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Randolph synagogue marks new beginning in Canton – Wicked Local Randolph

Posted By on May 24, 2017

Jessica Trufant The Patriot Ledger @JTrufant_Ledger

In what he called a very Jewish way of telling a story, Rabbi David Grossman began with his congregations bad news leaky roofs, traffic on Route 28 in Randolph and the tough decision to downsize and sell Temple Beth Ams longtime home.

That was the bad news, he said. But here we are now. The good news is here. Its ahead of us. Weve come out on the other side of turmoil and we are here. We are with friends and family.

Members of Temple Beth Am gathered at the synagogue one last time on Sunday to remove the scrolls of the Torah from their place in the Holy Ark, load them onto a trolley and escort them 5 miles to their new home at Temple Beth Abraham in Canton.

Members then paraded the hand-written scrolls to their new spot in Temple Beth Abraham, and the two congregations joined to celebrate the occasion.

Randolphs first synagogue, Temple Beth Am began in a converted ranch house on Liberty Street in 1955 as Jews moved out of their old neighborhoods in Dorchester and Mattapan for the suburbs. The congregation moved to the North Main Street location in 1961 and the building was expanded in 1969.

Howard Finer, 49, said his parents moved to Randolph in 1968 and joined Temple Beth Am, where he went to nursery school, participated in and later advised youth groups and celebrated countless holidays and family milestones.

I get a sense of awe in the sanctuary at Temple Beth Am that doesnt happen everywhere for me, Finer, of Stoughton, said while standing outside his new place of worship at Temple Beth Abraham. It had to happen, but its extremely bittersweet.

The congregation sold the building and its 4 acres of land to the New Jerusalem Evangelical Church of Boston for $3.25 million earlier this year. The decision to sell was made because the property is too large for the current size of the congregation, about 200 families.

Finer said the presence of Jewish families in a town that once hosted three synagogues has dwindled, and many of those who arrived in Randolph from Boston have since moved to other communities.

The combined congregations of Temple Beth Abraham, led by Rabbi Navah Levine, and Temple Beth Am, led by Rabbi Grossman, will share the Canton building, which is on Washington Street. The two congregations share similar goals, traditions and outlooks, and are discussing a merger moving forward.

While Temple Beth Ams congregation is aging, Finer said the members are extremely active. He said he hopes that activism will spread to the younger families who belong to Temple Beth Abraham.

There are more young families here, and its not just about the current members. Were doing what is best for the new generation, he said.

One of those young members is Rachel Lit, who is a third-generation member of Temple Beth Am. She said her great-uncle, Joseph Lit, was a founder of the temple, and her mother served as president.

Its an emotional day. Its the place I grew up, Lit, 20, said. Its been hard, but were looking forward.

Although she attends college in another state, Lit said the younger members are dedicated to trying to keep the youth group United Synagogue Youth going. Lit said she hopes it can attract new members from the Canton congregation.

Its further away, but we will make it work out, she said.

Jessica Trufant is at

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Randolph synagogue marks new beginning in Canton – Wicked Local Randolph

8 Panamanians Receive Spanish Citizenship Under Sephardic Law Of Return – Forward

Posted By on May 24, 2017

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) Eight Panamanian Sephardic Jews received Spanish citizenship from Spains ambassador to Panama in a ceremony at the embassy in Panama City.

The group swore allegiance to the Spanish Constitution and the King, reportedlocal news website Telemetro, thanks to a law passed two years ago that allows the conferring of Spanish citizenshiponthose who prove to be descendants of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492.

The ceremony held on Friday is an act of historical reparation with the Sephardic Jews who suffered the intolerance that was then not only in Spain, said Spanish ambassador to Panama, Ramon Santos.

Last year, another group of 23 Jews became Spanish citizens in Panama, including nationalized Venezuelan emigres who had escaped the economic crisis in their native country. Nearly 5,000 Sephardic Jewsbecamecitizens of Spain or Portugal in 2016 following the passing of laws on the naturalization of descendants of Sephardic Jews.

Be you, dear compatriots, welcome to this little piece of Spanish territory is the embassy of Spain, said the ambassador in Santos last year.

On June 24, 2015, Spains Congress approved the law granting Spanish nationality to Sephardic Jews.

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8 Panamanians Receive Spanish Citizenship Under Sephardic Law Of Return – Forward

8 Panamanians receive Spanish citizenship under law of return for Sephardi Jews – The Jewish Standard

Posted By on May 24, 2017

RIO DE JANEIRO Eight Panamanian Sephardic Jews received Spanish citizenship from Spains ambassador to Panama in a ceremony at the embassy in Panama City.

