and the alienation of rich and poor from their common humanity is increasing, taking the Food Stamp Challenge reminds us, in a small way, of our interconnectedness.”

— Rabbi Leonard Gordon of Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill, MA (representing the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism,  Lenny is also on the JCPA Board of Directors)

“We move about our communities like ships on non-intersecting courses across a vast ocean, not realizing how many among us are really struggling to feed themselves and their families on a daily basis.  The maze of public assistance in food and other resources is unknown to many of us — but is becoming known to more and more of us, even as powerful forces in our society seek to decrease the resources available to the growing number in greater need.  

“I hope that our involvement with this project will enable people to see and feel more clearly — and to remove the stigma attached to those who receive help.  I have long suspected that there are more needy among us than we know — that people internalize the idea that if they are Jewish they can’t be needy, so if they are needy, they mustn’t be Jewish — or full members of our Jewish community.  A project like this may shed some light and some heat.”

— Cantor Jack Chomsky of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus, Ohio

“Our society is short on empathy for those in need. The Food Stamp Challenge is a tool to channel us away from indifference towards empathy for the food insecure. I’m taking the Food Stamp Challenge as a personal reminder to avoid indifference and to work with others to fight food insecurity.”

— Rabbi Ed Bernstein of Temple Torah of West Boynton Beach in Boynton Beach, FL

“The 18th century Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin said, ‘If you want to raise a person from mud and filth, do not think it is enough to keep standing on top and reaching a helping hand down to the person. You must go all the way down yourself, down into mud and filth. Then take hold of the person with strong hands and pull the person and yourself out into the light.’

“As Jews we know that it is not enough to make sure that others have enough to eat. We need to challenge ourselves to experience what those in need actually experience- the anxiety, the pain, and even the humiliation- so that we always remain motivated to fight for economic justice for all. At this time, when more children in this nation are food insecure than ever before, I feel compelled to motivate myself to find solutions in every way I possibly can. The Food Stamp Challenge is one path I am taking to motivate and inspire me to do my part to bring more light and wholeness into this New Year.”

— Rabbi Nancy Kasten, an active teacher and volunteer in the Dallas Jewish community, board member of Hebrew Union College

JCPA, the public affairs arm of the organized Jewish community, serves as the national coordinating and advisory body for the 14 national and 125 local agencies comprising the field of Jewish community relations.

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.