In a ceremony Friday, the group swore allegiance to the Spanish Constitution and the king, thelocal news website Telemetro reported.

Spain passed a law passed two years ago that allows the conferring of citizenshiponthose who prove to be descendants of Jews expelled from the countryin 1492.

The ceremony is an act of historical reparation with the Sephardic Jews who suffered the intolerance that was then not only in Spain, said Spains ambassador to Panama, Ramon Santos.

Sepharad is the Hebrew word which designates Spain, and Sephardim are those Jews expelled from Spain 500 years ago who formed communities in North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, Portugal and many of which were distributed throughout America, the diplomat recalled.

Last year, another group of 23 Jews became Spanish citizens in Panama, including nationalized Venezuelan emigres who had escaped the economic crisis in their native country. Nearly 5,000 Sephardic Jewsbecamecitizens of Spain or Portugal in 2016 following the passing of laws on the naturalization of descendants of Sephardic Jews.

According to the World Jewish Congress, Panama is home to some 15,000 Jews mostly concentrated in Panama City, including more than 1,000 Israelis.Some 85 percent of the Jews living in Panama are Sephardic, unlike other Latin American countries where the community is mostly Ashkenazi.

Panama is the only country besides Israel that has had two Jewish presidents, Max Delvalle Levy-Maduro in 1967, and his nephew Eric Arturo Delvalle from 1985 to 1989.

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8 Panamanians receive Spanish citizenship under law of return for Sephardi Jews – The Jewish Standard

Is Meghan Markle Prince Harry’s Jewish Princess? The Forward – Forward

Posted By on May 24, 2017

Jewish and black girls have been mocked for their hair, their bodies and their other-ness. But they might be about to get a heroine at Buckingham Palace.

Its a real-life fairy tale for everyone who has been feeling like a pre-ball Cinderella in the Trump era: Prince Harry, the international playboy and longtime sex-symbol who is fifth in line for the British throne, is on the brink of marriage with Meghan Markle, an American actress.

Markle is known for her work in the American TV show Suits. Her mother is black and her father is white. And though many publications have reported that Markles father is Jewish, a publicist denied that she herself is a member of the tribe.

Just to clarifyshe is not Jewish, said Chantal Artur, the publicist, in an April email, without elaborating.

Markle, who told Elle that she answers the question What are you every single week of her life, has not spoken to the media about her religious background or that of her father.

But she has given some serious Queen Esther vibes. Here are 4 kind of, sort of Jewish things about her:

Her real name is Rachel. While have all met 90-100 wonderful Megans, Meagans, and Meghans at Jewish summer camp, Rachel is straight out of Genesis and totally the kind of name your dad would give you if he was trying to subtly imbue your identity with your religious heritage. Plus, changing your name (or in this case, taking your middle name as a stage name) is a classic rite of passage for Jewish performers. Just ask Natalie Hershlag and Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz.

Markles first marriage was to film producer Trevor Engelson, a Jewish man from Great Neck, New York. Their wedding involved what The Sun tersely referred to as a traditional Jewish chair dance.

She has said that she is sometimes labeled Sephardic at auditions. Think about it35-year old actresses and lifestyle gurus dont throw around the word Sephardic unless they are Sephardic. She might as well change her name to Kitniyot Markle.

Disney has had a frog prince, a Lion king, and a royal mermaid, and all weve had is the Crusades followed by the Inquisition. A Jewish princess just seems fair.

If it were only the name Rachel, dayeinu. If it were just the Jewish chair dance, dayeinu. But the greatest evidence in this biur chametz-like hunt for crumbs of Markles Jewish identity is that a spokesman for Westminster Abbey confirmed on behalf of the Church of England that, if they choose, Markle and Prince Harry will be able to marry within the church in an interfaith marriage, regardless of Markles Jewish background.

This brings us to the next booshah-turned-equality-milestone, which is that Markle has been married and divorced. And according to the Church of England, if thats good enough for Henry the 8th it should be good enough for his fellow ginger ladykiller (so to speak,) Prince Harry.

So if our hypothesis is correct and Markle and Harry marry, Markle will be the first black, Jewish, divorcee, American princess in English history. Its worth noting that Markle is also two years older than the Prince, making their marriage a triumph for several pie slices in the chart of disadvantaged identity groups.

This may also be the first time an actress famous for a movie called Horrible Bosses gets to meet the Queen of England.

Its a shehechianu moment to beat all shehechianu moments.

The cherry on top of the sufganiyot-Kwanzaa-cake hybrid? Markle is a noted feminist. She serves as a UN Women advocate and an ambassador for World Vision.

As they say in another story of unlikely royalty, The Prince of Egypt, There can be miracles when you believe.

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Is Meghan Markle Prince Harry’s Jewish Princess? The Forward – Forward

How Facebook flouts Holocaust denial laws except where it fears being sued – The Guardian

Posted By on May 24, 2017

Facebook says it does not welcome local law that stands as an obstacle to an open and connected world. Composite: Getty Images

Facebooks policies on Holocaust denial will come under fresh scrutiny following the leak of documents that show moderators are being told not to remove this content in most of the countries where it is illegal.

The files explain that moderators should take down Holocaust denial material in only four of the 14 countries where it is outlawed, if reported.

One document says the company does not welcome local law that stands as an obstacle to an open and connected world and will only consider blocking or hiding Holocaust denial messages and photographs if we face the risk of getting blocked in a country or a legal risk.

A picture of a concentration camp with the caption Never again Believe the Lies was permissible if posted anywhere other than the four countries in which Facebook fears legal action, one document explains. Facebook contested the figures but declined to elaborate.

The social media service has also decided that migrants, refugees and asylum seekers should be regarded as a quasi-protected category so they will not receive the protections given to other vulnerable groups.

Documents show Facebook has told moderators to remove dehumanising speech or any calls for violence against refugees. Content that says migrants should face a firing squad or compares them to animals, criminals or filth also violate its guidelines.

But it adds: As a quasi-protected category, they will not have the full protections of our hate speech policy because we want to allow people to have broad discussions on migrants and immigration which is a hot topic in upcoming elections.

According to the documents, comments permitted under the policy include ones such as: Islam is a religion of hate. Close the borders to immigrating Muslims until we figure out what the hell is going on; migrants are so filthy; migrants are thieves and robbers; and Mexican immigrants are freeloaders mooching off of tax dollars we dont even have.

The documents show moderators have been told they do not have to delete comment such as Fuck immigrant and Keep the horny migrant teenagers away from our daughters.

However, it is a violation of the rules on migrants to equate them to other types of criminals, eg rapists, child molesters, murderers or terrorists.

The definitions are set out in training manuals provided by Facebook to the teams of moderators who review material that has been flagged by users of the social media service.

The documents explain the rules and guidelines the company applies to hate speech and locally illegal content, with particular reference to Holocaust denial.

One 16-page training manual explains Facebook will only hide or remove Holocaust denial content in four countries France, Germany, Israel and Austria. The document says this is not on grounds of taste, but because the company fears it might get sued.

We believe our geo-blocking policy balances our belief in free expression with the practical need to respect local laws in certain sovereign nations in order to remain unblocked and avoid legal liability. We will only use geo-blocking when a country has taken sufficient steps to demonstrate that the local legislation permits censorship in that specific case, it says.

Some 14 countries have legislation on their books prohibiting the expression of claims that the volume of death and severity of the Holocaust is overestimated. Less than half the countries with these laws actually pursue it. We block on report only in those countries that actively pursue the issue with us.

Facebook said the number of countries set out in its documents is not accurate but repeatedly declined to say anything more.

Monika Bickert, head of global policy management at Facebook, said: Not every team of employees is involved in enforcing our policies around locally illegal content. Whether reported by government entities or individual users, we remove content that violates our community standards.

Facebook said it recognised the sensitivities around the issue of Holocaust denial in Germany and other countries and [we] have made sure that our reviewers are trained to be respectful of that sensitivity.

Facebook has given certain people protected category status when it comes to hate speech telling moderators to delete content relating to them.

The files explain that countries are not protected people from a country are protected. Followers of a particular religion are also protected, not the religion itself, the document states.

Groups that are not protected from hate speech include politicians from all parties, and people who are blonde, brunette, short, tall, fat and thin.

One slide explains that it is permissible to say: All terrorists are Muslims, but it is not permitted to say: All Muslims are terrorists. Facebook explains that terrorists are not a protected category, whereas Muslims are which is why the first remark can be ignored and the second should be deleted if flagged.

Other comments that flout Facebooks guidelines include French girls are stupid and Irish are stupid. But moderators are told to ignore Blonde women are stupid and Redheads are disgusting. According to the documents, Facebook tells moderators to err on the side of allowing content if they are unsure.

When context is ambiguous about whether a PC (protected category) or non-PC is being attacked, the default action is for reps to ignore, one slide says. It uses an example involving a photograph of Syrian refugees surrounding children in a swimming pool. The caption to the picture reads: The scum need to be eliminated. Facebook says this comment should not be deleted if flagged.

Because it is ambiguous whether the caption is attacking Syrian refugees (PC) or perpetrators of sexual assault (OR the subcategory Syrian refugees who commit sexual assault), the correct action is to ignore.

In November, it was reported that Facebook was working on censorship tools to entice China to allow it back into the country.

In a report published earlier this month, British MPs said it was shockingly easy to find examples of material that was intended to stir up hatred against ethnic minorities on all three of the social media platforms that we examined YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

They added: On Facebook we found community pages devoted to stirring up hatred, particularly against Jews and Muslims. We found openly antisemitic and Islamophobic community pages.

The Facebook documents on Holocaust denial highlight the companys complicated relationship with state censorship.

The company has been criticised for its willingness to comply with censorship demands from the governments of Turkey, India and Pakistan, which account for the majority of Facebooks government-requested takedowns.

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How Facebook flouts Holocaust denial laws except where it fears being sued – The Guardian

Rishe Groner – Tablet Magazine

Posted By on May 24, 2017

Recently I fell into the same old discussion with a close girlfriend. As we talked about work, dating, and all the day-to-day trials of New York City women in 2017, she told me that if I stopped assuming that everything would just repeat as it always had, I might actually be able to break the cycle. Then, when she expressed anxiety over peoples criticism of her, I reminded her that her critics might just have problems with how they see themselves. Sounds New Agey, right? For her, it was, sort of: She was speaking the language of mindfulness, meditation, and Buddhist retreats. But me? I was parroting the text Ive spent most of my life studying: the Tanya. And once again, our conversation reached that point of discussion: Can we please start studying the Tanya together?

The original Hasidic self-help book, known as the Tanya, is a compendium of talks and teachings. Its first section, Likkutei Amarim, was apparently written in the late 1790s in Lithuania by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, one of the first leaders of the Hasidic movement of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. (The original edition was said to be lost, and we now work from an 1814 edition.) At a time when practice was defined by intellectualism, not mysticism, Hasidic Judaism was about ecstasy, prayer, divine service, and connection to a rebbe, or master and teacher. Schneur Zalman originated the Chabad branch, which capitalized on the intellectualism of the Jewish scholarly world, bringing its intellectualism to the Hasidic emphasis on experience. Filled with references to Torah, Talmud, and of course, Kabbalah, the Tanya offered an approach to spiritual transformation that was designed to arouse even the headiest, heart-numbed scholar into a genuine love and awe of the divine.

Chabad-Lubavitch is now known more for its ubiquitous Chabad House outreach centers; meanwhile, the movements central text, the Tanya, remains obscure even to many who are touched by the Lubavitchers outreach. And to be fair, its not an immediately accessible read. Tefillin and Shabbat candles are, indeed, easier on-ramps to Jewish practice. So, mere days after my conversation with my friend, I was elated to find, in a Brooklyn bookstore laden with Jewish ritual items and leather-bound tomes, a Tanya for the uninitiated. With a distinct dark green cover and typeface that looked more appropriate for a Williamsburg cafs chalkboard, I pulled off the counter display The Practical Tanya, a new edition adapted by London-born, Brooklyn-based Rabbi Chaim Miller.

With a new translation and explanation of the text, Millers pathbreaking Tanya aims to funnel the teachings into practical steps that embody mystical principles for living ones best life. Schneur Zalman, known in Chabad circles as the Alter Rebbe, meant to write a self-help volume for his Hasidic seekers, to replace interpersonal advisory sessions. It was real advice to real people, Miller told me. He penetrated something about the psyche that was universal, and thats why it hit home. Written in a cerebral, structured way that was unique to Hasidic publications at the time, the Tanya sought to explain the mystical dimensions to an audience of traditional yeshiva students and scholars who otherwise viewed the Hasidic tendency toward Kabbalistic mystical themes as heresy. Through deep grounding in scholarly work, coupled with mystical teachings received from his teachers, the Baal Shem Tov (founder of the Hasidic movement) and Mezericher Maggid (his successor), the Tanyas author created a framework for divine service that reconciled the underlying existential concerns of the average human, no matter his level of scholarshipby normalizing the experience of body and soul through Kabbalistic cosmology and practical self-help.

The Tanya comprises five sections, and so far Miller has adapted only the first, Likkutei Amarim, A Collection of Talks. Also called The Book for In-Betweeners, this section reintroduces a concept, briefly mentioned in the Talmud, of a person who is neither righteous nor wicked yet undergoes the daily struggle, the essential duality inherent within the human psyche. Millers goal is not simply to translate this text but to create the kind of text I can share with people like my friendslovers of self-help books, meditation podcasts, and Facebook posts that remind us to take a deep breath.

I called it The Practical Tanya because I wanted it to hit you, Miller said. How is it relatable? I ask that question on every line. The author of the Tanya provides a system for understanding that you are constantly operating on two levels of consciousness, divine and animal, likened to two souls within one body. What you choose to highlight, to embody, is what manifests, and helps you live a higher life Each daily struggle depends on the two levels, the balance of good and evil, and how a person identifies with their actions on each level. It provides day-to-day reference points, reminding readers that you are not your thoughts or your actions, and change is possible in every minute. Truly, it is the essence of being in the moment.

Validating the struggle helps readers of the Tanya to understand core concerns like laziness, apathy, guilt, depression, and sexual thoughtsmajor concerns, at the time, for traditional Jews and great scholars who couldnt imagine how their commitment to Torah study wouldnt change them from being essentially human. The Tanya describes all of this as essential humanity. Miller, who appreciates contemporary self-help writers like Eckhart Tolle, understands Tanya to be attractive to seekers by allowing them to be irredeemably imperfect at the core. In other sections, the Tanya details more of the cosmology of Kabbalah and how that relates to creation, including the manifestation of the universe based on Gods divine word. This concept helps one see the ultimate importance and significance of their existence and every action because they are all emanations of the divine.


At the time Hasidism began, it was considered heretical to believe that God, or the Divine Presence, is manifest everywhere, not just in the synagogue. In Hasidism, the Masters teach there is little that is wholly sacred or profane; most is simply that which is yet to be revealed, elevated, and transformed. Today, these ideas are not unfamiliar to those who explore other spiritual frameworks such as yoga, meditation, Buddhism, or Sufismthis kind of pantheism is, of course, New Age, or Eastern Wisdom Traditions 101.

Miller expressed regret that, while referring to the importance of a contemplative meditation practice, todays rabbis often skimp on the explanation. The history and richness of Chabad contemplative practices, passed from teacher to student, were lost as the community was decimated by Stalin and Hitler. In a Jewish world where many consider themselves a bad Jew for not connecting with traditional Judaism taught by institutions, it is it an ideal time to reclaim the Tanya, in a more user-friendly format. It is the optimum time to bring the pathways of the Tanya into the United States urban jungle, as mindfulness, meditation, and spiritual traditions popularize and arrive at the forefront of Western consciousness.

Miller, who is in his early 40s, is the founder of the Brooklyn Holistic Synagogue. But he is best known for his adaptions of Hasidic teachings in translated editions of Torah, Megillat Esther, Tehillim (Psalms), Haftarot, a Friday night prayer book, and a Passover Haggadah, as well as Turning Judaism Outward, a biography of the seventh Lubavitcher rebbe. But he has an unusual history in observant Judaism, which gives him an edge in adapting ancient wisdom to a new audience. He had a typical British Jewish upbringing, in which Judaism was a club where you drank Kiddush wine and judged each other for not being religious enough. The synagogue experience involved reading texts that were incomprehensible, in English, while wearing top hats, and saying a prayer for the queen. I thought I was smart, but I couldnt understand the prayers, he said. Judaism was secretly shameful, something you felt connected to but couldnt understand why, since experientially it was so horrible.

While studying medicine at Leeds College, Miller encountered his first experience with Jewish wisdom. His search for meaning took him to a philosophy bookstore, where he encountered Maimonides. That was an a-ha moment for me, he said. It never dawned on me that there was any intellectual content in Judaism. I never imagined there was any nourishment of the soul or the mind. The search took him to a yeshiva in upstate New York, where the Tanya came his way. I was obsessed, he said. Using an older translation, he became a Tanya junkie, filling it with notes and diagrams. Tanya was about validating struggle. It was relatable. It also introduced this whole Kabbalistic system of symbolism that appealed to me very much. It changed my whole worldview.

Coming from a secular background, with little exposure to Jewish thought, Miller felt frustrated that others might be exposed to Tanya but not given the tools to fully understand it. I wanted to get it out of the book and nourish ourselves with it, he said. I have to revisit the Tanya to bring out its nourishing qualities. As an outsider, I see that as a blessing. It gives the opportunity to reinvigorate our engagement by learning from someone with that energetic enthusiasm.

When he was a boy, Ysoscher Katz, a former Satmar Hasid who now teaches at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the Open Orthodoxy seminary in the Bronx, was expelled from his Satmar yeshiva for studying the Tanya. The book was that revolutionary, and certainly viewed as such by mainstream Orthodoxy and Hasidism. Currently a teacher of the next generation of Modern Orthodox rabbis, Katz recently taught a unit on Hasidism with sections from the Tanya, exploring the dichotomy of living between two worlds, one of intellectual frameworks and traditional study overlaid with mystical experiences and practices of prayer and meditation.

While some view general mysticism as somewhat superficial or lightweight, said Katz, the Tanya is the opposite of that. It is, he said, a cerebral work, but the ideas are embodied and inspiring: Tanya is a prism through which one can come to the world, a method in which one can grapple the complexity of life. It could happen a person isnt looking to change anything in day-to-day practice, but life will change when you start seeing things differently.

Charles Roth studied at the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Crown Heights in the 1940s, when he was a child. After leaving Orthodoxy, he moved into humanistic psychology, and became a veteran of many encounter groups. But he still thinks of himself as a student of the Tanya. I have several volumes of Tanya in Hebrew and English translation, and I often encounter many references to Tanya in other things that I study, I often pick it up to check it in the source, Roth said. The purpose of life is to lead a life free of the dominance of ego And, thats a lifetime struggle. Im 91, and I am still in that struggle, but I feel its less of a struggle now than it was 10 years ago. And I attribute that to my studies of Hasidism in general, and the Tanya in particular.


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Rishe Groner, a writer and strategist living in Brooklyn, is the founder of The Genesis.

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Rishe Groner – Tablet Magazine

In Fight Against Opioids in Hasidic Crown Heights, ‘Nobody’s Immune’ – DNAinfo

Posted By on May 24, 2017

Yaacov Behrman, director of the drug prevention group Operation Survival, demonstrates how to use naloxone nasal spray, a drug used to prevent fatal opioid overdoses. View Full Caption

DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

CROWN HEIGHTS The firstopioid overdoses in Yaacov Behrmans neighborhood happened more than a decade ago, around 2005,he remembers.

At the time a period when accidental overdose deaths were rising in New York, according to data from the citys Department of Health he said many in his community of Lubavitch Crown Heights thought the first kids we lost were exceptions.

It was a one-time thing, he recalled. It was a fluke.

But in the years since, at least 10young people in the Hasidic Jewish community have died using drugs, usually prescription painkillers, according to Behrman, program director of the Chabad-Lubavitch-founded drug prevention group Operation Survival.

When it happened over and over, people started to realize it was a real issue a real epidemic, he said.

Now, Behrman and others in the Crown Heights Jewish community are trying to raise the alarm about the dangers of opioids, which have hit New York hard, as they have all over the country.

Last year, the city was on track to see more than 1,000 accidental overdose deaths for the first time ever, according to the most recently available health department data. Of the overdoses tracked through November of 2016, 83 percent of all deaths involved an opioid, the agency said.

Many of those overdoses were due to prescription painkillers, such as those that have ravaged families on Staten Island in recent years. In the past two years in particular, an uptick in the use of a powerful opioid known as fentanylcommonly mixed with heroin or mixed with handmade prescription pill look-alikeshas pushed the number of deaths higher, according to the DOH.

Its unclear which drugs exactly are killing young people in Crown Heights since no data is available on overdoses by neighborhood or religious group. But Behrman most commonly sees overdoses, both fatal and nonfatal, caused by pills taken recreationally and sold by dealers all over the area, he said.

Thats what killed a close friend of Eli, a 30-year-old Crown Heights resident who spoke with DNAinfo using only his first name. The friend, who was 25 at the time of his death five years ago, used opioids from time to time, but wasnt a drug addict, Eli said.

But one bad-batch drug caused an overdose and killed his friend, a traumathat left Eli broken, he said and wanting to increase awareness of the problem.

Its happening way too much in our community, he said. I felt it was important to let the parents and the community members know whats going on.

Last fall, he partnered with Operation Survival to lead an event educating Jewish families in the neighborhood about opioids and drug use. About 650 people attended, he said.

Family members and parents of people in the community are slowly becoming more open to the realization that this is something thats real, he said.

But he also acknowledged there are still many who are in denial because either theyre scared for an addicted relative or because they dont want to believe that in their community, an Orthodox Jewish community like Crown Heights, its such a problem.

Thats unfortunate because if people dont want to believe it or dont want to hear it, theyre not going to become knowledgeable about it, he said.

To push the conversation, Operation Survival, founded in 1988 by members of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, has made an effort to get their anti-drug message into the hands of locals literally.

In honor of National Prevention Week, the group handed out shopping bags emblazoned with the words Teach kids to refuse to use all along Kingston Avenue last week, the main shopping district for the Lubavitch community.

And for more direct overdose prevention, Behrman has been training teachers, emergency response volunteers, parents and young people how to use naloxone, a drug administered by nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

The state and city provide a naloxonenasal spray to Operation Survival, which runs trainings to teach people how to use the life-saving drug. (Photo credit: DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith)

Since beginning the state-run naloxone training program last summer, he has taught over 100 people how to use it in Crown Heights, he said.

Its free of charge. Were happy to train anybody. Its worth it because you could save a life, he said.

READ MORE: How To Save an Opioid Overdose Victim’s Life (VIDEO)

Emergency workers including NYPD officers have been outfitted with naloxone since 2014, saving a total of 140 people, according to the latest numbers from the NYPD. In December, Mayor Bill de Blasio urged the general public to carry it, too.

Despite having no known side effects,not everyone in Crown Heights thinks distributing naloxone issuch a good idea.

Rabbi Shea Hecht, director of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, (the umbrella group that oversees Operation Survival) said he worried the drug would encourage drug users to tempt fate.

I think we have kids who are going to be stupid enough to say: ‘You know what, lets see if it really works,’ he said.

But for now, Behrman sees a need for it like when he got a call at 1 a.m. several months ago from a family requesting the nasal spray for a potential overdose.

There was a kid who was using and they wanted to have it handy, he said. Luckily, it wasnt necessary that night.

All those who spoke about addiction in Crown Heights agreed the neighborhood needs to have more conversations about the problem. Hecht thinks the solution includes talking about reducing alcohol for young people at religious events and celebrations. Eli would like to see more addiction professionals in the area and more programs like Operation Survivals. But most of all, he wishes more residents would talk about the issue.

People in this community are embarrassed,at least I think so, to be associated with or to speak openly about this problem and I think that is a problem in itself, he said.

Operation Survival has passed out shopping bags encouraging parents to teach children and young people about the dangers of drugs. Here, the bags are used by a Kingston Avenue grocery. (Photo credit: DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith)

Yossy Hayward, a worker at Raskins Fish Market, which bagscustomers orders inside Operation Survival Refuse to use bags, said hes very supportive of any effort to get the conversation about drugs going. He has friends and family who have struggled with addiction and knows the problem can affect anyone.

People want to say its because their families are broken. Its not the case. Nobodys immune to it, he said.

Not even the tight-knit Hasidic community in Crown Heights, which ispartially sheltered by its deep roots in the neighborhood, Behrmansaid.

Were affected by the secular world and the country is struggling with an epidemic, he said. Its trickling down to the Jewish community and were suffering, as well.

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In Fight Against Opioids in Hasidic Crown Heights, ‘Nobody’s Immune’ – DNAinfo

Shavuot and paper cutting, a forgotten folk art form – Canadian Jewish News (blog)

Posted By on May 24, 2017

When I first met the wonderful American Jewish poet Marge Piercy, she asked me about Shavuot and paper cutting. Someone had sent her a piece of paper cut art and the gift evoked old memories of her grandmothers holiday observances. We both had vague recollections of the association of the spring festival with the folk art form, but it was not an active part of either of our families Jewish traditions.

There is an undeniable human impulse to beautify to adorn and embellish things that we hold dear. We take pleasure in decorating our home, outfitting our children and setting a lovely table. In my counter-culture phase, I thought of such activities as materialistic and superficial. But Ive come to realize that investing energy and resources to make things aesthetically pleasing can be deeply spiritual. We lavish attention on what we value and love not only physical things, but intangible ones, as well so that our values become visible from the outside.

In Judaism, we call this hiddur mitzvah, the beautification of a commandment. We see this in action when we look at the practice of adding decorative components to things that are dryly pragmatic in nature for example, a ketubah (marriage contract) or a mizrah, which is used to indicate the western direction of prayer.


One way that Ashkenazi Jews beautified their homes for Shavuot was by creating and displaying paper cuttings. Called in Yiddish, shevuoslakh (or shavuosl) and royzalakh (or raizelach) literally meaning little Shavuots and little roses the paper cuttings were mounted on windows, so they would be visible both indoors and out. In her poem, Snowflakes, my mother called them, Piercy recollects, Grandma tacked hers/ to the walls or on window/ that looked on the street/ the east window where the sun/ rose hidden behind the tenements with the rising sun evoking the rose of the Shavuot raizelach.

Paper cutting was not unique to Shavuot. It developed as a folk art form centuries ago, in both Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities. As art forms go, paper cut art is democratic: at its very basic, it requires relatively inexpensive raw materials paper and some sort of cutting tool, and perhaps something to add colour. Old newspapers, wrapping paper and used writing paper may be redeployed for this purpose. Even people with little artistic talent could produce pleasing designs, and gifted artisans could dazzle.

But for Ashkenazi Jews, there was a particular link between paper cutting and Shavuot, which stems from an old practice of decorating homes and synagogues with flowers, branches, boughs and trees. In shtetl culture, cut flowers were a luxury pricey and perishable. And Jewish culture was deeply literate, so paper especially used paper was always around and available for artistic repurposing. Some sources cite the objection of 18th century scholar Vilna Gaon to the Shavuot greening as another reason for the development of a Shavuot paper-cutting tradition. Because church decor involved cut flowers and pagan practices involved trees, the Vilna Gaon viewed such customs as inherently non-Jewish. Although most communities and religious authorities did not follow the Vilna Gaons ruling, paper-cut flora offered a good resolution of religious and economic restraints.

Most striking, however, is the disappearance of this Shavuot folk custom with the 20th-century movement of Jewish populations to North American so much so that both Piercy and I had only fuzzy memories of the practice.

In addition to their deep textual roots, Jewish holidays reach back into family memory, into inherited and lost traditions. Our impulse to beautify, to craft art and graft it onto whats most important, connects us with legacies we may have forgotten. Piercy reflects, I had lost it all/ until a woman sent me a papercut and then/ in my hand I felt a piece of the past/ materialize, a snowflake long melted,/ evaporated, cohering once/ again made of skill and absence.

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Shavuot and paper cutting, a forgotten folk art form – Canadian Jewish News (blog)

Author Helen Maryles Shankman on how to observe Jewish American Heritage Month – amNY

Posted By on May 24, 2017

Helen Maryles Shankman knows plenty about Jewish history.

The author of They Were Like Family to Me, a finalist for the 2016/17 Story Prize, given for outstanding short fiction, Shankman is a daughter of Holocaust survivors. She grew up listening to friends of her family speaking in Yiddish about their experience as partisans.

Listening to their accounts, Shankman realized the Holocaust wasnt a straightforward victim story: There were Jews who resisted, fought, finagled and struggled to survive against overwhelming odds, such as those who broke out of the Sobibr death camp. The author wove their real and imagined experiences into They Were Like Family To Me, a devastating, haunting and luminously beautiful collection of interconnected short stories about Jewish residents of a Polish village under German occupation.

In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, held in May, amNewYork spoke with Shankman, who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey, about how to mark the month from a literary perspective.

How is Jewish American Heritage Month best observed?

Everyone should read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Its the ultimate Jewish-American book. It would be really nice if the schools observed the month by studying various Jewish-American writers and historical figures, such as Emma Lazarus [author of The New Colossus, which is engraved on the pedestal tablet of the Statue of Liberty]. There are so many unknown people from the labor and civil rights movements.

Why are there so many fabulous Jewish writers?

Were brought up from the very beginning learning the Torah and prayers. … Words and reading are pivotal. When you get older, you learn the dialectics and arguments that dont even have anything to do with modern life. Students will learn the best way to remove milk from a cows udder after its been butchered so you can eat it [and observe the laws of kashrut]. Its really social anthropology..

Women are underrepresented in Best Jewish Writers lists. Why is that?

There is a double standard. I have three sons and they are not interested in reading anything that has a woman as a main character. I also have a theory: A lot of women write historical fiction, and historical fiction isnt considered intellectual. But [all writers are] trying to figure out the meaning of life, why the world is stomping on them, why bad things happen to good people. We just use different vocabularies.

Your own book reveals the amazing ingenuity Jews used to survive.

I love that it is part of our legacy. As a kid, the most severe and well-known Holocaust experience was Auschwitz. Hiding and fighting was just as important, but it almost didnt count. There are so many forms resistance can take!

What must we resist now?

Im modern Orthodox and every week I light candles and pray that God gives wisdom to our leaders. It feels like hate is surging through the world right now. The threat of tribalism, circling the wagons, refusing to talk to each other and believing our way is the best way thats the enemy for us.

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Author Helen Maryles Shankman on how to observe Jewish American Heritage Month – amNY

Lawmakers mark Jewish heritage month with award celebration – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Posted By on May 24, 2017

WASHINGTON (JTA) Congress members from both parties participated in a celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month in the Capitol.

The event Wednesday included remarks by a number of senators and House members, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who in her first term authored the 2006 law creating the heritage month.

Among those honored were Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who founded the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews; Shani Verschleiser, a child welfare expert, and Sparks, a support organization for women in crisis.

The Friedlander Group, a New York-based public relations and lobbying firm, organized the event.

President Barack Obama for several years organized White House receptions marking the heritage month.

Lawmakers mark Jewish heritage month with award celebration – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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